"Akit is the man. He knows Clipper." (spenta)
"It’s a fantastic blog for any San Franciscan."
"Your blog is always on point, and well researched!" (Nina Decker)
"Everyone's favorite volunteer public policy consultant..." (Eve Batey, SF Appeal)
"You are doing a great job keeping on top of Translink stuff. Keep up the good work!"
(Greg Dewar, N Judah Chronicles)
"...I don't even bother subscribing anywhere else for my local public transportation info. You have it all..."
(Empowered Follower)
"If anyone at City Hall wants to make public transit better for all San Franciscans, it would be wise to follow Akit religiously...
or, better yet, give him a job."
(Brock Keeling, SFist)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Solutions to when Translink "Doesn't Work"

If you have a Translink card and you always think the program is some sort of failure start picking your brain at the reasons why your Translink card is not responding when you "tag" your card.

Let's learn some basic rules:
  1. Always hold your card to the "T" logo or the circular pattern on the BART gate. Wait until you get the beep.
  2. Quickly tapping your card or waiving it around the sensor will not give you the OK to ride. Hold the card steady. This is the most common mistake that people make, and if they did it correctly, they would not be venting their anger.
  3. Don't punch a hole in the card. The antenna is about a half inch around the entire perimeter of the card (put it under a bright lamp).
  4. Don't bend the card.
  5. It's better to maintain your card in a separate sleeve to reduce the risk of bending.
  6. If you put it in a wallet or purse, make sure that the card is the closest one to the sensor. For example, don't stack the card the farthest away from the reader, put it as close as you can to the purse or wallet surface.
  7. Did you add funds and not see it on the reader? You must obey the 72-hour rule for all internet and phone transactions. Read this to learn why.
  8. Green light means OK.
  9. Green AND yellow lights mean your balance is low, but still OK to ride.
  10. Red light means you should try to tag again, you already tagged, denied boarding because you don't have enough funds or went too far into a negative balance, or there's a problem with your account (blocked). Read the message on the reader.

Here's a few complex problems that may happen:
  1. It's very rare, but some of them are not turned-on. Doesn't seem to be an issue on Muni these days because they are always turned-on 24-hours, even if the engine is shut-off.
  2. If you use Autoload, did your credit card expire or you had to cancel it?
  3. Does your wallet or purse contain another RFID card, such as a proximity card or a debit/credit card with the wireless payment feature? Translink readers will not respond if they notice two or more radio signals. Your card must be the only one that's read.
  4. Your new monthly pass didn't show up? Give them a call.
And lastly, if all else fails, call Translink.


So... why did I write this posting? Well, this jackass named Brian Zisk wrote some inconsiderate comments about Translink on Facebook. This guy is as just as pissed-off as James Fang of BART when he went on the attack against Translink (SFgate story and my coverage) and the public pushed back really harshly.

I did my best to play devil's advocate (or is it angel's advocate?) and explain that some of his problems are caused by the reasons I've listed above, and some other ones you'll see in the conversation:

Zisk's Initial Posting:
"What a defective program. How did this ever get approved? #fail My TransLink card often fails to work, causing me to pay again in cash even when it's prepaid for unlimited rides for a month.

The card is fragile, and if it cracks, it won't wo
rk, and you'll need to pay to replace the card. If you want to cancel the card because it's costing you more money than a FastPass, you'll be charged. to leave the program.

If you want to ride a cable car, these cards aren't accepted, though a fast pass is accepted at the same price you pay for a Translink.

Hardware and support costs must be much higher than the existing FastPass system. Understand conceptually why it seems like this system might be better, and understand why folks associated with TransLink need to stick up for it, but in practice, folks need to be warned that they will be signing up for a vastly inferior and often frustrating experience if they decide to try out these cards."

Reply from Akit:
"Here's a bit of advice:
--Hold the card at the sensor til' it beeps. If you just wave it around or just tap it for a brief second; it won't respond. Just an extra couple seconds of patience pays off.

--The system has a fail safe feature that your card won't respond to the reader if you also have in the reader's range, a proximity (access) card, or any of those debit/credit cards with the RFID technology.

--Report problems to Translink. Note down the vehicle number or entry point and call them the same day. If nobody reports problems, it will continue on for days and even months.

--The cards should be handled carefully. Carelessness will break the antenna. Never punch a hole into the card.

--You were clearly informed that Cable Cars are not yet equipped to handle Translink. Historic monument laws forbid modification, and therefore they can't install equipment on the vehicles. Handheld readers that can deduct fares are being worked on.

Reply from Zisk:
"You can repeat the how to manual, but even the folks most sucking up to TransLink acknowledge that the problem on individual buses can persist for months, as you mention in your post above.

If the real answer is to "hold the card at the sensor til it beeps" as you suggest, muni would grind to a halt as folks stand there trying to make the often failed system work.

If you think that only carelessness will break the antenna, you obviously don't know what you are talking about.

As for insisting that I was clearly informed, your misinformed babbling is totally condescending, and you are not correct in any case.

You all can wave you hands and chant "TransLink works great" over and over, but as it stands now, they system is a huge fail, and it should be shut down before any further money is wasted.

According to some reports, they system was originally scheduled to cost $4 million, but has since ballooned into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Akit's final reply:
"So before you go nuts in your next reply, let me state that this is all based on personal experience (since joining the pilot program in 2002) and some simple searching through public records.

Holding the card until it beeps is what is supposed to happen. Usually it's one second and sometimes two. I've seen people just quickly tap it or waive it around, and they either get no light/tone or the error sound. It doesn't hold-up buses if people do it correctly. I'm hoping they'll do a software upgrade to make it even more responsive.

