It’s time to regulate shuttles in San Francisco

Employer-provided commuter shuttles have existed in the Bay Area for decades. But when the shuttles burst onto San Francisco’s political radar two years ago, the public knew almost nothing about them, including their impacts on Muni, traffic and the environment. In response, city officials ordered a $2.5 million pilot program, paid for by the shuttle sector, to study the buses and to recommend regulations.

The results of the pilot are in, and the verdict is clear: Regulation works. Shuttles are a boon to traffic and the environment, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board should approve a program to make the regulations permanent.

For more than a year, the pilot program beefed up Muni-zone enforcement, surveyed shuttle riders, provided reams of data and sent field monitors out to observe shuttle-loading zones. Here’s what they found:
Traffic: Shuttles remove about 4,000 cars from the road every weekday — that’s about 1 million car trips every year.

Carbon: Shuttles reduce carbon emissions by more than 2,000 metric tons annually — the equivalent of leaving 2.2 million pounds of coal in the ground.

Muni: Shuttle-Muni conflicts were reduced 35 percent during the pilot — less than one Muni blockage every two hours.

Riders: Without the shuttles, 47 percent of riders would drive alone to work, 29 percent would attempt public transit, while 14 percent said they’d get a job here in San Francisco. Only 5 percent would move closer to work.
In other words, shuttle passengers are committed San Franciscans, and their commutes are a net positive for traffic and carbon emissions. Furthermore, the pilot regulations have been shown to reduce Muni conflicts and improve the situation on the street. Against the region’s ballooning traffic congestion, the benefits of the shuttle system shouldn’t be taken lightly. BART, Caltrain and Muni are each breaking ridership records, and Highway 101 and Interstate 280 are a bad joke.

To be clear, the pilot also identified the challenges ahead. The system for collecting GPS data needs to be improved, bike lane blockages must be reduced and the biggest shuttles should be removed from the smallest streets. All this can be addressed through improved regulation, which is exactly what SFMTA staff have proposed with the Commuters Shuttles Permit Program. Here’s how it would work:

  • Maintain the existing cap on shuttle-approved Muni stops
  • Remove the largest (double decker) shuttles from small neighborhood streets
  • Improve GPS streaming
  • Fund improvements to shuttle stops to further reduce conflicts with bikes, Muni
  • Further reduce emissions by phasing out all pre-2012 shuttles by 2020
  • Increased enforcement
  • Paid for by the shuttle sector
  • Two years ago, San Francisco’s shuttles were operating in the transportation equivalent of the Wild West, with no rules and no transparency. The pilot program helped city officials reduce Muni conflicts and better understand how shuttles operate in The City. By making sure these regulations remain in place, The City can help get even more people out of their cars, making life a little easier — and cleaner — for the rest of us.

    Adrian Covert is a policy director for the Bay Area Council.
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