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.
We met Courtney Brousseau at Muni Diaries Live last year, and he was so immediately warm and full of joy that I thought we must have met him somewhere before. He walked right up to us to introduce himself, and it was clear he loved the city so much and wanted to make it better for bus riders.
On Friday, Courtney was shot in the Mission, a bystander caught in what The San Francisco Chronicle says were 50-60 bullets that were fired on that block. This was just minutes after he tweeted that he was enjoying a burrito in Dolores Park and that “for a brief moment everything felt okay.” He died Monday night. He was 22.
We can’t stop thinking about the evening when we first met Courtney. He was wearing a jacket full of transit buttons and had just hosted an afternoon transit pub crawl with Chris Arvin (one of our storytellers that night), which terminated at the show.
Driving Muni is probably one of the most challenging jobs in the city, and a writer-artist pair is working on a book to honor their contributions to our community. Artist Keith Ferris and writer Lia Smith are creating an art book about Muni where Muni operators who participate will get their portrait drawn and participate in an interview to help us get to know the folks getting us from Point A to Point B.
Whether they are doling out life advice or playing Jedi mind tricks with you if you don’t pay attention, Muni operators have been a big part of the storytelling on Muni Diaries. Lia tells us that she and Keith have already interviewed 17 Muni operators, and are looking for eight more participants, particularly drivers who might be new to the job. The pair is also keen to interview Muni mechanics for the project.
If you are interested in participating in this project, or would like more information, you can contact Lia Smith at ljsmith[at]ccsf.edu. Lia and Keith sent us the portraits above, featuring Muni drivers David Chin and Veronica Jackson.
A second Muni operator has tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, and we are hearing from our operator friends that they’d really, really like you to be mindful of everyone on the bus when riding Muni.
One driver who contacted Muni Diaries said that while they always remind passengers that they want to keep everyone safe, not all passengers are as careful as they could be. “We have many passengers who don’t take this seriously,” this driver confirms, and we can only imagine how much more stressful it is to drive Muni under these circumstances.
Earlier last week, several operators took matters into their own hands to protect themselves on the job, as reported by The San Francisco Examiner. Drivers were taping fare boxes close and shutting the front door to try to keep riders at least six feet away. Recently the SFMTA announced that backdoor boarding is required except for those with accessibility needs, which we hope would help with keeping safe rider-driver distance on the bus.
Our driver asks that if you ride public transit to get to your jobs or other essential services, please practice the recommended measures, like covering your mouth while coughing, keeping at least six feet of distance from others, and stay home if you feel ill. And of course, if you can avoid touching surfaces on the bus (which, even in peace time, we would recommend because of stuff like this), that would be extra great.
p.s. If you haven’t already, take a minute to read up on the service changes: there is no subway service, and some rapid routes have been cancelled for the time being.
Remember when we told you about the two Chronicle reporter who rode every Muni line for an entire day? Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight gave us a sneak peek of their plans last year, and in today’s podcast episode, they came back to the Betabrand Podcast Theater to tell us how it all went.
There are 84 Muni routes covering our 7×7, and the duo had meticulously planned their one-day adventure. But as we all know, just when you have a plan to be on time somewhere, Muni has other ideas! Heather and Peter told us that in the middle of their journey, a fellow rider reminded them that the 2-Clement (also my line!) doesn’t run late and that they might miss their goal if they don’t catch one soon. Already exhausted from waking up before dawn, Heather and Peter thought they might not make it, but this rider revamped their plans so that they can catch all the routes they need.
They also told us how they found an adorable lost dog (who they lovingly named Felton, after finding him on the 54-Felton) during their Muni journey. In the end, surprisingly, riding Muni all day made these two seasoned journalists fall in love with our city again. Who would have known?