The Squeaky Wheel



An excerpt from the Trolleybus of Happy Destiny:

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. She 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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Zen Zone


Everyone asks me what the bad lines are. And my answer is that none of the lines are bad. Timing is everything. Which is true for a stand up comic, a worker on an assembly line, and as a waiter or cook in a restaurant. So here is what most riders don't understand: its not what line you are driving, but when. For example, do I really want to be leaving Clay and Drumm on the 1 California line at 5:02 p.m., as Embarcadero Three's elevators are filling up to capacity, dropping hundreds of workers to the city streets to pick up a bus to go home?  

Or should I be at the other end of the line at 33rd Av and Geary, hours after school has let out, to be headed inbound in non-peak direction, only to arrive downtown an hour after most people have gone home?  

Do I want to be the first 22 Fillmore leaving after the bell at the Marina middle school, where hundreds of hyped-up middle schoolers with more hormones than they know what to do with, after hours of being cooped up in school, be knocking on my door as I try to pull away from the inbound terminal at Bay and Fillmore? Or would it be better to be leaving Third and Twentieth in Dog Patch, around 3 p.m., hours before all the blue collar workers around Potrero Hill start clocking out? And so it isn't what, but when that makes or breaks a good run choice at Muni.  

Re-route in Effect

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 In the Star Trek movie, “The Search for Spock,” the famous line, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one,” is no more self evident in the Muni schedule, especially during special events. Some regular bus stops have a rider alert bulletin posted on the bus shelter, or on a utility pole. One of the failures about re-routing buses seems to be that the needs of the many are dismissed for the needs of the few, or the one. It makes no sense to send a bus around an area that is congested from a special event, thereby throwing off the schedule and creating irregular headway between buses. 

When the Castro neighborhood streets are blocked off for Halloween, or New Year’s Eve, the 33 line is sent over one block to 19th street, which is up a steep hill with lot’s of parked cars, and is gridlocked due to traffic blocked from driving through, and forced onto the same nearby streets like Sanchez and Eureka as the bus, and everyone else, gets stalled as the bus tries to make turns which are stressful and difficult to make without violating the four foot space cushion around the bus.  

Recently, our new expanded sidewalks in the Castro allowed our electric trolleybuses to go straight through the village without any re-route at all. Our planners listen to us at our barn meetings, and re-routes now flow smoothly around the Castro. This is another step in the right direction since first publication of this missive in 2013.

 In our last re-route for the Castro Street Fair, cars were blocked from parking on the street, and we had help making the turns with DPT holding oncoming traffic. No delays were apparent. Perhaps this message got through!                                                                                                                                                                          

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