Muni Reports Highest Ever On-Time Performance in Early 2010

myleen_image_small.jpgPhoto: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography.

Despite the difficult economic times and the large service cuts last December and again in May this year, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced that Muni had achieved its best quarterly on-time performance rate ever, or 75 percent, from January through March, 2010.

According to the SFMTA, the December 2009 service cuts and related
running time adjustments contributed to the increase in on-time performance. Service cuts on some lines were essentially neutralized because the SFMTA simultaneously enhanced service on other lines, as informed by the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP).

The 75 percent rate does not include
the 10 percent across the board service reductions instituted on May 8th. While the SFMTA Board could restore half of those May 8th cuts in September, the impact of those system wide cuts could be felt with the quarterly report from April through June, 2010.

Despite these realities, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and SFMTA brass were quite happy to have good news related to Muni.

"In the face of the most difficult budget crunch in generations, Muni
managed to hit a high water mark for on-time performance," Mayor
Newsom said in a statement. "We won’t stop working to improve Muni until we restore
100 percent of service and achieve even better on-time numbers, but this
piece of good news is welcome."

"The service changes we made in December were
informed by the Transit Effectiveness Project and represent
recommendations and input from various members of our community," said
Tom Nolan, SFMTA Board Chairman.

According to the SFMTA, the data suggests
that increasing frequency and running time changes may have had a
positive impact on performance.

For instance, the SFMTA reported average on-time performance for lines
and routes with increased frequency and/or running time changes was
77.2 percent, while the average on-time performance for lines without
these improvements was 71 percent. This performance rate for the third quarter of FY 2010 follows 73 percent and 72 percent OTP rates for the first and second quarters of the fiscal year respectively.  This is the highest OTP percentage recorded at the SFMTA.

To achieve these results, each line is randomly sampled and monitored at
a minimum of 10 days covering both weekday and weekends. The lines are
monitored by traffic checkers using hand-held devices which are compared
to a database used to calculate the quarterly results.

Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director for the urban policy think tank SPUR and a lead sponsor of a Muni reform ballot measure, was encouraged by the news and said it was indicative of a longer process of improving the system.

"With all of the funding worries that Muni has, it’s good to take a step
back to celebrate just how much progress Muni has made over the past 5
years," he said. "The investments we have made and especially the Transit
Effectiveness Project are the reasons for the on-time improvement."

Not everyone took the news well, however. Dave Snyder, the Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, said the agency was still far below its own performance targets.

"To celebrate being on time 3 out of 4 times shows how backwards public
transit is in this country, and how our leaders don’t take it seriously
enough," he said. "They manage nearly perfect on time percentage in Zurich with a
system that’s entirely on the surface, and San Francisco voters required
the MTA to be on time 85 percent of the time."

"It’s
hard to get excited about this," he added.

Andrew Sullivan of Rescue Muni also pointed to the need to go well beyond 75 percent for one quarter.

"The MTA should be congratulated for this
progress," he said. "However, 11 years after Prop E, SFMTA still needs to get to
85 percent as specified in the charter. This is why the TEP still needs to be
expanded, including more transit only lanes and express service."

Even SFMTA CEO Nat Ford agreed in part the sentiment expressed by Snyder and Sullivan. "While I am proud of the work we are doing to improve our customers’ riding experience, we have a ways to go until we reach our voter-mandated [on-time performance] goal of 85 percent," he said.

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