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Supes hear earful over allowing private transit into ‘red carpet’ lanes

Residents and merchants have mixed feelings towards red-painted, transit-only lanes in San Francisco, though most agreed at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee hearing that private transit vehicles do not belong in them.

A hearing was held Monday at the Land Use and Transportation Committee by supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer and Hillary Ronen to see how private transit vehicles driving in transit-only lanes — sometimes called red carpet lanes — affect Muni reliability.

Private transit vehicles are able to use red lanes under the California vehicle code unless specified as “Muni Only,” said Sean Kennedy, deputy director of Muni in charge of planning and scheduling.

Kennedy said the transit agency does review complaints logged into the transit agency’s central control, and staff visit transit divisions each month to speak with operators:

“We’ve been reviewing central control logs to see where the sticky points are and see where some of recurring issues are.”

He added that most problems reported with commuter shuttles is that they stop at locations not designated for pick-ups and drop-offs as part of the transit agency’s commuter shuttle permit program:

“There are a lot of places where commuter shuttles stop illegally or stop where they’re not supposed to. That impacts us travel time-wise and reliability-wise.”

About 1,000 vehicles have been issued permits under the SFMTA’s commuter shuttle program, and about 400 of them are on city streets on any given day, said Alex Jonlin, a transportation analyst with the SFMTA.

Chariot has about 100 vehicles operating in The City, with some of those vehicles with part of the SFMTA’s private transit permit program.

Fewer wanted to see data on how the private shuttle vehicles are affecting Muni reliability. But there was none, which concerned her, especially with the upcoming Geary bus rapid project, which will have transit-only lanes:

“It is estimated it will cut down 10 minutes of transit time once the Geary BRT is in place from the beach to downtown. My concern is if you have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds… I mean, it’s probably hundreds more than what you gave me, and there all in competition during the peak times Muni is operating peak time hours, how might that hinder that delivery time?”

There might be some light at the end of tunnel on changing the definition of a transit bus. The SFMTA is in the process of working with The City Attorney’s Office in possibly changing the language, said Kennedy.

A number of a community groups, including the Chinatown TRIP, Chinatown Community Development Center, United to Save the Mission, and the Mission Merchant Associations, and Senior Disability Action all spoke against allowing private shuttles from using the red transit-only lanes.

Ericka Martynovych, who works with the South of Market Action Network, said the red bus lanes should be for Muni buses and not for private transit vehicles:

“Allowing private corporate transportation in these lanes only benefits the privilege few while causing everyone else to struggle more.”

Winston Parsons, speaking on behalf of the Richmond Senior Center, said most seniors at the center rely on Muni and paratransit to get around The City, and the center opposes allowing private transit vehicles using the transit-only lanes:

“Give how little some private providers are paying for permits or to use Muni stops, especially relative with to their financial capacity. It feels unfair they get special treatment and potentially slow transit.”

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