- Streetsblog San Francisco - http://sf.streetsblog.org -

SF Transit Riders Union Holds First Meeting, Debates Priorities

crowded_bus.jpgPhoto: Troy Holden [1]

Roughly two dozen attendees came out to the inaugural meeting of the San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU [2]) on Thursday evening and had a spirited -- at times heated -- debate about how to make the fledgling organization a vocal constituency representing the diverse interests of Muni riders. Billed as an opportunity for the public to become familiar with the new riders union, the meeting functioned largely as a two-hour brainstorming on the group's potential scope and agenda.

SFTRU's expressed goal is to represent the interests of all San Francisco transit riders; but the nature of that representation is still far from finalized, and attendees clashed over the positions that they felt the organization should take. Despite sharing an affection for public transit, attendees' voices occasionally raised to shouts as they debated the organization's mission, principles, and potential campaigns. Topics ranged from enforcing parking meters on Sundays to Mayor Gavin Newsom's upcoming appointments to the MTA Board, work orders, and the bicycle injunction.

Semi-retired history buff Richard Petersen [3] decried the proposal for metered parking on Sundays. "It's shutting down all the small businesses in the city," he stated emphatically.

Other attendees fired back, explaining that merchants tend to favor Sunday metering because it results in greater turnover. When New York City stopped Sunday metering, observed one metering advocate, "merchants freaked out. It was the end of new customers on Sunday."

After several minutes of debate, consensus on the topic appeared to coalesce around supporting occupancy- [4]based pricing.

The SFTRU began to take shape in mid-February, when Dave Snyder -- a Streetsblog contributor, former Transportation Policy Director at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR [5]), and former Executive Director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition (SFBC [6]) -- heeded encouragement from his colleagues to form a transit rider advocacy group.

Snyder said the organization will be led by a steering committee, comprised of representatives from transportation and community advocacy organizations, though he declined to publicly identify the organizations, explaining that further negotiation was required before the committee's formal membership was determined. He invited attendees to nominate organizations that they felt should have representation on the committee.

Snyder described his leadership style as democratic and said the SFTRU's membership would have considerable say over the organization's priorities.

To this point, Snyder wrote the SFTRU mission statement on the wall at the start of the meeting ("to promote excellent and growing public transit in San Francisco") and invited feedback. Before long, proposed modifications included replacing "excellent" with "efficient," adding "affordable" and "safe," and a statement of support for eliminating fares on Muni altogether.

The conversation broadened even further on the topic of campaigns that SFTRU might carry out. Among the suggestions:

  • A rider-education campaign about moving all the way to the back of the bus
  • Pressuring Muni to roll out more comprehensive 511 information
  • Examining accusations of discriminatory enforcement of proof-of-payment
  • Stopping the Central Subway project
  • Advocating for appointments to the SFMTA Board
  • Changing the loud squeal when the subway doors are held open

Refining the SFTRU's scope will require further meetings, further input from the public, and a dedicated group of volunteers. "We need a web presence," Snyder reported, "we need help on Facebook pages, database development, and event coordination." He encouraged anyone interested in contributing to contact him at dsnyder@sftru.org [7], or to attend next Thursday's meeting at 6:30 p.m. The location for that meeting is yet to be determined, but will be announced soon to members of the SFTRU mailing list [8].

At the end of the two-hour meeting, it was clear that much work remained to be done. Gesturing to the proposed list of campaigns, one attendee said that the group already had enough material for a year's worth of meetings about Muni.