Are Muni Service Woes and Fare Hikes Pushing People to Bikes?

3958386170_b33524107d.jpgMany San Francisco bicyclists got their start by apparently taking this sign’s message to heart. Flickr photo: mattymatt

Could rounds of Muni service cuts and fare hikes push more people to start cycling in San Francisco?

The MTA, which operates Muni, doesn’t have data on the phenomenon, but anecdotally, it’s already happening.

For Christopher Janson, it wasn’t the fare hikes last year or the service changes last December that nudged him towards commuting by bike: it was his daily ride three years ago on the 41-Union or the 45-Union-Stockton from Russian Hill to the Powell Street BART station.

"In the morning, the 41 would often be too full to stop and the 45 would be packed within three stops in Chinatown," Janson said. "In the evening, by the time I got back to the city … again, both would be packed."

"It really was just not enjoyable riding Muni as a commuter," he added.

That daily frustration eventually helped him overcome nervousness about bicycling in the hills and on bustling streets. "Getting off of the bus and onto a bicycle has been incredible," said Janson. "I really think it is somewhat similar to learning how to drive a car. You just have to take it slow and easy at first and you gradually build up experience and become more confident."

Sean Rea, an Outer Sunset resident who commutes to a start-up in SOMA, began his transition from Muni to two-wheeled transportation last spring. He tired of waiting a half hour on occasion for the N-Judah, often finding it "packed like a sardine can" when it did arrive.

He describes himself as a "fair-weather, daylight cyclist," and on days when it’s raining or he’s in a hurry, he takes a scooter he purchased last May. "Working at a startup in SOMA has its perks, but a shower isn’t one of them," said Rea. "Going from the Inner Sunset to SOMA isn’t a trivial distance, and if it is wet and/or dark, or I’m on a time crunch, then there are parts of the route home that don’t feel terribly safe."

He’s open to biking even more if the MTA continues to make bicycling infrastructure upgrades that address his safety concerns.

For Jamie Whitaker, President of the Rincon Hill Neighborhood Association and a Harrison Street resident, it was when the price of the monthly Adult Fast Pass was raised from $45 to $60, and N-Judah service past Embarcadero station and 12-Folsom bus service east of 2nd Street were nixed last December.

"I stopped buying Muni Fast Passes and began using my flexible spending account’s transit dollars to buy $60 of TransLink credit each month," said Whitaker. "I do not travel as much to other neighborhoods like Castro, Mission, and Bernal Heights as I used to, mainly because the lack of a Muni Fast Pass makes it — psychologically, at least — more expensive."

Whitaker said he actually biked more when he first moved to the city in 2004. At the time, he lived in Potrero Hill, and quickly found the 10-Townsend bus "wasn’t terribly reliable for pick-ups at 17th and DeHaro at 6:30 in the morning for my commute over to 2nd Street and Brannan."

He soon bought a bicycle and rain or shine would bike to work downtown, where his office had a bike storage room and a shower. But when a new job came with a more formal dress code, a less-secure bike rack, and more flexibility about when he arrived, he made the switch back to the 10-Townsend.

Now that he lives in Rincon Hill, he’s a full-time walker. Without a monthly pass, he’s not riding Muni as much, and Rincon Hill hasn’t upgraded its bike infrastructure to catch up with its flood of new residents yet, so he’s not comfortable biking too often.

"I do hope to get into a habit of riding my bike more, just to expand my typical experiences once again beyond mid-Market/Civic Center, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Mission Creek Park in Mission Bay," said Whitaker.

The cuts to the N-Judah and 12-Folsom have pushed a lot of his wealthier neighbors to drive more, Whitaker said.

That’s why the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) is encouraging its members to protest Muni service cuts and fare hikes: some disgruntled Muni riders may switch to cycling, but plenty might switch to driving as well, creating more inhospitable conditions for bicycling and walking.

For Janson, who’d previously only biked in a tranquil college environment in less-hilly Indiana, the SFBC also helped make the transition to bicycling in the city easier.

"San Francisco is also a great place to learn because there are a ton of resources and a great cycling community," he said. "The single most important resource I own is the Bike Map that I got from the SFBC."

Neither Janson nor Rea give much thought to returning to Muni now, unless service is dramatically improved: both love the freedom and the affordability of bicycling. But Whitaker said he misses owning a monthly pass.

"I love to walk," he said, "but I do miss the freedom of the Muni Fast Pass to take me to other wonderful parts of San Francisco that I just don’t feel like I can afford to see as often nowadays."

  • Rincon Hill. Lack of bike infrastructure. Bite lip. Keep it to myself.

  • mikesonn

    The horrible commute on the 30/45 from North Beach to Caltrain was my reason for switching to biking 6 months ago. Packed buses and 25-40 min (always 40 when I was in a time crunch) doesn’t compare to 10-12 mins biking now. Plus I get a nice little work out which helps wake me up and calm me down.

    Then the cuts and fare hikes just solidified my decision. However, my wife still doesn’t feel comfortable biking without some better infrastructure. We’ll never own a car while living in San Francisco, no matter how hard the MTA tries.

