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N-Judah rush hour express bus service trimming trip times, overcrowding

SF Public Press
 — Aug 1 2011 - 1:40pm

The apparent success of Muni's Nx-Judah express bus service could offer hope to riders on other crowded streetcar lines.

Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose said other express buses could be possible, but the agency will look at community needs before adding buses to other lines. For now, riders seem to be enjoying the added service to the N-Judah line.

Ridership on the express bus, which started in June,  has grown from 938 passengers to 1,282 a day during the first four weeks, according to the transit agency. Muni projected an average daily ridership of 1,000 to 1,500 passengers. Riders have asked Muni to extend the hours during the evening and to add express buses for other rail lines.

David Nuffer, a regular on the express bus, gives the new service an A. “I don't know what I'd do without it,” said Nuffer.

With 38,000 daily boardings, the N-Judah train was becoming a nuisance for riders who board in the western part of the city during peak hours. Riders complained to the transit agency that they were unable to get on the first set of trains and had to wait until they could board a train that was not packed.

To address this concern, the agency created the $800,000 Nx-Judah Express bus pilot project to combat the crowding on the trains. The bus makes stops between 19th and 48th avenues and makes one stop in the Financial District in the morning and evening commutes. The agency hoped it would lessen the crowding on the train so passengers further down the line could board the train.

Although some trains remain crowded, Rose said that through customer input and inspector observations, riders at Carl and Cole streets are able to board the first set of trains that arrive during the commute instead watching packed trains pass them by.

Crowd relief is just one of the benefits of the express bus. Riders have also said that their trip from downtown has been faster by an average of three to six minutes, according to the agency.

Figures provided by Muni had the average trip on the light rail N-Judah taking 43 to 44 minutes while the express buses make the run in 33 to 36 minutes.

In mid-July, SF Public Press reporter Jerold Chinn and photographer Jason Winshell observed the express bus for about an hour and half and took the 5:20 p.m. bus. Because of the bus consistently leaving every 10 minutes with another bus arriving, nearly all passengers were able to get a seat, something that’s not the case when riding the N-Judah train at peak hours. On their trip from downtown to 48th Avenue, only two riders stood.

Ghada Ghassan-Berry, who lives on 34th Avenue, rides both the N-Judah train and express bus. She prefers riding the express bus. “It's definitely much faster, since there are not that many stops,” she said.

One member of the agency's board of directors, a frequent rider of the express bus, tweets about how fast he gets to downtown and even teases N-Judah train riders that he will beat them getting to downtown.

“It's back to the grind on a Muni Nx Judah express. Just left 19th Ave. & Judah at 8:12 AM. Who wants to bet we beat you cats on the N?,” tweeted Muni Director Joel Ramos on a recent ride. He said later that it took him 28 minutes to get to downtown.

A trip to downtown taking the N-Judah train can take longer, depending on delays, particularly at the Church and Duboce intersection where the train enters the underground tunnel and switches from being operated by the driver to a computer. The intersection has been the center of many delays, but the express bus completely avoids the area.

The express bus pilot will continue for approximately more four months at which time the agency will decide whether to keep the service. The agency is still asking riders for their feedback on the express bus.

Transit officials will give an update on the Nx-Judah Express bus service at the Tuesday, Aug. 2, board of directors' meeting starting at 1 p.m. in room 400 at San Francisco City Hall.

Comments

Great article on the new N-Judah x-press, Jerrold, thanks.  So great to read that some of that N-Judah congestion is being alleviated.  NOW the only problem is before and after an SF Giants game, when N-Judah ridership is even more congested and crowded.

 The N-Judah Express makes a lot of sense. Without it, all of the trains in one direction (and eventually in the other) used to get backed up if one train got stuck at any one point along the tracks. So it's great to have buses that aren't dependent on the tracks staying clear.That's a great photo of that crowded N-train! I've been in that crunch many times before. It's not just uncomfortable but dangerous, too, in my opinion.Still, I do love taking the trains when I can -- when they're not so crowded anyway.