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Transit Stories: San Francisco Municipal Railway – 1


San Francisco Municipal Railway, more commonly known as Muni, is San Francisco’s primary transit operator, operating nearly 2,000 vehicles and serves over 670,000 riders per day. With a network that covers the entire city and operates 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, Muni plays a vital role in keeping San Franciscans and visitors moving through the small, compact city.

Founded in 1912 after merging with different railway and streetcar companies, Muni nowadays operates one historic streetcar line, seven light rail (called Muni Metro, discussed later) lines, 17 trolleybus lines, and 54 bus lines, all of which cover most of the City and County of San Francisco. But, it’s not the buses that keeps visitors from coming back to San Francisco: the agency operates three cable car lines, laid out in 1873 by several cable car companies, in which today, those operate not only as a mode of transportation through the steep hills of the Downtown, Pacific Heights, and North Beach areas, but also serve as moving nostalgia — many of the cars built for the city was built in the 1880s, during the height of cable car construction. With an extensive network covering 46.7 square miles, Muni is the second-largest transit operator in California and the seventh-largest in the country,  carrying nearly 210 million riders in 2010 (reference here) with only Los Angeles’ METRO being larger than Muni.


Muni is part of a larger agency, called the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which in turn also collaborates with the Department of Public Works. The agency is responsible for the overall health of the transit agency, including transit scheduling, vehicle and station maintenance, fares and tickets, and transit security. The SFMTA is responsible as well for street sweeping and on- and off-street parking, as well as maintaining bike lanes, congestion management, and of course, road maintenance. Muni is also quite infamous for its on-time record: in November 1999, San Francisco voters passed Proposition E, with a goal of attaining the agency’s on-time rating of at least 85%. However, due to many factors, from vehicle breakdowns to traffic congestion, Muni has not been able to achieve that mandated on-time rating goal. (More details on Proposition E updates here and here)

Being a major transit agency, this Transit Story will involve multiple parts. On part 2, I will discuss the buses aspect of Muni, as well as discussing the types of service the agency operates using its large fleet of buses.

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