Stop Spacing Plan on the Back Burner; Will Muni Let a Crisis go to Waste?

3236115280_ba9536352c.jpgBringing Muni’s stop spacing in line with its stated policies could mean shorter travel times – and less service reduction. Flickr photo: frankfarm

Consolidating Muni stops that are too close to meet the MTA’s own spacing standards could speed up travel times for riders and save the cash-strapped agency millions of dollars annually. But in a twisted development that typifies the MTA’s current budget crisis, the agency says its staff is too busy cutting service to finish a proposal that could lessen those service cuts.

Back in June, Streetsblog reported that Muni could begin consolidating bus stops by February 2010 if all went according to schedule. Needless to say, all has not gone according to schedule. MTA Staff, led by service planning and Transit Effective Project manager Julie Kirschbaum, was scheduled to deliver detailed spacing plans to the agency’s Board of Directors in October, with public hearings to follow in November and December.

Instead, Kirschbaum was busy finalizing a proposal for sweeping service changes during that time, which she delivered in early November. Arguably, it was a worthy use of the agency’s time and resources, even aside from the pressure to balance its budget. Portions of the TEP were implemented without a major fight, and overall service hours remained virtually even while a small savings was squeezed out of efficiencies in operator schedules.

Before Kirschbaum could catch her breath on the "good cuts," however, the MTA was scrambling to fix another budget gap, this time requiring a round of "bad cuts" that would chop Muni service by a full ten percent.

Those plans were out the door and in public view by last month, followed by a public outcry so spirited that it just may give rise to a proper Muni riders union. The MTA Board will vote on the proposal later this month. Though initially pegged as a $28 million cut in service, recent union negotiations could lessen the blow. Either way, Kirschbaum is tied up with a task far from the lofty goals she was was hired to implement with the TEP, and the MTA is preparing to cut service in a way that has no discernible upside to riders.

Meanwhile, bus stop consolidation sits on the back burner, waiting its time while more draconian but simpler measures proceed full-steam ahead. The MTA projected it could save $200,000 on the 9-San Bruno alone, and might save as much as $5 million system-wide if one in ten stops were removed, according to rough calculations by former SPUR transportation director Dave Snyder.

The MTA hasn’t discussed bus stop consolidation publicly in half a year, but agency spokesperson Judson True said it’s still very much something the MTA is talking about internally. When asked why such a plan didn’t appear in MTA CFO Sonali Bose’s recent presentation on the budget for the next two fiscal years (PDF), True said the presentation wasn’t meant to outline all the agency’s expenditure reduction options.

"We haven’t talked about the solutions for the next two years yet," said True. Streetsblog has requested a preliminary set of recommendations for stop
consolidations from the MTA, but has yet to receive such a document.

The (very roughly calculated) $5 million figure would translate to the cost of saving about two percent of Muni service. Like the recent operator union negotiations and the "TEP-informed" service changes in December, it’s an example of the kind of net positive option for the agency that might be easier to enact under the pressure of a budget crisis, but one that will benefit riders and the agency’s bottom line alike, even in better economic times.

Presenting a bus stop consolidation proposal now, amid broad service cuts, does run the risk of appearing to the public to be a service reduction plan instead of a transit improvement plan. And budget crisis or not, the MTA faces concerns that changes in spacing could adversely affect seniors, the disabled and low-income riders if done without care. But done right, Muni just might be able to offer a silver lining in the next round of service cuts by increasing bus speeds systemwide.

  • The 18-46th Avenue line could really use some consolidation on 46th Avenue. There’s a stop every block.

  • Why the obsession with cutting stops? There is a rational case to be made for updating the locations of bus stops, which may indeed yield fewer bus stops. But that ought to be a well-studied plan a la TEP, not a pet project that’s shoved through in the chaos of a budget crisis. Rushing this decision is bad transit planning, which is exactly why doing so would appear to be more about making it a service cut.

