Muni’s all-door boarding plan sees modest improvements in waiting times

Five of Muni’s busiest routes have seen a decrease in the time spent loading passengers at bus stops since the transit agency’s all-door boarding policy went into effect in July. Photo by Jason Winshell/SF Public Press

Published August 13, 2012
San Francisco Public Press

Muni’s all-door boarding policy that went into effect July 1 appears to be working – although riders on at least one line are complaining about everyone not lining up at the front.

A transit agency report found that passengers spent less time waiting at bus stops for riders to board while use of the back door became more frequent. The agency timed bus loading at stops with 10 or more passengers waiting to board.

The preliminary report highlights the 1-California, 1AX- California, 14-Mission, 38-Geary and 49-Van Ness /Mission routes.

The 1-California saw an average decline of about six seconds at bus stops that had 10 or more passengers boarding. If this were to hold true for at least 20 of the 1-California’s bus stops east of Van Ness Avenue, riders could save as much as two minutes of traveling time from home to work, said Muni spokesman Paul Rose.

The 1-California saw a 116 percent increase in riders using the back door compared to the same time last year when it was illegal for passengers to board the back of Muni buses.

Roughly 10 percent of riders would board the back of the bus last year, but now up to 40 percent are using the back doors, Rose said.

The 1AX-California, an express bus from the Richmond District to downtown, saw a whopping 1,186 percent increase of riders using the back door. Traditionally, express bus riders lined up at the bus stops to board the front door, but the new policy has changed all that.

Riders on the 1AX have complained to Muni that queuing in front of the bus has become more difficult now that riders are able to board at the back of the bus. Those who wait in the line at the front of the bus are finding that seats are full by the time they board.

The 1AX saw a six second decrease in boarding times at two of its stops in the downtown area.

The 14 and 49 Muni lines saw little change in boarding times, but did see increases in riders boarding through back of the bus.

The 38-Geary, which has a weekday average ridership of 25,000, saved more than a minute during the commute home.

“When we look at situations where large numbers of passengers are boarding a vehicle, the preliminary numbers suggest that the policy is working,” Rose said.

Muni has received 58 complaints since the new policy went into effect. More than half of the complaints were about drivers not opening the back doors. Most of the rest were from express bus riders.

Muni officials plan to also look at revenue and entire route times of its buses as more information becomes available. They have claimed that the all-boarding policy could generate more revenue for the transit agency.

Average time saved at bus stops with 10 more passengers

1-California: 6.2 seconds

1AX-California: 6.2 seconds

38-Geary: 4 second

14-Mission: 0.4 seconds

49-Van Ness/Mission: 0.2 seconds

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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in MUNI


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Muni train switchbacks insult San Francisco riders, says watchdog panel

The N-Judah usually gets the most complaints about switchbacks, says a report from the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury. Photo by Jason Winshell / SF Public Press.

Published August 10, 2012
San Francisco Public Press

You get on a Muni train headed for work in the morning, with five minutes to spare before your employer starts to dock your pay. You squeeze onto a crowded N-Judah and all seems to be going well until … the operator tells everyone to get off just before entering the Market Street tunnel so he can “switch back” on the outbound track to avoid vehicle bunching.

Muni gets points for making its trains meet a theoretical schedule. You, on the other hand, arrive late and get yelled at by your boss.

You’re not the only one who’s frustrated.

San Francisco’s civil grand jury — a kind of officially sanctioned panel of city residents who report on what doesn’t work in county government — recommended on Thursday that Muni officials do away with the practice of switchbacks. That’s when riders are forced off a Muni train before it makes its usual final stop, and heads in the opposite direction to make up for lost time elsewhere.

Muni uses switchbacks during transit delays and traffic jams to help put the whole system back on schedule. John Haley, Muni’s director of operations, said his agency approves switchbacks during non-peak times, and only if there is another vehicle coming within five minutes.

“We recognize that anytime you do a switchback, it has an inconvenience to the riders,” Haley said. “So we do everything we can to minimize that.”

The civil grand jury report said switchbacks were an inconvenience for riders. The report recommends eliminating switchbacks except for accidents, other emergencies or equipment breakdowns.

The panel surveyed other transportation agencies to find out if switching back trains was the common practice that Muni officials claimed. In a comparison that included BART and transit systems in Paris, Boston and Oakland, none used switchbacks to reduce delays except Santa Clara Valley’s. From this research, the report concluded that Muni “expresses a callous disregard for San Francisco passengers.”

Haley disputed the finding that other transit agencies did not use the practice, and disagreed with the basis for some of the comparisons. He said BART does not operate in the same high-traffic, street-level environment that Muni trains must negotiate. He also noted that Boston’s Green Line does switchbacks every day.

The civil grand jury said the transit agency should “effectively use new technology” to solve some of its most chronic problems. On a tour of Muni’s monitoring facility, panel members reported finding it understaffed, with no direct communication with vehicle operators.

Haley countered that the report made no mention of improvements now underway, including staffing changes and a new radio communications system. He added that in six week the NextMuni online prediction system will be upgraded, letting riders with smartphones know when a train is switched back.

This is not the first time Muni officials have gotten heat for the practice of switchbacks. The Board of Supervisors held hearings in 2010 and 2011 because of complaints from riders. Most came from Sunset District residents who said switchbacks came too often on the N-Judah and L-Taraval lines.

“At a time when we’re aggressively reaching out to talk about the things that we are doing and need to do more of, and what are the right kinds of things to improve the service, this report contributes nothing to that dialogue,” Haley said. He said Muni will have a formal response to the grand jury report in the coming weeks.

