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Understanding Upcoming Muni Service Changes

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

In December and January 2021 the SFMTA will phase back in surface rail on the J Church and T Third. This will free up buses so we can bring back more routes like the 27 Bryant, extend bus service on other routes and continue to manage crowding on routes like the 38 Geary and 14 Mission. We also have more buses available for lines like the 5 Fulton and 33 Ashbury.

You may be wondering, “how is Muni able to add service?” Or, “why some routes but not others?” Three key factors guide our service decisions:

  • Service priorities
  • Available vehicles
  • Ongoing constraints to Muni service

Service Priorities

Our service planners look at the Muni system as a whole. Our goal is to provide as much consistent, reliable service as possible even though our resources are limited due to an ongoing budget deficit. These service changes in response to the evolving public health emergency will add new connections to different parts of the city and increase service on the highest-ridership routes. This means planning carefully so we can:

  • Meet ridership demands on routes that are in service and avoid crowding
  • Prioritize service for people who have access to fewer transportation options, including those who live and work in neighborhoods prioritized in our equity service strategy
  • Use our limited number of vehicles to provide Muni service throughout the city
  • Connect essential workers to essential locations such as neighborhood business corridors and medical facilities

Most of our essential workers live in the pandemic’s hardest-hit neighborhoods and don’t have as many transportation options to get to their essential jobs. It’s vital as our city fights coronavirus that essential workers can get where they need to go.

How We Are Able to Add Service

We only have a certain number of vehicles that we can put into service. To add bus service in January we are using two strategies:

  1. More buses will be available as we gradually bring back rail. We’ll start with surface rail service until we finish this round of subway maintenance work. Bringing back the J Church and then the T Third will free up multiple buses that we will put on other routes to reduce crowding and add new critical connections.
  2. By making our sanitizing process more efficient, we can return buses to service more quickly during the course of a day.

Surface service on the J Church and T Third lines will provide connections to Market Street where customers can easily transfer to the K Ingleside bus, L Taraval bus or N Judah bus for downtown service. Without the use of the subway, our other surface rail would have to terminate where there are fewer connections to downtown and the rest of our system. Between February and March 2021, we will aim to bring back the N Judah Metro by rail between La Playa and 6th and King streets, pending subway work and COVID developments. We expect the K Ingleside, L Taraval and M Ocean View to remain as bus routes through the spring as subway repairs continue, particularly in the Eureka Curve near Castro Station.

Ongoing Constraints on Service

Ultimately, we don’t have enough buses to bring back all pre-COVID routes  at this time due to several constraints:

  1. Sanitizing: Our COVID sanitizing procedure means we don’t keep the same vehicle in operation all day. Pre-COVID, three operators would drive the same bus, switching out in the field. Now, when it’s time for operators to switch, the vehicle returns to the yard for sanitizing and the next operator takes out a sanitized vehicle. The time we spend returning vehicles to the yard and sanitizing means we need at least 50% more vehicles to serve any route daily.
  2. Physical distancing: The number of customers we can carry on our vehicles is much lower than before COVID-19, so it takes more vehicles to move the same number of customers, especially on high-ridership routes. For example, on the 14R Mission – one of our highest demand routes – we were running 18 vehicles at a time pre-COVID. Now we’re running 35 vehicles at a time with less onboard capacity.
  3. Not all vehicles can serve all routes: We can’t put a light rail vehicle on a route without tracks, or an electric trolley bus on a route without overhead wires. We can’t put larger buses and articulated buses on certain routes because they can’t navigate some of San Francisco’s iconic slopes and curves. This limits our options.
  4. Subway repairs/construction: We learned the difficult lesson in August that our subway needed some significant repairs. We can’t run Metro rail service until we’ve fixed the most pressing subway issues, and ongoing maintenance needs are likely to come in the future. Also, with the L Taraval Improvement Project continuing construction, we will wait to bring back the LK Ingleside-Taraval light rail line. For now, L Taraval Bus and K Ingleside will continue to go directly to downtown.

We will keep monitoring and adjusting routes so that we can expand Muni service to levels that we can sustain in light of these constraints.

If you can stay home or use alternative forms of travel, we still need you to do so. This helps make space on Muni for essential workers and people who rely on public transportation.

Please remember to pay your “fare share” as well. A fare is required to ride and the SFMTA relies on fare revenue to provide service. For customers who can’t afford Muni, we have programs that can help.