    Furthermore, any stop changes would only be a one-time savings. The only robust solution to a projected multi-year MTA deficit is NEW REVENUE. IMO Transit advocates ought to be uniting behind the cry for more budget equity through progressive revenue measures, not grasping for an opportunity to replicate VTA’s level of bus service here in SF.

  • Mario Tanev

    I asked a question about this at the first town-hall meeting, but I got no response from Judson True. In their brochures they had stated that they need to cut 313,000 service hours to remain solvent, and one clear way to cut some of those so is to consolidate stops. Unfortunately, at the town-hall meetings most people simply object to cuts and raises without advocating particular workable solutions, and nobody else even mentioned stop consolidation as a solution they advocate. Without education and popular support, SFMTA is not feeling the heat on the issue.

    Does anyone have details about Dave Snyder’s planned transit riders union? I’d like to contribute to it.

  • BCon

    Bus consolidation REALLY needs to happen… and I agree that it should be studied and done in a smart way so that certain riders aren’t left stranded (wasn’t it already studied extensively by the TEP?)… but there are some stops that are SO redundant and obviously unnecessary, that it baffles me why they don’t just go ahead and remove them.

    A few examples:

    5-Fulton, Inbound: TWO stops on McAllister Street, between Van Ness & Polk. TWO, on the SAME block, one at the corner of McAllister & Van Ness, and one at the corner of McAllister & Polk (you can get from one stop to the next without crossing any street).

    31-Balboa, Outbound: Same thing, two stops on the SAME block, one at Eddy & Larkin, another at Eddy & Polk.

    There are countless examples of this on multiple lines. I don’t see how removing one of two stops on the SAME block (blocks that have no hill whatsoever) would impede the ability of seniors or persons with disabilities from being able to easily access the bus/train.

  • Peter

    It seems like they’ve been eliminating stops on a very small scale recently – the 24 stops at Fulton and Ellis are either about to be removed or already gone (Both of which are one block away from another stop), they got rid of the 21 stops at Cole and Ashbury when they made the service changes in December, and they got rid of the 44 stop at 6th & Anza and replaced the stops on Cabrillo at 6th and 8th with one at 7th some time last year.

  • Maybe this is just the secret part of the SF Bike Plan… make Muni as bad as possible (even in the face of good solutions) so people will ride bikes more.

  • EL

    “The (very roughly calculated) $5 million figure would translate to the cost of saving about two percent of Muni service. Like the recent operator union negotiations and the “TEP-informed” service changes in December, it’s an example of the kind of net positive option for the agency that might be easier to enact under the pressure of a budget crisis, but one that will benefit riders and the agency’s bottom line alike, even in better economic times.”

    Easier to enact? The very fact that stop consolidation is difficult, even in this economic climate, says a lot about how spoiled San Franciscans are about their bus stop spacing (the 28, 29, and 18 all stop every block through the Sunset) and how ridiculous the process is to change something so obvious.

  • david vartanoff

    Why are there stops at both Polk and VN along McAllister you ask. Because there are connecting routes at each . Transit agencies provide adjacent stops so riders can transfer easily. The 39 stop elimination fight of several years ago is instructive. Muni planned to cut stops on the local route in the Tenderloin where people live close together and few are 20 something jocks. Surprise, the elderly howled; Muni lost. Point is Muni started from the wrong premise. They already have a LTD running, the issue is what is the mix? They could have cut locals by shifting more runs to LTD PRESERVING close stops for those who need them while improving service for the longer distance riders.

    One often reads complaints about similar close stop spacing in the Mission. If twenty plus riders board/alight at each corner, the bus is DOING ITS JOB. This too is a dense neighborhood with destinations/trip generators every block. The real issue on Mission is auto traffic. Even if the buses only stopped at the BART stations, they would still be delayed by cars.

