As the year comes to a close and we look back on all that has been accomplished, we are again struck by the strength, dedication, and commitment shown by our members every day. We want to extend our deepest gratitude to you for standing by our side through the ups and downs of the last year. Thank you for being a member as we spent this year dedicated to creative and meaningful work. We couldn’t have done it without you.
A few weeks ago, a reporter from a local newspaper asked me to react to a video clip from the 1970s where Harvey Milk made a statement that San Franciscans had to visit amusement parks “to have a pleasant place to walk and stroll” or “for a good transportation system.” Relating the video to the recent fights about public spaces like John F Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, the reporter asked me if anything had changed in the decades since Supervisor Milk made that statement.
I can understand how a lack of progress may seem true on a certain level, but that also diminishes the successes we have had over the last 50 years. From our viewpoint: San Francisco has made progress. From saying a resounding no to freeway expansions that would tear down and further separate our neighborhoods, to setting our city’s ambitious climate goals that prioritize public transportation, we have pushed forward. As the city emerges from the pandemic, this year alone we celebrated the opening of Van Ness BRT; the restoration of the 21 Hayes, 15 Bayview Hunters Point, 6 Haight-Parnassus, 2 Sutter, the L, and others; as well as our much-awaited Central Subway connection to Chinatown.
San Francisco Transit Riders’ own advocacy in coordination with you, our partners and members, paved the way for new transit-only lanes, free Muni for youth, no new fare increases, and the victory on Prop L. At the same time, however, we also understand how close we are to seeing the city’s transit system buckle if no new revenue is identified for the long haul. Therefore, our work in 2022 has also focused on creative solutions and collective collaboration, and we are excited to share those with you as we plan for the new year.
With COVID decimating ridership for San Francisco’s vital public transportation system and further exacerbating SFMTA’s structural deficit of $75M a year, and with time running out for one-time funds, the potential for far-reaching effects on transit are not hard to fathom. Riders will face significant service cuts unless additional revenue can be found. Undergirding this is also a continued distrust of our transit agencies in some communities and the legacy of transportation as catalyst for gentrification and displacement in equity priority neighborhoods. Prop L’s win is some relief but the precise pathway to identify new transit operating funding to expand and stabilize service at a level matching the peak demands and needs identified even before the pandemic is not yet clear.
Since August of 2022, the San Francisco Transit Riders has been convening a set of stakeholders to form a Transit Justice Coalition, with the idea of building a rider-led movement to reinvest in Muni and transit systems across the Bay Area, reimagining what transit might look like when it centers the needs of transit riders. Our hope is to set in motion a process of coalition building and rider organizing led by riders and communities like the Bayview-Hunters Point which have been historically marginalized or actively harmed by past transportation decision making. In this effort we are asking pointed questions. What does a transit vision look like in San Francisco that is led by community-based organizations, everyday riders, and advocates that prioritizes our most marginalized riders? How can we work with supervisorial champions and coalition partners to identify new, progressive revenue sources to fund key policies and programs within that rider vision?
We believe that engaging community stakeholders including community-based organizations representing equity priority communities (the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporations and the Literacy for Environmental Justice) around the creation of a rider-led vision of public transportation in San Francisco can provide direction, organization and commitment toward campaign efforts that are necessary to achieve this vision. This vision can build off existing plans such as Connect SF, SFMTA’s 5-minute network, and SFTR’s 30×30, but it must come from organic and authentic collaboration, rather than a top-down approach set out by SFMTA, SFTR, or city leaders.
On a related note, we have been also making headway in the Bayview community specifically, surveying residents on Sunday Streets, local fairs, through intercepts at transit stops and through focus groups. Again and again, residents have confirmed their top three challenges in the neighborhood: unreliable and infrequent transit, uneven streets, and an unsafe transit experience. The spark in the community to engage is clearly there. Further, San Francisco Transit Riders are hopeful about providing the missing platform for continued dialogue between residents and our transit leadership and decision makers.
This past year, we put together a month dedicated to celebrating transit and uplifting our riders and transit operators. Transit Month was host to over 30 transit-focused events, and reached over 10,000 people through social media. We were thrilled to host such a joyous occasion, and look forward to continuing the tradition next year.
We think we can be successful if our efforts can lead towards change that centers the needs of residents everywhere, but especially those who have been long neglected. We can strive to create agency in communities such as the Bayview, agency that will be transformational for the future of equitable transit for San Francisco.
So, as we continue to work on these critical issues, it is important to remember that the theme park of Harvey Milk’s metaphor, however dream-like it may be, will never offer a public realm that we desire for ourselves—for it is privately owned and governed by profit. My hope is that we can create city streets that represent a true public realm that offers something for everyone but never at the cost of further marginalizing the dispossessed in our society.
That onus is on us all.
And that is where the San Francisco Transit Riders can also help elevate your voice.
Our heartfelt thanks to you and your leadership. By donating and renewing your membership to San Francisco Transit Riders, you help affirm the essential value of public transportation to our great city and your commitment to uphold that value. I hope you are also planning to participate in our end of the year activities that we have planned for you.
San Francisco Transit Riders