Public Transportation San Francisco-The Art of Driving a TrolleyBus

Powerless on Post

Bus Bunching


Not many San Franciscans realize that Pacific Gas and Electric is not the only power game in town. Our Hetch Hetchy Reservoir holds back water for irrigation and power, of which the Municipal Railway receives for it's overhead trolley wires. If power is out in homes and business, our wires may still be energized for trolleys to continue in service.

Aside from the incredible power electric motors provide, and the burst of acceleration we feel when the power pedal is depressed, the quiet, clean air system is devoid of moving parts like a carburetor or internal combustion engine and needs less service. In my You Tube Video, Driver Doug 1969 GM Bus on Heritage Weekend, I call the smooth acceleration on the GM, "mushy." This is because as a trolley man, I am used to the quick acceleration of an electric motor, and not an internal combustion engine with conventional gearing. To be fair, the GM is the smoothest ride in town. No falls on board with this classic coach of the 1960's.

The overhead double wire system, however, does need meticulous care, as we continually travel under the wires with curves, diverges, converges, crossovers, and power feeds. Changes in air temperature from hot to cold, tighten the wires between clamps, or when cold to hot, show the wires drooping between clips. Rain and fog changing to arid warmth, also remove the graphite residue on the switches and cause toggles to freeze and not reset to the default direction. This causes split poles, dewirements and the bending or breaking of connections between wires. Any action by an operator preceding my coach can have a make or break situation as I move through an area with the 'trap set' so to speak to make my dewirement look like my fault.

San Francisco is unique in that our heating and cooling load on the system are usually a fraction of what is required for those living in our Central Valley. Our utility bills are such a small fraction of our rent or mortgage payment, some of us even forget to include it in our charges to other sub-tenants or renters. Our city's power requirements are unnoticed, save for the few days of the year when the mercury rises and all the coolers in the corner stores need to crank it up to keep our beer and soda cold, and south facing window facades become a sun room sauna. 

Just as Hawaiians learn to live in a space with a Lanai or window facing the trades in the summertime, we here in San Francisco learn that a north facing set of windows are much preferred to southern exposure, whereby the whole unit becomes a furnace in the late afternoon. Without central air, the windows act like a greenhouse, and these units come up for sale much more frequently than north facing units.

The point is, extremes in temperature fluctuation, and orientation with respect to the sun play an important part of magnetic and electric effects and malfunctions. I would always wonder why nothing would get done on overhead requests until I had a talk with an overhead electrician and got my answer. There is no answer. 

No matter how many times the crew would come out and reset or re-clip a certain switch at a certain place, malfunctions would continue to occur regardless of what they did. I have found that certain times of day also have an effect. 

A switch that would refuse to trigger in the morning, worked perfectly in the afternoon. Sacramento to Presidio is a classic example. Randall and Mission must also be over a piezoelectric location within the Earth's magnetic lei lines also influenced by the sun or photonics energy.  This sounds crazy, but there are no pat answers to explain all electric phenomena.

Because the power grid is not used to San Franciscans using any heat or cooling power, when the mercury rises, overloads increase on the system, and the Grid Regulator monitors cutting power to specific blocks for short twenty or forty minute intervals to prevent cascade failure. This prevents spoilage in perishables under refrigeration. Stoplights also go out and Traffic Controllers are dispatched to critical busy intersections. This is when we get messages from Transit Control to treat intersections as four way stops.

When the power gets cut, we are to make sure our coaches are turned off to prevent damage to the surge when power returns. We must also not start moving our trolleys at the same time on the same block, else we cause another overload and shut down the system. 

This is why we have the one block spacing rule to keep us on the Road to Happy Destiny. Guiding riders to a line with diesel powered buses is the service I can provide when I am Powerless on Post. 



The Complaint Department


Is closed. Or so I was told every time I entered the tower at Potrero by the lead shop man whenever I had to pass by. Perhaps this message stemmed from the incident with the dirty filter I had on my bus when I pulled in one night.


