Is It Time for Muni to Consolidate Bus Stops?

Picture_8.jpg1 California line bus stop map. Does it need so many stops? Click for the full PDF.

As the MTA Board considers solutions to reduce its enormous $129 million deficit, bus stop consolidation should be at the top of its agenda.  Bus stop removal is one of the easiest engineering solutions to speed up service, but the political fallout could be significant without a groundswell of organizing and support from those who would benefit from service improvements. 

The MTA’s current bus stop spacing policy is the following:

1. Passenger stop spacing should be approximately 800-1,000 feet on motorcoach and trolleycoach routes except where
there are steep grades, and 1,000-1,200 feet between stops on LRV surface

2. On streets with grades of over 10
percent, stops should be spaced 500-600 feet apart. On streets with grades of
over 15 percent, such as on Castro between 22nd Street and 24th Street, stops may be spaced as close
as 300-400 feet.  There are no special grade guidelines for surface rail
(Muni Metro and Historic Streetcar) because the technology limits operation
well under 10 percent inclines.

Bus stop spacing is usually balanced by density, topography and the
guidelines you see above. Said Aimee Gauthier at the Institute for
Transportation and Development Policy, based in New York:

bus stops are determined not by distance (like every block) but by
actual passenger volumes. In general, bus stops should be spaced so
that they are a reasonable walk between stops (that differs according
to who you are talking to and the context [uses, activities around
there], but usually it is a within a 10 – 15 minute walk). 

Many stops in San Francisco, however, do not fit the above criteria, including instances of single blocks with multiple stops.  If Muni eliminated stops now, or at
least began an experiment, trying out one line, it could save them
precious running time costs and improve service and reliability.

Muni actually revises bus stop spacing [PDF] more frequently than one might think, though in a recent interview, MTA Executive Director Nat
Ford told Streetsblog San Francisco they aren’t planning to release system wide bus stop consolidation
recommendations until after the budget process is over.

Walk SF Director Manish Champsee analyzed MTA data on several lines and his determinations strongly support consolidation:

the 14 Mission if we were to remove every other stop (i.e. only run the
14L as opposed to the 14), MTA could provide about 20 percent more service
than they currently do and save about $5 million.  To give you an idea
of what $5 million is, MTA is proposing a $5 increase in the adult Fastpass. This would yield $7 million per year.  They are also
proposing an extra $5 increase in the senior/youth/disabled pass which
would bring in $2.5 million per year.

Under a declaration of fiscal emergency,
MTA could act now without a lengthy environmental review process and
potentially drawn out political debate to eliminate redundant stops on
lines like the 1-California, and any number of lines, to save millions.
By some calculations, eliminating 10 percent of bus stops could save
Muni at least $14 million a year.

SF State Geography Professor Jason Henderson thinks the whole approach is problematic:

Optimizing the system is a good thing, but MTA is going about it the wrong way. The cutting of stops and the cutting of routes is endemic of the way the MTA is hamstrung because they don’t want to raise the price of driving while lowering the conveneince of driving. Instead, from all I can tell MTA is focused on how to raise the price of transit fares and lower the convenience of transit.  MUNI needs to expand capacity significantly, not contract.

A couple years ago, Mayor Gavin Newsom vocally supported stop removal, so there is reason to believe he will come out strongly in support of the MTA for consolidation when the agency releases its proposal. Without a vocal and organized constituency, however, voicing support for service improvements and time savings through stop removal, the issue will not be popular politically.

The Board of Supervisors would not be able to reject a consolidation proposal outright, but you can imagine the political reaction when constituents bemoan the loss of the stop they have taken for granted for decades. No supervisor wants to be seen as creating hardship for the poor people or the elderly.  Should make for some dramatic hearings, if we get that far.

  • n


    That is the elephant in the room. Don’t get me wrong: driving a bus in SF is more difficult than it sounds. It’s not exactly the same as driving a Google shuttle. But I’m curious to see what the depressed labor market could bear in terms of wages and relaxation of work rules.

    Streetsblog: How about a post discussing various Muni work rules? I think we deserve to know what we’re paying for.

  • theo

    Synergy has been overlooked so far in this discussion. Translink has the potential to reduce dwell times significantly. In conjunction with stop consolidation, it could provide enough savings to allow run cuts while maintaining service frequency and improving trip time.

    I’ve previously argued here that 50% adoption would cut peak-commute run times on the N Judah by up to 5 minutes (if you’ve ever waited for boarding at Carl & Cole, UCSF, and Duboce & Church, you know what I’m talking about). That’s almost enough to give the line an extra run. Now, unfortunately the N Judah doesn’t have too many stops to consolidate (except the superfluous Carl & Hillway).

    But on a line like the 33, 6, or 71, a combination of reduced dwell times thanks to Translink and stop consolidation could gain enough time to cut a run (or increase service frequency with the same number of runs).

  • POP is cheap and would speed up boardings, reducing dwell times and producing speed savings markedly, and could be implemented immediately given the fiscal emergency.

    The TEP-CAC asked for system wide POP as an TEP early implementation project back in 2007 with near unanimous support, but the MTA balked.

