24-hour BART tops late-night transit wishlist

A report released Monday studying how to improve late-night transportation options in San Francisco offers some short-term solutions but substantial improvements could be decades away.

While steps have already been taken to improve late-night San Francisco Municipal Railway service and Alameda-Contra Costa Transit transbay bus service, a study by the Late Night Transportation Working Group found that the biggest impediment to late-night travelers was the lack of overnight BART service.

BART service, however, must shut down overnight for necessary maintenance work. The working group in its report recommended further study of the challenges to overnight BART service, but recognized that ultimately a second Transbay Tube may be necessary to ever have truly overnight transbay rail service.

A current Metropolitan Transportation Commission study on a second transbay rail crossing and potential Muni improvements is expected to be completed in 2018. The report was heard in a meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ land use and economic development committee Monday.

BART Director Robert Raburn spoke there and said the agency would take another look at how to reduce maintenance times for expanding late-night service by at least an hour or two. That might happen once new train cars are phased in over the next few years, he said.

In the meantime, the report points out that while BART and AC Transit have partnered to provide more frequent late-night service, bus service throughout the area, and particularly to the East Bay and Peninsula, remains skeletal at best.

Other short-term measures recommended by the report include expanding the bike sharing service, taking steps to improve safety and reliability of late-night buses, improving taxi dispatching and offering low-income subsidies for taxi service when other transportation options are not available.

Also in the short term, the study indicated that simply making people more aware of late-night transit options could improve the lives of late-night travelers. Nearly half of the study’s 2,800 respondents were either not aware of late-night Muni and transbay buses or did not know where they run.

To that end, the report recommends adding monitors to areas that are late-night destinations and improving technological infrastructure, such as websites like 511.org, to keep passengers more informed. San Francisco’s overnight economy generates $4.2 billion per year and provides more than $50 million in annual tax revenue, according to the report.

More than 52,000 people are employed in jobs working late nights and early mornings. The report found that the lack of viable late-night transit service impacts primarily low- and moderate-income passengers.

The study found that fewer than 40 percent of daytime commuters traveling to and from San Francisco make less than $85,500, while nearly 60 percent over overnight commuters made less than that. One circumstance frequently pointed out was that many workers traveling late night are tipped workers and might be waiting a long time for buses with large amounts of cash.

Those workers can be “sitting ducks to be mugged,” Supervisor Scott Weiner, who first called for the working group report last year, said Monday.

Supervisor Jane Kim said she was struck by the figure in the report that there are 250,000 overnight trips taken in San Francisco every weeknight, enough evidence that late-night transit service should be bolstered. However, regardless of the number of trips taken, “we have to think about more frequent service because it’s a safety issue,” Kim said.

Tom Temprano, a co-owner at Virgil’s Sea Room in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, related at today’s meeting the experience of one of his employees who lives in the East Bay and frequently must cut her shifts short in order to catch BART home.

He at one point suggested to her that she could take late-night buses home, but she laughed and said it could require as much as an hour wait at two different locations. For a woman getting off a busy shift with cash in her pocket, she said that was simply too dangerous.

Temprano said:

“She should be able to get home just as safely and reliably as folks working from nine to five.”

Ben Bleiman of the San Francisco Bar Owners Alliance said today the report’s proposals:

“… are a fantastic first step toward the future of late night transportation. We believe San Francisco is headed in the direction of a 24/7/365 economy. … We believe strongly that the future of San Francisco is inextricably entwined with the surrounding communities of the Bay Area.”