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Friday, February 26, 2010

À la carte Muni Passes when Moved to TransLink (Clipper)?

Now that Muni is confirming a tiered system of passes (for all ages) where the cheap passes disallows passengers to ride peak express buses and cable cars, while the premium pass gives those privileges (plus BART for adults), maybe it's time for the SFMTA to restructure their pass system.

Since Muni will be converting paper passes to TransLink/Clipper on the following dates:
  • August 1, 2010 (tentative) for "A" [premium] fast pass.
  • February 1, 2011 for all disabled, senior, and youth passes.
  • No known date for the "M" adult pass.
I believe it may be worthwhile for Muni to take advantage of an à la carte program where passengers can choose based on their needs. Instead of Muni making eight types of passes, TransLink/Clipper makes it easy for someone to choose what they need with a push of a button or a click of a mouse.

Here's how I would run the program:
  1. Anyone who wants to buy a pass must buy the "core" portion. This allows unlimited access to all basic Muni lines (regular, limited, and metro).
  2. Add express bus service for $5 (adults) and $2.50 for discount.
  3. Add Cable Car service for an additional $5 and $2.50 for discount.
  4. Add BART service for an additional $5. (That is, if BART & Muni can deal out something since the current agreement only covers adults)
This gives some flexibility on what the passenger needs. Why pay the $10 premium fee when you don't use certain services? Just pay a little more and get the privilege to ride what you need. I still support a need for a fare credit when a pass without a particular feature can just pay a small additional fee to cover that premium portion the passenger needs (e.g., 25 cent additional cost for the express if you don't have that feature on your pass).

If Caltrain passengers can decide on which zones their pass can cover, pay extra if they want a Muni sticker, and pay a small fee each time they want to go beyond their zone, why can't Muni play along? VTA also does this by giving a $2 credit for pass holders who don't have express bus privileges, and the passengers just pay an extra $2 per ride.


Why am I writing about this?
I don't think the SFMTA will go back to the simple style where one pass covers everything. But it could be possible that we may return to the time of the [Mayor] Frank Jordan era where the tiered pass system failed so badly that they turned back in less than a year.

BREAKING: Muni Proposes $5 Monthly Fee for Premium Services for Youth, Disabled, & Seniors

Director Beach of the SFMTA Board asked the agency's representative if the discount passes for seniors, youth, and disabled will be allowed to ride the express buses and cable cars. The representative has verified there will be an expanded variety of passes for this category (if the board approves):
  • Youth, senior, and disabled "basic" pass only valid on local, limited, and metro.
  • Youth, senior, and disabled "premium" pass also valid on Cable Cars and express buses.
The SFMTA Board has mentioned that the SF Board of Supervisors has already approved a pass hike for these three groups to be $20 a month starting May 1st, 2010.

But... a SFMTA employee on the microphone during the hearing stated there will be an additional $5 fee for access to Cable Cars and "peak hour" express lines. That gets my stomach churning. Ouch. An extra $60 a year for the right to ride express and cable cars.

Great, our vendors will have to now sell more types of passes. An "A" pass, "M" pass, three basic discount passes, and three premium discount passes. We'll be hearing the excuse more often: "I'm sorry, we don't have any more cheap passes."

In other news:
  • The SFMTA Board repealed the increases to the discounted passes for $30 month.
  • SFMTA representative verified all passengers who have the "M" pass who wants to ride an express will pay FULL $2 FARE.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Muni Rejecting "Muni Only" Pass for Express Buses: Unfair to 8X Riders

UPDATE: SFMTA Board states the 8X, 8AX, and 8BX are not considered part of the "premium pass" option. So basically, it's the so-called "peak hour" express lines such as the 38AX, 38BX, 31AX, 31BX, etc.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to me of why the SFMTA Board of Directors wants to vote on denying passengers the right to use their "M" pass on express lines and only allowing the premium "A" pass be the only sole pass allowed for adults.

From a recent article from SF Appeal, Eve Batey asked some more in depth questions about the proposal, and the answers she received showed just how messed-up Muni is. Instead of allowing passengers to use their "M" pass and pay an additional surcharge (e.g., 25 cents), Muni's interpretation is that "M" pass holders will pay the full $2 price.

I don't support any surcharge or restrictions to a "Muni Only" pass, but if there needs to be some fair middle ground, do a surcharge like they do for VTA. VTA gives passengers a fare credit if they have a non-express monthly pass or a non-express day pass, and they pay only an extra $2 for the privilege (instead of paying the full fare of $4).

In Muni's case, any cash paying customer won't be affected, but a "M" pass user is cheated out of an extra $2, or will have to suffer with paying for an "A" pass that will add $120 a year.

But even worse is the 8X-Bayshore Express line. That line is more than an express, it makes a lot of local stops along its route.
  • It is heavily utilized by the folks in Chinatown getting to Market street, but if Muni rejects the "M" pass, you can expect more passengers to load-up on the 30 and 45 lines, or try to cheat their way onto the bus through the back doors.
  • The route also enters the lower income portions of the city including some of the city's housing projects and Vis Valley. Can the adults afford to pay the extra $10/month or $120/year additional charge so they can get to their jobs in downtown, get their education at City College's Ocean campus, or do their grocery shopping in Chinatown?


