Twenty-two years ago, San Francisco voters approved a proposition requiring city officials to ride city buses and trains to and from work at least twice a week.
This rule has never been followed, and today we’re just as fed up with Muni as we were in 1993. But starting this week, Mayor Ed Lee and at least seven of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors have committed to ride public transit for a few weeks.
They’re taking part in the #OnBoardSF challenge. The San Francisco Transit Riders Union asked our leaders to ride Muni for 22 days this month — a day for each year Proposition AA has been ignored.
Long ago, San Francisco’s buses, trains, trolleys and cable cars were among the world’s best. But as riders know, today our transit system is dysfunctional and needs the attention of elected officials more than ever.
Notorious for the slowest trains and buses in the nation, Muni’s on-time performance in 2014 was a pathetic 57 percent. The year before, Muni riders were delayed the equivalent of more than 19 years — yes, years — and that was in a single month.
As we cram ourselves into crowded vehicles that don’t come often enough, it’s clear Muni desperately needs more trains and buses. Yet we can’t even afford to take care of the ones we have. Muni’s vehicles frequently break down because our leaders have allowed more than $2 billion of maintenance costs to pile up.
But something big happened last year. Voters approved propositions A and B to boost Muni’s budget. And the mayor followed up by announcing another incremental budget increase last month.
While a start, these investments come nowhere near addressing the $250 million in new funding needed each year just to bring the system up to good repair. At this time, no leader has proposed closing this funding gap.
Beyond the budget, our elected officials continually fail to show leadership. For instance, 70 percent of The City’s 4,000 bus and rail stops are too close together, which slows the system dramatically and causes vehicles to bunch together. Yet leaders routinely agree to add even more stops.
Separately, a design challenge caused the yet-to-be-built Bus Rapid Transit project on Van Ness Avenue to lose its most critical feature: level boarding. When bus interiors are level with the platform, people no longer have to step up, making the line a swift and seamless “surface subway.” Good leadership could have overcome this problem. But when it came up last year, the mayor and most supervisors were silent.
The Transit Riders’ Union believes that when officials experience Muni like the rest of us, they will take action to fix it. For instance, when a supervisor is forced to wait 18 minutes for a bus or is late for work after getting stuck in the subway behind a broken train, Muni’s poor performance becomes a first-hand experience shared with dozens of his or her own constituents.
Christof Spieler of Houston’s Metro Board of Directors gave us fuel for this challenge, memorably saying: “If you’re going to be making decisions about transit, you really need to know what it’s actually like. Not what it’s like in theory, but what it’s actually like.”
We invite all San Franciscans to join in. The officials who accepted the challenge are encouraged to tweet photos of themselves aboard Muni with the hashtag #OnBoardSF.
Look for the mayor and your supervisor on Twitter and check out our leaderboard at www.sftransitriders.org/munichallenge. Give the officials who participate a thumbs up. And encourage those who don’t to get on board.
Andy Bosselman is a member of the San Francisco Transit Riders Union.