San Francisco CultureBus Suffers a Failure to Launch

What’s this? A San Francisco CultureBus in Golden Gate Park that’s not empty? And one that actually has more than two passengers? That would be an amazing sight, but upon further review you can see it’s just a regular old CB-logo-free MUNI 44 chugging its way to 9th Avenue. My bad.

Click to expand:

Here’s the actual CultureBus seen a few seconds later. Sadly, it’s completely empty. That’s not an uncommon sight these days.

Let’s go back and read a headline from a quarter century ago:

Culture Bus a Victim of Too Few Riders; Culture Buses Dropped For Lack of Ridership”

Of course the writer from the NYTimes was referring to program back East in New York, not here. But the 1973-1982 N.Y.C. Culture Bus concept seems amazingly similar to San Francisco’s current CultureBus program. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the idea, but the Culturebuses spotted on the streets of San Francisco appear to be completely bereft of passengers most of the time.

A few stats on the approximate number of riders counted on CB’s in October and November 2008, with a sample size of about 40 sightings:

Mean: Less than 1, something like .6 passengers

Median: 0

Mode: 0

Range: 0-2

The CultureBuses have produced anger and frustration among the regular MUNI bus-riding public, with confusion arising from Fastpass holders being told that they need to feed the kitty as they board. You’d figure that German tourists would love to get on board, but many of them prefer to wait for the regular MUNI bus to come by.

Over time, things will get better as people begin to understand the system of course. But the whole CultureBus program isn’t sustainable the way things are going. And if you think it’s stressful being a driver on a regular MUNI bus overflowing with passengers, how must it feel for the drivers who trundle around in a big metal box all day by themselves?

How many more birdies will it take to sail this whale?

Couldn’t there be some kind of introductory offer to locals just to get people on board? Would there much of a marginal cost to that? Nope.

Is there any urgency to this situation? Is anybody going:

I’ve tried A! I’ve tried B! I’ve tried C! I’ve tried D! Tell me what else I can try!”

Simply, the CB has experienced a Failure to Launch. It’s not gaining altitude or picking up speed or whatever. And anyone who starts quoting ridership stats from a once-in-a-blue-moon weekend last September when the California Academy of Sciences had a huge number of patrons (and when the de Young Museum might have had even more) isn’t helping matters.

Godspeed, little bus.

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5 Responses to “San Francisco CultureBus Suffers a Failure to Launch”

  1. Akit says:

    They need to make it more affordable. $7 is too much. Even the local tour bus industry hates Muni because it undercuts their operations.

  2. Steve says:

    It costs $7? That’s ridiculous. If I’m visiting a museum, I’m not usually doing it by myself, so if I tack on one other person, the cab fare from my house to the De Young is cheaper than the bus. If I were going to the Moma I’d take Muni, or a cab, both would be cheaper. If I were going to the exploratorium, honestly I’d just drive. Transit isn’t viable, parking is easy, my hybrid would eat $0.20 worth of gas for the trip.

    The legion of honor? Easy parking. Drive the hybrid.

    For my grandparents to come in to town from the east bay with two guests to go to museums (something they do regularly), we’re talking $24 for BART each way, $28 for the culture bus (does it last all day?), and then museum admissions. At $76 bucks for transit, they could spend an awful lot of cash on parking garages before it was cheaper to take public transit.

  3. Yeah, I agree with Akit, they need to make the price cheaper. Or expand to other museums, but I don’t think anyone would ride it. Besides, whose idea was this?

  4. doublegin says:

    I don’t think it even goes to the Legion of Honor…

  5. Robert says:

    I think you get a discount on Museum admissions.