Nothing like hard data to bolster your point. Earlier I posted about the Mayor's outrage over the wait times at the Department of Parking and Traffic. Now we have more data on transporation of a different sort: buses.
SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research group, published a paper yesterday, "The Downward Spiral" urging MUNI to reform itself to avoid a potential $179 budget deficit in the year 2015. Yesterday, MUNI raised fares from $1.25 to $1.50 to close a $57 budget deficit.
Details about the paper were reported in the Examiner. But I'd just like to highlight a few points that I think are very important. There are specific weaknesses of our bus system that became more evident after riding the efficient New York subways for a couple of weeks:
- SPUR argues that closing budget holes by making service cuts -- such as the 7 percent cut to begin later this month -- will only make the system more undesireable to riders.
- Gas prices are rising, yet bus ridership is continually dropping: passengers per service hour dropped from 76 passengers per service hour in 1987 to 62 per hour in 2005.
- There will be serious increases in traffic congestion if MUNI does NOT boost ridership by 36 percent in the next decade.
- Improve the rider's experience through such technologies as:
- real-time information at transit stops
- improved signage and system maps
- more convenient places to buy monthly Fast Passes
- improve the speed of transportation via MUNI by cutting some stops and increasing limited stop and express services.
Express buses save time, make MUNI more attractive than cars: Some friends and I recently took Caltrain's bullet train from San Francisco to Palo Alto. The entire ride was 30 minutes, which is faster than driving. You want to get people out of their cars? Make it more attractive than driving. It can be done, Caltrain is doing it and adding more bullets later this year.
How long will I be waiting here - do I have time to go buy a soda, or is the bus just around the corner?: There are a few stops around town which display a digital ticker at the stop shelter; it lists how far away, in minutes, the next bus is "Bus #41 will arrive in 10 minutes." How many times have you been at a bus stop and wondered if you should grab a cab - because you were totally in the dark about how late you'd be if you waited for the bus? If MUNI invested in these tickers at more stop shelters, it would increase ridership and that would increase revenue.
Riders are in the dark without a map: The New York subways had very well designed, readable, usable maps. I asked a MUNI driver where I could get a map - exasperated, he answered by showing me his computer printout of that day's route changes: "sweatheart, the routes change every day. Let me know if you find a map, I'd like one myself."
Finding a place to buy a Fast Pass is a scavenger hunt: Why is MUNI trying to keep this hidden? Last night I stopped at a Walgreens on Van Ness and Turk to purchase a monthly Fast Pass. No Fast Passes for sale at that Walgreens. The cashier suggested I try the Walgreens at Fourth and Market. Earlier I asked a MUNI worker at the toll gates of one of the underground stations, no fast passes there. I've asked several bus drivers where to buy a Pass, the response was a shoulder shrug. In the mid 1990s, I used to buy Fast Passes at Safeway.
The hard data says ridership is dropping - and MUNI is closing revenue shortfalls by cutting service. There will always be cars in the city - but why not get more people on the bus to unclog traffic in the streets, to bring more outsiders in the city? Why NOT make it easier to get across town to spend money, to fill the coffers in the local economy?
I'd really like to see this report get some attention, prefereably from the city's leader.