SamTrans is planning to launch six new express bus routes in three phases over the next several years with a pilot project set to launch by the summer of 2019.
That pilot encompasses two of the four express bus routes: One will travel between Foster City and downtown San Francisco via Highway 101 and the other between Palo Alto and western San Francisco via Interstate 280. That line would travel along 19th Avenue in San Francisco and terminate at the intersection of Divisadero Street and Geary Boulevard.
The rollout timeline and overview of the new service was published earlier this month in a feasibility study earlier and was discussed at a SamTrans board meeting Nov. 7. It was approved at the Dec. 5 meeting.
Express bus service is typically meant for commuters, travels relatively long distances and makes fewer stops than standard bus lines.
“We’re excited to launch a service that meets the needs of the community, provides new connections, takes advantage of synergy with Managed Lanes and help grows our ridership,” said SamTrans spokesman Dan Lieberman.
Managed Lanes is the project that seeks to maintain traffic speeds of 45 mph at all times by adding tolled express lanes in both directions on the San Mateo County segment of Highway 101. Buses, carpools and clean air vehicles would travel free on those express lanes while single occupancy drivers would pay a toll.
Phase two of the express bus program would add two new express routes that would travel on those Highway 101 express lanes once they’re built in 2022. One of those routes would travel between San Bruno and East Palo Alto and the other between San Mateo and downtown San Francisco.
The third and final phase of the project would add another two routes, one connecting San Mateo to western San Francisco and the other connecting Burlingame to downtown San Francisco. Those routes wouldn’t be implemented until the first four are up and running.
Most of those routes do entail about 20 stops at roughly half-mile intervals, but stops are concentrated around each destination while the bulk of the ride would be uninterrupted on highways.
“We’re trying to find the sweet spot between enough stops that we capture people where they are and where they’re able to get to, but not too many stops that people feel like they’re not getting that express type of service,” Principal Planner Millie Tolleson said in a video of the meeting. “We’re hoping people will think of this service akin to a rail-type service.”
The expectation is that all the routes will operate for four hours in the morning and evening with buses arriving every 20 minutes. The plan is to also run electric buses on the express routes.
Four of the six express bus routes, including the ones in the pilot, are bidirectional while two are one-directional routes, meaning they would go to San Francisco in the morning and return to a San Mateo County destination in the evening.
Lieberman said SamTrans is looking into retrofitting express buses to equip them with WiFi and high-back seats. That will be discussed at SamTrans’ next board meeting in December.
The express bus project is expected to cost $55.6 million in capital and $16.5 million annually for operations and maintenance, according to the study. A $15 million grant has already been awarded and other potential funding sources include Senate Bill 1, Managed Lanes, Regional Measure 3 and Measure W, if it passes.
Lieberman said SamTrans used to run six express routes that were cut in 2009 because of the recession.
“We made the decision then to cut express routes rather than community routes as it wouldn’t be as rough on disadvantaged populations,” he said.
Visit samtrans.com to read the express bus feasibility study.
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