Monday, October 24, 2011

Save Muni's critique of MTA's response to the Grand Jury report

There will be a hearing on the Grand Jury report this Thursday at 10:00 a.m., room 263, before the Government Audits & Oversight Committee (Campos, Farrell, and Chiu)

September 8, 2011

Honorable Katherine Feinstein
Presiding Judge, Superior Court of California
County of San Francisco - Grand Jury
400 McAllister Street Dept. 206
San Francisco CA 94102-4514

Subject: Critique of SFMTA’s Response to the 2011 Grand Jury’s Central Subway Report

Dear Judge Feinstein

SFMTA Director of Transportation Edward Reiskin's letter to you dated August 18, 2011, rejects many of the findings contained in the San Francisco Grand Jury Report. What the SFMTA seems to be saying is that thanks to federal oversight and the MTA’s own safeguards, all is well with respect to both Muni and the Central Subway. In other words, San Francisco is asked to simply trust the SFMTA to resolve Muni’s operational, maintenance and financial problems and complete the Central Subway in a proper manner. Ignored were the MTA’s three-year history of making highly misleading and exaggerated claims about the Central Subway, the many fatal flaws in the project and its baleful projected effect on future Muni finances.

Mr. Reiskin concludes his letter by pointing out that a transit property must have the ability to "reinvest in its core structure." This is certainly true, but in these tough times it is incumbent on those who make capital allocation decisions to exercise prudence and far-sightedness.

In the SFMTA table attached to Mr. Reiskin's letter, the SFMTA responds to the findings of the Grand Jury Report (GJR). Here is's reaction to some of the SFMTA responses:

GJR Finding No. 1 In its response, the SFMTA contends that the federal oversight coupled with its own oversight is all that's needed to assure that the Central Subway financial planning is both sound and practical. In view of the SFMTA's three-year record of issuing grossly inaccurate financial, ridership, trip time and cost statements, as now revealed by its own official reports to the Federal Transportation Administration, it is in no position to be rejecting outside evaluation and analysis.

GJR Finding No. 2 In its response, the SFMTA contends that even though it has come nowhere close to meeting the voter-imposed requirements of Proposition E, there is no call for an independent outside review of the situation. Yet even now the prognosis for meeting the Muni maintenance and operating objectives of Proposition E remains murky.

GJR Finding No. 4 In its response the SFMTA contends that it is doing everything possible to resolve its financial problems. Yet it offers no explanation of how the Central Subway, which by 2031 will have added a cumulative $189 million to the Muni deficit, can be accommodated without perpetuating and perhaps increasing the recent cuts in Muni service.

GJR Finding No. 7 In its response, the SFMTA avoids answering the Grand Jury's request that it state when and if the Muni service cuts instituted in 2009 and 2010 will be restored. 

GJR Finding No. 8  In its response, the SFMTA expresses agreement with the Grand Jury recommendation that a high priority be placed on properly maintaining Muni transit vehicles. However its current vehicle maintenance program remains highly deficient in this regard.

GJR Finding No. 13  The SFMTA agrees with the Grand Jury that the Muni LRV “mean-time-between-failure” rate is too low. However it rejects the Grand Jury's recommendation for a direct comparison with other cities, adding that staff is already gathering information about “the maintenance and procurement practices” of other North American LRV agencies. Be that as it may, the fact remains that Muni's LRV failure rate has been unacceptably high for many years and that, as of this writing, does not seem to be getting any better.

GJR Finding No. 15  The SFMTA rejects the Grand Jury's finding that it will not have enough available LRV's to provide necessary LRV service. Yet there are reports that the Metro East rail maintenance center completed in 2009 remains critically short the maintenance equipment, spare parts inventory and skilled staff needed to function properly. With an expanded LRV fleet and an already overtaxed Curtis E. Green rail maintenance center, it is not clear how the SFMTA plans to carry out its rosy predictions.

GJR Finding No. 17 The SFMTA rejects the Grand Jury's finding that weak decisions have lead to a weak and unreliable T-Line service. The fact remains that because of sluggish speeds, especially through the 4th and King Intersection and along the Embarcadero, the T-Line continues to attract far fewer riders than anticipated. No solution for this problem is currently in sight.

GJR Finding No. 18 In its response, the SFMTA again attempts to reassure those who doubt its ability to properly manage the Central Subway Project by referring to federal oversight procedures and activities. Yet there is little evidence that the FTA, which has suffered resource and staffing cuts of its own, would be able to effectively oversee a large development project in San Francisco.