One item to note:

It's a little odd that the SFMTA wants to actually screw up the adult pass system Take a look...

The SFMTA is going to be voting on this topic this Friday, but the PDF document provided (page 50) shows that they may consider having Muni selling more types of passes:
  1. "Express Route Premium Monthly Pass (excluding the 8AX and 8BX express routes)" which will give passengers to ride the regular, limited, metro, and expresses (except Candlestick).
  2. "Cable Cars Premium Monthly Pass" will allow passengers to ride regular, limited, metro, and Cable Cars.
Why would Muni even sell more passes to complicate the system? Why FOUR PASSES? Can't they just simplify with the current two pass structure? A basic pass and a premium pass?

The Muni Nightmare Starts Tomorrow - The SFMTA Board Votes

My favorite personal quote about Muni: "We are not digging a tunnel [Central Subway], just a grave for Muni."

And the grave is going to get much deeper and filled with cement if the SFMTA Board does the wrong thing at tomorrow's hearing.

The SFMTA Board will be voting on two major items that will make a major impact on our city.

Item 11 is to consider any changes to the 2010 fiscal year budget for Muni and our worse fears could come to light including:
  1. More reductions in service (e.g., 30 minute frequencies on the 18-46th Avenue).
  2. Paying $4 a ride on Muni.

Item 12 covers the pass issues:
  1. Increasing the price of youth, senior, and disabled passes.
  2. Establishing a "Express Route Premium Monthly Pass" and "Cable Car Premium Monthly Pass."

This has gone way too far.  Nobody will ride a bus line that comes every 30 minutes when school children, elderly, and university students depend to get to where they are going.  Are they nuts to raise the pass price for the young, old, and disabled?

How about us adults?  Do they really expect to now force vendors to sell four passes?  You'll be hearing this more often at your vendor: "Sorry, we ran out of the $60 "M" pass, would you like a premium cable car pass for $100?"  It also doesn't make a lot of sense to penalize citizens who ride an express route just on the local portion, for example, I would sometimes take the 38AX in the evening at 33rd & Geary for a short hop to get home (that's because those idiots at Muni eliminated the 18-46th Avenue's route along Geary Blvd. and Point Lobos Avenue.

I'm starting to lose my patience over this agency.  Does anyone remember the controversial redevelopment project in this city?  It got to such a boiling point that at a hearing, an audience member so upset at the destruction of his community ran up to Justin Herman and grabbed him by the throat.

The SFMTA board better do the right thing for the people, or us citizens will start demanding the resignations of ALL SFMTA BOARD MEMBERS AND NATHANIEL FORD.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

TransLink Add Value Machines Unable to Purchase "Muni Only" Pass for March

You would think after all these years, TransLink would have been shaking out the bugs out of their system, but the answer seems to be no.

On Monday morning (my furlough day), I went to downtown for a little walking tour and went to the add value machines at Montgomery station so I can purchase the March "Muni only" $60 pass (aka "M" pass) for the month of March. Strangely, the options on the machine only allowed me to purchase the higher priced $70 pass (aka "A" pass).

I removed my card and used the second machine to find out if it's just a machine problem, and I got the same options. So I gave TransLink a call to tell them about the issue and they suggested I go to another station.

At Powell station, I tried again and got the same problem. I gave another courtesy call to TransLink and explained that this is the third machine in two stations I've used and it didn't give me the "M" pass option. They even accessed the machine remotely to see what steps I'm doing to purchase a pass and they saw it for themselves that there was a big problem.

After they admitted that it was a problem, they took my phone number so they can call me back on updates. They have called me back a couple of times to inform me they are still experiencing problems.

Just about 10 minutes ago, I called TransLink for some answers, and they continue to have issues with the automated add value machines and encouraged me to visit a retailer. I told them I have a commuter benefits debit card and I can only use it at automated machines or on the TL website. I prefer the automated machines because it's an instant purchase and my information is updated instantly.


This is a really strange issue that the "M" pass is not showing-up as an option to purchase. There's less than a week remaining and people want to buy their passes at the automated machines. I haven't experienced an issue to buy the "M" pass for January and February; but now there's a problem?

Just to make people wonder: TransLink was at the Montgomery station not long ago giving away free cards because SFMTA decided to remove the pass sales booth, and it was to encourage people to use the cards and automated machines to buy their next pass. Well... um... not showing the "M" option on the machines, shines a bad light on the universal transit card.

Update - TransLink updated their tweets:
  1. "These passes will be available on AVMs as of the first of the month for those who have an existing Muni-only pass on their card."
  2. "Customers without a Muni-only pass on their card can purchse one now from an AVM. We're working on syncing up the timing for both"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No More Muni Paper Transfers Starting September 2011 - Fare Inspectors Worried

With the progression of the TransLink/Clipper program to take over all paper media including passes, tickets, and transfers within the next couple of years, there will be some serious changes to the atmosphere of public transit. Muni is going to be one big target.

The MTC mentions on page 25 of resolution #3866 (PDF document) that bus and metro transfers is tentatively scheduled to be eliminated by September 30, 2011 (as long as the SFMTA Board approves this transition date). After this date, the only form of free transfers would be only on the TransLink/Clipper card. This is similar to Washington D.C.'s rail and bus service where as of January 4, 2009, paper transfers are no longer issued, and an RFID fare card was required to do all transferring.

