Riding the mystery bus – 88 Shuttle

For years walking home or waiting for the bus I would see bus stops for the 88 marked in the same locations as the 17, 28, and 18 lines. I’ve lived in the southwest corner of San Francisco followed by the adjoining area of Daly City for the past four years, yet I’ve seen this bus only one time.

The sign on the bus said BART shuttle, and it was driving on Lake Merced Boulevard, on the far West side of the city. There is only one other route that services this street. It seemed like it would be a convenient route if I could ever figure out how to get on it.

I looked up the schedule to find it only runs Eastbound in the morning and Westbound in the evenings, between Balboa Park BART and John Muir Drive, on the extreme southwest end of the city. I headed to the Balboa Park BART station and, naively, waited on the side of the street that westbound buses pick up on. I was there 2 minutes before the bus was schedule to leave but figured that it had come early and I missed it.

When 20 minutes had passed and I didn’t see the next bus I began to wonder if I hadn’t looked at the map closely enough. I looked across the street and saw the bus leaving without me. It turns out that it goes East for one block before turning to eventually go West. There was no way I could cross the four lanes of busy traffic to reach it before it left. Cursing, I crossed and waited another 30 minutes until the next one was scheduled to come. Lesson learned: study the map closely to make sure that I know which side of the street to wait on.

On my way to cross the street I saw a man with large sunglasses and a white-tipped cane walk straight into the traffic I was avoiding by walking to the end of the block. His cane was not to the ground and it appeared as if he was sighted by the way he was dodging the cars. When he got to the median he waited for about 30 seconds before switching to appearing blind, cane to the ground, waiting for the traffic to dissipate before crossing.

I don’t know if this was his way of getting a reduced fare (75 cents vs. two dollars), or if he was simply a delusional blind man.

I waited, then waited, then waited some more. I broke a half dollar for someone who couldn’t use it in the change box. I declined an offer to buy someone’s (wonderful, I’m sure) rap CD. I saw a woman exclaim “There’s our bus. Woo hoo!” while pumping her fists in the air. I feel like doing that sometimes, but I suppose it’s only acceptable to do that if you are talking to a four-year-old, as she was.

Finally, I saw my bus approaching. Since I had only seen this bus empty I expected there to be few takers. To my surprise, there were 20 of us on the bus.

As we traveled West the bus emptied pretty quickly. We drove through the Outer Mission towards Park Merced, and by the time we reached Sickles and Mission it was just me and a mustached gentleman sitting directly across from me in the back of the empty bus. He was reading a copy of the Examiner. When he finished he moved on to staring at me.

I know I was sitting right across from him, but I felt like I was doing a pretty good job of uncomfortably avoiding looking at him, and I didn’t understand why he couldn’t reciprocate.

The bus driver looked in her mirror then turned around and yelled to the back “Park Merced?” I was the only one in view. I yelled “end of the line” twice before she could hear me. I decided this would be an opportune time to change seats without making it so entirely obvious that he was creeping me out.

The driver skipped the entire middle portion of the line that goes through the Park Merced neighborhood. If the mustached man had needed to get off anywhere but the end line he was going to be out of luck unless he spoke up. Since he got off at the last stop with me, I guess it wasn’t an issue.

I now know why this lined remained a mystery for so long – it runs at hours I generally am not hanging around its bus stops, and it probably skipped them anyway.

This line has the potential to be useful for commuters who live in the Southwest end of the city going East. Muni Fastpass holders are allowed to ride BART inside the city for free. By taking one bus to the last station in San Francisco residents would have quick access to a faster transportation network without the additional cost that going to the closer Daly City BART produces.

The reality is that this line probably has very little ability to help people who are getting to work because the chances that the bus might skip your stop or be off schedule are very real. It has much more use commuting home during rush hour (4-6 p.m.), as the bus does arrive on time at Balboa Park BART, and once you’re on you know that your stop won’t get passed up.


Schedule update

I just wanted to leave a note about my new schedule now that I am employed. I get off early on Fridays, and my bus rides will take place then. The blog will be updated on Friday nights or Saturdays. Some weekends will see extra rides.

I am sorry to have the blog become a weekly installment, but I am happy to be working full-time, so I can’t complain!

A land of unending traffic

I need to apologize for this break in postings. I was busy for a few days with job interviews (I got the one I really wanted!) and am now on a short vacation in Los Angeles.

My boyfriend and I rented a car to get around. If it is taking me an hour to get to where google maps claims it will take 24 minutes, I can’t imagine how long those bus routes must take.

I’ll be back late this weekend and I can’t wait to get back to those San Francisco buses, since I am typing on an iPhone this is farewell for now. – I’ll see you in a few days.

A little bit of etiquette

I decided that instead of riding the cable car today I would take a nap. This worked out great at the time but left me without material for today’s blog.

