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Letters to the Editor 

Week of August 20, 2003

Muni Mayhem

Where's the concern for human lives?: I am totally shocked by Peter Byrne's exposé of Muni's high accident and death rates ["Death, Maiming, Money, and Muni," Aug. 6]. It's painfully obvious that the local civic structure is so embedded in the "good ol' boys" system that human lives are no longer the priority.

Where union representation was once a means of protecting the working man, it has become a forum of bullies to hide their misbehaviors and incompetence. The blatant callousness and strategic cover-up is criminal. Someone needs to lose his or her job; someone needs to be held accountable. Let them riot, let them sue, let them strike. Someone needs to come in as the authoritative adult and wave a finger.

Shut down the system and bring the city to a halt if it's going to save lives. I'll drive my car down to the Financial District and pay the $12 a day for parking. Thanks for bringing this to light.

Gary Siu

What can we the people do?: Thank you so much for letting the public know about the atrocities that Muni is committing. This is crazy; what can an ordinary citizen do other than send angry letters?

Marni Von Wilpert

'Scuse me, driver, but you're scaring the shit outta me: Byrne's excellent article on Muni underscores why, but doesn't mention that fares will rise sharply next month. Some of my own experiences and observations:

Failure to yield to emergency vehicles. Muni drivers -- they're not the only ones, of course -- fail to pull to the right and stop when firetrucks, ambulances, and police cars approach with sirens blaring and/or emergency lights flashing. Once, a bus I was riding northbound through the Stockton Street tunnel continued moving in just such an instance. When I asked the driver why he hadn't stopped, he said, "Oh, but it was coming the other way." In fairness, I'll add that I've seen numerous buses yield appropriately.

Red-light running. Again, Muni drivers aren't the only ones culpable. But many of them have an attitude problem about it. One evening, my wife and I counted three such violations as we were riding eastbound on Geary Boulevard. As we disembarked, I told the driver, "You ought to ease up on that red-light running." She snapped back, "Are you a policeman?" After I told her I wasn't, she said, "Well, I want you to mind your own business!" I responded, "It's very definitely my business. First, you have no right to subject your passengers to that kind of risk. Second, my taxes and fare money pay your salary. Third, you're on report." She mumbled something about not being able to stop in time because of faulty brakes. Some comfort, eh?

Another time, a bus that had been stopped at a red light on Larkin at O'Farrell started through the intersection before the light changed. The driver of a vehicle on O'Farrell had to slam on his brakes and came within just a couple of feet of broadsiding the bus.

Fare-skippers. Especially on the extra-long, articulated buses, passengers are able to enter through the back door and avoid paying their fares. I mentioned it to one driver as it was happening. He shrugged and said, "Nothin' I can do about it." When I e-mailed Muni about the problem, a bureaucrat e-mailed me back with an assurance that "Pay your fare share" signs were being posted in all the buses -- as if that's supposed to stop the scofflaws. Incidentally, I've noticed that buses no longer carry those signs.

Some of my complaints about drivers' conduct have resulted in hearings, at which I've been asked to appear. At one of them, the driver's union rep pointedly asked me how I felt about unions. I politely but firmly explained to him that I have a history of union activism, of which I'm damn proud.

Rick Knee
Russian Hill

Sharing the blame: Byrne's brilliant investigation is wasted on San Francisco, the childish land of unaccountability. Its transit problems won't be solved until Muni, its passengers, pedestrians, bikes, and cars operate with at least a modicum of responsibility.

Same with homelessness and all other ills. Sunday morning, for example, on my way to a film at Metreon, I stopped at Starbucks on Market near Stockton. A street denizen entered, sat, and began throwing up on the floor intermittently. I thought of calling one of the supervisors who killed "Care Not Cash" to come clean up the mess.

I can't make someone clean up his act. But I'm not willing to put up with his misbehavior, either. As for the demand for rehab, it's based on myth. Willingness is the only requirement for reformation.

As for the city's transit problems, Byrne makes it clear that every Muni vehicle needs a driver and an enforcer: The driver must be world-class; safe, and, as possible, on schedule. The enforcer must deal with passengers: collect fares and deny access to passengers who behave without civility, which includes people who partake of beverages, not to mention whole meals, on board, as well as various addicts and others who are frighteningly hostile.

By the way, the fares are too low. The monthly Fast Pass is the biggest steal in the USA. It should be raised to $50.

It's pretty hopeless until San Francisco, land of babies, grows the hell up and becomes a CITY. (Which even means more high-rises. Fat chance!) Many thanks for a wonderful read. (And great distribution! SF Weekly arrives at my gym by 6 every Wednesday.)

Virginia Newhall

Burns is improving things: Four things need to be said to be fair to Muni and to present a truer picture of its safety record:

1) The effort to improve Muni's statistical safety records by better defining what qualifies and what does not qualify as a reportable accident was instituted, at the suggestion of the California Public Utilities Commission, to bring Muni into line with the transit agencies in Sacramento, L.A., San Diego, Atlanta, etc. -- cities that Byrne uses as a basis of comparison for his article.

2) The matter of "hours of service" requirements, which Byrne rightly identifies as a critical element affecting driver fatigue and thus safety, are dictated by federal and state laws that cannot be overruled by a union labor contract.

3) It simply isn't true that "there is no longer any way for Muni to keep track of accidents, much less analyze causes and suggest fixes." The truth is that state and federal laws now require Muni to report, analyze for cause, and take appropriate corrective action for all reportable accidents involving fatalities, serious injuries, and significant property damage.

4) As Byrne well knows, Muni before Michael Burns took over the agency and Muni today are two entirely different animals. That is not to say that the safety situation at Muni today is perfect. It isn't. The difference is that Burns recognizes that fact and he is doing something about it.

Donald R. Johnson

Vidiots Unite!

Kiss, kiss: Silke Tudor's piece was probably the best article I have read about CAX ["Pinheads and Vidiots," Night Crawler, Aug. 6]. Very interesting and accurate. She captured how pinball jackasses hate video-game nerds. I was in an Oakland Tribune article last year and it was very exaggerated and not as smart as hers.

Great job!

Brett Pulliam


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