Back Door Stories on Muni

The Late Ring


An excerpt from the Dao of Doug 2:

I approach a stop that I sometimes pass up without a ring or without anyone standing on the curb. Still no chime, no dash light. I coast without accelerating. I make the decision to stay in the traffic lane and pass the point of pulling to the right to bring the door to the curb. I pass the bus stop. "Wait, wait!" "I pulled the cord!" Most times I can flag stop the coach and let them off. But at other times, I must continue forward to the next safe space. This does not always go over very well. Anger arises because I pass by a stop. And I have come to use my intuition to know when this is likely to happen. Sure enough, I can stop without a ring at a baby stop and see someone get off the back door without a ring. Indeed, operators with years experience do develop extra sensory perception.

And after trial and error of being told about our mother, or our birthright, we adapt our sixth sense as to when and where we will need to stop without a request. Greenwich on Van Ness, Kansas or Hermann on the 22 line. 29th Street on the 49. The list goes on. 

I have come to believe there are glitches within the DVAS and GPS which cause just enough of a delay in ringing a stop, that I have learned where these are, and slowed accordingly and called out a stop, just to make sure.  And even then, I still must find the closest safe place to come to rest and let someone out. I have learned it is easier to just let them off as soon as possible, rather than go to the next stop. As a line trainer, I let my student know where these places and stops are so they don't have to go through a painful learning curve from the passengers. As with many things, the devil is in the detail!  

So as a passenger, when the doors close, and the bus begins moving, this is an okay time to pull the chord for the next stop. Or at least a block and a half away from the next zone. If we are making a turn, you have to understand that our eyes are focusing on pedestrian threats and traffic, not on the overhead stop request display. If no chime sounds, please be aware of this. Most conflict arises from the assumption that the chime sounded when it did not. We as operators, note where this happens frequently, and stop and open the door automatically.  If we don't, then sure enough, does the battle cry come forth from the back door!  

This is how you, the passengers, can train us, the bus drivers.  We too can "train" you to ring at the correct moment, else you get "dinged" by having to walk back to the previous stop! Ringing late for Broadway and Steiner means you are going to Vallejo! To those reading these words on a flat sheet, such as a map, may not realize the hill involved between these two stops. If, for example, you want Nob Hill on the 1 Line inbound, and you don't get off at Taylor, you are in for a rude awakening for the Fairmont on Mason. The uphill grade is the maximum allowed before a street becomes a staircase! Truck drivers find out about our grade changes the hard way. As do tour bus drivers. A large tow truck must be employed to get the vehicle clear from a cross street scrapping, whereby the long 7 ton vehicle or trailer, must be removed from the wedge created by a flat street crossing on a steep grade. I hope the Union 76 Truck Stop outside of Sacramento has a grade map near the break-room for drivers heading in to town from the Midwest!

New riders can always be found out by the way the depart. They are the culprits of the late ring.  Or of no ring at all. "I rang the bell!" Sitting on the back bench, they wait until the bus has come to a complete stop before they get up from their seat. They try to make their way through the aisle to the back door. By then, the regulars have stepped down to activate the doors, and are long gone. As the doors begin to shut, they step down after the doors are shut, and I am ready to leave the zone.  I know where these late bloomers lie, so I have learned to look at the back door one last time to see if some one or group is holding us up.  Sure enough, the "late ring" crowd finally make it down the steps.  

When I am training a new operator, my extra set of eyes can help the student be alert to when and where this happens. This always comes at the worst times, when we are late and without a leader. Many times we get behind the wheel to move up our coach in to a better headway.  God, please help this book find itself in the hands of a late ringer! Keep the Zen! 

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Islands v. Curbs


On Market Street, there are two places on a block to catch a bus. If you have your Incredibles superhero costume tights on, you should know that the newer ETI Skoda trolleys weigh about ten tons sans passengers, so be careful you don't pull your back muscles when you catch the approaching bus and lift it above your head. For most of us mortals, however, taking a bus on the curb or on an island is recommended. The curb stops are located mid-block, and the island stops are near an intersection by a corner or a cross street. 

Unbeknownst to most San Franciscans, however, is a method to the madness of these two sets of stops. Island stops outbound, take you south of Golden Gate park to the Sunset, and curb stops located mid-block, take you outbound to the Richmond, which is north of Golden Gate park. 

So, if you were heading to Cliff House, Lake Street, Land's End, or the Legion of Honor, you would move to a curb stop after exiting a BART station under Market Street. These are north of Golden Gate Park.  

The 1, 2, 3, 5, 21, 31, and 38 all go to the residential area between the Presidio and GG Park. The 6, 7, 9, 9R, stop on the outbound islands, and take you to the Inner Sunset or points south of GG Park.  

The 9, 9R services the Bayview, Visitacion Valley area by diverging off of Market just before Van Ness.  The point is that all these buses eventually leave Market Street, some sooner than others.  The 1 never actually touches Market and is a good escape from downtown from Embarcadero BART if a special event is taking place on Market such as a parade or protest.  And we have tons of them.  

