Death, Maiming, Money, and Muni

The enormous costs -- human and financial -- of bad drivers and lax discipline at the San Francisco Municipal Railway

Muni's continuing refusal to face and deal with a safety problem that kills citizens and costs taxpayers millions seems to be based, like many a chronic San Francisco problem, in bureaucratic inertia and union politics. Over the years, Muni has allowed its standards for hiring and disciplining drivers to be set out in its contracts with TWU Local 250A. Because overtime increases drivers' pay, there is little incentive for the politically influential TWU to call for reforms to reduce overtime, and, thereby, the driver fatigue at the root of many transit accidents. In essence, transit safety has been a bargaining chip in contract talks, rather than a focus of concern -- for either union leaders or Muni management.

It's a chip, apparently, that will remain part of the game.

"Whether or not it makes sense to include safety and discipline issues in collective bargaining negotiations is not the issue," Burns says. "Ideally, you would prefer not to. But it's a long-standing tradition in San Francisco to do so.

"It's not going to change. It's the character of the system."

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