For the first time in a decade, San Francisco transportation officials have a road map to improve late-night and early-morning travel for the tens of thousands of graveyard shift workers and night owls who currently have limited transportation options unless they drive.
In a 27-page report to be released Monday (embedded below), city officials, nightlife advocates, labor union representatives and others recommend developing plans to make overnight local and transbay bus service more frequent, reliable and safe.
In response to earlier calls for improved nighttime transit, BART and AC Transit have already expanded weekend transbay bus service as part of a one-year pilot program, and funding to boost Muni's Owl service by 30 percent will be considered Tuesday by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority board.
"We know what needs to happen, and some of it has happened, and some of it will happen later this year," said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who convened the group last April.
The report calls for a long-term regional effort to press for funding so that overnight rail service on BART, and a second transbay tube, become a reality someday:
While 24-hour rail service is decades away and would require substantial funding for major new capital investments and operating costs that have not been identified, appropriate and timely steps must be taken to work toward its implementation.
The report urges BART and Muni to better explain why overnight rail service is not currently doable. Both agencies have said that downtime overnight is critical for maintenance work.
"I don't accept the contention that it would just be impossible [for BART] to go a little bit later on Friday and Saturday night," said Wiener. "There has to be a way for them to work it out."
Not surprisingly, the lack of 24-hour BART service was the top issue affecting overnight travel decisions, followed by poor bus service, in a survey of 2,800 people conducted in English, Spanish and Chinese last summer and fall.
How Many Late-Night Trips?
Twenty percent of the 250,000 trips taken each weeknight between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. in San Francisco are on transit, the report says. From midnight to 5 a.m., two-thirds of trips are to or from another Bay Area county.
Driving or taking a taxi or ride service like Lyft, the report notes, are convenient and faster, but come "at substantially higher costs." A majority of overnight commuters live on low- to-moderate incomes, according to the survey.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency should develop regulations that allow taxi drivers to charge a flat rate of $11 for two or more passengers to share a ride, the report recommends, and the city should consider taxi subsidies for low-income workers, similar to how rides are subsidized for people with disabilities.
Safety was a major concern, especially among women. Sixty percent of all those surveyed said "they always or sometimes choose not to travel between midnight and 5 a.m. because of safety concerns." Among women, the figure was 70 percent.
The report recommends "a comprehensive analysis of safety and security trends," along with redesigning bus stops, expanding community ambassador programs and installing real-time transit information in bars, restaurants and other establishments because information about overnight transit options is scarce.
It also says the city should consider closing streets when bars let out to improve pedestrian safety:
In commercial corridors with vibrant nightlife, pedestrian safety and comfort may be a challenge at closing time, when large numbers of patrons -- many of whom will have, no doubt, been drinking -- simultaneously exit multiple venues, crowding into narrow sidewalks.
Cities such as Austin, Texas, and Vancouver, British Columbia, have used temporary late night street closures as a strategy to improve pedestrian safety in particularly active corridors.
Wiener and the working group are expected to announce the results of the report at a City Hall press conference Monday, which will be followed by a hearing before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee.