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Citywide Muni delays could make students tardy

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A Muni operator shortage has created delays on bus lines across the city and could affect the commute for thousands of students when the new school year starts Monday. (Gabrielle Lurie/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Many of the roughly 56,000 students returning to school on city buses Monday will face service delays and longer wait times as an operator shortage that has caused a citywide Muni slowdown is expected to continue through August 25.

As the San Francisco Examiner first reported, a shortage of some 150 Muni operators that started late last year, compounded by a number of promotions and retirements, a training backlog and the Twin Peaks Tunnel shutdown that required more buses and operators to drive them, has resulted in hundreds of buses sitting idle on any given weekday since March.

The effects have been felt on nearly every bus line, including those that will soon shuttle students to schools around The City. The San Francisco Unified School District is actively working to warn principals about the issue before school starts on Monday, and is directing them to anticipate student tardiness.

“We will also post a notice on our online portals to alert families and staff,” said SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick. “Given that we cannot anticipate which lines will be affected, we will evaluate any potential impact after school begins, and work with the schools and students that may be impacted.”

Data obtained by the San Francisco Examiner on the average weekday daily service hours that were missed in recent months could offer some insight on what to expect next week.

For the week of July 2, the average scheduled daily weekday service hours for the 29-Sunset line, which services Lowell High School, was 249 hours. In that same week, 23 service hours were missed on average per day. If it takes any bus roughly an hour to complete one single trip then that’s the equivalent of 23 fewer single trips that the 29- Sunset line took each day that week.

That same week, the 38-Geary line, which runs past Washington High School, was scheduled for an average 186 daily weekday service hours, and missed an average of 47 service hours per day, equating to 47 fewer trips each day that week.

Bus lines near Mission High School, Galileo Academy of Science and Technology, and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts are also facing slowdowns.

When one bus trip is missed, it causes a ripple effect on the system, as subsequent buses fill to capacity and passengers are left waiting.

A SFUSD student commute study that collected data on students’ commutes from 2010 to 2018 (excluding the 2016-17 school year) found that over half of high school students take public transportation home from school.

In the 2017-18 school year, more than 40 percent of 9th grade students surveyed reported using city buses to commute to school, while 60 percent said they used the city buses for their commute home.

In order to increase service hours, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency is increasing the size of all operator training classes to bring more new operators on board “more quickly,” and qualifying operators to operate its new trains.

“We are working to certify more than 200 operators by the end of the year. Dozens of operators have completed training and are already in service,” said Rose, adding that the effort will allow Muni “to add 30 additional runs,” or complete trips, to its rail service this.

Rose said that more than 70 operators who have been driving shuttles during the Twin Peaks Construction will return to their normal routes by the end of the month.

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