2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Municipal Railway, something you’re sure to hear a lot about in the months ahead as various local history organizations, the City of San Francisco, and the SFMTA mark the occasion in various ways.
It’s difficult for some to imagine just how radical a notion it was to create Muni back then. It was the first municipally owned transit system in the United States, with the truly radical notion that a transit system should be dedicated to serving the needs of a city’s residents first, and to be a tool with which to enhance the lives of everyone.
Yes, there have been private companies that have come and gone, but their primary mission was to serve stockholders. In the post-quake years, Muni would become not just a form of transportation, but a way to encourage development in parts of the city not yet settled (particularly places like West Portal and the Sunset), and to always put the people first.
It’s safe to say, we’ve come a long way, baby. Not always in a good way, either.
That’s why we as the owners and riders of Muni need to make 2012 the year we take it back. We don’t need to pitch a tent city downtown to do it, either. It is, however, critical that no matter who’s in office or what the economy is like that those of us who live and/or work in San Francisco start to make this the year we did something, instead of just bitching at blogs or going to some “meeting.”
For too long, many at the SFMTA, Room 200, and City Hall have been content to kill our system, either through neglect, active mismanagement, or through the endless emotional blabbering that passes for “politics” in the Enlightened City. This has not been working, and it’s time for people to actively put it all in the trash.
What does this mean?
It means when you see cheap politicians running for re-election this year, cramming your mailbox with piles of junk mail, that you throw it away in the recycle bin. Instead, challenge the politicians yourself when they come to your neighborhood. Ask them why they supported huge increases in fares, and why they refuse to support reasoned and balanced solutions to Muni’s perpetual funding issues. Ask them why they are happen to engage in endless rhetoric, but the sad fact is after four years in office, Muni has become worse under their watch (that is, when some of them weren’t off spending your money to run for mayor). It also means you need to tell our Mayor* that while he was content to ignore Muni during his temp term in office and during the campaign, he can’t do so now.
It means something else, though. When you’re on a bus or streetcar, you be sure to give up a seat in the designated area to those who need it. If some youthful numbskull is too plugged into his MP3 player, remind them to do so. If you have an operator that is doing a good job, tell them so when you leave the bus. (even better, send in a note to the SFMTA for what it’s worth). Take your backpack off on a crowded bus so everyone can fit in. Avoid the urge to eat that burrito. Set a good example. While I don’t advocate violence (well…) if you see someone behaving badly and can’t bonk ’em on the head, use that fancified phone to take a picture or video and shame them online. While it’s easy for us to bitch about Muni, we have to start taking it back not just from the politicians and bureaucrats, but also from the public trolls that ruin our city for us and those who choose to visit Our Fair City.
We have a lot to feel good about our 100 year experiment – and a lot that needs to be done better and smarter. For my part, I plan on pointing out the nonsense and relying on a mix of reason, history, and investigation to do my best to help us all stay informed and to look back at the end of this year and be able to say we did something.
Happy 2012 and let’s kick some ass.
PS: If you’ve not yet purchased a copy of the latest Muni history book, I urge you to do so at Market Street Railway Foundation’s store. I got a copy for Christmas and it has a lot of interesting historical notes not covered in some of the other books, and the old photos are awesome!
PS2: On an unrelated note: I had a rather kick-ass ride on Muni last night. I was over at Stonestown and wanted to join some friends back home in the Inner Sunset. This meant taking the M to Forest Hill, then catching a bus back home. These kinds of connections can be fraught with crazy, but instead, not only did my M arrive in time for me to catch the 44, the 44 operator was one of those “kick ass” ones that got sh!t done.
She kept things moving, helped the passengers out, and when some jerk-ass double parked on 9th, she used her professional skills to asses the road situation, and passed them so we didn’t get stuck at the red. Needless to say, I profusely thanked her and my friends were surprised I got there so quickly.
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