Future of the 26-Valencia Line Uncertain

26_line.jpgFlickr photo: Octoferret

Eliminating the 26-Valencia, a route with low ridership and parallel service only a block away on Mission Street, would save Muni an estimated $2.4 million. But three members of the MTA Board expressed concerns at their meeting this week about staff’s proposal to eliminate the 26, and it followed public testimony from a few riders who worried they wouldn’t have a convenient way to get to St. Luke’s Hospital.

Director Cameron Beach led the charge, saying he wants to see the line kept in place from 5th and Mission to at least Glen Park Station: "It provides an alternate service for seniors and disabled on the Mission corridor and as somebody mentioned today, it also provides the most direct service to St. Luke’s Hospital." Directors Jerry Lee and Bruce Oka said they agreed with Beach’s remarks, and Chair Tom Nolan said staff should figure out a way to keep direct service to the hospital.

Julie Kirschbaum, the MTA program manager for the Transit Effectiveness Project, told the Board that not eliminating the 26 would be a challenge "because it represents so many resources." 

"What we are recommending is that we re-route the 27 so that it does go right past the hospital. It would provide connections from both downtown and the Inner Mission to St. Luke’s Hospital," she said.

It will ultimately be up to the Board to decide whether to keep the 26. Staff’s final recommendations on how to deal with a $129 million deficit are due out early next week. The Board is expected to adopt a final budget next Thursday, and then it goes to the Board of Supervisors.

  • NoeValleyCat

    Save the 26! Want to know why there are so few riders on the 26! Because it’s so unreliable. Ask anyone who takes that bus and you’ll find that waits from 20-30 minutes between buses are normal. I would much rather take a quick and clean 26 rather than any of the crowded and uncomfortable buses that chug slowly down Mission (…and then stop at a each light and then stop on the other side of the light for the stop and then lurch forward a few dozen feet only to stop again at the next light–three stops for each light, that’s cost-effective?).

    Here’s a much better idea: Move a bus route off Mission and onto Valencia. The traffic (both car and human) is more manageable. AND add buses to the 26 route. Moving some riders off the already crowded Mission buses and onto Valencia distributes time, delays and costs. I’d be willing to bet that the speed and efficiency of doing this would more than make up for it’s expense.

  • Dave Snyder

    Even better idea. Manage the traffic on Mission.

    I was riding to work the other day at 8:45 a.m., peak time, and a 26-Valencia passed me at 16th Street with three people on it!

    In tight budget times, there’s no excuse for that.

  • Granted this probably represents some ignorance of the process, but it seems the MTA is doing quite a bit of hemming and hawing about implementation of the TEP recommendations. We were talking about the 26 elimination a year ago; and the fact that this (and the same for other lines too, like the 6, 33, 66 etc) is still a topic of earnest debate indicates to me that TEP copped out a bit in their recommendations to kibosh the small neighborhood-serving lines with low ridership.

    Where I used to feel low ridership was a fault of the usership (ie. if you’re not riding your neighborhood line you don’t deserve to have it) I now feel that low ridership on lines like the 26 is largely a function of chronic degradation of service on those lines. By Muni’s own admission they “borrow” drivers and equipment from less significant routes to abate missed runs on the routes that serve more people/more direct routes/commute service, which results in lower quality service on neighborhood lines. When the next prediction for a 26 (or a 56, or even a 43) is 30+ minutes, you know there was a missed run, likely because they “borrowed” resources to serve other lines. After a period of time of increasing intervals between runs OF COURSE vernacular users will start to view that line as unreliable and make different choices. Low ridership is the chicken, not the egg. In deprioritizing lines like these because they aren’t commute arterials, you marginalize the parts of the population who don’t work 9-5 in the CBDs… people like students, service industry & healthcare workers, senior citizens and the disabled who depend on the routes to get to city hospitals and medical offices. Depriving mostly-residential neighborhoods of public transit in and out compromises their social and economic stability as well. ESPECIALLY in a city where simple topography is the reason for such a comprehensive (and yes sometimes duplicative) network of surface transit.

    I don’t know if the 26 in its current form is the answer, but I think it’s a symptom of a larger failing of the TEP reform efforts.

