Mayor Ed Lee: TEP Implementation Is My #1 Muni Priority

Mayor Ed Lee sat down with Streetsblog this morning. Photo: Christine Falvey

In a wide ranging interview with Streetsblog this morning, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said he is frustrated by how long it takes to implement ideas to improve transit and pedestrian safety, and pledged to make the implementation of the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) the top Muni priority in his administration.

“The Transit Effectiveness plan and program has to be implemented all the way. There are some fantastic ideas that have been presented, some great policy reflective of the TEP. I would like those things aggressively implemented,” said Lee, who was appointed last month to fill out the remaining term of former Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is now lieutenant governor.

Lee said he is working closely with the SFMTA on several policies to better the transit system and improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists (we’ll have more on that part of our interview in the coming week).

“I also think that they have to quickly come up with financial schemes that would get their revenues up and make sure they’re not losing any money,” he said.

He said his comments last month that “our modern transportation system is an embarrassment” had more to do with the fact that “we haven’t really used technology to our best effort.”

“When I take the trains in Hong Kong they’re so efficient and you have the octopus card over there that you can buy things with but they take you on all the modes, including the ferry, and we haven’t gotten there yet,” he said.

“We actually have to implement these things faster just to catch up, and that’s where my frustration is. It takes such a long time to get these improvements done, and then we’re faced with things like CEQA. While we have to respect the environment, and conditions there, I just wish things could move faster, and certainly when it comes to pedestrian safety, I can’t move fast enough.”

The Mayor pointed out that speeding up Muni’s average speed from 8 miles an hour to 10 could save the agency $40 million a year. So I asked him the following question from Streetsblog reader James Figone about bus stop optimization:

If the SFMTA wanted to consolidate bus stops — and they’re now calling it optimization — would you provide the political support to make this easy, low-cost service improvement possible?

His response: “Certainly, I mean it’s so practical. Optimizing is a great word because you can just have a level of more candid discussions with people about what makes sense. I think everybody would like Muni to operate on time, to operate well, and if this gets us there, which I believe it would, I would put full backing into it, and as you know, I’m not running for any office and I want to make the city work better and if optimization is there and it works better I’m all for it.”

When asked about the possible departure of SFMTA Chief Nat Ford, Lee said that it’s routine for all departments to have solid succession plans in place, including the SFMTA, and would be prepared “in case there is an offer that is made, in case Mr. Ford wants to act on it.” He said he has been in touch with members of the SFMTA Board about the situation.

Meantime, Lee said he has not decided whether to reappoint SFMTA Board members Cameron Beach and Jerry Lee, whose terms expire next month, and is currently reviewing their credentials.

“I think they’ve been at the helm of good policy and so I want to make sure we move forward on everything. Whether that means us changing out or not I can’t say at this time but I’ll definitely be talking with each of them,” he said.

In our half-hour interview, Lee touched on parking, the SFBC’s Connecting the City vision, implementing an executive directive on pedestrian safety and many other issues. We’ll be posting the interview in its entirety tomorrow, along with more in-depth coverage of the issues we talked about.

  • icarus12

    Mayor Lee keeps proving that he’s a very smart, practical person with a insider’s knowledge. He seems committed to getting done those things that can be completed within 1 year. Now, that’s smart.

  • TEP came out more than a year ago…

  • Sean H

    3 cheers for a Mayor that can get behind a good plan regardless of its political ramifications.

  • Why is Streetsblog so passionately advocating bus stop removal? The segue from speeding Muni from 8 to 10 miles per hour to bus stop “optimization” makes it sound like removing stops will make Muni run at 10 MPH, but is there any evidence to support that?

    Why aren’t transit advocates or Mayor Lee suggesting we enforce bus lanes, double-parkers, box-blockers or any of the other revenue *positive* options for speeding up bus service?

  • James Figone

    Josh says, “Why aren’t transit advocates or Mayor Lee suggesting we enforce bus lanes, double-parkers, box-blockers or any of the other revenue *positive* options for speeding up bus service?”

    Well, we are. We need all these things and we need bus stop optimization because the spacing is well below MTA guidelines and slows down the buses. Optimization has not been done because it is politically difficult, which was why I posed my question to the Mayor about providing support for it.

  • BBnet3000

    We need more efficient vehicles that require less drivers per passenger. (Labor is the largest cost for any transit agency)

    How do you think Boston manages a way better farebox recovery than SF? Because they are running light rail or subway on major lines. On major lines in SF, Muni is running 2 car LRT at best, and even just single-articulated diesel buses. (38L anyone?)

    A little capital expense (OK, a lot, but the city can afford it) would go a long way in this case to reducing operating expenses.

  • Sprague

    It’s great to read that the new mayor fully supports TEP. TEP makes good transit and fiscal sense. Thank you for conducting the interview and advocating for livable city improvements.

