Fresh rules floated for commuter shuttles

An 18-month commuter shuttle pilot program in San Francisco is set to expire on Jan. 31 but an ongoing program has been proposed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The program regulates the private buses bringing workers to and from Silicon Valley tech companies and San Francisco. If no ongoing program is put in place and the pilot program expires, the shuttles will still be able to legally operate on San Francisco’s streets but their activities will not be regulated, according to the SFMTA.

The SFMTA is proposing a number of changes for the new Commuter Shuttle Program, including requiring buses over 35 feet long to travel on the city’s major and minor arterial street network as defined by the California Department of Transportation, keeping them off smaller residential streets.

Additionally, the SFMTA is proposing that operators be required to certify they are in labor harmony. The operators will have to submit a plan that outlines efforts to maintain consistent and efficient shuttle service in the event of disruptions, such as labor disputes.

Rome Aloise, president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents some Bay Area shuttle bus drivers and is seeking to represent others, said he is:

“… pleased to see the SFMTA designing a program that recognizes the efforts of these shuttle bus drivers to organize for better wages and working conditions with our union.”

The SFMTA also would like to require operators to use shuttle fleets with less greenhouse gas emissions and increase enforcement resources devoted to shuttle zones and corridors, with costs recovered as part of the fee for participation in the program.

The SFMTA is proposing an increase in capital improvements at shuttle zones and corridors, with shuttle operators paying for their portion of the benefits as part of the program fee.

SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Tom Nolan said the pilot program showed improved order and safety on city streets:

“Commuter shuttles get thousands of people to work every day without a car. We must do everything we can as a city to improve the flow the traffic, reduce congestion and cut pollution while improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

SFMTA director of transportation Ed Reiskin said the proposed enhancements would help strengthen transportation in The City:

“The Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program demonstrated that a regulatory framework can help ensure the city realizes the transportation benefits the shuttles provide while minimizing impacts to Muni and our neighborhoods.”

Prior to the 2014 launch of the Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program, many of the shuttles were apparently loading and unloading passengers in Muni bus zones, along random curbs or simply in the street, leading to traffic, transit and safety hazards, according to the SFMTA.

Since the launch of the pilot program the SFMTA maintains that conflicts with Muni buses have been reduced by 35 percent on a per-stop basis while commuter shuttle zone locations were reduced from more than 240 to 124.

Tom Maguire, director of the SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division said:

“The choice is whether to continue to improve the way we regulate shuttles or go back to unregulated shuttles that weren’t working for The City.”

The proposal requires SFMTA Board of Directors approval in order to take effect. A community meeting to discuss details about the proposed changes will be held on Nov. 4.