City Hall Hearing Turns Spotlight on Problems Plaguing 14-Mission Line

Photo: ##http://www.orangephotography.com/##Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography##

The thousands of daily Muni riders who take the 14-Mission line continue to endure frequent switchbacks, poor reliability, slow speeds, and overcrowding, but advocates and city leaders are putting a spotlight on the problems plaguing the busy Mission bus corridor, which serves one of San Francisco’s most transit-dependent communities.

“It’s the only one of the top three busiest [bus] lines without a plan to speed it up,” said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, an organizer of the San Francisco Transit Rider Union’s (SFTRU) 14-Mission Task Force. “Why isn’t this major corridor for working class people in the city a priority? It’s busy no matter what, eleven at night, seven in the morning, and it doesn’t matter which stop you’re getting off at.”

A hearing called by Supervisor John Avalos at today’s San Francisco County Transportation Authority Plans and Programs Committee meeting sought to address the switchbacks on the line following complaints from riders. SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley explained in a presentation [pdf] that Muni management orders switchbacks to alleviate delays. They force riders off a vehicle, mostly in the outbound direction, in order to serve points on a line that have a greater ridership demand.

“When one of the lines is substantially behind schedule, it’s one of the things that’s available to us so that we balance the line in both directions,” said Haley. “All five of the rail lines go through the subway, it has to be managed as a system. If something happens on one line, it can impact all the other lines.”

Image: SFMTA

Despite the “relatively small” percentage of trips impacted by switchbacks and the 14-Mission’s exclusion from subway delays, the line’s riders experienced 137 switchbacks in January compared to 203 for all of the system’s light-rail lines combined, according to Haley. With delays arising unexpectedly, Muni operators can be ordered to make a switchback with as little as a moment’s notice.

“I hear about passengers who get a little frustrated when it seems like the driver has just suddenly said that they have to get off and move along, and it seems like the driver’s equally frustrated, probably not always the best bedside manner,” said Avalos.

The stated policy for switchbacks requires drivers to display the “correct destination sign” on the vehicle and make frequent announcements notifying passengers of the turn-around as well as having another vehicle ready to accommodate the passengers in less than 5 minutes, according to Haley.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, citing his own experiences, was skeptical about whether advance notice is usually given. He highlighted the need for better communication to riders.

“I think a lot of people can understand why switchbacks may occasionally be necessary in terms of managing the system,” he said. “But there’s a general feeling that I think is sometimes true that information is not provided in a timely way.”

The 14-Mission line stretches for 7.67 miles and has an annual ridership of 10.08 million. Photo: ##http://www.orangephotography.com/##Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography##

Transit Workers Union President Rafael Cabrera said drivers too often don’t know about switchbacks ahead of time. “If there’s a delay in the subway, we won’t know until we come out of West Portal, and they will tell us, ‘switch back, is that okay?’ So, therefore whoever got on inside the subway will not know,” he said.

The most common causes of delay leading to switchbacks, Haley reported, were equipment failures on aging vehicles in need of a targeted overhaul as well as automobile congestion and frequent double-parking. “The trackless trolleys in particular are the oldest part of our fleet, the least reliable,” he said.

The 14-Mission currently operates at an average speed of 6.9 mph, “just under” the system-wide average, said Haley, and on-time performance reportedly rates at 69 percent, compared to 72 percent for all lines.

“A lot of times on Mission, you can walk faster than the bus during rush hour,” said Sherburn-Zimmer. “When I lived in the Excelsior, and I worked in Potrero, it took me an hour and a half to take the bus to work if it was at all during commute times.”

“I watched my roommate and my neighbors buy cars just because you’d spend so much of your day traveling,” she said.

While bus rapid transit projects are in the works for the Van Ness and Geary corridors, the only routes that carry a higher level of bus traffic in the city, no such plan is in the works to improve service on the 14.

The San Francisco Transit Riders Union’s 14-Mission task force will hold its second community meeting on Thursday to identify the most effective strategies for improving service. At the first meeting, there was a consensus that all-door boarding was the most attainable and beneficial solution to decrease the time spent by buses sitting at stops while improving reliability and reducing overcrowding. Deploying inspectors to implement a proof-of-payment system would yield results similar to the higher fare recovery on light-rail lines.

“I think the Mission corridor…is an ideal candidate for us to begin a process of rear-door boarding,” said Haley. He also recommended equipment overhauls and increased deployment of parking control officers to reduce double parking on Mission Street as the other the top solutions.

Other changes such as clearly marked transit-only lanes would provide smoother trips not only for daily commuters who use the line, but for the variety of residents who use it as their primary mode of transportation.

“You don’t just take it to get to work, you use it for everything,” said Sherburn-Zimmer. “One of the better things on the list of what I love about where I live is it’s close to the 14, it runs all night, it runs regularly. But you shouldn’t have to fight to get on the bus.”

Update: The San Francisco Transit Riders Union will hold its next community organizing meeting on improving the 14-Mission this Thursday, February 10 at 6:30 pm at El Cafetazo, 3087 16th Street (at Valencia). For more information, visit sftru.org.

  • Please, instead of having a “candidate to begin a process of rear-door boarding,” can we just get a single public official who actually rides Muni and is in touch with the fact that 80% of Muni’s customers already board through the rear door, especially when buses are crowded? And therefore implementing an all-door boarding polciy does not require “deploying inspectors to implement a proof-of-payment system,” it just requires sending a memo to all your operators to open all the doors at every stop and taking the stickers off the back door windows.

    If the 14 is going to be a “candidate” for something, it should be for getting a fleet of brand new double articulated trolley buses to replace the horribly unreliable vehicles it’s running on now. What more perfect route is there to put them on than the 14, which is constantly overcrowded even running frequent service during rush hour, and which doesn’t have to make a single turn of more than 30 degrees on the whole route?

  • david vartanoff

    more of the same rider dismissive excuses. First off, the leading bus/lrv should not be turned until a follower has arrived to effect an immediate transfer. Two, OF CVOURSE all door boarding should be implemented instanter. Three, Muni needs to permanently retract the surcharge for the FastPass which is good on BART and actively encourage riders to use BART. Four the 14, and the pass usage need to be extended to Daly City BART to encourage more of the longer distance riders to get off the local bus.

    As to equipment issues, breakdown maintenance is simply inexcusable. One of the best reasons for electric buses is supposed to be greater longevity and reliability.

  • Really glad to see Wiener and the TRU are pushing the issue.

    I just hope that the fixes to the 14 will also help speed up the 49, since both lines share a huge chunk of stops on Mission.

  • Sorta related … riding the 10-Townsend bus towards Potrero Hill last week to attend an ENTRIPS meeting (Eastern Neighborhoods Transportation Implementation Planning Study community meeting at Recology’s offices on 7th Street, the driver made a “switch back” at the Caltrain station (turned left off of Townsend onto 4th Street). I don’t regularly ride the 10-Towsend, but I could see where that would get very annoying … luckily I had a short walk to my destination on the pseudo sidewalk along Townsend past 4th Street.

  • Morton

    This article doesn’t even touch on the biggest problem besetting the 14. That is – that’s it’s a hotbed of petty crime, anti-social behavior, filth, squalor and almost everything that is wrong with not only Muni but this city.

    I defy anyone to take the 14 bus and not have some type of unpleasant and unsavory experience.

    It’s a hot mess.

  • Ed

    As someone who rides the 14L, what really drives me nuts is the mid-route driver changes that result in 5 minute delays. I’ve had this happen multiple times, and it seems totally unnecessary. At this point, I just take BART if I need to be somewhere on time.

  • Mission Street needs bike lanes, at least. If we’re gonna act like we care about poor people, then we gotta allow them to walk and bike on this vital corridor. Add two bikes lanes (one in each direction), and remove one auto lane — simple, inexpensive, effective. And poor and working class people will not have to spend their hard-earned money on crappy Muni service.

  • ZA

    …and that’s why I ride my bike whenever possible. At $2.00 fare, you only need 50 rides to break even on the cost of a crummy bike and a good U-lock.

  • CACuzcatlan

    Any word on the rumored 30th and Mission infill BART station? Not that it would solve the overcrowding issue, but it would help.

  • BBnet3000

    Put in the 30th/Mission BART infill station, and convert the 14 to a streetcar like the Portland one

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_streetcar

  • Andrew

    Shouldn’t transit signal priority also be of high importance here?

  • the greasybear

    Far too often, only one moving lane is available to all vehicles in each direction on Mission Street, due to selfish motorists obstructing an additional lane for their own illegal convenience. Buses, trucks, cars and motorcycles must then merge into the only remaining lane, which regularly and adversely affects the 14 Mission’s scheduled runs.

    There’s no quick way for buses to skirt around these illegal bottlenecks, and painting a “transit lane” onto the roadway won’t make any difference because there will never, apparently, be a crackdown on double-parkers by the car-coddling SFPD. Let the buses wait–Buffy’s Acura will sit in that roadway until she gets her super burrito.

  • I’ve seen a 14 Mission stuck at a light through several cycles because each time it got the green, cars traveling in the cross direction had filled the intersection and “blocked the box”. Not sure how common that is, though. Hopefully it was an anomaly, not a regular occurrence.

  • Alex

    As usual Cabrera is skirting the issue. Drivers with short runs on the KLM don’t bother to notify the riders until everyone has to offboard. Most of the time they won’t even bother to change the signs. If they know at West Portal, the drivers should let the riders know AT WEST PORTAL.

