Herbert Weiner response to Conor Johnson oped in San Francisco Examiner:
Dear Mr. Johnston:
As someone who rides MUNI on a near daily basis, I feel compelled to respond to your recent opinion piece in the San Francisco Examiner. Please excuse this belated response.
MUNI, potentially the best transportation service in the country, falls dramatically short of its potential.
For too many times, there have been late, missing, switchbacks and breakdowns of buses. MUNI celebrates Halloween each day, because each day has a horror story.
This problem has not been sufficiently addressed, because the internal operations and communication, control and command structure of MUNI are ignored. Even with the grandiose visions of MUNI Forward, the system will not function well if internal problems of MUNI are not addressed. There has been little, if any transparency, about these elements of MUNI.
Instead, the problem has been externalized with consolidation of bus stops and the elimination and modification of bus runs that have served the neighborhoods. It will take as much as one quarter of a mile to walk to a bus stop, adversely impacting seniors and the disabled; the Municipal Transit Agency gives lower priority to bicyclists who are hail and hearty and, on the average, under 50 years of age. Can you imagine individuals with arthritis, emphysema or other disease, who are barely able to climb the steps of a transportation vehicle, walking such a long distance? Some MTA managers, with tongue in cheek, will say that walking is good for you. But the Turks must have said that to the Armenians before their death march. There has never been a medical opinion about such a hardship that has been sought by MTA administrators which might very well be a violation of the American Disability Act. MTA can counter that Paratransit is the answer. But that service is already overloaded with its own unreliability. Why substitute Paratransit for bus services that presently meet the needs of senior and disabled passengers?
Will elimination of bus stops result in faster MUNI speed? This is debatable because, with the internal problems of MUNI and the unreliability of buses as a primary problem, there is no guarantee. In addition, the proclaimed advantages of bus stop elimination and consolidation are offset by longer walking time which can result in the missing of a bus and the increased boarding times.
Bus services are being decreased and removed from the neighborhoods. The 2 Clement line, a perfectly good line, has been morphed into the 2 Sutter line which will cover only two blocks on Clement Street. This will affect merchants and shopping along that corridor with decreased access to businesses and services on that street. The 26 Valencia bus which ran directly to St. Luke’s Hospital, served the Merced Extended Neighborhood Triangle District bordering Daly City and traveled to San Francisco State University has also been axed. The 18 bus line which previously ran directly to the Cliff House, a San Francisco landmark, has been altered. The 33 line, a bus in District 5, will no longer run to San Francisco General Hospital which could be life threatening to severely ill patients. And the 47 line will no longer run to the Hall of Justice which will be detrimental to jurors and the legal process itself.
Citizens have been pointing out these problems to the deaf ears of MTA for some time with no redress. Instead, MTA formulates its plans and dumps them on the public which are forced to cope with these poor decisions and policies. The outreach of MTA is basically a ritual and joke, because that agency hears but does not listen. This is supposed to be a public service.
You have noted the density of the city in your article. According to MTA, San Francisco’s density is second to New York. In previous decades, the coverage of MUNI services embraced the whole city, reflecting its density and the needs of the neighborhoods. The problem then, as now, was making this comprehensive system work in order that buses arrive on time with good frequency. This core problem has never been addressed sufficiently by MUNI. The internal problem of MUNI is now being externalized with MUNI Forward which evades the above issue.
Transportation services are being stripped from the neighborhoods on the grounds of supply and demand. Market system economics are being applied to a public service which is supposed to address need. It is equivalent to the police saying that, because only one crime occurs in a part of town in contrast to other neighborhoods, services should be reduced to certain areas of the city. Every neighborhood needs services which are constantly being taken away to the detriment of the public.
One of the reasons for slow travel time is the city’s density. This underlines the need for more buses and drivers. I noted that when I was in London in 1991, the underground trains were backed up behind each other which meant that, if you missed one coach, another train would be available.
The argument that MTA trots out is that there are limited funds. But this falls flat in light of the proliferation of six digit salaries of MTA management, ever expanding bike lanes and the boondoggled Central Subway. 1.5 million dollars has been paid to Barbary Coast, an advertising agency to promote MUNI Forward. This agency is not poor and constantly asks for more money which it will do perpetually after you and I are gone.
$2.25 per ride is a bargain on the face of it. But now trouble is no longer free. The service is actually worsening. I have waited too many times in the dead of night for the 1 California line, one of the showpiece lines of MUNI.
While the slogan of MTA is “Transit First” it should be “Bicycles First”. The Bicycle Coalition gets royal treatment to the neglect of passengers. You might say that they remove cars from the streets. But so do I when I take MUNI. What do we get? Less service and accessibility!
These are my impressions which you may or may not agree with.
And I hope that you have not worked for MTA or plan to. This would certainly affect your thinking and article that you have written.
Just remember one of the mottos of MTA: “We break it. You own and ride it!”
Very truly yours,
Herbert J. Weiner