A group of transit enthusiasts, some police officers, and a handful of activists and journalists walk onto a bus. I don’t know the punchline, but when I joined them last Friday night, it certainly seemed like some kind of joke.
But it was in fact an event meant to draw attention to an important addition to the public transit system: The bus in question is the 822, BART’s answer to a lack of options for transbay riders past midnight. The 822 runs from 24th and Mission streets to Pittsburgh/Bay Point, departing from the Mission at 12:56 a.m., 1:26 a.m., and 2:56 a.m. Meanwhile, existing late-night buses on the other side of the bridge will run more frequently.
To raise awareness about what is essentially San Francisco’s “Drunk Bus,” city and nightlife planners joined BART leadership early Saturday morning on a ride across the bay to show the world that yes, you can get to the East Bay after midnight without taking a cab or ridesharing.
The bus is part of a yearlong collaborative pilot program between BART and AC Transit, intended to increase the available options for people who need to get back to their homes in Oakland, etc. at ungodly hours — be they party animals or hard workers.
Tom Temprano, who has played a variety of roles in local politics, moonlights as a DJ and is also one of the owners of Virgil’s Sea Room, welcomed BART board members, Supervisor Scott Wiener, and other transit geeks to the bar at midnight. There we gathered, presumably to order a few drinks to take the edge off the comically pointless round trip journey we were about to endure.
But Temprano also praised the new bus line for providing service workers with a transit option at odd hours.
“We care about our patrons, but we also care about our employees,” he said.
Bartenders, cooks, wait staff and others late-night workers are popular targets for muggings when they walk home because their pockets are presumed to be full of tip money – some refer to them as human ATMs.
Jocelyn Kane, the director of San Francisco’s Entertainment Commission, said implementing all-night transbay service began as an initiative for nightlife patrons.
“It pivoted in an important way towards workers,” Kane said. “People who ride the bus at night have a greater need than those who ride during the day, even though the ridership numbers are lower.”
But Friday night, there was hardly a worker to be seen needing a bus home – aside from the transit employees aboard.
“This is hysterical,” said newly elected BART director Nick Josefowitz, grinning at the bus full of bureaucrats and transit enthusiasts bouncing around San Francisco like kids on a field trip.
The feeling of being transported to the midst of a class outing only intensified as the group posed for a photo in their seats, and with the aura of anticipation as the bus pulled away from the curb.
A handful of non-transit-affiliated riders had boarded along with the tour group, and filled the seats between transiteers and BART officials. Some of the passengers, it turned out, had an agenda.
When the bus mounted the arc of the Bay Bridge, Cynthia Crews, a member of the San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters, steered the happy chatter in a new direction: She called on the two BART directors aboard to push back against the $70,000 fine on 14 Black Lives Matter protesters who chained themselves to a BART train on Black Friday.
“The punishment does not fit the crime,” Crews said. She asked if the two directors would support a resolution rescinding the $70,000 fine and dropping criminal charges against the protesters. She drew on some of the other riders unaffiliated with the city for support.
“As a transit geek, are you willing to be delayed?” Crews asked, looking for a show of hands.
“Absolutely” someone answered, and at least seven hands flew into the air.
Rebecca Saltzman, a BART director, agreed that the fine was inappropriate.
“Nobody has even been found guilty yet,” she said.
Josefowitz agreed but pointed out that the Alameda District Attorney’s office had the final say on the punishments meted out to the protesters.
But the floodgates had been opened, and voice after voice chimed in to push the point home.
“You have an opportunity to make it very clear to the DA that you don’t support this,” one rider said.
Judging by the presence of the BART police officers, the somewhat one-sided dialogue-slash-protest came as no surprise. The officers weathered commentary about BART’s “boutique police force” wearing silent scowls.
Though Saltzman said she would back a resolution to rescind the $70,000 fine, the discussion was more or less dissolved by the arrival at 14th street and Broadway.
After the bulk of the passengers onboard disembarked, most of the activists dissipated to find their next ride, leaving the transit officials to recover.
“We appreciate people telling us what they think in a civil manner,” Josefowitz said. “As long as nobody’s shouting at me, it’s great.”
He joined the group of remaining transiteers getting right on the next bus back to San Francisco. This time we awaited with slightly less enthusiasm — presumably, it’s much more fun to ride the Drunk Bus at 2:30 a.m. when actually drunk. Unfortunately, last call was already past when the 800 returned to the Mission.