SFMTA Considers Service Restoration, Counts on Labor Savings

Photo: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography
Photo: ##http://orangephotography.com/##Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography##

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency continues to work with Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu to identify strategies for restoring the remaining 40 percent of service that was cut in May, part of a political negotiation that is expected to cost the agency $20 million.

Though only one piece of the larger service restoration puzzle, through service enhancements and efficiencies, the agency hopes to improve operational efficiency with possible pilots for bus-stop optimization, all-door boarding, Mission Street limited service and N-Judah supplemental bus service, among others.

At a bi-monthly SFMTA Board of Policy and Governance Committee meeting yesterday, several directors discussed options for restoring some of the remaining service [pdf], guided by enhancements and efficiencies that in some cases resulted from data derived from the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP)

As reported on Streetsblog, one of the service enhancement options is bus stop consolidation on five pilot bus routes, the 9-San Bruno, 14-Mission, 28-19th Avenue, 30-Stockton and 71-Haight. In the proposal, 104 stops would be removed, 13 would be added and 28 would be optimized (moved near side to far side). The SFMTA expects to save an average of 34 daily service hours at a cost of $160/hour over 307 days, or $1.7 million per year.

Another option the committee is considering is an all-door boarding pilot program on several routes with articulated buses, such as the 8X/AX/BX, 14/14L, 38/38L, and the 49 Van Ness. The pilot would only be on articulated buses, which SFMTA Transit Director John Haley explained were considered because the buses are bigger and fare inspectors would be used more efficiently. Under this scenario, the savings from reduced bus boarding times is $.7 million per year, but an increased cost of $1.6 million due to an increase of 16 fare inspectors.

Board directors were generally supportive of the progress the committee is making, but Daniel Murphy of the SFMTA Citizens Advisory Committee, expressed concern about implementing all-door boarding merely as a pilot on some buses and not across the system.

“The CAC has been very supportive of all door boarding,” said Murphy, though he noted the CAC was concerned with a pilot because it would create an inconsistent policy on buses, where some buses required front-door boarding and others did not. “Customers don’t always think of Muni in sense of modes.”

“The concern I have is fleshing out at least a little bit of a plan for how we’re going to communicate to passengers that we have one all-door boarding policy on rail and some, seemingly random, selection of bus lines and then another policy on the rest of the bus and trolley system. I think it would be helpful,” he added, “so we don’t create a situation where there is confusion and the pilot fails simply because there wasn’t enough information.”

Source: SFMTA
Source: SFMTA

Though some service enhancements and efficiencies will save the agency money and improve operations, many others will cost money and the agency and political representatives pointed to expected labor savings from Proposition G to backstop those expenses.

“We anticipate that a significant proportion of the resources necessary for this service restoration will come from labor savings,” said Jason Elliott, Transportation Policy Advisor to Mayor Newsom. Elliott said SFMTA CFO Sonali Bose had budgeted for some service restoration already, but most of it needed to be achieved through reduced labor costs. “To get to what we’re calling a full restoration, we’re lucky to have the voters to have supported Prop G because it’s going to be a significant shot in the arm in terms of revenue,” he said.

Given that the contract won’t likely be negotiated before the end of fiscal year 2010 in June, there is still uncertainty where the balance of the money will come from to restore service by the target date of January 1, 2011.  “We need to get to some number that is close to $20 million. We hope to do it with significant savings from Prop G,” said Elliot.

He urged patience on the question of seeking new revenue measures, such as a transit assessment district or extended parking meter hours. “With Mayor Newsom now in a 60-day window and four new members of the [Board of Supervisors], we don’t even know who they are, to make a policy change like a tax or a parking thing, it’s going to require some political guidance from the city leaders.

Elliott said there was no appetite for extending meter hours, even among supervisors who have been pushing for new revenue for Muni over the past two budget cycles.  “There was no political support for extending meter hours,” according to Elliott, who said the Mayor asked supervisors if they would support pilots in their districts or along corridors where SFPark infrastructure was being installed.

“With the notable exception of Ross Mirkarimi, they said no, not in my district. There was no political support,” he said.

Elliott and the SFMTA expect to have a more thorough set of proposals by the next PAG meeting in two weeks, leading up to the service restoration target at the end of the year.

  • ryan

    it seems silly to send more busses down Judah instead of simply increasing the metro frequency, i guess that’s the cheap way to do it.

    and by double-berthing on market street, does that mean two trains may stop at once at the station platform? if so, that’d be amazing. it feels so silly when there’s a couple of one or two car trains sitting at the platform with their doors closed, crowded with people, and we have to wait for the train in front to finish loading/unloading so it can crawl thirty feet forward and do the same while more trains line up behind.

