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Looking for Solutions for Your Muni? Don't Wait For City Hall or the MTA....

It was unfortunate to hear the results of the Muni operators' union vote the other day against some minor concessions to try and help stave off the worst of Muni budget cuts, especially since Muni got some rare GOOD news, as the boondoggle at BART was rejected by the Federal Government, meaning that many agencies will be getting a significant amount of money to pay for repairs and maintenance. But after making a few intemperate remarks on that Twitter thing, further investigation by our friends at Streetsblog indicate this was a big ol' TWU leadership failure to inform their members, one which perhaps should be no surprise.

TWU's leadership has traditionally been on the side of the handful of bad apples, going to court to defend them, instead of supporting rules that would reward the good operators in the fleet. We all know this, and it's no secret than in many cases, union membership finds itself with a leadership clique that is out of touch with its members and the public it's supposed to serve.

But don't expect grandstanding politicians like Sup. Sean Elsbernd to be part of the solution. He has made a lot of headlines allegedly being Our Friend Vs. The Evil Muni Drivers with his stupid charter proposal. The problem is, Elsbernd doesn't really give a damn about Muni at all - he loyally voted for Newsom's looting of Muni by other departments - ironically something, in a John Kerry-esque flip flop, now says he's against. As for our "Mayor", Mr. Football Bat, well he's off using taxpayer money for another abortive bid for statewide office, and has never liked Muni anyway, so don't expect any help from him, either.

There's some noise being made by "progressive" Supervisors, but again, it's mostly noise made by freshman Supervisors who have proven more adept at symbolic gestures and big talk, but don't really seem to understand what they're up against, nor do they have a clearer idea of what they would do better.

If you, as the owner and rider of Muni are tired of the political games and nonsense that makes you late to work, to school, and to the things you like to do in your daily life, then, I'm sorry to say, it's going to be you, along with your friends and neighbors, that's going to be the one to get us out of this mess. None of the people at City Hall really care about your daily experiences, be they on Muni or dealing with any city department or issue, so you really can't expect them to do much besides respond to a lot of loud, angry phone calls and emails.

If you really want something to change for the better, we're all going to have to find a way to fundamentally change how the MTA is governed and funded so we don't have these perpetual failures every single year. (And sorry, folks, but this whole "don't let the people or the electeds be involved" bullshit doesn't work, it hasn't for a long time, and anyone who continues to be an apologist for it is no friend of Muni owner/riders)

Just as an aside - when I started writing in 2005, major, systemwide failures were not unheard of, but they did not happen with the consistency we're seeing now. It's now to the point where sometimes I don't even want to turn on Twitter or go online, because I don't want to hear about more misery being inflicted by these fools at the top.

Comments

Hi Greg,

I like your call to action but I'm pretty much stuck on what to do!

I don't see a way to work within the system and it certainly doesn't seem like we can change the system since I have no faith that a campaign to structurally change Muni/MTA governance would succeed due to overall voter apathy and what I suspect is an attitude that "Public Transportation is a fringe issue"...even with an estimated daily ridership of 700,000 - halve that for round trips and then apply a fudge factor for multiple for daily "legs" - say getting to the ballpark takes at least one transfer usually I'd be willing to guess that there are less than 100,000 unique riders per day then factoring in an off year election, the demographics of the voters...my guess is well to do won't be invested, people who depend on the bus who I keep hearing are the lower income brackets except for the commuters are generally under-represented in voter turnout, etc. we're talking what? 25,000-40,000 people affected by this out of a population of approximately 750,000...doesn't bode well.

Long story short: What can *I*/we do?

Well your math is way off, for starters. To suggest that only 100,000 people actually ride Muni is ridiculous. Plus a well run transit system has a beneft for those who can't use Muni (think of a contractor, or similar person) - with fewer unecessary drivers on the road, those who need a car can find parking easier. There's also a public safety component - San Francisco will NEVER be able to handle a huge car traffic situation, no matter how much people believe it to be so, and if your house is on fire, you damn well need to have the streets cleared out of jerks so the fireman can rescue you!

