SFMTA Launches Nx Judah Express Bus Pilot to Supplement Rail Service

Image: SFMTA

Squeezing onto a packed N-Judah train during rush hour is an all too common challenge for many riders of Muni’s busiest line. The SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), hoping to provide some relief, launched an express bus pilot program this week to supplement rail service. Dubbed the Nx Judah Express, it carries Outer Sunset commuters to the Financial District and back.

“The Nx Judah Express Bus Pilot aims to reduce crowding on the N-Judah for customers along the entire length of the route,” said SFMTA Transit Service Planning Manager Julie Kirschbaum. “It also provides an additional service choice for Outer Sunset customers traveling during commute hours.”

The dedicated fleet of buses is scheduled to run every ten minutes, but only during morning and evening peak hours. It stops only between 48th and 19th Avenues before streamlining riders to a final stop in the Financial District near Montgomery Station, traveling along some the city’s motor expressways [pdf].

Forty percent of N-Judah riders board west of 19th Avenue in the morning rush, said Kirschbaum. By the time trains reach later stops like Carl and Cole Streets, they are often already overfilled, leaving commuters stranded.

“We believe that providing the express service in the outer avenues will be the most successful because the long express portion of the route maximizes the travel time benefits of the bus relative to the train,” she said. “Further east, the subway portions of the N-Judah make the bus travel times less competitive with the rail.”

The Nx is scheduled to take passengers to their destination about as quickly as the N-Judah would. Car congestion seems to be a potential obstacle on routes like Lincoln Way and Park Presidio, but Kirschbaum said they’ve already been tested. “We will be evaluating travel time throughout the pilot and will shift to an alternate routing if needed,” she said.

The project was created by the Service Restoration Task Force, which seeks to find ways to effectively improve Muni service following cuts made in recent years. “It comes from an examination of the ridership and loads on our busiest rail line,” said Kirschbaum.

SFMTA staff will be evaluating the effectiveness of the pilot in the coming weeks.

  • Anonymous

    There’s a dozen ways they could have made the existing rail service faster. And it wouldn’t have cost that much.  But instead they’re doing this?

  • Fireplacetv

    Agreed, Mr. Eric Sir, shame on the SFMTA for trying to gather real world data with a pilot program.

  • Marta Lindsey

    I have to say, as a daily N-Judah rider… my commutes the past two days have ROCKED. I live in the Inner Sunset, and the train has had so much more space.  Usually when we get to Cole Valley, we leaves dozens of people behind (I call them “the haunted eyes of Cole Valley” because they always look so sad) and the train becomes a complete cattle car.  So as far as I can tell, this thing is working.  Hopefully it’s not because people are just giving the Nx a try and will abandon it later.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think the issue is faster. The issue is “not enough room on the train”

  • Anonymous

    Speed and the amount of room are very much related, all other things being equal.

  • Anonymous

    Since when has SFMTA cared about the real world?

  • Anonymous

    From what I have heard, the results are mixed. But this is at best a short term, bandaid approach. It will help for now, but it is taking money away from the kinds of long term solutions we need to have the N and the entire Metro system run properly. But that would assume that the SFMTA has a boss who’s focused on his job, which it does not.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I’m missing something, but why not just add more N streetcars? Is it an issue with coordinating them once they meet up with all the other lines when they go underground at Market? If so, what about adding an extra car on each one? We have all this rail infrastructure in place, why not use it instead of trying to jury rig some other solution?

    However, that being said, the express bus is better than nothing.

  • Jon Bate

    Apparently the Muni rail cars are a custom design, too expensive to buy in small quantities. A shame as it does seem like you could give the system an easy capacity boost by making all trains two car and adding more trains to the busier lines, such as the N.

    Another way to improve capacity would be to make the existing above ground sections look more like the T-Third, with the many flag stops consolidated into fewer stations with level boarding platforms, dedicated lanes wherever possible, and signal priority. That would speed up travel time, and less travel time means higher frequency.