For Muni, eliminating paper transfers means a huge cost savings on printing the thousands of transfers for every single day of the year, and will stop the litter at terminal stops where in some places, are just all over the ground and the trash can is just a few steps away.

Surely, no more paper transfers will help save money for the suffering agency, but Muni will have to fix some serious problems and issues with their current "Proof of Payment" system:
  • People who pay cash won't be issued a transfer or payment receipt. What do they show when demanded to provide proof? An empty wallet? I asked a similar question last April about what to do if Muni charged all passengers if they wanted a transfer.
  • Without the paper transfers as proof to show the fare inspectors, this means the inspectors are much less useful to enforce the fare evasion laws/codes that governs the transit agency. A passenger can easily claim to the inspector that he/she paid in cash, when in reality, boarded the back door and didn't pay a cent.
  • Fare inspectors would be only able to do one thing since they can't check for "proof" anymore, just write tickets for gate jumping and back door boarding.
For the fare inspector force, get ready for some fat trimming. The amount of tickets they write doesn't make-up for their salaries (simple math shows each inspector only writes an average of $9,800 worth of tickets per year vs. a $50K+ salary), and by killing paper transfers, at least expect a pay cut (minimum).

Fare inspectors, I suggest: You have one year and seven months to start looking for another job. I'm sure Muni won't need your services anymore while their budget is hemorrhaging like crazy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Akit's Furlough Adventure #8 - All Around San Francisco

Today was another day on furlough, and what better way to spend my morning and afternoon but walking all around the city. Let's take a tour, shall we?

The Embarcadero
First stop was at the Folsom platform for the N-Judah/T-Third line for a walk along the public shore towards AT&T Park. Here's a great view facing Northwest from the platform.

Bent Herb Caen Way Sign
The legendary Herb Caen, oh how he is missed around our great city. I hope the city fixes this sign. How does it get bent like that when it's up so high?

Coit Tower
It's off to the legendary Coit Tower where the views are outstanding and you hear the wild parrots of Nob Hill. You can pay to head to the top, or just get your camera and just walk around the surrounding area for wonderful shots.

Alcatraz Cruises
With at least a 10X optical zoom, taking photos from Coit Tower is wonderful. This shot is of the Alcatraz Cruises terminal. I've never been to Alcatraz (sad, ain't it?).

Strange Muni Exit Door on 38L-Geary Limited
This is what happens when Muni is piss poor and people fare evade... they can't afford the push bars!

Academy of Sciences Rainforest Butterfly
Off to the California Academy of Sciences! Ever been in the Osher Rainforest? It's really humid in there, but the butterflies and birds makes it really special. Here's a great shot of a butterfly.

Academy of Sciences Rainforest Butterfly
Here's another great photo of a butterfly!

To view the entire album, watch this slideshow:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

TransLink (Clipper) Meeting Updates - Kicking Into High Gear

After a long hiatus since December, the TransLink management board will be meeting on Monday, February 22nd to discuss updates on the program, especially with the big Clipper transition.

Here's information you should know:
  1. The contractor who basically runs the TL program has drastically improved the response time for history reports (still sent via e-mail) and sending out replacement cards.
  2. The contractor is progressing in the transition for contactless cards (no contact chip with RFID technology).
  3. Installation of TL equipment on VTA buses is in progress. Light rail installation will start on March 1st.
  4. There is a delay in testing of Samtrans equipment.
  5. In January, Golden Gate Ferry accounts for over 50% of all TL transactions, in last place is Muni with 1.5%.
  6. Samtrans should be "revenue ready" by April 15, 2010.
  7. VTA should be "revenue ready" by May 11, 2010.
  8. TL device memory upgrades are completed on Muni; AC Transit is next, followed by Golden Gate.
  9. Due to the transition to contactless cards, the new generation of cars will be made by a company called DESFire. Testing is in progress and new cards will be produced soon.
  10. BART won't have their ticketing machines doing TransLink add funds transactions until 2011.
  11. There is no set date of when the new DESFire cards and equipment will be upgraded on all machines with card feeding slots (e.g. automated add value machines and in-person vendor add value terminals).
  12. Starting on July 1st (the new fiscal year), MTC will take a different role in TransLink/Clipper.

It looks like everything is going as planned with installation on the next two systems (Samtrans and VTA) and the transition of TransLink to Clipper. I'm disappointed that BART ticketing machines won't be ready this year to add TL/Clipper value like passes and e-cash, and those machines will play a serious role in the success of the program.

It is important to know that with the transition to DESFire contactless cards (which should be the new Clipper cards), it will be impossible for TL/Clipper to distribute the new cards to people until all their existing slot loading equipment is upgraded. This means upgrading all the add value machines (automated and vendor locations) with special proximity card sensors that updates information.

A successful transition from TL to Clipper and meeting their goal of "mid 2010" is a big challenge. If we consider "mid 2010" to be no later than late August, they have about six months to make this conversion with the hundreds of vehicles needing the new logo, mass distribution of new Clipper cards, telephone staff handling the transition of TL accounts to new Clipper cards, and upgrading all existing add value equipment.

Their next meeting is scheduled for April 17th. They've been having monthly meetings, so why skip March?

