No “fiscal cliff” for these two Muni bus lines, as both the 22-Fillmore and 49-Van Ness are rocking ridership levels even higher than before the pandemic. The trouble is that it may be because, like many San Franciscans, these lines don’t go downtown.
You’re hearing the phrases “death spiral,” “doomsday scenario,” and “fiscal cliff” in discussions of Bay Area public transportation these days. That’s largely because remote work is still wreaking havoc on commute patterns (layoffs are playing a role too), and the state and the federal pandemic relief funding transit agencies received is set to expire. Some transit activists have even held a funeral for Muni and BART, fearing the worst.
But the worst of times just happen to be the best of times for two Muni bus lines, as the Chronicle reports that the 49-Van Ness/Mission and 22-Fillmore buses are seeing even higher ridership numbers than they did before the pandemic.
As Muni ridership continues to rise — now 2/3 of pre-pandemic — the 22 Fillmore & 49 Van Ness are *above* pre-pandemic ridership.— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) June 21, 2023
These lines also now have rapid bus lanes. I authored a law making it easier to add rapid lanes.
When we make transit better, people use it more. pic.twitter.com/lG8oRiJpaG
Muni-loving state Senator Scott Wiener has the charts to prove this in the tweet above. The 22-Fillmore peaked out at 19,700 riders on an average weekday in February 2020, but it's now at 20,100 riders per weekday on average. The 49-Van Ness/Mission saw even more sensational gains, with an average of 26,200 riders per weekday in February 2020, but now surging to an average of 31,400 per day. Both, of course, slumped significantly during shelter-in-place.
The 49-Van Ness/Mission is obviously benefiting mightily from the April opening of the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit System, whose new red lanes let riders cruise up Van Ness Avenue at speeds we never could before. Though those ridership numbers are probably pumped up additionally because the other Van Ness bus, the 47-Van Ness, remains suspended.
Meanwhile, the 22-Fillmore “may be a national outlier in terms of how much ridership it’s been able to gain,” in the words of SFMTA transit director Julie Kirschbaum, as that line exceeded its pre-pandemic ridership levels last fall. The 22-Fillmore also has transit-only lanes on 16th Street, and it ferries people from the Marina all the way to to the Chase Center these days
But we will yuck on your yum, Muni fans, because the reason for these bus lines’ touted rebounds may be a depressing flip side. As the Chronicle points out, “Neither route serves San Francisco’s downtown core.” So these anomalies do not indicate any kind of broader ridership recovery across the Muni system.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist