Muni is like a family member. You are allowed to talk shit on it, but when people from other cities do, it’s like “Oh, nuh-uh! You did not say what I think you just said!”
For better or for worse, Muni is ours, and while each one of us has been let down by it at some point, we never actually take the time to appreciate the fact that it is always there. Muni is the great equalizer. It’s where people of all ethnicities and classes and genders and levels of ability find themselves on equal ground. I’ve seen feats both wretched and beautiful happen within minutes of each other, and I even met my first love on the 71-Haight-Noreiga. Muni is ours and riding it is part of what it means to be a San Franciscan.
That said, there are those in The City who feel Muni is not enough. As we’ve seen in the past few years with things like Uber and Lyft, the nature of transportation is changing, and Muni carries no immunity. If you haven’t read about it yet, there are a few companies that are trying to disrupt public transit in San Francisco.
The first is Leap, a private bus replete with coconut water, Wi-Fi and USB ports that resembles a startup’s break room on wheels. Users pay $6 a ride to avoid the hassle of crowded Muni buses and having to deal with the people who can’t afford a $12 round-trip commute. Leap also just got hit with a formal compliant from the Department of Justice for not being handicap-accessible.
There is currently only one route The other is Chariot, a system of luxury vans that starts at $5 a ride and shuttles you to and from work on one of four routes. Routes get added by users voting for them. If a route gets enough votes, it gets added. Not surprisingly, four out of the five existing routes operated by Leap and Chariot, combined, only carry people to and from the Marina, basically sending the message, “I only want to associate with my own kind.” In a city currently reeling from intended and unintended elitism, this kind of thing feels like salt in a wound.
Here’s the thing: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look into alternative modes of transportation, we all know Muni has its flaws. But San Francisco is having a moment. We’ve attracted some of the brightest minds of a generation to come live and work here. Somehow though, all the disruptive models that keep coming out seem to only be created for those who can afford them. Real innovation isn’t catering to people who can already afford avoiding discomfort, it’s when the things you create make the world a better place for everyone.
Muni can be gross and crowded and uncomfortable, but it’s also where you actually get to glean some insight into how people other than you live. Is Muni perfect? Hell no! Should it strive to be better? Absolutely! But that doesn’t mean we should exclude ourselves from riding it, because when we do, we start to forget that there are more kinds of San Franciscans than ones who are just like us. And to me, one of the things that makes this city special is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are nothing like me at all.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in The San Francisco Examiner.