From funding shortfalls to aging and inefficient facilities, Muni faces myriad entrenched issues. But the top priority now for the transit agency is dealing with its overcrowded vehicles.
Muni’s capacity problem — particularly its crowded buses — is creating a “vicious cycle” of transportation choices in which travelers eschew public transit in favor of private automobiles, which in turn creates more traffic congestion, according to Timothy Papandreou, deputy director of planning at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni.
“The No. 1 goal is increasing supply and capacity and managing demand,” Papandreou said during the board of directors’ annual workshop Tuesday.
With the number of housing units in The City projected to increase by 15 percent over the next 22 years, the capacity issue is only going to become more acute for Muni, which is considering several remedies.
Over the next five years, the agency plans on purchasing 700 new buses that will be more reliable and capable of carrying larger passenger loads, according to John Haley, director of transit at Muni. Over the next 20 years, Muni plans to increase the size of its total transit fleet — including light-rail vehicles, cable cars and historic streetcars — by 20 percent to meet the demand.
In addition, there is talk of enhancing the NextMuni smartphone application — which provides real-time transit schedules — to include information about which scheduled buses may be overcrowded. That type of tool is likely a few years away.
Papandreou said the transit agency is also working hard on promoting bicycling and walking as alternatives to short transit trips. Car-sharing systems, which are more efficient than private automobiles, could be moved into residential neighborhoods as another way to change travel patterns, said Jay Primus, who manages the agency’s parking policies.
While the agency’s goals are all lofty, the major barrier, as always, is funding. Over the next five years, the agency is facing a shortfall of $1.7 billion for bike, pedestrian, traffic and transit improvements. Simply keeping its network in a state of good repair — not accounting for the capacity improvements — requires $260 million a year that the agency lacks.
Despite the funding issues, there are reasons for optimism, according to Ed Reiskin, head of the transit agency.
Mayor Ed Lee announced he will convene a panel of experts to discuss possible revenue solutions for Muni’s long-term needs. Reiskin noted that a similar task force proved effective in overhauling San Francisco’s beleaguered public pension system.
But without prompt suggestions from the yet-to-be-named panel, Muni passengers are going to continue to experience uncomfortable rides.
Malcolm Heinicke, a member of the agency’s board of directors, said capacity problems have surpassed reliability issues as the top concern among the riders who have contacted him.
“We have to face it,” Heinicke said. “We’re not ready now for more passengers.”