From the January-February 2016 issue of News & Letters
San Francisco—You’d think with all the talk about the environment and getting cars off the road, that governments would support public transportation. Here the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) has been going downhill for three decades with infrastructure neglect and poor choices in equipment purchases. This has resulted in safety problems and a shortage of vehicles, so that in many parts of the city people can barely get around.
Hundreds of millions are being wasted on an unneeded and destructive subway line to Chinatown. The one good improvement, the T-Line streetcar route, was built to benefit developers.
Muni is going after its own workers, the soul of the system. The new contract that started July 1, 2014 introduced a two-tier system, which lengthens the time period for new drivers to receive full pay from 18 months to five years! New hires now receive just over $19 an hour, which does not allow them to pay even two-thirds of a monthly rent here. Full pay is around $32 an hour, still inadequate for the Bay Area.
Furthermore, workers are often required to work split shifts, which makes the pay actually lower and imperils safety. Muni is having trouble keeping new hires. The shortage of drivers leads to increased overtime, which is costly and unsafe. Recently the union tried to reopen negations on the contract, but Muni refused.
The argument that drivers here are among the highest paid in the nation is misleading, because the cost of living is nearly twice what it is in most cities, due mainly to housing. When Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 250-A president Eric Williams approved the two-tier proposal, Muni officials were amazed—they had only put it on the table as a bargaining chip. Williams claimed that it was a trade-off to preserve existing wages, and shoved it down our throats.
Now there are problems in the union that are becoming more serious. In this supposedly “progressive” city, where is the environmentalism and the concern for the non-wealthy? Many so-called “environmentalists” are plugging for bicycles at the expense of public transportation, when that is not a solution—bicycles are only practical for able-bodied younger people.
The one thing that we can do immediately, both for the environment and for quality of life in this city and other cities, is to make public transportation cheap and available to all.
—Don, San Francisco Muni bus driver