Report: Muni travels slower, costs more to operate than peer cities’ transit 

click to enlarge Muni
  • mike Koozmin/2010 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • A new report from the City Controller's Office compares Muni service with systems in San Jose, Seattle, and elsewhere.
Muni vehicles travel at a slower average speed and have higher operating costs, despite having lower fares than transit services in 10 metropolitan areas, a recently released report has found.

The “benchmarking” report from the San Francisco controller’s office released Thursday compares the performances and costs of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency light-rail, bus and trolley bus services with cities including San Jose, Seattle, Houston, Dallas and Minneapolis.

Data included the average speed and number of passengers served per mile in each of the systems; the reported indicated Muni vehicles travel at a slower average rate.

“Each time the bus stops to board or alight passengers, it experiences a delay, which reduced the average speed of the bus,” the report states. “This effect likely contributes to SFMTA’s lower average speeds.”

Still, Muni had more boardings per mile in all three modes of transit than the other cities examined, except for Houston’s light-rail system.

SFMTA Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said the findings were “pretty reaffirming of what we’re trying to do here — that we need to be adding more service because our ridership is so high, the demand for our service is so great.”

It was also a reminder of “why we’re trying to invest in capital improvements to help the system move faster,” he added.

San Francisco’s transit agency had the highest operating costs for light rail and trolley bus services and the fourth highest for buses. However, the SFMTA operates three to 14 times the number of total vehicles as peer cities, according to the report.

“Our ridership and the demands on our system are much higher, the number of hours a day that we operate are greater. We’re a denser, more topographically challenged city,” Reiskin explained. “And we have a much higher cost of living so what we need to pay our employees is a lot more than folks in other places.”

Compared with the peer fleets, the SFMTA’s light-rail vehicles and buses were generally older, less energy-efficient and traveled fewer miles between failures.

Despite those challenges, San Francisco transit fares were consistently lower than those of most peer cities. Reiskin said Muni “is a great bargain for riders.”

The report, which used 2011 data from the National Transit Database and the Florida Department of Transportation’s Integrated National Transit Database Analysis System, was “encouraging” overall, Reiskin said.

“It showed that our ridership is really strong,” he said. “It’s hard to compare us to other cities when you look at the number of people that we’re moving.”

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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