Can you please explain to me other ways you can break the antenna? The only two I can think of is punching a hole or bending it too much, but that's the same if you did it to a BART ticket.

Tell me, how am I misinformed or telling all lies? Everything Translink has told everyone on how to use it properly and has been supported by many cardholders' experience who feels the program works.

Lastly, get yourself a paper pass or pay cash."

The lesson kids is... don't mess with Akit; especially when he's been a Translink cardholder since 2002.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Need to vent Outside Lands anger? Do it HERE

Strangely... there's not many forums out there right now that are letting people comment like crazy about Outside Lands and the impact on communities. Last year, SFGate, SFist, Curbed SF, and my blog were the primary places for disgruntled people to complain.

This year, a lot of people are noting their experiences on Twitter with the hashtag "#outsidelands," some noise complaints, and Muni problems.

Just a few minutes ago, SF Appeal posted their own Friday recap. Kudos to them for posting it up faster!

Update: Want to read over 30 disgruntled comments? See SFGate's little hidden comments page about the event here. A lot of people are not happy with the sound, now with accusations that the sound management folks jacked-up the bass.

Here's some of what I've noticed on Friday:
  • Gridlocked traffic going northbound on Great Highway on the [upper] portion starting at Lawton and ending at Balboa (1.3 mile backup).
  • Heavy traffic going southbound on Great Highway from Balboa to Fulton (0.3 mile backup).
  • Backup going southbound on Great Highway from Santiago to Sloat (0.8 miles).
  • Gridlock westbound on Lincoln between Sunset Blvd. to Great Highway (0.8 miles) with illegal right turns in second right lane on westbound Lincoln at Great Highway intersection.
  • Gridlock westbound on Fulton from at least Chain of Lakes/43rd Avenue to Great Highway.
  • Traffic was clear going eastbound on Fulton and Lincoln.
  • Drivers didn't realize the next east-west streets like Irving and Cabrillo was much quicker to drive through.
  • Muni suffered, including lines that don't go nearby, like the 18-46th Avenue that suffered through the traffic mess on the brief drive on the Great Highway portion.
  • Today, Supervisor Mar is meeting with Outside Lands organizers about the noise problem, including the bass that can be heard way beyond the boundaries of the event.

As always, I have my helpful survival guide to Outside Lands available to you with helpful phone numbers if things start to become a problem.

Here's some additional info I'm also going to update the survival guide with:

Your rights as a San Francisco citizen during Outside Lands:
  1. You have the right to complain to your district supervisor, police department, mayor's office, or any other appropriate city agency.
  2. You have the right to have your complaint heard by a competent individual and you shall expect a response within a timely manner.
  3. If you need help, call 311. If you believe the information they provided to you sounds incorrect or unhelpful, either hang-up and call again, or demand a supervisor. If they refuse to take complaints on certain matters regarding the event, keep cramming it down their throats until the report is filed.
  4. Any comments, suggestions and complaints filed with a city agency, including SFPD, DPT, and 311 are considered public records under the Sunshine Ordinance. Calling Outside Lands' hotline may not be considered as "part of the record."
  5. If you notice limo or towncar drivers trying to pick-up passengers "on-demand," this is illegal under San Francisco law. Take down their plate and their unique chauffeur vehicle number on their rear bumper and call 311.
  6. If you still hear concert music beyond 10PM, the end of the day's event, report it to your city supervisor and police department.
  7. If you notice something shady going on in your neighborhood, don't sit on it, and give the cops a call.
(Screenshot taken at 6:25PM)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Outside Lands FAIL: Shutting down Ocean Beach parking lot WITHOUT NOTICE

On my regular commute on the Great Highway to work this morning, I noticed the Ocean Beach parking lot between Fulton and Lincoln was fenced off this morning all lot entry points.

As usual, last night, the Federal Park Police and National Park Rangers were out in force to kick-out all people parked at the beach lot at 11PM, but these temporary barricades were up sometime between 11PM and 8AM blocking all access to parking.

The barricades were not placed by SFPD, in fact, they looked like they were rented from some event company.

The phone call:
I called the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) this morning to find-out why the lot was closed, assuming the lot was owned by the federal government because the federal government police officers are enforcing the late night no-parking policy.

After waiting about 15 minutes for a reply, I was informed the lot was owned by the city, but he explained to me the lot closure was for Outside Lands. The closure is from Thursday to Tuesday.

While nothing against the GGNRA, I explained to him that there was no notice given of a lot closure because that would tick-off all the surfers and the frequent tour buses that pull-over for their break and let the visitors go to the Beach Chalet. GGNRA's policy for their lots (such as Land's End/USS San Francisco Memorial lot) is to give at least a week's notice.

Basically, there's two FAILS:
  1. San Francisco Government (in particular, SFPD, DPT, and the Golden Gate Park management) for failure to place notices of a city owned parking lot closure.
  2. Outside Lands for not mentioning this in their "311" page and letter to neighborhood residents.
What a great start... piss off the surfers!

Monday, August 24, 2009

SF Residents - How to Survive Outside Lands

Get your aspirin ready because hell is starting this Friday through the end of Sunday. OK, actually it starts this Thursday at 8PM.

