When San Franciscans call Lowell High School students high-achievers, they’re not kidding.
Instead of just complaining about bad Muni service, some of the school’s teens crafted a proposal to create an entirely new bus line for the school.
The proposed 29-Rapid, those teens argue, would not only help more kids get to school on time but would help African-American and Latino students living in the Bayview attend the well-regarded school.
Speaking to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors at their regular meeting Tuesday, students Kaitlyn Evangelista, 17, and Petra Cardoso, 17 made the case for a quicker, peppier version of the already existing 29-Sunset bus. They represented their Peer Resources class, who worked collectively on the project.
The students collected input from their peers, who said the 29-Sunset is “always crowded” and “takes a long time,” sometimes skips students over completely at bus stops and is “not reliable.”
“At Lowell, we’re looking at the issue of how we’ll create an inclusive and supportive school culture,” Cardoso told the board. Evangelista added, “physically getting to school is a problem and effects the decision-making process to come to Lowell.”
The pair belong to Lowell High’s Peer Resources group, which also exists in schools throughout the San Francisco Unified School District. The Peer Resources students conducted a survey at school that found most students reported Muni as their reason for being late to class, and that students from the Bayview neighborhood had the toughest time getting to Lowell High, as compared to students in the Excelsior, Ingleside and Mission neighborhoods. Other schools along the 29-Sunset’s route could also benefit from a Rapid bus, they argued.
The SFMTA Board of Directors met the proposal with smiles, obviously enjoying the students’ enthusiasm for public transit.
But they also met the intent behind the proposal with seriousness. SFMTA directors Gwyneth Borden and Malcolm Heinicke, who is also board chair, asked staff to follow up with the students.
Heinicke suggested the students pair up with SFMTA staff to identify what bus stops could be eliminated — a feature of every “Rapid” route, which often serve commute hours — to make the 29R a possibility.
“We aren’t asking you as high school students to become transit planners,” he joked, “although we are hiring.”
While the students proposed a “Rapid” route, much like the limited-stop buses that run along the 38-Geary and 14-Mission lines, transit staff said there may be easier solutions to speeding up Lowell High School’s bus service.
Julie Kirschbaum, SFMTA director of transit, said adding extra buses on those routes could ease crowding. Muni already has a program called “school trippers,” where they run extra buses on routes that serve schools during school hours to help ease congestion.
“What is useful about the school trip being such a narrow window is we can add a lot of service without a lot of expense,” Kirschbaum said.
In fact, Lowell students identified the need for more school trippers on the 29-Sunset in a 2017 editorial, written by students at the school newspaper “The Lowell.”
Muni provides school trippers for Galileo, Burton, Balboa, Washington, Lincoln and John O’Connell high schools, but not Lowell, the paper pointed out.
Much like the student peer resources group, the newspaper also conducted a survey of students — 80 percent of 29-Sunset riding students said they’d been skipped over at a stop by a crowded bus.
“The sheer number of Lowell students taking Muni buses after school should qualify Lowell for a tripper,” the paper’s editors wrote.
Two years later, their bus may finally have arrived.
This story has been modified to clarify that the Peer Resources class worked collectively on the 29R project, not just the two students identified.