Restructuring the SFMTA: Results of a Save Muni Survey

Article by: Bob Feinbaum, President of Save Muni

Save Muni recently surveyed 32 San Francisco transit experts and activists with regard to re-structuring the SFMTA. Responses were received from over 40 % of the panel. Although the results should not be interpreted as statistically significant, they do provide a lens with which to view changes to the MTA.

Question # 1 – Should Muni be split off from the SFMTA as a separate city department ?

Three times as many respondents thought that Muni should not become a separate city department. Their reasoning is instructive.

One respondent argued that San Francisco needs an even more comprehensive agency than the current MTA. “If anything move the DPW (Department of Public Works) over to the SFMTA.” Another pointed out that “cities with the best transportation have integrating functions” such as a unified department dealing with all aspects of transportation. Several other respondents echoed a comment from one that said that “SFMTA must keep control of streets in order to keep Muni moving”.

But that is not to say that respondents were satisfied with the SFMTA’s current way of operating. Several pointed to the need for a “stronger and more accountable management structure.” One called for “better internal coordination”, while another recommended that “the top person should be a generalist with strong managers below him”.


Critique of MTC’s Core Capacity Study

The Core Capacity Transit Study was conducted under MTC auspices and released on September 1, 2017.  The main purpose of the Study was to identify potential travel improvements on the Bay Bridge and in the San Francisco transit corridors leading to the Bridge.
A Good Beginning:  The study team developed a concise and effective set of Evaluation Criteria with the emphasis on travel efficiency and cost effectiveness. The study team also did a good job of outlining the severe transportation constraints that are already beginning to plague transbay travelers and that, if ignored, that would  eventually constrain the economies of the central Bay Area.
Current Status – Final Report Released:  Many months have passed since the early scoping meetings.  On September 1, 2017 the Final Core Capacity Report was issued. Unfortunately it does not appear to provide the well-justified list of improvements needed to achieve Study objectives.
General: The Report is well organized but unduly repetitious. Too much attention is paid to already ongoing projects in a way that made it hard to tell which projects are old and which are new. The Consultants did a good job of showing how the relentless growth of regional population and jobs, particularly in San Francisco, requires an aggressive near term transbay improvement program. However the Report is weak on citing the pros and cons of its dozens of proposed solutions, many of which appear to have been adopted from the internal wish lists of the participating transportation agencies.

SaveMuni supports the Red Lanes

Updated from a July post:  On July 3, 2017 the SF Examiner reported on the SFMTA’s continuing program for placing Muni surface vehicles in transit-only lanes.  This is something that has been talked about in San Francisco ever since the City enacted its “Transit First” policy over 40 years ago.   Now the SFMTA is actually implementing the policy and in this it has SaveMuni’s strongest support.

Since each section of each street is different, local conditions deserve consideration.  That notwithstanding, given the interests of San Francisco at large, the first priority must be on expeditiously getting busloads of people out of heavy traffic congestion, especially during peak driving hours.  (In some cases all day lanes are certainly necessary.  On other streets bus-only lanes between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. might suffice.  If so it would have two distinct advantages over the all day approach.  First, it would in most cases eliminate the conflicts between the SFMTA and the affected small businesses.  Second, it would greatly reduce enforcement costs.

A Visit from ConnectSF

Graham Satterwhite, Howard Wong, Bob Feinbaum

Graham Satterwhite, Howard Wong, Bob Feinbaum

Graham Satterwhite of ConnectSF came to the June SaveMuni meeting to tell us all about his organization. ConnectSF is a long-range transportation planning project that aims to consolidate and coordinate all transportation in the city under a 50-year plan, or more aptly, a set of alternate plans. It tries to identify future scenarios with respect to demographic, economic, environmental, and other factors, and develop viable transportation plans for each possibility. It is a collaborative project between SFMTA, the Planning Department, CTA, Economic and Workforce Development, and the Mayor’s office.

ConnectSF comprises three interacting “streams” of activity. Input from the public is derived from neighborhood meetings and townhalls. There are task forces of key decisionmakers and specialists who often come from opposing points of view, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Greenpeace; “people who would not normally be communicating with each other.” Lastly, there is the city staff “stream,” which is generally more of a technical resource. The meetings of the last two are not open to the public.

