Restructuring the SFMTA: Results of a Save Muni Survey

Article by: Bob Feinbaum, President of Save Muni

Save Muni recently surveyed 32 San Francisco transit experts and activists with regard to re-structuring the SFMTA. Responses were received from over 40 % of the panel. Although the results should not be interpreted as statistically significant, they do provide a lens with which to view changes to the MTA.

Question # 1 – Should Muni be split off from the SFMTA as a separate city department ?

Three times as many respondents thought that Muni should not become a separate city department. Their reasoning is instructive.

One respondent argued that San Francisco needs an even more comprehensive agency than the current MTA. “If anything move the DPW (Department of Public Works) over to the SFMTA.” Another pointed out that “cities with the best transportation have integrating functions” such as a unified department dealing with all aspects of transportation. Several other respondents echoed a comment from one that said that “SFMTA must keep control of streets in order to keep Muni moving”.

But that is not to say that respondents were satisfied with the SFMTA’s current way of operating. Several pointed to the need for a “stronger and more accountable management structure.” One called for “better internal coordination”, while another recommended that “the top person should be a generalist with strong managers below him”.

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URGENT PRIORITY: DTX (DOWNTOWN CALTRAIN EXTENSION)

DTX is the highest regional transportation priority—legally mandated by San Francisco voters. The Transbay District’s new upzoning and development were predicated on DTX. Without DTX, tens of thousands of new commuters/ car trips/ residents/ workers will overload streets, highways and the Municipal Railway, usurping resources and service from the rest of the city and neighborhoods. To make matters worse, real Estate interests are lobbying for projects not set as priorities in the Mayor’s Transportation Task Force Report, such as the low-benefit Central Subway extension.

1999 PROP H: DOWNTOWN CALTRAIN STATION (Downtown Caltrain Extension / Transbay Terminal)

Bay Rail Alliance: http://www.bayrailalliance.org/san_francisco_prop_h_text/

This measure is an ordinance that would make it City law to extend the Caltrain line to a new or rebuilt regional transit station in San Francisco to be located on the site of the Transbay Terminal at First and Mission Streets. The City would be directed to use an underground tunnel whenever feasible for the extension of the Caltrain line from the current station to the Transbay Terminal. The City would be prohibited from taking any actions that would conflict with extending Caltrain to downtown San Francisco, including allowing conflicting use or development of the Transbay Terminal or the proposed extension right-of-way.
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Save Muni Minutes – May 20, 2019

Taken by Robin Krop, edited by Bob Feinbaum

PRESENT: Bob Feinbaum (Chair), David Pilpel, Ed Mason, Angelo Figone, Herb Weiner. Robin Krop, Michael O’Rourke, Michael Barrett, Howard Wong, Serge Litvinenko Allen Kessler, Paul Bendix, Brian Larkin, Eileen Boken, Sara Greenwood, Chris Bowman, Jay Phone: Jean Barrish

1) Group business – Save Muni website being organized to make it sustainable. Jean Barish appointed to the working committee.

2) Discussion of MTA developments
The CTA backed off from advance funding for new LRVs due to safety problems

Save Muni sent a communication to the MTA raising issues with the new LRV4s, which was not responded to. Save Muni asked for specifications regarding the purchase order and never received any.

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Open Forum: Save Muni from itself

People stand at a bus stop at Market and Church streets waiting for shuttle buses headed to downtown San Francisco. After a power line failure disabled Muni Metro subway trains, commuters had to take alternative routes to get to their destinations. Photo: Jana Asenbrennerova / Special to The Chronicle

Save Muni has long called for a management audit of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. To that request we now must add: Review the agency’s structure. Well-reported problems with new train cars, operator shortages and maintenance problems last month have only highlighted the agency’s shortcomings.

The SFMTA was created over a decade ago to bring all the city’s transportation under one agency. As envisioned, professionals would work together to develop integrated policies and programs that served the public better than separate taxi, streets and transit departments. It simply was assumed that keeping politics out of transportation, by insulating the SFMTA from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, would assure better decisions.
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Save Muni Minutes – April 15, 2019

Present: Bob Feinbaum (Chair), David Pilpel, Ed Mason, Paul Bendix, Howard Wong, Serge Litvinenko, Allan Kessler, Jerry Cauthen, Paul Cummings, Jean Barrish, Herb Weiner

Announcements – Ed said that VTA will be offering free rides on 4/25 as part of their Get On Board event

Non-profit status: A number of questions were raised, as well as reasons to file for 501c(3) and reasons not to file. Decision deferred pending Jean’s communication with non-profit experts and the IRS.

Officers – Motion unanimously passed to continue the status quo. Will continue to look for a 5th officer to serve.

Website – Sergei is an IT professional with transportation experience who has offered to help with the website and social media. We need to define what SaveMuni will do. Bob, Howard and Paul appointed as the website committee to meet with Sergei.

