Ride Muni, Especially During the Recession

Photo: Flickr user Lola Blue

Unless you live under a rock, you know that the U.S. economy is sucking hard lately. In fact, things are so bad, we wouldn’t be surprised if you are living under a rock, or in a box, after having been evicted after having lost your job. We’re sorry about all that.

What does this have to do with public transportation?

Well, whether you own a car or not, you may have also noticed another funny thing happening lately — gas prices, once the source of so much political and social rancor, have dropped back more or less to where they were a year or two ago. Almost everywhere in the Bay Area, gasoline in less than $2 a gallon. If you do own a car, and if you’re also lucky enough to have money to keep buying stuff, you might lately have been tempted to drive, say, to downtown San Francisco, to do some shopping, see a movie, get something to eat.

Now, on the surface, this would appear to be good for the local economy. But just think of that jam-packed Mission and Fifth parking lot, or all the circling of the block on those damned one-way streets downtown. And then think of how you could just as easily have bought that sweater and those Uggs and carried them on Muni with you. And, ahem, regardless of some of our most barf-worthy diaries, human waste on our beloved Muni is actually rather uncommon.

But along with lower gas prices come likely cuts to transit funding, at the state and local level. California is in danger of cutting its transit allocation by 75 percent, while SFMTA plans to lose between $37 million and $53 million out of an annual $800 million budget as a result, and might raise fares and FastPasses to try to make some of that lost money up.

Just this last Sunday, The Chronicle‘s Rachel Gordon wrote a story discussing how the economy may force Muni to postpone its planned overhaul. (Muni Diaries contributor Edmund commented on the cuts here yesterday.)

Sad, because while we couldn’t agree with or sign onto all the changes of Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project, we came to like most of its suggested (and approved) changes — the elimination of route duplication, and increased service on the 14, 38, and 49 lines, to name just a few.

But despite all this, something’s got to be done to provide a safe, reliable, and affordable alternative to driving. Even though we’re at a point where driving might be cheaper, if we can take some form of public transportation, we should. The environment simply cannot handle a return to a pre-Earth Day, pre-Inconvenient Truth mindset, where we reach for the keys at the drop of a hat.

And so we’ve devised a set of simple tips to making Muni work a little better, for those who need convincing. Some are simple, while others require slight adjustments to your mindset. Read these, practice them, comment on them, ignore them, add more, just please do your best to resist the urge to drive.

Tips for a better Muni:

  • 1. NextBus and NextBus Live Maps: We’ve written ad nauseum of the shortcomings of most bus-stop NextBus predictors, but the NextBus website is fairly (the key word being fairly) accurate, and the best way to tell whether your bus is coming, and how close it really is, is their GPS-powered Live Map page.
  • 2. 511.org Trip Planner: This fairly reliable trip-finder site should be used, but with a slight modification: We recommend adding or subtracting a minute or two from its predicted arrival time. Show up a bit early, and use this site in conjunction with NextBus.
  • 3. Text-message services: We’ve also written of NextBus’s SMS service. In the comments of that post, we learned of Muniriders texting, which seems to work a little better. Offers more info, like the direction of the bus you want.
  • 4. When your bus is crowded, or you’re otherwise annoyed, follow the etiquette lessons listed on Muni Manners.
  • 5. Plan for an hour: This is something Tara and I have been trying, and it pretty much works. Unless you know for sure when your bus will arrive and how long the journey will take, all you have to do is give yourself about an hour to go anywhere in the city. Traveling from the Inner or Outer Richmond just across the park to the equivalent in the Sunset? One hour. Planning to venture over to the Kabuki from the Mission? One hour. Laurel Heights to downtown? Ditto. Oceanside to the same destination? You guessed it. You might get there quicker, or in just over an hour, but let the hour be your guide.

There you have it — our recommendations for making Muni work for you. Put them to test and let us know how it goes.


  • Driving (in the city) is such instant gratification. I always feel awesome while I’m in the comfort of my own car, but I’ll inevitably feel so much lazier and less productive than if I had just brought that sweater (no Uggs, barf) on the bus.

  • matto

    Oh Sweet. Because I always have an hour to waste whenever I need to get somewhere. Thanks for illustrating exactly why Muni’s a complete failure.

  • Sadly, our options are often 1) plan for an hour, 2) want to die while circling for parking/paying for parking/trying to squeeze into parking spaces that are a hair too small.

  • @ matto: I would never presume to tell anyone how to live their life, but honestly, if I haven’t got an hour to wait here and there, something’s probably wrong with my life. Not that the bus should take a hour to, say, cross Golden Gate Park. Not to excuse that at all. That pointer is merely meant to deal with a reality, since it’s not likely to change anytime soon.

  • @ Tara: Don’t forget that other, wonderful option — Do the expedient thing, and to hell with the environment!

  • Edmund

    Planning for an hour of possible travel time is a great idea. Even with all the assortment of options available to see and predict when and where a bus or light rail vehicle will be, there is no guarantee that it will be there should something unforseen happen. It might also be a good idea to consider an alternate way to get to your destination (i.e. bus-to-bus/bus-to-train/train-to-train transfers).

    @matto: Muni hasn’t reached failure…yet. Failure to me is back in the 90’s when the old crappy Boeings were still in service and the meltdown that occured after they had installed the ATC system in the subway and were testing it out in advance of the Bredas.

  • I hate the Bredas. I think the Boeings were much better.

  • jenny

    ride a damn bike.

  • I’ve found that if I use NextMuni or just 511.org, I typically don’t have to plan an hour. It’s when I don’t check the times that I really really despise waiting for the bus. And when that happens, I usually walk to the next stop (and then the next) until the bus comes. I figure it burns me some calories. The more to drink another martini with.

  • Jenny and Eugenia bring up excellent points that I didn’t want to get into here. I didn’t want the post to be too long 😉

    Yes, if Muni is taking too much time for you, or the tried-and-true hourlong blockout just doesn’t fit your rat-race lifestyle, do yourself and the environment a favor — hoof it or get a bike.

    I ride a bike almost every day, so I know how freakin warfare danger zone it is out there on SF streets. If you’re gonna ride, wear a helmet, lights at night, ride defensively, always signal, etc., etc. Don’t be a jerk.

    If you walk, yeah, assume cars DO NOT see you, I don’t care how white your “walk” signal is when you cross the intersection. I do often find that the city is much, much smaller than I remember it being, and this happens when I walk.

    Just remember: In San Francisco, all bets are off — there is no established hierarchy of right-of-way. It’s sheer chaos out there.

  • dude

    so even while i have a fast pass, I will only board the back bus doors if a MUNI cop or operator says so. Drives me fuckin nuts when me and everyone else can get on the front and smash through dozens of people so we can hold onto a bar, then some lil jerk, or older jerk (these days) jump on the back, and usually get the seat that I am zeroing in on.

    and in cases like the pic above, wtf? Half the bus getting in the back door, pushing and shoving because they dont want to wait another 10 minutes? MUNI needs to give the MUNI cops tazer guns to zap these fools.

  • Unco

    The buses in Chinatown are like that everyday. Every bus is crowded and all the chinese people get on from the back.

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