Muni reform that might actually work


EDITORIAL The 2007 ballot measure that was supposed to give Muni more political independence and more money has failed to provide either. It's time to say that Proposition A, which we supported, hasn't worked — in significant part because the administration of Mayor Gavin Newsom hasn't allowed it to work. It's time for a new reform effort, one that looks at Muni's governance structure, funding, and the way it spends money.

There are several proposals in the works. Sup. David Campos has asked for a management audit of the Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, and that's likely to show some shoddy oversight practices and hugely wasteful overtime spending. Sup. Sean Elsbernd wants to change the way Muni workers get paid, and Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and David Chiu are talking about changing the way the MTA board is appointed. There are merits to all the reform plans, but in the end, none of them will work if they don't address the fundamental fact that Muni doesn't have enough money to provide the level of transit service San Francisco needs.

The basic outlines of what a progressive Muni reform measure would look like are pretty obvious. It ought to include three basic principles: work-rule and overtime reform; a change in the way other departments, particularly the police, charge Muni for work orders — and a sizable new source of revenue.

The work orders are, in many ways, the easiest issue. Last year, the San Francisco Police Department charged Muni more than $12 million in work orders. For what? Well, for doing what the Police Department gets paid to do anyway: patrolling Muni garages, putting cops on the buses, and dealing with Muni-related traffic issues. And a lot of that $12 million is police overtime.

The labor and revenue issues are trickier — mostly because they're being addressed separately. Elsbernd, for example, wants to Muni workers to engage in the same collective bargaining that other city unions do, which makes a certain amount of sense. But he's wrong to make it appear that the union and the workers are the major source of Muni's financial problems — and that approach won't get far. The bus drivers and mechanics didn't make millions on large commercial developments that put a huge strain on the transit system — and the developers who profit from having bus service for the occupants of their buildings have never paid their fair share. Nor is it the fault of the union that car traffic downtown clogs the streets and makes it hard for buses to run on time.

We agree that the transit union needs to come to the table and talk, seriously, about work-rule changes. Every other city union, particularly SEIU Local 1021, whose members are among the lowest-paid workers in the city, has given something up to help the city's budget problems.

But any attempt to change Muni's labor contract needs to be paired with a serious new revenue program aimed at putting the transit system on a stronger financial footing — and traffic management plans that give buses an advantage over cars. The city can add a modest fee on car owners now, and if a Democratic governor wins in November, it's likely that state Sen. Mark Leno's bill to allow a local car tax will become law. That's part of the solution, as is expanded parking meter hours. (And someone needs to talk about charging churchgoers for parking in the middle of the streets on Sundays.) But Muni also needs a regular stream of income from fees on developers.

And a seven-member MTA appointed entirely by the mayor does nothing for political independence; at the very least, the supervisors should get three of the appointments.

The city badly needs Muni reform — and the elements are all in place. But it can't be a piecemeal approach.


The reform starts with getting people on the bus. Cutting service and raising fares does the opposite. New revenue, work rule reform, driver training, cutting bureaucrats -- all important. But we don't free Muni -- it's never gonna work.

Literally - free Muni.

Give away public transit to pack the busses. Build the constituency. With more riders, reform with a downtown transit district and more can happen.

Immediately start schedule coordinating with all transit agencies from Modesto to Santa Rosa to San Jose. Coordinating scheduling can lead to merging transit agencies.

Posted by Guest on May. 11, 2010 @ 2:27 pm


Posted by Guest Jimmy on May. 11, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

I waited 39 minutes to catch two busses, which I rode for a total of 38 minutes. It took me nearly 120 minutes to arrive at a destination that used to take me less than 50 minutes. The wait for the first bus was 17 minutes. The wait for the second bus was 22 minutes, when that bus was supposed to be running on a 15 minutes interval for that time of day. This is all a direct result of the 08 May "Service Reductions."

MUNI has not bothered to optimize what remains of its "service," in order to prioritize making transfers waits no more than 50% of transfer bus-route interval wait times. This sloppy scheduling has been going on for years, long before the *2009* Service Reductions.

