S.F. Muni Finds Way to Make Buses Run on Time: Cheat

Friday, July 06, 2012


The San Francisco bus system, under pressure by city voters to not be late, has been fudging its on-time reports for more than a decade by redefining a minute as anything less than two minutes.

City residents, fed up with lousy bus service, passed Proposition E in 1999, which defined “on-time” as no more than a minute early or four minutes late and set a goal that the transit agency be successful at least 85% of the time.  

Officials at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, affectionately known as the Muni, were told two years ago that arrival times were regularly rounded off to the lowest minute, shaving about 18% of their travel times. By defining a minute as being up to 119 seconds, the Muni came closer to reaching its mandated goals. But even with the inflated on-time numbers, the agency reported success only 71% of the time during the last three months of 2011.

The Bay Citizen, which uncovered the Muni new math last year, reviewed the agency’s transit records and recalculated that on-time success rate at 61%. The publication also uncovered memos written in 2010 that laid out for agency officials what accounting tricks were being used. One memo, sent from Muni Chief Information Officer Travis Fox to then-CEO Nat Ford, gave a detailed explanation of how the calculations were made.

Two weeks later Ford and then-Mayor Gavin Newsome held a press conference touting the agency’s new 75% on-time record.

Muni travel time numbers have never been good. Its reported on-time numbers for 2001, two years after the voter initiative, were still in the doldrums, 55.4%. But they improved dramatically to 69.9% the next year before leveling out. Bonuses for Muni employees were tied to on-line performance.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Muni Inflated On-Time Performance Rates (by Shane Shifflett and Reyhan Harmanc, The Bay Citizen)

New Math at Muni Led to Decade of Inflated On-Time Performance (by Zusha Elinson, The Bay Citizen)


Muni’s On-Time Performance Still Poor (by Will Reisman, Examiner.com)

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