N-Judah train shutdown could affect Muni bus service citywide

(Jessica Christian/2014 S.F. Examiner)

Muni riders on bus routes along Chestnut Street, Geary Boulevard, and Mission Street had best prepare: Bus service is about to get worse while Muni stretches to provides buses elsewhere in The City.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will take the N-Judah train out of service between Ocean Beach and Carl and Cole Streets starting April 13, so the agency can build out its Inner Sunset Streetscape Improvement Project, which will include safety features, traffic signal upgrades and new seating along the N-Judah line.

Bus shuttles will run on that portion of the N-Judah line instead, but those buses have to come from somewhere.

This week, SFMTA announced to riders that bus routes along Chestnut, Geary, and Mission may face “additional gaps and crowding” during those two weeks, as buses are re-routed to the N-Judah line.

The affected lines include “but are not limited to” the 14-Mission, 14R-Mission Rapid, 30X-Marina Express, 38-Geary and 38R-Geary Rapid lines, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told the San Francisco Examiner.

While news of service gaps and diverted buses may not seem like positive news to riders, it is a turnaround from last summer, when work on the Twin Peaks tunnel shut down service on multiple train lines.

SFMTA diverted buses to provide shuttles for out-of-service trains, which exacerbated an existing shortage of bus drivers, leading to major service gaps citywide which were only revealed by a San Francisco Examiner investigation — not an announcement from SFMTA.

During this next anticipated bus shortage for the N-Judah construction, however, SFMTA has warned riders as part of a new commitment to radical honesty mandated by the SFMTA Board of Directors.

Specifically, SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Malcolm Heinicke directed the agency to warn riders when service may face gaps of any sort.

At the SFMTA Board of Directors regular meeting on March 19, Heinicke reinforced that idea in asking staff for system-wide verbal announcements, instead of leaving individual drivers to alert riders to service disruptions.

“That’s a more efficient way of communicating with our customers,” Heinicke said at the meeting. “Leaving it to each independent driver is not effective in my view to deal with those sorts of situations.”

More extensive announcements are not the only way SFMTA has changed its tune when it comes to alerting the public. The agency now explains the circumstances behind some major service outages.

That also was true of the T-Third shuttle replacement, when the E-Embarcadero and 83X line were taken out of service related to the T-Third shutdown. Other lines were affected by that shutdown too — and those are constituencies SFMTA did not reach out to in the past.

And in late February, when a major outage sent thousands of riders away from the malfunctioning Muni metro streetcars into shuttle buses, SFMTA wrote a blog post titled Here’s What Happened with This Morning’s Commute, and explained how its central computer control system failed that morning, slowing trains systemwide.

Muni riders seemed appreciative.

One rider, Will Leben, wrote on Facebook under the post, “Thank you, Muni, for explaining what caused the problems. It really helps to know why stuff like this happens and to read about the multiple efforts to minimize the inconvenience.”

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