Short supply of Muni lookouts

Cuts to Muni’s schedulers and street supervisors — the transit agency’s eyes and ears on the street — have left the agency partially blind, partially deaf and failing to arrive on time.

Schedulers determine the most optimal way to deploy the drivers and vehicles to arrive on time, and street supervisors are at key locations in the transit system observing how it is operating. They help Muni make decisions on service when there are potential disruptions such as traffic congestion.

However, these positions are underserved, with Muni employing three schedulers and 48 street supervisors. Ideally, the transit agency should have 12 schedulers, and three years ago it had 100 street supervisors, according to the latest Transit Effectiveness Project report.

The TEP is an 18-month comprehensive study of Muni that examines routes, service, efficiency, staffing and budgeting. Itis the first overall study of the transit agency in 25 years.

Julie Kirschbaum, the manager of the Transit Effectiveness Project, said recently that underemployment was a “theme” in the operations review of Muni. “We’re very understaffed in our front line management — the people that are really key to having the system run,” she said.

The 2008 budget does have funding for three new driver trainers and three new street supervisors. Muni has also created three new scheduling positions, Kirschbaum said.

Nearly 670,000 people ride Muni’s more than 1,000 vehicles each weekday, and the agency has a 59 percent on-time rate system-wide, according to data.

A survey of riders last spring conducted for the project showed riders cared the most about reliability in the system, with more than 80 percent of them calling it important.

Also affecting reliability was the unfulfilled need of 150 drivers, she said. A 2004 hiring freeze combined with no cuts in service have left staffing levels low, she said.

“We simply stopped hiring and we had people retire,” Kirschbaum said. “And we’re still digging out of that hole.”

Without enough drivers, Muni cannot offer the scheduled service every day, Kirschbaum added.

“I think we need to make a tremendous investment in reliability,” she said.

dsmith@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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