San Francisco's commuter shuttle program to use Muni stops is being pushed back a month and fewer than the maximum stops are included in the proposed network, the details of which will be discussed at a public hearing today.
In January, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency approved an 18-month pilot program to allow commuter shuttles — often called tech buses — to use a select number of Muni stops for a per-stop daily fee. The move was in response to years of complaints from residents and city officials about these shuttles' illegal use of public-transit infrastructure.
The pilot, however, merely added fuel to the fire, as housing-rights activists and others seized on the shuttles as examples of rampant gentrification taking place in The City. An appeal of the environmental impact report exemption was rejected in April, and a lawsuit against the program was filed in early May.
At today's hearing on the proposed Muni stops the shuttles can use, no action will be taken by the SFMTA. Feedback on the stops, which were selected through requests from shuttle companies and input from community meetings and a crowdsourcing map, will be incorporated before the network goes before the SFMTA board of directors July 15.
The pilot, which is moving forward despite the lawsuit from anti-displacement groups, had a July 1 launch date, but was moved to Aug. 1 because all the necessary hearings would not fit in the board of directors' summer schedule, said Program Manager Carli Paine of the SFMTA.
Instead of the maximum 200 stops proposed, the pilot is moving forward with 111 shared stops already selected. That includes 100 Muni zones, 10 new white zones for shuttles and one extension of an existing white zone, designed for shuttle loading only, to separate Muni and shuttle activity at high-volume stops. An additional 10 to 15 stops will go before a similar SFMTA hearing July 11.
Transit service planners and engineers chose the network of stops, and the decisions were not based simply on the wishes of shuttle operators or San Francisco residents irked by their existence.
“It was a lot of back and forth and looking at Muni schedules and a lot of constraints,” Paine said. “There are many stops that [shuttle operators] requested that are not part of the network for a combination of reasons — residents, Muni needs, and street considerations and construction.”
Commuter shuttles — which transport thousands of workers, particularly in the tech industry, and students within and outside of San Francisco — have been seized upon as a symbol of economic disparity in The City by anti-displacement activists who have blocked numerous Google buses and similar shuttles.
A plaintiff in the lawsuit, Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, said the contention with approval of the selected stops is that the pilot program ignores the legal requirement for a thorough review of impacts and violates the state vehicle code prohibiting use of public bus stops for private vehicles.
“I am alarmed that instead of The City cracking down on companies breaking the law, they have decided to roll over and offer to change the law in their favor at the expense of everyday San Franciscans,” Shortt said. Within the proposed network are 10 new white zones and an extension of an existing one designed for shuttle loading only, to separate Muni and shuttle activity at high-volume stops.
Among the other changes proposed is extending the length of three Muni zones that would be shared with shuttles all day — 16th Street just east of Mission Street, Fillmore Street just north of Jackson Street, and Divisadero Street just north of Oak Street.
Another four zones would be Muni zone extensions during peak hours — two from 6 to 10 a.m. and two from 4 to 8 p.m.
The permitting process for shuttles is expected to open next week. Part of the cost-recovery $1 per stop, per day fee will go toward additional parking control officers who can issue $271 tickets to shuttles that do not have permits or those that fail to follow the rules of the pilot program.
“We are the first city to attempt something like this, and it's the first time we're doing this and there are a lot of different interests to consider,” Paine said. “It's good that it's a pilot because it's allowing us to test this out, and we're confident that we'll be learning from this process of working to identify the stops.”
The public hearing will be held at 10 a.m. today in Room 416 at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place in San Francisco.