The Muni Metro comes back alive on Saturday for not exactly the first time since the pandemic began, but almost. And given the SFMTA's track record, it's safe to say that the reopening of the system isn't likely to come off without a hitch.

Crowds of commuters won't likely be clamoring to get downtown to work during the morning rush hour anytime soon, given broad work-from-home rules that are still in effect at most companies with SF offices. But on Saturday, May 15, both the Muni subway system and the F-Market streetcars will return to service, with Muni stations from Castro to Embarcadero turning the lights back on for the first time in many months.

The Muni Metro system halted service on March 30, 2020, only to come back online for two days in August, shit fell apart, and it all shut down again for the last nine months. The reason for the shutdown was twofold: Muni engineers discovered that some new metal splices connecting electrified overhead wires were faulty and needed to be replaced throughout the system; and a worker in the Muni Metro control center tested positive for COVID-19, which meant quarantining everyone who worked there and there'd be no one left to operate the control center.

Other problems arose in the months since August, like the discovery of ballast rock that needed replacing in the tunnel that connects West Portal and Castro. And the SFMTA took the time off to redo some station signage and install new public wi-fi throughout the tunnels.

When the trains start running again Saturday morning, things will be slightly different than before, service-wise. The N-Judah will operate on its normal route, above and below ground. The J-Church, which has been operational for a number of months, will continue running only above ground and terminating at Church and Market. But the M and L lines will remain as bus shuttles for now.

Thanks to lobbying by Supervisor Myrna Melgar, the K line is being brought back to full service on Saturday, interlined with the T-Third, connecting Balboa Park at one end to Visitacion Valley at the other.

The historic F-Market streetcars will begin operating from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, as we reported last week.

And as service and ridership ramp up in the coming months, the hope is that there will be fewer delays due to train backups in the central artery tunnel under Market Street. Fewer trains will be competing for space on the tracks, with just the K/T and N lines going underground.

Eventually, as the SFMTA revealed last year, the plan is to have S-Shuttle trains running between Embarcadero and West Portal, and the M will be interlined with the T. At that point, the K and L lines will be interlined and remain above ground, with commuters needing to transfer at West Portal.

The SFMTA is planning another wave of service restorations on August 7, as the Chronicle reports, and that may include the 5R, 18, 35, 36 and 39 bus lines. The Powell-Hyde cable car is expected to return in the fall.

Full service that includes M-Ocean View and L-Taraval train service may not return until next January, when SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin has said that about 85% of pre-pandemic service will return.

So, how long before there's a Muni meltdown — even while there's only a fraction of regular commuters using the trains?

The SFMTA says that ridership is ticking up and is now at about 30% of normal — which is about double the level that BART said it had hit last week.

Photo: Matt Baume