Muni: On-time buses carry cost 

Early results from a Muni pilot program on the 1-California line shows that on-time rates can be improved — for a price.

On Nov. 1, Muni began focusing extra resources on the heavily traveled route — which runs from the Richmond district to downtown — by adding additional supervisors to make sure buses went out on time and troubleshoot problems, using overtime operators to fill in for absent bus drivers, and dedicating parking-control officers to help relieve gridlock in busy intersections and aggressively ticket illegally parked cars that make it difficult for buses to pass.

The estimated cost for the three-month program, scheduled to end on Feb. 2, is $168,000. If continued, it would add up to about $750,000 annually.

As a result of the improvement program’s efforts, the on-time performance of the line rose from 81 percent to 88 percent, according to Muni Executive Director Nathaniel Ford.

That’s above the 85 percent on-time goal that voters asked for in a 1999 ballot measure, although Ford conceded that the agency chose the 1-California line for the pilot program because it wasn’t "so down in the dumps that it would take a lot of effort."

In 2005, Muni’s on-time rate for buses averaged about 67 percent. After the 38-Geary and the 14-Mission, the 1-California is Muni’s third busiest route, transporting nearly 30,000 riders daily.

Some of the improvement program’s projected $750,000 annual cost could conceivably be offset by the revenue generated by the parking citations given by the added parking control officers put on the line.

So far, 1,149 tickets have been issued along the 1-California route: 201 for double parking, 97 for bus stop violations, 287 for parking in a yellow zone and 564 for parking in a tow-away zone. If all fines were paid, the revenue generated would be more than $88,000.

The new pilot program comes in the wake of a budget deficit that resulted in service cuts and fare hikes in 2005. According to fiscal forecasts, Muni faces a possible $43.7 million deficit in just a few years. Ford has been called upon to increase ridership to stave off such a financial crisis, and increasing the efficiency and speed of Muni is expected to encourage more riders to get on board.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has also promised — most recently in his State of The City speech in October — that under his watch Muni’s reliability and on-time performance would improve. On Thursday, he told The Examiner that Muni would not be allowed to hike fares or make service cuts this year to balance its budget.

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Bonnie Eslinger

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