Melissa Barnes/2011 S.F. Examiner file photoA pilot program that helps Muni buses communicate with traffic signals has cut down travel times by an average of five minutes on three bus lines on Mission Street.

Melissa Barnes/2011 S.F. Examiner file photoA pilot program that helps Muni buses communicate with traffic signals has cut down travel times by an average of five minutes on three bus lines on Mission Street.

Muni speeds up bus trip times with new traffic light timing

Muni riders on Mission Street the past several weeks may have experienced trips with fewer stops and shorter travel times. They aren't freak occurrences, but instead part of new transit-signal priority on the corridor.

GPS-like devices have been installed on buses to keep traffic lights green as the vehicles approach, and in some cases, the gadgets also decrease the duration of a red light.

Since the system was activated March 26, the average travel time on the 14-Mission, 14L-Mission and 49-Mission-Van Ness lines fell by almost 5 minutes for the 63 intersections that span the start to end of Mission Street in The City, according to John Haley, director of transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

“The single biggest passenger complaint is, 'What takes you guys so long?'” he said. “So this is a pretty significant drop in travel time one-way from 57 minutes on average to 52.”

Besides reducing travel time, the system evened out some of the bunching and gapping of buses on Mission Street, which is among the top three corridors in terms of vehicles, congestion and ridership, Haley added. The estimated $2 million to $3 million pilot program confirmed the time reduction that was expected.

“I think we've turned a corner on it,” Haley said. “We'll be removing that [pilot] label at some point soon.”

A similar signal-priority system already exists across a half-dozen intersections on Third Street, and transit officials are looking to extend the system to other parts of The City.

“When we talk about transit first, this is a prime example,” Haley said of The City's transportation policy.

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