Idle Threats: Muni Confirms That It's Been Starting Its Day With Wastefulness

A second bus story: Last week, SF Weekly revealed that Muni is idling diesel buses for hours, in gross violation of state emissions laws. Muni personnel expressed disappointment we didn't present their side of the story. So, here it is:

Yeah, we did that.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose says that the agency will be taking steps to ensure hundreds of buses won't be left to idle for hours; the law forbids idling times exceeding 10 minutes. Of course, the scene we witnessed this year resembled the one documented by city auditors 17 years ago, which Muni officials at the time said they'd take steps to curtail.

"Starting immediately, we will provide more hands-on supervision to ensure that all pre-operation [idling] times are under 10 minutes," says Rose. "We will ensure small groups of buses are started instead of all of them at the same time."

Rose adds that Muni diesel buses come equipped with engine idle limiters that cut idling motors after 10 minutes. These devices, however, are easily circumvented by placing heavy objects such as the bus's wheel-blocks atop the brake pedal — as was noted in last week's article (though we erroneously wrote "gas pedal"). In fact, confirms Rose, Muni employees were indeed cramming the wheel-blocks atop the brake pedals — also a gross violation of state law.

Muni will address this problem by issuing new wheel-blocks too large to be crammed atop the brakes.

Rose says that since Muni changes the oil in its buses every 6,000 miles, diesel engines don't incur wear and tear even after hours of needless idling. He notes that he was just passing along this statement — which is good, as it implies Muni diesel buses are perpetual-motion machines. Every car-owner is expected to regularly change the oil in his vehicle, but very few idle their cars for hours before heading out.

That's because needlessly idling vehicles inarguably leads to wear and tear — as well as rampant pollution and fuel waste.

Spokespeople for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District say an ongoing investigation into Muni's idling practices is under way, having started about a month before the SF Weekly article. They could not confirm whether inspectors caught Muni personnel in the act of idling entire bus fleets — or disabling the engine idler, an additional offense.

Rose explains the idling situation as the result of budget-related cutbacks in the number of maintenance personnel, specifically garagemen tasked with firing up buses. That's unfortunate: Muni is spending some $700,000 a pop on 62 ostensibly cleaner hybrid buses — nearly twice as expensive as a regular diesel bus. But it needlessly polluted every morning by idling scads of buses for want of several garagemen.

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