What does Muni say about San Francisco?

Photo by Flickr user Omer Simkha

What do experiences on public transit say about a city? I started thinking about this question when I was on a bus in Rome last week, having just arrived from the airport with my parents. We sat across from a fashionable Chinese woman in a purple dress who seemed like a local. As my parents and I conversed in Chinese about whether we were on the right bus, I looked over to the woman to see if she understood us. She eyed us briefly and took out her cell phone to make a call, speaking in accented Italian. Well, fine, I guess she doesn’t speak Chinese after all, I thought.

The next morning as I was walking under the 90 degrees heat to the Coloseum, who do I see but the same woman from the bus, leading a group of Chinese tourists, speaking in fluent Chinese to explain the history of the Coloseum! I pretended not to recognize her.

The experience on the bus really soured me for a moment on Rome. This leads me to wonder: what kind of impression on our city do visitors get from riding Muni?


  • From what I’ve seen on Muni and how some bus drivers are, riding Muni makes San Francisco look unfriendly in many ways. Tourists board the bus, ask the driver or people on the bus how to get to so-and-so….sometimes the driver is helpful, sometimes the driver doesn’t care and barks at the tourists. Passengers rarely try to help out lost tourists unless they feel cornered.

    Also, I’ve seen tourists board the bus without exact change and then nobody helps them with getting them change (I rarely have the change on me these days).

    Oh, but I’ve seen bus drivers guide tourists carefully to their destinations as well.

  • Roger A

    Most of us natives in San Francisco dont speak another language. Most of my Asian friends dont speak Chinese, they speak Japanese or Tagalog (people cant tell the difference between Asian peoples but I can)… Lets also not forget that MOST foreigners that come to the USA on holiday already have a basic grasp of the English language, so we can direct them. Often time, I will direct someone and get a pen and write it out on their map for them with arrows and bus numbers.

  • I tell tourists: MOVE TO THE BACK! They all clump up on the front half of the F-Market, and the back is so empty with lots of standing room.

  • I’ll help tourists when they look lost or confused. I really feel like to the extent that I can, I’d like to show visitors that we are friendly and helpful here. That said, I get super annoyed when tourists won’t move back and when they block the doors.

  • Jeff

    Most MUNI drivers seem genuinely helpful and nice, but in my experience, more than 10% are complete assholes who do as little as possible and show unabashed hostility towards their jobs and all riders, not just tourists.

  • D

    I like to help tourists. Especially if they’re cute single women ;^}

  • JC

    I think they think that we’re an odd bunch obsessed with telling people to “STEP DOWN!” as if it’s some sort of universally understood phrase which transcends English.

  • Lupe S.

    I feel that Muni is very intimidating! I moved here a year ago into the Ingleside area near state and I took a bus ride to the wharf. I tried to get home and Muni drivers weren’t helpful and passive. I always try to help tourist when I can and when they ask. 🙂

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