F-Market Crash equals Less Service for Everyone

Muni's proposed budget cuts will trim back service, but how about a definite guarantee of worse service starting immediately?

That's right folks, just this morning, the inbound J-Church collided with a F-Market Milan historic streetcar in route to start it's run.

While the metro cars are built strong and can take a beating, the old F-Market historic fleet are a lot more fragile. Whenever they get into a serious collision, it's practically the end of the streetcar until the city can dish-up the money to make the repairs necessary to get it back to work.

So that means one less F-Market streetcar on our streets. Great, a guaranteed service cut for the failing agency.

The F-Market already has a notorious record with the public:
  • Infrequent service; from cars just seconds apart to over 20 minute waits.
  • Frequent breakdowns.
  • Overcrowding with tourists.
  • Long lines to board due to the tourists paying cash and asking to break a $5.
  • Not moving to the back of the car.
  • Skipping stops when the first half of the car is full, but the other half is not.
  • A portion of the streetcars don't even go the Castro. Just the Ferry Building to Wharf route.
So by having another streetcar out of service, more of us will suffer. Muni hardly provides diesel buses to cover the route, except for major holiday weekends and events (e.g. Fleet Week), so one less operating historic streetcar means less service for you and me. I feel a migraine coming.

Wouldn't it be nice if Muni could invest into new low floor light rail cars that could also run alongside the historic streetcars? While the line has a notorious reputation, tons of people ride the line and having more cars running on the rails can help gain more popularity with the line.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Muni FAILS Again: Union Says No to Concessions and Citizens Will Get Royal Screwjob

The public's anger about Muni is reaching a boiling point. Just yesterday, word came around from the Chronicle that Muni's two thousand unionized drivers rejected a proposal that would spare the agency the painful cuts and fare hikes that will hurt our city's citizens.

Vote count: 575 said yes to the offer, 857 rejected. Only 1,432 voted out of their 2,000 membership (yeah, that shows real unity when only 71% vote).

If the union voted in support, Muni could save $15 million by having their drivers make some minor sacrifices and changes in their working policies.

Grumble grumble grumble. It's interesting to note that Mayor Newsom, SFMTA Chief Nat Ford, union head Irwin Lum, and the union's executive board worked fought tooth and nail to work on a decent deal; the union membership just kicked management and it's citizens in the nuts.

I'm a unionized employee too, and we understood that taking furlough and pay cut was necessary to keep our jobs and let our university students be able to have open classes. Why can't this go through the brains of the unionized members of Muni's drivers? Muni will die a painful death (they are crying in agony and begging for morphine right now) unless serious changes happen without screwing the customers again.

I just read an interesting tweet of an organized protest and boycott of Muni, take a look: http://marchagainstmuni.org/

Monday, February 15, 2010

Easy Solutions for the F-Market to Run Better

I asked a question last August about why tourists don't like to stand in the back of the F-Market, and many commentators gave their insight. One said it's because they don't want to miss their stop, while another said they are not used to public transit and have the death grip on the handlebar.

Saturday and Sunday due to the President's Day weekend was a terrible time for me to ride the F-Market. The trains were crowded and Muni had to supplement service with the articulated buses. Many vehicles were very delayed because the foot traffic along the Wharf was spilling on the street and cars were blocking the path of the tracks.

The wait times, delays, and passenger loads got so bad, the gap between vehicles was more than 20 minutes apart, and the buses didn't go to the Castro, they ended at the Ferry Building. Vehicles were skipping stops with waiting passengers while back of the vehicles were empty and could cram at least another 20 people (taxpayer waste extravaganza).


I learned a new lesson this weekend while riding the F-Market and I want to share it with you!

If you want the tourists to move to the back so it can finally leave, just yell out these two phrases:

  1. "There's plenty of room in the back!" (That starts the conversation)
  2. "There is a fifty dollar bill on the floor back here!" (It's a fun joke, but people get the message)
I learned the $50 bill joke from an operator on the F-Market who wanted to grab people's attention. The tourists didn't give a shit when he kept saying: "move to the rear" until he said the $50 joke to get them laughing and the swarm moved to the back so he can accept more riders.

Just remember, don't make it sound too serious or pissed off, just make it lighthearted and funny.

It worked like a charm on Sunday when there was a huge gap in the back of the articulated bus running on the F-Market route. The front of the bus looked like a can of sardines, but just telling people the joke moved the mob.


I can understand the F-Market is a line that serves both locals and tourists, but the line continues to get heavily delayed all the tourists. The major problem with the delays on the line is because the tourists are not prepared to pay the cash fare and they ask many questions to the operator.

Muni needs to do a few things to help keep the service running on-time:
  1. Use some of that federal stimulus money to install pre-paid ticketing machines at major stops (e.g. Ferry Building and Pier 39) so the passengers can flash their machine printed transfer instead of lining up and slowing down the process. Why not have the machines sell day passes too?
  2. How about hiring some interns or seek some volunteers to be at key stops to answer questions so they don't hold up the trolleys? Free work is better than paying some union wage donkey to do the job.
  3. Put stickers on every single bus and trolley front doors that clearly says: "Cash on the right, passes & transfers on the left." Also, put a white stripe down the middle of the stairs to divide the sections and spray paint letters saying "cash" and "passes & transfers."
  4. Don't let the Muni operators take their 10 minute break at the Wharf terminal, make them immediately continue back towards the Castro, then go potty. Muni doesn't allow drivers to take a break at the Legion of Honor anymore for the 18-46th Avenue.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Suggest a Better Name for Clipper (TransLink)

KTVU is the first media agency to show the new look to the Clipper card. The color of the card is blue with two white uniquely shaped white colored arrows, and the word "Clipper" on the lower corner in capital letters.

