N-nada

I have a new name for the N-Judah. It’s the N-Nada. As in, “waiting for an N? Sorry, NADA.”

Preface: while I ride Muni just about every day in bus or F-Market/Wharves form, I rarely ride Muni Metro. I always hear that electronic lady saying “N (N echo) in 2 minutes!” when I walk upstairs from BART, and the metro line has a pretty satisfying whir to its machinery. But I’ve never depended on it; before today, the last time I used it was probably around February.

To those who were curious, “Muni Metro” is a slower, not entirely underground version of the New York Subway. It’s a rail-transit line that goes faster than the buses and goes to many parts of town. But that’s where the similarities to the Subway stop.

To those who use Muni Metro regularly, someone has to flippin’ tell me if you always have to wait this long for an N-Judah, allegedly one of the most popular Metro lines.

I spent an eternity waiting for the N today. OK, it was really about 20 minutes, which is an eternity when waiting for public transportation at rush hour…in a transit hub. But in that 20 minutes, I watched a few Js, a few Ls, and a couple of Ks (K!??) go by, until an N finally decided to show up in time to get me to dinner 15 minutes late.

Thankfully, the ride from Embarcadero to 9th and Irving is pretty quick. But that doesn’t (of course) include the mid-tunnel stops for minutes at a time, or the fact that there are only TWO CARS PER TRAIN. I really (really) want someone to explain why a station as new and large as the Muni Metro stations have such stubby, half-assed excuses for rush-hour transit. That’s currently my biggest pet peeve with the Metro, seeing as how there were assloads of people at all the downtown stations waiting to hurl themselves into the welcoming doors (four whole sets of them) of the air-conditioned, stubby train. Is it budgetary? Probably, but I want to see numbers and studies and more than “yikes, we ran out of money, two-train cars it is!” as an explanation.

Naturally, I wasn’t updated on Muni’s progress, if you were wondering. The next-train screen at the station (one of the most popular ones) was broken, complete with irritating Windows “Page Cannot Be Displayed” bullshit you see when the internet goes down or you get a bad link. Awesome.

So, to recap:

1) Why is the N-Judah train the least frequent one at 6:30 p.m.?

2) Why are there tiny, TINY trains in this station?

SFist tells me the Van Ness Metro station was shut down and evacuated at about 3 p.m. This could have something to do with it. But if a bomb wasn’t disabled on the spot or if some Evildoer wasn’t apprehended, leading to the resulting shut-down/slowdown, I’m going to lose it.

Muni Malaise (Munilaise?) is setting in further. Give me something good to write about tomorrow, eh Muni?

Tara has been writing and editing (professionally) since 2001. She spends her days doing both of these tasks for a ubiquitous San Francisco art university, and spends some of her free time doing it for fun and for side projects. Her most commonly used Muni lines are the F-Market/Wharves, 31-Balboa and 49-Van Ness.

14 comments

  • Greg

    The frequency of the N definitely could/should be increased, since it’s by far the most-used line; however, I don’t think they can do much about the number of cars given the dual subway/streetcar nature of Metro. Once the N gets above-ground, it’s sharing the road with automobile traffic most of the rest of the way, and a 3-car N could get unwieldy making the turn at 9th and Irving, for instance.

  • There was a huge N screw-up last night. Unfortunately it was the night we were taking my 2-year-old to his first Giants game. I had it all planned out for a 7:15 game. Leave at 5:00, get to ball park way early to show him around, watch the first couple innings, leave way before crowds, get home by 9:00.

    We live near Judah & Sunset. We go out before 5:00, and can see there are no trains down at the end. Uh-oh. I go in and check NextMuni and is says 26 minutes. Hmm. I look at the map at the closest train is all the way down at UCSF. After a bit I call 311 for an update. Am told there is a maintenance problem, the train will come in 10 minutes. Not possible since none has gone down to the end.

    Finally six trains head down to the end back-to-back. Does even one turn at Sunset? No. Does the first one just zoom down and around and on it’s way? No, it takes it’s full seven minute break.

    After waiting 35 minutes a train finally comes. We get on, but then get off and wait for the next b/c there aren’t two seats together (essential to amuse a toddler for the long ride to the ball park). Of course the train crawls downtown. Then the train goes out of service at Embarcadero. I tell an inspector this is outrageous, we waited 35 minutes. He tells me to complain to the Board of Supes about it b/c policy doesn’t allow them to turn trains around at Sunset. That’s crap, I see it turn around from time to time.

    Of course the platform is packed, the next train is full, and to top it off the side doors are broken so we all cram on the front and my husband has to hold our kid the rest of the way to the ballpark.

    We got there about 6:40. The evening was wrecked, because it was already crowded, we had to get to our seats, and the poor kid was more than restless from the long tedious journey. He had a little fun but I was shell-shocked by the time we got home. And thanks MUNI police for making me pull out our transfers twice within seven minutes while holding a whining kid and all our crap.

    MUNI screw-ups are bad, but now that I’m a parent I’m seeing another aspect of how it sucks.

