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Muni’s Yellow Pole Markings at Transit Stops Will Be Replaced By Real Signs

Chestnut and Laguna Streets, where a popular transfer stop for tourists is marked only with yellow and black paint on a pole. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Chestnut and Laguna Streets, where a popular transfer stop for tourists is marked only with yellow and black paint on a pole. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The days of Muni stops marked with no visual cue except a utility pole with yellow paint and black stenciled letters are coming to an end.

As part of the Muni Forward upgrades launching this weekend, the SFMTA will raise the standard for signage at every stop. At the very least, every stop will include a “flag” sign that lists the complete name of Muni routes that serve it, as well as their terminal stops and major destinations along the way.

“We’re really tuned into signage throughout the system,” Muni Forward manager Julie Kirschbaum told Streetsblog. “Even stops that don’t have shelters will have a flag.”

It’s a good step toward a more legible, easy-to-navigate Muni, especially for a system that’s relied on so heavily by tourists.

Even some pretty significant Muni stops lack basic visual cues. Take, for example, the inbound stop for the 30-Stockton at Laguna and Chestnut Streets in the Marina (pictured above). You might not guess from looking at it, but it’s the main transfer point for tourists headed downtown from the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting from the 28-19th Avenue. Many times I’ve taken that trip, only to watch the busload of map-toting passengers disembark and walk toward the nearest stop that has a shelter — going in the wrong direction. (I usually point them in the right direction, toward the empty-looking corner.)

The SFMTA has already started to roll out a batch of wayfinding upgrades to help orient Muni riders, including a new, more legible Muni map (though the maps are not always oriented correctly themselves).

Coming soon to every Muni stop. Image: SFMTA

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Will Muni’s Largest Service Increase in Decades Have Staying Power?

“Muni Forward” upgrades coming include increased service along with branding changes. Image: SFMTA

“Muni Forward” upgrades coming soon include increased service on about a dozen routes. Image: SFMTA

Muni is making major service improvements and shoring up the basics of running buses on schedule, and this time, officials say, the improvements will stick.

“This is long term, focused and systematic,” Muni Operations Director John Haley told reporters last week, calling upcoming “Muni Forward” upgrades the largest increase in service since the Market Street subway opened in 1980.

Most importantly, the SFMTA plans to roll out a package of service increases on April 25 as part of the ongoing Muni Forward campaign, previously known as the Transit Effectiveness Project, with improvements focused on its busiest lines. As the SF Chronicle reported, nine routes will run more frequently during the morning rush and seven will run more frequently during the evening commute, with several other routes getting more service at other times.

All told, Muni says, those improvements will affect about 165,000 daily riders. Two other waves of frequency increases will come to yet-to-be-named routes in the fall and next February.

Muni is also ramping up its re-branding efforts with changes to some route names. “Limited” lines will now be called “Rapid” lines to shed the “negative connotation,” said Muni Forward Program Manager Sean Kennedy. Muni will also replace its shelter maps with a new, more legible map of the system, and install new signs to market the rapid routes.

The funding for Muni’s service improvements can largely be chalked up to rising revenue streams from a booming economy. Will it last? In 2009, when it was called the TEP, Muni’s improvement program was put on hold because of recession-era budget cuts.

Haley said the new service increases are built into the current two-year budget, and that he’s optimistic that revenue will increase in future budgets. With the greater funding provided by the passage of Propositions A and B in November, Muni plans to continue replacing its aging bus fleet, resulting in fewer breakdowns. Haley said there’s also greater pressure from the public to improve Muni as the city’s transit-riding population grows.

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Muni Double-Berthing Still Delayed Pending CPUC Approval

The ongoing delays for double-berthing in Muni Metro stations continue, as Muni waits for its training plan to be approved by the CA Public Utilities Commission.

After Muni officials demonstrated double-berthing for the CPUC in December, expecting the green light, Muni Operations Director John Haley told Streetsblog that CPUC needed to sign off its training plan, which Muni officials apparently didn’t anticipate. In early February, Haley told us he was in talks with CPUC and hoped to have approvals in place within two to four weeks.

But CPUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper said it was only on March 27, last Friday, that the agency received all of the documentation needed.

“We had already done the training,” said Muni spokesperson Paul Rose, “but the CPUC requested that we get signatures from each operator. We have done that and are awaiting a response.”

“It is too early to provide a date for launch,” he added.

Prosper told us on Wednesday that CPUC would send a written reply “in the coming days” to “allow SFMTA to place the system in service.” Rose said Muni hasn’t received it yet.

The SF Transit Riders Union “has been eagerly awaiting double berthing for quite a long time, and we’re very happy that the SFMTA is ready to move forward,” said spokesperson Reed Martin. SFTRU “urges the CPUC to move quickly and approve the plan, allowing Muni Metro riders to finally experience double berthing in action!”

We also have a few more details on some of the limitations of double-berthing, also known as double-train loading. According to Muni Deputy Director of Operations Jim Kelly, double-berthing will only be possible at Civic Center, Powell, and Montgomery Stations because the platforms at the rest of the stations are too short for two trains to load safely. Each train which loads behind another train will also stop a second time at the front of the platform.

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Chiu Bill Would Let Muni Cameras Ticket Drivers Cruising in Transit Lanes

Muni could get greater authority to ticket drivers violating transit lanes like this one at Third and Howard Streets under a new bill proposed by Assemblymember David Chiu. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Assemblymember David Chiu has proposed a bill to give Muni greater authority to keep transit-only lanes and bus stops clear of cars using the enforcement cameras that are now on every bus.

Assemblymember David Chiu today with his successor, D3 Supervisor Julie Christensen (right), Supervisor Scott Wiener, and SFTRU’s Thea Selby. Photo: Aaron Bialick

AB 1287 would allow Muni to issue citations to drivers who delay transit riders by cruising down transit-only lanes, parking in bus stops, and blocking intersections. It would also make the camera enforcement program permanent, as it’s currently a pilot program due to expire at the end of the year.

It’s the first transportation bill at the state level from Chiu, who was elected to the State Assembly in November after serving as District 3 Supervisor.

Camera enforcement “is about making dedicated space for buses work as well as possible,” Chiu said at a press conference today. “We all know that Muni is simply too slow, with an average speed of 8 mph. Transit-only lanes are critical to letting Muni do more than just crawl through our congested streets. For bus-only lanes to work, they can’t have cars double-parked or driving in them.”

Currently, Muni can only use cameras to ticket drivers who park in transit lanes, as spelled out by the bill that established the pilot program in 2007. Moving violations must be enforced by the SFPD, and drivers who park in bus stops and transit lanes, or block intersections, can only be cited by police or parking control officers on the scene.

Chiu’s bill would allow the SFMTA to send out tickets for moving violations captured on camera. Drivers caught cruising in a bus lane would get a $110 parking citation — which costs less than a moving violation.

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All Muni Buses Now Have Transit Lane Enforcement Cameras

Image: KRON 4‘s People Behaving Badly

Muni has installed front-facing cameras on every Muni bus to ticket drivers who double-park in transit-only lanes.

Muni is the first major American transit agency to have enforcement cameras on every bus. The first transit lane cameras were installed as part of a pilot program in 2008. Like system-wide all-door boarding, the idea could spread to other transit systems.

Muni didn’t publicize the milestone, but we checked up on the effort with SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose, who said it was completed last fall (a few months off the target date of spring 2014). Equipping the whole fleet marks a major milestone in the effort to make Muni service more effective, and it nicely complements the city’s growing number of red-painted transit lanes.

So be warned, drivers: If a Muni bus weaves around your parked car in a transit lane, you will get a ticket in the mail. The base fine is $110.

Unfortunately, state law prohibits the cameras from being used to cite moving violations, so drivers cruising down a Muni lane can still only be penalized by the SFPD.

