Muni Bus-Stop Spacing Analysis Shows 70 Percent of Stops Too Close

bus_stop_pole_small.jpgFlickr photo: Octoferret

The MTA this afternoon released analysis of bus stop spacing showing what anyone who has been on Muni knows: there are way too many stops too close together (PDF). Overall nearly 70 percent of the 4,000 bus and rail stops in the city don’t adhere to the MTA’s own distance policy, and its clear to the operator that consolidation of stops would speed service and cut costs dramatically.  Furthermore, staff suggests the board might want to consider an increase to the distance between spaces as a matter of policy.

“I’m glad they’ve done the research. It’s an option we’ve wanted the MTA to explore,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “There’s a tradeoff, every stop has a constituency.  The other thing that unfortunately has happened is that keeping every stop has been mythologized as a social justice movement.  We’ve heard that seniors don’t care about speed, poor people don’t care about speed, they care about stop spacing. Some analysis that I’ve seen from the TEP shows the opposite to be the case, some seniors care very much about travel times.”

Radulovich added: “There needs to be rigor to it so that it’s not political and not arbitrary.”

MTA staff noted that nationwide research indicates most people are willing to walk a quarter-mile (1320 ft) to access local transit, though they note that spacing distance should be reduced on steep grades. Further consideration would be given to important transfer points and destinations such as schools, hospitals, and other community facilities. Staff also suggested that approximately 20 percent of delay on the 15 most-used routes is
dwell time, due in large part to the density of stops, though it should be noted that the MTA could introduce faster payment options,
bus bulb-outs, separated lanes, etc to reduce dwell times.

In their presentation, MTA staff highlighted the 9-San Bruno, a route that has 126 total stops, 70 of which are too close. If 9 inbound and 11 outbound stops were eliminated, MTA estimates it would achieve a 7 minute (5 percent) running times savings and an annual cost savings of $200,000 in operator costs alone.

The policy recommendations will have to go before the full board and will likely lead to significant drama, as supervisors and advocates resist what has been a contentious battle in the past. Staff will provide the board with detailed spacing plans in October and then conduct public hearings in November and December. If all goes to schedule, space consolidation would begin February, 2010.

Picture_3.pngAn example of what bus stop consolidation would look like if the board accepts MTA staff’s proposal.

General Policy Recommendations

  • Stop consolidation is needed to meet existing policy guidelines and reduce travel delay
  • More flexible policy guidelines are recommended to account for San Francisco’s varying block lengths
  • Maintaining access at transfer points and key destinations should remain a priority
  • Stop spacing policy should consider delays to onboard customers

Specific Stop Distances

  • Stops on grades less than 10 percent: bus stops should be 900′-1400′ rather than the existing policy of 800’-1,000’
  • Stops on grades over 10 percent: bus stops may be as close as 500′ rather than the existing policy of 500’-600′ on grades between 10-15 percent and 300′-400′ on grades over 15 percent
  • Surface Rail stops should be: 1,000’-1,500’ rather than the existing policy of 1,000’-1,200’
  • marcos

    In order to bank savings, one must reduce the number of stops for which the time savings adds up to the time to run a vehicle through the line. Anything short of that does not bank savings, any increment above that which does not add up to a multiple of that time will not bank further savings.

    The point of stop reduction is not in and of itself to reduce trip time on any run, rather to create savings that can pay for another vehicle to better service the line with an additional run.

    The questions begged here is whether it makes sense to consolidate stops on the 38, 14 or 9 local lines which are to/have limited service?

    And the illusion is being painted here that this is a win win win situation, when in reality it is a trade off which benefits and harms some constituencies more than others.

    My read is that the goal here is to realize Rescue Muni’s and SPUR’s common dream: for Muni to be downsized until all it can do is to deliver commuters to downtown, on the commuters’ dimes, within 33 minutes.

    The stated goal of the TEP is to make Muni more appealing to transit choice riders which means trading off proximity of service for frequency and/or speed. It is not axiomatic that such a one-sided tradeoff is in the best interests of most San Franciscans.


  • marcos

    So it turns out that i tore up my ankle several months ago and did not have a gout attack, and after an MRI and diagnosis of a torn tendon and ligament, here I am, 6 days into 42 days on crutches, no weight on my right ankle, no bicycling, no walking, just crutches a boot, CarShare and Muni.

    I did enjoy a slight pity party when heading to the orthotics store in a CarShare Prius on Divisadero to pick up this boot. Some schmoe was waiting in his SUV blocking the 24 bus stop for traffic to clear to take a streetside parking space. I had no compunctions about blocking traffic for my immediate needs, so I took the space. As I finished a perfect parallel parking job, the SUV starts to honk at me, and as I pull out the crutches, he slinks away. Sweet.

    Now Tom Radulovich mentions that seniors and the disabled deserve rapid transit as well, and that cutting proximity of lines and stops will benefit them. Assuming that my crutchedness is a proxy precursor for senior disability, my question becomes one of whether or not the added distance between destinations and access to transit eats up more time than more rapid vehicle speeds earn given the slower pace of locomotion?