The clasp holding the grille that protects the filter inside dropped to the floor, and I gasped at seeing filthy dust bunnies on both sides of the fiberglass tray.  Babies were crying and seniors were coughing all day long on my bus. I kept my cockpit window open and was blessed by the Pacific breeze which can remain continuous throughout the day, so I didn't notice how dirty the air was streaming into the coach. 


This was my first realization why operators don't turn on the heat in the coach. On my crosstown ride home on the 22 Fillmore, did I finally get the lesson from an operator about the do's  and dont's of when to use the fan on a bus.


Do turn on the blower to high before pulling out to warm up the cold metal terrarium inside before sitting down inside the cockpit to set the controls. Sure enough, after the first five minutes, the blower motor warms up and quiets down. All the collected dust and carbon settled in the tubes gets pushed out from the first burst of air, and air quality improves. Once warm, the blowers can be turned off before picking up at the first bus stop. 


Don't leave the fan on for extended time during a trip. Overheating can occur and a burning smell creeps in on some coaches. Others have blowers that become a nuisance with a loud noise that makes concentration difficult. Unless there's a clown on  board making too much noise!


Do use terminal breaks as a good time to reuse the fans to reheat the coach, again while standing outside the coach or using the bathroom. I also learned the valuable lesson about the other drawback to a warm coach: sleepers. So many of us are deficient in sleep hours that it is usually a matter of fifteen minutes of warm interior air that  we doze off into La La Land. Making a coach a hospitable interior climate is not helpful when pulling in on a twilight run! Our twilight trips last up to an hour, so it is key to spot potential sleepers when they board, especially during the first few minutes of departing the terminal.  


Do keep mental track of who is boarding, especially when the aisle becomes crowded and the rear interior view is blocked from seeing who is laying down on the back seats. 


Don't allow persons with blankets to board rear if you cannot see where they 'sit.' Do pop the brake and stop a sleeper in their tracks when they first board, by asking where they are going. If they cannot answer, politely, and in keeping their dignity intact, state that Muni is not a shelter, and my job is to get you where you need to go. This usually helps in getting an answer. If they are just shining me on, I tell them I am pulling-in. I don't want you to get stuck far away from where you need to be. If they do answer, I can wake them up at their requested stop. If they are really dead in the water, I have to wake them up a few blocks early.


This may seem like a call above and beyond duty, but the only way to get them off is by going to their seat and let them know we are at the stop. This saves a call for an inspector, the police, or the fire department later on when I desire to go home.


I do provide wake up service. It saves down time so my follower doesn't lose me as a leader when I am wating for the inspector or police to rouse a deep sleeper. On late nights, it is sometimes easier to let sleepers go for a trip or two to catch up on sleep, but their are limits.


So back to my pull-in at the tower and my tirade upon pull-in. I held up the fiberglass baffles and shook the nasty dust on the floor. "This is unacceptable! Seniors are coughing and babies are crying!" Silence. My mind conveniently goes blank on what I said next, but I was full of rage. The tower was full of other shop workers, the yard starter, and other operators waiting on equipment. 


My compassion for safety and doing my job backfires at times in inappropriate ways if I do not express myself at the right time. This time I nailed it. I finally showed an inadvertent omission on an item not considered 'safety significant.' I got angry at the right time and never looked back. And there was nothing anyone could say about it from the shop because I was right. And I bore witness in front of all my peers. 


This was one of those classic moments. 


My 'out to get me' conspiracy theory thinking has not served me, but I never knew it because I never stopped to see the affect I was having on others when I would pass anger on to someone else at another time and place. Only by keeping Zen with prayer and meditation to I have a shot at an easier, friendlier way. And so the transference of frustration at hearing, "The Complaint Department is Closed," thereafter, by the lead shop man at the Potrero tower, to a smile that it is not all about me. 


I now feel the relief of this realization as I sit here and type this in on my netbook. This is why I write. This is why writer's write. If I were a normal non-writer, I may have never needed to do an personal moral inventory. A secret of 'why' emerges. It helps get out the crazy. In this case, the nasty dust bunnies trapped in the filter of my brain and behavior! 


