SF MTA MUNI Bosses & Mayor Ed Lee Wrecking Public Transit And Retaliating Against TWU 250 Muni Health And Safety
SF MTA MUNI Bosses & Mayor Ed Lee Wrecking Public Transit And Retaliating Against TWU 250 Muni Health And Safety Whistleblowers
Muni: Our Transit Agency Has Neglected Maintenance for Years
By Joe Eskenazi
published: June 13, 2012
The plastic has been atop Coach No. 5427 since early 2011; below, a properly maintained bus.
Internal Muni documents reveal that when drivers complain about bumpy rides from lumpy or bald tires like this, the tires are placed on the rear axles, where drivers cannot feel them.
This metal piece provides roof access on electric buses. Should the rubber band used to keep it in place fail, a chest-high hook would essentially be protruding from the bus.
Joe Eskenazi on Muni: Our transit agency has neglected maintenance for years
Illustration by Andrew J. Nilsen.
In early 2011, Dorian Maxwell decided he'd rather not set foot on a Muni bus. That's a decision thousands of fellow San Franciscans make every day — but in Maxwell's case, it loomed larger. He was a bus driver. And he couldn't help but observe that atop Coach No. 5427, the electric bus he was assigned, a 600-volt conducting wire was wrapped tightly with a jury-rigged application of what appeared to be black plastic garbage bags.
The Glad Bag bus did not go unnoticed by other drivers. "Plastic bags on the wires?" says one veteran operator with a laugh. "Oh, I've seen that one." Added another, "They were just the kind of bags you'd get at Safeway." Maxwell claims he refused to operate Coach 5427 several times, cementing a reputation as a "troublemaker." He has since been fired as a Muni driver, but the plastic atop the bus has outlasted him. "Those bags have been on that bus for about a year and a half," he says. "They are still on there now. I guarantee you that."
On June 11, Coach 5427 cruised through the heart of the city. An 8-foot section of its rooftop high-voltage wire was swathed in crumbling black plastic bags held in place with zipties, and the loose bits noisily flapped in the wind like kite tails. It was a scene one would expect in a locale where transit passengers cling to the vehicle's colorfully painted exterior or tote livestock on board. But no goats or outdoor riders were on the 6-Parnassus that day. The bus was stocked with the typical 9 a.m. weekday crowd, putting its faith in a transit agency with an annual budget exceeding $800 million, and a bus in which 600 volts coursed through a wire wrapped in fraying household plastic just a few feet overhead.
If ever an example were required of the wisdom of keeping humans and high voltage apart on Muni, consider the June 4 Market Street accident, in which a bus dislodged several power lines, hospitalized three people, and tied up downtown traffic for hours. Household plastic, meanwhile, is hardly the ideal material to wrap a wire through which enough electricity is flowing to power a 41,000-pound bus.
That drivers and passengers could be subjected to such a situation, for well over a year, is a stark indicator of a transit system that has long made ends meet — and boosted its performance measures — by neglecting maintenance.
Muni's proposed operating budget for fiscal years 2013 and '14 is subtitled "An Investment in Maintenance." Yet John Haley, the agency's director of transit, earnestly admits this is necessary because of a longstanding "underinvestment in maintenance." Haley candidly notes that Muni out-and-out skipped the midlife overhauls for its bus fleet in order to save money in the short term. Those overhauls "should have occurred five or six years ago," admits Haley, who has worked for Muni since 2010. "It would have made a huge difference." Some of Muni's buses, he says, have grown so old and decrepit, it's hardly worth maintaining them at all. "It's good money after bad. There's nothing more to invest in them." If Muni doesn't junk these vehicles, "the only aftermarket I can think of," Haley says, "is Russia."
