Who gets hit by Muni switchbacks?

It's mostly low-income and outer neighborhoods

SFMTA data shows a pattern of switchbacks in District 10 and District 4, particularly affecting riders headed to the outskirts.


Muni switchbacks — that annoying practice where trains force all the passengers off well before the end of the line — have been in the news lately, with new Supervisor Katy Tang making switchbacks her first political priority.

But when you zero in on who bears the brunt of these service disruptions, it becomes clear that not all transit passengers are created equal. In fact, Muni data shows that the vast majority of switchbacks were concentrated in just three locations this past January.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reports shows that the top three stations hit by switchbacks in January were the T Third stop at Third Street and Carroll Avenue; the N Judah stop at Judah Street and Sunset Boulevard; and the J Church stop at Glen Park Station, in that order. While the January data provides only a snapshot, annual figures show that the T and J lines each averaged around 36 switchbacks per month since February of 2012, while the N averaged 49.

View MUNI Switchbacks in a larger map

This map displays the top five locations where switchbacks occurred in January 2013.

Muni defends the switchbacks, saying that trains sometimes have to be rerouted to fill service gaps elsewhere. But for passengers, it's a huge inconvenience — they're left with little choice but to sit tight until the next train arrives, which in some cases can be as long as 30 minutes.

Switchbacks can happen in foul weather, and at night. They can impact elderly transit riders with few other transportation options. For weary Muni customers headed to the outskirts of the city after a long workday — or trying to get to a job or child-care responsibilities on time — a switchback can be the proverbial last straw.

The SFMTA data was included in a February memo to Sup. Carmen Chu, predecessor to newly minted District 4 Sup. Tang, who did not return Guardian calls seeking comment.

Some view switchbacks as a social justice issue. In the case of riders traveling to the end of the T line in the Bayview, the disruptions disproportionately affect riders who have longer trips to begin with — it takes 40 minutes to get from Van Ness Station to the end of the T line during normal weekday hours, compared with 28 minutes to the end of the N line and 26 minutes to the end of the J line. And those traveling to the city's lower income, southeastern sector are less likely to have alternative means of transportation.

The 39 switchbacks that left southbound passengers waiting at the T Third Carroll stop, near Armstrong Ave, accounted for almost a third of all switchbacks recorded in January. Since they happen more frequently during off-peak hours, passengers are more likely to be left standing out on the platforms at night, when there are longer gaps between train arrivals.

That's a public-safety issue: Police Department data accessed on San Francisco's Open Data Portal shows multiple car break-ins, a robbery with force, and a meth possession charge all occurring nearby that train stop over the past three months.

According to the SFMTA memo, "Vehicle maintenance issues and automatic train control system issues accounted for most delays in which switchbacks were used to rebalance and restore scheduled service." There were more disruptions on the K/T and N lines, Transit Director John Haley wrote, because they are "longer than the other lines and, as a result, have more opportunity to fall behind schedule." The memo added that upgrades are underway to improve reliability and reduce breakdowns.


Thank you, Rebecca for an excellent article and keeping this important topic alive. With Supervisor Katy Tang making it a priority, perhaps riders will one day be able to depend on their mass transit once again. Changes definitely have to be made.

You can learn more details in a thorough report the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury released in August ,2012 by going to http://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org/general-info/grand-jury and reading "Better MUNI Service Needed - Without Switchbacks".

Vice President California Grand Jurors Association
President, San Francisco Chapter

Posted by Beate Boultinghouse on Mar. 21, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

Jury for its work in this regard.

I need to read your report again, but its findings validate my seemingly "crazy" supposition that MUNI is run in failure mode by intent. Controlled flight into the ground.

If fits with what I think is a new paradigm for public services, wherein as a pathway towards privatization, they are crippled from within. Public expeditures without public oversight is the ultimate method and goal.

The CGJ reports states that MUNI does not have the staff required to operate its elaborate control and communication system and so riders experience the worst satisfaction of those in any of four similar transit districts.

As I've mentioned, not all the events where MUNI's passengers are booted from their trains are called "switchbacks," but the effect is exactly the same.

Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 21, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

typically are nosey busybodies with little to do with their time than feel self-important by whining about everything.

Total waste of time and money.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 21, 2013 @ 6:58 pm
Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 21, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

at public meetings don't have some kind of prior agenda?

Oh, and why do I keep seeing the same "usual suspects" at them over and over again, almost regardless of the topic?

Luckily the Supes know this and routinely can be seen rolling their eyes through the endlessly tedious hours of "public commentary" until they finally get to do work for 15 minutes and make their decisions.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 21, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

>>>Oh, and why do I keep seeing the same "usual suspects" at them over and over again, almost regardless of the topic?<<<

That sounds just like you on this site. You're one of the "usual suspects" who vegetate on this site and top post, and you spray your smug and hateful diarrhea regardless of the topic. And in order for you to see the "usual suspects" you would have to be there yourself as an "usual suspect" because you can't possibly possess the skills to know how to watch the proceedings online considering the willful-ignorance you dump on this site daily.