As you may recall from last year, Akit's Complaint Department was the lead opposition against the Outside Lands for such major problems as:
  • Overselling tickets to the point where people were breaking down fences to get around the festival.
  • Failure to give proper road closure information to SF 311, 511, city supervisors' offices, and the local police stations.
  • Destroying the park's irrigation system.
  • Massive amounts of litter in the park.
  • Muni overcrowding and overloading.
  • Limo companies illegally trying to pick-up passengers and ripping them off in cost.
  • Loud and drunk people doing their "business" at people's homes.
  • Noise so loud, you can hear it a mile away from the event site.
Read the stories that grabbed me over 500 visitors a day, and lasted for nearly a week:
No Park Street Closure Information
Muni Terrible, Complaints, and Not Making any Friends
Goodbye, Get Lost, and Never Come Back


This year, I am still opposed to this event. The city is the pimp and basically sold their beautiful park for a cool $1.5 million dollars for a few years to literally rack up costs that will nearly meet or exceed the money being raked in.

Once again, there will be tons of people going to Golden Gate Park, playing loud music late into the night, and leaving the area on public transit. If you think this is going to be pretty, expect the worst.

Outside of the negative crap, I will acknowledge some improvements versus last year's mess:
  1. Tons of signage are on lamp posts all around Golden Gate Park and points towards major event entry points and main exits to streets.
  2. Golden Gate Park finally installed street name signs at nearly every intersection (something we citizens have been begging for decades).
  3. Shuttles, thank god, private shuttles.
  4. Mass mailed every resident in the Richmond and Sunset districts about the event, with at least two weeks notice. The letter is basically this website page from SF Outside Lands.

Here's Akit's guide for neighborhood residents to survive Outside Lands:

If you get ticked-off by something gone wrong from Friday through Sunday, call their community hotline at: (415) 933-6901 (number fixed).

Akit suggests you should also contact your city supervisor. If you have Muni problems or witness cab and limo drivers ripping people off, call 311 (415-701-2311).

Remember, reporting to public officials goes on public records (Sunshine Ordinance); calling Outside Land's public hotline may not be considered part of public records.

Almost all Golden Gate Park road entry points will shut-down at 8PM this Thursday and will re-open at 11PM on Sunday. I say, expect the park roads to re-open much later, say early Monday morning before the commuters take Chain of Lakes. Road closure info here.

Since Outside Lands starts on FRIDAY, you should make some alternate plans to ride MUNI to work, SF State, public school, or wherever it goes near Golden Gate Park. Avoid the following Muni lines (in no particular order):
  • 5-Fulton **SEVERE IMPACT**
  • 71-Haight/Noriega
  • 71L-Haight/Noriega Limited
  • 28L-19th Avenue Limited
  • 29-Sunset
  • N-Judah **SEVERE IMPACT**
Alternate lines to ride:
  • All Muni express buses like the 16X, 31 AX and BX, 38AX and BX (weekday peak hours only).
  • 6-Parnassus (inner Sunset residents)
  • 18-46th Avenue (outer Sunset residents, in exchange for the 29-Sunset)
  • 31-Balboa (Richmond district residents)
  • 38-Geary (everyday) and 38L-Geary Limited (doesn't operate on Sundays)
  • 43-Masonic
  • 66 Quintara and transfer to 6-Parnassus at 9th Avenue (all Sunset residents)
If you live near the concert site, or somewhere close to Golden Gate Park (even if away from the main site), park your car on the street Friday and don't plan to move it until Monday. If you have a garage, good for you (and bad for me).

If you must drive, definitely stay away from these East-West direction streets.
  • Fulton
  • Cabrillo
  • Balboa (maybe)
  • Lincoln
  • Irving (it's always crowded with the merchants on those blocks from 25th Avenue to 19th Avenue)
  • Judah
If you are trying to go North-South, you can still drive through:
  • 19th Avenue (GG Park South) via Crossover Drive to North entrances 25th Avenue and Park Presidio. EXPECT DELAYS.
  • Great Highway; but JFK Drive entrance closed, and you won't have a lot of luck parking at Ocean Beach or Beach Chalet.
  • Stanyan (east edge of GG Park)
Outside Lands has promised at least two tow trucks and a parking officer dedicated to both the Richmond and Sunset districts. While this sounds like a nice thing to do, remember the parking officer will be overloaded and may not be able to address issues such as a car blocking your driveway because hundreds of others will complain too.

If you need to take care of any business, from grabbing breakfast at your favorite dim sum restaurant, or buying groceries, do it in the early morning. Less traffic congestion equals a brighter day.

And if you decide to sequester yourself at home, I don't mind playing against you online on my Xbox 360.


If you have any suggestions on how to survive Outside Lands this weekend, post a comment!


Added information as of 11:45AM on Saturday, August 29, 2009:

Your rights as a San Francisco citizen during Outside Lands:
  1. You have the right to complain to your district supervisor, police department, mayor's office, or any other appropriate city agency.
  2. You have the right to have your complaint heard by a competent individual and you shall expect a response within a timely manner.
  3. If you need help, call 311. If you believe the information they provided to you sounds incorrect or unhelpful, either hang-up and call again, or demand a supervisor. If they refuse to take complaints on certain matters regarding the event, keep cramming it down their throats until the report is filed.
  4. Any comments, suggestions and complaints filed with a city agency, including SFPD, DPT, and 311 are considered public records under the Sunshine Ordinance. Calling Outside Land's hotline may not be considered as "part of the record."
  5. If you notice limo or towncar drivers trying to pick-up passengers "on-demand," this is illegal under San Francisco law. Take down their plate and their unique chauffeur vehicle number on their rear bumper and call 311.
  6. If you still hear concert music beyond 10PM, the end of the day's event, report it to your city supervisor and police department.
  7. If you notice something shady going on in your neighborhood, don't sit on it, and give the cops a call.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tourists in San Francisco: Why don't you move to the back of the F-Market?

