Riding MUNI’s Third Street Line

Riders exit MUNI on Third Street in Mission Bay.

Riders exit MUNI on Third Street in Mission Bay.

En Español

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.

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30 Comments

  1. take the T outbound from King and 4th and compare it to taking the N during the morning commute. somehow, the two trains are like different worlds.

  2. r. fleming

    ….as for the ‘tagger
    ‘ youths who attacked the chinese driver ; four blacks and one hispanic isn’t really much of a ‘mixed race’ group of teens..it is , however , an example of ‘politically correct’ over reaching…

  3. Tod Gemuese

    I don’t know what that woman is smoking, I used to to take the 15 bus every day, and the T line is a WORLD of improvement. The T-line is faster, cleaner, runs on a more predictable schedule, and is an all-around more comfortable ride. The 15 bus line, on the other hand, was even worse than the 14 is today.

    I don’t miss the 15 bus line one tiny bit, the light rail has been good for riders, and good for the community.

  4. RW

    I take it this was mid day? How bout riding the T when it is dark

  5. SFTraveler

    WTF, one ride and this writer can determine the line is safe?? So the man who died and the others were what just making it up? And the police response was BS, as the other posterd noted one Hispanic in a group of Afraican Americans hardly makes it a mixes race group.

    Try riding it at night and regularly before smearing those who have to deal with this crap.

    • SF Traveler: You’re right in that we need to be on it longer and we’re going to do that. We wanted to get something up quickly and we also thought it would elicit comments from riders about their own stories. Thank you, Lydia Chavez, ME

  6. Jonathan Bonato

    I stopped taking the T when I lived in the bayview, due to 1) safety….a group of youth tried to take my wallet at Third and Oakdale in May 2009 2) every morning at 6 AM the train is packed with people who stink, from the homeless shelter at third and Kirkdale station, 3) Same problem at night, between 8-9 pm train stinks really bad when homeless are going to the shelter from Fourth and King. 4) significant and long delays at fourth and king on regular basis, esp during ball games….making the trip 45 minutes from Oakdale to embarcadero station. 5) long waits at nights in dangerous neighborhoods for trains to arrive. The owl bus that runs when the train is not, is very fast, 15 minutes versus half hour to forty five minutes by train.

  7. George

    The T was supposed to bring more tourists and other outsiders into a blighted neighborhood. Sorry the more things change, the more they sadly stay the same! Would never venture down that way. With the slow moving lightrail if there was enough money, I too would love to see the old 15 bus back. Served a purpose!

  8. George

    Overall good article though. Take a look at some of the scum that ride this route outbound after 8pm! Says something there. Scary for the faint of heart! As much as I hate to wait in a hot Embarcadero Station, I’ll opt for the next outbound car thank you!

  9. Tod Gemuese

    You are k-razy, in what sort of alternate universe is the T slower/dirtier than the 15!? You must be remembering the 15 in some unwarranted golden light, because it was filthy, it was slow, and it was dangerous. It was, without a doubt, the worst bus-line in the city. The T-rail has been a great boon for the 3rd st corridor, and I love it.

  10. Jeremy

    I ride the T-Line to UCSF and back every day. The safety issue comes in the evening when all the trouble makers are coming into downtown from bayview/hunters point. I have witnessed 3 fights on the line since opening. This journalist is ignorant and not helping the situation for reporting on a single ride during the morning hours from downtown. Do your full research before reporting.

  11. DavidR

    Like the 15 bus, riding the T line from downtown is fine up to the Dogpatch neighborhood. The ride then turns dicey after that right down to the last stop, especially if you’re riding it during off-peak hours.

  12. Ted K.

    The T-Third is a very pretty service with numerous weak spots :
    1) The transfer at Arleta + Bayshore (transfer was NOT needed for the 15-Third+Kearny);
    2) The traffic chokepoints in the Bayview;
    3) The drawbridges’ occasional openings;
    4) The yard signals near 25th;
    5) The omitted bypass tracks just south of Mission Creek;
    6) The overloaded intersection at Fourth + King; and
    7) The large numbers of down-for-maintenance cars in the LRV fleet (see URL below).

    I’ve ridden both the former #15 and the T-Third. I’ve experienced delays from a few minutes to over thirty minutes due to most of the weak spots (excepting #5 + #7). My practice is to pick alternate routes (#22, #48, #26, #44, #29, #54 [north-to-south]) where possible.

