Letters to the Editor

Week of September 10, 2003

Knocking Muni Drivers

Passengers are a lot crazier than drivers: I wanted to make one additional point in response to SF Weekly's recent article on Muni and the follow-up letters that article inspired ["Death, Maiming, Money, and Muni," Aug. 6; Letters, Aug. 20].

Since 1987 I have enjoyed the luxury of not owning or operating a car. During that time I've ridden Muni on average at least twice a day, generally more. Since that time I can count on one hand the number of "bad" Muni drivers I've encountered. I think the vast majority of men and women who drive for Muni do their difficult and too-often thankless jobs quite well.

Are there some "bad" Muni drivers? Sure, just as there are a few bad apples in every vocational barrel, including journalism. But my personal experience across nearly 17 years of riding Muni is that there is a far greater percentage of "bad" passengers than there are bad Muni drivers.

Of course, an article on the idiots and social maladapts in the passenger population might be interpreted as applying standards for public behavior, and we can't have that. Better to keep taking cheap shots at bus drivers as a whole.

Riley B. VanDyke

The race card:Peter Byrne's cover story on Muni was by turns riveting, revolting, and thought-provoking. As a longtime resident of S.F. who grew up riding mass transit in Manhattan, I continue to be at a loss to understand why this city just can't get its act together.

There is one factor which is highly volatile and which Byrne did not explore, and that is the race factor given the large number of minorities employed by Muni (African-American, Asian, and Hispanic). It has a lot to do with the public's fear of pursuing low-level cases of driver incompetence.

I should know. Years ago I rode the 41 Union home on a Friday at rush hour. Our driver was clearly under the influence. I was seated up front in the handicapped section and his eyes were severely dilated. Not once but three times in the course of the ride he narrowly missed hitting pedestrians. Muni received 40 complaint calls and out of the 40 I was the only civilian who was willing to testify. Everyone involved in that case was African-American: the Muni supervisor, union rep, and the driver. The supervisor showed me the driver's record (which he admitted he shouldn't have but he wanted me to understand to what degree his hands were tied). This operator had a huge history of driving problems and was clearly an accident waiting to happen. Without a witness going on record, Muni could not proceed against him. How do I get that job?

There were no repercussions from my testifying and Muni even chauffeured me back to work. The public does have a role to play and needs to snap out of its apathy.

Keep up the great reporting.

Lesley Gordon-Mountian

The poor screw-up was in shock!:I am sure you have received many responses to your recent article on Muni, which I found to be interesting but fairly one-sided and exaggerated. I am from Boston and I can tell you firsthand that the buses in Boston are nowhere near the frequency of San Francisco, and rarely is there a bus that runs every 10 or 15 minutes -- it's more like every 30 to 45 -- and you cannot get everywhere as conveniently as in San Francisco. I don't believe the two transit systems can be compared.

I was also disturbed by the lack of compassion towards the driver in the section about the woman run over by a Muni bus. The way the driver is portrayed, as callous and unemotional, following the discovery that he had hit someone, seems to me to be "shock." My common sense tells me that there might be some denial upon realizing legs are sticking out from under your wheels. I have heard of people saying ridiculous things like "I have to get home and feed my cat" following a traumatic accident. The mind defaults to the most safe and orderly place as if to say, "This cannot be my reality."

The driver saying "I'm going to be late for my schedule" was shock-related, I'm sure. And if you asked him an hour later he probably wouldn't remember anything he said. The fact that he has not kept tabs on whether the victim is alive or dead is not unusual either. I could see feeling so terrible that you could not face the person or even talk about it. That is called trauma. The fact that the man says a prayer for her to himself tells me he is a man of conscience and a good person involved in an unfortunate accident -- the only one mentioned in his 13-year career, in fact. I feel terribly for the woman, but my point is that I'm sure the driver feels worse than you or I could ever assume to know, and it seems the journalist is trying to make him into a villain.

Lastly, San Franciscans are the most entitled pedestrians I have ever seen and I have lived in Boston (as a bike courier), New York, and Seattle. It seems people believe if they wait for the walk signal they have a "run into the street without looking" card. I see bikers do it, too, all the time. Being in the crosswalk does not make someone safe or right. If I see a bus taking a turn, I let it go and I damn well know it is coming because I look before I walk into the street instead of assuming the bus driver is going to jam on the brakes for me. It's a BUS; it's not hard to miss, but difficult to stop on a dime.

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