  • Haha, I knew it!

    And totally true about the bike map – changed everything for me. I actually usually try to tell my anecdote about the map to new/prospective riders in conversation, I think it really is the tipping point when you suddenly realize there is infrastructure and actually feel like you know where you’re going.

    Maybe the MTA could set aside some small amount of money to promote the SF Bike Map? I don’t know, ad space or something? I bet it’d be one of its greatest investments made.

  • cindy

    For those of you who can’t ride a bicycle to work, a motorcycle or scooter is a great alternative. With proper protective gear, you can ride in business attire and arrive at your destination clean and dry. Downtown parking is cheap or free.

  • Andy Chow

    It will push SOME people to bikes, and those are typically younger men. Not everyone has the guts to ride his or her bike in mixed traffic (or even bike lanes) especially if he or she is not as physically fit. Bike use is also weather dependent. More people would be willing to bike on warmer sunny days than on cold and rainy days.

  • John C.

    [quote]but I do miss the freedom of the Muni Fast Pass to take me to other wonderful parts of San Francisco[/quote]

    This is one of the really nice things about Translink. If you’re an occasional Muni rider, just load it up with the dollar amount of your fast pass, and treat it like the pass. You’ll likely have a significant amount of money left on the card at the end of the month.

  • Adam Hartzell

    Not just motivating more people to bike, but to walk too! There are multiple motivating factors that have led to me walking from my job in SOMA to my apartment in the Inner Richmond, but one of them is the sense of agency walking allows. Rather than feel despondent about waiting for MUNI forever or seeing the bus come to my stop pass me or be uncomfortably full, I found a renewed sence of agency by simply walking when the bus wait or capacity-status is too stressful. And by walking most everywhere, I carry less with me in my backpack, buy less at the grocery store, get healthier, etc. It’s enabled a new sense of freedom to not be dependent on an unreliable system.

    I still want, and advocate for, reliable, quality public infrastructure. And I am well aware of my privilege as a man (and a scary-looking one) to walk through certain neighborhoods at 5 in the morning. So we still have a lot of work to do. Just as the car hassles get people out of their cars, MUNI hassles do get people onto bikes or onto their feet for healthier, active transport.

  • Karl

    No I’m going to go back to my car and drive more.

  • eugho

    I’m a regular bike commuter and recreational cyclist, and I find the SF Bike Map pretty confusing. The inclusion of topography is nice, but maybe the map should do more to identify ways that cyclists could navigate difficult intersections or crossings. I’ve seen other city bike maps that do this, and also give bicycle safety trips that help build confidence. These could include places like the hairball or buchanan/duboce/market or tips on positioning yourself at intersections on market.

  • The SF Bicycle Coalition never wants to steal any of Muni’s business, we’d much rather be converting car trips into bike trips (and there’s no question that we ~all~ need a non-failing Muni). But we definitely get the impulse to regain control of one’s travel destiny and enjoy a nice bike ride in the bargain. You can get one of those swell SF Bike Maps with your SFBC membership (just one of the many reasons to join, click over to, and you can build your urban bicycling confidence and street smarts at one of our FREE Adult Bike Ed classes, see for details and to register). There’s never been a better time to try biking in SF (but for everyone’s sake let’s get Muni working well already) . . .

  • JohnB

    The evidence the article presented is entirely anecdotal. And the stories, while charming and touching, are no substitute for hard, statistical evidence.

    Do we have numbers for commute journeys by bus, bike, car, foot, ferry etc on a year-by-year basis in order to determine if this alleged trend is genuine?

    And even if it is, how would we know whether the true reason is Muni’s poor service levels or something else?

    On the other hand, wouldn’t it be ironic if a significant part of Muni’s woes were caused not by the auto, as so many here like to allege, but their fellow car-hating transit friends, the cyclists?

    Personally, there is no way I would ride a bike, except for on bike trails. Everyone I know who rides a bike (and that’s not many and so I am being anecdotal here too) has been knocked off their bike at one time or another. Some were hurt badly, some not. But bike round this city enough and you can damn near guarantee that some SUV, bus or truck somewhere has your number on it.

  • I just take more cabs. And drive a bit more than I probably should. . .

  • No need to do anything rash.

    No need to rush out and dust off those old bikes just yet.

    Wait just a little while and the Central Subway will fix everything.

    It wouldn’t be Muni’s sole priority for the next two decades years if it weren’t going to, after all.

  • the greasybear

    The MTA counts cyclists and reports the data in its State of Cycling report, so we’ll know soon enough if cycling continues to grow. As a daily bike commuter–rain and shine–I do believe there are more bikes on the road and on the parking racks, but we’ll see.

    As to the comment about cycling being only for young men–even if that were true, it would still mean additional seats on overcrowded buses available to those who cannot ride–something of a silver lining on Muni’s dark cloud.

