Unlicensed operators cost Muni

SF Examiner file photoThe Transport Workers Union reached a settlement over health funds for Muni operators.

Think all Muni drivers have a driver’s license? Think again.

About 50 operators currently do not have a license to drive the vehicles they were hired to operate, costing taxpayers untold sums and hamstringing the agency from hiring more drivers.

The majority of those employees lost their license after failing to pass a medical exam, but for some it was due to other reasons, including DUIs and failure to renew on time, according to data provided by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni.

As of Oct. 20, 52 of the 2,114 Muni operators lacked a license. Of those, seven had just lost their license the previous month. A total of 29 had gone on leave sometime in 2010, and another 20 in 2009. Three had been on leave for lacking a license since 2008.

Close to two-thirds of the licenseless drivers do not have medical clearance to drive. Operators must pass a medical exam in order to renew their license, according to Muni operations chief John Haley.

“They may tell us their blood pressure is kicking up, and they’ve been taking Lipitor and need time to find out how it’s going to affect them,” he said.

Almost none of the operators are being paid a salary while they try to resolve their license problem, but they all receive health and retirement benefits. Health benefits alone cost the agency about $12,000 per year for each operator, according to SFMTA officials.

Aside from taxpayers shelling out the money for the nonworking operators to receive benefits, the agency is blocked from hiring any other operators to fill the positions. That leaves Muni dozens of operators short before any scheduled vacations, sick calls or unexplained absences.

Haley said operators who cannot drive are an expensive problem for the agency, even though most are not paid wages.

“Just because someone isn’t paid, if they’re occupying a position, that’s someone you’re not authorized to hire,” he said. “The overwhelming majority are unpaid, but they can still consume their benefits.”

Haley said the agency is working with the individuals on leave with no license to either resolve the problems or find a way to remove them from the work force.

“The key thing is to try to resolve those things you can within a reasonable period of time,” he said. “Make it clear that you’ve got X amount of time to get your license back, or get a medical leave. We’re navigating the past practices to deal with these situations on an individual basis.”

Calls to the Muni operators union, Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, were not returned.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

Stuck in neutral

Dozens of Muni operators are unable to work because they lack a driver’s license.

2,114 Operators who work for Muni
52 Operators without a license or medical clearance to drive*
29 Operators without a license or clearance to drive since sometime in 2010
20 Operators without a license or clearance to drive since sometime in 2009
3 Operators without a license or clearance to drive since sometime in 2008

* As of Oct. 20

Source: SFMTA

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