A new loading zone set to be carved out for private shuttles on Van Ness Avenue could be a sign of things to come, as The City prepares to deal with the ever-growing number of unregulated buses.
Van Ness Avenue has become the center of conflicts between Muni vehicles and private shuttles, which scoop up workers in San Francisco and carry them to jobs on the Peninsula and in Silicon Valley. The shuttles often pick up workers at stops designated for Muni vehicles, leading to public transit delays.
To address those concerns, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages Muni, has proposed adding an 80-foot boarding zone specifically for private shuttle vehicles on Van Ness Avenue. The proposed site, located in front of an old gas station near Union Street, will be voted on today.
If approved, the zone would be just the second in The City aimed specifically at catering to the employee shuttle buses. The other is at Eighth and Market streets. The site on Van Ness Avenue would remove several parking spaces between 6 and 10 a.m.
There could be several more zones added to Van Ness Avenue, which has the highest level of private shuttle bus activity in The City, according to data from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, Muni’s sister agency, which recently conducted a study on the issue.
A bus rapid transit network is planned for Van Ness Avenue. It would add dedicated lanes for Muni vehicles, but remove most of the agency’s curbside pickup sites. That will make the demand for loading zones all the more acute — a problem that could be alleviated with the installation of more private shuttle boarding areas, said transit agency spokesman Paul Rose. Other zones could be added near the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets, according to Rose.
If the zone is added to Van Ness Avenue, Muni will monitor the situation to make sure private shuttle buses use the area, Rose said. If not, they could receive fines of $110.
Ben Kaufman, a spokesman for the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, which advocates for riders, said he is happy with efforts to tackle the issue.
“We oppose any private vehicles taking space away from stops for Muni,” Kaufman said. “The agency has enough issues to deal with as it is.”
Daniel McCoy, a transportation manager at biotech firm Genentech, which uses shuttles, said the company has been working with Muni since 2009 on finding a solution for the congestion on Van Ness Avenue.
“It’s been clear for some time that the private commuter shuttle buses are overloading an existing Muni stop at the intersection of Van Ness and Union,” McCoy said. “By creating a second morning pickup point for private shuttle buses, Genentech believes that will reduce conflicts with Muni.”
The transit agency is working with its partners to develop a comprehensive plan to regulate shuttles, which occupy more than 200 boarding sites across The City. Part of that initiative, which is slated to be finished this year, could include fees levied on the employers — among them Google, Apple and Genentech — for using the special zones, Rose said. Organizations such as the Academy of Art University currently pay annual fees, which can total more than $4,000 depending on the size of the loading zone.