    Also, the T-Third is incomplete at BOTH ends. The Central Subway Project (aka the Great Northern Boondoggle due to the cheeseparing) is Phase II North. There is a Phase III North proposal (continue on to the Aquatic Park / Fort Mason sector). But there is also a Phase II(?) South extension plan on the shelf as part of the development of the old railyard south of the Schlage Lock factory. This would head east to tie into Caltrain’s Tunnel Ave / Bayshore Stn.

    http://www.sfmta.com/cms/rdlymuni/dlymuniindx.php

  13. RetiredTRider

    During the 2 years riding the T Line from and back to the deep Bayview I’ve seen it all except a stabbing or murder. Fighting, smoking weed, yelling, tagging, racism, and all the other good stuff our public produces. I can’t say it is any different than any other bus line in San Francisco, but the real question is are these things more frequent on the T Line. Only people that ride the T line all the way through can tell you the truth, but why would they be honest at the cost of their safety. Let’s face it 90% of white riders get off at the Dogpatch for a reason. Lived in the Bayview for over 20 years and anything happening on the streets is definitely happening on the T Line. I WISH SPEAKERS WERE NEVER INSTALLED ON PHONES! How many times have I heard RBL Posse or Mistah Fab at 7:30 trying to read a book.

  14. annonmous

    Most days during rush hours, the T line is a long wait then it comes in groups of 3-4. These trains are extremely crowded and everybody likes to stand at the door which makes it very difficult to enter or leave these trains. I find the T line unreliable and I perfer the muni bus much better with the route from City College to Fisherman’s Wharf…. much MORE convience than to transfer 2 unreliable buses. The 8Bx is a long long wait too and gets really crowded at Arleta & Bayshore. With these 2 UNRELIABLE bus lines, I drive more often.

  15. norgeboy

    Good article, and good comments here, hope Muni sees this and sets it against what they know/what they’re told/what the Supes are screaming about to satisfy their political mandates and their enormous egos. Yup the T line gets weird past UCSF. Of all the Muni lines I ride, the T line is the least predictable service-wise. A trip from Dog Patch to downtown once took me so long that I was cited by a Muni inspector for an expired ticket. The hour(s) I had to take off from work were almost worth the trouble for the dressing down that the commissioner and I got to lay on that inspector during the appeal. But I digress. The T line needs more trains, ensuring an added margin of safety; people are slightly less inclined to do stupid stuff to one another on a moving train, than the crimes of opportunity/stupidity that take place on the platforms. I know Muni’s broke, and that the quality of the trains and operator sick time have been issues in the past. But the T Third has been a good gamble, to connect downtown to AT&T and Caltrain, and to connect downtown to the 3rd Street corridor which has improved incrementally instantaneously (but we all know it has a ways to go).

  16. Bayview Worker

    Saying that you just wanted to quickly get something up, is no excuse for publishing this incomplete story. Sometimes I take the T from the 3rd and Oakdale stop around 5pm, and just waiting there is a ZOO. There are people running from the side walk to the median, through the middle of the street, just to talk, hanging out on the tracks. Some fat dude, with a crazy hair cut, always seems to be there, trying to sell me a transfer. There is no smoking at bus stops, but somebody is smoking. The young African kids, talk loud to each other, as if they are on opposite ends of the platform/train. Let me state it clearly, NO I DON’T FEEL SAFE.

  17. dpsfml

    This would be a more accurate / credible report if the journalist waited out on one of the platforms out in the Bayview during the evening, or even for an afternoon.

    At the same time, I don’t blame the journalist for not attempting this.

  18. youcantbeserious

    Are you being serious? Riding the T-line during the midday is not an accurate assessment of the safety of the line. Try riding the ENTIRE thing at night and then come back to write about your experience.

    As for the SFPD saying that there was no indication that those were hate crimes is a load of PC BS. Those thugs specifically target Asians because they know Asians do not complain nor fight back. They don’t want any trouble. I’m willing to bet that the media/bloggers will respond differently when a bunch of asian thugs commit a violent crime against an african american.

    The T line is a great idea and has really cleaned up the neighborhood. But great ideas require better execution and follow up. Police presence will help, but how long will that last? What good will they do when they’re sitting in Starbucks instead of walking the beat? Write a blog that truly addresses the issues.

  19. AA

    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.

    What’s the point of this last line? To emphasize that Asians are considered foreign?

    And what’s the point of this article? I’m with everyone else here: a single ride does not represent the bus line conditions 24/7. They don’t call the T-line the 211 train for nothing.

    • Yes, thank you for your comment. We heard readers loud and clear. Please see today’s article about riding the T-line at night. It won’t be the last – there is much to do on this. Best, Lydia Chavez, ME

  20. ftb

    The T line should be extended to Geneva Ave and then out Geneva to the Metro Center
    at Geneva and San Jose Ave.

    This would provide the complete loop, serve the Cow Palace and be a great asset to the outer Mission-Geneva Area.

    The current end of line is not practical.

