Muni seeks to fix faulty ridership numbers

Devices used on Muni buses to count the number of passengers who enter and exit buses have not been working properly for at least two years.

An audit from Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s transportation planning and financing agency, said that San Francisco’s transit agency reported errors in calculating ridership data due to older automatic passenger counters (APCs).

The audit findings were between 2012 to 2015. Commission staff shared the final audit report with three SFMTA board directors on Aug. 19 by commission staff. The commission routinely audits the transit agency every three years.

Paul Rose, the Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman, said the devices have not been working properly since 2014.

The transit agency has 250 “legacy” automatic passenger counters, said Rose.

About 40 percent of Muni buses are equipped with the counters. The counters are randomly placed on all routes throughout the Muni system and the devices collect the data during a one-month period.

Manual checks of the automatic passenger counters showed nine percent of undercounting occurred during 250 trips, according to SFMTA documents.

The most likely causes include horizontal sensors not working properly due to crowded conditions and older devices on electric trolley buses, which officials said are known to undercount entering and exiting passengers.

Data in the audit showed declines in ridership between the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years on motor and trolley coaches because of the devices working improperly. Annual motor coach ridership declined by 3.4 percent from 2014 to 2015 and trolley coaches saw a 7.3 percent decline from 2014 to 2015.

John Haley, director of transit, said the SFMTA should have caught the errors earlier:

“We should have been much more vigilant about catching it and taking corrective actions.”

Officials have taken action to inspect and validate the automatic passenger counters on buses. They are also developing new baselines to make adjustments to annual ridership counts.

Rose said the transit agency had historically undercounted Muni ridership because data never included special events and the T-Third line, which opened in 2007. The last ridership count on Muni trains occurred in 2008. Ridership counts on trains are done manually every eight years.

He said ridership data will now include special events such as the Gay Pride Parade and Bay to Breakers. Ridership data from the T-Third line will also now be included.

Muni’s newer vehicles will have newer and more reliable automatic passenger counters, said Rose:

“The new vehicles will not only provide more reliable service, but they include accurate, state of the art APCs that will count riders more reliably. The new sensors will rely on the new radio system to communicate, so they are not yet fully activated.”

The commission’s full audit is available on the SFMTA’s website.