Election special: What every transit rider should know about this year’s ballot

With just a few days until the election, we invite San Francisco Examiner transit reporter Carly Graf to talk about this year’s ballot measures that can change the landscape of public transportation as we know it today.

Sure, the pandemic has severely reduced ridership and budget, but public transit’s woes started way before that. With the proliferation of Lyft and Uber, Muni was no longer the only way everyone can reasonably get around town. And on this year’s ballot, Prop 22 stands to change the operations of these ride share companies in a big way. We chat with Graf about how Prop 22 can impact economic disparity, whether Prop B can fix the toxic workplace that was the Department of Public Works, why you should get to know the BART board of directors, and more.

Listen to the interview:

If you haven’t done your early voting, now is the time. And while you’re at it, here’s an idea: Find three people who haven’t voted yet, and help them get to their polling place. Let’s make it happen.

What do you think of their take on the transit-related props on the ballot? We want to hear from you: email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com.

Photo by @krobinsonphotos

My Muni family history in the early 1900s

Reader Kay Karpus Walker found a piece of her family history that’s very relevant to our interests. She shares this photo and family history on the Muni Diaries Facebook page:

A bit of Muni history—a photo of an early Muni driverJacob B. Unruh—my grandfather. This is from the early 1900s in SF. Jacob became a driver after he was forced to close his business in the early days of the Depression or right before it hit. An immigrant from the Ukraine and a Mennonite, he was a cousin of Jesse Unruh, the California politician, according to Jesse himself.

Jesse Unruh was also known as “Big Daddy Unruh,” at one point the California State Treasurer. In the early 1900s, the Stockton Street Tunnel opened, and J-Church streetcar line was just starting service. Muni as we know it started to transition from for-profit monopolies to a municipally operated agency around 1912.

We know that there are lots of San Francisco history buffs in our midst here on Muni Diaries. For more Muni history, check out this vintage photo album of the evolution of Muni vehicles, or listen to our podcast episode featuring the historians at SF Neon on a piece of SF history they spotted on the bus.

Does your family have a Muni connection? We want to know! Submit your own story to us by emailing us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com, or tag us @munidiaries on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

San Francisco Giants fans, 30 years apart

Photo: @SFChronicle_vault

When SFChronicle_vault posted the pic above recently on Instagram, we thought it looked and felt familiar. It’s certainly imbued with nostalgia for decades past—and nostalgia for months past, if you count our wistfulness about safely gathering en masse, which San Francisco has always loved doing.

We dug into our own archive and were heartened to find photos from 2014 taken in very much the same spirit and similarly featuring Muni, which always snuck into our celebrations.

Back in 2014 when the Giants won the World Series:

Photo by @jennyzhu

Remember how we won three World Series championships in five years? Don’t forget 2012, when one of the sturdier bus shelters of old kept the celebration going on what looks like Market Street.

Photo by Keoki Seu

Everything has changed and very little has changed. I know we’ll do it again someday.

We’re continuing to collect your stories about the interactions and experiences that make living in San Francisco what it is today. If you have a story to share, please email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com And don’t forget to keep up with the tales by subscribing to the Muni Diaries podcast! You can submit your own photos and observations by tagging us @munidiaries on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Playing Muni driver, if only for a few minutes

After a disturbing post-apocalyptic (or was it simply apocalyptic?) week, we’re bringing you a throwback tale of simpler times when the highlight of your year is when the Muni driver let you in on a few secrets. Today’s podcast episode was brought to you by rider Tara, who caught a Muni driver in a bit of a casual mood and fun ensues. Yes, a Muni ride that was actually…fun!

I hurry over to a bus, after seeing it parked at the stop I needed. No need to hurry, though. The driver jogged up behind me, asked where I was headed, and if I wanted a ride. I naturally assume this is driver humor; Haha! A ride, I get it. On the bus that I was trying to get on, that’s going to the very neighborhood I needed? Ha!

I guess it wasn’t really a joke. I walked over to the doors as he unlocked them, and saw the number for a line I totally didn’t want. At this point, Woman Reflex kicked in. Is this the worst kind of Muni Loony, the kind who beat up or killed a real Muni driver and stole his bus and outfit, and is now giving “rides” to women walking around alone? Instead of overreacting, I asked him what line this was. He told me what it was, but said he was just coming off his shift, and was going to be dropping it off at a Muni lot near(ish) where I was going. My intuition is pretty good, it wasn’t an odd hour, and I needed to get to where I was going ASAP. Also, I knew I could deal a pretty hefty kick in the nuts if I needed to, and it was pretty clear that he didn’t have a gun in his Muni outfit.

