Transit enthusiasts rally to rescue ‘rare’ Muni bus headed for auction

1994 New Flyer one of the last vehicles of its kind

On a daily basis, San Franciscans of every creed, cultural background and persuasion gripe about Muni buses.

They’re dirty. They’re rickety. And they’re often terribly, terribly late.

But this week, a group of San Franciscans and other Northern Californians banded together to save three rare Muni buses from the scrap heap.

And they did it out of pure love.

On Tuesday, a New Flyer-built electric, double-length Muni bus from 1994 was listed for sale at Bar None Auction, one of the places Muni buses end up in their after-life, along with two other buses of unknown type. Opening bids were set at $500.

This is a common enough occurrence.

SEE RELATED: Where Muni buses go to die

As the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency purchases new buses, also from New Flyer, the agency sends old ones to the scrap heap, donates them, or sells them at auction, depending on the condition of the bus. These vehicles aren’t fit for transit use but are still bought by transportation museums, enthusiasts, and even Burning Man-goers.

The SFMTA confirmed that the three buses put up for auction were the last of their types.

But one of them was different, transit-enthusiasts said. Special.

Sporting a “sunset” color scheme of orange and red from Muni’s 1970s-era redesign, the 1994 vehicle was one of the few double-length buses of its type produced by New Flyer. It also features the classic Muni “worm” logo, the swooping, swooshing design by Walter Landor, who also crafted logos for Levi’s, Federal Express, and Coca-Cola, according to the SFMTA.

When it hit San Francisco’s streets in 1994, The City was a different place too. The Mission Bay neighborhood was a twinkle in planners’ eyes and the Embarcadero Freeway had only come down two years before. “Whatta Man” by Salt-N-Pepa topped the radio charts, along with Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice.”

The New Flyer bus’ rarity and a heavy dose of nostalgia are what led the NorCal Bus Fans group, as they call themselves, to advocate for the SFMTA to keep the 1994 bus.

“It’s the last of its kind, being one of the only articulated trolley-coaches that Muni operated and New Flyer built,” Henry Pan, a San Francisco native and Muni enthusiast, wrote to the SFMTA on Wednesday. “I also rode it many times going to school and volunteer events growing up in The City, and as unreliable as they are, I miss riding them because of the warm atmosphere and sense of refuge I had in buses growing up.”

For the uninitiated, “articulated” buses are those that are double-long, with an articulated accordion-like section in the middle. Trolley poles connect Muni buses to The City’s many overhead wires.

The Facebook group of 1,700 transit-lovers is perhaps exceptional in their fondness for buses — some members, who are sometimes transit operators themselves, lovingly restore public transit vehicles of different eras, replete with period-specific advertisements and paint jobs.

But it isn’t just these enthusiasts that say keeping Muni history alive is important. The SFMTA itself hosts a “Muni Heritage Weekend” event annually, where buses and streetcars from different eras of Muni history are driven by agency operators once again.

It was for this event that the NorCal Bus Fans had hoped the 1994 New Flyer was destined. If they got their way, it would be the latest addition to what is fondly known as Muni’s “historical fleet.”

That wasn’t to be — at least, until Wednesday.

Bar None auctioneer Josh Seidel told the San Francisco Examiner, “Yes, Muni has asked us to hold off on the sale of that unit.” And lo and behold, by midday Wednesday, the bid page for the 1994 New Flyer was taken off Bar None’s website.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose confirmed the agency asked Bar None to hold off on the sale.

“We have always made a strong commitment to preserve and restore historic vehicles that we believe represent Muni’s proud history,” Rose said. “We initially planned to auction off three articulated vehicles due to space constraints, but have asked the auctioneer to put that on hold so we can work out next steps with the interested stakeholders.”

Rose also confirmed the SFMTA had not run the auction of the three buses by the SFMTA Board of Directors for approval, something required by San Francisco administrative codebefore selling or scrapping any buses or trains 25-years-old or older. That oversight may also have been an impetus for the agency to pause the sale.

Either way, those rare Muni buses are saved — for now.

But depending on the whims of the SFMTA Board of Directors, they could still end up driving off into the sunset.

joe@sfexaminer.com

 

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