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SFMTA board approves changes to tech commuter shuttle program

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Noe Valley resident Kathy Lipscomb talks during public comment at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors meeting before they approved changes to the commuter shuttle program. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s transit agency agreed to modify the commuter shuttle program Tuesday, ensuring it will continue for at least another year, but also setting the stage for major changes like moving to a hub system.

A majority of the Board of Supervisors last week called on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to accept the changes.

The request was part of a deal that would result in the dismissal of an environmental appeal filed against the commuter shuttle program by The City’s largest government employee labor union, SEIU 1021, and a group of residents.

If the appeal is upheld, it would dismantle the program, a prospect both sides of the debate are negotiating to avoid. With the SFMTA board’s unanimous approval Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is expected to dismiss the appeal next week. The transit board would then be asked to give final approval to a revised program March 1.

The SFMTA board previously approved a permanent program in November, after an 18-month pilot.

The changes include expanding the program for one year with a review within six months, analyzing a hub model instead of allowing the use of Muni stops and commissioning a study of the shuttles’ impact on housing costs.

Not everyone was onboard with changes. Notably, Supervisor Scott Wiener said the SFMTA board should stick with the program it approved in November, suggesting the changes were designed to ultimately dismantle the program.

“We need more transit, not less, and that means transit in all its forms, including employer-provided shuttles,” Wiener wrote in his letter.

Wiener was also critical of the hub system. “The result of a hub system will be a dramatic drop in shuttle ridership and more workers driving to work rather than taking a bus,” he said.

But SFMTA board member Joel Ramos said even when the transit board approved the program in November, it was understood changes were going to be needed.

“There is tremendous room for improvement,” Ramos said, adding that he is “deeply supportive of these shuttle services.”

Several who testified in support of the changes said they wanted the program to move toward a hub model. Suggested locations for the hubs include Transbay Terminal, Balboa Park Station and Candlestick Point. The thousands of tech workers who rely on the shuttles to commute to companies like Apple, Facebook and Google in the South Bay would reach the hubs by using Muni or bicycles.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea to have a hub or hubs where these large diesel shuttles can go and get out of the neighborhoods,” Noe Valley resident Kathy Lipscomb said. “It’s a great compromise. It’s a matter of fairness and balance.”

Tom Maguire, an SFMTA official, said the program changes represent “a step in the way forward to a shuttle program that meets all those concerns that have been raised through the CEQA appeal process.”

Maguire said that the expectation is the program would remain as is for a year and the studies would be used to modify the program afterwards. It is possible for the SFMTA board to make program changes during the year.

Ariana Casanova, speaking on behalf of SEIU 1021, said Tuesday’s vote “really does address some of the concerns — temporarily — moving forward.” Casanova said she would ultimately like to see commuter shuttles no longer using Muni stops but instead hubs.

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