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J-Church to return to subway in early 2022 with next round of Muni service restoration

After hours of public comment and discussion, transit officials Tuesday night approved another round of Muni service restoration and a plan to bring back the J-Church into the subway.

At odds between transit staff and Muni passengers was not which Muni lines to restore, but whether the J rail line should return to its pre-pandemic route.

The J currently runs between Balboa Park to Church Street and Duboce Avenue at street level. Before the pandemic, the J would enter the Duboce portal with the N-Judah, and make stops between Van Ness and Embarcadero stations in the subway.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors decided to allow the J to return to its pre-pandemic route as part of the next restoration of Muni service routes. Only two routes will remain suspended, the 3-Jackson and 47-Van Ness under the plan. The next round of Muni service restoration will bring service back to around 85 percent of pre-pandemic service.

In the approved plan, the 2-Clement, 6-Haight/Parnassus 10-Townsend and 28R-19th Avenue will return to service. Some of the lines will have route modifications. Additionally, the 43-Masonic, which is currently running a shortened route, will return to its full route.

Other Muni routes will see an increase in frequency, including the 5-Fulton, 29 Sunset, 30-Stockton, 38R-Geary and 49-Van Ness/Mission.

Julie Kirschbaum, the agency’s director of transit, said the next service restoration will take place in two phases — in early March and then June. Transit officials anticipated restoring service sooner in February, but were left with fewer operators than anticipated due to The City’s vaccination mandate.

Forty-one transit operators are currently in the “separation process ” because of the vaccine requirement by The City, Kirschbaum said at the director’s meeting Tuesday. There were also smaller operating training classes in recent months, but expects classes in January to have 35 to 40 people.

The discussion of the J brought out the most comments from the public who overwhelmingly demanded the rail line to be brought back serving the subway. Many said the transfer for J riders to continue their subway ride was not doable for seniors and persons with disabilities.

Anastasia Yovanopoulos, a District 8 resident, said during public comment:

It’s unfair to discriminate against seniors and people with mobility issues by sticking us with inferior transit service.”

Kirschbaum presented three options to the board with staff recommending the third option to run the J in the subway during evenings, while running a daytime bus that runs every 30 minutes on the J route that would take passengers to downtown. The other two options included leaving the shortened J as is and bringing the J back to its pre-pandemic route, running every 15 minutes.

Kirschbaum and SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin tried to persuade directors that having the J in the subway had improved subway service and train traffic congestion.

In the staff report, it said subway delays were reduced by 75 percent and that the average subway travel times improved by seven minutes.

Kirschbaum said:

The subway is operating better than I’ve seen it in my tenure at SFMTA.”

Director Steve Heminger made an amendment to the service plan to not only restore the J, but for staff to come back to the board if issues do arise in the subway from putting the J back into the subway.

He also added that staff also continue to work on accessibility improvements around the Church and Market streets areas in case the agency decides to bring the J out of the subway again and for staff to study the possibility of using the historic streetcars on the J — a study that Director Manny Yekutiel suggested staff look into.

The board unanimously passed the amendment along with the rest of the upcoming Muni service restoration.

As for the future, Kirschbaum said the agency is eyeing the fall of 2022 for more possible Muni service restoration, but that will depend on hiring and the financial situation of the agency.

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