MUNI is not maintaining the physical bus fleet. It is allowing busses to sit in disrepair, such that there are no reliable spares in place, ready to replace any bus that is "pulled from service," for what ever reason. MUNI is supposed to have operators on "standby" to deliver equipment, when equipment is pulled; but, if there aren't functioning spare busses to begin with, there's no point in having standby operators. Mechanical engines are meant to be run, not to lie fallow. Not maintaining the physical fleet is tantamount to destruction of public property. If that isn't criminal, it can't be anything less than negligently incompetent.

NextMUNI/NextBus is a total technology bust. First off, a MUNI minute winds up being 70 seconds on average. Secondly, the GPS system is not suited to the terrain and RF environment of SF. I have reported signage that is chronically incorrect/malfunctioning with no improvements over more than a year. I have reported countless Klingon Cloaking Device MUNI busses, that *do not physically exist* on route, yet appear on GPS maps and are announced as Arriving and Departing by NextMUNI/NextBus. Why is it that GPS devices on busses are not battery-backed, such that bus positions are reported *at all times*, not just when the engines are running? If NextBus/NextMUNI is a private contractor, what are the Service Level Agreements? We should be getting our money back from this inept "service."

MUNI's TEP statistics ("hard metrics") are bankrupt. When MUNI wanted to kill off a bus route, like the historic 38 Ocean Beach, MUNI tolerated an inordinate number of off-route 38 Ocean Beach busses, between 33rd Av & Balboa and La Playa & Cabrillo. When busses go off-route, they automatically create a zero-rider statistic, because how can anyone catch that bus?

I ride several bus lines, too many to mention here, and my count of TransLink to non-TransLink riders on average is anywhere from 1 TransLink rider to 20-30 non-TransLink riders. Many times there are no TransLink riders, at all, from end-of-line-to-nearly-end-of-line, on several routes I ride. Why are there TL readers installed at every door, when legitimate riders are only supposed to board via the front doors? Is MUNI planning on charging a variable fare that would require that riders tag-on and tag-off (as is done by CalTrain)? Why are more and more TL card readers malfunctioning already, with Red/Yellow/Green lights all lit, indicating total failure, or only one light lit up, with error messages like "DC Not Responding." Since I began reporting TL card reader malfunctions (which have to be reported to an "877" number that has nothing to do with MUNI), I've also been seeing TL card readers that are completely powered-off on MUNI, so that the conspicuous "Christmas Tree Lights" condition doesn't display. What is TransLink anyway? Is it a government agency or a private contractor? Who and what is TL accountable to? How much did it cost MUNI to install TL? It serves only an elite minority.

Finally, Geary Bl does not need BRT. It needs more Limited and Express service, not a >>$200 million boon-doggle terraforming effort. It needs DPT and SFPD to go after traffic scofflaws that impede transit, by double parking, by blocking intersections and/or unlawfully occupying transit lanes. (Don't we need the revenue from the many legitimate citations that are not being written?) Before the 3rd St bus was going to be replaced by the light rail miracle, I predicted that crime would collapse in onto 3rd Street. Busses that stop at the curb create a safety zone, where someone on the bus might potentially observe crimes-in-the -making and/or criminals on-the-run. When I try to observe the streets when I ride the T-3rd light rail at night, I find it nearly impossible to observe anything on the sidewalk, whether or not the car is shrink-wrapped in advertising. The T-3rd light rail, with its elevated and isolated center-of-the-road boarding platforms, makes it trivial for perpetrators to observe and select targets/victims who are isolated from flight (to safety), as well as isolated from potential assistance from food Samaritans who may be on the sidewalk. I never predicted that crime would increase, overall, I predicted that crime would collapse in on 3rd Street itself. Sadly, we now have at least documented assaults on T-3rd MUNI riders by hyena packs of teenagers. Right now, there are a remarkably few MUNI/pedestrian fatalities on Geary, given that the 38 is the most heavily used MUNI line. With BRT, I predict that MUNI/pedestrian incidents on Geary will rise. And I predict that crime will also be attracted to the Geary corridor, more than it already is. BRT and boon-doogle light rail reduces overall public safety.

Why is it that SFPD, SFFD, DPW, etc have all managed to find ways to communitcate with operators in-the-field, yet MUNI has complained, for more than 10 years, that "Central Control" cannot reliably communicate with MUNI operators in their busses? Yet, MUNI has money for NextBus, for butt-ugly, solar-powered bus shelters (yes, I mean the new ones) and just about anything else other than meat-and-potatoes operational communications. What is wrong with that picture?

