The Symbiotic Relationship between Chinese-speaking Muni Employees and Chinese-speaking Passengers

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I boarded the Muni today at the Washington Street bus stop this morning in San Francisco’s Chinatown, fighting my way into a crowded bus with doors occupied by Chinese passengers.

But as I squished my way onto the bus, I noticed a yellow vested Muni employee sitting alongside a passenger in the middle of the bus. This was the first time I witnessed a Muni employee sitting anywhere but the driver’s seat.

Whether this coincidence was purely coincidence or a strategy employed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), the transportation agency overseeing all Muni activities, to encourage passengers to move to the back of the bus, this employee was specifically asking Chinese passengers to move away from the exit, so that they are no longer stepping on the exit steps and that the bus could begin moving.

The problem was that this Muni employee voiced his request in English, creating language barriers between him and Chinese-speaking passengers that made them more resistant the Muni employee’s request.

This resistance, in turn, created a conglomerate of Chinese-speaking passengers occupying the exits.

This scenario reveals language barrier between English-speaking Muni employees of different ethnicity and Chinese-speaking passengers as one of the underlying issues creating crowded Muni buses in San Francisco’s Chinatown, an underlying issue that affects not just Chinese passengers but every other passenger on the Muni, creating an uncomfortable, and dangerous, Muni experience for all.

But this uncomfortable, dangerous Muni experience could be resolved, if the SFMTA begins deploying Chinese-speaking Muni employees to sit in seats near the middle of the Muni buses entering Chinatown.

In this way, these Chinese-speaking Muni employees could ask Chinese speaking passengers in Chinese to move to the back of the bus, actually encouraging Chinese passengers to move to available spaces away from the exits.

But that is not all.

Chinese-speaking passengers would no longer feel alienated and misunderstood because they do not speak English, diffusing tensions that create their resistance to occupy the exits.

This strategy, in turn, would diffuse any heated dialogue that is based on cultural or linguistic barriers, creating progressive dialogues that could hopefully resolve this social problem within Muni logjams.

The SFMTA may respond by reminding Muni passengers they already employ Chinese-speaking Muni bus drivers, and that these drivers could use their speakers to ask the passengers to move to the back of the bus.

The problem is that not every Muni bus driver speaks Chinese when they drive their Muni lines through Chinatown. Not every Muni Bus driver could adequately express their request to move to the back of the bus in Chinese to Chinese-speaking passengers occupying the exits.

This issue could be resolved, if the SFMTA would not only consistently deploy Chinese-speaking Muni employees to sit alongside passengers near the middle of the bus, but also consistently use these employees to drive Muni buses passing San Francisco’s Chinatown.

This installment could address Muni logjams in the back of the bus, as well as the front of the bus, creating a more comfortable, and safer, Muni experience.



About the Author

David Ka Wai Pan is your typical Asian American, confused about his identity but determined to learn more about it. How? By writing and posting articles here at AsianWeek.