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Reader Mail: More Unannounced Turnarounds on The N....

A bit belated, for sure, but too important to leave behind: Reader Warren wrote in earlier this week about unannounced turnarounds on the N, and CC'd a complaint he'd filed with MUNI. You'll recall that amidsta lot of hoopla we were told this wasn't going to happen anymore, but that didn't last long.

I urge you to read Reader Warren's complaint in full, because he followed it up with another email to me late tonight detailing yet another incident...by the same operator.

I'm documenting it here so it gets found by The Google and others and it becomes part of the permanent record of MUNI. Given that the mayoral-appointed MTA board has just voted to start the downward spiral of MUNI again, I figure this is a preview of coming attractions from our friends at the MTA.

Click through to see both letters, in their entirety. Now, wouldn't it be awesome if MUNI or someone acted on all of this? It would be. Doubtful anything will happen, but hey, documenting is the first part of the process...

Hi Greg,

Just wanted to inform you and your readers of a turnaround incident at Sunset Blvd. In short, passengers were let off at Sunset Blvd without prior notice. It was terribly cold this evening in the Outer Sunset, which prompted me to write a complaint to Muni via the "Contact the SFMTA" website at http://www.sfmta.com/cms/acontact/indxcont.htm. I have posted my complaint in it's entirety here, sans personal information, for your viewing pleasure.

Enjoy!

-Warren


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Subject:
N-Judah Turnaround at Sunset Blvd without prior notice

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Information about a specific incident

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Date of Occurrence:
April 27, 2009

Time: (be sure to include a.m. or p.m.)
7:18 p.m.

Location:
Judah Street at Sunset Boulevard

Line Number:
N

Vehicle Number:
(4 digit number painted on all Muni vehicles except 2 digits for cable cars)
1438 and 1546

Direction of Travel:
(e.g., towards downtown, towards Ocean Beach, north, south, etc.)
towards Ocean Beach

Employee ID Number or Name:
(If available, the number on the employee's sleeve)
Operator #1429

Employee Description:
Black female

Comment
I would like to complain about an outbound (towards Ocean Beach) N Judah train turning around at Sunset Boulevard.

The train operator made a stop at Sunset Blvd and announced that it was the last stop. There was no prior announcement that the last stop would be at Sunset Boulevard. The signs on the trains indicated that the last stop would be Ocean Beach.

The following are my accounts of the event.

At 7:18 p.m. on April 27, 2009, train operator #1429 made an announcement on an outbound N-Judah train #1428 with train #1546 in tow at the Sunset Blvd stop that Sunset Blvd is the last stop. There was no prior announcement that it was the last stop. There was also no announcement that the train operator had approval to turn around. Passengers got off the train into a cold and windy street.

At 7:19 p.m., an inbound (toward Caltrain station) N-Judah passed by the Sunset Blvd. stop.

At 7:20 p.m., I checked www.nextmuni.com on my web-enabled phone to check when the next N-Judah will arrive. According to the website, the next train would arrive in 12 minutes at 7:32 p.m. My stop was at Judah Street and 46th Avenue. I calculated that the time it would take for me to walk from Sunset Blvd to 46th Ave would take me about 15 minutes. Rather than stand and wait in the cold for 12 minutes, I would instead walk 15 minutes toward 46th Avenue just so I would find a way to stay warm in the bitter cold.

At 7:23 p.m., the #1546 train headed inbound with train #1438 in tow.

At 7:24 p.m., another inbound train arrived at the Sunset Blvd station. This left zero trains in the queue at Ocean Beach.

At 7:35 p.m. I arrived at 46th Ave and Judah Street, my intended stop. I look towards Sunset Blvd but there were no trains in sight coming toward Ocean Beach. I checked www.nextmuni.com and it indicated that a train would arrive at the Sunset Blvd stop in 3 minutes, at 7:38 p.m., 6 minutes later than the original estimation.

