City approves red transit-only lanes on Geary for use by private shuttles, Chariot

Private transit vehicles like tech shuttles, Chariot and casino buses will legally be allowed to fly along the newest red “transit only” lanes to be painted in San Francisco, on Geary Boulevard.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors on Tuesday voted to approve a phase of the Geary Rapid project that will add red lanes down Geary from Market Street to Stanyan Street.

The project drew strong opposition, however, after transit advocates learned it will allow private transit vehicles to use transit-only lanes, dubbed “red carpet” lanes by transit planners, on Geary Boulevard.

Members of the public hissed during the vote and pleaded with board members to ban Chariot, tech shuttles and other private vehicles, to no avail.

Ultimately, the board approved the lanes with a catch, asking SFMTA staff to interview Muni operators to investigate if private transit vehicles slow down Muni buses.

SFMTA Board of Directors Vice Chair Malcolm Heinicke said there is a “philosophical divide” over public and private transit in The City.

“If this is just an exercise — ‘let’s punish private transit because we can,’ — I’d rather avoid that,” Heinicke said. “I’d rather have people in commuter shuttles and Chariots than cars.”

The $35 million Geary Rapid project will add red transit-only lanes down Geary Boulevard to allow the 38-Geary and 38R-Geary Rapid buses to shoot down the street separately from car traffic, speeding up the nearly 54,000 daily trips on those lines, the Examiner previously reported. The 38-Geary sports a daily ridership nearly the size of the entire Caltrain system.

Speakers at the meeting argued that private shuttles may slow down Muni service and that private companies don’t pay their “fare share” — to use a Muni pun— to use the lanes. Community members were adamant that since taxpayers and Muni riders pay for the red lanes, private shuttles should not benefit from the public’s largess.

Prominent neighborhood groups like the South of Market Community Action Network and the Mission Economic Development Agency opposed allowing private transit to use the red lanes. Cathy DeLuca of Walk SF said the organization had “grave concerns” about private vehicles being allowed to access transit lanes. “We do feel we deserve our own lane,” said Rachel Hyden, director of the Transit Riders advocacy group, in support of Muni-only transit lanes.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer, who represents the Richmond District and many riders of the 38-Geary, said it was “concerning” to learn the red lanes would be used for private vehicles, in a statement read by her legislative aide. “This should really be a space where Muni doesn’t have to jostle with casino buses, charter shuttles,” Fewer said in the statement.

Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Roger Marenco, who leads Muni operators, also opposed allowing tech shuttles and other private transit in red carpet lanes.

“I thought to myself, ‘isn’t this the city that defies presidential orders and federal law?’” he told the board. “Why don’t we kick these for-profit corporate buses to the curb and allow [Muni] buses to thrive and strive?”

One of the few, perhaps only, voices in support of allowing private shuttles the use of red carpet lanes came from Tony Delorio — a representative of the Teamsters local 665, which represents commuter shuttle drivers.

“It’s in the best interest of our riders that transit lanes continue to be used for shuttles,” he said. “Faster service will encourage people to use these vehicles and get out of their private transit vehicles.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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