  • Word, Mr. Snyder.

    The 14 is crowded because it serves so many people from Daly City to downtown. That demand would just never shift to Valencia St. The problem isn’t too many people riding the 14, it’s too few resources being dedicated to SF’s most heavily ridden corridor. Part of the reason those resources aren’t going where the are needed is that the 26 is using them to carry three people at a time.

  • If we save the 26, then why not the 53? Which is often packed with folks and my bike hanging off the front. I mean at some point folks, tough decisions, tough decisions gotta be made.

    The Mission St corridor is a joke. So many users on those buses, and the traffic is a nightmare. Just toll it, restrict it, shut it down to private cars during rush hour and there would be a huge improvement, enough to have cash left over to run the 26 and the 53. But then how would people get to Medjool???

  • well said, Megan. That is exactly the issue with the 26 – unreliability. For people who live right between the Glen Park BART and the 24th BART, I find it very useful to getting the the BART – much faster than the Mission Street buses. Also, if you ride it in the middle of the day, you will see it is often pretty full, especially with the older folks who need it to go to the hospital. Cameron Beach is right : at least keep it running from 24th Street to the Glen Park BART.

  • h

    we MUST ged RID of the gosh-darn 26 already! We cannot run a transit system like this with a line running down every street in the city providing front-door service to every single major building. The 26 is a remnant of many decades ago when there were competing private and public transit systems in the City. Somehow, the 26 has managed to straggle on. We need to concentrate our services on the major corridors and stop pouring millions down the drain each year propping up these marginal services. It’s not like service to the areas served by the 26 will be unserved. For goodness sake there’s countless buses on Mission only 1 BLOCK away! Anyone who wants to save the 26 clearly doesn’t share the bigger vision of improving transit, which means cutting the waste and the non-essential services and modernizing the whole system. If you were to design a transit system from scratch in SF, you wouldn’t put duplicative service like that on Mission and on Valencia, unless you had unlimited resources. Further, Valencia Street is a key bike route, and buses significantly conflict with bikes. It’s just a fact (I’m a cyclist). It will be a benefit to everyone to eliminate the 26. Few people will even recognize it’s gone. We can’t keep holding on to bus lines that 25 people use, when major lines are overcrowded and need attention.

  • One idea proposed during the 2003 Southeast Mission Pedestrian Safety Working Group project that went absolutely nowhere was to ban all turns off Mission between Cesar Chavez and 16th, or at least at key intersections like 24th or for certain hours of the day. Because of heavy pedestrian crosswalk use, right-turning vehicles must wait, backing up traffic — often buses — behind them.

  • theo

    If we can’t find a way to cut a low-frequency, short-run bus route just one block away from two major high frequency bus lines, then we deserve the $5 fares and 30 minute headways we’re going to get.

    ‘h’ is absolutely right. This is a legacy route that would never be implemented today, and canceling it will improve Valencia St. for cyclists and pedestrians.

    What’s next?
    Save the 2, 3, and 4?
    Restore the Key System?
    The Berkeley Auto Ferry?
    1-California service to Sutro Baths?
    Reroute the 22 so shipworkers can get to their jobs at Hunter’s Point!

    Getting a bit carried away — but come on, if you can’t see this is change for the better, then despite what you tell yourself, you’re a conservative.

  • theo

    “Move a bus route off Mission and onto Valencia. The traffic (both car and human) is more manageable. AND add buses to the 26 route. Moving some riders off the already crowded Mission buses and onto Valencia distributes time, delays and costs. I’d be willing to bet that the speed and efficiency…”

    There’s a reason that you don’t find parallel bus lines anywhere — it’s incredibly inefficient. Both in terms of resources, and passenger time. Since no one knows which bus will come first, passengers end up waiting about twice as long as they would if there were one line.

    For efficiency, you run buses along one route with fast boarding and short headways, i.e. Bus Rapid Transit.

    Your proposal would make Mission buses twice as crowded as they already are. It would, however, significantly improve service for hipsters along the Valencia corridor. I can’t think of a better way to increase the social inequality of Muni service.

