Despite the recent replacement of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Executive Director Nathaniel Ford with Ed Reiskin and a new labor contract, it is not yet a new day at Muni.
A San Francisco Examiner exposé in November revealed that 52 Muni operators no longer have a commercial driver’s license, but continue to receive health benefits while on leave to supposedly work on getting licenses renewed. Muni operations chief John Haley said at the time that the agency was working with the drivers to either resolve the licensing problems or find a way to remove them from the workforce.
Now, more than eight months later, our follow-up report shows that 48 Muni operators are still without licenses, despite having been warned in January that they must resolve the situation within two weeks or face termination. Muni spokesman Paul Rose said the agency may begin parting ways with some of its unlicensed drivers within a few weeks.
Forgive us for having an eerie sense of déjà vu, and fearing that we’ll be doing another follow-up report next March in which there will still be 44 unlicensed drivers in Muni’s employ and an official will be saying that the drivers must resolve the problem soon or face termination.
Although these drivers are not receiving a salary and are not behind the wheel — potentially putting riders’ lives in danger — they each collect about $12,000 per year in health benefits from the cash-strapped agency. And they are taking up slots that could be filled by hiring licensed operators. That contributes to a staffing shortage resulting in costly overtime payments.
Most of the drivers lost their license after failing to pass the medical exam required every two years. Others had their licenses suspended after being arrested for DUIs while not on the job, and some just failed to renew the license for whatever reason.
Muni officials have been remarkably patient. Two drivers have been without a license since 2008, eight since 2009 and 13 since 2010. Part of the problem is that the Transport Workers Union has been fighting efforts to get these deadbeats off the Muni books. Union spokesman Walter Scott III said the employees should be offered nondriving jobs and given up to a year to clear up the licensing problem.
In an ideal world, that might be nice. But Muni has been facing multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls, and can’t afford to play nursemaid to dozens of non-working employees. Its priority must be providing mass transit for millions of riders, and to do that, it needs all the drivers it can get.
Rose said he couldn’t comment on exactly how much time the agency will give the operators to clear up the problem, but said it’s likely to be less than a year. It should be much less than that. The drivers were given two weeks notice in January. Time is up. Provide a license or move along so that a licensed driver can get behind the wheel and keep San Francisco moving.