Not Voting for Buses? Bay Area Transit Study Open Thread

Go Giants indeed! Just not by bus if one can avoid it, according to a an MTC study. Image: Torbakhopper
Go Giants indeed! Just not by bus if one can avoid it, according to an MTC study. Image: Torbakhopper

Election day is a good time for a discussion about a recent Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) study that seems to show that Bay Area residents are using their transit choices to, in effect, vote for rail, ferry, and ride-hailing, but not for more buses. From an East Bay Times look at the study:

The problem is that buses, by far the biggest piece of the transit puzzle, saw ridership drop 15 percent from 1991 to 2014, more than canceling out the 63 percent surge in train and ferry use, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. With private tech shuttles transporting employees from home to office and the proliferation of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, are buses merely outdated behemoths ready to go the way of the dinosaur?

Is it really true that Uber and Lyft are responsible for declining bus ridership? Are tech shuttles really pulling people from city buses?  With ride-hail, it depends which study one consults. According to a March study from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), ride-hail works hand-in-glove with transit:

A survey of 4,500 people across the US confirms that people who routinely use “shared modes” of transportation (e.g. bikesharing, carsharing, and ridesharing) were more likely to use public transit. These individuals were less likely to drive, more likely to walk, and saved more on overall transportation costs.

But an earlier study from the University of California Transportation Center at Berkeley shows the opposite.

A chart from the MTC study shows ridership comparisons for different transit agencies. Source: MTC.
The MTC study shows ridership comparisons for different transit agencies. Source: MTC.

Meanwhile, the MTC study says SF Muni represents 44 percent of all transit trips in the Bay Area–which may explain why Muni’s buses, at least, remain crowded.

New York, meanwhile, puts SF all other cities to shame when it comes to transit. Source: MTC.
New York, meanwhile, puts all other cities to shame when it comes to transit. Source: MTC.

So the question is: are buses really losing their utility in the new transportation paradigm, where we have bike and ride share to help people travel shorter distances with ease? Do you find yourself Ubering more and using buses less? Are we witnessing a major shift in the role of buses? Or can improvements such as the Geary and Van Ness bus lane projects get people back on board?

Leave a comment below. And while you’re at it, tell us how you got to your polling place.

  • RichLL

    “So the question is: are buses really losing their utility in the new transportation paradigm, where we have bike and ride share to help people travel shorter distances with ease?”

    I think it is not so much about utility. After all, buses have the most extensive route network. It’s more about soft factors. Taking a bus is a distinctly less pleasurable activity than taking any other form of transport that I know of. I’d rather take a cablecar, streetcar, BART train, CalTrain, Amtrak, cab, ferry or even (aside from airport security) a flight rather than take a bus.

    Or drive, of course.

    And in fact if it is less than a couple of miles I’d rather walk. (I don’t ride a bike or take Uber, but they are probably more pleasant as well). Buses are, frankly, dirty, uncomfortable, slow, crowded, unreliable, smelly and, at times, dangerous.

    A couple of the routes are OK. The 37 is like having your own personal bus. The 30 isn’t full of crazy people, at least until it hits ChinaTown and someone gets on with a dead goat or a kitchen sink. I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than take the 9, 14 or 49.

    And the bus operators make how much?

  • Flatlander

    Have you ever driven a bus in heavy traffic? How often do you have to deal with the cross-section of crazy that bus drivers routinely deal with? The whole economy in SF is inflated. How much does everyone else make? And I don’t want to hear about “total compensation package” because no one actually thinks about their own salaries in such terms.

  • Flatlander

    This statement:

    “A survey of 4,500 people across the US confirms that people who routinely use “shared modes” of transportation (e.g. bikesharing, carsharing, and ridesharing) were more likely to use public transit. These individuals were less likely to drive, more likely to walk, and saved more on overall transportation costs.”

    is not at all inconsistent with the hypothesis that people who use ridesharing would otherwise take transit for that trip.

  • RichLL

    Well, I know that tech shuttle drivers and airport shuttle drivers make 40K a year or less, with crap benefits. I hear that Muni operators make twice that, with gold-plated pension and health benefits, natch.

