The 15-Third is back

White Brand Motor Coach 0359 at Ocean Division Bus Yard, Geneva and San Jose Avenues, May 2, 1962. SFMTA Archive. Note the wonderful message below the windshield, visible whenever the front advertising holder was empty.

Though not this exact bus. In a time when many of its well-established lines, including the F-Market historic streetcars (which carried more than 20,000 riders a day) are still suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muni is adding an entirely new route. No, wait. What they’re doing is reviving the well-known bus line known as the 15-Third, and setting it up kind of like a T-Express, to provide faster service downtown from the Hunters Point neighborhood and points along Third Street from the Bayview District through Dogpatch, Mission Bay, and the South of Market areas to Market Street.

Here’s the SFMTA announcement of the route, along g with its rationale for starting it up. They summarize it this way: “This community-designed route connects the hilly communities east of Third Street to Downtown and was chosen by residents who voted in a fall 2020 survey. The process and the route demonstrates our commitment to working with communities to provide equitable Muni service.”

15-line’s route starting January 23. The loop through Hunter’s Point wasn’t part of the original 15 bus.

Streetcars, ultimately run by our namesake Market Street Railway, provided service the length of Third Street until 1941 when buses replaced them. (Read the wonderful recollections of our late historian Phil Hoffman of the Third Street streetcar era, with great photos.)

BUSY BRIDGE— Third Street Car 961 is bound for Visitacion Valley, crossing the old Islais Creek Drawbridge, which it shared with both Southern Pacific and Santa Fe switch locomotives. Streetcars had only a few months left on Third Street in this mid- 1941 shot, but Muni’s huge Metro East light rail facility now sits just three blocks from this location, at center right. Tom Gray photo, MSR Archive.

When Muni took over in 1944, the 15-Third bus line became the workhorse of the east side of town, ultimately running from Fisherman’s Wharf all the way to the county line, then west to Geneva and Mission and later on to City College. But when a new sales tax for transit projects passed in 1988, residents in the Bayview lobbied hard for a light rail line to replace the 15-bus, saying other parts of town had rail service and they deserved it too. Muni agreed, and half a billion dollars later, the T-line opened in 2007 to replace the 15. (Another nearly two billion is being spent to extend the T-line under Fourth and Stockton Streets to Union Square and Chinatown, but that project, the Central Subway, won’t open until at least the end of next year, four years late.)

A 15-Third bus leads a pack of Macks up Third Street at Market, October 21, 1959. Marshall Moxom photo, SFMTA Archive

The 15-line, now officially called the 15-Bayview Hunters Point Express, starts service January 23, the same day the T-line goes back to streetcars from the buses that have substituted for almost a year during the pandemic. On the SFMTA website story, there was one comment echoing long-running complaints that the T-line operates much slower than promised and that the old 15-bus was better. Guess we’ll find out starting January 23. And yes, they’ll be using new buses.

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