7 Steps for Somewhat Successful MUNI Rides

Mr. WholeHog made me a t-shirt one year that said pretty much all you need to know about MUNI. It said:

All Aboard MUNI!
Free nuts and curious smells on every ride!

A picture of a horse drawn carriage accompanied this slogan, which is about where MUNI resides in transportation history.

MUNI is on my mind today since I’ve been away for a few days that has temporarily given me an outsider’s perspective, and I’m also seeing the system through my sister’s eyes.

My sister is in town for a few days from New York City. If you’ve been to NYC, you know that they have this amazing new-fangled invention called the subway that takes you almost anywhere you want to go. In contrast, San Francisco has MUNI, a mediocre system that only covers part of SF’s seven square miles in an unreliable and inconsistent manner.

I can only apologize in advance to visitors to SF, especially those from Europe or New York City who have seen working transportation systems elsewhere and mistake MUNI for one of them.


Picture from MUNI’s website: http://www.sfmta.com

Despite its many problems, I still think MUNI is better than driving in SF (most of the time and depending on where you’re headed) and you’ll have a better experience on MUNI if you know what to expect. Here are some tips I shared with my sister:

1. Whenever possible, take BART. BART is the Obi wan Kenobi of SF public transit: it’s our only hope.

2. Beware of elderly women. They may look frail and slow moving but this demeanor changes when the bus or train appears. You will literally be pushed to the side as they run in front of you, elbows out, in order to get on the train first or get a seat.

Busses are particularly dangerous. Be alert as you prepare step onto the bus, as this is when they attack. Here’s how it happens: you’ll be in the doorway of the vehicle getting out your transfer or your fare money, perhaps, when someone about the height of your hip leaps in front of you and knocking you out of the way. I notice that this sort of behavior is common in older woman of a certain race but I ain’t one to gossip, so you ain’t heard this from me.

3. Don’t expect a bus ride to be faster than walking. Many buses stop twice on the same block and are known to travel at speeds that are somewhere between that of a sloth and a manatee.

4. Do not expect signs to be accurate. Trains may be marked simply as “MUNI” or I recently saw a train marked as “Castro Special”. These are not trains listed on MUNI’s website or on a MUNI map.

5. Do use NextMuni. These simple LED signs at certain bus stops (or online at http://www.nextmuni.com) tell you when the next bus is expected. This is a huge improvement to the MUNI system even though not every stop has NextMuni and not every line is listed on the website. But don’t be shocked if NextMuni predicts a 47 minutes wait for the next bus. This is not an error. This is MUNI and this is considered “on time.”

6. Do not expect drivers to know where the vehicle they are driving is headed. I got on a train recently where the driver announced, “This is a T Line to Castro”. He repeated this with even more details, “This train is going to go to Castro,” he said again. “And then it’s going to turn around and come back downtown”. He announced this so often that the whole train was laughing. We stopped laughing the train went above ground and began making the J Church stops. (The J Church is not the T Line and it does not go to Castro).

7. Do not make eye contact with the crazies. It’s very tempting, I know, because you want to enjoy the craziness from a far. Or perhaps you thought the person was talking to someone and not, say, a banana as I saw earlier this week.

Let Mr. WholeHog’s experience be a lesson to you: he saw crazy woman get on one of the old fashioned F streetcars. Noting the ranting and raving, he looked at his lap and put on his headphones. Another couple gaped at the woman who then leapt up and screamed in their face: FUCK OFF!

Now I understand how riding MUNI could turn you into a ranting and raving woman who screams Fuck Off at unsuspecting people, but the whole problem could have been avoided by simply obeying the rules: do not make eye contact.


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