  • Why is it Muni’s problem that there are bad health care options in SF? Is the only reason to save the 26 b/c it serves St. Luke’s?

    I wonder if the main reason people want to save the 26 is b/c its safe as compared to the 14 and 49? And probably the main reason the Mission buses are unsafe is b/c they are over-crowded and the TEP might have solved that problem by adding service to that corridor. But now with budget cuts we won’t see the added service.

  • The comments seem to focus on the glaring inefficiency of parallel Mission/Valencia lines, without any regard for the other areas served by this particular line, and that’s where the “streamlining” logic falls short. Yes it’s clearly an unnecessary reproduction of service between 14th & 26th, but it serves other areas too, which is the core functionality of these neighborhood lines derided as vestigial.

    People gripe about seeing empty 37-Corbetts in the Haight without realizing they’re nearly full in the hilltops of Twin Peaks and Corona Heights, because there are no “efficient” arterial routes taking the people who live in those neighborhoods home. The 26 is clearly a scapegoat here; I’m not saying it’s packed between Glen Park and SF State, but it does provide service on streets where there is none otherwise. You can villify seemingly duplicative service when you’re able-bodied enough to ride a bike or walk a mile, but if you’ve had a hip replacement or you’re pregnant, scaling a quarter mile of sheer uphill is not a mobility option and I believe that’s a big part of why public transit exists. (an example: the proposed changes on the 6 line would eliminate Ashbury Heights in favor of DUPLICATING service on clogged Haight.)

    I’m about as liberal as they come, so I don’t think “conservative” is the right label for stepping cautiously and considering the impact on all stakeholders. Deride the historic underpinnings all you want, but rhetoric like “cutting waste” and “modernizing” to better suit the needs of one population over another (under the guise of being universally beyond reproach) is what got us Westside Courts, Fox Plaza, and a central freeway. I don’t think it’s unwise to stop and consider the implications. This isn’t a flat city, or one designed with the kind of cohesive organization that moves people in the kind of predictable patterns that make transit planners’ jobs easier.

  • Theo: since you brought it up, yes we should save the 2/3/4. The 2/3/4 is absolutely packed at rush hour, as are the supposedly-redundant parallel services on the 1 and 38 and 38L (not to mention the 1AX, 1BX, 38AX, and 38BX). You have a bus corridor served by 10 lines that is crammed solid at rush hour, so you want to cut three of the lines? How is that supposed to help unless you add the same number of coaches the the 38 or 1? And if you do add that many coaches on the 38 or 1, isn’t that going to just backup traffic on Geary and Sacramento?

    Post and Sutter are both relatively low car traffic and both have dedicated bus lanes east of Gough. If it’s necessary to eliminate them mid-day, that’s fine by me, but at rush hour I don’t see how you can even think of cutting them.

  • h

    megan –
    you bring up a good point, but you just point out the problem of your argument to save the 26. You don’t actually want to save the 26 — you want to ensure that an important gap is not created in service where there is no closeby alternative (bet CC and Glen Park). Fine! But that doesn’t mean that the 26 should be saved. The 26 is a long route of which the stretch you’re talking about is a small piece. That piece could be equally served by extending or rerouting another line and completely cutting the portion of the 26 north of CC.

    Yes, it IS important to duplicate service on Haight. That’s the whole freaking point!!!!!!! Aaarrrrggghhhh! Haight, like Mission, is a primary corridor with heavy demand, and it’s where multiple, duplicative services should overlap and run, so that the crowds and loads can get dispersed with frequency and no one has to wait for a bus for 40 minutes because they’re getting passed by full bus after full bus, while buses (like the 6) with excess capacity are puddling along a couple blocks away through the hills. It’s far better and more straightforward to funnel multiple bus lines down core parts of core corridors than to disperse them in a low-frequency, low-ridership pattern around the neighborhoods.

    The public policy objective of public transit is to serve the greatest number of people the best and to get the most number of people on transit. It’s not to be a private taxi service for a small number of people with special needs who are dispersed around the city. That’s what we have paratransit and taxis for. It would far more cost effective for the MTA to pay for individual taxi and paratransit rides to these people who need special service than it is to provide a dedicated all-day bus that runs near their house for the couple times a day that they might want to take the line. It just doesn’t work. The majority of the people, and the entire city and region and environment suffer because these few people who cling to “their” bus stop and “their” bus line are ultimately going to collapse the the system under its own weight at worst, at best ensure that the system cannot improve enough to create a more broadly attractive service for more people.

