Muni operators may ditch brown uniforms

Muni operators may soon ditch their iconic brown uniforms in favor of gray.

Right now, it’s up to a vote among Muni’s estimated 2,600 operators, who will decide whether they’ll stick with brown or go gray.

The new uniforms could be out and about by April, said Ed Reiskin, who heads the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Voting ends Feb. 8.

“The gray is leading the brown by a considerable margin,” he told the SFMTA Board of Directors, after operators previously voted to narrow down their color choices.

The vote follows a joint effort between the SFMTA and the Muni drivers’ union — Transport Workers Union Local 250-A — to design more comfortable uniforms for operators. The old ones don’t breathe very well, operators told their union, and aren’t designed for wet weather.

Eric D. Williams, president of the union, didn’t mince words about the uniforms.

“The material in our current uniforms is terrible,” he told the San Francisco Examiner.

He said the uniforms were “really uncomfortable” for his members, and “looking around at other city departments that are out in weather elements, we saw their uniforms accommodate the weather.”

The contractor for the uniforms is Galls, a company that produces uniforms for many city agencies. Muni operators are given vouchers from the SFMTA to purchase their uniforms.

The newest uniforms include a polo shirt option and new jacket options, according to SFMTA documentation. The Muni logo on the gray shirts would be stitched in red, whereas the logo on the brown uniforms would be stitched in white.

Alison Cant, an archivist and museum manager at the San Francisco Railway Museum, told the Examiner that Muni’s first operators in 1912 wore navy blue uniforms. This lasted until about 1968.

Color wasn’t the only major change to Muni’s operator uniforms. Muni first operated streetcars, which necessitated longer coats, Cant said. But when buses were introduced, drivers were given the option to wear an “Eisenhower” jacket, which crops at the waist to prevent them from sitting on their jackets, she said.

Above, a Muni operator circa 1947, via the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Photo Archive.

Muni launched new maroon buses in 1969, and operators uniforms went from navy blue to “Golden Gate green,” Cant said. Drivers wore a maroon tie and a poppy gold shirt.

That uniform was short lived, and was gone by 1975. Then came the brown uniforms.

Muni’s now-iconic brown uniform launched with Muni’s white-and-orange Landor-designed buses. The brown uniform is still worn today, though it has undergone subtle changes through the years, Cant said.

Today, when you see Muni inspectors wearing navy blue, they’re wearing Muni’s original uniform colors, Cant said.

As strange as it may be, Muni uniforms matter a lot to San Franciscans, she said.

“Like fast passes, when you’re young, people notice many things about Muni,” Cant said. “They see the uniforms, and it resonates because it’s very familiar. The Muni driver in brown. You know they work for Muni.”

So will Muni operators ditch their iconic brown color?

Williams was indifferent.

“Color doesn’t matter to me,” he said, but the material and quality of the uniform does.

“Being comfortable while working is important,” Williams said.

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