Muni switchbacks on decline as San Francisco supervisors cry foul 

click to enlarge Muni riders often criticize the agency’s policy of stopping short various routes, which it says is necessary to clear up delays in other parts of the system. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Muni riders often criticize the agency’s policy of stopping short various routes, which it says is necessary to clear up delays in other parts of the system.

Muni’s switchback policy on transit routes gained a new foe last week, but while the practice might be increasing on some lines, it appears to be slowing down on others.

A perennial complaint of disgruntled riders, Muni says its practice of cutting short its scheduled routes is necessary to clear delays on other parts of the system.

Recently appointed Supervisor Katy Tang — who succeeded Carmen Chu in District 4, which covers most of the Sunset district — said last week that one of her main priorities would be to reduce the number of Muni switchbacks. Two lengthy light-rail lines in Tang’s district, the N-Judah and L-Taraval, record more than 75,000 daily boardings. The N-Judah is often criticized for a high number of switchbacks, but statistics seem to tell a different story.

In January, the most recent month for which data are available, Muni turned 45 N-Judah trains around before they reached Ocean Beach, with many stopping at Sunset Boulevard. That was a reduction from the previous month’s total of 52 and a significant drop from the 12-month high of 68 recorded in October.

The practice is far less common on the other line in Tang’s district, the L-Taraval, which recorded only six switchbacks in January. That’s a 12-month low.

Muni has reduced switchbacks during peak-service hours. Only four N-Judah trains were turned around prematurely in January during the morning and evening commutes, and just one L-Taraval train recorded a switchback. For all light-rail lines, there were seven peak-time switchbacks in January; in February 2012, there were 57.

One neighborhood that has seen a significant increase in switchbacks is the Bayview district, which is represented by Supervisor Malia Cohen. There were 48 in January on the T-Third Street line, which runs from the Financial District to the Bayview and becomes the K-Ingleside line. That marked a 152 percent increase from December and the highest recorded total of any Muni line that month.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said the transit system makes 30,000 monthly light-rail trips.

Systemwide, there were 131 switchbacks on light-rail lines in January. That’s significantly fewer than the 262 recorded in February 2012, although it’s much more than the 12-month low of 82 last July.

In June 2011, Muni recorded some 440 switchbacks systemwide.

When presented with the data, Tang said the practice was a larger systemwide problem and that she was looking forward to working with the agency on addressing the issue.

Cohen said the number of switchbacks in her community is astronomically high, and because many Bayview residents are disenfranchised or marginalized, it’s difficult for them to make their opinions known. She also noted that the overwhelming majority of switchbacks on the T-Third line occur at Armstrong Avenue, which is sparsely populated and far from the southern terminus of the line.

“I’m joining with Supervisor Tang in this battle,” Cohen said. “We think it’s time for Muni to abandon or at least significantly cut back on these switchbacks.”

Rose said the agency is working on reducing its switchbacks by making its transit vehicles more reliable; he cited an aggressive investment in maintenance in Muni’s two-year budget.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Setbacks

Muni riders often criticize the agency’s policy of stopping short various routes, which it says is necessary to clear up delays in other parts of the system.

Line                                   Switchbacks         Peak-time switchbacks

                                            in January                     in January

T-Third/K-Ingleside                    49                                   1

N-Judah                                    45                                   4

J-Church                                   26                                   1

L-Taraval                                   6                                    1         

M-Ocean View                          5                                    0

Source: SFMTA

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Will Reisman

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