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Making Muni Faster and More Reliable Through Bus Stop Consolidation

A common complaint among Muni riders is that the bus simply stops too often. It turns out they may be on to something: according to transit experts and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates Muni, consolidating some bus stops is one of the cheapest and quickest ways to speed up Muni. That's the subject of this film, the second in a series on making Muni faster and more reliable.

Muni's stops are actually much closer than its own standards advise. Only 17 percent of Muni's bus stops fall within the recommended range of 800-1,000 feet (closer on steep hills); 70 percent are closer than that. As SFMTA staff has pointed out in the past, nationwide research shows most people are willing to walk a quarter-mile to the nearest bus stop.

The SFMTA's first attempt to consolidate stops -- a pilot project on the 38-Geary in the Tenderloin -- turned out poorly for the agency. Residents got the Board of Supervisors to block the proposal, pointing out that it appeared to speed up service for wealthier commuters from the Richmond by forcing Tenderloin residents to walk farther. Now, the SFMTA hopes it can dispel that impression by proposing a comprehensive consolidation plan, at least on the city's busiest routes.

In the film, we hear from the person responsible for developing that plan, Julie Kirschbaum, project manager for the SFMTA's Transit Effectiveness Project, Livable City's Tom Radulovich, San Francisco Transit Riders Union organizer Dave Snyder, and Senior Action Network's Pi Ra.

<blockquote class="_text"> [intro music] Bryan Goebel: [0:06] San Francisco has one of the slowest transit systems in the country. But there are a few easy steps the MTA could take to make a faster MUNI.</p><p>[music] </p><p>Tom Radulovich: [0:20] Bus stop consolidation is probably the cheapest way and the quickest way to speed MUNI up.</p><p>Dave Snyder: [0:26] So, on Mission Street, right here, for example, the bus stops at 16th and 18th and 19th and 20th and 21st and 22nd. Why not have it stop only on the even numbers? You might have to walk an extra block, but so much time is spent decelerating and accelerating that we could speed up a lot by consolidating stops a little bit.</p><p>[0:45] Here's how I can explain that best. Imagine a route that takes 60 minutes to do. That means, in three hours, you get to run that bus back and forth three times. If you could cut the time on that route down to 45 minutes, then you get to run that same bus back and forth four times in those three hours. You've just gained an extra bus, at no extra cost to the taxpayers.</p><p>[music] </p><p>Julie Kirschbaum: [1:11] San Francisco has a very old transit system. And over time, bus stops have gotten placed in places that aren't necessarily optimal. So, for example, you'll hear complaints like, "Oh, my bus stops every block." </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Man 4:</cite> [1:26] I think they tend to stop every block, which is potentially unnecessary. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Woman 2:</cite> [1:30] It as so many stops along the route that I'm on it. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_3_text"> <cite class="speaker_3" >Man 5:</cite> [1:34] The main streets should have a stop. </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_4_text"> <cite class="speaker_4" >Woman 3:</cite> [1:37] Maybe not like every single corner. Maybe every two corners or so? Julie: [1:41] Part of that is just, over time, bus stops have kind of creeped in, for various reasons. So bus stop consolidation, or really optimizing the spacing and placement of buses, is a strategy to make the service operate more quickly and make people on the bus have to stop less.</p><p>Bryan Goebel: [2:02] Take the 22 Fillmore, for example. Does it really need to stop on every block? </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_5_text"> <cite class="speaker_5" >Man 7:</cite> [2:08] According to existing MTA policy, stops along a flat route, like the 22's trip through the Mission, should be spaced 800 to 1,000 feet apart. But for most of its journey, the 22 consistently falls well below MTA's guidelines. [music] </p><p>Bryan: [2:43] The MTA actually wants to change its bus stop guidelines, but they're not even following their current guidelines. 70 percent of all the bus stops in San Francisco are actually closer than what their current guidelines call for.</p><p>Tom: [2:57] Each of these stops adds a little turbulence to your schedule, so you increase reliability by having fewer stops. The reason it upsets some people is every bus stop has a constituency.</p><p>Pi Ra: [3:08] Here, we're trying to weigh how to get the bus faster, but also, how to address the needs of people with disabilities and seniors. So we say do it, but do it right. Make sure this bus stop doesn't have a severe impact on people with disabilities and seniors.</p><p>Julie: [3:31] We may be deciding between two stops a block apart. One has a senior center in front of it, one doesn't. We may make the decision to put it in front of the senior center to improve access for a particular population. San Francisco hills are part of our challenge, and so we have much closer stop spacing where we have steep hills because it's more challenging for different customers to access those stops.</p><p>Tom: [4:01] There's a lot more bus stops than existing MTA standards say that there should be. They never have gotten, though, to a specific proposal for eliminating stops, line by line.</p><p>[music] </p><p>[4:11] </blockquote> <br/><br/> <!--close content-->
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  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/ArthurShotwell Josh

