The private bus problem - Page 2

Corporate behemoths crowd city streets and block Muni stops

A UCSF shuttle illegally blocks a Muni stop, tying up buses and traffic at 16th and Missio
Guardian photo by Danielle Magee

Muni routes are designed with the city's neighborhoods in mind; you don't see the extra-long articulated coaches that ply Mission Street and Geary Boulevard cramming themselves into the much-tighter and more residential streets of Potrero Hill, Noe Valley, Glen Park and the Castro. That's not a concern for the giant corporate shuttles; they go where they want.

That can cause problems for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers who aren't used to seeing these long, tall buses, which at times take up both lanes, squeezing through turns with barely an inch to spare.

And while Muni drivers are far from perfect, the shuttle safety records are even more of a concern. In November of 2010, a UCSF shuttle bus struck and killed 65-year-old Nu Ha Dam as she was crossing Geary Street at Leavenworth Street. Not even a year later, another UCSF shuttle was involved in a collision, killing Dr. Kevin Allen Mack and injuring four other passengers. A witness confirmed that the shuttle ran a red light.

On February 14, a pedestrian crossing Eddy Street at Leavenworth in the Tenderloin was run over by a paratransit van. The victim was pinned under the shuttle for 20 minutes until he was finally rescued. The victim lived, but suffered several broken bones.

Carli Paine, transportation demand management project manager of the SFMTA, told us that shuttles are a growing component of the San Francisco transportation network and overall, support San Francisco's greenhouse gas emission goals.

But, she noted, "Because they are relatively new, and a growing one at that, there is really a need to work together between the city and shuttle providers to make sure that our policy framework is supporting shuttles and also working to avoid conflict with shuttles and transit, pedestrians, and bikes."

Paine noted: "What we've heard is that there are places where shuttles do have conflict with other uses and then there are places that work really well, so one of the things we want to find out in those areas where spaces are being shared successfully, is what's happening."

Elizabeth Fernandez, press officer at UCSF, said the city doesn't have any specific rules regarding transit systems like UCSF's. "With the proliferation of corporate services throughout the city, there are several studies that are ongoing," she said. "These studies are an attempt to manage the growth of these kinds of shuttle services in regards to volume as well as routing, staging, and parking."

Tony Kelly, a Potrero Hill community activist, said the root of the problem is the consistent cut in Muni service over the past 20 years. "Potrero Hill is going to double population in the next 15 years," he said. "People and new housing units are doubling.

"When all the shuttles are in our bus stops, everyone is wondering why we can't ride these things," he said. "Why can't they take it when there is so much unused capacity?"

Hitching a ride

Actually, I rode several UCSF shuttles around the city, and nobody ever asked for identification.

I was picked up at the Muni stop on Sutter St. at the UCSF Mt. Zion Campus (yes, the shuttle pulled — illegally — into the Muni stop to pick up passengers). Fernandez told me the school's official policy states that "Riding UCSF shuttles is restricted for use by Campus faculty, staff, students, patients and patient family members, and formal guests." But when I boarded, the driver made no attempt to verify if I was associated with UCSF. I did a full trip, passing through the UCSF Laurel Heights Campus, and then back to Mt Zion. There were no more than seven people on the shuttle, and about 20 seats available for riders. There are also handrails for standing if the bus ever gets too crowded.

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