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Westside Observer Newspaper
December 2015 at www.WestsideObserver.com
1.2 Million Shuttle Stops Will Soon Clog Roadways
SFMTA Makes Tech Buses Permanent
by Patrick Monette-Shaw
After publishing my November article describing problems with the trial of tech shuttle buses all over the City, including on the West Side, and noting problems may rapidly worsen if the program is made permanent, thats just what SFMTAs Board of Directors did when it approved a permanent program on November 17, after presenting them on November 16 a detailed Secondary Analysis highlighting deep flaws in SFMTAs October 5 Evaluation Report of the 18-month trial period.
Concerned citizens may want to make a point of reading the full Secondary Analysis on-line.
After MTAs Board received impassioned testimony from members of the public opposing making the Commuter Shuttle Program permanent, it did so anyway, including allowing the permanent program to expand from 124 shuttle zones to up to 200 shuttle zones.
Not one of MTAs Board of Directors bothered questioning in depth SFMTAs Shuttle Project Manager, Hank Willson, about data in the October 5 MTA Evaluation Report concerning problems with commuter shuttles interfering with red Muni bus zones. Worse, none of MTAs Board of Directors even thought to ask questions about the Planning Departments second EIR Exemption letter.
Of note, the 41% increase in shuttles the Planning Department anticipates may worsen incidents in Muni red zones, which MTAs Board didnt even discuss, let alone discuss in depth. Extrapolating data from MTAs October 5 Evaluation Report, things may rapidly worsen:
And not one of the SFMTAs Board of Directors bothered asking whether the Evaluation Report may have low-balled data in the Evaluation Report.
Thats because a public request to obtain data concerning the 1,200 citations issued against shuttle operators mentioned in the Evaluation Report revealed that 394 of the 1,200 citations issued fully 25% were for blocking Muni red bus zones. Had the enforcement efforts been scaled up and not restricted to just the 10-person shuttle enforcement team, many more citations against the shuttle operators may have been issued. How SFMTA calculated shuttles blocked Muni buses just 2.7% of the 2,978 daily shuttle stop-events, when 25% of 1,200 citations issued were for blocking Muni bus zones, wasnt explained and MTAs Board of Directors simply didnt ask.
Similarly, of the 1,200 citations issued to shuttle buses, 232 (19%) were issued to shuttles double-parking, and 201 of the citations (17%) were issued to shuttle buses blocking the Citys street cleaning equipment, two issues that clearly affect quality of life in San Francisco that werent even mentioned in the October 5 Evaluation Report.
None of MTAs Board members bothered asking about an apparently much larger problem with blocked Muni red zones.
The same public records request about the 1,200 shuttle bus citations revealed a much larger problem: Fully 6,629 citations were issued to all sorts of vehicle types blocking Muni zones, including limousines, trucks, convertibles, SUVs, two-door and four-door cars, etc. in the 11-month period between August 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, in addition to the tech shuttle buses.
Compelling Public Testimony During Hearing
One member of the public who testified on November 17 indicated he is a lawyer who uses the shuttle buses. He noted not only that his tech company employer is able to, but would be more than happy to, pay higher fees to help fund public transportation infrastructure. He testified Muni may have set ridiculously low per-stop-event fees because Proposition 216 requires that voters approve increases to property fees. But usage fees, he said, are a different issue, and San Francisco City Attorneys may have been overly cautious in interpreting fees property taxes vs. usage fees that the City is allowed to assess, and he urged MTAs Board to raise shuttle usage fees to help pay their fair share. Its a no-brainer that the per-stop-event fees should be significantly increased to fund additional shuttle detail enforcement staff!
One reader of my November article noted she has become increasingly vexed by tech shuttles in public bus stops at 19th and Wawona as she drives home northbound from her daughters preschool every day. Every shuttle bus shes encountered takes up part of the lane next to the stop, as well as the stop itself, causing frustrated drivers to make dangerous maneuvers swerving around shuttle buses and moving into oncoming middle traffic lanes. Shes not alone.
For her part, Amy Farah Weiss who just garnered 23,236 votes in her campaign for mayor against incumbent Ed Lee testified during the SFMTA hearing on November 17 about why a full EIR is needed before making the commuter shuttle program permanent, in particular how it may be adversely impacting San Franciscos housing crunch.
