At around 8:45 on the morning of Friday, Oct. 18, 78-year-old Cheng Jin Lai was pedaling his bicycle through SoMa, apparently collecting recyclables. Moments later he was dead.
A 27-Bryant bus taking a soft right from 11th Street onto Bryant came into contact with Lai. He fell from his bike and was crushed beneath the bus's right rear tire.
This is disturbing. It's even more so because, as SF Weekly reported last week, a safety device specifically designed to prevent people from being crushed by a bus' back-right tire was missing from this bus.
Muni managers were soon aware that Bus No. 8410 was not equipped with an "S-1 Gard," a bumper-shaped hunk of polyurethane mounted in front of the right rear tire in order to deflect people, animals, or objects. This information, however, was not shared with Muni Director Ed Reiskin. He learned about the missing S-1 Gard four days after Lai's death, from SF Weekly.
Prior to reading that article, Reiskin says, he didn't know what an S-1 Gard was.
Hours later, though, Reiskin called for a total fleet inspection of Muni's buses. Of 801 coaches, the agency claims 14 were missing the device — meaning, even among those struck by buses, Lai was exceptionally unlucky.
Reiskin and other Muni officials, however, took care to note that, in sending buses onto city streets sans S-1 Gards, they weren't violating any "regulatory requirements."
That's true — but it's cold comfort to anyone concerned that, but for a missing part, a death might have been avoided. It's also a violation of Muni policy tracing to 2007 — the year the Orion buses of the sort that killed Lai arrived, with S-1 Gards pre-installed.
In fact, while the mounting brackets for an S-1 Gard remained on Bus No. 8410, the device "had been missing for quite some time," per a Muni source. S-1 Gards fall off when buses go up on a curb or hit an object. Replacing one takes 20 minutes. But that doesn't always happen. "They don't keep enough in stock to reinstall them," says a Muni manager.
While mechanics check S-1 Gards during maintenance sessions and drivers ostensibly look for them during pre-run inspections, no Muni policy forbade a bus missing the device from being put into service.
Not anymore: On Friday, Oct. 25, a fiery Muni memo changed that: "a bus will be grounded and is [out of service] until it has a guard. ... the bus is on hold and not to be in revenue service until repaired, NO exceptions, period. NONE."