GPS may be used to monitor Muni 

The tracking system used to monitor Muni’s on-time performance is expected to get a technological boost this summer, but workers are questioning the proposed system’s accuracy and effect on employment opportunities.

For years the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, has had employees monitor the arrival and departure of buses and trains to determine on-time performance by having them physically wait at stops and log times.

However, 30 percent of Muni buses have been equipped with global positioning system devices since 2006 as a way to help track passenger counts. That technology also can be used to calculate on-time performance at no additional cost to the agency.

The transition comes as the SFMTA is working to close a projected $16.9 million deficit for the current fiscal year, and a $53 million deficit for next fiscal year. The agency has struggled with on-time performance, failing to ever meet the 1999 voter-mandated 85 percent mark.

“We’ve been moving in this direction for the last few years,” SFMTA spokesman Judson True said, adding that the shift to the technology has not been finalized.

Under the new system that could start in July, the traffic checkers will continue to monitor buses and cable cars. They will log Muni times for the first several months in conjunction with the GPS to verify that the data being accumulated is accurate.  

True said it’s likely that the new system will result in eventual employee layoffs or repositioning, a caveat that doesn’t sit well with Adell Scott, vice president of SEIU Local 1021, the union representing the traffic checkers.

“When this technology came on in 2006, we received a letter of agreement letting us know that it wouldn’t be used to replace employees,” Scott said. “Seven traffic checkers were recently let go by the agency, and we’re real nervous that this new system will result in more layoffs.”

Last fiscal quarter, Muni’s transit vehicles recorded a 72.3 percent on-time performance, far below the voter-mandated goal. Under its current system, the agency’s 10 traffic checkers recorded hundreds of data points every quarter. The GPS technology will report thousands of times more than that.

Muni is not the only local agency investigating the possibility of tracking on-time performance with GPS. Golden Gate Bridge transit district buses will start using the technology in the next 12 to 18 months, spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

True said it was important to keep the technology change in context.

“The key is continuing our efforts to improve our on-time performance rates, not how we measure them,” he said.

Tallying up performance rate

2006 Year SFMTA installed automatic passenger counters, which contain GPS technology

10 Number of traffic checkers employed by SFMTA

25 Number of traffic checkers employed by SFMTA in 2009

$50,336 Starting salary for traffic checker

72.3% Muni’s on-time performance last fiscal quarter*

85% Muni’s on-time performance benchmark, as established by voters

0 Times the agency has achieved that goal

* Preliminary statistics

Sources: SEIU, Human Resources Department, SFMTA


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