Or, How About “Step Down to Open”?

Like many transit systems, Muni has had its idiosyncrasies over its first century of serving San Franciscans. On a recent trip to look at historic buses, we were reminded of one that made us chuckle all over again.
After World War II, Muni got its first vehicles with treadles in the rear stepwells. When you stepped down, the doors opened automatically at stops. Not a world-shaking event to us today, but Muni management in that day must have thought it would befuddle riders — or they were singularly concerned about safety — so they posted these remarkably detailed instructions over the rear doors of all their PCC streetcars, trolley coaches, and motor coaches. Even after people got the hang of it, the instructions stayed up, well into the 1970s, if we remember correctly.
If you stopped to read something that convoluted by the back doors of a Muni vehicle today, you’d be run over…mostly by people climbing on without paying!

Comments: 10

  1. Maybe Muni weren’t stupid. My wife and I visited San Francisco in 2010. When I tried to alight from a trolleybus I was puzzled as to why the doors did not open. We are British and here in the UK the driver opens the exit doors as a matter of course. Fortunately a local saw my dilemma and told me what to do otherwise I would have gone onto the next stop.
    As an aside my wife was vey impressed by the helpfulness of staff on the F route. She is very mobility impaired and she thought they were very helpful.
    Braintree England

  2. Lots of folks are still befuddled by the doors. When they slam on them they yell at the operator, not realizing it is they, the passenger and not the operator that operates the door. Or they simply stand there, too afraid to say anything. And you’d be amazed at how many english speaking people who don’t understand “Step down!”. Heck, a sizeable number of locals don’t even know how to read a transfer.
    And, now that fare inspectors have sowed doubt with their sporadic presence, one can not assume that rear door boarders are evading the fare. What’s silly is seeing someone with a clipper card board through the rear, but coming to the front to zip their card. Never underestimate stupidity.

  3. Actually there was an earlier version of the Step Down sign that said in big letters “STEP DOWN TO OPEN DOOR.” But it was later replaced by the above sign. It seems that Muni signs became more complicated over time. The famous “Information gladly given but unnecessary conversation …” was originally “DON’T TALK TO THE OPERATOR WHILE VEHICLE IS IN MOTION.”

  4. Trolley coach #506, one of Muni’s first batch of 10, built by St. Louis Car Co, in 1941. We’ll run a photo soon.

  5. And before that, “Do not talk to motorman.” Period. In motion or not.

  6. Muni should definitely consider restoring their historic trolley buses and motor coaches(converting them to biodiesel) and put them in part-time revenue service. That way there’ll be less missed runs by drivers and consequentially happier passengers in return.

  7. Perhaps, Eric. Some would like the historic vehicles, but there will be some who complain about having to ride “some crummy old bus!”

  8. I was about 13 years old when the first treadle doors were introduced on buses. Up till then the operator had to open the rear door for a debarking passenger. I remember annoyed folks waiting on the top step pulling repeatedly on the rope intended to request a stop to signal that they wanted off. They were befuddled when the operator shouted for them to step down a step —- and low and behold, the door would open!

  9. Sometimes you have to ignore those that make comments like riding on that old crappy bus. That so called old bus helped shape America’s transit to todays modern non polluting buses. That sound like trucks or are very quiet. Like in NYC you definitely appreciate seeing old buses run. Even if it is just for the month of December. It brings back a lot of memories and it is all evidenced on You tube.

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