Today is a busy day of news for what’s surely the world’s most beleaguered transit agency. The agency that runs what Herb Caen used to call “the muniserable bus” is having a terrible, no good, very bad day. How bad is it? Late running, money losing, door opening, single-serving site swearing bad.

Door On Moving Train Left Wide Open

A video taken last Friday evening on the outbound LL train, between Van Ness and Church stations, shows the train in motion with one of the doors hanging wide open. The video, which was taken by quick-thinking Muni rider Alex Merenkov, shows the train moving at normal speed in the tunnel and only closing right as it is about to pull into the Church station.

“It doesn’t make me mad, it just makes me wanna go, like, ‘Hello San Francisco, like San Francisco Muni does not care about your safety at all. And they’re rude to you, they don’t care about you, and you’re gonna get hurt one of these days because of their carelessness,'” said Merenkov.

While the MTA blames operator error for the incident, passengers on the train stayed as cool as cucumbers. The guy only inches from tumbling though the open door to his untimely demise doesn’t even take off his headphones. Now there’s a seasoned Muni rider! Maybe everyone was comforted by the calming presence of Supervisor Scott Weiner, who can be clearly seen in the video.

No One Pays For Muni Anymore

Muni estimates that the agency lost $19 million dollars last year due to fare evasion. Muni’s budget deficit this year is $21 million. So if all you punks actually started paying for your tickets Muni would totally be solvent. Almost. Also, you’d have to ignore the $1.3 billion long-term deficit. Plus the added cost of stationing police officers inside every bus and train to ensure that enforcement actually occurs. So maybe it wouldn’t get Muni all the way back in black, but it couldn’t hurt.

The T-Third Street line was the worst offender for cheating–with 31% of T riders skipping on payment.

Muni operators place the blame squarely on agency management. “Other transit agencies do not play with fare evaders, but our management has never had our back,” says Transport Workers Union Local 250-A Secretary-Treasurer Walter Scott. “Passengers have been skipping out on fares forever. If Muni doesn’t care, why should the operator risk his neck to collect a fare?”

And other revenue streams are shrinking: the MTA’s proposal to collect fees of up to $11,352 for new residences was killed after builders threatened to sue the transit agency. So much for that plan.

And They’re Late

Muni’s latest performance reports are out and they’re not good. During the period of October through December 2010, Muni only had an on-time percentage of 71.1%–down nearly one percent from the previous quarter.

This number is significantly lower than the voter-mandated 85%. Muni has never even gotten close to that lofty goal, so it’s a good thing for the agency that there are no actual penalties for continually falling short. It’s like the time voters approved the measure dictating that every year everyone in San Francisco should get a brand-new, magical flying pony that poops sparkles but there are no consequences when the ponies fail to materialize.

It seems unlikely even an immaculately run transit agency would hit the vaulted 85% number. Most bus system around the country average about 75% on time and there are very few other light rail systems that have to contend with street traffic, which slows everything down significantly.

Come to think of it, maybe the reason they leave the doors open on trains is to minimize wind resistance and increase the trains’ top speed.

Maybe Some Good Publicity Would Help

Preparing for what are sure to be highly-charged negations with the operators union, Muni is hiring a high-priced PR firm to the tune of $100,000. After the passage of Measure G last year, which gave MTA management a stronger hand in dealing with the operators’ union, reaching an agreement between the two parties before the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1st, seems like a tall order.

The firm would handle local media outreach during the negotiations and handle outreach to the Board of Supervisors.

Labor issues are often tricky and can easily spark public outcry, just look at what happened in Wisconsin.

Whether well-written press releases and a team skilled at the cat-herding that is wrangling the Board of Supervisors will help in their negotiations seems dubious because, at the end of the day, it’s looking increasingly likely that the negotiations will fail–thereby forcing both parties into binding arbitration. In that case, the best press flacks in the world won’t be able push the final decision in either direction.

Even if the PR firm turns out to spit-shine the agency’s image into a paragon of efficiency for the entire public transit world (stranger things have theoretically happened), there will still inevitably be a chorus of critics calling this a waste of money that the agency didn’t have in the first place.

And This Is Why You Were Late To Work This Morning

It’s because the N-Judah rear-ended a car at 24th and Judah. Or it might have been because some thoughtful soul abandoned their automobile on the J-Church tracks next to Dolores Park.

How Fucked is Muni?

At this very second? Check for yourself and find out.

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