Muni ridership is still way down from pre-pandemic levels, and according to Muni buses are operating at about 30-percent capacity now, up somewhat from the spring. Still, on popular bus routes and bus shuttles that replace the shutdown light-rail lines, some drivers say things are too close for comfort with passengers.
Even with reduced ridership, it's clear that San Francisco's Muni buses probably can't both shoulder the burden of no light-rail service and provide adequate social distancing space for essential workers and others who are traveling daily to and from their jobs and shopping needs. And with ridership slowly climbing back up, it is bound to get tighter on those buses — way back in early April riders were tweeting about how crowded buses were, and that was with a fraction of the ridership Muni is currently seeing.
KPIX just did a mini-investigation after hearing from some Muni drivers, and they found one bus where "it was impossible to find six-feet of space" anywhere, even all the way in the back.
And safety is a huge issue, with 37 Muni operators reportedly having tested COVID-positive so far this year.
Ostensibly, Muni drivers are supposed to prevent more than 20 to 30 people from being on a bus at once, but drivers say that's nearly impossible to control.
One anonymous driver tells KPIX, "We try to keep our distance as far as not having anybody near us, but for the rest of the people it’s not safe because they’re riding so close to each other."
Tom Maguire, the SFMTA's director of Sustainable Streets, echoes was Muni chief Jeffrey Tumlin has said previously, that the agency is "watching ridership more closely than ever, so that we can add service where it’s needed."
Now the Transport Workers Union is pushing back and telling the city and the SFMTA that not enough is being done to protect drivers. And the problem is now likely to persist into next year, as the necessary fixes to light-rail infrastructure are going to take at least that long.
In late August, Muni trains came back online for the first time since March, but within three days the system had shut down again due to failures in several metal splices that hold the electrified overhead train wires together. Those failures were found to be part of a systemic problem with a recently installed batch of these splices. For those brief couple of days, bus service was able to be restored on some lines due to the fact that buses were freed up from doing replacement-shuttle duty. But now, and for the indefinite future, many of Muni's 800 buses are being used to cover the former light-rail routes, with the remainder covering a truncated list of core-service bus routes.
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