SFMTA Moves Closer to a System Wide All-Door Boarding Policy

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin told the agency’s board of directors yesterday that the earliest Muni could implement a system wide all-door boarding system would be sometime in the first half of next year.

For years, transit advocates have been encouraging the agency to extend its all-door boarding policy on the city’s light-rail fleet to all Muni buses to speed up service and save the agency money. It’s one of the many relatively simple solutions that have been talked about to make Muni faster and more reliable.

“Muni spends a whopping 20 percent of its time simply boarding passengers,” said Mario Tanev of the San Francisco Transit Riders Union (TRU). “If riders could legally board at all doors, travel times would be shorter.”

At the request of SFMTA Director Joél Ramos, Transit Director John Haley presented this report on all-door boarding [pdf] at the SFMTA Board meeting. It points out the benefits, including reduced travel times across the system, a more convenient boarding experience for the rider and it would help prevent fare conflicts between operators and riders.

“Most importantly for riders, it’s quicker trips. We can all shorten those travel times. That’s really important,” said Robert Boden of the TRU. “It saves dollars. When a bus is waiting in traffic, that is not only lost money for the agency, it is also poor service for the customers. It’s amazing that you can actually speed up service with quicker trips and also save the agency money.”

To implement the policy successfully, Haley said the agency would need to figure out the initial capital and operating costs, make sure the system has enough ticket machines, fare inspectors and reliable Clipper card readers. The agency would also launch a “comprehensive public campaign” to inform riders of the new policy.

One thing the agency wants to make sure it doesn’t do “is send the message that Muni is free now,” Reiskin told the directors. “The issue of how to do this with the right level of education and enforcement is the difficult part.”

Ramos said the agency can no longer afford to wait to implement the policy. The time to do it is now, he and other transit advocates stressed.

“It feels like we’re just burning money,” Ramos said. “I don’t think we have the luxury to delay this anymore than we have to. We’re constantly being burdened with shortcomings in terms of meeting our budget and attracting and increasing more revenues. This is one way that I feel we can save so much more money.”

SFMTA Citizen Advisory Committee Chair Dan Murphy told directors that all-door boarding should be implemented system wide, instead of on a piecemeal basis, and Haley agreed. Many riders, he said, are already confused by the policy, which allows them to board through any door on light-rail vehicles, but not buses.

“We hope if we go forward with all-door boarding that we do this in a system wide roll out so that everybody in San Francisco can understand what’s going on, what’s expected,” he said.

Haley said Muni would be the first transit system in North America to implement a system wide all-door boarding policy.

At yesterday’s meeting, directors also approved a $2 million contract with Turnstone Contracting to conduct “implementation consulting services” on the Transit Effectiveness Project.