Public Transportation San Francisco-The Art of Driving a TrolleyBus

Real Time Updates

New Transit Radio

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The New Radio System

Our new radio system is a much needed and appreciated upgrade for transit operators at the SFMTA. Our paddles, our nickname for our bus line and run number timetable we operate in revenue service, is now digitally displayed on the dash. The cool part is it automatically moves along with our coach and tells us what stop we are at, and what street corner we are at as we roll down the street. It links to the next bus ‘minutes to arrival’ on the bus shelters and on your phone application when your location is allowed, so it automatically tells you when we are due.

For us, a new benefit is that it also lets us know immediately if we are ahead or behind schedule, in minutes, as to where we need to be in relation to headway between buses. If it shows we are early,  we can quickly adjust and wait at a stop if we are early. This is great news for late time runners to the back door!

This new realtime feedback is great because we can run on time at any point along the line and stay on schedule.

Another great feature is that we can send a message to Transit Metro Control (TMC) any one of a number of memos about a defect with the coach, or if we need assistance with passenger service, bus service, or line delays. We can also ask for a reroute or headway adjustment to keep us on time.

We no longer have to wait for Transit Metro Control to call us back, but rather, can enter in a message immediately, and wait for their response. They already know the nature of our request and prioritize accordingly based upon how busy they are.

TMC can also send us messages and let us know if there is a line delay ahead, such as a parade or protest, or if fire or emergency vehicles are ahead, and to reroute us or stay put before entering into a blocked street situation.

Technology does hold the key to so many issues and the new radio is a blessed new tech that can only improve with time. I do believe many of our congestion issues can be solved with this new technology.

By pinpointing our location in real time, TMC is also saved from us having to state our run, line, and coach number verbally, because all this is displayed at their call terminal at Central Control.

I hope many of our line delays with ride shares and other shuttle buses can be smoothed out with the so called driverless car technologies. Alerts for Uber and Lyft drivers and passenger pickups may one day be merged with our bus locations so that bus zones can be shared without blocking. Apps like Waze are only the beginning of a great transit future.

I recently was called on the carpet for a red light violation, but was vindicated by the camera log on my bus which showed that no one was in danger when I passed by a crosswalk at a busy intersection before the light went red. 

Complaints against claims can also be clarified by the camera’s eye instead of incomplete or incoherent call-ins that may not reflect the exact nature of an oversight or problem. The reduction in wasted claims litigation is priceless.

This realtime feedback is a blessing towards making a living in an intense life as a transit operator in the City That Knows How: San Francisco Transit!

 I can stay in the Zen of the Trolleybus of Happy Destiny in learning from these incidents much sooner than later, and can adjust my driving abilities accordingly, so no misunderstandings arise in the future. 

Thanks for the New Radios!

I'm not out of a job just yet, but I can embrace the promise technology offers.

Not a Bus, A Person Driving a Bus

One of the most frustrating aspects in the bustle and tussle of a large, dense city is just missing a connection.  This chapter is for the regular transit rider that may still be missing transfers to another bus that can be averted by one simple rule:  your desire to catch that trolley bus actually hinges not on the caricature of one massive entity called a Municipal Transit Agency, but rather, an individual seated behind the wheel of a car.  Yes, we call coaches or cars by their number, and it is okay to call a bus a car, such as car number 5505.  If you are aware of car numbers, chances are you have a good handle on understanding the system.  If your awareness extends to run number, car number, cap number, and line number, then your status is elevated to that of a Muni God.  By reading this book, you too, can be elevated unto that Heavenly Status.  Gods can get angry.  Gods can cause major damage.  Gods can cause a rush of change.  But when they are benevolent as angels,  good things can happen!  