Here's an itching question that needs an answer:
Is there a reason why tourists hate standing in the back of the F-Market historic streetcars?

I was riding the F-Market today from the platform near Embarcadero station to Pier 39, and when the orange colored Milan car approached, I thought it was crowded. But once I got in, I moved all the way to the back of the car that there was so much room, I could literally lay down on the floor and not even kick someone. During the entire ride, the sardine packed mob that conquered the first 3/4 of the cab and never even moved towards the rear.

Even worse, I was watching people at the boarding platforms frustrated like hell that the trolley skipped them, and seeing me, the only guy with plenty of room in the rear.

Yet... while it is a frequent problem with the tourists, it occasionally happens on the regular Muni routes too. I'd say "excuse me" and "pardon me" to get through the swarm, and there's plenty of comfy room to stand in the rear of the bus!


Here's my take to the problem:

I think people always believe the back of the bus is always full of the "bad" people and usually the easiest sign is the graffiti and glass etching on the rear windows and on the walls. Typically, nothing ever happens or goes wrong as people go on their merry way home.

But here's the strange part: the F-Market is relatively clean and always safe. I've never seen any graffiti or destruction to the Milan cars, but the PCCs sometimes have a little graffiti, but not much (maybe because of the knee-banging legroom of the seats close proximity).

So what are the tourists afraid of by not scooting themselves to the back of the F-Market? Would you enjoy having the trolley skip you because tourists can't understand a damn request by the driver to shove your butt to the back?

On several occasions, I even yelled out to people to move to the back of the train, but does anyone even listen? HELL NO. Maybe I should buy a cattle prod.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Muni Fare Gates will Make you Join Translink

With word that Muni (SFMTA) is going to install new fare gates next year, this means the end of the classic Muni fast pass.

SF Appeal and Streetsblog San Francisco reports that Muni did a demonstration of their new fare gate and separate ticketing machine for the press at the Van Ness station. As you may see in the video, the gate moves slowly, and they set it up so that you have to tag-out to leave the system (what the hell?).

As each article stressed, Translink based RFID cards will be the only way to access Muni Metro's subway stations. Two types of cards will be accepted at the gates: Translink cards (able to be used on various transit systems), and a "limited use" card issued by the new vending machines at every station which will more likely restrict people to use the cheap card on Muni vehicles only.


It's basic logic my dear Watson, once the first fare gates are installed at Forest Hill in the early part of next year, Muni is forced to have Translink in full-operation (including use in Cable Cars), and that means the magnetic striped fast pass must go away. Do they really expect station agents to buzz people in every time they flash their paper fast pass while the gates are being installed at all stations and slowly phase out the Translink card?

But for Muni, the elimination of paper passes will also have a setback for people with the scratch-off day passes (for the tourists), CityPass users with 7-day Muni access (another tourist gimmick), and disabled people with the monthly stickers. Muni station agents could "buzz" people into the Metro system, or replace all paper media with an RFID based media, in which the disabled cards already have an RFID antenna inside (Muni still sells stickers instead of trying to broker sales via Translink).

On the other hand, upgrading the fare gates and demanding all paper media to be banned may actually eliminate station agent booths and staffing since the gates are entirely automated and requires less maintenance since there's no coin jams in the gates.

Take my advice folks, demand for Translink cards to replace the monthly fast pass will be very high and may run-out. This happened in Washington D.C. where the SmarTrip card was required to pay for parking (no more cash accepted) and they RAN OUT OF THE CARDS. Why not get yourself a card right now and don't mess with the mob? Many Walgreens locations will sell you the card for $5. If you sign-up as part of a trial program with Muni or Caltrain (via Translink.org), you can get a free card in the mail, and maybe free e-cash credit if you participate with Caltrain.


Here's a curious question for Muni, what happens to the "BART to Muni" transfer coupons for those who will pay cash at the Muni ticket vending machine? Will you issue a secret code number on the ticket to be valid for an hour and punched in at a keypad at the nearest Muni ticket machine for the 25 cent discount?

(Video from YouTube user: ATMK10001)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Akit's Furlough Adventure #2 - Twin Peaks & Cal Academy of Sciences

Just one vote made the difference between going to the Rockridge district of Oakland and Twin Peaks. This furlough adventure winner is Twin Peaks.

Unfortunately, today was a terrible day at Twin Peaks, the fog ruined the view. After a few minutes of snapping photos, I scrapped this trip.
Twin PeaksTwin Peaks

After bailing on Twin Peaks, I decided to go visit the Cal Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, and got sort-of lucky at the parking garage with a parking space of this complicated and expensive parking lot. $2.75 an hour... damn!

Cal Academy of Sciences

Since I have membership to the Academy, it was quite easy to get in, but as usual, it's tourist season and the damn place was packed. I arrived at about 11AM and the planetarium show tickets were given out for the 3PM showing. Take my advice, don't go to the 3D Bugs movie, the screen is small, and they allow screaming babies and kids who likes to kick your seat.

