Muni Gets First Two Refurbished Buses Back from the Shop

IMG_2231.jpgSixty two Muni buses are getting an exhaustive maintenance overhaul. Riders are probably more likely to notice the new paint job and lack of graffiti. Photos: Michael Rhodes

Muni unveiled the first pair of its refurbished buses today, thanks to federal stimulus funds, marking the start of a 66-week, 62-vehicle program the agency hopes will help turn around a trend towards increased breakdowns and reduce de facto cuts to service.

On top of the up-front service cuts that Muni enacted earlier this month, one of the worst consequences of the economic downturn for Muni riders is the de facto service cut that occurs when maintenance gets deferred and vehicles start breaking down more often. That caught up with the agency at the end of last year, when the mean distance between vehicle breakdowns increased and more scheduled runs were missed altogether because no working vehicle was available.

But with 62 biodiesel Neoplan coach buses — 40-and-60-foot vehicles that are workhorses on some of Muni’s most heavily-traveled lines — set to get a full overhaul thanks to the federal government, Muni should see a bump in overall vehicle reliability.

The buses were originally purchased in 2000-2002, and are old enough to need the work, but not so old that they’re not worth the trouble, SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford told Streetsblog during a tour of the first two vehicles to complete their rehab process.

IMG_2259.jpgSFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford shows off what’s new under the hood of a rehabbed 60-foot bus.

Between now and fall of next year, the buses will be sent down to Complete Coach Works in Riverside, California, seven vehicles at a time, where they’ll each get new propulsion packages, rebuilt wheelchair lifts, new brake valves, rebuilt steering gear boxes, new suspensions, new all-LED signs and lights, graffiti-resistant light lenses, new rubber flooring, and other mechanical parts.

Bus drivers will get new seats, and all of the buses will get new paint jobs. The buses will all get cosmetic touch-ups, too. Years of graffiti had been scraped off and painted over in the two refurbished buses that SFMTA showed off today, leaving them looking almost like new.

Those two buses are actually being reviewed by the SFMTA before the rest are sent down to make sure the rehabilitation is being done correctly. All told, 35 standard 40-foot buses will be fixed up, as well as 27 articulated 60-foot buses, for a total of $16 million.

That’s still a relatively small portion of Muni’s 495 diesel buses and roughly 1,000 total buses, but at one-third the price of a new 40-foot bus, and one-fifth the price of a new 60-foot bus, at least the newly-refurbished buses are a good deal.

graf.jpgBefore and after. Image: SFMTA
IMG_2273.jpgInside a refurbished bus.
  • Mike

    I still never understand why those emergency exit hatches on the roof are always propped open, even in the rain. Is is that hard for driver to get up and close them?

    Also, my biggest gripe with Muni, why can’t the buses communicate with one another. Example: I was on the 5 outbound and it was not going to the end of the line. Directly in front of us was another 5. When we both got to a stop together, our bus driver told everyone to get out and run to the 5 in front. But that 5 took off before we could get on, while our bus driver was honking at his colleague, hoping he would stay. If they had simple radio communications, this could have been avoided.

    It would also come in handy when buses are jam packed. A driver could call the bus behind him, ask him where he is and how far away he is. Then, he could tell the passengers waiting at the bus stop “The bus behind me is empty.”

  • Alex

    So they’re rehabbing some of the most reliable vehicles in the fleet? Cool. What about the articulated trolleys that often times don’t even go 1,000 miles before major failure? What about the LRVs whose availability is so low that they are forced to run one car trains during the PM rush?

  • James

    I think the before/after images of the ceiling should be switched around. Give the bus one day back in service before it gets all marked up again.

  • @Mike SPUR has noted for years that Muni has a major problem with not having enough line supervisors, and ineffective procedures for the ones they do have (they do have radios). This results in poor communication between drivers, clumping of vehicles, etc.

