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Muni may build housing for its operators to stem driver shortage

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SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the agency was looking into subsidized housing for its employees. (Ellie Doyen/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

How do you cure a Muni operator shortage? One transportation official has an idea: Build city housing for them.

That was the suggestion of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke at a Tuesday retreat for agency directors.

The event, this year held at Muni’s Presidio Division yard, is an annual workshop for the board to learn in-depth what issues the agency is facing and prepare for the year to come. Informally, it has also in recent years served as a place for board members to spitball new ideas.

But this isn’t an entirely pie-in-the-sky proposal. SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin revealed Tuesday this is something he’s already looking into, since the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A has also requested it.

“I think it’s a great idea and we’ll go back to them and explore what that might look like,” Reiskin said Tuesday.

“That’s spectacular,” said Roger Marenco, president of the Muni operator’s union. “This is an actual feasible solution, a tangible solution. It’s not a band-aid on a wound, this can work and will work.”

The Mayor’s Office is already exploring subsidized housing for teachers, which Reiskin said may pave the way for Muni operators too.

The federal Housing Act restricts housing preferences in ways that make teacher and Muni operator housing difficult, Reiskin said, but “we’re looking at ways to make it work, maybe without federal money.”

And more housing for Muni operators may mean better bus and train service on the streets, SFMTA directors said.

Muni’s summer service meltdown, first revealed in a San Francisco Examiner investigation, led The City to poke into the agency’s performance woes. The Budget Legislative Analyst found Muni operators were dropping from the agency like flies, often citing pay too low to stay in The City.

Heinicke said Muni operator housing could stem the driver shortage.

But Marenco said this should be a solution for all working-class government staff.

“We don’t just need housing geared towards operators, but teachers, low-income blue collar workers. The workers who move the city and county of San Francisco — public sector employees,” he said.

The proposal is not Muni’s only recent venture into housing. Officials also announced in December that they are considering seeking a developer to build housing at the Potrero Bus Yard in order to help finance a badly-needed rehabilitation of the 103-year-old facility.

joe@sfexaminer.com

Editor’s note: The report analyzing Muni staffing shortages was written by the Budget Legislative Analyst, not the Controller’s Office.

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