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Save Muni Calls Out Defects in the new LRVs

Date: March 26, 2019

Ed Reiskin,
Director of Transportation
San Francisco MTA

Save Muni recognizes that Muni needs new Light Rail Vehicles (LRV’s) to replace the aging fleet of Breda cars. However, the first cohort of the new Siemens cars, which are now in service, are a huge disappointment and clearly need design changes to better serve San Francisco transit riders.

The SFMTA seems to have focused on cramming as many riders as possible into the cars with uncomfortable seating and poorly designed multipurpose areas. More importantly it appears that no attention was paid to the ability to quickly safely, and smoothly couple cars to achieve the 3-and-4 car trains that the Market Street Subway was designed for.

Save Muni members have identified some other problems with the new cars. 1) jerky acceleration which leads to the danger of rider injuries:.2) inability to provide a level step onto subway platforms 3) flawed interior design that leads to sliding on the bench seats: 4) inadequate numbe kr of stanchions and straps 5) poor door configuration which hinders boarding, especially for disabled riders: 6) narrower pantograph width which will lead to both vehicle and overhead wire damage.

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Save Muni Minutes – March 18, 2019

Present – Bob Feinbaum (Chair), David Pilpel, Ed Mason, Lotus Fong, Allan Kessler, Jean Barrish, Eileen Boken, Howard Wong, Herb Weiner. Guests: Candace Sue (MTA), Lulu Feliciano (MTA)

Dues paid: Ed Mason

Administration:
Election – Set for April with the proviso that at the meeting the group could delay to a following month (Adopted)
Minutes for February (Adopted)

Guests: Candace Sue, Lulu Feliciano
Candace said that her group is functionally based in media relations, marketing, strategic communications and public outreach and engagement. They have adopted standards for outreach to the public for capital construction projects (the POET strategy) which have spread throughout MTA. Took on customer service for MTA three years ago; there are now two avenues for comments, through 311 and through twitter (which is monitored live from 5 AM to 9 PM on weekdays and for special events on weekends.

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Save Muni Minutes – February 18, 2019

Present: Bob Feinbaum (Chair), David Pilpel, Ed Mason, Eileen Boken, Howard Wong, Jean Barrish, Herb Weiner
Dues paid: Herb Weiner

By-laws Passed unanimously as proposed by the by-laws committee (Bob, David, Jean)

Election meeting: The meeting fort the election of officers was tentati8vely set for Aporil. This will be confirmed at the March 2019 meeting.

Dues: All members who0 have paid dues between January 2018 and the present will owe dues in February 2020. All other dues should be renewed 121 months after they have been paid.

Transbay Center: Bob reported that the Center is likely to reopen in June. Repairs to the cracked beams over Fremont Street will be made soon. A report to the TJPA Board is expected in March about the causes of the failure.

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Save Muni Minutes – January 21, 2019

Present: Bob Feinbaum (Chair), David Pilpel, Herb Weiner, Rick Hall, Ed Mason, Chris Bowman, Eva Chao, Jerry Cauthen, Allen Kessler, Angelo Figone, Howard Wong, Paul Cummings

Administration – Save Muni bank account re-established.

By Laws – Draft by laws presented for discussion. Several comments received. The by-laws committee will meet prior to the February meeting of Save Muni to recommend a final proposal for adoption.

Chariot – Discussion about the implications of Chariot’s decision to stop service in San Francisco shortly. Comments focused mainly on the announcement that MUNI will be training former Chariot drivers. Save Muni will send a letter to Ed Reiskin requesting information about the training these drivers will receive. Angelo said we should also be asking about the need that Chariot fills and the origin and destination of its riders. He suggested that the MTA planners should address these issues in a cost effective manner.

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Transit Authority Tour

In the War Room

On December 11, SaveMuni members were treated to a tour of the County Transportation Authority’s control center at 1455 Market Street. The center is currently being upgraded to fully monitor and control the entire fleet of bus and streetcar vehicles. Eventually there will be redundant control facilities at Turk Street (OCC) and West Portal so that the system can be run from any of the three locations in an emergency. Recently a fire alarm required the evacuation of the TA facility; the OCC site was able to take over and manage everything on its own.

Ron Forrest (right)

Muni Operations Manager Ron Forrest answered our questions in the “War Room” before showing us around the facility. Ron comes to us fresh from having run the Atlanta transit operation, which has some pretty incredible on-time statistics. The War Room is equipped with about a dozen cabled laptops and is is a gathering place for MTA and other city officials when there is an emergency or a civic event that threatens to stress the system.

There are many things in the works right now, but perhaps the most critical is upgrading the communications system so that multiple controllers can be talking to multiple drivers at a time. Incredibly, with the current system, only one controller may be speaking with a driver at a given time. The new radio system should be operational on all vehicles by April.

There are cameras on all vehicles and along heavily used (downtown) routes. Of course, Muni riders will tell you that the heavily used routes are not generally where they have problems. In-vehicle cameras do not currently provide live feeds to the controllers.

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