Muni service ratings slip fast as buses slow

S.F. Examiner File PhotoSee below for more information about Muni service.

Muni’s long-standing attempts to improve service and reliability have hit significant roadblocks in the past several months.

Since March, Muni has posted steadily regressing marks in its five primary service standards, including a dismal 57.2 percent on-time performance rate in August. That’s well below the 85 percent benchmark set when voters approved a ballot measure to expand the agency in 1999.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, recently reconfigured its on-time metric to more accurately reflect its performance, and SFMTA chief Ed Reiskin has questioned whether those criteria — which measure adherence to preset schedules — are the most accurate way of evaluating service.

However, the agency also is suffering in other performance evaluation standards, including the number of “bunches and gaps” in its service — a metric that Reiskin has said Muni will rely on more heavily. The bunches-and-gaps measure details how often there are long durations between the arrivals of Muni vehicles, and how often a fleet of buses shows up at a stop nearly simultaneously.

In August, 19.8 percent of Muni’s bus runs missed their scheduling times by more than five minutes — an oversight that amounts to a transit gap. Further, 5.7 percent of the agency’s runs featured a cluster of swiftly arriving buses, which constitutes a transit bunch. In February, only 17 percent of Muni’s runs featured a transit gap and only 4.6 percent had bunches.

On-time performance rates also have plummeted in the past six months. In March, Muni’s rate was 63.2 percent.

By August, it had dropped to 57.2. The on-time departing rate from terminals went from 79.9 percent in March to 71.8 percent in August.

Ben Kaufman, a spokesman for passenger advocacy group the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, said the new numbers reflect a general sense of discontent among Muni patrons.

“Passengers are just generally frustrated and fed up with the system,” said Kaufman. “It’s going to take a bold vision and a lot of political will to make the changes that will lead to more efficient transit in this city.”

Paul Rose, a spokesman for the SFMTA, attributed the declining numbers to several familiar shortcomings: The agency’s aging fleet of buses, the oldest in North America, require extra maintenance and are more prone to breakdowns; Muni has a significant shortage of available transit operators; and the number of employees out on sick leave has risen in recent months.

The agency is in the process of addressing those issues, Rose said.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Muni Performance Standards, by Percentage

March April May June July August
Trips with transit 'gaps' 17 18.7 18.5 18.9 18.5 19.8
Trips with transit 'bunches' 4.6 5.1 5.2 5.0 4.7 5.7
On-time performance rate 63.2 62.2 61.2 60.0 60.4 57.2
Daily available Service levels 96.8 95.1 95.3 95.4 95.3 93.9
On-time departure from terminals 79.9 79.4 77.9 77.7 77.7 71.8
Source: SFMTA


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