Muni To Stop Surprising Riders By Aborting Service Mid-Route

Categories: Public Transit
Muni promises fewer truant trams
Muni will end its practice of surprising riders by curtailing service mid-route, according to a new report delivered to the Board of Supervisors. The practice, known in the industry as "short-turn," occurs in response to situations where light-rail trains bunch up because some are behind schedule. In order to avoid a bottleneck in the Muni Metro Tunnel running underneath Market Street, managers and inspectors will sometimes turn a rail car around mid-route, leaving surprised passengers high and dry to wait for the next train.

Under a new policy, Muni won't stop aborting light rail routes. But it will take pains to warn riders that their train will not reach its destination. New practices will include making sure vehicle destination signs display where the train is actually going to end its route -- rather than where it should have gone. Operators will announce to riders when and where they can find a train going to their intended destination. And managers will avoid turning trains around prematurely if there's no train following within five minutes, the report said.

End of the line.jpg
End of the line
It turns out that "short turning" trains has become more routine as Muni managers struggle to keep the system running as smoothly as possible despite lapses in service. On the N-Judah line alone this year there have been an average of more than one short turn per day, with 378 such aborted trips between January and October on the line connecting the ocean to the bayside ballpark. That's up from 226 aborted N-Judah trips in all of 2009.

On the L-Taraval from downtown to the zoo, 97 trains were turned back early last year. From January to October of 2010, 177 trains turned around early, a "short turn" rate increase of around 100 percent.

Riders have not been happy. According to calls to the city's 311 complaint line, riders stuck on, or waiting for, a "short-turned" train have found themselves late, stuck, or hanging around a scary dark platform not knowing when they'll be able to leave.

The Muni report on the problem sampled some of these 311 calls and cited the following complaints:

Announcements were infrequent and there was little communication between Operators and customers; The destinations signs on the LRVs were incorrect; Two back-to-back trains were switched back; Customers had to wait too long for the next train; The T Third Line had too many switched back trains in a row at Third and 23rd Streets; and Switching back trains after 10:00 p.m. may be unsafe for waiting customers.
That's what you get for assuming a train's destination is the one appearing on the sign.

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