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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in MUNI, SFMTA


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Geary bus rapid transit project poses design challenges for city transportation planners

Conceptual alternatives for Geary Corridor Bus Rapid Transit. Source: San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

Published July 25, 2012
San Francisco Public Press

Those hoping for a quicker ride down Geary Boulevard on a shiny new bus rapid transit system will have to be patient. Current plans say it won’t go into service until 2019 at the earliest.

Bus rapid transit, which is meant as a cheaper substitute to light rail by using special buses in dedicated traffic lanes, is set to debut on Van Ness Avenue in 2016. However, design challenges and funding are slowing down plans for the Geary route.

Transportation planners from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the lead agency in planning for the project, have spent more than a year researching ideas for the best way to implement the estimated $200 million plan. Currently, the 38-Geary, 38L, 38AX and 38BX bus lines, which have a combined 50,000 passengers a day, run along the corridor that connects riders to the inner and outer Richmond District and downtown San Francisco.

Planners said bus rapid transit on Geary Boulevard could save riders up to eight minutes of travel time on the 38L (between 33rd Avenue and Gough Street) and boost ridership by up to 25 percent (depending on the street design). The current plan has dedicated transit lanes starting at 25th Avenue and ending at Gough Street, with the 38L as the line using those lanes. But two major intersections between the starting and end points have complicated the design process, said Chester Fung, principal planner for the Geary project.

Masonic Avenue and Fillmore Street have underpasses, which separate traffic on Geary Boulevard for those motorists who want to connect to those streets.

“It’s relatively complex and poses constraints to us in how we provide both the dedicated bus lane and how we provide a transit station in this area,” Fung said.

Fung said planners have gone through at least a dozen designs just for those two intersections during the past year, but have narrowed them down to three. One option is keep to have bus rapid transit above the underpass (street level), using side roads. Parking and loading zones along those streets would be affected, but the plan would not require new transit stations.

The other options call for putting a center lane for bus rapid transit using either a single or double median, but that would require putting transit centers at the underpass. Fung said a staircase and elevator would be needed at the top of the underpass so riders can access the bus stop. Fillmore Street has a similar problem. Because of an 8 percent grade below the underpass, it would not be possible to put transit stations in the center unless the underpass is filled and the streets are leveled. Fung said that could cost as much as $50 million.

Muni rider Johanna Ward, who attended one of three community meetings held by the authority last month, said the project looked “very promising.” Ward was not fond of the idea of putting a bus stop below the underpass. She said it would be difficult for riders who have baby strollers to walk up and down the stairs and was worried about the elevators malfunctioning, which they often do currently in the Muni Metro stations.

Further complicating the timing of the project is a lack of funding. Fung said the authority is working on applying for a federal grant. It is also trying to persuade the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to help with funding. The authority could get as much as $75 million from the federal grant and $50 million from the local sales tax, leaving it $75 million short. A final design is supposed to be chosen by 2014 with construction beginning in 2017.

Riders who missed the three community meetings can visit the Geary bus rapid project website to submit comments or to stay up-to-date on the project. Link:

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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in MUNI


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Update: Outdated Muni bus cameras could get replaced

Muni’s current surveillance system on buses are based on 1990 technology. (Creative Commons image by Flickr user Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures)

Update 07/18/12: The MTA directors approved the contract at their Tuesday board meeting.

Muni is looking to replace its surveillance cameras on buses. A staff report from the transit agency said it would not make sense to fix the cameras on buses now because the technology is from 1990.

The Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors will vote Tuesday to decide on contracting with Henry Bros. Electronics, Inc. in the amount of about $6 million. If approved, 357 Muni vehicles could be equipped with new video surveillance systems over the next four years.

The new video surveillance system could also let Muni staff and San Francisco police to view real-time video and audio from 500 yards away.

Funding for the project is through a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

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Posted by on July 16, 2012 in MUNI, SFMTA


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MTC committee moves forward three funding options for transit youth fare programs

Supervisor David Campos talks with San Francisco youth outside the Metropolitan Transportation Commission office. (Photo by Jerold Chinn)

San Francisco youth will have to wait two weeks for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to decide on whether or not to fully fund the city’s request of $5 million for a 22-month pilot program to hand out free Muni Fast Passes for low-income youth.

Commissioners met Wednesday to discuss three funding options that not only include the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency program, but also the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and Alameda County (AC Transit) who are also requesting funds to support similar programs.

Santa Clara County wants funding to hand out discounted monthly passes for low-income adults who do not qualify for transportation benefits. The authority is requesting $2 million for the 24-month pilot program.

Alameda County Transportation Commission wants to rejuvenate its student pass program. In 2002, the commission funded a program that provided free bus passes for low-income middle and high school students, and reduced the cost of the youth monthly pass. After the first year, the program was halted because of AC Transit’s financial situation. Alameda is requesting $500,000 for development of its project and $4.5 million.

All three options were moved forward to the full MTC commission without no recommendation from the MTC committee. The commission will meet again on July 25.

Funding Options
1. Focus on the San Francisco pilot project , but reserve funds from the OneBayArea climate program in the future for pilot programs for Alameda and Santa Clara counties.

2. Fund the San Francisco program ($4 million) and Santa Clara ($1 million). The option would also provide $500,000 to Alameda County to develop its student pass program. Alameda also has a transportation sales tax measure this November. If it passes, the county could get as much as $2.5 million as a match to local money.

3. The last option is start the planning for a regional reduced fare program for low-income youth. Funding though would potentially not be ready until 2013-2014. The details of the program include providing low-income youth with a 50 percent discount of monthly passes.

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Posted by on July 11, 2012 in MUNI, SFMTA


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