New private bus wants you to avoid the crowded 30-Stockton, Blue Bottle coffee optional

leap bus

Taking Muni used to be an equalizing experience in San Francisco, but new ride-share apps are making public transit optional for people who’d rather not stand with the masses. A new pay-per-ride service is launching in the city today, with Blue Bottle iced coffee and hipster-appropriate wood paneling as the backdrop for morning selfies. For $6 a ride, Leap buses will take commuters from the Marina to the Financial District during peak hours. The company bills itself as the “Virgin America of buses.”

The area served by Leap’s bus line has “a high concentration of people who work downtown and a high concentration smartphone users. We’re particularly interested in serving areas where it’s tough to get a seat on public transit, and surge pricing is too high for daily use,” says Kyle Kirchhoff, founder and CEO of Leap.

The launch is not Leap’s first go-around in San Francisco. The company is launching the same proposed service today, more than a year after a scathing editorial in 2013 that called Leap a “selfish disruptor.” San Francisco also has seen other private bus apps like Loup or Chariot, which has four lines and offers a $93 monthly pass.

To be fair, private jitneys like Leap, Loup, or Chariot have sometimes been the basis of our current public transit system. SFist put it best: “While this all may seem ugly and capitalist in an era when Muni needs all the help and financial support it can get, it should be noted that many of Muni’s routes were, at one time (pre-1912), run by private entrepreneurs and were only later absorbed under a single system.” So this may not be all bad news in the long run, right?

With the proliferation of these private buses, life on Muni could start to look really different, and that scares me. When we started Muni Diaries seven years ago, public transportation felt like the great equalizer. We all had to get from point A to point B, and Muni was the only viable way for most people. Taxis were unreliable, parking was inconvenient and expensive, and bicycling wasn’t always an option. As a daily commuter, I saw a cross section of San Francisco whenever I got on the bus, and I loved it. Interactions on Muni helped us learn about one another and added layers to our experience of living here.

Sure, you might complain about WTF behaviors on Muni (hello, dude gulping Franzia), but you also see moments that restore your faith in humanity. Who wouldn’t want an impromptu Happy Birthday serenade on the bus?

There were always people in San Francisco who never rode the bus because they can afford to take cabs or drive to work and pay for parking every day. But that used to be an option only for the very rich. Now there are a lot of alternatives for people who make enough money to forgo public transit altogether. With life in San Francisco looking more and more segmented, who will be left to advocate for public transportation?

Our transit problems don’t come with a simple tech solution, but I’ve seen some creative attempts like the BART Twitter forum, the SFMTA Hackathon, and of course, this year’s TransportationCamp (maybe it should be a requirement for VC’s and business school grads?).

There’s no denying that it sucks when the bus is crowded and uncomfortable. It’s highly unrealistic to say that you should ride Muni just so you can learn about humanity. There’s a market for better public transit, but does the solution have to be a smart phone app for a private bus with bar stools and Blue Bottle coffee? I should hope not.

17 comments

  • Diane Novo via Facebook

    1st world problems…I forsee a lot of entitled D-bags on this bus. MUNI does need to step up it’s game though…

  • JC

    I agree.

    But MUNI has to do better on the 30X line (what Leap and Chariot are copying) than it’s doing today. I ride the line daily and have for over a decade. It’s really crowded and if one lives near the last 4 or 5 stops before the express run begins, one frequently gets bypassed by 1 or 2 full coaches before getting a (standing) spot. So, we’re talking a long wait to get the privilege of standing for one’s ride to work. And this is WITH two private competitors presumably taking some prospective riders away. To my recollection, MUNI hasn’t increased service on this line. Best case, it hasn’t taken any service away over the past couple of TEP iterations.

