Study: Reducing commuter shuttle stops could put more cars on the road

Reducing the number of designated commuter shuttle stops could cause many passengers to give up on shuttles and drive, adding more cars to the road, according to a study set to go before the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board Tuesday.

Critics of the city's program allowing corporate shuttles to use city bus stops in return for a fee and compliance with regulations have argued that the city should consider moving to a "hub" system with fewer
designated stops. The change, proponents say, would reduce the impact of the shuttles on residential neighborhoods and on public transit.

However, the change could have tradeoffs. A study set to be discussed by the SFMTA board Tuesday found that reducing the number of shuttle stops could make shuttles less convenient for passengers and reduce ridership by anywhere from 24 to 45 percent, depending on the model used.

Nearly all of those passengers would drive instead, adding between 1,780 and 3,300 more cars to the road and increasing the risk of vehicle crashes, the report found.

The change could also prompt some shuttle companies to simply opt out of the city's voluntary regulation program, which they cannot be legally forced to comply with, the report found.

Business groups have been vocal supporters of the shuttle program, which they say takes cars off the road, and have expressed opposition to the "hub" proposal.

"Less is more with the hub approach-more traffic, more emissions, more accidents," Adrian Covert, vice president of policy for the Bay Area Council, said in a statement. "Jamming commuter shuttles into fewer locations will drive down ridership, pushing thousands of riders into their cars and onto our already congested streets."

Tom Maguire, the SFMTA's Sustainable Street Director, said in a blog post today that data collected from April to September shows that the city's current regulations are working to keep cars off the road.

While shuttle ridership rose 15 percent, the city found a 91 percent decrease in reports of shuttles driving on restricted streets, a 65 percent reduction in shuttles stopping on small residential streets and a 23-percent reduction in shuttles using Muni stops, Maguire said.

The city has issued 2,267 citations for violations of the city regulations, worth $360,895, to participating shuttles between August 2014 and 2016, Maguire said.

The city launched a pilot shuttle regulation program in August 2014 in response to complaints that the corporate buses were using Muni bus stops, blocking traffic and idling on small neighborhood streets.

"The situation often felt like the Wild West," Maguire said. So far, 17 shuttle operators with 789 vehicles have registered for the program, which allows the use of designated city bus stops in return for a fee and compliance with other regulations.

The SFMTA board is not expected to vote on any changes to shuttle regulations Tuesday, but could consider them when the shuttle program comes up for renewal at the end of March.