Some of Muni's diesel bus lines do better than 4,000 miles between breakdowns, an all-time high for the agency. But it's still lower than AC Transit (4,665), Seattle King County Metro (5,805), or SEPTA (9,842). Muni's 40-foot electric buses can't even hit 2,000 miles. Sixty-foot electric buses, the 7000-series, only go a piddling 833 miles between breakdowns. Muni's internal goal is just 1,000 miles, meaning buses could die virtually every week and still perform satisfactorily. "Even our goals have been reduced over the years to reflect the condition of our fleet," Haley admits.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting a problem exists. In the months since Ed Reiskin took over Muni, the agency's financial disclosures — both internally and those made to state and federal government agencies — have grown far clearer and up front about Muni's daunting maintenance backlog. That such a basic development is perceived as a breath of fresh air is an indictment both of Muni's prior leadership under Nat Ford and the succession of mayors who mined the system for political capital and balanced the city's budget by allowing other departments to cannibalize Muni even more voraciously than it cannibalized itself. Via "work orders," the police, ambulance services, and others bill Muni for their transit-related duties; these payouts exploded from $36 million in 2006 to $65 million in the current budget. Muni has, for years, been the city's slush fund. Millions of Muni dollars go toward fixing other city agencies' budget holes — and not its own resources.

For years, Muni skimped on maintenance to keep the agency running and create the veneer of a healthier system. The "Investment in Maintenance," however, is not all talk: New mechanics are slated to be hired this year. Funds earmarked for construction projects have been diverted into improving vehicles. Both LRVs and hundreds of diesel buses will undergo midlife overhauls. In the coming months, Muni will consider putting out a bid on 50 new electric buses, and is examining the fiscal feasibility of leasing vehicles in an attempt to lower the age of its geriatric fleet. Federal and state stimulus grants, meanwhile, will pay for the rehabilitation of the 11 light-rail vehicles Muni mechanics cannibalized into wreck status.

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.

Creating Muni's maintenance backlog required years of mismanagement. Even beginning to address it will require years of nurturing and a dedicated stream of cash. While Muni's current top management does acknowledge maintenance needs, top management at Muni has, historically, not stuck around for very long. And the "Investment in Maintenance" has caveats. This year's planned maintenance budget was whittled from an initial proposal of $44.5 million to the current tally of $10.9 million. Even this assumes millions in labor concessions and a windfall from traffic and parking citations and fees.

When asked what would happen if the agency returned to its status quo of saving money in the short term by slashing maintenance costs, Haley's reply was straightforward. "We've got a very intelligent group of riders. They know the system. It'd be a huge mistake to attempt to bullshit them. So, I think the results would be pretty obvious." Riders sticking with the system will be burdened with a slower and more unreliable commute. Those who can leave, will — further clogging the city's arteries.

It's a scenario that can't be staved off with all the garbage bags in the world. Muni would continue to be the transit service it is, instead of the one it could be.

E-mail Joe.Eskenazi@SFWeekly.com.

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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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