Chinese community advocates won a big victory Tuesday when San Francisco’s transit agency agreed to restore two express bus lines connecting Chinatown and the southeastern part of the city that had been suspended during the pandemic.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) board voted unanimously on December 7 to bring back, modify or extend about a dozen bus lines early next year as the city’s economy slowly recovers from the pandemic.
But the only express bus lines that were restored were the 8AX Bayshore A Express and 8BX Bayshore Express. Both lines run through the Chinatown/Downtown area to the city’s southeast Visitacion Valley and Bayview neighborhood, serving mostly people of color and working-class families.
The return of the lines was not included in the SFMTA’s initial blueprint for 2022 service restoration, but the agency changed course after community leaders pushed back.
Queena Chen, Co-Chair of the Chinatown Transportation Research and Improvement Project(Chinatown-TRIP), a volunteer advocacy group focusing on transit and racial equity, noted that working-class communities--where most don’t have the option of working from home-- were hit hardest by the pandemic.
“They have to have a reliable transit option,” Chen said. The regular 8 Bayshore line has seen a surge in its weekly ridership, from 8,200 passengers in January to over 21,000 in November, according to SFMTA’s official data. An informal October survey of 8 Bayshore riders by Chinatown-TRIP found that it’s increasingly overcrowded, with inconsistent wait times.
“We don’t have a lot of services here,” said Marlene Tran, a member of the city’s Southeast Community Facility Commission and a resident of Visitacion Valley for over three decades. “It’s really important for our community to have direct access to the downtown/Chinatown area.”
Chinatown-TRIP, Tran, and other community members reached out to SFMTA Board and Supervisors weeks ago, asking for the return of the 8 AX/BX Express lines. A press conference was held in earlier December in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood, joined by Supervisor Shamann Walton and Matt Haney pushing that call.
Tran and Chen both cited concerns about crowding and long commute times and said more frequent buses would also improve safety for Asian community members during short winter days. Tran argued the SFMTA and the city have long ignored the southeastern communities; Visitacion Valley is often mocked as “Forgotten Valley.”
According to the latest SFMTA report, the 8AX Express line has 63,000 residents within a quarter-mile of a stop. 78% are people of color and 37% are low-income, higher percentages than the city average.
“As part of the outreach related to 2022 Muni service planning, we have heard that returning to the pre-pandemic 8AX/8BX Bayshore Express service pattern is important,” MTA spokesperson Erica Kato said in a statement.
Kato said the 8 Bayshore line will operate every 7 minutes during midday, and 8AX Bayshore Express and an 8-minute 8BX Bayshore Express will operate every 8 minutes during peak hours. That won’t happen until the spring though.
“We’re continuing to hire and train as quickly as we can, and the 8AX and 8BX remain high priorities for service restoration once we have necessary staffing,” Kato said.