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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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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.”

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Coming to Caltrain: Longer Trains With More Room for Bikes

Caltrain Bombarier Bike Car With Folding Bikes

Caltrain’s Bombardier trains currently only carry 48 bikes each. With trains receiving a third bike car, 72 bikes can fit on board. Photo: John Woodell/Twitter

Caltrain will add a third bike car to all six of its Bombardier trains, Executive Director Michael Scanlon announced at the transit agency’s monthly board of directors meeting last week. With the new cars, bike capacity will increase from 48 to 72 on each of the Bombardier trains. But it could take up to one year to place the six-car trains into service.

The new bike cars are part of a larger $15 million project to acquire and refurbish 16 used rail cars from Los Angeles Metrolink, adding about 2,000 seats across Caltrain’s fleet. The agency’s 15 older gallery-style trains already carry 80 bikes each, since seats are not placed in the center of the two bike cars on those trains, and will not receive more bike capacity.

Crowding on Caltrain is becoming increasingly severe during the morning and evening rush. A record 61,670 passengers packed into the agency’s five-car trains on an average weekday in October 2014, and “standing room only” is now the norm during peak hours. With ridership growing more than 10 percent each year since 2009, the trend shows no sign of stopping. New office space and housing construction in San Francisco, along El Camino Real in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and within walking distance of Caltrain stations are also quickly filling up any remaining passenger capacity even on trains running outside the traditional commute times.

The number of passengers bringing bicycles on Caltrain has grown four times faster than overall ridership since 2008. Strong growth in the Bay Area’s tech and finance economies continues to bring thousands more workers every year to suburban office developments located far from any practical rail or bus services — making train-plus-bike the only feasible alternative to commuting by car.

Caltrain officials were initially leaning toward adding refurbished rail cars to the Bombardier fleet with total seating for about 650 passengers but no spaces for bikes. That would have actually cut the share of passengers who can bring a bike on board compared to the status quo, even as bike-plus-train trips continue to outpace overall Caltrain ridership growth.

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How Can Muni Stop Car Drivers From Jamming Its Tunnels?

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N-Judah riders walk the tracks of the Sunset Tunnel past a jammed car. Does this have to keep happening? Video screen capture via Sean Rea/Youtube

Another brilliant driver got his car stuck in the Sunset Tunnel Saturday night at about 8 p.m., bringing Muni’s busiest line to a dead stop. A train full of N-Judah riders had to walk along the tracks out of the eastern portal. One of them was Streetsblog reader Sean Rea, who captured the walk in a video posted on YouTube (see below).

The last time this was reported, last February, I happened to be on the train. My fellow riders were able to lift the car out of the way and get trains moving again. Muni riders on Saturday weren’t so lucky — the car was wedged on the tracks deep in the tunnel, forcing them to walk the rest of the way or wait for substitute Muni buses to take them around the tunnel.

It’s incredible how one errant driver can disrupt the trips of thousands of Muni riders, whether due to simple arrogance or failure to comprehend the situation. There must be more effective measures available to fully prevent autos from entering rail tunnels.

Muni has already added signage, including a blindingly bright sign at the Duboce and Church portal, and raised bumps. But drivers — especially drunk drivers — still enter them surprisingly often. It might only happen once or twice each year, but it’s remarkable that it happens at all.

It’s unclear if drivers ever face any legal penalties for doing this. In Rea’s video, he can be heard asking an officer, “Can we take this guy to court?,” only to be directed to stay away from the car. The officers appear to be posted around the car to protect it, standing next to an elderly man who may have been the driver.

Streetsblog commenter murphstahoe suggested taking a page from the parking garage industry:

How is it that we put tire destroying spikes to stop people from exiting parking garages via the entrance, but not at the entrance to the N-Judah tunnel? Would stop the car dead so much faster, making the car easier to remove — yet more expensive for the scofflaw to fix.

Good question, though this might bring some drivers to a halt who might otherwise be able to recognize their mistake extricate their vehicles from the tunnel before causing a massive problem. Mechanical retractable bollards are another possibility, but they could break down and block trains more often if they have to retract every time a train approaches.

We’ll be looking into best practices from around the world. If you’re already aware of any, feel free to share in the comments.

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Muni Pushes “Double Berthing” Launch Back One More Week

We’ve now lost count of how many times Muni has delayed the launch of “double berthing” in its Metro stations. Last we heard, it was promised to launch tomorrow, but the agency now says it needs one more week of testing before two trains can simultaneously board on the same platform.

“We are adding an additional test for double boarding — to ensure that our live test plan is as thorough as possible, and our signal mechanics have more time with the program and infrastructure,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. The live test that was planned for early morning last Saturday, a demonstration which will allow CA Public Utilities Commission officials to sign off on the launch, will instead happen early tomorrow morning.

“We are hopeful that we will receive certification from CPUC soon after that, to implement this feature into regular service,” said Rose. If all goes as planned (and it will, right?), the change would go into effect on Saturday, December 20.