I’ve taken the opportunity to make a list of 5 (yes, it’s a nice round number) bits of public transit etiquette.

1.  Scoot over. As I posted in an earlier blog, you look like a jerk (and, well, are one) if you don’t scoot over. Unless the bus is empty or you are getting off at the next stop you need to take that inside seat. Look at it as an opportunity to see the beautiful city (or not so beautiful city if you are in say, Beaumont) out the window.

2. Put those nail clippers away. I don’t know why this is such a popular activity on MUNI, but I am constantly bombarded by a shower of other people’s nail clippings. It’s gross both because I don’t want little bits of your protein flying at me and because the noise – “click, click click, click” is unbearable.

3. Food and beverages are banned for a reason. If you’re really hungry and you have a handful of nuts, a small piece of bread, or some other odorless, crumb-free, non-staining food it’s fine by me. But please, leave your Chinese takeout and friend chicken in your bag until you get home. Those of you who are arrogant enough to think that you can drink coffee on a packed commuter bus should all have the good fortune to spill that drink all over your new silk shirt on the way to the office.

4. You have bad taste in music. No matter how much you think the world should enjoy the music you are sharing with them, I can guarantee there’s at least half a bus full of riders that hate it. No matter how much I would enjoy hearing that song on my own ipod or in my car, no matter how good the music is, it sounds terrible coming from your crummy boom box or, even worse, through your headphones that are so loud I can hear them from across the isle. Save your hearing – damage is irreparable – and turn that music down.

5. Have your money ready. No one wants to hold your coffee while you search for your wallet.  Unless you are one of the very fortunate people who just caught the bus and didn’t have time to get it ready, have your money/pass/token in hand. It will save everyone time and if everyone practices this very easy bit of etiquette we’ll all get to our destinations sooner.

Readers, what is your pet peeve while riding public transit? What do you wish every rider would do to make your trip better? Please share by posting a comment.

July 29 – A quick ride on the 17

I have ridden the 17 for two reasons: to avoid having to wait half an hour for the M from West Portal to Stonestown and when I was a lazy college student living in Park Merced. I would hop on instead of walking the 15 minutes to class a couple times a week.

Today I took it from the Park Merced inbound to West Portal. The entire ride takes just 17 minutes one-way, and there’s no real definition between inbound and outbound. It makes a loop instead of retracing its steps like most routes do.

The bus was a two-level hybrid. I like to sit in the top section so that I get better views. It was pretty empty most of the time, with a maximum of 13 and a minimum of 2 (including myself), so I really had my choice of seats.


Park Merced is a neighborhood that was built after World War II and has traffic circles instead of four-way stops at almost every intersection. I almost never get motion sickness – I can read, write, use a map, do pretty much anything in a vehicle and not have to worry about an upset stomach. Today I was just trying to hold on for dear life as the driver zoomed around the traffic circles as if he was being chased in a James Bond movie.

Public buses are not the cleanest places around. I know I’ve seen my share of disgusting behavior, not to mention all the filthy things people are apt to do by themselves. An article from the New York Times quoted a Harris Interactive survey.

” Fewer than half of adults said they always washed after touching a pet, sneezing or handling money. Washing hands after changing a baby’s diaper is also far from a universal habit, with only 64 percent of men and 82 percent of women reporting that they did so. And most people wash up before handling food, but by no means all: 23 percent of adults said they regularly handled food without first washing.”

That is why I am so disturbed by the way that riders have to open the back door on the newer hybrid buses.

Who wants to have to place their open palm on a bus door?

A person must place their open palm on the yellow strip to open the door. There’s no handle, button, or anything else that’s possible to hit with one’s elbow or closed fist. No, your whole hand has to get all up on there. To make it worse, it never worked the first time. I saw multiple people first place one open palm and still face a closed door. Then two palms would go up. Banging. “Back door!” Eventually the doors would open, but not before their hands got covered in filth.

It happened to me, too. I tried to minimize the hand-to-door contact, but it couldn’t be helped. Next time I’ll sit in front and get off the door that doesn’t require hand-to-door contact. I recommend you do the same.

p.s. This evening I was riding an M from Castro Station to West Portal, just two stops. This was not part of my project – just a way to get home. I usually don’t include things that happen on my commuting time in this blog, but I couldn’t leave this one out.

A guy in his early-to mid-20′s named Igor was talking to his seatmate (whom he had just met) about the citation he just received for littering. He was worried about the fine as he was currently out on bail facing 80 years for a slew of charges that included making terrorist threats to police officers.

He went on to say that he loved San Francisco nonetheless.

“I love it here,” he said. “It’s the best here. I lived in Florida for three months and got tazed twice.”

“What for,” asked the man sitting next to him, a natural reaction.

