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Monday, September 29, 2008

Translink and Muni - "Secret" Information about the Future

Is Translink ready for San Francisco's Muni? That's the big question. In a previous posting here at Akit's Complaint Department, I informed you that Muni and the folks at the Bay Area's MTC are starting to find volunteers (I call victims) to try out this new system.

Well I'm going to give you a big "secret" that only a select number of people in the public knows about the future of this project. You can't find this in any local newspaper, but you can just look at the SFMTA meeting that was held on September 16, 2008; the same day the board was going to hear comments about Muni's TEP program. Now, you can watch five hours of video, but who really wants to get tortured all day long watching a government meeting?

So I'll give you the brief here at the Complaint Department!

I got tipped off by the folks at "BART Rage" a blog forum for people who want to rant about BART. One writer gave a brief update about Muni's future role in the Translink program, and pointed a link towards the SF Government's online video library. In the 9/16/08 SFMTA meeting video, the SFMTA got a presentation from representatives of the Translink authority about the future of Muni and Translink (21 minutes and 30 seconds into the video) and they blab on about the three phases they will go through before the public gets their hands on giving the system hell.
  • The first phase is active right now and is about 1000 Muni employees doing a dry run of the system.
  • The second phase is coming in November where 1000 employees, plus a select group of riders will be testing the system and providing feedback through surveys and focus groups.
  • The third phase is in April 2009, and they will push for more of the public to test the system, and all Muni employees will be handed a card to try too.
  • Eventually, Translink will inform the SFMTA/Muni if it is fully ready to bring the system up to full speed with mass public use in 2009 (however it sucks that they won't tell us when, maybe to cover their ass from people like me who expect people to stick to their word).
At about 37 minutes into the damn presentation, there's a really interesting timeline of what is going to happen for the future of the program with the entire SF Bay Area systems. Muni is expected to be ready by April of 2009, and BART and Caltrain in "early 2009" (once again, no official date really just means... "we'll get it done in 2010").

Also, the presenter admitted to the SFMTA board that the metro faregates are really near the end of their useful life and mentions that there may be issues with the card readers installed on the "exit" gates which can be used to scan cards for entry to the system. On the brighter side, Muni plans to replace the gates in 2012 (damn... those old gates will be dust by then).

Next, Cable Car usage for Translink. The presenter noted that Translink is finding a solution for the Cable Car operators to use the Translink program. Since they can't modify Cable Car equipment to install readers (one of those historic landmark laws or something), the conductor will carry a portable card reader that can deduct fares.

Lastly to sum up this 20 minute video of hell, one of the SFMTA board members asked about Muni metro and those fare enforcers that has been pissing off the citizens of this city for a looooooonggg time. Well, the Translink rep says that they will carry card readers to check on these cards. Personally, my fear is that they won't be armed with readers for a long time when the public is testing out this program, and the testers will get pissed when they see $100 fare evasion tickets (here come the lawyers!!!).

So are we ready for Translink now? Things are looking up for Muni, but damn... why do we have to wait until April? It's proven itself on Golden Gate Transit and AC Transit, can't we use the lessons they learned to make this program come out a little faster?

And if you want to know, will I be a volunteer? I've been a pilot tester since 2001 when Translink first came to the scene with very limited routes and stations on multiple systems. Most bus drivers and station agents were curious, but in some cases, I've had some operators who went from super nice to full blown pissed off when I used my card; and in one situation a driver nearly threw my card out the window. I went nuts and started blowing steam at Translink and Muni, and that guy is either working behind a desk or is fired. I still have my card today in my wallet, but I won't dare to use it on Muni. But for Golden Gate? Sure! 20% discount every time! F-yeah!

So will I volunteer? Nope. Until I feel that there's enough trust and education provided to all Muni drivers and agents about how this thing works, I won't use my card.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Costco Executive & Business Members - No more early shopping hour

NOTE: Although this post is a few years old, as of July 16, 2011, executive/business hours has been eliminated again. (Click here to read)

If you love Costco and have an Executive or Business membership, I've just noticed while at my local Costco warehouse (El Camino Real, South San Francisco #475) that the "Executive Business Member" early hour privilege is now revoked because they now permit all GOLD STAR MEMBERS to enter at the same time as the Executive and Business folks.

