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Cleaning up graffiti on Muni costing transit agency millions

Graffitied vehicles are no strangers to Muni’s passengers, who may even have developed a fondness for the bright-painted vehicles over the years. The agency itself, however, is fed up.

The city transit agency said at Tuesday's board of directors meeting that over 1,100 graffiti incidents are occurring on its buses and light-rail vehicles, as well as at bus stops, each week and the costs are adding up.

According to John Haley, Muni’s director of operations, the price of cleanup now exceeds $12.5 million a year – the equivalent of putting three new light-rail vehicles in service.

“Resources used for the cleanup could be used for other critical functions for Muni,” said Haley.

He also said that, depending how badly vandals deface them, some Muni vehicles must be shut down in order to clean the vehicles.“We've had to put vehicles out of service before and it really puts a disservice to Muni riders,” Haley said.

Joining in the fight against graffiti are on-board video cameras and a passenger hotline to text transit officials of graffiti incidents as they occur.  Muni forwards the text to the San Francisco Police Department, which deploys an officer to the targeted vehicle. The transit agency said police have made 53 arrests of graffiti vandals since January of 2010, and has received financial restitution from at least four vandals.

As a result, in the first three months of this year the number of reported graffiti incidents fell from 53 to 24 from the same period last year, according to the agency.

Muni driver Ezequiel Mendez has had to deal with several “taggers” on his bus in the past. He said if he sees it happening on his vehicle, he kicks the offenders off. But he also said it's difficult to keep on eye on the back of the longer Muni buses, where most graffiti occurs.

“Since I just drive 30- to 40-foot buses, I can see all the way back. But when driving the 60-foot articulated, it's way harder to control graffiti,” said Mendez.

Haley says more needs to be done to combat the problem, including installing better video camera equipment inside and outside the vehicles, which will help capture more vandals and get restitution. He is trying to secure about $13 million in grants to upgrade the equipment.

But for any significant change to occur, he said, there must be a “change in attitude” within the agency and among Muni’s passengers to not accept graffiti on their vehicles.

Muni riders are encouraged to report graffiti attacks in Muni vehicles by texting the four digit bus number to (415) 710-4455.

Breakdown of Costs

Maintenance Staff: $9 million

Staff Overtime: $1 million

Materials and Supplies: $1 million

200 Partial Vehicle Repaints: $500,000

Complete Vehicle Repaint: $1 million

Total: $12.5 million

Source: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency