It's No Secret Why Muni Abandoned Bus Stop Consolidation

Categories: Public Transit
Bus Stop Monroe.jpg
Not going anywhere, it would seem...
The San Francisco Examiner today had a story noting that the idea of bus and train stop consolidation, pushed as a remedy that could save Muni millions by speeding up vehicles, has just as speedily fallen off the radar.

The Ex does a downright public service by writing this story -- but stops short by leaving readers to guess why this happened. We can't say we're surprised to see the proposal dropped like drug case at the District Attorney's office -- but we are a bit taken aback at how little it took to kill it.

"Muni proposed consolidating its bus stops last month, but it will be interesting to see how hard it fights the inevitable backlash," we wrote in our April cover story, "The Muni Death Spiral."

Evidently, Muni wasn't fighting so hard. Little wonder why.

As transit advocate Tom Radulovich told us back then, "Every bus stop has a constituency". Here's how we put it in our cover story:

Muni management has long had the ability to unilaterally eliminate extraneous stops. But it doesn't, because it'd rather not rankle vocal riders and give Board of Supervisors members a chance for cheap populism.

As noted in the story, Muni tends to favor across-the-board solutions that inconvenience everyone over specific actions that make life more difficult for certain subsets of riders but benefit the vast majority. That's because those subsets are organized, loud, and politically disadvantageous to bully.

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So, Muni caved rather than even face the possibility of disabled and elderly riders -- whose anger is genuine and whose needs are real -- packing meetings and taking the transit agency to task. Pushing bus and train stop consolidation requires looking these vulnerable populations in the eye and telling them that Muni is going to make life more difficult for old and disabled people -- and it's doing it for the greater good. Those are the difficult things you have to do when you run a transit agency. Muni evidently didn't have the stomach for it.

As noted above, Muni has the power to unilaterally make these decisions. But it doesn't, partly out of deference to the Board of Supervisors, which officially has no say here. Why? That's interesting. When bus and train stop consolidations are proposed, vulnerable populations and neighborhood groups complain to their supervisors. As an old Muni hand told us, the supes are presented with a gold-plated opportunity to stick up for "the people," hold meetings, and generally grandstand. But while a supervisor can't tell Muni what to do when it comes to bus stop placement -- not anymore at least -- Muni still does all it can to avoid such a situation.

That's because, unlike bus stops, state law still requires the supes' approval when altering stop signs or traffic lights. So if Muni tells a supervisor to go to hell regarding bus stops then needs to get his or her approval one week later regarding a stop sign ... you see where this is going.

When you run a transit agency politically, that's how things roll.

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