Muni’s Shortfalls Cost the City and Encourage Private Services

A new study of Muni’s shortcomings, conducted by the City Controller’s office, shows that Muni delays and disruptions caused by  breakdowns and maintenance repairs during peak commute hours cost the City (and its people) approximately 4.2 million dollars in April alone and an approximate 50 million dollars a year. This quantification of the frustration many Muni riders feel everytime they are stranded at a Muni stop waiting for the next bus, serves as ammunition for Ed Reiskin, the transportation director for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, to use in his campaign to get the City to invest more in the dilapidated agency.

In the meantime however, private services like the ride-sharing companies discussed in an ealier post, continue to expand to fill the widening gaps in Muni service. Leap Transit, with its fleet of bright blue private shuttles that can be seen in the Marina district, is only the latest company to provide its serivces to San Francisco’s commuters. The company takes the technological aspect of the ride-sharing companies (an iPhone app that acts as bus pass and payment method), the luxory of a private car serivce (spacious seats, air conditioning and wifi) and the convenience of a bus (designated stops – oftentimes Muni stops- and designated times- only during peak hours), all at a price of $6 per ride.

The company’s founder, Kyle Kirchhoff, insists that the price tag means that the private service is not competing with Muni, but rather complementing it. The price was chosen to reflect the services offered and to be more expensive than Muni, but cheaper than a taxi. To illustrate the relationship between Leap Transit and Muni as his company sees it, Kirchoff even made the amusing analogy of comparing Leap Transit to FedEx and Muni to the U.S. Postal Service, an anaology most likely less amusing to Muni officials given the Post Office’s ongoing struggles to stay relevant and in business.

Muni officials may be upset by the lack of regulation on this private service industry, but until the City give Muni the funding it needs and the funding Reiskin has been campaigning for, unregulated private companies like Leap Transit will continue to fill the gaps. “Mario Tanev, a spokesman for the passenger advocacy group San Francisco Transit Riders Union, said the emergence of Leap is a clear sign of Muni’s failure.” This connection is especially clear since Leap Transit’s routes are duplicates of Muni lines, yet the new company continues to increase its client base as more and more commuters become more and more frustrated with Muni service.