Most of us have been given the incorrect model on how to affect change.  Heck, I can't even spell the distinction correctly!   Do you desire an effect, or an affect?   We believe that expending a burst of loud, hostile energy is a fast way to make change happen.  Or anger can be harbored for years, yet nothing changes.  We become comfortable with our anger and nurse it and polish it in to a fine object that can become attractive to all who come in contact with it.  I know I have loved my deepest and longest held resentments against a large organization, and loved telling you about these over happy hour!  Now, however, I write these down on my inventory list with my  12 step recovery sponsor.  My most exciting challenge is to take this wonderfully polished and shiny resentment about missed transfers in to a missive about the approaches to catching a bus, and the mistakes people make in doing so.

If you are on a one shot deal, then all I can give you are the facial expressions or body language that cause me to wait for you, and hope that they work on a transfer you may never have to make again.

The Wounded Puppy.

Aw, poor baby.  Are you all alone on the corner without a warm, dry bus for shelter?  This works if I have room and time, and I know there is no bus behind me.  A smile at the last minute works great if timed correctly.  A Homer Simpson "dough,"  or one loud profane exclamation also works if timed just as the front door passes by.  This works great when traffic is light or nonexistent.  Twilights and Sundays are good prospective times for wounded puppy.  If not young and pretty, a sigh of sadness, with quivering cane uplifted to an invisible Kaiser also works.  Dropping the shoulders Charlie Brown style after "Lucy" also works wonderfully.   But note that these all require the eye contact of acknowledging that it is a person driving a bus, and not just a bus. 

The Plea Bargain.

This was used in the movie "Speed."  Annie makes it to the doomed bus as Sam the bus driver jokes that this boarding point is not at the bus stop.  I have expanded this with the train and plane analogy of questions. " Where to you catch a train?"   "At a train station."  "Where to get on a plane?"  "On a jetway at an airport."  "And where to we get a bus?"   Some of you latecomers are so puffed up with pride, you may never get on a bus.  But if you pronate yourself as if praying to the Muni God of Nigh, the Transit Operator, Grace has been known to open the back door! (occasionally.)  This would be a good chapter for a movie.  I wish I could call up some clips on the plea bargain.  The plea bargain came come silently with the eyes, or with a huge, loud, profane word!   The more over-the-top, the better!

The Dignitary.  

Only works with blessed folk.  Those whom attend church regularly and have a comfortable sense of self-righteousness that does not infringe on others.  Those who pray regularly without self-centered fear can stop a bus from any location just by a simple turn of the head and a smile.   It is always a wonderful rush to pick up someone like this.  Rare, indeed, but all the more meaningful.  Quality, not quantity is definitely the Dao of this pick-up.

The Lost Puppy.

Unfortunately, these are most dramatic and visceral because of their stand alone nature.   If you are travelling from the East Bay for a job interview, for example, and are new to the system, the time you are allowing for transfers may be inadequate.  The image of successfully dashing across the street to a streetcar from a trolley is easy to get, especially if you have heard our service is frequent.  The reality of the situation is that you need to add 20 minutes for every mode or bus transfer to your first time journey.  As you become familiar to the transfers, transit time can be reduced, such that a trip that may have taken two hours and twenty minutes to complete, can be shaved down to 45 minutes.  

20 Questions.

We operators become aware of the places where intending passengers ask us for a destination behind us.  On cross town routes, we see that by a BART station, people board buses going in the opposite direction that they need to reach their destination.  By traveling for fifteen or twenty minutes in the wrong direction, they can add an hour to their travel time.  This is sometimes a sad and frustrating conversation.   It can throw off my concentration of staying alert to road hazards.   This unfocused energy can be just as harmful to the bus driver as to your missed appointment or interview.  

If you have been given an address, it is important to search this on a map system so you have a good idea about which corner you need to wait.  If a delay creates a gap in trolleys, this lack of knowing where to stand can add twenty minutes fast.  Waiting for the wrong bus, and then changing direction, can create a bombshell at the door of the next bus.  Keep the Zen by knowing which corner to wait.  

