Supervisor hearing calls on SFMTA to keep red bus lanes for public buses, paratransit, and taxis; Community demands SFMTA board adopt transit justice first policy.
Residents from the Mission, SoMa, Richmond, and other San Francisco neighborhoods converged on City Hall for two days of actions December 3rd-4th, demanding the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) end the corporate use of the red bus lanes, improve access and service to buses, and commit to community planning and other equity processes to keep the Mission and other vulnerable communities safe.
On Monday, December 3rd, approximately 50 residents joined a special hearing item called by Supervisors Fewer and Ronen at the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee. The meeting called SFMTA officials out to the meeting to answer concerns regarding the private use of these lanes.
“So we don’t have any data on how all these buses, which are now hundreds and hundreds of buses that have access to our red carpet lanes, we don’t have any data on whether or not that slows down transit times or that doesn’t slow down transit times?” Fewer asked.
Throughout the hearing, Fewer grilled SFMTA officials on the operations of this private bus use, from the number of vehicles currently eligible to use the lanes (about 500 a day), to the time they peaked in their use of the lanes, to which agencies were responsible for regulating them, to what impacts on public transit had been seen in the data.
“Really?” pressed Fewer, when told by SFMTA officials no such impact data existed. “So we don’t have any data on how all these buses, which are now hundreds and hundreds of buses that have access to our red carpet lanes, we don’t have any data on whether or not that slows down transit times or that doesn’t slow down transit times?” Fewer asked.
Fewer closed the hearing by calling on the SFMTA to commit to working with her office towards removing the private buses and shuttles from the red lanes. The SFMTA officials agreed to Fewer’s request.
The following Tuesday afternoon of December 4th, citywide advocates rose from their seats at the SFMTA's semi-monthly board meeting as Carlos Bocanegra of United to Save the Mission delivered the transit justice first demands from a coalition of advocates from the Mission, SoMa, Excelsior, and Richmond districts. The demands called on the SFMTA board to end the private use of red bus lanes, commit to meaningful neighborhood planning processes on all major projects, pause all major Muni and emerging mobility projects such as bikes and scooters while equity plans were put in place, establish strict data-privacy restrictions on emerging mobility programs, and grant reduced rate or free Muni fares to San Francisco residents.
Monday’s Land Use Committee testimony, by contrast, was a long line of some 50 or so residents queued up to call for the end of private buses and shuttles in the red lanes at the Supervisor's hearing.
“We pride ourselves on being a transit-first city, yet we see SFMTA bending over backwards to allow private transit entities to use and take up our public lanes,” said Mary Claire Amable, Transit Justice Organizer for the South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN). “These private buses get to coast along the red lanes for as little as $8 per bus stop. The employees get to ride them for free while we pay the increased fares for the same late, crowded bus services.”
Earlier Monday afternoon Supervisors Fewer and Ronen had spoken to the transit justice crowd at a rally on the steps of City Hall, expressing support for aspects of the red lanes that improve public service, and concerns about issues such as privatization that may harm service.
“Changing people’s decisions about transportation is never going to happen unless public transit is an easy and obvious, efficient, and comfortable choice for them to make. Giving public mass transit sole use of red lanes can do just that,” said Supervisor Ronen. “We cannot ignore that privatized transportation is siphoning off ridership and eroding revenue and support for our public systems, and we can’t allow this to undermine Muni."
Following the Supervisors’ speeches, a half-dozen representatives from around the city went to the podium to call on the SFMTA to end the private use of the red lanes, many highlighting concerns about gentrification and displacement and the impacts on public transit of incentivizing private use on the lanes.
“Transit justice is housing justice, is economic justice, is justice for our community,” said Roberto Alfaro, Executive Director of Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth (HOMEY). “Red lanes are for the people first and foremost,” he said.
Abdallah “Eddy” Edwan, owner of Red Cafe on 24th St in the Mission, said he and other merchants were still struggling with the impacts of the red lanes on Mission Street after a lack of effective community engagement and small-business impact planning created a problematic red lanes rollout recently on Mission Street that harmed dozens, if not hundreds, of small businesses.
“The community is suffering and the merchants are suffering,” Edwan said. “We are losing customers and we are losing our businesses due to the red lanes.”
In a 2018 survey by the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) of more than 100 Mission Street businesses, 39.5% of the merchants surveyed said they have concerns about the impacts the red lanes are having on their businesses.
"As a transit rider, I can say that I actually love the red lanes, " said Fran Taylor with the Transit Justice Committee of Senior Disability Action. "And I think that they do a great service to people who use public transit - as long as they are used for public transit, and not impeded by these private, I call them 'gated communities on wheels.'"