Bayview has seen four, high profile MUNI-related attacks on Asians this year, one that resulted in the death of 83-year old Huan Chen.
Three of the incidents were connected with the two-year-old T-Third Street Line, five miles of track connecting BART’s Embarcadero Station to AT&T Park, Mission Bay, and the Bayview District. Asian community groups rallied and told supervisors that they felt attacked by African American youth, and the SFPD responded this week by promising to shift – indefinitely – 32 full-time officers to Bayview from other districts in the city.
Yet, when a reporter rode on the T-Third Thursday, police had yet to arrive, but riders said they felt safe. Mostly, they said, being delayed is the main risk they take.
At Embarcadero, the T-Third was packed with suited professionals of all races. Riders jammed the Mission Bay-bound train, and more than 50 were standing. The train was relatively clean and orderly and didn’t smell half bad.
Riders fiddled with cell phones, read, and enjoyed the view. This Muni line is easily the city’s most scenic, with wide open views across the bay and the best weather in the city.
It’s also a train operator favorite, reserved for those with seniority. Since it’s the longest line, an operator has to make fewer trips. The stoplights change for the train, so it only needs to stop moving at stations.
By the time the T-Third arrived at Mariposa Street in Mission Bay, everyone who wanted to could take a seat. The platform there offers an unobstructed view all the way to 280, thanks to the newly-cleared empty lot slated to transform into UCSF hospital by 2014.
After the train passed the Dogpatch Saloon and the Hard Knox Café, something or someone began to smell bad. However, despite the seedier and more industrial view, riders seemed comfortable and those interviewed said they felt safe.
Andrew Smith takes the T-Third four days a week and thought that the route was probably roughly as safe as any other Muni line in San Francisco. Bad things can happen anywhere. “Around here, you have a lot of characters,” he said.
“Nothing indicates they’re hate-motivated crimes,” said Albie Esparza, a police spokesperson said in reference to the Muni attacks that have involved Asian residents. Statistically, crime has been down, she added. Some of attackers were described as black, but at least one group – which attacked a Muni driver after being caught tagging – was mixed. All were youths.
Riders complained about too many stops and slow service. Any downed train blocks the tracks, so other trains can’t pass it.
Sometimes passengers get stuck on the train for half an hour or more. The operator can’t open the doors if they’re in a tunnel or other dangerous spot.
“I have older people,” the train operator said. “They can’t hold their bladder that long.”
The driver added that Muni trains are more dangerous than the bus because the train can’t swerve or stop suddenly. And the schedules are too tight; a train can be on time, or safe, but not both.
“There are times in the past where I’ve waited an hour for the T,” Nancy Meas said. She rides it every day and wishes for the old bus service that the T-Third replaced.
“It was more reliable and faster,” she said adding that some evenings the T-Third’s so packed she can’t get on.
She said that a train she was once riding went out of service, and she had to get off. Already two hours delayed, she had to call a friend to get her. Other less fortunate riders had to walk.
A petite woman of Cambodian descent, Meas said that the train occasionally gets rowdy when kids get off school in the afternoon, but she’s not overly worried. “I feel pretty safe,” she said.
Judy Shiu, a Chinese woman who rides the T once a week, said she also liked the bus service better. Before, she could take one bus to the places she wanted to go. “You could go to Chinatown, you could go to City College,” she said. “Now, only halfway.” She has to transfer, and the trip takes an additional 20-30 minutes.
Shiu doesn’t ride the train at night, but she wasn’t worried about her safety during the day.
Some riders genuinely like the T.
“It’s relaxing,” Yvonne Smith said, praising the smooth, quiet ride and the bay views.
Julie Lehrmackwood said the train was less crowded, less violent, and more comfortable than the bus. “The T-Line liberated our hard-to-reach areas,” she said. “It’s uniting the Bayview with the rest of the city.”
The train was empty by the end of the line, save this reporter and one elderly Asian woman in a blue parka and canvas hat. Her whole face creased as she smiled when asked what she thinks of the T-Third, but like many of the Asian passengers approached Thursday, she didn’t speak any English.