Rachel Gordon, John Coté - SFGate.com
Muni shows "a callous disregard" for its riders when it uses switchbacks, the transit-industry practice of unloading passengers and turning around trains and buses unexpectedly before they reach their final scheduled destination.
That was the opinion of a new report released Thursday by the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, accompanied by a press release with the title, "DUMPED IN THE RAIN AFTER DARK."
To say that officials with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, bristled at the assessment would be an understatement. They said the all-volunteer investigative citizens panel convened by the Superior Court based its conclusions on flawed assumptions "that don't really square with what we believe the reality to be," in the words of Ed Reiskin, San Francisco's director of transportation.
Sharon Gadberry, who chaired the committee that conducted the investigation, said she stands by the report.
The civil grand jury said that Muni relies far too heavily on switchbacks.
"Being compelled to leave an LRV (light-rail vehicle) or bus you boarded with the reasonable expectation it would take you to your regular destination violates the trust between Muni and its riders," the report stated.
The issue is not new, and had been the subject of City Hall hearings.
Muni uses switchbacks if normal runs are thrown off schedule for such problems as accidents, operator shortages, equipment malfunctions and tracks blocked by trucks or autos, said transit chief John Haley.
"We have been very candid, very open, very clear that we recognize that any time you do a switchback it has an inconvenience to the riders," Haley said. But, he added, Muni has reduced the number of unscheduled switchbacks.
In June 2011, for example, there were 440 recorded switchbacks. A year later, there were 126 for the month. Last month, the number dropped to 82.
The civil grand jury report also faulted Muni for not making better use of technology to both manage its fleet to prevent the need for switchbacks and to alert passengers beforehand. Haley said improvements have been put in place over the past year, with more in the works, that the civil grand jury didn't acknowledge.
While the panel called on Muni to eliminate switchbacks except for unavoidable emergencies, Haley said it's just not going to happen.
"Being in San Francisco and not the Land of Oz, and looking at our system, I think realistically we're going to have service disruptions," he said.