Muni Weighs How to Restore Service If It Gets the Chance

IMG_1319.jpgPhoto: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography

If Muni operators approve a concessions agreement their union leaders brokered with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency last week, the agency and the riding public could be faced with an unusual task. Instead of public hearings to determine what Muni service will be cut, the SFMTA could be holding hearings on how to add back capacity.

The plan is to use the $18.7 million in savings from the concessions, if they’re approved, combined with anticipated funds from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, to restore 55 percent of the service cut last month by September 4, building up to a complete restoration of service by July of next year.

The simplest version of that entails restoring service to what it was before the May 8 cuts. But with hoards of data from the Transit Effectiveness Project already informing many of the cuts, the SFMTA is now looking to the TEP to shape service restoration. That’s more complicated than simply adding back service as it was, though, since the agency would then need to hold public hearings throughout the summer, while a one-for-one service restoration could be done without extended public discussion.

"It would be simpler to add back service where we cut it, but want to stay within the TEP theme," SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford told Streetsblog.

Either way, the SFMTA has already crafted an initial outline [PDF] for a large portion of what the September service restoration could look like. Late night "owl" service will be restored to 30-minute frequencies across the board; community routes will go back to their previous end times; and some of the city’s most crowded routes will get a capacity boost, including the 1X series, the 8X series, the 24-Divisadero, and the 44 O’Shaughnessy.

That adds up to over half of the 55 percent of service that will be restored initially, but still leaves much of the plan uncertain. Ford said the agency is looking at lines where overcrowding is the worst as it contemplates how to add back the service hours.

In addition to the May 8 service cuts, which Muni enacted to help cover its current and projected budget deficits, the SFMTA made major service changes last December. Those were also heavily informed by the TEP, and — a surprise to many riders — actually were virtually neutral in terms of the total number of service hours delivered. The May 8 cuts, which the agency now hopes to reverse, were much deeper, axing 10 percent of Muni’s total service hours.

Of course, all of this may be wishful thinking, for now: the Muni operators previously rejected a concessions package, and the SFMTA Board hasn’t authorized any other near term major revenue infusions, like a proposed demand-based extension of parking meter enforcement hours across the city.

If Muni is able to restore service, what lines are a priority for you? As always, let us know in the comments section below.

  • JohnB

    I like the way this is framed. Effectively the Union decides what level of cutbacks (and layoffs of their people, presumably) that we end up with.

    It embodies the idea that it is wrong to simply try and pump more money into Muni without tackling the existing cost structure.

    And places accountability for service cuts clearly where I think most voters think it should be i.e. at the hands of the workers.

    So let’s see now how much the Muni operators really care about those of us who rely on Muni every day.

  • Sam Foster

    Use the blooming TEP and be honest about what the heck is going on.

    Muni management has stood idly by why watching their budget funds get pillaged by city and state government for years.

    Step up, be honest, explain what is going on in plain English (and no more obtuse charts in PDF), and get to putting clean, reliable, timely buses on the streets.

  • “So let’s see now how much the Muni operators really care about those of us who rely on Muni every day.” – JohnB

    So you use MUNI now?

    And if the parking meter hour extensions were implemented last budget cycle like Newsom promised, then we’d have enough to completely restore service. But instead we are pushing the pilot projects back months and we’ll never seem them implemented on any full scale measure.

  • At minimum, restore “community service” routes with later ending times.

  • Winston

    Here’s where I feel obligated to point out that Muni could double the service they provide if they contracted it out like most of the smaller suburban agencies do. Imagine: Owl service every 15 mins, all every crowded bus you see being replaced by two much less crowded ones, much shorter waits everywhere. All this can be ours at no additional cost if we have the courage to make it happen.

  • Joe

    I’m not sure about contractor services being cheaper. The Los Angeles Metro, for example, has a cost of $0.64 per mile overall for bus service (in agency and contracted), but the cost is $0.91 per mile for contract service.