    Stop consolidation has costs if spacing standards are to be maintained as any stop reconfiguration capable of saving enough time to add up to another run would require a lot of painting to remove and create stops. Please, try this for a route and get back to us with a concrete proposal.

    POP is a concrete proposal. Start of proposal: Allow all-door boarding for riders with fast passes and transfers. End of proposal.


  • bikerider

    “I’m not sure if you realize there is no money for the other Best Practices. We can’t replace the fleet, or the seating, or implement congestion charging.”

    How much does it cost to remove seats from around vestibule area?

    How much does it cost to change the boarding policy?

    Congestion charging is not needed if you have exclusive bus lanes. Of course, one may argue bus lanes take time to implement (politically) — but does it really take 10 years? MTA was created 10 years ago to deal specifically with the bus lane issue.

  • The suggestion that it is inconvenient for people to walk a few hundred feet is absurb. MUNI will, never provide door to door service. Even if the bus were to stop at ever door front, it won’t help if your destination is not on the exact bus route.

    Say you get off at Geary Blvd and to your destination on Clement St. Even if MUNI stop at same east-west block as your destination, from Geary to Clement is 700ft! If you can’t walk 700ft and you are so lucky to be on 6th Ave, you can wait for bus 44 that come every 15-20 minutes to take you from Geary to Clement. Just about everyone I know will simply walk 3 minute to cover this 700ft! If you can handle walking 700ft from Geary to Clement, you can handle bus stops at 1400ft apart.

    When you take the walk between your actually orignation and destination to the bus stop into account, the distance between stops on a route become much less of a issue. It is unlike for most trips that the bus you want to take passes right in front of your. You will have to walk one or more blocks to get to your bus route, period.

  • “I’m not sure if you realize there is no money for the other Best Practices.”

    Has it occurred to anyone – at the least anyone in the advocacy community active on this blog – that Muni needs more money! Perhaps enough to invoke the ‘Best Practices’ that would improve service, rather than shift it from one user to another?

  • PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do this. This should unquestionably the first thing at the top of Muni’s agenda. You add service, cut costs and speed up your bus lines — all of which just encourages more people to ride the bus.

    It’s simply absurd that so many buses in that city stop. at. every. single. block.

    I will call my supe, Nat Ford, whatever it takes. Please, let’s get this done.

  • So the goal is to cut service on some lines, if feasible, plow those savings back into other lines and then cut stops on those remaining lines. The end result is fewer lines with stops further apart so you’ve got to walk further to get to the line and then further to get to the stop. Add into this service cuts with more packed vehicles and we can imagine the hilarity which might ensue.

    Did anyone spec out a stop consolidation regime for a line yet that would yield savings?


  • So the game plan is to cut service on “underused” lines which means longer average walks to a line and further to space stops further apart so that once at a line, a rider has to walk on average further still to a stop.

    At some point, the aggregate time spent walking to and from stops must approach the time saved with faster vehicles stopping less often. For shorter trips walking time might actually exceed ride time.

    Has anyone tried yet to make this work given real world constraints on a sample line?


  • jc

    “Now if we could only find a way to punish the jerks who hog up the Bus Only lanes”

    I was wondering whether buses could be outfitted with cameras that would allow drivers to take photos of vehicles’ illegally traveling or stopping in the bus lane, which would be used by law enforcement to cite those motorist based on license plate number, geographic information (based on GPS from the bus), and date/time. I know bus drivers aren’t cops, but they are in quite a handy position to note and document these transit-retarding conditions!

  • I was in London, in when, 2000, and I saw some of the tfl busses with fore and aft cameras to control bus lanes. I’d recommended this to MTA staff shortly afterwards but they’ve taken no steps towards that in the interim.

    Yes, England is camera happy in general and that is not culturally applicable here. But if we have red light cameras designed to catch particular crimes, then cameras on transit to catch particular crimes should not be a giant leap.


  • Ted King

    Something was left out of the previous posts on San Francisco – block length. Some blocks are fairly short (e.g. Clement St. North of Golden Gate Park) while others are two to three times as long (e.g. the #’d avenues South of GGP).

    Also, the Muni planners have to allow for penetration into the zones between the routes. Some stops on the J-Church Metro line are both close together and at the start of a wickedly steep hill (20th-Liberty-21st-22nd). Plus the cut the tracks run in is unsafe for pedestrians.

    San Francisco is a crazy quilt – clean grids on most of the flats with awesome tangles on the hills. Yes, some stops can be trimmed. But the trimming could trigger boarding jams and missed connections. One of my definitions of a nightmare would be attempting to build a computer model of SF’s Muni. The models that have been built don’t seem to allow for enough of the Murphy factors. So the planners get what looks like a great solution and it breaks down when the rubber/steel meets the road/rail.

    My suggestion is that those planners might want to try the dart board method. Take a large cork board, pin a map of San Francisco to it, and then throw some darts at it.


Bus Stop Consolidation: The Times Have Changed

Flickr photo: erik kuo Does the 14-Mission really need to stop at every block on Mission Street? Does the 21-Hayes? Consolidating bus stops could speed transit vehicles and reduce dwell time, saving service hours that could be used to increase frequencies and add hours of operation. Yet the MTA has avoided the topic for years, […]