Muni Service Restoration Task Force Considering Bus Stop Optimization

Photo: Myleen Holero/Orange Photography
Photo: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography

An SFMTA task force charged with figuring out how to fully restore last May’s Muni service cuts is narrowing its list of actions and strategies to reduce travel time on the system, and bus stop consolidation, or “optimization,” is likely to be adopted as a recommendation. As Streetsblog has reported, stop optimization could greatly improve service, a move long pushed by transit advocates and SFMTA staff as one of the quickest and cheapest ways to speed Muni.

“All the feedback we get, and it’s been consistent over the years, is people are frustrated with the amount of time they spend on a vehicle, it just takes too long, and a big contributor to that is the number of stops,” said SFMTA Transit Director John Haley, who chairs the operations subcommittee of the Muni Service Restoration Task Force.

Haley acknowledged the political challenges of bus stop consolidation (because “every bus stop has a constituency”) but said “you have to put your toe in the water and take a step forward.” Haley doubts it can be implemented system-wide to start, but the task force is reviewing a list of “best prospects,” or high-volume lines where it’s needed most.

“I think it’s very realistic in certain areas,” said SFMTA Director Cameron Beach, who used the 30-Stockton line as an example of a line where bus stops have been eliminated (between Sutter and Market), with resulting service enhancement. “I think it’s incumbent upon the staff and the board to look at ways of improving the system and speeding it up.”

A recent Muni rider survey is also helping to give the issue momentum. Out of 573 riders surveyed in August and September, 61 percent said they would consider walking a longer distance to their stop if they knew it would reduce their overall travel time.

Judson True, an aide to Board of Supervisors President David Chiu who worked to form the task force, said the political climate remains difficult for the SFMTA but the agency has to consider ideas to make Muni faster and more reliable.

“I think the budget collapse over the last few years has made it hard for the MTA to focus on some of the innovative strategies suggested by the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) and the level of trust just hasn’t been there among the public,” said True. “The MTA has to show it’s looking at senior centers and vulnerable populations, that it’s doing its due diligence. That’s a high bar, but it’s not an unreachable one.”

At the same time, said True, “we can’t pretend that those (innovative ideas) are going to solve all of Muni’s financial problems or allow us to restore all the service and all the capacity that was lost in May.”

Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA has now been able to restore approximately 61 percent of the service it cut in May after identifying about $15 million in funding sources and operational savings. This includes a 10 percent restoration the SFMTA Board voted on in July. The task force’s mission is to identify how to restore the remaining 39 percent in January.

Along with bus stop consolidation, the subcommittee is also looking at system-wide all-door boarding, engineering improvements such as queue jumps, bulb outs and signal priority, and double berthing on subway platforms. Beach expressed concerns about whether all-door boarding would be realistic to accomplish in 9 to 12 months, because he said it would have to coincide with adding more fare inspectors.

As for restoring service, the subcommittee is considering recommendations to add an express bus on the N-line from “mid-route to downtown,” a rapid bus on the Mission corridor for the 49 and 14 lines, supplementing lines that suffer from overcrowding, such as the 8X, 28, 5 and 71, and restoring late night service to “established standards.” A proposal to introduce vans on community routes beginning with the Roosevelt portion of the 37-Corbett was nixed from the list as something that probably couldn’t be accomplished in the short-term.

A powerpoint [pdf] presented at today’s meeting by Haley mentioned some of the major challenges, which include the impact of additional service miles on an aging vehicle fleet, determining a steady source of operating funds, assuring operator availability, compliance with labor agreements and CEQA obligations. A separate subcommittee is working to sort out the funding issue.

The task force is expected to issue its final report and recommendations by December 1. It then goes to the SFMTA Board for public hearings and adoption.

  • Every stop has a constituency, and Muni must have too many constituents

  • James Figone

    Finally, a proposal to optimize the spacing of bus stops. This may be the upside of a budget crunch in that efficiency considerations are taken more seriously. Can’t wait to see this implemented.

  • Abe

    Agree with Josh. Muni would be SO much easier to run without those pesky riders.

  • Doesn’t Muni also have a huge opportunity to relocate bus stops without any cost while Clear Channel is replacing all the shelters? I hope this is being looked at – not just stop consolidation but also moving stops to better locations, on the far side of intersections, etc.

  • none

    how do these proposals compare to the TEP?

  • Brandon

    A bus to relieve an overcrowded, 2 CAR train? That part of it is complete madness.

  • I pick up the 30-Stockton at Sutter, and it makes far too many stops. Sutter, Geary, Market, Mission, Folsom. I would MUCH rather walk a bit farther and then get there faster. Please implement this!

