The Case for a Regional Bus System

BART can’t go everywhere and never will be able to go everywhere. Therefore, to get the Region out of gridlock something else will be necessary. The activation of a regional bus system is one promising opportunity.  

A high-quality, out-of-congestion, regional bus system has been talked about ever since MTC formed in 1971. Yet every year struggling to get to where BART can’t go or pushing into increasingly jammed BART trains becomes more time-consuming and difficult. 

Whatever is done must be attractive enough to cause a significant number of solo drivers to become less dependent on their automobiles. The network of longer distance buses would therefore have to be highly efficient. Buses would need to travel faster than the adjacent traffic as well as be safe, reliable, and comfortable. In order for any of this to work the buses would have to operate in their own lanes, separate from mixed-flow traffic.

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More Troubles with the Siemens Couplers

As indicated in a previous issue of this newsletter, because the SFMTA deploys one and two-car trains in the Market Street subway instead of the four and five-car trains the multi-billion dollar facility was designed to accommodate, the subway and adjoining Muni Metro tunnels currently operate at less than half their peak- period carrying capacity. This unhappy situation was caused in the mid-1990’s by a breathtakingly short-sighted decision to stop forming four and five-car trains. 

Various reasons are cited for this enormously-consequential mistake, including pressure from the TWU (Muni operator’s union), coupling difficulties, maintenance problems, etc. but the most likely reason is that for reasons unknown, beginning in 1991 the then incoming Breda LRVs were arriving in San Francisco without the ability to couple LRVs together while in revenue service. Having reached the end of their useful life, the Breda’s are now being gradually replaced with new Siemens S200 LRVs, which began arriving in San Francisco in 2017.

In an effort to receive assurance that the Siemens car would at last allow the SFMTA to again begin using its subway effectively, Save Muni (www.savemuni.org), a San Francisco-based transit-advocacy group, sent several requests for information to the SFMTA during last August and September, followed up by a California Public Records Act/San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance request sent on November 5, 2019 asking for:

LRV with Coupler

“1) All records from the past three years related to when the Muni Metro may be able to accommodate longer than two car trains

2) All records from the past three years related to tests of longer than two car trains in the ACTS territory, whether conducted by the MTA or outside contractors.”

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Avoiding the Impending Bay Area Stall

Highway backups are increasing. Despite the hoopla, auto and truck use in the Bay Area continues to increase. People talk of trains, but trains can’t go everywhere. They’re too expensive for one thing. Along highways, arterials and busy streets one constantly sees buses bogged down in traffic. Do you think San Francisco is in the forefront of getting its buses out of traffic? If so check out the grey bus-only lines on this map of Minneapolis.

To make matters worse the interiors of urban buses are often dismally uninviting. On Muni buses for instance the ride is so rough that it’s virtually impossible on many routes to any longer read a magazine or book. On these routes the hard plastic seats are so bad that many riders say it’s now more comfortable to stand than sit.

Private industry, with its “hi-tech” buses figured this out years ago and as a result, the interiors of the hi-tech units are comfortable and well-appointed.

As one might expect, uncomfortable buses stalled in traffic invariably push people back to traveling by automobile. MTC has projected that between 2015 and 2025 the number of Bay Area auto trips will increase by 10% and between 2025 and 2030 by another 12%. With commutes getting steadily longer it’s not hard to see what this does to vehicle miles traveled, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. In short, travel in the Bay Area is already bad and, if practical steps are not taken, will get steadily worse.

The following five actions would help:

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Future Connections between Oakland & San Francisco

It’s been clear for decades that another way of crossing the Bay between Oakland and San Francisco will be needed when BART runs out of peak-period transbay carrying-capacity. It is now estimated that this capacity limit will be reached before 2030. Thankfully the “Powers” have at last begun their planning. However, given the glacial pace of Bay Area infrastructure development, the needed supplemental system won’t be up and running until 2060 or later. So how, one might ask, do Central Bay Area transit leaders plan to cope during the intervening 30 or more years? If anyone knows the answer to this rather important question, he or she is keeping mum on the subject.

Turkey’s Marmaray Underwater Tunnel
Turkey’s Marmaray Underwater Tunnel

Here are a few observations designed to speed things up:

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Riders Yin while SF BART Board Members Yang

Last year BART conducted a survey of its riders. The survey results revealed that between 2014 and 2018 general rider satisfaction with BART dropped by 18%, from 74% to 56%. Rider responses were elicited in response to 46 separate elements of BART’s service. The Clipper Card got the highest rating. High ratings were also given to the availability of maps and schedules, on-time performance and the frequency of BART trains.

To most riders it will come as no great surprise to learn that conditions in BART stations, interior on-car noise levels and cleanliness were much farther down the list. And it will come as even less of a surprise that the very lowest ratings included BART’s lax enforcement of its fare evasion problem, and the absence of adequate BART policing at stations, on trains and in BART parking lots. At the very bottom of the list was the riders’ strongly negative reaction to BART’s failure to address its homeless problem.

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