  • Jeannie Collins

    I like the freedom of biking and enjoy looking 10+ years younger… sure it’s a push but it also beats the wait. Riding eBikes is more than mobility … it gives you something to look forward to on a commute and the more you experience the EV smile the better it gets. Working out is important but there are so many more experiences in the world than staring at a wall in the gym or the monitor. Consider the options: weight, heart, lungs, cholesterol levels… fewer issues mean a much better quality of life and more $ for chocolates without guilt ๐Ÿ™‚

    As for cars… the ev torque is great on them too…. and saving $ this year by riding a bike I hope to buy a quality electric car for trips to see my friends in the wine country. Friends have enjoyed their EVs for over 10 years and no gas bill. We all must be careful not to take time excessively from each other or to give each other extra garbage to breathe.

    John is right that on certain bus lines mobility scooters and bikes ARE a drag. It will be up to each commuter to be thoughtful about his genuine needs and wants and when possible to choose a folding bike if it’s right or a really slick electric bike that will make the hills when the bike just isn’t right for every one else. Those disabled often find it is less stressful traveling in the middle of the morning when the commutes are the lowest.

    Comes back to the golden rule…and my rule is EVs are golden. SF knows about Gold. That’s where it started. We saw plenty of Gold at the Olympics and not one of those athletes would blink an eye at opting for a bike ride over a bus. Success with anything complex comes as a process and we all make healthy choices every day. I hope my choice to do extra research today doesn’t totally offend my new friends in SF. Today was amazing between the auto show, prep for Taipei, national bike show and all the news.
    Thanks again Google for the good progress with the Android and all the great programmers for the APPS and support. They will not be ignored…will just take a little while to catch up on the details. Let me know of any meetups where I can learn more about the APPS. My eyes get a bit tired before I finish the work. Thanks!

  • Jeannie Collins

    By the way, many disabled people such as myself have to keep schedules like anyone else. If a person has a commute during rush hour and they can handle it safely, the laws support some accommodation. I’m no longer in a chair but always tried to remember to move aside for those who can go faster. It’s just the right thing to do. My time in Santa Cruz was much appreciated as I found the people very kind to step aside at times for me too, whether faster or slower. Kindness is universal. The rider experience of public transportation can be so much nicer when we stop to breathe and consider each other.

  • Joseph

    More cabs and driving here too. I wish I biked more, but living on top of a steep hill (Potrero) makes me think twice before heading out.

  • JohnB


    You know, people complain about commuting by car but, to me anyway, how it goes has a lot to do with the quality of your ride. For instance, if you have a premium vehicle, high-torque engine, good sound-proofing, a top notch sound system, comfortable leather seats, and power everything, a drive to work can be a pleasurable and even relaxing experience. Even stop-go you just take in your stride.

    While the same trip in a stick-shift ford focus with a broken AC and a distorted AM radio will seem like a ride into hell.

    And SF is actually a surprisingly driveable city, after living in Boston and NY anyway. I can get most places in the city in 15 minutes and out of the city in not much more.

    Throw in free parking, which my job provides, and it ain’t so shabby.

    Sometimes more is less.

  • Shawn Allen

    JohnB, you’re part of a shrinking minority in this city. Fewer and fewer people can afford to buy, own, maintain, and fill up a “premium vehicle” with all of those amenities that magically transform stop-and-go traffic into a “relaxing experience”. “More is less” certainly does not apply to driving if you consider the costs of ownership (which AAA estimates run nearly $10k/year not including loan paymentsโ€”and that’s their national average, so it’s likely much higher in SF), the amount of physical space they take up, or the time you’ll spend looking for parking, getting gas, etc. RIding a bike is considerably more minimal; walking and taking Muni is even more so.

    Actually, nothing about what you said is really unique to driving. One could easily replace any mode of transportation into your comment and it would be (subjectively) true:

    “You know, people complain about walking to work but, to me anyway, how it goes has a lot to do with the quality of your shoes and having something to listen to. For instance, if you have nice sneakers with sole inserts, an iPod and good music, walking to work can be a pleasurable and even relaxing experience. Even having to wait at every crosswalk you just take in your stride.”

    “You know, people say that riding a bike is hard but, to me anyway, how it goes has a lot to do with the quality of your bike and how you ride it. For instance, if you have a comfy saddle, big nubby tires, a relaxed geometry, and ride at a leisurely pace, a ride to work can be a pleasurable and even relaxing experience. Even stopping at every stop sign and red light you just take in your stride.”

    “You know, people complain about riding Muni but, to me anyway, how it goes has a lot to do with whether you have flexible work hours and your tolerance for crackheads. For instance, if you have don’t have to commute during rush hour and wear noise-cancelling headphones and dark sunglasses, taking the bus can be a pleasurable and even relaxing experience. Even people puking in your face you just take in your stride.”

    “You know, people complain about taking taxis but, to me anyway, how it goes has a lot to do with the skill of your driver and his eagerness to chat. For instance, if you have a chill, quiet driver who listens to classical music, a cab ride can be a pleasurable and even relaxing experience. Even stop-go you just take in your stride.”

    See what I mean?

  • JohnB


    Ha. Yeah, point taken, although I think your face-puking example might be stretching a point.

