In these Troubled San Francisco Times, there is a lot of talk about who was here when, and what that does (or doesn't) mean. In an effort to both assist newcomers and take long-time residents down memory lane, we present to you Ask a San Francisco Native, a column penned by SF native and longtime SFist contributor Rain Jokinen, which is inspired by a similar one on our sister site Gothamist, and is intended to put to rest all those questions only a native of this city can answer. Send yours here!
Did Muni always suck? Or was there a time, before Uber and Lyft and tech buses, that it was reliable?
Waiting For The 5 Fulton For The Last Hour
I've lived in San Francisco my entire life, and as a result, I've been riding Muni my entire life. In fact, I was born at San Francisco General, and if my parents' apartment hadn't been walking distance from the hospital, there's a pretty good chance my ride home might have been via a Muni bus.
The question of Muni's history of suckitude is one I've pondered on more than one occasion, usually when I've approached the 45-minute mark (or more) waiting at a bus stop. I haven't come to a definitive conclusion, but I think the basic answer is: Muni was never great; it's just that way back when, we couldn't tell how bad it was.
I used to take Muni home from school when I was pretty young, as a grammar school student at Douglas Elementary in the Castro. I'd take the 33 to Potrero and walk the rest of the way home from there, and I never remember being afraid while on the bus. I do remember often chatting with the same friendly bus driver several times a week about the A's and baseball, even though I didn't know much about it, aside from liking my Billy Ball ringer t-shirt a lot. But if I were a parent now, I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be sending my young kid on that — or any — bus line home these days.
But Muni's safety is a separate issue from Muni's service, and when I say we couldn't tell how bad it was back in the day, I mean it. There were no apps or arrival times broadcast at Muni stops. When you got to the bus stop, all you could do was hope that you hadn't just missed one. There was no way to know when (or if) that bus would ever arrive.
Sure, Muni would publish timetable booklets a couple of times a year, and you could grab one for yourself on most buses. But anyone who rode Muni daily knew those timetables were, at best, aspirational. Eventually bus shelters with maps were put into place, and schedules were printed on those (and still are), but anyone who looked at them hoping to figure out when the next bus would arrive was probably a tourist who didn't know any better.
So, while Muni hasn't improved dramatically, I'm not sure it's actually gotten worse. It's just that we can now pinpoint Muni's failings down to the minute, over and over, day after day... month after month... and year after year. Waiting for a bus for 45 minutes sucks any way you look at it, and it's made even worse when you can see there are three more buses set to arrive just a few minutes behind it. But way back when, you'd get on that bus and have no idea just how royally Muni was fucking up.
So, in some ways when it comes to the history of Muni-riding, ignorance really was bliss... Or at least something slightly less infuriating.
Rain Jokinen was born and raised in San Francisco and, miraculously, still calls the city home. Her future plans include becoming a millionaire, buying a condo complex, and then tearing it down to replace it with a dive bar. You can ask this native San Franciscan your questions here.