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I thought riding the 38 Geary would be horrible—I was wrong

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Troubled and trafficked San Francisco bus line atones

Steeling myself for Transportation Week’s worst rush-hour challenge, I expected-slash-hoped for a hellish commute aboard the sluggish and odorous 38-Geary. After all, when I rode this line daily on the regular nearly a decade ago, it was a jam-packed ride, a crotch-to-butt nightmare come to life.

This ostensibly simple line, which runs ramrod straight east to west from downtown San Francisco to the Outer Richmond, has gained a reputation over the years as the city’s most brutal trip in the during busy hours.

On average, it handles 55,270 average daily boardings, making it one of the busiest bus corridors west of the Mississippi.

Not having taken the 38 during peak hours in eons—living in downtown San Francisco does have privileges; namely, a lack of lengthy commute—I braced myself on an unusually warm Tuesday evening to tame the Geary beast.

Hopping on a 38 Geary Rapid at Fremont and Market at around 5:15 p.m. (the route’s initial stop) the first thing that struck me was the lack of queue. Where was everyone? No matter. I jumped aboard, took off my backpack, and scurried around rat-like to find a seat. However, there was no little need to fret as there were seats aplenty.


Over the next few stops, sweaty commuters boarded the bus. Some but not many. It was hardly the sardine-tin crush I witnessed in bygone commutes. Many riders were able to take a seat. Many riders were able to stand comfortably. As we traversed Geary up to Van Ness, the border between Geary Street and Geary Boulevard, there was still enough room for riders to keep their backpacks on. (A major no-no. I digress.)

What rush?

What’s happening? Did the rapture finally happen? Or was I on one of those rare rush-hour rides that slides in under the nightmare-commute radar?

As the bus approached the Masonic, I jumped off the coach frustrated and confused. An anomalous ride, I assumed. I went back a few stops and climbed aboard a regular 38-Geary line where, once again, I was met with a downright roomy commuting experience, one that bordered on serene.

Now I was pissed.

This line proved too comfortable for rush-hour. Where was the steaminess of an broken NYC subway? Where was the existential anguish that the 405 gives Angelenos on a daily basis?

“SFMTA has been working to improve Geary service with initiatives like new low-floor buses and more frequent Rapid service,” SFMTA’s Erica Kato explains. “Red lanes heading on both Geary and Powell work have resulted in an improved trip-time and better experience for our riders.”

But that’s not all. The 38 still has ways to go.

“Additional improvements are needed to meet rising transportation demands--so while your ride has improved, we have more work to do,” says Kato.

While there are some ride on the 38 that still bungle things up, the new and improved 38 Geary line is a sign that, indeed, some things can change for the better with SFMTA.

Now, if they can only get people to stop wearing their backpacks on the bus. That would be a true transit miracle.