  • Megan… I understand your concern for the vulnerable populations, but with limited budgets where do you draw the line? Do you want to cut mainline routes to supplement parallel routes?

    Everyone in this forum talk all they want about tolling Mission or restricting turns… it’s impossible to implement immediately. Environmental reviews take years, not to mention numerous challenges from residents. We have a budget shortfall now.

    It would be more cost effective to address the needs of elderly or handicapped with paratransit service. There are so few (relative to the overall ridership of Muni) physically infirm people that it’s a waste sending 40′ buses with unionized labor to serve the populations. Paratransit can be easily contracted out privately.

    St. Luke’s is 0.13 miles from Mission St., 14ft. in elevation higher… which makes the trek not much different than crossing a suburban hospital parking lot.

    Peak hour services are nearly as expensive to operate as all day services. Muni has to pay drivers for a continuous shift. Relaxing this union rule could save Muni millions.

  • h –

    I don’t think we’re that far apart ideologically. No, I’m not advocating saving the 26 necessarily, and I said that. I’m saying that without addressing the root causes of low ridership you don’t reform the system effectively, and the 26 (as an archetype for neighborhood routes all over town) has other functionality besides the Valencia portion of the route, so the “duplicative” argument is too simplistic.

    Speaking of duplicative, I mostly agree with your Haight argument, but here too it’s more nuanced. Haight’s problem now is too much duplication in the way of efficiency, hence the elimination of the 7. Let’s get real: the 6 is being used as a band-aid while we wait to figure out how to prioritize transit over cars on Haight. Haight simply can’t be your dream “core corridor” until we get cars off it. So, meanwhile, people in Ashbury Heights who *actually do use that functionality* get fucked. The reason for this neighborhood based service and perceived ownership over lines that serve residential enclaves is that most of this city IS residential enclaves. We have nowhere near the density required for transit to function in the desired economies of scale.

    I can’t even start on paratransit, but I’m with you on that (grew up in taxi industry.) Just to say, there’s a difference between immobility and just varying levels of fitness in the citizenry.

    For now, it’s bike time. Off to Justin Herman Plz.

  • Uhm, the distance from the closest current 14 stop to st. lukes hospital is a tenth of a mile.

    http://tr.im/jF0o

    The 14 stop could be moved on Mission to cut that down 397 ft.

    http://tr.im/jF0X

    5th to 30th: the 14 is one or less large blocks away.
    30th to City College: the J is two or less small blocks away.

    Cut it and be done with it… we’re burning 2.4 million / 365 = $6,500 a day.

  • theo

    Jeffrey,

    You have a bus corridor served by 10 lines that is crammed solid at rush hour, so you want to cut three of the lines? How is that supposed to help unless you add the same number of coaches the the 38 or 1?

    That is, exactly, the TEP plan. More service on the 38 and 1. At the cost of at most one block’s walk, you are guaranteed a bus every 5 minutes.

    And if you do add that many coaches on the 38 or 1, isn’t that going to just backup traffic on Geary and Sacramento?

    No, why? California and Geary aren’t at capacity.

    You and NoeValleyCat seem to think of transit as like driving, where if a street is busy, you take the next street over.

    When a transit line is busy, that doesn’t mean you should add a parallel line. It means you should increase the service frequency. Aside from the benefit of knowing a bus will always show up soon, there are many other benefits. More service means more even distribution of passengers, fewer crush loads, and fewer buses getting backed up until you see 2 or 3 running behind each other.

  • theo

    It’s interesting to think about how public transit might change if, in 20 years, every transit user is carrying a smartphone-type device.

    One possibility is that you could request transit service from anywhere to anywhere, and get routed onto some vehicle (or multiple vehicles) driving around like a fleet of gypsy cabs or SuperShuttles.