The problem is no one at the MTA talks to the public honestly, and any reasonable suggestion is blown off by the powers that be. The fact is the MTA is an extension of the Mayor, and the current Mayor hates Muni, doesn't need it, and has a taxpayer funded gas guzzler to run around in, and has to give big pay raises to other public employee unions. He is simply not able to do the job.

It's also time to point out that the 1999 reform measure has indeed failed, and the caterwauling by some who claim to be Muni advocates needs to stop. It was a nice idea 11 years ago, but it has failed, and we now have an MTA that's out of control and intent on ruining our City.

I have to believe with all the allegedly smart people in this town, they could come together and write a ballot proposition that would not be total bullshit like the ones proposed by the leftists and the right in this town.

So who should run Muni then? Clearly the MTA isn't capable. The Mayor isn't capable, and I sure as hell don't want the band of clowns known as Supervisors to be running it. I wish I had an answer. Clearly the system we have now is a giant failure - from the chronic lack of funding to the weird requirement for drivers to be among the highest paid in the nation to the fact that they can earn overtime when they don't even work 40 hours a week - none of it works. I think unless we force a wholesale change, meaning in part a new contract for drivers without the ridiculous give aways they get now, nothing is going to get better. But I also know that forcing such a change will probably mean drivers going on some kind of strike and us dealing with a complete lack of transit for a time. As a 13 year rider of the system, I'm tired of dealing with it. I've definitely started walking more and I'll probably end up just riding my bike downtown. Very discouraging.

Calif. Labor Law Reminder
An employee is entitled to overtime when s/he either
a) works more than forty (40) hours in a week or
b) works more than eight (8) hours in a day. This applies to any and all employees whether or not they're in a union. There are escape clauses covering those who work a 4x10 schedule and those who make more than about 85K-90K (possible exempt status). The above is just the beginning of a gnarly tangle of regulations and red tape.

SFMuni - More Red Ink Than Diesel
That charter amendment that guaranteed SFMuni drivers top dollar is a suicide clause. It's got to be repealed. Also, the compensation figures for SFMuni employees need to be restated in an aggregate form (wages + health + retirement) - but as some sort of points instead of dollars. I'm under the impression that they may be peaking in all three categories. If that is so, then either the union has been too effective or we had a wuss or two of a mayor.

Here are a few ideas :
a) Repeal that charter amendment.
b) Create a compensation points system that allows for easier comparison of transit systems with a cost-of-living index alongside.
c) If there isn't an incentive pay system then create one. This means that a plain diesel driver could earn more if s/he has a current First Aid rating, or a Vehicle Firefighter rating, etc.And yes, this means that the base pay would be lowered or capped for a while to encourage drivers and other staff to add to their skills. And what has happened to the safety badges ? I remember seeing veteran drivers wearing ten and twenty year no-accident-badges as a kid.
d) Make part of the compensation package a floater. They can choose more cash or more health or more retirement BUT ONLY ONE OF THE THREE.
e) Freeze the current compensation package and phase in (d) or something like it. While it would be nice to do a rollback it would also be inequitable and more trouble than it's worth. Inflation is currently moderate and under control so its bite will be gradual. The freeze is a temporary measure to buy time to get out of the fiscal hamster wheel.
f) BAN COMPENSATION FEEDBACK LOOPS. This means that the compensation should NOT be pegged to a small group of actual cities. Instead, some sort of model city (a realistic equiv. to SimCity) would be the basis for the compensation package. I don't think it would be too hard to put together a team of two or three (multiple viewpoints, PLEASE !) think tanks to build such a model.

Hi Greg,

My point was that the "common good" - that we all benefit from a well-run transit system - is not an argument people will support.

In my heart, I hope they would but you can just see from the NIMBY-ish, me-first, narrow-focused actions of today's voting population that long-term thinking and public benefit are the last things people tend to support.

