SF Transit Riders Union Holds First Meeting, Debates Priorities

Roughly two dozen attendees came out to the inaugural meeting of
the San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU) 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 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-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), and former Executive Director of
the San Francisco
Bike Coalition (SFBC) — 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,
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.

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.

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