Already, opinion of the name Clipper is not going so well. People on Twitter are posting their anger and it's totally understandable when $1.4 million will be spent on rebranding and promotion. Even people interviewed by KTVU said it is a terrible idea.

What would you name the TransLink card? Or would you even rename it at all?
  • I suggested to name it "The Bay Area Card" which is a simple and unique way to identify our region.
  • Twitter user "dto510" suggested "Transit Bridge" but also likes the old name "TransLink."

If you have any cool names, just leave a comment or you can Twitter me at user @AgentAkit and I'll update the list on this blog.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Revised $1.4 Million Budget to Convert TransLink to Clipper (was $500K)

In light of old news just posted today by Rescue Muni, the public has known the transition of TransLink to it's future mid-2010 name "Clipper" will cost about half a million dollars.

Under the radar of the generally pissed-off public is an amendment (PDF document) to be voted upon by the Operations Committee of the MTC on Friday (see agenda). This amendment will give the marketing company, Swirl, more funding to cover the massive transition. $475,000 (or what the general public calls "half a million") was already approved, and they will need an additional $900,000.

A grand total of: $1.375 MILLION

Here's what they will use the money for:
  • $475K (already approved) will be used to "develop new customer materials, update the design of the program website, redesign the logos on the equipment and provide other services to support the rebranding of the program as Clipper."
  • $900K (which will be voted upon) will be used "for launching a marketing campaign in June 2010 timed to coincide with transit agencies’ phasing-out of paper tickets and passes."
From the MTC documents, the money is coming from multiple sources, including the "Regional Measure 2" funds we [the public] voted and approved in a previous election.


If you would like my point of view, Clipper is an awkward name. I can understand that TransLink is used by many transit agencies around the world, including many people who believe Vancouver's TL agency is terrible. There has to be a better name than Clipper.

My suggested name: "The Bay Area Card." Simple, and unique to the Bay Area.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

SFUSD to Change School Placement - Some Happy, Some Grumpy

As the atmosphere of our city changes, so does our schools. The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is proposing to modify the school choice program so families have a better opportunity to attend the schools they want.

From the Chronicle, it says the family only needs to provide some basic information: The student's name, address, and school preferences.

Sure, sounds simple enough. It's likely that one of the schools on the list the family provided will let them in. For many, it's an opportunity to send their student to a neighborhood school, instead of being hauled on the school bus or riding Muni all the way across town.

Some of the traditions are still being followed, like if you have a sibling in that same school, the odds the student can get admitted is much better. An interesting one offered is if you attend preschool in an area where a school is nearby, you get priority on that particular school.

But it does have its own weaknesses... it would place more competition for admissions to the best schools in the city, and the worst schools will turn out to be much more worse because of low demand, but also the grumpy students and parents who are forced to attend that school because that's the only options left.


The article still does not address the other issues with the system. I'm assuming "alternative" schools (e.g. Wallenberg, Clarendon, Lowell) are not really considered that keyword anymore because everyone can now choose any school in the district.

Also interesting to note, what's going to be the policy for the magnet high schools like School of the Arts (SOTA) and Lowell? Their admissions policies are very different versus the standard one or the upcoming revised one from the school district.

I remember when I was in middle school in the SFUSD, the district told the 8th graders what our options were. We could go to the neighborhood school (which they promoted heavily), pick an alternative school if you wanted to roll the dice, or pick Lowell.

Lowell's admission policy before 2002 was totally weird. They told students that if you were of a certain ethnicity, you had to have a certain level of test scores and GPA to get admitted. They went on to say that other ethnic groups had lower test scores and GPA, but you still had to be a smart kid to get in there. The school district claims that in order to maintain diversity from the consent decree, this GPA/test policy based on ethnicity had to be enforced. That's why a lot of Chinese Americans were very pissed-off at the school district.

What's your thoughts? Do you think this new restructuring of the system will solve the problems or make it worse?

Monday, February 8, 2010

(UPDATE) Muni Updates Announcement System... Not Exactly

I just noticed today that the automated announcements system on the Muni buses are stating a new message about possible service cuts and fare increases and is also announced in Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin?) and Spanish.

OK... so what does this have to do with anything?

If Muni can afford to pay a Texas firm known as DRI and Donna Reed who is the "official voice of Muni" to make the new announcements about cuts and fare hikes, how in the hell did the agency not pay to revise the many mispronounced street names? Sansome is supposed to be announced as San-Some, but the system still says San-SOH-Me.

I remember Muni doing updates before these massive re-routes and revised announcements project. Some bus lines had terrible pronunciations and was revised with a male announcer who spoke the stops correctly. One example is the 47-Van Ness.

Even then, Muni only had to make announcements on major stops, such as major intersections and transfer points, and was never required to announce the other less frequently stopped locations. But with Muni spending dough to announce every single bus stop, every single mispronunciation makes the agency look like a bunch of idiots.

