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Open Thread: Room for Private Vehicles in Red Carpet Lanes?

SFMTA painting the bus ‘Red Carpet’ lanes on Mission a couple of years back. These lanes also permit privately run, for-profit vehicles, also known as taxis. Photo: SFMTA.

The SFMTA Board of Directors approved the next step in the $35 million Geary Rapid project on Tuesday, which includes segments of red carpet, bus-only lanes between Stanyan and downtown. The rub: the SFMTA decided to allow privately run transit, including tour buses, tech-buses, and Chariot, to also use the lane (in reality, non-Muni vehicles of one type or another already use pretty much all the city's red-carpet lanes, more on that a few paragraphs down).

Advocates, for the most part, were not happy with that decision, fearing the addition of privately run transit will interfere with the runs of Muni's 38 Geary bus, which carries 54,000 customers daily.

"To meet the city's 2030 goals to shift more riders to public transportation, Muni must attract and retain new riders," wrote Andy Bosselman, transit advocate and Streetsblog contributor, in an email to SFMTA and Streetsblog. "That means prioritizing Muni riders. That also means applying a laser focus to improving Muni's on-time performance rate, which will not be accomplished by allowing private companies to become yet another impediment to the smooth operation of Muni vehicles."

Walk SF is pleased about safety improvements that come with the project, such as bulb outs and pedestrian refuge islands. However, Cathy DeLuca, Walk San Francisco's Policy and Program Director, said she was against allowing private buses and shuttles to use the lane. "Walk SF has a great concern about that," she said during public comment period at the SFMTA Board.

But, as Mission Local's Joe Eskenazi adeptly lays out, private vehicles have been running in the city's existing bus lanes for years. And it's not just privately run buses that are allowed--taxis are permitted in most (or all?) of San Francisco's bus and transit lanes. Even the planned 'car-free' Better Market Street plan still makes an exception for taxis. If privately run buses are objectionable, surely taxis should be in the bull's-eye of transit advocates?

A map of where the red carpet lanes will eventually go in. Image: SFMTA
A map of where the red carpet lanes will eventually go in. Image: SFMTA

Malcolm Heinicke, vice-chair of the SFMTA Board, argued strongly at Tuesday's meeting that it was okay, as long as it didn't delay public transit buses, to let tech shuttles, Chariot, and others to share at least some of the red carpet lanes. "People who are using other transit systems are not driving cars," said Heinicke, adding that if Muni bus operators start reporting that the private operators were causing delays, they could re-evaluate. Liz Brisson, SFMTA's Project Manager for Geary, said the plan was to only allow private operators to use the portions of the Geary project that run in the right-hand lanes, not in portions of the project that have the 'Red Carpet' lanes in the center.

"Red lanes are striped on corridors with high volumes of buses - 3rd Street, Mission, Geary. Given the sheer amount of service and the tens of thousands of Muni riders benefiting from the red carpet, we do believe they deserve an exclusive lane. The designation between Muni only, bus-only, Muni and taxi only, bus and taxi only (is that all of them?) is extremely confusing and should be standardized across the city," wrote Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, in an email to Streetsblog. "We strongly encourage SFMTA to revise their existing policy to ensure Muni riders always get the priority. "

Streetsblog would like to hear from readers. Should red-carpet lanes be "bus only," "Muni only," "transit only," or something else? Should taxis be permitted in the lanes? And should there be different policies for different lanes in the city depending on congestion levels, or is it more important to have a standard policy that's easier to follow? Or are you just happy to see the Geary project moving forward? Post your thoughts below.

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