  • The speed increase from stop consolidation can be found by taking the current run time for a route and subtracting the combined dwell time from the stops eliminated (actually this is a slight underestimation because there is also deceleration/acceleration, etc.). This is not going to produce a massive effect for most lines by itself, but fortunately none of these treatments being debated to improve system speed are mutually exclusive; in fact many of them are synergistic, and most are not very expensive.

    Even the ones that require some significant investment should pay for themselves fairly quickly, since every increase in speed reduces labor cost by performing the same trip with fewer operator minutes, and potentially increases revenue by attracting more riders if you can get the system up to a level speed and reliability that more people will accept.

    If you look at the TEP Service Findings report, they cite these root causes for slow system speed:
    1. Traffic signals and stop signs
    2. Difficult operating environment (transit lane violations, double parking, etc.)
    3. Long stop dwell times
    4. Near-side stops
    5. Closely spaced stops
    6. Traffic congestion

    These can be remedied by:
    1. Implement transit preempted signals
    Relatively small investment for huge increase in system speed
    2. Improve enforcement and physically separate transit lanes
    Enforcement should be revenue-positive; permanent separation treatments are expensive, but could yield huge speed increases on certain corridors
    3. Implement all door boarding & begin procuring 5-door double-articulated buses for busiest lines
    All door boarding costs nothing to implement since Clipper machines are already in place – the MTA line about needing more fare inspectors is absurd since most of their riders already board through the back doors at peak times, so if they think they need those inspectors to catch back door boarders, then they already need them under the current system and the cost is not relevant to the decision
    The trolley bus fleet has a huge number of vehicles that are already overdue for replacement and bigger buses will not only speed boarding with more doors but also further reduce costs by carrying more passengers per operator
    4. Move stops to far side
    My understanding is this costs nothing if the city just has the advertising vendor do it while they’re replacing the stops anyway. Why have they have failed to do this on some of the stops that have already been replaced?
    5. Consolidate stops
    Again I believe it costs nothing since the ad vendor is responsible for hauling the shelter away
    6. Same as #2

  • Gordon

    Getting new buses is something that’ll only happen when the FTA/MTC guidelines allow a bus to be retired after a certain amount of time, such as 20 years for trolley coaches. So even though you might be looking at those old articulated trolleys on the 14/49 and think that they should be replaced by now, they still have 3 more years. And there’s no way that they even have any extra money for the bi-articulated buses, as well as the fact that the current Flynn Division yard is already over capacity, and might not even be able to fit those buses inside. Read more about it here:http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rsrtp/documents/12Chapter7-FleetPlan31accessibleFY08PublicDraftforMTAB10-2fm.pdf

  • Troy

    Stop consolidation can’t come soon enough. How hard can it be? I’m sick of stopping at every goddam block.

  • Nick

    Look forward to the full interview. And thank you for not mentioning his mustache!

  • @Gordon They have three more years to have the new buses in service, which means they will begin procurement next year, which means now is the time to start speaking up for better vehicles! Wouldn’t it make sense to have one vehicle service Van Ness BRT as well as the top bus routes?

    Also, I think the Flynn yard is only for diesel articulated buses; if it is electrified I’ve never noticed. But when yard space is a constraint, double articulated buses look even better for meeting peak demand: our ETI 15Tr are 60ft length with 94 person capacity for 1.6 people per linear foot of yard space vs. a Hess lighTram 3 at 81ft length with 192 person capacity for 2.4 people per linear foot of yard space.

    So we can carry 50% more people with the same yard space and 104% more people with same number of operators – seems like a great fit for a transit system that is at crush capacity during commute hours, faced with high labor costs and limited yard space!

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Excellent! Looking forward to the next few years in San Francisco!

  • Michael Smith

    For a politician to say that the support the TEP is like saying they support puppies. Hey, who doesn’t.

    There is only one relevant question: how is Mayor Lee going to expedite the implementation of the TEP.

  • david vartanoff

    TEP has two faces–the cuts which were touted as necessary to redeploy those resources for better service and the reality that almost none of those upgrades ever happened. Thus it was de facto political cover for the cuts with no real commitment to the improvements. Time and again traffic signal priority is mentioned, but even where the hardware exists, it is turned OFF (Embarcadero to Caltrain) Many second door TClipper readers are also turned off.
    In my view the nearside/farside issue is bogus. There are numerous cases where because of diverging routes, discreet driveway/street configurations farside is not feasible. As to stop elimination, while some stops are indeed too close together, the real issue on many routes–38, 14, 49, et al, is the need for more limiteds/expresses and fewer locals.

    On many routes there are too many four way stops signs. Replacing those with cross traffic actuated signals is critical to speeding up buses.

