A new platform for disabled riders has been built along Ulloa Street near the West Portal Muni Metro station in preparation for the return of Muni service. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Muni ‘improvements’ could make things harder for seniors, disabled

Advocates say plans for return of Metro service on Aug. 22 may limit accessibility for some

When Muni Metro trains once again trundle down San Francisco’s streets beginning this Saturday, riders should expect a number of changes intended to ensure social distancing, reduce tunnel delays and better serve transit-dependent pockets of San Francisco.

But some of the changes are meeting with opposition from advocates, who say they will make life harder for seniors and the disabled.

Local nonprofit Senior and Disability Action described the plans to bring back Muni Metro on Aug. 22 as a “boondoggle.”

“The current Muni service is already a challenge for us to access, so why add more travel, waiting time, physical exertion for people with mobility issues?” group advocate Pi Ra asked the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors during public comment Tuesday.

Ra also co-authored an op-ed that ran in the San Francisco Examiner earlier this week raising concerns that the changes would create undue hardship for those with mobility limitations by requiring them to cross additional streets, use stops without adequate benches or shelters and and navigate tricky transfer points.

Other speakers at Tuesday’s meeting noted the difficulty in transferring trains on the J Church line to access the underground portion of the route.

The L Taraval and K Ingleside lines will be temporarily combined into a surface-only route between the San Francisco Zoo and Balboa Park. Riders headed downtown will need to transfer at West Portal Station to temporarily-combined TM Third-Oceanview or the new subway-only S Shuttle, both of which will run to Embarcadero.

The J Church will also become surface-only, turning back at Church and Market streets rather than entering the tunnel. Passengers will need to transfer to the TM Third-Oceanview or the S Shuttle at the underground Church Street station.

SFMTA says these temporary changes will “bring significant benefits to the entire system.”

The agency has also recognized the challenges these changes might present to populations with mobility limitations, and detailed some efforts to mitigate the impacts.

At West Portal Station, the train will drop off mobility-limited passengers at a curbside accessible platform separate from the boarding point for those without disabilities.

“Temporary accessible boarding platforms are critical to supporting our customers with mobility devices, people with strollers and others who may have difficulty boarding using stairs,” SFMTA wrote in a blog post on its website.

At J Church, downtown-bound passengers will have to cross Market and Church streets to transfer, but SFMTA will install a temporary emergency transit zone to limit traffic and “ensure a safer boarding process,” and “limit conflicts with train turning maneuvers” as riders cross.

Running frequent subway service and minimizing crowding on the trains will also make the transfer less arduous, according to an SFMTA spokesperson.

Passengers will have to use the Church Street station elevator, which is reportedly often in need of repair, SDA has said.

An SFMTA spokesperson said the aforementioned elevator was replaced last month.

Additional concerns include whether a mobility-limited individual would be guaranteed a seat at a transfer point and whether longer waiting times could make exposure to coronavirus more likely.

SDA acknowledged tough financial times necessitate creative solutions to providing essential service regardless of tight budgets. The group said it applauded efforts such as the Essential Trip Card but that improvements to Muni Metro are “no such thing for seniors and people with disabilities who are already having accessibility issues using the pandemic-inspired services.”

“If we can’t ensure accessibility […] this plan is going to fail, so we have to work on that,” Aleta Dupree said during public comment.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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