Is SFMTA’s Aversion to EnRoute Coupling Crippling Muni Metro?

The original Muni Metro, designed by the Louis T. Klauder Company fed the J, K, L, M and N lines into the Twin Peaks and Duboce Tunnels and then into the Market Street subway. This arrangement allowed every Muni Metro rider to reach downtown San Francisco without having to transfer. To make this work, the one and two car trains operating along the Avenues were coupled into longer trains at the two portals

But the Muni subsequently had trouble making the couplings work and rather than fixing the problem, in the mid 1990’s it threw in the towel and abandoned coupling entirely.

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SMART’s Problems Get Worse

Ever since its passenger rail service began in 2017, SMART has proven to be an extraordinarily expensive operation. The FY20-21 Budget was based upon a projected fare and parking revenue of $2.66 million an annual ridership of 475,000 and a projected annual operating cost of $31.38 million. In other words it was anticipated that every one-way trip would cost SMART $66 and that since fares were projected to average only $5.53 per trip, the taxpayers were to be saddled with paying the other $60.47 per trip.

Thanks to COVID-19, since the FY20-21 Budget was prepared the situation has gotten dramatically worse.

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San Francisco Support for DTX

Getting Caltrain extended to the new Sales Force Transit Center has long been recognized as one of the most important projects in the Region. In fact it was approved overwhelmingly by 69.3% of San Francisco’s voters way back in 1999. Since then, despite being held up for six years by the Lee Administration, City Planning Department and SFCTA, much as been accomplished. The project is now environmentally cleared ready to head into engineering design.

At MTC’s July 22nd meeting the DTX project was threatened by a weak but aggressively promoted effort to build what could best be described as the “mostly single track, Toonerville Trolley to Tracy” line.

But things are looking up!

In response to this threat San Francisco and the other West Bay Counties came out in force in support of advancing DTX to Period 1 (in line for early funding). Weighing in on behalf of DTX were Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, SF Mayor London Breed, State Senator Scott Wiener, Assemblyman David Chiu, Supervisor Aaron Peskin and other members of the SF Board of Supervisors, the SF County Transportation Authority, the Transbay Joint Powers Board, SaveMuni, SF Transit Riders (SFTR), SPUR, Seemless Transit and many other San Francisco-based groups and individuals.

Speaker Pelosi Makes the Case!

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Cause: Dysfunctional Public Institutions / Effect: Regional Transportation in Shambles

For the last 8 years BATWG volunteers have worked to improve Bay Area transportation. In the process we’ve come to realize that in the Nine County Greater Bay Area, many of the region’s jurisdictions and large public agencies are failing to deliver effective transportation solutions and that without significant governmental change there is little chance of their doing so in the future.

Here are a few examples of how and where things have gone awry:

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SFMTA Continues to Duck Questions about the Siemens Couplers

San Francisco’s Muni Metro Subway was designed to accommodate four and five car trains. Since the 1997 introduction of new BREDA LRVs and the Automated Train Control System (ATCS), the Muni and now the SFMTA have refused to operate with more than two car trains, thereby reducing the carrying capacity of the subway and adjoining Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels to less than half their design capacity.

To be able to form at least three and four car trains the MTA would need to restore its previous ability to couple trains together at the West and Duboce portals. It was anticipated that with the incoming Siemen’s LRVs this essential capability would be possible. Last Fall BATWG, Save Muni and others began asking the MTA whether or not the new Siemens couplers had this capability. However, since the arrival and testing of 68 new Siemen’s LRVs, no attempt has been made to either answer our questions or demonstrate this capability.

SMART: Where We Go From Here

(updated May 9, 2020)

Last month BATWG wrote an article about the North Bay voter’s decisive rejection of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District’s (SMART’s) proposal to extend its sales tax for an additional 30 years through 2059. At the time we did not foresee the worldwide economic ravages of the Coronavirus pandemic nor its devastating effects on public transportation. The Coronavirus pandemic has upended every transit system in the USA.

Like other transit providers, SMART must undertake rapid policy and operations changes to meet the new conditions. Unfortunately, as dis­cuss­ed last month and below, SMART’s financial and rail operating circumstances were already much more in disarray than those of other Bay Area transit providers. Even before COVID there was already an overwhelming need for the District to put its financial house in order.

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