Has Muni Been Fibbing Its On-Time Reports?

Photo by Rubin 110

It certainly appears that way. A post on The Bay Citizen today asserts:

San Francisco transit officials have redefined time, fudging their statistics to make it look like buses and trains arrive on schedule, The Bay Citizen has found. These numbers are critical in determining the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s efficiency –- and they show the transit agency is much less efficient than it has claimed.

Under the City Charter, Muni vehicles are considered on time if they arrive “no more than one minute early or four minutes late.” But according to Muni’s clock, a minute can last as long as 119 seconds –- or 1 minute, 59 seconds.

Read the rest of the story on The Bay Citizen.

So, this is obviously a case of “Shame on you, SFMTA.” But what do we do about it? Your constructive criticism is appreciated here. No, really.


  • I call them “MUnits”.

    MUnits are related to minutes because they are both a measure of time. A minute is ALWAYS 60 seconds long.

    A MUnit can last from 30 seconds to 260 seconds or much much longer.

    Also there is the fact that it can sometimes take MUNI more than 10 minutes to travel just 2 blocks. Just confer with other N Judah riders trying to get to the Caltrain station.

  • SFMayhemmm

    The worst is when it says, “Arriving,” when in actuality that bus when it finally gets there says one of the following: “Not in Service,” “No Passengers,” or “Garage” and you’ve already been waiting over 20 minutes or more.

  • Allyson Eddy Bravmann via Facebook

    I’ve referred to the relativity of Muni Time for a long time. Nice of SFMTA to finally admit it’s real.

  • I also noticed this – particularly with the new N Train minimized schedules on the weekends. I tend to work late, and will try to hustle before the 7pm last train at Powell. I often make it with 20 minutes to spare, and the N train notifying me the last two trains are on the way… only to wait 30 minutes and receive an announcement that the last trains have passed (albeit not physically) and to take any train to the shuttle at Van Ness.

    As someone who manages quite a few people for a large business that has various department (albeit mostly in a technology and creative industry), I consider it misdiagnosis and inappropriate motivation of their praise and criticism. I don’t have the numbers from MUNI, and I’m sure I won’t get them, but here’s my input. In non-business speak, these staff are simply responding to the measurements the organization has applied to them.

    Bonuses, reviews, merit increases, punishment – all of this to the daily staff working in the trenches is most likely tied to the clock and productivity. However, as such a metric is not only dependent on their skill, it’s also dependent on the quality of their machines, the skill of their superiors, approvals, financials… a whole plethora of issues, it is an unreasonable justification. Since these staff members, most likely good hard working people, have no control over the actual outcome of the event – they adjust what control they have. Fudging the numbers. Say what you will on how that’s perceived, for people whose livelihood and employment are defined by this metric, it’s a white lie that becomes acceptable.

    I’ve had industries I’ve managed based on similar number (for example, booking events). Praising and punishing based on numbers and not behavior means angry workers and poor productivity. In that case, since these staff were still tied to productivity, I changed their bonus structure so that the focus was not on raw numbers, but on return clients we liked, on doing programs that (although may not get business) provide outreach for marketing, brand, events for non-profits, trying to do little things to inspire people to enjoy our location. In short, I changed it so their merit was based on outreach and retaining good clients, not on bringing in new numbers. The results were over 40% increase of business – so we got the numbers by not focusing on numbers. Raw sales wasn’t what makes people come back.

    So with that in mind, I’d ask MUNI how they do reviews? How is growth weighed, how are bonuses dealt out (if they are)? How does pay increase? Money is never a real motivator, so is praise, recognition, promotion, paid education, time off, and punishment tied to making things timely or is it tied to improving the system and making transit a better place not just a busier and on-time place?

    This is similar to the repeated notifications of ticketing monthly pass holders on MUNI for not scanning. Obviously monthly pass holders are paying their fee, and the penalty is there to curb behavior and trying to get people to scan… because the devices don’t register payment, even monthly, until it’s scanned.

    To me, this is misdiagnosis. The problem should be addressed with Clipper Card to find a way around the liability of monthly scanners activating their card (email or text authorization, or change of legal rules to confirm payment regardless of scan), and a technical way around the activation of their card monthly (instead of a magnetized card only getting updates by scan on the devices, it should also on the officer scanners). The reason people will continue to complain and fail to scan as a monthly pass holder, is that was the habit privilege of paying a responsible, monthly premium. This is not a social problem, it is not a problem of habit. It is a technical failure where someone is attempting an inappropriate solution, and they will fail. Most likely while spending a considerable amount of money.

    Of course, all of this is easier said than done to an outsider, and I’m sure politics burn much of this. But it sounds like it’s time to hire professionals who are coaches, mentors – not just managers and micromanagers pointing to the clock.

  • Howie Richman via Facebook

    Yes and during the reroutes at the end of the month I say nobody taps their Clipper Card. Fare Revolt! It workex in 92.

  • Allyson Eddy Bravmann via Facebook

    Howie: We are long overdue for a *successful* fare revolt.

  • Howie Richman via Facebook

    Allyson I completely agree and wish everyone could agree to just do it !

  • The Voice of Truth

    MUNI buses can’t arrive on time when all the schedules are so tight. You’re expected to go from one terminal to another at the fastest speed possible, even on residential streets. You’re really lucky if you can make it through the day without being late at least a few times. That’s what happens when you have a lack of drivers, lack of buses, and unrealistic schedules, combined with crappy upper management.

    • Alex

      Lack of drivers? Well, that’s the TWU’s own doing. High absenteeism and an unwillingness to allow for part-time workers or split shifts without a severe penalty to the MTA makes it politically difficult to increase staffing.

      Lack of buses? Well, the daily service reports would typically disagree with you.

      Being late a few times a day would give you something closer to what the MTA is claiming, a roughly 80% on-time rate. Being late nearly half of the time would give you the on-time performance Beyond Chron saw (roughly 60%). There’s a pretty hefty difference there.

      Besides, the on-time metric is designed to have some slack in it.

  • I wanted to but do not want to jinx my ass while waiting for the J!

  • Muni Diaries! My favorite local blog! That’s me!

  • Montira Warran via Facebook

    Years ago, another MUNI rider once said, “Remember: when reading the MUNI schedule, the times are not wrong. Half the buses are just invisible.”

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