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Muni service tanks as drivers don’t show up

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SFMTA says Muni drivers aren’t working expected hours, but it’s not a strike

A Muni historic streetcar on Market Street. Shutterstock

If Muni service has seemed spottier than usual this week, it’s not your imagination: According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Muni drivers aren’t showing up for work when expected, creating shortages and service delays.

But the drivers aren’t on strike or on a sick out; they’re declining to put in extra hours that Muni relies on to keep buses and trains running.

In a Thursday blog, simply titled “Muni service this week,” SFMTA blames drivers for the unusually bad (even by Muni standards) service the previous six days:

Over last weekend and into this week, many Muni customers were inconvenienced by an increase in missed service on several of our routes and lines. A combination of operator absences and operators choosing not to work overtime on their regular days off has led to a higher than normal number of unfilled trips on these routes. This translates to less reliable and timely service.

Muni’s driver union is presently negotiating a new contract with SFMTA management.

Note that the city agency does not complain that Muni drivers are missing any of their scheduled shifts. They’re just not doing overtime hours that most of them usually would.

According to Muni, on any given day about 50 drivers are “voluntarily working overtime shifts on their day off.” If those 50 don’t fill the extra slots, the results can be pandemonium.

However, the work slowdown doesn’t technically count as a strike, as the city can’t demand that drivers work overtime if they choose not to.

Muni has struggled over the past nine months to fulfill its schedule. According to publicly available data, when the fiscal year started in July of 2018 Muni was providing only 91.3 percent of scheduled hours. The target on any given day is 98.5 percent.

SFMTA has closed that gap in ensuing months; in March of 2019, the city managed 94.9 percent of expected service.

But that’s still well below the results for past years. For fiscal years 2016 and 2017 Muni never dropped below 98 percent all year.

At a December hearing at City Hall, addressing poor Muni service, SFMTA says it has trouble recruiting and keeping drivers on staff, and drivers and union reps complained of low wages, long commutes, sometimes dangerous working conditions, and lack of respect.

Annual salary for new drivers starts at $47,000/year.