    But that 10K pa average cost of motoring can be significantly reduced by buying older vehicles that have already suffered much of their depreciation.

    And paying cash for them rather than getting a loan.

    Quality vehicles like Mercedes that are well designed and built last a long time and need fewer repairs.

    And again, if you do your own services and repairs that can significantly reduce the cost.

    While a light foot can get good mileage even with 8 cylinders.

    Paradoxically, the most environmentally-friendly vehicle is an old one. The energy used in building a new car is huge. So a 1980’s Merc can be more earth-friendly than a new Hybrid. Something to think about.

  • icarus12

    To Jeannie Collins at #15: What electric bikes have you used and found good? I want to buy something inexpensive for errands. I live on top of a steep hill (Nob Hill), and that uphill climb carrying groceries and still too many pounds of me is just getting me down. I drive too often. Any suggestions as to electric bikes?

  • @Andy Chow – “It will push SOME people to bikes, and those are typically younger men”

    I have long since stopped being shocked by the number of women on bikes out there in SF, including many deep into the 2nd half of their lifetimes… in other words tell that to Ellen Fletcher.

    And it doesn’t have to be 200,000 new cyclists to make an impact.


    “And paying cash for them rather than getting a loan. Quality vehicles like Mercedes that are well designed and built last a long time and need fewer repairs.”

    You aren’t just part of a shrinking minority, you are way out of touch.

    I say this even as someone who rides from San Francisco to Santa Clara 3x per week with 10-12 young men who work at Google and certainly can afford a “premium car”. Even my Caltrain rides are made mostly with very well off people who work at high paying jobs. But if you think that’s typical in this city, you aren’t paying attention. Rob Anderson likes to talk about the 460,000 registered cars in SF – a little over 1/2 the number of residents. Granted, 10 year olds don’t own cars, but this town isn’t exactly overrepresented by children, and many individuals own more than one car (how many does Danielle Steele own again?). Owning any car is often a stretch for people in SF. Paying cash? Laughable for most.

    You can’t legislate for the benefit of the minority. Well, unless they are a protected class, and Mercedes owners – not a protected class ๐Ÿ™‚

  • icarus12

    The Muni crisis is real, but this increase in biking and walking warms every libertarian fiber in me!

    By the way, I know this is probably an unpopular view on this blog, but I think the Central Subway will help with all Stockton Street bus overcrowding — written about above by someone who used to depend on the 45 and 41, as well as the difficulties of getting to Nob and Russian Hills too.

    I am looking forward to taking the subway to Caltrain, Giants games, as well as to visit friends at Mission Bay for dinner. For the time being, I’ve found parking in Mission Bay in the evening, but it’s a struggle and the neighborhood there can seem awfully lonely at night. It’s only going to get more difficult as they build up that area.

    To get home by bus, I have to hoof it several long blocks (also in lonely nightime areas)to catch a very, very slow #27 Bryant. Spending 35-45 minutes to get uphill from Mission Bay to Nob Hill is just unacceptable. So far, that’s why I drive that stretch (7-10 minutes in car). My point is simply that if you build a viable and quick transit system, troglodytes such as moi will use it.

  • Joseph

    I knew it! JohnB is a sales rep for Mercedes-Benz of San Francisco. This explains so much… ๐Ÿ™‚

    I agree with Andy Chow above that there is a limit to the number of people who will be pushed to biking due to Muni cuts. Our currently poor (but developing) bike infrastructure keeps biking from becoming the default. Large swaths of San Francisco have the potential for biking to become the most convenient, safest, fastest means of getting around. However, currently, this is not true. Give me Copenhagenesque biking infrastructure and biking culture in this city will explode (much beyond what we have seen). With regards to the weather-dependence of biking: I was shocked when I lived in Copenhagen briefly in 2003 that buses were always on the empty side unless it was pouring outside–people only stopped biking in very heavy rain. My interpretation was that due to its convenience, biking had become to default transportation choice and thus people were willing to invest in proper wet weather biking attire.

    If excellent bike infrastructure were to be put in place in (eastern) SF, only an expanded underground/signal priority Muni would be able to compete in terms of speed (for those of us not living on top of hills like icarus12 and I).

    In SF now, especially with cuts looming, I would actually recommend someone get a scooter depending on where they lived. Driving in SF is only really annoying during the commute and even then it’s nothing compared to say, Manhattan.

  • patrick

    @JohnB, regarding enjoying driving, I have the pretty much opposite view. No matter how nice the car is I almost never enjoy driving, or being driven. If I’m driving I’m worried about killing or hurting myself or others, I’m irritated by traffic, I’m irritated by bad drivers, I have to be 100% vigilant. If somebody else is driving I’m still irritated by other drivers, but even more concerned for my own safety as I have no control, and as we all know, nobody can drive as well as we can ๐Ÿ™‚ Cars are useful tools in certain situations, but not something I find enjoyable.

    When I rode the bus regularly (and when muni was reasonably decent) I actually enjoyed most of my trips, especially when I got to sit. I liked being able to do things like check the internet, reply to email, read a book, catch up on work. Sometimes it was unpleasant, but far less than being in a car. I also enjoyed being able to see the views from various hiltops.

