clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Despite everything, San Franciscans are driving more

New, 10 comments

SFMTA report says other transit methods are growing—but not as fast as car use

An L Muni train in the Sunset. Photo by the.supreme.reality/Shutterstock

Last week, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) released its annual SF Mobility Trends Report, a regular assessment of how San Francisco is getting by when it comes to getting anywhere.

Compiled by SFMTA staff, the report assesses which methods of transit SF residents are most likely to use, employing everything from traffic counts to official ridership stats from transit agencies to Census data about bike use.

“San Francisco is hosting the most residents and jobs in its history, and the city is facing an array of transportation challenges including increased travel demand, greater infrastructure needs, and growing congestion,” the report notes.

And if you need corroboration on that fact, just ask any resident.

Although the report does have some good news for City Hall’s transit goals, the visible trend, for the most part, is still toward more car use.

Among the conclusions:

  • On a certain timeline, mass transit and bike use is up in SF. According to the report, since 2010 San Franciscan’s use of bikes is up six percent, and use of mass transit (BART, Muni, and Caltrain combined) is up five percent, in contrast to a national trend that’s seen mass transit use decline across the United States.
  • However, since the turn of the century, mass transit is still down. In the longer run, SF’s mass transit use is down since 2002. In 2003 the city saw a sudden, sharp decline of over 60,000 rides per week and has never reached previous highs since, even as the population increases.
  • Bicycle use in the city is down in the short run. Since 2010, the number of bike commutes in the city is up, and that figure has also more than doubled since the city first started keeping track in 2005. However, the number of bike trips is also down more than 24 percent since its peak in 2015, a precipitous drop in the short term.
  • More often people are just driving. Since 2010, vehicular traffic entering the city is up 27 percent. “Vehicle registration per capita has declined by three percent,” says the report. “But since the overall population has grown, the total number of vehicles registered in the city have grown by six percent, adding 26,000 more vehicles.” Subsequently, congestion—measured as both average vehicle speed and peak speed—is up too.
  • City Hall is quick to point the finger at ride-hailing apps for much of the increased congestion. The report concludes that companies like Lyft and Uber “represent 15 percent of all intra-SF trips.” The report also says that approximately 45,000 Lyft and Uber drivers are active in the city, noting that they “account for about half of the total increase in congestion in SF between 2010 and 2016, with population and employment responsible for the other half.”

The SFMTA’s accounting does its best to accentuate the positive, noting that, despite everything and in defiance of national trends, the city’s preferred methods of transit use are indeed up over the last decade.

However, it’s still clear from the analysis that City Hall has trouble breaking San Franciscans from their reliance on cars. Silicon Valley is only exacerbating the situation.

But the tech sector also contributes a bit to alternate transportation: Last week, a spokesperson for Ford’s Go Bike program claimed to Curbed SF that the company broke its record for SF trips with 9,428 in one day.

Meanwhile, the Mobility Trends Report estimates that the 625 legally licensed e-scooters in the city make about 2,300 trips per week.