One of my favorite exhibits is the African Penguins. They are so cute! And when they swim in the water, they always go against the glass to play around with the visitors.
African Penguins

One of the best features of the Cal Academy is the aquarium, and especially the Philippine Coral Reef exhibits, including the one where a diver enters the aquarium and talks to the host of the program. One item of note, every time they do one of those diver showings, it's a fire hazard because people are spilling out in the aisles and folks are sitting all over the floor.
Philippine Coral Reef

If haven't had the chance, go to the rainforest exhibit in the big glass dome. It's quite humid inside, but you get to see all kinds of birds, butterflies, odd looking fish, and plenty more. The wait is 15 minutes to get in, but it's well worth the wait.
RainforestRainforest Habitat

And don't forget the site of the former 74X CultureBus! Rest in peace... but Muni forgot to paint over the damn yellow signage.
Site of the former 74X CultureBus

As for lunch... thanks to Oprah's failed KFC bit, I finally was able to claim my free meal. The chicken pieces are so small! I've never seen a drumstick that small... EVER.
Thanks Oprah for this free meal

See the entire slideshow here:


Furlough adventures #3 and #4 is scheduled for Friday, September 4th, and Tuesday September 8th (it's a five day weekend). You can post a comment here at Akit's Complaint Department to give suggestions on what I should do or visit next. You can also e-mail me at complaints@NOSPAMakit.org (take-out the "nospam" notation).

All suggestions will be reviewed and a poll will be posted in the next week or two. Two items from the previous poll will return: Cable Car Museum and Rockridge district.

Caltrain accepts Translink - Free E-Cash for New Sign-ups

Today is the first day for the Translink program to allow users to use Caltrain with their green colored cards.

What does this mean for the public? You can now ride many major transit agencies to get around the Bay Area: Muni, AC Transit (with Dumbarton Express), Golden Gate Transit & Ferry, BART, and Caltrain.

Still, the other big players such as Samtrans, VTA, and the other ferry companies needs to join the club, but also the little guys like Vallejo Transit.

How you can participate:
  1. If you do not have a Translink card, sign-up with the Caltrain program and get yourself a free card ($5 value) and $12.50 in free e-cash. You heard me, free money to ride public transit.
  2. If you have an existing card, you can sign-up with Caltrain to partake in surveys and such. But the website does not mention about the $12.50 free e-cash incentive, neither does it say that you won't get it.
  3. Hidden away in the FAQ section of the Translink website is anyone with a Translink card can use Caltrain, regardless if you sign-up to participate in surveys. This is the same arrangement BART is doing, where only select people take surveys, but allows anyone with the card to use the system.

Here's some of the unique rules about using your Translink card on Caltrain:
  1. You must tag-on at your boarding platform, and tag-off at the exiting platform. Failure to tag-on will be caught by the conductor and your ass is getting a citation. Failure to tag-off (if you tagged-on) will charge the maximum one-way fare for Caltrain).
  2. You must have a minimum of $1.25 on your Translink card when tagging-on, regardless of the distance/zones you travel. The maximum the card can go into a negative balance is $10.00, and since $11.25 is the maximum fare on Caltrain, that's why you need to have that $1.25.
  3. Adding more e-cash is not easy; only three Caltrain stations have the addfare machines and must be done in-person. Best suggestions: Autoload program, and automatic loading of transit benefits on monthly basis. You can do phone and web loading, but remember the 72-hour rule.
  4. There's a new "15-minute rule" for Caltrain. If you tag-on at your starting station, but decide to cancel your trip within 15 minutes, just tag your card at the same reader and your money will be fully refunded. After 15 minutes, if you tag-off, you are charged a one zone fare. My suggestion, tag your card within 15 minutes of your train's scheduled arrival, if you hear an announcement that there was a suicide or delay, you can tag-off and find an alternate way to get to your destination.
  5. Lastly, since this is technically in "testing," remember, that if Translink fails to work, get yourself a paper ticket. Caltrain won't give away free rides (they are broke!).
Since I was part of the pilot program in 2002, Caltrain had limited stops you can visit, and passengers had to press the appropriate zone button on the reader to get charged the correct fare. It all worked fine, and this is especially true because the platform card readers are highly reliable and always-on (just like the ones for Golden Gate Ferry), versus the miniature ones used on buses.

Have fun!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

BART Strike Called-Off

Phew... BART's management and the ATU worked-out their problems and have made a deal. This deal means there will be NO BART strike starting on Monday at 12:01PM and your commute won't be a world of hell.

But be aware that this "deal" made between the union and BART management is not 100% official until the union votes and passes the new contract. If the vote fails, the threat of another strike could happen again.

One big factor about why the ATU rejected the first contract offer by BART is that the union wrote (in a letter to members) to not support the contract. Let's hope they won't say anything negative in their next letter regarding this modified contract on the table.

So... what does this mean for Akit's Furlough Adventures? Based on the active poll right now, it looks like I'm going to Twin Peaks, unless if you can sway the vote to send my butt to the Rockridge district of Oakland. Voting officially ends at 11:00PM tonight!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Translink works on BART - Here's Video Proof

Riding BART using the Translink card works easily and perfectly. I filmed this after taking my furlough adventure. A high definition version of the video is available.

If you want an easy to understand demonstration to "tag" your card to ride BART (some have complained of difficulty), watch this animation from BART that uses their EZ Rider card.


One minor flaw is that I exited the Daly City BART station and transferred to Muni's 28-19th Avenue bus line, but instead of giving me the free ride as agreed in their transfer policy, it charged me the $1.75 and is equivalent to the 25 cent off coupons you get for transferring to Muni between Balboa Park and Embarcadero.

But here's the funny part, Daly City BART's free Muni transfer is valid for only one ride and you don't get a paper transfer to ride a different line (if you use non-Translink media), thereby, I would pay an additional $2.00 to ride a second Muni bus. Since I was charged $1.75 in error, it gave me the 90 minute transfer to take a second bus, and I saved a quarter in the end.

