Wanted: Muni advice for an out-of-towner

Photo by Lulu Vision*

British dude James sent us the most charming email the other day asking about standard procedures and etiquette on Muni. Oh, how we wish some of our fellow riders would be as considerate about etiquette as James. Here are some of James’s questions:

  • Do we pay when we get on? Or do we need to have pre-paid passes or something?
  • When we’re at a bus stop, do we need to put our hand out to catch it or does it always stop at every stop?
  • Is there a bell you ring to get off the bus?
  • What do I say to the driver when I get on? What’s the little phrase that people use? (for example, here in the UK, it’s usually “one to town, please” or something like that).
  • Do I get given a ticket? Do I need to keep hold of it?

A few things have changed since we did a “newbie orientation” last year. The SFMTA has a new customer guide, which addresses some of these questions in more detail but doesn’t really go into my favorite question from James: what you say to the driver when you get on?

We thought it more fitting to turn his inquiry over to you, the Muni-riding community. So whadaya say? Help a guy out.

* Pictured is one of the short-lived Muni double-decker buses, which, you know, is so … British.


  • FLO

    Generally, I try to smile and say “Hello”. It depends on the situation though, because sometimes that’s not possible. I was taught: “Be nice to the people that drive you around and cook for you!” After all, a bus driver is a human being and not a piece of furniture.

  • Ken

    Get a Clipper card (sold at Walgreens stores). So much easier paying with exact change.

  • Zouaf

    1. Get Clipper and put $10 on it to start. Tap it to the card reader when you board. If you’re riding a street car line, you may enter through a station in which case pay at the entrance.

    2. Not if you’re lucky! Buses should always stop if there is someone waiting. If they don’t, Muni fail.

    3. You’ll see cables next to the windows and red buttons near the doors. Yank on/ push these to request a stop.

    4. I rarely say anything to the driver when I get on. I’ll sometimes say thank you when I get off.

    5. If you pay cash, you can ask for a transfer which is equivalent to a ticket valid for a certain period of time. If you use Clipper, the transfer is automatic.

    Hope that’s helpful and not too pedantic! Enjoy your visit.

  • Martin Atkins

    As a Brit myself (though living in rather than visiting SF) I can sympathize with the whole “what do I do when I get on the bus” question; it bothered me when I first arrived here too.

    The answer, of course, is that Muni has a flat fare for all rides so you don’t really need to say anything most of the time, unless there’s some debate about your eligibility for a senior, youth or disability discount.

    So with that said, in the morning I get on my bus with a beaming smile and say “Good morning!” to the bus driver, who usually reciprocates. I soon learned that by the evening the drivers are much less enthused so my beaming “Hello!” is rarely met with more than a grunt, so I generally just tag my Clipper card and go on my way.

  • Salmon Dave

    …first thing i say is…”Take your meds today???”…

  • Avoid the streetcar (F-Market/Wharves) during commute hours at all costs. Anytime before 9:30 a.m. and between 5-6:30 p.m.

    • Reca

      1. Pay when you get on. This is either with exact change or with a Clipper Card, which other people have discussed.

      2. Because multiple buses often run past the same bus stop, it helps to stand and look at your bus eagerly as it’s approaching. Otherwise, they don’t always realize you’re waiting for them. And a bus won’t stop if it’s full. There’s not much you can do about that other than walk to a different stop or wait for the next one and hope it’s not full.

      3. Sometimes this is a cord along the windows that you pull down on, sometimes it’s buttons on the poles. The bell doesn’t always sound, but the LCD display at the front will read “Stop Requested” when it has registered.

      4. We only have one fare, so there’s no need to tell the driver any information when you board unless you’re paying for more than one person or get a discount for being a kid or senior. A hello is polite, but it’s sometimes too busy for even that.

      5. San Francisco requires proof of payment on all buses. If you pay in cash, you’ll need to hold onto the transfer/proof of payment slip they give you. This will also allow you to ride another bus for free for up to 2 hours. (It indicates the time it expires and you just show it to the next driver) If you’re using the Clipper Card, this all happens automatically and if they ask you for proof of payment, they can read your card. They rarely check for proof of payment, but better safe than sorry.

  • Daishin

    I think the answers to most of your questions have already been given except for one. When you board a MUNI bus you are expected to tell the driver that you think his/her wages are ridiculously high and then wait for his response. This may come in the way of a finger being thrown in your direction or a “f__k you” spoken under his/her breath. Do not fear. MUNI drivers are quite used to being accosted by all manner of local beasts, better known as riders if you’re not a driver or MUNI union employee.

  • Dexter Wong

    Dashin, you are asking a stranger to get in a possible shouting match or more if the driver is stressed out. Ah, but what way to show some local color than to have him get into a fight and possible lawsuit against the city than taunting a Muni worker?

    • Jeff

      Yes, James (the person asking for advice here): Please don’t go the route described above by Daishin. Stay on the side of mutual respect. One day, we just might return public transit in San Francisco to a more civilized experience.

  • Daishin

    Like this will ever happen in a 100 years. MUNI, both admin and union employees, hasn’t had any respect for the citizens of San Francisco for over 25 years. How is that going to change by being kind to drivers? They just laugh in our faces. Get real.

    • This is dangerously close to being the wrong post for this, but when it comes to drivers, you’re talking about the exception here, not the rule. I’d guess that around 8 of every 10 Muni operators I encounter is either nice or something between nice and not-disrespectful.