Peel back the trash bags and you'll discover a number of unsettling facts about the state of Muni's vehicle and infrastructure maintenance:
• When money grows scarce toward the end of the fiscal year, Muni routinely clamps down on ordering replacement parts;
• Vehicles placed "on hold" with problems of varying degrees have been "cannibalized" by Muni mechanics to the point that they are totally junked;
• In the past, problematic Muni vehicles were routinely pulled out of service by the agency's quality assurance (QA) inspectors. That department's supervisor, however, confirms QA ceased inspecting electric buses in early 2011 and rail vehicles in 2010;
• Muni has had such difficulty obtaining parts for its older vehicles, it actually resorted to purchasing them on eBay.
Six years ago, an outside consultant informed Muni its maintenance staffing was "inadequate." The tally of maintenance employees has since plummeted. A hiring freeze meant to reap short-term cost-savings spurred the vacancy rate among maintenance personnel to leap from 5.6 percent at the onset of the Great Recession to 23.5 percent in the agency's most recent quality review. This led to a predictable explosion in overtime costs in the maintenance department. A recent Muni memorandum reveals that an effort to cut down on that overtime (yet another short-term cost-saving move) has led to increased vehicle breakdowns — leaving riders to curse their fates, or perhaps abandon the system.
Vehicles were already breaking down plenty. According to Muni's own statistics, light-rail vehicles (LRVs) failed every 4,669 miles in fiscal year 2008. In fiscal 2011, they broke down every 2,258 miles. It's no mystery why so many diesel buses are spotted driving rail routes. Historic trolleys are breaking down twice as often as they did several years ago. Cable cars are conking out nearly four times as much.
Muni, in fact, employs proportionately fewer mechanics than many other large transit agencies. It does so even though it operates the oldest fleet in America, and runs its packed vehicles through a hilly obstacle course laden with far more stops than any other locale. In attempting to meet riders' heavy demands in our "transit-first city," Muni higher-ups place the same emphasis on "making pullout" — getting all available vehicles into service — that Vince Lombardi did on winning. Sometimes, however, it seems Muni is more concerned with satisfying its internal metrics than its customers: Vehicles are counted as having made pullout even if they die around the corner from the garage. Preventive maintenance has given way to fixing vehicles post-failure — and, statistically, Muni buses and trains fail significantly more than those at other agencies.
Vehicles are rolling through the city with wires wrapped in plastic, bumpers secured with duct tape, and components held in place with rubber bands. These are the "fixes" Muni feels little compunction about putting in places the public can see. Glancing at photos of jury-rigged repairs, longtime Muni mechanic Michael Cheney laughs. "If you went to a restaurant and the windows were dirty, and the tables were dirty, and the utensils were dirty," he asks, "what do you think the kitchen looks like?"
When a driver pulls into the bus yard with a problem, she'll fill out a defect card and hand it to a mechanic at a central point called "the tower." From there, the "tower man" will manually enter the data from the defect card into Muni's computer system, noting, say, a blown headlight. He'll then inform his immediate supervisor, who assigns a second mechanic to deal with changing the bulb. That mechanic then ambles to the storeroom and requests the part from the shopkeeper.
So, if you're looking to answer the question: "How many Muni employees does it take to change a light bulb?" the answer is five. But the bulb hasn't been changed yet.
Assuming the part is in stock, the shopkeeper will hand it to the mechanic, but not before both logging the transaction on the system and having the mechanic sign an invoice for the part. The mechanic will then drive the bus to the "work area" and actually do the job. After that, he'll walk, perhaps a full city block (bus yards are large), back to his supervisor, inform him the job is done, and complete his "work order" both on the computer and on paper. This process takes about an hour. It requires multiple mechanics, earning mechanics' wages — and possibly overtime — to spend time filling out paperwork, punching data into computers, and driving buses. And that's assuming everything goes by the book: If the shopkeeper and mechanics' lunch breaks sync poorly, the process may take three hours. The actual changing of the bulb takes five minutes.
Light bulbs are among the roughly 21,000 parts Muni tracks in its system — a system that uses no bar-coding. In 1992, the year President George H.W. Bush was derided as out-of-touch for his apparent wonder when confronted with a bar-coding machine, Alameda County Transit implemented such a system for its spare parts department. For Muni, like President Bush, bar-coding remains a thing of wonder.
AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson gushes that bar-coding allows real-time tracking of parts and inventory. It eliminates the tens of thousands of daily keystrokes required on older systems and virtually does away with paperwork. Mechanics can know exactly what part went into what vehicle, and when. And AC Transit can order new parts automatically — the transit agency uses the same parts codes that worldwide suppliers do, and their computers can easily communicate.
Muni can do none of these things. Forests of paperwork and untold amounts of manual data entry are the hallmark of its system. Every part is assigned a nine-digit code that is unique to Muni and must be manually punched into the system ad nauseam. What's more, these codes change over time, leading to errors. "It went from one type of inventory system to another," says Armando Guzman, a 31-year Muni electrical mechanic who retired in 2011. "You ask for a pressure relief valve and they give you a headlight." Cheney, a frequent whistle-blower, has been advocating for bar-code automation for decades. An audit by the Board of Supervisors Budget and Legislative Analyst was incredulous that such a system wasn't in place, and that was in 1996. "If bar-coding and tracking of parts was ineffective, if it wasn't the smartest way to do business, why does every business in the country do it?" asks Cheney, a diesel mechanic. "They can do it at 7-11 when you buy a pack of gum. But not Muni."
This has consequences, even beyond the eons of wasted hours for which Muni pays its employees to bang on keyboards or fill out forms when they could be fixing things. Multiple veteran maintenance workers — who, like many current Muni employees, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution — recalled an instance when light-rail vehicles began mysteriously failing. After weeks of lost service, costly experimentation, and mechanics futilely pulling apart and reassembling trains, the culprit was traced back to the storeroom. Without bar-coding to differentiate them, minuscule components intended for electric bus motors or train motors had been inadvertently dumped into the same parts bin.
In short, Muni's parts system is to efficiency and automation what the Sahara is to water parks. Haley notes this is a special burden for an agency like San Francisco's, which must scour the globe to unearth pieces for aging and exotic vehicles. In addition to eBay, components for the historic trolleys have been purchased from museums. Parts for the electric buses — like Coach 5427 — must be ordered from Eastern Europe. Yet unforeseen events on the other side of the world also can derail Muni. The Japanese tsunami left scores of electric buses high and dry because it disrupted the Asian supply chain.
Like everything at Muni, parts procurement is subjugated to the whims of the budget. "Every year around March or April they tell you, 'We're out of money,'" according to one longtime maintenance supervisor. "So then you're only going to buy the most important parts. People officially talk, and say, 'This is how we're gonna do it.' But nobody writes that down on a memo." The supervisor's contention, echoed by many other Muni employees, was essentially confirmed by Haley. Muni's system automatically spits out a notice to reorder parts when a designated minimum threshold is breached. But, when dwindling finances are deemed more problematic than dwindling parts supplies, Haley admits that Muni simply disables this automated reminder and doesn't order the parts.
As of May 23, in fact, Muni had allowed some 2,200 individual parts to slip past their re-order point — a list stretching to 40 pages. Just tallying parts directly related to vehicle repair, 771 are listed as having a "quantity on hand" of "zero." Whether key parts will be in stock when they're needed — the epitome of what an automated, bar-coded system provides — is a crapshoot.
Muni has created meticulously detailed procedures about which parts to change out of its vehicles at certain mileage intervals. A preventive maintenance (PM) session comes every 6,000 miles for 40-foot electric buses like Coach 5427. At the 24,000-mile PM, for example, mechanics must change out seven components. But there's a decent chance not all of those parts will be available. "Every day this happens. Every day! If I go to the window to get the parts, I get five out of seven or seven out of 10," says Guzman. "But all of those parts are critical to the preventive maintenance process."
The result is something Haley calls "an incomplete PM." If a part can't be replaced, it may only be cleaned up and put back into the vehicle. "This is a process I'd like to get away from," says the transit boss. "But it reflects the reality of what we're doing."
