Report on Muni’s light-rail trains is latest bad news for agency 

click to enlarge Aging tracks and breakdown-prone vehicles have been blamed for increasingly lengthy wait times for the Muni light-rail system. - CINDY CHEW/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Cindy Chew/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Aging tracks and breakdown-prone vehicles have been blamed for increasingly lengthy wait times for the Muni light-rail system.

Muni’s light-rail trains, which collectively carry more than 150,000 passengers each day, posted an on-time performance rate of just under 50 percent in May, according to a recent report that is the latest of several pieces of disconcerting news about the transit agency.

Officials from the transit agency acknowledge the systemic problems, including aging trains and the rundown tracks, but say upcoming fixes may correct some of the issues.

On average, Muni’s light-rail vehicles break down once every 25 to 30 days, and the agency has few reserve vehicles to immediately put into service, according to John Haley, director of transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni. The 151 trains that comprise Muni’s light-rail fleet should have been completely overhauled about five to six years ago, but that never happened, which is why they’re so prone to breakdowns, Haley said.

Muni is scheduled to put out a bid next year for a new batch of light-rail vehicles, which could be in service between 2016 and 2017.

The run-down condition of the agency’s trackways also lead to slower train speeds. In addition, a large confluence of bottlenecks — such as the intersection at Fourth and King streets — results in numerous delays. Scheduling for the lines — which carry passengers at street level and below the ground — has not been updated for the current operating conditions, and the agency lacks enough supervisors to monitor performance, Haley said.

In the short term, before Muni receives its new light-rail trains, the agency plans a number of intermediary fixes, including adjusting its turnaround schedule at the Embarcadero station to improve on-time performance and hiring more supervisors and deploying them more efficiently along the system. It will also begin double-berthing — boarding two trains at the same time — at its downtown stations.

One of the solutions for light-rail problems not listed on Haley’s report is seat reconfiguration. Supervisors Scott Wiener and London Breed issued a letter to Muni Transportation Director Ed Reiskin on Friday, asking him to consider rearranging train seats for more capacity.

“By simply replacing forward facing seats with perimeter seats, similar to a New York City subway car, we can take a demonstrable step toward better vehicle capacity, and, hence, better service,” the letter to Reiskin said.

Haley said that the agency would “take a look” at that proposal.

Haley is scheduled to report on the light-rail lines’ performance Tuesday at a meeting of the transit agency’s board of directors.

The update follows a report released last week that showed Muni delays cost the local economy $50 million a year in lost productivity.

The light-rail lines make up this service include the J-Church, K-Ingleside, L-Taraval, M-Ocean View, N-Judah and T-Third Street.

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Will Reisman

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