      James from the UK wants advice for how to use our public transportation. It’s a simple, respectful request. There’s no need to spew your personal feelings of distaste for Muni operators in this thread.

      If you’re talking about the antics of the union, then this is definitely the wrong thread for that. I suggest you keep an eye out for the next open thread.

  • James

    Thank you so much for your advice! I really enjoyed riding around the city despite some confusion… I must admit, there was one point where I still felt like we should be putting our hand out for the bus but it turns out it was a limited service which is why it didn’t stop for us….*sigh*
    I ended up with a 7 day pass after many walgreens workers advised us against clipper cards…not really sure why..
    I mostly found the bus drivers to be either really friendly or at least minimally pleasant. One ride was particularly busy, which actually got a little scary cos my girlfriend cos pushed to the back without me, and couldn’t find her to get off! But, the point is, the driver was really funny, and kept yelling things like ‘I know you all love me, but you can’t be sitting on me, move back!’ which was just amazing. She was also yelling out for certain families and groups telling them when they needed to get off which I thought was really sweet and helpful.
    All in all, I’d say riding the buses made our trip really enjoyable..once we knew what we were doing it was great fun and I loved seeing all the people that got on and off.
    Thanks again 😀

  • I hope the Brit got the answers to his questions, but, isn’t it cool he hit up Muni Diaries first???

    Q + A:

    •Do we pay when we get on?
    A: Yes, and thank you for paying. Our city and Muni is trying to deal with “fare evaders” (people who get on the bus without proof of payment and generally enter through the back door). If you have two bucks, you’re in luck. But generally, if you are on a busy line people get irritated at the one person who funnels cash through the pay machine because it holds up the line–some people are smart enough to go around you and they “tap” their Clipper Cards next to you. Don’t be alarmed if a bus rider schooches by you to get on. He/she is not barging in–they just want to get on and get a seat.
    Another thing that drivers hate (about tourists or locals) is the poor individual who hasn’t any dollar bills and must break a $20. While I see people break $5 bills on the fly, it’s hard for people come up for change for a twenty. If you encounter such an unfortunate person, do what I do and offer to pay that person’s fare: “Don’t worry about it, get on, I will cover your fare right away.” And, I either tap my Clipper card (which has a dollar amount loaded)or I slip in $2 after everyone’s boarded.

    Or do we need to have pre-paid passes or something?
    A: The “pre-paid pass” is the Muni Passport…it kinda works like the passes in Paris. The Clipper (which I mentioned earlier) is a plastic card you get. Mainly for locals and you typically request the cardonline and is sent in the mail, and you load the card with either a dollar amount (I buy $20 at a time, and you can use it on other agencies like BART). That works like le Cart Orange (in Paris). But, once you have the Clipper, you can reload amounts at places like Walgreens–which is a drugstore chain. You’re best off with a 7 Day Passport (which will enable you to get on cable cars too): http://www.sfmta.com/cms/mfares/passports.htm

    •When we’re at a bus stop, do we need to put our hand out to catch it or does it always stop at every stop?
    A: Great question. It depends on the street, the line and the driver. It has been witnessed by myself and others that no matter how much you flag down a driver, that driver still may drive on and pass you up. If it’s a busy line like the #5 (going to Ocean Beach), not to worry: There’s always another bus coming during busy times. Typically (on that line) you even see the next bus trailing it. If you do flag a driver down, the driver may take it personally–or not. Don’t worry: you’re just covering your bases.

    •Is there a bell you ring to get off the bus?
    A: You tug a long cord that is hung along the windows. Tug the cord and a “Stop Requested” light will light (depending on the make and model of the bus) and a “bell” will go off. There are also “buttons” you push (on the handle near the rear exit) and in other locations depending on the make and model of the bus.

    Also: When exiting from the rear, please step down the steps to activate the door. The doors won’t open for you automatically if you try to push the doors open from the top of the stairs. Step down into the stairwell and then, activate the opening of the door by touching/tapping/rattling on the handles.

    •What do I say to the driver when I get on? What’s the little phrase that people use? (for example, here in the UK, it’s usually “one to town, please” or something like that).
    A: I just say, thank you to the driver if he/she lowers the bus so that I can board. I generally say, “Have a nice day,” when I get off–if they let you off through the front. But, generally, a “by the book driver” will ask you to get off at the rear. There are designated stops. If you’d like the driver to call your stop, please ask. If you are on a more modern bus, it will announce your stop, for example on the #22 line, you’ll hear a female voice say, “16th Street and-Valencia.”

    •Do I get given a ticket? Do I need to keep hold of it?
    A: Hold on to your transfer (if you pay $2 at the fare machine near the driver ask for a transfer): “Transfer please.” Some may not automatically give you one without asking. The transfer is good for a window of time. Keep your transfer because Muni coppers periodically get on the bus to see if there are people not paying their fares. Or just hold on to your passport if you got one.

    I hope this offers you great solutions. Have fun in San Francisco, and remember that Muni buses aren’t clean or particularly friendly all the time. Count on not getting a smooth ride and for bumps and you’ll be happy as a clam.

    • Forgot to add, when I say “passport” at the end of my post, I meant the Muni Passport (you can get them at Muni cable car stops too).

      Also: Drivers (I noticed) like to be addressed as “Driver.” “Driver, will you please call my stop.” “Have a great day,driver.” “Good morning/good day…” And, if asking for a connection, “Driver, what’s the best stop to get off to go to Fisherman’s Warf?”

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