Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's love affair with the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency is clearly at an end, after an up-and-down romance that's spanned decades. What's replaced Muni in the mayor/lobbyist/Chron columnist's heart? Driverless cars.
It's been a long time since then-mayor Brown raced an Muni Metro down Market Street, at the conclusion of the 12-day-long Muni Meltdown of 1998. Back then, problems with the light rail system's new automated control system led to what the SF Chronicle described as "the biggest fiasco in the railway's history...[that] approached low comedy," with "trips that were supposed to take 34 minutes took two hours, and thousands of patrons in the Muni Metro subway gave up on the trains and walked." Though Brown and then-Muni-director Emilio Cruz vowed that things would improve, the Chron concluded that "though the train control system has been performing better, Muni is unable either to meet schedules or provide a minimum level of service."
Just a few days after that damning pronouncement, Brown took off on a foot race against Muni Metro. He seemed hopeful(ish) for the future of the transit agency, announcing at the conclusion of the race (he lost) that there is the "distinct possibility that we may be able to make (Muni) work."
Thought the Ex reports today that the (buggy to this day) train control system is finally getting an upgrade, Brown seems to think that Muni might get more milage out of the money put into those repairs if they burned the cash for heat.
Brown crapped all over Mayor Ed Lee's recent announcement that San Francisco would be putting $48.1 million into the transit agency next year, saying in his weekend Chron column, that "Mayor Ed Lee just announced that we are going to spend $48 million to try to fix Muni. What a waste."
"It’s time to accept the fact that Muni will never run on time spend enough to keep the system from collapsing and start thinking about alternatives like driverless cars."
Brown is "someone who understands the city, understands labor, the underlying interests," SFMTA head Ed Reiskin told the Chron at the time. "He was certainly the man here."
Though the $48 million Brown dissed will be used, in part, "for hiring for 244 frontline positions with more than half of the positions...bus and train drivers," Lee's office says, Brown's vaunted understanding of labor melts in the face of a newfound fondness for driverless cars. As he said this weekend:
Obviously you want bus systems that will take people out of their cars. But, just as obviously, people aren’t getting out of their cars easily. That’s why San Francisco should volunteer to be the testing ground for driverless cars.
Get Google or whoever is building them to offer 100 cars to the city and let us see how they work. Think about it. You step outside, punch in a phone number and catch the next available car. They go from one stop to the next. They don’t need parking. They just keep moving.
And you don’t have to worry about them hitting anyone. Traffic is so gridlocked downtown, I doubt a driverless car would ever go faster than 10 mph.