"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)

Friday, April 30, 2010

SF Giants Dynamic Ticketing System Could be Ripping You Off

The San Francisco Giants is the first Major League Baseball team to sell all their tickets through "dynamic pricing" where tickets are sold at market value and varies on a number of factors:
  • The popularity of the team. Dodgers games always costs more.
  • Who will be pitching at the games.
  • How the Giants are doing. Winning streak or getting a major ass kicking?
  • Giveaways such as bobbleheads and tote bags.
The ticket pricing structure is similar to airlines that raise and lower prices depending on factors like the travel season (major holidays, events, etc.), and popularity.

From my understanding, the Giants are doing this so they can fill-up the stadium. Very popular games and giveaways will always bring in the fans, no matter how high the price will be. For very unpopular games or situations where the Giants are not doing so great, they will lower prices to reflect it so they can fill-up the stadium for bargain seekers.

The old way they used to do it is the prices never changed regardless of whatever team was visiting. Just a year ago, they changed the structure to a program where the most affordable seats was during weekday games, second most expensive was Friday-Sunday, and they also had "premium" games for those popular visiting teams visiting AT&T Park regardless of what day the games were held.

I find the dynamic pricing structure to have some serious problems. (Crazy Crab would be pissed) The dynamic pricing master list is posted on the SF Giants website and reflects pricing for all games this season, including ones that have already concluded. I would assume many of you would believe this is the official market pricing for games, if I were to buy a ticket immediately through their ticketing contractor, Tickets.com.

Actually... that is the big problem. The dynamic pricing list doesn't reflect the actual prices offered by Tickets.com. When you click on the "T" square on the far left, the prices don't match up for games for about the next 30 days.
Nearly all the games I've checked-out for the next 30 days shows a similar pattern. The dynamic pricing list shows a lower ticket cost, but Tickets.com continues to sell the Giants tickets at a higher face value cost.

I've written to the SF Giants about this problem and they said "the price list is the base price at the beginning of the season." I argued that is not true. They have changed prices on a frequent basis on the dynamic pricing page and it has been properly reflected on the Tickets.com website, until now. The example I provided is I purchased a ticket to an exhibition game against the Oakland A's at AT&T Park and paid $3.50 per ticket (face value) and the price was the same as the dynamic pricing list I printed out earlier that day. When the game approached, the dynamic pricing list was updated and reflected the new price, $5 a ticket. Basically, their representative who replied back to me basically said something that is not true.

It leaves fans confused about how the system works. Who is maintaining the accurate market rate prices on the tickets? Should we trust the dynamic pricing list to tell its fans what the actual prices are, or should we trust it in the ticketing processor, Tickets.com? Fair weather fans may just decide to abandon buying tickets from the Giants (via Tickets.com) because they would refuse to pay a higher price for a ticket when the dynamic pricing list mentions a lower price.

It would be in the best interest of the SF Giants to simply continue to update the dynamic pricing list while Tickets.com has the same exact prices reflected.

I find that people depend on that pricing list to see if the tickets they previously purchased has gone up or down, but also for those who want to buy tickets to rely on that list when purchasing, whether it be online or in-person. Also, the list is useful for those people selling their extra tickets on Stubhub; if they want to sell their ticket with a minimum financial loss, they'd view the dynamic pricing list and sell the ticket at a lower cost than what the Giants are offering. But if it's for a popular game and they want to sell it quick while making extra money, the list is also helpful to see how much the Giants are charging.


Here's my e-mail conversation with the Giants:

Initial question:

I want to make you aware that while your dynamic pricing list shows the pricing of seats in all the sections, I was looking at a few games for the next month (including 5/29) and while upper deck reserved infield on dynamic pricing says $13.00, clicking to order the tickets online says the price is $15.50. Other games reflect a difference around $1 to as much as $2.50 difference between the dynamic page and online ordering via Tickets.com.

SF Giants Response:
Thank you for contacting us. Yes, we are aware of the current price changes from the pricing list. Although some prices change, some stay the same. Keep in mind that prices change as we sell tickets for those events in advance. The price list is the base price at the beginning of the season.

Ticket Services SF Giants

My reply:
Thanks for the e-mail, but I need to inform you that people will always believe the dynamic pricing webpage maintained on the Giants website is the true prices, and will reflect it when purchasing it online or through an official ticket office (e.g. Giants Dugout stores).

Here's a perfect example:
Once the dynamic pricing list was released to the public, I purchased a ticket to the first two pre-season games against the Oakland A's. The price I paid for at the Giants Dugout at AT&T Park was $3.50 each (no surcharge) and the same price was reflected on the dynamic pricing page. But, when the game day was approaching, the price on the dynamic website was raised to $5.00 a seat and was also reflected on the ticket purchasing as well. In this example, there is no grounds to your claim that the "price list is the base price at the beginning of the season" as your list has been shown to change on a near daily basis on the dynamic pricing list.

The fans depend on your dynamic pricing list to see if it's a good time to buy a ticket; and that price should be immediately reflected if they buy it immediately online or buy it in-person at a tickets.com outlet with a list very recently printed from their computer.

