Friday, March 16, 2012

The Sadism Of San Francisco's MUNI: Making People Miserable For Decades, And Loving Every Second Of It!

READER: You can stick this in your "and-I-thought-my-own-transit-system-was-bad" file.
MUNI: You can just stick it.

Dear Reader: There is only one reason to ever recommend San Francisco's municipal transit system (MUNI) to anyone:

Today marked the 11,121st time MUNI has tried to make my life miserable. It always succeeds. Over the period of 38 years, it has taken my superlative love for the City and brought it down not one, not two, but ten notches: each day I wonder at how many fantastic things and people the City has to offer, then I experience MUNI. It's particular form of sadism depresses me. To make matters worse, I live in Park Merced and I'm tethered to the M Metro line. Everybody at Park Merced and at San Francisco State University is tethered to the M if they want to go anywhere. It could be said that the M is the worst of the worst which it may very well be, considering the alternatives.*

If you live in Park Merced, it takes 90-120 minutes to get near the Embarcadero; longer if the system has an intended "slow down". "Fiction!" say the MUNI administrators. "Fact!" say the people who actually have to ride the thing. 

90-120 minutes. If you have an important 9AM appointment, better get up before dawn. 

There are more horror stories about MUNI than there are MUNI cars...or drivers, but since I've had to suffer through it all for 38 grueling years, I might have a greater number than the average person. I've gotten stuck in the tunnel so many times that I've considered setting up housekeeping  inside of it. I've gotten stranded (along with other passengers) when the driver says "this is the end of the line for me, take the next bus." There seldom is a "next bus" for 30 minutes. I was stranded at Bayshore and Cortland at 1AM. No explanation, just "get off!" I've known a driver to purposely give wrong directions to a slightly tipsy man as a joke. I've had a driver allow me to board a bus after I've asked if it went to a certain destination, then, after he started up, laugh, and say "but in the opposite direction!" I've known of a bus station being "lost" by MUNI (put in storage during renovation of the stop, then never found). But the worst experience of all did not involve and bus, a driver or even a route:

Life overlooking the Bayview disrict's 3rd Street was a constant stream of shootings and ambulances, possibly because that particular stretch, and one particular corner saw the most homicides in the city - 7 homicides in 5 years.  The funeral parlors never knew a recession.** 

One morning, I looked out the front window and saw a bizarre sight: on the most homicidal corner in the City, workers for the new T-line were placing sets of green steel benches, forming a "conversation pit".

It wasn't a bus stop. Nor was it near a proposed T-line stop. I spied a policeman surveying the scene, gesturing to the workers. 

I ran downstairs and across the street.

"Office, what's next? TV and a gun rack for the shooters?" He looked at me with agreement.
"I know what you mean. The idots. On the worst corner and not a bus stop. They have their orders, though and I can't do anything about it, but maybe you can."


Get on the phone to City Hall, The Mayor, any friends who have friends. Once they rivet those damn things into the pavement, they're permanent and there's nothing any of us could do about it."

I had visions of men with high-powered rifles kicking back between rounds as if in a shooting gallery, so I ran back to my apartment, made frantic calls and within an hour, the cop, the workers, the benches had vanished. I breathed a sigh of relief: the building had gone through jack-hammers (on Saturday mornings no less!) repeatedly correcting MUNI's damage to sewers and late-night tweakers having parties on the unfinished station platform (our building spanned a good portion of the block). 

(Side note: my MUNI karma being what it is, I rode the maiden voyage T-line train downtown - all 400 passengers got stranded near the Cals-Trans station. MUNI's general manger gave an immediate press conference for mea culpas. BFD)


What MUNI has against the citizens of San Francisco is anyone's guess, but since absolutely no one on earth could possibly be that inept, that stupid, that clueless about public transportation, it's safe to say that the constant screw-ups are done for MUNI's amusement. And yes, I've seen station attendents laughing at the frustration of riders. I've seen workers lumbering around at a rate that would make a sloth look like Speedy Gonzales, giving disdainful glances to people. The last act of true civility I've witnessed was the thanks a driver gave to passengers when they alerted her that she was going in the wrong direction (MUNI had pushed her on to a new shuttle route without telling her exactly what that route was***).

And as everyone knows, making polite-but-critical remarks to MUNI is useless, simply because it positively revels in its sadism. MUNI is absolutely immune to criticism: only when outcries reach fever pitch does MUNI react, and usually with a costly promotional stunt like Clipper. Think of Clipper this way: a convenience for MUNI with only slightly easier access to a platform or buss stop where you'll wait for MUNI just as long. Using money for additional cars has never been a priority for MUNI. 

As for rectifying the mess we call MUNI, well, many people have proposed scrapping it entirely and having the City purchase a fleet of donkeys. But then sadism comes through again: any MUNI driver would be reported to the SPCA. 

*Sorry, the 28 (Baker Beach) and the 17 (tools around in circles in Park Merced or goes to West Portal by way of the North Pole) do not count - not if you need to get to civilization or BART.
**But going to the funeral of a gang member was dangerous, since the gangs always tried to pick off a few relatives.
***This actually happened TWICE on the same shuttle route - the other driver was not as appreciative)