SFMTA’s Big Empties

The Bay Area has hundreds of independent auto repair and body shops. Walk into any one of them and you will almost always see individuals hard at work on various vehicle repair and restoration tasks. People actually doing things, getting their hands dirty and getting the job done.

But apparently not in the SFMTA’s repair shops. Some of them are enormous. And the official line is that they are so incredibly busy that they must be operated for three shifts a day…with appropriate extra pay for swing and graveyard work of course.


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Repair equipment these huge shops have. Assuming one can get inside a MTA facility he or she will see a rich array of cranes, vehicle washing and cleaning equipment, maintenance pits, elevated pantograph platforms, testing devices and large and expensive machines suitable for doing all kinds of specialized maintenance and repairs on Muni’s fleet of LRV’s, buses, streetcars and cable cars. In fact the MTA’s claim has long been that “we can handle anything that comes along”. But what one doesn’t see is the bustle so prevalent in privately owned and operated auto shops. In a shop big enough to accommodate dozens of mechanics of all types, an observer might see a few people moving around in the shop but often not actually doing much.

Absent a major upheaval nothing will change. Here’s what would make it change:

  1. Select an existing MTA facility. Determine the total annual cost of operating and managing it.
  2. Identify at least three experienced private operators qualified to take on the job. Award a one-year low-bid contract, renewable for up to three years if performance standards are met, to an experienced and otherwise qualified private operator. Set a maximum contract price 20% below the verified current price of operating the facility. Award the contract to the lowest qualified bidder and then start comparing costs.

A little competition never hurts.

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