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SF supe calls for hearing to investigate citywide Muni delays

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Passengers wait to board the 27-Bryant Muni bus at Cyril Magnin and Market streets on July 19. Muni is facing a citywide service slowdown due to an operator shortage. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Muni service has slowed to a crawl citywide, and now one supervisor wants answers.

At the Tuesday meeting of the Board of Supervisors Supervisor Vallie Brown called for a hearing into Muni slowdowns that have affected more than 30 routes across The City.

“Not a day has gone by that I haven’t heard from my constituents about the issues we’re facing with Muni, that it’s not reliable, and that there are not enough buses,” Brown told the San Francisco Examiner in a statement.

At the hearing Brown hopes Muni officials will explain in detail why the agency has experienced an operator shortage that has led to gaps in Muni service, leaving some riders waiting more than 40 minutes for buses across The City. The outcry comes on the heels of reporting by the San Francisco Examiner revealing the extent of the slowdown due to a shortage of operators, showing Muni service has fallen far below its legally mandated minimums since May.

Much of that internal strife is between the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s training and transit divisions. An internal memo obtained by the Examiner shows the transit division warned the training division that there was a shortage of 150 operators as far back as October 2017. The email, sent by transit division head Julie Kirschbaum, called for the training division to ensure there were enough bus drivers to provide service during the two-month Twin Peaks Tunnel shutdown. Those operators did not materialize.

Brown alluded to this conflict in her statement.

“To hear that there are many issues within the department causing these problems, issues we control and can fix, is just not acceptable,” she wrote. “This is especially true given all the Board of Supervisors has done to fund the acquisition of new buses, trains and (light rail vehicles), and to support redesigning vehicles to support passenger capacity.”

The text of Brown’s request for a hearing specifically references a review of “training procedures,” hiring practices and the retention of current operators leading to shortages of trained operators at SFMTA and “intensifying Muni service delays.”

Rachel Hyden, executive director of the Transit Riders advocacy group, said she was grateful to see Brown taking the lead on the issue.

“I’m really happy to have our elected officials really interested and wanting to find solutions,” Hyden said. “We want to know what’s going on, too. Why is it that SFMTA is planning to increase service but they don’t have the operators to meet service today? That’s really concerning.”

Though Brown called for the hearing Tuesday, it is the last Board of Supervisors meeting before the board takes a break for its August recess. It’s the first hearing Brown has called for since Mayor London Breed appointed her as supervisor of District 5, which includes the Western Addition and the Haight among other neighborhoods.

Ultimately, Brown said, “We need Muni to work.”

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