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.