Muni / SFMTA

Test Runs for the Double-Decker Buses

Sorry, everyone, for the dearth of updates. Things have been busy lately, so there hasn’t been a great deal of time to prepare posts. I’ll try to get back on it soon.


Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle.

For now, just a quick note. You’ve probably already read in the Chronicle that the SFMTA is working to introduce double-decker buses into the Muni fleet. Although the buses will not be purchased right now, the time has come to try out the 14-foot-tall double-deckers on a selection of routes and to gauge rider input. The MTA has posted the schedule of test runs for the double-deckers; the lucky lines include the 1BX, 14L, 28L, 38, 38L, and the 49. Test runs start next week on December 12 and run through January 8, 2008. If you get a chance to try out a double-decker, please write back about your experience!



22 thoughts on “Test Runs for the Double-Decker Buses

  1. So I took the tour yesterday. Verdict: for Geary, Mission, etc.? No way–even putting aside perceived safety issues, the dwell times will be a deal-killer. But for express service? Replace the artics tomorrow.

    Posted by Steve | 12 December 2007, 1:44 pm
  2. Hi Steve, thanks for writing back. I was pretty sure that these double-deckers probably wouldn’t work for the local service. Actually, I was surprised when I first read that they were even trying them at all on the 38 or 49. But I’m glad to hear they were a success for the express routes. Is the ride a lot more comfortable?

    Posted by Eric | 12 December 2007, 1:53 pm
  3. Ah, dammit, a long reply got lost. Anyway, the bus was parked outside Muni HQ yesterday; I haven’t experienced it in action. But clearly it would be more comfortable than artics in many ways (more seats, views, smoother ride).

    They are going to test on the 1BX, although when I don’t know.

    Posted by Steve | 12 December 2007, 4:15 pm
  4. Just please don’t order these with cloth seats. This town is way to nasty for cloth on the seats

    Posted by zig | 15 December 2007, 1:25 pm
  5. Double deck buses could work on local routes too. Most of the buses in Hong Kong are double deck and are operated on local and express routes.

    I am in Hong Kong and am observing the boarding activities. I saw a few things:

    1. Because the buses are double deck with more capacity, buses are not at crush load capacity outside rush hours. There’s plenty of seats and standing room.

    2. Passengers always use the front door for boarding and rear door for exiting. Front door may be used for exiting for wheelchairs.

    3. At some bus stops, railings are placed to force passengers to line up before boarding.

    4. There’s no monthly passes for buses in Hong Kong, but uses a smartcard fare collection in addition to cash. Most passengers, including tourists, use smartcard.

    5. Fare in buses vary based on route and distance traveled. Most of the bus fares can be paid in coins.

    6. HK buses are operated by private companies, consistent with other public utilities, and are not directly subsidized by taxpayers (only subsidy is tax exempt fuel and vehicle registration). So there’s a huge incentive for drivers not to allow free boardings.

    7. Standing on the upper level and on the staircase is prohibited. Therefore it is easier to get to and get out of seats on the upper level. If a passenger go up and does not find a seat, the passenger will have to walk down. However, people do stand for a short while when approaching bus stops and are ready to get off.

    8. Double deck buses generally have lower floors than a single deck bus, especially those in the US. Nonaccessible double deck buses have at most two steps off the ground, versus 3 steps in the US.

    9. Internal cirulation on double deck buses is pretty good. Stairs on buses are located across from the exit to encourage passenger flow. A problem with articulated buses is that people who board in the front often stand in front and not moving back. That encourages people to board from the back where there’s room. Double deck buses partially mitigate this with more seating on the upper level.

    I will try to take some videos of people boarding to see how much time it takes at busy stops.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 20 December 2007, 7:43 am
  6. My statement about the potential local bus service difficulty wasn’t based on any experience with the buses (I still haven’t gotten to try one yet), just a hunch — although I would venture to say that, given past experience, just because something works well in Hong Kong does not make it a foregone conclusion that it will work well here. Translink would certainly be a help.

    Interesting observations about Hong Kong. If you take any video footage, please write back with a link. I’d love to see it.

