Trains will stop twice before exiting station in new Muni process 

click to enlarge Instead of two trains completing the boarding and offboarding process and moving to the next station, the back train will just move up and allow more boardings. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Instead of two trains completing the boarding and offboarding process and moving to the next station, the back train will just move up and allow more boardings.
It’s a frustrating experience many longtime Muni riders know all too well: Two trains are parked in a station, with the train in back waiting for the train in front to finish loading passengers before it can even open its doors.

Passengers in the back train are trapped, frustrated, knowing they could simply walk off the train and be on their way.

An upcoming change to that situation should come as a relief to riders, even though it will not help with one of Muni’s top problems: on-time performance.

In April, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, obtained approval from the state to open the doors on the back train when there are two trains in a station. It is supposed to begin the practice, called double berthing, later this month.

Double berthing will be allowed at the Civic Center, Powell Street and Montgomery Street stations. But after The San Francisco Examiner first reported the change in early April, a question lingered.

Why won’t this process speed up trains?

The SFMTA estimated in a 2013 report on light-rail vehicles that double berthing would not produce any savings in travel time for Muni trains. Much of this may have to do with how double berthing operates, SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said.

While double berthing, the trains actually stop twice. The trains will be in two positions: back and front. The back train allows passengers to disembark, as the front train allows passengers to board. The front train chugs away from the station, and the back train moves into the front position to board passengers.

Public documents, however, point to an older double-berthing practice transit activists say could speed up travel time.

At the SFMTA’s Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Committee in late 2013, Transit Director John Haley presented the plan to committee members.

It sounded somewhat different from the plan that exists now.

Double berthing “will allow two trains to load and unload simultaneously at some of our stations; most likely at Civic Center and Powell,” the meeting minutes state. “[Committee member Ronald Wong] wanted to clarify that there will be two separate trains boarding at the same time. This was confirmed.”

Haley said the plan was always to have the trains stop twice, and other SFMTA staff said it’s possible the meeting minutes were the result of a misunderstanding. This alleged misunderstanding of the program’s purpose spread to other riders.

Emails provided by San Francisco transit activist Andy Bosselman show a transition in terminology used by officials to describe the practice. For years, the SFMTA referred to the practice as double berthing, however, Haley referred to it as “double stopping” in an email to Bosselman in March.

Bosselman replied: “I also just noticed that the second train will stop and open its doors twice. I’m very frustrated to learn this.” He added that “having the train stop twice erases the time saving benefit of having both trains load and unload at the same time. It makes the whole thing seem pointless.”

Haley verified the emails, but explained the point of the program was never to save train time necessarily. Rather, it was to save riders from frustration.

Thea Selby, chair of the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, echoed that sentiment.

“We supported it recognizing it will not save any time at all,” she said. Selby justified that support by saying, “You know how when you’re stuck there and waiting for that damn [second train] to go so you can get out of your train? That will be better. You will no longer be hostage to that train in front of you.”

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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