Later this month, SFMTA will present three scenarios for 2022 Muni service: a return to the Familiar Network that would restore suspended routes but reduce frequency on core routes, a Frequent Network that would increase frequency along major corridors but leave many routes suspended, and a hybrid scenario that aims to balance the features of the Familiar and the Frequent networks.
None of these scenarios sufficiently meets the needs of riders, let alone achieves our 30x30 vision of a world class transit network in San Francisco. However, it is important to engage with each scenario as an intermediary step as SFMTA continues to hire staff and works with the Mayor and Board of Supervisors to secure the funding needed to fully restore, improve and expand Muni service. In that light, San Francisco Transit Riders believes that restoring suspended Muni lines should be the baseline for Muni’s 2022 service network. We are optimistic that SFMTA’s ability to provide 85% of pre-pandemic service hours, combined with low downtown demand, make it possible to restore suspended routes without significant declines in frequency along major corridors.
That said, we look forward to engaging with SFMTA, our members and our community partners to identify which scenario best meets the needs of riders. Here are the factors that inform our approach to the 2022 service plan (inspired by Broadway hit musical Hamilton):
Who wins, who loses, who tells the story
The Frequent Network is based on improving overall access for riders, i.e., getting to more destinations in the same amount of time or sooner. But improving overall access will mean eliminating routes that people had previously relied on, and the actual improvements are likely to be very modest. Does the so-called high frequency network preserve access — particularly for those with the least mobility options — or will some riders be worse off than before? Who gets to define what ‘improving access’ means? We continue to hear riders ask for the return of lines they find essential such as the 31, 21, 2 and 3.
It’s quiet downtown
Office vacancy rates in San Francisco are at historic highs and San Francisco’s hotel recovery is at 30% of pre-pandemic levels. Downtown commerce is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2025. Low downtown travel demand for the foreseeable future means we can reallocate service elsewhere. Do the 2022 scenarios reduce pre-pandemic frequencies downtown in order to increase frequency elsewhere or restore suspended routes?
[Who is in] the room where it happens
Transit planning has historically excluded people of color, low-income people, seniors, people with disabilities and those without transit alternatives from the decision-making process. On a short timeline and with limited outreach options due to the pandemic, significant changes to the network must have the support of riders in these communities. This is certainly not the time to expect them to make an extra effort to be heard.
Regardless of which service option moves forward, riders need a system they can count on. SFMTA must make sure we move forward with a clear service plan this winter. Delaying service changes until summer or fall 2022 will hurt rider’s confidence in Muni regardless of which scenario is adopted.
What comes next?
All three proposed plans are within SFMTA’s limited budget that can only provide about 85% of pre-pandemic service. Regardless of which 2022 scenario is chosen, we need to secure additional transit funding for Muni. How do each of these scenarios scale to support future service increases? Which one brings us closest to reliable, affordable, and world class transit that is accessible to all? Perhaps most importantly, which of these scenarios will restore the public trust needed to pass a new transit funding measure?
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