Feb 152016

Mass transit in the Bay Area is run by extremely local jurisdictions and only barely coordinated with the mass transit systems of any other local jurisdiction anyone might like to travel to. Which, as they say, is no way to run a railroad… Or a bus and ferry system, as is the case of Golden Gate Transit, which operates both the Golden Gate Bridge and mass transit in Marin County (the land to the north that the Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco to).

Since that’s where I live I have a vested interest in seeing that it is as usable a mass transit system as possible. While I do own a car, I don’t want to have to drive it, especially not to the city if I have cheaper and more environmentally friendly options, like mass transit, available.

Unfortunately, while the mass transit offerings are essentially tolerable for commuting in and out of the city from where I live during basic commute hours, they aren’t great for less routine schedules that might require commuting earlier or, especially, later. If I want to stay in the city after 6:30pm, my transit options rapidly dry up, and they are extremely shriveled if I want to stay after 8:00pm.

Happily the Golden Gate Transit District is considering expanding service, at least somewhat, so I submitted a comment largely in support of the proposed changes. I’m increasingly recognizing how important it is for public agencies to have input from the public — they are hungry for it — to underpin their actions, and how much you can affect public administration in ways you care about by submitting it.

And having taken the trouble to do that, I thought I’d also share what I submitted on my blog, because surely that’s what blogs are for…

I note in posting it that I did slightly misstate the options for evening commuting: there is a 7:30ish and 8pm-ish #4 bus that runs locally through Sausalito, but there is still a gap between 6:30 and 7:30 and then too long to wait after 8. I also did not really focus on options connecting Sausalito to the north. To be honest, it’s not a direction I tend to look to travel via mass transit, in part because I have a car and in part because I tend to regard options as tedious and inefficient. But I do note that there are quite a few service workers in Sausalito who need to take transit to the more affordable neighborhoods in the north where they live, and these trips should be expeditious for them as well.

The comment begins below:

As a resident of northern Sausalito, I commend the District for looking to add service generally, and to southern Marin specifically.  Although service has overall improved in recent years, it is still not possible to forego the use of a car for transit to San Francisco outside commute hours, which themselves are too limited to serve enough of the commuting population.

The proposed changes should improve the situation somewhat, although the degree they may improve it will depend on the following:

  • Frequency. A wait of more than a half hour, and, ideally, no more than 20 minutes, for service prevents mass transit from being a viable option to replace a commute by car.  This rule of thumb is particularly true after dark, when long waits would be required in deserted neighborhoods.
  • Hours of operation. Related to frequency, mass transit should be available throughout the day.  Commuters should be able to remain in the city after commute hours, and those commute hours should be expansive enough to enable people with both early and late schedules to use mass transit.
  • Service coverage. Within San Francisco the Financial District, at minimum, needs to be covered adequately.  Such coverage should range from Embaradero to Civic Center, and ideally also be accessible from neighborhoods north and south of the Market Street artery.  Ideally other neighborhoods should also be linked, including the Van Ness corridor and Fisherman’s Wharf region.  (The proposal also considers covering western San Francisco, which would be welcome, but if it cannot be done with frequent enough service, or if that service comes at the expense of sufficient service to the Financial District, then it should not be a priority because at least MUNI can be met at the Bridge to reach these places.)  Within southern Marin, a consistent set of local stops should be served, including along the Bridgeway corridor, with equally regular service.

At the moment mass transit from Sausalito suffers from the following deficiencies:

  • Morning service through Sausalito has reasonable frequency until approximately the #2 bus that provides connection with the 8:20 am ferry.  After that there is an hour gap until the 9am #2 bus (and #10 just before), and then no subsequent service except for the hourly #10 bus.  Meanwhile the #10 buses that pass through town during the morning hours are scheduled to arrive very close to the #2 buses, rather than fill the gaps the #2 doesn’t serve.
  • Although there are several ferry choices for the afternoon commute, it is not possible to commute by ferry to San Francisco any later in the morning than 8:20am. It is also not possible to return by ferry after 7:55pm, whereas the Larkspur service runs considerably later.  It is also not possible for San Franciscans to take the ferry to Sausalito for the evening, what with the last departing Sausalito at 7:20pm.
  • Ferry service is insufficient and poorly timed given the tourist loads. It frequently runs late and is so over-subscribed that, particularly on weekends, it ceases to be a transportation option for non-tourists, particularly those transporting bikes.
  • There does not appear to be any northbound bus service timed to the arrival of the ferries from San Francisco, which discourages commuter use of the ferry.
  • There is no bus service running more frequently than hourly from San Francisco through Sausalito after approximately 6:30pm. This lack of service precludes remaining in the city into the evening without a car.
  • There is no bus service running more frequently than hourly to or from San Francisco through Sausalito on the weekends, which makes visiting the city via mass transit difficult and similarly makes it difficult to be visited by San Franciscan friends who lack cars.

In addition, there is a significant learning curve for a prospective mass transit user to figure out which line to take from where, depending on when they wish to travel.  As a practical matter a user won’t necessarily care whether they are taking the #2 or #10 or some other line.  But they will want routes to behave consistently throughout the day.

Specific comment on the proposed changes:

  • Replacing #10 with #30. This change appears to be a net positive:
    • It offers the advantage of a consistent set of stops, which the #10 route currently lacks.
    • The introduction of the connection to San Rafael is a good one, although attention will need to be paid to the southbound timing in the event of unexpected traffic.
    • Incorporating the nighttime service currently offered by the #70 both saves northern Marin and Sonoma commuters from San Francisco from the delay of traveling through Sausalito at night and also alleviates some congestion for southern Marin commuters leaving San Francisco. However, service for northern commuters from San Francisco and from Sausalito will need to be replaced by other routes.
    • Hourly service, however, particularly at night and on weekends, is still inadequate. Frequency needs to be no more delayed than every 30 minutes to incentivize ridership.
    • Signs on buses should designate that they are “San Rafael via Sausalito” to prevent being delayed by north Marin and Sonoma passengers hailing them.
  • Re-routing #70 to cover the 101 corridor only. Service is proposed to be hourly only.  This is acceptable only if other routes providing similar service run on the half-hour.
  • Weekend #2 service. This is a positive proposal.  However, frequency remains an issueIf it is to run hourly, it should be run on the half hour opposite the #30 service.  Both lines should also run throughout the day and into the evening,
  • Weekend #19 service. The addition of this service is good, although its success will also depend on its hours and frequency in both directions.  It should not be limited to the weekend.

Additional comments

  • The board should also consider linking Route #2 and #30 routes to Manzanita in order to connect it to the more frequent #4 service and Airporter stop.
  • Local service through Sausalito, by whatever route is running then, should be timed to the ferry.
  • Additional ferry service should be added in the mornings, later evenings, and on weekends.

Submitted by Cathy Gellis, February 15, 2016.

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