“In that first tier [Rapid service] it is rail and bus and it’s really looking at those improvements that would significantly improve the speed on the rapid corridors. The rapid corridors are those 15 [that are used by 75 percent of MTA’s ridership],” Ford says.
“Then you have the local networks that represent a good ridership on them, but they really service connectors or feeders into this rapid network.
“And then you’ve got this community service, so that we don’t strand people and still keep in the vision of being a transit-first city.”
Ford says his overall goal is (barring geography issues) to have everyone in the Muni service area to be within a quarter mile of an MTA stop. To do that, Ford says the coverage needs to be the same, but better than it was.
“[We need] to really still have good coverage, but not do it in some of the circuitous ways that we have been providing it over the years where routes meander around in neighborhoods and that kind of thing.
“To be more direct — feed them into the local [service] or feed them into the rapid [service,] and on top of that try to stay within one transfer for anyone’s travel needs.”
Getting an overdue budget finished was only one of the challenges Ford faced when he came on board at MTA. He also faced staff shortages and on-time performance issues — which went hand-in-hand. The staff shortages, due to a hiring freeze and layoffs, were the next obstacle he decided to tackle.
“And as soon as I walked into the door we started getting our financial house in order and began doing some hiring,” Ford says.
The San Francisco MTA is unique in many ways, one of them is because under executive director, Nat Ford’s purview is not only transit, but parking as well. And this means the parking control officers (PCOs), which are a valuable asset in a city this dense.
“Since they’re all under my umbrella, the PCOs are now going to start being deployed on certain corridors to help with moving Muni faster,” Ford says.
“We’ve hired, I guess we’ve doubled — not doubled in terms of PCOs — we’ve added another 40 or 50 PCOs in the last two years.
“But now I’ve gotten to the numbers with PCOs, [that] I’m going to pull some of those off [regular parking duty] and dedicate them to Muni.
“And having PCOs out there to deal with double parking in this city. Double parking, people parking in our bus zones. Now we’re coupling them with the 26 supervisors [and] dispatchers.
“We’re going to mesh those folks together into what we’re calling Tiger Teams that will go out on these major corridors and really start hammering on focusing on on-time performance at a street-level management effort.
“We have GPS and we have all of that, but here you can see out there, there’s a lot of just traffic that we need to deal with and congestion issues. So we expect to see a lot out of that.”
The parking control officers were only one of the “front-line” positions that was in dire need of more staff. Maintenance workers were depleted to the point that it was affecting the number of vehicles it could get out on the street. And even so, there weren’t enough operators to drive them.
Ford says the system was, “…significantly short on operators. On any given day we were down about — I guess on long-term disability we were up around 300 individuals. Now we’re down to about 150. We went through and just started working every name, every person. Worked that number down and at the same time started hiring operators in, because again there were layoffs and a hiring freeze.
“I’d say we’ve trained and hired in somewhere around 150 to 160 operators. This past fall we just got past attrition.
“So we finally were able to ramp up our hiring to the point that we’re past attrition now and we’re starting to grow. But at the same time we got a lot of people that have come back to work.”
“All of that being said we are now at the point where we’re getting sufficient extra on board. We’re now at the point where we’re not missing as many trips as we were on a daily basis,” Ford says.
“We were missing easily 150 trips out of thousands a day, but we were missing 150 trips. Now we’re down to like 30 trips a day for no operator, that kind of thing. And with that we have more regular service.”