The MUNI Fare Strike: The First Month

by Marc Norton on October 4, 2005

Randy Shaw recently wrote that “progressives are far less willing than conservatives to reassess longstanding priorities and organizational structures despite their failure to achieve success. Here in San Francisco [the] progressive movement… remains as wedded as ever to the failed structures and agendas of the past… Activists have followed the same script year after year, working around the edges while the corporate agenda dominates.”

Progressive politics in San Francisco is broken, just like politics nearly everywhere in the USA. Wherever we turn, one progressive politico or another is declaring this or that victory, while life gets harder and meaner for most of us, the rich get richer, politics gets nastier, and neo-fascist repression grows by leaps and bounds. When I was in college, many years ago, we called such contradictions “cognitive dissonance.” A more down-to-earth phrase involves male bovines and excretion.

The Muni fare strike is an attempt to break out of the “failed structures and agendas of the past” by taking politics directly to the masses of poor and working people in this town. It is an attempt to break the grip of the dead hand of our numerous political cliques, both “progressive” and otherwise, who often seem to view their place in the scheme of things to be more important than winning real power for the people they claim to represent. The Muni fare strike, in essence, is an attempt to become the agents of our own liberation.

This may not be what Randy had in mind, but it is one answer to his call for “debate about new ways to build progressive power.”

It has been little more than a week since Muni implemented its most drastic set of service cutbacks in memory. Stories about crowded busses, bunched-up busses, missed runs, busses turning around before the end of their runs, and upset and angry riders could fill the pages of our local newspapers, if they had any interest in running them. If you haven’t heard these horror stories, go stand on a street corner, ask anybody waiting for Muni, and you will get an earful.

And it has been little more than a month since Muni raised the fare by 20% for adults, and by 40% for youth, seniors and the disabled. Wasn’t it Jerry Brown, one of the leaders in our pantheon of “progressive” politicians, who first popularized the slogan “more for less?”

Muni’s managers think that they can hoodwink us with this two stage offensive. First the fare hike, then the service cuts. But I submit that people’s memories are not that short. More cagily, Muni has postponed its cuts to the Metro lines (the J, K, L, M, N) until later this year, and the increase in the Fast Pass until the next budget cycle. That may buy them some time, but not forgiveness.

Let us not forget that the innocuously-named San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), an inglorious amalgam of downtown elites and political wanna-bes, has already set its agenda in motion to eliminate multiple Muni lines and bus stops in the name of “efficiency.”

How “progressive” can a city be that is cutting back and preparing to cut up its public transportation system? Why did our “progressive” supervisors unanimously vote for a budget that included a fare hike and major service cuts? These are weighty questions indeed. But for folks standing on the street waiting for the bus, the questions are much more simple and direct. Will I get to work on time? How long will I have to wait to get home? What’s wrong with the people who run Muni?

To those who look at politics through the prism of the corporate media that dominates political discussion, these questions are either invisible or beyond the pale. And, to tell the truth, our local “progressive” media isn’t doing much better.

We have been reading a lot about hurricanes lately, natural disasters which have exposed the poverty and racism that is so much a part of this country. But here, in San Francisco, it is Muni that is battering us like a hurricane, exposing the poverty and racism that is so much a part of this city.

Muni’s latest campaign is against “fare evaders,” but of course they mean you or me getting on without paying our unfair fare, not their downtown friends who get thousands of workers and shoppers delivered to their doors every day for free.

Instead of going after the corporate profiteers, Muni’s managers now want to add more personnel to enforce their unenforceable fare rules, and deputize them to act as judge and jury for every clerk and maid heading downtown. Are Muni riders the next “enemy combatants?” Just like George Bush, Muni is trying to solve a political problem with a military solution. “Bring it on,” proclaims Rescue Muni’s Andrew Sullivan, one of Muni management’s loyal cheerleaders.

And Muni’s public relations flack, Maggie Lynch, has the nerve to claim that the fare increase and service cuts are part of a “shared solution” to Muni’s budget troubles. As far as I can tell, it is only poor and working class people, riders and drivers alike, who are sharing any real pain.

In the words of the bard, “we ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”

Copyright C 2005 by Marc Norton

Marc Norton is a bellman at a small hotel in downtown San Francisco, and rides Muni every day. He can be reached at, and through his website at Information about the fare strike can be found at

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