Muni riders Saturday celebrated the return of several bus routes that had been suspended for more than two years due to the pandemic.
Up and ready to roll before sunrise, transit enthusiast and advocate Hayden Miller was the first to board the restored 6-Haight/Parnassus. Later in the afternoon, dozens of riders pooled around the transit stop at Hayes and Steiner streets near Alamo Square with District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials to welcome back the 21-Hayes.
The 21 is one of the last few Muni routes to make its grand service return after years of pandemic-driven hiatus.
Other lines, including the 6, either resumed for the first time since April 2020 or were restored to pre-pandemic routes, as SFBay previously reported. The 21 is currently running a shorter, modified route.
The emergence of Covid-19 caused major transit service disruptions. It was unknown what Muni service would look like a year ago, or even months ago when the agency faced a Covid-19 case surge among transit staff, including operators. An operator shortage persists despite federal funding used to keep the agency above water and aid recovery, though operator training classes have resumed.
Preston said he didn’t expect he’d be fighting for the return of decimated Muni bus lines when he was elected two years ago. Of those on the Board of Supervisors, he became the most vocal critic of the SFMTA and its delay in resuming Muni service.
He commended transit advocates and riders who fought to get their Muni lines back, adding:
“All the transit riders, groups really stood together. It’s not just about serving our neighborhood. It’s not just about serving our community. This is a network. This is a defining thing in a city is what your public transit system looks like and how it functions and operates.”
Stressing the importance of public transit in The City’s pandemic recovery, Preston said:
“There is no economic recovery, there is no climate recovery and there sure as hell is no equitable recovery in this city without a full transit recovery.”
However, not all Muni riders were excited about service changes that rolled out Saturday. The L-Taraval bus now only stops between the zoo and West Portal station, drawing complaints from riders and District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar.
In a post on his Facebook page, Mar posted a letter he sent to the SFMTA’s Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin and Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum, outlining his concerns over the L route change.
Mar’s letter read in part:
“This is an inequitable plan for the many senior and disabled L-Taraval riders who will have to transfer to make an ordinary downtown trip on one of the City’s highest ridership lines.”
He went on to claim the SFMTA violated a section of the city charter requiring the agency to provide notice and hold public hearings when there are significant Muni service changes. Mar said there was no public process, hearing or vote by the SFMTA Board of Directors prior to cutting the L’s service in half.
Directors initially approved the spring and summer 2022 Muni service changes last December, but there was no mention of cutting service on the L. The route is currently relying on bus alternatives amid L-Taraval Improvement Project construction. The scope of work, now in its final phase, includes new transit island builds and underground utility upgrades expected to continue over the next two years.
In response to Mar, Tumlin said in a letter that the service change did not need SFMTA board approval since bus substitution was considered temporary and had been baked into Taraval construction some time before Covid-19 shutdowns. Extending the L to downtown was part of an SFMTA emergency response when subway service was shuttered a month after the pandemic began.
Tumlin said that by shortening the L, the agency was able to shift resources to other routes — buses were added to the 29-Sunset and weekday L route frequency was increased from 10- to eight-minute intervals.
Additionally, Tumlin said the agency reached out to several neighborhood groups concerning Muni service changes and ran ads in local newspapers and on English and Chinese-language media stations.
The SFMTA anticipates Taraval Street project completion in the summer of 2024.
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. He covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent over a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a native in the city and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Email tips to [email protected]