Muni Missing 80 Percent More Runs as De Facto Service Cuts Set In

3258774281_8ea02b3163.jpgDe facto service reductions through cuts to overtime and maintenance mean more buses never make it out of the yard. Flickr photo: the jof

An analysis by Streetsblog of daily Muni performance data for the four most recent weeks available on the MTA’s website shows Muni has been missing 80 percent more runs compared to June, mostly due to a freeze on overtime.

That’s adding up to de facto service cuts, and it may explain why riders are experiencing more missed runs.

Most of the increase in missed runs is due to unfilled operator absences, which are normally covered by other operators who work overtime to fill in and make sure the runs happen as scheduled. The MTA cut $5 million in overtime from its budget back in November, and riders are now seeing the consequences of those unfilled runs.

MTA spokesperson Judson True confirmed the increase in missed runs was likely due to the cut in overtime.

"It’s an old strategy for Muni," said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. "You avoid the political pain of actually approving service cuts and fare increases by doing these de facto service cuts."

"You eliminate drivers positions, or in this case eliminate any overtime, so you can’t backfill for absences."

The move to cut overtime by $5 million annually was presented in November as part of a package to start reducing a $45 million mid-year budget deficit without impacting service. By the MTA’s calculation, the looming 10 percent system-wide "official" service cuts would save about $28.5 million annually, part of a second round of budget-balancing measures that are a tougher sell politically.

But the $5 million overtime cut – proportionately, about 17.5 percent the size of the savings projected from the service cuts – has also yielded a de facto reduction in service about 16.5 percent the size of the proposed service cuts. It’s almost the same in savings and in lost service as a regular service cut, except the lost service is entirely random and untargeted.

"There was a time where Muni was trying to dig out from this," said Radulovich. "They had established an extra board, so if a driver didn’t show up, there were people who could take those shifts."

MTA staff is aware of the impact that paying less overtime and hiring fewer drivers is having, said Radulovich.

"They were very proud of their achievement in terms of beginning to close this, and missing fewer runs, and I think they’re very chagrined to see this going in the opposite direction."

The June baseline period was a relatively placid time at Muni,
well
before the MTA implemented the current round of
budget cuts.

In real numbers, the average number of missed runs in the four weeks between January 18 and February 12, including weekdays only, jumped to 45.3 per day. In the first four weeks of June (again, weekdays only,) it was 25.2 per day. A bump in vehicles unavailable due to mechanical problems also contributed to the increase, but operator availability was by far the driving factor.

One particularly bad day, February 8, saw 109 missed runs. On that day, Muni delivered just 89 percent of scheduled service, meaning more than one in ten buses simply never showed up. No day in the June period dipped below 96.5 percent.

By contrast, none of the June dates had more than 40 missed runs. There were nine days in that period with 20 or fewer missed runs – the more recent four-week period had just one.

What it all adds up to is more than just a perception that Muni service is getting worse. Possible solutions – none of them easy in a time of massive budget shortfalls – include reinstating the lost overtime reserve, hiring more drivers, and reducing operator absenteeism through work rule reform and better working conditions.

  • Seth A.

    Three predictions:

    1. The future is bright for the city’s taxi cab drivers, except that they continue to be under-supplied.

    2. I would not be a bit surprised to see an underground jitney business spring up charging fares between taxi rides and Muni (say $5) and filling in the service gaps. I would like to see a regulated, privatized jitney industry as a temporary fix until service cuts can be restored.

    3. More people will realize that bicycling is the most reliable, convenient, and cheapest way to get around. Which is great if you’re physically able to bike, bad if you’re elderly

  • This strategy of missing runs isn’t unique to Muni, other agencies do it….but it’s wrong. I don’t want to know what the schedule says, I want to know when my bus will arrive. I don’t like a cut in service, but I prefer to know the real schedule, because I can plan around it.

  • Ron

    Why aren’t drivers showing up? Are these sick drivers? Are these I’m-just-not-going-to-show-up drivers? Or, cynically, are drivers not showing up on purpose, so there’s pressure from the public on the MTA (and not on drivers) to reinstate OT, i.e. bigger paychecks because they get their overtime?

  • Alex

    Why aren’t drivers showing up? There may not be enough to fill the scheduled runs As far as absences, you can get a rough idea by looking at the service reports on sfmta.com.

    As far as I’m concerned there are absolutely overtime rules that should be scrapped… but it’s mostly a silly battle. When you consider the cost savings of not having to fund an extra pension, pay for health insurance or training for another employee the savings of having someone work overtime can indeed be significant.

  • jwb

    It was recently reported that operators skip one in six shifts. Just doing the math it seems as though eliminating absenteeism would allow 100% of runs without overtime.

  • a thought

    I wonder if the rollout of nextbus real time info makes these random missed runs seem more acceptable to management? Of course nextbus is often not so accurate and one can’t do trip planning based with it.

    Today I and others waited much longer to get a 38 inbound I overheard the driver mentioning to another that 6 runs were missed. And while we were allowed on the packed bus we zoomed past many other stops because this long awaited bus was now full.

  • patrick

    I’ve read that calling sick still counts as time worked for overtime calculations, so basically if a driver is out sick on friday, but comes in to fill in for another driver that is sick on sunday, they can still work 40 hours, but get paid for overtime for 8 of those hours. I may be misunderstanding the issue, but if I’m correct that alone would account for why so many shifts are missed.

  • Someone should do a study – how many people are going to lose their jobs because they were late too many times when the bus simply doesn’t show up?

  • Btw, stop consolidation -> same runs in less time -> more runs per shift.

    So frustrating that they’re not doing it.

  • In places I’ve worked, employees were allowed five sick days a year before issues started being raised about their commitment to their job and if their employment should continue. Of course allowances were made for extreme situations–say, someone with cancer who is dealing with the effects of chemotherapy. But in general showing up for one’s job is a critical part of performing one’s job. It matters.

    It is outrageous that Sacramento has stolen the city’s transit money. It is also outrageous that Muni drivers are not expected to show up and perform their job like everyone else that earns their money. If this rate of absenteeism is justified somehow, then Muni should plan for it and have extra drivers on hand every day to cover the absentee drivers without overtime. I would say the absentee rate for Muni workers should be directly related to the pay scale–a high absentee rate for the previous year should reduce the pay of the drivers the following year.

  • Charles

    I wonder where the one shift in six missed numbers come from. I am a Muni operator, and I certainly don’t miss that much time. I don’t have enough sick or vacation hours! I also wonder if that includes training/retraining time. The absenteeism rates are higher than for office workers, but there are some crucial reasons. As my wife (a high school teacher) pointed out, if she goes to work with a cold, she can still function. She can give her students desk work and try to relax a bit. If I work with a cold, an unexpected sneeze can kill someone. Working in transit ops requires full attention every second you’re moving. There isn’t an opportunity to zone out, massage your temples, take a coffee break. So our sick policies are a little looser than office workers are. How loose? I can call in sick three times a quarter (Jan-March, Apr-Jun, July-Sept, Oct-Dec), up to five days at a time, for a total of ten days a quarter without consequences. Mind you, I don’t have forty days of sick time a year! If I go over any of those limits, then I have to have doctor’s notes clearing me to come back to work and I can’t work any RDO (regular day off overtime). I have never been on the sick abuse list, and most of the operators I know who have been were there because of some family emergency.

    We are expected to show up for work. All this reminds me of the miss-out kerfluffle from several years ago. (Muni operators don’t have to call in – they just don’t show up!) What the public wasn’t told was that I could (and still can) be charged with a miss-out if I am _one minute late_ to work! I start today at 11:43 am. If I’m there at 11:44…

  • jwb

    Hi Charles,

    It was recently revealed that the absentee rate at Muni is 15.6% if I recall correctly. That is roughly one shift in six.

