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Muni delays post-pandemic service restoration as staffing shortages continue

San Francisco Muni routes expected to return next month in March will now take longer to return, with transit officials citing omicron as the main reason.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency planned to return several Muni routes next month and in June, including routes that have not been in service since the Covid-19 pandemic began in mid-March 2020. Due to a pre-existing staffing shortage, the omicron variant, and fewer trainees in recent operator classes, the agency said last week they will need to start restoring service in April instead of March.

All of the issues the SFMTA is facing with Muni service has had impact on passengers, said Julie Kirschbaum, the agency’s director of transit, who provided an update on Muni service the Board of Supervisors last week at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority board meeting:

In recent weeks, our riders have been experiencing longer wait times for Muni and more crowded vehicles. We’re continuing to struggle with a high number of employee absences because of omicron. We are also experiencing some related training delays that are impacting our ability to deliver this service we had intended for March.”

Mun passengers on Twitter during the last two months have seen tweets in the morning and late afternoon on which routes passengers can expect longer wait times. On some days, more than 20 routes were listed. Transit officials said about 20 to 25 percent of service is missed each day.

A planned restoration of the J-Church into a subway did take place on Saturday, as well as extending Muni Metro service hours until midnight on Sunday. Other Muni route restorations, though, will be delayed, with some routes still having no date of return yet, transit officials said.

In April, only the 8AX-Bayshore and 8BX-Bayshore routes are returning in addition to some route modifications, including restoring supplemental service on the 30-Stockton and increasing the frequency on the 1-California.

June “tentatively” will see the return of modified service on the 2-Clement and 21-Hayes. The agency will also restore the and 23-Monterey and 43-Masonic to their full pre-pandemic routes. The 28-19th Avenue route will be extended to Fisherman’s Wharf.

After June, there is a fourth phase to restore Muni routes, but with no tentative date. Under the fourth phase is the return of the 6-Haight/Parnassus and the rapid route for the 28. Additionally, there are planned frequencies on various routes and the return of the 52-Excelsior and 66-Quintara to its pre-pandemic routes. Both of the routes have been covering areas of the 6 in the Golden Gate Heights and Inner Sunset area.

Supervisor Dean Preston asked if city leaders are treating the situation as a “crisis,” adding that it is “insulting” to charge Muni passengers fares when passengers are unable to reply on the service:

When you’re missing 20, 25 percent of already depleted service, Muni should absolutely be free right now.”

SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin said while not much can be done with omicron affecting staffing, he said he will need the support of the supervisors to find a sustainable funding source to continue for ongoing service restoration and sustaining that service.

More information about the current plan to restore Muni service can be found on the agency’s website.

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