Muni seeks upgrades for troublesome trolleys

San Francisco’s most unreliable buses will soon be replaced with newer and more reliable coaches over the next two years.

The bane to on-time service that have dragged down the overall performance of Muni are the 40-foot electric trolley buses made by Electric Transit, Inc (ETI), which currently serve 15 Muni routes with some of steepest hills.

Nearly 200,000 Muni riders reply on the 40-foot electric trolley buses to travel around The City, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The buses serve Muni lines such as the 1-California and 30-Stockton.

On Tuesday, the SFMTA Board of Directors approved a contract amendment with New Flyer America Inc., to buy 185 new 40-foot electric trolley buses for a price tag of $245 million.

The approved contract will conclude the last step for the SFMTA in replacing the transit agency’s oldest fleet of vehicles, said John Haley, SFMTA director of transit.

Transit officials have been replacing its old Muni buses over the last five years with newer buses from New Flyer, which include new 40- and 60-foot hybrid low-floor buses and 60-foot articulated low-floor electric trolley buses.

To date, the SFMTA has so far received approximately 400 new Muni buses from New Flyer out of the 814 ordered.

Haley said the current fleet of 40-foot electric trolleys have already exceeded its usefulness of 15 years, with some electric trolleys now exceeding 17 years of revenue service:

“Our existing ETI fleet, some 202, that come out of Portreo and Presidio, they represent relatively a small percentage of the mileage, but over 40 percent of the defects.”

Data from the SFMTA shows the 40-foot electric trolley buses having at least 400 maintenance incidents for the months of February and March of this year. In January, there were more than 500 incidents.

With the manufacturer now out of business, Haley said there has been difficulty in finding parts, and may resort to salvaging parts from scrapped vehicles, said Haley:

“We run what’s called a salvage operation on those going out the door so that we are able to stock a supply of parts.”

The ETI buses have run a total of 78 million miles, said Haley:

“They have the served the agency and The City well. It’s time for a change.”

Haley also pointed out that the ETI buses can barely move a block without the electric poles while running on the battery pack, citing a collision Tuesday morning on the 33-Stanyan where electric trolley buses stuck behind the incident could not go around.

He said new battery packs on the New Flyer buses will allow the electric trolley buses not just to move around incidents like the one on Tuesday, but to travel further on Muni routes without the electric poles if needed.

The SFMTA anticipates the first two new 40-foot electric trolley buses to arrive by end of this year with manufacturing of the vehicles wrapping up in 2019.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will need to approve the contract amendment.