>>>Luckily the Supes know this and routinely can be seen rolling their eyes through the endlessly tedious hours of "public commentary" until they finally get to do work for 15 minutes and make their decisions. <<<

I don't doubt that the supervisors (or most of them) have already made their decision before they go through the charade of "public commentary." However, no supervisor should be rolling his/her eyes at any comment from the public. These politicians are our employees unfortunately in many if not most cases. They are not royalty. Unless hate is expressed by someone at the microphone during "public commentary," a supervisor should show neutrality.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2013 @ 12:15 am

internet, and that is why I see the "eye rolling" (or beard tugging, or hair adjustment or 101 other signs of being bored shitless). And how I know it is often the same people every time.

I can near guarantee you that the Supes are totally uninfluenced by the mindless patter they hear at these interminable long city meetings. The whole thing is ja joke - it makes the "usual suspects" feel important and involved, but in truth it is just going through the motions.

As was said earlier - no activist ever asked me my opinion of anything. They were too busy trying to tell me what I should think.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2013 @ 6:04 am

-- and then back off a hair and say "mostly whiners show up at public meetings," which is still, of course, a *lie* -- hate democracy. They are the Redcoats. That corporate lobbiests stalk the back halls and doorways of City Hall troubles them not one whit; rather they seek to denigrate those who practice actual democracy.

Of course there are some kooky people who show up at meetings -- the exception which is used to prove a lie -- but these are the minority; like the trolls who frequent this site and strive to deflect attention to whatever the real topic of conversation is:


Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 22, 2013 @ 11:04 am

Whiny trolls say that only whiny people show up at public meetings, they always whine: "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Posted by marcos on Mar. 22, 2013 @ 11:30 am

show up at the city hall meetings are in any way representative of the people?

By definition, they are people who are biased about the topic in question.

"No activist ever asked me what I wanted".

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2013 @ 11:42 am

whiney activists. Both groups are trying to distort the process in their favor. And both groups ignore what the majority want.

That is why what Gavin is trying to do is worthwhile, even if it fails. He wants to bypass all the special interest groups and talk to, you know, ordinary people who cannot be assed with all the lobbying and tactics.

One person, one vote, and nobody trying to co-opt the process.

No activist ever asked me what I wanted.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 22, 2013 @ 11:38 am

You *claim* to dislike both lobbyests and involved citizens with equanimity, but if it were true why did you not include the phrase "whiny lobbyests" in your rant?

And why did you not think to point out that lobbyests never ask people what they think? -- except of course to focus-group and manipulate!

The reason is that what you said is *not* true. You *don't* truthfully dislike both side evenly; your statement is matlockian.

The truth is that the lobbyests are not an equal opposing force to active involved citizens, and that both groups ought to be equally disregarded.

When we citizens get involved it is an expression for our patriotism and reverence for the Enlightenment goal of democracy. When lobbyests ply their trade, it is for them to make a buck while subverting those things.

Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 23, 2013 @ 7:04 am

ass down to city hall to further a partisan agenda. You are seeking to dilute the democratic process by finding mechanisms for achieveing change that are not by voting or via people whom we have elected.

You hope instead, via "activism", to achieve a different outcome from the dempcratic one. And that is why I put you in the same boat as lobbyist - each try and distort the process.

Ideally, all decisions would be made by plebiscite or referendum but that has historically not been practicable. Gavin's idea is to extend that capability via technology. Activists do not like that as theyw ant to crowd out the silent majority and, instead, achieve change by making a lot of noise.

AKA "Whining"

No activist ever asked me what I wanted.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

The First amendment:

Congress shall make no law blah blah blah, or blah blah blah; or blah blah blah, or of the press; or blah blah blah, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 25, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

and in fact you routinely run your mouth here, all day, every day, seemingly without influencing anyone.

Rather, the criticism being made is how some individuals try and game the system by hollering and heckling, seeking to effect change merely through being a noisey minority.

A technological alternative, such as promoted by Gavin, would weaken the squeaky wheels and enfranchise the silent majority. And that scares you.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

The reason why Newsom never came close to doing anything that empowered San Franciscans is because he realized that he was elected in fear of the other, not for love of him or his policies, and that if he crowdsourced government, he'd have a shitload fewer chits with which to try to climb the greased pole. The greased pole that was not attached to a Getty, that is.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 25, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

were scary (Ammiano, Gonzalez). But he also had the pro-growth, pro-jobs profile which routinely is crucial to win in SF.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

Newsom squeaked by, possibly in a stolen election, in 2003. The only generally received positive press he got was same sex marriage. His numbers were in the toilet when he jumped ship.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 25, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

when you know there isn't a shred of evidence about any election fraud. It's just too painful to admit you were beaten and so you claim the election was "stolen" or "bought" or blah blah.

Even the supposedly "close" election with Matt had 11 votes for Gavin for every 10 for Matt. Gavin's re-election was a landslide. Not really close at all.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

Great article, but one misleading comparison:

it takes 40 minutes to get from Van Ness Station to the end of the T line during normal weekday hours, compared with 28 minutes to the end of the N line and 26 minutes to the end of the J line.

Van Ness is not the end of the line. It takes close to an hour to take the N Judah from downtown to the end of the line

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 8:01 am