I generally try to keep the posts here above the realm of merely whining, but every once in awhile, a little whining is in order. You may have caught the recent SFist article about the broken change machine at Church Station — and the would-be rider pleading with the station agent to take her money, only to be told to go to another station with a functional change machine.
Sorry, but it is inexcusable to require that patrons use these change machines, and then allow them to sit broken and unusable for any period of time longer than about one hour. San Francisco only has a handful of subway stations to begin with, and of those, even fewer feature SFMTA-maintained change machines. The fact that riders without passes are still feeding fistfuls of coins into turnstiles to pay fare is already pretty deplorable — but telling riders (customers!) that their only option to pay fare for the train is to somehow travel to another station (not on the train, of course) and make change there is the type of interaction that only cements the widely-held view that Muni really could not care less about its riders, customer service office notwithstanding.
I recently found myself at Powell Station without fast pass, because the pass had mysteriously hidden itself under piles of paper on my desk. Upon opening my wallet, what do I discover but… a single $5 bill. Great: the denomination of bill you cannot get change for at the downtown stations. One minute later, I was back upstairs purchasing a bottle of water to get change, and then again on the platform — apparently having just missed a train I would have taken. Is this really the sort of complication riders should have to deal with? Of all things that Muni should make easy for riders, paying the fare is right at the top of the list.
All of the above is a clear reminder of the fact that San Francisco’s downtown subway stations could stand to be improved, especially in terms of making them clearer to navigate. Imagine you are a traveler entering one of these stations for the first time, with little to no familiarity with BART or Muni. Perhaps you wander for a bit between station booths, trying to ascertain the difference between the two systems and to determine where to catch the right train. There, you are greeted by the following “professional” signage:
You would like to ask a question but …
… no dice. Your only resource is a cluttered collection of signs littering the booth, including Microsoft Word documents that look like they were printed on someone’s home computer and then messily affixed to the booth with Scotch tape. And although more official printed signs have been posted indicating that you should press “H” on a BART machine to make change for Muni, some older MS Word signs remain, despite providing redundant content in a decidedly amateur way (see image at right). Please note, however, that even on the so-called “official” sign, Muni is spelled once as “Muni” and another time as “muni” — and BART is spelled incorrectly not just once, but twice: once as “Bart”, and once more in E.E. Cummings style as “bart.” Infuriating, but at least consistent with the similarly infuriating all-lowercase signs used on platforms, as well as for the headers on many other signs (this one included).
And while we are on the topic of the magical “H” button, it is not necessarily intuitive that you have to find a BART ticket machine (and then press a button labeled “H”) to make change for Muni fare — particularly after having been abruptly informed that BART is “not Muni” and that Muni is “not BART.” Having two sets of change machines might only add confusion, but it would be nice to have more elegant signage and a better interface to make it clear to new riders that the machines are used jointly.
Okay, end rant. Admittedly, station signs have improved somewhat, if slowly. Muni Metro’s station-specific maps on the platforms leave something to be desired, but finally, complete system-wide maps were recently added to platforms — though of course with the the standard misguided diagonal header that has graced every SFMTA publication since last year. But the four downtown stations shared by BART and Muni are the most heavily-traveled transit hubs in the Bay Area, used by locals, commuters, and visitors alike. As such, they should be made as comfortable and as intuitive as possible. For many visitors, their first glimpse of San Francisco is through one of these stations, after riding BART from the airport. Ideally, these stations would be civic centerpieces in their own right, but they fall considerably short. Is this really the best that a self-proclaimed “world-class” city can do?