Muni’s cavernous Metro East maintenance facility was created to ease system congestion, but it is housing fewer vehicles than it was designed to accommodate, which the operators’ union says is affecting on-time performance.
The yard was created in 2008 to provide Muni with state-of-the-art maintenance tools and a much-needed second outlet for vehicles to enter into morning service. A 2008 transit plan called for 80 of Muni’s 151 trains to be housed at the facility to “relieve the overcrowded conditions” at Muni’s aging Green yard.
Yet, the bulk of Muni’s light-rail vehicles are still located at the Green yard, an overused facility near the Balboa Park Station.
The $140 million Metro East facility is now home to 65 light-rail vehicles, of which just 58 are active. The 58 vehicles are less than half of Muni’s fleet of 133 active trains.
Muni spokesman Paul Rose said the facility will eventually hold 80 vehicles — but only when it makes sense.
“Having 65 cars at the location allows us to store the other half at Green and allows for room to expand, when needed,” Rose said. “It’s like buying a kid a pair of pants or shoes with the anticipation that the child will grow into them.”
But Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer for the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents about 2,000 Muni operators, said the smaller Green yard is still too crowded. That affects the agency’s on-time performance since it takes so long for the trains to leave the yard, Scott said.
Muni has never come close to achieving the 85 percent on-time performance rate mandated by voters in a 1999 ballot initiative. It recently posted its lowest on-time rate in three years.
John Haley, Muni’s director of transit operations, said that one reason for the new facility was to create two separate yards, so that a disaster such as an earthquake would not cripple the Muni system.
“If something happens that completely cuts off access to one of the rail yards, we’ll still have a separate outlet for service,” he said.
Haley said Muni will soon house its fleet of historic streetcars at the facility. He also said there is room at the yard to store some of the agency’s buses.
Howard Wong, a member of Save Muni, said his organization believes Muni regularly oversells projects such as the MME rail yard and the forthcoming Central Subway project to amass public support.
“The main objective of this transit agency is to create projections to secure funds and public support, irrespective of the truth,” Wong said. “We know that the MME facility is not operating like it should, and that’s worrisome because it’s packaged together with the Central Subway.”
Wong worries that Muni will oversell the benefits of the Central Subway, which will extend Metro service from the South of Market district to Chinatown at a current projected cost of $1.58 billion. The MME facility will ultimately house the four extra vehicles needed for the Central Subway.
58 Active light-rail vehicles at site
80 Light-rail vehicles projected for site
75 Active light-rail vehicles at smaller Green facility
53 Light-rail vehicles projected for Green facility