SFTR Response to 2022 Muni Proposals

This letter was submitted to the SFMTA Board of Directors in response to Item 11, Winter 2022 Muni Service at the September 21, 2021 board meeting.

Dear Chair Borden and Directors,

As the member-supported advocate for transit riders in the city, San Francisco Transit Riders would like to share our concerns with the proposed 2022 Muni service plans.

We understand that SFMTA faces serious challenges and uncertainty in its financial future. In an attempt to forge a way forward, SFMTA staff are proposing a set of options that they call the familiar, the frequent, and the hybrid service plans.

We are concerned that no one plan provides sufficient service; that the outreach time and effort is far too abbreviated and won’t capture enough rider input; that too many parts of the proposal pit riders against riders (when riders have already lived through too much scarcity throughout the pandemic); and that going through this process now will only erode public confidence in Muni, making it harder to pass essential and significant funding for Muni in 2022.

Further, the survey asking for rider feedback lacks detail or a way to register nuanced reaction to any of the proposals. Riders should be able to evaluate and respond to each service change and there should be some flexibility to mix and match route proposals.

For example, we support making the 49 Van Ness/Mission a Rapid route. The new stop spacing on Van Ness Ave is designed for that, and riders on Mission Street would benefit from added Rapid service. Currently on Mission Street, the 14R Mission is the most crowded and the 49 Van Ness/Mission most often underutilized.

However, downgrading or eliminating the 21 Hayes disconnects the Hayes Valley commercial district, leaves a community of riders behind, and pits their needs against those of other riders. It takes away service entirely from some riders in order to increase frequency on other routes from 6 minutes to 5 minutes.

A “5-minute network” is an appealing concept and we understand that a minute can represent a 20% difference in capacity. However, except where pass-ups exist, the difference between 5 minutes and 6 minutes is not hugely significant to riders. A “6-minute network” should be sufficient in most places and at most times until more resources are available — especially if moving to a 5-minute network means taking service completely away from other riders.

Muni has a grid network, if imperfect, that is designed to facilitate trips with at most one transfer and is well-adapted to a post-pandemic world. As travel patterns change and fewer riders need to get downtown, we should make sure that the grid is not disrupted but is strengthened. So for example, the 21 Hayes could be interlined with the 6 Parnassus to strengthen the connections of both routes.

Following are some responses to the plan in more detail, which hopefully illuminate some of the nuance and possibility we think has been missed:

  • The 2 Clement is an important secondary route that provides access, serves the Clement commercial district, and accommodates overflow from nearby busy routes. Downtown, the spacing between the 1 California and the 38 Geary is excessive especially considering the hills.
  • The 21 Hayes is also an important secondary route, covering the large (and hilly) gap between Fulton and Haight. Shortening the 21 to Market Street means it won’t fully connect with the rest of the system and won’t be very useful — the 21 should continue downtown. As mentioned above, one option could be to interline it in the near term with the 6 Parnassus at Stanyan or Masonic, to strengthen the grid and increase connectivity.
  • Eliminating the 47 Van Ness also hurts the Muni grid. It leaves Fisherman’s Wharf workers behind, reduces many important connections along the Van Ness corridor, and cuts the connection from Civic Center to Caltrain. The Van Ness BRT lane is finally about to open, so let’s take advantage of it rather than eliminating a route. (The proposed 31 Balboa connection to Caltrain just doesn’t substitute for the connectivity of the 47 Van Ness.)
  • Extending the 31 Balboa down 5th Street to Caltrain might be worth considering, but would need thorough outreach with riders. That central part of SOMA lost north-south connection when the 27 Bryant was moved (due in large part to delays on 5th Street). Do people in the area need the connection to the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, and the Mission provided by the 27, or do they need connection to Caltrain, Western Addition, and the Richmond provided by the 31? The answer might be both. However, the last time SFMTA redesigned 5th Street, it made it worse for transit. Again, this is a larger conversation that can’t be adequately addressed in the current timeline.
  • It is a real problem that connections and service for transit riders in the southwestern part of the city are so negatively impacted by car traffic problems at St. Francis Circle. While the intersection probably needs a full redesign, in the short term a few turn restrictions for cars could improve Muni service. As it is, staff have decided to re-route the 23 Monterey, again hurting east-west grid connections. They have also created the new 58 Lake Merced, which provides some access but doesn’t connect to very much. It might make more sense to interline the 23 with the 58, both restoring the grid and providing better connections particularly for the 58.

Again, everyone is pandemic-fatigued, especially riders who are still missing their service. This is the wrong time to be asking for further sacrifices from riders, and to pit riders against other riders. This is a very difficult time to do thorough outreach with riders, especially those who won’t engage with online activities or posters at bus stops. Changes have been happening so quickly that everyone has had a hard time keeping up with them and knowing when and where their Muni service will be.

Perhaps most importantly, SFMTA needs to be building trust with the public in order to pass needed transit funding, not undermining it with a rushed process. We continue to call for full restoration of service to reconnect the city.

Sincerely,

Cat Carter
Policy & Communications Director
San Francisco Transit Riders