My intuition served me well, because he was indeed harmless. He strapped himself in the driver’s seat right away, limiting any no-goodnik-mobility, so I relaxed some. Oh, and I got to change the side and front banners to “Not in Service.” That’s right. Did you miss it?

I got to change the banners to say “Not in Service.”

It’s a pretty simple task on the older buses. Unlike the digital ones that can probably be changed with a couple stabs at a button, these signs move if you flick a switch that scrolls through all the different Muni numbers. Indicators from the inside of the bus tell you what it says on the outside, so I stopped once it got to what I wanted. Easy. And awesome.

Listen to the rest of her story, read by reader Amanda Staight:

To be fair, we have had a few stories where Muni drivers surprise the passengers, like this one time when a rider got to briefly drive an N, when the operator gave a rider some timely life advice, or when this driver played some Jedi mind tricks with the line number. Oh, those innocent times!

We’ll keep the stories coming on our podcast all the same, so if you have a story to share about life in San Francisco, pitch us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on any of your favorite listening apps.

Photo by @hamster@peter

Painting the pandemic void, one storefront at a time

One of the most sobering moments for me at the beginning of the pandemic was walking by Le Central on Bush and seeing the bistro window covered with plywood. Once the popular lunch spot for Willie Brown (who’d play dice with his pals at the table by the window), the bistro’s board-up was the first time I really sensed the fear and emptiness that would soon permeate downtown.

As plywood boards sprung up all over every neighborhood, though, a couple of San Franciscans created a project that truly made lemonade out of all the lemons that 2020 has thrown at us. Within weeks, pedestrians started seeing beautiful murals on plywood boards that covered closed shops and restaurants, starting in Hayes Valley and extending all over town. The project is called Paint the Void, which matches mural artists with shuttered storefronts. Since April, Paint the Void has matched artists who beautified over 84 shops and restaurants, making walking around in San Francisco a joy again.

In today’s podcast episode, we invite Lisa Vortman, the Co-Founder, Director of Photography, Media and Storytelling of Paint the Void, to share the story of the first mural she photographed for the project. All the photos in this post are also from Lisa and Paint the Void.

Listen to her story:

The beautiful flower mural in Lisa’s story is by Nora Bruhn (@konorebi on Instagram), which covered Chez Maman in Hayes Valley. The restaurant has since re-opened for outdoor dining, but you can scroll down to see photos of the mural and Brunh working on-site this spring.

Seeing these murals on my daily walks has been one of those things that makes me say, “This is why I live here.” You can even make a day of it—follow this map to more murals via the Paint the Void website, where you can also contribute to the nonprofit’s excellent work.

If you know someone who’s doing something great to help San Franciscans get through this terrible year, we want to know! Our submissions inbox is always open: email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com or tag us @munidiaries on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Why the SFMTA head says riding Muni is “the right thing to do”

Muni, like many other public transit agencies around the country, is facing a financial “death spiral” in the face of the pandemic. In today’s podcast episode, we talk with Jeffrey Tumlin, the Director of Transportation of the SFMTA who started in his role right at the end of last year—capping a year mired in underground meltdowns with high hopes of turning the train around (as it were).

He had a great honeymoon period, especially with transit fans on Twitter who have been advocating for a car-free San Francisco. But things changed quickly, through little fault of his own.

The pandemic hit right as Tumlin was settling into his new role, and it’s been some rollercoaster ever since. Muni has cut most of its 80+ lines since the pandemic, with only 17 lines currently running as the agency faces the biggest budget crisis it has ever seen. On Saturday, Muni will be restoring 11 more lines, boosting frequency on 13 bus routes, and reopening the underground Muni Metro stations, though the underground routes will also see some changes.

The SFMTA chief is not counting his chickens: “There’s a really good chance things will not work as well on Saturday as we hope. That’s part of the culture that I’m trying to bring to the agency. In order to get the system that we need, particularly in a time of dramatically reduced resources, we have to get creative. We have to move quickly. We have to try things. And sometimes that means getting more comfortable with failure. And quickly making corrections and learning from our mistakes.”

So what must the SFMTA do in order to make Muni awesome, or at least functional? He joined us to provide his take on tomorrow’s Muni service expansion, and some personal insight into the quirkier, more human side of our municipal transit system.

Listen to the interview here:

If you have your own Muni or BART story to contribute, especially if your Muni line has returned, we want to hear from you! Please email us at munidiaries.sf@gmail.com, or tag us @munidiaries on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Photo by via SFMTA.

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