In the five months I've been dealing with Muni about having equal access to their bus readouts promoting the "Housing For All" message, I've found much humor in that the public transit system has had no written rules about the displays on buses that all too frequently were promoting professional sports teams. My previous posts on the readouts are here and here.
Today, over the SFAppeal.com, reporter Max A. Cherney has an excellent story up about Muni ending the non-transit related displays for everyone -- billionaires and activists alike. He dug deep to discover handicapped persons and ordinary riders have their own complaints with the readouts, and all of the headaches are remaking Muni policy.
From the SFAppeal.com:
Muni’s venerable fleet of 1,100 vehicles will no longer display promotional messages such as “Go Giants Go” or “Equality for All,” according to SFMTA officials.
The transit agency’s decision to terminate the program is the apparent result of increasing complaints from riders — some of whom are developmentally disabled — claiming that the messages distract from reading Muni route information, officials said. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was a complaint from the disabled community,” said SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.
Interrupting route information with scrolling phrases like “Go Niners” confuses people with developmental difficulties, and “often” prevents them from boarding — especially at stops which serve multiple routes, according to internal SFMTA emails obtained by The Appeal. [...] In light of the concerns over disabled riders, SFMTA staff say they were also worried the messages might expose the agency to a lawsuit. [...]
[L]ast year “Equality for All” appeared in honor of Pride 2012’s theme. Matthew Bajko of the Bay Area Reporter worked with District Eight Supervisor Scott Weiner, and the SFMTA to add the Pride slogan to Muni’s fleet, according to Bajko. [...]
However, despite Muni’s apparent willingness to display certain non-route related messages in the past, Petrelis had little success adding his proposed Pride 2014 theme of “Housing for All” to Muni’s fleet over the summer. Petrelis’ request was ultimately rejected at around the same time the SFMTA eliminated the program. [...]
The intention was always to demonstrate “civic pride” and allow the transit agency to participate in some of the “feel-good stuff” of the city, Reiskin said. [...]
But, for community members such as Petrelis, the SFMTA’s policy represents a double standard. “[Terminating the program is] Just one more reminder of how there are two San Francisco’s when it comes public property and a set of unwritten rules for the rich and other more restrictive rules for ordinary citizens,” Petrelis said.
Sounds to me as though Muni and Reiskin only allowed what they deemed qualified as "civic pride" and "feel-good" speech on the displays, raising potential First Amendment concerns. In my view, promoting affordable housing for everyone is civic pride for social justice advocates and such a message should have been allowed to run on buses for an equal amount of time as the "Go Niners" messages.