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Muni working group prioritizes hiring, train control upgrades

San Francisco’s Muni Reliability Working Group released a draft report Friday that identifies several areas of improvement officials expect the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency to address.

Mayor London Breed created the working group in June with Gwyneth Borden, the SFMTA’s Board of Directors vice chair, and Ed Harrington, The City’s former controller. Both led the group of transportation experts and community members to discuss ways Muni could improve service citywide.

Breed told SFBay Monday:

“This report is important because it helps people understand the bigger picture so they (Muni passengers) can know what we’re going to do and the investments we’re going to make and when they can expect to see a difference. It’s really a long-term vision for what we need to do and helping to understand how long it’s going to take before they notice difference.”

It’s no secret the transit agency faces an ongoing operator shortage, despite an increase in hiring this past year.

The shortage impacts the number of service hours Muni delivers on a monthly basis. In October, only 95.5 percent of scheduled service was delivered — The City mandates a 98.5 percent performance.

In order to meet the transit agency’s hiring goals, the report recommends obtaining support from other city departments, including the Human Resources Department for recruitment and training, the Real Estate Division for training facilities and the Department of Public Health for medical clearances.

Transit officials are being asked to hire 525 transit operators and stabilize Muni service levels by the summer of 2021.

Another area that requires attention is hiring of transit supervisors and maintenance professionals — the vacancy rate for those positions are 17 percent and between 20 and 45 percent, respectively.

The report recommends hiring 100 transit supervisors over the next two fiscal years and creating a strategy development program with human resources staff to hire additional maintenance staff, possibly from the ranks of community college students.

One recommendation to improve subway service is to seek proposals for a new Automatic Train Control System that can handle more trains at one time.

The system acts as the subway’s brain and controls trains inside the subway. A train not connected to the ATCS can result in delays, as the train has to operate manually and at a slower pace.

The report recommends the SFMTA speed up plans to solicit new ATCS proposals, targeting summer 2020 as a goal.

It will take years to install a new train control system, and in the meantime, the report recommended SFMTA negotiate a new contract with Thales, the current system provider, to provide on-site staff who will provide “guaranteed response times” to any issues.

Cat Carter, the acting Executive Director of San Francisco Transit Riders, whose organization participated in the working group, said in an email they would like the new Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin to focus on prioritizing public transit on the streets:

“We need to re-program lights for transit signal priority, we need more transit-only lanes, things like queue jumps for buses, bus bulbs, etc. Where Muni gets real priority on the street, it becomes more reliable, which is what this task force was about.

Carter said prioritizing Muni is one of the quickest ways to improve reliability and speed up service.

The group also supports a “quick-build” process in getting near-term improvements on the ground to improve Muni service and fixing known bottleneck areas that delay trains, such as at West Portal, on Third Street along the T-Third rail line, and 19th Avenue and Winston Drive along the M-Ocean View.

Carter said:

“SFMTA staff knows where these problem places are and has ideas to fix them. They need the political support to prioritize and actually apply the fixes.”

Monday marked the official first day for Tumlin, who took over as the SFMTA’s director of transportation with these new set of recommendations from the mayor’s working group.

The Controller’s Office plans to release the final working group report next year in January.

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