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Wiener’s Prop B Yields More Money Than Expected for Muni, Safe Streets

SF voters may get more money than anticipated for better transit and safer streets from the passage of Proposition B, a measure crafted by Supervisor Scott Wiener to increase the share of general funds for transportation based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

With city coffers boosted by tax revenues resulting from a booming economy, Prop B is expected to yield $26 million in the next annual budget, 75 percent of which would go to Muni, with the remainder dedicated to pedestrian and bike safety upgrades. Originally, only $22 million was expected.

Of the nearly $19.5 million expected for Muni, most will cover the purchase of 18 new buses. The other $6.5 million will fund various street safety measures in pursuit of Vision Zero.

“It’s a really strong list,” said Wiener, “and it’s doing exactly what we intended Prop B to do — to improve Muni’s reliability and capacity in the face of a growing population, and to make street safety improvements as our streets become more crowded.”

Prop B instituted a city charter amendment mandating annual increases in the share of general funds set aside for transportation, based on population growth. The first increase of $26 million, which the Board of Supervisors must approve as part of the annual budget by July, accounts retroactively for the last ten years of growth. Commensurate increases are expected in the years to follow.

Wiener proposed the measure last year after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for a ballot measure to restore the local vehicle license fee to its longtime level of 2 percent. That was expected to yield an estimated $1 billion over 15 years, restoring a revenue stream cut by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mayor Lee can repeal the Prop B amendment if a VLF increase is passed by voters in 2016.

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Halted By Noise Complaints, N-Judah Tunnel Upgrades Expected to Resume

Photo: SFMTA

The SFMTA is expected to resume work to upgrade the Sunset Tunnel for the N-Judah after construction was halted by a permit appeal from neighbors who complained about noise. Crews have skipped four weekends of work, adding unknown costs and at least a month of delay to the project.

The N-Judah boarding island on Duboce Avenue at the Sunset Tunnel East Portal, seen here after upgrades in 2012. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The appellants complained that the noise, particularly from backup alarms used on construction vehicles, deprived them of sleep during overnight work. The SFMTA says the work can only be done on weekends, including nights, so as to keep trains moving on weekdays, when ridership on Muni’s busiest line is at its highest.

The issue is expected to be officially resolved at a Board of Appeals hearing today, after which “there will be a ten-day waiting period,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. “During that time we will be able to develop a schedule to move forward with the work.”

Bud Offermann, who filed the appeal, said neighbors near the Sunset Tunnel’s East Portal at Duboce Park have agreed to the use of a new “broadband” backup alarm, which is quieter for neighbors but still satisfies the safety requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“I think we’re 100 percent,” said Offermann, though he still wants some “work practice changes” to be approved. He said he would have already withdrawn the appeal and cancelled the hearing, but the SFMTA “pissed off so many people, there are a few individuals who want to have their say.”

Originally, the appellants wanted much more than a different alarm sound, including paid-for hotel accommodations or the use of a signal person to substitute for the alarms. The contractor, ProVen, said a signal person would add $25,000 in costs per weekend, according to appeal documents [PDF].

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Muni Expects to End Operator Shortage for the First Time This Century

Muni officials expect to have a full staff of bus and train operators this spring, finally ending a shortage that has led to canceled runs and excessive overtime spending since at least the 1990s.

Photo: SFMTA

Muni Operations Director John Haley said Muni has ramped up its operator training to fill the backlog by April or May, though he’s more confident on fully staffing bus operators than streetcar operators by that point.

“We have two training classes in the pipeline, so we should be in good shape on the rubber tire side,” Haley told Streetsblog in an email.

Currently, Muni is short 40 rail operators — 30 for Muni metro lines and 10 for the F-line streetcars, Haley said. For buses, Muni needs 75 additional drivers to make currently scheduled runs, and will need an 30 more operators for a planned service increase in April.

Muni canceled between 55 and 73 runs each day over a three-day sample period in mid-May, the SF Examiner reported last June. Haley said the rate of missed runs has recently run as high as 6 percent.