Crosstown Bikeway Mural and Map

The Wiggle

Most bike riders are fast to load their bike on the bike rack which drops down over the front bumper.   They tag-in and are gone to the back of the coach. I can guess where they are going to get off,  but it is a good idea to let the operator know where you plan to take the bike off of the rack.  Many a day when I pull-in , do I find bikes waiting in the lost and found area.  These are bikes that are left on the rack when the bus pulls in.   Most cyclists  don't communicate with the operator when they board.  It is not a required that we know where the bike is coming off, but it is a good idea, especially  if the drop off is a long way from the where the bike gets put on the rack. 

On a warm day, cyclists waiting to board a crosstown run on the 33 Ashbury on 18th Street usually can't put their bike on the rack because it is full.  If you wait by Mission, you can get a place on the rack.  But by Delores Park it is too late to get on.   The bike rack takes two bikes only, so when a third rider is intending, I let them take their bike, if it is a light racer or ten speed, up the back steps to the rear aisle where there is a large gap in the seats.  Most of the time, when a cyclist sees the rack is full, they sigh or shrug,  and get on their bike to ride around the hill.  We have a bypass that goes crosstown for cyclists called "the wiggle."  This is a bike path that follows streets around the Haight-Ashbury hill.  A person new to town does not understand that it is possible to get from the Mission to the Haight without going up any major hill.  In San Francisco, we have 43 hills over 49 square miles.  This means we have one hill for every 1.1 square miles.  Although SF is not one continuous grid pattern, most hills can be avoided by simply jogging over one block.  

This is why San Francisco is a much more bike friendly city than Seattle or San Diego.   There is no way  to avoid  Capitol Hill if trying to ride from Pike Place Market to Lake Washington.  It is possible to get to Ballard and Fremont from downtown without a hill via Mrytle Edwards or Eastlake, but there is some long distance around Queen Anne hill  to get there.  So even though Seattle is built on seven hills like Rome, and has seven times less hills than San Francisco,  the escarpment of the Denny regrade, and of Queen Anne and /or Magnolia, makes for intense climbs on streets that really are not safe for bikes because they are so narrow.  

True, I love the fact that you can park a car in either direction on either side of a residential street, but trying to ride down a street with an opposing car makes for intense awareness at corners.  Hence the imperative red zones by the stops signs at corners.  I see why Seattle is so meticulous about painting its' curb clears:  there is no other space for a vehicle to wait for an oncoming car.  And adding a bike to the mix seems next to scary.  Thank God for the Burke-Gilman bike path.   

Rainier Valley has steep side streets on the south side, and has the Renton highlands that act like a barrier to South Center or Longacres.  

San Diego's mesas and valleys are so long and unforgiving one would have to be in professional racing fitness to keep going.  The Fashion Valley shopping area makes the climb to Hillcrest look like a training course for running a marathon or grand prix race in France!  To get from Mission Beach to anywhere else but downtown seems like an uphill battle.  Even Banker's Hill, and the long upgrade by Balboa Park to Hillcrest also seems to make for an unfriendly bike city.  Plus motorists are probably not used to seeing cyclists in traffic.  I can see riding a bike in and around Hillcrest for short errands, but I did not see too many cyclists in San Diego, or in transit on the buses.

Portland has a bike culture, and I will have to try riding there some time.  I hear the trail near the river to the south is nice, and the gradual upgrade on the Hawthorne side does seem gentle enough.  And the number of bridges they do have seems to make the crossing to downtown not seem to be that bad.  But boy, can I see flying down the grade inbound for some close calls!  Portland does seem to resemble San Francisco in being the most in being accomodative for cylists on the West Coast.  And with the Transit Centers placed around the city, transfers seem to be reliable.  I can always tell I have a visitor from Portland when they ask me where the nearest transit center is located!

So let me know when your getting off.   This comment goes unacknowledged from most bike riders as they walk back down the aisle with their helmet still on.   Rare is the day that a cyclist actually stops to talk to the bus driver.  And hence the collection of bikes I find by the dispatcher as lost and found when I pull-in at night!  I can also tell when the bus driver is not attentive to the needs of a cyclist also.  Noting a bus moving around town with the bike rack empty, but still down like a cow catcher or people catcher is not safe!


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