Open Thread: Room for Private Vehicles in Red Carpet Lanes?

SFMTA painting the bus 'Red Carpet' lanes on Mission in the Mission a couple of years back. Photo: SFMTA.
SFMTA painting the bus 'Red Carpet' lanes on Mission in the Mission a couple of years back. Photo: SFMTA.

The SFMTA Board of Directors approved the next step in the $35 million Geary Rapid project on Tuesday, which includes segments of red carpet, bus-only lanes between Stanyan and downtown. The rub: the SFMTA decided to allow privately run transit, including tour buses, tech-buses, and Chariot, to also use the lane (in reality, non-Muni vehicles of one type or another already use pretty much all the city’s red-carpet lanes, more on that a few paragraphs down).

Advocates, for the most part, were not happy with that decision, fearing the addition of privately run transit will interfere with the runs of Muni’s 38 Geary bus, which carries 54,000 customers daily.

“To meet the city’s 2030 goals to shift more riders to public transportation, Muni must attract and retain new riders,” wrote Andy Bosselman, transit advocate and Streetsblog contributor, in an email to SFMTA and Streetsblog. “That means prioritizing Muni riders. That also means applying a laser focus to improving Muni’s on-time performance rate, which will not be accomplished by allowing private companies to become yet another impediment to the smooth operation of Muni vehicles.”

Walk SF is pleased about safety improvements that come with the project, such as bulb outs and pedestrian refuge islands. However, Cathy DeLuca, Walk San Francisco’s Policy and Program Director, said she was against allowing private buses and shuttles to use the lane. “Walk SF has a great concern about that,” she said during public comment period at the SFMTA Board.

But, as Mission Local‘s Joe Eskenazi adeptly lays out, private vehicles have been running in the city’s existing bus lanes for years. And it’s not just privately run buses that are allowed–taxis are permitted in most (or all?) of San Francisco’s bus and transit lanes. Even the planned ‘car-free’ Better Market Street plan still makes an exception for taxis. If privately run buses are objectionable, surely taxis should be in the bull’s-eye of transit advocates?

A map of where the red carpet lanes will eventually go in. Image: SFMTA
A map of where the red carpet lanes will eventually go in. Image: SFMTA

Malcolm Heinicke, vice-chair of the SFMTA Board, argued strongly at Tuesday’s meeting that it was okay, as long as it didn’t delay public transit buses, to let tech shuttles, Chariot, and others to share at least some of the red carpet lanes. “People who are using other transit systems are not driving cars,” said Heinicke, adding that if Muni bus operators start reporting that the private operators were causing delays, they could re-evaluate. Liz Brisson, SFMTA’s Project Manager for Geary, said the plan was to only allow private operators to use the portions of the Geary project that run in the right-hand lanes, not in portions of the project that have the ‘Red Carpet’ lanes in the center.

“Red lanes are striped on corridors with high volumes of buses – 3rd Street, Mission, Geary. Given the sheer amount of service and the tens of thousands of Muni riders benefiting from the red carpet, we do believe they deserve an exclusive lane. The designation between Muni only, bus-only, Muni and taxi only, bus and taxi only (is that all of them?) is extremely confusing and should be standardized across the city,” wrote Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, in an email to Streetsblog. “We strongly encourage SFMTA to revise their existing policy to ensure Muni riders always get the priority. “

Streetsblog would like to hear from readers. Should red-carpet lanes be “bus only,” “Muni only,” “transit only,” or something else? Should taxis be permitted in the lanes? And should there be different policies for different lanes in the city depending on congestion levels, or is it more important to have a standard policy that’s easier to follow? Or are you just happy to see the Geary project moving forward? Post your thoughts below.

  • Mark


  • Mark

    It is controlled by the state vehicle code. Good luck.

  • Mark

    you are talking about the speed limit on a highway or freeway. Geary has a 25 mph speed limit along most areas. How would this help you? As for the red lanes, you are confusing red lane with transit lane. A transit lane is a transit lane A red lane is the same as a transit lane, it offers nothing magical , and the data proves painting a lane does nothing to make buses travel faster. Note: The SFMTA has stopped claiming this magical speed up in bus travel times. So should all of you. You have no basis for stating it. When the SFMTA as claiming it, they lied. They got called on it. They stopped. So should all of you.