  • Sounds like some great improvements, but unless the Metro problems get fixed this is a total waste.

  • Isn’t this whole “we’ll need 16 more fare inspectors if we implement back door boarding” thing a little made up? It’s like Muni brass live in a fantasy land where currently no one would ever think of boarding through the back door and operators are all meticulously checking the fare of everyone who boards.

    Clearly we can’t just take the stupid stickers off the back door windows on all the buses and make them start opening at every stop; this will require a trial program on four lines and additional staff. I’m surprised there haven’t been some community outreach meetings yet.

  • SteveS, I think the fact that a majority of the MTA board and staff don’t ride Muni has a lot to do with it.

  • Alex

    @Ryan That’s exactly what double berthing is. I can only hope that the MTA will NOT be so short sighted as to only allow two trains to berth. You can fit four of the extra-long LRVs at all of the stations (save for Forest Hill where you can fit three and Castro where you might only be able to safely fit two because of the curve — there are already problems ripping doors off @ Castro so…).

    Before His Mayorness Brown foisted this ill-conceived train control system on us, trains were coupled and uncoupled at West Portal and they could fit three car trains in the tunnel. They’d also manually double berth.

    @Steve Yeah… 16 fare inspectors would be excessive. Sixteen people selling transfers or pre-paid TransClipper cards at busy stops would actually be… well… great.

    The whole proposal is written by people whose heads are so far up their asses that they’ve got no choice but to kiss their own diaphragm. “Fix rail slowdown areas” oh come on. Twenty years into this half-baked subway and that’s the best they can do? They might have well have said “Fix the subway”. Meh.

    Supplemental N service is, also, a bit absurd. Rip up a bunch of the rail stops, use the bus for local stops where it makes sense (theoretically lower capacity and such), use the rail for fast express service.

  • You can’t trust anything David Chiu and Gavin cook up. It’s all talk, and in the end, nothing will change. They just want to look good before they move on up to the next job. Don’t believe the hype.

    Also, how does one get a bus through the Sunset Tunnel? If you’ve ever ridden an N bus when they’ve had problems, you end up riding via Haight, and are reminded why the tunnel was so important. What EVER, can’t Gavin STFU and just stop meddling.

  • JimD


    I was under the impression that the Breda cars are too long to fit four cars at the platforms at Market St because the vehicles are longer and wider than Muni’s spec for LRVs. Yet they still bought them.

    I remember at one point the M,L,Ks were running 3 car trains, but I read that was halted because it damaged the overhead wires. Won’t double berthing result in the same issue?

  • Bob Davis

    Last time I visited MuniLand, they had sections of the Metro platforms blocked off for no apparent reason. I suspect the comments about Muni executives and local politicians not actually riding the Muni except for photo ops is correct. Sometimes I think that our transit operations would be better off if we let the railfans and bus enthusiasts run them. We have a similar situation here in Southern California where a remarkably small percentage of our Metro employees ride the train and buses. For some, there’s an excuse: they have to be at the divisions (train and bus yards) early in the AM to get the vehicles moving, but those with regular day jobs mostly prefer to drive their own cars, even though they can ride Metro on their employee passes.

  • Alex

    Jim: Get a pedometer and measure the platforms. Or watch what happens when a one car train is stopped at a station and a two car train one pulls up behind it. They both fit on the platform. I fully expect that there’s room for four cars.

    As for damage to the overhead wires, I’ve heard the same thing about three car Breda trains damaging the overhead wires. While I don’t doubt that, without any explanation there’s no way of knowing *why* the damage occurred. If it’s something as simple as three pantographs that close together (one train) can’t move over a slow speed, that’s something that could be probably be resolved by putting a few *seconds* in between trains. If it’s a “don’t run three car trains in the MMT”, that’s something too. 3-4 LRVs get very close to each other all the time in the metro without causing damage. The difference is that they don’t open their doors, and they’re not all coupled together.

    Lots of speculation, but without any useful information from the MTA, who knows what the deal is?

  • Nick

    The local news is hyping up more “End of Year Spin” as follows:

    “MUNI needs $7 million dollars by the end of the year. How do they plan on getting it? By reaching into car drivers pockets. Expect a barage of tickets as MUNI deploys more meter maids to make up for their current budget shortfall.”

    Now thats about 140,000 $50 tickets they need to write in 6 weeks. Expect the new Board of Supervisors to be very resistant to implement anything deemed as punitive to drivers.

  • Peter M

    I think the real problem for four-car trains is the length of Forest Hill Station. IIRC the Boeings only loaded through the two center doors in the subway, so it didn’t matter if the ends of a four-car train didn’t fit in the station.


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