Last Call for the 26-Valencia

On the 26.

On a late Monday afternoon, nextbus.com predicted the 26-Valencia would arrive in 21 minutes at a Mission District Muni stop. The next one, it promised, would come in an hour and a half.

“There’s more frequency going to Los Angeles on Southwest,” said Henry Harteveldt as he waited for the 26-Valencia.

“At times I don’t need it, it’s there. But when I need it, it’s not,” said Harteveldt.

As of Saturday, the bus that began in 1892 as one of the city’s oldest trolleys will end its 108-year run.

Harteveldt, who once worked for the airline industry, said the route’s demise was a “self-fulfilling prophecy” brought on by its infrequent stops.

Regardless, the Municipal Transit Agency has decided to discontinue the 26 and five others. Sixty percent of weekday routes and 35-40 percent of weekend routes will also see changes.

Not quite 3,000 riders board the 26-Valencia each day, compared with nearly 40,000 on the 14-Mission and about 25,000 on the 49-Van Ness, which run along Mission Street. Because so few passengers take the 26, it costs the MTA $3.20 per person to run, while the 14-Mission only costs the agency 80 cents per person to operate.

To compensate for the loss of the 26, the MTA will increase frequency on the 14-Limited and the 14-X. But riders were unhappy with the prospect of changing buses—and lifestyles.

“The Mission Street buses are crowded and uncomfortable,” said Mike, who sat quietly as the bus roared down Valencia Street, his backpack on the empty seat next to him; black-rimmed glasses pressed against his graying hair.

“I’ve been taking [the 26] for 30 years. It’s a pretty reliable bus,” he said. He takes the bus to the Safeway on 30th and Mission Streets.

The changes are part of a plan to earn back some money for the cash-strapped agency, which faced a $129 million budget deficit this year. This week, service hours will decrease on 24 lines for customers who just last July started paying 50 cents more per ride, and will see Muni pass increases in January.

Nathaniel Ford, MTA director, said 150 Muni personnel wearing orange hats and bright yellow vests will visit bus stops to tell riders about changing routes from Saturday until Tuesday.

For 26-Valencia riders, the 36-Teresita, another line with low ridership, will be re-routed to cover part of the bus’ former path, between St. Luke’s Hospital on Cesar Chavez Street and the Glen Park BART station.

But it won’t replace the line completely, ending at Glen Park rather than Balboa Park, and it too will also see a reduction in frequency and service hours.

Kyle Lacy, a 25-year-old flight attendant who lives in Glen Park, says poor transportation keeps his neighborhood isolated. For him, the BART is a 15 minute walk away—an easy adjustment for him but not so easy for the elderly or disabled. He says one of his blind neighbors will be affected.

Still, it was clear that the route had few riders. Sarah Kingon, 23, was one of the few passengers aboard the 26-Valencia on a sunny Sunday afternoon. She knitted quietly on the nearly empty bus.

“The ride is much nicer than the J,” said Sarah, who takes the bus to her teaching job at Lowell High School. “I don’t like the Glen Park J stop – it’s under the freeway, it definitely feels unsafe.”

But, Kingon said, the faithful bus can be sporadic.

“It could come more often,” she said, adding that the arrival time is sometimes inaccurate.

Michael Bongiorni doesn’t seem to mind the 26’s meanderings. He lives in Bernal Heights and has taken the 26 to his job at Goodwill for the past four years. He also likes to ride the bus down Valencia after work and stop to eat or shop, but he says that ritual will stop once the line does.

Passengers used to riding along Valencia Street in the Mission will have to walk a block to the 14-Mission or 49-Van Ness, or to the J train on Church Street. The 26-Valencia stopped at Balboa BART station, and now only the 49 and the J-Church will stop there.

Gary Page, 56, lives on 20th street and takes the 26 everyday to his job at a consulting firm downtown.

“I’m going to cry,” the three-year rider said. “It goes where I want to go and it’s not the 14.”

“That sucks!” said Adrian Rodriguez, when he learned the bus route would end. He lives on 26th and Valencia and takes the bus every day to his gym on 15th.