“Running. That’s why San Francisco is so great. Here you run and you get away. In Florida you run and you get tazed.”

Amen to that.

17 schedule

July 24 – 54 through Hunter’s Point

I expected my ride on the 54, which travels from Daly City BART through Ingleside, the Excelsior, the Mission District, Hunter’s Point, and other neighborhoods that can be rather unsavory at times, to be full of drama and potentially a bit frightening. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by how cute some of the neighborhoods were, with tree-lined streets and cozy looking houses. It definitely wasn’t frightening, but there was more character on this bus than the other lines I have ridden.

Before I left I tried to shop for pepper spray or something similarly debilitating to a would-be attacker. I decided that I should probably have something to defend myself, not just for this line, but for others that are even worse that I will soon travel on. I found that neither Walgreens nor Target sell anything like it. An employee at Target recommended I buy a can of travel-sized hair spray. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking, but I bought it. I’ll have to go to a sports or police supply store to buy something more effective soon.

At the Daly City BART station I boarded the bus behind two women who apparently had never ridden a bus before, let alone paid for anything in a vending machine. As one of them attempted to put change in the dollar slot the bus driver explained calmly “put the change in here,” as she pointed to the slot where change gets dropped. “Put the dollar in there,” she said as she pointed to the place where dollars are fed, marked with a picture of a dollar bill, when the woman then tried to put the dollar into the change box, “just slide it in.” They were 19 cents short, but she let them ride.

It turned out they needed to get off at the next stop. I was the only one on the bus who knew where the Ocean View Apartments are located. As they got off the bus I tried to point them across the street to where they needed to go. We were signing to each other through the window when the driver pulled away, saying “don’t worry, they’ll find it.” If it hadn’t been for the change-in-the-dollar-slot episode I would have felt a lot more confident that they would cross the right street.

I was so distracted by the whole situation, as was the driver, that I forgot to get my transfer. I realized this about five minutes later, and I explained what happened. I described the whole event, with the women who were short 19 cents, where they got off, how they were having trouble paying in the right slot. The bus driver claimed she didn’t remember any of that happening. She wasn’t sure that I paid, and she told me that it pissed her off that I was doing asking for a transfer after I paid. She really said she couldn’t remember anything that had happened five minutes earlier. I didn’t want to be out my two bucks, so I insisted that it wouldn’t happen again, I was truly sorry, I really did pay, didn’t she remember the women who were short 19 cents? She begrudgingly gave me my transfer, pointing at the sign that declared that transfers are only given at the time of payment.

San Francisco was built on a series of hills, and this bus managed to climb some of the steepest streets I had ever been on. I was actually frightened at one point as the engine sputtered and sounded like it was going to stall before making the final push towards the top of one of these hills.

The views of the Bay as we crested the top were incredible. I was able to take a quick shot but this was the last picture I took. While I didn’t feel like I was in danger riding the bus, I also felt like it wouldn’t be very smart to pull out an iphone while riding through these neighborhoods.

bay view

As we rode further and further towards Bay View and Hunter’s Point the characters got to be stranger and stranger and the bus driver seemed to care less and less about what went on in the bus. A woman with very few teeth got on with her two kids, circa age six, and their full ice cream cones. “Oh, Lord,” I thought, “this is one disaster waiting to happen.” I was praying that the ice cream wouldn’t end up landing on my lap. Amazingly only one of the children dropped his cone, and he had eaten the top so that only cone remained and disaster was averted. The boy still wanted to eat it, and asked his mom, who was totally oblivious as to what was going on, to pick it up off the floor and hand it back to him. She asked “how did that end up here?” before picking it up, telling him he couldn’t eat it, and throwing it out the window.

A man got on the bus and handed his cup of coffee to a woman in front while he got his wallet out. He did not ask, he just handed it to her. She looked befuddled. What do you do when a stranger hands you something to hold without saying anything (or even with asking)?

He took his coffee back and sat down. She opened her backpack, which was full of boxes of soap, rustled around a little bit, then zipped it back up. He asked her if she was selling that. To my surprise, she was. Apparently the cost was three for $5. He declined to purchase any. A plethora of questions sprung into my mind. Who walks around with a backpack full of bars of soap for sale? How long had she been carrying this around? Was she just relying on people to ask her if the soap they saw in her backpack was for sale? How much money has she made selling soap? Is this soap-selling business from backpacks on the bus something I should get into?

After winding around the Hunter’s Point Project Area, which had some very nice looking newer homes and some very, very not nice looking homes, I got dropped off at the end of the line at the bottom of the hill on 3rd street. I walked two blocks to the bus stop for the return trip, very happy not to have to wind back up the hill through the projects again on the return. The views were beautiful, but the combination of dilapidated homes, rolling fog, and an entire community without anyone standing outside gave me a little bit of the creeps.