Translink customer service told me that transferring from Daly City BART to Muni gives "two free rides," which is the equivalent of the two-part Daly City BART-Muni transfer. I'm not 100% sure if they mean I get two rides without a 90 minute transfer each, or I don't get one.

Akit's Furlough Adventure #1 - Sausalito

You voted for it, and you get it folks... I went out to Sausalito today on my first furlough day, Friday, August 14, 2009.

Let's go on the furlough adventure!

I arrived at the Ferry Building too early, so I sat down and consumed some Peets coffee while waiting for the right time to walk down to the Golden Gate Ferry terminal.
Drinking coffee and waiting for my boat

I boarded the Golden Gate Ferry using my Translink card and saving a bundle, while those other folks were paying nearly double for the 30 minute ride to Sausalito. Suckers...
Golden Gate Ferry Terminal

The ride on the M.V. Marin is very comfortable, especially since Golden Gate Transit refurbished the ferry boat with cushioned seats, tons of room for bicycles, and a special area that disallows cell phone use.
Golden Gate Ferry Boat - MarinBay Bridge in Background

With the weather just right, clear skies, and the sun bright, this furlough day was going to go well. There's a lot of shopping in Sausalito, very nice art galleries, and very cozy places to eat with great views. Here's a few highlights of where I visited:

Munchie's Candies... the salt water taffy is so soft! I got about $4.75 worth of mostly salt water taffy, and a small bag of sour apple gummy rings.
Munchies CandiesSo much taffy... and some gummy rings!

For lunch, I ate a "San Francisco Club" sandwich at the Venice deli. The sandwich had roast beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and mayo on a locally baked sourdough roll. I had a nice chat with the guy who made my sandwich and rung it up. I mentioned about my mandatory furlough at my SF State job, and he mentioned his daughter is going to SF State to major in Ethnic Studies and was disappointed about the library construction on the campus. Luckily, I graduated at the right time, just before the library closed.
San Francisco Club Sandwich at Venice Deli
(I already ate half of this really tasty sandwich)

So after spending a few hours baking in the sun, looking at all the shops, and eating a tasty sandwich, it was time to return to the city. I hopped back on the Golden Gate Ferry to the Ferry Terminal with my Translink card and took BART with my Translink card home.
Golden Gate Ferry - Return TripTranslink Card - BART

Want to view all 54 photos? See the slideshow below:

Akit's next furlough adventure #2 is coming this Monday, August 17th. The Rockridge district in Oakland is the popular choice right now, but if BART's unions go on strike on that day, I can't go to that destination. You can still vote for Rockridge on the left side of Akit's Complaint Department, but there's no guarantee. I may also take a suggestion from a previous commenter to counter picket the BART strike to "get those union folks' butts back to work!"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

BART strike? I'm so scared...

It's time to sing (stress reducing) songs and get ready for hell if you take BART to work starting Monday.

SEIU voted: 75% in favor and the managers voted 86% in favor. But 66% of the ATU rejects their contract? What the hell is wrong with the ATU? I feel they know that if the operators and agents reject the contract and strike, they can cripple the system. If the janitors strike, the trains might be a little dirty, but will still run.

This won't get the pubic happy, especially when the other unions say "yes" and just one says "no."

Before we start pooping our pants, let's get your alternatives:
  1. BART shuttles running between East Bay stations and downtown SF. It's $5 a ride, but don't expect any guarantee of a seat, and your ass will get stuck in traffic on the freeways.
  2. AC Transit transbay service. While cheaper in cost, you might also get stuck in traffic; but on the brighter side, they quickly get on and off the Bay Bridge via commuter lanes and their special ramp access to/from Transbay terminal.
  3. East Bay ferry service. This is going to be a popular choice.
  4. Larkspur ferry service. Golden Gate Transit stops at El Cerrito Del Norte station and can eventually get you to Larkspur for the ferry.
  5. Casual carpooling... yep, traffic jams.
  6. Alternate working schedules, how about still getting stuck during off-hours.
  7. Telecommute?
My best suggestion, take a vacation.


I'm lucky that I don't commute on BART. Unfortunately, I'm being furloughed by the Cal State University system on Monday, and the "furlough adventure" poll to visit the Rockridge district of Oakland may need to be called-off (I wanted to use TRANSLINK THAT DAY!). I may consider some of the alternatives like Twin Peaks or the Cable Car Museum. But I may also decide to see if there are any BART picketers to taunt and take photos at a nearby downtown SF station.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Update: Akit's Furlough Adventures being consolidated

Some good (and kinda bad) news: I have received word on my furlough calendar for the next 10 months, this means about 20 or so days of mandatory furloughs for me to take.

I've decided to consolidate Akit's Furlough Adventures to be part of the Complaint Department blog postings, this makes it easier for me to manage on just one blog.

To go over some details about this consolidation:
  • To vote for Akit's first furlough day on Friday, August 14th, please vote on the right side of the page at: http://furloughtrips.blogspot.com You have until this Thursday at 6PM to vote, then I'm shutting down the Furlough Adventures blog for consolidation.
  • To vote for Akit's second furlough day on Monday, August 17th, please vote on the left side of Akit's Complaint Department at: http://www.akit.org
  • For all future furlough events, please keep visiting the Complaint Department to vote.
Just to remind you of what's going to happen: You can e-mail me suggestions or post them in the comments section, I'll gather your ideas and post them in a poll, and you vote for them! When the day comes, I'll take the popular vote and blog all about my "furlough adventures" and you'll see it here at Akit's Complaint Department.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nihonmachi Street Fair 2009 Recap (It's Not Good)

The 36th annual Nihonmachi Street Fair in San Francisco's Japantown went well, and thankfully, no grouchy condo developers and tenant board presidents going after the event this round.

