A month ago, we reported on a Muni program designed to increase capacity on the N-Judah during the height of weekday rush hour. Between 8 and 9 am, the SFMTA has been running empty cars from Embarcadero station to the intersection of Carl and Hillway, where a switchback lets them turn around so riders in Cole Valley can board more easily.
So, how's it working?
"It's done what we hoped it would do," said John Haley, Muni's director of transit. "Since the shuttle started the day after Labor Day, we've reduced the number of pass-ups that occurred in Cole Valley, particularly around Carl and Cole." ("Pass-ups" are the number of people left behind after a vehicle that's too crowded to board departs.)
Prior to the shuttle, "somebody waiting to get on the train at the corner at Carl and Cole may have had to let two or three trains go by before they could really can get on," an issue that impacted riders attempting to board at Duboce Avenue, at the other end of the Sunset Tunnel.
"We were averaging 100 to 115 pass-ups during the 8 to 9am rush hour every morning," said Haley. Since launching the Cole Valley shuttle, "we reduced pass-ups very significantly in the first month, by about 63 percent."
"We tested [the turnaround] and practiced a while, so we're pretty efficient," said Haley. "Those people who get on at that location, not only can they get on, but they can get on and find a seat."
To operate the switchback, a team of workers is stationed on Carl Street between Stanyan and Hillway. As an empty shuttle pulls in and stops at a marker west of the switchback, one worker uses a pry bar to shift the tracks, while others keep an eye on traffic. This morning, despite heavy rain, the procedure was completed in less than 90 seconds.
Haley said the shuttle program uses two extra cars that make two trips each, although we observed just a single car traversing the switchback this morning. "It's almost a 20 percent increase in capacity in the morning for that hour," said Haley.
Anecdotally, riders on the N-Judah, Muni's busiest light-rail line seem to appreciate the additional room. When asked for comment, one passenger, eager to get out of the morning's deluge, boarded the empty streetcar and threw this reporter a thumbs-up.