A mayoral wannabe confronts MUNI safety, but gets run over by the accident data

When Gavin Newsom ran for mayor in 2003, he capitalized on the city's homeless problem to woo voters. Similarly, Supervisor Bevan Dufty is latching onto one of the city's more recent controversial topics as he embarks on his campaign for mayor: Muni safety.

It seems like an easy battle to pick. After all, everyone loves to hate Muni, and with this summer's frenzy of collisions, the issue seems ripe for this mayoral campaign. “It's gotten bad,” Dufty says.

Dufty got front and center on the issue this summer when he called for a hearing after the July 18 accident where a light-rail vehicle collided with another train at the West Portal station, injuring 47. A few weeks later, two Muni trains crashed into an SUV in the Castro, and last week, a man was killed by a light-rail vehicle at Church and 22nd Street. Muni officials say the last incident is still under investigation.

All those accidents would make you think, as Dufty says, that Muni has gotten bad. But, in truth, it is less accident-prone than in years past — and, when looking at the system's collision record, it isn't nearly as dangerous as some comparable big-city transit agencies SF Weekly recently looked at.

According to data compiled by the Federal Transit Agency, Muni had 77 accidents in 2007, compared to 109 in Atlanta, 156 in Washington, D.C, and 101 in Boston. Last year, Muni reported only 61 collisions, while there were 120 in Atlanta, 186 in D.C., and 68 in Boston.

But Dufty insists he isn't just grandstanding; he acknowledges that the accident rate has gone down, and that Muni has a better safety record than some other transit systems. Still, he says the crashes seem to have resulted in worse injuries and vehicle damage than in prior years.

Given all Muni's recent troubles, Dufty says it's problematic that there are not enough street supervisors to oversee safety operations. “I support Muni, but if there are things not rational that are happening, I have got to ask the questions,” he says.

Fair enough. But you have to wonder whether the facts may get in the way of a good political bogeyman. Still, what if Dufty is elected mayor? Maybe then Muni will get a reform program of its own: Care Not Crash.

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