Officials made to ride transit with masses

November 28, 1993|By Jane Meredith Adams | Jane Meredith Adams,Contributing Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- This is a time for circling the luxury cars at City Hall.

Voters mandated this month that city officials step out of their Mercedes Benzes, Saabs and Ford Crown Victorias and ride public transit to work with with the masses -- at least twice a week.

And with public sentiment against them, car lovers at City Hall are hunkering down like unregenerate cigarette smokers. For the record, the mayor and the 11-member Board of Supervisors say: I'll ride, or at least I'll say I'll ride.

But no one will know for sure whether they do, because the city ballot initiative that was passed Nov. 2 does not carry enforcement clout.

The point of the initiative -- passing with 65 percent of the vote -- was to wake city officials to deteriorating transit service.

Aimed at top officials

Supporters of the initiative said it was aimed at high-level managers and elected officials -- those who, if they found themselves pressed thigh-to-thigh on a packed bus, conceivably would be moved to do something about crowding, surly teen-agers, muggers and lead-footed drivers on the city's Municipal Railway.

Supervisor Barbara Kaufman was one of the few elected officials in an informal survey who would acknowledge ambivalence about the populist measure.

"I am a car owner; I do drive a car," she conceded. Then, in a burst of frankness, she added, "I wish I could get more people out of their cars, so when I drive my car, there'd be less congestion."

"I feel that because I'm a city employee, I'm being singled out," complained Lorrae Rominger, executive director of the Film and Video Arts Commission, and the possessor of a free City Hall parking space. "I feel I have the same rights as you do. Why should I have to ride the bus?"

Muni managers ride

At Muni headquarters, the general manager, Johnny Stein, was stewing about the proposition. "It's a vindictive act on the part of the public," he said. Muni already has a policy that managers ride the system twice a week. Forcing people to ride the bus won't change conditions, he maintained. That will take money. "Muni has to be funded," he said.

For his part, Mayor Frank Jordan said he would yield to the wishes of the people and try to take buses to get to meetings around town.

"Even though it may be unenforceable and it may be unconstitutional, the public has decided this is what it wants," he said on a recent morning. "I'll ride." The mayor, who hates to be late, wasn't casting his fate entirely with Muni. His driver/bodyguard drove behind his bus in the mayor's blue Crown Victoria.

Anger over service grew

The public transit policy was the brainchild of four mostly carless ex-Jerry-Brown-for-President campaigners, who organized more than a year ago after Muni fares were raised and service was cut.

"Someone said this wouldn't happen if the mayor had to ride the bus," recalled Caty Powell, one member of the group that called itself Take Back San Francisco.

nTC Gathering 9,964 signatures to put the issue on the ballot was easy, she said. Descending into the Muni underground, they'd greet the teeming horde. "We'd hardly get the words out of our mouths, and they'd be signing," she said.

She said the group plans to begin haunting public meetings to ask board members and the mayor whether they're riding public transit. In the meantime, the reserved-parking spaces around City Hall continue to be jammed. Those city employees without cars are practically cackling at the prospect of sharing their Muni experience with the tasseled-loafer crowd. But Hector Mero, a deputy Small Claims clerk who was threatened at knifepoint after he cut in line on the Mission Street bus route, conceded that more than revenge, he wants a car.

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