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Muni light-rail service a total mess, says new city data

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SFMTA still recovering from disastrous 2018

Photo by Shutterstock

Embarrassed by a string of high-profile failures—like San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin’s sudden departure in a few months, while the agency shops around for someone new to take the wheel of the troubled agency—Muni is at a crossroads.

But the one thing most commuters care about is whether or not rides will be on time.

According to the latest Muni On-Time Performance scores, the overall reliability of public transit in SF is down year-over-year; though the decline is slight, even 2018’s higher number was catastrophically short of the city’s aspirational goal for Muni.

Across all vehicle types, Muni was on-time for 55 percent of stops in March of this year, down compared to 57 percent last year.

Muni was deemed late 13 percent of the time and “very late” six percent of the time in March, the late score flat from a year ago and terminal lateness up a point compared to 2018.

Per usual, coaches arriving early more often than late proved to be the biggest problem; Muni’s early rating for March was 26 percent, up from 25 percent one year ago.

Note that in SFMTA parlance “late” means arriving four or more minutes after scheduled, “very late” means coming in ten minutes after the mark, and “early” means arriving more than one minute before the planned stop.

While the decline in year-over-year reliability is significant, Muni’s overall performance remained flat for 12 months. From March 2018 to 2019, vehicles were on-time no more than 57 percent of the time and no less than 54 percent.

Since the city charter-mandated goal is an 85 percent on-time rating, even Muni’s best performance leaves much to be desired.

What’s particularly noteworthy about the new data is that, while Muni performance overall is fairly steady (albeit poor) month-to-month and year-over-year, light rail service in the city is both unreliable and volatile.

In March, the combined on-time rating for Muni light-rail service was just 46 percent, with trains running late or very late 40 percent of the time.

That’s down from 49 percent on-time one year ago. During that period, light-rail trains’ on-time score dipped as low as 37 percent in September and October of 2018—both of those numbers coming after the reopening of the Twin Peaks Tunnel in August.

Here’s how the city’s six most in-demand train lines performed in March:

  • F-Market: On-time rating 54 percent. Late or very late 26 percent of the time. Last year it was 56/29.
  • L-Taraval: On-time rating 48 percent. Late or very late 37 percent of the time. Last year it was 52/31.
  • N-Judah: On-time rating 46 percent. Late or very late 45 percent of the time. Last year it was 47/44.
  • K/T-Ingleside/Third Street: On-time rating 42 percent. Late or very late 37 percent of the time. Last year it was 40/45.
  • J-Church: On-time rating 40 percent. Late or very late 49 percent of the time. Last year it was 46/44.
  • M-Ocean View: On-time rating 39 percent. Late or very late 47 percent of the time. Last year it was 46/40.

The city didn’t release new data for the E-Embarcadero line, which only resumed service at the end of March after a nearly two-month hiatus.