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Muni Rail Returns (and then it doesn’t)

3:07 PM PDT on August 24, 2020

An N Judah at Duboce Park on Sunday. Photo from slowstreetsdefender’s twitter.

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

After almost half a year, Muni rail is back, albeit with a different map and changed operations. Update: 8/25 Muni Rail is down again thanks to equipment failures and a positive COVID test of a control center employee. As previously reported, SFMTA's strategy is to maximize space on trains in the Twin Peaks and downtown subway tunnels, by only allowing two and three-car trains. The J, K, and L no longer enter the tunnels. Instead, passengers on those lines heading to downtown will have to change at West Portal or Church, as seen in the maps below.

A look at Muni's new map. Image: SFMTA
A look at Muni's new map. Image: SFMTA
A look at Muni's new map. Image: SFMTA

"We're excited about the return of rail! It's a great step forward in increasing Muni's capacity and a sign of hope for our recovery. Buses that have been used as rail substitutions can now provide service to many neighborhoods that have been left out of the Core Service plan," wrote the San Francisco Transit Riders Cat Carter, in an email to Streetsblog.

Included in the relaunch of rail service, SFMTA is restoring or expanding 11 bus routes that were suspended or truncated as part of the core service plan. For the full rundown, check out Muni's information page.

Muni's interior. Also from slowstreetsdefender.
Muni's interior. Also from slowstreetsdefender.
Muni's interior. Also from slowstreetsdefender.

SFMTA is still asking people to "...stay at home, except for essential trips." Between COVID and the unhealthy air quality due to the Bay Area fires, one can only hope the phrase "essential trips" is taken literally. The agency is also reminding people who do have to ride to wear face masks, covering both "...your mouth and nose" and to maintain physical distance. Despite that, as one Streetsblog commenter put it, "Things felt a little more normal when seeing and getting Muni light rail back on Embarcadero this weekend."

Image: SFMTA
Wayfinding maps of the new forced transfers at Church and West Portal. Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA

Unfortunately, something else "normal" returned this Monday that's familiar to Muni riders: the perennial "downed wire" in the Twin Peaks tunnel.

"The service snags we've seen as they return to rail service, however, are frustrating and all too familiar. Unfortunately, these mechanical problems aren't likely to disappear as budget problems increase and Muni falls further behind in maintenance and repair," wrote Carter. "We're going to need to make sure Muni is funded going forward if we want to get these problems fixed."

A sign for the new T/M line in the subway. Photo: Jeffrey Tumlin
A sign for the new T/M line in the subway. Photo: Jeffrey Tumlin
A sign for the new T/M line in the subway. Photo: Jeffrey Tumlin

Meanwhile, it seems this will be the last service increase for the foreseeable future. From the SFMTA page:

Our August 22 service changes will put us close to maximizing the number of available operators and vehicles out on the street to serve our customers. Due to the need for physical distancing, it now takes three times as many vehicles to move people as before the COVID emergency. At the same time, our budget shortfalls prevent us from hiring more operators and cleaners or purchasing more vehicles. Given these restrictions, these are likely to be the last major service increases tied to the city’s COVID-19 recovery, with exceptions of minor updates.

This last statement echos warnings from Director Jeffrey Tumlin about the dire financial situation the agency (and all transit agencies) now find themselves in, with severe revenue and ridership drops and a shortage of skilled mechanics and operators to keep the system running.

Late Monday, SFMTA announced it was giving up and closing down the rail system again. Details on twitter.

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