    Posted by Eric | 20 December 2007, 11:07 am
  7. If something works in Hong Kong but not in San Francisco, it is certainly not about the ability to handle the ridership levels, because Hong Kong is more transit reliant than SF.

    It would be something more related to the government and social attitudes. For example, vandalism and homelessness is not as apparent in Hong Kong versus San Francisco. Therefore Hong Kong buses have padded seats and otherwise a more pleasant interior.

    In Hong Kong, infrastructure are generally designed to provide efficient operation on a permanent basis, and would be redesigned if there’s a change in operation. That includes transfers in the subway system. In SF, however, efficent operation is not a priority compared to meet other political/non-transportation interests.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 30 December 2007, 8:04 am
  8. Andy,

    If something works in Hong Kong and not here, it certainly could have to do with ridership levels – you said yourself that private companies operate the buses, so any line that has high ridership probably has more buses than any high ridership line in SF – on a per rider basis. And likewise, any line in Hong Kong that has low ridership probably has fewer buses per rider than do low ridership routes in SF.

    Posted by Chris | 30 December 2007, 12:58 pm
  9. It could be, but the service is highly regulated by the government with an overall fleet cap, among others. Some outlaying district does not have buses to the downtown core area because the government wants to shift riders to rail. There are only 4 companies that run buses.

    The link below is the video of a bus boarding in Hong Kong. Older buses have a narrow front door so passengers get in one at a time. Newer buses that have a wide door for wheelchairs only opens the first half section for the same effect.

    People never board from the rear door, and always exit from the rear door. I remember many years ago, drivers left the rear door open during layovers. Drivers don’t do that now because the buses have air conditioning.

    I do admire VTA to encourage efficient passenger flow at major stops (downtown San Jose) by opening the back door first to make people exit through the back and then open the front to board. A smooth passenger flow can happen in the Bay Area.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 30 December 2007, 8:21 pm
  10. I could find plenty of videos from all over Europe, South America, China, etc, etc showing POP systems with every door opening for entry and exit – I don’t think it’s really debatable which tends to work better for passenger flow.

    Posted by Chris | 30 December 2007, 11:50 pm
  11. POP is a concept that was brought from Europe. Most if not all the BRT systems in Latin America and China that allow all passengers to enter through any door use faregates like most subway systems. Many of the local buses there have onboard fare collectors (like many commuter rail systems in the East Coast).

    In Beijing, people board the articulated local bus through the center door and exit through the front and rear door. The fare collector seats near the center door to collect fare or check passes.

    In those developing countries, there’s not a strong sense of law and order, therefore POP is not a viable option. However, the labor cost is low to allow extra personnel to enforce fare payment outside of the vehicle.

    POP is used in Hong Kong in its light rail system. Hong Kong’s labor cost and sense of law and order is much higher (as you can see when people board the buses there).

    I don’t believe POP is the best fare system for every city, because not every city in the world has the same quality of life and low population as in the Western Europe where it is originated.

    I don’t like SF’s half ass approach of allowing people enter through the rear door as if it is POP and don’t commit the resource to implement a true POP. I consider that a weak sense of law and order on Muni’s part. I think for the most part POP is not necessary if Muni develops a correct passenger culture like other agencies.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 31 December 2007, 9:44 pm
  12. Any US systems that have this “correct passenger culture”? I agree Muni’s system is lax, but I just don’t see a complete culture shift as something that can happen, without tremendous expense – tremendous. POP with enforcement can happen for pennies in comparison.

    Also, the newer ring lines in Curitiba use POP, as do the BRT lines in Porto Alegre.

    Posted by Chris | 1 January 2008, 12:25 am
  13. Shouldn’t you two be out on New Years, enjoying yourself, instead of on the computer? ;-)

    Rather than appealing to cultural distinctions, we should just observe that the missing link needed to make POP viable is enforcement — and I don’t mean officers getting on a train at Montgomery, and then exiting at Embarcadero. I mean real enforcement, including buses. Convincing people that their failure to pay fare could reasonably result in a fine much larger than the fare they neglected to pay is more tangible than addressing an alleged, nebulous lack of law and order inherent to San Francisco culture. I do agree that the MTA has not yet committed the resources to this task that would be needed to get the job done.

