Reader Mail: When Statistics and Life Collide On the N Judah Line

The other day I got the following CC’d email, orginally sent to Mayor Newsom, regarding what sounds like a terrible ride on the N-Judah from Reader Stephen:

Dear Mayor Newsom,
I’m writing to draw your attention to the atrocious inability of the San Francisco Municipal Railway to transport people in a timely manner. I live at 45th Avenue and Kirkham St. Today, I left my house at 9:35 a.m. I arrived at the 46th Ave. N-Judah stop at 9:37 a.m. I got off the train at Montgomery station at 10:56 a.m. That’s almost 80 minutes to go a little over 7 miles. Should the citizens of the City be required to pay $1.50 for public transit that is slower than travel on foot?

Now, it is not an instantaneous connection from the Outer Sunset to downtown, but this is ridiculous. Combined with the ongoing issue of random turnarounds at 19th, and you can see why residents of the Outer Sunset can get quite skeptical when they hear talk of fixing MUNI.
It’s also an example of how statistics don’t always tell a story. In today’s Examiner, reporter David Smith tells us some new statistics regarding various MUNI routes. Here we learn that the N is growing in number of passengers, but has an ontime rating of 72% (down 3% from the previous year).
Here’s where stats alone don’t always help – sure, one can say that a route that’s 72 or even 75% on time is “good” and all. However, if a rider who really needs to get somewhere on time, such as Reader Stephen, gets stuck with the Ride from Hell, it really doesn’t matter anymore if on paper the line is doing great. People don’t need to be on time to work, school, the store, or a doctor’s appointment only 72% of the time – and they certainly don’t get rewarded for being late.
Now, there are times when even the best run system can run into problems not its own (double parked cars and trucks that refuse to move, accidents blocking the train, etc.) But is it realistic to expect that every delay is totally beyond human control all the time? Probably not.
This, in a sense, is the biggest challenge those trying to pass the MUNI reform amendment face as they try to tell voters that Measure A will do something good to make things better in the long run. While there’s no doubt that most people when asked if they want “MUNI fixed” they’ll say yes, people in San Francisco are also resigned to more than a little cynicism when it comes to the believability of a proposed “fix” on the ballot.
I would suggest that people cannot expect Someone Else, or Them to fix any problems, be they MUNI or otherwise, or assume that The Big Plan is going to be any sort of cure-all alone. It’s only if people decide that they deserve better, and are willing to do something, anything to let Them know that we expect better, as Reader Stephen has done. Likewise, it is only going to be as a result of Everyone holding the folks who created Measure A accountable for the promises is it likely to do what it claims it will do.
San Francisco has the potential to be a truly extraordinary place to live and have a functional, decently run government and transit system. Cynics can belittle such an ideal all the like, but then again, cynicism never solved any problems. Getting off one’s backside and doing what they can, however, did.
It certainly costs a lot to live here (and anyone paying property and business taxes are paying a fortune!). Isn’t it about time people got their money’s worth from the folks in charge? And isn’t it time they started acting on that, instead of just more talk?

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4 Responses to Reader Mail: When Statistics and Life Collide On the N Judah Line

  1. shawn says:

    Claiming that Muni is on time 75% of the time shouldn’t mean a whole lot. When is that being measured? All day? I hope its on time at 2 in the morning. There is no way that Muni can honestly say they run on time 75% of the time during commute hours.

  2. 295bus says:

    On time % is just not a very useful statistic.
    After all, if 75% of arrivals were on time, and 25% were 1-5 mins late, that wouldn’t be so bad.
    What we really need is % of runs on time, % within 5 mins, % within 15, % just never showed up at all!

  3. stevenj says:

    It’s too bad for us that the Muni never followed up on their 1931 and 1935 proposals for subway and elevated lines along Market, Geary, Third St, Van Ness, Potrero, Mission, Montgomery, Columbus, Fulton, 7th St and 16th St (documented in The People’s Railway by Anthony Perles). It would have been a great start to a comprehensive system expandable for today’s needs and fully separated from auto traffic. Bus RT is a good idea but it still mixes buses with autos.

  4. Sagitta says:

    I live in the Outer Sunset. Recently, I had 6 days of jury duty (7th and Bryant), and used the N-Judah to get downtown. In spite of using NextMuni and allowing a full 90 minutes for the trip, I was 10 minutes late one day. Absolutely unbelievable.

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