In April 2005, Rescue Muni conducted its annual survey of Municipal Railway service reliability. This survey is done from the rider's perspective and attempts to show the chances that an individual rider will be delayed or on an overcrowded or dirty bus or streetcar. Unfortunately, 2005 saw Muni's first worsening in service quality in seven years, with 14.9% of riders delayed, up from 12.3% in 2004, but still much improved from Muni's nadir in 1998.
In 2005, volunteers submitted data for 1,481 rides on Muni during the month of April. (1,356 were taken by volunteers riding the bus; the remaining 125 were vehicles observed going by a fixed point by volunteers.) Volunteers also recorded direction, destination, time of arrival, crowding, and cleanliness.
Our volunteers found that riders were delayed 14.9% of the time, substantially worse than 2004's score of 12.3% delayed, but still representing a major improvement over the worst years of 1997-99. Since the "Metro Meltdown" year of 1998, delays were cut by well over half before worsening this year. However, riders' average experience actually improved as measured as a percentage of advertised headway; this waiting time also declined to 58% of posted headway (ideal is 50%); this also reflects improved reliability. This year, service worsened for most modes over 2004, particularly Muni Metro service which went from 10% to 19% of riders delayed.
Other metrics were mixed this year. Systemwide cleanliness improved this year from 79% to 85% clean, with all modes improving except trolley coach and limited-stop buses. Average crowding worsened for the third straight year, with an average crowding level of 3.0 on a scale of 1 to 5, up from 2.8 last year and 2.7 the year before. Perhaps as a function of the improving economy, but more likely due to recent service cuts, crowding is the worst it has been since we have recorded it beginning in 1999.
The best lines in this year's survey with at least 25 responses were the 6-Parnassus, 49-Van Ness/Mission, 21-Hayes, 44-O'Shaughnessy, and 47-Van Ness. All of these got "A" grades with fewer than 10% of riders delayed. In all, 9 lines with sufficient data (min. 15 responses) were graded "A," down from 13 last year.
Lines that performed poorly this year included the 24-Divisadero, graded "F" with 42% of riders delayed, and the J-Church, graded "C" with 29% of riders delayed. Seven lines were graded "C", including the 1-California, F-Market, and K-Ingleside lines. Although this is a big improvement from the days when many of Muni's major lines were graded "D" or "F," this is a worsening in service quality from last year.
The worsening in service quality this year is most likely a function of continued service cuts, as well as an increase in ridership as well as auto traffic with the recovering economy. However, it's not sufficient to blame these outside factors for losses in service reliability. Proposition E set a standard of 85% on-time service in 1999, and although Muni has improved substantially since its passage, service reliability has leveled off at approximately 70% on-time over the past several years. Major improvements in Muni's street infrastructure including expanded bus lanes and signal pre-empts, along with better supervision and dispatching, are needed for Muni to meet the 85% on-time number.
This year, volunteer participation in the survey was up substantially, with 1481 total responses, up from 1234 in 2004. However, participation was still not at the levels experienced in the late 1990s, and as a result, these data are not as reliable as those from previous years. Rescue Muni needs your help in 2006 to make the survey more accurate and useful for Muni riders and service planners! Please email us at [email protected] if you'd like to participate in 2006.
Detailed tables and graphs in the December Transfer.