SF commuter shuttles earn permanent spot on city streets

San Francisco commuter shuttles are here to stay.

Despite criticism from residents of large commuter shuttle buses clogging up city streets and interfering with Muni, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors approved to make the Commuter Shuttle Permit Program permanent at its regular Tuesday board meeting, with some modifications.

One of the changes in the commuter shuttle program is higher penalties for violating the permit program’s rules. Penalties would rise from $250 to $500, and $1,000 for further violations in a 12-month period. The  changes take effect on April 1.

The current program, which expires on Mar. 31, has made available 111 shuttle zones, allowing 17 shuttle operators to use designated white loading zones and Muni bus stops to pick up and drop off San Francisco residents who work outside of The City such as in the South Bay.

An average of 9,800 passengers board the commuters shuttles, according to the SFMTA.

A SFMTA staff report said that since the inception of the pilot program in 2014 and following a one-year evaluation to continue the program, the transit agency saw a decrease in the number of shuttles stopping in Muni bus stops from 72 percent in January 2016 to 57 percent in August 2016.

The report also said that there was a decrease in the number of shuttle buses operating on restricted streets from 3,686 in April 2016 to 334 in August 2016.

Brooke Heinichen, a San Francisco resident who uses the commuter shuttle to get to work, said she’s been without a car for the last seven years and would like to keep it that way:

“If the shuttle program would become less convenient or go away, I would be one of many to just get a car instead of relocating to the South Bay.”

Heinichen said she has a second job in The City, which is a reason why she said she would not move to the South Bay.

She added that she does not want to get a car to add to the already congested streets in The City:

“I don’t want to add traffic on the streets. I don’t want to add to parking congestion. I don’t want to add to the environmental impact.”

Stuart Watts, a San Francisco native, said while he supports the commuter shuttle program, he wanted to see more significant changes to the program including adding a fee per mile for shuttles to help repair the city roads:

“Not only do delays occur, many of these streets are not sustainable for these types of buses that cause physical damage to our streets.”

Watts, who does not own a car, said the commuter shuttle program has also affected his travels in The City while on Muni or walking.

Francesca Napolitan, who manages the commuter shuttle program for the SFMTA, addressed concerns from the public and from the board including congestion problems of commuter shuttles bunching up on streets such as on 24th Street:

“What we would want to do there in the short-term, beyond looking at additional stops, is to see on that corridor if we can work with the shuttle operators that are serving that corridor to coordinate their schedules and space them out better so that we don’t see the consolidation of vehicles around the stop at the same time.”

Another part of the program the transit agency is working on is it making easier for the public to report shuttle buses behaving badly on streets.

Currently, the public reports commuter shuttle violations through the SF 311 system or by directly contacting SFMTA staff, but Napolitan said that the transit agency is working on a separate form that would be easily accessible to the public on the SFMTA website.