Muni revamp looks promising

A first look at the draft findings of an 18-month, $2 million comprehensive study of how to improve Muni shows that at least the Transit Effectiveness Project has been unafraid to suggest numerous specific changes that fit together into a promising overhaul for the 700,000 daily passenger transit system. The report does not merely call for more money as an alleged cure-all.

The task force’s most dramatic recommendation is to reorganize San Francisco’s bus and light-rail routes into four priority levels, at first concentrating primarily on the most heavily used lines — such as the 14-Mission, 38-Geary and 30-Stockton, which can average 50,000 boardings daily. The goal for these “rapid network” buses — now often painfully overcrowded and running late — would be to attain a 15 percent to 20 percent travel speed increase, with arrivals every five to 10 minutes.

Techniques for achieving this performance improvement would include transit-only lanes, more express schedules with a reduced number of stops and BART-like markings at curbs to show riders where to line up. Bus-mounted transmitters would turn traffic signals green to move transit faster through intersections, and ticket-vending machines could be placed at the busiest bus stops. There would be more aggressive enforcement against double-parked vehicles.

Second-tier “local network” routes with up to 12,000 boardings per day — such as the 21-Hayes, 29-Sunset and the 44-O’Shaugnessy lines — would try to speed up service with bypass lanes and the controversial “bus bulbs,” which partially block parking lanes and are supposed to help riders board faster. The goal is 10 percent to 15 percent speedier service with 10- to 15-minute waits.

The plan does also recommend cutbacks, with portion of “poorly performing routes” reduced or eliminated. Those less frequently used third-tier routes would be shortened to connect most directly with the main transit corridors. Smaller shuttles and vans might replace some full-size buses on lines such as the Twin Peaks 37-Corbett and the 52-Excelsior. Shuttles and vans would also be utilized to supplement temporary “special event” services such as sports or concerts.

Unspecified boosts in fares and Fast Pass fees are also being floated in the project report, using the argument that some, but not all, other Bay Area transit systems charge more. Fare increases might be a particularly difficult political sell now, so soon after city voters passed Proposition A in November to guarantee Muni $27 million from the general fund.

Ithas been hard to understand why Muni vehicles move at an average speed of 8 mph, while equally congested New York City averages 14 mph and Boston’s buses reach 18 mph. Implementing real improvements is even harder than creating good ideas, but the Transit Effectiveness Project seems to have made a constructive first step in this much-needed process.

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