Requests for more, better and faster Muni service are common during public comment at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency meetings.
It’s far less frequent the agency’s board hears calls to get rid of service.
But residents of Broderick Street and Marina Boulevard have called into recent SFMTA board meetings to testify against the temporary extension of the 30 Stockton route down Marina Boulevard into the Presidio. They have asked the addition be suspended until their litany of concerns is resolved.
Chief among them is whether there’s even demand for the extension.
Ordinarily, the 30 Stockton runs from its westernmost terminus at Divisadero and Chestnut streets to Fourth and Townsend streets near the Caltrain station. It passes through some of The City’s highest density areas such as Chinatown, Union Square and North Beach, where it’s often crowded and slow, before reaching the Marina District.
Now, however, it runs all the way to Crissy Field, where some Marina residents report nearly empty buses rattle down residential streets, exacerbate multi-modal road congestion and create an eyesore for those living in apartments with waterfront views.
SFMTA approved the extension in order to provide residents in landlocked, dense neighborhoods with a direct pipeline to green space and fresh air at the Presidio. It also allows the agency to deploy 60-foot buses on the route, doubling capacity to reduce overcrowding both during the pandemic and in the long term as ridership returns.
According to the SFMTA COVID-19 Data Dashboard, the 30 Stockton has averaged fewer than 5,000 daily boardings every week since it came back online in June. Data also shows the overwhelming majority of those riders are getting off before the newly added endpoint in the Sports Basement parking lot, where no more than five passengers were reported on the bus at any one point in all of October and November.
Kelly Mills, who lives along the 30 Stockton extension route, says it’s “criminal” that an agency facing such financial devastation should devote resources to a bus with no riders.
Frustrated residents echo his concerns, articulated in a Dec. 1 letter to SFMTA: “As city taxpayers, we fail to understand how the added expense of this extension can be justified. With almost no riders, there is no apparent need for this extension, and no way for SFMTA to pay for this extension through fares.”
SFMTA’s response? It’s playing the long game.
“While ridership here as elsewhere has been lower during COVID, and while the extension was originally planned to address long standing issues of overcrowding in Chinatown, implementing it during COVID has allowed us to maintain greater social distancing aboard buses and increase safety for essential trips,” an SFMTA spokesperson told the Examiner.
The spokesperson added that while the average daily boardings on the 30 Stockton are a far cry from the 19,200 average seen in early March, plenty of transit-dependent riders still rely on the route and need the additional space and safety provided by the 60-foot vehicles.
Sports Basement’s parking lot also provides space for the agency to install a restroom for operators, who typically have to rely on public restrooms that are often now closed due to the coronavirus, the spokesperson said.
About 15 neighbors have organized an informal coalition to bring their discontent to the SFMTA.
They attended board meetings in October and December, reached out directly to staff with questions and organized an outdoor community meeting where an SFMTA staff member didn’t show up at the last minute due to “family reasons.”
All of it has failed to elicit any kind of meaningful dialogue with the transit agency, they say.
Finally, in the aforementioned letter they described as “our last outreach to you prior to taking legal action to remedy this situation,” the coalition accused the SFMTA of obfuscating its real efforts to make the extension permanent, failing to disclose a five-year agreement signed in September with the Presidio Trust to bring public transit into the park and neglecting to heed their requests for information.
Residents expressed frustration at the “lack of due process” and worry that the extension, though communicated to the public as a pilot, is in fact on a fast track to be made permanent.
Under the local emergency order, the SFMTA has the authority to implement projects considered essential to its response to the pandemic on a temporary basis without going through the laborious environmental review and public hearing process.
Examples where the agency has flexed this power include Slow Streets, transit-only lanes, bike lanes and changes to curb classifications to make room for testing sites and food pantries.
Though the coalition calls the launch process a failure, and claims “the only assessment made was a brief environmental assessment that rushed urgently having not been prioritized,” the SFMTA has repeatedly reminded the public that not only is it constantly reassessing the impact of the 30 Stockton, it also cannot make it permanent without all the normal review of any other project.
SFMTA also said the contract with the Presidio Trust provides for “caveats should circumstances change,” and gives the transit agency the power to make nimble adjustments based on community feedback.
Neighbors also allege Muni is compromising the safety of residents and riders by running on streets previously identified by The City as vulnerable to erosion after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and therefore subject to weight restrictions.
Those constraints don’t apply to Muni vehicles, per San Francisco’s transportation code, a loophole that befuddles Mills and his compatriots.
“They’re upsetting the soil, whether it’s now or after the next earthquake,” he said. “We’re fragile.”
Though the four-page letter is rife with frustration, its authors included suggestions for a “mutually agreeable solution”: Make the terminus Marina Middle School on Chestnut and Fillmore and nix the extension altogether.
“This would both satisfy SFMTA’s goals and alleviate our misgivings,” the letter says.
Taking this approach would negate the need to remove a single parking spot, provide access for riders to the Moscone Rec Center Green space and take advantage of existing infrastructure.
SFMTA told the Examiner it had “considered this concept” but decided against it, highlighting the more than 500 riders per day that remained on the outbound bus past this point pre-pandemic that, under this proposal, would have to walk to their destinations or wait up to 15 minutes before continuing.
Mills said neighbors hope to hear back from SFMTA by Monday before determining their next move.