    When I bike I enjoy the fresh air, getting exercise, the fact that I’m not polluting and seeing other cyclists. It’s not all good, it can get unpleasant going home uphill on a really windy day, or if I didn’t get good sleep, but still way better than driving.

    When walking I enjoy the slower pace and being able to see things that I was never able to notice when stuck in a car.

    You definitely seem to be living in a bubble, you have both “free” parking at home and “free” parking at work, very few people in this city have that luxury, and you are enjoying a highly subsidized car experience. Most people tend to enjoy getting things they don’t really have to pay for, or get at a far cheaper price than others.

  • JohnB


    I find it interesting that you worry about being injured in a car but seemingly not on a bike. Traffic speeds are fairly slow within the city and you’d have to be very unlucky to be killed in a vehicle. Whereas it can take only a small shunt on a bike to be seriously injured or killed.

    And yes there are some crazy drivers about which again shows the risk of cycling.

    As to those who said most San Franciscans can’t afford a car, I say that’s hooey. As I said before, I can maintain two “quality cars”, a 80’s Merc and a 90’s Volvo (for the wife and kids) for probably around 5K per annum each. Given that the average family income in SF is around 80K per annum, it’s clear that driving is affordable. But of course it helps to buy used, pay cash and do your own repairs.

    I fact it’s more that I can’t afford not to drive – how would you transport a family of four to LA in 6 hours at a cost of under $100?

    But nowhere here I am advocating buying a new SUV every 2 years just to drive to Wholefoods once a week. My cars get heavily used. And since everyone is complaining that muni buses are crowded, I’m helping out with that too.

  • Clarence

    Must be undoubtedly pushing people to the bike. Here in NYC everytime there is a significant fare increase in the subway fares, there seems to be an uptick in riders.

    If the subways go up to $2.50 (probably with service reductions as well) which looks likely, I am betting on the biggest boom ever in biking in NYC. After all, people will look at their wallet and say – I can save $5 today if I start biking and that could almost pay for lunch!

  • patrick

    JohnB, on the safety issue there are several factors there.

    First and foremost, cycling is not dangerous, at least no more dangerous than driving. There are many ways to compare, but on an individual basis across the nation, the odds of dying in a car vs. bike are roughly the same. I’ve done the research and am pretty confident about this.

    Second, San Francisco is the safest place in the Bay Are to be a cyclist (highest cycling population per-capita, yet the lowest number of cycling deaths & injuries).

    Next, there are many ways for a cyclist to improve their safety. Cycling on the sidewalk is about twice as likely to result in collision, cycling on the sidewalk on the wrong side of the street is about 6 times as likely, cycling at night with no lights is I think 2-3 times as likely. I don’t do any of those things.

    Finally, when possible, I bike on low traffic roads, so there are less cars to kill me.

    Also note, that I said I’m concerned about being the cause of the death or injury to others (which I’m actually more concerned about that my own safety, I would feel terrible if I did that to somebody).

    With cycling, the odds of me injuring somebody else are far lower:

    1) There’s almost 0 chance of me causing injury to a driver.
    2) My kinetic injury is far lower, so if I did collide with somebody, the likelihood of me killing or injuring them is much lower.

    I agree that most San Franciscans can afford a car (although a high average salary probably doesn’t compensate for the high cost of living, I believe housing costs in this city are far higher than average as a percent of income), but why? It’s also the easiest city on the west coast to not own a car. $5K a year pays for a really nice vacation by most people’s standards, or earlier retirement, or any number of things.

    How many times are you taking your whole family to LA per year that saving a couple hundred dollars makes up for $10K (or even $5K if you were to give up just 1 car)?

    Now I’m not saying you should be forced to give up your car, just that most car drivers don’t really analyze the issues involved.

    Lastly, being in a car is the leading cause of death for children (and young adults), just google “number one cause of death children” if you don’t believe me.

  • “Given that the average family income in SF is around 80K per annum, it’s clear that driving is affordable”.

    Who do you think you are playing with, kids?
    San Francisco ranks third of American cities in median household income[125] with a 2007 value of $65,519.[122] Median family income is $81,136,

    A group of two or more people who reside together and who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption.

    A household includes all the people who occupy a housing unit as their usual place of residence.

    Household is the far more relevant stat, because it includes *everyone*. So you only manipulated the stats to support your argument by 20%.

    You then went on to quote your capability to support two cars, neglecting to reiterate that your parking cost on the work side is zero. Doing one’s own repairs is very noble, but much easier if you have a garage to store your tools and do the work, you aren’t amortizing your (probable) ownership of a garage in your cost of ownership.

    This will be my last rebuttal. Your vote isn’t up for grabs, anyway. You are entitled to your opinion.

  • JohnB


    Yes, of course, there is a wide range of safe cycling skills, and I note how your careful adherence to regular traffic laws helps keeps you safe and out of harm’s way.

