With just a few days until the election, we invite San Francisco Examiner transit reporter Carly Graf to talk about this year’s ballot measures that can change the landscape of public transportation as we know it today.
Sure, the pandemic has severely reduced ridership and budget, but public transit’s woes started way before that. With the proliferation of Lyft and Uber, Muni was no longer the only way everyone can reasonably get around town. And on this year’s ballot, Prop 22 stands to change the operations of these ride share companies in a big way. We chat with Graf about how Prop 22 can impact economic disparity, whether Prop B can fix the toxic workplace that was the Department of Public Works, why you should get to know the BART board of directors, and more.
Reader Kay Karpus Walker found a piece of her family history that’s very relevant to our interests. She shares this photo and family history on the Muni Diaries Facebook page:
A bit of Muni history—a photo of an early Muni driver—Jacob B. Unruh—my grandfather. This is from the early 1900s in SF. Jacob became a driver after he was forced to close his business in the early days of the Depression or right before it hit. An immigrant from the Ukraine and a Mennonite, he was a cousin of Jesse Unruh, the California politician, according to Jesse himself.
Jesse Unruh was also known as “Big Daddy Unruh,” at one point the California State Treasurer. In the early 1900s, the Stockton Street Tunnel opened, and J-Church streetcar line was just starting service. Muni as we know it started to transition from for-profit monopolies to a municipally operated agency around 1912.
As we enter into the least-restrictive “yellow tier” of the state’s COVID re-opening framework, is riding public transit becoming safer? Ridership on Muni reached historic lows since the start of the pandemic. Even so, Muni has established capacity protocols on buses to keep riders and drivers safe. In practice, that can translate into a frustrating experience for riders and drivers alike, as not everyone has gotten the memo on why the bus is blowing you off. In this snapshot from rider Eric, he describes what riding Muni is like nowadays.
My wife and I made a “jaunt” to the Ferry Building recently, just to throw some money at our favorite food purveyors, and because the 2 and 3 haven’t run since April, we now have to walk to the Transbay Terminal to pick up a 38. No problem really, and you get your choice of seats. However….by the time we get a stop away from Powell Street, the bus is over the limit for safety and the driver doesn’t have to stop if he doesn’t want to, so we blow right past Powell. He lets two people off at the corner of Mason, just to lighten his load, and continues.
Two blocks from Van Ness, he blows by another stop but this time, a woman runs after the bus and catches us at the next red light. Boy, does she let him have it!
F-bombs and middle fingers and demands to open the door. Plus, she keeps stepping in front of the bus to keep him from going.
Two light cycles later, the driver finally tells her that he’s only allowed 30 people on the bus, so she goes down the side counting people.
“You only got 26! Let me the [f-bomb] in!”
But this time, he gets off before she can get in front.
But wait! There’s more!
The next stop is Van Ness. We see five people standing in the street with arms outstretched and another eight or so on the sidewalk. There is no way these people are going to let this bus go by! Our bus has to stop.
The result is that a dozen more get on, and now the bus really IS crowded. People with masks around their chins, pissed off people who’ve been passed by for how long….I can’t blame them.
Luckily, our stop is next. Except the driver won’t stop to let anyone off because there’s one—one—guy at the stop.
I stand up and pull the cord hard; not like it does anything, as he blows past the Laguna stop as well.
Five of us scream at him: “Hey! We’re trying to get off and reduce the number of passengers!”
Is *waving hands frantically* the new “back door”?
As San Francisco (again, fingers crossed) continues to do a good job at keeping Covid under control, more public transit service with precautions is looking more and more likely. I, for one, recently rode Muni for the first time in seven months—a 7, in fact.
But, you’re the expert. Tell us what you’re seeing out there in the wild, for our collective online journal. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re feeling more short-form or casual, tag us @munidiaries on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
A lot of concerns in the Before Times seems silly now, but one of them stands out in particular: when BART director Deborah Allen tried to ban panhandling on BART, which included busker activity. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Rachel Swan was reporting on the ordinance when she met rapper Tone Oliver, whose story became symbolic of how an anti-panhandling ordinance can impact artists like him.