    Bus stop consolidation will either save Muni money or allow for increased frequencies, but it won't do both at the same time.  I suspect the effort to remove un- or under-used stops would benefit from more clarity about which is the goal.
    It would also be helpful to explain the criteria for determining which bus stops go.  This short video is (naturally) broad brushed, but is there a more detailed process of plan that considers the many factors that would go into evaluating each stop?
    For example, in this film the spacing on the 22 between Bryant and Potrero is criticized for being too short, but Bryant is the transfer point for the 27 and Potrero for the 9/9L/90.  Plus, the 22 has to stop at Bryant to change drivers who start and stop their days at the Muni yard one block away.  It doesn't make sense to remove these stops under any consolidation plan, and similar complications play out all over the city.  If that's not addressed smartly, consolidating stops will seriously lower service on Muni.

  • david vartanoff

    Why is it so hard to understand that both local and Express/Limited buses are useful?
    The stop elimination fiasco on the 38 is classic Muni. First an employee was detailed to spend lots of effort studying bus usage in San Francisco's densest neighborhood. No surprise, the LCL bus which runs about as frequently as the LTD stops every block where many riders board/alight. However, a majority of riders who board East of the Tenderloin are headed for somewhere West of Van Ness if not Masonic.
    What to do? Muni after much thinking decided that eliminating several stops on the local would speed buses through the 'hood. No surprise, the Tenderloin riders howled and Muni backed down. A POOR solution to a real problem failed , so what should have been done? Shifting several locals each hour to LTD's would have sped up more riders while continuing to provide the needed local service. Serving two separate markets with tailored service is always better than trying to force both to fit one.
    A further example, the film mentions the Mission street buses as stopping at many blocks in the dense commercial area between Duboce and Cesar Chavez. Why stop so often? Because more riders board/alight at any stop in that area on average than ride the 35 or 37 end to end.. Again, a far more useful upgrade would shift more service to the 14L (which was part of the TEP plans). Another tweak might be to have the 49's ALL run as LTDs . Serve the market!

  • david vartanoff

    @ Josh, well said and important points. Indeed transfer points are critical-- example 18th & Mission where the 33 turns off.

  • Troy

    This is such a common-sense and needed idea--- it boggles the mind that after 3 years of study by TEP stop-consolidation is still being debated and may not even happen.

    Have you ever taken the 21-Hayes? It's absolutely ridiculous. Stops on every single block between VanNess and Masonic. No wonder it's so slow. makes me want to drive. and I *want* to take the bus.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/njudah Greg

    Great job.

    Why we have a stop on the N at 12th AND one at Funston (13th), I'll never know. Whatever reason there was, it no longer exists today.

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    Nice job on this film.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/atom Adam Hartzell

    Nice succinct film on this topic. Thanks for bringing in a perspective from the Seniors/Disability community. As much as it's easy for me to walk a block or so more, we definitely need to take into consideration the best way to implement these changes so Seniors and the Disabled aren't adversely impacted by such necessary changes.

  • Seven

    Why both the 16X and 71L buses stop at all the same stops (too many) in the inner/outer Sunset as the 71 bus escapes my logic. Limited and Express buses should have fewer stops. Or perhaps someone can enlighten me on this.

  • Nick

    Streetsblog should have a contest where whoever finds the closest coupled bus stops wins a prize (Streetsblog hoodie?). Then use that bus stop as a posterchild for change. I know one along the 23 line that is within about 100 feet of the other. You can actually talk to people at the other stop!

    Amd there is a related point that TEP hasn't touched upon. It's "Stop Sign Consolidation." Wouldn't it make sense to strategically place bus stops and stop signs together every 2 blocks?

    I learned at an MTA meeting that they are opposed to ever removing any Stop sign. They said there is too much liability involved; and likewise every Stop sign has a constituency.

  • Andy Chow

    I think bus stops should be distanced no shorter than a BART/Caltrain platform, which is 700 feet.

    A challenge of adding more LTD service is that it adds operating cost, and that they have to use diesel buses. It is impossible to cut 1/4 of the local trolley bus route and divert the same vehicle for a LTD route on the same corridor because trolleys can't pass each other. (unless you have two sets of wires, which allows LTD to pass local, but not a local passing a LTD at a stop.

