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November Muni chaos not as bad as feared, says SFMTA director

Transit disruptions from an expected exodus of unvaccinated workers at SFMTA weren’t as severe as the agency initially feared, according to director Jeffrey Tumlin. 

On Monday, which marked the last deadline for submitting proof of vaccination for city employees, SFMTA wound up with 110 transit operators who had either not complied with the health order or were undergoing review for exemptions. That triggered service interruptions that were mostly manageable by cutting frequency on some lines, said Tumlin at a board meeting on Tuesday. 

“We heard loudly and clearly from our winter service [outreach] efforts...we should not be cutting lines and chose to cut frequency,” Tumlin said, referring to the agency’s efforts to determine a post-pandemic service restoration plan next year.  

Tumlin reported that there were minimal service impacts during this weekend’s Outside Lands Festival and at Chase Center, which hosted a Golden State Warriors home game on Saturday night. 

For the time being, SFMTA said it is cutting so-called short runs for some heavily trafficked lines—including the 30-Stockton, the 1-California, the 49-Van Ness and 14-Mission—and warned of crowding on those lines at certain times of day. 

The agency is attempting to fill other service gaps by encouraging overtime shifts among active operators, and plans to graduate a new class of transit operators roughly once every six weeks to backfill any vacancies from unvaccinated workers.  

“We will eventually be able to recover from a loss of operators but it will set us back months,” said Tumlin. 

In the meantime, SFMTA is in the midst of planning for a broader service restoration that will go into effect in 2022.

As part of that process, the agency presented three restoration scenarios to the public throughout the fall: One that restores service to “familiar” pre-pandemic levels, one that boosts service on the highest-frequency routes, and a hybrid of the two. 

In prior comments to the Board of Supervisors, Tumlin and other transit officials have argued that the city’s transit map ought to be reoriented away from downtown routes to account for changing work habits. The SFMTA board will vote on a final restoration plan on Dec. 7.