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A Critique of the SFMTA's TEP

(Updated July 3, 2014)

 SaveMuni has completed an analysis of the SFMTA's Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), which clearly represents a great deal of investigation and hard work.  Following is a summary of our findings:

1.) Meeting TEP Objectives:  At the beginning of the report the TEP lists some very well-stated general objectives. However, when developing the detailed improvements that comprise the essence of the TEP, the planners paid little attention to these goals. There is a need to evaluate each TEP proposal in order to ascertain the degree to which it conforms to the important objectives set forth in the Policy Framework (Pages 2-19 to 2-23) and make adjustments in the proposed improvements accordingly. 

2.)  Stockton Street Overlooked:  TEP planners say they want to improve transit operations on Stockton Street. Achieving this objective would require speeded up loading and unloading coupled with greatly improved service reliability.  Low-floor, articulated buses would speed up loading and reduce crowding. Consistent police enforcement of existing traffic laws would help keep the streets clear.  Getting the southbound 8x Line buses off Stockton would reduce the tendency of the three lines now operating on the street to get in each other's way.  In its report entitled “Stockton Surface Improvements” SaveMuni identifies 8 specific changes that together would materially improve Chinatown surface bus operations. According to SFMTA projections, 89% of the users of the three Stockton Street bus lines will continue ride the buses even after the Central Subway goes into operation.  It is therefore imperative that the SFMTA bring the Stockton Street bus service up to standard.

3.) Making Transit First Work:  The TEP rightfully includes a strong element devoted to transit preferential streets featuring Muni buses and light rail vehicles operating in their own exclusive lanes. The basic principle here is that permitting fully loaded buses to get mired in ordinary traffic congestion is simply not acceptable. To guarantee the free and reliable flow of Muni vehicles especially during commute hours, it is important that the lanes set aside for Muni-only travel be kept clear of other traffic. Some say that this will occur through “self-enforcement”. We reject that contention. When the competition for street space gets tight, a certain amount of determined police action will be required to keep the LRVs and buses moving. For this reason an early-action element of the TEP should be to provide funds adequate to cover the police enforcement needed to make Transit First work.

It should also be noted that an effective Transit First operation will attract more riders. Accommodating these new riders will require more vehicles. For this reason another early-action element of the TEP should be to provide for the needed enlargement of Muni’s fleet of buses and LRV’s.

4.) Stop Spacing:  We agonized over the stop spacing as TEP planners no doubt also did. Too many stops would unduly impede and slow down service thereby deterring people from riding, and that’s a problem. Too few stops would slow down loading and fail to meet the needs of the elderly, infirm, and handicapped, and that’s also a problem. In sum, most of us feel that on Muni line sections of light to moderate patronage in level parts of the city, it might make sense to lengthen the distances between some stops. On hills and where the ridership is heavy we doubt that longer stop spacing would be either acceptable or desirable. 

5.) Flying Blind:  No one knows how the TEP changes would affect ridership. This is a serious defect for two reasons. First, it precludes an independent evaluation of the claimed benefits of the proposed changes. Second, it denies the SFMTA the knowledge needed to accurately assess fleet enlargement requirements needs.  

6.) Lack of Capital Costs: In order to evaluate the validity of the proposed changes there should be a detailed breakdown of capital costs. It does no good to prepare an elaborate document detailing environmental impacts unless the information needed to evaluate the financial and operating feasibility of the proposed changes is also provided.

7.) Longer Term Transportation Needs Ignored: As acknowledged by TEP's Project Manager, the TEP unfortunately had a two-year time horizon. In view of the major demographic changes that are projected to significantly alter San Francisco by 2040, the short term TEP plan simply isn't adequate. ABAG projects that by 2040 San Francisco’s 2012 population of 825,235 is destined to rise to almost 1,000,000 people. Unless the transportation infrastructure is significantly expanded and improved to keep up, these changes will result in shower public transit and more debilitating traffic gridlock everywhere. Yet the TEP (and also the Mayor's Task Force's plan) fails to address these projected changes in any meaningful way.

Some have characterized the Central Subway as the service needed to satisfy the travel needs of 160,000 new residents and almost 200,000 new office workers. However, SFMTA projects that only 5,000 new riders a day — equivalent to 2,500 people a day — will be riding the Central Subway by 2035. In other words there is a huge disparity between the people needing transit service and the Central Subway’s potential for meeting that need. Much more is required to serve a growing San Francisco population. In its planning the SFMTA should be taking full account of the effects of the anticipated growth on San Francisco’s public transit system.

8.) Loss of Comprehensiveness: One of the reasons that Muni has historically been so useful to San Franciscans is its comprehensiveness. Because of the amount of service Muni provides and its well-developed grid system, most San Franciscans can move around the city without their automobiles. Compared to systems in other cities, Muni does a truly outstanding job of reaching into virtually every SF neighborhood. There is a growing concern over what the TEP would do to Muni comprehensiveness. Those seeking to improve Muni need to take great care to protect and enhance its special attributes of long standing.

9.) Overhead Wire Tangles: There are quite a few proposals in the TEP for expanding the trolley bus system. In proceeding with more electrification, care should be taken to avoid tangling too much overhead wiring at any one location. Concentrations of overhead wire are unsightly. More importantly, they slow down service, cause operating problems and increase maintenance costs.

10.) Muni's Special Role in Times of Crisis: The TEP fails to address the threat of natural and man-caused disasters that could place special demands on San Francisco’s public transit system.

11.) The Importance of Muni: The backbone of San Francisco’s transportation system is Muni. For that reason 75% or more of the transportation money available to the SFMTA should be spent on Muni. In this connection it is important that improvements designed to encourage more bicycle use be located so as not to impede Muni vehicles or lower safety standards.  It bears repeating that Muni is the one non-automotive system in San Francisco capable of serving everyone eveywhere at all times during all kinds of weather.

When planning transportation projects and setting land use and transportation priorities, a greater effort should be made to elicit the advice of highly-experienced transit experts, planners and engineers.  Needed in San Francisco:  an objective "transportation brain-trust" capable of evaluating proposals before cranking up the political momentum.  Instead of acquiescing to the demands of those with "bright ideas", or those intent upon obtaining special benefits, the objective should always be to make public transit as attractive to as many riders and would-be riders as possible.