The Service Transit Riders Need
We surveyed over 300 riders to hear people’s priorities as we recover from the pandemic
As we fight for the return of Muni service, we are checking in with riders to hear directly about their needs. And as Muni ridership approaches 50% of pre-pandemic levels, understanding what routes people have relied on this past year and which ones they need back is crucial to better serve today’s riders and to encourage former riders to return to transit.
As COVID-19 case rates started to decline in early 2021, our community orgnanizing team, supported by member volunteers, began conducting outreach to ask riders about their experience riding Muni during the pandemic. Over three months we surveyed almost 300 riders at bus stops, farmers markets, and community events in Districts 6 and 9 (roughly encompassing Civic Center, South of Market, the Mission, and the Excelsior), collecting responses in English, Spanish, and Cantonese. We find these responses provide a valuable snapshot of the rider experience during the pandemic.
Top takeaways from our outreach:
SFMTA’s May and August service restorations go a long way to addressing the transit needs to riders. Of the top 20 routes riders said they wanted back the most, 14 of them have either returned to service or will be brought back in August. In the graph below, the routes that have been completely restored are in dark green, and those that will be restored in August are in light green.
However, route changes and bus substitutions leave riders frustrated. Replacing bus substitutions with light rail vehicles on the M Ocean View and the N Judah were among the top priorities for riders. Additionally, many of the routes that have been brought back have been modified to riders’ dismay, in particular the 27 Bryant — which currently travels on 7th and 8th Streets instead of 5th Street (this leaves a large gap between north-south options in South of Market). These modified routes are shown in yellow on the graph below.
Key routes that riders need remain suspended. 40% of people who responded to our question ‘what route do you need back’ listed a route SFMTA has not yet scheduled to return after over a year of service suspension. These routes are red in the above graph. In particular, the 31 Balboa stood out as the route surveyed riders need back the most. The 31 runs through the Tenderloin and serves a higher portion of disabled and lower income riders than the average Muni route.
“[Muni] got better with the pandemic. More buses more frequent on the 9”
“The 14 has gotten great at often rides”
“I like the higher service on the 38”
“Good service — buses every 4 mins. Keep up the good work Muni!”
Riders prioritize bus frequency in the survey and in route selection. Of the top 10 routes riders said they relied upon most, nine operated on headways of 10 minutes or less. This dovetails with the answers of respondents, who chose frequency as their top transit priority. In fact, riders consistently highlighted the frequency improvements of SFMTA’s Core Service Plan.
Safety remains a concern for riders. Over a quarter of riders cited safety as their top transit priority, with responses containing a mixture of covid-19 and physical safety. While many people have decided to avoid transit altogether “due to concerns about cleanliness and safety”, others have been forced “to build delay times into rides” in order to avoid overly crowded buses. Riders also named limited late-night service as a deterrent to riding, and that it “was hard to figure out at night.”
San Francisco Transit Riders is committed to pushing for the return of at least 100% of pre-COVID service levels as quickly as possible. Frequent, reliable, and accessible public transit is essential to our pandemic recovery and meeting San Francisco’s climate, equity, and opportunity goals. Our transit recovery must center the needs of riders — especially focusing on communities of color, lower-income individuals, essential workers, and people with disabilities who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
You can view the full survey results here. A special thanks to Community Organizer Sarah Quiñones for leading the survey outreach, and to members Cyrus Hall and Harlo Pippenger for the data analysis and visualizations.