Study finds average Muni speeds lag

Muni buses inch along at the rate of only 8 miles per hour, so slowly that potential riders look elsewhere for their transportation, according to a city report.

Muni’s average speed is the slowest compared with other similar metropolitan transportation systems. For example, Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ranks the fastest, at nearly 18 miles per hour, and New York City’s City Transit moves at an average of 14 miles per hour.

Muni has slowed down by 1 percent every year over the last 20 years, according to a report released as part of the $2 million, 18-month study of Muni, dubbed the “San Francisco Transit Effectiveness Project.” This study, which will come out in December 2007, is expected to lay the groundwork for revamping the Muni system.

For some, the study is long overdue. The last time Muni embarked on a system upgrade on this scale was 20 years ago. During this time, Muni’s ridership has declined by 12 percent, and the transportation agency has struggled with operating deficits.

“Twenty years is probably too long. [Muni] should probably do it every 10 years. So it’s catch-up time,” said City Controller Ed Harrington, whose office is working on the study in conjunction with Muni.

Increasing bus speed is essential to attracting more riders, which would significantly cut operating costs, the report said.

If Muni increased its speed by 2 miles per hour, it could carry 12 passengers more an hour, from 66 to 82 passengers, reducing the cost per passenger by 20 percent, from $2 an hour to $1.60 an hour, the report said.

“Lowering Muni’s cost-per-passenger is the key to its financial stability,” the report said.

Muni has slowed down because of an increase in car traffic, double-parking, the number of stop signs,the number of transit stops and wheelchair use, the study said.

Harrington said it was “critical” to improve Muni because The City’s economy “to a large degree depends on Muni running well.”

Muni could speed up if it improved the fare system, created more transit-only lanes and purchased vehicles that are easier to board, the report said.

Muni fixes coming out of the study could start being implemented as early as “next spring or next summer as part of next year’s budget,” Harrington said.

Muni is the Bay Area’s largest transit operation and the seventh largest in the United States. With a budget of about $600 million, Muni employs 4,800 workers and carries 686,000 riders every weekday. It has a fleet of about 1,000 vehicles, including electric, diesel buses and light-rail streetcars.

jsabatiini@examiner.com

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