“This is going to be a long-time commitment,” said Rodriguez, of his gym membership, bouncing his sweatpants-cloaked knee up and down emphatically. “I really like this bus—that’s a shame, this is good transportation.”

26 Valencia, Last Call from Mission Local on Vimeo.

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19 Comments

  1. LibertyHiller

    I sincerely doubt that many people east of Dolores St consider the J-Church as an alternative to the 26, especially between 20th and 27th streets. This is just a guess on my part, but something about having to climb up 50 or 100 feet of hill tends to discourage anyone who isn’t on a fitness kick. Plus, the J isn’t going to win any awards for reliability until there’s a reworking of the switch at 17th St, priority-driven traffic signals signals are installed, and a complete rebuild of the tracks is completed. In other words, not in your lifetime.

    As of Saturday, the Liberty Hill area will be a contender for the crown of “neighborhood least accessible by public transit.” I was one of the last riders on the 13-Guerrero and in the early 90s I frequently rode the 26 out to Parkmerced to visit a girlfriend.

    Back then, the 26 ran fairly reliably, but after it was cut back to Balboa Park, it became an “orphan route” where missed runs were easily ignored. I agree with Mr. Hartefelt, Muni was unable to keep service levels up, riders decided that if they had to get somewhere, they’d better crowd onto a Mission St. bus, and the circle began.

  2. beulah

    I used to ride the 26 all the time from SF State to 22nd Street. It was clean, and pretty fast compared to taking the M-Ocean View to either the J-Church or BART. Sometimes one would wait for the M at SFSU for upwards of 40 minutes, meaning I wouldn’t get home from school until about 11:30pm.

    But I totally understand why they eliminated the bus line though. Often times, there would be about 5 people on that late night ride, and we would start getting off the bus after Cesar Chavez. From MUNI’s perspective (as well as mine) it made no sencse to keep that line.

  3. Brian

    A 100+ year old legacy line should mean something. Clearly there’s long been a need for the 26. I ride it to work everyday, and love to ride it downtown to go shopping. I’m seriously going to miss this bus. And what are the alternatives? The stabby Mission buses or the stabby J? No thanks. I’d rather walk. Watch and see if years from now they don’t learn their mistake and then have to spend untold amounts of money reinstating the line, like they want to do for the B Geary. Further, watch all the money they’re investing ripping up Valencia make the street wither and die. I’ve already canceled my Muni pass. Maybe I should just buy a car.

  4. Brian

    And they couldn’t have waited to end the bus line until the street wasn’t torn up anymore so you could ride a bike safely down the street?

  5. duh

    “Passengers used to riding along Valencia Street in the Mission will have to walk several blocks to the 14-Mission or 49-Van Ness”

    It is only one block from Valencia to Mission. That kind of sloppy hyperbolic writing doesn’t serve anyone.

  6. It’s a sad state of affairs when SF decides it needs LESS public transit. The fact is that the two Mission St. bus lines crawl along at trot-speed during daylight hours and are a great place to contract hepatitis after dark. This will just push more people onto those overcrowded lines during the day. Pickpockets rejoice! (where’s the subway?!??)

  7. George

    Wow what memories of the 26 Valencia! Sad to read that it’s going however from a strictly business sense I can understand why. However I do agree with many of the readers. Easier in some cases said then done. Muni thought the new “T” lightrail line would serve Bayview Hunters Point better then the old 15 Third. How I read many within that community wished it came back!
    Having been born & raised in San Francisco I have fond memories though of the 26 & yes, I totally agree with all it was a nice alternative from the 14 Mission! Even the passengers along that route were more relaxed and less grouchy! I know many preferred electric trolleybuses over loud smoking diesel buses however this one for what it was worth, worked! I am sorry to read that it will be history now! Hey take solace though SF transit riders. Once you live someplace else in the burbs, like Vallejo, you will realize how great of a system Municipal Railway really was! Try catching a bus in Vallejo along a route that runs once in the morning. Once in the evening! Yes you miss that one you really are out of luck! Vallejo is no hick town either! They use conventional 40 foot transit buses too! Yeah believe it or not! LOL!

