The SFMTA announced the next step in its process to restore Muni service to near pre-pandemic levels, with a proposed plan to restore five out of seven of the currently suspended bus routes by February or thereabouts.

The proposed plan is what had been called the "Hybrid alternative" when the SFMTA laid out three possible scenarios last month for restoring Muni bus service. Other alternatives would have either seen all the routes restored, or none of them restored, with the latter option coming with greater frequency on busier Muni routes.

Under the current plan, which the SFMTA announced Friday following public input, the 2-Clement, 6-Haight/Parnassus, 10-Townsend, 21-Hayes, and 28R-19th Avenue will be restored — all of these routes have not been running since the beginning of the pandemic. The two bus routes that will remain gone under this proposal are the 3-Jackson and 47-Van Ness.

And this proposal will make changes, including frequency changes, for the often crowded 5-Fulton, 12-Folsom/Pacific, 28-19th Avenue, 30-Stockton, 38R-Geary Rapid, and 49-Van Ness/Mission.

As SF Bay reports, Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum said to the SFMTA’s Policy and Governance Committee that this proposal "will mean a slower ridership recovery and more crowding on our busiest routes," because it will be prioritizing putting bus drivers on the five restored routes instead. And this comes at a time when Muni is likely to understaffed for an indeterminate amount of time.

Kirschbaum said that 95 Muni operators are still unvaccinated or have not reported their vaccination status, which will mean they will be put on leave starting next week, and could face termination unless they are granted a vaccine exemption in a city hearing. That understaffing might lead to delays in restoring some routes, so February is being put out there as a hopeful timeframe, but it may push later, Kirschbaum said.

"What we heard kind of en masse was that people with disabilities and seniors very much value close proximity and ease of access, especially when they live in hilly areas," Kirschbaum said, per SF Bay. "Seniors specifically depend on routes to access, in many cases, affordable meals, as well as people with disabilities and seniors accessing hospitals."

Also coming with the proposal, which will need to be approved by the SFMTA Board at their December 7 meeting, are possible changes to J-Church service, which the agency will be taking public comment on over the next month.

Some J-Church riders have already been complaining about the difficulties of having to transfer at Market Street to go downtown — the J-Church Muni Metro line has been an above-ground-only route since it was restored early this year, and the agency has planned to keep it that way as part of a larger strategy to reduce traffic in the main artery tunnel.

"In early 2022, the J-Church could remain as it currently is, an all-surface route terminating at Church Street and Duboce Avenue, to maintain the improvement in reliability on the J-Church and the 75% reduction in delays we are seeing in the subway," the SFMTA's Mariana Maguire writes in a blog post. "But, it could also be returned to the Market Street Subway evenings only, when there is less congestion in the tunnel, or even full-time."

Muni bus riders and J-Church riders can give their feedback by email at [email protected], or they can call 415.646.2005.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images