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Newsom bus snub triggers 100% on-time goal for Muni route

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  • 10/31 SF Examiner
    Published Tuesday, October 31, 2006, by the San Francisco Examiner On-time reliability to be stressed in Muni pilot program Transit agency launches plan on
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2006
      Published Tuesday, October 31, 2006, by the San Francisco Examiner

      On-time reliability to be stressed in Muni pilot program

      Transit agency launches plan on 1-California that sets goal of
      alleviating system delays

      By Bonnie Eslinger
      beslinger@...

      Although the reliability of Muni has been a perennial problem in
      San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom said it wasn't until last month,
      when he was left standing on the corner of Fillmore and California
      streets after four crowded Muni buses rolled by him, that he really
      got it.

      Pulling out his cell phone, Newsom called Nathaniel Ford, who was
      hired last year to head up the financially struggling transportation
      agency, to see what needed to be done to improve its service.

      "I thought, `this is ridiculous,'" Newsom said.

      Under a new 90-day pilot project that began Monday, the 1-California
      will have a manager to troubleshoot problems and make sure all
      scheduled buses go out; more traffic officers to relieve gridlock in
      busy intersections that throw buses off schedule; and more parking
      officers to aggressively ticket double-parked cars that make it
      difficult for buses to pass.

      The goal, Ford said, is to see what it will take to make the route
      100 percent reliable, and then duplicate those practices on other
      bus lines.

      Muni is supposed to be on schedule 85 percent of the time, according
      to a goal approved by voters in 1999, although data has shown that
      the average on-time rate of Muni vehicles has hovered around 70
      percent since 2001. Last month, Ford told the agency's governing
      board that a more modest target of 75 percent could be achieved
      systemwide by next summer.

      Last year, Muni's on-time rate for buses averaged about 67 percent.
      The 1-California is Muni's third busiest route, after the 38-Geary
      and the 14-Mission. The 1-California transports nearly 30,000
      residents across The City daily.

      The new pilot program comes in the wake of a budget deficit that
      resulted in service cuts and fare hikes last year, and according to
      fiscal forecasts, Muni faces a possible $43.7 million deficit in
      just a few years. Ford has been called upon to increase ridership to
      stave off such a financial crisis, and increasing the efficiency and
      speed of Muni is expected to encourage more riders to get on board.

      Ford has also promised to decrease overtime costs, reduce expensive
      legal settlements due to accidents and crack down on fare evasions
      and drivers who double-park along bus routes, among other budget-
      boosting measures. Last year, only 300 citations were given for
      double-parkers, according to data from San Francisco's Municipal
      Transportation Agency.

      Dan Krause, managing director of Rescue Muni <http://rescuemuni.org>,
      a watchdog organization for the Municipal Railway, said he's pleased
      Newsom is paying attention to The City's public transportation
      system.

      "Things have fallen back recently. It's time to refocus on it again,"
      Krause said.

      Krause isn't the only one who has noticed. A recent poll commissioned
      by San Francisco's Chamber of Commerce found that only 53 percent of
      those surveyed gave Muni a favorable review, compared with 64
      percent in 2003.

      With a mayoral election just around the corner in 2007, Newsom
      promised in his State of the City speech last week that, under his
      watch, Muni's reliability and on-time performance would improve.

      "Frankly, I don't think it's too much to ask for the buses to run on
      time," Newsom said.

      MTA: Driver leave causes late buses

      Muni buses are consistently running behind schedule partly because
      many drivers are offduty on disability, according to the agency's
      executive director, Nathaniel Ford.

      Missing drivers forces Muni to pull scheduled buses, leaving
      passengers waiting for the next scheduled bus, which is more likely
      to be crowded, Ford said.

      "It's not just the bus and the traffic, but what is happening behind
      the scenes, like driver availability," Ford said.

      About 277 of Muni's 2,075 drivers are on long-term disability leave,
      according to data from San Francisco's Municipal Transportation
      Agency. In addition, another 275 to 300 operators are out on any
      particular day for vacations, sick days, etc., said Diana Hammons,
      the agency's director of government relations and public affairs.

      Mayor Gavin Newsom said that although he believes many of the on-the-
      job injuries and illnesses are legitimate, he still felt more needed
      to be done to "address this more aggressively."

      Irwin Lum, president of Transport Workers Union, Local 250-A, which
      represents the bus drivers, said Muni's shortage of drivers was not
      solely the result of disability cases, but also caused by the agency
      offering early retirement to about 70 of the veteran drivers last
      year to cut agency costs.

      Ironically, Lum said, the shortage of drivers and other Muni staff
      has increased the possibility of physical and emotional injury,
      adding that a new Muni pilot program on the 1-California line would
      reduce the pressure drivers deal with every day if it was added to
      all routes.

      Transit operators experience high levels of stress, according to a
      study published last year in the Journal of Urban Health that used
      surveys of Muni drivers for its research. Disabilities that drivers
      incur also include injuries to their back, neck and shoulders, Lum
      said.

      Making Muni faster

      A 90-day pilot program on Muni's 1-California line has a goal of
      100 percent on-time performance. Muni has a 70 percent on-time
      performance.

      * Program will be conducted through January 2007, Monday through
      Friday, during peak hours: 7 to 10 a.m. in the morning and 3 to 7
      p.m. in the afternoon and evening

      * A dedicated manager will be assigned to the route to troubleshoot
      and ensure efficiency

      * Department of Parking and Traffic officers will be assigned to
      assist with preventing gridlock and blocking of the intersections
      that cause bus delays

      * Parking control officers will aggressively ticket double-parkers
      who block the paths of buses

      * Operators will be scheduled for all runs; there will be no missing
      buses

      * Monitors will document at what point in the route buses get full
      and at what times of day

      * Report will be compiled with data from 90-day program, including
      equipment readiness, operators availability, on-time progress and
      parking enforcement efforts

      * Cost for pilot program has not been determined; will be tracked
      during duration of program

      Source: San Francisco Municipal Railway
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