Taken with Transportation

Connecting Community to Transit

September 05, 2023 SFMTA Episode 6
Taken with Transportation
Connecting Community to Transit
Show Notes Transcript

Accessing public transit can be more difficult for people in a particular San Francisco neighborhood than it is in other parts of city. So the SFMTA is designing a supplemental transportation program for this area.

In this episode of Taken with Transportation, we talk with SFMTA Transportation Planner Christopher Kidd, San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton, Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates Environmental Justice Director Dalila Adofo, SFMTA Planning Director Maia Small and neighborhood residents about a community shuttle that is expected to begin running in Bayview-Hunters Point in 2024.

MELISSA CULROSS, HOST: A new shuttle is on the way to help people who live in a southeastern San Francisco neighborhood get around without driving.

SFMTA TRANSPORTATION PLANNER CHRISTOPHER KIDD: We really want to make sure this is a service that is complementing our transit service already and helping connect people to rapid transit and regional transit.

MELISSA: Welcome to TAKEN WITH TRANSPORTATION, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s official podcast. I’m your host, Melissa Culross. It’s a late summer day in the Bayview-Hunters Point district … and like all San Francisco neighborhoods, the area has a character all its own.

SF SUPERVISOR SHAMANN WALTON-1: Bayview-Hunters Point is really a vibrant community. We are the last bastion of Black communities here in San Francisco. We have a lot of small businesses that are booming. You still see young people outside and having a good time enjoying each other. You still see families sitting out on the porch talking to each other. You still see those things in certain parts of Bayview-Hunters Point.

MELISSA: San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton represents the area and notes that it does have its challenges. He says gentrification is an issue, and transportation can be problematic, with many residents relying on cars.

SUPERVISOR WALTON: A lot of people are driving because they have to get to work, because they have to get their children to school, because they have to do their daily activities. And most certainly being in the southeast sector of San Francisco, we don’t always have the fastest and most adequate transportation. We have a lot of families that…multiple families living in, in one house, and, you know, that also causes for more cars in the household.

MELISSA: To get an idea of what it’s like for people who can’t or don’t drive, we’ve caught up with Laney Aragon who is waiting with friends for the 44 O’Shaughnessy bus after an event near Heron’s Head Park.

LANEY ARAGON: Too many of us walk super far just to get to one place. Like, it took us two hours to get here. And like, you know, it’s…it’s sad. You know, living in a giant city like this, I expect more from public transportation.

MELISSA: We’ve also been chatting with Temika Blue today. She lives nearby in Potrero Hill but spends a lot of time in Bayview-Hunters Point because she has family here.

TEMIKA BLUE: There’s just always a need for there to be access to main bus lines and other ways to navigate throughout the city. It’s inter-generational. So, we have people of all ages in our community, and people need transportation, period. If you don’t have a car, then that means you’re left to take public transportation, and if public transportation is limited, then that limits your accessibility.

MELISSA: Improving transit in Bayview-Hunters Point IS a priority, both for the agency and Supervisor Walton.

SUPERVISOR WALTON: We’ve been working with MTA to try to get additional bus service. We were fortunate to get, uh, 15 Express line during the pandemic. Uh, we were fortunate enough to bring back our, our bus lines in in Bayview-Hunters Point. 

MELISSA: The SFMTA introduced the 15 Express that the supervisor mentions in early 2021, and it’s the first express line designed specifically to serve Bayview-Hunters Point in city history. 

BUS ANNOUNCEMENT: 15 Bayview Express to Palou and Third.

MELISSA: Now, as part of our ongoing commitment to equity in this neighborhood, a new Bayview Community Shuttle is gearing up to start running next year. SFMTA Transportation Planner Christopher Kidd tells us grant money from the California Air Resources Board is paying for this service, and it will be what’s known as a dynamic shuttle.
 
 CHRISTOPHER KIDD: A dynamic shuttle is one that operates a little bit like an Uber Pool where it doesn’t have a fixed route with fixed stops. It instead has what you call a service area. So, you know, whereas you can take an Uber anywhere in the city, this would be a shuttle program that would operate within Bayview-Hunters Point and maybe a couple of destinations outside of Bayview-Hunters Point. And this would be pretty small vehicles, either like a mini-van or very small kind of passenger van, typically six to eight passengers, total. And that’s really because we want these vehicles to be as flexible as possible in terms of being able to get to their destinations quickly and efficiently. You know, we want to make sure that this is a service where it’s effective, and it’s time competitive. And also, we really want to make sure this is a service that is complementing our transit service already and helping connect people to rapid transit and regional transit to help them make trips more effectively on transit so they don’t have to drive.