The photo was taken today (9/26/08) and the time was changed no less than a week ago. That's why the time was changed by taping it over.

This is frustrating. I upgraded my membership less than three weeks ago to Executive and paid an additional $50 for this special privilege of shorter lines, smaller crowds, and first dibs on the best stuff before everyone else gets their hands on it. The 2% rebate return won't likely get back that extra $50 fee (I usually spend less than $2,500 in a year), but just paying a little more for smaller crowds is a big pleaser in my book.

For Business members, I feel they are getting it quite bad: the early hour before the general public (Gold Star) gets all their restaurant and business supplies is a huge benefit before a huge mob swamps the warehouse, and they can literally get in and out of the warehouse even before the clock hits 11AM.

I even asked one of the employees, and she gave me this lame answer that "it's for the holidays." Um... it's only SEPTEMBER! Christmas is still a long ways away.

I just called one of the managers of that Costco location and they claim that the executive management of Costco wanted this change, so it sounds like the management of the warehouse did not make the recommendation. The high management also stated that people who upgrade from Gold Star to Executive really like the Executive program, but paying extra should also give that special early hour too! I expressed my concern to the manager on the phone and also noted to the person that it was much more crowded and the lines were much longer today than I have ever experienced before.

And I don't understand, Costco has ALWAYS been giving the special early hour to all Business members for DECADES. Executive members paid an extra $50 for the special privilege too (Executive membership was not created until much later) and it's been going strong for a long time. But now they let the regular Gold Star members barge through the Execs and Business folk's fun?

I'm really disappointed Costco.

Take action now! Tell the managers that you don't like this:
Call (650) 757-3003, press "1," and ask for a manager.

UPDATE/FYI: Before you start complaining, this article was published in 2008 and was resolved a week after this posting.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Translink on SF Muni - Looking for Testers (Victims)

Attention Muni victims! If you are a Translink cardholder, the time is now to sign-up for the soft launch testing of the Translink program.

Hmmm... sounds enticing, trying out a system that's been out for almost seven years to see if it finally works.

I noticed this on the Translink website, where the second announcement says that:

"Muni is inviting a limited number of customers to participate in trial use of TransLink."

So if you are interested in becoming a sucker... ahem... a victim... ahem, a tester to see if it all works well, it's a good time to have some fun.

I'm wondering, is the fares coming out of our own pockets, or will the SFMTA and Translink give victims... volunteers Translink e-cash to try this out?

To register for the dry run program, visit Translink.org and in the announcements section, wait for the second piece of news to show-up and click on the link. Or you can register directly here (I don't know why SFMTA is using Survey Monkey).

Unfortunately, I'm not going to sign-up for this test run, I'm a little fed-up with Muni to be spending time taking surveys on how's the program running. Just get the damn program running, there's no test runs really needed since nearly 95% are operational. Plus, I think they know who I am... I put Muni in a chokehold when I caught them red handed on camera.

UPDATE: Hot off the news wire, KGO-TV has this report with video.
It seems that the Muni employees are testing it out first, then the public volunteers after that. No word yet on an official rollout, but bad news is the testing will continue into the next year (damn damn damn damn damn).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP): SF Muni's Bad Ideas for 38 and 18 Lines

Many people may or may not know that I live in the Outer Richmond District. I noticed a little while back that San Francisco Muni had released these new proposals to modify many of the transit lines that we are so used to. But two of my local lines really started to hurt.

