You asked, and Muni Diaries brought your questions to Muni: in today’s installment, Tara asks SFMTA spokesperson Judson True all about the TransLink payment system and bus rapid transit, two of the major improvements under way for Muni. Come back tomorrow for Tara’s last installment of her interview and find out how Muni is gearing up to prepare for Bay to Breakers this year.

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Muni Diaries: When will Muni conduct the full rollout of TransLink?

Judson True: We’re in the early trial phase now. We’re happy with how it’s going so far. We’ve got more than 3,500 folks signed up and using it every day. I use mine to ride the system. When I see a reader that’s not working on a bus, I email it in to customer service to be addressed.

We don’t have a definite date for a full rollout. We have to meet all the milestones to make sure that the system is working properly and work on a larger scale. The software that runs TransLink, which is a program administered by the MTC, has to dole out the fare revenue to the different transit agencies. We have to make sure we get the revenue we’re supposed to from TransLink using our system. That’s one of the many things we have to make sure we’ve feel confident in before we roll it out to the entirety of ridership.

But we’re excited about TransLink and want to get it going as soon as we can. It’s been reported recently that BART is getting closer to being able to roll it out on their system. That has a big impact on us as well, because so many of our customers are also BART riders. If the promise of TransLink is compatibility between transit systems, it’s obviously crucial that the card works on BART before it gets a full-blown rollout on Muni.

MD: There was talk of mid-2010. There’s no date range?

JT: I don’t have an exact date on BART. It was reported recently that they’ll be revenue-ready in May. But that’s a technical term that involves equipment installation. That doesn’t provide a date. That’s a question for BART or MTC. But we’re working closely with them, and are excited about the project.

MD: So, Bus Rapid Transit. Last time I checked, Van Ness was going to be first, then Geary was next. Whats the latest on that, and how has it been affected by the downturn in the economy?

JT: Yes, Van Ness is first, with Geary following. The transportation authority, which is the county’s official agency and the administrator of the sales tax, is overseeing the environmental review process for the BRT projects right now. (Their website, sfcta.org, has up-to-date information on the project)

The BRT is an exciting prospect for us, because it’s a more-efficient way to move more people. Van Ness is a major Muni corridor that would be very well served by the kinds of amenities BRT offers: wider stop-spacing, more light-rail-like stops, dedicated right-of-way. Other similar features. BRT is exciting. It’s coming.

The budget situation is directly affecting it, in part because it’s not quite there yet. I think Van Ness is likely to be a Small Starts federal project. Central Subway is something called New Starts, which are very significant, large capital projects. Van Ness is slightly smaller, so it’s in a different stream. It’s well-positioned to compete effectively for those funds.

MD: Is the project depending upon securing those funds?

JT: Yes, it’s a capital project that will need to secure capital funding from some source. I think right now the federal government is the source that we’ll be looking at, in addition to the Prop K money that’s already likely to go to the project. It’s already been indicated by voters to go to the project.

MD: Are there talks of extending the BRT concept to some of our other major streets? It would seem like the best way to handle some of the major thoroughfares in the city.

JT: There have been discussions along those lines. What we call our short-range transit plan outlines other corridors that will be looked at for enhanced transit service. BRT/light-rail includes Potrero and Geneva, for example.

Obviously, we have the Central Subway coming to one of the most-congested corridors. We say it’s one of the most congested corridors without modern rail service west of the Mississippi. That’s the Stockton corridor in Chinatown. Those are some crowded buses.

Check back tomorrow to read about Muni’s image problem and its plans for Bay to Breakers. Yesterday’s post, on Muni’s communication shortcomings, is here; Tuesday, Tara and Judson discussed some of your gripes with Muni; Judson talks about the agency’s $130 million budget deficit in Monday’s post.

Image by Steve Boland of San Francisco Cityscape

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  • Whole Wheat Toast

    Forgot to ask them why BRT and not light rail?

  • Whole Wheat Toast

    Forgot to ask them why BRT and not light rail?