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Muni wait times double in 70 years

Riders have done a lot of waiting since 1932

A man waiting at a Muni bus stop in front of a bright red mural. Photo by Michael Warwick

Muni hopes to improve its on-time performance in 2019, which is presently dismal for buses and especially for the city’s light rail lines.

But even if SFMTA manages to gets its trains running on time, compiling historical data reveals that standards for what “on-time” even means have degraded over the past 80-plus years, as scheduled wait times for Muni vehicles are now twice what they once were on many routes.

Local transit wonk Chris Arvin has created an online tool estimating scheduled departure times for different routes across different periods, ranging from 1932 up to 2019.

As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, this is not exactly an exact science, as Muni didn't publish its schedules for decades (forcing Arvin to sift through secondhand sources), and many routes have changed over the years.

Still, the trend away from more frequent arrival times is consistent. Here’s how morning commute waits looked in past decades compared to today:

  • Citywide: Five minutes (1932) / nine to 10 minutes (2019).
  • J-Church: 3.5 minutes (1932) / nine minutes
  • K-Ingleside: Four minutes (1932) / eight minutes
  • L-Taraval: 2.5 minutes (1949) / nine minutes
  • M-Ocean View: 12.5 minutes (1949) / nine minutes
  • N-Judah: 2.5 minutes (1949) / seven minutes
  • F-Market: Three minutes (1932)/ six minutes
  • 1-California: Five minutes (1932)/ four to five minutes
  • 14-Mission: 10 minutes (1932)/ eight to 15 minutes
  • 38-Geary: Four minutes (1932)/ four to eight minutes
  • 49-Van Ness: Four minutes (1932) / eight minutes
  • Powell-Mason Cable Car: Four minutes (1932 ) / 10 minutes

Arvin notes that the T-Third Street light rail line didn’t exist during most of the time covered by his app, but there were at one time 15-Third and 16-Third/Kearny bus routes.

Using those as a base, a trip down Third Street is scheduled just as often in 2019 as it was In 1932—every eight minutes—but only half as often on average as in 1949 and 1981.

To compare more routes and time of day estimates, check out Arvin’s online tool here. To sift through his data, check out the resource page here.