How not to launch a new rail line 

Muni service has been inadequate for so long that it seems almost cruel to keep piling on the system for its failings. But this week’s problem-plagued premiere of the $613 million T-Third line quickly escalated into one of The City’s most embarrassing malfunctions in recent years.

The T-Third’s troubles began along Third Street, where breakdowns and constant delays virtually marooned some 30,000 long-suffering southeast San Francisco daily riders after the heavily used 15-Third bus line was eliminated and other buses rerouted.

By midweek, the ripple effect of Third Street slowdowns was spreading shockwaves throughout The City, stranding commuters for as long as an hour. Frustrated crowds packed the platforms at Church and Duboce streets, Fourth and King streets, the Embarcadero station turnaround and the entire Market Street tunnel.

The worst bottlenecks occurred wherever the T-Third merged onto the same tracks traveled by the J-Church, N-Judah and K-Ingleside lines during morning and evening rush hours. A T-Third delay as short as three minutes could throw off the entire system, Muni chief Nathaniel Ford said.

The T-Third line runs 5.1 miles from Castro and Market streets to Bayshore Boulevard and Sunnydale Avenue. It took five years to build and went $30 million over budget. The route was intended to dramatically improve downtown connections from some of San Francisco’s most underserved neighborhoods, such as Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley.

The T-Third began weekend operations in January, which was supposed to provide enough time to work out the kinks. But since going full time and starting to carry weekday commuters Monday, it has been plagued by ever-worsening delays.

It is hard to understand why a comparatively simple light-rail line cannot be debuted in the year 2007 without suffering massive glitches. We cannot remember BART having a week of ever-spreading delays when it opened extensions to the airport and in the East Bay.

Until Muni really solves the bugs, it should bring back the 15-Third buses as a rush-hour backup, so beleaguered Bayview-Hunters Point commuters can have better odds of getting to work on time. Or at least have the buses on standby, ready to keep open the Third Street commute when trains fail. That much should be doable because additional supervisors are being deployed to Muni hot spots to handle problems immediately.

An embarrassingly practical long-term solution for many transit woes has been advocated by The Examiner for several years: Allow the return of sensibly regulated private jitneys to supplement crowded routes, instead of reflexively thinking only about constructing costly new transportation projects. This free-market solution created jobs and provided effective service along the Mission-downtown corridor for years, until halted by special interest lobbying.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is supposed to headline the T-Third grand opening ceremonies today. Let’s just hope her train arrives on time.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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