This is deeply problematic. A part like a traction motor brush left unreplaced after a 24,000-mile PM will not be inspected again until the 48,000-mile PM. Traction motor brushes, however, aren't designed to last that long. The likelihood of in-service failure — a breakdown with the best-case scenario of everyone angrily exiting the bus and tweeting #MuniFail — is high. Muni's current approach toward preventive maintenance makes a mockery of the concept.
In fact, continues Guzman, if a mechanic doesn't feel like replacing a part like a traction motor brush — a dirty, time-consuming job — he simply may not do it. "If you see there's still a little life on the brushes, you can let it go. Put a check mark by it. Tell your supervisor the brushes look good. He'll take your word for it." Problem solved — in the short-term. One week later, the part may well die — and take the entire motor with it. A traction motor brush is valued at $18. A traction motor is worth around $60,000. "This is something I have seen quite often," Guzman says. "There is no accountability."
That extends, in its starkest form, to the grimly named practice of "cannibalization." Any vehicle lying around the garage for an extended period of time begins to tempt mechanics under heavy pressure from supervisors to patch together a bus or train and make pullout. Signs reading "Do Not Cannibalize" may be posted on laid-up vehicles, but it is uncertain how effective this is.
"There are 11 light-rail vehicles that are, for lack of a better term, wrecked," notes Haley. "Over the years, they probably wouldn't be in that category. But people took advantage of vehicle frame damage we couldn't repair and took all the parts out of them in desperation." These trains went from merely being laid up with banged-up bodies to desiccated husks — and a total loss.
Haley stressed that cannibalization is "no longer tolerated." Whether it's still being practiced anyway, he is uncertain. Asked if this indicates a larger problem within the agency, he nods. "It does. We continue to work on this."
On April 21, 2010, at a shade before 11 a.m., attorney Scott Whitsitt strolled out of his office near Mission and Beale streets. He paused to allow a 14-Mission bus to pass him before setting foot in the street — directly in the path of another 14-Mission. Witnesses heard him shriek, "Oh God, no!" before being struck by the second bus, pinned against the back of the first, and then run over. Whitsitt was 49.
His husband's wrongful death suit against the city alleges Kimberly Faye Johnson, the driver of Coach No. 7054, not only "mistook the brake pedal for the accelerator pedal," but was "busy unwrapping a candy bar with both hands" immediately before her fatal mistake. A Muni source adds that accident investigators even located the wrapper on the floor of the vehicle.
There was more to discover within Coach 7054, however. While unmentioned in the wrongful death suit, Muni's Department of Quality Assurance found "a review of the Preventive Maintenance and Defects/Repair records 60 days prior to the incident date shows a history of 15+ defects to the Brake and Propulsion System." The bus was demonstrating "a pattern of vehicle malfunction as recently as two days before the incident." Whether Coach 7054 would have stopped if its driver hadn't allegedly been unwrapping a candy bar before hitting the wrong pedal may never be known. The accident report reveals, "Extensive damage ... makes Brake Function Testing impossible at this time."
Coach 7054's disturbing history could have been revealed before a deadly accident — Muni's system allows mechanics confronted with a problematic vehicle to access the record and determine if they're the 15th person doing the same job for the 15th time, simply applying Band-Aid fixes to failure-prone vehicles. "But we never do that," says electrical mechanic Guzman. "There's no requirement to," adds diesel mechanic Cheney. "And if the computers are down, we can't."
Mechanics who emulate MacGyver in addressing fixes via duct tape may not be inclined to channel Dr. House in diagnosing puzzling and time-consuming mechanical mysteries. In fact, intermittent problems that induce drivers to pull a bus out of service often clear up by the time the vehicle reaches the garage, leaving overworked mechanics to shrug them off and push them back into service. Guzman notes that drivers regularly complain their "interlock" is malfunctioning; this is the system that automatically applies the brakes while a bus's doors are open. This happened twice with Coach 7054 in the month before its accident.
