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MAAC: How SF Makes Transportation Accessible For All

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Over the last 25 years, transit agencies across the country have undergone a transformation with regard to providing people with disabilities greater access to public transit due in large part to the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed in 1990. While all transit agencies have been operating under this law since then, locally, the City of San Francisco, and Muni in particular, was years ahead of the federal mandate in its efforts to implement universal transit access.

In 1980, Muni created the Muni (now Multimodal) Accessibility Advisory Committee (MAAC) with the intent of working with members of the senior and disabled communities to better understand their needs and concerns. The committee searched for workable ideas and solutions in order to provide greater access to transit. 

Several people sit in a conference room, facing away. The three in the front  are using wheelchairs. A brown jacket hangs from the one in the center with an orange "Muni" worm logo on the back and the work "Accessiblity" in white below it.The hard working men and women of the Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Committee are Muni riders who guide the agency and the city in making our community more accessible for all. Photo taken: July 16, 2015.


The federal law that passed in 1990 came at the end of a struggle for inclusion that lasted decades. The long-held general attitude was that the isolation of people with disabilities was a function of those disabilities, not discrimination. Thousands of individuals and local advocacy groups — with a very active contingent in San Francisco — followed the lessons and methods of the civil rights movement to make the needs of people with disabilities visible. It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when the community at large thought that people with disabilities, especially those with wheelchairs, would not want to ride a bus even if it was made accessible to them. 

In the face of this and other prejudices, the members of MAAC forged ahead, pioneering many of Muni’s designs and policies that have become commonplace. MAAC was influential in helping to review the design and test the prototype that led to the first raised accessible platforms at Muni Metro surface stops, pushed for automated "next stop" announcements and display signs on vehicles to aid visually and hearing impaired patrons, and they called for ramped platforms at surface stops that allow for access to the popular F Market Line. This last item was borne out of one member’s childhood wish to be able to ride on the streetcars, which now operate on Market Street and The Embarcadero as part of our historic fleet.

In its current form, MAAC is comprised of 21 Muni riding volunteers, who are advocates from the senior and disabled communities. Members serve a two-year term and meet once a month in order to advise the SFMTA on all aspects of transportation services. The one exception is paratransit, which has its own advisory council. Whether it's transit, crosswalks, blue zones, taxis or bike lanes, MAAC provides a vital role by giving the SFMTA insight and input on many of its projects and initiatives, including Muni Forward and Vision Zero.

As the SFMTA goes about the process of updating Muni’s buses and trains, MAAC has been front and center in advising the agency on the accessibility features for the new vehicles. For example, MAAC worked with the agency and bus manufacturers on redesigning a longer vehicle ramp on the buses that would allow folks to access to the new low-floor buses from street level, not just the curb. 

Over its 35 years, MAAC’s advocacy and influence have gone beyond just serving the people of San Francisco. The ideas, designs and policies that MAAC has helped to shape and spearhead have been shared with other transit agencies across the country leading to greater accessibility for people nationwide. In recognition of the advances San Francisco has made in making public transit more accessible, the U.S. State Department today brought a delegation of 20 international disability experts here to learn how the city has made such strides and about its continued efforts to serve all San Franciscans.


If you are interested in learning more or becoming a member of either of the MAAC or Paratransit committees, visit their webpages or call SFMTA Accessible Service at 415-701-4485. MAAC meetings are held the third Thursdays of each month from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

White text, "Accessbile Boarding Platform" with a white arrow below it, next to a white International Symbol of Access on a blue field affixed to a railing near a boarding platform.