    For instance, when two buses run right behind one another and the second one ends up basically empty, you have not improved headway for anyone and are basically throwing away money on that run, whereas with effective line supervision you could get both buses to stop, get everyone off of one and onto the other, and turn the other bus around to fill headway gaps anywhere else on the line

  • In general, clean is good. If I have no choice over the country going massively in debt due to irresponsible bankers and financiers who should be in prison right now rather than running major corporations, I’d rather see the money spent on bus cleaning than Goldman Sach’s bonuses or blowing things up in Afghanistan.

    I agree with Steve S that it is pointless and infuriating when two buses of the same line come in a row, the first one packed, the second one nearly empty. Whatever communication it takes to avoid this (walkie talkies? tin cans with string?) it would be money well spent. When I go to I can see a live map that shows where every bus is on a specific line. It makes it easy to tell when they are bunched up. Does no one at Muni have access to this information?

  • Nick

    Does anyone know why they City hires people to pick scraps of litter off the street when they could be 100 times more useful cleaning MUNI busses?

    There’s always a few wandering aroun Irving Street like lost sheep. One talks on a cell phone incessantly, another plays lottery scratchers, and another smokes cigarettes while they are supposed to be working.

  • Branford

    It’s amazing how few seats are in a MUNI bus. I think the disabilities act has crippled the bus system. Picking up a wheelchair completely slows the bus down as it takes over five minutes to load a wheelchair. I remember when you were able to have two rows of seats two wide. Considering the extra effort and cost of wheelchair passengers, why should they get a discount? Is the assumption that handicapped people make less money? Handicap placards on autos that don’t have to pay parking meters also deprives MTA of revenue.

  • saltykittysnacks

    Mike: The ceiling emergency exit hatches are propped open in order to vent the funk of your fellow passengers into the surrounding atmosphere rather than keeping it circulating amongst all of us who are packed in the sardine can. Keeping only the leading edge of the hatch open helps to scoop in fresh air.

    For contrast, try riding on a hot-and-stinky AC Transit bus with its typically difficult-to-open windows. I am grateful for MUNI’s emergency-hatch ventilation (and easy-to-open windows!), and you should be too, even on rainy days. 🙂

  • @Nick those people are usually hired by Community Benefit Districts, and so can’t be used outside the district that is paying for them. Now, it would be nice if we could tie the CBD model into transit, as Emeryville has done to provide free citywide transit, sponsored by local retail and employers

  • marcos

    @SteveS, you mention SPUR, which makes all sorts of lofty pro-transit pronouncements, but once the first dollar has to be raised from developers, architects, their consultants and attorneys who fund SPUR, they go all apeshit and expose their true corporate lobbyist roots.

    SPUR’s touted “smart growth” development plans involve environmentally unsustainable construction techniques that end up costing more over the long run than if those residents lived in exurban sprawl. And they pay just ~ $0.30 on the dollar for what little capital and operations impacts had been demonstrated by a corrupt planning department.

    The people who we see sweeping the sidewalks and gutters are GA Workfare folks, non-homeless people who have to clean the streets for their $345/mo, that’s public money, not private taxing authorities, the CBD.


  • @marcos Absolutely I disagree with SPUR on many, many issues, but they are one of the few organizations we have doing serious investigative reports on Muni, and I think there are a lot of good recommendations to be found in their reports that can’t be thrown out just because you don’t like the organization. The need for better line supervision is definitely one of them!

    On the sidewalk cleaners Nick saw, you are right they could be GA, and most of the bigger CBDs do also fund some of their own full time people now, and it could also have just been a DPW employee doing illegal dumping abatement. Either way I just wanted to point out that Muni doesn’t have access to use either GA, CBD or DPW resources, which is why our sidewalks are cleaner than our buses!

  • marcos

    @SteveS, SPUR is paid by those with expectations and claims on city discretion. Their “investigations” are politically biased in favor of those paying their tab and must be read as such. This does not make them worthless, but as much is said by what they leave out as what they say to the extent that many of their proposals are politically nonstarters irrespective of the flowery garb.

