SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - San Francisco Muni riders have likely noticed a slowdown in service over the last week. An equipment failure on Friday morning didn't help things, when underground service was totally incapacitated for about 12 hours, adding to passengers' frustrations as crews worked on a fix for most of the day.
Service to the Muni underground subway was restored late Friday. SF Department of Emergency Management sent out an alert at 8:21 p.m. that said serice was back in both directions, but that they were experiencing residual delays across all Muni metro lines.
But another reason for slow service is many Muni operators are declining to work overtime, which means that many commuters have been left waiting for rides.
San Francisco relies on Muni to keep the city moving an average of 720,000 riders per day. But, this week many of those riders have been waiting longer than usual for their ride.
It all comes amidst contract negotiations between the agency and its operators union.
Muni's blog explains that a combination of operator absences and operators not choosing to work overtime has slowed the system. "We have had issues with operator availability, "said Erica Kato from SFMTA. "At first it was a combination of FMLA leave, sick calls and operators not working on their regular days off."
Muni has been operating with a chronic operator shortage for years. On any given day, the agency has 1,800 operators on the road-- about 50 of those working overtime.
Union leaders say operators have been pushed to their limits and simply cannot keep working overtime to fill gaps left by not having enough drivers. "Operators are simply tired. They're physically and mentally tired, stressed, fatigued etc.," said Roger Marenco from TWU Local 250A. "That's what's happening right now. Is this a tactic? No, it's not a tactic, operators are just tired. They're taking their legitimate days off."
The union says the SFMTA needs to bring on more than 100 new operators and make operator jobs more attractive to bring in and retain the best and brightest.
The union says right now being a transit operator simply isn't a desirable job.
"Number one the assaults that are happening here on a daily basis, and number 2, the wage progression," said Marenco. "[It] takes 48 months to max out on pay right now. And also the wages in general."
SFMTA says it is proud of its operators and is already working to keep and attract more men and women to drive for Muni. "And something that we do want to put out there, it is a very competitive wage and salary," said Kato. "In fact, our operators are some of the highest paid drivers in the nation."
For now, the SFMTA says it will be sending out email, text alerts and updating it's social media to let them know which lines are most impacted.
Mayor London Breed weighed in on social media calling the situation with Muni, "unacceptable." She acknowledged the fleet needs to be expanded and improved.