MELISSA: Kidd and his team are in the process of developing the shuttle service plan, and he says there are a lot of questions to answer between now and when rides begin.

CHRISTOPHER KIDD: What are the right hours of operations? What are the expectations for getting picked up. To say, do you walk down the corner to get picked up, or do you get picked up at your door? Does that change if it’s nighttime versus daytime? Establishing service area boundaries, and if we have destinations outside the service boundaries, what are they, like 24th Street BART or San Francisco General Hospital? Are we doing nights and weekends, are we doing rush hour? You know, really it’s kind of about the push and pull of understanding okay, we have so much money to run this service for so many years, and if we expand our service area, that either means we have to have more vehicles to keep travel times and wait times down. And then that means that maybe you can’t have as many operating hours. And so there’s all these kind of push and pull factors, and we need to make sure that we’re balancing them in a way that the community thinks works for them. Because at the end of the day, this shuttle’s success is gonna be based on how many people in this community ride it, and if people don’t feel like it serves their needs, then we’ve failed. So we need to make sure that we really have this community-forward approach on how we create the service plan.

MELISSA: That approach involves doing extensive public outreach. That’s happening right now through events in the neighborhood, on online survey residents can take… and through working with nine different community-based organizations, one of which is Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates. Dalila Adofo is the group’s Environmental Justice Director. She envisions this shuttle as a reliable, accessible resource for the neighborhood and adds that it’s important to work with organizations like hers and to give everybody a voice, particularly residents who might feel left out of the conversation when it comes to a variety of issues or concerns…not just or even necessarily transportation.

DALILA ADOFO: Many people feel that they are not heard or misheard, or even if they are heard, they’re dismissed. There’s a lot of residents who have said, “I’ve been screaming to the mountain tops about this one particular topic, and it’s not…nothing…no actionable thing is done until… That it’s nobody’s priority until higher-ups or people of a certain social standing say it is. That needs that have been needs for a very long time are not addressed until a different demographic start moving in, until it becomes kind of a trend versus really making sure that the community gets the services that they need when they need them.

MELISSA: The SFMTA wants to make sure those residents ARE heard, and this shuttle is a top priority recommendation in our Bayview Community Based Transportation Plan. That’s a set of projects developed collaboratively with the neighborhood. Why a shuttle, though? Christopher Kidd, the SFMTA planner, tells us it’s something people specifically want, and that there have been similar shuttle services such as Bayview Moves which stopped running around 2017. Now, to be clear, there are bus lines in addition to the 15 express that go to Bayview-Hunters Point…

BUS ANNOUNCEMENTS: 9R San Bruno Rapid, 19 Polk to Shipyard.

MELISSA: …as well as the T light rail line. So why not just increase Muni service in the area?

CHRISTOPHER KIDD: Bayview has some really challenging geography, some really big hills, um, and steep streets. And it also has some very isolated communities and isolated areas. And when we look at transit service, you know, even when we have transit service that’s robust, like up on the hill in Hunters Point, because of the geographic challenges of that, it can be very challenging for somebody, especially who is elderly or has mobility issues, to be able to make it to a bus stop. And, you know, we want to really focus on how we complement and grow our transit service. So rather than competing with transit, we wanna figure out, “How do we connect people better?” So that maybe they have just a one-transfer ride. Whereas, you know, before they maybe had to transfer two times. Or they’re more able to easily reach Rapid Muni or BART to be able make longer and critical trips. And by doing so, the hope is we reduce people’s travel time and make it easier for them to get to and from their final destinations and improve their overall transit experience.

MELISSA: So how will riders pay to use this shuttle?

CHRISTOPHER KIDD: Our intent is to have it integrate fully with the Muni fare system and basically be able to pay for it through Clipper. So, if you have a Clipper card, if you have a Muni pass, you’ll be able to pay for rides on this shuttle. And we want to structure it so that it is part of the Muni fare system so that what you pay for a bus ride, you pay the same thing for this just to make it as easy and streamlined as possible. So it’s not seen as something different. It’s seen as just a larger part of the Muni system.

