Muni’s Continuing Downward Spiral

Bus Changes:  Unlike the transit systems of many American cities that barely survive (AC Transit for instance), Muni has always been popular and successful. In the 1970’s and 1980’s its success was generally attributed to its comprehensiveness. Thanks to Muni’s well established grid system, it was possible. In those days to travel from anywhere to anywhere else in the city by transit, over a reasonably direct path, using lines with good service levels to keep transfer time down, and not having to transfer more than once. Back then, if you didn’t have a car it was still easy to get around. But now comprehensiveness seems to have fallen out of favor.

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Now the SFMTA is busily, and some would say blindly, focusing its service on a few “high use transit corridors”, in the process condemning would-be Muni riders from all over the city to either transfer more times during each one way trip, or travel by automobile, or remain stranded. Carrying large numbers of people in some corridors while disadvantaging hundreds of thousands of other riders solves nothing.

Light Rail Changes:  In recent weeks the SFMTA has taken its new concept to a whole new level. Belatedly recognizing that running one and two car LRV’s in the Market Street subway was a colossal waste of the subway’s huge peak-period carrying capacity (both before and during the pandemic), the MTA now wants to run K/L trains from Balboa Park to the Zoo, thereby forcing K and L riders bound for downtown to transfer at the West Portal, and the J’s from Balboa Park to Duboce, forcing J line riders headed downtown to transfer to an S shuttle line at the Church Street Station. Truncating the J, K and L lines in this manner means adding a transfer to reach downtown from much of Noe Valley, the Ingleside and Parkside, as well as from many smaller neighborhoods, and a second transfer to reach many other important destinations such as for example UC Med Center, Caltrain, Chinatown and North Beach.

The whole point of the original Muni Metro design was to make transit a reasonable choice for a high number of travelers, especially commuters. Truncating the lines, as seems to be the current plan, would render the transit choice much less attractive for many types of trips. As things currently stand, to achieve a slightly-increased carrying capacity in the subway the MTA would cause its J, K and L line riders to have to transfer once or twice for each one way trip, thereby making things actually worse for  over 40% of its Muni Metro riders.

The original Muni Metro system was designed to run one and two car trains along the Avenues where that made sense and couple them into four and five car trains at the portals for the remainder of their trips downtown when longer trains made sense.  (Because of constraints in the subway that goal has now been reduced to three and four car trains)  Coupling shorter trains into longer trains at the portals was intended to optimize the capacity of the subway, give all Muni Metro riders a single ride to downtown San Francisco and avoid the cost of running longer trains along the avenues to the west and south ends of the lines where longer trains were unnecessary. Those who still claim that coupling is not practical should be reminded that coupling rockets to space stations and fuel tankers to air liners in mid-flight has in the 21st century become routine.

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