  • janice,

    thanks for sharing your truly awful-sounding story. i sympathize with how frustrating it is to have virtually no recourse when Muni breaks, which is more often than not.

    i have many thoughts on what to do about these situations. first, i think anytime anyone has one of these massive meltdown experiences, especially when it hinders work, we need to report it. i think reporting to SFMTA is fine, but we need to complain to the city, too. i suggest contacting your local supervisor. get it on the radar. frame your story in terms of lost productivity. if we raise enough of a stink, maybe (maybe) something will change.

    second, we can start attending hearings. SFMTA cannot be allowed to exist in a vacuum. the mayor appoints the director, but that person can be held accountable by the board, and by extension, by us. the supervisors are beholden to us. there is simply no excuse, no lobby, nothing, for this bad of a transit system.

    i take my rant offline.

  • Greg

    I’ve read before that there were serious electrical problems with the overhead wires if they ran three or more cars together.

  • Beth W.

    Yup, Muni was extra-borked yesterday afternoon. I typically don’t have much trouble finding an N when I need one (which is not all that often). And it’s one of the few lines where they actually do two cars, which is helpful.

  • why build station platforms so long then?

  • Tim

    The N is atrocious, especially out in the Sunset. I lived right at the turnaround near Java Beach for a few year, and it would routinely take an hour just to get downtown. I really thing they should pu the majority of the route underground out there – I don’t see the point of having a high-speed train line that needs to stop for a stop sign on virtually every block once it gets past 14th Avenue or so.

  • Hi all, thanks for your thoughtful comments. And condolences to Janice about Muni hell! I once got stopped on an F (by actual city police officers) because they couldn’t see my FastPass. Thanks for doing your part to reduce rampant FastPass crimes. Making you take out your transfer while you’re clearly encumbered is ridiculous.

    But Greg, that explanation does make sense. The metro, unlike the Subway, actually does have to interact with people and cars out there in the above-ground world, you’re right. It’s just too bad there can’t be some kind of compromise that would alleviate the sardine-pack in the two-car system.

  • Thanks for letting me rant. Don’t worry, Jeff, I’ve been riding MUNI all of my 39 years, and complain to officials, as my father before me did. He had to used assumed names at the end.

    This is far from the first time I have been screwed over by MUNI and left with a screaming kid. I’m probably misinterpreting “lost productivity”, but quality of life is just as important as people getting to work.

    I’m still a taxpayer and pay to ride MUNI. In this phase of life I realize people are trying to get to places for a lot of reasons. Perhaps they get charged $15 for every five minutes they are late picking their kid up at daycare; maybe they have a very sick pet at home; maybe they need to take medication on a regular basis; and on and on.

    I could drive everywhere but I try not to. Unless you have experienced MUNI with a toddler it’s probably hard to understand the frustration and helplessness. I can’t even just get a cab if I get stranded downtown because of car seat issues.

    The elderly probably could add a whole other view of problems with MUNI that we don’t think of.

  • “Lost productivity” is definitely just the tip of the iceberg. There are lost wages, but also late fees, missed appointments, pissed-off friends and pissed-off Muni Riders, of course, when the system doesn’t work. “Quality of life” is a good way to put it, but given the sad state of Muni affairs, that phrase probably won’t resonate as loudly as “hey, your local economy will go to down the crapper if enough people lose their jobs or can’t get to work because of your shitty system.”

    I don’t have any kids and only have to worry about myself, my personal or professional engagements and an occasional ride with a small dog. But you’re absolutely right about the range of people Muni is screwing – not just regular commuters.

  • Janice,

    You are right — quality of life is so important. I don’t take the whole “lost productivity” line for myself. Muni’s malfunctions and general dysfunctionality serve only to piss me off on a personal level. It’s completely inexcusable, especially in a town that touts its environmental credentials, to have such a sub-standard public transit system.

    I only meant to suggest the productivity line because that’s what seems to get people’s attention, as Tara says in the previous comment.

    With the upcoming redesign of Muni Diaries, we hope to add a function that will ease the process of formal complaints. Details to come …

  • Anne

    I agree with Tim how some of these routes should be place underground, but that’s just opening a whole new can of worms on construction, money, and public disagreement on digging up their streets…

    I live in the Sunset and the N either comes so very often or never comes at all. Sometimes riding the 71 is faster.

    Rush hour going home is a pain because of the massive load of people getting on. Unfortunately, 3 car trains aren’t possible because of it’s design. (Something about not being able to control all 3 cars.)

    I have decided to find a new home that’s closer to work but I’m sure I’ll run into other transit problems…

  • That’s too bad, Anne. This is exactly the kind of thing the city should be trying to avoid – residents should not have to uproot themselves within the same city because of chronic public transportation problems.

  • The reason why they can’t run 3 or more car trains is because of electrical problems and the third car would literally disconnect from the other two, that’s why not only Muni sucks, but the car builder, Anasladobreda, sucks. The cars are too long, too heavy, and too wide. IMO the boeings were better, smoother ride, though no air conditioning, and up to 4 (yes i said 4) cars can be attached at the same time!

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