MELISSA: Kidd also tells us there’s more to the program than just the shuttle rides, themselves.

CHRISTOPHER KIDD: In kind of trying to be responsive to community needs, and in a more holistic way, we have additional elements of this program. One of which is a workforce development component where we’re working with local organizations in the Bayview to recruit, train and hire residents to be drivers for the shuttle service. And we’re partnering with OEWD’s City Drive program to then be able to graduate those drivers into the City Drive program where they can get eligible for a Class B driver’s license, which then opens up the possibility to be a Muni driver. It opens up the possibility to do delivery trucking. That helps us create a pipeline of sustainable, union, high-paying jobs within Bayview-Hunters Point, which is always a real big priority of this community. And we wanted to find a way to directly address that stated need.

MELISSA: All of this makes us wonder why there aren’t neighborhood shuttles all over San Francisco….so we’ve turned to SFMTA Planning Director Maia Small for the answer to that question.

SFMTA PLANNING DIRECTOR MAIA SMALL: There are requests for these kinds of shuttles, but we have a lot of systems in our transit systems, and we need to make sure that we’re supporting what we do and how we do it with what we already have. And so, this is really a unique case. We’re really responding to a particular neighborhood and a history in that neighborhood. You know, one of the things about the shuttle system is that this is very expensive and complicated to run, and so it’s something that would really only be for certain circumstances, and our funding for this particular shuttle is very limited.

MELISSA: We ask Small to elaborate on the history and certain circumstances she mentions.

MAIA SMALL: We really are looking at many of the neighborhoods that are equity priority communities; understanding that there were really big economic and land use challenges that have gone back many, many, many generations. And so there are conditions, and people need to move around and get to community services and their daily life, and that’s just really hard. And those, you know, land use patterns and where people live, it takes a really long time for those things to be made whole. So some of this is the equity of how we do our planning and how our, our neighborhoods are built. So we wanna make sure that we’re using transportation and mobility as a way to serve them while that’s, you know, slowly changing. So this is one way to kind of fill that gap, but in the long term, this should all be knit together with our transit system and with the ways in which we build our mobility systems, in general.

MELISSA: Once this shuttle starts running a lot of people will be watching, including Supervisor Walton.

SUPERVISOR WALTON: We’re gonna see where people are accessing the shuttle from. We’re gonna see how quick and how efficient the shuttle is. Eh, because a lot of people want to get out of their vehicles. A lot of people want to get out of their cars. With adequate transportation, with on-demand transportation, I think we’ll see uh, a lot of different outcomes in terms of folks getting out of their vehicles, trusting public transportation because, the main thing, they’ll be able to get to where they want to go. And most certainly, we want people out of vehicles so our air can be cleaner, so we have less congestion. On the streets it’s actually safer to have less cars on the streets so we can make sure that, uh, everyone flows and get to the point where we’re not having fatalities on our street, where we’re not having accidents on our street.

MELISSA: Back in the area near Heron’s Head Park, Marianaah…who also is waiting for the 44 bus…tells us she likes the neighborhood shuttle idea.

MARIANAAH: It will help because some people have asthma real bad. Like me, I got asthma real bad.
 
 MELISSA: Gotcha. Okay, so walking a lot’s tough.
 
 MARIANAAH: Yes.

MELISSA: And Temika Blue believes people will use it, including her family.

TEMIKA BLUE: Transportation is always an essential component to one’s livelihood and thrivelihood. You know, I feel like we’ll probably need more than just one shuttle, we’ll probably need a few shuttles that get people in a few different directions.

MELISSA: Thank you for joining us on TAKEN WITH TRANSPORTATION. We’re a production of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and you can find the latest episodes at SFMTA.com-slash-Podcast, as well as Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen. And if you want to learn more about the shuttle we’ve discussed in this episode or help us plan the service by taking our survey or attending an event, go to SFMTA.com-slash-Bayview Shuttle for information. Now, on a much more somber note, as this podcast episode was in the final editing stages, we learned of the passing of our friend and colleague Mike Delia. Mike came to the SFMTA almost ten years ago and delighted passengers as an operator known affectionately as Mr. Boston. He spent the last several months working in the Chief of Staff’s Office, the office responsible for this podcast. We will miss you so very much, Mike. Please rest in peace. I’m Melissa Culross. Be well and travel well.