Muni chief lowers agency’s on-time goal

Although San Francisco’s Municipal Railway is supposed to be on schedule 85 percent of the time, according to a goal approved by voters in 1999, the transportation agency’s new chief said a more modest target of 75 percent could be achieved by next summer.

Muni chief Nathaniel Ford made the promise at a meeting Wednesday of the Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors in response to concerns regarding an agency report that showed that, since 2001, the average on-time rate of Muni vehicles had hovered around 70 percent. In the most recent quarter, the on-time rate was 69.5 percent.

“This shows we’re not making any progress at all,” board member Peter Mezey said.

Ford, who started with the agency in January, said that although he was “committed” to reaching the 85 percent on-time target in the future, a 5 percent improvement by next July was a more realistic goal.

Some of the troubles of getting to stops on time were rooted in numerous problemswithin the agency, including staffing shortages and recently resolved space limitations for vehicle maintenance, Ford said.

“There are clearly some embedded issues with the MTA,” Ford said. “When we talk about setting goals, we have to be very clear about where we are today.”

At the MTA meeting, board members approved agencywide goals for fiscal year 2006-07, which will be used to evaluate Ford’s performance as executive director and determine the amount of his bonus.

The goals included quantifiable service standards — including target goals for how crowded a Muni vehicle can get and how long a vehicle should run before breaking down. The priorities list also included less concrete standards.

Board member Wil Din said the idea was to move the agency to “go beyond service standards.”

Other board members expressed discomfort with generalized wording of some of the goals, but added to the unanimous vote nonetheless.

“It feels very loose, very vague,” board member Leah Shahum said.

Mezey said he was most interested in the agency’s on-time performance.

“That’s much more important than ‘outreach to our stakeholders,’” Mezey said.

Ford’s salary is $298,000. Under his contract, he can receive up to 10 percent of his salary, or nearly $30,000, based on the agency’s achievement of service standards and milestones adopted by the board. Although he was eligible for the bonus this year, he told the board he wanted to hold off until next summer.

“I want to make sure we’re making significant progress before we start talking about any bonus for me,” Ford said.

Cable car riders may get break

San Francisco’s public transit agency is considering offering cable car riders the option of free transfers to another cable car or one of the system’s bus or rail lines, the agency’s chief said Wednesday.

The news comes on the heels of data revealing that cable car ridership dropped after the Municipal Transportation Agency raised the fare last year from $3 to $5.

MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford told the agency’s board of directors that his staff had recently begun researching the cost effectiveness of transfers, noting that it was a more feasible option than reducing the price of the popular tourist attraction.

“Just generally, the cost per [cable car] trip and the revenue it’s generating is just breaking even,” Ford said.

Transfers would allow riders to pay their fare, then board a second cable car, bus or rail vehicle for free within a certain time period. On Muni buses and rail, the transfers are valid for 90 minutes.

Daniel Murphy, the chairman of the Municipal Transportation Agency’s Citizen Advisory Council, agreed with the idea of offering transfers on the iconic trolleys, noting that a family of four could spend up to $80 dollars to take a trip from downtown to Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf and back.

“We don’t want to send the message to tourists that Muni’s ripping them off,” Murphy said.

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