Muni addresses switchback strife 

Muni drivers are increasingly dumping riders off at stops before their destination as a way to cope with train delays and traffic jams.

In response to supervisors’ concerns, Muni has issued a report that details how often its light-rail vehicles turn around before reaching their terminus, a manuever called a short turn or switchback.

Short turns happen when Muni operators force riders to get off at a stop before reaching the end of the line. Operators then turn the train around in effort to make up time when there are delays, according to the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency, which operates Muni.

Switchbacks have increased on three lines in The City: the N-Judah, the L-Taraval and the M-Oceanview.

In 2009, the N-Judah line tallied 226 short turns. That number increased to 378 in 2010. Likewise, 177 trains have been turned around midroute on the L-Taraval line this year, an increase from 97 times last year, according to the MTA.

The MTA also reports that since last year, the M-Oceanview had 134 trains turn around before reaching the

Muni officials attribute the setbacks to mechanical breakdowns, traffic congestion and subway delays as well as recent construction work on St. Francis Circle where the M-line travels.

Still, it is a frustrating experience for riders who are dropped off somewhere other than their destination.

“I’ve been dumped off buses,” said Gordon Robertson, a native San Franciscan who rides Muni every day. “It’s terrible.”

Supervisor John Avalos, who represents areas through which the M line runs, said in the wealthier and denser parts of San Francisco, switchbacks are rare.

“What I have heard from riders is the N-Judah, which needs to go to Ocean Beach, turns around somewhere between the Inner Sunset and Ocean Beach, so if you are in the far edges of the Sunset, you are [out of luck],” Avalos said. “The question is, if you live in the exterior parts of town, then do you get less Muni service? The experience of others in my district is yes, you do.”

Muni officials say switchbacks are the least chaotic option when trying to regulate schedules that get thrown off by delays.

The agency is working to minimize impacts to riders, including policy changes that say a train cannot be turned around midroute unless another train is five minutes away to pick up those riders who get stranded.

“We will make sure that we have operator announcements to advise of upcoming switchbacks so there are no surprises when something like this happens,” said Paul Rose, spokesman for the MTA.



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