Holiday tree sheds light on Muni’s past and future


Deep inside the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s seventh floor office on One South Van Ness Avenue is a Christmas tree like no other.

Last year, the San Francisco Examiner reported about the unique and festive tree, and this year it’s back and better than ever, thanks to the SFMTA’s Director of Transit John Haley. This year’s tree represents Muni’s past and present problems, but also looks at the optimistic future of the transit agency.

The tree is not decorated with ordinary holiday ball ornaments or even topped with the traditional star. Instead, a flashing blue light sits atop the tree. Haley said the blue flashing light is the universal symbol in the railroad industry, which indicates a mechanic is working on a rail car.

Swirling around the two-foot tree is cable car copper wire that was once perfectly wound up, but is now tangled around the tree. Haley described the tangled wiring as a “bird’s nest.”

Another decoration on the tree is a melted connector that once belonged to an electric trolley bus that caught fire last year, prompting transit officials to inspect other electric trolley buses. The connector links to the electric trolley pole and the overhead wires.

Of course, no Muni Christmas tree would be complete without mention of the recent ransomware attack. The attack locked hundreds of SFMTA computers and allowed free rides to passengers Thanksgiving weekend. To commemorate the occasion, a photo hangs on the tree of the message left on SFMTA computers, notifying the agency its system had been hacked.

Other items displayed near the tree include a circuit board belonging to a light rail vehicle, which symbolizes propulsion problems on the current Breda vehicles. There’s also a rear door air motor from an ETI trolley bus, which Haley said are the most problematic in the system.

But not all decorations are reminders of Muni’s problems.

Also on this year’s tree is Werner von Siemens, wearing a Santa hat and carrying Muni’s new light rail vehicle in his arms.

Who is he, you ask? He’s the founder of Siemens — the company building Muni’s new trains.

Just something for Muni passengers to look forward to in 2017.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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