Why The San Francisco MUNI System Needs To Be Online

I’ve lived here in San Francisco for nearly a year now and everywhere I’ve gone in the city I’ve ridden the public transit system known as MUNI. It’s an alright mode of transit when you want to get from point A to point B, but the one thing that I’ve noticed is that it’s hard just getting the information you want online. This post will look at the strategy of the SF MUNI system to see how it could improve to make the lives of its passengers much better.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve found myself riding the bus to and from downtown where I was meeting with some friends and to my dismay, found that experience very traumatic. I typically am not afraid of riding the bus but the experiences that I had of people graffiting the bus, fighting amongst each other, and crazy insane people harassing passengers, just makes me wonder what else could be done to make things better. Interestingly, it seems that the SF MUNI is having an issue with budgets in light of this awful recession and by moving to a more online presence – especially in an area where working online is somewhat commonplace – would be pretty productive and cost-beneficial.

If you ever need to plan your route to get around the city, perhaps the best resource for you is the MUNI’s website at 511.org. I guess the “511” also correlates to a 3-digit- number that people can call on their phones for mobile instructions. What’s interesting is that there’s a SF Muni website at sfmuni.org that gives you basic information on purchasing tickets, etc., but for the most part, you’re stuck with a very basic website. Nothing glamorous or nothing great about it. Hell, for all people know, it’s just a gray’ish white colored bus with a red stripe across it. It’s bland and rather unoriginal in this day of age. Simply having a website is not going to cover it. Rather, you need to focus on how to push your data out there and get the most feedback as possible but at the same time making sure that the majority of your audience is appreciated and has access to voice their own opinions.

So what exactly could be done? Here are some of my thoughts…

Improve upon the features of 511.org to help make it accessible to those who are on the go, for one. I don’t know about you but when I plan on going somewhere on public transit, I’d like to know what route is best for me, whether it saves me time, distance, etc. The beginning of the trip isn’t the problem, but it’s the rest of the day of travel that has me concerned. People might be interested in mapping out their bus routes on the fly through the use of their mobile phones and by having that ability in the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm Pre, etc would be really really helpful. But you might be thinking that it’s all Javascript, forms, and other back-end development, but for the sake of mobility, it would be very helpful to find an all-purpose trip planner that people can use. Frankly, I’d like to be able to plan bus routes when I’m walking around the city rather than trying to hop into the nearby Apple store just to check the routes on their computers. That’s pretty lame.

I wonder if the MUNI system is even listening to their customers or even finding outlets to listen. I’ve been on buses where I’ve seen bus drivers react negatively to passengers, passengers responding negatively to fellow passengers, or just crazy people causing random mischief and tweeted them out. Explicitly using the term “SF Muni”, my tweets have gone unheard and have fallen on deaf ears. Is it because that there is no more resources? How is their situation any different from the BART system in that BART is able to monitor their community? So what’s MUNI to do?

  • Set up a Twitter account so that they at least listen to the thousands of people who are twittering – somewhat of a real-time customer service tool.
  • Establish a method so people can upload photos or even videos of people committing illegal activity on the bus so they can be prosecuted.
  • Create a blog to allow for the public to voice their opinion over any change in policy or at least update everyone about what changes are coming for the MUNI system.
  • Establish an interactive map element that will allow people to chart their own route.
  • Find a way to humanize the bus drivers. I know that for me, I’ve been feeling very put off by the drivers by their mannerisms. Granted not all of them are grumpy or rude, but those that are I feel make the trip less enjoyable.

Overall, I think that the MUNI system could do a better job of interacting with the public using the web. It’s a great communication tool and by being more proactive, I’d be most appreciative.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."