The streets and sidewalks are empty in the morning darkness save for the few who gather and wait for the bus at 24th and Potrero streets. Among them is Maria de la Mora, waiting to make her 5 a.m. rendezvous with the 9-San Bruno.
“These are the same people every day,” de la Mora said, looking at the seven tired faces. The pre-dawn journey has become routine for this manufacturing worker since the 48-Quintara fell victim to last year’s Muni service cuts.
Before February of 2010, de la Mora got to work in 10 minutes. Now it takes her 45 minutes to get to her job on the central waterfront by 6 a.m. — a job that’s only a mile from her house.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” she said. “What used to be from point A to point B has now become point C, D.”
Point D is McRoskey Mattress, a 22-employee mattress production warehouse where the 53-year-old de la Mora has worked since 1989. After working in three different production departments, she suffered a neck injury 10 years ago and was assigned to processing deliveries and shipping, where she remains.
De la Mora doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle, though it would take only six minutes for her to ride to work. And walking from her home on Cesar Chavez and Alabama streets before sunrise is too dangerous, she said.
She’s not alone in her new and longer journey. Most of McRoskey’s workers have been forced to find transit alternatives in the morning. Those who live far away carpool, de la Mora said, while others like her simply get up hours earlier.
After she disembarks from the 9-San Bruno at 16th and Potrero streets at 5:15 a.m., de la Mora waits for a 22-Fillmore outbound. Minutes later, she boards the 22-Fillmore and takes a seat across from Manuel Ordonez, her co-worker and commuting compatriot.
Ordonez wakes up at 3 a.m. to catch a 14-Mission in Daly City, and meets de la Mora every morning on this bus.
Passing Whole Foods Market on Potrero Hill, de la Mora said that she likes her job despite the commute, but added, “There’s just no [other] jobs out there.”
At the Eastern Neighborhoods Advisory Committee meeting on May 16, de la Mora expressed her transit concerns to a mostly empty room. During the meeting, the idea of creating a shuttle service for workers like her arose.
The eastern neighborhoods (Mission, SoMa, Dogpatch and Bayview) manufacturing companies number roughly 155 and employ some 2,000 residents from those neighborhoods, according to Kate Sofis, the executive director of SFMade, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the growth of the manufacturing industry in San Francisco.
The companies could collectively decide to create a shuttle service for their employees, said Gillian Gillette, chief of staff to Supervisor Scott Wiener.
Gillette, a member of the Eastern Neighborhoods Advisory Committee, added that the city doesn’t regulate private shuttle services, nor does it require the drivers to be part of a transport workers union.
The real challenge, Sofis said, is getting the companies to adopt a transit alternative for their workforce.
An ideal solution would require a group of manufacturers located in proximity to each other to organize a van or shuttle service between them and a nearby transit hub, Sofis said. However, “It needs to be economically feasible.”
The eastern neighborhoods are challenging to get to via public transportation, Sofis said, adding that the availability of public transit where people work and live helps the growth of the city’s manufacturing industry.
The city is aware of the deficit in transit options and is in the beginning stages of exploring different options, according to Carli Paine, a project manager for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Transportation Demand Management division.
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority received a $750,000 grant in October 2010 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to make more efficient use of pre-existing transit resources. However, only a portion of the grant has been designated for collaborations between city agencies and interested companies trying to adopt shuttle services for their workforces, Paine said.
The SFMTA, among other city agencies, will partner with the county transit authority to help companies with logistical concerns such as proper operating regulations, parking tickets and shuttle stop locations, Paine said.
County and city transportation officials have already met with shuttle providers from Yahoo, Apple, Genentech and the Academy of Art, she said, and numerous other private shuttle companies currently operate in San Francisco. The Mission Bay Shuttle is an example of a service created as part of a development agreement.
A group of manufacturing companies looking to provide a shuttle for their workforce would be considered a qualified interest group by the MTA, Paine said.
“It’s just getting kicked off right now,” she said of the 18-month grant period. “The money hasn’t even started flowing yet.”
It’s not clear how quickly the companies will jump into the planning process, or if they will want to take on the extra cost. Rob Burke, vice president of McRoskey Mattress, has not responded to questions regarding the possibility of organizing an employee shuttle or van service with other manufacturers.
De la Mora said she believes it is possible that McRoskey and other companies can create a shuttle service for their employees, but that it will take work.
It’s 5:29 a.m. when de la Mora exits the 22-Fillmore at 22nd and Third streets. The sun is starting to peek through the morning fog as she and Ordonez make their way across Third Street toward the 48-Quintara stop.
If the 48-Quintara is late, she’ll walk the seven blocks to the warehouse on 25th and Minnesota streets with Ordonez, she said. But the bus arrives just in time and takes them to Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th.
After a three-block walk through a sea of desolate warehouses and under a freeway, the two employees arrive at the warehouse. It’s 5:37 a.m. — an exceptional time, according to de la Mora.