A woman headed towards the inbound direction was waiting at the 46th and Judah stop. She appeared very flustered. It was apparent that she was flustered because there were absolutely no inbound trains in sight. I checked www.nextmuni.com to see when the next train is estimated to arrive at the 46th and Judah stop in the inbound direction. The website indicated that the next train would arrive at 8:00 p.m.

Ever since the San Francisco Giants baseball team started playing at Pac Bell/AT&T Park, I have come to expect turnarounds at 19th Avenue and Sunset Blvd. However, an August 6, 2008 article in the San Francisco Chronicle (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/06/BAE8125IPE.DTL&hw=MUNI&sn=003&sc=877) indicated that these turnarounds would not happen without prior approval. Based on my accounts, I cannot see why operator #1429 was given permission to turnaround early. There were already two trains headed toward Caltrain station at the time the turnaround was committed.

I do not wish that the operator be fired, but I do want to address the issue that turnarounds are still being made without any reasonable logic behind the acts.

I will also submit my comments to www.NJudahChronicles.com to make others aware of these acts.

Thank you for your time.

And now, amazingly, the same operator committed the same actions 3 days later, on April 30th:

Hi Greg,

I got dumped off the train at Sunset Blvd again this evening at7:20 p.m. I was on car #1407 with car #1508 in tow. The operator mentioned on block beforehand that Sunset Blvd was the last stop and that a train was right behind to pick us up. Not a problem, I thought to myself as there is a train behind me. But out of curiosity, I walk to the front to see who the operator is. Lo and behold it's my good friend Operator #1429 from Monday!

While I'm not terribly upset this time around, I wonder if she got permission beforehand to turn around. At least on Monday, there was a Giants game going on downtown, so I can understand if more trains were needed downtown to get the massive amounts of fans to the game. However, today, there's no Giants game. Was there a need for more trains in the subway? And yet again, during the train turnaround, two other trains were headed downtown, two minutes apart from each other. Granted, one was a J-Church labeled train that was likely not headed for the subway downtown. But back to the situation at hand. When I got on the next train and exited at my usual stop at 46th and Lawton, there were no trains in queue at the Ocean Beach turnaround.

So what happened to the immediate disciplinary action Muni was supposed to impose on these drivers that do early turnarounds? If any disciplinary action was taken on Operator #1429 as a direct result of my complaint sent to the SFMTA on Monday, it may have been that Muni took her iron away. That didn't matter though, as the operator of the next train used his iron to switch the tracks for Operator #1429. What a nice guy.

-Warren

Comments

Hmmm, the L-Taraval I was on after work today announced at 17th that it's last stop would the 22nd. Apparently there was another train behind (I didn't check) but it's been a long time since I ran into this situation.

(Wow, going over 140 characters felt weird, I may need a Twitter sabbatical)

Thanks for posting my comments, Greg. Hopefully this will inspire other riders to document nonsensical early turnarounds so that we can put an end to this behavior.

Last Wednesday about 5:15pm, a packed outbound N dumped all its passengers off at the Van Ness Station. A bunch of us left the station and barely squeezed onto an outbound 71L instead. It was a miserable Muni day.

I had to pop the emergency exit yesterday AM because the doors on the second train wouldn't open at Castro or Powell (my destination station). The doors on the first car worked just fine. That was fun. Watch out for cars 1489/1490.

Today, a coworker was relating a story of how a driver had to jam the door interlock switch with a screwdriver and duct tape it together at Van Ness earlier this week. Apparently the interlock override switch wasn't working, and neither was the door.

On Tuesday or Wednesday night, the inbound L driver (0725?) decided it would be more fun to stop off at 7-11 than actually complete his run in a timely manner.

Last week the train kinda had a conniption fit at West Portal. Door closed, door closed light was on, and the door stuck alarm kept going off. Train would move a few feet and slam on the emergency brakes.

I suspect we can look forward to a lot more delays as MUNI has tried to make disabling the door interlocks more difficult (they now have a tamper evident seal on them) but hasn't put more effort into fixing the !@#@# doors.

