Traveling at an average of 8 miles per hour, Muni is the slowest public transit service in North America. But just because Muni vehicles move at a snail's pace doesn't mean they're restricted to a snail's range. A Muni bus can go very far indeed, as evidenced by this photo recently obtained by SF Weekly. Yes, that's a Muni diesel articulated bus laid up in Wadsworth, Nev., population 834. It's 45 minutes from Pyramid Lake, 37 minutes to Reno, and around four and a half hours from Muni headquarters at 1 South Van Ness.
When asked what the hell Bus No. 6090 is doing at Smith & Tobey Towing on Paiute Indian land, Muni spokesman Paul Rose says this vehicle was sold to an unknown buyer in the late 1980s. Less certain is why it's still emblazoned with Muni's logo, a vehicle number, and the 14-Mission sign.
If you're wondering how far a diesel articulated bus can go, the answer is: a lot further than Wadsworth, which is only 250 miles away. These behemoths get only 4 miles per gallon — but will do better when passenger-free and on the highway. And they feature a 112-gallon tank, so do the math.
It turns out that appropriating a Muni bus is a crime that one need not be Moriarty to execute. Buses start with the push of a button; no key required. A longtime Muni employee recalls buses turning up as far off as Santa Cruz after random folks hopped in and drove them off. He also remembers a half-bright colleague told to take a bus to San Jose Avenue delivering the vehicle to San Jose.
In 1985, police shot and wounded a 14-year-old boy after he successfully stole a Muni bus for the fifth time. "He used to drive them all around town with no problems," recalls a veteran Muni hand. "He had a better record than some of the drivers. One time, they got him in Truckee, trying to make a run for the Nevada border."
Regarding Bus 6090, which made the Nevada border but didn't return, Carmen Tobey, the proprietor of Smith & Tobey Towing, says it's been there "since Burning Man," when it was hauled to the spot. His wife, Madge, describes the owner as a "San Francisco guy," and notes that the bus was supposed to have been moved within 30 days. That deadline has lapsed; the owner told her he'd pick it up in one week — and that was several weeks ago.
It's unusual to spot a Muni bus in Nevada. If the Tobeys' patience runs out, it will soon grow more unusual still.