    Another possibility is that you could ask it the fastest way to travel on existing lines (like Google Transit + Nextbus + traffic information). If everyone were doing this and service were frequent enough, you’d never have to wait for a bus, and it *might* be more efficient in some very dense areas to have lots of lines running 2 blocks apart instead of transit corridors 4-6 blocks apart.

    We’re at least 20 years away from that future, and for now we need to stick to transit engineering policies that actually work, meaning: large transit corridors with very frequent service, less frequent connecting services, and infrequent (and small) neighborhood services.

    Not some grid of infrequent service legacy lines like the 26 which only made sense when there were multiple competing bus companies that had to run on different streets.

  • jdub

    @h – The public policy objective of public transit is to serve the greatest number of people the best and to get the most number of people on transit. It’s not to be a private taxi service for a small number of people with special needs who are dispersed around the city.

    Yes. Understanding this concept would allow us to finally deal with the bus stop spacing issue. Nat Ford himself noted in his Streetsblog interview that some buses stop twice on the same block. If our bus system is to serve the masses effectively, it must be fast and reliable. Stopping at every block in order to serve those with special needs is counter to that objective and must end. Running a faster bus system allows greater frequency with the same number of drivers and buses which would improve not only the 14 but all other bus routes as well.

    The question is will the board of supervisors allow Muni to operate a transit system free of politics where each bus stop and bus line has a political constituency? We will know shortly.

  • DaveO

    It’s so disappointing that the commissioners are so weak-kneed. To have any hope of having an efficient public transit system, parallel lines need to be eliminated and stops consolidated. Getting rid of the 26 should be a slam dunk. Yes, there are going to be some people who would fare better than others were this to happen, but that’s life.

  • david vartanoff

    Consider that for several weeks in the PM, Mission has been seriously short of buses. Saturday for instance one 14L, two 49s, and SIX 14 locals were not out. Long before I sign off on gutting lighter usage routes like the 26, the not outs must be fixed. Demoting Inspectors down to driving, actually hiring the necessary drivers, whatever it takes, EIGHT buses missing along Mussion is unacceptable!

  • h

    @megan –
    you’ve got it backwards. the reason the 7 was axed as a full-time line (note – it still runs in the peak) was because it didn’t provide any service that wasn’t already being provided by the 71 on the same street, as the 7 didn’t travel anywhere the 71 didn’t. That’s why it made sense to cut the 7 back to peak hour only to add extra capacity in the highest ridership section of the route, which is east of Stanyan. If the 71 had increased frequency or had a “short line” run then we wouldn’t need the 7. The 7 isn’t about covering additional ground, it’s about covering capacity on the core corridor. They might as well have changed the name of the 7 to the 71-Short. It’s kind of like when BART runs trains in the peak hours that don’t go to the end of the lines and turn back at like Daly City or 24th Street. That’s a different situation than the 26 and the 14. I think if 26 ran down Mission north of CC, I would be less eager to axe it. The point of having a core corridor is so that there is a bus coming every 2 or 3 minutes. There’s absolutely no reason why people should have to wait on Mission and get passed by full buses while the 26 is toodling along mostly empty a block away every 20 minutes. It’s a complete waste of capacity to run the 26 on Valencia.

  • The 27 route currently ends at Mission and Cesar Chavez: Why not just have it go one more block to Valencia and Cesar Chavez? So easy.

  • Gillian Gillett

    St. Luke’s Hospital is licensed for 221 beds, but has an average daily census of ~50 patients. For security purposes, St. Luke’s closes all its doors on Cesar Chavez and Valencia Streets between 6.30 and 7pm – leaving the only access point into St. Luke’s through the ER at 27th Street & San Jose Avenue. The proposed future rebuild of St. Luke’s moves the entrance to 27th Street & San Jose Avenue.

    Very, very few people reach St. Luke’s via the 26 bus. And as long as we’re using St. Luke’s to guilt people, my 70-year old mother, who is dying of liver cancer and has neuropathy in her legs, reaches St. Luke’s via the 67, Mission Street and a short walk.

    It is bad public policy and unfair to subsidize a redundant, massively underutilized route when that money could instead go to improving the service on one of the city’s most important transit corridors – Mission Street.

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