munipiece2.jpgIt’s Monday and the news from the SFMTA is mixed: Crime’s down, bad press is up, and Nat Ford’s receiving the worst punishment officials can apparently imagine.

PR Firm Is A PR Disaster
Muni recently hired a high-priced PR firm to help manage media relations, as well as outreach to the Board of Supervisors, during the upcoming round of sure-to-be-contentious negotiations with the operators union. On the surface, this hire seems smart because, as Wisconsin’s ongoing labor dispute has made abundantly clear, going after organized labor can have dire consequences–even when voters have already stuck it to the particular union in question themselves.

That is, however, not how news of the hire has played out in the media.

In an editorial on Sunday, the Examiner tore into the beleaguered transit agency for spending $100K to hire agency Goodyear Peterson to interface with the press.

“Facing a $21 million deficit and a history of problematic service, the last thing the SFMTA should be doing is wasting money on outside media consultants,” wrote the paper, “particularly when the agency already has a press office.”

The op-ed goes down the usual list of qualms with Muni (an on-time rate nearly 15% lower than the voter mandated 85%, a little over one in every ten of its workers failing to show up for work on any given day, etc.) and argues that the money Muni is doling out for flacks could be better spent improving service or hiring more security officers to apprehend the fare-evading scofflaws who cost the agency almost $19 million annually.

In retrospect, Muni should have seen this coming. Since it’s so deep in the hole, any money spent on something not 100% devoted to improving service is bound to raise eyebrows. What’s interesting here is that the Examiner blows right past the usual criticism and goes right for the jugular–the 1999 ballot measure that created SFMTA in the first place. The article calls the overarching agency that oversees a majority of San Francisco’s public transit a “failed experiment” and approvingly quotes a BART board member as well as mayoral hopeful Leland Yee who are both of whom advocate dissolving SFMTA.

Yikes, it looks like former Chron scribe Charlie Goodyear and associates have their work cut out for them.

Inside of Buses Safer, Outsides Still Dangerous
While these are scary times for Muni itself, riding on Muni is reportedly safer than ever. Well, safer than last year. But that’s a start. Crime incidents on Muni are down 26% from this time in 2010 with some police districts, particularly the Taraval and Central districts, seeing drops approaching 60%.

SFPD attributes the sharp decline to its controversial COMPSTAT program that analyzes crime data to determine trends–allowing the police to focus their time and attention on the most crime-prone transit lines. Specially, there’s been the implementation of a unit of seven undercover officers on trains and buses as well as the more widespread use of uniformed transit-fare inspectors, whose mere presence act as deterrent to crime, they say.

On the other hand, maybe the reason that crime is down on Muni is that criminals don’t target their victims on the bus anymore, just as soon as they step off.

Muni Driver Does Awesome Thing
It seems like people in this city are only capable of bitching about Muni, to the extent that if Muni did something exemplary the collective heads of every San Franciscan would simultaneously explode like a poorly designed, futuristic robot experiencing a logical fallacy. SF’s premiere Muni maven Greg Dewar recently witnessed this scene and was sufficiently impressed:

I was all set to cook dinner when I realized I was missing an ingredient, so I decided to head to the corner store and buy it, when I heard sirens. Whenever I hear sirens, I’m always one to look and see if said fire engines and ambulances are headed my way or not. In this case, they were. I also noticed the N inbound stopped and the operator directing traffic around the streetcar. My first guess was that somehow the N had lost power, and that the emergency vehicles would have to pass it to keep going. As it turned out, the N WAS the intended destination, due to a medical emergency on board, and the operator was out there directing traffic and flagging the emergency crew.

That’s the sort of take-charge, cool-in-an-emergency public servant that should warm the cockles of even the most jaded transit rider’s heart. Awesome job anonymous Muni operator, feel free to take the day off. Just kidding.

Muni Driver Does Less Awesome Thing
Last Thursday, a Muni driver got into a little tiff with a rider. The rider claims he asked the driver what time the next train was arriving and the driver responded by swearing and spitting at him. The driver, though Muni spokesman Paul Rose, alleges that the passenger was belligerently drunk and screaming at every Muni official in sight.

The police were called and, after some mediation by the boys in blue, everyone agreed not to file charges and simply go home drunk, peeved or both.

Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?
Despite its being popular and successful, the Summer Youth Group Pass may be headed for the chopping block. The program, which gives children at 50 non-profit summer camps across the city free Muni rides during field trips, has received widespread political support from both educators and politicians such as Supervisor David Campos and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who recently wrote a letter urging MTA to continue the program.

Due to budget constraints, the MTA hasn’t decided if they’ll continue the program, which is currently up for renewal. See, guys, this is why people are grumpy when you spend $100,000 on a PR agency.

Park For Longer In The Marina
Let’s say your two games deep into a particularly intense beer pong tournament at Marina hotspot/5th circle of hell Bar None. You’re on the verge of decisively beating two of your old fraternity brothers when suddenly you realize your parking meter is about to expire and you’re going to have to run out and refill it. This is trouble because you know your teammate, Skeeter, is no good under pressure and nailing this next cup is essential in getting that crucial second re-rack. Do you run out to a virtually-guaranteed loss or do you risk an expensive ticket?

Well, you can consider that first-world problem effectively solved because SFMTA is rolling out a federally funded pilot program of new parking meters in Marina with expanded hours. These new meters will allow parking up to four hours. As the program expands to Civic Center, Hayes Valley, Financial District, SoMa, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Mission and the Fillmore, some of the new meters will offer unlimited parking windows.

With increased time limits will also come increased fees–up to $6 an hour in some places and a mind-boggling $18 an hour during special events. It’s a small price to pay for the sweet taste of victory.

Open Call For Muni Artists
Revel Art Collective’s Rachel Cassandra wants your drawings of buses. Or your drawing of how buses make you feel. Or your drawings of how thinking about how buses make you feel makes you feel. Cassandra is seeking artists to pick their favorite/least favorite Muni line and “explore it through any medium you choose: dance, baking, portraiture, video, photography, prose, sound, and more” for a Muni Media Map to be shown at the 100 Days of Spring show at The Schoolhouse on May, 28th.

Here’s the info you need to apply.

Head Of MTA Still Not Fired

At least, that’s what the Chron says: SFMTA chief Nathaniel Ford’s “constant job searching had rankled the powers at City Hall,” they report, but the powers were even more rankled at the idea of having to buy Ford’s contract out, to the tune of nearly $400K. What do you do when you want to punish someone, but can’t afford to fire them? Apparently, make them keep working at the MTA.

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