Article from Moving People, Nov., 1996. Index.

San Francisco Muni needs Substance not Frills

Long suffering San Francisco Muni commuters no longer have any great hopes that Mayor Willie Brown will produce quick action to get Muni under control. Mayor Brown, famous for his "shoot from the lip" assessments, has already come up with a pair of ill-considered courses of action that don't address the problems but will in fact add unnecessary costs.

First, Brown decided, (perhaps by talking to drivers) that buses and trains weren't on-time because schedules are too tight. To the contrary, most experts believe Muni has way too much slack already, and that this contributes to bus bunching and bad driver attitudes. The idea of adding more slack to run times will cost millions and end up degrading Muni service even further.

Brown's second superficial idea, publicly espoused by his Muni chief Emilio Cruz, is a new image for the system. New drivers' uniforms will cost a million dollars, and even though the new proposed logo was cheaply obtained ($5,000), it is going to cost many more millions to apply system-wide. As the San Francisco Chronicle observed this week, "until ...systemic problems are fixed, new logos, paint jobs and uniforms will be like putting a bow tie on a hog -- it may be prettier but it's still a porker."

The riders seem to have a better handle on what needs to be fixed than Willie's new experts. For example, a new San Francisco transit riders association -- RESCUE Muni -- has proposed some very practical measures to fix Muni Metro subway problems. RESCUE Muni wants a supervisor stationed at Van Ness station to manage traffic and redesignate destinations of cars, to crack down on chaotic operations.

RESCUE Muni says a "major problem is that cars leave the Embarcadero station in an erratic order. As delays occur on one of the five lines that comprise the Muni Metro (J,K,L, M and N) Muni makes little, if any, attempt to manage the consequences. What a passenger waiting at Embarcadero sees is often a [2 car train of N line cars] on one side of the platform and another N-N on the other side. The next train in may be a single K followed by a J-N. Then a flood of West Portal trains will come through &endash; that is L-L-M-M followed by a K-K-M-L. This is inefficient." The group says a bit of management could smooth out system operations by reducing the impact on any one line.

RESCUE Muni says the current non-management scheme also makes it rough on passengers. Because Muni doesn't tell customers what trains are coming, "passengers force themselves onto the first train that comes because they have no idea how long it might be until the next useable car comes along." By comparison, BART seems to have grasped this need and at least lets riders know what train is coming.

Another gripe is the cynical technique of some Muni drivers who announce a car or bus is going out of service, then blithely continue up the route with a lighter load. With only public relations ideas coming from City Hall, maybe its time to start looking to RESCUE Muni's web site for answers to Muni problems. You can check it out at or leave voice mail for the group at (415) 273-1558.

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