    Sick of being trapped in the house, I crutched it from 16th and SVN to Rainbow Grocery on Monday. Halfway home, I felt like my wrists were going to snap holding up my body weight. It took me an hour to do the round trip as an otherwise fit person.

    Even getting from my house to the 22 Fillmore or CarShare lot on 16th/Hoff and back is an ordeal, especially with any added weight from shopping, and you’d better hope that wherever you’re going is adjacent parking or a bus stop. As CalTrain is a candle in the dark, lighting up everything right next to the candle, Muni for many disabled only serves that within a finite radius.

    Now imagine if we’re going to be placing bus lines 1/2 mile apart, with stops 1/4 mile apart. Has anyone done any math on the added burden that such “service centralization” aka “consolidation” will place on those who can’t power walk to the stop or station?

    The TEP already tilts the playing field towards transit choice riders at the cost of the transit dependent. And this might be defensible policy for the mobile and healthy. But this notion that seniors and the disabled will see a net win from a reconfiguration has yet to be demonstrated.

    If it turns out that the average speed from destination to spaced stops evaluated against increased vehicle speeds and added service, is slow enough to make the TEP a net loss for seniors and disabled, then what?


  • Marcos,

    Sorry to hear about your ankle–it must be uncomfortable and frustrating. Could you rent a little electric scooter for the duration? Here’s hope for a speedy recovery.

  • jim

    @marcos – I too have been on crutches and it is no fun trying to get around. I hope you recover quickly. It seems like we need 3 tiers of Muni mobility:

    1. Standard Muni for the vast majority of people. Stops are placed 3-4 times per mile for regular buses and once per mile for express buses. Fewer stops combined with POP, bus lane enforcement signal priority would probably cut number of buses and drivers necessary to run the system by 25%.

    2. Paratransit for those in wheelchairs or others who have long term mobility impairments.

    3. For ambulatory seniors and those temporarily disabled such as marcos, we can use taxis to take people to and from their homes to the nearest transit hub. This service could easily be funded by the efficiency gains of not having Muni to service this population.

    My understanding is that taxis now fall under the MTA. The translink system could be enhanced to work with taxis. Doing so would allow specific translink cards to be loaded with taxi fares for trips less than .5 miles to get people to a bus stop for seniors or those with temporary disabilities. Door to door service is a much more dignified option for those that need it. It is also much more cost effective than running our buses with 1 block stop spacing.

  • marcos

    Thx, @taomom, I’m taking it as an opportunity to learn a lesson, to chill out my otherwise impulsiveness with a bit of forced forethought, given that every minor motion now requires several times more effort and articulation than is usual, generally repeated several times to accomplish the same thing.

    Unfortunately, our home is not accessible and the slope of the garage cut is too steep to easily crutch up. The problem with having ample upper body strength and crutches is that it ends up putting all the load on the wrists and I imagine that the nasty side effect of torn tendons and ligaments on an ankle could be a broken wrist. Whee!

    @jim, thanks as well.

    The ADA requires that people with disabilities be served with abled people to the maximum extent possible as separate but equal never really is equal.

    This problem has been solved, and the solution is to have rapid spaced service overlaid or laid next to slower closer service.


  • Nathanael

    I wonder why nobody has suggested skip-stop operation.

    Two bus lines, each of which hits every other stop (with occasional transfer stops where both lines meet)

    Both lines should be faster, stop density would be high, and appropriate transfers should get you to any stop without too much trouble.

    I realize it’s not as normal as local/limited service but it reaps more benefits in cases where few people travel the entire system.

  • Nathanael

    And regarding the *really* hilly areas: I wonder if some of these would be better served by permanent public escalators. You could make ones with broad, wheelchair-sized steps if you liked. Unusual idea, but there’s a theme park in Hong Kong with escalators up the side of a *mountain*….

  • Nob Hill Resident

    Stop consolidation would be good – The ‘1’ Outbound, for instance, stops less than 100′ apart on a flat street block: Polk/Sacramento, then on the same block, Van Ness/Sacramento. This isn’t rocket science.

    But the one thing that you see in every other bus system on the planet (that Muni hasn’t even attempted) is to guarantee that a bus does not arrive EARLIER than the posted schedule at a stop.

    For someone who has to be somewhere (catch a bus to work or make jury duty) and the bus arrives every 20 minutes, you are ‘out of luck’ if the driver was ‘fast’ that day. We need to know that if we get to the bus stop when the schedule says the bus will be there and that we haven’t missed it! Buses do get delayed, but there is no excuse to add to the problem by skipping stops and then beating the schedule to exacerbate the ridership reliability.

    Muni can (and should) guarantee control that the buses NEVER LEAVE EARLY FROM THIER PRIMARY STOPS. I mean, really, when was the last time you scheduled transportation for someone and then left early without them… just because you had a few green lights before meeting up with them?

  • Elle

    The proposal indicates that public hearings will be held in Nov-Dec 2009. Does anyone have an update whether stop consolidation is on track? Or has it been delayed/abandoned due to the rollout of route chages?

  • Anonymous

    On the contrary, it is safer to walk to a single centrally located stop where the are likely to be other people around.


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