Newsom insists Muni is safe to ride

August 4, 2009 6:48:29 PM PDT
Muni is dealing with its second serious crash in less than a month. However, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Muni officials maintain the transit system is safe and heading in the right direction.

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Muni handles 700,000 passengers a day, usually without incident. But now back to back collisions have brought the scrutiny of federal officials, local lawmakers, and the riding public, wondering if Muni is safe.

"It is safe to ride Muni," said Newsom.

Newsom believes safety is a legitimate question after two high-profile collisions in less than a month. The most recent one was Monday night at Market and Noe streets when one historic streetcar was apparently following another more closely than policy allows, crushing an SUV in-between.

Passengers and Muni's preliminary investigation blame the driver of the orange street car. That accident injured six people.

Last month, nearly four dozen were hurt when a light rail vehicle slammed into another. The mayor and Muni chief say that's not the norm.

"I want to give you a specific example. The number of LRV accidents from January to June, comparing year to year, is dropped 37 percent -- the collisions, 37 percent," said Newsom.

According to Muni, in the third quarter of 2003 there were 6.51 bus and rail crashes for every 100,000 miles. The third quarter of this year there have been 5.03.

Here's something that might further slash the numbers. By the end of next month, cameras focused on the driver and the road ahead, will be installed in every single bus.

"That will definitely help us in terms of monitoring performance prior to accidents and it will be used as a preventative tool," said Muni executive director Nathaniel Ford.

Also keeping an eye on drivers, some office staff and managers were reassigned Monday from desk duty to the streets.

One city lawmaker believes it is time to hire an independent safety consultant.

"I think bringing someone from the outside who's worked in another properties and jurisdictions, I think is one of the best things you can do to have accountability," said Supervisor Bevan Dufty.

Muni will be grappling with its safety issues without its chief operating officer. Kenneth MacDonald handed in his resignation Tuesday after three years. ABC7 has been told it has nothing to do with the accidents. However, the chair of Muni's governing board is quoted as saying the resignation gives Muni "an opportunity to tighten things up."

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