Chariot, a private bus service, announced on Thursday that it would be shutting down. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Chariot drivers could get new gigs with Muni

Muni has an operator shortage, leading to long transit wait times city-wide. Private bus company Chariot suddenly shut down Thursday, laying off 300 San Francisco shuttle drivers.

See where this is going?

Mayor London Breed is offering jobs as Muni drivers to all of the nearly 300 laid off Chariot shuttle drivers, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

The Mayor, seizing an opportunity, is turning Chariot’s lemons into Muni’s lemonade.

“That’s fantastic,” said Rachel Hyden, executive director of the Transit Riders, an advocacy group that represents people who ride public buses and trains.

“It’s been a challenge, hiring drivers with that specific license,” Hyden added. “Muni is in a really tough place right now.”

But it isn’t as easy as handing out job applications. Chariot’s shuttle drivers all have Class B licenses, the same license Muni operators are required to have, but lack Muni-specific training.

“The Mayor is committed to helping these workers who are losing their jobs with employment opportunities, which will have the benefit of addressing MTA’s operator shortage and improving transit service for our residents,” said Jeff Cretan, the Mayor’s spokesperson.

To clear this hurdle, Breed convened leaders from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the Teamsters union, which represents Chariot drivers, to find commonalities in driver training to see what classes need to be retaken, and which can be skipped, to get Chariot drivers on the road fast, but safely.

Representatives from those three entities will begin outreach with drivers starting next week, the Mayor’s Office confirmed.

Doug Bloch, political director for the Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents more than 100,000 union members on the West Coast, told the Examiner “we are working with The City, including [the] SFMTA, and our employers to place our members into new jobs.”

Chariot, which was purchased by Ford Motor Company in 2016, was revealed to be shutting down Thursday, in a story first reported by the Examiner. In a statement, the company simply said the business was no longer feasible.

“I think what we’ve learned from this experience is that private transit doesn’t work because it doesn’t have the subsidies that are required,” Hyden said. “And, let’s not forget, and a lot of people are glossing over, private companies don’t have all of the requirements to serve The City in an equitable manner that SFMTA does.”

But the SFMTA has had trouble serving San Francisco of late, too.

Muni has faced a chronic operator shortage due to poor operator pay stemming back to “at least” 2016, according to the City Controller’s Office, in a report they released in December.

The agency only has 1,894 operators available to run its buses and trains, but requires 2,305 — that’s a deficit of 411 positions. Moreover, the shortfall isn’t new: it reaches back to “at least” September 2016, the legislative analyst wrote. It was merely exacerbated by the Twin Peaks Tunnel closure.

And, the legislative analyst added in a warning, “the Transit Operator staffing gap does not appear to be ending soon, as the applicant pool for Transit Operator positions has been on the decline in recent years.” The numbers bear that out: There were 4,055 Muni operator applicants in 2014 but only 2,135 so far in 2018.

That shortage can be traced to a 2014 contract between Muni operators and The City that extended the number of years needed for them to reach full pay. That contract will be renegotiated this year.

Hopefully, Hyden said, these new Chariot operators will help boost Muni’s ranks sooner than later.

“Trying to get hired for The City is usually a long and frustrating process,” she said. “I hope we can kick this into gear, because we need them yesterday.”

joe@sfexaminer.com Transit

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