Now when I hear the complaint department is closed, I can turn in my defect card quietly, and keep a copy for myself. Keeping a daytimers daily log diary helps, too. 


I just had my jacket snatched down at Townsend on the 45!  I left it on the operator's seat back and stepped off to talk to my leader. I got my uniform jacket back, but my diaries book was taken. So much for the record from January to June!  Hmm. 

I wonder if the Muniverse is trying to tell me something:  Secure the coach when leaving, if only for a moment. Now I have to tie my bag to the back seat. I hate having to worry about security when I am just trying to take a break. This job keeps me on my toes--as soon as I slack off in one area, such as security or defects, the "Complaint Department" responds in kind! 


When I am rested and mindful, I am in the Zen to do the right action, and keep the complaints at bay. At bay with the barking sea walrus and seals.


The Squeaky Wheel


Gets the grease, as the saying goes. Most of us doubt we can make a difference. In rare instances, however, one person can affect change on a large scale. In the following four cases, one change is created by one passenger being persistent, and another by using political capital as Mayor, to meet his own need. The other two examples are rare cases when city Supervisors step-in to make transit change. More often than not, nothing happens.


Our new trolleys have a redesigned seating area in the front of the bus. Seating bays for wheelchairs appear more prominent, and there is a padded paddle with a drop down handhold allowing for placing a leg in an outstretched position  without blocking the aisle risking a hit from a passing passenger. A passenger can stand erect without sitting, and be protected from getting hit in the aisle. I have asked passengers and operators if they have ever used or seen anyone use this device. No one has.  


But I know who got this piece of equipment added. She also did it without any call to engineers, capital equipment procurement, planning or project management! She persistently made a passenger service request over and over and over every time she boarded a crowded 14 Mission bus, usually in the crunch zone at 13th Street,  and was unable to rest her leg in an outstretched position by the flip-up seats. Log after log, statistic after statistic, her call volume, over time, made it appear that this was a necessary seat mobility adjustment needed to be made to the flip-up seat area. I was able to contain her anger most of the time, but I had to get her off my bus once by threatening to call the police! She had become so angry she would threaten a wheel chair user in the pop-up area.


Placing this leg pad on all new trolleys shows how just one person can affect a multi-million dollar order for equipment by persistence and perseverance. This pad is used as a seat back when facing the rear of the coach in a walker with seat-back, or someone who cannot sit because a leg is immobile, and one woman single-handedly got what   she needed on a large new order of Flyer trolleys from Canada. Wow!


The number 3 Jackson was to be eliminated without a hearing, and the battle cry went out. The riders along Jackson Street made sure SFMTA kept the line. This is a good example where residents along a line can fight city hall and win. All it took was to point out that procedure was sidestepped by making a route "change" without citizen input.  In this extremely rare case, city representation worked to prevent the cut.


The other example is from our esteemed mayor, Willie Brown. He would continually get passed up at the Stockton tunnel into Chinatown by the 30 Stockton bus. I almost passed him up twice, but when I saw he was waiting, I picked him up. After all, he was responsible for me getting hired when he was elected by having a city job fair at the Moscone Center in 1996!  The least I could do was honor his commitment to Muni by picking him up! 


Truth be told, in almost every case, even though it does not look like we have enough room to pickup anyone else because our bus is full, the miracle is, somehow, some way, you guys can fit in up the rear steps and we can roll!


Anyway, to topic:  Willie Brown's pass-ups at the tunnel created the impetus to build the Central Subway. This is a stellar example of why politicians, such as city supervisors, should ride on the SFMTA: it becomes obvious we need help!


The 24 Divisadero got appropriate overhead utility poles that do not detract from the neighborhood because Supervisor Tom Ammiano rode the 24 on a regular basis and was in the right place politically to get it done. We seldom de-wire or have any overhead problems on this residential stretch because of adequate structure and grace added correctly based on responsive feedback from those living and using the system.


Approaching Zen on a bus line can be affected through political capital and by calling in on a regular basis. The common thread here is that both methods were used by people actually taking mass transit on a regular basis. Decisions were based on users, not by those removed from taking the bus on a daily basis!


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