The type of scenario planning ConnectSF will implement has been utilized successfully by the Port of Vancouver. Participating organizations ranged from ones that wanted no development of the port, to ones that wanted lots of development of varying kinds. At some point it became generally recognized that if the port were not modernized to some degree, Vancouver would evolve into a “lifestyle city” for the upper class. A “growth and sustainability” model was agreed on.

Another way ConnectSF communicates with the public is through “pop-up” events, where they talk to people on the streets about what excites them and what needs improvement. They also sponsor “co-learning” events, where people get to experience electric bikes, etc..

The organization has already been doing public outreach of various sorts for several months, and will soon be summarizing their findings. In September they will be doing a detailed study of indicators as to where the local economy and development are heading. The end goal is to inform the Transportation Element and SFMTA planning.

SaveMuni will have two people participating in the task force.

F Line Extension


The F line currently runs along The Embarcadero and terminates at Fisherman’s Wharf. It is a very popular line, not only with tourists but also with San Franciscans headed for neighborhoods in the northeastern part of town.

For decades activists have proposed an extension of the F line to Fort Mason, using the abandoned rail tunnel that once served the Beltway Railway. But the MTA has never pushed the extension and neighbors living on Marina Blvd have lobbied against the idea fearing obstruction of views and other problems.

Now however thanks to the availability of federal funding from the National Park Service (NPS), the MTA has taken an interest in extending the F line. In mid May, the MTA applied for a $1.1 million Federal Lands Access Program grant to plan and engineer the extension to Fort Mason.

Save Muni supported that application with a letter to the Acting Director of the National Parks Service on June 10. The letter emphasized our willingness to work with the MTA and the NPS to extend the F line to better serve the transit needs of tourists and residents alike.

~ Bob Feinbaum

SaveMuni advises city to reject MTA budget

May 4 2018

Mayor Farrell and Supervisors,

Save Muni urges the Board of Supervisors to take the unprecedented step of rejecting the MTA’s 2019-2020 budget and returning it to the MTA for adjustment.

We believe that staffing and budget increases for this one department are not warranted given the limits placed on other city department…

MTAs proposed staff increase of 277 comes on top of continuous increases over the past decade resulting in an agency with over 6,000 employees making it the second largest city department. We believe that the agency needs an independent management audit to look at the effectiveness of its current structure before considering additional staffing..

MTAs recent performance has been at best mediocre. The Agency has a history of poor project decisions and even poorer project management.

Traffic congestion continues to worsen and Muni ridership has failed to increase even with substantial population growth and robust economic activity. The budget needs more focus on transit service and emphasis on better coordination of road projects to facilitate transit movement.

We believe that a number of specific issues with respect to the budget need to be addressed:
1) Lack of adequate time for the public to review the budget. The budget book was not available until very shortly before the MTA Board hearing, which made considered review impossible.
There was no meaningful narrative about the budget changes. Expenditures were not linked to specific programs and staffing levels.
The use of operating reserves to balance the current budget is unsustainable and flies in the face of intelligent fiscal planning. Instead we urge the MTA to reduce current costs and to identify new sources of revenue.

By returning the MTA budget to the Agency for revision, the Board of Supervisors will send a powerful message that MTAs current way of doing business needs to change.

Save Muni urges the Board to send that message.


Bob Feinbaum
Chair, Save Muni

Muni K & M Line Changes – Rebutting the MTA’s Plan


The SFMTA has been developing its plans for the K and M Lines for many months.  The SFMTA’s plan can be found on its website. Here is SaveMuni’s alternative plan for the K and M lines:

Between the West Portal and 15th Avenue, the K and M-Line tracks would remain on the surface but be slightly separated from other West Portal Avenue traffic by being placed in a 3 inch raised median.  South of 15th Avenue, the tracks would descend into subway and pass under the St. Francis Circle Intersection.

After passing under St. Francis Circle the K-Line tracks would ascend to the surface in the median of Junipero Serra to join the existing tracks.

After passing under St. Francis Circle the M-Line tracks would remain depressed under Ocean Avenue (with a depressed station at Ocean) and the northbound lanes of 19th Avenue to the median of 19th Avenue where they would ascend to the surface and join the existing tracks.  North of Holloway the tracks would descend into a depressed station at Holloway.  The new Holloway Station would be easily and safely pedestrian-accessible from both sides of 19th Avenue by wide and well-lighted depressed walkways.  Plenty of bicycle storage would be provided at all stations, including in particular the Holloway Station.