I can't still believe that major city attractions, colleges, universities, and public schools were removed from the announcements system; so how will tourists know when they reach a certain attraction? Ask the grumpy driver?


I'm still frustrated at Muni for not fixing the announcements system for the 18-46th Avenue line. Now that the line is re-routed to serve Balboa from 33rd Avenue to La Playa, the announcement system is making announcements of stops that used to exist when it operated on Geary and Point Lobos. For example, the re-route stop at 43rd Avenue is pronounced as "Merrie" (a.k.a. Cliff House).

UPDATE 2/12/10: Muni did a half-assed job on modifying the 18-46th Avenue announcements. The verbal announcements are now correct, but the visual announcements are still mentioning the old route stops along Geary/Pt. Lobos. Example: 47th Avenue and Cabrillo verbally says "47th Avenue" but the visual sign says something completely different.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Paying $4 (double) for Muni? Less service on M-Ocean View (Muni hates SF State)?

Muni is broke... I everyone in this city knew this fact for the last several years with more fare and pass hikes, and cutbacks in service.

Muni had a nice town hall meeting where the REAL OWNERS OF MUNI vented their anger at the agency. One item on the table is to double the fare (or what KGO says "100%").

There's two important messages Muni is trying to tell us: bend over and get ready for a probe up your ass (the fear tactic to allow the agency to make cutbacks sound better than hikes), or start dishing out more money (yeah, for even crappier service).

If Muni doubled the fares, here's how much you'll get f***ed:
  • Adults: $4 a ride and an unknown price for a pass.
  • Youth, Seniors, and Disabled: $1.50 a ride and $30 for a pass
  • Candlestick express and Bay to Breakers express: $20 round-trip
  • Cable Car: $10 for a one-way ride
I honestly think it's just a fear tactic. If Muni really followed through with their threat, the agency would see much less ridership than ever before, and that means the possibility of less income for the agency if more than 50% quit riding Muni and/or just commit to fare evasion with their lazy and few fare inspectors.

Fare evasion sounds even more tempting every single time Muni gives a false threat of hikes.


Did you hear about one of their other dumb ideas? They want to cut back service for the M-Ocean View line. Muni's management is either high or was smoking weed to think of this idea.

I learned the M line is the most heavily used light rail line in the entire city. You may have thought the N-Judah is king... nope! The main reason why the M-Ocean View is so heavily used is because of my Alma mater, SF State. BART is too expensive since it crosses the Daly City border and charges $2.95 for a ride from any stop within SF, so everyone takes the M-Ocean View because it's 95 cents cheaper each way or free for those who can run away from a fare inspector.

I don't understand this idea. The M-Ocean View is mainly utilized by SF State students and you want to reduce service?

Give Muni a piece of your mind, like FIRE NAT FORD: http://tinyurl.com/SCREWmuni

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sunday's Marathon Signage on Upper Great Highway makes NO SENSE to Drivers

The Upper Great Highway in San Francisco is one of my favorite roads to drive on. There's never any traffic jams, never too many cars going bumper to bumper (unlike 19th Avenue and Sunset Boulevard) and the signals are always synchronized so you can drive a smooth 32 MPH without stopping.

So this Sunday, the Kaiser Half Marathon will be happening in the morning hours until about 12 noon. The SFMTA says the event will close northbound Great Highway including the "upper" portion from Sloat to Lincoln and the [regular] Great Highway portion from Lincoln to Fulton. (See race route map)

The city also placed signage on southbound Great Highway to tell drivers it is OK to drive southbound, but drivers will be unable to turn left on Fulton and Sloat due to the marathon routes.

Well... here's the problem. The city says no left turn on Sloat from Upper Great Highway during the marathon, but for the past few weeks, all drivers going south on Great Highway are FORCED to TURN LEFT onto Sloat because of the massive shoreline erosion happening on Great Highway between Sloat and Skyline.

That doesn't make any real sense. So I can drive southbound on Upper Great Highway during the marathon, but I can't turn left on Sloat, nor can I continue driving south towards Skyline due to the road closure? Our city government officials are a total bunch of idiots for forgetting the beach erosion road closure.

If the city was to really not allow people to make left turns onto Sloat, the city would then have to close southbound Great Highway all the way from Fulton to Sloat during the marathon, making the road literally useless.

Who else but to ask the experts? (Uh-huh)
I asked 311 on Twitter, and they are not the smartest bunch of city employees who can provide answers. Take a look at the conversation: My initial question, their response, my feedback, and their lazy response.

In response to their total stupidity and basically telling me to f-off, they gave me the number to the Taraval police station. I gave them a ring and the officer on the phone was really a cool guy. I explained to him the entire situation and he totally understood that the signage is totally wrong. He asked his fellow officers if they knew about this and who installed the signs; he told me it was not them. He told me to call the DPW.

Screw it, I'm not making any more phone calls or tweets. F.U. DPW and SFMTA. Use your pea brains once in a while. At least the city's intellectuals (like myself) and the police are smart enough to understand when something stupid is happening.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sprint's Customer Service: Yeah Right...

There's nothing fun about having a cell phone and hassling with customer service. Any company makes it easy if everything goes fine with the service they provide, and you pay on-time. But when there's a problem, customer service goes down the drain real quick.

