Last summer, Muni introduced a computerized public-address system that informs passengers which trains are coming into the station. We have to give Muni some credit for trying, but the new system really isn't what we have been looking for. First, it is extremely unreliable. More often than not, the announcements misidentify cars, advertise trains that never come, or fail to announce a train. Second, even if the new system worked, it would do nothing to give us an idea of how much longer we must wait for our train.
Ideally the station display panels should show the next three trains and their expected arrival times. In lieu of this, each station agent needs to make specific announcements as to the trains arriving in the next ten minutes.
It's really pretty basic. It takes at most a minute to check whether the signs are correct and fix them if they're not. At the very least, if drivers notice the signs are out of whack, they could make announcements to the passengers at every station, telling them the true destination of their car. Passengers shouldn't have to debate each other to figure out what line a car is.
The same principle applies to signs within stations. Major Metro stations have precious little information on where to find bus connections.
A major Muni problem seems to be a near-total lack of communication internally. Muni operators are frequently left out of the loop themselves, in which case they're hardly in a position to transmit useful information to the public.
This is (we think) what Willie Brown was trying to say on July 16. We just wish he hadn't also called on riders ``to live in the real world.'' As Erin McCormick of the Examiner wrote, ``Most riders said they already live in the real world and have long since abandoned any hope that buses would run on their published schedules.''
Honest scheduling may mean Muni will have to abandon its goal of reaching within two blocks of every address in the city. This is a silly goal when many of the lines are so unreliable. Most passengers would rather walk an extra block or two so long as they are assured a bus will come swiftly.
The 26-Valencia bus, for example, doesn't do much for most Mission residents. It's so infrequent that most passengers take the extra couple of minutes to walk to BART, the 14-Mission, the 49-Van Ness-Mission, or even the J-Church, hardly a paragon of reliability itself. Why not cancel the 26 and improve the reliability and safety of the 14 and 49?
As part of his analysis of the Muni network, RESCUE Muni member Bryan Ceja has proposed the consolidation of certain routes. The possibilities include:
How hard would it be for dispatchers at Embarcadero Station to alternate J-K-L-M-N trains on a regular basis? This would instantly reduce the bunching problem that is so infuriating for Muni riders.
One beneficial byproduct of a regular sequence of cars would be that riders would know where to stand on the platform to catch a particular car. Also, delays would be divided among all passengers fairly. No longer would we have to watch three West Portal trains go by without any knowledge of when a J or N car would be coming, or vice versa.
In addition, in the months left until the Embarcadero turnaround project is done, another benefit would be that Muni would make much better use of its Embacadero Station. Instead of having one N car on one side of the platform and one K car on the other -- while other cars are lined up to Civic Center waiting to move forward at 5 miles per hour -- cars could connect at Van Ness to form three- or four-car trains, depending on whether they will be going outbound as J-N-N or K-M-L-L trains.
One last point on this item is that since the N and L cars face the most overcrowding throughout their routes from Powell Street to Sunset Avenue, they should always be at the end of the train: Most passengers waiting for the Metro are waiting at the front of the platform.
On the same topic, why do single-car trains find so many different places to stop at the Forest Hill Station? A passenger cannot be faulted for not knowing where to stand. If you guess wrong, the operator starts ringing the bell as if to tell you hurry up and run.
Every little improvement counts. Right now, the average speed of Muni is a miserable 12 miles per hour. If Muni can increase the average speed to 15 miles per hour, it would move you 25 percent faster.
There are very few passengers on these cars going outbound; the first car of the two-car trains can certainly accommodate those who are. The other car could decouple at 19th Avenue and turn around. Passengers waiting between 19th Avenue and Sunset who now rarely can get a seat during rush hour could be equitably treated, and the cars and operators would be able to make more runs per day -- putting more seats on the system for free.
This concept would also work for buses on lines that experience frequent bunching, such as the 1, 2, 3, 4, 31, and even the 38.