Since I cannot go to the hearing on Tuesday the 16th because I'm stuck at work, I e-mailed the SFMTA Board of Directors as requested by the TEP representatives, but I don't even know if they will even read my lengthy comments. So I'm going to post my ideas here:

For the 38-Geary line, the proposal by Muni will eliminate the Ocean Beach branch of the line. Currently the three major branches is: Ft. Miley (38 regular), Ocean Beach (38 regular), and 48th Avenue and Pt. Lobos (38 limited). I really think they are going in the wrong direction with this and should plan to restore service to the Ocean Beach terminal. I can understand that having huge articulated vehicles running on Balboa Street is not the best idea due to bus noise and the narrow lanes in certain sections, so it might work best if the line runs the 38-Limited route, but goes down Pt. Lobos past the Cliff House to the Great Highway and turns at Fulton to the Ocean Beach terminal. The inbound route will follow the opposite direction, but stop at the 38-Limited terminal for an easy transfer to the limited line.

(Inbound daytime service starting from Ocean Beach Terminal)

(Outbound daytime service to Ocean Beach terminal)

Muni's TEP people also proposed changing the 38-Geary Owl service to not terminate at the Ocean Beach terminal, but to stop at the Fort Miley terminal. I think Muni should take an opportunity to increase their coverage on the owl service line by serving all three terminals. People are used to taking the 38 Owl to Ocean Beach, so why not restore it and also serve the neglected areas like 48th & Point Lobos, and Fort Miley hospital? The area around here is very hilly, and for people who live north of the Ocean Beach terminal live on an extremely steep hill. Still, it follows my proposed route modifications, but will eliminate the loud noise on Balboa street since that line runs 24-hours a day in a neighborhood. Passengers who live on Balboa can easily take the 5-Fulton owl service and walk two blocks on a usually flat or slightly pitched sidewalk.

(CORRECTION: The 38-Owl service is proposed to terminate at 48th Avenue and Pt. Lobos, however this error still does not change my argument to serve all three terminals)

(Inbound 38-Geary Owl service route serving all three terminals)

(Outbound 38-Geary Owl Service route serving all three terminals)

Lastly, the 18-46th Avenue line's modifications are not really acceptable. While I did not make any maps, I'll point out the changes that might take place. To give some background on the 18-line, the bus line is one of the best lines in the entire city, easily accessible route to SFSU, and only the most senior operators with the best reputations get to drive this line (because everyone wants to drive it).
  1. In the northern section (above Golden Gate Park) of the route, it is proposed to remove the route going around the Cliff House by having the line actually drive through Balboa and turn North to serve 33rd Avenue and Geary. This route will slow down the line's current efficient route because Balboa is a "stop and go" type of road, and I think in the best interest of the neighborhood, eliminating the noisy gas powered buses will be a real help. And the people at Balboa can ride on the quiet 31-Balboa line to the Ocean Beach terminal to ride my proposed modified 38-Geary Ocean Beach branch line or the 18, or can even walk two block to ride the new proposed 5L-Fulton Limited line.
  2. In the area around Lake Merced, the TEP proposal will not go around John Muir Drive (the southern edge road of Lake Merced) and will run on the northern end of Lake Merced. It is true that it will make the ride faster, but it has a major disadvantage. If you have ever driven the south edge of Lake Merced, John Muir drive has this big apartment complex, and when I ride this bus, a lot of SFSU students, staff, and faculty board the bus for a direct ride to SFSU. The TEP proposal eliminates this and moves the 17-Parkmerced line to serve this area. However, this change will nearly triple the time it takes to get to SFSU because the eastbound bus will go into Daly City to pick-up Daly City BART passengers, and wind through the road maze known as Parkmerced. If the 18-line stays the way it is, it is only adding a five minutes to the route, and just that few minutes can bring in extra money to Muni since SFSU folks at John Muir drive depends on this route for direct service to campus.
  3. Also noted about the route change on Lake Merced, there is no easy to access bus stop for SFSU students at all. All SFSU affiliates get-off on the current route at Lake Merced and Font Blvd. (the dorms) and take a short walk to their classrooms. The new route will make people walk a longer route to make it to campus since it does not make a direct stop at campus, thereby may not make the line suitible for SFSU affiliates. This is especially discouraging for SFSU people who attend or work on the west end (lower end) of campus versus the east end ("up-campus") of campus. I use the 18 for a direct ride to SFSU, and if this route goes into effect, I might just drive to campus.
Thanks for reading. Below is the original letter I sent to the SFMTA Board of Directors:
Dear SFMTA Board of Directors,

I am e-mailing the SFMTA Board of Directors today to post my comments on some of the proposed changes to the lines serving the Outer Richmond district.