    It’s easy to mock these efforts because of the neighborhood they serve — especially Leap. (Chariot is pretty utilitarian. It’s an often uncomfortable, bumpy ride in a van.) But, MUNI seems committed to running the same basic commuter shuttle structure as it ran in, for example, 1995 but with even fewer non-commuter lines available to pick up the excess and a lot more riders using it. (There are no 4, 15, 20, or 42 lines serving these or adjacent neighborhoods for example.) MUNI is capable of innovation – when the N was experiencing high commuter loads, they introduced the NX, etc… That these services can be profitable is, to me, a symptom of overcrowding. But I’m keeping my Clipper card.

    • Kylee

      The 30 bus isn’t just uncomfortably crowded, it is so crowded that the drivers often skip stops because there is no space for new passengers. Once you get passed by several buses in a row, I don’t blame customers for looking for alternatives. If the city can’t or won’t increase capacity on the north-south Muni routes, I encourage 3rd parties to try to pick up the slack, even if the market price is 3 times the Muni price.

      Just don’t block official Muni bus stops with the private buses.

    • Henry

      I think Muni plans to introduce articulated buses to the 30 and 30X lines later this year when the orders for new buses come in. The only problem left is whether area residents would be willing to give up some parking spaces in order to make the bus stops longer. I believe Muni has considered running longer buses on these routes before, but weren’t able to do it because some residents did not want to lose parking.

      • Susan

        I don’t think the neighbors have to give up more parking places – muni bus drivers don’t like to pull over to the curb to pick up people as they lose their “spot” in the traffic lane!

        • Henry

          …and the reason why Muni drivers don’t like to pull into the bus stops is because the buses won’t fit, hence the situation on Chestnut.

      • Dexter Wong

        If I remember correctly, Muni does run articulated buses on the 30 line, but they turn around at Van Ness and North Point so they don’t enter the Marina and bother residents by demanding bigger bus stops.

        • Henry

          They haven’t done so since 2012 (with the exception for one trip around 7am: IB from 5th/Market to Caltrain, then Caltrain to Van Ness/North Point) because of a fleet shortage (by that time, the New Flyer articulated fleet was already down to 40, and was later reduced to 28 a year later). Hopefully this will change when the new articulated trolley buses enter service later this year.

        • JC

          Cite for this? I ask because MUNI has run articulated coaches on the 41 line for years. Pretty much the same neighborhood. I know MUNI has had issues locating the terminal for the 30-Stockton line but that’s been true even with the shorter regular coaches.

          I’d like to know where people are getting their facts here. A lot of places on Chestnut along the 30 route in the Marina have garages. So the stereotypical “resident” already has a place to park his/her car and if he/she doesn’t, he/she knows better than to expect that the space outside of his or her home is presumably theirs.

          This all coming from a 30-Stockton rider for (wow) 17+ years.

  • Joshua Sibelman via Facebook

    Perhaps if Muni was better about timeliness and cleanliness this would be less appealing.

  • Javier Leocadio Colón via Facebook

    Perhaps the state should tax us more so that we can improve all our mass transportation lines and catch up with more developed countries.

  • Ivana Zhivkovic via Facebook

    Agreed!!

  • wee1

    In Peru’s main city, Lima, the transit is all independent bus systems with different lines, all driving mostly uncomfortable used vans but employing lots of people. They are pretty crowded but also pretty cheap. Perhaps MUNI needs to devolve to evolve.

  • Karoline Galea via Facebook

    Woah!

  • derpderp

    there’s this thing called “supply and demand”, and on multiple lines in the city (the 30 is definitely one of the worst during rush hours) MUNI simply isn’t supplying at the level it’s customers are demanding… and on top of that, the service is slow, dirty, dysfunctional, and crowded as hell. i don’t blame people for jumping ship. i mean, what does MUNI expect? people aren’t going to pay more and more for less and less forever, nor should they have to.

  • Can we also talk about the added congestion to our city streets thanks to ride share apps!? I would really like to know how many Ubers & Lyfts come into the city during rush hours.

  • This is what we have to look forward to S.F. Sitting in a relaxed confined space, facing each other, gazing out the window for our lost childhood we vow to reclaim in peter pan land. BTW…this photo is not accurate…I don’t see ONE person looking at their smart device.

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