2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Municipal Railway, something you’re sure to hear a lot about in the months ahead as various local history organizations, the City of San Francisco, and the SFMTA mark the occasion in various ways.
It’s difficult for some to imagine just how radical a notion it was to create Muni back then. It was the first municipally owned transit system in the United States, with the truly radical notion that a transit system should be dedicated to serving the needs of a city’s residents first, and to be a tool with which to enhance the lives of everyone.
Yes, there have been private companies that have come and gone, but their primary mission was to serve stockholders. In the post-quake years, Muni would become not just a form of transportation, but a way to encourage development in parts of the city not yet settled (particularly places like West Portal and the Sunset), and to always put the people first.
It’s safe to say, we’ve come a long way, baby. Not always in a good way, either.
That’s why we as the owners and riders of Muni need to make 2012 the year we take it back. We don’t need to pitch a tent city downtown to do it, either. It is, however, critical that no matter who’s in office or what the economy is like that those of us who live and/or work in San Francisco start to make this the year we did something, instead of just bitching at blogs or going to some “meeting.”
For too long, many at the SFMTA, Room 200, and City Hall have been content to kill our system, either through neglect, active mismanagement, or through the endless emotional blabbering that passes for “politics” in the Enlightened City. This has not been working, and it’s time for people to actively put it all in the trash.
What does this mean?
It means when you see cheap politicians running for re-election this year, cramming your mailbox with piles of junk mail, that you throw it away in the recycle bin. Instead, challenge the politicians yourself when they come to your neighborhood. Ask them why they supported huge increases in fares, and why they refuse to support reasoned and balanced solutions to Muni’s perpetual funding issues. Ask them why they are happen to engage in endless rhetoric, but the sad fact is after four years in office, Muni has become worse under their watch (that is, when some of them weren’t off spending your money to run for mayor). It also means you need to tell our Mayor* that while he was content to ignore Muni during his temp term in office and during the campaign, he can’t do so now.
It means something else, though. When you’re on a bus or streetcar, you be sure to give up a seat in the designated area to those who need it. If some youthful numbskull is too plugged into his MP3 player, remind them to do so. If you have an operator that is doing a good job, tell them so when you leave the bus. (even better, send in a note to the SFMTA for what it’s worth). Take your backpack off on a crowded bus so everyone can fit in. Avoid the urge to eat that burrito. Set a good example. While I don’t advocate violence (well…) if you see someone behaving badly and can’t bonk ’em on the head, use that fancified phone to take a picture or video and shame them online. While it’s easy for us to bitch about Muni, we have to start taking it back not just from the politicians and bureaucrats, but also from the public trolls that ruin our city for us and those who choose to visit Our Fair City.
We have a lot to feel good about our 100 year experiment – and a lot that needs to be done better and smarter. For my part, I plan on pointing out the nonsense and relying on a mix of reason, history, and investigation to do my best to help us all stay informed and to look back at the end of this year and be able to say we did something.
Happy 2012 and let’s kick some ass.
PS: If you’ve not yet purchased a copy of the latest Muni history book, I urge you to do so at Market Street Railway Foundation’s store. I got a copy for Christmas and it has a lot of interesting historical notes not covered in some of the other books, and the old photos are awesome!
PS2: On an unrelated note: I had a rather kick-ass ride on Muni last night. I was over at Stonestown and wanted to join some friends back home in the Inner Sunset. This meant taking the M to Forest Hill, then catching a bus back home. These kinds of connections can be fraught with crazy, but instead, not only did my M arrive in time for me to catch the 44, the 44 operator was one of those “kick ass” ones that got sh!t done.
She kept things moving, helped the passengers out, and when some jerk-ass double parked on 9th, she used her professional skills to asses the road situation, and passed them so we didn’t get stuck at the red. Needless to say, I profusely thanked her and my friends were surprised I got there so quickly.
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I agree with everything you’re saying, with one caveat:
I think that if able-bodied/young people are sitting in the designated area and they don’t see someone to whom they should offer their seat, people (either the senior citizen/disabled person, or anyone else who notices) should just tap the seated person and ask them politely for the seat. There are times I’ve been in the designated area but have been reading a book and, rather than just alerting me that someone needs my seat, people have instead made faces or even (as I’ve later been told) cursed about it in other languages. If they’d just tapped me on the shoulder instead, I’d have gotten up immediately.
Come on, the onus is on you. If you’re sitting in the disabled area, don’t delve into whatever book makes you ignore other people’s needs. They don’t need to tap you. You need to vacate.
I’ve had it with MUNI. I’ll likely start walking to and from work and just deal with losing that extra hour of my day. I take the train to and from work everyday and there are almost always delays. There’s virtually never an explanation It’s just business as usual.
I wish I could discover what the actual problem was with our trains so I could know where to direct my anger. As it stands, MUNI has single-handedly caused me to question supporting public employee unions. Maybe that’s not the right way to think, but no one even seems to care enough to correct me. I’d vote to fire every single MUNI employee given the chance.
Anyway, I strongly agree with your advice to confront politicians. Any suggestions on how to get face to face with a supervisor or the mayor? I just want to ask them why they don’t care if their fare-paying workforce is late to their jobs on a regular basis.
I’m not even talking about getting around town – I’d be happy just to have reliable transportation to and from my job.
I totally disagree with that. People sitting in the front seats shouldn’t have to keep scanning the area around them over and over again, just waiting for a disabled, pregnant, or elderly person to pop up. That can mean wasting a half hour or hour of one’s time (depending on the length of one’s commute), rather than being able to use the time constructively to read or work. Much easier for anyone who notices the situation – including the person who needs the seat – to politely ask for it.
May I ask, do you just ride the N, or another line or…?
There are many reasons why the trains can be delayed. Some are due to a lack of trains available due to maintenance backlogs, and sometimes it’s a derailment (like the one we just had recently). Sometimes though it’s things out of Muni’s control – like a double parked car on the tracks with the driver nowhere to be found and so on.
The best thing to do is harass your Supervisor and Mayor and the MTA board members (some of whom actually do care about making Muni better) and make them realize that Muni isn’t an “issue” – it’s a system of transit that was designed to serve us, the people FIRST – they’ll get the message. We also have to stop rewarding politicians with unlimited time in office even though Muni is in trouble.
We had a kick-ass driver on the 1ax in the mornings, #1619 to be specific! She rocked…. I did a compliment form/letter on the sfmta website, and since I’m convinced the complaints just go in the round file, I also printed a copy & handed it to her… she was very pleased, and an even more kick-ass driver after that! She is now on another line since they did finally hire new pt drivers for the express busses, so I don’t get to see her any longer.