As I stated my 100,000 unique riders was a guess, regardless, it doesn't change the underlying argument that transit is not a priority for most voters.

"I have to believe with all the allegedly smart people in this town, they could come together and write a ballot proposition that would not be total bullshit like the ones proposed by the leftists and the right in this town."

I know this would be hugely disruptive to riders as well as muni, but what about a one-day riders' strike?

People could ride bikes, walk, bum rides off friends, use City Car Share and Zipcar to drive people. It would make a huge mess, I know, with the extra traffic and would be completely impractical for those with no other resources. But if masses of people don't use Muni for one day, it would shake things up.

Another option is to encourage people to limit their Muni use as best they can. I've started doing that, and it's lowered my stress level considerably. Instead of trying to catch a 6 to travel the eight blocks to my City Car Share pod, I walk it, up hill and down. Maybe we could encourage the able-bodied to just use Muni part of the way to their destination and walk the rest.

It's like having a useless coworker; if you can't change the situation, you simply try to rely on him or her as little as possible, even if it means you have to do a little more. More peace of mind.

The coming further cutbacks are largely due to the lack of state gas tax transit money siphoned off by Arnold and the lack of local tax revenue (property tax and local sales tax) being collected but I've lived here since 1969 and grew up just 25 miles from here and trust me, the Muni has always been underfunded, under maintained, poorly run due to poor management and union rules that affect service negatively. It cost the City a couple of hundred million just to correct the "Embarcadero turnaround" in the 90's, remember the classic Chron photo of an angry looking Willie Brown stuck on an inbound Muni train that was going nowhere? Classic case of A Mayor discovering that there was actually something to all those complaints about 30 and 40 minute rides from Van Ness to Embarcadero during the evening rush hour. There have been meltdowns, cases of not enough equipment (like so many broken down busses or streetcars they had to be brought in from as far away as Pittsburg and Toronto as replacements) and horrible customer service. My solution (puff puff) -start over. Dig a Parisian style subway system and get the f*ing trains underground instead of tangling with traffic, stop lights, stop signs and mothers from the suburbs who think they go too fast at street level for their children's safety and get stop signs put in at every corner. Connect the rest with electric bus and hybrid bus lines. Probably have to be privately run unless the unions can throw out the rules which actually impair good service. Cost: A couple of zillion dollars. Time to complete: I'll be dead. Until then, probably nothin's gonna change.

And this posting and set of comments is just a few days after a Breda LRV rearends a Milano tram on the "J" line. I've been following this event through the (new) Market St. Ry. website and Trainorders.com. Some of the old (1921-1944) Market St. Ry. managers, along with the men who built Muni back in the Teens and Twenties would turn over in their graves if they could behold the Muni Mess of today.

I would be supportive of Union give backs and supportive of "rules that would reward the good operators in the fleet" if the MUNI leadership was demonstrating from the top. However the head of MUNI makes more than the a US Supreme Court Justice, and cannot be fired for doing a bad job - unless you call getting fired but still getting paid actually getting fired.

If the MUNI "leadership" demonstrated commitment, they could then reasonably expect people to follow: Give up significant parts of YOUR salary, and benefits, and golden parachute, then start negotiations.

I'm use Muni daily, and as a business person I look for ways to add revenue and cut costs. Des Muni? When I lived in Orlando, the buses would have full ads on the entire bus. They were effective and (I believe) outsourced to a compay that did this, and collected the ad revenue. Also, look inside the bus. All the "ads" look to be no-profit or city agency ads. Also, look at the ads on the walls in the underground station. Yesterday I saw 2 for movies that are already out of theaters and one for stanford football...from last season! Hi Toby, have a great season!
Costs: There are 2 station operators at Van ness, why? Do they even need 1? Also, why can't BART and Muni combine station agents at Montgomery, powell etc? They just answer basic questions it seems.

Muni frustrates me to no end!

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