    I believe that if those one block stops changed to two block stops on Mission, ridership will not drop. Some really short distance riders may end up walking, but it could attract longer distance riders. I also think that won't hurt if that would reduce crowding.

    Overall, I think the worst transit experience is the Van Ness corridor, which it does not have LTD service, too many one block stops, and too many stops that are too short for buses to pull in.

  • david vartanoff

    about Stop sign consolidation. Rescue Muni started trying to get MTA to get rid of them along the LRV lines a decade ago. Not much progress.
    Lest anyone misunderstand, I don't dogmatically want to save ALL stops, I just find the reflexive desire of transit agencies to cut stops excessive.
    LTDs do NOT cost extra, they are exactly the example in the animation -- faster throughput, more trips per shift. As to Van Ness, since the 47 is a diesel, making it the LTD would be easy.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/shmooth Peter Smith

    so Seniors and the Disabled aren't adversely impacted by such necessary changes.

    seniors and disabled with be adversely impacted just like everyone else will be adversely impacted -- and they'll be positively impacted, too.

    the thing to remember, though, is that everyone is being adversely impacted right now -- we don't have to talk about what will happen in theory in some philosophy class -- we can talk about the adverse impacts that riders are experiencing all over the system right now. it's not acceptable -- it has to change.

    if bus stop consolidation will bring more good than harm, then it needs to get done.

    and if new bus stops were added to lines, they should probably be the first candidates to be considered for being freed from their earthly concerns.

    i found the SFMTA's Project Manager's ambiguous "lots of reasons for new stops" answer off-putting -- if she doesn't know, who does?

    people expect the bus to pick them up at their doorsteps and drop them off in front of their destinations -- that 'assumption of extreme laziness' needs to end. we have to do whatever it takes to disabuse people of the idea that they have some sort of right to motorized transport from door to door -- they don't.

    it'll be interesting to see what happens if and when this new transit advocacy organization finally gets going. hopefully they can hire the StreetFilms video folks to shoot some promo ads in multiple languages.

    i remain skeptical that lazy, complacent, complaining, sheep-like SF transit riders can be cajoled into getting off their butts and actually doing anything about improving transit, but i wish the new organization the best of luck.

    walking up! bikes up! real transit up! cars down! buses down!

    this video has some seriously-fancy-shmancy editing/production -- good work.

  • David K.

    As obesity is a problem these days in America.I'm sure San Franciscans wouldn't mind walking an extra block or two to take the bus.How about trying bus stops every 5 and 10 blocks and see which works better? Also, what's the deal with homeless wheel chair users riding the bus when they're aren't really handicapped as both their feet move to propel the chair backwards? There should be different laws for the non-handicapped to board with wheelchairds, otherwise I myself will get a wheelchair so that I can kick 4 or more seated passengers out of their seats so that I can board the bus only a few blocks within the downtown or tenderloin.

  • David K.

    I forgot to mention that these non-handicapped riders in wheelchairs are a big inconvenience when they ride crowded buses only a block or two and displace comfortably seated full fare paying riders(regulars and tourists). Also, whoever designed MUNI buses are idiots as there are hardly any space for old folks sitting down when the wheelchair passes by almost crushing their feet if they don't lift it out of the way.So either a bus redesign or American Disabilities Act supporters should pay for a dedicated Muni bus line. They should get rid of the handicap access for public transportatons as handicapped persons get taxi cab booklets to ride taxis for free so why slow everyone else down unnecessarily?


    Julie Kirshbaum does not understand the San Francisco population and the challenges of keeping a faster and reliable MUNI. A few examples: Delivery and private vehicles double parked on Mission, Geary etc., elderly need more time to get up bus steps taking up to 4 to 5 times longer than someone half their age and the bus can't be moved until they are seated, traffic between Embarcadero and Van Ness, Mission to Northpoint the include limos, taxis, tour buses, site seeing buses, lyft cars and people with private vehicle that do not carry a business license or proper insurance, bicycles and people people people. The city can't grow out so it is growing up which mean more traffic and people in a pretty much over populated San Francisco. MUNI Coach Operators deal with this city's congested problems and do a DAMM good job. If Julie's Transit Effectiveness Project fails, Please do not blame our heroes who get us to the hospitals, schools, shopping, parks, tourist destinations, family visits and of course to work. Our GREAT MUNI BUS DRIVERS.