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Transit activists carry BART, Muni ‘trains’ in caskets to San Francisco City Hall

Transit advocates acting as pallbearers prepare to lay fake transit coffins to rest outside City Hall in San Francisco on Saturday. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

Bay Area transit advocates, playing the role of pallbearers, carried four fake caskets holding cardboard renditions of trains and buses in a mock funeral for the Bay Area's public transit system. BART, Muni, Caltrain and Alameda County Transit were the agencies being mourned at a pro-transit rally in San Francisco's Civic Center on Saturday afternoon.

"Dearly beloved, we gather here today to say our goodbyes: Today, we prepare to lay to rest our beloved public transportation system as we know it," shouted a protestor against a backdrop of cheers and a brass-band funeral march.

Activists mourning the impending death of Bay Area public transit serve as pallbearers carrying models of a Caltrain car and a Muni bus in caskets during a mock funeral procession to a rally in San Francisco's Civic Center on Saturday. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

The protestors did not chant as they made their way from United Nations Plaza to Civic Center Plaza across from San Francisco City Hall starting around 1 p.m., but when someone saw a Muni bus driving by, they would shout, “Bus! Bus! Bus!"

More than 100 demonstrators participated in the mock funeral procession mourning the impending loss of public transit agencies—and its potential impact on the local economy—that began around 11 a.m. in Downtown Oakland. Outside the Elihu M. Harris State Building, a brief memorial was held featuring AC Transit Directors Jean Walsh and Jovanka Beckles as well as BART Director Lateefah Simon.

After the procession moved to San Francisco and ended in another memorial at Civic Center Plaza, city officials—including Mayor London Breed, state Sen. Scott Wiener and Supervisors Dean Preston and Rafael Mandelman—spoke at the rally.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin and Mayor London Breed address the crowd at a public transit "funeral" and rally outside City Hall on Saturday. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

"It's more important that we are loud and make our voices heard, all the way from San Francisco to Sacramento," said Mayor London Breed. "It doesn't just impact us here; it will impact our ability to recover as we go through this challenging time, which has been very devastating, as a result of the pandemic."

Breed went on to applaud San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Jeffrey Tumlin, lauding his organization's investments in environmentally friendly trains and its flexibility during the pandemic.

READ MORE: BART Service in San Francisco Delayed Due to Systemwide Power Issue on Saturday

"There are so many different pieces to the puzzle," Breed said. "On the statewide level, with all the goals they talk about around a clean, green environment—transportation is the thing we need to focus on the most to ensure we achieve a greenhouse gas-free state by 2045. We cannot get there without these investments."

The protestors are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature to expand regional transit funding in the budget for fiscal year 2024. In January, the governor proposed a budget that cuts almost $6 billion from capital programs, including transit infrastructure.

State Sen. Scott Wiener spoke about his 26-year history using public transportation in the Bay Area at a pro-public transit demonstration outside San Francisco City Hall on Saturday. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

"It's hard to even envision San Francisco without great public transportation," said state Sen. Scott Wiener. "We all criticize and beat up on Muni—I'm guilty of that—but let's be clear, we have world-class transportation here in San Francisco, and we should never ever take that for granted."

State Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting, who represents San Francisco's west side, has been under pressure recently to boost transit funding in the state budget. Currently, BART has budgeted its federal pandemic relief funding to last through 2025, after which it faces a deficit in the hundreds of millions per year. 

READ MORE: San Francisco Lawmaker in the Hot Seat Over Muni, BART Bailout

"We are actually at risk of seeing public transportation in the Bay Area crater," said Wiener, who has been a longtime advocate for public transit in the Bay Area.

Activists mourn the impending death of Bay Area public transit and put flowers on a casket carrying a model of a BART car in San Francisco's Civic Center on Saturday. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

The SFMTA, which runs Muni Metro trains and buses, has made projections showing a $76 million budget hole by 2025. SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin has said that without enough state funding, the Muni bus system may have to cut 20 lines as early as this summer.