    Last minute turnbacks are poor form. Period. Cutting a run short doesn’t solve squat, it simply moves the problem(s) further out on the line. If it’s already faster to walk or take BART in the core part of the 14-Mission route, perhaps calling off all early turnbacks unless there’s a mechanical problem might be worthwhile.

    David: Well, yes.

  • yet another david

    @peternatural (#13): Ever watch Stanley Roberts’s “People Behaving Badly”? Check this out, especially at the 0:55 mark. It’s utterly absurd. Regardless of SFPD’s real or perceived disinclination to ticket motorists, there must be someone, somewhere in a position of authority with the C&CSF who would watch this (among dozens of other videos of SF scofflaws in action) and see $$$$$$, especially given the difficult budget situation at present.

  • Bob Davis

    Not sure whether it’s a state law or just a city ordinance, but many places here in the LA area have “anti-gridlock” regulations. If you’re “stuck in the middle” i.e. go into the intersection with no place to go on the other side, it’s a violation. If SF doesn’t have such a code section, it should. (one more reason why when I drive to The City, my car stays at the motel until it’s time to move on.

  • Alex

    Bob: I’m pretty sure that’s a /state/ law… one I’ve never seen enforced. It would be nice, but problematic I bet, to see the video equipment onboard the buses enforce that law.

  • Mike

    Very cool photo!

  • Mario

    Another factor slowing down the 14: the awful condition of Mission Street’s pavement. I’m sure it’s caused a few broken axles. Wasn’t a repave of Mission due last year?

  • Karen

    Looks like it is illegal throughout CA to “block the box.” http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc22526.htm

  • Tracy

    As a frequent rider on the 14 and 14L, I’d love to see this line made more efficient.

    Three issues that need to be addressed immediately:
    1) REPAVE MISSION. It’s dangerous for bicycles, cars and really horrible to experience on a bus. You can find better roads in much poorer countries. I’m not kidding or exagerating.

    2) Ticket and tow double parked cars. Have DPT shadow every 14 and 49 and ticket every car that blocks the path of a bus on Mission St. It’s not ok to choke traffic because you can’t find parking. If necessary, further restrict left turn options on Mission so the traffic keeps moving during busy commute times.

    3) Have more transit cops or regular cops on the bus to deal with crazies, vandals and people who inflict their music and bs on everyone else. The worst is when you’ve got a combo of issues, like a crazy in a wheelchair. Three times in the in the last 4 months I’ve been on a bus where the driver had to stop the bus to deal with an issue, once having to call an ambulance to deal with a crazy person in a wheelchair forcing all of us to get off and wait for another bus.

    One other thing I’d like to know is why doesn’t Mission street have any of the digital signs letting you know when a bus is coming? These seem to be all over the city, but there are NONE on Mission street. Super annoying and it makes it seem like the 14/49 are not even on the Muni radar.

  • cr

    Part of the problem with ticketing and towing the double parkers is political
    will. San Franciscans have a freewheeling, flexible approach to urban life. We all know that living in a city means putting up with other people. Sometimes that means putting up with double parkers.

    Strangely, I actually like double parkers, the same way I like people who make noise on the streets at night. It reminds me that this is a city. But we need to draw a distinction between people who double-park momentarily on quiet streets and people who double-park in the bike lanes on Mission or Market.

    San Franciscans freely break laws all the time when doing so doesn’t infringe on other’s safety and freedom. I jaywalk and run lights on my bike when it is safe to do so (yielding to other road users). That may get angry drivers riled up, but I’m not doing any harm. On the other hand, we have drivers who park with their cars sticking out 12 inches over the sidewalk or double-parking on quiet streets. That may get Streetsblog commenters riled up, but again, if wheelchair users and strollers can move safely on the sidewalk and the double-parked car can be passed easily, it’s not doing much harm.

    The median voter sees these issues flexibly, so there is no political will to enforce a citywide zero-tolerance policy. The median voter thinks we should ticket dangerous jaywalkers and light-running cyclists, but not the safe ones. The median voter thinks we should ticket double-parking coffee drinkers on Mission, but not double-parking delivery trucks on quiet streets.

    San Franciscans just won’t support a zero-tolerance crackdown on double parking, and we need to work within that political reality.

    My solution: Establish zero-tolerance double-parking zones. Double-parkers who block bike lanes or transit routes should pay 3x the ticket, strictly enforced, by the same logic that we have increased traffic fines in construction or school zones. It’s a public safety issue.

    Most of the double-parkers are delivery truck drivers who make a habit of it, and we can solve this quite easily by finding the price point at which it becomes smarter for them to look for appropriate parking (or double park somewhere more safe) than to risk a measly ticket.