“In fact, we peaked I guess last year; there was a quarter where we were at about 71, 72 percent and then fell back down a little bit.
“It’s always hovered…at least during the two years that I have been here, and I think during [former executive director, Michael Burns’] timeframe for about three years … at about 70 percent.”
To bring the agency’s OTP up to the mandated limit and to streamline its operation, Muni and the San Francisco Controller’s Office implemented the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP). The TEP is the first comprehensive analysis of the Muni system in 30 years.
Among other things, the TEP found that the agency’s 15 busiest corridors accounted for nearly 75 percent of its ridership, and its travel times were significantly lower than other large U.S. cities.
So how was the response to the TEP? Overall, positive according to Ford, “I would say … extremely positive, even by some of the folks who are kind of critical about change.
“People, operators, those types of folks. Everyone recognizes that it’s been 30 years and a lot of things have changed in that 30-year time frame technology-wise, origins and destinations, travel patterns. Our ridership has changed in 30 years.
“And particularly in this city, a great deal more seniors, a great deal more disabled passengers. And our operation carries a lot of school trips for school-age children so what happens in our particular case with the special events and all the different services we provide, in the 30-year time frame, a lot of things have changed.”
Ford says the TEP was a top-to-bottom analysis of the system to not only deal with OTP issues, but also travel times and to gauge customers’ needs.
What they found was that congestion, population increase, bicycle use — which accounts for nearly 20 percent of the travel share according to Ford — and pedestrians are all key factors.
“All of those factors in terms of biking, pedestrians and just the sheer volume and density of the city has an impact on our on-time performance,” Ford says.
“Our success and our popularity is one of the things we have to deal with in terms of our challenges. Because just boarding on our vehicles takes a great deal of time.
“We see in the TEP as part of that study, 20 percent of our travel time is tied up in boarding and alighting.”
MTA utilizes preboarding in its subway and is planning it on BRT routes and at key stops where it knows boarding delays occur. One other project it is trying is all-door boarding.
“Another thing we are looking at is all-door boarding. That’s something we are testing out over here. It’s going to be one of the TEP pilots,” Ford says.
“We’re finding that people are congesting up in the front of the bus, not moving all the way to the back. However, a culture has developed that monthly riders do board in the back. But then we also have fare evaders who try to board in the back, too.
“We’re testing that out right here on Market and Van Ness, taking a very quiet look at it before we launch the full pilot to look at it.”
Four Services = Faster Services
In discussing the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), on-time performance and speeding up travel times, I asked Ford about route realignment. With 15 of the agency’s lines carrying 75 percent of its riders, did that mean other lines would be consolidated or shutdown? Hardly. Ford says that those other lines are lifeline services for their riders.
Instead, Ford says they are looking at improving what they already have, “What we’re going to do is really look at some improvements to speed those corridors up.
“So we may even move some bus stops. That’s also in the TEP. Bus stop locations over the years have gotten closer and closer and closer. We’re not within our standards. So we will have in some cases the same routes that are out there. But some of those routes will be spaced out.”
Ford laid out the plan for me. Four different services for four different levels of ridership: Rapid service, Local service, Community service and a Special service category.