Much as BART has seen a return of riders a bit moreso on weekends than during commuting hours on weekdays, the SFMTA is reporting a similar pattern on Muni buses and trains — though one bus line is now at 133% of its pre-pandemic riders.
The recovery of public transit use has been especially slow, in the Bay Area and other metropolitan areas. Though now a full two years and change into this global pandemic, with much of daily life similar — though not completely the same — as it was in the first two months of 2020, our buses and trains are looking a little more normal again, plus a lot of masks.
SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin tweeted some figures on Tuesday — what appears to be a slide-deck presentation, perhaps for the SFMTA board — showing how ridership is recovering now that we are a full year after the revival of many Muni lines — and nine months since the M trains restarted up and most of the light-rail Muni Metro system came back alive. (Some bus lines only just restarted this spring, and the J-Church only returned to downtown tunnel service in February.)
Through the first two weeks of April, the SFMTA reports ridership steadily rising to 67% of pre-pandemic levels on weekends as of mid-April, and 54% of pre-pandemic levels on weekdays. The trajectory of the graph suggests that bus and light-rail ridership will potentially be fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels by year-end.
COVID rearranged SF's travel patterns, revealing geography of Essential Workers. Weekend ridership has grown to 67% of pre-COVID levels, but weekday ridership is at 54% pic.twitter.com/UpsMHpJ37Y— Jeffrey Tumlin 🏳️🌈 (@jeffreytumlin) May 3, 2022
"COVID rearranged SF's travel patterns, revealing [the] geography of Essential Workers," Tumlin writes, referring to the ways in which the SFMTA has tried to respond by beefing up frequencies of buses particularly on lines serving essential workers.
One line that received such expansion is the 22-Fillmore, though a project making the expansion of that line a major agency priority dates back to the middle of the 2010s. Starting in January 2022, the 22-Fillmore started servicing Mission Bay — letting off its last passengers not far from the Chase Center. And the SFMTA simultaneously launched the new 55-Dogpatch line, which overlaps part of the 22-Fillmore route along 16th Street, but now services the Dogpatch neighborhood near the discontinued 22-Fillmore route.
And as a result of increased frequency on the route, the 22-Fillmore now has surpassed the rest of the Muni system in terms of ridership recovery, showing 133% of pre-pandemic levels as of April.
22-Fillmore is best performer at 133% of pre-COVID ridership, a result of:— Jeffrey Tumlin 🏳️🌈 (@jeffreytumlin) May 3, 2022
- 16th St transit lanes
- Reroute to Mission Bay
- Big investment in frequency + reliability
- Serves neighborhoods and hospitals pic.twitter.com/TA3JxAl0HW
And other "workhorse" bus lines, including the 14-Mission and the 5-Fulton, are showing decent ridership recovery as well, particularly on weekends.
Tumlin says that this is in part due to investments made during the pandemic in frequency and reliability on these lines, and in creating more transit-only lanes.
All our workhorse lines are approaching full ridership recovery. During pandemic we invested in:— Jeffrey Tumlin 🏳️🌈 (@jeffreytumlin) May 3, 2022
- Transit-priority and transit lanes
- Frequency and reliability
Our Muni Forward investments net ~20% better speed and ~20% better reliability pic.twitter.com/YUBXdMjF5e
Now, the SFMTA is planning a broad modernization project across the entire Muni Metro system, with the hope of eventually losing its pre-pandemic reputation for being rife with delays and prone to major meltdowns.
"We're now planning to modernize the subway, expanding its capacity, reliability, speed and throughput," Tumlin writes. "Doing so requires a new train control system, fixing decades of deferred [maintenance], and better managing surface rail."
We're now planning to modernize the subway, expanding its capacity, reliability, speed and throughput. Doing so requires a new train control system, fixing decades of deferred mtce, and better managing surface rail pic.twitter.com/BK0QHIPHIt— Jeffrey Tumlin 🏳️🌈 (@jeffreytumlin) May 3, 2022
Photo courtesy of SFMTA