Driver, train shortages vex T-Third 

Although the long-anticipated Third Street light rail is scheduled to go full steam ahead this weekend, the new line — expected to improve service to The City’s southeast sector — will have to overcome some systemic problems regarding a lack of trains and a shortage of drivers.

The 5.1-mile route, which has been operating on weekends since January, runs from Fourth and King streets to Bayshore Boulevard and Sunnydale Avenue. It connects some of San Francisco’s most underserved neighborhoods, including Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, with downtown.

Dubbed the T-Third by Muni, the line has already been criticized for slow trip times and low ridership numbers. However, there are other fundamental problems that plague all of The City’s light-rail lines, and the T-Third, which cost $613 million, is not immune.

The City is facing a shortage of six light-rail vehicles that have been damaged in collisions with vehicles and other light-rail cars, San Francisco County Transportation Authority Executive Director Jose Luis Moscovich said.

Four of those light-rail vehicles were damaged so severely that it will take 14 months and $7.7 million to repair them, Moscovich said. Two other trains are being repaired in-house and will be running in a few months, he added. A separate damaged train recently went back into service.

According to materials from the Transportation Authority, the T-Third may "fall slightly short" of meeting peak-time demand because of the damaged trains.

"The vehicles should be in service, but they were damaged and they need to be repaired. There’s not way around that," Moscovich said. "These are vehicles that see a lot of combat. What can be done is being done to make sure the vehicles are back in service as soon as feasible. Nobody is sitting on this."

A spokeswoman for the Municipal Transportation Agency said the T-Third will begin full service with a sufficient number of trains, and the damaged trains, once repaired, will simply make the light rails more flexible.

Besides the issues with trains, there is also a systemwide shortage of light-rail drivers, Moscovich said. There are only 228 drivers for 229 daily light-rail runs, he said.

The system, Moscovich said, should have 270 drivers for 229 daily runs to cope with drivers who call in sick and for those who go on vacation.

To make up for the shortage, drivers work overtime.

"You have 228 drivers and somebody calls in sick, somebody has to stay," Moscovich said, adding that the issue is being addressed, but "you can’t recruit people overnight."

He said 175 drivers have been trained to operate the T-Third, and there are only 45 daily T-Third runs.

Despite the challenges, officials are ready to unveil the T-Third, which debuts full-time service Saturday.

"As far as I’m concerned, it’s ready to go," said Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, chairman of the Transportation Authority’s board of commissioners.

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