Frustrated Muni riders forced to wait long periods of time for buses and trains will be happy to hear that Muni’s bus operator shortage is on the mend.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum told the SFMTA Board of Directors Tuesday that a total of 200 people graduated from Muni’s operator classes this year, compared to only 78 graduates in 2018.

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay A Muni bus drives through the intersection of Fulton Street and 8th Avenue in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

Kirschbaum said:

“While that is a tremendous improvement, it is not enough.”

The shortage has resulted in a reduction of service hours, cutting into up to 4 percent of regular service every day.

Kirschbaum said:

“This board needs no reminder that we are currently not delivering our scheduled service, which is having both direct and indirect impacts on our ability to deliver quality service.”

Muni’s operator shortage was exacerbated and exposed by the San Francisco Examiner in the summer of 2018 during construction of the Twin Peaks Tunnel project. When transit officials arranged shuttle buses to replace rail service, it was discovered that there were not enough operators to run regular bus service citywide.

The agency has successfully increased recruited additional operators in  partnership with The City’s Office of Economic Workforce and Development’s City Drive program.

Kirschbaum said:

“It’s been so popular, there’s going to be advisory group because other city departments, some of the private sector and even other transit agencies are interested in this program.”

The program, lauded by Mayor London Breed, helps train drivers so they can earn a Class B license, a requirement needed to drive a bus. Earlier this year, the program enabled drivers of the now defunct private shuttle company Chariot to transition into needed Muni operators positions. 

Despite the agency’s success, about 230 operators are still needed. In a regular year, the transit agency must hire approximately 200 people to replace operator who retire, are promoted or who transfer to the rail system. 

Ching Wong/SFBay Muni buses wait for the passengers at the new Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Aug 10, 2018.

In order to address the operating needs, Kirschbaum said the transit agency is increasing the hiring pace. Currently, the transit agency offers a class every eight weeks, with 55 to 60 people per class.

Starting February 2020, classes will be offered every five weeks, with 40 to 45 students in each class.

Director Steve Heminger asked if there was a way to keep or incentivize retiring operators to stay on an extra year or two.

Heminger asked:

“Is there any kind of incentive we can explore within The City retirement structure that would permit that?”

Kirschnaum, who is part of The City’s Muni Working Transit Group — a group formed by the mayor to improve Muni service — said she will explore Heminger’s suggestion with the group.

Kirschbaum believes the operator shortage will be fully remedied in 2021.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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