    Does their job suck? Sure. But so do the jobs of many other people who didn’t graduate high school and who probably make minimum wage.

    There’s a lot more wrong with Muni than its insane cost structure. But the fact that the average Muni ride costs ten bucks to operate just adds indignity to the agony.

  • david vartanoff

    So in the period MTC reported on, AC axed nearly all evening, weekend and all overnight service for roughly 5 years. After that period, AC restored skeletal services evenings, and weekends, but has since done several rounds of route elimination/realignments. Although they are currently rolling out some service upgrades, they are axing the heavily used Rapid routes on both Telegraph and East 14th.

    In the same period, Muni for years did de facto service cuts by faking budgets resulting in 10-25% of service not operating any given day, followed by a major route slaughter early this century.
    Both agencies abandoned some neighborhoods, and in periods of severe funding shortfalls, simply didn’t put the advertised buses on the street. All the while MTC made sure BART had funding.
    Surprise! Riders got the message; bus transit was not reliable.

    Now MTC wants the bus agencies to become “more efficient”???

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  • Ted King

    @RichLL – “And in fact if it is less than a couple of miles I’d rather walk.”

    Your “unreliable” coupled with the above strikes to a peeve of mine. The NextMuni displays in many shelters are engaged in outright FRAUD by promising buses that never show up. And the dispatchers are endangering potential riders by failing to add current and topical advisory messages to the viewers about alternate routes they should be considering (e.g. 12 Folsom vs. 27 Bryant) due to canceled runs. I regularly walk about a mile to a mile and a half because shank’s mare is way more reliable and HONEST.

  • RichLL

    Ah, but which came first? The chicken or the egg?

    Are people unhappy with the buses because of the scaled back schedules and routes? Or were schedules and routes scaled back because people were unhappy with them and didn’t use them?

  • murphstahoe

    The routes were scaled back because Room 200 had other priorities, regardless of what the citizen’s priorities were.

  • RichLL

    Is there a study that shows what the priorities of the citizens were on this subject? Isn’t the reality that there are always conflicting priorities?

    My assumption had been that there is at least some economic imperative behind Muni, such that there are limits to the amount of subsidy that can be given to routes that are under-utilised.

    And the fact that similar cuts were made in neighboring counties, as David explained, is indicative this wasn’t just a specific SF problem.

  • murphstahoe

    Yes. The study was called “Proposition B”

  • RichLL

    Throwing more money at Muni is hardly a recipe for improving Muni. We do that every year, and in greater relative amounts than any other city. Sadly much of that gets sucked up in higher pay and benefits for operators and not for better service and quality.

    Even with more funding, closing the most loss-making services can still be appropriate for the greater good of the city.

  • murphstahoe

    You didn’t ask me if throwing money at MUNI is good for MUNI. You asked me if there was a study showing what the priorities of the citizens are.

    Why are you responding to my response by changing the subject?

  • OperatorGrouchy

    As a second year operator for Muni, I make under $40,000 a year, pre-tax, inclusive of overtime. If you don’t like riding the 9, 14, or 49, you should try driving them for 8-12 hours a day…its an unparalleled delight.

  • OperatorGrouchy

    May I direct you toward the recent posting for 9163 Transit Operator hires? A high school diploma IS required, many of my fellow operators have Bachelor’s degrees, and there is absolutely no way that first, second, and third year operators under the new contract are making $80,000 per year.

    9163 Job Announcement:

    9163 Pay Scale (look at the section for operators hired after July 1, 2014, which takes five years to progress through):

  • RichLL

    You cherry-picked one voter initiative out of hundreds to try and make your point. The voters have also approved new road systems in the past. Does that means that private vehicular traffic is also a “citizen priority”?

    Asking the voters if they want a better Muni will get a positive response. Asking them whether they will personally pay $N,NNN a year in extra taxes so that the 37 can meander the city’s hill with (usually) one person on it might yield a different answer.

  • RichLL

    My understanding is that newer operators make less than the average. Partly because they are more junior and inexperenced, obviously. And partly because newer recruits are on a newer and less generous contract.

    I agree it’s not a pleasant job. But I’ve never been paid what I thought I deserved either – only what someone else thought I was worth, and that was mostly related to my replacement cost.

