Muni is facing a critical operator shortage that has forced it to trim service and convert part-time drivers to full-timers, moves that contradict the goals of a 2010 ballot measure designed to cut costs and improve efficiency.
In the last two weeks, 88 of Muni’s 95 part-time operators — touted as necessary to improving the agency’s service and reducing its overtime costs — have been hired as full-timers.
Due to operator shortages, Muni had recently cut back service on several lines, notably its cable car and streetcar routes.
Agency spokesman Paul Rose said the part-timer conversion was necessary to reinstate those runs, improve passenger experience and reduce overtime costs. Yet the agency cited many of those same reasons when it first opted to hire part-time operators.
Under 2010’s Proposition G, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency gained greater leverage to bargain with its operators union. Last year, the two sides agreed to a new contract, which for the first time allowed the use of part-time operators. Management hoped to cut down on overtime costs and improve scheduling flexibility by using part-timers during peak morning and evening commutes.
But the conversion of part-timers to full-time status is proof that Prop. G was a failure, argues Eric Williams, president of the Transit Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents about 2,200 operators.
“These part-time drivers were supposed to be the answer for Muni’s problems,” said Williams, whose group bitterly opposed Prop. G. “But it’s all smoke and mirrors. The same issues are clearly still here.”
Williams said the agency is short about 200 full-time operators. The problem is, he said, that no one wants to join Muni as a driver, since management and the media have smeared their reputation.
The SFMTA is currently conducting an eight-week training class to get more operators on the road, but it’s tough to keep its staffing levels up when it loses 12 workers a month due to attrition, Rose said. While converting the part-time workers will cost $1.05 million, the agency will save $1.8 million in overtime costs, he said. It also will continue to hire part-time operators.
“We needed to address our immediate service demands,” Rose said. “But we’re still going to have those part-time operators for increased flexibility.”
Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association and one of the authors of Prop. G, said hiring part-timers wasn’t intended to be the cure-all for Muni’s problems.
“Muni still has a long way to go,” said Metcalf. “But having the ability to bring on part-time drivers for periods of peak demand can only be helpful.”