| Muni Service Changes, Fast Pass Hike Loom
By Fran Taylor, Member Walk San Francisco Nov 13, 2009
Muni riders whacked by fare increases in July now face the second punch of the old one-two: service changes and a more expensive Fast Pass. Come January, the adult pass will cost $60, or $70 with BART access in the City, which has been free. But first, major changes in service are scheduled for December 5. Not all are cuts, but several lines have had frequency or hours of operation reduced.
One example hits home. The #67-Bernal Heights will cease service at 11 pm. No doubt, ridership on this bus was low late at night, but no alternative exists. A residential home for Alzheimer’s patients at the top of Bernal hill has a night shift that relies on the #67 to travel from BART. Those workers, poorly paid women who gave wonderful care to my mother before she died in 2001, must now scramble to find a ride or face a dark, hilly half-hour walk.
Such personal consequences have fueled debate about the trade-offs involved in Muni route changes ever since the Transit Effectiveness Project was launched a few years ago. The natural inclination to protect one’s own convenience, and others be damned, tended to run amok during the TEP process, with some neighbors protesting the noise or traffic inconvenience of the same buses that riders were clamoring for.
Since TEP ended, riders have at times been completely ignored. At a hearing of the Municipal Transportation Agency last summer, for example, residents along 14th Avenue and members of a nearby synagogue protested the proposed placement of a terminus for the #2-Clement line, which was being shortened. One of the first commenters said the concerns were “safety, safety, safety,” but subsequent commenters blithely suggested that Muni relocate the stop on the other side of Park Presidio Boulevard, forcing riders transferring to the #38-Geary to cross six busy traffic lanes. The neighbors were clearly most upset at the prospect of losing a few parking spaces. Later hearings on the same issue brought out more neighbors from the dueling streets nearby to argue that the bus shouldn’t stop on their blocks either. The comments made it sound like Muni carried toxic waste, not humans. No riders testified.
The December plan is a mixed bag. It does have some enhancements that riders have long campaigned for. A new #9L-San Bruno will provide limited service along Potrero Avenue during weekday hours, stopping only at Silver, Cortland, 24th, 16th, and 11th before hitting the usual Market Street stops or southern destinations. This bus is expected to double #9 frequency at those stops and speed up the trip significantly. Similarly, expanded service on the #14L-Mission will add frequency and hours of operation for selected stops along Mission Street.
Riders who carry the current Muni map around in their heads will have to struggle to visualize route changes. The #10-Townsend will travel over Potrero Hill past San Francisco General Hospital, linking the east Mission with Caltrain. The #12-Folsom will stay on Cesar Chavez past St. Luke’s Hospital and loop around 24th Street BART. The #48-Quintara will have its meandering path across Potrero Hill ironed out.
Two more controversial changes are the elimination of the #26-Valencia and the snipping off of the Mission Street leg of the #67. The #36-Teresita will pick up the Cesar Chavez to Glen Park segment of the #26’s old route, but instead of going downtown, it will hit the hills near Laguna Honda Hospital in the other direction. Bernal Heights residents who use the #67 to get to Safeway and other destinations on Mission Street will have to switch to the #24-Divisadero and the Mission buses.
Another hilly route, the #53-Southern Heights over Potrero Hill, was also eliminated. Many of its streets are covered by other lines or run just a few streets away, but even a few steep blocks can be difficult to walk for residents who have disabilities or are carrying groceries or children.
When the TEP process began, it was clear that riders would face such trade-offs and the new routes would take some getting used to. But the promise that the proposed changes would enhance reliability seemed to make it all worthwhile. In fact, reliability was considered the top priority informing the entire discussion. Now, reliability is mentioned only in passing in the press release from the MTA:
“To help offset the reductions, service enhancements will be implemented. These include adjusting schedules and running times to improve on-time performance and reliability, increasing service on crowded routes, restructuring routes to make new connections, and expanding limited-stop service.”
The concept of “adjusting schedules and running times to improve on-time performance and reliability” inspired some wise guys to remark during the 2005 fight against service cuts that Muni could be perfectly reliable if it ran one bus a day. It just wouldn’t function as a transit system.
Details about all affected routes, with a capsule summary and map for each, are available in Chinese, Spanish, or English at the MTA website: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/home/sfmta.php.
Fran Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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