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The first part of what is slated to be a two-part independent audit of the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency was released today and found the agency is responsible for excessive costs to the city and a lack of oversight by its governing board.
There will be a hearing at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday to specifically discuss the audit’s findings.
“A major focus of this audit is whether or not the board of the MTA is providing independent and meaningful oversight over an agency that has a budget of $750 million,” said Supervisor David Campos at a news conference directly following the audit’s release today. “It seems that the answer is probably not.”
The audit, which is the result of a roughly two-month study prompted by the Board of Supervisors and conducted by the Board of Supervisors’ budget analyst, pinpoints worker overtime as a large contributor of what Campos has characterized as the agency’s “chronic” financial woes.
According to the audit, the SFMTA constitutes 47 percent of all city workers’ total overtime hours combined. The city’s agreement with the union currently allows transit operators to collect overtime while on “standby” on certain routes to meet scheduling requirements, which the report says can last up to six hours. Transit operators can also collect overtime even when they have not put in a full workweek.
Much of the overtime comes from replacement operators working to fill in for operators who are sick or on leave, according to the audit.
The audit also points to the combined $608,000 annual salary for seven union officials who work 100 percent on union duties as contributing to the agency’s financial problems.
Supervisors David Chiu, Ross Mirkarimi and Eric Mar, joined Campos today to express their thoughts on the report and field questions. But all of them said they could not comment on specific recommendations in the audit because they hadn’t yet had time to carefully read it.
All four emphasized that they will be having serious talks about the audit for the next week before next Tuesday when November ballot measures are due. Elsbernd is advocating for a ballot measure that would reform work rules that determine transit operator contracts, but Campos said he believes this measure to be too punitive to labor.
The supervisors have previously expressed interest in playing a larger role in appointing SFMTA board members, but said they could not make any firm recommendations until they had given the report a more thorough read.
The audit also faulted the MTA board, the agency’s oversight body made of seven people appointed by the mayor, for lax oversight. At today’s news conference, Mirkarimi went as far as to call the MTA board a “rubber-stamping authority.”
The MTA board’s president, Tom Nolan, responded to this accusation by saying it is both untrue and offensive.
While he conceded that his governing board, as well as every other governing board in the city, could always use more training, he said that the audit failed to recognize all of the successes of the board and made recommendations for some changes that are already in place.
In response to the audit, SFMTA executive director Nathaniel Ford, said that the agency has obligations under the rules of its agreement with the union that will make it impossible for them to address many of the issues mentioned in the audit until the environment allows for it.
Ford said many of the changes that may look easy on paper are not as easy to implement. For instance, one of the report’s recommendations is for the agency to consider part-time transit operators. Ford said the agency planned to implement more part-time workers in October, but were soon faced with nuances in their agreement with the union that prevented implementation.
“Clearly, we need to do more work as it relates to looking at part-timers and how they can be utilized in the system,” he said. “But it’s not as simple as Nat Ford and the management staff walking out tomorrow morning to TW-250A and implementing part-time operators.”