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Transit Riders Union Party for Better BART and Muni Service

Thea Selby MCs a discussion with Tim Papandreou, Eugenia Chien and Jeff Tumlin. Image: Streetsblog

Thursday evening the San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU), an advocacy group pushing for better, more reliable transit, held its "Make Transit Awesome Party" at the DG717, a co-working space in downtown. The event was a combination fundraiser and chance to hear from some of the most influential people in transportation.

The centerpiece of the event was a panel discussion with Tim Papandreou, Chief Innovation Officer at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Jeff Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy for Nelson Nygaard Consulting, and Eugenia Chien, who writes the popular Muni Diaries blog. Thea Selby, chair of the SFTRU board, moderated the panel. One of the first things discussed: why is it so hard to get transit improvements and what can advocates do to change that?

SFTRU has some fun while making transit awesome. Image: Streetsblog.
SFTRU has some fun while making transit awesome. Image: Streetsblog.
SFTRU has some fun while making transit awesome. Image: Streetsblog.

"San Francisco hates change," said Tumlin. "One of the things that stands in the way is often times a small number of deluded people are the ones who show up. And they complain and their complaints may be irrational and factually incorrect. But because they show up, they're the ones who win the day." Tumlin said the importance of groups such as SFTRU is to remind the politicians their rational constituents actually want better transit. "We need an organization that shows up that has a better vision for the future of San Francisco."

Selby asked about the importance of telling the stories of people who ride transit. "Having a space for people to tell stories is a way for people to say transportation is important," said Chien. "Our transportation experience matters, it's worth talking about--that's why all of you are here."

Speaking about stories about people on transit, Papandreou had a great one: "When I was born in Melbourne, Australia, my mom took me home from the hospital on the streetcar," he said. He stressed the importance at SFMTA for staff to talk not about bus drivers and streetcars, but about the people who ride them. "Why aren't people using Muni? What isn't working for them?" he said he wants transit planners and managers to continually ask. He stressed the importance of integrating transit forms, so people get where they're going efficiently and seamlessly, regardless of the mode they use. "How do we connect walking, cycling, transit, bike share?" Like Tumlin, he also stressed the importance of pushing back against people who would roll back transit improvements. "We need everyone in this room saying “yes we want those Mission Street lanes red, damn it!”

Selby talked about the group's 30-30 plan: the goal of getting the transit system in SF so effective that anyone can get to anywhere in SF in 30 minutes or less without a car, something they want SFMTA to achieve by 2030. And if that sounds ambitious, SFTRU already has some pretty impressive campaigns under its belt, such as the "Ride Muni Challenge" which tried to force the lawmakers who legislate over Muni to actually ride it.

The party also kicked off a "Make Transit Awesome" Indiegogo Campaign for the group. Of course, it wasn't all about fund raising and strategizing. Transit advocates from all over mingled, ate, drank and even did a little dancing. The SFTRU wrapped up its formal presentation with a video montage/profile of different people riding transit around San Francisco.

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