|Courtesy of Flickr user MSPdude.|
This Saturday, a momentous event occurred — not just once, but twice: the number of riders on Muni’s 74X CultureBus reached double digits. No, really — we saw it with our own eyes. Of course, that’s only thanks to the party organized by the SF Appeal to honor the final passing of this noble bus route, a service in branded golden buses linking many of the city’s museums. Without the cluster of folks who showed up for the party, the bus would have been lucky to get up to even five riders. Launched to pomp and circumstance on September 20, 2008, any initial enthusiasm turned out to be much ado about nothing. The 74X was once predicted to have about 20-30 riders per bus. But 2 or 3 — and often, no one at all — was closer to the mark.
When it first launched, we counted ourselves among the skeptics. Visitors from around the Bay Area might well have appreciated the simplicity of a museum line with a single fare for the whole day. But the CultureBus route never made it to the Caltrain depot, and it floated around downtown BART stations without being marketed as directly serving any of them. The high fare (at that time, $7, or $3 with a Fast Pass) was not a bad deal if you really are going to visit several museums in one day — but does anyone actually do that? And even if they do, was the service so much better than the nearby 5-Fulton and N-Judah, which basically serve all the same destinations, but cost 78-80% less to ride and show up more often? Despite these imperfections, it was nice to see the SFMTA at least try something, anything, to innovate and think outside the box. But then the 20-minute headways degraded into hourly service; and the fare rose to $10, or $5 with a Fast Pass. Was a nail ever before driven so definitively into a coffin? With the SFMTA’s particularly troubling budget this year, the CultureBus was a luxury we simply could not afford. It was finally laid to rest on August 15, 2009, not even making it to its first anniversary. So long, CultureBus: we hardly knew ye.
Sounds like the ‘Dillo service in Austin, in a way. A circulator that goes roundy-round, and keeps get reduced in service, so that it doesn’t make sense anymore, till eventually it dies.
Successful urban transit is about figuring out how to serve many kinds of people travelling for many purposes. The Culture Bus was exactly the opposite.