In regards to the proposed removal of the 38-Geary Ocean Beach branch line, I believe that this line is still very useful during its daytime operations as it also is part of the late night owl service used in today's Muni service.

--First of all, I believe the daytime route should be modified outbound to go straight down Geary and down Pt. Lobos on the road towards the Great Highway (passing the Cliff House) and going directly to the bus terminal. For the downtown trip, it would start at the Ocean Beach terminal, go up Pt. Lobos past the Cliff House, right turn at 48th Avenue to drop-off/transfer passengers for the 38-Limited for a faster ride (this will be a popular option for passengers!), and continue on Geary on the normal route. This alternate route is faster, gives easy access for tourists to visit the Cliff House, eliminates the "stop and go" driving on Balboa, use of noisy motorized buses on Balboa, and 38-Ocean Beach branch line passengers can still get to their destination on Balboa by simply transferring to the 31-Balboa line.

--The Owl line route should also help out more residents of the Outer Richmond too. Currently, the only 38-Geary route Owl service is the Ocean Beach branch. However the proposed modification would remove the route and terminate at the Ft. Miley hospital for owl service. Since the 38 line is one of the main lifelines of this city, I feel it best if the line should serve all three major terminals in one route so that it can accomodate everyone, espeically the very hilly parts of the Outer Richmond that makes it a challenge for older passengers (this is especially true in the 40th-48th avenues where the hills are steep between Cabrillo and Geary). My suggestion is to have the outbound owl buses serve in this order: Ft. Miley (by request), the bus stop at 48th Avenue and Pt. Lobos (northwest corner stop, diagonally opposite of the Seal Rock Inn), and terminate at Ocean Beach terminal (by driving on Pt. Lobos (going past the Cliff House). For the downtown route: Ocean Beach Terminal, 48th Ave. and Pt. Lobos terminal, and Ft. Miley by request of activation of the signal at Ft. Miley. If there is a concern about regular Owl passengers losing their service on Balboa, it should be noted that the 5-Fulton is an owl service line and Balboa is only two blocks away with little or no hills to climb and could calm the motorized bus noise problem dramatically.

I also disagree with the proposed changes to the 18-46th Avenue line. The current route of the line is very efficient, fast, and is considered one of the best bus lines in the entire city; even to the point where Muni operators highly desire to drive on this route.

--The modified route on the northern sector of the city will cause much longer driving times and does not serve any real convienence. Balboa is a very "stop and go" street and I believe that not using Balboa for this modified route will reduce the vehicle noise and help out the neighborhood at large since the 31-Balboa is a trolley bus line. If you are wondering if this will cause any problems for Balboa St. passengers, they can easily ride the 31 to the Ocean Beach terminal for the 18 or ride my proposed modified 38 Ocean Beach branch. Also, removing the 18-46th Avenue's service area covering the Cliff House and 48th Avenue/Geary to 33rd Avenue/Geary will hurt tourism for the Cliff House and the many residents who rely on an easy and direct route for many services (SFSU, SF Zoo, Stonestown, etc.) and connections to other major Muni lines.

--I am also aware of the removal of 18 service on the south end of Lake Merced (John Muir Drive), where it is proposed to be more efficient to run on the nothern rim of Lake Merced. I do agree that this route modification will improve service, however this does cause problems for students and employees of SFSU. The new proposed change will make it much harder to access SFSU as there is much more walking involved. Many SFSU students and staff exit on the current route at Lake Merced and Font, next door to the residence halls (dormitories) and most SFSU students to not exit at the end of the line (Stonestown) to walk half a mile to campus. There are also many SFSU students and employees who live at the apartments on John Muir Drive, and if the proposal goes through and the 17 line serves this route, there will be no fast direct access to SFSU for these people. The 17's modified route serving the John Muir Drive apartments would have to go through a dizzy maze serving other parts of Park Merced and Daly City BART, and that would really add much more time to their already simple commute. Now surely the modified route would cut the bus ride by five minutes, but that five minutes can also rake in more passengers and financial income if Muni does not modify this line.