So here's my six day nightmare...

  • Last Saturday, I went to an official Sprint store and told the person that I wanted to get an Android phone. I agreed to renew my contract to get the discounts and savings on the phone I was interested in.
  • For the next day, it was just fiddling around with the phone for cool apps to get and some helpful programs to make sure I'm not killing the battery.
  • Then the horror happened... on Monday, I unplugged the phone, took the bus to work, and by 3PM, the battery died. I was horrified and upset that a cell phone would die so fast, even when the phone's screen was off and just idle.
  • On Tuesday, I return to the store and used Sprint's 30-day guarantee where I can return the phone, pay a $35 restocking fee, and get my former Motorola phone activated. I agreed to the restocking charge, got a full refund on the phone, and they attempted to activate the phone.
  • Yeah... activate the old phone, they were unable. The employee called technical support and was also unable to activate and register the old phone that worked perfectly fine last night when I turned it on, saw the main home screen and recharged the battery. The guy gave up and made me talk to customer service. The store folks just hid in their employee lounge and didn't even care to check on how the conversation is going on the phone.
  • The horror continues... I spoke to a customer service agent, who passed me onto a technical support agent, and finally waited on hold for over 20 minutes to speak to one of their escalated customer support managers. I was in the store for over an hour for a job that could have taken a quick 10 to 20 minutes tops. The escalated support person told me they are shipping me a refurbished replacement (exact model of my old Motorola) to my home and should arrive the next day. I also demanded compensation for all the hassle I've been through and she guaranteed me a big service credit. After this whole mess, I walked out of the store after standing there for 90 MINUTES.
  • So it's Wednesday, I've been a "phoneless bum" for 36 hours, and I noticed the box arrived at my home. I called-in to get the phone activated.
  • The first person I talked to helped me get the phone activated, placed me on hold twice, and finally (and I believe intentionally) hung-up on me. I was ticked-off. Even more stupid, the lady said that she was going to activate the Android phone; I told her the whole story and clearly said I wanted my old Motorola activated, not the damn Android.
  • I called customer service again explaining the whole mess. Instead of just getting my phone activated, she sends me to technical support with a long 15 minute wait because they were "very busy." The tech support guy also had trouble activating my phone and told me to input some codes into my phone; finally he gave me the code to do a factory reset to the refurbished unit and it magically worked. By the time it was finished, I spent over ONE HOUR on the phone to get it activated.
Sprint really made me very upset. The store employees are happy to bend over backwards to sell you a phone, but sure as hell don't give a damn about getting your old phone reactivated, especially when my reason for returning it is because the Android's phone battery was a total LEMON. I was standing in the store for 90 minutes for Sprint on-site staff and telephone support to do something until it could have been easily resolved in one of two ways:
  1. They should have given me the code to do a factory reset on my previous phone (they sure gave me the code after I got my refurbished unit a day later). I believe that would have solved all the problems of reactivating the old unit.
  2. If the store and phone support unit knew that they could not get my old unit working, they should have just ordered me the replacement instead of making me even more upset at Sprint for placing me on hold for 20 MINUTES just to be told a replacement phone is coming.
Since I was told to mail back the alleged "broken" phone to Sprint, I was told in writing that I may get charged a $75 fee if they find out the phone actually works perfectly fine. Since I was originally told over the phone that it was inoperable, I hoped the escalation department noted that in my records. If I find a $75 fee on my bill, I'm going to contest the charges with the dumbest customer service agents on earth, and prepare to jump ship to another carrier.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TransLink (um... Clipper?) Major Deadlines That Will Affect Your Commute

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Partnership Transit Coordination Committee will be meeting next week Monday to talk about their "Transit Coordination Implementation Plan" and has been working on this plan for a while now. Bay Area transit agencies have been talking about the TransLink (a.k.a. Clipper) program and how the transit agencies will work with the transition to the RFID fare card program.

The document I am referring to was released by the MTC on their agendas website which talks about a variety of topics, and about 14 pages are specific to TransLink. Click here to view the PDF document.

