Like everything at Muni, parts procurement is subjugated to the whims of the budget. "Every year around March or April they tell you, 'We're out of money,'" according to one longtime maintenance supervisor. "So then you're only going to buy the most important parts. People officially talk, and say, 'This is how we're gonna do it.' But nobody writes that down on a memo." The supervisor's contention, echoed by many other Muni employees, was essentially confirmed by Haley. Muni's system automatically spits out a notice to reorder parts when a designated minimum threshold is breached. But, when dwindling finances are deemed more problematic than dwindling parts supplies, Haley admits that Muni simply disables this automated reminder and doesn't order the parts.

As of May 23, in fact, Muni had allowed some 2,200 individual parts to slip past their re-order point — a list stretching to 40 pages. Just tallying parts directly related to vehicle repair, 771 are listed as having a "quantity on hand" of "zero." Whether key parts will be in stock when they're needed — the epitome of what an automated, bar-coded system provides — is a crapshoot.

Muni has created meticulously detailed procedures about which parts to change out of its vehicles at certain mileage intervals. A preventive maintenance (PM) session comes every 6,000 miles for 40-foot electric buses like Coach 5427. At the 24,000-mile PM, for example, mechanics must change out seven components. But there's a decent chance not all of those parts will be available. "Every day this happens. Every day! If I go to the window to get the parts, I get five out of seven or seven out of 10," says Guzman. "But all of those parts are critical to the preventive maintenance process."

The plastic has been atop Coach No. 5427 since early 2011; below, a properly maintained bus.
Joe Eskenazi (top), Christopher MacKechnie / publictransport.about.com (bottom).
The plastic has been atop Coach No. 5427 since early 2011; below, a properly maintained bus.
Internal Muni documents reveal that when drivers complain about bumpy rides from lumpy or bald tires like this, the tires are placed on the rear axles, where drivers cannot feel them.
Courtesy of Dorian Maxwell
Internal Muni documents reveal that when drivers complain about bumpy rides from lumpy or bald tires like this, the tires are placed on the rear axles, where drivers cannot feel them.

The result is something Haley calls "an incomplete PM." If a part can't be replaced, it may only be cleaned up and put back into the vehicle. "This is a process I'd like to get away from," says the transit boss. "But it reflects the reality of what we're doing."

This is deeply problematic. A part like a traction motor brush left unreplaced after a 24,000-mile PM will not be inspected again until the 48,000-mile PM. Traction motor brushes, however, aren't designed to last that long. The likelihood of in-service failure — a breakdown with the best-case scenario of everyone angrily exiting the bus and tweeting #MuniFail — is high. Muni's current approach toward preventive maintenance makes a mockery of the concept.

In fact, continues Guzman, if a mechanic doesn't feel like replacing a part like a traction motor brush — a dirty, time-consuming job — he simply may not do it. "If you see there's still a little life on the brushes, you can let it go. Put a check mark by it. Tell your supervisor the brushes look good. He'll take your word for it." Problem solved — in the short-term. One week later, the part may well die — and take the entire motor with it. A traction motor brush is valued at $18. A traction motor is worth around $60,000. "This is something I have seen quite often," Guzman says. "There is no accountability."

That extends, in its starkest form, to the grimly named practice of "cannibalization." Any vehicle lying around the garage for an extended period of time begins to tempt mechanics under heavy pressure from supervisors to patch together a bus or train and make pullout. Signs reading "Do Not Cannibalize" may be posted on laid-up vehicles, but it is uncertain how effective this is.

"There are 11 light-rail vehicles that are, for lack of a better term, wrecked," notes Haley. "Over the years, they probably wouldn't be in that category. But people took advantage of vehicle frame damage we couldn't repair and took all the parts out of them in desperation." These trains went from merely being laid up with banged-up bodies to desiccated husks — and a total loss.

Haley stressed that cannibalization is "no longer tolerated." Whether it's still being practiced anyway, he is uncertain. Asked if this indicates a larger problem within the agency, he nods. "It does. We continue to work on this."


On April 21, 2010, at a shade before 11 a.m., attorney Scott Whitsitt strolled out of his office near Mission and Beale streets. He paused to allow a 14-Mission bus to pass him before setting foot in the street — directly in the path of another 14-Mission. Witnesses heard him shriek, "Oh God, no!" before being struck by the second bus, pinned against the back of the first, and then run over. Whitsitt was 49.

His husband's wrongful death suit against the city alleges Kimberly Faye Johnson, the driver of Coach No. 7054, not only "mistook the brake pedal for the accelerator pedal," but was "busy unwrapping a candy bar with both hands" immediately before her fatal mistake. A Muni source adds that accident investigators even located the wrapper on the floor of the vehicle.

There was more to discover within Coach 7054, however. While unmentioned in the wrongful death suit, Muni's Department of Quality Assurance found "a review of the Preventive Maintenance and Defects/Repair records 60 days prior to the incident date shows a history of 15+ defects to the Brake and Propulsion System." The bus was demonstrating "a pattern of vehicle malfunction as recently as two days before the incident." Whether Coach 7054 would have stopped if its driver hadn't allegedly been unwrapping a candy bar before hitting the wrong pedal may never be known. The accident report reveals, "Extensive damage ... makes Brake Function Testing impossible at this time."

