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Street Talk

Commuter Shuttle Regulations Show Promising Results

Monday, November 14, 2016

Commuter shuttles have become a larger part of San Francisco’s commute over the past few years, and they’ve garnered quite a bit of attention – to say the least.

The good news is that the regulations we put in place under our Commuter Shuttle Program have reduced their impacts on the city’s streets.  We’ve laid out the results of the program in our new report [pdf], as well as findings on the idea of creating concentrated shuttle “hubs” (more on that below).

The data we collected from April to September this year shows that shuttles are keeping more cars off the road, and that more shuttle operators are playing by the rules.

Commuter shuttle travelling on downtown city streets

Even as shuttle ridership jumped 15 percent, we saw:

  • A 91 percent decrease in shuttles driving on restricted streets, which were defined along with designated shuttle routes when we created the program.
  • A 65 percent reduction in shuttles stopping on small residential streets. All official shuttle stops are now on streets designated as “arterials,” except for some stops for smaller buses less than 35 feet long.
  • A 23 percent reduction in shuttles using Muni stops since February.

These results are largely thanks to the SFMTA’s dedicated shuttle enforcement unit, which issued 2,267 citations, worth $360,895, to permitted shuttles in the year from August 2014 to 2016. As part of the program, we established a GPS tracking system to make enforcement more efficient by allowing us to know when shuttles use restricted streets and issue penalties.

Before we launched our original pilot shuttle program in August 2014, shuttles basically pulled over wherever they could, often conflicting with Muni service, blocking traffic and creating safety hazards. The situation often felt like the Wild West.

The shuttle network that works today is based on a set of regulations we successfully tested in an 18-month pilot program, which led the SFMTA Board of Directors to adopt the full program.

Commuter Shuttle Program Stop Locations and Permitted Streets 2016-2017

While state law doesn’t allow the SFMTA to make a compulsory regulation program, we’ve had a lot of success in  getting private shuttle operators to participate voluntarily. To date, 17 shuttle operators with 789 vehicles are registered.

Findings on the Idea of Shuttle “Hubs”

We knew that this program wouldn’t be the end of the conversation, and there’s always room for improvement. At the request of the Board of Supervisors, we worked with the SF County Transportation Authority to study the concept of concentrated “hubs” for commuter shuttles and whether it could meet San Francisco’s needs better than the current program.

Under the study [pdf], we analyzed four conceptual models. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Commuter shuttle ridership would drop between 24 to 45 percent.
  • Nearly all those prior shuttle riders would drive instead, adding 1,780 to 3,300 more cars on the road each day.
  • The risk of traffic crashes would increase under any of the hub scenarios due to the increase in driving.
  • Voluntary participation and compliance by shuttle operators are the greatest unknown under a hub system.

What’s Next

The Commuter Shuttle Program will remain as is until March 31, when the SFMTA Board of Directors will consider whether to continue it. In the meantime, we’ll use data we collect to make improvements as needed.

We may not have the authority to say whether or not private shuttles are allowed to use San Francisco’s streets, but what we can do is give shuttle operators good reasons to do so in a way that works for our city. It’s imperative that the rules we set provide the greatest benefit for our communities and how we all get around.

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Street Talk is an SFMTA blog series by Sustainable Streets Director Tom Maguire where he shares the agency's thinking on the big picture questions and concerns facing our streets today.

ABOUT TOM MAGUIRE

Tom Maguire is Director of the Sustainable Streets Division at the SFMTA, where he directs the agency’s ambitious efforts to achieve Vision Zero and to create world-class streets for all San Franciscans. The 1,035 employees of Sustainable Streets operate, engineer, design, and plan the city’s traffic, parking, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and provide transit security and parking enforcement.

Tom joined the SFMTA in October 2014 after serving as Assistant Commissioner at the New York City Department of Transportation, where he managed bus rapid transit, freight mobility, peak-rate parking, congestion pricing and sustainability, and resiliency programs. He has also worked for the engineering and design firm Arup. Tom holds a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley and a B.A. from Rutgers.