Proponents of Proposition G, which would repeal the City Charter provisions that ensure San Francisco transit drivers earn the second-highest wages in the country, believe the initiative will make Muni more efficient. “Put riders first by ending the wasteful work rules and broken salary formula that contribute to poor Muni service,” District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd says in one ad.

Meanwhile, the Muni drivers’ union calls Prop. G unfair and blames inefficiencies on “a system that has been neglected for decades.” The drivers say they are overworked and unable to take breaks.

If voters pass Prop. G today, operators’ wages, currently calculated by a formula in the City Charter, will instead be determined by negotiation.

At present, the City Charter requires the Municipal Transportation Authority to pay Muni drivers at least as much as the average salary of transit operators at the two highest-paying similar transit systems in the country. Currently, that means at least $25.92 per hour.

To see what a Muni driver’s shift is like, Mission Loc@l took a ride on the 49 Van Ness-Mission and the 22 Fillmore buses. Is there plenty of time for breaks? Does the job appear easy?

By the time one afternoon 49-line driver reached the official beginning of his run at Mission and 30th, his bus was already packed with women carrying children and groceries.

The 49 line stretches approximately seven miles from the Marina to City College, takes about an hour to travel in the afternoon, and serves many seniors, students and tourists.

As the afternoon grew older, the interior and exterior of the bus only got busier. Traveling southwest toward City College, the bus’s few remaining seats were quickly taken, but more elderly riders waited at each stop. The driver seemed conflicted about what to do, alternately calling out for passengers to offer more seats to seniors and telling the seniors there were no more seats.

Eager to show the driver the transfer she held aloft, one elderly woman tried to hop up the bus’s steps. Instead, she tripped and fell to her knees.

But she was able to scramble back to her feet in no time without the driver’s assistance.

There were many tense false alarms during the six-hour shift.

As evening fell, a woman who boarded near Norton Street began to wail, throwing herself across two seats in the middle of the bus and sobbing into a dark sweater. Passengers looked at each other nervously. The driver ignored her.

After 20 minutes of off- and on-again moaning, the same woman sat calmly talking to a friend as the bus reached 16th Street.

There, a man reached to steal a fistful of the transfers. The driver grabbed the transfer booklet and stood, dramatically pulling on his jacket. The attempted thief ran toward the back of the bus looking for an exit, but ran back to the front to escape through the only open door.

“You want to take my transfers?” the bus driver yelled after him, calling him an expletive.

The driver summed up how he deals with the many problems he encounters on the bus, from people fighting over seats to “school kids” smoking in the back: “You gotta shout out.”

Still, the 10-year Muni veteran said this route is OK.  “It’s long and not too many turns. Not like the 22, too many hills.”

The day before the proposition went to the voters, the relief operator for the 22 Fillmore waited at the 16th and Bryant bus stop across the street from the Potrero Division.

He was already into the second part of his eight-hour shift, with only a few hours left.

Phelan Loop, where drivers bound for City College take their breaks.

Shift changes and durations depend on the run the operator is on — the 14 Mission is a longer route than the 22 Fillmore, for example. Operators choose their routes every four months, and wages are then set on an hourly basis for each. Even if some work less than eight hours, they must be paid the guaranteed base salary.

The 22 Fillmore takes two hours to complete one trip from Potrero Hill to the Marina and back. The driver is supposed to get a 10- to 14-minute break at the end of each run. During the two hours Mission Loc@l rode with this driver, he had time for only a four-minute break.

“Maneuvering traffic is not the problem. It’s dealing with the public,” he said as the bus came to the end of the line and passengers filed out.

“We are here for the public. For years we’ve catered to them,” he said referring to an instance earlier in the afternoon. En route back toward Potrero Hill, the bus made a scheduled stop at a designated bus stop. But just as he pulled away from the curb, people came running down the hill after the bus. The operator stopped the bus again, 50 feet from the stop, to let the people on.

“I’m not supposed to do that,” he said later. “I’ll get into trouble for it — it’s a safety hazard.”

Back on the 49, the driver had more luck. Despite crowds of seniors in the Mission, students near City College and tourists with luggage who needed directions (but couldn’t quite understand English), the bus managed to stay fairly on schedule.

When the driver lost time, he’d take a shorter break. During his six-hour shift, he’s allowed about 51 minutes of break time divided into five unequal segments between runs. Despite the attempted transfer robbery, a two-minute delay for a disabled passenger to find his fare, and dealing with a young French tourist who wandered aimlessly inside the bus, the driver was able to take 48 minutes of his break time.

The driver’s five short breaks ranged from two minutes at Phelan Loop — just enough time for him to change the bus’s sign and board new passengers — to a 16-minute break at North Point that he used to eat lunch.

“There is no city like San Francisco,” the 22’s operator said, throwing is hands up in the air. “It’s a unique city, that has the good and the bad.”

Today, the city will vote on what could be good for them and bad for him. “Prop. G is not good for anyone. Not the operators, not the public,” the driver maintained.

“Hopefully it’ll not pass,” said the 49-line driver. “It’s not an easy job, but it’s like they think it’s an easy job.”