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San Francisco agency's leaders respond to report critical of Muni's 'switchback' use


Yesterday, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) leaders responded to a recent San Francisco Civil Grand Jury report that stated Municipal Railway (Muni) service improvement is needed, and could be accomplished without switchbacks.

The report said switchbacks, in which a route’s lead vehicle is turned around to avoid bunching at a line’s end, “are an insult to passengers and are an ineffective and time-consuming strategy that does not help Muni maintain schedules,” according to a news story posted on the website of CBS San Francisco station KCBS.

Selected to investigate city government, the grand jury found that railway system uses switchbacks on .03 to .06 percent of its runs, affecting as many as 31,000 riders per month, the CBS report stated.

SFMTA Chairman Tom Nolan and Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin issued their responses in a prepared statement released by the agency.

“Managing a public transportation system in a city such as San Francisco is quite challenging and requires staff to balance multiple and competing needs. When I joined the board, I had an extensive background with several transit agencies, yet it still took time for me to recognize all of the nuances that go into managing this unique system,” Nolan stated. “The Civil Grand Jury report recommendations and findings reveal how tough it is to get a good understanding of the system. This lack of understanding has unfortunately resulted in a report that is superficial at best.”

Added Reiskin: “The notion that we should run every bus and every train to the end of the line on every run is not a good practice, let alone a best practice. Switchbacks are one of many techniques routinely used by Muni and its peer transit systems across the U.S. in order to provide and restore reliable, scheduled service. The more important conversation to have is how do we improve Muni service overall. We are working aggressively to reduce the need for unscheduled switchbacks and further lessen their impact so that we minimize any inconvenience to our customers. This effort includes an aggressive overhaul program to improve the reliability and extend the life of our light rail vehicles — part of a larger emphasis on maintenance in the current two-year budget.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/10/2012