GJR Finding No. 20 The SFMTA seeks to persuade skeptics that the Central Subway will be developed and operated more effectively than the current T-Line service. To further mollify those concerned lest history repeat itself, the SFMTA again refers to federal "guidance and oversight" as assurance of a more successful project this time around. Left unsaid is the fact that essentially the same federal guidance and oversight procedures that are in place now were in place when the T-line was being designed, built and put on line.

GJR Finding No. 25 In its response, the SFMTA categorically denies that many of its past statements about Central Subway ridership, trip times, transfer connections and costs were inaccurate and misleading, and insists that there is no need for improving the accuracy of its public pronouncements. The SFMTA goes on to proclaim that “all documents are reviewed by professionals in the public communications field who pay careful attention to the details and accuracy of the information that is being distributed. Objective observers who have kept up with the SFMTA’s written and oral statements about the Central Subway will be astonished by this claim.

GJR Finding No. 26 In denying the loss of connectivity between the Central Subway and the Market Street subway, the SFMTA indulges in semantics. It is true that if one walks long enough he or she will eventually arrive at the Powell Street Station. However, the fact remains that for most Central Subway riders the transfer walking distances to 25 of the 30 LRV and bus lines that cross the subway will be substantially longer and less convenient from the subway than from today's Stockton Street buses. This represents a major loss of Muni connectivity.

GJR Finding No. 29 In rejecting the Grand Jury finding that a high priority should be placed on improving surface bus operations along Stockton Street, the SFMTA makes reference to the Transit Effectiveness Plan, which it says includes proposals for improving Stockton Street. The Transit Effectiveness Plan was completed in early 2008. Three and one half years have passed since then, and there is still no discernable movement toward improving Muni's Stockton Street surface bus operation.

GJR Finding No. 30 In its response, the SFMTA contends that because the connection between the Central Subway and the Market Street subway lines is underground and therefore "seamless," it is therefore adequate. If one were traveling 6 or 8 or more miles via subway, as occurs in most subway cities around the world, an underground walk of 1,000 feet would be acceptable. However, in the case of the Central Subway, the subway ride between the Chinatown Station and the Union Square/Market Street Station is itself only a little over 3,000 feet in length. It is absurd to give someone a 3,000 foot ride and then oblige them to walk 1,000 feet to meet their connection. The loss of convenient connections between the Central Subway and the cross town LRV and bus lines running not only on and under Market but also on Pacific, Clay, Sacramento, Sutter, Post and Mission would substantially reduce the connectivity between the Central Subway and the rest of San Francisco

GJR Finding No. 33 In its response, the SFMTA states that moving pedestrian ramps between the Union Square/Market Central Subway Station and the Market Street subway lines "were not included in the design of the UMS Station for functional reasons…” This is SFMTA's third version of why there are no moving ramps. 

In answer to a SFMTA Board members question at a public meeting on August 3, 2010, SFMTA Manager Carter Rohan stated that "We actually abandoned those ideas about two years ago when the cost of the moving sidewalks became an issue. When we went through our risk mitigation program---FTA has a risk program you go through where you take a look at enhanced elements and what they would cost---when we went through that, we threw it out because of the huge cost."

However, by late 2010 and early 2011, SFMTA Central Subway Project Manager Funghi was telling anyone who would listen to him that the 700 foot long underground concourse leading from Geary to Market was “too narrow to accommodate ramps,” even though Stockton Street is 50 feet wide. And now the SFMTA is saying that the absence of moving ramps has to do with "a lack of functionality." Which is it?

GJR Finding No. 35 In its response, the SFMTA contends that the Muni Metro subway has had barrier free fare collection since its inception in 1980. That statement is false. The SFMTA goes on to state that mezzanines are an essential element of the Central Subway, apparently because the Market Street Stations have mezzanines. Yet certain of New York’s heavily-used subway lines manage to do without mezzanines. There is no apparent reason why a subway destined to be only lightly used, such as the Central Subway, should necessarily require mezzanines. Given the high cost of mezzanines, this matter warrants serious outside analysis.

GJR Findings 36, 37 and 38 In its response, the SFMTA contends that despite the expectation that the Central Subway will operate under the Proof-of-Payment system, barriers are nevertheless necessary "to clearly distinguish paid and non-paid areas and facilitate proof-of-payment enforcement." If Proof-of-Payment is to be implemented in the Central Subway, then there are certainly cheaper ways of protecting against fare evasion than building barriers. This is another issue in need of serious outside analysis.

In its report the San Francisco Grand Jury has raised some critically important questions about Muni and how it would be impacted by the Central Subway. The issues identified in the Grand Jury Report warrant a reasoned response by the SFMTA and the Mayor’s office.

Sincerely yours,

Gerald Cauthen, PE
510 208 5441

Howard Wong, AIA,
415 982 5055