(Courtesy SFMTA)

Muni approval ratings hit lowest point since 2012 as riders flee to Uber, Lyft

Muni’s approval ratings are at their lowest point since 2012, according to a survey of riders released Tuesday by the agency.

That survey found that the summer’s Twin Peaks Tunnel shutdown and citywide service delays exacerbated by an operator shortage helped drive down Muni rider satisfaction.

And when Muni service failed, riders took Lyft and Uber vehicles 10 percent more often in 2018 than they did in 2017, which was already a record-high year for riders fleeing buses and light rail for tech-enabled ride-hail services.

The survey was conducted this summer while Muni’s Twin Peaks Tunnel was shut down for seismic work. During that time, trains serving tens of thousands of riders were replaced with shuttle buses.

That exacerbated an ongoing Muni operator shortage and led to a slowdown in service that a San Francisco Examiner investigation revealed was citywide.

“This was a pretty challenging time for the Muni system,” said Candace Sue, director of communications at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, at an SFMTA Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday.

“We’re not surprised at all that we saw a change, a drop, in customer satisfaction,” she added.

The phone survey conducted by Corey, Canapary & Galanis Research of 609 San Francisco Muni riders in English, Spanish and Cantonese from June 26 to August 12 this year. Half of those surveyed use Muni to commute to work, with others using Muni for recreation or chores.

What riders told surveyors spells hard times for the SFMTA, which runs Muni.

About 50 percent of riders surveyed in 2018 think Muni service is good and 13 percent rated it as excellent, a 63 percent favorability rating.

But rider satisfaction with Muni dropped 7 percent from last year’s survey. About 70 percent of riders though Muni service was good or excellent in 2016 and 2017, a record-high for the agency, after years of steadily-growing approvals starting in 2012.

So since 2012, people have liked Muni service more and more. Until this year when Muni approvals sank, eroding six years of goodwill.

The cause of riders’ dissatisfaction isn’t a mystery to Rachel Hyden, executive director of the San Francisco Transit Riders advocacy group.

“Riders across the city suffered through the Twin Peaks Tunnel shutdown, which happens to be when this survey was conducted,” Hyden said. “We know service reliability and delivery dropped significantly, which were the two biggest complaints from respondents.”

The survey bears out that riders were dissatisfied by the shutdown: Only 57 percent of riders who use the trains closed for tunnel work, the K, L and M lines, were satisfied with Muni performance, whereas other riders favored service at 66 percent.

And when Muni fails San Francisco riders, they increasingly turn to Uber and Lyft instead.

Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they used Uber or Lyft when Muni service fell short, compared to just 34 percent of survey respondents last year. About 6 percent of respondents take BART instead, a 1 percent increase since last year’s survey; 17 percent walk instead of taking a bus and 3 percent would ride a bike, the same as in last year’s survey.

The number of those who would take a taxi as an alternative decreased from 9 to 7 percent from last year to this year’s survey.

Paul Rose, an SFMTA spokesperson, told the Examiner “we should be able to provide outstanding service whether we are conducting major tunnel work or not.”

He added that SFMTA made “significant progress” in its service over the years, and now is taking steps to recruit more operators to put more service on the street.

At a hearing held by Supervisor Vallie Brown last month, the Board of Supervisors Budget Legislative Analyst submitted a report revealing ongoing bus operator recruitment problems at SFMTA which have yet to be resolved.

(Courtesy SFMTA)

joe@sfexaminer.com

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