Muni employs about 2,100 vehicle operators — but on any given day, only about 1,225 are available to work.
The agency has lived with a hiring freeze for the past year or so, which has become expensive because the agency has lost employees to retirement and pays other drivers overtime to fill in for them.
Muni Chief Operations Officer John Haley said management expects to hire 120 new operators during the next four to six months.
On average, about 300 operators are out each day on long-term nondriving status, for reasons as varied as disability or lacking a driver’s license, according to documents obtained by The San Francisco Examiner through a public records request.
An analysis of daily reports from November showed that on an average weekday, about 345 people were out sick, on vacation or on some other short-term leave. An additional 200 to 250 had a scheduled day off since they work over the weekend.
That left just 58 percent of the operators working a scheduled shift each day. That is often not enough to run The City’s transit system effectively, which means the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, must pay drivers overtime to fill in — or even sit around in case they are needed.
Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni drivers, said management regularly blames drivers’ absences for the agency’s woes rather than taking responsibility for “bigger issues,” such as broken-down vehicles and lack of equipment.
Absences are not much different than what you would find in any other agency, and they are not slowing down Muni, Scott said.
“There’s about 1,300-something runs daily, so the runs are all covered,” he said. “I don’t see it being any different than any other year or any other workplace.”
Haley said the problem will be worked on in the coming months. The agency had some success reducing absenteeism by requiring a doctor’s note with every sick call, among other “motivators,” he said. Also, the new hires should relieve some of the necessary overtime.
The agency is working to remove drivers from the employee roles who have been on nondriving status for months or years, though this is sometimes not possible because of legal restrictions.
“The biggest problem I have is we don’t have enough operators, and because of budget problems 12 or 15 months ago we stopped hiring operators,” Haley said. “It’s going to take probably four to six months to do all the hiring we need to, but then we will return to a normal schedule.”
Each day, only half the Muni operators employed by the SFMTA are working. Here is a daily breakdown: