SFMTA head addresses challenges of reopening Muni

What must we do to bring public transit back into our lives? (Not a rhetorical question, please give us a list other than stay the f*ck home.)

In an NPR interview this week, SFMTA head Jeffrey Tumlin shares what he’s learned about how other cities got back on buses and trains, while waxing poetic about the cultural value of life on transit. We knew someday they’d see things our way.

Tumlin says that SFMTA had a Zoom call with the mayor of Taipei to learn about their approach. (Taiwan has been praised internationally for its COVID response). But he says that “fear and exhaustion” remain the biggest challenge in reopening public transit.

Our workforce, all of them are working ridiculous long hours and they are exhausted and our front-line workers in particular have been carrying with them a huge amount of fear. There is an emotional toll to our workforce that is going to take a long time to heal and it’s going to impact our ability to deliver service. That fear is also present amongst members of the public. If Bay Area residents retreat to their cars out of fear, the economy can never recover.

While public transit is essential to our city life and economy, Tumlin also sounds like a fan of the random acts of humanity on Muni—which this comMUNIty knows all about.

Public transportation brings us back to our common humanity. When you get on the bus you have no idea who you’re gonna see. There are the casual flirtations, there’s also the kind of witness of tragedy that kind of breaks your heart, and opens you up to gratitude if we’re lucky. Public transit is not always fun or efficient, but it certainly brings us back to our common humanity.

Listen to his full interview here on Planet Money. We think we’re on the same page about the importance of public transit, but how that takes shape safely remains to be seen. Tumlin says that most Taipei transit riders wear masks; there are temperature probes at subway stations; and importantly, the country has effective contact tracing. It wasn’t clear whether or how the SFMTA might consider similar measures in order to restore transit service.

What will it take for you to get back on the bus?

Photo by @mwichary.


  • claudia

    It was so frustrating to try to find an explicit announcement from sfmta stating whether may 25th service was weekend or weekday schedule. All I needed to know is whether the m and 28 are running.

    I had to readthrough so much crap at the sfmta site and it’s social medias to confirm the absence of such basicinformation 🙁

    It also sucks that more streets are being closed even as big chunks remain closed off to covid lines even as sfmta asks for fare increases. And the initial suggestion that the initial core routes were fine because they were just a mile walk to most neighborhoods cast more skepticism on leadership.

    some of us without cars will return to muni because we have no alternative. I can empathize with wrkers on the ground but not leadership. At least streamline the sfmta website if mgmt continues to hide behind it.

    in the meantime my feet and the samtrans 120&122 are how i make weekend sfsu-stonestown-west portal trips and they were also weekday staples prior to to the m and 28 restarts as covid routes. The 29 + L bus take too long and some of the drivers pass stops when they consider a bus full.

    npr is good pr, but current riders continue to know the real deal.

  • DSW

    I have been taking the bus as a City Disaster Service Worker for 6 weeks. I’ve had to take the Owl – I’ve taken a couple of different routes. I’m very grateful for the ride and get to pass by all the places I can’t visit. Usually plenty of spacing. Some drivers are good about insisting that riders don some sort of facial covering. Others aren’t. Few people are paying their fare. It’s easy to spot the essential workers versus those who should have no reason to be riding.

    I’m glad the bus windows can open to bring in fresh air. That’s going to be a problem with the trains. BART is more nightmarish — people, usually young man defiantly boarding without facial covering. Vagrants wandering the aisles, tearing open seats, sleepers, and of course the occasional junkie cooking their drugs.

    Mask enforcement is so important, but the City that knows how can’t enforce anything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *