How to make MUNI as good as Leap or Chariot

Fancy busses are popping up all over San Francisco. Okay, mostly in the Marina. Services like Leap and Chariot are only a nudge more expensive than MUNI and somehow much more appealing. How can MUNI keep up?

1. Delegate

Wheelchair service should be its own separate thing. SF Paratransit can be expanded, or, if there are enough wheelchair users who can afford it, some private company can be formed to service them. Or maybe they can avail themselves of services like home grocery delivery. There’s no need to inconvenience a bus of 50 commuters by making them wait for the painfully slow wheelchair ramp.

2. Ensure fare payment

This will help keep busses nice in two ways: it keeps the homeless off and it increases revenue. San Francisco introduced all-door boarding when the Clipper card was introduced. While this practice supposedly “doesn’t increase fare evasion”, that could be because MUNI drivers were never that thorough with checking proof of payment. In London, the busses have an inspector at the door, making sure you either pay or get off. But on London busses, it’s easy to make sure you paid, and that brings me to the next point.

3. Make everyone use the Clipper reader

No more cash, no more transfer slips, no more paper muni passes for any group. Everyone gets a Clipper card or an RFID enabled paper ticket. No ticket purchases on the bus. Every single person must pass something over the card reader, get a beep of approval or be asked to leave the bus. With all-door boarding, this can be achieved by having human beep-checkers at each door. Job-creation, yay.

4. Friendlier bus drivers

Apparently, being a MUNI driver is a highly-paid and highly sought-after job. Fantastic. Encourage riders to text the MUNI bus number with their problem to a complaints hotline. A driver passes a stop even though the bus isn’t full? The driver is rude or grumpy? 3 strikes and you’re out. There are plenty of people lining up for that job.

5. Special lanes and light priorty

This has already started, but congested areas around the city should have MUNI only lines and stoplights that give priorty to MUNI busses.

6. Reduce number of stops

Busses should stop once every 5-6 blocks instead of every 2-3. I think doing #1 makes #6 entirely feasible. If it’s a great hardship to walk a few extra blocks, there’s probably a better service for you.

The most pleasant thing about services like Leap and Chariot isn’t what they provide, it’s what they exclude. I don’t really care about plush seats or bars or pressed juice and coffee. Wifi is great, but so is my cell phone’s data plan. The main draw is that there probably won’t be any crazy homeless people and the inevitable urine smell that clings to them. There won’t be people listening to ghetto rap so loudly (and on such crap headphones) that I’m forced to listen too. Or people who eat sunflower seeds and spit the shells on the floor. Or people who take hooker baths with makeup remover sheets then discard them all over the floor. Or old ladies on flip phones having shouting matches in an angry-chicken Asian language. Or delusional vets who scream about non-existant enemy tanks. (Yes, I have personally encountered all of these on MUNI busses).  I think #2 above might help MUNI with these things too. The fare inspector can kick people off for bad behavior or disturbing others even if I am mistaken and the examples I cited were all paying customers.

Generally, having private companies pop up in competition with public services indicates there’s something that can be done better. With a few improvements, MUNI might yet put these obnoxiously hipster little startups out of business.

One thought on “How to make MUNI as good as Leap or Chariot

  1. Introduce accountability at Muni is the first thing to do.

    You register a complaint which goes nowhere, morning and express buses sometimes show up.

    Some drivers are extremely rude, I have seen drivers board seniors and deliberately speed off before the senior has had a change to sit….you can complain but nothing will come of it…

    Chariot is coming to my neighborhood at the end of the month, cannot wait to leave Muni, I think this is the only way Muni will learn, by customers leaving them, Muni is too big to change its culture.


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