There is also no excuse for MUNI charge-backs to other City departments, 311 should be a fully-funded line item in the City/County budget. 311 is a valuable service and deserves to be fully funded. Charge backs in government introduce and encourage inefficiencies and added costs. There is also no excuse for SFPD to charge MUNI for providing any services -- police protection for MUNI is part and parcel of protecting and serving the public as a whole. Charge backs make sense in the for-profit private sector, where there are profit centers and cost centers. Government is not supposed to be making any net "profit." Charge-backs are a vehicle for fiscal shenanigans within governmental budgets. The Mayor's administration has been sticking charges back to MUNI, to the point of gutting the intent of the citizenry to fiscally support MUNI's core operations.

All the while, the percentage of "administrative" staff (especially the egg-headed Rocket Scientists with no real-world, common sense), that are not directly involved in delivering services has swollen, as have rents for office space. MUNI needs to be placed under a 10 year audit of expenditures, which particular scrutiny paid to technology purchases and boondoggle projects.

MUNI is running itself as sloppily and arrogantly as ever, especially after the 08 May Service Reductions. MUNI expects the ridership to pay ever more for ever less, when MUNI needs to be more on-time and more optimized (for making transfers) than ever before PRECISELY BECAUSE SERVICE HAS BEEN CUT INTO THE BONES. We are talking public transit amputation here and nothing less. We are talking about MUNI tailoring itself to a nebulous, elite demographic -- not the everyday working people of SF and the many who have no viable alternative to public transit.

This crap has just got to stop. And it shows no signs of stopping until We The People stop it.

Posted by sentinel on May. 11, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

Sorry, that was a typo on my part.

There's no need to sensationalize the already sensational failure that is MUNI.

Posted by sentinel on May. 11, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

NextBus works great for me. Sounds like you are simply angry/bitter, perhaps an ex-Muni employee? Go ride a bike...

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2010 @ 12:00 am

MUNI's cheerleaders are up to something...

The folks who observe and report the things that are malfunctioning in MUNI are the ones who have not given up hope and who are actively trying to make things better. The folks who ignore those "complaints" and do nothing to address them are the real problem and need to be rooted out.

No one in their right civic mind can be pleased with the current and now chronic state of dysfunction that is MUNI. No one with an ounce of compassion for seniors, the physically limited and working people with non-9a-5p jobs would accept MUNI, as is, today, angrily or complacently. No one, positive and constructive, could be happy with how MUNI squanders money and resources in these trying times.

There will likely never be a unified and comprehensive plan to reform all of MUNI in one fell swoop; but that doesn't mean that what's broken can't be made unambiguously better in parts, until a better overall plan begins to take shape.

MUNI decided to stop fixing all of the busses a long time ago and that same mentality has soaked and seeped into all corners of MUNI's operations and governance.

It is fiscally and socially irresponsible to cheer-lead the further mismanagement and increasingly unsatisfactory levels of MUNI service.

How can it be, with the size of MUNI's budget, that it hasn't even been audited in 14 years?

In addition to turning over the books and ledgers, there needs to be a comprehensive analysis of MUNI-311SRs and MUNI PSRs. I will bet that there isn't a 100% conversion from one to the other, to begin with, and the real story of the pain that MUNI is inflicting on the transit-minded citizenry will be documented therein.

The cheerleaders who are cherry-picked by the mainstream media as well-gee-shucks apologists for further MUNI service reductions and additional fare increases are really crypto-advocates for MUNI's accelerating demise as a reliable and dependable *public transit* service for the greater city and county. As long as whatever remaining piece-parts of MUNI work for them, they could care less about anyone else who has been forced to endure the MUNI malaise.

If the NextBus cheerleader were a bike rider, her/his blinders would quickly result in road kill. So, keep on listening to your iPod and texting while crossing the street. Reality will intrude upon your comfy cocoon eventually.

Otherwise, wake up and get with fixing MUNI.

Posted by sentinel on May. 12, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

What specific developer fee changes does SFBG propose?

SF already has a transit impact development fee:

Do any supervisors support a new tidf? They certainly aren't actively pursuing it...The crisis that Muni is in is related to the overall economic crisis, which has also slowed development - not sure a tidf is really the answer in this situation.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2010 @ 12:33 pm