Noe Valley Voice May 1998

J-Church and 48-Quintara Flunk Muni Rider Survey

By Karen Topakian

A citizens watchdog group called Rescue Muni recently completed its second annual survey of San Francisco's bus and streetcar lines. And the news is not good for Noe Valley commuters.

While Muni as a whole earned a C for its on-time performance, the J-Church and 48-Quintara lines, which intersect at 24th and Church streets, both received F's. The 24-Divisadero, running on Castro Street, didn't do much better: It scored a D, down from last year's grade of C.

During the first two weeks in February, Rescue Muni -- a riders association founded in 1996 to lobby for faster, safer, and more reliable public transit -- monitored the performance of 35 routes across the city. Nearly 150 volunteers tracked the departures and arrivals of 3,000 buses, trolleys, and streetcars.

According to the survey, 42 percent of J-Church riders waited longer than the frequency advertised on Muni's bus map. So if you were watching for a J-car when the posted wait time was 10 minutes, you could expect to stand at the train stop for around 14 minutes. That's up from last year's average wait of 8 minutes.

The J-Church was also listed as the worst offender in the category of "waiting three times the posted frequency." The survey report said there was "an 11 percent chance that a [J-Church] rider will wait longer than it would take to walk to most intermediate destinations." (It noted that a line running perfectly should find you waiting 5 minutes on average.)

With such low grades, is Noe Valley being singled out for poor service?

Probably not, says John Rudolph, a member of Rescue Muni and a Noe Valley resident. He points out that the other streetcars -- the K, L, M, and N -- "flunked" the test, too. Still, he feels Muni may be neglecting us a bit.

"Noe Valley is underserved by Muni supervision. There's a distinct lack of supervision at the yard when sending out the J-Church cars," Rudolph says.

Asked to give a response to the lousy report card, Muni assistant director P.J. Johnston said, "The survey didn't take into account the extensiveness of our coverage and the vast ridership. Rescue Muni only focused on service delays. It also doesn't seem fair to give all the Metro lines [the underground streetcars] an F."

According to Johnston, the two weeks in February when Rescue Muni conducted the survey were the rainiest in San Francisco's history. "The Boeings [streetcars] leak, and many can't be put on the rails because of the leaks," said Johnston. "All the Muni lines are running dilapidated equipment that should have been replaced a decade ago," he continued. "But we will eventually replace the whole fleet of cars."

Johnston predicts that Muni will score better next year.

"By the fall of 1998, the Advanced Train Control System [which controls the speed and spacing of trains in the Market Street underground] will be completed," he said. "By the end of the year, the J-Church will be running more efficiently."

In the meantime, the 13,302 people who take the J-Church each weekday might want to make sure they have good walking shoes.

Riders on the 48-Quintara line fared slightly better in the survey. But 40 percent of bus passengers waited longer than the advertised frequency. The average wait time this year was 13 minutes, up from last year's 12 minutes, according to the survey. And some riders said it was common to wait over an hour for the 48 to trundle down 24th Street.

Rudolph, who's also a member of Muni's Citizens Advisory Committee, suspects that the 48's troubles are related to the length of the route. "The 48-line is one of the longest systems in the city, comparable to the 44-O'Shaughnessy [which, interestingly enough, received an A]," he said. He thinks service could be improved if the route were split in half, with a 48A covering the western half and a 48B traveling the eastern half of the city.

As for the 24-Divisadero electric trolley, 30 percent of the survey participants experienced a longer waiting time than posted. "Be prepared to wait half again as long as you should," the report advised.

But there was one bright spot on the 24-line: The bus drivers got high marks for friendliness, particularly during the late-night "owl" service.

Yes, a "Welcome aboard!" is always appreciated -- especially after you've been waiting in the dark.

If you'd like to help Rescue Muni, call the group's hotline at (415) 273-1558.