Nick Rougley, a student housing coordinator at the Art Institute of San Francisco, commutes every day from the Fillmore to Civic Center. Sometimes he takes the 5-Fulton Muni bus for the mile-long trip. Sometimes he walks. The bus is so slow, said Rougley, “It’s really almost the same as walking.”
The 5-Fulton stops at nearly every block as it makes its way downtown. At one point there are two stops just 100 paces apart on a single block between Van Ness Avenue and Polk Street, in the shadow of City Hall.
The public transit system in San Francisco, which carries 700,000 riders a day, is among the slowest in the nation, according to data provided by major metropolitan transit agencies. Muni buses and trains average about eight miles an hour. On downtown streets, buses slow to five miles an hour. The AC Transit buses in the East Bay are relatively zippy at an average of 12 miles an hour.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials say one reason for the slowness is that buses and trains spend too much time stopping for passengers. Drivers spend more than 20 percent of their time stopped at the curb or in the stations.
There are 3,500 rail and bus stops in this 46.9-square-mile city, with some lines stopping at nearly every block — and in at least a dozen cases, twice on the same block. MTA officials concede that 69 percent of the stops are too close together even by the agency’s own standards, which recommend at least 800 feet between bus stops and 1,000 feet between rail stops.
Peter Straus, a retired director of service planning at the MTA, said many of the bus stops had been set by private companies that began running streetcars through San Francisco’s streets in the 1860s. “It’s historically where they have been,” Straus said. “The older the line is, the more likely it is to have more frequent stops.”
Doug Parrish, a former professional football player who runs a solar energy start-up and takes Muni to meetings, said the two-stop block was evidence Muni needed to rethink its policies.
“You’ll be coming down on the 5 and people will ring for both stops,” Parrish said as he waited for an outbound 5-Fulton bus. “It’s kind of ridiculous. I think people could probably walk that one block.”
In an attempt to speed travel times, the MTA is planning to reduce the number of stops on eight heavily trafficked routes. They include the 5-Fulton; the N-Judah and J-Church rail lines that crawl once they emerge from the downtown tunnel; the 30-Stockton bus line that inches through Chinatown; and the buses that creep along the crowded and bustling Mission Street. Sections of the 22, 28, 45, 8x and 9 bus lines will also be targeted.
Julie Kirschbaum, the service planning manager for the MTA, said a detailed plan would be released in February. Because planners had not decided which stops would be cut, she said, she could not estimate how much time might be saved. Past proposals to eliminate stops on such lines as the 14-Mission and the 30-Stockton projected shaving five or six minutes off the bus trip.