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.

“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.

  • gneiss

    Kudos to all who are working so hard on these issues! Made my donation today.

  • alberto rossi

    I like the formulation 30-30.

  • RichLL

    Tumlin says:”often times a small number of deluded people are the ones who show up”

    Well, yeah. It’s almost inevitable that the kind of people who show up for any kind of public meeting will be the ones who have the most extreme views on the topic. For transit topics that usually means either the pro-car mob or the anti-car mob.

    As an obvious example, I doubt that the people attending this meeting were an accurate cross-section of the population, but rather a skewed self-selected set of people who are pro-transit.

    If I were an elected politician I’d probably ignore most of the products of such meetings. You don’t learn much from single-issue activists about what the majority want. And I’ve never met an activist who asked me what I want. Rather they try and tell me what I should want.

    These meetings might be fun but they don’t have much to do with democracy.

  • njudah

    it wasn’t a “meeting” it was a party for a pro transit group. it wasn’t supposed to be an accurate cross section of the population or whatever the fuck your concern trolling claims to be about.

  • RichLL

    The point Tumlin was trying to make is that the audience at public meetings is often biased and skewed.

    He’s right of course. But the tragedy is that it never occured to him that that might be also true of the meeting he was attending.

    And if you cannot express yourself without resorting to obscenities, it might be better to desist altogether. Let’s keep this forum civil, OK?

  • Steve Pepple

    Thank you!

  • jonobate

    On another thread, you told me to leave America and go back to where I came from. If that’s you’re idea of civility then fuck your idea of civility.

  • RichLL

    You misquote. I was simply giving you some advice. Not everything that works in Europe can work here, due to cultural, historic and geographic differences. The reverse is true as well, of course.

    I offered no opinion on where you should live, but I believe I did express surprise that someone who thinks we are doing everything wrong over here would nonetheless apparently prefer to live here.

    As a nation we have always welcomed aliens like you, but there is an underlying assumption that you actually love this country and moved here or a better life (AKA the American Dream). And not to merely re-create what you evidently wanted to leave behind.

    Mix up your ideological preferences with some respect for our existing institutions and I feel sure you will become more persuasive here.

  • p_chazz

    You don’t have panel discussions at parties.

  • M.

    All societies have aspects that are great and we all have plenty to learn from each other. With regard to transit, the US is far behind and could do very well to learn from Europe – or China. It’s been clear that (at the very least) the economics of doing so is urgent. No culture is fixed in time and there’s certainly no fixed cultural characteristic that makes it impossible for the US to pay attention to future needs.

  • Printtemps

    I drank beer and met new people, it was a party.


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