The one single aspect that puts San Francisco in the number one spot in living up to the phrase, "The City That Knows How," is our flexibility in street closures and reroutes for ongoing and recurring special events. I don't believe any other major metropolitan area has as many street fairs, farmer's markets, special events and parades as we do. The list goes on for motorcade delays:  Marathons and races, the Bay to Breakers before Memorial Day weekend.  The Street Fairs, Juneteenth, The Cherry Blossom Festival, Chinese New Year, The Dragon Parade,  Freedom Parade, Folsom Street Fair, Dore Alley, Castro, Fillmore Jazz, Union Street, North Beach, Art Shows, Art Crawls, Bike races, Blue Angels, Fleet Week, and on and on:  All with alerts and reroutes and delays.

The only other thing to talk about is the islands on Second and Third on Market. The 7X is not coming. On weekends, the 7X does not run. The 9, fortunately, has been moved off of Second on weekends, but it is important to note that you can't take a 7X on the islands below Fourth Street. If you look carefully at the Muni bus stop pole, the sign says weekdays only at Second and Third for the 7X. Those looking for express service would also do well to look at this information at the bus stop.  

These flag poles have information most bus companies don't provide at a stop. Inbound versus outbound is important for express service as an X bus only works inbound in the am and outbound in the pm.  Sometimes, there is someone off of a ferry, expecting an outbound express bus in the morning, standing at the outbound stop. Main Street is a classic for an 82X intender waiting for an outbound 82X in the morning.  

The express signs add the term AM or PM and this is as important as the WEEKDAYS reminder! Keeping my Zen on, I try to collect these lost puppies, but sometimes it isn't possible to capture everyone. Woe betides the operator on the F line on the weekend! Good luck as an information specialist! This is why I love just driving the locals around on a Potrero or Presidio Barn coach! 

Crunch Zone


I picked up a man in a wheelchair near downtown at Third Street outbound, and was amazed at how smooth and fast he boarded and locked-in. I could tell he was a regular rider. Instinctively, I knew he was going to get off at 16th and Mission, and sure enough, when I asked, he stated he was going to 16th. I told him I was glad to have a regular rider who knew how to ride Muni. He talked about his learning curve on how to work the flip-up seats, and about where to get on and get off. If there was any heartfelt strength of purpose to distribute this book to the masses, it is not about the money or the power in the vanity of being an author, but to get out the wisdom in how to ride so that the bus system moves faster and creates less headache for those in getting around. Nowhere is this wisdom needed than in the crunch zone.

I at first wanted to call this chapter, "Crunch Time," such as the operation of a bus from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm. However, the pattern of movement between two stops was as predictable as the time frame, and I realized that a more accurate description of gridlock was in certain zones between stops. And the idea for this chapter was born in the conversation with this wheelchair rider as he glided away from downtown with me in a coach that was calm and roomy.  If there was an opposite to being in the Zen zone, this chapter is it.  I found out he wanted to go up Van Ness to Geary, but was passing up the transfer point by four blocks. Now I know why. He was avoiding having to board Muni in the crunch zone.

On the 14 Mission, the crunch zone exists between 16th Street and 7th inbound, and Fourth and Eleventh, outbound. The sequence of events is so repetitive and coincidental that one could plot a graph of predictability on an actuarial table for an insurance company. Come to think of it, the City of San Francisco is an insurance company for Muni! I don't know how this would help with claims, but like this man who was on my coach, avoiding the problem areas makes for an easy ride, even if it means traveling beyond the shortest distance between two points.

Indeed, I found this out as a rider in my thirties, new to the city in the Eighties. In getting to my warehouse in Hunter's Point and Bayview from the Tenderloin, the shortest route was the 19 Polk. But the fastest was to go inbound on the Geary bus to catch a 15 Third. I made a large checkmark inbound to outbound rather than go crosstown direct. Passengers taking the Metro underground also understand this principle, and take an empty car from Civic Center or Powell down to Montgomery, and get a seat for the outbound peak period. This is true of the crunch zones between the 49 Van Ness and the 14 Mission. Especially if you are in a wheelchair, carrying a large cumbersome object, or using a grocery cart. Also, if you have difficulty in getting up the stairs, or need a seat right by the door, oddly enough, the best offense is the defense of traveling beyond the closest stop to your destination. This means backtracking to board where the bus is less crowded.  

The crunch zone for the 49 Van Ness builds as the bus moves inbound to the streets numbered in the teens, until at 14th Street where room runs out and there is nowhere to sit or stand. Cyclists, walkers, and those receiving food bank items filling a grocery cart all wait in the crunch zone. If there are two coaches bunched together, usually all is well. But if there are gaps between buses, frequently, a pass-up prevents crowding problems.

On the 49 line, the crunch zone lays between 16th Street and Eddy inbound, and from O'Farrell to Otis outbound. Load factors and working leaders influence the zone by making it longer or shorter, but in general, I know I have to make sure people boarding do the right thing by sitting or standing in such a way to prevent fights or arguments at the following stops. People listen better before their space is threatened. This is a golden key to the crunch zone. I too, am in a better vibe and tone if I ask someone to move before the crunch zone hits. And when those that have moved see that those I next pick up need the first two seats, the message has hit home in a way that is not threatening or defensive. Score one for the Zen!  


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