In summary, I believe the proposed changes to the 38-Geary lines can be adjusted to still serve Ocean Beach terminal, there can be an easy change to adjust the 38-Geary owl service to serve more than one terminal, and the 18-46th Avenue line should not be changed for efficiency purposes and to keep its service on John Muir Drive for SFSU affiliates.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fox's Hole in the Wall - Not Amusing

So the Fox TV network gets the rights to Japan's TV program known as "Brain Wall." If you ever watched the Japanese version on YouTube, you now that the program is quite popular to watch, even if you don't know Japanese.

The Japanese version:

So I'm watching this new American version right now on Fox and I have to say... this one sucks.

This program is only 30 minutes long, and minus the commercials doesn't make it much air time.
  • The scoring system is too low since it only a single point system. They should use something bigger like 25 points per success to make it look more enticing.
  • They do use some of the same sound effects as the Japanese program, but the American version should have shown the scene where after the three second countdown, they raise the curtain to show the piece, but instead they do the countdown and the next screen cut shows the wall in motion. Literally, we don't hear and see the reaction of the contestants before the wall goes in motion.
  • The hosts suck, especially the female hostess. All she does is YELL. That male host is just annoying.
  • The competitors were allowed to comment, but also should joke around more. The Japanese version uses a lot of the same people, but are encouraged to crack jokes and pull pranks on their team members (i.e. shove them back in the pool).
Even the Australian version looks quite good than the American version:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

BART Station Agent Parking - Abuse of Powers?

I like going to Giants games on Friday nights and I park at the Daly City BART station. I keep noticing this car hogging two parking spaces, and then I noticed that it's the BART station agent parking spots. I took these photos on two separate Friday nights:

(Photo taken 8/12/08)

(Photo taken 8/8/08)

Does anyone think this is abuse of parking privileges? Please post a comment.

In my opinion: Especially if you are on-duty, you don't do something this embarrassing, especially when the guy who caught these photos is ME (a "transpo (transportation) vigilante..." thanks Curbed SF!). It's just the same if a Muni driver cussed you out, you don't do it when on-duty.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Akit's Choices for San Francisco Food

Here at Akit's Complaint Department, you might notice that some of my postings are not actually complaints, but at least some positive reviews on things like when the Dirty Harry DVD collection came out and it was quite affordable at Costco.

