Photo: Joe Rosenthal, The Chronicle
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Before 1972, San Francisco’s commuters didn’t know when their streetcars, buses and cable cars were going to arrive. No other major city in America had that problem, the Chronicle reported at the time.
One rogue Muni driver put a stop to that by printing schedules with his own money, and he almost lost his job over it. Instead, he survived and remained a thorn in Muni’s side for almost two decades.
Richard Morley was a 28-year-old operator on the J Church streetcar who’d joined Muni two years earlier, in 1970. He grew frustrated by riders complaining to him about unpredictable arrival times. Muni cited a budget shortage for not publishing timetables, but Morley thought it was more about covering up bad service.
“I said ‘why don’t we publish them like across the bay with AC transit?’” Morley, 74, recalls now. “They’d say ‘oh yeah, they ought to do that,’ the proverbial ‘they.’ I said ‘why don’t we do it ourselves?’”
So Morley, who made $900 a month at the time, kicked in about $250 of his own money, along with some other driver donations, and went to a local women’s publishing collective. They printed timetables for select lines including the J Church, N Judah and 33 Ashbury, and passed them out to riders.
Morley followed that up by spending more money on an expanded list of timetables, including the 38 Geary bus. He’d published 6,000 schedules by 1973.
The public loved the schedules and wanted more; Muni wasn’t so pleased. For one thing, they exposed Muni to additional rider complaints if a streetcar or bus was late. But Morley added something else to them.
“The part that really upset management was that we published telephone numbers of top officials to complain to, including the head of the scheduling department, encouraging them to drop by,” Morley said. “They were evading responsibility.”
Morley faced a disciplinary hearing in August 1973 for two unrelated charges that he says were just fig leaves for firing him over the schedules. One charge was for excessive absenteeism with 52 missed work days from 1972-1973, though Morley says he was forced to take that time off because of relentless migraine headaches.
The other charge was for an “unauthorized switchback” of his J Church streetcar at 11th Street and Market. Morley said he did this because there were empty streetcars in front of him that shouldn’t have been, and unhappy passengers were waiting in the other direction. He said the Muni operator handbook calls for doing exactly what he did.
Morley knew what he’d gotten himself into and didn’t regret it, but he still worried about losing a well-paying union job. The migraines persisted.
This is when the Chronicle took notice and published a detailed story about Morley’s predicament, with the headline “Muni’s ‘Problem’ Driver.”
“The Chronicle saved my little ass,” Morley says now. “People started showing up at the hearings. They had to move it from a small room at City Hall to a larger room.”
The senior Public Utilities Commission official who could decide Morley’s fate was John Crowley. Three weeks after the first story was published, the Chronicle reported that Crowley had not just kept Morley on the job, but also reduced his suspension from 30 days to 15.
On top of that, Crowley praised Morley for his “intelligence, energy and talent,” and invited him to take a civil-service exam for a supervisory position.
By this time, Muni was finally printing its own schedules.
“His actions did lead the agency at the time to contract out the production of official public timetables for almost all of the lines, including some in other languages,” Muni spokesman Paul Rose said.
Morley partly credits his survival with Muni to the fact that Crowley was a retired brigadier general who was seeing the impact of bad publicity in the Vietnam war: “He realized the press was there and he went on the TV news, and realized that oh no, you don’t risk a battle if you think you’re going to lose.”
Morley never tried taking an exam to be in management – “I didn’t have that kind of ambition.” Instead, with his migraines gone, he kept operating streetcars until his next standoff with Muni in 1979 as a cable-car conductor.
This fight wasn’t about schedules, but about his clothes.
Morley wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the California Street cable-car line by having Muni outfit conductors with the type of blue, tailored outfits that were worn decades earlier rather than the required yellow-and-brown Muni garb with a green beret that he called “baggy and crummy,” and that few conductors actually wore.
Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte wrote at the time that the official uniforms made conductors “look a bit like paratroopers.” But Muni wanted the more affordable outfits, even though Morley said his were made to last longer.
“They said ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you,’” Morley says of Muni, and with that he paid $250 to craft his own vintage uniform by converting a Southern Pacific jacket, vest and hat that he picked up at a local outfitter.
This got Morley another disciplinary charge under “inattention to duties.” When the Chronicle reported the kerfuffle, it quoted Rod Bartholomew, the superintendent of transportation, as saying, “Mr. Morley is one of our finest conductors.” He added that Morley “is not in trouble at this time, but if he keeps doing it he will be in trouble.”
To no one’s surprise, Morley kept doing it. “I see it as good, old-fashioned civil disobedience,” he said at the time. He received no formal hearings, and he says he was boosted by the support of legendary Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, who lived near his line.
If all this didn’t make Morley enough of a pain in the 1970s, he also was an editor for a trade newspaper for drivers and mechanics that critiqued the working conditions at Muni – “That also really set them off,” he said.
But he had no major incident with his employer after the cable-car clothing affair for the next 10 years. In 1989 after a final run with for Muni’s subway lines, he quit at 47 and cashed out his pension. He notes it was the same year the Berlin Wall fell.
“Communism was collapsing, and I thought so is this organization,” Morley said. The (Mayor) Agnos administration were offering older people pensions to go away. I thought I’d take it and run screaming out the door.”
Today, Morley spends most of his days at his Noe Valley home with his partner, while they spend their winters in San Diego. He has complimentary things to say about the light rail there. He also has no regrets about his years as Muni’s “problem” driver.
“I probably would have done the same thing now,” he said. “There always has been a contrarian in me.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/rogue-Muni-driver-first-bus-schedules-13723757.php.