There was a decent crowd this year, but if you try to compare Cherry Blossom to Nihonmachi, Cherry Blossom gets more people than Nihonmachi. If you think about how these events work, Cherry Blossom is way more organized and has better control than Nihonmachi; yet, the history of the Nihonmachi Street Fair is basically the idea of people simply coming together to have fun, and Cherry Blossom was made for the local businesses to attract more customers.

I'm going to be blunt, Nihonmachi Street Fair has been failing in terms of organizing (management)
. I've been volunteering with a non-profit organization who makes and sells the famous "Teriburgers" and many of our volunteers can see how much we and other food booths were suffering. Here's a short list:
  1. Poor location, they sent all the food booths to Webster street and part of Post Street (west of Webster).
  2. No entertainment stage, not even a radio station sponsor playing music.
  3. Only six non-profit organizations were selling food, everyone else was for-profit. This violated the "spirit" of the event.
  4. Many food booths saw a severe lack of customers due to the bad location and entertainment factors.
  5. Lack of advertising.
This really didn't go well for everyone. While I know the food booths made some kind of a profit, the Street Fair committee did a terrible job this year.

Everybody knows that music and food comes together. Cherry Blossom knows that live bands brings out the crowds and many people grab food and drinks before and after each set. NSF has done it before, but a former M.C. of the program warned everyone a couple of years ago that the stage may not return for this particular event, and he was right. So by killing the music and combining the "bad" location since the other stage was at the Peace Plaza, everyone got screwed.

I've heard comments from the public that "I didn't see your booth" because it looked like the main focus of NSF is the arts and crafts vendors. Everyone stuck around there so much that I had to go up there and announce all the good food and beverages supporting the non-profits of the Japantown community.

And another thing, how about the lack of non-profit organizations selling food? I saw more for-profit food booths than ever before in the history of the festival. People familiar with the history of the Nihonmachi Street Fair knows that it was created for the community to come together, have fun, and socialize. Everyone knew the food sold at the annual event was to help out the community non-profit organizations that helps seniors, youth, legal services, churches, and sports leagues, yet the committee's poor job to attract these organizations to set-up and cook good food has turned this event into a complete disaster. Combine this with the fact that this year, all the food booths were placed in a poor location, and the non-profits will reconsider if they will set-up shop ever again.

Two for-profit vendors selling Vietnamese BBQ? I spit at that decision. The "spirit" of the food booths (even if they are for-profit) is that each booth has a specific monopoly. This means NO COMPETITION. Competition means vendors will lose money; no competition means each booth has one popular staple item that everyone always remembers to come back to. Going back to the Cherry Blossom model, everyone wins because each booth has a monopoly.

A big lesson that should have been learned is the lack of advertising. The more you invest, the bigger the crowds. From what I know of, the only advertising that was published was the local Japanese American newspapers (Nichi Bei Times and Hokubei Mainichi), and a little blurb on SFgate's events page. Cherry Blossom Festival learned a lesson that when the attendance dropped, they invested more into advertising and was able to get back their attendance numbers and it helped all the vendors and attracted better entertainment.

Here's my solution to improving the Nihonmachi Street Fair:
  1. Start talking to community organizations now to get their support.
  2. If you can't afford to build two entertainment stages, compress the festival so the food booths are closer to the stage.
  3. Advertise much more heavily.
  4. Work with the Aloha Festival to make sure that both events don't happen on the same weekend. If successful, you can have on one weekend, and another on the next one, more arts and crafts vendors from Hawaii will stay in the Bay Area for an extra week so they can sell at the other event (save money on a flight back to the islands).
  5. Restrict food vendors to non-profits.
  6. Regulate a monopoly on food items per booth. No competing items.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Akit's Furlough Adventures - A New Blog!

I'm starting a new blog called "Akit's Furlough Adventures" and it will chronicle the days when I'm forced to take furlough days. I thought about this idea when I posted a recent entry by listing places I would go do on furlough days.

Here's the idea, you can e-mail me or post a comment on the most recent blog entry about where I should go visit during my furlough days. I may choose one specific one or I may post a poll on the blog to let you pick the one I should go visit.

During my day-off, I will go out with my camera and take photos of my journey and write about it.

As always, pick anywhere within the SF Bay Area! But remember, I'm taking a 10% pay cut for these forced unpaid days off, so be kind by not making me pay a high admission fee or paying an expensive Caltrain ticket.

The big benefit for me is that I won't be bored spending my time at home watching daytime soaps on TV or playing video games. Plus, there are many areas around the Bay Area I haven't visited or been to in a long time; your suggestions helps me explore our unique Bay Area!

Drop by, suggest, and vote! http://furloughtrips.blogspot.com

Monday, August 3, 2009

It's Full Speed Ahead for Translink

As you may notice by now, I blog a ton about Translink. But I like the program because I know how much potential it has to be successful and make it so much easier for our Bay Area.

As we just heard today, Translink will be on Caltrain on the 17th of August! And I have to give my kudos to SF Appeal for getting the word out first!

Even better things are just over the horizon for Translink. Word just came-out from SF Appeal that BART's first day on Translink is a big success! Even more exciting are the future projects that are coming-up soon.


Would you like to learn more information about the future projects for Translink? It's all public information from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Translink Management Board. Here's the PDF of their PowerPoint presentation.