I thought that I would give a list and details about my favorite places to chow down in San Francisco and some places just a little away from the city limits.
  1. Seal Rock Inn - It's on Pt. Lobos and 48th Avenue (end of the line for the 38L Geary Limited) and I really love their breakfast specials for $6.25 with decent portions (available Monday-Friday until 11AM, except holidays). I prefer the choice of breakfast meat with eggs, hash browns, and toast; but they also have french toast and pancakes as a substitute for hash browns and toast. I also like their half pound burger and their turkey burger with fries.
  2. Kitaro Japanese Restaurant (Geary and 21st Avenue) - I have to say for the low price you pay for their boneless fried chicken dinner, you sure get a huge amount of chicken pieces. Also, get a 15% off coupon on the register receipt at the Safeway on LaPlaya. Big warning: they don't use Japanese rice that is fluffier and slightly sticky.
  3. Sanmi (Geary, one block east of Mel's Drive In) - The price is a little higher for this Japanese restaurant, but you get it in high quality and freshness. Their sesame fried teriyaki chicken has this amazing crispy crust that is to die for. Also if you are lucky to try the fresh caught fish for sashimi, oh my, it melts like butter.
  4. City Eats Dining Center (SFSU) - I have to give kudos for a residence hall dining center because of the large variety of items for all three squares of the day. If you love salads, this is the place; pizza and grilled varieties too. Even vegans will love the choices. SFSU students, faculty, and staff are welcome to dine by paying cash and recieving a discount (bring your campus ID). $6.50 for lunch is not a bad deal when that amount can get you a deluxe burrito and soda at the student center.
  5. Costco El Camino Real - I'd stick with the hot churros and polish dogs... good for the price. Stay clear of that pizza, I've never seen something that greasy before.
  6. Kam's (Balboa) - I rememeber eating there as a kid and although their cook has changed, their chow mein and "gourmet chicken" is still the same old favorite I loved.
  7. John Campbell's Irish Bakery (Geary between 20th and 21st) - Such delicious big chocolate chip scones. Buy five and they are only a buck each. Their tea cookies are also very tasty too.
  8. Irving Cafe and Deli (Irving between 22nd and 23rd) - My favorite place for a Vietnamese sandwich. The fresh bread (warmed and toasted too), fresh made mayo, and their BBQ pork makes it a killer sandwich. The imperial rolls are crispy and freshly cooked. A BBQ pork sandwich for under $5 is a good bargain, plus add some tasty pate too.
  9. Safeway Deli - Why would I go to a supermarket deli, especially Safeway's? Their Hollywood Cobb sandwich is why. I can care less about the bread, but more about the ingredients they use. For $5.49, it comes with a thick boneless chicken patty, thick slices of smoked bacon, crumbled blue cheese (that really gives the kick), lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing. Buy seven sandwiches and get a freebie sandwich (you don't have to buy seven at once, but use your Safeway card).
  10. Ono Hawaiian BBQ (Lakeshore Plaza, Sloat Blvd.) - The SFSU campus police sure likes eating there, and I totally agree. Their mini meals are priced well and provides plenty of food for a good lunch. Chicken katsu is tasty (the katsu sauce sucks, ask for teriyaki sauce), their BBQ chicken is not bad, their curry with BBQ chicken is better, and the short ribs are the best. Quick tip: If you don't want macaroni salad and cabbage, just say "all rice" and you'll get two scoops and a thin layer of rice on the bottom. For a lite snack, ask for a spam musubi that comes out with two big pieces with fresh grilled spam and hot steaming rice.
  11. Tuttimelon (next door to Irving Street Cafe) - That yogurt sensation is hitting the streets around here. For a late night dessert, this fat free option is not that bad. Try the mango flavor frozen yogurt with some of those mini mochi balls.
OK, now I'm drooling. I'm getting a little hungry working on this blog at 3AM. Your favorite food places are welcome in my comment section. Maybe I'll visit some of your recommended places.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ten Ways of Being a True San Franciscan

Somehow just for my amusement, here is my top ten ways of how you can be a true San Franciscan. Now you don't have to live in this city (it gets a little pricey), but you need to truly be San Franciscan in these ways:

  1. You hate tourists, espeically the ones who pack the F-Market/Wharves and the Cable Cars when you need to get somewhere.
  2. You don't just read the Chronicle, but at least one of the other ones like the Bay Guardian and even AsianWeek (at least for an advance copy of the Best Buy ad).
  3. You go to Giants games once in a while, but you at least spend some money across the street at Safeway to stop being ripped-off like at the concession stands.
  4. You hate at least one San Francisco politician. My most hated: Ed Jew.
  5. You use your Fast Pass or pay extra to ride BART because you know Muni metro is a slow piece of shit. Downtown to Balboa Park in no time on BART!
  6. You've called 311 and got a real stupid answer by the customer service operator.
  7. You know that the sales tax is 8.5% and when you want to do a big purchase, you run down to Daly City to save one-quarter percent.
  8. That new anti-styrofoam law really pisses you off when your paper box bottom is soggy as hell.
  9. You know at least two places that offers free admission to a museum or other attraction on a monthly basis.
  10. You refuse to watch KRON-TV and watch the KNTV (NBC 11) news because they suck.
Got any ideas? Please feel free to comment.