San Francisco Muni Metro service has not been performing well for its more than 160,000 daily passengers.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees the operation of Muni service, said aging infrastructure and trains have caused the majority of delays in the subway, especially during the last four months of the year.
SFMTA’s Acting Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum said on Tuesday at the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting that a total of 113 hours of delays in the subway last year were due to trains not connecting to the subway’s Automatic Train Control System, and a total of 305 hours of delay because of breakdowns of the Breda Muni trains.
When a train does not connect with the ATCS, which automatically controls trains as they enter the subway, it must be operated in the subway in manual mode, which can slow down the entire system, said Kirschbaum:
“That is often caused by an example of a single-train, which instead of being in automatic has to go through the subway in manual mode. Sn automatic train can travel upwards of 40 to 50 miles per hour. The max speed for a manual train is 25 miles per hour.”
Incidents with the ATCS went down from 134 incidents in September to 72 incidents. The average time spent on the delays, though, doubled from about 15 minutes to nearly 30 minutes.
On average, transit staff were spending more than 30 minutes per incident on vehicle breakdowns.
Kirschbaum said the biggest contribution to vehicle breakdowns is the way the transit connects to each other or coupled together:
“When the coupler are having challenges, there’s multiple systems on the vehicles that react poorly. So, it might translate to a propulsion problem, or a break problem, or a step problem.”
In the short-term, Kirschbaum said the transit agency needs to turn trains around faster at the Embarcadero Station. The J-Church, L-Taraval and M-Ocean View turn around at the Embarcadero pocket from the inbound to outbound direction.
She said it the transit agency will place more supervisors and staff on the platform to help switch trains quicker.
Another pinch point is at West Portal Station in the outbound direction, said Kirschbaum:
“We’re going to be looking at things particularly in the PM peak of having the inspector manually expedite to get trains out of the subway so we don’t have that backup and que.”
To help with gaps in train service, transit officials plan to add “gap” trains to have a train on standby in case there are gaps in service. One train will be at the Cameron Beach Yard and another along Third Street.
The transit also agency is looking to improve communications with passengers during delays as a new radio system for trains will be in place by April.
Kirschbaum said the new radio system will allow operators to use pre-programmed buttons to make delay announcements and transit staff will be able to make clear and audible announcements from the control center into the trains.
Christopher Pederson, a Muni rider who spoke about the delays at West Portal Station, said:
“I just want to stress how utterly dysfunctional the West Portal Station, especially during the evening commute. It’s just routine to have prolong delays in the subway.”
Malcolm Heinicke, chair of the SFMTA board and a frequent passenger who uses the subway, said he takes the problems inside the subway very seriously.
Heinicke said on two different occasions with his kids after attending basketball games, they found themselves facing Muni subway delays. One of the delays lasted for 45 minutes late at night and there were no announcements and information provided to passengers that night:
“The service in the last six months has been spotty. The communications around the service incidents have been worse.”
Heinickie had called for the rail service presentation to let the public know that the board understands the frustrations of subway riders:
“This board gets it. We’re not oblivious to it. We see it. We understand it.”
“If we keep hearing the same cause and proposed solution over and over again, that will be frustrating.”
Going forward, Heinicke requested that the board receive monthly updates on the progress being made to subway service as well disruptive delays that occurred during the month and the cause and fix for those delays.