(Dan Chambers/Special to S.F. Examiner, Map: Courtesy SFMTA )

Muni operators will drive outreach in SF neighborhoods they grew up in

An effort to improve Muni for underserved San Franciscans — be they low-income, people of color, seniors, people with disabilities or otherwise — is netting a new set of communicators: Muni operators themselves.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency calls this plan its Muni Equity Strategy, and staff said the agency will ask some bus and train operators to engage neighbors in communities they grew up in starting as early as next spring.

Julie Kirschbaum, operations and scheduling manager at the SFMTA, is leading the equity effort and presented an update on the plan at the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday.

“We’re going to be doing some focus groups with Muni operators who grew up in the neighborhoods we’re working on,” she told the board. “They have a unique perspective because they operate the service and are, in many cases, customers.”

That outreach effort will drive new Muni service improvements across The City, and was one of many updates to a plan that was originally called for by the SFMTA board in 2014.

The equity plan aims to improve service in some of the most transit-underserved communities in San Francisco, including the Bayview, Visitacion Valley, Excelsior, Outer Mission, Inner Mission, Western Addition, Chinatown, Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods.

“We have a tremendous amount of work underway,” Kirschbaum said.

Some of the equity plan’s recent milestones are easier to see, like one to ease large crowds packed into tiny buses in Chinatown, which was aided by the introduction of longer 60-foot “articulated” buses along the 30-Stockton line.

But some of those changes are less visible, like a recent flow of newly hired operators to pack the T-Third trains to increase frequency of transit to the Bayview, according to the SFMTA.

Even small changes like adding a priority mechanism to allow buses to trigger stoplights helped ease bottlenecks of bus lines one the 12, 27 and 47 lines, as well as 2-Sutter and 3-Jackson, across a smattering of neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and SoMa.

Kirschbaum acknowledged some of the equity strategy improvements were not all immediately well-
received, such as the new red bus-only lanes on Mission Street.

“We are continuing to draw positive results,” she said, as Mission Street buses now travel faster. But, she added, there were “also a lot of lessons learned from that project which will affect how we roll out and design future projects.”

Numerous projects to improve transit in underserved neighborhood are still underway, according to the SFMTA planning documents, and outreach efforts will continue on Muni projects to improve service through 2017.

A final Muni Equity Strategy document is planned for adoption in 2018.

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