Muni is about to get a major technological overhaul. For the over 700,000 San Franciscans who ride it everyday, these improvements couldn’t come soon enough.

Supes Vote Unanimously for Improvements

On Tuesday, San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve a $24.1 million contract aimed at restoring and enhancing Muni’s outrageously outdated central communication system – some might call it vintage… According to Vince Harris, SFMTA director of capital programs and construction, the contract was awarded to Fremont-based Blocka Construction Inc., and work will begin next month.

The project, which will span one and a half years, will include improvements to Muni’s central control, platform displays and public address systems at the nine Muni metro stations, as well as the monitoring system used for the 26 power substations used for trolley buses and light-rail vehicles. The contract also includes the construction of an entirely new subway Fiber Broadband Network system, connecting all underground infrastructures.

The technological improvements will seek to shorten delays, increase response times for any disruptions, and make it easier to replace defective parts. In the event of a power shortage, the new system will be in place to provide backup services.

Many might say that a decision like this has been a long time coming, but in the meantime, to say that Muni riders have not had expectations met is a massive understatement. In a 2011 San Francisco Examiner poll, nearly 30% of those surveyed said that Muni was either “poor” or “failing” in its timeliness. In contrast, only 4% responded “excellent.”

The Transit Effectiveness Project, Civic Engagement and Reset San Francisco

The city and county of San Francisco conducted a comprehensive transit study known as the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) a few years ago. Throughout the study, they worked to assess the quality, reliability, and general effectiveness of Muni as it pertained to its 200+ million annual riders.

In 2011, using the substantive data obtained in the city’s analysis, then-Assessor, now-Assembly member Phil Ting and Reset San Francisco empowered the public to join the conversation, leading a series of 10 town hall meetings to discuss the implications of the city’s findings. Ting led the conversation to crowdsource ideas and feedback from frequent riders.

These town hall meetings allowed San Franciscans, who use and depend on Muni every day, to share their experiences, voice their concerns, and provide critical feedback about performance. From the insight gained from these town halls, Phil Ting and Reset drafted a “Citizens’ Response to the TEP” outlining those concerns and presenting line-specific recommendations for Muni to improve how it serves the people of San Francisco.

A Step in the Right Direction

We here at Reset care deeply about civic engagement, about the public voice, and about encouraging discourse. In approving this contract, the SFMTA has elected, on some level, to hear these voices and address performance-based shortcomings; it is a necessary step toward improving a fundamental part of our city’s (or any metropolitan city’s) infrastructure, its public transportation.