Riders of buses on Mission Street have arrived at their destinations quicker ever since the buses gained the power to control traffic signals two months ago. And now Muni aims to expand the program to other heavily traveled lines in The City.
The traffic signal priority system recently installed on the 14-Mission, 14L-Mission Limited and 49-Mission-Van Ness lines that has shaved minutes off the total route times is coming to the 8X-Bayshore Express and N-Judah lines by the fall, and could be extended to other buses on high-volume corridors if The City's transit agency can secure all the funding needed.
Activated on the Mission Street lines in late March, the GPS-like devices that keep traffic lights green as the buses approach are "going well," cutting four to five minutes, or 10 percent, off the travel route times from beginning to end, according to Jeff Flynn, service planning manager for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Riders on the 14-Mission, which sees about 41,000 people daily, are more likely to notice fewer stops at red lights than the shorter travel time, Flynn said.
To appreciate the system in action, stand at a traffic light and watch what happens after the pedestrian-crosswalk countdown ends, he said.
"It will count down to zero and the red hand will appear but the light will still stay green and you'll see a bus go through," Flynn said.
The system, which in some cases can also make red lights shorter for the bus, is being installed on the 8X-Bayshore and should be completed by the end of June. It has one of the highest riderships, carrying about 39,000 people per day.
"We wanted to roll it out so it could maximize the benefit to a large portion of our customers," Flynn said.
After completing work on the 8X-Bayshore, which together with the Mission Street lines cost $10 million, the SFMTA plans to get the system on board the N-Judah, which serves about 45,000 riders daily. That would cost $4 million.
A regular 14-Mission rider, Mario Tanev, spokesman for the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, said he's noticed a shorter travel time on the line and that the new system is long overdue on every high-volume Muni line.
However, Tanev observed the system works better at some intersections than others along Mission Street. While many bus stops are located immediately after a traffic light, some are stationed before the intersection and buses that load there might throw off the detectors, he said.
"Optimizing the stop location will help," Tanev said.
San Francisco resident Lili Huang, who rode the 8X-Bayshore from downtown to Broadway and Columbus Avenue on Monday and does so a few times a week, said the bus is "usually on time" and its travel duration "is good enough already."
The traffic signal priority system, she said, would be better "probably for the 30-Stockton because a lot of people get on that bus and it's really crowded all time."
The SFMTA hopes to give the 38-Geary and 38L-Geary Limited, which together carry about 55,000 passengers daily, signal priority before the Geary corridor gets bus rapid transit infrastructure implemented.
Money has been identified to fund the system on the Geary lines and other heavy-hitting lines like the 1-California and 5-Fulton. A hurdle is that the old state of the lights and signal boxes can present a problem.
"It's an aging infrastructure that we're replacing and upgrading and that can be constraining," Flynn said. "But from what we're experiencing so far, that isn't causing as many problems."