Around 20 residents from San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood lined up at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board meeting May 7 to voice complaints that all too often, the T-Third light rail transit vehicles leave passengers stranded on train platforms, taking rail cars out of service before the end of the line and leaving riders to wait for the next arrival.
Organized by People Organized to Win Employment Rights, an organization better known as POWER that has campaigned around Muni issues before, the riders asked the SFMTA board to address the T train turnarounds, and called on the transit agency to run all trains through to the end of the line in the city’s Southeast neighborhoods.
Muni service disruptions along the T-Third occur most frequently at 23rd and Third, Armstrong and Third, and Williams and Third, based on SFMTA data. The passengers expressed frustration that even though the T-Third technically runs all the way to Sunnydale, a Visitation Valley housing complex, it often stops short of the final destination and causes delays on an already lengthy commute. The topic of Muni “switchbacks” picked up momentum  earlier this year after District 4 Sup. Katy Tang vowed to take up the issue of train turnarounds, which also impact transit passengers in the Sunset.
Jackie Wysinger, who walks with a cane and resides at a senior center nearby Armstrong and Third streets, told SFMTA board members that she’s no longer able to drive and depends upon the T train to get around.
“We need better transportation,” Wysinger said. “The T train turns around right there, and they do it regularly,” leaving passengers with no choice but to walk or wait in discomfort. “It’s just bad on the senior citizens.”
Claudia Bustamante, a member of POWER who spoke in Spanish through a translator, related a story of traveling back to the Bayview on the T-third on Monday night. “We were on the T-train and there was a person in a wheelchair, and another woman crying,” she said. “But the driver said, ‘sorry, this is the last stop. Everybody has to get off.’ … They kicked us off. This happens not just to me, but to the members of the African American community in Bayview. And this needs to stop.”
Jim Hill, who told SFMTA board members that he’s lived in the Bayview for 51 years, said he’s experienced train service disruption at 23rd Street on a regular basis. “I don’t understand why a man would turn a train around that’s full of people,” he said. “I have experienced 45 minutes to an hour before another train comes.”
Hill added, “I don’t think a person should have to work all day, and have to stand up from the time they get off work, until they get home.”
Gloria Dean, a Bayview resident who penned an editorial in the San Francisco BayView newspaper  in March, characterized the frequent disruptions to service in Bayview Hunters Point as “shameful racism” in her opinion piece. She recounted one evening when her commute from Oakland to Third and LaSalle took from 6:45pm until 9:08pm. Since her husband is battling health problems, “it’s important for me to get home” following her evening classes at Mills College in Oakland, Dean wrote.
Juana Teresa Tello, an organizer with POWER, stressed that while switchbacks are known to occur on other lines, Bayview residents tend to have fewer transportation options. “It’s the highest concentration of people in public housing,” Tello pointed out. “It’s people who need the transit system the most.”
There was no SFMTA agenda item on the topic of turnarounds on the T-Third line, so residents aired their grievances about the issue during public comment. Once they had all finished speaking, SFMTA board chair Tom Nolan indicated that the item should be added to the board meeting agenda “sometime in the near future.”
In response to a query submitted several weeks ago, SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose sent the Bay Guardian a detailed response to questions about train turnarounds at the 23rd and Third stop.
“Trains going to 23rd Street on the T-Third are typically going to our maintenance yard located near 25th Street and Illinois at the end of their shift,” Rose explained in an email. “These trains are J, K, L, M, and N trains that travel in service as T-Third trains to the yard and accept passengers all the way to the last stop before the yard – 23rd Street. The alternative is to have the trains travel ‘not in service’ to the yard from the subway and accept no passengers.
“The vehicles returning to the yard and traveling from the subway only to 23rd Street add additional frequency between the subway and 23rd Street but are not scheduled full trips to Sunnydale,” Rose acknowledged.
The 23rd Street stop marks the end of a stretch of recently installed condominium complexes in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, an increasingly popular residential area for Silicon Valley commuters who have easy access to the highway to travel south to tech campuses.
Finally, Rose stressed that “We minimize unscheduled train turnarounds as much as possible … Supervision is also told to only perform these turnarounds when there is another train within five minutes or less,” he added, “to minimize passenger inconvenience.”