Group aims to give Muni riders voice 

Just as city bicyclists formed a union that has grown to 11,000, efforts are under way to form a power base of Muni riders designed to advocate for the rights of transit passengers.

Muni riders — stung by service reductions, increasing fare costs and the perception of poor management, with the likelihood of more changes on the way — are forming the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, an organization designed to deliver value to passengers based on the model successfully employed by city bicyclists. Already, the group said it has 400 members.

Dave Snyder, a longtime local transit activist, is heading up the group. He’s still working on establishing a steering committee.

“The idea is to give riders a stronger, more-unified voice,” said Snyder, who formerly worked with San Francisco Planning and Urban Research and is a current member of the Golden Gate Bridge district board of directors. Similar groups exist in New York, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

With riders increasingly facing the brunt of Muni’s budget problems, Snyder said he wants the union to take on the same prominent role as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, an 11,000-member organization with a strong political presence.

Snyder knows about the effective policy work of the Bike Coalition — as its executive director in the early 1990s, he helped transform the organization from a small-time operation to the thriving advocacy group it is now, said Andy Thornley, program director for the coalition.

The Bike Coalition is the largest of its kind in the country, and it weighs heavily on any public decision regarding transit, planning or infrastructure in San Francisco.

“Before Dave arrived at the Bike Coalition, we really had to elbow our way into any conversation regarding public policy decisions,” Thornley said. “Now we have politicians calling us to get feedback.”

Snyder could face problems organizing Muni riders, however. Unlike cyclists, who tend to uniformly identify and celebrate their passion for bikes, few people consider themselves first and foremost a transit rider, according to Greg Dewar, a local transit advocate who publishes the N-Judah Chronicles blog.

“For people who ride bikes, it’s a way of life,” Dewar said. “For most Muni riders, transit is primarily just a way to get back and forth from work.”

Dewar cited local transit groups such as Rescue Muni as promising movements that fizzled out because of a lack of coherence and diversity among members.

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Will Reisman

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