Dec 5 Service Changes Catch Chinatown, Vis Valley Muni Riders by Surprise

RevDrJamesMcCrayJr.jpgMarlene Tran speaks with MTA Board Vice Chairman Rev. Dr. James McCray, Jr. Photo: Sasanna Yee

When the MTA Board approved wide-ranging changes to Muni service at its meetings this fall, most of the public comment was from residents who didn’t want rerouted bus lines to pass by their homes, and merchants who opposed articulated buses running in front of their shops. As Streetsblog’s coverage noted at the time, the absence of Muni riders at the meeting was striking, perhaps indicating a lack of proper notice.

At Tuesday’s MTA Board meeting, dozens of Chinatown and Visitacion Valley residents showed up to tell the MTA that they had not, in fact, received proper notice about changes to the 9X-Bayshore Express lines that run between their neighborhoods, including renumbering and a several-block rerouting in Visitacion Valley. Most said they only heard about the proposed service changes this week – from an article in the Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao.

The MTA plans to actually increase service on the 9X lines, which will soon be renamed the 8X, but the gap in their outreach left some advocates wondering: if Muni can’t do proper outreach on service changes to the 9X, how does it expect to sell broader initiatives like bus stop consolidation and parking reform?

The MTA conducted extensive outreach in preparation for the December 5th changes, and will distribute a detailed brochure [PDF] on Muni buses this Friday, which outlines the changes in Chinese, English and Spanish. Several of the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting questioned the agency’s cultural competency, however, charging that most 9X riders were not properly notified about proposed changes to the route and line numbering.

"A group of Chinatown and Visitacion Valley residents is here to protest Muni for your top-down decision regarding our transportation system, because we have not been previously informed or had any direct community input," said Marlene Tran, a spokesperson for the Visitacion Valley Asians Alliance.

"For the Chinatown side, they all feel disrespected by the MTA because they feel like there wasn’t enough outreach or engagement for the community to have input in the public process," said Tammy Hung, an organizer with the Community Tenants Association. "In fact, we don’t even know if there were any community meetings for any of these route changes."

Signs were posted at bus stops instructing riders to visit the MTA’s website for more information on route changes, which many of the 9X’s riders don’t have access to, said Hung. "I was just told by the MTA that these booklets are only going to be passed out on Friday, and if we’re waiting until Friday to notify our public on the changes… I mean, seniors, some of them don’t even know how to read Chinese."

Many of the residents were particularly concerned that they weren’t notified about the elimination of the 9X bus stop at Rutland Street and Arleta Avenue in Visitacion Valley. That segment of the line will be rerouted along Visitacion Avenue and Bayshore Boulevard.

IMG_0639.jpgSeveral dozen residents of Chinatown and Visitacion Valley showed up to Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Michael Rhodes

"Residents will have to walk farther to and from the bus stops, which increases the probability of the residents being crime victims, given the high crime rate in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood," said Sasanna Yee, a Visitacion Valley resident. "The City Controller’s office recently released statistics [PDF chart] indicating that the 9X and the 9 lines in my neighborhood have the most security incidents. How will MTA address our safety concerns?"

Recently, when the MTA proposed straightening a segment of the 48-Quintara through Potrero Hill to speed up travel times, neighbors showed up to MTA Board meetings to offer refinements, but generally supported the plan. If Visitacion Valley residents had been similarly aware of the plans for the 9X, the MTA and residents might have found a solution that saves travel time while addressing community concerns. Instead, the bus stop consolidation on the 48 and 9X serve as contrasting examples of how Muni should and shouldn’t approach outreach on a future citywide effort to consolidate bus stops to speed service.

The MTA Board and staff appeared surprised by the outpouring of concern. Board Chairman Tom Nolan said the extent of staff’s outreach and the quality of the route changes brochure had greatly impressed him, but acknowledged that the public participation process was "clearly not perfect."

"When we institute these changes, we will be evaluating it, we will be watching them, to see what kind of effects they have and, if necessary, alter based on the results of what were doing," said Nolan. "We’re trying to figure out a way to serve the entire city while being sensitive to various communities and we will definitely keep watching that."

Julie Kirschbaum, the MTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project project manger, said she regretted that the agency hadn’t done a better job of reaching out to riders from Chinatown and Visitacion Valley. "I am very apologetic because we try as hard as possible to engage with all of our customers," said Kirschbaum. "We really focus on multilingual outreach for that reason."

"The proposal to run two-way on Visitacion was first introduced during the Transit Effectiveness Project, and at those community meetings we’ve had very heavy participation by monolingual speakers," she said. "At the time, we were looking at a whole series of changes and it may be that this one specific route issue was overlooked."

Kirschbaum added that she hoped to emphasize that 9X riders will actually see an increase in bus service on December 5th. "One of the things we’re most proud of in these changes is that we’re increasing service on the 9X, soon to be 8X, routes," said Kirschbaum. "We’ll have 25 percent more service than we do today. So, even in a time of service reductions, we are fortunate to be able to address the heavy crowding that we’re experiencing on this route. So, while some of our customers may have to walk farther, there will be shorter wait times, and they will have more space on the vehicles."

For many of the residents who spoke, it wasn’t so much the specific service changes, but the gap in public outreach that concerned them.

"Fair transit is a fundamental social justice matter, and the community wants to be included in the decision-making process," said Wing Hoo Leung, vice present of the Community Tenants Association, speaking through a translator. "We demand respect from MTA."

  • While I understand their concerns and feel the MTA should do a much better job, they are receiving increased service. Along with this, the MTA is going to be dumping some $1.5 billion into the central subway to service these same neighbors at the expense of overall MUNI operation.

    I must be missing something.

