Janet Forst, 75, said that since the J Church Metro and 33 bus closed, she and other residents at Mission Terrace Senior Housing have been feeling cooped up and frustrated. Photo by Annika Hom.

For years Zoila Martinez, 64, relied on the 55 Muni to get her to Kaiser Permanente in Mission Bay, where she picks up insulin for her diabetes. The bus was the most efficient option: the hospital is too far to walk from Potrero Hill, where she lives with her daughter. Neither of them own a car. 

But in early April, as the city moved to stop the spread of COVID-19, the 55 was cut, along with the majority of other Muni routes. The move made sense, but it also inconvenienced or even stranded low-income seniors and disabled residents. Taxis offer the obvious solution, but for many who live on fixed incomes, any added expense presents a challenge. 

Martinez, for example, pays $600 in rent out of her $950-a-month social security check. 

“I would like the [bus] situation to be normal again,” Martinez said. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy.”

As the majority of bus lines and all of the Muni Metro shut down, many less able individuals must walk farther than usual to access one of the 26 routes currently operating

Seniors – anyone aged 60 or older, according to the city –  make up 20 percent of the city’s population, and 21 percent of them have a disability that makes walking more difficult, according to a 2016 report

To alleviate some of these struggles, the transit department created a subsidized taxi ride service in mid-April called the Essential Trip Card program specifically for those who are disabled or at least 65 years old.

We know that, for many people, walking farther to an alternate bus — or paying for other transportation — isn’t possible,” states the program’s description. 

Members pay up to $12 a month and receive $60 in funds slated for essential taxi trips such as grocery store or pharmacy runs within the city. Muni said the $60 will subsidize about two to three round-trip rides. Muni has received more than 2,000 applications and has disbursed more than 1,906 cards so far. 

This could have worked for Martinez, who said she now pays $16 to $20 round-trip to get her medicine, but she is five months shy of qualifying for the Essential Trip program. 

As the city begins to reopen, the lack of mobility can also be socially isolating. 

Sandra Rivas, the assistant director of operations at 30th Street Senior Center, said that before the pandemic, several seniors met to discuss how the shortened J Church metro route would disrupt their routes to the center or to doctor’s appointments. Now, the line is completely suspended. 

“With limited services, seniors who may have ventured out of their neighborhoods to participate in community based programs, may not do so,” Rivas said in an email.

Janet Forst, 75, said that ever since the J Church metro and the 33 bus stopped running, her purview of the city has shrunk. She used to ride the J every day until it closed in March so she could get downtown or to 24th Street, where she would window-shop at furniture stores. 

“[The J suspension] stops me because that’s the only thing that goes over the Church Street hill,” said Forst, who wears a black guard on her left knee. “That’s a helluva walk.” 

Janet Forst, 75, said that since the J Church Metro and 33 bus closed, she and other residents at Mission Terrace Senior Housing have been feeling cooped up and frustrated. Photo by Annika Hom.

She can walk her dog, Meryl, about two blocks before her knee begins to ache. 

“I want the J-train back, like, yesterday,” said Forst, who feels so cooped up that she has considered renting a car for a day just to get out and drive to downtown Palo Alto on a sunny afternoon. 

The old stops sit half a block from Forst’s senior affordable-housing complex on 18th Street, Mission Terrace Senior Housing. Multiple residents said they were outraged that their complex failed to notify them of the transportation changes or to give them alternatives to navigate transportation during the pandemic. 

Officials from BRIDGE Housing, one of the real-estate developers for Mission Terrace, told Mission Local in July said that the complex’s property manager did not know the transit system had stopped. 

Muni said it will reopen Metro lines in August. But hopes that bus transportation would eventually resume to normalcy shattered on June 30, when transportation chief Jeffrey Tumlin announced that the cut lines will most likely remain closed unless the department could dig up some more revenue. More than half of Muni’s riders stopped using transit during the pandemic, according to the agency’s data

Forst has been eyeing the city’s Paratransit ride services as an alternative, which necessitates Americans with Disabilities Act certification and offers more money on a similar subsidized taxi program. To get certified, she first has to figure out how to visit her doctor’s office in Chinatown. Her usual route requires the J metro and a bus. 

Martinez is similarly frustrated by the circumvented routes and wait times which are undoubtedly caused by restricted service. She said sometimes she waits up to 30 minutes to catch the bus. 

“What if I have an appointment? I’m going to be late,” Martinez said. 

Despite the gaps, the service that does run is within a mile of most San Franciscans, according to Muni officials. The reduced service is also necessary to ensure bus and train operators’ safety, especially when some riders refuse to wear masks and keep six feet apart, said Roger Marenco, the local president of the Transport Workers Union of America.

Marenco said he hopes Muni finds a viable solution for less able citizens as long as it’s safe.

The concerns are grave,” he said.  

Forst agreed that transit drivers had the right to stay safe. “They’re people, too. We depend on them,” she said, though she yearns for the days of public transit. 

“Before the pandemic, we could move,” she mused. “We had buses, quaint little things.” 

Support Mission Local’s on-the-ground reporting here.

Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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11 Comments

  1. “Despite the gaps, the service that does run is within a mile of most San Franciscans, according to Muni officials.”

    Not so long ago, we were all within two blocks of a bus stop.

    1. Which is why bus trips take forever – we need more express routes with fewer stops to better leverage the bus lanes. Timed lights would be a huge help as well.