I've taken the time to sift through the fourteen pages to give you helpful "insider" information that may be important to you and/or may affect your commute in the next several months. Key dates are in bold, but be aware that certain dates are not in bold because the MTC agreed to delay for a couple of months for various reasons.
  1. It looks like the "Clipper" brand transition is going to happen in mid-2010.
  2. AC Transit and TransLink are working to transition the adult 10-ride and 31-day local ticket users to Translink in early 2010. AC Transit feels there will be "significant problems and disadvantages in starting a transition" and the enforcement of the media transition should be later. However, MTC discussed this issue with AC Transit, and there will be no changes to this plan. Be aware: TransLink is the only media allowed for 31-day Transbay passes and the 10-ride Transbay ticket has been eliminated (the cost of 10 rides in cash or e-cash is the same).
  3. While BART and MTC talks about the transition of "BART Plus," the multi agency pass with BART fare, a brief one sentence states "SFMTA intends to withdraw at the end of the end of 2010." So for all your BART Plus fans, Muni is planning to not allow you to ride free anymore with that BART Plus ticket at the end of this year.
  4. If you use BART's green or red tickets (senior and youth discount tix), TransLink is intending to takeover that form of media in May 2011.
  5. If you use BART's high value discount tickets (for adults), May 2011 will be the last time it will be available in magnetic stripe form.
  6. BART will be "ending acceptance" of the EZ Rider program on October 1, 2010 for train rides only.
  7. BART stations issue discount transfers if you exit a San Francisco station and intend to ride Muni; every passenger saves 25 cents leaving the station on Muni, and 25 cents riding back to the station. For Daly City station, BART issues a free roundtrip transfer to ride Muni away from that station. It was originally set for BART to eliminate paper transfers and only allow TransLink use on March 30th or June 1st, but BART argued it will take time to inform the public and the transition from TransLink to Clipper will confuse the public. The MTC agreed with a proposal to delay transition until August 1, 2010.
  8. Caltrain argues the TransLink equipment is not "fully reliable." An example the agency provided is the handheld card readers issued to conductors. The MTC argues that this does not delay any transition dates, but will or has been addressed with appropriate people or committees.
  9. Caltrain will receive 32 automated value machines issued by MTC/TransLink. Caltrain will not modify their paper ticket machines to do TransLink transactions (this was the original plan).
  10. Samtrans argues their tokens are popular and unique. But in wake of their budget issues causing major cuts and fare hikes, TransLink is offering Samtrans a chance to save money by integrating tokens to the farecard.
  11. Samtrans will begin accepting TransLink two months after TransLink on that particular agency is declared "revenue ready."
  12. The Golden Gate Ferry issues transfers to ride Muni free to and from the terminal. SFMTA/Muni intends to eliminate that type of particular paper transfers and only allow TransLink e-transfers on March 30, 2010 (originally March 1st). From reading the briefing about this, Muni and Golden Gate have confirmed this deadline.
  13. SFMTA/Muni has proposed to end sales of the paper version of the youth and senior passes on February 1, 2011 and allow it to be TransLink only. Muni said they did not want to do this in November and December of 2010 because of the holidays.
  14. SFMTA/Muni intends to eliminate the monthly disabled sticker program on September 30, 2010, but the MTC and Muni are working to change the transition date to February 1, 2011 (the same time the youth and senior passes will transition).
  15. SFMTA/Muni "is willing to confirm a transition date for the Adult BART/Muni Monthly pass of June 30, 2010..." however due to the transition of TL to Clipper, the transition date is suggested to change to August 1, 2010.
TransLink BART Millbrae

Summary and Akit's opinions:

The fifteen points I've mentioned are all very big items that will have a dramatic impact on your public transit commute. The deadlines are not exactly set into stone, but these dates gives an idea of what the future will be for the TransLink program.

MTC and the TransLink program will be climbing a steep hill to meet these goals for the next two years and it also depends on the cooperation of all the affected transit agencies. Much of what I pointed out are transition of paper media (passes and transfers) to TransLink; this will be a big project the MTC, TL, and the transit agencies as they must advertise and inform the public well beforehand of this very serious transition.

Many of the dates I have mentioned was originally had their deadline goals set a few months earlier in mid-2010, but the direct result of the transition of the brand name from TransLink to Clipper changed the dates. Nobody in the public has seen what the new logo will look like, but from what I have read through the public documents on the MTC website, the new cards will only be contactless cards (no combination contact chip w/RFID antenna). Since the new cards cannot be placed into a TransLink automated card machine or at a vendor like Walgreens, this means purchasing or modifying equipment with a RFID sensor pad similar to the current fleet of TransLink card readers and BART faregates.

I find it very shocking that Muni wants to not accept the BART Plus pass at the end of 2010. With the loss of AC Transit on BART Plus, losing Muni will really hurt the BART Plus program because the next largest agencies who are participants are Samtrans and VTA.

BART sounds very cooperative in ending EZ Rider, although many have said EZ Rider is very quick to use at the fare gates and TL is slower. It is possible with the new fare cards, a quicker response time is possible; this is due to the fact that TransLink uses ERG equipment, but with Cubic's purchase of ERG and the TransLink program, they may use more compatible replacement RFID cards (due to the Clipper transition) to make the BART gates work much more quickly.

Please make sure to read over the 15 points and look at the transition dates. Most of them are several months away, but be aware of transitions that will happen very soon like the Golden Gate Ferry/Muni boat-to-bus and bus-to-boat transfers transition is just a month away.

I feel that these goals and deadlines are going to make TransLink a powerhouse player in our Bay Area's complicated and confusing transit network. Wouldn't you enjoy the ease of riding multiple transit agencies without carrying multiple passes, not worrying if you have ample funds to ride BART, or remembering to stop at a liquor store to get a new monthly pass before they sell out?

If TransLink is going to be successful, they need to start getting more automated machines installed and getting more retail outlets to allow reloading of funds and passes. BART is a key player in allowing ALL their ticket machines to add TransLink funds, but there is no update on when it will be ready. TransLink must continue to promote the program on a full-time basis instead of the sporadic giveaways of the green cards at certain places and limited hours (e.g. TL representatives were giving out free cards at the Montgomery Muni station during a few hours of rush hour due to the closure of the Muni ticket sales window at that particular station).

If you are interested in getting a TransLink card, visit TransLink.org to find out how you can get a card. Although they will eventually transition to Clipper, why not spend a little money just to try it out? There's no harm in trying!