Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MUNI TWU just lost my vote


Amazing. Within 24 hours I received mails from Supervisors Dufty, Elsbernd, and Union Head Irwin Lum. I'll chalk it up to avoiding hyperbole in my initial complaint, clearly stating what happened, and keeping a moderately cool head when it was actually happening. That, and I suspect all three players have a stake in what happens in the near-term with MUNI and have all hands on deck.

Response from Supervisor Elsbernd.


Thank you for sharing your experience aboard MUNI with me. No one should have such an experience on MUNI, but, unfortunately, it happens far too often.

When the signature drive kicks off next week, I will pass on the information to you as to how you can sign the petition to place the measure on the November ballot.

All the best,

Response from Irwin Lum

I apologize for the bad experience you faced due to our operators lack of understanding of the TransLink machine. While he should have looked at the reader after you swiped it the second time, it would have been obvious you had paid. I have asked one of our officers where the 48 Quintara bus line comes out of to speak and correct the operator on not being aggressive or feeling that passengers are somehow trying to take advantage and get a free ride. What happened to you was uncalled for and totally out of line. I will find out who this operator is and talk to him about his unprofessional behavior. Once again, I like to personally make a apology to you.

Update: Response from Supervisor Dufty.


I am sorry for this happening to you.

It's clear you are an informed and loyal Muni rider -- I regret that there is not more uniform understanding of Translink's features.

Your message is being shared with John Haley the new Muni COO. I have also copied Irwin Lum, President of TWU as he has helped me in the past resolve misunderstandings and conflicts between Operators and the Riding Public.

I hope we can be responsive. Mr. Haley cannot directly speak to an individual pending/possible disciplinary case but he can assure us that Operators will understand Translink features.

Keep me posted and sorry again.


Supervisor Dufty Cc'ed Irwin Lum, whom I actually did not Cc in my original mailing because I could not find his email address in less time than I was willing to spend on it.

To 311 Complaint form for SFMTA.
Cc: Sean Elsbernd, Bevan Dufty, Gavin Newsom, Irwin Lum

Situation - March 22, 6 PM. I board MUNI bus 3182. The number "170" is on an electronic sign on the front of the bus - perhaps the run number? Driver's badge number omitted but known.

I boarded the bus and tagged my translink card. The sensor beeped and the light turned green. In my haste, I tagged the card again. Per the translink on MUNI faq - " TransLink cards also have a feature that stops you from tagging more than once on the same bus or Muni Metro fare gate within a 10-minute time frame. This feature was built in to protect you from accidentally tagging and being charged twice." Because of this feature, the second tagging caused the fare reader to flash red and signal the not accepted beep. Since I had seen the green flash, I took a seat on the bus.

The driver was not closing the door nor moving the vehicle, so I looked up to see the driver looking at me. I inquired as to if he had seen the fare reader flash green. He said "It said you didn't pay, try again." I went back to the reader, and since I had already tagged on, the reader again flashed red and said "TRAVEL DENIED. CARD ALREADY PROCESSED". I looked at the driver and said "It says card already processed which means it already deducted my fare".

The driver now assumed an aggressive posture and escalated the situation by inquiring "Do I look Stupid?" While I believe the drivers should understand how the boxes work, I could understand if he simply said "The box indicates you didn't pay, you need to pay or deboard". The driver instead chose the unprofessional route. I responded that I did not think that the driver looked stupid, and he replied "Then why are you telling me I am stupid?"

I understand the need for the driver to control the bus he is running, but this is not what he was doing. The driver was utilizing his position to take power over a customer and belittle said customer. Having no desire to have an incident on the 48 nor delay the bus, I stated that I had in fact paid my fare, as can be determined by the message on the fare reader. He said "I don't make the system, I drive the bus, don't tell me about the system". While I disagreed on point that the driver should be required to understand how Translink works at this late date, I was being badgered by the driver and this was not going to be a discussion that would resolve quickly. I said to the driver - "I feel the I have paid my fare, but if it will make things simpler I will deboard the bus and walk home."

The driver again responded with an aggressive tone and said "Did I ask you to get off the bus?" Now I had been placed in a very uncomfortable position. The driver is in the position of power, and all I want to do is figure out if I should sit down or get off the bus, but the driver responded with a query clearly intended to make me uncomfortable.

I said "What should I do?" and he grunted and pointed at the seats. I sat down. I made the mistake of saying "I know you have a hard job and I am sorry it was just made more difficult". The driver then stopped the bus mid-block. I assumed this was a signal that I was being told to get off the bus, so I again said "Do you want me to get off the bus?" He again said "Did I ask you to get off the bus?"

At this point I was very unhappy with the drivers unprofessional behavior and decided that a complaint was in order. I noted the drivers badge number on his sleeve, and made the mistake of saying it to myself out loud. The driver then said "Don't forget, this is bus 3182, and you need the number on the front". I looked up and saw the 3182 and said "3182". The driver said "Write it down if your memory isn't so good, you need to make sure you get it right".

To me this was again unprofessional behavior with the driver indicating to me that he did not care if I file a complaint or not. Implied in this is that the driver knows that nothing will come of said complaint - another attempt by the driver to make the rider feel powerless.

I have been a staunch defender of MUNI, appearing at MTA meetings to make public comment against cuts to MUNI, and have been an advocate for fair salaries for the drivers who I feel work very hard. My writings on the web have been unflappable in support of MUNI. I say "Hello" to all drivers when I get on the bus, and "Thank you" when I get off the bus.

This was an extremely disappointing incident. Again, while I am concerned that the driver does not know the operation of the translink reader (which will become required for bus travel soon enough) it is the unprofessional behavior that saddens me most.

Unless I feel some sort of change, I will be supporting Supervisor Elsbernd's Amendment regarding the formula for setting MUNI driver salaries. While for me this has been an isolated incident, it gives credence to horror stories I have heard secondhand and have dismissed because of my support for a strong public transit system. While driver behavior is somewhat unrelated to the budgetary problems in the system, if the ridership has no recourse for problems like this other than opening discussions on driver compensation - so be it.

John Murphy
San Francisco


lyqwyd said...

Great post of your experience, and the responses.

It also seems that the Translink system is also flawed, why didn't it just treat the second swipe as a transfer?

I wonder if this is a bug, or a decision that was made by management?

Mike Sallaberry said...

I had a similar experience with an operator yesterday. Sounds like the same guy. I happen to have his operator number. Maybe we can compare notes if you send his operator # to me.

murphstahoe said...

@Mike - send me a mail directly at tahoe at murphstahoe.com