    If the street stewards’ refleco vests say “BSES” then they’re GA or DPW. If they’re wearing a jumpsuit eerily similar to a prison jumpsuit with a logo on it, they’re probably CBD.

    I do not find that sidewalks are remarkably cleaner or dirtier than buses over time.


  • @Branford: I don’t currently have a disability, but I have several friends who do. Back in the bad old days in SF, and still today in some cities, people in wheelchairs had to get rides on special “paratransit” vehicles. They’d have to call for a pickup, much like a cab. Sounds great. The problem is that the system sucked, and the vehicles were often late or didn’t arrive at all. But perhaps the biggest issue with that system was the whole idea that people with motor disabilities had to be separated out from other people.
    Rather than chucking a few people out of the pool to make run times faster for the rest of us, I want to see a more efficient MUNI for everyone — loading wheelchairs, making room, and all. And I have not doubt we can do it.
    Just imagine if we had enough buses and enough runs in SF so the aisles weren’t stacked with standing passengers all the time. A person boarding in a wheelchair would be a piece of cake. Another way in which making common sense improvements, starting with vastly increased and more reliable funding for public transit, will benefit all of us.

  • Nick

    There is a real need for dedicated space for both transit and bikes. I’m beginning to think the only way SF can ever build a “city of panhandles” is through shared railway/bikeway channels.

  • Alex

    @Branford Well, no. It doesn’t take five minutes to board or unboard a wheelchair bound passenger. The only time I’ve seen something like that happen was on Golden Gate Transit where the driver took ten minutes to board wheelchair bound passengers because she was quite chatty and rather slow. On MUNI, the drivers are typically pretty quick.

    Besides, seated capacity is mostly a moot point. People sitting take up almost as much space as people in wheelchairs. Take a look at BART. They provide a huge number of seats at the expense of standees. When you’ve got dense lines, the main concern is how many people can stand.

  • Chris Reyes

    Graffiti on these busses are out of control. MUNI management seems to just let it go. I asked an operator once while someone was tagging in the back. The operator told them to stop but they continued. The operator flagged down SFPD driving by, the PD stopped beside the operator, when the PD was told what’s going on, PD just said contact you dispatcher. WTF?!?!?! The driver said theres nothing he can do because mgmt do not press charges, even if the cameras are supposedly rolling. Why not plaster these thugs faces in the media and bring them to chrges atleast make their parents aware of the criminal actions. Atleast have them do community service by cleaning the busses to a minimum of 100hrs. I hate to say it but i tend to agree with the operators when they say mgmt doesnt even listen to them with the daily problems on the lines.

  • EL

    “For instance, when two buses run right behind one another and the second one ends up basically empty, you have not improved headway for anyone and are basically throwing away money on that run, whereas with effective line supervision you could get both buses to stop, get everyone off of one and onto the other, and turn the other bus around to fill headway gaps anywhere else on the line.”

    SteveS – Not so easy when operating a trolley bus.

  • Mario

    sounds like they are going to be better looking than before i got on one of the smallest one and it looks to me it had a smoother feeling

  • Bryan Deng

    I prefer the rehab Muni buses over the non-rehab ones. I like the current paint scheme except the coach number which may be unreadable by a 50-year-old due to that number being white on gray.


Report Shows Muni Was Less Reliable and More Packed in Late 2009

In the final three months of 2009, buses broke down more often than in previous quarters. Flickr photo: WarzauWynn With grim news on most Muni-related fronts, including massive service cuts coming in two weeks, Muni managers also have to contend with a new quarterly performance report [PDF] that shows on-time performance suffering and more missed […]

Will Muni’s Largest Service Increase in Decades Have Staying Power?

Muni is making major service improvements and shoring up the basics of running buses on schedule, and this time, officials say, the improvements will stick. “This is long term, focused and systematic,” Muni Operations Director John Haley told reporters last week, calling upcoming “Muni Forward” upgrades the largest increase in service since the Market Street subway […]