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Muni may hire laid off Chariot drivers

Soon to be jobless private bus drivers could relieve Muni’s driver shortage

A passenger sits on a MUNI bus on March 21, 2018 in San Francisco, California.  Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In perhaps the ultimate coup of City Hall over Silicon Valley-based transit, Mayor of San Francisco London Breed says the city may hire hundreds of laid off drivers from the soon-to-be-defunct private bus company Chariot to help cover a shortage of Muni drivers.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, the city will offer new jobs to almost 300 Chariot drivers who stand to lose their jobs.

Breed confirmed the story, via Twitter, saying that the proposal “makes sense for drivers, Muni, and the city.”

Chariot abruptly announced last Thursday that it will shut down public service February 1. The private bus startup owned by Ford Motor Company launched in San Francisco in 2014 and soon expanded to eight other U.S. cities and London. Crunchbase estimates that the company employs up to 1,000 people.

“Chariot went after high demand areas, the most profitable,” Amos Haggiag, CEO of Optibus (a startup that attempts to optimize transit planning with artificial intelligence) said in emailed comments to Curbed SF, noting that “failure there” proves just how difficult it is wrestling with mass transit problems.

The city is already familiar with those woes. In December, San Francisco’s Office of the Budget and Legislative Analyst told the Board of Supervisors that the recent Muni meltdown is, in part, the fault of an ongoing driver shortage tied to relatively low pay and the difficult nature of the job.

An aqua colored Chariot van on a San Francisco street. Photo courtesy of Chariot

Although the city technically has enough drivers on payroll to cover its needs—2,557 operators are available for 2,305 necessary positions—drivers are not available every day, creating service gaps in which buses are not running as scheduled.

According to SF’s City Performance Scorecards, Muni’s on-time rating for December was 53.7 percent, down from around 58 percent around the beginning of the year and comparable to figures from midsummer, when service nosedived so badly that SFMTA publicly apologized.

The city’s oft-cited goal is an 85 percent on-time rating.

Chariot drivers already have the class B license needed to drive for Muni, but additional training would be required before the transition.

Note that even if all 300 make the switch that will still not make up the estimated personnel deficit at Muni.