(This article has been corrected. See note at the bottom)
An eight year-old Latina girl waits after school on a Wednesday afternoon with an older friend at a Muni stop on 18th and Guerrero streets. “I used to ride the school bus when I went to summer camp at the YMCA, but not anymore,” she said.
With the San Francisco school board cutting the number of yellow school buses each year with the goal of reaching 25 general education buses by 2013, Mission schoolchildren – like others around the city – will increasingly end up on public transportation when they go to school outside their neighborhood. Even without the cuts, there is always an increase in children once summer ends and school begins.
Muni and to some extent BART fill with everyone from lunchbox-carrying kindergartners to rowdy teenagers. But in interviews with students and adults, many regular riders defended or accepted a teenager’s right to be noisy, a few complained about teens, and others said they felt protective of young children riding the bus.
“I’ve noticed lots of kids on the bus, most of them are around 13 or 14. But they never bother me. I like kids,” said Jesus Alcantar, a 45-year-old homecare worker.
Kellen Gillispie, a 29-year-old engineer, went to high school in San Francisco using a combination of Muni and BART. He also doesn’t see kids using Muni as a bad thing.
“There’s already buses running everywhere – why have school buses on top of that?” he said.
Older passengers recalled witnessing kids getting harassed and had a protective attitude towards younger riders. In September 2009, an 11-year-old boy riding a San Francisco bus was stabbed. An 18-year-old in February of this year was also stabbed.
Other riders had their own stories. Jesus Ruelas, 55, who was waiting for a bus at 16th and Mission said, “I saw one night in MUNI, maybe 5 guys, one guy robbed girl of a phone, everything. And people in the bus? The driver? They did nothing.”
To help create a safer environment, regular bus passengers such as Portia De Pasquale said kids need more parental supervision, or simply provided with their own bus.
“In San Francisco, the bus is not safe,” she said looking around the bus stop on 24th and Mission. “This is an icky area to ride the bus.”
When asked whether kids cause trouble on buses, De Pasquale responded, “Of course they do. They’re kids!”
Teenagers also expressed concern about younger students.
A stern 14-year-old dressed in a Junior ROTC uniform said his school still offers busing, but only for special education students. He worries about the kids he encounters on the public buses.
“There are a lot more ghetto kids [on Muni] now,” Kevin said. “They tag buses.”
An 18 year-old high school student waiting for a bus at 24th and Mission before class described one ride on the 29-Sunset with his soccer team.
On the way to the field, two men got on the bus. One asked to borrow a cell phone.
“I don’t know why my friend let him use his phone, but the guy started making a phone call,” he said. “And all of a sudden my friend realizes he’s not getting his phone back. That’s when the other guy got up and told everybody to empty their pockets.”
Only a few riders blamed the kids.
Gwen Armbruster, a 33-year-old administrator at California College of Arts, takes the 22-Fillmore to get to work. “I’ve noticed that the bus gets really crowded with high schoolers around 8:30 a.m., but afternoons tend to be worse,” she said. “Because the kids can be really rowdy, and loud, and obnoxious.”
Armbruster thinks the crowds of teenagers can make riding the bus feel a little unsafe, especially if there is a lot of antagonizing going back and forth.
The drivers agreed, but appeared to deal with the noise. One bus driver taking a break at 16th and Bryant said he generally doesn’t have much of a problem with kids.
“They’re just loud, rude, and have no respect for the elders,” he said. But generally, he doesn’t have much of a problem with kids, other than them being loud. “And most of the time I let them be loud. Because they’re kids!”
Ted, an easy-talking, middle-aged driver for the 22-Fillmore said, “Those of us who have been around for a long time… we know how to deal with them.”
He shakes his head when asked if kids give him a hard time. “No no,” he said, adjusting his sunglasses, “Grown-ups give me a hard time!”
(Editors note: An earlier version of this article said that the number of buses had been cut in half in 2010 to 25. That is a goal for 2013. For this year, the number of school buses was reduced by six to 38. The district started in those schools where ridership was lowest.)