Muni is testing hand sanitizer with foam-based soap and mask dispensers on some vehicles. (Samantha Laurey/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Muni is testing hand sanitizer with foam-based soap and mask dispensers on some vehicles. (Samantha Laurey/Special to S.F. Examiner)

SFMTA launches hand sanitizer, face mask dispenser pilots

Staff says they’ve seen ‘great success’ in early stages

Muni riders could soon encounter hand sanitizer and face mask dispensers on some vehicles as part of two pilot programs for health and safety protocols related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced on Tuesday.

Five vehicles, a mix of buses and trains, are currently equipped with hand sanitizer stations.

They’re deployed on a rotating basis to the J-Church and T-Third lines as well as seven Muni bus routes: 19-Polk, 28-19th Avenue, 8-Bayshore, 38-Geary, 14-Mission, 49-Van Ness/Mission and 15-Bayview Hunters Point Express.

“These are workhorse bus lines and our two rail lines in service, at the moment, so they’re a good indicator of resilience,” SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato said.

Officials told the board SFMTA reached out for help implementing the pilot to Oakland-based AC Transit, which has been handing out free masks and providing free hand sanitizer to riders since September in an effort to ensure safety.

SFMTA Transit Director Julie Kirschbaum said the agency had grappled with fears of risking slippery floors for riders should sanitizer spill, but AC Transit uses a foam-based soap that greatly reduces the risk of someone slipping and falling.

“We’re very pleased about the initial results of that pilot,” she said of the success of the foam-based soap in ensuring passenger safety as well as findings that worries about graffiti on the physical dispensers were not realized.

SFMTA plans to scale up the number of hand sanitizer dispensers across Muni vehicles as soon as possible, according to Kato.

A similarly collaborative approach will be taken for the face mask pilot, set to be rolled out in the coming weeks with around 25 dispensers. SFMTA plans to experiment with a “plexiglass durable mask dispenser” used by a transit agency in Seattle.

Kato said placement of mask dispensers would mirror that of hand sanitizer, but she did not provide specifics on when riders can expect to see the new hardware in the field or if they will be installed on vehicles that serve routes distinct from those targeted by the sanitizer pilot.

According to SFMTA data, more than 95 percent of riders properly wear their masks while on Muni, but the hope is that the mask pilot program could close that remaining gap and help the transit network achieve total compliance with a newly minted executive order for a federal mask mandate on public transit.

SFMTA is a little late to the game on testing these kinds of programs as compared to other Bay Area transit agencies.

In addition to AC Transit, BART released a 15-Step Recovery Plan in May 2020 that included placement of at least one accessible hand sanitizer dispenser at every station as well as a mask dispenser pilot program at a number of platforms across the network.

“I think we’re a little slow on that, but we’re not at the end of the pandemic,” SFMTA board member Steve Heminger said while commending staff for its collaboration with other agencies.

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