A safe, reliable transit system is absolutely essential for people to move in San Francisco. On any average weekday, over 700,000 people board our Muni system to travel to work, school, and much more. In the past year, I’ve seen several instances of where our transit system was not meeting the expectations of the public. Between Muni Metro outages, equipment failures, and other system-wide service delays, there are a number of issues that need fixing — and we’ll do what needs to be done. We can and we must do better to serve the people of San Francisco who depend on our transportation system.
Muni Reliability Working Group
In June, Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin and I came together to form a working group to help us develop recommendations to create a public transit system that is safe, reliable, and welcoming to everyone. We knew this effort would take a collection of minds including local policy makers, labor leaders, and community stakeholders, but also bringing in transit agency experts from around the country.
As the City started looking for a new Director of Transportation for the City, we wanted to be able to provide the new Director with a plan that they could take and run with when they started the job. Over the past six months, the group has reviewed and investigated the ins and outs of Muni, and presented their findings and draft recommendations on delivering reliable service at the final Working Group yesterday.
On Monday, December 16, Jeffrey Tumlin will start as the new SFMTA Director of Transportation. I am excited both about the vision and transportation experience he will bring to the agency, and that he will enter the role with a comprehensive set of recommendations to continue to improve our transit system.
The recommendations from the working group are comprehensive — for a system as complicated as ours, it makes sense that there are a lot of challenges and potential solutions. After reviewing their findings and suggestions, three issues stand out to me as the most important:
1. We need to address our transit operator and other workforce shortages.
2. We need to fix our citywide traffic congestion issues.
3. We need to invest in maintaining and improving our infrastructure.
Transit Operators and Workforce
Our number one issue is workforce — we simply don’t have enough operators to operate buses and trains. We also don’t have enough mechanics or engineers. When Muni is late, or doesn’t show up at the scheduled time, more often than not it’s because there aren’t enough people to drive them.
Unfortunately, the workforce issue isn’t unique to San Francisco. Other transit agencies in the Bay Area are dealing with it too. As one example to address this, we have already started to plan for and invest in programs to increase our operator hiring and training. Proceeds from the recently passed Congestion Mitigation Tax (Prop D) will go towards training resources, so we can increase the number of training classes.
We also started CityDrive this year — a program to help people get their Class B Permit, become an SFMTA transit operator, and address the driver shortage we have at SFMTA. So far, over 150 people have graduated from the program. We need to continue programs that work — like CityDrive — and implement new programs, like additional workforce training and partnerships with community colleges.
At the end of the day, our transit workers need to be able to live here. To make housing more affordable in San Francisco, we need to keep building and preserving affordable housing throughout the city. Affordability, particularly housing affordability, is a big challenge for workforce. Many operators can no longer afford to live in San Francisco, meaning they commute long distances to get to work, or they’re looking for jobs closer to where they live. This issue of affordability is, sadly, not unique for Muni operators. We are in a housing affordability crisis in San Francisco, and we need to build more housing, plain and simple.
Another big issue is congestion — which is something everyone in San Francisco knows about. Our city has only grown in the past decade, but our streets have stayed the same size. Transit helps us tackle congestion by moving people more efficiently, but only if those buses and trains aren’t getting stuck in the same traffic.
To solve the issue of street congestion, we need to support and speed-up the planned redesign of streets, and implement congestion management strategies to improve transit system performance. An example recommendation focuses on reinforcing our Muni Forward program, which has already shown strong results through transit priority signals, red lanes, and other improvements to keep trains and buses moving. We need to continue to make these investments to ensure transit service is reliable and that we’re prioritizing the modes that are moving the most people in our congested city. We have 20 more miles of transit focused Muni Forward projects approved, and we need even more bus-only lanes to get completed.
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is currently studying what impact mobility pricing could have in San Francisco. My staff is participating in this process and we’ll have their findings in December of next year.
We know that the majority of Muni Metro delays are due to vehicle breakdowns and equipment issues, especially in the subway. These issues are often the most notable given that the thousands of people traveling in the Muni Metro come to a halt for a broken train, or an equipment problem on the track.
Having enough engineers and mechanics is critical for our system, because we need to have people who can keep vehicles in good repair, or who can fix them quickly when there’s an issue. We also need to be more proactive at preventing future issues in the subway through maintenance and investment in new equipment that is less prone to breakdown.
More Work Ahead
We need to make sure that our public transportation system is reliable, for all San Franciscans — and especially for our communities that have historically been left behind. Muni needs to be safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly. We have a lot of work ahead of us and we are ready to get to work.
Photos courtesy of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.