  • Winston

    Joe,

    Your numbers are per passenger mile and that is mainly an indication that LA Metro’s contracted buses run less full than do their directly operated buses, because L.A.’s best bus routes are directly operated. All the contracted routes were marginal routes that were scheduled to be eliminated but were saved by switching them over to contract operation

    From the National transit database:

    LA Metro’s Directly operated service
    Cost per vehicle mile: $10.15
    Cost per vehicle hour: $120.60

    LA Metro’s contracted service
    Cost per vehicle mile: $5.58
    Cost per vehicle hour: $61.45

    SF Muni (because I’m looking at the database)
    Cost per vehicle mile: $19.21
    Cost per vehicle hour: $168.50

  • Winston

    oh, I forgot to mention, your $0.64/passenger mile figure is the right number for directly operated buses, not both directly and contracted operated buses (although since around 5% of Metro’s service is contract it really doesn’t matter).

  • I agree with Akit, and the Citizen’s Advisory Council has passed two resolutions that later community service be priority in any service expansion.

    I could only vote for one them because the first resolution specifically said community service should be restored to how it was. After 3+ years of data and analysis telling us the current system is not sustainable, going back to how it was is just stupid.

    In the second resolution we asked for community service to get restored, but not necessarily how it was.

  • Fran Taylor

    The spin machine has been in overdrive for months now in order to pin blame for service cuts on the Muni operators. When the Oakland Airport Connector was shot down and Muni received an unexpected $17 million, it was pooh-poohed as not enough to make a difference, except that the MTA no longer had to consider extended parking meter hours. The $30 million or so that was then unexpectedly promised from the state was immediately dismissed as too late to make a difference. Now $18 million is going to save the day? Why does the only money that could possibly save riders have to come from worker concessions? Newsom and his flunkeys are determined to pit riders and operators against one another, and, unfortunately, a lot of transit advocates are falling for it.

  • Nick

    The fact that they are restoring what most people consider “vital services” is nothing to cheer about. They dropped below their lowest baseline on May 8th by cutting late night and evening community routes. The only thing more obscene would have been to cut afternoon or daytime service.

  • Fran,

    There’s almost always strings attached to funding. The money which the Oakland Airport people mover was disqualified for is capitol (infrastructure) funding which cannot be used for service (operational funding). The SFMTA could not use it to fund operations directly, but it was able to fund vehicle rehab and repair which is still nessacery to provide service.

    Winston & Joe,

    You’re right and outside contracting was studied in the TEP and found several lines including the 35, 36, 56, 66 and even added a brand new 32-Roosevelt, be contracted out instead. Contracting out to a van service also had other benefits like being quieter and can negotiate narrow, twisty roads easier than even Muni’s smallest busses. This goes back to the heart of the issue with the TEP: do we go back to a broken system, or do we move forward with the better plan that’s been in development for something like 5 years now and studied this all from top to bottom.

  • JohnB

    Mikesonn,

    I never said I never use Muni. Although my normal daily schedule requires car travel, I do use iMuni enough to have opinions about it and its value relative to car travel.

    Your point about parking meter extensions is actually an interesting way of reframing this dilemma. If the Muni service cuts can be restored equally either by Muni union concessions OR by parking meter extensions then we can express the key issue here another way:

    Should we extend parking meter hours so that Muni workers can continue to enjoy their current pay, benefits and current working conditions without change?

    When the tradeoff is expressed that way, I’m not sure many residents would be willing to pay higher fees and fines simply to preserve the compensation of a specific group of public sector workers, especially when private sector workers are taking cuts and layoffs a lot.

  • Sprague

    I would suggest increasing frequencies on the 22 Fillmore line during peak periods. Service was very overcrowded, slow and often not very reliable prior to May 8 and since then it has become even worse (despite Nat Ford’s promise that less buses in operation would improve reliability and schedule adherence). Also, reinstating service at 20 minute intervals (rather than the 30 minute intervals since May 8) around 11 pm would seem wise, especially on lines where there is not an alternative route nearby (ie. much of the 22).