Reader Mail: Who Responds When YOU Write In About Muni Hell? Let’s Find Out!

questionmark.jpgIt’s no secret that these are bad times for Muni. It is also no secret that when you send in a complaint, it seems to go down the Memory Hole, lost to all time. Or does it? Reader M had some frustrating experiences with the N recently, and sent in a letter of complaint to the Mayor, Nathaniel Ford, Sup. Chu and Sup. Dufty. Now, it should come as no surprise that the Mayor’s office was MIA, off campaigning for some other office. But take a look at the response he got from Muni, and from Sup. Dufty’s office, and it’s clear someone was paying attention.
This all comes on the heels of a major reorganization of Muni, one that several Muni watchdogs have suggested may actually improve accountability, and move functions around so that there’s more coordination, and less of the “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” kind of confusion. We’ll take a wait and see approach, but it’s at least nice to see some attempt to make the agency a bit more functional.
More importantly, I think Reader M’s experience with responsiveness is important to note. Mayor Newsom has checked out of being Mayor of San Francisco, and isn’t going to be the source of anything of importance regarding Muni (aside from light and breezy press conferences to make him look good), and his MTA Board Members seem to take his lead, so I’m not too hopeful they’ll be doing much either. But it is nice to see some folks at least try, and maybe that can start the long process of changing the culture of FAIL that seems to grip City Hall, in the City That Once Knew How.
Read the letter, and the response from Muni and Sup. Dufty’s office after the jump:

I sent this e-mail to Nathaniel Ford, Gavin Newsom, Carmen Chu and Bevan Dufty
on 09/01/09 the same day the announcement about Muni reliability came out. I also had
sent you a copy along with the responses, but to the wrong e-mail address (it didn’t come
back as unfowardable, though). I was totally surprised by the quick response I got from
David Hill & Bevan Dufty (also below) but ZIP from Mistermayor’s office-not even an
electronic acknowledgement. Carmen Chu is out of town.
While the Mayor and Mr. Ford are busy patting themselves on the back, saying MUNI is more reliable than ever, consider this:
Myself and the rest of the people in the Sunset are sick and tired of being disenfranchised by the ridiculous lack of service on the N-Judah in the evenings.
Whoever is responsible (IF ANYONE) is responsible for controlling the frequency of the
streetcars at night is either deliberately creating a mess EVERY NIGHT or is unbelievable stupid or incompetent and SHOULD BE FIRED!!
I have attached screen captures showing how EVERY NIGHT at around 9 PM (21:00) for
some reason, nearly every streetcar on the N-Judah is west of 19th Avenue.