  21. SFTraveler

    Lydia Chavez, your response “We wanted to get something up quickly . . .” shows just how irresponsible the reporting on this site is. If you really wanted to “elicit comments from riders about their own stories” start a poll and ask for individuals opinions. This was just trash reporting bashing a man who died and the others who have been hurt.

  22. Anrica Deb

    Thank you for your informative comments, particularly those that explain your own experiences on the T-Third.

    A couple points of clarification.

    This story was written to add some flavor to what’s been written about this line, none of which seems particularly reflective of the neighborhoods that the T-Third serves. It doesn’t say the train is safe or isn’t, and it certainly doesn’t intend to take away any of the tragedy of the victims of the attacks, or to minimize the suffering of those close to them.

    I was very surprised that the riders I spoke to were so much more concerned with erratic service than safety, and this article is an accurate reflection of what some riders said over a few hours one specific day on MUNI trains between Embarcadero and Sunnyvale.

    That is why I clearly explained what I did, so no one would be misled. If you think it’s worthless to hear the voices of riders in a single day, I gave you the opportunity to judge that, rather than hiding the fact in the story, which can easily be done by writing around it.

    I tried to get more stats from MUNI and the SFPD, but they didn’t have them in time.

    However, with more time we can develop better information, talk to more people, look at the history of the 15 bus, the history of violent crime in Bayview, of youth crime and outreach. We can look into education, school cuts, or any number of other related issues.

    This story contains two emotionally-loaded topics, commuting and race. It’s hard to be accurate and also fulfill everyone’s opinions on either of these, particularly in a daily story such as this. Obviously the latter is especially delicate territory.

    I prefer reporting longer, more in depth stories, but sometimes a short vignette can be assigned to yield a peephole into what’s going on. Often we find a situation on the ground defies what everyone has been saying because reporters haven’t bothered to put down the phone and go outside.

    Since there’s so much interest, it seems well worth the time to do much more reporting, but there’s no intention here to mislead readers about how much or how little time was spent on this vignette.

    Regardless, conducting a poll would be lovely, and another reporter wrote about his experience interviewing night riders, published today, May 1.

    As to ID’ing the Asian woman who didn’t speak English, it’s definitely an aspect of how good communication is foiled between different communities. Most of the Asians – whatever that even means, we’re talking about an entire continent here – whom I approached did not speak English but were very friendly. Also, I am Asian, if that’s relevant to you.

    Riding this train brings up more questions than it answers, of course!

    What do the statistics show us about violence here compared to other MUNI trains and buses? MUNI hasn’t completed my request for information, and the PD didn’t readily have those stats either, but I will keep pestering them.
    How many people ride it and when?
    And regarding the attacks, it would be nice to find a translator and ask people of Asian immigrant communities what they’re afraid of, what solutions could be found? What’s going to be done to address the issue of violence and youth beyond added police patrols?
    Which SF neighborhoods are losing their police if 32 cops are being shifted to the 120 that already police Bayview?

    What questions do you want answered?

    Thanks,

    Anrica Deb

  23. sftraveler

    Anrica Deb, excellent questions which should have been at least asked prior to your little excursion on the T-Line. If all you want to do is “add some flavor to what’s been written about this line . . .” write an opinion piece. After reading your list poor excuses it is clear this was piece just filler.

  24. Dave

    While the article may not have had the depth that some readers would have liked, it seems reasonable to me for a journalistic body to have an immediate response to an evolving situation. Many of the criticisms appear to be arguments of semantics or just opportunities for folks to vent their own personal vitriol. In fact, SfTraveler sounds like an inveterate hater. Many of the topics brought up by the commentors lead to much larger issues: race, poverty, social inequity, gentrification, etc… I doubt the reporter’s intent was to make transparent that whirling mass cross-purposes and counter-intentions, but rather to simply help start the conversation. Yes the T line can be dangerous, but seriously, so can any other form of mass transit; I once witnessed a group of (Asian) teenagers attack a Muni driver on the old 15 line at Columbus and Clay in the middle of the afternoon.

    • Dave: Thank you. This was a one-day assignment and yes, it’s designed to get the conversation going and to see what is happening on the ground instead of just repeating what the police or what government officials say. Residents experience the T-train stops daily and the information and insights that you can add are invaluable to our reporting. We’ll be out there more and we’ll be writing about what we see and hear from different groups and users, but we hope you’ll continue to add to our coverage and to tell us about any ongoing efforts to bring different communities together.

  25. Colin V. Gallagher

    Many times I have been on the T line I have noticed young people eating sunflower seeds, Doritos or other food and leaving the shells or other leavings on the floor of the car. Nobody in the crowded car dares say anything to these young persons – out of fear of getting shot or stabbed I suppose. The T-line is neither clean nor safe and will not become cleaner & safer until there is a regular police presence on the line.

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