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Thousands of Muni riders face chaos under line change plan

Commuters pack onto a K-Ingleside train at Powell Street Muni Station in San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, July 18, 2019. | Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of Muni riders could face chaotic changes to their route into downtown.

New plans teased Tuesday by Supervisor Gordon Mar say that once the L light rail line returns, SF transport bosses plan to have it connect to the K-line, heading south east.

This would also cause disruption for the K’s Ingleside passengers trying to get into downtown, as they would also be forced to transfer at West Portal and wait for a downtown connection.

As many 33,000 residents use the L Taraval Line according to SFMTA data. The spring 2016 data was released from a public records request as the agency is yet to publish updated ridership information by service. A further 42,000 riders use the K service, according to the 2016 data.

The agency’s plans were revealed by the supervisor during The Standard’s District 4 election debate, when the incumbent was asked when light rail service on the L Taraval to downtown would resume. The service has been altered and reduced since 2019 and is undergoing construction. 

“Once the L street car returns, MTA leadership plans to stop it at West Portal and have it connect to the K Line and have it go to City College,” Mar said. “There’s been no community outreach or opportunity for public input on that plan. I’ve insisted with MTA that we must have a meaningful input process before they move forward with that change.” 

Candidates Joel Engardio and District 4 City Supervisor Gordon Mar responds to questions from the crowd at the Irish Culture Center on Wednesday, Sept. 21. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

“What are you going to do to get that bus route back?” Westside resident Paula Katz asked Mar at the debate. “And when the L train comes back in 2024—if we’re lucky—will you make sure that it runs all the way downtown?” 

Since construction on the Taraval project she has found herself having to change buses at West Portal, where she has to wait to get downtown. 

Mar told her a “positive announcement” would be made soon regarding the L Taraval service.

SF Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Erica Kato said the reason for combining lines—also known as interlining—is to limit the number of trains in the subway, reducing congestion and slashing wait times. 

She also pointed to a pilot program in May where the J Church was removed from the subway and moved to a surface-only as a model for success.

“When the J Church was operating as surface-only…Muni Metro had the fastest, most reliable subway service the city has ever seen,” Kato said. She added that the L and K have already been interlined previously, though only for a short amount of time. 

“The goal now is to maintain those 2021 improvements…while carefully increasing the number of trains in the subway,” Kato said. “Delays and congestion are already creeping back up.”