    When Muni advertizes for operators, a lot of people apply.

  • murphstahoe

    That proposition specifically addressed the percentage of the city budget that should go to MUNI. Which means that they are deciding on where their taxes go – not just “do you want a better muni”

  • RichLL

    Where in the wording of Prop B is the assurance that every route and service is immune from cuts regardless of economic or operational reasons?.

  • Jame

    I ride AC transit daily (transbay route). I generally ride my bike for some of the things I might have taken a bus for previously. But as for on the weekend and evenings? Well the routes that go where I need to go hardly run. For example yesterday I wanted to go from ~ Grand Lake Theater to downtown. Midday. I checked the bus schedule for the 12. The next bus was coming in 16 minutes (and it is about a 5-7 minute ride). The walk was 18 minutes. Obviously I got there before the bus would have arrived. Heaven forbid you need to go west to east in Berkeley or Oakland, there are few routes that cross that direction so the bus isn’t an option. If I want to take the bus to Temescal, it would take 2-3 transfers and 30 minutes or more to go those 1.5 miles. Better to ride my bike or walk.

    The one bus I find most useful only runs 1x an hour from 8-8 on the weekend. So there goes that one.

    I’d ride the bus more if the schedule was better. Now those trips have been replaced by ridesharing.

  • Jame

    Yup! 100% agreed. AC Transit service in the evening is pretty sucky. And some dense neighborhoods have little service (ahem Adams Point).

  • Andy Chow

    The reason why it takes years to earn the full pay rate is because the transit agency is required to give paid training for about a month and a half. Not a lot of jobs these days provide paid training, but rather expect the employees to pay to get trained.

    Employees are free to quit their job at anytime, but the training is expensive. So there needs to be some kind of incentive to retain employees after training, or otherwise you will get a bunch of people sign up with Muni to get paid training, and then quit after they get their CDL and instead drive for Facebook or tour bus company that don’t provide paid training.

  • Cameron Newland

    I used to ride buses in Seattle and Los Angeles, however, in San Francisco, I rarely use them. In SF, I ride my electric bicycle for most trips, but I also ride BART, walk, and use Uber.

    For me, the bus isn’t convenient because it’s much slower than BART, and ridesharing offers a door-to-door solution for me and my girlfriend that’s roughly equivalent to the cost of two MUNI fares, so we prefer the convenience of Uber over taking the bus.

    Back when I rode the bus more often in LA and Seattle, it was either by necessity (there were no other ways to make that trip other than driving) or convenience (Sound Transit Express buses in Seattle, which operate like BRT). I think that MUNI should focus on BRT and let Uber cover low-demand routes. I also think that BART should build another line in SF, but it’s not clear where the best route would be. I used to think Geary would be best, but considering that Geary isn’t as dense as SoMa, perhaps building a BART line southward from one of the Market Street stations that would cover SoMa would be a better idea. That way, instead of building a line and encouraging density after construction, you’d be serving a high-density area right away.

  • Flatlander

    You “hear” that Muni operators make twice that? From whom? Some internet troll who hates gubmint? This is easily google-able, and you’re very wrong.

    You also underestimated the salaries of tech shuttle operators (at least for the big companies). So you know, exaggerate one number one way, exaggerate another number another way, and voila! Outrage! With “data”

    And the idea that driving a bus in San Francisco is no harder than doing most minimum wage jobs…wow…

    If you feel like you are underpaid, that’s your problem, not Muni’s

  • RichLL

    Andy, that’s a fair point. But nothing in Flatlaner’s diatribe explains why Muni operators are paid much more than other local bus operators. And moreover why their contract says that they have to be.

    Whenever Muni offers operator jobs there is a huge number of applicants, almost as if those applicants understand it’s a good deal.

    Or do you have another totally different explanation of why Muni’s operating costs are so high relative to almost everywhere else?

  • FDW

    Geary is way denser than you think it is, while Mission Bay (and SOMA) really doesn’t need any more than what’s already planned for it. Mission Bay’s density is something that I’ve overstated again and again and again, but it really isn’t impressive at all.

  • Did Uber, et al exist back when you were in Seattle and Los Angeles?


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