  • Stop consolidation is an easy and inexpensive way to dramatically improve service. While I feel for the elderly and folk with limited mobility who will be impacted by this, there has got to be a way to balance their needs with the need for a bus system that is faster than walking (which MUNI is not in huge chunks of this city).

  • eugene

    Evan, there used to be a stop on 30 on both sides of Market St!

  • ryan

    this is pretty obvious to me, consolidating bus stops. i used to take the bus to the lower pacific heights/japan town from downtown and there were (and probably still are) two bus stops on the same short block, literally no more than fifty feet apart and the bus stopped/stops at both.

    as for the relieving metro congestion… how about running more/longer trains if they’re already popular? people don’t like busses, they just don’t, and that’s probably why they’re on the train in the first place. what an embarrassingly incompetent transit system.

  • Aren’t the 16ax/bx as much of a supplementary bus line to the N as you can get? I can’t imagine what else to add.

    And what’s a “queue jump”?

  • Alex

    @Ryan And we have a winner (or not)!

    The idea of a bus supplement to the N is not absurd because motor coaches subbing for LRVs is absurd. It’s absurd because the problems along the N are mainly due to chronic delays at the Duboce Portal and along the Market Street tube. FOR FUCKS SAKE they’ve closed the entire subway down for nearly ten *normal service* hours in a week? Two weeks?

    Your assertion that people won’t ride buses is baloney plain and simple. The top five bus routes carry far more passengers on a daily basis than the five metro lines. The buses work, are far more reliable, and provide higher capacity at roughly 2/3 the cost of the LRVs. While the metro was shut down for 7+ hours so far in recent memory, when was the last time the 14, 49, 38/38L, 30, 1, or 5 were completely taken out of service? Note: the shuttle buses that the MTA provides are significantly less efficient because they stop at EVERY block along Market street.

    Running longer trains on the N is impractical, as the N already gets two car trains for every run (unless there’s some sort of problem). Three car (or longer) trains don’t work in the subway, and would fare even worse on the street. Of course you could add two car trains to the L and M… but there aren’t enough vehicles to do this. When the K and M were out of commission you saw two car trains on the L for almost every run. There were so many trains that they’d park them at 47th and Taraval! Now that the K and M are back, we’re back to one car trains even during the commute hours. Keep that in mind the next time you look at the spare ratio on the daily service reports.

    If the MTA were serious about reducing crowding on the 8 and the metro, they’d bring back the 15 and axe the T. This would restore additional service to CCSF and North Beach, free up additional LRVs for more reliable service on the rest of the metro routes, and provide more capacity along Third Street (which is currently limited to one car trains — much like the much vaunted subway to nowhere). Anything less is a farce.

    As for what else is missing:

    – Increased peak service on the 108. Commute service is already SRO. This is a community with *zero* alternatives. You either use a bus or a car to get off the island. Use the bendy buses or more buses. More service IS needed.

    – Return 108 service to 4th & King. Like the Tenderloin, there are no grocery stores whatsoever on Treasure Island (and no, Bristol Farms does not count). There really aren’t any right around the Transbay Terminal either. When the 108 was extended to 4th & King, this provided a vital link to a grocery store.

    – Ticket vending machines or people. At busy stops (UCSF, SFSU, Judah/19th, BART/Mission, etc) there should either be people or machines on the street legally selling transfers or processing TransClipper cards. London’s got Oyster readers at most of their bus stops. This means people stream on/off the bus and don’t dally with the farebox.

    – Do not turn the M back at SFSU. Period. Full stop. This guts service to yet another underserved area (OMI). If there’s concern about increasing the Market St capacity, the MTA should work with BART to add the Daly City station to the FastPass. This could shift much of the SFSU -> Downtown traffic to BART. As an added bonus, paying for BART service is significantly (~2.5x) cheaper than paying TWU workers to staff an MTA vehicle.

    – Fix the shuttle buses. Have someone, anyone, draft up a policy that MTA staff (drivers and station agents, and DPT types) will adhere to. Every single time the shuttle buses are brought out chaos ensues. Put fixed signage indicating where the substitution buses stop and where they’ll go. Implement signal priority along Market St, and instruct the drivers to NOT STOP at every single block. As it stands shuttle buses are slow, chaotic, and otherwise mostly useless.

  • Alex

    As for stop reduction, YES YES YES. The way things stand now there are plenty of blocks with multiple stops for a given route. Stop reduction is not a panacea, but because stops have been placed with a modicum of thought (and the TWU fought the last attempt at reorganization tooth and nail) we’re left with a subpar group of stops.

