Our economic recovery will be built on a foundation of a strong transportation system. The good news is that we have made real progress improving and expanding Muni service since last year. We completed major projects like the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit corridor, making Muni faster and more reliable, and are still bringing back bus lines, even as other jurisdictions have cut service back.
Still we have plenty of work ahead. There are key challenges to moving forward — especially when it comes to bringing back ridership to downtown San Francisco and our SFMTA staff is focused on overcoming them. September is Transit Month, which is an opportunity to celebrate what we are doing right and commit to work on the areas we need to improve.
Faster and more reliable buses
As someone who grew up riding mostly the 31 Balboa, 5 Fulton and the 22 Fillmore, I know that buses are the backbone of our transportation system. That’s why it is essential to make progress on bringing our buses back into service. In July, we brought back several lines that had been on hold during the pandemic — the 2 Sutter, the 6 Parnassus, the 21 Hayes, and the 43 Masonic. And we added more buses to reduce crowding bus lines like the 29 Sunset and the 45 Union/Stockton.
Earlier in the year, we brought back the 8AX Bayshore Express and 8BX Bayshore Express buses on weekdays mornings and evenings to provide quicker trips from Visitacion Valley to downtown and stronger connections between Visitacion Valley, Outer Mission, Ingleside, City College and Chinatown.
Our investments in transit lanes and line management mean that our main lines are 12–25% faster and more reliable than they have been in decades. Take the 22 Fillmore, for example. Ridership is exceeding pre-pandemic levels, which is a testament to what can happen when we make Muni service better and make sure it connects people to where they need to go. In the case of the 22 Fillmore, this came in the form of a dedicated transit lane on part of the route and a route change that now connects neighborhoods with the jobs and medical services located in Mission Bay.
During the pandemic, we added 15 miles of transit lanes across our City. Transit lanes are red-painted lanes that are dedicated to Muni vehicles, other buses, and taxis. They allow buses to bypass congestion and stay on schedule for riders. This 15-mile expansion was the fastest expansion in our City’s history, and it’s made an impact.
The 14 Mission and 14 Mission Rapid lines through SOMA, which serve a higher rate of low-income people than system averages, is a great example:
- Travel times up to 31% faster than pre-pandemic
- 70% reduction in Muni- involved collisions
- As a result, ridership is now 80% of pre-COVID weekdays, and more than 90% weekends
These are significant improvements for riders and for our city.
During the pandemic, we kept plugging away at our big projects. In April, we opened Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit, the first of its kind in California, and it has been a clear success. It is now 35% faster to get from Fort Mason to Market Street — 9 minutes faster per run. That’s an incredible difference that is drawing people back to the 49 Van Ness/Mission Muni line. And, as we add more housing and office space at Market and Van Ness, with a number of new buildings opening and breaking ground in the coming months, this line will be more important than ever.
We are also close to actually opening the Central Subway. There is no doubt that this project has been challenged and delayed for far too long, and we are working to learn from that years-long process as we implement future transportation construction projects. But, once the Central Subway is open later this fall, it will be a vital new connection that will help bridge Chinatown, Union Square, Moscone Center, and down to Chase Center and Mission Bay, the Bayview, and Visitacion Valley.
The Work Ahead
Despite what has been a very successful year for our transportation system, we still have two significant challenges ahead: recovering our Muni ridership and filling job openings for transit operators, mechanics, and maintenance workers so we can add more service.
Muni ridership from neighborhood to neighborhood is going relatively well. Those routes have recovered about 70% of their riders. But ridership recovery — especially among commuters — hasn’t yet come to downtown San Francisco, and our city’s transportation system and economic recovery depend on it. Right now, the SFMTA is providing more downtown service than the current demand. And although the express routes haven’t yet returned to service, Muni’s rapid routes are moving riders about as quickly as the express routes previously did.
We all need to work together to figure out how to revitalize our downtown, and we have an active strategy on that. There are so many reasons to travel downtown in addition to going to the office. There is the beautiful waterfront, the great shopping, the award-winning restaurants, and so much more.
Labor shortages are impacting our entire city workforce, including SFMTA where there is a need to fill 1,200 vacancies as quickly as possible, so that we can add more Muni service. More young people than ever are taking Muni thanks to the Free Muni for All Youth Program, but that means we need more Muni buses that can serve San Francisco schools. We’re still catching up on hiring that’s backlogged because of the SFMTA hiring freeze during 18 months of the pandemic. There was also an unexpectedly high number of retirements in the last year — not just at the SFMTA, but citywide.
I’m supporting the SFMTA as it works to expedite hiring. We were able to hire 237 transit operators in the last fiscal year, and we have hired an additional 107 operators since then. Have you ever thought about driving a bus? We need you.
Muni has made significant progress since we shut down for the pandemic. While we have a lot of work to do, I’m thankful to everyone who is doing the work each and every day to bring our transportation system back. Our staff has focused on the data to make decisions, and our system’s recovery is stronger than most of our peer systems across the country.
There’s work to do to get our City moving, but I know we can do it.