To give you a briefing on the good stuff, instead of looking at charts and money, here's what's coming up for Translink:
  1. Today, 70% of Golden Gate Ferry trips are paid with the Translink card.
  2. Installation of Samtrans Translink equipment will start approximately August 10th.
  3. With Cubic buying out ERG, they will be upgrading Translink with new memory, be able to pay for parking at some San Francisco parking lots with the card, design a new Translink card, and others.
  4. SFMTA/Muni will be starting installation of new metro gates in the Spring of 2010. Instead of paper tickets, SFMTA ticketing vending machines will issue "limited use" Translink cards, possibly similar to BART's magnetic tickets.
  5. City CarShare will work with Translink to allow their customers to use Muni buses (I'm not sure how that will work).
  6. BART ticket machines will have Translink functionality in mid 2010. They are testing-out this program right now.
  7. VTA and Caltrain's ticketing machines will be used as Translink ticketing machines in the future, but they are going under the bidding process.
These sound like great future projects for Translink, especially that in less than a year, we will have more Translink add value machines by using BART ticketing machines!!!

Update: Translink Card Commuter Benefits Posted Several Days Before New Month

Update about my previous posting on Translink and the delay with adding commuter benefits:

I just contacted Translink and spoke to their manager about the situation and he informed me that the "last Friday" rule is not correct.

Their policy is to add the Translink funds between when the commuter benefits company sends the list to Translink and several days before the new month starts. The manager claims it's a "short period" but are able to input the data in time.

He also confirmed my Commuter Check Direct benefits have been added to my account, but since I took the car to work today, I'll wait until tomorrow (Tuesday) for the update to my card.

It also turned-out in a later phone call I received, Commuter Check Direct didn't include my card serial number in my account, which is really odd because I can't add or modify my Commuter Check order without my card serial number. This could be the root cause of the delay for me.

That's comforting news to hear and I hope Translink and Commuter Check does the right thing next month when my adult Muni fast pass will be posted to my account.

In other news: Translink is working well on BART's first day. SF Appeal commenters are saying how smooth it's working, and BART's twitter is re-tweeting a user's positive experience.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Serious Flaw for Translink Card Users with Pre-Tax Commuter Benefits

NOTE: Before reading this posting, please be aware that a representative of Translink gave me incorrect information, the official response from the Translink manager is posted here.

I use Commuter Check to automatically add e-cash funds to my Translink card account every month on a recurring cycle. I tagged my card on four buses on August 1st with the belief my funds would be loaded, that wasn't the case.

I soon realized after calling the Translink office that they admitted...

July 31st landed on a Friday, which meant the soonest an update to my account would be about 72 hours and is past the start of the new month.

How many people who use pre-tax commuter benefits are affected by this policy?


Pull out your electronic calendar and take a look at the vulnerable months the "last Friday" policy will affect passengers (when also factoring in the 72 hour rule):
  • November 2009 (October 30th is a Friday)
  • February 2010 (January 29th is a Friday)
  • March 2010 (February 26th is a Friday)
  • May 2010 (definitely because April 30th lands on a Friday)
  • August 2010 (July 30th lands on a Friday)
  • November 2010 (October 29th is a Friday)
  • January 2011 (definitely because December 31st lands on a Friday)

While I depend on electronic cash to be loaded, how about those people who rely on monthly Muni passes and get them automatically loaded through Commuter Check every month? Basically, for those who are supposed to get an August fast pass via Commuter Check won't get it in time and may unknowingly pay e-cash from their Translink account until 72 hours after FRIDAY THE 31ST?

I've already changed my Commuter Check benefits from e-cash to an adult fast pass starting September 1st. WHAT GUARANTEE DO I HAVE FROM TRANSLINK THAT MY FIRST TAG OF THE CARD ON THE 1ST OF SEPTEMBER WILL REFLECT A PASS?

Translink should fix their policy immediately. I suggest updating people's accounts immediately once they get the information from commuter benefits companies around the 15th of every month so there are no hiccups like what happened THIS MONTH.

(How do I know it's around the 15th of every month? Commuter Check e-mails me when the order has been executed.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

BREAKING: BART Accepts Translink Cards Monday, August 3rd

Fresh off the BART's twitter, they are going to start on Monday, August 3rd: TRANSLINK.

A just recently posted news release from BART tells people that you can start using your Translink cards on BART as soon as Monday. Tomorrow (Sunday), BART is going to update the fare gates to allow usage of Translink cards to the system.

But there are a few items of note:
  1. It's not 100% ready for the masses, basically it's still "testing." However, it does permit ANYONE with a Translink card to use the system. Their test phase is five months.
  2. The three Translink fare payments are accepted: E-cash, Muni adult passes (w/in SF), and an electronic form of BART's high value tickets. Be warned, there are limited places to instantly update your Translink card with more money. Most common places, Bay Area Walgreens.
  3. For the high value tickets, you can't claim commuter pre-tax benefits, unless if you get one of those special debit cards from the benefits company.
  4. BART doesn't guarantee it will work since it is "testing," so bring some cash with you just in case it fails (like... badly).
It's time to celebrate!!!

Whoohoo! Pressure from the public and bloggers like SFist, SF Appeal, Eye on Blogs, and others have forced BART to start playing along with Translink.

As for BART board member James Fang... he's probably crying in agony.

UPDATE: To get high value tickets, you must be registered for "autoload" with Translink. Since Translink's policy is to not allow commuter benefit debit cards for automatic loading, you should stick with e-cash.