    Posted by Eric | 1 January 2008, 1:06 am
  14. The correct culture exists in most other transit agencies. People don’t enter through the back door at VTA or at AC Transit, in LA or New York.

    I think this culture is tolerated partly because Muni is part of the City government and receives general funding, and a strong attitude exists of tax the drivers or tax the downtown businesses. Even the mayor have suggested free fares. These attitudes don’t exist at AC Transit, and therefore places a stronger value on passenger fares, and thus not boarding through the back door.

    A reservation that I have on POP is that it is a weak deterrent for some people from using transit as a hangout, which increases crowding and vandalism as well as compromises safety. These people can only be caught when a occasional fare inspection takes place and the fine may or may not be collected (because they are not and cannot be collected at the spot, and these people may not have proper IDs). A more traditional system creates a stronger deterrent because these people may not want to pay a fare or does not have a pass and therefore be denied boarding.

    To foster a proper culture, just use some of the resource needed for POP to cite people entering through the back. The “enter” and “exit” marking needs to be clearly displayed in multiple languages. The existing sign cannot be read when the back door is open and all other text are long legal languages in small fonts. Also, The driver should be told not to operate (or call the cops) and that they will not be punished for following the fare policy, and the mayor needs to support that unambiguously even if that will cause inconvenience for other riders in the short run.

    In other agencies, you can expect support from the board chair. However I think SF has too much of the “make someone else pay” attitude when addressing its social problems.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 1 January 2008, 7:30 pm
  15. SF doesn’t have a problem with people entering through the back door without flashing a pass on MOST routes. When you’re outside of the major stops on the crush-loaded lines I haven’t seen an issue with non-payment. If we’re going to stop buses on Stockton on Geary to “wait for the cops”, I would be strongly opposed.

    VTA and AC Transit have no lines with stops even apporaching the number of people that board at some of the busiest Muni stops. I admit that I haven’t been everywhere on a bus in NYC or LA, but I certainly don’t remember seeing many crush-loaded buses stopping at busy stops in either place. The problems here are as much about capacity (on a few select lines) as they are “culture”.

    Posted by Chris | 1 January 2008, 11:06 pm
  16. Why don’t people just enter the front if they have a pass or a transfer? If the bus is too crowded to board from the front, can these passengers expect the driver to see them flashing the pass?

    LA buses can be packed at times in corridors like the Wilshire Blvd.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 2 January 2008, 12:18 pm
  17. Why don’t people just enter the front if they have a pass or a transfer?

    They’re letting the five elderly women use the front door to exit – so that the bus can leave immediately after the last woman gets off.

    It’s usually not a crowd thing on routes other than Geary, Van Ness, Mission, Market, and Stockton – it’s an elderly/handicapped/etc thing.

    In my experience, LA and NYC don’t have nearly the number of elderly riders that must exit through the “kneeling” front door. It would be interesting to see numbers.

    Posted by Chris | 2 January 2008, 6:56 pm
  18. LA in particular has more low floor buses to better serve the elderly. It is unfortunate that SF uses high floor buses exclusively on their busiest lines (all articulated buses are high floor).

    Nonetheless, passengers should not enter through the rear door unless express permission is given by the driver. In most cases, passengers just assume it is okay because the driver doesn’t care.

    A lot of times, I’ve seen people waiting by the rear door and expect the passengers onboard would let them in by opening the rear door. These passengers could at least attempt to go to the front but didn’t. Their intent is more like evading fares rather than speeding up boarding.

    In other agencies, drivers may allow these passengers to board from the back if the bus is loading a wheelchair user in front or if a passenger is bring a bike onboard (front rack is full). In these cases, pass is checked or the fare is paid.

    Posted by Andy Chow | 4 January 2008, 2:05 pm
  19. You’re talking about obvious lawbreakers. Most of the time that rear door entry is happening by many people it’s because the bus is crushloaded and/or unloading many passengers through the front door. Those are both other issues than “cultural” in my opinon. They both may contribute to a sense of lawlessness, but the fix should be improving service and getting low floor buses, not deteriorating service more by slowing down boarding and/or stopping buses to wait for police to arrive.

