"If Muni started selling their own stuff, I'd be the first one to buy it," promises blogger and T-shirt maker Greg Dewar, whose "The N is Near" shirt gives San Franciscans the chance to show off their love-hate relationship with slow Muni service. Walter Koning, who sells Muni swag through Cafe Press, thinks that if Muni were to sell its own shirts, it'd be "a winner."
But unlike the New York Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA), Muni has never peddled official merchandise, much to the dismay of transit nerds and S.F. expats. Even the Muni drivers do their own shopping — many have been spotted wearing Muni beanies sold by Upper Playground.
Recently the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) realized it was missing out and started a formal licensing process and negotiations with a vendor to create official Muni merch.
What does the cash-strapped SFMTA stand to gain? According to Aaron Donovan, spokesman for the New York MTA, merchandise sales in New York bring in roughly $3.5 million a year, $500,000 of which comes from licensing agreements, which require independent vendors to pay MTA 10 to 15 percent of their net proceeds.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Agency (MBTA) in Boston opened an online gift store last June, selling shirts, cufflinks, and shower curtains emblazoned with the T logo. "We had some serious budgeting concerns," says Rose Yates, MBTA's deputy director of marketing, "and it seemed like a win-win situation." By contract, the vendor guarantees a minimum of $500,000 per year.
Back here, independent vendors have achieved success with Muni merchandise, so the SFMTA might have a chance, too.
Koning sells Muni apparel modeled after the popular New York MTA shirts, which feature a route's number or letter in a circle with its name underneath. In 2010, the New York MTA went after another San Franciscan making similar shirts, claiming that any apparel featuring letters inside circles violated its copyright. (MTA dropped its complaint after the resulting media furor.)
The Muni squiggle is also copyrighted, but the SFMTA has never bothered to chase the likes of Koning and Dewar, and has only started considering it now.
So why is Muni late to the licensing party? "It's something that we had to do thoroughly to make sure the process is done correctly," spokesman Paul Rose says.
Rose couldn't tell us when we could start decking ourselves out in Muni gear. The question, then: Which will come first, official Muni shirts or the Central Subway?