      1. Timed light is definitely needed every where in SF. The new Potrero is a total nonsense. The city spend so much money dining this that doesn’t work.

  2. The article says as we move to reopen,

    Why is that? Really, The other front page article notes, ;yesterday there was a jaw dropping 174 infections, and today 110. The R rate is 1.5 highest in the bay area

    Why aren’t were hearing, as the City moves to lock down 2.0

    I’m afraid that Mayor London Bloomberg, and Nancy P, are going at this with the message, Okay, Trump was right, Business is way more important than saving lives.

    Sorry if my fear and anger shows in what I”m writing. But its real

  3. I am a senior with a car, but the current transportation situation is still a problem. The busses that serve my neighborhood are down and the parking situation makes it very difficult to use my car. Restaurants have been granted licenses to put tables at the curb which means that the previous shortage of parking spaces is now even worse. I find myself driving to an errand and then finding parking so impossible that I go home without having accomplished anything. I can not ride a bike. How am I supposed to get things done.

    1. Elsa, I am in complete accord, I live at Valencia and 14th. I am 77 am disabled and lucky enough to have a car. We lost over 24 parking spaces on my corner with all the changes in the last few years, All the handicap spaces are gone. If I go to the grocery I can’t get them to my apartment.. I’m forced to pay more for groceries and delivery..Like you, how am I supposed to get things done?

      1. This is true.
        hal
        The City doesn’t want us to have cars anymore. The people who work in the inside offices of SFMTA look like they just got out of college, and think that half the world should ride a bicycle, and the other half should be happy with buses that stop to far away.

        The new leadership there is taking the place in the wrong direction.

        1. I totally agree. Driving and parking cars shouldn’t be hindered.

          And this is coming from someone that’s been riding bicycle for 26 years, with very little issues.
          I ride 90% of the time and drive a little for work, or to carry heavy stuff.
          The biggest issue around bicycling casualties, is that many simply don’t pay attention (that includes automobile drivers and bicycle riders, even pedestrians get in the way, standing on the road when it’s not they’re turn to walk across.) I could get into details, but the point is SFMTA, and traffic route planning is poorly done in SF.

  4. SFMTA as abandoned the neighborhoods of San Francisco in favor of the financial, business interest of downtown. All lines feed from the Northern communities outside of the City and the Peninsula to the South. Hell, even the # 12 no longer comes into the Mission. Instead, it feeds from Van Ness to the downtown area only.

    This is where the priorities Mayor Breen and the SFMTA lay. Not with the voters of San Francisco.

  5. Not being able to get around to pick up medicine is terrible.
    If I was her neighbor I’ll run errands for her. Even now I’m tempted.

    Maybe a network of able bodies folks can form a cluster near those older folks will needs help.
    It’ll probably cheer them up too.

  6. Used this article to make a point with Muni’s Director & the SFMT., Well written by you, gets the point across clearly

    Director Kirschbaum,

    Covid-19 social distancing has reduced Mass Transit capacity across the nation. The most obvious answer is to speed up the timing of the buses, that will in turn increase the amount of passengers serviced. I am proposing a 2-Step program that will achieve that end. 1st step can be done almost overnight, 2nd step will take longer. But once they are in place, a ‘Transit First’ San Francisco can become a reality.

    STEP 1 – Create Skip-Stop route schedules on all Diesel Bus, Trolly Coach and Light Rail Vehicles – Muni knows how to schedule Skip-Stop, it was written into Geary BRT as its primary scheduling.

    Green (G in a circle) & Red (R in a diamond), on each bus, painted on the street and curb. Virtually all Muni routes will turn into ‘Express Service’, speeding up the system inbound & outbound, getting there faster, increasing capacity as more people are moved on the same route and improving transit ride time. All Muni stops will be serviced, just not by every bus on every run.
    – Details provided in attached – ‘2018 Proposal To Re-align Muni Goals & Operations’ –

    STEP 2 – Utilizing state of the art GPS, accurate within 2-3 cm on the ground, to anticipate and guide the equipment through the stop lights, so that virtually the only stops equipment will make is to pick up passengers.
    Topcon Positioning Systems, Inc., Livermore, California makes the technology, a visit to their webpage will demonstrate their unique GPS abilities, used in agriculture & construction.

    Police, Fire & Ambulances can also be entered into the system, speeding their way for emergency response.
    All existing Stop Lights, fixed locations, will be the heart of the computerized operation, anticipating equipment travel by projecting speed, distance, location & destination.

    San Francisco needs Muni to exist as we know it, eliminating routes is not the solution.

    ‘…“I would like the [bus] situation to be normal again,” Martinez said. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy.” – For years Zoila Martinez, 64, relied on the 55 Muni to get her to Kaiser Permanente in Mission Bay, where she picks up insulin for her diabetes. The bus was the most efficient option: the hospital is too far to walk from Potrero Hill, where she lives with her daughter. Neither of them own a car. – But in early April, as the city moved to stop the spread of COVID-19, the 55 was cut, along with the majority of other Muni routes. The move made sense, but it also inconvenienced or even stranded low-income seniors and disabled residents. Taxis offer the obvious solution, but for many who live on fixed incomes, any added expense presents a challenge. – Martinez, for example, pays $600 in rent out of her $950-a-month social security check…’
    – ‘As Muni is cut of, so are seniors’, article by Annika Horn – July 11, 2020 Mission Local –

    Michael B. Cheney
    Retired San Francisco Civil Servant

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