SAN FRANCISCO—The Municipal Railway (Muni) is shutting down its service again after some equipment failed and a vital employee tested positive for COVID-19, according to statements from the director of transportation of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) released on Monday, August 24.

The SFMTA shut down the operations of the Muni Metro service for five months, and after three days of restarting them, they were forced to suspend them for “the next several weeks” again.  

According to Bradley Dunn, the SFMTA public information officer, the metro services had been disrupted in the last two days due to failures in a critical component of the overhead infrastructure. 

“This is frustrating because our crews worked tirelessly over the last few months to address deferred maintenance in the tunnels,” said Dunn in an official release on Tuesday, August 25.

An employee in the Transportation Management Center tested positive for coronavirus and some controllers who had contact with the individual had to self- quarantine.  According to the director of transportation Jeffrey Tumlin, this left the agency short on staff to operate Muni safely.

“Our rail system has small teams of amazing technical experts. The system doesn’t work if a few of them are out,” said Tumlin in a statement via Twitter. “It was fear of this scenario that caused us to shut the system in April.”

As a result, the Muni Metro service had to be replaced with buses. According to Tumlin, the transit and customer service teams worked all night to rebuild the transit system and the schedules. Volunteers and ambassadors of the SFMTA were working early on Tuesday to direct passengers from the rail lines to the bus stops and to give more information on the changes as well. 

After a day of operations with the bus substitution, Tumlin said that those lines were working with a decent frequency and he described he was “in awe of the Muni team right now” because the transit service was better than expected. 

“While today’s troubles expose the vulnerabilities of our rail system, they also show the phenomenal resiliency of our buses, and confirm the hard choices we made back in April. COVID is forcing all systems to be more resilient and adaptable,” said Tumlin. 

The Muni Metro service carries about 150,000 essential workers very day. Tumlin said that due to coronavirus, they have a $200 million hole in their annual operating budget and they have lost 30 to 40 percent of their service hours, as well as 80 percent of their capacity.