  • I have previously looked at travel time data that NextBus gathers and the results were surprising to me. Turns out that dedicated right-of-ways did not have that much of an impact. But routes with fewer stops are much faster. So while we often blame traffic for Muni’s woes, there are other things we should really be concentrating on. The only exception are really congested streets such as Market going downtown in the afternoons, Van Ness, and Stockton.

    And there is another tactic that should be employed but unfortunately it hasn’t really been discussed: Transit Preferential Signaling. Did you know that it is installed on the Embarcadero and along the T-line? But did you also know that it isn’t being used effectively? So Muni has spent the money implementing the technology but are not getting the benefits that they should be getting. For example, where the T crosses King the light has Transit Preferential Signaling equipment yet the streetcars can stop there for several minutes at a time! The powers that be didn’t want to disrupt all the car drivers going on and off of the freeway there. And follow a T streetcar down Third Street sometime. It is shocking how often the streetcars get a red light. By using the existing equipment and virtually no additional money some of the lines such as the F and the T could be greatly sped up.

  • BCon

    david vartanoff: “Why are there stops at both Polk and VN along McAllister you ask. Because there are connecting routes at each .”

    No, there are NO connecting routes/lines at Polk & McAllister, The only line serving that intersection is the 5-Fulton. The 19-Polk doesn’t turn onto Polk until Geary, and turns off of Polk at Eddy in the other direction.

    So again, there is no reason for a stop at Polk & McAllister, on the same block as the inbound stop at Van Ness & McAllister. And even if there WAS a connecting line there, there’s no reason people, even less mobile ones, couldn’t walk ONE flat block to get to that connection.

  • bs

    Peter, the Fulton and Ellis stops for the 24 line have already been removed (I believe the change took place on Jan 27th). I’ve already noticed a small but pleasantly appreciable change in my commute. Unfortunately the 24 still stops at Castro and Duboce and Castro and 14th, so twice on the same (flat) block.

  • patrick

    Michael, that’s a great point, I work at 3rd & Cesar Chavez and occasionally take the T downtown. I’ve timed it several times, and my trip, which takes about 25 minutes, spends between 5-6 minutes waiting at red lights, that about 20-25% of the total trip time! If they used the preferential timing thing how much time that would save people, and of course more people would use the T if trips were shorter, meaning more revenue for MUNI. It would also mean they could run more trains with fewer operators, also saving money.

  • Troy

    Thank goodness for small rational steps. That 24-divis stop at Fulton REALLY needed to go. Ditto the Ellis stop. it was so ridiculous to have the bus start up only to hit the brakes at the same time to hit the next stop a block away (and we are talking SHORT blocks– really 1/2 blocks).

    we need MORE consolidation of stops, not less.

  • Troy

    PS: i would vote for elimination of many of the 21-hayes stops between Polk and Masonic. I don’t think it misses a single fucking block on that entire route. it’s crazy. and people wonder why it takes 45 min. to get anywhere on the bus in this city.

  • Alex

    @David, the problem is that twenty people don’t board/disembark from the bus at every block. Take the 28 for instance. Most stops see one or two riders at a time. I suspect that (at least along 19th) the 28 could easily adopt the 28L’s stop spacing without much negative impact.

    Likewise the L has plenty of stop it doesn’t need. 15th Ave comes to mind (two revenue stops, one non revenue stop in each direction for that one block!). West of 19th, if the L moved to stops every three blocks, you’d still be at most one block away from a stop.. but you’d have eliminated nearly 30% of the stops. The train drivers have a hard enough time stopping for the stops signs already, stop reduction would speed things up and make their lives easier.

  • Benedict

    So far as the 18 line is concerned, it is so local that cutting stops would not increase efficiency. It runs every 20 minutes now and still keeps a pretty decent schedule.

    Older people use this line a lot during the day. There does not need to be fewer number of stops just to prove *our* point about cutting stops makes economic sense, when that it doesn’t in all cases.

    We who use this line hope it does not go to every 30 minutes for any reason.

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