AdviceSan Francisco

When MUNI Utterly Fails You, What do You do?

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Packed Muni Train. Image form SF Gate

Our new column The Wanderer follows young writer Tess F. Stevens through different threads of San Francisco culture, experiences, and issues. She hopes to challenge, connect and define some of the things we find difficult to put into words. 


I love San Francisco. It’s a magical city of opportunity, brimming with beautiful people of every kind. That’s precisely why I chose transportation as the topic for the first installment of my column here at Broke Ass Stuart. We all have transportation in common.

I’ve been commuting to my job for three months now via the SFMTA Muni system. As any seasoned Muni rider knows, the service has flaws that aren’t the fault of its hard-working staff of drivers, engineers, and custodians. These men and women do bear the brunt of commuter anger, but only because they’re handy.  They actually do the lord’s work.

That cannot be said for those in control of how our tax money is spent with regard to public transit.

According to the SFMTA, the board has approved a $1.2 billion budget for 2019 and 2020, which boasts benefits like “increased service,” “new railway vehicles,” and “central subway service.”

As a supplement, approximately 1.5 million parking tickets are issued per year in San Francisco at $70 to $90 each, generating over $90 million.

(I once had to to choose between paying my parking ticket and eating for a week. I lost 10 pounds to keep the SFMTA afloat.)

Photo by John Whye

With all of that spending on “improvements,” you’d think the recurring nightmare experienced by commuters like me would stop recurring. I’m talking about spending a cold, wet, frustrating 75 minutes on the Muni platform near my home in Ingleside waiting for the K to take me and, by the end of the waiting period, over 30 other men, women and children to work, school, the doctor, or wherever.

It started at 8:30 a.m. when I stepped onto Ocean Avenue to make the morning pilgrimage to my office in FiDi. Ideally, the trip takes 40 minutes with a 10 minute walk from Montgomery Station. On this day, it took nearly 2.5 hours.

When I checked my navigation app for train times, it showed a typical delay of 10 minutes. No sweat. There were six of us waiting–two children, their parents, an elderly woman and me.

Ten minutes ticked by.  No train. That’s okay.

A group of Chinese women in their 80’s, scuttled to the platform, cheeks reddened by the whipping wind. They seemed a hearty bunch.  No worries.

But when 20 more minutes passed, the women were clearly shivering and in some discomfort.  So, I kind of herded them under the small awning on the platform to get them out of the rain.

My own hands started to cramp from the cold.  I was looking at gloves the night before at Target, but decided not to buy any.  Big mistake.

Ten minutes later, I turned to the people’s complaint box, Twitter, to find out where this train was.

Here’s how to complain to Muni without appearing to be a terrible person.

1. Send something generic that expresses your rage without being too upset.

2. Muse about the thousands of people who have suffered consequences worse than you while dealing with public transit.

3. Ask a useful question that may help others.

4. Get lied to by the Muni twitter people and then call them out.

5. Get an apology

6. Show photographic evidence.

7. Get off Twitter, as you’ll say something that you’ll regret.

I was not satisfied by anything that happened on the Twitter machine.  Bottom line: I was late for work; the elderly women were cold; and nearly 30 more people were complaining on the platform, cursing the day they moved to this god-forsaken, beautiful city by the bay.

We all crowded into the train when it finally arrived more than an hour late.  Then, we became sardines when 40 high schoolers who were going to Embarcadero Station got on and started playing music out of their earbuds (everyone’s favorite).

The packed MUNI car

“I hate the Muni, man, it’s late and slippery,” said one teenager to another.

“At least it smells better than last time,” the other replied.

Through the muffled adolescent conversations, I could hear the group of elderly women discussing moving out of San Francisco entirely.  That saddened me.

I was immediately distracted from my sadness by a fight between two cursing teenagers near the back of the car. The sad feeling turned to a hopeless feeling as my two and a half hour ordeal continued.

Actual feeling returned to my numb hands, as the train warmed from the crush of commuters.  As a homeless-looking individual boarded the train screaming, “No more! No more,” I found it disgustingly appropriate for the situation.

I finally got off the train at 10:45 a.m. and wanted to kiss the ground, thankful to be downtown, hoping I still had a job.

Our insane wait in the rain

As I walked up the stairs and into the rain at Montgomery Station, I wondered how many commuters had suffered job loss, assault, robbery, illness and paranoia because of this flawed system. I decided that pretty much everybody who rides is never the same–and not in a good way.

How far will we as commuters let this go?

Those of us who have no other option will let it continue until we physically can’t.  But I call upon everyone who feels scared, upset, irritated, cramped, crushed, pulled, cold, wet, and damp–and everyone who is sick and tired of being late no matter how early you start—to take action.

Ask those in power where our tax dollars are going. Ask why there are only a few new Muni trains. Ask why there aren’t better ways to protect us during our commutes. Ask them to do better.

Speak up on the complaining machine, send letters, go to San Francisco City Hall.  One thing is certain: If we keep putting up with this, it will keep happening because, for the SFMTA, it’s cheaper to let people go through the commute chronicled in this article than it is to fix the problems.  

If you have a Muni story you’d like to share, email me at tessfstevens@gmail.com.

To speak up about your commute, visit this page.

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Tess F. Stevens

Tess F. Stevens

Hey, I'm Tess and I have been writing for a while now and love to explore new subjects, places, and people. I love punk music, RuPaul's Drag Race, stationery, fashion, and baseball. I hope that something I write here connects with you in some way. I host a podcast called "What You Didn't Know," with my father, who is also a journalist. You can find my writing in Where Magazine, here at BrokeAssStuart.com and on ABC7News.com.