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San Francisco celebrates history of Muni, evolution of public transit

A person in a high-visibility vest is boarding an orange and white city bus on a tree-lined street.
The retro color scheme of the 1976 Muni Trolley Bus on display during the Muni Heritage Weekend that kicked off on Sept. 23, 2023. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Scores of transit fans from across the country gathered in front of the San Francisco Railway Museum to kick off Muni’s Heritage Weekend, which featured free rides on classic buses and trolleys.

The two-day event—hosted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday—allows riders to take a blast to the past and ride through the evolution of Muni’s fleet dating as far back as the 1930s.

Attendees admired the vintage Muni colors on buses with interiors that made riders feel as if they stepped inside a time capsule.

Muni superfans Bill Holmes and his 14-year-old son, Phoenix, showed up in matching T-shirts to the event, which they’ve attended since 2016.

Bill Holmes and his 14-year-old son, Phoenix, sit aboard a 2002 Muni Motor Coach during the transit agency's 2023 Heritage Weekend. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“My son is a big Muni fan,” Holmes said, while riding a 2002 Muni Neoplan bus. “It really is nostalgic. This one in particular because we used to ride them when [Phoenix] started riding buses.”

Riders had the opportunity to hop on a number of historic public transit vehicles, including a 1976 Muni trolley bus, a 1969 Muni motor coach or the oldest surviving bus, a 1938 White Motor Company coach.

Dave Galpern—a York, Pennsylvania, resident who works at Rockhill Trolley Museum in Central Pennsylvania and is an avid streetcar enthusiast—came all the way out to San Francisco to visit the Railway Museum and attend the Muni event as well as the recent unveiling of Caltrain’s electric fleet.

Dave Galpern, of York, Pennsylvania, stands in front of Muni's oldest surviving bus, a 1938 White Motor Company Coach. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

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Getting an opportunity to feel the control of the older street cars and buses—like the 1938 White—gives riders a glimpse of transit history, he said.

“Most of the people that come to these museums and ride these cars weren’t alive back when these were in operation,” he added. “I just appreciate the simplicity of how things were built back then. You don’t need all these fancy trinkets in your vehicle to have a good time or enjoyable ride.”