Ironically, although the SFMTA was required to accept the Board of Supervisors March 2015 Labor Harmony Resolution with tech shuttle operators in order to prevent tech bus drivers striking during labor disputes and picketing in, and blocking access to, Muni bus zones, it appears SFMTA sought no input from Munis own 2,706 Transit Operators represented by Transport Workers Union Local 250-A.
Ignoring the Elephant in Tthe Room: Transbay Terminal as Hub
Ignoring the elephant in the room, SFMTA has all but turned a blind eye towards considering making the commuter shuttle bus program use a hub approach, as most transportation planners have used since the mid-1800s.
Did SFMTA simply forget that the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) are building the $4.5 billion Transbay Transit Center a transportation hub?
San Franciscos Transbay Terminal is a transportation complex in San Francisco that opened in 1939 but was relocated on August 7, 2010 to build the Transbay Transit Center. Its function during the past 75 years was being a transportation hub.
During public testimony on November 17, at least five members of the public advocated that SFMTA use a central hub location for shuttle bus operators.
One member of the public reported that the idea of utilizing a hub was rejected outright, because the ever-entitled tech employees need a one-seat ride, without the bother of having to transfer from one transportation modality to another.
Another member of the public testified that having a central hub location where folks could bicycle to (or, God forbid, take a Muni bus to) a hub to catch a shuttle to work without having Google buses clogging San Francisco streets would be a step in the right direction, but the special-interest group of tech employees has been catered to by allowing shuttle buses to stop in Muni zones all over the City.
A third member of the public testified that calling the commuter buses shuttles glosses over that they are really [inter-city] bus companies, not [intra-city] shuttles, and suggested reframing and repositioning the issue as dealing with bus companies, not shuttle companies. They urged the SFMTA board to postpone a decision, obtain more information, and seriously study hub options before making the program permanent.
A fourth member of the public indicated he would like to see a full EIR study done with further consideration for a hub. A fifth member of the public expressed concern that allowing private companies to use public resources doesnt solve the problem, and private shuttle services could use parking lots on private property as a hub where people could go to and [transfer to] a commuter bus.
Thankfully, after hearing concerns from members of the public about options for utilizing a hub approach, one SFMTA Board member thoughtfully asked on November 17 about whether setting more aggressive goals and targets is something MTA could do, and what next steps might be taken in terms of a hub option, or offering hubs around the City, if SFMTAs Board of Directors approved making the program permanent that day.
For his part, Hank Willson, SFMTAs Commuter Shuttle Program manager responded, saying in part:
In other words, rather than creating one, or a few, central hubs, SFMTA simply turned the major and minor arterial streets of San Francisco all over the City into spokes that poke into the flow of Muni buses and cause greater traffic congestion and converted up to 200 restricted Muni red bus zones into commuter shuttle hubs scattered across the City.
This is nonsense, as transit planners have known since the mid-1800s. On September 20, 1853, the Indianapolis Union Station opened as the nations first hub for multiple railroad operators to share. Since then, 134 train stations had opened under the moniker of being a Union Station in 39 states, the most notable of them Union Station in Chicago. Another notable station is Grand Central Station in New York City. Transit planners in fully 39 states couldnt have missed understanding why hubs are important.
For its part, Wikpedia lists 96 Greyhound Bus stations/hubs/ terminals in 32 states alone. Indeed, one Greyhound Bus station was, and probably still is, located in San Franciscos Transbay Terminal. Then there are probably hundreds of other bus depots and bus terminals across the U.S. run by other regional bus carriers.
The Transbay Transit Center/Caltrain Downtown Extension (TTC/DTX) project was designed to transform downtown San Francisco and regional transportation well into the 21st Century. Transbay project goals include:
By opting for a hub-and-spoke system for the commuter shuttle buses, SFMTA appears to be undermining several of the Transbay Centers hub goals. Using the Transbay Transit Center as a hub for commuter shuttle buses would provide ready access to freeways to San Jose and the Peninsula, and wed remove the 45-foot-long buses from San Francisco roaming all over the City in a hunt to pick up these entitled special passengers.
Many of those Google bus passengers might opt to take Caltrain to the South Bay from the Transbay Center, instead of using a fleet of commercial buses, and it might help alleviate traffic congestion on Highways 101 and I-280 by taking those commercial buses off of our highways, in addition to alleviating hours of vehicle delays on mayor freeways, too!