  8. Lisa

    I love the 26 and will be sad to see it go. I check NEXT MUNI to see what time it is leaving and plan my schedule, accordingly.
    I take the 14 Mission at well, but it’s dirty, crowded, and dangerous at times. As one visiting mom said…
    “This bus is like skid row on wheels”

    ps–Actually it is a couple blocks from Valencia– Bartlett St, and Lexington and San Carlos are in btw.

  9. betty

    Does this mean the red zone bus stops exclusive to the 26 go away?

  10. Brian

    I’d pay $3.20 to keep riding the 26. And it should only cost $.80 to ride the Mission buses if that’s what it costs them to operate it per person.

  11. John

    I’ve taken the 26 Valencia for above twenty years, it was a part of my life, and its passing will be like a death of a friend.

    Sadly, this bus was starved too death. Too often the MTA choose to skip the once every twenty minute bus and it became unreliable and difficult to wait for. The amputation of the SFSU stop also hurt its viability.

    I will adjust to the loss, but there are seniors on this bus who will not have a realistic alternative. The J Church almost never functioned as an alternative to the 26 Valencia for me, and the 14 Mission does have serious issues.

  12. Mary

    We should keep the 26. I’ve had frightening, really dangerous experiences waiting at the J stop at Glen Park. It is isolated and located in the middle of a freeway. The 26 is much safer and easier to use (the J stop is not handicap accessible). I use the 26 to get to stores in the Mission from Glen Park, and then to get stuff back home. The 14 mission is unsafe, unfriendly and crowded.

  13. Gonzalo

    I will miss the 26-line dearly…I live on Valencia Street…and it was such a pleasure to simply check NextBus on my iPhone…or just look at my window…to see if it was coming…then step outside and hop on. It was always a more pleasant ride than all the other horrible Muni buses…

  14. Henry

    Hi,

    I was quoted in the article and would like to clarify that I do not currently work for an airline. I did in the past, however.

    The point I was trying to make to the journalists is that there is a “network affect” that comes with schedule frequency. Generally, in a dense market, traffic increases with frequency (up to a certain point). IMO, if the 26 had greater frequency and reliability — and the right route/stops, of course — I believe it would have enjoyed more ridership.

    26, we will miss you.

  15. Ellie

    Definately going to miss the 26. It was a bus I could count on, it was definately faster than the 49 and a lot more emptier and less stops. Wish I could of rode on it for the last time today.

  16. krf

    Once again the folks who are trying to save money, save the environment and build community are forced to give up a critical part of civilized society. How soon will we see the demise of another bus line? It’s time this way of thinking came to an end and those who drive in the city must start paying for the privilege of doing so. All parking ought to be paid for by drivers 24/7. It’s time to reverse our priorities and increase buses, make them free and multiply their numbers.

  17. glen matlock

    Well if the citizens in the city elected people who actually ran a transit first city, instead of; bum, illegal alien, SEIU, special interest first city, then the bus line would stay. Instead you elect people who spread the money around to everyone with their hands out.

    Don’t blame car owners and the conspiracy, blame yourself for thinking the city is run on good intentions… “and community”

    The real world is rough sometimes.

  18. gbop

    bummer. native sf muni rider here who spent most of my youth hating the s-l-o-w stinky cracked out 14 mission bus which i had to ride evryday to school. its much worse now. 26 was way faster downtown.

    i have travelled much around the world and notice that cities with FREQUENT mass transportation (3-10 minute wait) are usually in full use and towns/routes with infrequent schedules barely get used. Maybe bcuz people dont want to wait, duh. MUNI has it backwards (and BART too) when they raise prices and cut back on service, it’s economic suicide. Bring back the jitneys! i’d rather bike, drive, taxi or walk rather than pay $2 to wait to get on a slow crowded bus with a bitchy driver and pissed off riders.

  19. Joe Fit zpatrick

    It’s sad but overdue. We can’t keep subsidizing routes that can’t pay for themselves. Muni is a huge cost center, funny thing they changed all these lines and didn’t layoff any drivers. Funny how that works … good old union ingenuity … who cares about city deficits or poor service our members need to get paid!!!!
    This city is a mess.

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