At first I thought it was only on Giants’ game nights-BUT IT’S NOT! Sometimes the trains then sit out there (beyond the East Portal tunnel) for nearly an hour before they start back downtown, with one train after another breezing through Civic Center station later in the evening. In the meantime, there are NO OUTBOUND TRAINS! It is usually then fifteen minutes or more before they begin coming back outbound from 4th & King. When one finally arrives, it soon fills up with 3X the number of passengers it should be carrying, while the earlier and later trains are running NEARLY EMPTY!
There is NO attempt at PACING or SEPARATING trains on ANY route, often 2 or 3 K Inglesides will show up in a row, then 2 M Ocean Views, 1 L Taraval and yet still NO N-JUDAHS! There also seems to be a dearth of J-Church trains.
On the other hand, the station agent in the evenings at Civic Center should be given a raise, a promotion and a medal! She TRIES to be helpful, often calling down to see what’s going on, but they (WHOEVER THEY ARE) have ( at least on 2 occasions I’VE witnessed) lied to her, telling her they are sending out N’s, then changing them to another line halfway to Civic Center or completely running them through the station as “OUT OF SERVICE” She eventually becomes as exasperated as the passengers waiting sometimes 45 minutes (OR MORE) for a streetcar whose frequency at that hour is supposed to be 12 MINS!
I think perhaps breaking up the little party that goes on in the “command central” or whatever it is at Embarcadero Station would help! They even put chairs outside on the platform to kick back in-while they’re waiting (for what?)!
Perhaps some drug and alcohol testing is in order, as I cannot imagine how anyone could (or would) screw up something that should be as simple as stringing beads on a shoelace in a Kindergarten class! Red train, blue train, purple train, orange train!
Also, as long as I (think I) have your attention- despite Nathaniel Ford’s assurances otherwise they are STILL kicking people off of the N-Judah at 19th Avenue to turn trains around & send themback downtown (and MANY MANY operators are STILL TALKING ON CELLPHONES while operating their trains)!
Just last night, Aug.31, it all happened again- no trains for a LONG time, then they all came streaming back downtown, then sat for 15-20 minutes before coming back out. Then they ran a J followed by an N, then another J and another N. Needless to say, the first J & N were packed to the gills while the second pair were EMPTY! Then, they threw us off of the first N at 19th Avenue-over 130 people-I COUNTED THEM-THERE WERE STILL NO EMPTY SEATS ON THE TRAIN-were inconvenienced by this MASSIVE STUPIDITY!
The driver was VERY RUDE, shouting “GET OFF THE TRAIN-THIS IS THE LAST STOP!” No apologies-no explanations-AS USUAL! Then again, AS USUAL, we not only had to stand there waiting while she threw everyone off the second car, but also AS USUAL had to sit and wait while she turned the damn thing around! I’ve never seen her before, maybe it’s all about creating phony OVERTIME?!
Totally Frustrated & Truly Very Angry,
Reader M
David Hill’s response:
Mr. Radtke, I am sorry for the poor service and inconvenience on the N Judah . I am David Hill, Interim Chief Operating Officer (appointed to this position last Monday) and I am now responsible for the LRV, Cable Car, and Streetcar service. Your complaint was forwarded to me by Mr. Ford and I understand your frustration.
I have put a plan of action in place beginning today which will indentify and correct the problems on the N Judah . I have directed staff to assign 2 MRO Inspectors to be mobile up and down the N Judah Line from 7:30 PM to 11:00 PM (7 days a week), until further notice. I will receive daily reports. There are many service related issues with our rail system and I am trying to work through them all. It will take some time, however, it will get done.
Please feel free to contact me either by email or my cell (415) XXX-XXXX to discuss this further. As you can imagine I have so much work to do and I am in soooo many meetings that require my input. In addition, I also manage all Bus Operations. So if I am not available by phone just leave me a voicemail and I will return your call ASAP.
Sup. Dufty’s Response:
I am sorry for the disappointing service you’re seeing on a consistent basis.
David Hill has just been named Interim Chief of Operations and Service Delivery.
In my first contacts with David I have been impressed with his commitment to changing practices that lead to the service gaps and dysfunction described in your message.
I serve as Chairman of the SF County Transportation Authority and am asking our Program Oversight Consultant, Luis Zurinaga, to look at your issues of bunching and turnarounds, among others. He will help me ensure that we are responsive.
I am also copying Julie Kirschbaum who led the SFTEP process as she can outline changes that will improve N-Judah service.
Lastly, Jim Dougherty is the nelatively new Chief Safety Officer and hopefully he can address operator cell phone usage.
Please keep me posted.
Sure enough, last night-no bunching, etc. N-Judah’s were arriving at Civic Center Station every 12 minutes…We’ll see if it lasts, but this David Hill seems to be on the ball! I got home in half the time last night and e-mailed both of them to say thanks and to let them know that whatever they did seemed to work!
The question remains- why was it happening in the first place? And- the fact that “statistics” show Muni is on-time more than ever? I think the SAME SUPERVISORS are doctoring the figures.

Ok, now folks, when was the last time a top level MTA official left their cell phone number to a citizen to make sure that they were listened to? Needless to say, I’m pleasantly suprised. Obviously he can’t do this for every single instance, but the fact that a message was sent to the MTA and someone real actually read and acknowledged it is a good first step.
Add your own experiences with talking to Muni, the Mayor, and the Board of Supervisors in the Comment Section. Let’s all be nice – after all it is the start of what looks to be a nice Labor Day Weekend. Enjoy the day and have fun.

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4 Responses to Reader Mail: Who Responds When YOU Write In About Muni Hell? Let’s Find Out!

  1. Jeff Baker says:

    Where can I see these screen captures?

  2. Alex Zepeda says:

    @Jeff if you go to and click on the google maps (or java maps) link, you can see where all the trains are. If you go to, you can find a more detailed map of where things in the subway are.
    It’s good to see someone new and energetic taking over that job. That said, the L was not nearly as nice this week. Last night I spent 25+ minutes waiting for an L, only to watch a handful of M and N trains move through. Sep. 2nd was worse. Worse being I had to walk from 32nd to West Portal to catch an inbound train. Fixing the metro is a game of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
    As for safety, I call BS. I watched a training bus (2804, I think) run down Taraval yesterday afternoon. The trainee had his obligatory bluetooth ear piece in. WTF? They’re being paid to drive the vehicle, NOT to talk on the phone (with or without their hands).
    Because I live in D4, I haven’t tried communicating with Dufty. The one time I’ve called Chu’s office to complain about the lack of L service, her staffer flat out asked me: What do you want us to do about it? It took a bit of persuasion to convince the staffer that MUNI does effect the quality of life in D4.
    Granted I’ve never seen Chu on MUNI, but she at least pops up in the Parkside from time to time (even if it is in her little SUV).

  3. Greg Dewar says:

    hey gang, I couldn’t get the file with the screen caps to unzip (i’m on a mac and for some reason I can’t decompress sitx files) so they’ll go up later on.

  4. Greg Dewar says:

    screen caps are up, they’re linked to the letter now!

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