For Bus Stop Consolidation, a Good Policy Will Be Good Politics

2837940932_603516f64f.jpgFlickr photo: ehoyer

With support for bus stop consolidation building, local leaders are starting to weigh in on political strategies for implementing a new stop spacing policy.

For Pi Ra of the Senior Action Network, the best political strategy is to start with a good policy, before recommendations to eliminate specific stops are out. The MTA has been working on a revised stop spacing policy, but Ra said the draft revised policy isn't adequate.

"So far, it's based solely about if it's flat or not flat, what degree of slope it is, and if it's a transfer or not," said Ra. "But they haven't really put in consideration the demographics of who uses that particular bus stop, and if it's a destination or not. So they should...do all their research and then come up with a criteria to judge whether or not that bus stop should be there."

Ra said he "does think we have too many bus stops, especially in areas where it's really flat," but he thinks the MTA needs to start with a solid policy before it makes specific proposals. "Do you want to go through this again every time you're going to eliminate a bus stop? It'd be best to come up with a criteria that everybody accepts, or closely accepts, so when you decide to eliminate a bus stop, you say, 'here's the criteria, it fits that criteria,' and since this is what we accepted, then you won't have such a big fight over it each time. And they seem like they still haven't learned that particular lesson."

In a presentation on stop spacing in June, the MTA recommended that the revised stop spacing policy should give consideration to "destinations such as schools, hospitals, and other community facilities," though it didn't mention senior centers or similar demographic considerations specifically. The MTA has resisted doing broad demographic surveys, but Ra said taking important institutions into consideration "will be fine," instead of trying to survey demographics at every stop.

Former Mayor Willie Brown, in a recent interview with Streetsblog, said the MTA should craft the best policy it can, and stand behind it. "They ought to make the decision on what's in the public interest and let that be what the supes fight. If the supes fight it the supes fight it. But they cannot and should not have their judgment warped on what's in the best public interest by its possible failure before the board."

The 75-year-old Brown also doesn't think the MTA should be overly concerned with accommodating all riders:

You're never ever going to have a public transportation system that is boutique to riders. Forget it, don't even apologize for the fact that some elderly person's gotta walk two blocks. That's one rider out of 500. In this day and age, with the scooter system and the availability of paratransit vouchers and a paratransit system that eliminates the need for you, who may legitimately not be able to go for two blocks - you are eligible for paratransit, which means that component of Muni, you can call and the paratransit equipment has to come and pick you up. So I wouldn't apologize for the consolidation for efficiency and for cost-effectiveness. I wouldn't apologize at all.

But Ra contests the notion that paratransit is adequate for seniors. Moreover, from a cost standpoint, switching a significant number of riders to paratransit could wipe out much of stop consolidation's savings, so the MTA may be less inclined to simply ignore the needs of riders who are unable to walk several blocks to stops. Brown's point, however, that the MTA needs to stand up for the best policy possible, is common ground with Ra and other advocates.

For now, the Board of Supervisors isn't showing an inclination to fight stop consolidation. That could change, of course, if their constituents aren't sold on the policy.

"I think in general we need to do anything we can to speed up our buses," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, a frequent Muni rider. "I am hoping, but again without having seen it I really can't comment on it, that the MTA's figured out how to do this in a way that's not going to significantly inconvenience folks, and will provide access to our seniors and our disabled folks, and people who would have difficulties getting to more-distanced stops, be sensitive to that."

The MTA won't be holding public meetings on bus stop consolidation until November at the earliest, a month after it presents detailed proposals for stop consolidation to the MTA board. The most important date for the public, however, could be September 15. That's when the MTA is tentatively planning to present its revised Stop Spacing Policy to its board for approval. The content of that policy may determine whether the proposals are judged as fair and necessary, or fizzle like past attempts at stop consolidation have in the face of community opposition and political ambivalence.