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Muni Reforms Haven't Curbed Runaway Overtime – Yet

Agency says 83 newly hired part-time drivers should help cut costs

Two years ago, San Francisco voters approved Proposition G, after supporters of the Fix Muni Now initiative promised it would, among other things, put an end to the transit agency's excessive overtime costs.

But last week, the city’s controller revealed that San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency is on track to spend $60 million in overtime this fiscal year — the most of any city department and nearly double the $31.9 million that the agency budgeted. The bad news came as the SFMTA is trying desperately to fill a $53 million shortfall over the next two years, a budet deficit that could lead to service cuts.

SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said that Prop G has allowed for major changes that will cut overtime  — eventually. The measure gave the SFMTA more leverage with the transit union, which the agency used during last summer's contract negotiations to include a provision allowing it to hire part-time drivers — a move the agency says will help it save $11 million over the next three years.

According to Muni, the part-time drivers will reduce the overtime paid to full-time operators, who routinely work more than eight hours driving buses during the morning and afternoon commutes.

But it will cost Muni $5.6 million to train the operators, making the actual savings $6.2 million over three years.

The savings won’t begin to kick in until next year, owing to the costs of starting up the part-time driver training program.

Rose said that Muni now has 67 part-time drivers — and will soon have 83 once the latest class is trained.

“We fully expect overtime to decrease from part-time drivers and the work rules that were part of the contract,” said Rose.

But Ron Austin, vice president of the union that represents 2,200 Muni operators and employees, said that Prop G won't reduce overtime costs.

“From the onset, when the whole Prop G furor was boiling over, we saw from the inside saw it was a fairy tale being sold to the voters,” he said. 

Austin claimed that Muni is having trouble retaining the part-time drivers because of the disproportionate stress for the part-time job. But Rose, the MTA spokesman, said he hadn’t “heard anything like that.”

All told, the SFMTA expects to save $41 million over the next three years from the new contract with the bus drivers. The combative union is still contesting the contract in court.

Although the city’s politicians and Muni bosses have long focused their outrage on overtime paid to operators, the overtime paid to the mechanics fixing Muni’s aging fleet of buses has soared.

The transit agency had budgeted $2.3 million for overtime related to vehicle maintenance this year, but now estimates it will spend $14.3 million. It had budgeted $25.4 million in overtime for drivers, but now projects spending $29.1 million. 

Rose said the increase in overtime for mechanics was the result of two factors — old buses and a maintenance staff that had been reduced by budget cuts in previous years. He said that Muni planned to hire more maintenance workers this year.

Supervisor Scott Weiner said that Prop G, which also eliminated automatic raises for Muni drivers, would enable Muni to deal with its maintenance overtime problem. 

“You had a lot of resources going to the operators, which resulted in a systemic underfunding of maintenance. For years Muni has underfunded its maintenance division,” Weiner said. “We need to be expanding our maintenance of the system.”

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