Muni hopes study leads to improved service

Muni riders, long plagued by the transit agency’s slow buses and unreliable stop times, may find some relief in just six months.

A $2.4 million, 18-month study of the bus system, commissioned by Muni, is expected to yield results before its completion in December 2007. Facing budget woes and a decline in ridership, Muni officials look to changes in the coming months as the first steps toward a long-overdue overhaul of the transit system.

Early findings show that Muni buses have slowed down to an average of 8 miles an hour — the result of an annual 1 percent decrease in speed over the last 12 years — and that bus service is often unreliable.

“We’re looking for results that we can see in the short run, even starting within six months to a year,” said Peter Mezey, who sits on the Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors. “We want concrete results coming out of this study.”

Details of the changes that can be implemented within the year are still being hashed out, according to Bonnie Nelson, senior principal of Nelson/Nygaard, the consulting firm leading the study.

Nelson said the list of short-term improvements could include route changes, stop changes, express service additions and additional buses running on a limited-stop schedule.

Also, Nelson said, supervisors may begin monitoring the terminals to ensure the buses leave on time, which has been a problem for Muni. “If you don’t start your trip on time you are going to be late the whole time,” she said.

Muni has an on-time performance goal of 85 percent, but is on time just 65 percent of the time, said Nelson, who was a guest speaker at the San Francisco Urban Planning and Research Association noontime lecture Thursday. On-time performance is defined as not more than five minutes late or one minute early.

“Wait time, especially unpredictable amounts of wait time, has a high price for transit riders,” a preliminary report said. The unreliability contributed to a 12 percent decrease in Muni ridership over the last 20 years.

The effectiveness of the improvements, even before the 18-month study is complete, could go a long way toward ensuring that the more significant proposals expected to be released in 2007 will find support.

“The idea is, by righting the ship and by optimizing what we have now, that we can build the confidence to let us go forward — increasing service, looking at future funding sources and really creating a full package that the public and the agency and city could have full confidence in,” Nelson said.

Muni by the numbers

Total weekday trips: 686,000

Ridership last 20 years: 12 percent decline

Average bus speed: 8 miles per hour

On time: 65 percent of the time

Muni fleet: 1,000 vehicles

Annual budget: $600M-plus

Muni policy: Buses should arrive at 10-, 15- or 20-minute intervals

Cost per passenger trip:

In 1991: $1.61

In 2005: $2.10

jsabatini@examiner.com

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