Elderly net transit victory, bus to SFGH won’t change route for now

Correction: This piece has been corrected from its original print version. An earlier version reported the 33-Ashbury reroute would be halted, but did not include the SFMTA’s statement that this may be temporary. The piece has been updated to reflect that information. The San Francisco Examiner regrets the error.

A major bus line serving San Francisco General Hospital will not have its route changed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, at least in the near term, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Now the change has been tabled while the SFMTA “while the SFMTA reconsiders transit service options,” said Robert Lyles, a spokesman for the agency.

To counter the change, an outcry from the bus-riding community echoed a single sentiment: It’s not easy growing old.

Though the 33-Ashbury now goes up 16th Street from the Mission and hangs a right on Potrero Avenue — a favored route to SFGH — a proposed route change would send it past the hospital without a turn.

This change would have required riders to either walk or get onto another bus — the 9 or 9R — to then reach the hospital. For those with a spring in their step, this is easy, said Fran Taylor, one of the critics of the reroute.

But many seniors and those with disabilities depend on the 33 to get to the hospital.

“We see every day how patients struggle to reach the hospital, and we just couldn’t believe the city would callously make it harder for them,” wrote Taylor, Iris Biblowitz and Alice Bierman, of Senior Disability Action, in a statement to the Examiner.

The changes to the 33-Ashbury were part of a sweeping set of route changes and service improvements to Muni announced last year, known as the Muni Forward program. On the whole, these improvements quickened commutes citywide, the SFMTA says.

But that growth came at a cost to some smaller communities — a tradeoff the SFMTA must make in a world of finite resources and hard choices.

SFMTA said studies show ridership of the 33 near general hospital is small. But to the seniors that depend on it, it’s vital.

Taylor and other advocates for the elderly community raised hell to stop the 33 reroute, speaking at myriad SFMTA Board of Directors meetings, and even released a video detailing the negative impacts of the reroute.

At a community meeting in mid-October, SFMTA planner Sandra Padilla announced the agency would reconsider the 33 reroute.

SFMTA planners rode the 33 and tried to see the ride from the perspective of those with mobility issues, she said. Robert Lyles, an SFMTA spokesman, confirmed Padilla’s announcement.

Though initially the SFMTA determined the 33 had low ridership near the hospital, Lyles wrote in an email, eventually SFMTA uncovered that “Many of these riders are seniors and people with disabilities for whom transferring to the 9/9R prove to be challenging,” Lyles wrote.

Taylor replied that the advocates understood the tradeoffs that go into planning Muni routes to fit into a citywide system. Still, she said, the concerns of the elderly should not be cast aside.

“The needs of our most vulnerable riders must have special weight, especially when transit is essential to health care access,” she and her allies wrote.

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