54 Felton pdf map

July 23 – A gray day along route 18

One of the best feelings in the world is managing to catch that bus right before it pulls away. Conversely, missing that bus by seconds is truly one of the worst. As I tried to make the 1:50 18 at Stonestown I faced the feeling of defeat as it left without me. Luckily the stop is in front of a bookstore, so I was able to wait inside instead of shivering in the cold for 20 minutes.

I am taking this opportunity to use up all the pennies that have accumulated in my change cup. Most vending machines don’t take pennies, and it came as a surprise to my cousin that you could use pennies on Muni. The trick is to figure out how many is too many to use at once.

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I tried 15 pennies, seven quarters, and one dime. It turns out this is much too much change to try to shove into that slot at once. I had to split the change into two handfuls to prevent dropping it all over the floor. I got on last so that I wouldn’t hold anyone up, but it was still embarrassing to have to take that second handful of change and drop it in, praying that the change counter will add all the change and get to $2.00. I will scale down tomorrow.

The 18 runs from Stonestown along the Western edge of town, through the Outer Sunset, Outer Richmond, and ends in front of the Legion of Honor. It rolls down sections of the Great Highway and passes Lake Merced and the Cliff House.

I grew up in the desert of Southern California where July is unbearably hot. I have lived here for four years but such gloomy mid-summer weather still astounds me. I am sure that the view on the bus is glorious on a sunny day but today it just made me kind of depressed.

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The route winded back and forth next to the ocean, turning back and going east again, finally ending at the Legion of Honor. I was able to hop off, take a quick snapshot and then get back on the bus, the driver audibly laughing at me as I flashed my transfer.

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This route actually goes to quite a few useful places for having a fun day in the city- Fort Funston, Stonestown, the Cliff House and historic Sutro site, and the Legion of Honor, one of the most beautiful museums in the city. It’s not the bus line to ride if you’re looking for a bus full of crazy, but I think that most people are actually trying to avoid that.

July 21 – My journey begins

I figured the day I was having my car’s transmission looked at was as good a day as any to start this project. I dropped my car off for what was supposed to be a three-hour diagnostic session and hopped on the 14, which stopped right outside the shop’s door.

When I began to plan this project (I spent a whopping one afternoon working out the details), I contemplated whether I should do the lines in order (starting with the 1 and ending in the lettered light rail lines), or if I should start with familiar lines that wouldn’t put me off the project before I even began in earnest. I was leaning towards doing the 28 first, a commuter line I rode for years that ends in the Marina and goes past the Golden Gate Bridge.

But with the noise increasing in my transmission I decided that I would let fate cast the route, and I would take the first bus I came across.

The 14 runs the entire length of Mission Street in San Francisco, from the border with Daly City to the Ferry Terminal at the Embarcadero. It passes through the Outer Mission, the Excelsior, the Mission District, and SOMA.

I waited for the bus to come, not knowing how long it was until the next bus arrived because some kind soul did this to the monitor that posts wait times:

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The ride was fairly uneventful, and the bus never got very crowded. There were times when people stood, although that was not for lack of seats.

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A note to people who ride the bus: don’t be a douche bag. If you aren’t getting off at the next stop, scoot the hell over. Seriously. Also, if a man gets on and is using a cane and is falling down, and you are a 15-year-old boy (or anyone who doesn’t use a cane or have some kind of disability preventing you from standing) get the heck out of that seat. I am constantly astounded by the level of either rudeness or obliviousness by those who ride public transportation. But I digress.

After a fairly quick ride of 40 minutes I was greeted by the most joyous sight I could have imagined. In Justin Herman Plaza, near the Ferry Building, Ben & Jerry’s was giving away free ice cream sundaes as part of their promotion for their “flipped out” product. I missed the giveaway they advertised as being in Golden Gate Park, while never specifying which in which of the over 1,000 acres it would be held. I was overjoyed when I realized that I hadn’t missed my opportunity for the frozen treat. Ben & Jerry’s always tastes good; free ice cream always tastes better.

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I decided to take the 14L back – a limited line that makes fewer stops but runs the same route. I contemplated counting the limiteds as separate lines, but in reality they are the same route, only fewer stops. I will take all lines that have limited buses as the conventional bus one way and the limited on the return trip. I will get to experience the differences in bus culture, but will only have to ride the same route for one round trip.

The limited had far fewer back door entries (two versus the 12 on the conventional line), but other than that there didn’t seem to be any differences. The neighborhoods got gradually worse on the ride up the hill, as did the weather. I rode back to the Daly City border, where I waited for the phone call from the shop with news on my car. It came two hours late, and it wasn’t good. There’s no way I can afford the repairs. At least when it’s time comes I’ll know how to get around.