  • Jeez

    Increase service on the 9, and what does MTA get? Blasted! — for not doing enough outreach!

    It’s never enough. Must be tough to run an agency that everyone loves to kick around.

  • The change to the 10/48 lines is pure brilliance. The 48 was useless as a trip from Noe/Mission to Caltrain because it completely bogged down on Potrero Hill. The section on Wisconsin served as an “elevator” for people living on the lower slopes of Potrero, who would take the bus up one block. This repeated itself block by block. It was freaky – people got on/off the 48 at a constant rate all the way from SF General to 20th/Connecticut. Brutal.

    The 10 now serves this same section, but since this chunk of the route is near the end, it doesn’t impact “through passengers” to Caltrain, a destination where a minute delay could cost you 30 minutes or more. Someone taking the 10 from the North to/from the Hospital will suffer this delay, but that’s a route that never existed before, and isn’t to a transfer point. The 48 might very well operate as an express from 25th/Wisconsin to Caltrain, probably saving 10 minutes. Seriously. Of course, it takes 12 minutes for me to ride my bike all the way from Noe Valley to Caltrain 🙁

  • Mark

    Well, let’s not be too quick to give MTA credit. If you do all of your transit planning while you’re looking at a map in a central office and you never actually visit the route, you still might get something right every once in a while. But as anybody who’s been to the Glen Park J stop can tell you, it’s clear that the TEP people have no idea what they’re doing.

    And let’s not forget that the MTA sets a very low threshold for rapid transit projects that benefit suburban users (10000 daily riders gets you $100M) while imposing different standards on urban users (>30000 is insufficient for funding.)

  • My comment should not have (but did) imply that they knew what they were doing. I doubt you could get an answer from MTA about how that route is used. The 48 isn’t as interesting as the 22, but riding it from West Portal to Caltrain is enlightening. People get on in WP and travel either to Noe Valley or to BART. Noe Valley ships people to BART or (very few to) Caltrain. The Mission sends people to SF General. The bus practically empties out at SF General and I expect a quick ride, but we pick up parents with kids on the bottom of Potrero Hill and take them up the hill. Finally we dump off people at Caltrain. A few people from PoHill stay on, I think they are transfering to the T at 3rd St.

    What’s ironic is that the service “cut” really kicks ass for rich people in Noe Valley who take the Caltrain (though a lot of peninsula workers in Noe Valley are already on the Google/Apple Bus). We also suffer no cuts on the 24 or the J, only minor reduction in the 35, and increased service on the 44 which I take to the Academy of Sciences.

    The 35 is in large part a redundancy of the 24. Yet the 26 goes away. Granted there are spots on the 35 route where even stout young folks would not want to walk from the Castro to Diamond.

  • This is what happens when you do 1/2 a plan. We’re basically implementing cuts from the TEP, but NOT the improvements that were part of the whole plan. So of course there are going to be problems.

    That’s what happens when you rely on cuts only to balance a budget made unbalanced by other agencies and the state stealing your income, and not finding a local replacement for it.

  • I can’t help but bristle every time I see the words “extensive outreach” associated with the current MTA folks. I’m hopeful about the Entrips thing …

  • Whit

    It would be nice if these colorful MTA brochures actually told us which stops were getting cut and if some are getting moved, where to!

  • Muni’s outreach is really terrible for all these massive changes and hardly any media agency gave any real coverage (this should have been front page material or first story of the night on the TV).

    How can they notify the public with just a little more than a month’s notice about route changes?

    Even I was shocked that there was little reaction to the changes in a blog posting I did 13 days ago:
    http://www.akit.org/2009/11/why-are-citizens-not-angry-at-munis.html

  • Why don’t they use the same speed and lack of notice for the parking meeter changes?

  • Whit

    From a Muni rider standpoint, I think I was waiting for details about eliminated stops and such, but talking with my fellow bus stopmates, it was obvious that if they didn’t read the proposed changes signs taped to the telephone poles (which faded and bled via rain and fog within a week of posting), they had no idea what was going on. Maybe it’s because more and more people self-select the news they want to read/hear? I don’t know… But I wrote to my supervisor and Muni, and it seems to have done no good.

  • Nick

    These must be the dark days of transit in SF. I was hoping to be sharpie-marking in some new bike lanes on my bike map by this time of the year. Instead I’ll be crossing out routes on my MUNI map.

  • Peter M

    Exactly what outreach are they even claiming to have done? All of the changes except the 2 Clement terminal were decided on months ago (In what, April?) and they’re not putting the brochures on the buses until TWO WEEKS before the changes? Are there any notices up yet on stops along the affected routes? There definitely weren’t any at the 21 Hayes stops that are going to be eliminated that had their bus shelters removed today.

  • i have an idea — how about take advantage of technology and a captive audience by putting an electronic billboard on every bus? many buses already have some type of electronic display for street names. can it be updated with standard service messages?

  • What exactly does Judson do?

  • Why do these folks assume that all materials related to route changes, etc. will be made available to them in Chinese, or any language other than English for that matter? How long have they lived in this country? Stop kowtowing to those who immigrate to this nation and assume that they can get by without learning English. Such political correctness measures have led only to the Balkanization of the U.S.

  • For the record, take the 48 all the time and live right on one of the corners that will no longer see 48 service in Potrero Hill. I emailed Muni to suggest a slightly different route (one that would continue to serve the heart of Potrero but not result in windy, time-wasting route.

    My suggestion? From 25th, go up Wisconsin to 23rd, then take Missouri to Sierra to Texas St/22nd, continuing on the new route.

    Of course, I never heard back.

  • NoeValleyJim

    What does TEP have to do with the Glen Park J stop? TEP has only been around for a few years, that stop has been there much longer.

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