By the time a bus rolls into the garage, however, the interlock may be working just fine. It's only if the mechanic opts to descend into the pit and work under the bus that he can determine if a purported interlock failure is actually a symptom of the larger and more serious problem of "brake fading." This requires a serious investment of time. Time is money and at Muni, there's never enough of either.
At 4 a.m. every day, e-mails ricochet around Muni management's inboxes about fleet availability at the agency's various yards. Along with on-time data, "availability" is one of the statistics Muni fetishizes as a tangible way to measure performance. The Bay Citizen recently revealed that Muni's internal metric rounded down late bus or train arrivals of as long as four minutes, 59 seconds, to simply four minutes late — which the agency considers "on time." This boosted on-time performance by perhaps 13 percent.
There are more straightforward ways to boost availability.
"People are getting phone calls at 3:30 in the morning asking, 'Are you making the runs?' Lowly frontline supervisors are holding management by the nards in choosing what stuff to let out or hold back," says one longtime maintenance supervisor. "Nobody is going to chew your behind out if you send out stuff that's on the hold board" — the list of vehicles deemed not roadworthy. Guzman recalls one such supervisor issuing the "defer maintenance" order so often when yanking buses off the hold list and pressing them into service that it became a catchphrase around the shop. This is how vehicles with cracked windows or busted defoggers or bumpers held on with bailing wire, or far more serious problems, are pushed onto the streets. Mechanics noted rags being tied around 800-pounds-per-square-inch hydraulic lines to (unsuccessfully) plug leaks or stripped wires in train couplers being held together with tape for want of a 50-cent part and 10 minutes to install it. Even if vehicles conk out within minutes of leaving the shop, "availability" quotas still have been met.
Drivers who raise a stink about the condition of the buses they're driving, like Dorian Maxwell, create a problem that quickly reverberates upward to Muni management. Operators, by law, are required to inspect the state of a bus or train before taking it out to serve the public. Declining a suspect vehicle is, arguably, a job requirement, but it's also seen by many within the world of Muni as a subversive act. "The culture here is, if you don't pull the bus out on time, you are doing something wrong," says a veteran driver. In February 2011, driver Chris Coghlan refused a bus, and wrote on a report to his superiors that "the 7000-series coaches are in such disrepair, it is difficult to find one free of safety defects.... It took me over an hour to get a suitable coach." One day later he was written up for driving violations twice, the first two he claims he ever received. "They put you on a list," Coghlan tells SF Weekly with a wan smile. "They put Dorian on a list, too." Maxwell's firing in late 2011 did not go unnoticed by his fellow drivers. Muni declined to discuss specifics on an individual termination, but Maxwell claims he was accused of falsifying a time card. He denies this, and alleges he was targeted for his years of agitation on health and safety matters.
There are, however, carrots to go along with the sticks. "If the operators chose to, they could bring back nearly every vehicle and shoot pool until management provided a working one," says a veteran maintenance supervisor. "That's why management tends to coddle the drivers. Not because of union power. Because they choose to take out garbage every day — the computers don't work, the wipers don't work, the automatic braking systems don't work."
The bus Coghlan objected to is one of the 20-year-old relics Haley would rather see in Russia than on Russian Hill. One of these, Coach 7054, struck Scott Whitsitt. At SF Weekly's request, Guzman reviewed that report, which lists the vehicle's numerous defects in the days leading up the lethal collision. "This history was pulled up just because this bus got in an accident," the mechanic says. Then he shakes his head. "But every bus will have this kind of history. Every bus in the barn."
Every year, a random sample of Muni diesel buses must pass an inspection by the California Highway Patrol. In recent years, the agency always has made the grade. This is easier to do, however, when you alter the notion of a "random" sample. "There's always a way you can set things up to your advantage," says a longtime Muni manager with a laugh.
Preparing for a CHP inspection of 20 random buses, for example, you could ensure that your 20 best buses are the first out of the barn. That way, they'll be the first 20 back into the barn to be inspected. "When those coaches pull in, for the CHP guy, it's random. But you've already stacked the deck the night before," the manager continues. "That's how you'd do it. That's how I did it."
