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The lack of late-night public transportation in San Francisco has been a challenge for many people working outside 9-5 hours. The spotlight on the issue has only intensified as more businesses reopen and stay open later into the night. 

Amanda Eaken, a member of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors, recently found herself stranded because the 5-Fulton had stopped running at 10 p.m. and the Owl service for the 5 was temporarily suspended.

She said:

“I was stuck in this situation of having to figure out how to get home, which was kind of funny. I ended up taking a bike there.”

She said there were no taxis available through the Fly Wheel app and that Uber and Lyft rides were too expensive. Eventually, Eaken turned to two-wheel transportation at a bike share station.

The SFMTA is currently running 10 Owl service routes from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. with buses running every 30 minutes. The 5, 48-Quintara/24th Street and K-Ingleside are not among the 10 current Owl service routes.

After SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin presented his report to the board during Tuesday’s meeting, a number of people called in to comment on the lack and infrequency of late-night service.

One caller, Christian Rodriguez, said cutting off regular Muni service at 10 p.m. is “untenable,” especially as The City recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic and more businesses and entertainment venues are allowed to reopen.

Rodriguez complained about the length of time it took him to get home from the Sunset to Lakeshore neighborhood at 11 p.m. due to a lack of available buses.

Chris Arvin said the agency is “failing” late-night workers, with many spending more than an hour to get home.

Though she acknowledged the problem, SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum said extending Owl service would be a “big strain” on agency resources. The SFMTA is already struggling to meet maintenance and other “critical” staffing needs.

She said:

“I would need some guidance from the board about other places that you would recommend us ratcheting back in order to deliver that.”

However, Kirschbaum said the agency plans to fully reinstate Owl service on the 5 and 48 as part of another Muni service restoration phase scheduled for early August.

Tuesday’s meeting did bring some good news on the Muni capacity front. Tumlin said the Department of Public Health has approved the lifting of Muni capacity restrictions as of June 15.

Full Muni capacity will result in fewer people being passed at transit stops and enable the agency to spread bus service to other lower frequency routes, Tumlin said.

The agency expects to have 85 percent of service restored by the beginning of next year.

Kirschbaum told city supervisors at the last San Francisco County Transportation Authority meeting that staff plans to meet in January to explore whether it’s feasible to restore additional parallel bus service.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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