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.”