The California Public Utilities Commission, meanwhile, inspects Muni rails and rail vehicles. After blindsiding Muni last year by declaring San Francisco's rail system the state's worst, the CPUC and Muni entered into settlement talks. An agreement was recently announced: Muni will spend millions to improve its infrastructure — but, per the pact, need not admit to any wrongdoing nor that the improvements are a matter of "public safety."
Yet no higher authority — no CHP, no CPUC, no amalgamation of letters and power — oversees Muni's fleet of 313 electrical buses. For vehicles like Coaches Nos. 5427 and 7054, the agency is left to self-police. For years, Muni's QA Department internally inspected all of the agency's vehicles. But, according to QA Supervisor Ken Sapp, his department abruptly ceased inspecting rail vehicles in 2010, and hasn't done so with an electric bus since April 2011. Following a slew of personnel transfers, the entirety of Sapp's department has been reduced to two diesel inspectors and Sapp. Asked the logic behind this move, Sapp replies, "I don't think there is any logic behind it."
Based on reports obtained by SF Weekly, Muni's QA inspections were harder to game than the CHP's. A July 2009 assessment of LRV No. 1437 found more than 20 defects; the vehicle was pulled out of service. A 2009 quarterly inspection of six LRVs, none of which had traveled more than three miles since undergoing its 10,000-mile preventive maintenance inspection, revealed 52 total defects. What's more, weekly PMs for the cars in the six months preceding the QA inspection were found to be overdue by 10 to 58 days. All six vehicles were placed on hold.
When asked who is inspecting rail vehicles and electric buses now, Sapp said this is being handled via standard preventive maintenance inspections. This means Muni is relying on the procedures its own inspectors revealed were delinquent by up to eight weeks — on vehicles that emphatically failed. What's more, the frequency of not getting necessary replacement parts during these preventive maintenance inspections led Muni's top transit official to coin the term "incomplete PMs."
Glaring QA reports on failed vehicles were a problem for Muni. The solution appears to have been to downsize that department and do away with such reports.
A number of Muni vehicles — particularly its Czech-made electric buses and notoriously underperforming Breda light-rail vehicles — were breakdown-prone right out of the box. They are growing older every day. The last midlife overhaul for Muni's buses may have been in the early 1980s, and San Francisco's extreme transit conditions induce even well-kept buses and trains to age in dog years. A dwindling number of maintenance personnel are left to cope with increasingly complex machines. Those mechanics are further hamstrung by an inefficient, Atari-era parts-procurement system to service obsolete vehicles produced by defunct companies.
Duct tape and plastic bags, by comparison, are easy to find.
For some, there is a silver lining in the hiring freezes and attrition that led an understaffed Muni maintenance department to grow even smaller. Overtime, particularly on the rail side, has skyrocketed. Between 2007 and 2011, Muni's electrical mechanics shrank in number by some 15 percent, but saw their overtime earnings double from $3.2 million to $6.4 million. "The culture changed — people said, 'This is good! We can earn more OT,'" recalls Guzman. "So they started crafting artificial overtime. We were told to delay the work in a regular shift and leave it for overtime." He claims procedures such as brake jobs, a four-hour operation, were routinely left until workers had already clocked their eight hours of regular time. In one instance, Guzman says his shift supervisor directly told him not to repair a broken bus pedal — a three-minute job — because "if we start fixing these little problems, they'll expect us to fix bigger problems." Some electrical mechanics have more than doubled their $77,500 salaries, with a few banking nearly $210,000; six dozen take home $120,000 or more. Among electrical mechanics, one-fifth of the workers earn 50 percent of the overtime.
Despite a prodigious upturn in overtime, Muni's vehicles continue to break down at a prodigious rate — especially when contrasted with the nation's other large transit agencies. "City Trolley" lines for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) fail every 7,645 miles — three-and-a-half times less frequently than Muni's best-performing rail vehicles. LRVs in Los Angeles require maintenance "roadcalls" every 17,926 miles — one-eighth Muni's breakdown numbers.