  • Alex

    From the MTA’s own report for the 15th of February:

    22.9% of the scheduled drivers (253 out of 1,104 drivers) didn’t show up.
    – 39.9% of these were classified as unplanned leave. This includes: absent without leave (AWOL), claimed industrial injury, leaves, suspension, and “sick on run”.
    – 40.0% of these were operators who called in sick
    – 5.9% of the absent drivers were classified as missing for other reasons such as: 1 day vacation, banked holiday, floating holiday, jlmb(?), birthday, non-driving status, training

    Absenteeism typically goes up around Sunday and near/on holidays. If you look at the report from the 15th, you’ll see that on Valentine’s day 28% of the drivers were out for one reason or another. On Wendesday it’s back down to 21%. Of course it really gets bad when one third of the metro guys decide to not show up…

  • andrew

    A LOT of sick days are called in. The previous “miss-outs” were actually banned by Proposition E in 1999. MTA has done little to nothing to reduce sick days.

  • Andy Chow

    Someone should also do a study – how many people spent more money buying and operating a vehicle so that they don’t have to rely on Muni?

    We already have a study confirming the economic benefits of Google and other employee shuttles. Obviously the same benefits should apply to Muni if they were as comfortable and dependable. There are economic and environmental costs for drivers trying to hunt for on street parking spaces and moving cars because of street sweeping and what not.

    Jitney should be legalized. In this economic condition they can help fill service gaps. In better economic conditions, the jitneys can serve markets that cannot or should not be filled by Muni. Also, if Muni employees decide to strike, SF commuters still have some alternatives even though it will be very painful for them (which is one of the reasons why transit systems overlap in Los Angeles). I think SamTrans, Golden Gate Transit, and AC Transit should be allowed to provide intra-SF rides, which is currently not permitted with some exceptions.

  • Perfect location for Jitney is on Union east of Stockton. There is no reason that 39 should chug up and down that hill all day. It’s empty 90% of the time, and the rest it only has one or two people on it. It serves a vital function because there are many seniors on top of the hill (why put seniors at the top of a hill should be discussed also), but if that leg of the 39 were eliminated then MUNI could run one bus to make the head ways on the rest of the route.

  • patrick

    Hi Charles, thank you for posting the perspective of a muni operator. I certainly understand that the job is difficult, but from my perspective, a potential of 40 days of sick leave a year (I assume this is on top of vacation) is excessive, particularly if one need not even call in or show any proof of illness, and especially when one can, under certain conditions, still qualify for overtime pay.

    In many jobs, failing to show up even once without calling in could result in termination.

    I’m sure that many operators are conscientious and would not abuse the system, but to me the idea that the union negotiated such terms makes the entire membership look like they are trying to take advantage of the system, and I believe the people in general see it in the same way as I do.

    I would also like to say I think we are just as mad at management as we are at the operators, I would love to see some more information about the poor practices of management, but that still doesn’t get the operators off the hook in my opinion.

  • Nick

    MUNI’s workforce is aging. A lot of these operators have 25+ years of experience. The level of alertness and stamina required to deal with traffic day in and day out is bound to suffer.

    Often the LRV’s will be delayed by 30-45 seconds as two old friends stop to chat with each other out their window.

    I’m not saying they should toss these operators to the wolves, but a transit system in this city needs tough no-nonsense drivers.

  • All of this is just one more reason for me to avoid Muni as much as possible. Dirty buses, missing runs, late arrivals, accidents, violence, poor night service… I used to ride Muni all them time. i had a monthly pass every month for 20 years. No more. I’ll ride my bike. If can’t, I’ll get in my car. I wonder how many people feel like I do and how much money Muni loses out on as a result- because, if Muni was functional, I would ride.

  • @Adrienne – the true concern isn’t how much MUNI is losing at the fare box, but how much all those extra cars on the road are continuing to slow the whole city to a halt. My wife and I don’t have the luxury of hoping in a car, so we have to make MUNI work.

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