We have noticed an effort recently to turn M and K streetcars around at St. Francis Circle, but so far this has been handled in a heavy-handed way -- with last-minute annoucements for passengers to disembark and vague (and usually false) promises that a train will be coming ``soon.'' If Muni plans to turn back a vehicle before its official terminus, then it should make this clear with signs and prior annoucements.
RESCUE Muni member Craig Pavlich was riding with Emilio Cruz one day and commented to him about the filth. Cruz's response: ``Well, we're getting brand new cars in the fall.'' That's all well and good, but what about today's riders? Besides, if Muni can't keep its old cars clean, how can we expect the new cars to stay clean? The F-line PCCs are the oldest in Muni's regular fleet, yet they are the cleanest. Grime has nothing do with the age of the cars, and everything to do with the attitude of those who are supposed to be cleaning them. Frequently, maintenance workers have been observed sleeping on the job.
Over the past few months, we have noticed an increase in graffiti; Church St. Station is one hard-hit location. Not only has Muni been slow to clean off the graffiti -- thereby violating the first principle of stopping urban decay -- we are also more than somewhat surprised that, with video cameras all around, station attendants have not been able to notice the hooligans and call the police.
As RESCUE Muni member Bryan Ceja has pointed out, drivers should contact the police via their dispatchers even when the situation is not life-threatening. Boom boxes, loud behavior, vandalism, entering without paying: None of this should be tolerated. Those who harass their fellow passengers must learn that the bus isn't the place to get away with disrespecting their community.
The police, in turn, should take passenger misbehavior more seriously than they do. We've tried to inform police about problems -- such as loud lyrics, ``Kill the bitch, kill the bitch'' -- only to be told that boys will be boys. Well, frankly, we think better of our young people. When they are held to a higher standard, they will live up to that standard.
Speaking of crime, having uniformed police on the vehicles from time to time is much better than no protection, which Muni passengers are all too familiar with. But it would be even better if the city flooded Muni vehicles on dangerous routes with plainclothes officers. The thugs need to be caught while destroying Muni so that they can removed from the system until they've turned themselves around. We applaud signs that the police department is moving toward this policy.
For instance, perhaps Muni should eliminate the youth passes and set the youth cash fare to $0 from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., when kids are going to and from school -- and are likely to cause few problems. At other times during the day, the fare should be $0.50. After 9 p.m., when there's no reason to subsidize youth travel more than that of adults, the fare should be set to the adult cash fare. At least this would make it a bit harder for students to stroll up and down the beach when they should be in geometry class.
Another approach would be to restrict the youth passes and fares to the specific routes needed to get to and from school and the library. On other routes, kids would pay full fare. This is the approach taken in Great Britain, where student bus passes have the numbers of the valid routes printed on them. Students can only get the passes through their schools.
Part of the problem is the ease with which many passengers obtain bus transfers. Perhaps drivers need to be stricter about accepting and (re)issuing transfers.
In addition, anyone who is paid to collect signatures for ballot initiatives should be excluded. And as for volunteers gathering signatures, restrict them to tables on the station level where they can have a sign advertising their cause.
Norman Rolfe has suggested that Market east of 8th Avenue be closed to auto traffic. It's something we should study. Motorists might benefit, too, because buses could be rerouted onto Market, opening up extra car lanes on Mission and other streets and allowing traffic lights to be timed better. Oh, and maybe some of those motorists could be enticed to take Muni by the prospect of fast, reliable service.
RESCUE Muni has been saying this since its inception, and we were delighted to see that Emilio Cruz finally agreed with us; see the Examiner article on Jan. 20. Now let's see whether something actually comes of it....
Muni needs to adopt a number of benchmarks for the industry. These need to be reported to the public every quarter, along with comparisons to previous performance and the performance of the largest 25 transit systems in North America. These statistics could include operator absenteeism, substance abuse, percent of scheduled operation met, cost of workplace injuries, complaints per thousand passengers, and average speed.
Last updated 21 January 1997