Muni to evaluate public transit access for underserved communities

San Francisco transit leaders on Tuesday pledged to evaluate and improve Muni access to underserved communities, including low-income residents, those with disabilities, the elderly and communities of color.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors voted to adopt the agency’s first-ever Muni Equity Strategy Report, the culmination of work by the agency to identify disadvantaged people in The City and help boost their access to public transit.

The report comes after the board voted in 2014 to adopt a Muni Equity Policy, prompted by a proposal from Supervisor John Avalos in 2013.

“The early results are extremely positive,” Julie Kirschbaum, operations planning and scheduling manager for the SFMTA and who led the equity report effort, told the board Tuesday. She noted SFMTA is “already seeing improvements” in neighborhoods targeted for transit service increases.

Seven areas were dubbed by the SFMTA as “Service Equity Strategy” neighborhoods to monitor: Chinatown, the Bayview, the Mission, the Tenderloin, South of Market, Visitacion Valley, the Excelsior and the Western Addition.

Those neighborhoods have a high enough concentration of low income residents, people of color, people with disabilities and dearth of vehicle ownership to warrant aid, according to the SFMTA.

The report incorporates some existing projects already in the works to improve neighborhood transit access, many from The City’s Muni Forward program.

Muni Forward is one of SFMTA’s biggest efforts to increase transit across Muni in decades, restructuring service to be more efficient for 700,000 riders across many routes.

Some of the equity strategies are brand new, however, and tailor fit to improve service.

As part of the equity report, SFMTA will aim to improve on-time performance, service gaps, and crowding concerns. Making transit time more competitive to driving and addressing accessibility-related customer complaints are also part of the service increases.

Even small nips and tucks will benefit thousands – like adjusting the schedule of the 19 Polk to reduce crowding in the Tenderloin, or rerouting the 8AX to use freeways less frequently to increase service to Visitacion Valley.

The 8, 8AX and 8BX serve 32,000 daily riders, according to the report, and the 19 Polk serves 7,800 daily riders.

The 8-Bayshore was identified as servicing more seniors and people with disabilities than any other route on the Muni system, measured by the amount of Clipper Card use for those groups.

One-time capital improvements will cost $21 million, including redesigning train interlocks for the T-Third in the Bayview and creating new transit and pedestrian-only streets in Chinatown.

This equity strategy is “service revenue neutral,” according to an SFMTA staff report, meaning the agency believes the $11.7 million in funding these improvements annually will be offset by savings elsewhere in the agency.

Supervisor London Breed represents the Western Addition, among other neighborhoods, and said many people in her district depend on Muni alone for their transportation.

Major bus routes, like the 5-Fulton, have improved, she said, but can become crowded before they reach the Western Addition.

“And some people are really happy in my district, whether it’s crowded or not. They’ve been very complimentary about the 5-Rapid,” she said.

But some elderly riders can’t handle the crowds, she added.

Numerous community groups were involved in the process, like the Chinatown Community Development Center, Urban Habitat, Senior Disability Action, and the Council of Community Housing Organizations.

Calvin Welch of the Human Services Network, an advocacy group of local nonprofits, was optimistic about the plan, especially for the transit reliant San Franciscans his group serves.

“Dealing with SFMTA has not always been a pleasant experience for me,” he told the board. “This, however, was a startling reversal.”

He said the effort may reverse a trend of “transit gentrification,” and bring increased transit services to less dense neighborhoods who nonetheless need reliable bus service.

Still, Welch, Peter Cohen of the CCHO and Bob Allen of Urban Habitat all said the SFMTA needs to raise revenue to boost Muni service to these neighborhoods in the future.

The Equity Report will be evaluated annually, and newly revisited every two years.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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