No one would debate the fact that our Mighty N is having a tough time of it these days. 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, and is often too full to board.
Other times, you are stranded if you’re going to the Outer Sunset, kicked to the curb at 19th, and you have to walk 20 blocks to get home. Between these, the traffic, delays when cars double park, and the overall decline of Muni under Nat Ford and crew, well, it’s not a great time to be riding the N.
However, examining this proposal to create “express buses” for the N (PowerPoint file here) demonstrates once again that Muni would rather throw away the $3 million Transit Effectiveness Project, which laid out the plan to improve the whole system, and instead implement gimmicky “solutions” to make Muni’s owners feel like something’s being done, and get the owners’ other employees (i.e. the electeds). Just like with plenty of Muni’s other gimmicks, it is a “looks great on paper” solution.
Before we get to it, let’s take a breather and remember how we got here, since it’s clear Muni would like to have you forget that the State of California illegally looted hundreds of millions of dollars from it (and all transit agencies). With the various deals cut by Democrats in the Legislature and the former Governor, the gas tax no longer helps fund roads and transit like it did in the past.
Despite being illegal, that money is gone for good. There has never been a serious proposal by Nat Ford or the MTA to replace this with a new funding source. Instead they’ve downsized the system, and they’ve refused to even consider real revenue measures. Instead they want to parking ticket the city to death, and use other “couch cushion” measures. They simply are out of their league at this point. The fact that they’re dreaming that “operator pay” is the only reason they have money problems just underscores the fact they don’t know what they’re doing.
Likewise, there’s both a huge backlog of maintenance and assorted outdated work rules that are creating problems too. The fact that the MTA can’t hire an out-of-work LRV operator from elsewhere to fill gaps in the workforce is significant too, as is the fact that when Muni wastes money on golden parachutes and big pay for management and big benefits, we then don’t have the money to hire good people we need anyway, union rules or not.
Anyway, now that’s out of the way, let’s look at what is being proposed. As always I have to be a bit suspicious, since Muni’s management hasn’t been that honest with the public. Basically what we have here is an express bus that would serve the Outer Sunset between 19th and 48th, then use an alternate route to get downtown. They claim it would be 1 minute faster inbound and 2 minutes faster outbound. (This is the part where you can tell this was done based on a spreadsheet, and not on any real studies).
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.
Now let’s look at the route outbound in the evenings. Between 4-6:30 pm (!) the bus outbound will depart at Sutter/Sansome, and head to 19th avenue. Going west on Sutter, it jogs left onto Gough to get to Geary (!!) to Presidio, and takes that twisty road in the park to 19th, makes a right on Judah, and then begins local service one again.
Ok, a shout out to my friends in the Richmond (and my dad) who ride the infamous 38 and the 38 Limited: would anyone out there say that there’s room for Yet Another Bus Route, even if it’s not making stops, on an already crowded arterial? Does anyone who commutes, either by car or bus through the park think there’s room for another line?
More to the point, assuming all runs perfectly as Muni’s planners dream up, we’re saving a mere 2 minutes from the Outer Sunset to downtown? Of course, we all know traffic runs perfectly, especially on rainy days, game days, event days, hot days, windy days, “pay me not to work” days, and all the other days Muni tends to blow it, not to mention car crashes, bike crashes, potholes, and the like, right?
The more I read this, the more it looks like a justification to stop the N at 19th, and free up more trains for other lines, and to cope with the fact that we do have an LRV operator “shortage” created artificially by management and union failures over the years. More importantly, I just don’t trust it.
It’ll be interesting to watch the cavalcade of whimsy tomorrow at the SFMTA meeting. I’m sure it’ll go through, no matter what, and I’m sure that whoever might be in charge of the MTA in June will brag about how great it is. But after years of being lied to about the 19th avenue turnarounds, I simply can no longer be assured anything they say is the truth anymore.
UPDATE: Here’s coverage in the Examiner, and in the Chronicle.