Supervisors expressed concern for small businesses and constituent mobility over the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s plan to return light rail service in 2022.
Some San Francisco supervisors were dissatisfied with the current plan to restore Muni service, which delays the return of K Ingleside, L Taraval and M Ocean View light rail lines until next year.
Acting as the San Francisco County Transportation Authority Board of Directors, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last month received an update from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials on the restoration of Muni bus and rail service. Bus and rail lines were sharply cut back last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
District 7 Supervisor Myrna Meglar said she was not happy with the delayed timeline for the K and M lines.
“In addition to moving workers from our district to downtown, the light rail line also moves people from other parts of the city to our district,” Melgar said. “I was hoping that the timing of the restoration would be more aligned with the reopening because we need it and we need it desperately.”
Melgar pointed to City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State University, institutions that many of her constituents rely on Muni to travel to each campus. SF State anticipates allowing students to return to the classrooms in the fall.
Aside from the educational institutions, Melgar said merchant corridors are hurting because of the limited Muni service, especially along Ocean Avenue.
Since the pandemic, the K and M have been replaced by bus service, which Melgar said the buses did not handle the same number of people. Bus capacity has been limited by the SFMTA so that passengers can socially distance from each other. Light rail vehicles have more capacity for riders to be physically distant.
Despite some bus lines serving the Ingleside neighborhood, the decision to delay the restart of the K will hurt businesses, Melgar said.
“This decision has hit like a ton of bricks,” she said. “I’m hearing it constantly.”
District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai agreed with Melgar that there is a difference between running light rail and buses in merchant corridors. Safai called for regular updates to the SFCTA board as the agency restored more Muni service.
SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum told supervisors that the agency plans to restore about 85% of scheduled Muni service hours by early next year. Currently, the agency is running about 70% of Muni service.
The agency has a number of restraints in bringing back more service quicker, including capacity limits onboard buses, according to Kirshbaum.
“Our capacity of each vehicle has been cut by approximately 70%. We’re only putting about 20 people in a bus right now,” Kirshbaum said.
Another issue is the lack of hiring and training rail operators. Over the last year, there have been no new significant hires or significant training classes during the pandemic, Kirschbaum said.
Transit officials also pointed to needing a continued funding source in order to maintain service. The SFMTA has received one-time federal stimulus funding from two different packages under the Trump administration while more one-time funds are on the way from the American Rescue Plan.
“Our budget is essentially balanced by 30 percent one-time funding sources so it is not a sustainable path for service and it exposes us to a significant amount of risk,” Kirschbaum said.
The SFMTA will provide the SFCTA board with quarterly updates on Muni service restoration.
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