Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerMayor Ed Lee

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerMayor Ed Lee

Muni to add 40 new light-rail vehicles amidst operating deficit

Standing in Muni's Metro East maintenance yard, Mayor Ed Lee announced Tuesday that The City will soon gain 40 new light-rail vehicles, vastly expanding Muni's train fleet.

The move is expected to shore up Muni's on-time performance, and add to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's previously announced 175 new LRVs, which will slowly replace older trains beginning in 2016.

But the silver lining has a cloud, as the new trains will arrive amidst Muni's nearly $50 million annual structural operating budget deficit.

Put plainly, The City is buying the cars without additional money to pay for mechanics, supervisors, car cleaners and more.

“This was a very nice opportunity from Siemens,” Lee said, referring to the train manufacturer. “They had a [production] window if we could find the funding in time.”

The new vehicles will cost $210 million, most of which the SFMTA intends to pay for using California's cap-and-trade funds, the agency said, and will seek additional funding from the SFMTA board of directors for up to $57 million.

Called the S200 SF Light Rail Vehicle, the new model is said to be better at taking a beating: The old LRVs break down every 5,000 miles or so, the SFMTA said, but the S200 is projected to run at least 25,000 miles between breakdowns.

“On the face of it, [better reliability] will improve things a lot, we won't need people to be constantly fixing them,” said Tom Nolan, chairman of the SFMTA board.

But once the cars do break down, Muni may still not have enough mechanics to repair them.

According to The City's 2013 Transportation Task Force 2030 report, Muni has a shortage of 120 mechanics, 20 dispatchers, 60 street supervisors, 160 overhead-power workers, 100 car cleaners, 20 groundskeepers and 40 driver trainers.

The SFMTA said it added 160 workers since the report, but still has a lot more work to do.

Muni's $50 million annual deficit remains.

Whether the operating budget will increase soon, “is an unknown,” Nolan said.

“I hope something like this speaks to people's willingness to support us in the fall,” for additional funding in the next election, he added.

Muni also has a major shortage of drivers. That problem, at least, is being addressed.

Starting in October, 56 new Muni operators will graduate training and hit the streets. And every month from October to March will see a new class of 56 operators graduate.

“We continue to have a shortage of operators for the system,” said spokesman Paul Rose, but new graduating driver classes “will allow us to close our operator shortage by next summer.”

New District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen was also on hand for the press conference. When she was growing up, she said, buying a new car was part of the American dream. The new finish, the feel of the seats, all were part of “keeping up with the Joneses.”

“Today, we're buying new cars for the city of San Francisco,” she said.

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