Given the ready access to the Transbay Transit Center, SFMTAs project manager Hank Willson appears to be completely wrong.
MTA doesnt need to find parking lots or other street locations as places dozens or hundreds of commuter buses could converge at a time. Instead, the Transbay Center in the shadows of San Franciscos soon-to-be most phallic building, the 1,070-foot-high, 61-story Transbay Tower (eventually renamed Salesforce Tower) is a perfect, and obvious, location for a central hub for the commuter shuttle buses.
Its almost as if Mr. Willson, and SFMTAs Board of Directors, have complete amnesia that the Transbay Transit Center is currently under construction, bus operations will start in 2017, and is a perfect site for Google buses to become an anchor tenant at the Transbay Center.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle on December 3, 2015, these privileged tech workers had average compensation of $176,275 in San Francisco in 2014 (up 12.8% from 2013), and average compensation in 2014 of $240,663 in San Mateo County and $211,874 in Santa Clara County. They can well afford travelling to a hub at the Transbay Center to get to their jobs in the South Bay, like everyone else.
Worse, the Chronicle reported many tech employers pocketed $34 million in Twitter tax breaks in San Francisco during 2014.
On top of that, SFMTA is simply pandering to multibillion-dollar tech companies in giving them cheap access to the public right-of-way by converting up to 200 Muni red bus zones into miniature neighborhood hubs so these privileged tech employees can avoid the fuss of having to commute to the Transbay Center to get to their jobs in the Peninsula.
Muni Drivers Locked Out of Process
TWU Local 250-A president Eric Williams testified during the MTA Boards November 17 hearing, that the shuttle program was a done deal no matter what we say in here, bought and paid for [by the tech companies]. Williams testified that nobody from SFMTAs Shuttle Program had contacted my office as a stakeholder, and said the tech companies are subdued because they know everybody is watching, and the tech buses dont go in the zones because they are trying to get the permanent program passed. But once the program is made permanent, Williams warned, you will see buses lined up, apparently referring to Muni buses lined up waiting behind commuter tech shuttle buses, apparently all over the City.
An MTA Board member subsequently indicated concern hearing from the largest union, Local 250-A presenting Muni drivers, and hearing Mr. Williams testimony that he felt Muni drivers were not solicited on how the shuttle program may be working. The process suggests that soliciting feedback from Muni drivers may have been all but ignored.
The Board member questioned Munis Commuter Shuttle Project manager, Hank Willson, about whether Williams statement was correct and whether there is a plan to get feedback from Muni drivers.
Willson claimed that the Shuttle Project team did talk to drivers and that he had himself went out and talked to [drivers] on the 12 and 27 [bus lines] because they are impacted at Valencia and 25th and 24th and we had [staff] talk to [drivers] on the 47 and 49 [bus lines]. Munis managers on the Shuttle Project say they asked what the drivers experience with commuter shuttle was and how much commuter shuttles may get in the way of Muni drivers. But Willson provided no actual comments or feedback from Muni drivers, and provided no statistics from driver feedback.
Willson admitted that while Shuttle Program managers had apparently talked to a handful of drivers without stating the precise number of drivers who had been informally contacted the Shuttle Project didnt go through the Union structure but would be happy to go through that. But rather than wait for formal feedback from drivers represented by TWU 250-A, MTAs Board of Directors didnt wait, and approved making the shuttle program permanent.
In hindsight, its sad that Mr. Williams and TWU 250-A hadnt filed a grievance and may not have even asked for a meet-and-confer session to discuss the impact of the commuter shuttle buses on the working conditions of Muni drivers during the 18-month trial period, and apparently hadnt asked to have a seat at the table.
Its even sadder that as of June 30, 2015, Muni had 132 senior managers and deputy directors in the job classification code series 9172 to 9186 who were paid $17.2 million annually in FY 20142015, and apparently it didnt occur to any of the 132 managers or to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin to formally survey the Muni bus drivers during evaluation processes of the Commuter Shuttle Programs October 5 premature Evaluation Report.
SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin: Open Mouth, Insert Foot
Comically, two days after the SFMTA Board approved making the shuttle program permanent, the San Francisco Chronicle carried an article on January 19 reporting on the MTAs Central Subway project, in which MTAs director, Ed Reiskin, noted:
How can it be that Reiskin knows our surface-street roadways are at capacity, but is OK with allowing the commuter shuttle buses who appear not to obey sharing the roadway with Muni buses, pedestrians, and people with disabilities to gobble roadway capacity and flood the streets of San Francisco with Google buses?
