On any given weekday, scores of commuters in the Marina district can be seen shuffling into transit vehicles, waiting to be whisked downtown. Only now, many of those passengers are traveling on bright blue private shuttles -- part of the latest unregulated transportation system to compete with city services.
Expanding upon ridesharing companies such as Lyft and Sidecar, which use mobile phone applications to connect and pick up passengers, Leap Transit has launched a shuttle service that essentially mimics Muni’s 30X-Stockton Express bus line.
Passengers need a credit card, photo of themselves and an iPhone to sign up for the service, which costs $6 for a one-way trip on a shuttle bus equipped with air conditioning, Wi-Fi and ample seating, according to the company’s founder, Kyle Kirchhoff. Passengers show up at the designated Leap stops, flash their pass to an attendant and take a seat. Currently, the app is only supported on iPhones.
Kirchhoff said fares were designed to be more than Muni—given the amenities of the shuttles—but much less than a cab. The idea is to complement overtaxed Muni service, not compete with it, Kirchhoff said. Leap shuttles currently only operate during peak commute times.
“We’re here to pitch in and contribute what we can to help connect people and places,” said Kirchhoff. “Think of us as FedEx to the U.S. Postal Service.”
Kirchhoff said the company is fully licensed and insured, but the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages Muni, has issues with Leap, which it considers unregulated.
“We would have safety and accessibility concerns about any unregulated service,” said Muni spokesman Paul Rose. “However, we look forward to working with this group to learn more about their business.”
If Leap only operates in San Francisco they are exempt from regulations by the California Public Utilities Commission, according to spokesman Christopher Chow. The CPUC is responsible for oversight of other ridesharing companies.
Leap’s vehicles use many of Muni’s own bus stops, and although that is technically illegal, scores of private employee shuttles do the same thing. Rose said Muni has been working on a plan to reasonably accommodate those vehicles, noting that a new private shuttle zone was established on Van Ness Avenue.
Kirchhoff said the Leap app has been downloaded 1,100 times, and the company—which plans on expanding from its sole Marina-to-Financial-District line—has received hundreds of suggestions for additional routes.
The launch of the company coincides with a dismal report on the state of Muni that was released Tuesday. The study showed that commuters lost 86,000 hours a year because of delays, costing The City $50 million in annual economic activity.
Mario Tanev, a spokesman for the passenger advocacy group San Francisco Transit Riders Union, said the emergence of Leap is a clear sign of Muni’s failure.
“People are using this service even though it costs as much as a cable car, only travels at peak times and is essentially a duplicate of Muni service,” said Tanev, who pointed out that Muni has a $2 billion backlog in deferred maintenance. “It just shows the latent demand for transit and The City’s inability to meet that demand. Until city leaders step up and fund Muni in the manner it needs, this will continue to happen.”