Some Crowding and Confusion, but Muni Service Changes Mostly Smooth

IMG_0777.jpgAn MTA "transit ambassador" offers assistance to a rider at Valencia and Cesar Chavez Streets this morning. Photo: Michael Rhodes

It wasn't without grumbling, but commuters this morning made it through the biggest changes to Muni's bus network in over 30 years, and the MTA wasn't sent scrambling to fix any huge problems.

Calls to 311 have spiked by 40 percent since the service changes took place Saturday, according to the Examiner, but the MTA reports that riders are mostly calling for information about the changes, not to complain. So far, there's no indication of major issues, but given that the MTA saved virtually nothing from the changes - the $3.2 million was all from driver schedule efficiencies, since total service hours weren't reduced - riders are certainly entitled to evaluate the changes as a revision that should improve overall service, not degrade it.

The recently-deceased 26-Valencia, one of several routes that were cut, has inspired a great deal of nostalgia among its former riders, many of whom admit they took the line rarely. For the most part, though, the first Monday without a 26 line in over a century has been without incident. Standing at the corner of Valencia and Cesar Chavez Street, a Muni "transit ambassador" who had been out on bicycle along the route of the former line all morning said he'd spotted only a few people who appeared to be waiting for the 26. Everyone else, he said, was aware of the change, and he was mostly kept busy by instructing passengers on new ways to reach their destinations.

A man from Detroit told the transit ambassador, who didn't want to be identified, that walking even an extra block from Valencia to Mission could be a hardship for less mobile transit riders, but also expressed shock that buses in San Francisco stop on nearly every block, slowing down service. Other riders said they recognized the abundance of transit alternatives, and the 26's low frequency made it an understandable candidate for cancellation. Still, some said they preferred it to the Mission Street lines because of its less-crowded buses.

Ironically, the addition of a new line, the 9L-San Bruno Limited, seemed to cause more confusion than the scrapping of the 26-Valencia and other lines. The 9L, which runs weekdays and had its first run today, mostly traces the same route as the existing 9-San Bruno but with fewer stops and faster service

One bus driver said he'd encountered some kinks in his first day driving it.

"It ain't good at all," said the driver, who didn't give his name. Riders were "not feeling it at all," he reported, as some were still figuring out whether they could take the limited service bus or would be better served by the local. Overfull 9s passed some riders up, he said. Another driver who'd just completed his first run on the 9L said he hadn't seen any problems, however. Service is just as frequent on the 9 local in the morning as ever, so riders may simply be adjusting to the changes. The 9L service originated from the MTA's outreach during the Transit Effectiveness Project. Its popularity with riders will be a partial referendum on some of the TEP's recommendations, including running buses with fewer stops.

The MTA has continued to report that things have gone smoothly since the service changes went into effect on Saturday, through today's morning commute. "I certainly didn't intend to suggest that any added service we're putting on crowded lines is going to mean there's no crowds. Muni's a crowded system," said MTA spokesperson Judson True.

But, he added, "I don't know of any particular bunching issues or anything."

There were several reports on Twitter of slow N-Judah service this morning, prompting some riders to wonder whether the service changes were at fault. "Wondering whether the Muni service changes are responsible for this insanely slow N that's making me miss my transfer," wrote Twitter user Whiney Commuter. True said the issue was entirely unrelated, however, since the service changes don't affect weekday rail service.

The Mayor trumpeted the service changes as an important modernization of the system in an Examiner op-ed piece today. More painful cuts could be on the table, however, as the MTA faces a mid-year budget gap. Mayor Newsom continues to oppose extending parking meter hours to help close the gap, so he could be the face of future service cuts.

How was your first day commuting post-service changes? Were you on the right or the wrong end of efficiency? Let us know in the comments section below.