Perhaps Reiskin hasnt read the billing data for commercial shuttle operators for October 2015, and hasnt understood the scope of the problem. In response to a records request placed by this author, SFMTA produced an Excel file on November 24 reporting shuttle operators made 70,356 stops during October 2015, apparently in Muni red zones and perhaps white zones. Extrapolating to an annual volume of capacity, that portends 844,272 shuttle stop events annually, simply by multiplying by 12 months.
When pressed for more robust billing data, SFMTA finally coughed up a PDF file (rather than data in Microsoft Excel) on Thanksgiving Eve, November 25. Re-keying of the data shows that between September 2014 and October 2015, shuttle stop-events appear to have increased by 21,134 monthly from 49,322 to 70,356 an increase of 42.65% since the program was implemented in August 2014, including an 11.23% increase between September 2015 and October 2015 alone. Neither Reiskin nor the SFMTA Board members discussed this on November 17 before making the program permanent.
While the October 5 Evaluation Report claimed a 30% increase in daily shuttle stop-events since August 2014, this new data suggests it increased nearly 43% during the 18-month trial period, contradicting the Evaluation Report!
If the program actually expands by 41% when it is made permanent in February 2016, does this suggest well get another 346,152 additional stop-events annually, pushing the total commuter shuttle bus stops to 1.19 million stops each year without a full EIR? Does Ed Reiskin and our full Board of Supervisors not understand this impact, or how to mitigate it?
Second EIR Appeal Is Right Around the Corner
Since MTAs Board approved making the program permanent without conducting a full EIR, many observers have concluded that the streets of San Francisco are going to become even more dangerous for moms and pre-schoolers, along with pedestrians, bicyclists, and passengers. After all, our streets, as Reiskin noted, arent going to get any wider, anytime soon.
The Wild West of San Franciscos misuse of Muni red zones is about to worsen, and well see more Muni passengers and people with disabilities disembarking in traffic lanes!
Thats because the problem with blocked Muni zones is about to worsen come February 2016, since the MTA Board also approved on November 17 allowing smaller shuttle bus operators who provide free intra-city rides to also use Muni red zones, apparently without having to pay any usage fee and without risking fines from citations.
How will Muni buses possibly be able to compete for access to Muni red zones with a glut of commuter and free shuttle buses hogging space? In effect, were just trading the Wild, Wild West of unregulated commercial shuttle buses prior to the pilot program stopping wherever they want, for a just-as-ugly Wild, Wild West of upwards of 1.2 million shuttle buses blocking Muni red zones!
Some observers remain leery about having additional shuttles operating in public Muni bus stops, and are leery about private enterprise having such cheap access to the public right-of-way.
The permanent commuter shuttle program claims it will curtail shuttles to only arterial streets, but other observers already worry that restricting them to large arterial streets will just concentrate the problem, especially as more and more shuttles get added to City streets. For instance, Apple plans to expand in North San Jose, adding up to 18,000 new employees, many of whom will probably want to, and will opt to, live in San Francisco and commute to San Jose.
And while on the one hand its good to restrict where the shuttles can go, on the other hand, its still illegal for them to pull into Muni bus stops, given that the States vehicle code preempts the City from allowing shuttles in red zones.
It is widely expected that the Coalition for Fair, Legal, and Environmental Transit will appeal the absence of a second EIR for making the commuter shuttle program permanent to the full Board of Supervisors, since the potential for unlimited expansion is the heart of the issue going forward.
And for all anyone knows, Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong may hopefully rule that a full EIR was required for the pilot program and should have been performed, and a permanent expansion definitely requires a full EIR.
An increase to 1.19 million commercial commuter shuttle buses stopping in Muni red zones, plus an additional as yet unknown number of smaller free shuttles the SFMTA Board approved using Muni red zones, must surely have quality of life, housing displacement, roadway wear-and-tear, and other environmental impacts that must be mitigated through an EIR.
Contact members of the Board of Supervisors and urge them to require a full EIR
Monette-Shaw is an open-government accountability advocate,
a patient advocate, and a member of Californias First Amendment
Coalition. He received a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists-Northern
California Chapter in 2012. He can be contacted at monette-shaw@westsideobserver.