South of Holloway the M-Line tracks would remain in subway along today’s alignment.  After passing under the 19th/Junipero Serra intersection and Sargent Street the tracks would ascend to grade and join the existing tracks.  The M-Line terminal would remain at Balboa Park and efforts would be made to reduce the M-Line trip times between Holloway and Balboa Park.

Previous SFMTA plans to:

o  build a new subway along the west side of 19th Avenue,

o  locate a M-Line subway station and underground train storage yard in the eastern part of the privately-owned Parkmerced development and,

o  truncate M-Line at Park Merced

would be dropped.

It is estimated that SaveMuni’s plan would cut at least a billion dollars from the cost of the SFMTA’s plan.  Under SaveMuni’s plan residents in all parts of Parkmerced and S.F. State University students would be taken to and from the Holloway Station by inexpensive shuttle buses.   The cost of the shuttle bus service would be shared among the riders, Parkmerced and S.F. State University.

The SFMTA’s plan to run four-car trains to the end of the M-Line would also be dropped. Running four-car trains (at roughly $5 million a car) to the ends of lines when only one or two cars are needed would be a very poor use of tax dollars.

SaveMuni believes that the above-described changes would better and more cost-effectively serve southwest San Francisco, especially if better and more regular LRV surface operations allowed K, M and L trains to be efficiently joined into longer trains at West Portal.

Gerald Cauthen,
For SaveMuni

Transit First at Last


SaveMuni has often been critical of the SFMTA. However this time it has earned our thanks and commendation. But first a little history.

On March 19, 1973, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors adopted one of the country’s first “transit-first” policies. In those days idea of “transit-first” was virtually unheard of. However to harried Muni riders whose jammed buses continually crept along in congestion, it sounded like manna from heaven. Henceforth Muni’s bus loads of people were to be given a higher priority on crowded city streets, and the riders cheered.

But nothing happened. Decades went by with little change on the clogged roadways where it was most needed. (more…)

Paratransit Roundup


At SaveMuni’s May 16th meeting, SFMTA Paratransit Coordinator Jonathan Cheng briefed the group on San Francisco’s paratransit program and the services it provides.  The program operates for 365 days a year and is designed for people who do not have the ability to ride ordinary Muni buses.  It has 13,500 registered riders.  The SFMTA’s Paratransit program is comprised of “SF Access”, a “Shop Around” program and a taxi service.

1.)  “SF Access” takes ADA eligible riders to any destination within the Muni service area, but sometimes requires one or more transfers between vehicles. Riders must schedule their “SF Access” trips at least 24 hours in advance but can if they desire schedule their trip up to seven days in advance.  Approximately 87% of all “SF Access” trips are on-time. A trip is considered on time when the rider is picked up within the 20 minute window, which extends from 5 minute before and 15 minutes after the scheduled pick up time.

2.)  Group Shuttles:  There are also regularly scheduled group shuttles to certain designated facilities, which saves riders time and is often paid for by the facilities themselves. For instance a “Shop-A-Round” service takes elderly and disabled people to stores and helps them do their shopping.  The Shop-a-Round program is not federally mandated but is available to all (65+) seniors as well as to ADA eligible individuals with RTC cards

3.)  Taxi Service.  ADA eligible paratransit users are also provided with a limited amount of door-to-door taxi service every month.  Cab companies are not required to have handicapped-accessible vehicles, but do receive a $10 bonus per trip, and other incentives, for providing the service.  As with the other services, taxi drivers must be able to assist users in getting back and forth between the doors of their origins and destinations and the taxi.


SFMTA and the Super Bowl

sb50busAmidst numerous horror stories and predictions of doom for the two-week Super Bowl celebration,  SaveMuni engaged SFMTA spokespersons Kristin Smith and Ed Cobean to give us a little more insight on the planning for the event.

The first thing we learned was that the long-dreaded plan to take down Muni wires in the Financial District for the sake of putting up canopies had thankfully been discarded as infeasible. On the other hand, much of downtown will indeed be blocked off, with the F line completely shut down northeast of Beale, and replaced by buses to the southwest. This map shows the numerous Muni reroutes that will go into effect on January 23; the MTA site also has suggestions for how to get around. On the positive side, the number of trains in the tunnel will be increased, and many single-car trains will be replaced by two-car trains. Also, the nightly 9:30 and all weekend tunnel shutdowns will be discontinued during the event.