    For example, if I’m trying to get on a 38 at Geary/Powell, I’m probably going to use the rear door, simply because loading all 40 people through the front door after waiting for a few people to get off would take five minutes. I want to help speed things along as much as I can.

    Low-floor buses would solve most of the problems, yes.

    Posted by Chris | 5 January 2008, 10:06 am
  20. A great many people that are boarding at the back of the bus have fast passes (and, in fact, flash them to the driver), so assuming that anyone boarding at the back is a fare evader will give you a far higher fare evasion rate than what is actually the case. On crowded buses, people know they will have to go to the back of the bus anyway, so entering in the back door gets them to the back immediately. Some people are also hoping to get quick access to a seat which has just been vacated by an exiting passenger — a seat which would already be filled if they lined up at the front door. Sometimes, the operator directs people to enter at the back door, since the front may be overflowing.

    Strictly speaking, passengers should not be boarding at the back door under the current scheme — so in that sense, anything against that blanket rule could be seen as “lawless” — but the interesting thing is that passengers have instinctively gravitated towards an “equilibrium” solution that makes sense, i.e. make best use of all doors on the bus. Rather than fighting this by calling in police and enforcing front-door boarding, the MTA should increase the efficacy of its enforcement machine, convert to low-floor buses, and then allow back boarding as a matter of course.

    Another possible solution might be have to MTA officers stationed at particularly crowded stops (Chinatown, inner Geary, Van Ness & Market, etc), who would check whether or not people have passes before they board the bus. The officers could direct passholders to board the back of the bus, and people who have to pay fare to board on front. I don’t think this is a good long-term solution, but it could legally legitimize back boarding until the MTA has an enforcement machine to actually back up POP on buses.

    Posted by Eric | 5 January 2008, 11:48 am
  21. I don’t see a need to have POP system wide, and the current POP implementation doesn’t leave much confidence that it can work on the buses. It is possible to have fare inspectors to check fares at busy stops. No stop on the system is busy 24/7 and therefore inspectors are needed only when it is too crowded.

    An unenforced fare system takes money away from the system it needs and decrease the quality of the system.

    One area for Muni to look at is the fare system to decrease the volume of time-consuming cash transactions. Day pass is one approach. In HK, most people use smartcards.

    Another area is the service design. In case of Chinatown, is too many people using 9X between Chinatown and Market, which they should be using 30 or 45 instead, and will that make the 9X less crowded?

    Posted by Andy Chow | 5 January 2008, 2:09 pm
  22. … the current POP implementation doesn’t leave much confidence that it can work on the buses.
    An unenforced fare system takes money away from the system it needs and decrease the quality of the system.

    Andy, that’s the whole point. The enforcement method needs to change. I am not suggesting that we convert to POP without actually enforcing it. I am suggesting a change from the status quo. (See my comment directly above, which I think pretty clearly indicated that more enforcement is needed.) Making full use of all entry points makes sense in crowded areas, and it also helps to streamline and simplify the procedure for paying fares, instead of maintaining different policies for different parts of the system. The distinction seems a little arbitrary, especially in San Francisco, where the trains running on the surface essentially operate as buses anyway.

    One area for Muni to look at is the fare system to decrease the volume of time-consuming cash transactions.
    Quite true, although you can still swipe a Translink card from the back door of a bus.

    As for the 9X: it is designed to run local between Chinatown and Market, to provide extra service in this high-demand area. There’s no reason why riders would bypass a 9X and wait for a 30 or 45, and you can hardly blame someone for boarding a 9X if their trip ends at Market, particularly if they’ve just been bypassed by a few crushloaded 30’s and 45’s. Of course, there is always the option of realigning the 9X and turning it into an express south of Chinatown, but the MTA decided not to do that, even when changing the route last April. I’m not sure if they even considered that magnitude of change, but the fact is, we need more rider capacity between Market and Columbus, not less.

    Posted by Eric | 5 January 2008, 2:32 pm

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