    I’m sure every stop has a constituency. But, honestly, I’d love to see an L express that stopped at 46th, Sunset, 19th, West Portal, Civic Center and Embarcadero. It would be interesting to see the data regarding stop patronage. Most of the stops along 19th and along Taraval don’t see a huge number of riders (I’d say typically 5-10 even during peak hours). When you have a route like the 28 that stops at nearly every block of 19th Ave for one or two people and then has to brave getting back into traffic, or has to struggle making it up a grade with crush load… it seems pretty reasonable to cut out a few stops here and there.

    Since I’m familiar with the L these two areas stand out as particularly problematic:

    15th/Taraval & 15th/Ulloa

    Inbound service: Non revenue stop at 15th on Taraval. Turn the 90 degree corner. Revenue stop on 15th at Taraval. Continue to 15th & Ulloa for a revenue stop. Inbound service is similar.

    Problems: Two stops on one block, unnecessary non-revenue stop.

    Proposal 1: Remove inbound revenue stop at 15th & Taraval.

    Proposal 2: Remove parking on south side of Taraval b/t 15th and 16th. Merge right lane into left lane by 15th or 16th with appropriate street markings. Remove stop sign at 15th. Keep stop on 15th @ Taraval.

    Proposal 3: Remove outbound revenue stop at 15th & Ulloa.

    Proposal 4: Make a right turn mandatory off of eastbound Ulloa @ 15th and replace the westbound stop sign with a yield sign.

    Solution: Mix and match any of the above.

    Taraval and 22nd/23rd/24th.

    Outbound service: Revenue stop at 22nd ave. Continue to halfway past 23rd for another revenue stop. Continue to 24th for a non-revenue stop.

    Problems: Too many stops. The boarding island is only long enough for a one car train leaving anyone disembarking from the second car to brave traffic that may or may not stop.

    Proposal 1: Remove the 22nd Ave stop.

    Proposal 2: Remove parking on the north side of Taraval b/t 24th and 23rd. Extend the island to cover a two car train, and move the stop all the way up to the intersection to avoid a second useless stop.

    Proposal 3: Remove the parking b/t 21st and 22nd, move the island to the 22nd Ave stop (which is more level and thus more suited for wheelchair access), reinstate parking between 22nd and 24th.

    There are areas where there are simply too many stops (revenue or not). This will absolutely incur delays, especially on areas on an incline like the twenties @ Taraval. Inclines exacerbate the lack of door maintenance on the LRVs significantly. What might have been “only” a 10 second (non-revenue) or 40 second (revenue) stop could easily become a twenty minute stop because the driver doesn’t know how to disable a malfunctioning door (been there, done that, I walked to West Portal and still beat the damn train). Similar problems hold true with the buses. While their doors are infinitely more reliable, the chance that they’d have to wait a few traffic light cycles could easily add a few minute delay.

  • Funny how we had this whole Transit Effectiveness project we paid a fortune for, and then threw out. Now we have the Mayor and David Chiu (who thinks Muni is a bargaining chip, not a service and tossed out the magical “big progressive reform package” the progressive whine about when evading support for Prop. G) running the show? God Help Us!

  • I think it’s a great idea to remove stops to force people to walk just a little further for a quicker bus ride. It makes no sense why some lines in the avenues have bus stops at every block when it could be just as easy to do every other block.

    Alex: You have some great ideas, especially having the fast pass be allowed to access Daly City BART, and ticketing machines at major stops.

  • david vartanoff

    All door boarding? Is it in effect de facto on any artic line with heavy ridership. Muni told us to do that a decade ago while Burns was still in charge and deployed transclipper readers at the second doors. Ford reversed course and the readers not yet vandalised are deliberately disabled.

    So while Muni wasted $20 million on worse than useless faregates, TVMs still haven’t been deployed at UCSF. How can we even think about trusting Muni to reconfigure stops?

    Of course some stops should be consolidated, but getting rid of 4 way stop signs on transit arterials, is a bigger bang for the buck. Setrictly enforcing transit only lanes could start tomorrow without wasting time in committee meetings. On the 38/38L gutting the local stops is NOT the answer–but changing the mix to more L’s fewer locals would get us better service instantly without a fight over any individual stop.

    Want to fix the Metro?? Abolish the current route selection system for the drivers making the job x hours route not specified. Have an inspector re assign trains as necessary at Embarcadero to keep the scheduled SEQUENCE so we don’t have 3 empty Js in a row while no K, L or M shows up. KICK autos off the surface tracks AM and PM rush.
    There is a crossing on 19th Ave that needs proper gates to keep cars from delaying the LRVs. These ARE cheap solutions with large payback

  • The solution to satisfy the “constituents” who oppose stop consolidation is to introduce a -S line for every line. Say line 38 will be supplement by 38S. The S lines will stop at every street corner, include those that is not a stop today. The constituents will be rejoiced at the new and improved service. However the S line will run only once per hour. This should not be a problem because the constituents value convenience more than their time. Meanwhile the normal lines will have their stop consolidated to a sensible distance. So finally normal people can be transported in a reasonable time and SFMTA and stop wasting money to run slow going buses.

    Viva S lines!

  • Seriously, let me propose something that may move us beyond this impasse. For every line, keep all the stops. But introduce a -L line with sensible stop distance that optimize for total travel time. Convert 50% of the existing bus to the -L line. Test it for 6 months. Then measure the rider load on each version. Allocate the resources according the rider load. If the L line is packed while the normal line is empty, then there is little reason to operate all buses in the normal way and vice-versa. There may be some “constituents” who argue one way or the other. But unless their opinion is backed by number and ridership, I don’t think we should allocate our resource because someone make louder noise.

  • Sean H

    Muni had a round of community meetings in 2005 about stop consolidation on the 38. After 3 meetings and weeks of public comments, 1 (!) stop was removed at Geary and Mason, the stop I happened to use. It wasnt a big deal at all because the L picks up at Powell. The L also picks up at Stockton 1 block away, and Market 1.5 blocks away…

  • eugene

    Wai Yip, your solution might actually work. Add to that a trial nature of the change, one line at a time and the opponents might be placated.

    I would also add express busses to the mix, running the whole day, not just during commute hours. Those would have stops even farther apart than the -L, linking the centers of neighbourhoods, for example Market – Powell – Van Ness – Fillmore – Masonic – Inner Richmond – Outer Richmond – Ocean Beach.

  • Alex

    @Wai While I agree that ridership is important, it’s also important to look beyond the numbers. Outside of the big corridors you’ll often see considerably lower ridership figures… but without the feeder routes, people can’t or won’t get to the trunk routes. Or in the case of the 108 people can’t get ANYWHERE. With a ridership that rivals that of the community service routes and a relatively quiet low income (students, section 8, and drug rehab folks constitute most of the island residents), the 108 is often first at the chopping block. Unlike every other community service route, there are simply no other options beyond private car ownership to extricate yourself from the island. Sure, I’d love to see a pedestrian path or ferry service instead… but which option do you think will be cheaper?

    Beyond adjusting the local/limited/express balance I’d love to see some of the longer routes be split up in some manner. Along the 28, there’s certainly tourist demand from the Marina and Golden Gate Bridge, but the 28L primarily serves the student population. Pare back service on the 28, and axe 28L in favor of a 28AL (Marina to California or Geary with limited stops) and 28BL (California to Daly City along the existing 28L route).

    As for the S routes, a prime example there should be the N, K/T, and L. Maybe half of the stops should be ripped out LRVs should stop every three or four blocks in the Western part of the city, not every other block. In their place a twice hourly local bus could run. Of course I’m just dreaming here. Rail should be used for high density routes with few stops. Otherwise it moves no faster than a bus, and costs significantly more.

    @David Route assignment is a huge problem, and probably the cheapest problem to address. However, there are so many other problems with the way the metro is run. Even with stupidvisors at the end of the L, you still see trains bunch up (six in a row and then nothing for the rest of the hour). Headway adherence is critical both above and underground.

  • I think stop consolidation would be especially useful on the 24, particularly once it gets in to Noe. Stopping what seems to be every other block for fairly short distances really slows it down.

  • @Sara – the problem in Noe is that the 24 runs on a pretty steep grade. Make that a very steep grade. One block that is 15% is not the same as one flat block for walking an extra block to a stop.

  • Jeff K.

    Let’s remove the 21’s stops on every block, if that hasn’t ALL been completed already, and the 22’s stop at Grove and even at Hermann if possible.

  • Jay P.

    Aaron, the 16AX/BX used to be an viable alternative to the N until Muni changed the route and cut off access for anyone not on Noriega or along 23rd Avenue. Now, to even catch that bus, I’d have to take the N to 23rd & Judah and what would be the point in doing that? Now, the only alternatives are the 29 (which doesn’t go downtown) or the 71 which, like the 16AX/BX, runs along Noriega and 23rd. Living at 35th and Lincoln, this does not help me in the least. I’d love to have some sort of express bus but the option mentioned above, for “mid-route to downtown”, doesn’t help those of us who live out by the beach either. “Mid-route” doesn’t make sense to me, considering those who are mid-route are closer to downtown anyways. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have an express that services the furthest areas, as we are the ones most affected by commute time?

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