Muni meltdowns cost local economy millions

Muni delays — or as some riders like to call them, “meltdowns” — are costing San Francisco’s economy millions of dollars a month.

A report and analysis by the city’s Chief Economist Ted Egan showed that Muni delays in April caused an economic loss of $4.2 million, or about $50 million a year.

Riders lost an estimated total of 86,000 hours because of Muni delays in April, even with conservative estimates that only took account of delays during peak times.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who asked for the analysis, said Muni delays have serious impacts to people lives in the City during a Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee:

“The system’s struggle have real life consequences for our city. When service is unreliable, people are delayed and frustrated in getting where they’re going, leading to negative economic impacts and reduced quality of life.”

But it isn’t entirely Muni’s fault, said Wiener. The lack of funding for years has put Muni in a tight spot:

“We’ve allowed the system to deteriorate over time physically. We’ve done this by systematically under investing for decades in the system’s infrastructure.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has a $320 million annual structural budget, which breaks down to $70 million needed for operations and $260 million needed to keep the system in a state of good repair, according to the Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin.

Muni’s $2.2 billion backlog of deferred maintenance is not helping the situation. John Haley, transit director of operations, said at least 70 percent of delays are caused by vehicle malfunctions.

The lack of vehicles are also hurting the transit agency. Muni only hit its goal of running 114 light-rail vehicles in the Muni Metro 9 percent of the time in April during the weekdays, which explains why riders sometimes see single trains during peak commute times.

The transit system is also still struggling to meet a city-mandated on-time performance goal of 85 percent. Muni was 61.3 percent on time during the month of April.

Muni is making efforts to improve service and reliability. The transit agency has already begun replacing some of its older fleet with newer buses, which arrived last month. Haley also said Muni is doing an “aggressive” review of the schedules.

Wiener said Muni should continue its efforts to improve internally, but it needs the support from The City to invest in capital needs for the transit system:

“Our public transportation system is a joint responsibility of everyone in this city. The MTA has to do its job. We at the board of supervisors have to do a much better job of showing good capital financial commitment to the agency. I think we have not done that.”

Wiener is currently working on a proposal with the city’s controller’s office to add a surcharge to event tickets to help fund Muni.