Some of Muni's diesel bus lines do better than 4,000 miles between breakdowns, an all-time high for the agency. But it's still lower than AC Transit (4,665), Seattle King County Metro (5,805), or SEPTA (9,842). Muni's 40-foot electric buses can't even hit 2,000 miles. Sixty-foot electric buses, the 7000-series, only go a piddling 833 miles between breakdowns. Muni's internal goal is just 1,000 miles, meaning buses could die virtually every week and still perform satisfactorily. "Even our goals have been reduced over the years to reflect the condition of our fleet," Haley admits.
The first step in solving a problem is admitting a problem exists. In the months since Ed Reiskin took over Muni, the agency's financial disclosures — both internally and those made to state and federal government agencies — have grown far clearer and up front about Muni's daunting maintenance backlog. That such a basic development is perceived as a breath of fresh air is an indictment both of Muni's prior leadership under Nat Ford and the succession of mayors who mined the system for political capital and balanced the city's budget by allowing other departments to cannibalize Muni even more voraciously than it cannibalized itself. Via "work orders," the police, ambulance services, and others bill Muni for their transit-related duties; these payouts exploded from $36 million in 2006 to $65 million in the current budget. Muni has, for years, been the city's slush fund. Millions of Muni dollars go toward fixing other city agencies' budget holes — and not its own resources.
For years, Muni skimped on maintenance to keep the agency running and create the veneer of a healthier system. The "Investment in Maintenance," however, is not all talk: New mechanics are slated to be hired this year. Funds earmarked for construction projects have been diverted into improving vehicles. Both LRVs and hundreds of diesel buses will undergo midlife overhauls. In the coming months, Muni will consider putting out a bid on 50 new electric buses, and is examining the fiscal feasibility of leasing vehicles in an attempt to lower the age of its geriatric fleet. Federal and state stimulus grants, meanwhile, will pay for the rehabilitation of the 11 light-rail vehicles Muni mechanics cannibalized into wreck status.
Creating Muni's maintenance backlog required years of mismanagement. Even beginning to address it will require years of nurturing and a dedicated stream of cash. While Muni's current top management does acknowledge maintenance needs, top management at Muni has, historically, not stuck around for very long. And the "Investment in Maintenance" has caveats. This year's planned maintenance budget was whittled from an initial proposal of $44.5 million to the current tally of $10.9 million. Even this assumes millions in labor concessions and a windfall from traffic and parking citations and fees.
When asked what would happen if the agency returned to its status quo of saving money in the short term by slashing maintenance costs, Haley's reply was straightforward. "We've got a very intelligent group of riders. They know the system. It'd be a huge mistake to attempt to bullshit them. So, I think the results would be pretty obvious." Riders sticking with the system will be burdened with a slower and more unreliable commute. Those who can leave, will — further clogging the city's arteries.
It's a scenario that can't be staved off with all the garbage bags in the world. Muni would continue to be the transit service it is, instead of the one it could be.
Six years ago, an outside consultant informed Muni its maintenance staffing was "inadequate." The tally of maintenance employees has since plummeted.
Mechanics recalled rags being tied around 800-pounds-per-square-inch hydraulic lines to (unsuccessfully) plug leaks or stripped wires in train couplers being held together with tape for want of a 50-cent part and 10 minutes to install it.
Driver Chris Coghlan refused a bus, and wrote on a report to his superiors that "the 7000-series coaches are in such disrepair, it is difficult to find one free of safety defects."
Glaring Quality Assurance reports on failed vehicles were a problem for Muni. The solution appears to have been to downsize that department and do away with such reports.
"They can do [bar-coding] at 7-11 when you buy a pack of gum. But not Muni." — Longtime Muni mechanic Michael Cheney
"Every year around March or April they tell you 'We're out of money.' So then you're only going to buy the most important parts." — Longtime Muni maintenance supervisor
"They started crafting artificial overtime. We were told to delay the work in a regular shift and leave it for overtime." — Former Muni electrical mechanic Armando Guzman