MUNI takes years, China says done.

By: Nick Vojdani
May 5, 2011

While MUNI is still working on getting buses to show up every ten minutes, one city in China has buses arriving every ten seconds during peak hours.

The fight over Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] in San Francisco has been going on for years. In November 2003 voters in San Francisco overwhelmingly approved the Proposition K expenditure plan with 75% of the vote. The plan called for an expanded network of fast and reliable transit, including BRT. Today, over seven years since voters approved Prop K, proposed dedicated Muni bus lines on Geary and Van Ness are still years from beginning service, with hopes that both lines will open by 2015.

A 38-Geary that Really Gets Going

Geary Boulevard is one of the most heavily used bus corridors in the country – over 50,000 Muni riders daily. The creation of dedicated Muni bus lines on Geary would go a long way towards improving the quality of life in our city, and anyone who has waited around for the 38-Geary or 38-L-Geary can attest to that. The respected local think tank SPUR estimates that Geary BRT could motivate up to 4,000 drivers to park their cars and take San Francisco public transit, which would significantly reduce carbon emissions caused by Geary traffic.

Ending the Gridlock on Van Ness Avenue

The Van Ness Muni bus line, currently slated to begin service around 2015, is expected to improve transit speeds by 30%. SPUR estimates that the Van Ness BRT line will lead to a 25% increase in MUNI ridership on the corridor, of which 31% will come from drivers opting to take public transit.

The reason BRT programs are being embraced so strongly by cities around the world is because with Bus Rapid Transit cities are able to meet most, if not all, the advantages of light rail, but at a significantly lower cost. Rather than building out the large-scale infrastructure that is required for rail, BRT systems require considerably smaller infrastructure investments while at the same time maintaining the flexibility that buses provide.

MUNI Delays While the World Moves Ahead with BRT

While San Franciscans debate whether it is better to take the bus and wait for Muni or drive and sit in traffic, cities around the world are moving quickly to embrace Bus Rapid Transit and displaying the possibilities of modern urban transit.

Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, was once paralyzed by congestion. Between the huge surge in vehicle ownership and the soaring demand for buses the streets were clogged and unsafe. Today, after implementing a Bus Rapid Transit system on one of their main avenues, the city of Guangzhou is a leading example of what a modern urban transit system should be.

By turning part of Zhongshan Avenue, a main street that runs through the Central Business District, into dedicated bus lanes the city’s bus system is now able to service 800,000 commuters (roughly the entire population of San Francisco) daily. Guangzhou’s first Bus Rapid Transit line opened in 2010 along a 14-mile stretch of Zhongshan Avenue. The opening included 26 stations all of which have bike parking and most also include bike share systems. The bike-share system includes 5,000 bikes and 113 bike-sharing stations along the transit corridor.

Yet, the most impressive thing about Guangzhou’s new transit system is not that they are able to move so many people so quickly, but that they are able to do it without light rail or metro. And, by opting to create a Bus Rapid Transit system the government was able to meet the outsized needs of commuters at a significant cost savings compared to rail (about one tenth the cost of metro). The system also helped to cut over 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in its first year.

Maybe every 10 seconds is too much to ask for from MUNI, but we can definitely do better. And the Geary and Van Ness BRT lines will be a big step in the right direction. San Francisco’s transit system should be the envy of the world, and that is exactly the message voters were sending when they approved Prop K.