Editor's Notes

How often do people who complain about government spending actually ride the bus?


I like Muni. I always have. I know that makes me strange and sick, but I've always enjoyed riding the buses and trains, and my kids love riding the buses and trains, and in the end, despite all the problems, it's one of the great things about San Francisco.

Then there are days like April 20.

It wasn't an unusual Sunday; sunny, a bit chilly. There was, of course, the grand stoner holiday, and people were flocking toward a 4:20 convergence in Golden Gate Park, but one would think the folks at Muni would realize such a cosmic event was in the offing and plan for it.

One would be wrong.

We joined a small group waiting for a westbound bus at Haight and Divisadero. The sign told us the next bus was coming in five minutes; Michael and Vivian sat on the horribly uncomfortable seats designed to keep homeless people from sleeping on them, and in about 10 minutes along came a 6 Parnassus. It slowed down enough for us to see that it was standing room only (but nowhere near as bad as the 14 Mission is every day), then pulled away without taking on passengers.

Okay: bus too crowded. Driver decides no more passengers can fit safely aboard. It's called "passing up" a stop, and it happens. Typically there's another, emptier bus just behind. And sure enough, the sign said a 71 Haight/Noriega would be along in three minutes.

Well, seven minutes, actually — and then the same thing happened again: full bus, no stop. At this point there were maybe 30 people at the bus stop, and some had been waiting quite a while and were getting pissed. After a while, along came another 71 ... and passed us up. The corner was getting crowded; people were yelling at the bus, chasing it, running into the street, and trying to climb in the back door when it stopped in traffic. Not exactly safety first.

Eventually we walked, which was fine, except that Vivian, who at six is already a slave to fashion, was wearing shoes that looked lovely but weren't exactly designed for a hike so she wound up with blisters, and I had to stop and get her some Band-Aids and beg for new socks at a shoe store. Such is life in the big city; I can't really complain that much.

But there's an issue here that intrigues me: What is Muni supposed to do in this situation? It doesn't seem as if this should be an impossible management problem. A Muni controller could, for example, radio the next five buses on the Haight Street line and tell them each to pass up alternate intersections so everyone gets a chance to ride eventually.

I called Judson True, a nice guy who has the unfortunate job of handling press calls for Muni this week, and he told me Muni does the best it can at line management — that in theory, someone watching the Haight Street line should have radioed in the problem (I think the drivers ought to do that too) and a controller should have been able to shift more buses to that line. I suspect this may have been a screw-up. But one thing that happens when you keep cutting the Muni budget is that the ranks of controllers and line managers — those middle-management "bureaucrats" Matier and Ross and the like always whine about — start to thin out. And this shit happens.

You wonder: how often do these people who complain about government spending actually ride the bus?