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Geary Bus Riders Set to Get Some “Early” Upgrades Before BRT Lanes Arrive

A rendering of a bus bulb and transit lane at Geary and Fillmore. Minor upgrades like these are set to be installed years before Geary BRT is finished in 2019. Image: SFCTA

Muni’s 38-Geary riders may get some relief even before bus rapid transit lanes come to the line’s Richmond segment in 2019. The SFMTA and SF County Transportation Authority are developing plans to install “early” improvements over the next few years, like bus bulbs, extended transit-only lanes, and transit signal priority.

Those upgrades would be made east of Stanyan Street, on the segment of the Geary corridor that is not poised to get center-running BRT lanes, said SFCTA planner Chester Fung. Center BRT lanes, originally expected to open in 2012, were dropped from the agency’s “preferred alternative” plan this year because of engineering obstacles presented by the Masonic and Presidio tunnels. The larger BRT project is still going through a lengthy environmental review and design process.

But on the eastern segments outside of the Richmond, where buses will continue to run on curbside lanes just as they do today, planners are looking to make “phased” upgrades that don’t have to wait. These will consist of “things that are more easily done, and less involved from an infrastructure and engineering standpoint,” and therefore don’t have to wait for the larger project, said Fung.

The SFMTA has already added red paint to the existing transit-only lanes on inner Geary and O’Farrell streets this year. Transit-priority bus detection is being installed on traffic signals at 86 intersections along the corridor.

According to SFCTA presentation materials [PDF], the route could see these upgrades between next year and 2017:

  • Bus-only lanes extended by one to two miles, between Gough and Stanyan streets
  • Transit and pedestrian bulb-outs at up to 15 spots
  • Bus zone extensions to fit more buses at up to 15 busy stops
  • Up to five stops removed, and “up to two local-only stops created,” at Spruce and Laguna Streets
  • Up to 15 right-turn “pocket” lanes to keep queuing cars out of the way
  • Some stops moved from the near side of the intersection to the far side, to take advantage of transit signal priority
  • Countdown pedestrian signals installed at six intersections

Fung said SFMTA planners are still working on details, like locations, for many of those improvements, and they would represent less than half of the upgrades planned for the segment east of Stanyan. Altogether, the “early” improvements are expected to save riders four to six minutes in each direction — and would result in bus reliability improving by 20 percent as buses arrive closer to their scheduled arrival times. The total cost would be $15 to $20 million, which is expected to be included in the existing Geary BRT budget estimates.

Additionally, the SFCTA presentation pointed out, the SFMTA has also purchased 61 new articulated, low-floor Muni buses, which should speed up boardings on the lines they’re used.

Fung said that any changes to bus stops or car parking would have to be approved at the SFMTA’s public engineering hearings.

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Union Square’s “Winter Walk” Plaza on Stockton a Hit – Why Bring Cars Back?

Stockton Street, between Ellis and Geary Streets, has temporarily been transformed into well-loved “Winter Walk” plaza. Photo: Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

Families are loving “Winter Walk SF,” the temporary holiday plaza filling two blocks of Stockton Street in Union Square. As CBS reporter John Ramos put it, the on-street downtown play space “represents the San Francisco everyone wants it to be.”

“I didn’t expect to see this,” one smiling girl told Ramos, standing on the green astroturf. “I thought it would be cars.”

Even former Mayor Willie Brown — not exactly known as a livable streets visionary — called it “spectacular” in his latest SF Chronicle column. “While you’re walking, think about what it would be like if the change were made permanent when the subway construction is complete.”

Brown was referring to the fact that the plaza will only be in place during a holiday construction hiatus for the Central Subway. After the new year, Stockton between Geary and Ellis Streets will once again fill with machinery, its use from 2012 until at least 2016.

Afterwards, cars, buses, and bikes are scheduled to once more clog Stockton — but even Brown suggests it shouldn’t go back to the way it was:

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Caltrans Grants $550 Million to Transit Projects Statewide

Caltrans announced over the holiday weekend that it has allocated one of the remaining chunks of money from Prop 1B, the massive transportation bond act approved by California voters in 2006.

Over $550 million was awarded to transit capital projects throughout the state. The projects include building transit centers and bus stop facilities, replacing buses and rail cars, and building repair facilities. Large and small agencies received the funds; a complete list is available here [PDF].

Among the largest receipients is Los Angeles' Metro Expo Rail Phase 2. Photo via Metro's The Source.

Among the largest Prop 1B transit capital funding recipients is $106 million for Los Angeles’ Metro Expo light rail. Photo of Expo Phase 2 construction via Metro’s The Source.

The largest allocations include:

  • $106 million to L.A. Metro for Exposition light rail, phase 2
  • $81 million to San Francisco Muni to complete the Central Subway project
  • $58 million to L.A. Metro for the Regional Connector light rail subway
  • $43 million to Orange County for the Raymond Avenue grade separation
  • $41 million to L.A. Metro for bus procurement
  • $36 million to San Diego for light rail vehicles
  • $30 million to Santa Clara for the Alum Rock Bus Rapid Transit
  • $20 million to AC Transit to complete the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco

Many smaller projects were also awarded funds, a total of $559,368,166 for 77 projects. Kern and Fresno counties received money to buy natural gas buses and a new fleetwide computer system, Santa Monica got money to replace buses, and the city of Chowchilla got enough to purchase one new transit bus. The smallest award went to California City, in the Mojave desert: $11,715 for a park-and-ride lot.

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