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Monday, March 16, 2009

Vehicles Plucked from Money-Hemorrhaging Culture Bus Line Gather Dust in Muni Yard

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2009 at 8:15 AM

click to enlarge Ridership will not arrive today. Maybe tomorrow.
  • Ridership will not arrive today. Maybe tomorrow.
Last week, the local papers -- and blogs -- wrote their latest round of stories about how Muni's Culture Bus program is blowing through money faster than a meth addict with six girlfriends. This, along with "What are those bastards at AIG doing with our bailout money?" and "Where in the World is Gavin Newsom Today?" are getting to be stories papers can run any time they need -- perhaps 10 times a year or more.

In October of 2008, the Examiner reported what anyone equipped with the sense of sight could attest to: No one is riding the 74x Culture Buses. In January, the Chronicle noted that the program, losing money prolifically even by public transportation standards, was slashing service on the line. Then, last week, more stories reported how the line is still managing to overachieve and lose Muni tons of funds

Well, here's something no one else appears to have noted: The three buses pulled off the Culture Bus line back in January -- because the line's piddling ridership didn't justify having six devoted buses -- are sitting, unused, in a Muni yard. They've not been re-introduced into Muni's regular fleet, and, for the foreseeable future, there is no plan to do so. Muni spokesman Judson True tells SF Weekly that Muni and the museums the 74x line serves are still holding out hope that ridership will swell in the coming months -- a desire somewhat akin to hoping that global warming will suddenly reverse on its own or Alex Smith could start channeling Joe Montana this year. Sure, it could come about -- but every statistical indicator and even a modicum of common sense tells you it ain't gonna happen.

True noted that the initial Culture Bus fleet consisted of five vehicles plus one "wrapped" reserve (the bus' eye-catching goldenrod appearance is not paint but an applique on the vehicles' exterior similar to the large ads often seen on Muni vehicles). In January, the fleet was reduced to two buses and one wrapped reserve -- but the three other buses are still gathering dust in a Muni yard, waiting for Godot (and all the other would-be passengers). True said that ridership may well increase in summer for the bus line as more tourists hit town (and remember, this summer King Tut is a-comin'). Perhaps -- but if a handful  more passengers jumped on every Culture Bus, it would just about double ridership. Is it really necessary to keep three perfectly good buses on standby holding out for this unlikely eventuality?

True emphasizes that "We are not missing any daily service as a result of keeping these buses wrapped." Fair enough -- but the same could be said if Muni opted to start using those idle buses as chicken coops. One would think there must be something more useful Muni could do with these vehicles.

Of course, plenty of folks aren't convinced the Culture Bus line was ever a particularly good idea. Its route doesn't take you anywhere you couldn't go via the N, 5, or 44. And its price tag is $3 for those who already kicked down $45 (and soon more) for a fast pass, and a whopping seven bucks for general ridership -- meaning it caters not only to tourists but profligate tourists. Anyone with a family could actually be better off hailing a cab. By the way, before folks start yammering about the environmental consequences of driving individual cars instead of taking buses, one should note that empty buses are terrible for the environment; only the bus' huge potential ridership makes it greener than scooting around in a '76 Cadillac Coupe De Ville and smoking a cigar.

Come to think of it (and, speaking of culture), Waiting for Godot really does mirror the pitiful situation not just of those three Culture Buses in Muni's mothball fleet but the two still out on the roads -- waiting, patiently waiting, for elusive ridership and holding a flickering candle of hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

You heard it here first: Let's officially start a campaign to name Muni's two remaining Culture Buses Vladimir and Estragon.

Photo   |   What Im Seeing Dot Com

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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