The 70 and 71 have issues

Last week, in covering GGT’s quarterly schedule update, I mentioned that the 70 follows the 71 too closely for some of its runs, once just 3 minutes behind. This, however, was not an accident of poor scheduling but a deliberate choice.

There are two reasons for this.

History. Years and years ago – long before the senior Marin Transit (MT) planner I spoke with came to work for the agency – GGT needed extra capacity on Route 70. They found that most passengers on the line were staying in Marin and crowded out the folks heading to San Francisco.

To beef up service, GGT asked MT to create Route 71, a Marin-only local bus. Though operated by GGT, the 71 would better fit MT’s mission to provide transit within Marin County than in GGT’s mission to provide service between Marin and neighboring counties.

At the rush hour times when the 70 closely follows the 71, then, the 71 serves as a relief bus, picking up all the local ridership and leaving the regional ridership for the closely-following 70.

But why not just use a larger bus for the 70? Because of the next reason:

Fare media. MT issues a raft of bus passes and discount cards for students, seniors, the disabled, and low-income riders that are accepted on all MT routes. Because GGT operates most of MT’s system, the most common place to use these is on a GGT-operated bus, and it would seem logical that GGT would also accept these on its routes – the commute and inter-county routes – for trips starting and ending within Marin. Alas, it is not so.

Transit-dependent riders equipped with MT-issued passes will therefore avoid the 70, as they will need to pay full price for their trip. Instead, they’ll board the 71, which does take the passes.

As a result, the 70 and 71 serve different ridership pools, both of which need to make the same transfers at San Rafael.

One planner I spoke with said that “everyone knows” the 70 and 71 don’t make sense. Given the reasons above, it’s hard to argue with him. GGT ought to take MT’s fare media for intra-Marin travel but either can’t or won’t, and so the 71 provides 101 corridor service to MT’s poorest riders. It’s an exceptionally inefficient and wasteful workaround to what should be a simple problem to fix. (But, given transit law in California, I’d wager GGT can’t take MT’s fare media without a waver of some kind.)

Lack of seats is a concern, but the benefits of all-day 15 minute frequency on 101 would far outweigh the negatives. Larger buses, such as the MCI commuter buses or double-deckers like the Google shuttle, could also provide some of the necessary capacity.

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New GGT schedule cuts Route 80, but more could be done

In GGT’s quarterly schedule adjustment, the agency will do as it planned this past summer and cut the long-suffering Route 80, a plodding local bus route that stopped at every bus stop from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. However, Highway 101 service could use more tweaks to better integrate Route 71 and other lines south of San Rafael.

New 101 bus service will look like so. Image by the author.

New 101 bus service will look like this. Image by the author. Routes 4, 10, 27, and 101X excluded for clarity.

The new basic San Francisco-Santa Rosa service will operate like the image to the right. Timed transfers between the 101 and 71 at Novato will ensure easy access to any stop between Santa Rosa and Marin City, while the express/local service pattern will better serve the larger long-distance market to San Francisco.

This is similar to Clem Tillier’s proposed Caltrain schedule, with a Silicon Valley Express and San Mateo Local.

Unfortunately, the timed transfers aren’t ideal. Before 8:55am, transfers between the 71 and 101 are 6 minutes. After 8:55, they extend to 9 minutes, a hefty chunk of time for riders.

As well, the 70 often follows the 71 too closely, once as close as 3 minutes behind. Though GGT is providing four local buses in a given hour, or one on average every 15 minutes, it instead has a 3 minute wait, followed by a 30 minute wait, another 30 minute wait, then another 3 minute wait. Though GGT is running enough buses to provide show-up-and-go service, the agency effectively continuing its two-bus-per-hour baseline schedule. It is, quite honestly, a waste of money.

Other tweaks to the schedule are quite good.

  • A new ferry shuttle, the 37, will run between Smith Ranch Road/Lucas Valley to Larkspur Ferry Terminal in the morning and evening. Though the parking situation is still horrid, it’s good to see the agency is continuing to expand its successful shuttle program.
  • Rerouting the 56 to the Broadway Tunnel instead of North Beach will save time – about 8 minutes per run – which will let commuters sleep in just a little bit longer, get home a little bit sooner, and save the agency about $50,000 in annual operating cost.
  • The popular routes 4 and 54 will receive more runs in both directions.
  • The 35 and 36 will become more consistent, with no service to Andersen Drive. Before, some runs would start on Andersen.

The largest concern is whether this new adjustment will lead to personnel shortages, which have plagued GGT for the past two quarters. Schedules should meet, not exceed, the agency’s capacity, and adjustments are when any personnel shortages can be smoothed out.

While the adjusted Highway 101 service isn’t as smooth as it ought to be, with long transfers and weirdly inconsistent headways between the 70 and 71, the new schedule is overall positive and uncharacteristically bold. As long as this doesn’t lead to more personnel shortages, the new schedule will be a success.

UPDATE: To clarify, the updates to the 35 and 36 are at the direction of Marin Transit, which contracts out their operation to GGT. Any change to the 71, which is under the same contract, would need to first start with Marin Transit. A fuller post on that mess is forthcoming.