A chart documenting Muni's missed hours of service. The yellow arrow indicates June 25, the date of the Twin Peaks tunnel closure. Graphic by Steve Pepple.

[dropcap]On[/dropcap] Monday, Mission Local published an article with documentation revealing that Muni has inflicted citywide transit mayhem by shunting buses and drivers off its most crowded lines to patch service during the long-planned Twin Peaks tunnel closure. Some of San Francisco’s busiest bus routes have been hamstrung with unannounced, de-facto cuts of up to 33 percent, resulting in thousands of hours of missed service, long waits, packed vehicles and legions of agitated riders.

Well, that’s not good. Neither is essentially neglecting to warn anyone you were planning to do this — including the office of the mayor. And that also happened.

Per City Hall sources, we’ve learned that the mayor’s office purportedly did not learn that Muni planned to backfill train service by diverting buses and drivers away from core lines — inducing a predictable transit nightmare — until receiving a perfunctory call very shortly before the tunnel was closed for maintenance on June 25. By then, the pending commuting morass was a fait accompli.

As such, even high-level city officials — like the rest of us — didn’t realize the ensuing months of abysmal transit service wasn’t just Muni business-as-usual until they read about it in the newspaper: First, in late July, in the Examiner, and then on this site this week, with additional data and details.

Mayor London Breed, who assumed office on July 11, has not yet returned our messages, but we are told she is deeply upset. It remains to be seen what our mayor does about Muni moving ahead with a transit “solution” to the tunnel closure it knew would induce citywide dysfunction — and, additionally, keeping this information to itself.

Muni officials insist, however, the June 25 closure of the Twin Peaks tunnel was hardly a secret. That’s true enough: In response to our query, they listed some three dozen methods used to inform the general public of the pending maintenance project, including: a website; newspaper ads; contractors’ 30- and 60-day notices to residences near construction areas; an e-mail blast to all city employees, an “InsideSFMTA article for employees;” and not one, but two videos.  

Muni forwarded us much of the above material — and while all of these items diligently explain how to cope if you’re a rider of the K-, L-, or M-train impacted by the tunnel closure, none of the promotional materials — none of them — reveal that the transit agency planned to service these passengers by shortchanging other passengers by appropriating vehicles and drivers from their bus lines.

But that was the plan, as this poster hanging in Muni’s Kirkland bus yard reveals in painstaking detail, highlighting in black and white the “18 runs that may be canceled on any given day in order to provide support for the Twin Peaks 60-day shutdown.”

At this point, let’s take a deep breath and posit a question: Why has so little been written about the biggest story in this city that doesn’t involve an irradiated Hunters Point Shipyard and its fraudulent cleanup? Muni carries more than 200 million riders a year — and yet, in the midst of a Muni meltdown rivaling the awful summer of 1998, this city and its media outlets have all but rendered them invisible.

But these people are not invisible. As such, please meet Evelyn and Barry Adler.

[dropcap]Half[/dropcap] a lifetime ago, during the Korean War, Barry Adler was stationed in Greenland, manning the Distant Early Warning Line. The Russians, thank God, never launched a nuclear strike — it turns out there were more subtle ways for them to undermine this country. So, Adler was, essentially, wasting his time in a cold and windy place.

Perhaps he reminisces about that a bit when he waits — and waits and waits — for a 38-Geary bus.  

Adler is a retired research chemist who has lived in this city for more than 60 years; it wasn’t until he reached old age and he and his wife, Evelyn, sold their car that he even deigned to set foot on a Muni bus. “I wouldn’t have gotten on a bus on a bet,” he admits. “But now I rely on it.”

And, prior to the June 25 closure of the Twin Peaks tunnel, the Adlers weren’t just satisfied with Muni. They loved it. The 38 collects them right in front of the retirement home they recently moved into, and drops them off directly in front of the VA Hospital where Barry goes for treatments.

The Adlers never had to wait more than 10 or so minutes for a bus until, with no warning and for no announced reason, that headway recently began quadrupling. This would be annoying for anyone but, when you’re 87 years old and walk with a cane and just want to get to the hospital, it’s a bit worse than that. And then the bus actually shows up and things grow worse still.

“We’ve been on a bus where the driver closed off the front part of the bus and wouldn’t let anybody get on because it was so crowded. And then somebody who needed to get on had a walker,” says Barry Adler. “It was almost impossible for that person to get back to where there was a seat.”

And, on some days, there aren’t any seats and the octogenarian couple has to strap-hang. So do other aging — and often infirm — veterans heading to the VA. They can spot each other on the bus. They know.

This situation was — and is — untenable. And so, after one particularly long recent wait and hectic ride, Evelyn and Barry figured what the hell and got an Uber. Barry spent years literally cooling his heels in Greenland during the prime of his life. But he’s older now, and time is precious, and he and his wife can only accommodate a transit service seemingly hellbent on tormenting its most loyal ridership for so long.

And, all the while, the couple was mystified to watch bus after empty bus roll by them with “not in service” up on the marquee. “I didn’t know where the hell they were going,” Barry says. “If not in service, where?”

Well, now we seem to know where. To the Twin Peaks tunnel, apparently, to ferry the K, L, and M riders. But, again, Muni wasn’t telling anyone about that. Not even the mayor’s office, after all — at least, not until it was too late to do anything about it.

Barry and Evelyn Adler are just two of Muni’s 200 million riders. But their story is all too typical. They were made to wait more and more for a transit service delivering less and less. Within a few disastrous weeks, they were transformed from satisfied customers to Uber passengers.   

Poring over the spreadsheets of Muni’s thousands of hours of missed service since June 25 alone, it’s worth taking a second to contemplate the human consequences for people like the Adlers. These aren’t just numbers on a page, after all. Those numbers represent people: People waiting endlessly on a street corner and cramming into a packed bus and missing work or appointments and, all too frequently, abandoning the public transit system.  

There are no easy solutions. But at some point, a public transit system has to provide transit to the public. At some point, someone needs to hold Muni accountable for that.

“Hey, I still need a bus,” says Barry Adler. “Muni gets a lot of money to get us from one place to another. And it’s just not working.”


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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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1 Comment

  1. They’re planning something big. Putting a fallout shelter down there. I’m not sure it’s safe to remain.

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