In fact, I wonder how many of these early turnbacks are due to mechanical faults that simply aren't disclosed to the riders. I saw a one car N last night, which is an absolutely anomaly (and certainly not due to driver ineptitude).

umm Alex? If we half-ass maintenance on the cars to "save money" we pay it with service fails and crashes.

And when we allow staff to frak around instead of doing their jobs and continue to pay them big wages, well, we are screwing up.

it's up to US as the owner/riders to demand the MTA take that into account. Unfortunately thanks to the powers that be, our only hope is to force a total veto with 7 Supervisors.

Nuanced policy debate with the input of folks like you and I, who clearly care about these issues, is ignored by people appointed by Faux Green Gavin.

Thus this is the best we can do. I know it sucks, and hey, I hear ya, but for now, the nuclear option is the only one Gavin and his crew offer. So it's time to exercise it and deal with it as we may.

P.S. Check out the daily service reports. http://www.sfmta.com/dailymuni

On the 27th:

- 1 evening run of the N was missed because of a missing operator (8 other evening J/K/L/M/T runs as well for the same reasons)

- 1 N operator (around 1:45p) hit a parked ambulance blocking the tracks for about half an hour

- Around 8p an N lost all propulsion power blocking the tracks for about an hour (supposedly two shuttle buses were deployed leaving an 11 minute gap in service, I'd bet on closer to a 45 minute gap in service).

- About 1/4 of the scheduled metro operators were unable to show up (only 10 were actually on vacation).

That's what goes into your crowded or late or missing trains. If the operator that hit the ambulance got benched, that's one fewer employee (and potentially overtime for someone else). Likewise with a train stuck on the tracks for an hour, and no bypass tracks, what do you do but turn trains around ahead of schedule?

That said, I've got no doubt that there are rogue drivers (I expect they're fairly common). Despite the bus driver who felt compelled to try to run me over at 2nd & Mission, it feels like it's getting a bit better. It's a shame that the MTA doesn't track scheduled turnbacks tho.

Greg,

We pay for it when we let people like Slick Willie Brown get us these overengineered silver Italian turds. I'm a firm believer in junking these things and starting from scratch with proper subway cars and proper street cars (well, in an ideal world anyhow).

But, yes, I agree 100%. Underfunding maintenance is what gives us more of these problems. Underfunding employees (by way of the ever popular hiring freeze) will screw us on overtime, reliability, and safety.

The idea of spending money to save money is absolutely alien to many people (including Mayor Sniffles and Mizz Chu -- the latter is supposed to be well versed in budget related matters). When you hear of a budget deficit, the last thing most people want to hear is that the MTA hired a few more lazy, incompetent drivers. What you don't hear about are the hourly premiums paid to drivers who work a run that's missing a leader (an extra vehicle shortly ahead of them to help cope with high demand during peak hours), on one of their "regular days off", and so-on.

Even so, there are absolutely some insane legacy costs associated with hiring more civil servants... something that ought to be reconsidered in light of the current recession.

About the door locks: The doors are apparently so damn heavy that closing on even a slight grade (as in, from Sunset to La Playa) is a problem. So for several months, operators were regularly disabling the interlocks when starting uphill at La Playa, and I was on numerous trains (approaching a half dozen) that were moving with doors either wide open, partially open, or slowly closing.

I don't really care if it causes system delays to have the interlocks activated, because the alternative is mangled and dead passengers.

One other thing about the short turns: Although turning trains early does improve service for passengers on the downtown side of the turn, it doesn't do much for passengers on the outbound side who have absolutely no idea that the train isn't coming - especially because NextMuni doesn't know about spur-of-the-moment destination changes until after the fact. You could be waiting at La Playa for an hour and have absolutely no idea why.

I was on the N-Judah with that driver, maybe one of the two days that you mentioned in your posting, when we were dropped off at 7:20 or so at Sunset. I wonder how often she does that. I wish I had filed a complaint, but I wasn't entirely clear at the time from previous news stories on whether the problem was only with turnarounds at 19th, so I wasn't sure if the turnaround at Sunset were also forbidden. Clearly I should have filed the complaint. If it happens again, I definitely will do so.

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