  • jd_x, only some of the infrastructure is in place. Muni is frequently one short for the daily schedule as is, but because the trains were only ever designed for two-car consists, the software will currently only run a third car in a “tow mode”. 
    It is a situation where you’re right that it would help, but it would take a lot of work to do all the things required to get the project studied, analyzed, proposed, reviewed, approved, funded, etc. is just too much of a headache when there are already projects in the pipeline to help that just take time. Several heavily damaged trains are being repaired, but that will take a few years. A leading cause of stoppages in the tunnel is a sub-system of the OS/2 based control system that is being replaced, but that will take a few years.Murphstahoe was onto it, the NX was an achievable short term fix for the mandate that SFMTA reverse last year’s 10% service cut. There are not enough trains available, but there enough busses (and that is due to investments in bus refurbishment made a few years ago that are paying off) this was a way they could restore service levels and offer at least some riders something better.

  • Alex

    Seriously?  OS/2 bashing?  OS/2 is a fine RTOS, and powered ATMs (and other mission critical devices) for years without major problems.  The proposed solution?  Windows.  When was the last time you saw Windows crash?  Oh.  Right.  The problem is that Thales (nee Alcatel) is a shoddy corporation that makes shit products.  Go fly Air Canada, play with their in-flight entertainment system (powered by Windows and Thales), and tell me what you think of Thales’ (complete in)ability to write software.

    I was stuck at Forest Hill for about five minutes today for some unknown reason.  But because the current train control software won’t double berth, and the current man behind the curtain won’t authorize the driver to into cutout mode… we were stuck.  Doors closed.  That’s not an OS/2 problem, that’s a people procuring shit software (thank you Rose Pak, Willie Brown, and Booze Allen Hamilton), finding incompetent fools to manage it, and finding idiots to back off on suing Alcatel over such poor design, and simply sign off on the contract.

    As for the buses, the MTA is using the freaking junkers that AC Transit pawned off on us for the NX.  These buses were /so bad/ that they were relegated to emergency use only until someone (fairly recently) decided that was a waste.  That’s not an investment it’s a bad joke that someone was finally able to kinda rectify.

    I’m gonna completely disagree here that this is a bandaid solution.  Until there are express tracks in the subway, buses will (sadly) be needed for express/limited service.  And, no, neither express nor limited service are band-aid solutions.  There is a legitimate need to make sure that the two car trains are not packed by the time they reach the Inner Sunset.

  • Simply saying “OS/2 based” is not bashing. As you hit on Alex, the problem isn’t OS/2 itself but the software its running. At this point though the pool of developers and hardware has shrunk to practically non-existant.

  • Anonymous

    Jon, your proposal to make the N more like the T assumes that the T is faster than the N, which it should have been in theory but in practice was never the case.  They built the T to work like a faster line, but they don’t operate it well.

  • Anonymous

    @facebook-723156079:disqus : That’s all makes sense, but long-term, we should be procuring more cars. In the short-term, sure we can add the express bus as a stop-gap measure. But long-term, all the problems you mentioned are solvable and worth solving as they give the best solution. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. Seems like we should be working on this while the extra express buses are running in the meantime.

    PS: please hit “Reply” to the comment to which you are replying rather than creating a new comment … it’s easier to follow that way.

  • jd_x: you’re absolutely right. SFMTA is already working on all these issues, but there will be a lot of treading water to get there.

    Sticking with the trains as an example. SFMTA is having 4 heavily damaged trains repaired, making the most of what it already owns. Here’s where things get promising though, SFMTA already planned to order 10 additional trains to keep up with growth bbefore we’re 

  • Jon Bate

    Sure, they don’t operate the T well, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was designed to a better standard than the older lines. Some of the stops are a bit too close and it needs better signal priority, but outside of downtown it’s still faster than the N. At least according to the schedules, the T does a mile in about 5 minutes, and the N does a mile in about 7 minutes. The main problem with the T is the loop it has to do to get from 4th & King to Downtown; if there’s a ballgame you may as well get off and walk.

    My fantasy modern N-Judah would start at La Playa and stop at 43rd, Sunset, 31st, 25th, 19th, Funston, and 7th; then continue on Parnassus to UCSF, Stanyan, Sunset Portal, Duboce Park, Duboce & Church; then into the subway. I for one would happily walk an extra couple of blocks in order to reduce my journey time.

  • david vartanoff

    about adding cars, Wed/Thurs 2/4 LRVsc SHORT per MTA Daily Reports.  so the buses barely made up for the lost seats/standing room.   

  • Andy Chow

    I rode it this afternoon and it took 23 minutes from downtown to 19th & Judah. Later took the N-Judah back and took 32 minutes. While the buses use city streets, the alignment usually receive better signal treatment (and avoiding some key ones). The service also does not have stops in the express segment.