On June 13, SF Weekly published a cover story about the dire state of Muni maintenance. It opened with pictures and descriptions of Coach No. 5427, the "Glad Bag Bus," which featured an 8-foot swath of its rooftop wires wrapped in frayed plastic bags held in place with zip ties.
By 9 that morning, Coach 5427 was idling on the side of the road. By 10 a.m. it had been pulled out of service and rolled to the Potrero bus yard. Drivers, incidentally, had been complaining about the Glad Bag Bus since at least March 2011. Muni, however, chose to push it into service, every day, for want of a part the price of an iPod.
It turns out the problem on Coach 5427 was that the "roof trough" — a $180 part shielding the wires — had cracked. When it was first noticed, there were no roof troughs in stock. So mechanics made what Muni spokesman Paul Rose describes as "a temporary fix." By the time the parts were available, the vehicle was already back in service — and, for 15 months, no one did anything about it. Rose also confirmed that the material swaddling the bus' conducting wires was indeed plastic garbage bags. He is unsure where Muni mechanics obtained them.
Asked where the accountability lies for a bus being sent out each day with garbage bags in place of a $180 part that was eventually installed in an eight-hour procedure, Rose said, "I don't have a specific name to pass on." When pressed, Rose noted that Muni is "putting policies and practices in place to make sure this will not happen again." No more garbage bags in public view, then.
Rose added that Muni "has to make a full investment in maintenance, and that includes having the available parts and using those parts to make sure the buses are in top condition." Indeed, SF Weekly's story revealed that lacking necessary parts is so common that John Haley, Muni's director of transit, coined the phrase "incomplete PMs" to describe preventive maintenance inspections where parts due for replacement are simply spiffed up and placed back in the vehicle.
Keeping track of which of the 21,000 parts in Muni's system — such as roof troughs — are in stock would also be easier if Muni employed bar-coding. AC Transit adopted bar-coding 20 years ago, and grocery stores began using it 40 years ago, but Muni still hasn't bought into this newfangled technology. Asked if that might be in the offing, Rose replied that "bar-coding is one option we are considering."
In the meantime, garbage bags remain well-stocked.