Why Don't the Trains Come in Order?

George Musser reports on our conversation with Metro Superintendent of Operations Ken Rodriguez

One of Rescue Muni's long-standing frustrations has been the dispatching from Embarcadero station. Riders waiting for one line often see all the other lines go by, almost empty, before theirs arrives - packed. In our tour of Muni Central Control, newly appointed Metro manager Ken Rodriguez clarified the problem and explained what he intends to do solve it.

Rodriguez said he currently tells the Embarcadero dispatchers not to change cars from one line to another to meet demand. Reassigning vehicles takes time and is prone to delay. Any delay would cascade down the line, causing trains to stack up and riders to wait increasingly long. Rodriguez claimed a single 10-minute delay can take 3 hours to correct fully.

Instead of reshuffling lines at Embarcadero, he tells dispatchers there simply to turn the trains around as fast as they can. "I don't want them to think," he said. "I want them to push buttons and go."

Rodriguez said he plans to put the scheduling onus on supervisors at West Portal and the Duboce portal. Currently those locations are monitored only part-time. Under Rodriguez's plan, Duboce will be staffed from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and West Portal from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Rodriguez said he is now training the supervisors how to get late trains back on schedule. For example, at 4 a.m. mechanics will tell supervisors about out-of-service vehicles. If they do not have enough vehicles for the day, supervisors can, say, turn a two-car M into a one-car M and move the extra car elsewhere. Another example: If two outbound Ns are bunched, the second will turn around at 19th Ave. and follow the inbound schedule of the first. Such procedures attempt to minimize, though not eliminate, the inconvenience to riders.

Reassigning streetcars among lines on the fly is trickier, because it is difficult to keep the number of cars in balance. But under a new emergency procedure, supervisors can reassign cars in a crisis - and worry about the balance later.

Rodriguez's plan is part of a little-noticed reorganization announced by Emilio Cruz in August. On Dec. 16, three managers and 24 supervisors joined Rodriguez in a separate Metro operations unit - up from 0 managers and 13 supervisors who worked on Metro previously. At any given time, 16 supervisors will be on the job. Rodriguez vows that riders will see the difference by March.

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RESCUE MUNI Transfer, Winter 1997-98.
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