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The Militant, 7 February 1949

Robert Chester

The Saga of the 10¢ Fare

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 6, 7 February 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


San Francisco’s long-suffering car riders have something new to think about as they squeeze, bounce and jostle on their way to work. All who “swing and sway with the Muni Railway” must now pay ten cents for the privilege instead of three tokens for a quarter. This is the third increase since Sept. 1944 and how it happened is a fascinating aspect of local transportation transactions over the years.

Until 1945 the municipal system competed with the private Market St. Railway, charging five cents while the MSR charged seven. The city could have taken the system over because of the MSR’s failure to keep the street-paving and tracks in repair. But that would have caused “undue hardship” to the stockholders who earned a nice steady income from their shares while the railing stocks and tracks went to the dogs. The administration of shipping magnate Mayor Roger Lapham arranged a deal. The city “bought” the MSR out.

Fares on the municipal railway were immediately raised to seven cents to make things even all the way around. Bond issues were floated to pay off the MSR stockholders. These bonds were bought up by the banks at a “fair rate” of interest.

Under city management the old equipment still broke down, accidents increased and service declined. Motormen were warned of their accident ratings, expensive transportation experts were called in and grand plans were laid. That cost money. Mounting costs necessitated another slight increase of fare. Three tokens for a quarter would suffice to solve all the ills of the system.

Transportation was a big issue in the 1947 elections when Elmer (“I have a plan”) Robinson was elected Mayor. All the candidates for that office except the Trotskyist Frank Barbaria approved raising a final bond issue to pay off the Market St. stockholders.

Soon big developments took place. More cars were junked and a single track put down Market St. Trolley buses and gas buses replaced some of the antiquated cars. Again came a cry for a fare increase – “the system was running in the red.” Over the opposition of consumers, labor organizations and minority parties, the Public Utilities Commission voted three to two to increase rates.

Mayor Robinson opposed the increase on the ground that service had not been improved enough to warrant it. The motion was voted down by the Board of Supervisors, an elected body, by a vote of six to four.

Thus the matter rested until one James Hurst, president of the Municipal Conference, a taxpayers organization, petitioned the State Supreme Court to invalidate the action of the Supervisors. The taxpayers, he claimed, would have to pay for the deficit, thus compelling them to support a burden which should be borne by those who ride the cars. This was unfair. The court saw the point and voted six: to one, backing the decision of the Utilities Commission. The Commission then voted unanimously to raise the fare, while Mayor Robinson and the Board of Supervisors, still expressing their disapproval, claimed their hands were tied.

Undoubtedly, as we have seen after each fare raise, some private firm will now offer to take over the system and run it for the “benefit of the community” at a “fair profit.” The next election will probably be accompanied by a propaganda campaign to the effect that this city-owned system, acquired by generously compensating a bankrupt capitalist enterprise, controlled by a capitalist-minded Utilities Commission, with its fares regulated by the capitalist courts in the interests of the well-padded “taxpayers,” is nothing but a “dangerous experiment in socialism.”

The workers who put up with the poor service, crowding and discomforts were at no time consulted. The carmen’s unions whose members are held responsible for poor service and accidents were never considered. In fact, the idea that they could run the system better than high-salaried “experts” is completely abhorrent to the administration. All they are asked is to bear their burdens in silence.

Meanwhile the tinkle of dimes in fare boxes makes pleasant music to the “wronged” taxpayers. But they still want justice and seem determined to get it. To prepare for any eventuality the Utilities Manager has ordered that six million tokens be kept in reserve for any future revision in the fare. Knowing these gentlemen we can assume that they have begun the campaign for a 12½ cent fare.

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