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18 comments
jjlasne
jjlasne

If less money was wasted on excessive labor costs (remember that MUNI raises are inscribed in the city charter) and more on rolling stock and maintenance, MUNI would be a world-class transit operation. But it ain' t. It is a shame.

Notta
Notta

It's all a question of honor & integrity, from the top to the bottom. The integrity of the government, federal, state, local, & the vast majority of their departments & agencies, is seriously deficient, graft, bribery & corruption are everywhere. There is no real pride in a job well done, only in how big a pile of cash one manages to accumulate, in what ever way they can. It's pretty sickening that despite the efforts of many honest & honorable folks, the bad apples spoil things for everyone!

jerdking12346
jerdking12346

when you add in that muni moves 700,000 passengers a day ,  thats one huge job they accomplish everyday.

angrytaxguy
angrytaxguy

For John Haley, the #2 puppet aka (Director of transit -since Debra Johnson left for L.A.) to actually admit that the M.T.A. / (CITY) has underfunded transit is admission of guilt(impunity) - service ineffeciencies, dangerous equipment "allowed" to operate in service, violations of title 13, impossible on-time service, endangerment of the riding public & certainly the safety of the operator !!!!  Before anyone can blame the mechanics or the driver focus on those who are responsible for fully funding

transit which undermines....

Nick Aster
Nick Aster

Is it ironic if I actually applaud the creativity it takes to rig a bus to run with garbage bags? Frankly I think it's great as long as no one was ever in danger. The lesson here is - how efficiently is Muni using it's huge budget? I don't think "more money" is necessarily the answer...

A Reader
A Reader

This is no longer a transportation issue. This is a city governance issue. Where have the last few mayors been on this? Who in government is demanding performance from MUNI? We should shut the whole agency down, fire everyone, and hire Google's shuttle service team to just start again from scratch.

Sebraleaves
Sebraleaves

One of the best opening intros for a non-fiction story. A great piece of investigative journalism. Thanks for digging it up. Now the Muni is open game for media bashing. I have a question for the Mayor. Which is more important, a safe Muni today, or an expanded Muni tomorrow? And who should make that decision? The Muni riders or the city officials?

Edrobbedmuni
Edrobbedmuni

Spit and bailing wire and bubble gum use to run muni, Tom Nolan the chairman of the MTA who's Newsom appointee need to resign. Its time to clean house at the MTA. The riding public needs to address Mayor Ed Lee and demand answers. Repeal Prop E, Recall Ed Lee and Repeal Prop G.They didn't fix Muni. Death to the Central Subway. Collect the Transit Impact Delevlopment Fee from the Mission Bay Business. The Public's life is in danger while riding Muni. Boycott Muni on July 16,2012. Fire all the Managment staff. Free Muni for all!! if i riding a death trap why should i pay for my own murder.

Newsomfuckedmuni
Newsomfuckedmuni

Remember Prop E? It was supposed to fix Muni. Has it? All we have to show for it is less service, higher fares, and an MTA staffed by political appointees that we can't vote for or against. REPEAL PROP E NOW!!!

Tomlucas277
Tomlucas277

Willie Brown's Puppet now Lt. Gov. Newsom robbed Muni Now he's Fukin California. Jail Ed Lee and the Willie Brown's political machine NOW!!! Jail Nate Ford for committing a sexual act against the Muni riders. He Fucked them royally exiting muni with a 380,000 blow job. HELL TO THE THIEF. Service cuts and fare increases and now the MTA is Robbing the preachers collection plate.With parking meters in front of churches. Whats next this Money taking aminal is going to charge you for every breath you take. Repeal PROP E NOW!!!!

Ehmn2001
Ehmn2001

You're seriously bringing up Japan Rail as an example of good privatization?!? Ha! They're so up in their eye-balls in debt, they've been bailed out numerous times by the Japanese government. Based on that alone, is why you'll never see too much privatization of public transit. Public Transit systems based off this article alone show that they're never profitable and very risky.

Peter Jones
Peter Jones

As bad as you paint things at MUNI, it's even worse in the private sector. For years, due to Mitt Romney style 'Parasite Capitalism' (as SF Weekly pointed out in a previous article), maintence was routinely 'deferred'. But since 2008 maintenence of infratsructure in the private sector has been pretty much deleted from the budget. I can provide 1st hand accounts that will raise hair and pop eyes. Not the least the year I spent in the building materials department of a big box retail establsihment on Bayshore Boulevard here in The City.

Union_Yes
Union_Yes

An independent agency should AUDIT the Muni Staff's productivity. If the mechanics on hand did their job, instead of planning their next lunch break, or deferring work, MUNI would improve 5 fold.

angrytaxguy
angrytaxguy

its always been political-the difference is political compassion...local 250a negotiated a no strike clause in favor of labor peace but now you have illegal prop g orchestrated by evil Elsbernd aka no political compassion

angrytaxguy
angrytaxguy

Amen-except the Willie part-at least City Jobs were provided back in 1998

 
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