Muni's makeover

Officials found residents citywide were most concerned with reliability in the system

GREEN CITY San Francisco's streets are some of the most congested in the nation, our gasoline prices are reaching record highs, and parking is both scarce and expensive (particularly given the rising cost of parking tickets). But most drivers still haven't been willing to switch to public transit, something that Muni officials hope to change with the help of a highly anticipated study that's just been released.

The Transit Effectiveness Program (TEP) is a systemic proposal to make Muni faster and more attractive, mostly by focusing resources on the busiest routes. The study kicks off what could be a transformative year for the Municipal Transportation Agency, which got another $26 million annually through the passage of Proposition A in November 2007 and has been struggling for years to meet its on-time performance goals and win back lost riders.

It has been over two decades since Muni had its last major overhaul. The TEP boasts "hundreds of changes" in the works, from larger buses to route additions. The current draft of the proposal reflects 18 months of data collection on rider trends and community input. Officials found residents citywide were most concerned with reliability in the system.

"We have some schedules that are up to 10 minutes short of how long the line actually takes," said Julie Kirschbaum, program manager of the TEP. "We also need to reduce the number of breakdowns. We need more mechanics."

Data also showed 75 percent of Muni passengers board in the system's 15 busiest corridors, which include the 49 Mission/Van Ness, 38 Geary, and 30 Stockton routes. TEP calls for increasing service on these corridors by 14 percent and cutting wait times to five minutes or less.

The study also proposed new routes to better reflect changing growth patterns and travel needs. For the first time, a bus would directly connect Potrero Hill with downtown. A new "downtown circulator" would loop Market Street on Columbus, Polk, and Folsom streets, replacing the 19 Polk and 12 Folsom. Some proposals would increase service between neighborhoods in the western and southern parts of the city as well as create better connections to BART and Caltrain for those who commute to or from the city.

University students and employees could also benefit from the TEP, as increased service to destinations such as San Francisco State University and University of San Francisco were high priorities for the project team. In order to maximize resources, some routes could be scaled back or removed, potentially making the walk to the bus stop a few blocks longer for some city residents. For example, in the Mission District, there is a proposal to fold the existing routes on Folsom and Bryant into a faster, higher-capacity route on Harrison. A proposal to end the 56 Rutland route would leave Visitation Valley even more isolated.

Once the TEP's environmental impact report is complete sometime next year, there will be public hearings before the MTA board decides which recommendations to adopt. The Board of Supervisors could ultimately vote to overrule controversial route changes.

The TEP is one of many high profile green initiatives Mayor Gavin Newsom has rolled out, from a solar panel initiative he introduced with Assessor Phil Ting to the controversial appointment of Wade Crowfoot as the director of climate protection initiatives, whose salary is paid with MTA funds.

"The best thing we can do is get people out of single occupancy vehicles.... This mode shift is my primary goal," Crowfoot said at a Feb. 27 public information workshop, one of many planned throughout the coming months to educate and receive feedback from residents on the TEP.

Yet like many of Newsom's splashier initiatives, the plan lacks clear funding sources and commitments.

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