The Computer Museum Known as the MUNI Control Center: Years of Half Assed Budgeting Come Home To Roost

Rachel Gordon writes an interesting piece in the Chronicle about the aging control infrastructure that runs MUNI. To many who have been involved in MUNI and transit issues, the control center’s quaint and aging technology is the stuff of legend – most people have cell phones or PDAs more powerful than some of the machines that run MUNI.
While Ms. Gordon’s piece does a good job of informing the public some of the specific woes of the system and how it impacts our ride each day, it is more revealing about the effects of half-assed management and budgeting by elected officials, and armchair-quarterbacking by the public on MUNI.
Put simply, for a long time, our elected officials, our esteemed entrenched bureaucrats, and yes, us, the public, have taken the easy way out on decisions regarding MUNI, and now we’re paying the price.
Phony compromises, allocations of money that can “only” be spent on one thing (giving us the bizarre situation of piles of money that can’t be spent to improve the control system but CAN be spent on nonsense and pay raises) and the like create the Seven Headed Hydra of Problems the system now faces.
Or, put another way – you can’t cut back on the things that matter, like maintenance, information technology, and the true costs of running a system on time for the City of San Francisco, while at the same time spending tons of money on pay raises, unnecessary bloated middle management, featherbedding by the civic unions and interference from political hacks, and expect MUNI to run any better than it does today.
More importantly, it’s time for MUNI management to do what it can to be more honest with the public about what it costs to make a system run properly for all of us, and demand no less from our posturing politicos. To continue accepting empty platitudes about “do more with less” and to not be willing to cut out the deadwood or collect the fares from the deadbeats does nothing to build the kind of trust MUNI will need to earn our support in the future.
Likewise, it is very easy for politicians to put a picture of the Earth on a campaign sign or drive around in a Prius in an ad, or pose for Vanity Fair talkin’ greenie chatter, but it’s much harder to make the special interests involved capitulate and do the right thing for citizens and taxpayers and riders of MUNI.

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6 Responses to The Computer Museum Known as the MUNI Control Center: Years of Half Assed Budgeting Come Home To Roost

  1. Patrick Ledwith says:

    And where will the money to revamp HQ come from? Finally ticket those who double-park!
    Kidding, kidding… it won’t happen anytime soon, considering how slow they are to do damn near anything… they’ll just consider writing tickets as compensation for the lost revenue thanks to the fact that everyone and their mother can get a handicap permit.
    I have a solution to the double-parking, however… allow the N to just plow over people who double-park between 9th & Judah and 7th & Irving. A boy can dream, right?

  2. transit troublemaker says:

    the hardware at Central Control is NOT a major issue. The internal Muni culture would be identical w/ bleeding edge iphones everywhere. for the millions to replace the center, we would do far better to ACTUALLY roster enough drivers to operate the advertised schedules and stop every spring doing the spending freeze whch results in NO REPAIR parts purchases in order to paper over OT waste generated by lack of drivers. Most days Muni fails to send out +/- 10% of service account no driver or no roadworthy vehicle. All the CC in the world means nothing for the rider waiting for a “not out” run.

  3. Greg says:

    @TT: point well taken.
    But if it’s not an issue, why is it that other major US cities do not use such old equipment?
    More importantly, if the computers are so old they can’t even get spare parts and the like, how can it possibly last another 20+ years?

  4. transit troublemaker says:

    So how much can a couple dozen desktops cost? and what will the other 119 million buy? As to NY they move as many riders on a single subway line as Muni’s total for a day so they have more to manage. As a way to understand this ask yourself why we need Nextbus (which I find highly useful)? Because the buses are random and unreliable. If they came on time like the commuter and L trains of the 60’s in Chicago you wouldn’t need an electronic gizmo.

  5. suggestron says:

    I’d like Muni to release the specs of the project so that people can get an idea of why this project looks like it will cost 10 to 100x what it should.
    I think we put a man on the moon with less computing power than an Amiga. If this is the case, then the current Muni system, dating 10 years later should have no more computing power than say, a Pentium II? (I’m being generous).
    So we buy a Pentium 3 with custom software and 5 9s of reliability for 10 million.
    Ayes and Nays?

  6. Steve Vaccaro says:

    Speaking of Nextbus, Muni recently added another bunch of bus lines to it’s Next Bus option on the MTA site.
    Last night I looked at several of them clicking on randomly at boarding stops. Shockingly long waits on some of the bus lines like over 40 min. A 60 min wait for the 28 going southbound around 9pm. Bad bad advertising for the Muni but yes helpful for the bus riders who can decide whether to walk or take a cab.

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