The N-Judah is one of the busiest transit lines in San Francisco. The light rail shuttles some 38,000 passengers between Ocean Beach and the Financial District every day and it shows.
“If you’re downtown, you see a conga line of Ms, Js and Ks going by while you wait forever for an N that shows up late,” writes Muni maven Greg Dewar, “and…[it’s] often too full to board.”
To alleviate some of this overcrowding, Muni says they want to add a rush hour express bus designed to shuttle Outer Sunset residents into downtown and back again.
Under the plan to be presented to the SFMTA board today, the buses will make just under a dozen stops on Judah between 48th and 19th avenues every weekday morning and then head directly to their final destination–a handful of stops on Bush and Montgomery streets Downtown.
On the buses’ return commute every evening, they will make a small number of similar stops in the Financial District before taking a gaggle of Outer Sunset commuters back out towards the beach.
This added bus service is designed to open up space on trains that are often too crowded to accept passengers at stops closer to downtown such as the Cole Valley station at Carl and Cole streets. ‘
‘We’ve been tracking the N constantly and we need to improve service,” said Muni operations chief John Haley. ”When your riders start to refer to themselves as the lost souls of Carl and Cole, we had to do something.”
Muni officials are predicting the buses will shuttle 1,000-1,500 passengers every day and take slightly less time than the train to go from end to end. Dewar, who runs a blog largely about said line, is…well…“skeptical” would be putting it mildly:
On paper, again, this might make a little sense. Let’s take a look at the route inbound. We start down Judah, make a left turn onto 19th (!), then take Lincoln non stop to Oak, turn left onto Masonic (!!) and finally turn right onto Bush ending at Sutter and Sansome.
Really? A left turn from Judah to 19th? Because as we all know 19th is an easy, low traffic street. Same with Lincoln (which already has several express buses and the 71). Then we turn onto Masonic? The one with all the problems due for all that restructuring? Well ok then. This is a failwhale in the making since of course, there is no part of the plan that includes giving buses any sort of priority on these streets over the many cars, trucks, and others that use these busy streets. It’s claimed this will speed things up by…1 minute.
Dropping more buses onto these already busy rush hour streets will doubtlessly slow down the overall flow of traffic. However, adding more frequent N-Judah train service, the simplest and likely most effective solution, is currently an impossibility.
Muni is already facing a severe shortage of trained light rail operators and has had to replace some train service on lines like the L-Taraval with shuttles because the agency doesn’t have enough people qualified to drive them.
The shortage is the result of funding cuts forcing the agency to refrain from training new light rail operators to replace ones lost to retirement. As per their contract with the operators union, Muni’s management is unable to hire qualified light rail operators from outside the agency; instead they’re required to train members of their already existing fleet of bus drivers. There’s also a prohibition against using part-time workers, which prevents Muni from hiring drivers exclusively to provide additional capacity during rush hour.
The program is being run on a six month trail basis and will cost the SFMTA $1.8 million to run on an annual basis.
On a related note, it doesn’t take much longer than 40 minutes to bike from Ocean Beach to the Financial District. Just saying.