Riding the 28-19th Avenue northbound towards the Richmond on a recent weekday afternoon, Pamela Moye has almost nothing but good things to say about Muni.
Aside from the occasional long wait for an M-Ocean View train, Moye, a schoolteacher, said her experience with Muni has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I love public transportation in San Francisco," said Moye. "It’s super easy."
What accounts for Moye’s sunny appraisal of Muni, a system that’s subject to near-universal griping among San Franciscans? Moye, it turns out, benefits from the perspective of being a former San Francisco resident who now lives in Los Angeles, car-free.
"People think I’m crazy for riding the bus in LA," she said. Though she doesn’t agree with that assessment, Moye said she knows far fewer people who ride transit in her new home than in San Francisco.
Moye left San Francisco in 2002 to pursue a teaching job after attending San Francisco State. She was back in town on the day we spoke to complete work on her degree seven years later, and was happy to reminisce about her days living on 5th Avenue and Geary.
"Living in San Francisco turned me into a non-car owner," she said. The cost and hassle of parking, insurance, and gas pushed her towards giving up her vehicle, and she hasn’t looked back.
After growing up in Idaho, she found the bus her key to exploring San Francisco. "Riding the bus is a great way to learn a city," said Moye. When she arrived here, she said, if she had a free afternoon, "I would just get on a bus and ride."
Now, when friends and family ask for suggestions on what to do during visits to San Francisco, Moye tells them to take the 38-Geary from one end of the line to the other, from ocean to bay, one of the best ways to see a broad cross-section of the city. (Jane Jacobs wrote about taking a similar approach to learning New York City when she first arrived, randomly choosing subway lines to ride to new neighborhoods every week.)
Moye has continued this practice in Los Angeles, a city (and region) famed for its dependence on the automobile, though it has increasingly focused on expanding transit service.
Moye said she always felt secure riding buses here. "I never saw anything, I always felt completely safe," she said, noting that she often rode the bus late at night.
Los Angeles’ bus system seems to produce more unusual tales in general, according to Moye. Citing her favorite strange story, Moye said she "noticed two homeless women chatting away, and I thought, ‘it’s great that they’ve befriended each other.’"
"Then one of them moved away when a seat opened up, and I realized they were actually both talking to themselves."
Of course, "strange is relative," said Moye.
LA’s network of rapid buses and light rail lines has served her
fairly well, she said, but she still misses San Francisco, where the
main drawback was the cost of living. And while she’s now a dedicated car-free Angeleno, traveling by bicycle in
LA is still too intimidating. "San Francisco seems safer for bicycling.
It’s just not really enjoyable in LA."
As she heads towards her final destination near Clement Street, it’s tempting to hear her praise for Muni as the nostalgia of someone seeing through rose-colored glasses. Still, it’s good to be reminded that this city can reshape how people think about transportation in a way that lasts long after they leave its dense, 47-square miles.