Thousands of missed Muni service hours means buses come more infrequently — and are packed.

Also: Construction company employing man killed in Twin Peaks tunnel has contractual clause rewarding timely completion, sources say

Last week, Mission Local published stories revealing that Muni furtively shunted buses and drivers out of service on some of its biggest lines, resulting in thousands of hours of missed service, inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of riders, and creating unannounced service cuts of up to 33 percent.

And Muni on Friday coughed up a response: Yeah, sorry about that.

Muni service in the past few months has been performing below our 98.5% service goal,” reads the agency’s official apology. This is a jarring and bewildering statement: Following the June 25 closure of the Twin Peaks tunnel for a scheduled two months of upgrades, Muni service has grown abysmal, citywide. That’s because, while the agency dutifully informed riders (and politicians) it would make up for the service of the K-, L-, and M-lines impacted by a tunnel closure, it didn’t tell anyone — not even the mayor’s office — that it would do so by backfilling that service via haphazardly whisking away buses and drivers from other lines citywide.

For Muni to state that it “has been performing below our 98.5% service goal” is akin to starting a kitchen fire, triggering the sprinkler system, and stating “I’ve been performing below my ‘make a hard-boiled egg goal.’” It’s a dubious way to express contrition.

To wit, Muni went on to note “We apologize and want to let you know what we’re doing about it.”

  • Solution one: Convert some 60 part-time operators to full-time, “providing nearly 700 additional driving hours daily.”

Great — but one wonders why this solution wasn’t employed many months ago, prior to clandestinely wrecking citywide transit service. The Examiner, in fact, obtained an internal Muni memo dating all the way back to October 2017 warning of impending transit mayhem if such steps weren’t taken (spoiler alert: They weren’t).

Also, while making up for 700 missed service hours would be grand, it’s just a down-payment on Muni’s current morass: The agency missed 1,172 hours on July 23 alone.

  • Solution two: Increasing the size of all new operator training classes so as to bring in drivers more rapidly, and training more drivers for Muni’s new trams.

Again, great. But, considering the aforementioned October 2017 memo warning of an impending transit meltdown without bringing in more drivers and expediting training, Muni ostensibly should have — again — been focused on beefing up its ranks long ago.  

And yet, numbers obtained by Mission Local reveal that Muni hired 142 new drivers in the last fiscal year — but lost 171.

A chart documenting Muni’s missed hours of service. The yellow arrow indicates June 25, the date of the Twin Peaks tunnel closure. Graphic by Steve Pepple.

So, fittingly for Muni, this apology is inadequate — and it arrived late. The agency didn’t say it was sorry until it was caught, first by the Examiner in late July then by Mission Local in early August. As of Monday, there were exactly zero mentions in the city’s newspaper of record of the monthslong, deliberate, and unannounced daily torment of hundreds of thousands of Muni riders. It’s amazing when you think about it: Vandals putting sugar in the tanks and knocking out up to a third of service on Muni’s major lines would warrant major coverage; when the agency does it to itself, it didn’t even warrant a story.

Our sources tell us Mayor London Breed is angry. But most anyone with a cursory understanding of the situation is angry. The mayor, however, has the opportunity to take action. Breed and her office have not returned our queries about what she plans to do.

No members of Muni’s senior management have faced repercussions. As of now, the mayor’s chosen team to lead Muni out of this mess is the same team that led Muni into it.   

Riders on the 14 Mission Muni bus line dismount on Mission between 24th and 25th streets, where the electric disruption occurred. Photo by Christine Mai-Duc.

Absent major media coverage, hundreds of thousands of aggrieved Muni riders still might not realize that they’re victims of a planned scuttling of the citywide transit system. They might just grumble that Muni sucks.

Both of these things can be true.

But what if you live in Pacific Heights or Forest Hills and wouldn’t be caught dead on a bus or train? What if you drive or take Uber everywhere? The closing of the Twin Peaks tunnel and Muni compensating by appropriating buses and drivers from the rest of its system doesn’t affect you at all, right?

Wrong. Mission Local has learned that so many transit inspectors are tied up in the tunnel project that the city hasn’t been able to proceed with long-planned paving, sewer, or water system jobs. Even transit-phobic San Franciscans drive on roads, flush the toilet, or bathe. So this situation is affecting them, too. It’s affecting everyone.

Meanwhile, multiple city sources have told Mission Local that Shimmick Construction — the company employing 51-year-old Patrick Ricketts, who was killed by a steel beam Friday in the Twin Peaks tunnel — has an incentive clause in its contract with the city rewarding it for timely completion of the project.

Construction work is challenging. Construction sites are dangerous. This may have been a wholly unforeseen and random tragedy. But it’s hard to ignore that, following the belated public revelation that Muni’s Twin Peaks tunnel project is responsible for the system’s self-induced citywide transit meltdown, a worker employed by a contractor with a purported incentive to meet a  pending deadline was killed on the job.

This situation really is affecting everyone. Some more than others. Condolences to Ricketts’ wife and children. We look forward to a thorough investigation of his death.

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. meanwhile, job recruitment for positions at the top require college degrees and all sorts of self-congratulatory “achievements”. Time to find REAL managerial talent.

  2. You say: “As of Monday, there were exactly zero mentions in the city’s newspaper of record of the monthslong, deliberate, and unannounced daily torment of hundreds of thousands of Muni riders.”

    That’s because the paper of record is busy reporting how the mayor is parading the media in the Tenderloin to show them needles and people poo, conditions she promises to fix after her and her faction’s policies helped caused the problems in the first place. When she’s not doing that the paper of record is reporting on a rally announcing funding for the ballot measure that guarantees legal representation to evicted tenants, all without inviting to the rally the people who succeeded in getting the measure on the ballot and getting it passed. You’d almost think the “paper of record” had an agenda.

  3. The article seems to be implying that special incentives are linked to the death, but that is misleading. There are sometimes incentives to finish early and that is a common practice in the construction industry for time-sensitve projects. However, there is ALWAYS incentives (or penalties depending on how you look at it) to finish on time. Also, contractors always have the incentive to keep the job safe; otherwise, like in this case, the job will be shut down for days and we all know time is money.

  4. aha. This explains why one day two weeks ago, the L Taraval bus driver didn’t know where he was going, and a rider on the bus had to tell him which route to take from the Sunset to Castro Station. He mentioned that he hadn’t driven the route before.