  • Mark

    Corporate American and small business pay for maintenance of the roadway with every gallon of gas they buy which includes taxes; with every vehicle registration fee they pay; and with a portion of every tax dollar paid to the state and federal government. They are part of the public that pays taxes There are no roadways I know of ever made exclusively for buses unless it is grade protected, or restricted center running and even then, private corporations also paid for a portion of those lanes. So, are you saying that Corporate America sponges off of every road they use ? Also, these riders on the bus are likely going to employment by a private Corporation or private small business that pays their salaries, which the bus riding employees use to pay their taxes and bus fares, etc and so, Corporate America most certainly pays for the roadways in the form of taxes. Or are you some liberal dork that thinks that the money for public roadways comes from only bus riders, and that only bus riders should be allowed to use them? Dork.

  • Mark

    The SFMTA cannot, without a doubt, conduct a “proper experiment” on ANYTHING. When they do try to collect data, they present it in a way that benefits their agenda. Why incentivise public transit – MUNI – over private transit? Why would anyone in their right mind want to promote a 2nd tier product over a first tier product? Because you like waste? You want to promote MUNI, a transportation product that does not have enough drivers, has drivers protected by Unions so that they can miss work or show up late, and not get penalized, resulting in buses late 50% of the time (according to a Chronicle article), a system where a driver was quoted in the paper recently that he has to intervene in ONE FIGHT A DAYON THE BUS AT LEAST, and you want to promote this as the standard for transportation in the City? Hliarious

  • Mark

    How often does a Taxi pick up a handicapped person under the paratransit umbrella?

  • Mark

    great post

  • Mark

    The transit lanes are not for MUNI only, as you are now learning.

  • @Mark – Wrong. The taxes and fees you pay don’t even cover half of the highway costs and contribute practically nothing to the streets under discussion.

  • Ethan

    You may have missed the point of the comment, which is the very first sentence. “Rules can be changed.” SF has the power to limit who can use the red lanes. I talked about freeway carpool lanes to illustrate that rules can be changed and in fact Caltrans is required to change who can use carpool lanes when they become “degraded” from too many vehicles.

    You upvoted another comment in which I said:

    “If it becomes clear low-occupant vehicles are slowing down Muni, restrict the (red) lanes to vehicles with (at minimum) two non-driving passengers. If that’s not enough, make it three. If that’s not enough, make it so only buses and vans like Chariot can use the lanes. If that’s not enough, remove Chariot, or see if they’re willing to pay Muni enough money to make it worth Muni’s while.”

    SF can and should change the rules to do this.

  • jonobate

    Pretty sure they don’t make a profit at all.

  • crazyvag

    The point is that people on either vehicle are SF residents like you an I. Both of us are making efficient use of space by taking a bus instead of a private car. Why should some SF residents be discriminated vs others?

  • rbvandyke but


Mission Street Transit Lanes: What About the Bikes?

Earlier this week, the SFMTA sent out a release with a progress report on the “Red Lane” paint (actually, a thermoplastic adhesive) they are applying, clearly marking lanes for Muni Streetcars and buses (and taxis): Early signs indicate success. Preliminary data shows transit-only lane violations dropping by more than 50 percent on some segments of […]

Mission Transit Lane Removal Nudged Closer to Reality

Last April, businesses on Mission Street started to gain some traction in pushing against SFMTA’s “red carpet” bus-only lanes, which they claim—contrary to the available evidence, it should be noted—are hurting their bottom line. The result: Supervisor David Campos asked the SFMTA to “make a radical shift in the program,” as he put it in […]

Muni’s Sluggish 30-Stockton Finally Set to Get Greater Priority on the Streets

Muni’s notoriously sluggish 30-Stockton line is finally set to get some upgrades that will give buses higher priority on streets through the dense neighborhoods of Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, and near Fisherman’s Wharf. The plans, part of the SFMTA’s “Muni Forward” program, include transit-only lanes, bus bulb-outs and boarding islands, transit signal priority, and […]