Dear Rain,

Has behavior on Muni (people not moving to the back, criminals, backpack wear) changed over the years? Some people claim that it's gotten worse with the most recent flood of new San Francisco residents, but I am skeptical (as I am with all anecdotal claims).


Dear CoMuning,

I've been riding Muni my entire life, and when I say entire life, I mean it. There's a good chance I was actually brought home from the hospital via Muni after my birth. (Granted, it was only about an eight block ride, but still!)

I was riding Muni home from school during my last couple of years of elementary school, and it was nothing but Muni thereon after, through college. (I didn't get a driver's license until a I was 30 years old, THAT'S how much I relied on Muni. Well, Muni and frequent rides from my father when I was a teenager, of course.)

It's only in the last ten years or so that I've been lucky enough to NOT need to ride Muni on a daily basis, thanks to access to a car, working from home, and an increased desire to just walk instead of waiting 30 minutes for a bus to show up.

Still, I feel like I have been able to notice some changes in the areas you mention.

First, the backpack thing. Thirty years ago, backpacks were for mainly hikers and students. Hikers probably weren't riding Muni on a daily basis, and most students knew you wouldn't look cool if you had that backpack over both shoulders; one shoulder or go home, Poindexter! We all know it's those two-shouldered wearers who are going to get an angry shove should they take that habit on the bus.

But backpacks are more ubiquitous these days. They're handed out at tech jobs along with those shiny new laptops, and everyone who's riding Muni on their way to the nearest tech company shuttle stop is probably wearing one.

So, it might be a combination of newbies not initially realizing how crowded a Muni bus can get, while also being afraid not to keep that backpack filled with shiny Apple gear firmly attached to their bodies, (but while keeping that iPhone out in perfect snatchable view, of course), that is responsible for the increase in annoying backpack incidents.

As for moving to the back of the bus, I think that's actually gotten a little better! I can remember days when the entire rear of a bus would be virtually empty, while the front half of the bus would be jam packed, and people would just. Not. Move! The reasoning for that, at least in my eyes, was partially based in two fears. One was the fear that if you sit in the back, and the bus gets crowded, you'll never be able to get to the door in time when your stop arrives. That's a fear that probably still remains.

The second fear was that the back of the bus was reserved for scary criminals, rowdy teenagers, or homeless people. And at one time, that really was how it felt whenever I got on a bus (and yes, I was one of those rowdy teenagers several times in my life). But these days it feels like the back of the bus is no longer reserved for the sketchier riding population, and I think there are also two reasons for this.

First, there are more senior and handicapped seats in the fronts of buses now, requiring the able-bodied to move to the rear if they want a seat, (again, there's no small number of exceptions to this rule, but we all know those able-bodied people who continue to sit in the reserved seats on a crowded bus are to be shamed and shunned, or at least anonymously called out on Twitter).

The second reason is, you can now legally enter through the back door! And doing so immediately places you in the back of the bus, with no need to try and squeeze past any stubborn standers lingering in the front.

As for crime on Muni, I'm going to say something that will probably immediately jinx me, but I have have never been an actual victim of a crime on Muni (though I came close), and have only witnessed one violent act while on the bus.

The near-crime was a guy who was trying to steal my wallet out of my purse, while on the 30 Stockton about 10 years ago. It was crowded, and a small woman who was next to me kept digging her elbow into my ribs. I thought she was just being pushy, so I finally told her to stop. But then she met my eye, kind of nodded her chin in the direction of a guy standing on the other side of me, and I looked down to see his hand in my purse. I snatched the purse away from him before he was able to get anything, and immediately started to move to the front to tell the driver. But the guy hopped off the bus before I could, so I ended up saying nothing.

The violence I witnessed was so thoughtless and cruel, I'll never forget it. I was on the 15 Third, heading downtown. I was near the back of the bus, and while there were a couple of seats open, they were all inside seats, next to seriously large manspreaders I'd have to crawl over to get to, so I chose to stand. A twenty-something guy got on, moved to the rear, kind of nodded at one of the manspreaders, giving the universal "Can I sit there?" look, but the manspreader gave no response, just staring ahead.

So the guy shoved past the manspreader to get to the seat. He wasn't being an ass about it, he just wanted the seat, and he did the best he could to get in without touching the manspreader too much, but since that guy wasn't moving, there was some contact.

For a few stops, the manspreader just sat in silence, no reaction to the guy who sat next to him... until he got to his stop. At that point he stood up, SLAMMED the guy's head into the window, said "Rude ass motherfucker," and walked off the bus.

It was one of those accordion buses, so it was out of view of the driver. The victim looked shocked and embarrassed, but not hurt. I think some people asked him if he was OK, and he nodded that he was. I don't think anyone offered to call 911, or tell the driver, because it seemed like the guy just wanted to pretend like it hadn't happen. I got off a few stops later, and he was still sitting there, looking stunned. I don't know if he ever reported it.

But while I haven't personally witnessed or been victim of a crime on Muni since those two instances, it certainly doesn't mean it's gotten any better, and Muni admits they have a ways to go on that front, stating on the government Crimes on Muni page that:

In fiscal year 2014-2015, the crime rate on Muni continued to decline following the previous year's boost in police presence at stations and on vehicles. In addition, improved surveillance equipment and the efforts of the SFPD Muni Task Force have resulted in a nearly 100 percent apprehension rate for alleged crimes committed on Muni vehicles. Data-driven police deployment to high-crime Muni lines has and will continue to have a positive impact on Muni security.

However, the crime rate on Muni has continued to exceed targets in the SFMTA's Strategic Plan. The need to continue to address and reduce crime on Muni is also apparent in San Francisco City Survey, which the Controller's Office conducts every two years. Respondents in the 2015 City Survey rated Muni safety a "B-"

There's no official word from Muni on the possible increase of backpacks-to-the-head injuries, however.

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.

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!