Muni bus

Muni, San Francisco’s transit agency, was launched 100 years ago this month. It was the first publicly owned transit system in a major city in the U.S. The inaugural line ran on Geary Street between downtown and 33rd Avenue. Now, Muni has about 700,000 daily boardings and runs 63 bus routes, seven light rail lines, a historic streetcar line and three cable car lines. Muni has been transporting — and frustrating — customers throughout the century. We discuss the history and current state of Muni.

Ed Reiskin, director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Rick Laubscher, board chair and president of the Market Street Railway, a non-profit historic preservation partner of Muni
Gerald Cauthen, recently part of, a citizens group that was fighting the central subway and coming up with ideas to improve Muni, and was formerly chief project manager of PUC's engineering projects, including Muni

  • Elizabeth Krueger

    One of my favorite Muni episodes is getting on the J Church at 30th Street to head downtown for weekend classes at around 8 AM on Saturday with the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa’s order). One day in particular, about 20 nuns got on the train and settled around me, smiling and praying rosaries as we headed inbound. They got off at various points en route to head to their assigned work for the day. I felt as though all of us on that train must have received extra blessings that day.

  • As a recent transplant from Chicago I have to admit figuring out Muni was one a big challenge from the perspective of an outsider. More than once I stood above ground on Market looking for a “T” or “J” vehicle, only to discover I needed to be underground.

    Making sense of the trains, buses, cable cars, etc, (not to mention BART), was a steep learning curve – in Chicago bus lines have numbers, trains have colors, and that’s it! – though I think I’ve finally figured it out 🙂

    • Paul J. Lucas

      For Muni, busses have numbers and trains have letters. How is that harder than Chicago? If you’re on Market and want a train, it’s underground. Seems straightforward.

      • Well, I know that now.

        It’s not so straightforward on your 2nd day in San Francisco when Google maps says “go to Church and market, board Muni T” and you have no idea which of the multitude of vehicles that pass through the intersection (above and below ground) “T” refers to.

  • cynthiaprice

    Muni’s failures are why I purchased a Vespa six years ago. Gas,
    insurance & parking are cheaper than a monthly Muni pass, and I’m
    never late.

    • Jeffrey

      Rainy Seasons here.

      • cynthiaprice

        I ride in the rain, what’s the problem?

  • Lori Michelon

    I remember taking Muni down Divisadero to Market on my way to SF State in the late 70s. Often the driver would see people running to catch the bus; he would wait until they (sometimes me) had just arrived at the door, then he would zoom away leaving us winded and stranded.
    I’m sure the drivers are better these days.
    Now I live in the easter Sierra,where there is NO mass transit. I LOVE taking mass transit in the Bay Area when I get over there. I miss living where I didn’t have to have a car. In spite of problems, I still think Muni’s great.

  • FayNissenbaum

    Herb Caen wrote that SOUND of the cable cars changed after the 1984 remodel, as your retired caller explained, the butt jointed track pieces were all joined for safety. But those old track piece were mostly iron with the joints that went clackety-clack. But they were replaced with one continuous steel track. And Herb Caen wrote that the new track sound changed from a softer clackety-clack to high pitched WHINE – rather machine-like. Any comments?

    About the central subway, with MUNI already having the most modes of transportation and being strained to meet maintenance demands, why in the world would the decision be made to add yet
    ANOTHER system which the central subway is. Also, anytime police have to go down into the new tunnels, the SFPD will bill MTA for more patrol hours, not to mention the added cost of more personnel to work those tunnels. Why the subterfuge of not admitting this cost publicly?
    Longtime San Franciscan,
    Fay Nissenbaum

    • Paul J. Lucas

      The Central Subway is not ANOTHER system. It’s an extension of the existing T-Third line. Once completed, the T will no longer be interlined with the K and will instead go from Sunnydale to Chinatown.

      The T to Chinatown will offload the very overcrowded 30 and 45 lines speeding them up. The faster a line goes, the cheaper it is to run because you need fewer vehicles to maintain the same headway (time between vehicles). With any luck, it will save money overall.

  • brettfink

    The problem that I have with Muni is that the driver’s are unreasonably aggressive and terrorize pedestrians and other drivers in their mad rush to get to the next stop on time. They pose a danger to the community and everyone I know talks about this as if it were a well known fact.

  • broshar

    I am sure Muni service varies across districts and lines. I can think of many complaints — like all the crowded 38 buses and difficulty going north-south — it’s important to recognize the many improvements Muni has instituted. I think NextBus is a great innovation; everyone can see how long the wait will be and make decisions accordingly. It’s not perfect (for example at the very beginning of the line) but it is very useful tool.

    I am also one of the lucky people who benefit from the commuter express lines (1AX for me) and it is consistently on time and about 98% reliable.

  • Diana

    Daily I watched a sadistic driver terrorize elder Asians on the way to Chinatown, clinging to the poles up front because they were too scared and unstable to stumble further into the back of the bus. I thought the jerky way this driver drove was just her driving style until another driver got on and she went from surly to gregarious, abrupt braking to smooth. She was typical of the drivers on the line and I couldn’t stand the commute on Muni.

  • Alex

    I love the Muni system and I have seen the system change as I have gotten older, I just feel that SF residence will benefit if Muni had more rail lines, for instance, transforming the 38, 14, and 49 to LRV lines or maybe, but highly unlikely, into a all subway line like in New York. And to not add congestion to the already crowded Market Street subway, build a subway that runs under Mission street parallel to the Market street subway which will have transit move faster on the already congested corridor. This new subway can have ped connections to the Market street subway for line transfers and connection to the new transbay terminal. Even thought this is nothing but apart of my imagination, and a project that would be incredibly expensive(talking about billions) it will help move people especially since their building new 1,000ft+ high-rises in the area. What do you think?

  • Jim Ahlquist

    One Muni at fault pedestrian fatality is one too many. I understand that the first 5 million dollars from a lawsuit is paid directly by MUNI.

    Two questions: What percentage of the MUNI budget is spent on personal injury lawsuits compared to driver safety re-training. How many hours of safety re-training does each driver average yearly?

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