As commuters ourselves, we know that musicians and performers on public transit often provide us with that surprising and delightful moment from the daily grind. And many buskers have left a lasting impression on their audience, like Jesse Morris who was known as punk rock Johnny Cash, or Ron Kemp, whose gentle voice you know from Powell station. But at the end of the day, the ordinance perhaps wasn’t about buskers at all.
The ordinance didn’t pass (and Allen would go on to make other controversial statements in 2020 about BART police), but Oliver achieved local fame and even garnered the attention of the ACLU. In today’s podcast, Swan describes the aftermath of what happened after her coverage put Oliver in the limelight.
Remember in the Before Times when you’d see a way-too-crowded bus followed by a nearly empty bus right behind it, and you’d wonder, why doesn’t anyone get on the empty bus? In today’s podcast, Muni operator Ricardo sheds some light on why this happens, and how he tried to bail out a rookie Muni driver in this predicament.
Scroll down to see a transcript of Ricardo’s story
We are always looking for stories about life in San Francisco, on or off the bus. What’s the best thing that happened to you here? Did something or someone in SF change you? We want to hear all about it. Anyone can submit a story to this collective online journal: just email us at email@example.com. Or if you have a photo or tweet to share, tag us @munidiaries on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Transcript of Ricardo’s story:
Driving north on Mission Street, I came up to this rookie bus driver running a “double-header,” slow and late. The rookie and his bus should have been about 10 blocks ahead of me. As a result, his bus was bursting at the seams, and my bus was almost empty.
We arrived at the 22nd Street bus stop together, him in the lead, me and my bus right on his tail. There were a lot of people waiting, and they looked angry and irritable. As soon as the buses stopped (he in the zone and me double parked behind him) the people waiting ran and jumped on his bus.
Here was this poor sap doing all the work for both of us. And now he was making me late too. Through my rear view mirror, I could see another trolley bus about five blocks back. I blew my horn at the rookie, and when he stuck his head out the side window, I called out to him:
“Hey, man, you’re making everyone late. Skip stops! Don’t stop for anyone in the betweens.”
The rookie made a face at me like he didn’t understand, but then he closed his doors and pulled his bus out into the traffic. He went past the 23rd Street stop and double-parked about half a block before the 24th Street intersection and started unloading passengers in the middle of the street.
Obviously, this goes against all the operating Muni rules, and, it didn’t work. The ten people or so waiting at the 24th Street Zone ran into the street heading for his bus.
Just as they were closing in on the rookie’s bus, the rookie slammed his doors shut and pulled his bus into the second lane, away from the running pedestrians. He left them standing there, in the middle of the street, stunned, confused, and completely pissed off. I wanted to pull my bus into the zone, but I couldn’t, that same group of people was blocking my way.
So I opened my doors. As they started boarding my bus, every one of them had something to say. “Did you see that?” one passenger asked as she went up the steps, “He just took off and left us standing in the middle of the street.”
“That’s what he was supposed to do, lady. That’s why I’m here–to pick you all up.”
But another passenger was not so polite: “What the hell do you mean? Man, you bus drivers are all a bunch of assholes.”
“Yes, sir,” I tried to calm the man down, but he wouldn’t let it go.
“I’m going to report you, you idiots.”
I could have explained, but I knew it wasn’t going to matter. The hype was up, and when the hype is up there’s really nothing you can do to stop it.
At times like this, the only thing a bus driver can do is to just sit tight and take all the shit as best as he or she can take it. Hold your breath until the stink passes by.
“Goddamned government employees!”
“I’m going to report you too, you son-of-a-bitches.”
When SFChronicle_vault posted the pic above recently on Instagram, we thought it looked and felt familiar. It’s certainly imbued with nostalgia for decades past—and nostalgia for months past, if you count our wistfulness about safely gathering en masse, which San Francisco has always loved doing.
We dug into our own archive and were heartened to find photos from 2014 taken in very much the same spirit and similarly featuring Muni, which always snuck into our celebrations.
Everything has changed and very little has changed. I know we’ll do it again someday.
We’re continuing to collect your stories about the interactions and experiences that make living in San Francisco what it is today. If you have a story to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org And don’t forget to keep up with the tales by subscribing to the Muni Diaries podcast! You can submit your own photos and observations by tagging us @munidiaries on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.