    But I’ve also known a couple of people who were badly injured riding around SF, seemingly through no fault of their own. So while the risk of an accident may be surprisingly low, the impact of one can be very serious or fatal.

    Whereas, as I said, a solid car like a Volvo or Merc would likely come out relatively unscathed in a bump at typical SF speeds. (Note: a hatchback ran into my Volvo while we were stationary: the hatch was a write-off, my Volvo just had a dented fender – so again, what you drive matters).

    I go to LA twice a year, plus several week-end camping trips, plus regular daily and week-end use for both vehicles. I’d have to significantly change my lifestyle, kids’ schools etc without both cars. I consider 10K to be cheap.

    To your last point, yes, I can do far more damage than you can, in theory. But I’m a defensive driver who is light on the gas, and have never knowingly caused an accident.

  • JohnB


    So I guess a “median family income” of $80K and you correct me to say it’s $81.136K?

    Er, I stand corrected, I guess, kinda.

    And yes, I had already said I have free parking so didn’t see any need to repeat that.

    Point is the “median family” would spend 10% or less of their “median income” on the total cost of ownership of their vehicle if they took the prudent economical steps that I do.

    But sure, some can’t afford a car. That’s why we have Muni, bikes etc.


  • Jay

    MUNI is in a downward spiral. Higher fares + lesser routes => lower ridership.
    Lower ridership => higher fares and route cuts. And so it goes.

    When will the MUNI people learn that this is not the way you run an agency?

    Start with salary cuts for everyone from the top down. If the economy stumbles and there’s a recession, the MUNI should feel it too!

    And enough with the overtime.

    If the current leadership of MUNI can’t operate within the current economic conditions, THEY SHOULD RESIGN AND LET SOMEONE ELSE HAVE A GO AT IT!

  • I am smacking myself for doing this.

    The median family income is not relevant. The median HOUSEHOLD income is relevant. The median family income for example does not include an unmarried couple or a single person living alone, but the ability of an unmarried couple or single person to own a car is as relevant as the ability of a married couple (with children or not). Household also includes situations where several single people are sharing an apartment.

    As such the relevant “median number” here is 65,519, not 81k.

  • patrick

    JohnB, I personally know 2 people who have been killed while driving, and several others who have been seriously injured, but anecdotal stories aside, cycling is just as safe or dangerous as driving, and that’s without taking any particular safety practices. And San Francisco is probably one of the safest cities in the country to be a cyclist. I bring up the point because many people believe that cycling is dangerous, even many cyclists, when the truth (supported by decades of data) is that it is not.

    I don’t look down on anybody who chooses to own a car, I do not currently own a car, but my fiance does, which means I will soon own a car again. My fiance feels pretty much the same about cars as you do, and I’m not going to force her to give up the car anymore than I will force you. She’s loaned the car to her mother for the next few months, so we are currently carless, and I’m hoping to convince her to get rid of the car for good during that time, but it’s not looking good, as she already hates taking muni, and that’s without the service cuts. I’ve offered to trade the car for a vacation in Paris every year, or whatever she wants, but she still does not want to give it up. I definitely understand the desire to own a car, but many people confuse desire with need.

    I also agree that families with kids have more reason to own a car, but my coworker is married and has two young children, and they are able to live quite well with just 1 car.

    I agree that 10K a year for 2 cars is cheap, and I think you made a very wise decision to own older, but reliable and relatively safe cars, but that just points out how expensive any car ownership is. That’s $100K in 10 years, and most people do not have such low car ownership costs. For a few people, that money doesn’t really matter, but the vast majority of people are making a significant trade-off by owning a car, even if they don’t realize it.

  • peternatural

    I also figured out my car cost me about $5000 per year. I agree with JohnB about the virtues of paying cash, and when we sold our car last year, we got a nice chunk of cash to put in the bank.

    Whether you can barely afford a car or can easily afford it (like me), saving $5000 per year by not having one is pretty sweet. Especially if you have great alternatives (like everyone in my 5-person family) and always did hate being cooped up in a car (like me & my wife). In contrast, biking is waay more fun (not far off from flying, Peter Pan style).

    I agree with Patrick that when done right, bicycling is safe. I put safety and courtesy (they’re synergistic) ahead of getting there fast, and choose good routes on quiet streets with few cars that move slow because of the stop signs at every corner.

    It also helps to pedal hard and keep up with the cars (a dangerous menace can become a friendly escort), which is also fun. (As is staying in shape and feeling good).

    But you can’t daydream, and need to be hyper-aware of everything around you, plus read people’s minds, like knowing that the guy in front of you is about to do a right turn (though he isn’t signaling — but the subtle car body language lets you know anyway), or the driver who appears to be insane is actually just looking for parking (so don’t try to zip past on the right!)

  • JohnB


    Well I was talking about families. Obviously if you’re a single guy with roommates, or whatever, your needs are different and maybe the argument for a car is less compelling.

    You have a right to have no car and I have a right to have two. I was just explaining how driving can be more affordable than some suggest.

    Patrick, my point about driving being safer is based on driving in SF where road speeds are sufficiently low that you’d be unlucky to be killed in the average shunt. If I drove 50K miles a year at high speeds on freeways, like some, obviously the risk factors would change.

    But whether justified or not, I personally feel safer cruising in a Merc than I would biking down Market Street.


    Yeah, I figure $100 a week or so. And remember that I wouldn’t save all of that by getting rid of a car since I’d have muni, cab, rental car, train expenses etc.

    I might save something but I’d have to give up things too. Ultimately it’s about the quality of my life, and I value how a car gives me flexibility, comfort, spontaneity, speed, child, friend and load carrying ability etc. Quite simply, I can get more stuff done, which means a richer life for me, and I’m willing to pay for that.

    In fact, sometimes I wish motoring were even more expensive so that there would be less traffic. Ho hum . .

  • peternatural

    In my case, $5000 is pretty close to what we save, since we had the exact same MUNI and bike costs even when we had the car (no one used it for their daily routine).

    I also agree about quality of life. In my case though, a car would only worsen what is now for me and my family an awesome quality of life. And we like the security of building up savings, in case things are not as cushy for us in the future as they are now.

    Hopefully, peak oil will kick in soon and raise the cost of driving, making it nicer for those who can still afford it ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Shawn Allen

    “In fact, sometimes I wish motoring were even more expensive so that there would be less traffic. Ho hum . .”


    Motoring is subsidized in too many ways to list here, and the problem is simply that it’s artificially cheap enough for people to drive that many can “afford” to commute by car rather than deal with a crappy transit system or the “inconveniences” (getting wet, sweating, etc.) of walking or cycling. There is literally no such thing as “free parking”. We pay for that land use with our tax dollars and rent or mortgage checks, which take into account the fact that there’s a lot of space taken up by cars which would be much better used by people. You may not feel that cost if you don’t pay for parking at work, but that’s only because it’s spread out amongst everyone in the city.

    Driving is expensive in other cities that offer reliable public transit and value the vitality of their streets. San Francisco has a lot of catching up to do in this regard.

  • JohnB


    There may be hidden subsidies to my driving that I don’t know about, true.

    But my “free” parking both at work and at home are both on private property. So there is no cost to the public of either of those spaces. Nor are there any opportunity costs since they’re not available to anyone else if and when I don’t use them.

    In fact, I am freeing up parking spaces on my home street and on the streets close to my work, by utilizing them.

    Of course, my employer pays for the one, and I pay for the other, in terms of the cost of property ownership. But there’s no subsidy that I can think of that means that you are somehow paying for it. Unless you count the tax deductibility of property tax, I suppose.

  • ZA

    @John B –

    My $0.02.

    For the whole range of factors from energy (embedded to operation), to cash outlay, to maintenance, to eventual recycling, to quality of life … you’ll find the private car doesn’t stack up very well, least of all in an urban environment.

    The most ‘environmentally-friendly vehicle’ are your own two feet. A bike adds a lot of mobility and cargo for those two feet, but isn’t practical for most 20+ mile trips. A bus or train starts to get closer to a regional optimum, but we see how necessary service is to maintain or improve rider confidence. A car certainly has a purpose, even in a city, but it can’t be the only option for so many in so small a space.

    Given the premium you are willing to pay for the quality of life a car in an urban environment affords you, I think you should be a lot more supportive of improving public transport & bicycle facilities, so that more road space is available for people like you.

    As for safety – the first safeguard is that person themself, and the risks they choose to take. A dangerous idiot is an idiot whether they’re crossing the street on foot, cycling through a blind intersection, merging a bus without looking at the mirrors, or driving their car while texting.

    For my part, I feel a lot safer on a bike, because all 5 of my senses are being used without dampening or distraction, and I’m risk-adverse.

  • patrick

    JohnB, I’ll agree that in San Francisco being inside a car is safer than being outside of one, but both are safer than being almost anywhere else in this country. I hypothesize that SF would be even safer for all if less people were driving.

    “But whether justified or not, I personally feel safer cruising in a Merc than I would biking down Market Street.” While I get your point, Market is actually a bad example, it has relatively good cycling infrastructure, cars are moving fairly slowly, and there are so many cyclists, drivers are constantly aware of cyclists, and I find Market Street to be one of the more worry free segments of my ride.

  • JohnB


    Yes, I’d never argue that driving a Mercedes is the most environmentally-friendly mode of transport.

    But rather, that it’s not as bad as some people allege.

    Certainly I think keeping an old vehicle running in good order is more earth-friendly than buying a new vehicle, even if the latter has better mileage.

    And that driving can still be relatively affordable to many, if you do it mindfully.

    Ultimately it’s a lifestyle thing. And if I were a younger, single guy, living in North Beach and working downtown, I suspect I wouldn’t want or need a car.

    I just can’t take 2 kids to school on a bike, pick up my dry-cleaning, drop off my neighbor’s wife at the mall, and transport some bulk shopping items on a bike.

    I do support public transit. I use planes all the time. And boats and trains when I can. But even more, I support having as many transit options as possible.