  • Susan

    I fully support better enforcement of double parkers, etc…. but will the Muni drivers who refuse to pull into HUGE bus stop lanes, and instead stop in the middle of the traffic lane on California & other streets also be ticketed? The Muni drivers create part of their own problem! If they are not going to use the bus stop lanes, then could those be returned to parking places to reduce the regular car double parkers?

    Also, on streets like Chestnut, there are plenty of yellow curb meters… but not usually anyone parked in them, while the delivery trucks are double parked. Why not make these into regular spots so that more people can park & spend $$$ in the local businesses?

  • Susan,

    “If they are not going to use the bus stop lanes, then could those be returned to parking places to reduce the regular car double parkers?”

    I think you point out the need for more bus bulb outs, not replacing that area with more parking.

    “Why not make these into regular spots so that more people can park & spend $$$ in the local businesses?”

    If parking is hard, then the price needs to go up. SFPark will help with that. As for deliveries not using yellow zones, call DPT.

  • susan

    Mike- if the busses would pull out of the traffic lane then 2 lanes of traffic (including other buses) could get by and speed up everyones experience on the streets. When the bus drivers “defend” their space it slows everyone down the same way bulbouts do! The reality is that transit and cars have to co-exist… Taking muni takes way too long in many instances!

  • icarus12

    Mike,
    I agree that the price of parking on Chestnut Street will probably go up and most definitely should go up. I just hope that in other areas where there are plenty of empty meters the price goes down. I’m not sure I trust the SFMTA to do that. Do you know if there’s any public oversight and transparency on the adjustment of prices based on use rates?

  • “4. Move stops to far side
    My understanding is this costs nothing if the city just has the advertising vendor do it while they’re replacing the stops anyway. Why have they have failed to do this on some of the stops that have already been replaced?”

    David Vartanoff’s points are spot on. Specifically, WRT near/far stops, the difference between near and far is slight, and only applies to intersections with transit-priority signals. So to see any gains from moving stops you’d have to implement TPS first.

  • Susan, pulling into and out of bus zones takes time and makes for an unpleasant ride. Also, the bus may become “stuck” in the bus loading zone if traffic backs up or doesn’t feel the need to let it re-enter traffic. The dwell times aren’t so much that traffic is really hindered. I’d say the small inconvenience to drivers to help speed Muni and make the ride more pleasant.

    icarus, that is a good question about public oversight. I do not know. However, where is there an instance in the city that metered parking is so over priced that spots are left empty? Maybe the FiDi doesn’t have the parking demand on the weekend because, well, it is the weekend, but this isn’t due to over priced meters.

  • “Taking muni takes way too long in many instances!”

    That’s because you’d rather Muni spend valuable time pulling into and out of traffic.

    “When the bus drivers “defend” their space it slows everyone down the same way bulbouts do!”

    Not sure what you mean by “defend” but how would a bulbout slow “everyone” down? And how would it be any different if it was parking spaces there instead of a bulbout? Like I said, if parking is an issue, then the rates need to be raised to increase turnover. In the same vein, nights and Sunday metering should be added as well. If the businesses are open and need customers to spend their “$$$$”, then the meters should be encouraging turn over.

  • david vartanoff

    first, yes bus bulbs work, second, as long as the bus has more riders than the the average 1.5 persons in the autos delayed in a single city block, the cars are the interference.

  • icarus12

    Mike,
    There are plenty of weekday and Saturday streets where parking meters are empty but neighboring streets full. Nearly all of the side alleys and cross streets abutting Polk Street during Mon-Sat, Franklin during Saturday, Valencia near 14th on a Saturday afternoon, West Portal Avenue during the weekday mornings after 9 am, just to name a few I’ve grown accustomed to seeing. In these areas I think drivers would gladly plunk in 25 cents an hour rather than circle into a neighborhood street to search for a free spot for the next couple of hours while said drivers do quick errands go out to eat. I truly believe that dynamic pricing should be just that — up and down according to demand as Shoup has stated. But I fear the lure of revenue seduces SFMTA planning.

  • Absolutely the best way to depoliticize parking is to say we are going to set a policy that the target is 85% occupancy, and leave pricing completely up to the data. If the MTA is forced to provide open data on the actual occupancy rates, it will be very easy to tell if they are trying to cheat the system for extra revenue, because setting prices too high will result in occupancy rates significantly below the target.

    This should also take debate over evening/weekend pricing off the table: the data can show exactly which hours of the week demand is low enough that you can provide free parking and still not exceed the target occupancy rate.

    @Josh I would think the exact opposite would be true: if you implement transit preempted signals that will hold the light green for the transit vehicle no matter how long the dwell and prevent passengers from crossing in front of it, then far/near side no longer matters, whereas if you don’t have TPS and especially if you have stop signs, it does matter.

    And this is really just another benefit of TPS, because then as David points out you can focus on other practical considerations like driveways/streetscape and which configuration produces the easiest transfers without having to worry about whether this slows the route. But I would also agree it is probably the least significant of the issues.

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