William and the Disappearing Magic Muni Bus

Written by William Chadwick. Posted in Arts/Entertainment, Opinion

Published on May 03, 2010 with 6 Comments

By William Chadwick

May 4, 2010

Once upon a time… no, no, you’ve got it all wrong. It may sound like a fairy tale, but it doesn’t have a happy ending. There aren’t even any heads chopped off bad guys or witches thrown into ovens.

Actually, it starts on a sunny Saturday afternoon on my way to work. I left my house in the Mission and walked to the nearby bus stop, leaving myself 45 minutes to get the bus to Nob Hill Masonic Center. As I arrived at the bus stop, the NextMuni LED display indicated the 49 Van Ness-Mission bus was arriving in 4 minutes.

This was great news: I would arrive at work with plenty of time to spare. I glanced over again at the display. Three minutes til my bus arrived.

A man tried to sell me some cheap cinema tickets, but I declined them. I looked up again: one minute…

I stepped out into the road to see if I could see the 49 bus trundling down Mission Street towards me, but there wasn’t a bus in sight.

One last glance at the LED display told me the bus was now “Arriving,” but where could it be? This bus must have a cloaking device, I thought, only becoming visible at the bus stop. The cinema ticket man asked me for a cigarette, but I told him I didn’t have any. Looking around at the display again, I discovered to my horror that my bus was no longer arriving but was now a full 28 minutes away!

How, in the name of all things mechanical and electronic, could my bus go backwards in time? Was it a magic bus? Is it some sort of ironic joke that no-one told me about, that the bus you desperately need in order to get somewhere on time doesn’t actually exist?

I blinked several times and stared at the LED display hoping that there had been some mistake. But no, there hadn’t been: the display calmly began to count the minutes down from 28 til the next 49 bus would arrive, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I must mention at this point that this is not the first time this has happened, but it has been quite a while since I have suffered this fate, and it was still quite a shock.

The 48 Quintara is a repeat offender in this field. I quickly gave up waiting for it when I used to live on 24th Street. And the former 26 bus that used to (supposedly) run along Valencia was also a bit of a mystery. In all my attempts at waiting for and hoping to ride the 26 bus, I only ever caught one glimpse of it.

Once I missed it by a matter of seconds, but all the other times it simply didn’t appear. I have asked many of my friends about it, and so far only one person I have met has actually ever ridden the 26 bus, with many others agreeing with me that its elusiveness simply made it too hard to catch. (I believe, however, it is currently out of service due to the road works along Valencia, so I don’t hold much hope of riding it any time soon.)

If there is anyone at the department of transportation who knows the whereabouts of my 49 bus, or indeed several 48 and 26 buses, I would be delighted to hear the explanation. Perhaps it is a result of the lack of funding that Muni buses are merely sucked back into the ether, from whence they came, once SFMTA stops paying the installments? In this alternate dimension, the buses float around covered in the socks you put into the dryer and never got back.

In the end, I had to walk, jump on BART, and take a taxi in order to get to work, costing me four times the price of a bus ticket.

Still, this story ends with me happily getting to work on time.

William Chadwick

William Chadwick is a young English writer who has recently moved to San Francisco from London. He has worked on-and-off in journalism for almost ten years. He is passionate about the theater, and has directed and written several plays. He is currently trying his hand at teaching English.

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Comments for William and the Disappearing Magic Muni Bus are now closed.

  1. GPS tracked?

    That’s good. I knew a MUNI driver long ago who said that they took turns hanging out at various points on the route while they did coke and had sex while the driver behind them took the anger of the delayed riders. But when the drivers turned in the bus that was ‘late’ actually it was on time. Then, after partying and missing runs it was easy enough to slide back into their proper slot by using one of the loops like the one you mention on Potrero.

    But, that probably doesn’t happen anymore since they have the GPS, right?


  2. Marc should know – he recently developed an iPhone application that links up with the NextMuni database and displays in real time all the buses and their direction at the GPS location where the user is located. Pretty nifty stuff.

  3. There are times when a vehicle is sending out nextbus updates that it is on a route, but nextbus does not know that the vehicle is slated to go out of service before it gets to your stop.

    For instance, say a 49 Mission/Van Ness electric trolley coach is heading inbound (north) along Mission from 24th. It can be taken out of service by turning east onto 17th or 18th Streets and head to the Potrero yard.

    Usually the vehicles have a run indicator which is associated with an end point, generally the terminal of the line and sometimes a turn off towards the yard. You’ll see this with a 22 or 33 where the headsign indicates that it is only running to 16th and Bryant, for instance.

    If the vehicle run is not properly specified, or if the transponder is not turned off when appropriate, or if the transponder is not turned on or is malfunctioning, then misleading information can lead to inaccurate predictions.


  4. I don’t even live in the Bay Area, and I’ve had this happen to me. Last time I was in SF (beginning of April) a 14-Mission disappeared on me. Fortunately, it was 6 minutes to the next instead of 28, and I wasn’t in a hurry, but it was still annoying.

  5. The 26 Valencia line no longer exists. It was cut.

    As Marvin the Paranoid Android aptly pointed out –

    “the bus will come… eventually…”

    but you might have to wait as long as he did… 😉

  6. Will,

    Nice to see your byline again. It’s a Union thing with the missing buses. Drivers can simply not show up for work without calling and then you’re missing a slot in the schedule. Sometimes they fill it and sometimes they don’t. They call it something like a ‘lost’ bus.

    Not all bad for the ‘sick’ driver. They can still be paid and come in on an ‘off’ day later in the week and get paid at least time and a half. So, you work 32 hours and get paid for 44 or something like that. It’s probably worse.

    Get a bike.