A dozen young adults employed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are required to monitor youth misbehavior and ensure safety on Muni, but some Muni drivers and many students who ride the bus regularly said they have never seen the monitors and in some cases have never heard of the program.
Only two Mission High students who ride the bus said they had seen some of the 12 monitors who are supposed to ride the buses dressed in black, lime-yellow or orange jackets with the program’s acronym MTAP on the back.
“What’s the Muni Transit Assistance Program,” Rick Sunga, a 22-Fillmore driver said. “I’ve never seen transit assistants on the bus.”
Brian Gordon, who’s been driving Muni buses for 21 years, added, “I’ve never heard of that program.”
The 12 “transit assistants,” as they’re officially known, are employed to ride Muni from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Their job is to make sure middle school and high school students aren’t tagging the bus with graffiti or causing chaos, according to the MTA.
However, after riding the J-Church, 22-Fillmore, 14-Mission and 33-Stanyan between 1 and 4 p.m. for a week, Mission Loc@l failed to run into a single assistant. The MTA declined to identify any of the assistants or their exact routes.
In response to the lack of sightings, Ted Unaegbu, the manager of the MTA’s Security Administration, which handles the program, said, “It really depends on a particular bus driver’s schedule. We only have 12 transit assistants to deploy on hundreds of Muni buses and trains on any given day.”
In addition, he said, some students might not be aware of the program because they don’t ride Muni or don’t pay attention when they are on the bus.
“There are lots of variables that could affect their unfamiliarity with the program,” he said.
However, the assistants are supposed to check in with the drivers of each bus they monitor, according to Unaegbu.
The Muni Transit Assistance Program costs the city $673,556 in salaries spread among 17 individuals. Five are managers and 12 are monitors, according to Unaegbu.
The monitors, who are between the ages of 18 and 40, currently earn $13 an hour, according to the MTA. The two supervisors, two coordinators and overall manager earn $16 an hour.
Only two Mission High School students said they had seen the bus monitors sitting on their buses.
Sophomore Rhani Andreve said he’s seen transit assistants on the J-Church only a few times and has never seen them on the 22-Fillmore or 14-Mission – two buses, according to Unaegbu and school officials, which are among the most troublesome after-school routes.
“Once they handed out condoms and gave tips on safe sex practices,” 16-year-old Andreve said.
The MTA has not responded to calls or emails asking why the assistants would be handing out condoms.
Most students interviewed responded like one Mission High sophomore, who said, “I’ve never seen any of them.” He added that he rides the 33-Stanyan, and 14-Mission every day after school.
Mission High School Principal Eric Guthertz said that he regularly sees transit assistants at the J-Church stop at 18th and Church streets near Mission High.
“They’re here all the time, but I’ve never ridden with any of them,” he said.
When asked if the program is curbing misbehavior, Guthertz said, “I have no idea.”
Muni driver Gordon doubted that youth misconduct aboard Muni could be curbed with so few monitors.
“I’ve never seen them on any of my buses,” he said. “Hopefully somebody does if they’re getting paid for what they’re supposed to do.”
Muni driver Emanuel Andreas, who also works out of the Potrero Barn and is an outspoken member of Muni operator’s union Transport Workers Union 250-A, said he has seen the assistants on his buses, but called the monitor program, “a waste of money by Muni.”
“I don’t see the point in their work, they have never provided security,” Andreas said. “If you see them, most of them are either talking on the cell or playing around – they aren’t helpful to operators.”
A 15-year-old Mission High freshman waiting to catch the J-Church at the corner of 18th and Church streets said she usually sees Muni assistants riding the train, but never sees any on buses after school.
“There’s never any conflict, everyone is usually cool with each other,” she said requesting anonymity. “[Transit assistants] are really quiet.”
The bus monitors failed to show up that day after Mission High got out of class. The young student added it might be because Mission High got out of class an hour earlier than normal. Still, the assistants are supposed to monitor buses in accordance with school schedules, Unaegbu said.
With 19 high schools and 14 middle schools in the San Francisco Unified School District, Unaegbu said the program’s resources are spread too thin.
The assistants operate in pairs, five days a week, he said. One pair monitors the 108-Treasure Island and the Transbay Terminal. Two other pairs patrol the T-Third Street while the remaining six are responsible for all Muni routes that are heavily used by students.
“They can ride three to four different buses running on the same route or different routes,” Unaegbu said. “Transit assistants can ride a bus anywhere from 30 minutes to up to one hour.”
He added that the monitors assess the situation and decide the length of stay on each bus route based on the potential for criminal activity among young riders. They also spend time monitoring bus stops as well as waiting with students for Muni vehicles, he said.
None of the monitors ride with students before school, Unaegbu said, because most misbehavior occurs after school.
Unaegbu maintained that the program has been effective in preventing misconduct. School district officials agreed.
“Their effectiveness is in the fact that there have been very few full-blown incidents of violence,” Keith Choy, a coordinator for the Stay-in-School Coalition said in an email. “They coordinate their efforts with school security staff to make sure that bus stops are safe.”
Choy added that all public schools in San Francisco could benefit from the program.
However, the bus monitors have a limited authority.
“The assistants aren’t officers,” Unaegbu said, noting that they have no authority to become physical if students are misbehaving. “They aren’t trained to be confrontational, they’re trained to be polite.”
The monitors’ main job, he said, is to observe and report unlawful acts to the San Francisco Police Department and aide in identifying juveniles through on-board camera footage.
The Muni assistant program has been around for 11 years, but has been collaborating with the city’s school district for only seven years.
Since the district doesn’t have a school bus system, it relies on Muni to ferry students to and from school, Heidi Anderson, a director with the school district’s communication office said. Muni sits on the Safe School Task Force and works with the district to build more safety awareness, she said.
But, Anderson said she had never even heard of the bus monitor program before being interviewed by Mission Loc@l.