While the Muni M underground train will not come back this summer, officials said bus service on the route will continue. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

While the Muni M underground train will not come back this summer, officials said bus service on the route will continue. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

More changes coming to Muni this summer

Questions arise over the return of the M line

More Muni routes will roll out on Aug. 7, with a focus on restoring service to hillside neighborhoods and supporting the return of many students to in-person learning next school year.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced its roster of returning routes at the Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday. Conspicuously absent was the M-Ocean View line’s restoration, which serves San Francisco State University.

“The M will start as soon as we can, but we do not have a definitive date,” said Julie Kirschbaum, SFMTA Transit Director.

Supervisor Myrna Melgar, whose district includes SFSU, reiterated her belief that running light rail vehicles on the M-Ocean View is essential to the recovery of one of The City’s signature academic institutions as well as the employees, students and businesses tied to it.

“SF State is going back in person in the fall, and we still have no date for M light rail service restoration,” she said.

According to its website, SFSU will begin in-person instruction on Aug. 23.

SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin described SFSU as “one of the most important institutions in The City” and one of Muni’s largest customers.

“We are committed to meeting the transit demands for San Francisco State University,” he said.

In the meantime, buses continue to run on the M-Ocean View route, and visitors can access campus through BART connections at Balboa Park, according to staff.

Trains on L-Taraval won’t return any time soon either. Buses will run between the Embarcadero and the San Francisco Zoo for the duration of construction on the corridor, expected to be completed by fall 2023.

So, what will come back on Aug. 7?

SFMTA’s plans place a premium on picking up passengers who have been left in bonafide transit deserts and adding back school trippers, supplemental buses designated to transport middle and high school students after hours.

As of now, five currently suspended bus routes will come back online: the 5R-Fulton; 18-46th Avenue; 35-Eureka; 36-Teresita; and 39-Coit.

Some existing routes will be extended, such as the 48 Quintara/24th Street which will run to Ocean Beach, and others will be modified to fill service gaps that have particularly impacted communities of color or low-income residents, such as the 66-Quintara, 52-Excelsior, 23-Monterey and 57-Park Merced.

All told, the August rollout will put 98 percent of San Francisco residents within two to three blocks of a transit stop, up from 91 percent currently. This metric, though, does not measure the service’s frequency or reliability.

August’s increase will be made possible by the predicted relaxation of social distancing guidelines on public transit. SFMTA can remove some buses off routes that have had higher-than-usual frequency during the pandemic to accommodate demand from essential workers and transit-dependent riders, such as the 14-Mission and 9-San Bruno, without sacrificing the total number of passengers carried.

Those vehicles will redirected toward new routes.

Another notable change come August will be to vehicle sanitation procedures.

Since last March, buses have returned to the yard at mid-day for a thorough cleaning. Now, they’ll get the full rubdown at the end of the day only, as was the case before the pandemic.

This change aligns with modifications to public health guidance that says the risk of COVID-19 transmission through surface contact is low. It will free up buses to stay on the streets for longer, therefore providing increased service to riders across the system. SFMTA will continue to provide operators with personal protective equipment and cleaning wipes.

Masks will be required through at least Sept. 13, following the federal mask mandate from the Transportation Security Administration. Compliance on Muni is currently at 95 to 98 percent, according to the staff presentation.

Some board members expressed differing opinions on the impact of a continued mask mandate on the willingness of San Franciscans to return to Muni.

Director Steve Heminger wondered whether SFMTA had the authority to set its own policies, even after the federal mandate was lifted, in order to instill confidence in riders that transit is a safe place. On the other hand, Director Manny Yekutiel voiced concern that the continued use of masks past a certain point would perpetuate the notion that transit is somehow less safe for vaccinated individuals than other indoor spaces such as restaurants or retail stores.

“We need to deal with health science, but we need to also deal with people’s fear because our emotions are how we make mobility decisions,” Tumlin said.

April was Muni’s biggest ridership month since the start of the pandemic. It averaged 206,190 average weekday boardings, up from 194,290 in March.

By comparison, the average number of weekday boardings in February 2020, just before the pandemic, was 713,970.

“All of these trends are good, but again we are expecting a very long and slow recovery until we get back to 100 percent,” Tumlin said.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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