The shortage of Muni operators could continue to get worse for The City’s transportation agency as a report outlined the gloomy situation of the transit agency, which has not been able to retain operators or even get potential candidates to bother to apply to become a bus operator.

A report from the Budget and Legislative Analyst outlined the situation at a hearing by Supervisor Vallie Brown on Thursday at the Board of Supervisors Government and Audits Committee. She called for the hearing so transit officials can explain why Muni bus service was lacking throughout the summer and what the transit agency plans to do to hire more operators.

Muni riders might recall, or may not want to recall, that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency began work to retrofit the Twin Peaks Tunnel over the summer. During the Twin Peaks Tunnel work, service began to slip on bus service throughout The City as the transit agency staffed operators on bus shuttles to replace train service.

But there were not enough operators to go around, and the SFMTA’s percentage of scheduled service began to slip hitting a low point of 91.4 percent in July. The city charter mandates the SFMTA deliver 98.5 percent of scheduled service.

SFMTA’s Director of Ed Reiskin said the transit agency just was not as prepared over the summer. Besides the closure of the Twin Peaks Tunnel, operators  in training on new vehicles and equipment.

The report said the transit agency needs 2,305 transit operators to fulfill the scheduled runs but only has 1,894 available operators.

Brown said:

“This represents hundreds of empty operator positions guaranteeing Muni can’t deliver full-scheduled service and also significantly increasing the likelihood that stressors in the system like the Twin Peaks Improvement Project earlier this year will result in widely diminished service.”

Fred Brousseau, with the Budget and Legislative Analyst office, said there could be a number of factors that could be causing the operator shortage at the transit agency.

One of those factors is wages. Currently, newly hired Muni operators make 63 percent of the top step hourly pay rate at $22.70 or about $36,826 annually.

Brown said:

“We’re not even paying them enough to qualify for affordable housing in The City.”

Brousseau added that applicants are facing a difficulty obtaining a Class B license from the California Department of Motor Vehicles or an applicant being disqualified during other sections of the hiring process.

The report also said long commute times could also be contributing factor in lack luster of applicants to become a Muni operator as some may consider the time and cost of coming into The City and going back home. At least 45 percent of operators live outside of The City.

Muni operators also spoke at the hearing public comment giving reasons why either so few people are applying to work for the transit agency or why transit operators leave after only working as a Muni operator for a couple of years.

Greg Ellis, who works a cable car operator and has been with the transit agency for 18 years, said he would not work for Muni today if they were hiring because the pay is not good.

Other operators said the environment is not great to work in with some riders beating, yelling and even sexually harassing operators.

Roger Marenco, president of the Transit Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents The City’s Muni operators, said at the hearing that he would like to see wages increase during the next negotiations next year.

In fact, one of the report’s recommendations is for the SFMTA to consider changing the hourly wages to reflect the cost of living in the Bay Area and to change the starting hourly top step rate to address recruitment and retention issues.

Brown wants to hear back from the SFMTA in six months when the transit agency will be negotiations with the union on wages.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to jerold@sfbay.ca.

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