The Problem:

The most common MUNI complaint is that after a long wait, several buses come one after another.

This can be explained as a simple feedback system. As soon as a bus starts to fall behind (easy to do in traffic) the queues increase at the upcoming stops, requiring additional loading time resulting in the bus falling further and further behind. Once a bus begins to fall behind, the problem continues to get worse until the bus which is following catches up. This condition is very visible to riders and causes a general lack of confidence in the system. It is also demoralizing to drivers who feel they are doing the best they can.

A Solution:

First, it must be understood that this is a system problem and not a driver problem. The problem can be solved by having spare buses in different parts of the city (much like the paramedics do now) which can be put into service when a gap occurs. This will relieve pressure on the bus which is falling behind and do a lot to alleviate this common rider complaint. This will also relieve drivers of the stress of having to apologize for a problem they did not create. This will require that there be some way to identify when gaps develop and to develop a method of identifying when and where they are most likely to develop.

Note that no new buses or drivers are required, as this solution is simply a redeployment of the empty buses that are now following the buses which fall behind.

Other MUNI issues:

  1. Buses do not follow schedules. It might be time to face up to the reality that with the current traffic in the city it is not possible to adhere to schedules on all routes at all times. An alternative is to adopt at "frequency of service" standard for some routes - especially during heavy traffic times.

  2. Willie Brown and MUNI. It is generally perceived that the mayor has not lived up to his campaign promise to "fix the MUNI". Willie Brown needs to devote some time and attention to better understanding the problems in the system. The mayor needs to sit down and talk to drivers, management and users of the system. Talking and listening to people is the mayor's strong suit. The MUNI needs help. Taking an active interest will show that the mayor takes his campaign promises seriously and could lead to some positive action.

  3. Drivers, Management and the culture of MUNI. Drivers and management seem to be more interested in fighting than in making the system work well. The drivers have done a lot to clean up their act but are frustrated that the public continues to be so critical of the system. Ways must be found for drivers and management to work better together to deliver a more reliable service.

  4. The MUNI as a separate Agency. SPUR (see: SPUR Report) has recommended that the MUNI be operated as a separate agency and not as a city department. As the recent BART strike demonstrates, there may be problems with this approach due to the lack of clear public accountability. However, continued problems with the system could cause the public to support some change in management structure or even some form of "privatization".

  5. Transit Advocacy. Many cities have developed strong public transit advocacy groups which have helped to make systems work better. Rescue MUNI in San Francisco is attempting to do this. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen. Another approach might be to create a San Francisco Transit Coalition made up of all groups with an interest in transit issues including bicycles, public transit riders, pedestrians and even auto drivers. This could have the advantage of helping groups talk to each other and build a coalition for change which will benefit all parties.

More about the MUNI online and a place to leave your comments about the system.


MUNI Notes #1 - 15 September, 1997