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Posted 12:48 pm
November 28, 2012
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Muni to launch new line for 5-Fulton during spring

After a long day of school, business major Justin Helzberg wants to get home so he can kick off his shoes, doze off for an hour and catch up on homework.

However, waiting for the 5-Fulton means it’s going to be a rough ride home.

“I get on towards the end of the line,”  Helzberg, 18, said. “How is it still full?”

Starting in the spring, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency will launch a pilot rapid line for the 5-Fulton to add more buses along the corridor and connect passengers from downtown to the Richmond District and Ocean Beach faster than ever before. The idea was introduced in 2008 by the SFMTA and Supervisor Eric Mar, who represents the Richmond District, in order to combat overcrowding.

“Supervisor Mar and Muni agree that the current service isn’t enough,” Peter Lauterborn, spokesman for Mar, said. “The current configuration of the 5-Fulton can not handle current ridership.”

The 5-Fulton carries 19,000 passengers each weekday and is listed as one of Muni’s busiest transit lines. Overcrowding is a common issue on the line and drivers might avoid picking up additional passengers, especially during the evening commute.

“By the time most buses hit 6th Avenue, they are at capacity,” Lauterborn said. “In the Western Addition, passengers can be passed one, two or even three times before a bus with room comes by. This is a massive problem.”

Hetzberg moved to the Richmond neighborhood from Daly City this semester and enjoys the area, but is not too keen of the unpredictable bus rides. He said his commute could range from 25 minutes to an hour, depending on the time of day.

“It’s a great area. The bus system needs to get better,” Helzberg said.

This past summer, the Transit Effectiveness Project, a committee led by the Controller’s Office and SFMTA, approved the line after a series of community meetings. Mar suggested the 5L line operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays or throughout the entire day.

“By only stopping at major transfer points, Richmond riders can enjoy faster service,” Lauterborn said.

Paul Rose, spokesman for SFMTA, said the line is already being tested to observe improvements and may consider keeping it permanent in the future.

“Most of our passengers would like to see faster and more reliable service,” Rose said. “We are working now to ensure we move forward on a way that works for the communities and stakeholders where any of the projects would impact.”

Limited lines are already offered on several of the busiest Muni buses such as the 9-San Bruno, 14-Mission and 38-Geary, which run throughout the day. Mar is also requesting to add 60-feet buses, which cost $600,000 each, along the route to accommodate more riders. Mar is seeking funding for additional buses from a development project or federal resources.

According to Lauterborn, since the limited buses run faster than its local line, SFMTA would save costs because the buses could carry more people and stop fewer times.

“And if this attracts new customers, some costs will be offset by more fares,” Lauterborn said.

By 2018 SFMTA projects to make transportation in San Francisco more reliable, convenient and as fast as possible, Rose said.

The Environmental Impact Review, a program under the city’s planning department, which inspects environmental effects to any proposed projects, will finalize the route changes. Rose said the organization has not yet determined the duration of the pilot.

Riders can voice their opinions at the planning commission every Thursday at noon in City Hall or on Twitter @Munirapid.