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SF opens Geary transit lanes to private shuttles

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Private transit shuttles will be able to use the red transit-only lane as part of San Francisco’s Geary Rapid Project.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors on Tuesday approved the first phase of adding side-running bus rapid transit lanes on Geary Boulevard beginning at Stanyan Street to connect with the already existing transit-only lanes in the downtown area.

Members of the public were surprised to learn that private transit companies like Chariot or commuter shuttles would be allowed to use the red lane, as some had originally thought the red lane would only for Muni buses such as the 38-Geary and 38R-Geary.

Liz Brisson, the project manager with the SFMTA, made the clarification at the board meeting that as long as they meet the state vehicle code definition of a bus with 10 or more passengers, private transit shuttles, including hospital shuttles, can use the red transit-only lane.

Brisson added this was a typical transit-only designation not just unique to the Geary project, and that private transit vehicles would not be allowed to use the center-running bus rapid transit lane, part of the second phase of the Geary project.

Some from the public favor of the project were worried that commuter shuttles would slow down Muni service for the 54,000 riders that travel on the Geary buses, which some said would defeat the purpose of having the special lane for Muni buses.

Jean Barish, a longtime Richmond District resident, said she was not support of allowing private shuttles to use the red transit-only lane:

“Those of us who have been involved with BRT for years had no idea it was happening. We’re very concerned with this bait and switch approach.”

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who represents the Richmond District, voiced her concerns on private transit shuttles using the red transit-only lane in a statement read by her legislative aide:

“This really should be the space where Muni is not having to jostle and fight with tour buses, casino buses, other charted shuttles, medical shuttles…”

Fewer added:

“We feel that there shouldn’t be any interference from private vehicles in the red-carpet space.”

Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Roger Marenco, who represents the thousands of Muni operators in The City, said he also wanted to keep private shuttles out of the red lanes:

“I thought to myself, we’re in San Francisco. isn’t this the city that defies presidential orders, a city that challenges federal laws? So, what do you say we kick these private for-profit vehicles to the curb and we can encourage our public transportation system to thrive and strive.”

Vice chair of the SFMTA board Malcolm Heinicke said:

“If we’re hearing from our operators or street supervisors and our customers in live time that Chariot and commuter shuttles are obstructing the red lanes on Geary, tell us and we’ll react quickly.”

He added:

“But if this is just an exercise to sort of let’s punish private transit just because we can, I’d rather avoid that because frankly I’d rather have people in commuter shuttles and in Chariots than in cars on Geary Street.”

The project is also in coordination with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission replace sewer and water main lines, roadway repaving by the Department of Public Works.

The $35 million project is set for completion in early 2021.

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