Muni throwing away millions on project delays 

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has 29 major infrastructure and rehabilitation projects under way. They average 529 days behind schedule and are projected to waste a total of nearly $90 million in cost overruns. That doesn’t even include the $1.5 billion Central Subway, which is in a fiscal-risk category by itself.

What is perhaps most ironic about these disturbing numbers is the fact that Muni’s lost $90 million would be more than enough to wipe out the transit agency’s roughly $80 million estimated two-year deficit — at a time when the SFMTA is frantically casting around for ways to grab more of the revenue it badly needs.

The SFMTA’s construction mismanagement was detailed in an independent audit commissioned by the Board of Supervisors’ own public transit planning panel. The new report by CGR Management Consultants of Los Angeles did not stint on harsh criticisms of SFMTA practices and it offered no less than 19 special recommendations on how to avoid throwing away so much taxpayer money.

Suggested improvements included closer monitoring of the time billed by contractors for each project, streamlining management’s internal decision-making processes and centralizing ownership of each project to a specific team instead of having responsibility diluted throughout the agency.

“Risk analysis is not performed … most projects overrun their baseline estimates for budget and schedule,” GGR found. “As related in SFMTA documents, time and effort is wasted operating antiquated capital program processes supported by out-of-date information technology.”

The auditors estimated that the SFMTA could save 5 to 10 percent of its capital expenditures if CGR’s recommendations were implemented. With an annual Muni budget of $150 million, that could mean $7.5 million to $15 million in yearly savings — a significant reduction in the transit service’s recent annual deficits.

Ed Reiskin, executive director of the SFMTA, said the report would be helpful even though his agency would probably characterize some of the audit’s findings differently. He assured The Examiner that the SFMTA is working hard on increasing the accountability of its capital program by making costs and schedule projections of its projects more accurate.

But meanwhile the SFMTA — which also administers The City’s parking and traffic as well as bus transit — has revived some of its most unpopular proposals that died the first time around. It is looking at a fare boost and transfer fees, but mostly at an array of increased parking collections. Under consideration are later-evening and Sunday parking meter hours, higher parking fines, installing more meters and imposing fees on businesses that offer customers courtesy parking spaces — not to mention a possible parcel tax and raises in The City sales tax and vehicle license fee.

At the same time, the SFMTA is under fire it yet again for its high overtime costs, and continues to struggle against counterproductive work-contract rules. It appears self-evident that the SFMTA has a big management-level problem and the construction cost overruns are only part of it — although a $90 million part.

If it weren’t such an insult to San Francisco taxpayers, it would seem almost laughable that SFMTA officials want even more of our money before delivering believable evidence that their $90 million leakage is being plugged.

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