October 31, 2011

By: Phil Ting

It’s sad – but we’ve reached the point where many people are shocked when our much-maligned Municipal Railway works every now and then. But beyond the shock, there can actually be inspiration when we show how Muni can function as it should – one bus, one streetcar and one line at a time.

That’s why we plan to shock and maybe even inspire L-Taraval riders tomorrow (Tuesday) morning with our own Reset San Francisco experiment in express service. We will be testing our own express route on the morning commute – and if you want to get to work on time and in comfort, check out our schedule here.

While we are going to enjoy getting people to work on time Tuesday, the reason we are running our Reset Express pilot project is to help advance an idea that seems to be taking hold over at Muni – we can make this whole system start working again.

All over the world, people actually get to and from work on public transit safely, rapidly and with predicable regularity. After all, we are not talking about new technology here. Public transportation systems have been working well for over 100 years and the truth is, Muni worked pretty well until a few decades ago.

If we can match old fashioned notions like strong management, realistic schedules, investment in maintenance and reliability and – wait for it – customer service with the use of new technologies, like GPS, then we could finally have a Muni that works reliably and rapidly.

A New Day for Muni

I’m going to do one of the most dangerous things possible in San Francisco politics right now – I am going to display a little optimism when it comes to our Municipal Railway.

Yes, we have the slowest major transportation system in America and one of the least reliable. Yes, we have the sad reality of politicians raiding funds we need to improve Muni for their own priorities and pet projects. And yes – we are all tired of the endless political promises to fix Muni.

But finally there is a new spirit of innovation and, after years of delay, there is actually a plan to turn Muni around.

The plan is called the Transit Effectiveness Project, and it is the culmination of nearly a decade of study. It proposes everything from speeding up service through all-door boarding, moving stops to after traffic signals rather than before, timing traffic signals so buses and streetcars have priority, adding express service and using GPS and other technologies to space buses, manage routes and inform riders.

In the last few months, I have ridden virtually every line in this campaign (beyond my normal L-Taraval and N-Judah commute lines), and I have seen riders who agree that there are some reasons for hope.

But we all agree – as hopeful as the new spirit can be and as impressive as the turn around plan is – that we shouldn’t have to wait nearly another decade for this plan to be implemented.

At Reset San Francisco, we’re all about pushing better ideas forward on the express track. We don’t just think – we know – that if more of us get involved, we can create a city government as innovative as the rest of San Francisco.

We believe that when it comes to Muni reform and the TEP, we need to start now – right now.

We can start with the simple things. More fare inspectors. More places to buy tickets. Moving stops a few yards here and there to make them more efficient.

And we can continue with those projects that might take months or a year but don’t need to take years – like all-door boarding once ticket machines are in place and fare inspectors are hired, timing lights and greenlighting more express service.

And we can focus on issues that may be hard, but are necessary – like reforming the “Work Order” system that allow politicians to raid Muni funds.

But we can take these steps now. And one by one, bus by bus, line by line, we can start showing what it would be like to live in a city with a public transportation system that works.

Now that’s going to be an inspiration.

Hope you can make it tomorrow. We’ve got free Wi-Fi, free coffee and a free ride downtown.

See you in the morning.