Transit operators barge into march 

A grass-roots movement by a group of angry Muni riders was co-opted by members of the transit agency’s operators union, whose main message was that passengers and drivers are on the same side.

The march had been organized on the Web and Facebook by two Muni riders who decided to galvanize anger about service cuts and fare hikes. They launched a March against Muni site and are encouraging people to boycott the transit agency as much as possible during the month of March. More than 100 riders gathered at the Powell Street station, carrying signs printed to look like Muni passes.

One of the signs read “I — Insulting drivers,” which made it especially awkward when the operators themselves showed up for a march that was simultaneous and on the exact same route.

Members of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A — who carried signs in support of operators and blamed the management of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for Muni’s woes — marched alongside the riders.

The move came just days after the union hired former Newsom political strategist Eric Jaye to consult on how best to engage the public.

As the two groups marched, there were many riders who had no idea the Muni employees had not been invited, while others realized the situation and were confused. At one point, a police officer tried to separate the two groups into drivers and riders.

Both groups wound up in a single crowd in front of City Hall, and their leaders, each with a megaphone, had several exchanges. The Muni operators’ group leaders continued to press their message that it’s SFMTA leadership, not operators, who are in the wrong, while the grass-roots riders groups insisted the Muni drivers also had to take some responsibility.

Union President Irwin Lum said his group was not trying to co-opt the event, but rather launch “the beginning part of working together.”

Longtime Muni rider Tim Dobbins said he heard about the demonstration on Facebook and was surprised when he arrived to participate and saw Muni employees also marching. He said he doesn’t blame Muni drivers as the sole cause of the agency’s budget problems, but said he thinks they do need to make concessions. He thinks many of the problems could be solved if there were fewer fare evaders.

“It just really hurts me that Muni won’t crack down on fare cheats to solve this problem,” Dobbins said. “I’m really tired of them raising the fare for those of us who do pay.”

kworth@sfexaminer.com

 

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Katie Worth

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