A Transit Riders' Association for San Francisco
P.O. Box 190966
San Francisco, CA 94119-0966

Hotline: (415) 273-1558
board at rescuemuni.org

Andrew Sullivan
Chairman, Steering Committee / Chief Spokesperson
(415) 673-0626
[email protected]

Daniel Murphy
Vice-Chair, Steering Committee
(415) 412-9094
[email protected]

Muni Metro Survey:
Slightly Better On-Time Service, Unacceptable Crowding

SAN FRANCISCO, October 28 - Muni Metro’s on-time performance has improved somewhat since February, particularly in the tunnel; however, riders experience severe levels of crowding and longer-than-expected travel times, according to the survey released today by the transit riders’ advocacy group RESCUE MUNI.

This independent survey, the third of its kind, attempts to measure the Municipal Railway’s reliability from the perspective of the average rider. 170 volunteers monitored their Muni lines from September 22 to October 6, tracking over 1,800 vehicles. The survey, which covered the Muni Metro exclusively, gave letter grades to streetcar lines based on how long riders were forced to wait; for the first time, it also measured crowding and travel times.

The survey showed a striking difference between on-time performance in the tunnel and on the streetcar lines throughout the city. While service between Van Ness and Embarcadero ran on time 99 percent of the time, earning a grade of ‘A’, and the segment between West Portal and Embarcadero was graded ‘C’, all above-ground lines were graded ‘D’ or ‘F’. Muni Metro as a whole received a grade of ‘C’, with 28 percent of riders experiencing a delay; this was better than the ‘D’ it earned this spring but slightly worse than its grade in 1997.

“If you only ride from Embarcadero to Van Ness, you’ll get great service,” said Andrew Sullivan, chair of the organization and survey coordinator. “But if you have to leave the tunnel, you’ll be late at least a third of the time. And you’re likely to be packed in the car so tightly you can't move.”

As in the spring, the worst line in the Muni Metro system was the L-Taraval, graded ‘F’ with 47% of riders waiting longer than the frequency advertised on Muni’s street map and the system’s worst rating for average crowding. Poor as this grade was, this did represent a small improvement (6 percentage points) from February. Other above-ground streetcar lines (J, K, M, N) were graded ‘D’. The most-improved line was the J-Church, graded ‘D’ with riders delayed 33 percent of the time; this was 10 percentage points better than in February.

The survey also rated crowding on the streetcars and travel times. Crowding was particularly pronounced at rush hour and on the segments in the tunnel; in the evening rush, for example, almost half of streetcars were crush-loaded. Many participants commented that they could not board one or several cars due to crowding. Riders in the tunnel also experienced long and erratic travel times, with average travel times in the tunnel more than twice recorded minimums.

“Muni took 20 cars out of service but didn’t change the schedule,” noted Ken Niemi, co-founder of the organization and L-Taraval rider. “Many times I can’t get on the first car that comes by, and it’s not comfortable at all when I get in. Meanwhile, trains are still leaving Embarcadero in no order at all.”

The survey shows that while Muni’s $70 million Advanced Train Control System is in fact improving frequency of service in the tunnel, the majority of riders are not reaping the benefits. Cars are still dispatched out of order at Embarcadero; the control system still experiences errors; many more cars are being sent to CalTrain than are needed; and the number of cars in use has been cut by 20%. The result is frequent long waits for individual lines, particularly the L; long travel times; and unacceptable levels of crowding.

“Mayor Brown isn’t out of the woods yet,” said survey participant and N-Judah rider Joan Downey. “The worst of the Metro Meltdown may be past us, but it’s still worse than it was back in 1997, and much worse than it was five years ago.”

RESCUE MUNI, A Transit Riders’ Association for San Francisco, is an organization of concerned riders who seek to make service faster, safer, more reliable, and more responsive to riders’ needs. Founded in 1996, it now has more than 450 members throughout the city.

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Posted 10/28/98.