Muni to start express bus to ease crowding on N-Judah

Jun 9 2011 - 11:19am

Muni N-Judah streetcar riders may soon get some relief during their packed morning and evening commute home. A six-month pilot project to run an express bus between Ocean Beach and the Financial District will begin on Monday.

With 38,000 daily boardings, the Municipal Transportation Agency says the N-Judah is the most used and crowded of all the rail lines. Complaints have been coming in to the transit agency from passengers who are not able to board the N-Judah during peak hours, according to the agency.

“We have to look at other ways to manage to the existing service better, but also address critical needs. This one is a critical need that has been building for months,” said John Haley, director of transit operations.

Gerald Cauthen, once a Muni chief project manager and co-founder of SaveMuni.com, a rider advocacy group, said the express bus would help some passengers, but not enough.

“This is just putting a bandage over the problem when management should be looking how on fixing the existing N-Judah line,” said Cauthen. “I'm not sure why they can't add more vehicles to the line.”

Haley said there were no additional light-rail vehicles available to add to the N-Judah because of the number of vehicles that need maintenance. He said it's not likely that number of light-rail vehicles will increase in the next few months, but said the agency has available the buses needed for the express line. Fifteen buses will be used for the route, plus two to three in reserve.

The agency currently has 151 light-rail vehicles, with 33 of those used for the N-Judah, according to the transit agency. Muni Spokesman Paul Rose said eight light-rail vehicles being repaired.

Rose added that even if all the trains were fixed today and added to the N-Judah line, it would not improve performance during peak hours.

The six-month pilot project will operate on weekdays during peak morning and evening hours making stops between Ocean Beach and 19th Avenue and Judah Street in the morning before heading to Montgomery and Bush streets.

In the reverse direction, the express bus will start at Sansome and Sutter streets and will make stops between 19th Avenue and Judah Street and Ocean Beach during the evening commute.

Haley said the bus service is a supplement to the N-Judah and that no light-rail vehicles will be taken out of service on the line during the express bus hours.

Supervisor Carmen Chu, who has the N-Judah travel along her district, said rider complaints and data from the transit agency have shown that there has been a huge need to improve service along the line.

She also said the express bus would not just benefit Outer Sunset Muni passengers.

“We're able to alleviate some of the pressures along the line and going to be able to pick up additional passengers on the Carl and Cole area,” said Chu.

Buffy Maguire, owner of Java Beach Cafe near Ocean Beach, said she is in favor of improvements on the line, but has concerns on how the express bus will affect the entire route.

“It's not just going to impact the entire Ocean Beach area, but also the entire N-Judah route. People are used to the trains running on the streets and now buses will be added, which will add more congestion to the streets,” said Maguire.

The pilot project will cost the agency $800,000. The funds will come from the agency's service planning budget.