Mayor’s Working Group Struggles to Upgrade Muni

 

Since last June Mayor Breed’s “San Francisco Muni Reliability Working Group” has looked for ways to improve overall Muni performance. Chaired by SFMTA Vice-Chair Gwyneth Borden and former City Controller Ed Harrington, the group was comprised of 13 individuals, including two San Francisco Supervisors and representatives of the Transportation Workers Union and various other organizations.

The group’s final report contains 66 recommendations, broken down as follows: Technical and Operations: 18, Workforce and Hiring: 24, Context and Regional: 17, and Governance and Organizational: 7. BATWG has reviewed the report and has the following responses:

General:

There are many good ideas embodied in the report. However the Muni is part of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), a complex and multi-layered 6,000 person organization operating in a difficult fishbowl environment subject to virtually continuous public scrutiny. No group of 13, no matter how dedicated, could adequately identify and respond to all the opportunities to improve the functionality of such an organization. For this reason the Mayor’s group was quite dependent upon Muni management for information and therefore took many of its improvement ideas from proposals already in circulation.  The Mayor’s effort is ok as far as it goes, but more is needed.

Bringing a very large and growing organization like the MTC including Muni up to its full operating potential will require periodic management audits of the entire organization. These audits would necessarily have to be comprehensive and completely independent.

Technical and Operations:

  1. Automatic Train Control: The Muni Metro Subway is currently operating at less than half its design carrying-capacity. Replacing the train control system will no doubt do some good, but there is no evidence to support the contention that taking this step would come even close to restoring the reliable, high-capacity Muni Metro service that riders want and deserve. The potential of longer trains to achieve this result has been talked about ever since it was foolishly decided in the early 1990’s to settle for one and two-car trains. Despite the talk there has been little if any progress on getting the subway up to its full operating capacity. 
  2. Interim Steps: This section lists some of the other ways in which the capacity and operating reliability of the Market Street subway can be improved. This section deserves attention…some of the proposals can be implemented in the near term; others will take longer. All are important. (For the full Muni Reliability report go to: http://openbook.sfgov.org/webreports/details3.aspx?id=2796.)
  3. From Breda to Siemens: Among the reasons given for the Muni’s unfortunate decision to abandon in-line coupling is that the Breda cars lacked this ability.  A citywide effort should be made to ensure that the incoming Siemens car don’t suffer from the same defect.

Context and Regional:

Most of the proposals contained in this section are good ones. Improved and safer bicycle facilities should be part of the mix, but bicycling must be routed and arranged in ways that will not endanger the lives of bicyclists or pedestrians, and will not slow down or otherwise interfere with the travel of Muni vehicles.

Context and Regional:

  1. “Develop the City’s ability to speak with one voice on regional issues.”  This has long been needed. To improve Muni and reduce city traffic congestion it is essential to get a handle on the outside influences that are contributing to the problem.  For example, CCSF shares a common interest with BART, MTC and AC Transit in at least quadrupling AC’s current dismally low transbay ridership.  In view of the fact that both BART and the Bay Bridge are running out of carrying-capacity, this is needed now! Another example is the long-awaited extension of Caltrain into downtown San Francisco. CCSF, MTC, the Peninsula Joint Powers Board and San Mateo County share a common interest in extending Caltrain and connecting it to eleven Market Street passenger rail lines and over 40 bus lines.

Workforce and Hiring:

Bringing in and training more Muni drivers is an obvious need.  

Line managers strategically located along the lines is another obvious need. In the past line managers have been an essential part of keeping the system running properly.  The contention that remote computer monitoring would eliminate the need for line managers was discredited long ago.

At the same time we should not lose sight of the fact that Muni could be understaffed in some areas and overstaffed in others.  As far as other categories of employees are concerned, in today’s economy it is often difficult to find and hire the right people. Under such circumstances it is often faster and more cost-effective to execute tightly written contracts with outside consultants.

Governance and Organizational:

When it comes to capital projects the recent Muni/MTA record has not been good. There is an overriding need at Muni and the MTA to conduct bonafide alternative analyses, develop better and faster ways of bringing consultants and contractors on line, clarifying and better reviewing plans and specifications,  effectively monitoring the work of suppliers and contractors, keeping track of costs and schedules and quickly paying for work satisfactorily completed.

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