It’s not clear when the last time Muni had all the operators it needs to make its scheduled runs, but according to a 2008 SPUR articlethe shortage has lasted since at least 1998. The numbers have fluctuated over the years, often running as high as several hundred missing operators as attrition outpaced hiring.

If the backlog is filled this spring, the question then becomes how long Muni can hold the line. An end to the shortage has been predicted before. In May 2011, an SFMTA spokesperson told CBS the rail operator backlog would be filled by July of that year.

Back in June, Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Eric Williams told KQED he estimated the shortage at 200 full-time and 251 part-time operators.

Muni wasn’t allowed to hire part-time operators until voters passed Proposition G in 2010, though the agency has since struggled to maintain its part-time staffing. In 2012, Muni management converted most of its 95 part-time operators to full-time to make up for a drop in full-time operators. Without the flexibility that part-time operators provide, Muni must pay full-time workers expensive overtime to make up for gaps in service.

Muni’s on-time performance has worsened over the past year, dropping from 60 percent to 54 percent, though Haley says Muni officials aren’t sure why. The operator shortage is just one of the chronic problems plaguing Muni service, along with vehicle breakdowns and delays caused by car traffic. The City Controller’s Office has estimated that Muni delays cost the economy at least $50 million each year.

Haley said the operator shortages lead to a downward spiral as drivers who pick up the slack work overtime more often and get burned out from the stress of the job. When bus runs are canceled, the buses that do show up get more crowded, riders get more frustrated, and drivers become more worried about staying on schedule.

“You’re digging a huge hole for yourself,” said Haley. “There’s nothing good that can happen from it.”

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Eyes on the Street: 3 Blocks of Bus Lane on Haight — How About One More?

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Photo: Jason Henderson

The SFMTA extended the red Muni-only lane on the east end of Haight Street last week, adding a third block to the red carpet rolled out for the 6-Parnassus and 71-Haight/Noriega lines in November. The lane, which includes a contra-flow block connecting directly to Market Street, lets Muni riders headed downtown bypass the queue of cars turning toward the Central Freeway.

Street Fight author Jason Henderson, who lives on the block of Haight with the bus lane extension between Buchanan and Laguna Streets, said “it works well.” But he also noted that Muni buses are still delayed by queued drivers between Webster and Buchanan Streets, so it looks like the lane should be extended upstream another block. Henderson photographed a 6-Parnassus bus that he said “took about two minutes to crawl half the block to the bus stop.”

Since there is a curbside stop on that block, Henderson suggested that the Muni lane there may need to run along the curb, where there’s currently a car parking lane. Of the three blocks of transit lane on Haight so far, two were carved out of former traffic lanes, and the contra-flow block replaced a parking lane.

Plans to speed up Muni on Haight approved by the SFMTA in November include a transit-priority traffic signal at Haight and Buchanan, replacing the existing stop sign.

Between Webster and Buchanan, drivers still block buses on Haight. Photo: Jason Henderson

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Muni “Double Berthing” on Hold Two to Four Weeks, Pending CPUC Approval

Muni may finally launch “double berthing” in its Metro stations in two to four weeks, “barring anything we can’t think of,” according to Muni Operations Director John Haley.

Muni riders were first promised simultaneous loading of two trains in underground stations in October 2013. More recently, the launch was scheduled for December, then delayed again.

Muni demonstrated a live test on December 13 to officials at the CA Public Utilities Commission, who were expected to sign off on a launch scheduled a week later. But CPUC officials then said they also need to sign off on a training plan to ensure that operators know how to use the new system, Haley said.

“The test worked fine, and they said, ‘OK, but we want to see the training plan before you actually activate it,'” said Haley. When asked whether the SFMTA anticipated the CPUC’s request for a training plan, he said, “I guess not.”

CPUC’s press office hasn’t responded to a request for comment on the project’s status.

Once the CPUC gives Muni the green light, Haley said, “We’re really ready to go.”