San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee may yet be the perfect amalgamation of Napoleon and a Teddy Bear. He remains likable even while the knife goes in.
One still thinks happy thoughts about Lee even when he states, with seriousness, that Muni must hit its voter-mandated 85-percent on-time rate. There's a problem with this, however. It's both crazy and useless.
In order to reach the arbitrary -- though very high -- 85 percent goal, Muni would have to make massive alterations that it doesn't seem inclined to make: Transit-only lanes, expedited boarding, maintenance spending, and buying Muni Metro central command computers without punch cards.
An 85-percent on-time rate would put San Francisco well ahead of cities like Chicago and New York -- places that don't have to deal with hills, narrow streets, or other myriad San Francisco challenges.
But here's the rub: This is pointless.
Yes, you could write a lengthy story about Muni's woes. But an inability to adhere to a set schedule is not the system's most pressing need. Transit expert after transit expert has stressed to SF Weekly that Muni should, instead, beef up its reliability.
In short, it's not terribly important that a specific train or bus is in a specific place at a specific time. In the days of GPS-tracked vehicles, readouts at stops, and ubiquitous hand-held devices, the most important thing is that riders are confident that a bus or train will come along at consistent intervals.
"You don't really need a schedule if a vehicle comes along every 10 minutes," says transit expert Michael Setty. "That's the trend in the transit industry."
It's that kind of confidence that will allow more people to rely on Muni. And it makes more sense than an arbitrary on-time rate. Even the system's definition of "on-time" -- "no more than four minutes late or one minute early" -- is arbitrary.
But confidence that you won't be left cooling your heels for huge chunks of time when Muni pulls in exorbitantly late or misses a run altogether -- that's not arbitrary.
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