You think you have some crazy Muni tales? You should hear the stories from the Muni drivers themselves. “Every day I see all kinds of shit,” Muni driver Travis expressed. “It’s like live comedy, but it’s free.” These folks spend long days and nights experiencing that live show while shuttling around San Francisco’s nonstop parade of commuters, crazies, eccentrics, and baffled tourists. We talked to Muni drivers to get their wildest, strangest, and most surreal encounters behind the wheel.
Have Muni stories of your own to add to these terrifying, hilarious, and heartwarming tales? Let us know in the comments below.
Drivers have to wrangle live chickens -- and more
“One summer, a guy brought a live chicken on the bus and he starts throwing the chicken at other passengers,” said Tito, a veteran Muni driver of nearly 20 years. “So I called Central [Control Center] and said there’s this guy with a chicken on the bus, what am I supposed to do? And they just start laughing.”
When Tito says ‘Central,’ he is referring to the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) Central Control Center, an office that monitors the entire fleet of buses and manages emergencies or other service-affecting incidents. Central did send someone to remove the chicken-tossing scofflaw. But by that time, the fellow had been forced out by passengers, chicken in hand.
Many drivers we spoke to had stories of passengers bringing parrots, iguanas, and snakes on board a Muni bus. “One guy had a rat,” JC said. “I told him ‘You can’t get on.’ He claimed it was a service rat.”
Drivers have to deal with an occasional sex offender
You’ve probably noticed that San Francisco high schools don’t have bus service and the kids just ride Muni. This creates some extra responsibilities for drivers that you wouldn’t expect.
“I’m driving the 33, I’ve got a busful of kids screaming and shouting,” driver JC said. “I look over and this guy sitting there with his [genitals] hanging out. He’s playing with himself. I said ‘Get off this bus!,'” and he chased the offender off the vehicle.
“A woman thanked me when she was getting off the bus,” JC continued. “She said, ‘Those kids were carrying on so much they didn’t even see it.”
Muni drivers find fascinating items left behind
Some of us will accidentally leave a backpack or purse on the bus. Some of us will leave other things behind.
“I found a scale and couple ounces of high-grade marijuana,” Muni driver Tito recalled. “So I called Central and said, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ They said call the police. So I called the police and they said throw it away.”
Tito did not disclose to this reporter whether he actually threw the marijuana away. “You find a lot of crazy stuff left on the bus,” he said. “This city has a lot of tweakers.”
Muni drivers practice indifference
Oftentimes there is absolute chaos taking place on a Muni bus or streetcar, and you’re peeved that the driver isn't doing anything about it. There is actually an excellent reason for this. They’re busy driving.
“It’s not our job to kick people off,” Muni operator Grace said. The standard operating procedure in the SFMTA driver universe is to call for backup in the case of an unruly passenger. Drivers are advised to “call Central” and let someone else come in and handle disruptive passengers, while maintaining their primary focus on the road and the traffic conditions around them.
Drivers often don’t care about fare evaders
Similarly, you might find it odd that Muni drivers often don’t seem terribly bothered by passengers who just hop on without paying fare. This actually makes financial sense.
“Fare is only 10 percent of the money we make,” Grace estimated. That may be a little low, as the SFMTA 2016 Operating Budget estimates that transit fares will account for $204.2 million of the fiscal year’s $963.2 million in projected revenue (about 21%). Nonetheless, her point remains intact -- Muni gets the vast majority of its revenue not from fares, but from grants and government funding.
Muni operators have it tough
Next time you’re miffed at a Muni driver, try to remind yourself that this person has one of the toughest jobs in San Francisco. The popular blog Muni Diaries, an aggregator of rider-submitted Muni stories and hosts of the storytelling show Muni Diaries Live, received a heartbreaking letter from the wife of a driver explaining just how tough driving a Muni bus can be.
“My husband has been working for the past 30 years with Muni,” she wrote in her letter. “He was beaten up by 16 young thugs because he beeped the horn when he saw that they were dealing drugs in the middle of the street. He has been threatened by crazies -- once someone threatened him with a pink fluid in a jar, saying that it was acid and will burn him. He has been threatened by people who don’t want to pay, which is an everyday occurrence. Some of these people try to kick him or even spit on him because he does not give them free rides.”
“He [has also] been a hero on some occasions,” she continued. “Chasing purse snatchers, or those who snatched a gold necklace, protected passengers from violent strangers, returned many wallets with cash and credit cards fully intact in them and the passengers have been grateful.”
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