Upgrades bring Muni radios into modern century

All of San Francisco’s Muni buses will soon be equipped with a new radio communications system that will move the transit system from analog to the digital world, transit officials said.

The radio network called the Computer Aided Dispatch and Automatic Vehicle Location will allow the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency staff inside the Transportation Management Center to better closely monitor the locations of Muni buses and for drivers to communicate with staff inside the center. The center is inside at 1455 Market Street near the office of the SFMTA.

Currently, the transit agency is swapping out its old analog system with a new digital system called the Xerox/ACS OrbStar, according to SFMTA documents. The cost of the project is $128 million, said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

Alex Hallowell, a transportation planner with the SFMTA, said that staff are installing 12 to 16 of the systems into Muni vehicles a day with 190 of them already installed on vehicles as of last Tuesday.

During a SFMTA Board of Directors workshop meeting, Hallowell gave a demonstration on how system worked to transit officials and to the public.

The interface touch screen that Muni drivers will use is fairly simple. Drivers will login to the system and be able see his or her schedule for the day. As soon as an operator shift begins, they will be able to see how close they are to adhering to the bus route’s schedule, said Hallowell.

This could help improve the overall on-time performance of the Muni system, which was at 56 percent last December.

Another feature is a messaging system where operators can access a panel on the screen of preloaded messages that operators can send to the management center without having to make a phone call to the transit center, said Hallowell.

Some of the messages operators can send include a mechanical issue with the bus, taking a bathroom break or reporting an unruly passenger on bus.

The screen will be inoperable while the bus is in motion.

Part of the system also includes a new phone when drivers need to call the management center.

Hallowell said the voice clarity is better than the old system. She said she was able actually identify the voice of the person she was speaking to when testing the phones.

The SFMTA expects to complete the installation of the new radio system on all Muni vehicles by April of this year, said Rose.