  • Thebe

    For nearly three years, my husband, son and I have lived in San Francisco without owning a car. We use Muni and reserve City Car Share when we have to. We hope to save up money to buy a car by Christmas, and I for one cannot wait.

    Muni has become frustrating to use and we find ourselves reserving a City Car Share car more often. A typical 30- to 45-minute trip each way by Muni often takes 15-20 minutes each way by car. So our monthly City Car Share bill is creeping up to the point we might as well buy a car.

    To further reduce our exposure to Muni ridiculousness, we’re moving to an apartment closer to our son’s elementary school. An apartment with garage space. Yay!

  • “In fact, sometimes I wish motoring were even more expensive so that there would be less traffic. Ho hum . .”

    I think most of us are quite willing to grant you your wish, which would benefit all of us. You see, we are a bunch of capitalists here. Charge everyone fairly for what they use, and let the free market decide.

  • “But sure, some can’t afford a car. That’s why we have Muni, bikes etc.


    Yeah, the problem is imagining that bicycles and public transportation as options of desperation that are primarily good for people who cannot afford to drive.

    One of major reasons, if not the biggest reason that we don’t fund these modes at anything near an equivalent level to motor vehicles is the view that they’re fundamentally less desirable. It’s an issue of class disdain that is incredibly counterproductive and leads to all sorts of waste and inefficiency.

    With a comprehensive bicycle and mass-transit infrastructure (at a fraction of what our car-related infrastructure costs) we could make these significantly less impactful forms of transit first-choice options. Promoting bicycling and mass-transit is good for everybody, not just the poor.

  • ZA

    @John B

    “Certainly I think keeping an old vehicle running in good order is more earth-friendly than buying a new vehicle, even if the latter has better mileage.”

    That really depends on the task. An old beater on the farm is well worth keeping running. An old beater for scooting around the city? Not nearly as much. Far better to burn less fuel doing the same job in a new vehicle, and turning that old one into new products. Better still to trade that beater for some form of CarShare.

    “Ultimately it’s a lifestyle thing. And if I were a younger, single guy, living in North Beach and working downtown, I suspect I wouldn’t want or need a car.”

    There are only a handful of neighborhoods (like top of Twin Peaks) and ‘needs’ (lots of cargo & passengers every day) for a car in San Francisco.

    “I just can’t take 2 kids to school on a bike, pick up my dry-cleaning, drop off my neighbor’s wife at the mall, and transport some bulk shopping items on a bike.”

    Sorry John B, that’s just not true.

    And that’s not a hypothetical for San Francisco, I know several families who live this way in SF.

    “I do support public transit. I use planes all the time. And boats and trains when I can. But even more, I support having as many transit options as possible.”

    On emissions alone, planes start losing their advantages quickly as soon as you start adding more passengers to your ground vehicle. The train is nearly optimal.

  • James

    I’m gungho on biking in the city, but I think people vastly underestimate the difficulty in getting kids to school in San Francisco. Yes, in Copenhagen, and frankly much of the US, it’s very practical to get kids to school by bike or walking. But in San Francisco, we have a totally whacked out school assignment system that regularly places small children at schools completely across town, barring them from attending the school literally 2 blocks away. Thank goodness I got through the system well before the current madness. I can’t blame parents for needing a car to get their kids to school and then get to work on time in this climate, and I go many weeks between uses of my car.

    The city’s policy on school assignments is one that risks the health of our children, wastes oil and hurts the environment, in the name of political correctness. It’s also part of why we have so few kids in the city.

  • I think that’s an exaggerated description of the way the school assignment system used to be, but anyway they changed it and now emphasize neighborhood schools. My family has no car, my kids attend SF public schools, and it works out awesome for us.

  • James

    Perhaps the new system will be better. The old system has been in place for a while now and will still be impacting kids for some time. The new system from what I saw still results in a lot of kids going to schools far away.

    My cousins aged 5-9 both go across town (about 45 min by bus one-way) when they literally live one block from an elementary school they wanted to attend. The upside is they like the school they’re assigned to, just not the travel there. In a couple years one of them may be able to make the journey by herself, but in the meantime it’s quite a trip for a parent to have to make. By bike it’d not be much faster getting there with small kids in tow (though decently faster for a solo adult), but on return it’d be even longer than bus due to having to climb up the hills in the center of the city.

    A large portion of my cousins’ classmates are in similar situations travel distance-wise.

    I’m just saying, let’s not assume that bicycling kids to school in SF is easy, even for an experienced rider in the city, just because it works in Copenhagen. For some it can definitely work, and hopefully in the future it’ll work out better for more families.

  • James, as paternatural said, that system is changing. There is no use in arguing for the system that is no longer.

    “Yes, in Copenhagen, and frankly much of the US, itโ€™s very practical to get kids to school by bike or walking.”

    Much of the US? Have you been outside SF lately? Schools are like prisons plopped down on the outskirts of suburbia. There is no walking/biking to school is a vast majority of the US. SF has a gift and thankfully is going to be taking advantage of it soon. Neighborhood schooling is a huge improvement on many levels, with transport being just one.


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