SPUR’s report Critical Cooling recommends 42 options for reducing local carbon emissions. This is one of them. To learn about all 42 ideas, read the full report

Implement TEP recommendations for Muni

Urbanist Article

Implement TEP recommendations for Muni

Annual savings potential:
Annual public cost:
Public cost per ton:
Implementing agency:
Horizon year:
7200 metric tons
$3.2 million
Municipal Transportation Agency


  • Full implementation of Transit Effectiveness Project will result in a 10 percent increase in Muni trips, of which 31 percent will be diverted from auto travel
  • Capital cost of implementation approximately $200 million for a program that will not increase operating costs, and will result in $9.8 million per year in new fare revenue from increased ridership

The recommendations of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Transit Effectiveness Project have the potential to improve transit service in the city without increasing operating costs. Because Muni’s vehicle service hours will be held constant, energy consumption would not increase– but the frequency, speed and reliability of service on key rapid corridors would improve, attracting more passengers.

These improvements will require significant capital investments in Muni’s rapid corridors. The SFMTA estimates that as much as $200 million may be required for the street adjustments and reconfigurations, overhead wire and other improvements. These capital costs mean that, like other capital-intensive transit projects, the cost-effectiveness of the TEP recommendations cannot be justified on the basis of CO2 emissions abatement potential alone. However, as with other transit investments, emissions abatement can be seen as a co-benefit, achieved alongside the program’s primary purpose: to provide improved service to Muni riders.

Relative Impact
The San Francisco Department of the Environment estimates that transportation emissions account for 51 percent of all CO2 emissions. About 24 percent of total emissions are produced by private road vehicles on internal trips entirely within the city of San Francisco. Muni buses and rail generate just 1 percent of total emissions.

What we do now
The system currently provides San Francisco with bus and rail service, carrying more than 650,000 passengers per day. Transit service makes a major contribution to reducing emissions in two ways. First, transit provides an alternative to driving for many trips. Second, high quality transit service enables compact land-use patterns, which in turn tend to promote walking and biking as a viable alternative to driving for many more trips. A transit trips generates far less CO2 emissions than a trip by private auto. This is particularly true for Muni, because a significant share of its service is provided by light rail or trolley buses that run on electricity generated by hydroelectric power, which has zero emissions.

However, as Muni’s reliability and speed have declined in recent years1 and the number of private vehicles inside the city has grown, the percentage of people using transit has declined.

What we could do
While Muni makes a major contribution to reducing the vehicle miles traveled and CO2 emissions in San Francisco, system changes could significantly increase ridership and improve cost performance. The Transit Effectiveness Project is a planning process undertaken by the City Controller’s Office and the SFMTA. The outcome of the process was an action plan for service planning adjustments over the next five to seven years.

The TEP recommendations aim to allocate more of Muni’s resources to the key rapid corridors that carry the bulk of the system's riders, and to make targeted investments in these corridors to improve speed and reliability. Improvements along the rapid corridors, such as consolidating and reducing the number of stops, adding new street and sidewalk features to improve the configuration of stops, and giving transit vehicles priority right of way at traffic signals, will increase average speeds. Greater speed, in turn, will enable the MTA to provide more service with the same number of drivers and vehicles.

From an emissions perspective, the TEP represents an opportunity to improve transit productivity – the number of passengers per vehicle – without generating any new emissions from transit vehicles themselves, because total transit service hours will be held constant. Improving the speed and reliability of transit service in the city has the potential to shift travel from private autos to bus and rail, significantly reducing CO2 emissions from the transportation sector.

The recommendations of the TEP are structured so that they balance service enhancements with service cuts and increased speed of service, so that Muni’s total operating costs will not increase. The SFMTA has estimated that the capital improvements required for full implementation of the TEP would cost approximately $200 million.2

If we assume that capital costs would be financed by the city at 5 percent interest over 30 years, and that the improvements themselves have a 30-year useful life, the annualized capital costs would be $13 million. Increased ridership would also increase revenue. Including passes and discounted fares, Muni collects, on average, $0.50 per boarding. Additional ridership could generate $9,780,000 per year. The net revenue impact of TEP would be a cost of $3.23 million per year.

Carbon savings potential
SFMTA estimates that full implementation of the TEP could increase systemwide ridership by 10 percent. We have assumed that by 2015, full implementation of the TEP would increase ridership from the current 652,000 daily trips to 717,200, a net increase of 65,200 trips per work day. We have further estimated that about 31 percent of these new riders otherwise would have driven private autos, generating 67,440 VMT per work day. According to MTC model data estimates, 31 percent of trips in 2015 made entirely within the city of San Francisco will be made by drivers of private autos.3 The average trip length for internal San Francisco trips will be 3.3 miles.

We have assumed that the annual impact of transit services will be about 300 times the daily impact, reflecting lower transit ridership on weekends and holidays. Given this assumption, the TEP will reduce driving in San Francisco by an estimated 20.23 million VMT per year beginning in 2015, yielding a CO2 emissions decrease of 7,180 metric tons. The cost per ton of CO2 emissions abatement will be $450. These estimates to not include non-monetary benefits that all Muni riders will experience as a result of improved transit service.

1 “Reversing Muni’s Downward Spiral,” San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, May 2005. www.spur.org/documents/050901_report_01.shtm.
2 SFMTA TEP Capital Cost Estimates. www.sfmta.com/cms/mtep/documents/L-CapitalCostEstimate.pdf
3We cannot know for certain how many new Muni passengers will switch from driving, and how many will switch from other modes. In this analysis, we have assumed that new Muni passenger will switch from other modes in proportion to the existing mode split for all internal San Francisco trips. For example, because 31 percent of all internal San Francisco trips are currently made by the driver of car, we have assumed that 31 percent of new Muni passengers would have driven for the same trip had the TEP not been implemented.