SF State Professor Dan Begonia - A Well Earned Retirement

It is with great joy that I write about a man I am honored to call a mentor, but also a mentor to those who he has changed lives, Professor Danilo Begonia.

To the students he has taught and to many campus employees, he is a legend of our great university, the College of Ethnic Studies, and the Asian American Studies department. Some on the campus see him as some sort of outcast or a figure of being too old fashioned, but when you ask his former students about what they have learned from him and how much he has changed their lives, nobody really cares about him being different than the rest of the faculty.

Being that this is his last month of employment on our campus, he will finally earn the title he has waited for his entire life, Professor Emeritus of Asian American Studies, and nobody can ever take away that title of respect he will earn on May 18th when the Provost and President of the University gives him that honor.

When I enrolled in his class: "Psyche and Behavior of Pilipinos," it was because I need a Pilipino American course in order to advance towards my baccalaureate degree in Asian American Studies. When he first came in, I was shocked, and unprepared for what is going on. I initially thought he was some kind of prick. I was worried if I can survive this class with all the extra homework and projects requiring my team to visit places and do projects outside of the classroom and the campus. It wasn't until my teammates supported me and pulled me through the most difficult parts that I learned to appreciate Dan's passionate work. He taught me to be a confident person, be outspoken, demand perfection, and defend those who feel they cannot succeed.

I'm not a Pilipino American, and while a very high majority of the students are, I was never segregated from my class and my team. They came to accept me, I learned and understood about Pilipino culture, and shared my cultural experiences as a Japanese and Chinese American to them as well. I admit to making a few mistakes here and there, including "Pilipino time" where I arrived to a birthday party early, and the rest of them didn't arrive until 15 minutes after the published time.

Once all the stressful parts of the course was done, the class was like a family. We'd still get our lectures from Dan, but we were also more relaxed, fun, and playful too. One of my favorite moments was learning the drums in preparation for FilGrad, a graduation event for Pilipino American students of our campus. Our classwould go to the very bottom level of the SF State parking garage to practice, and while our hands were hurting, I was enjoying myself, even to the point where I was practicing my drumming at my workplace on the counter.

It was also an honor to be asked to join his teaching assistant crew. I say it's an honor because he only hand picks the best and brightest of his past students to join his exclusive team. Being his TA was a great way for me to end my last semester as an undergraduate student at SF State.

The lessons he taught me also helped me be an accomplished employee of this university, and it was reflected when my previous supervisor asked me if I wanted to be her [student] administrative assistant while I was in preparation to start my career as a graduate student. She learned about my confidence and unflinching loyalty to the department in my previous role as a front desk receptionist, and the new position earned me one of the highest wage jobs a student can receive. Today as a professional employee of the campus, I still believe in Dan's teachings, especially perfection; I place high expectations on the quality of work I put out, and expect the same from my co-workers in order for the department to show itself in its best light.

Not long ago, I told a group of about 70 students who will be working for our campus department in the coming months about being part of our department's family: we work together, celebrate together, cry together, and support each other through the good times and bad, and whether they decide to continue working for us for the following years, or decide to pursue other things, they will never be forgotten as part of the family. Dan taught this to our class, and after all these years, we are all still a family; some are out working, others in graduate school, and some even have babies to care for.

"Tito Dan," I'm proud of you. You have taught at SF State for over 30 years and changed so many lives. Have a great retirement and I hope you will enjoy all kinds of great activities, especially that kick ass Harley I see you ride on campus. Now I'm all teary eyed.

To learn more about Professor Dan Begonia, read this great article from the Golden Gate [X]press.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Akit Gets Paper Muni Pass - Skips on TransLink E-Pass

I decided that since TransLink on Muni was too unreliable and hearing horror stories on the comments of a recent posting titled: "TransLink's Reliability on Muni is Tanking," I've decided to skip on the electronic pass for the month of May (and likely beyond) in favor of a paper Muni pass.

Even though TransLink claims a buggy software update a couple weekends ago was the main reason why a lot of the Muni vehicle readers had failures, and fare inspectors allegedly issuing citations to passengers who have a pass (when the vehicle's card readers are non-operational and there's no clear policy if passengers should pay with cash and get reimbursed); it made me make a very serious decision to switch to paper.

Another reason why I'm doing an about face is just some poor public relations from Muni about TL/Clipper. People at the SFMTA Board of Directors meetings talk about an easy way to save the agency money, but it always seems it's just "one ear and out the other." I've also asked Muni about a time schedule on the fare gate installation so people can see how the new gates work out and maybe get a chance to be the first ones to try it out, but no answer from them. Also, 311 has been inconsistent on their responses to TransLink reader issues: I e-mailed 311 a problem and it was addressed by a SFMTA official in a reply message, however weeks later, I reported a similar issue on another vehicle to 311 and they told me to call TL instead.

I may be a person who likes the TransLink/Clipper program for it's potential to save transit agencies money and make it easier for passengers to pay for their rides, yet, who would use a product when the card reading equipment still has problems (especially on Muni)?

So here's the game plan for now: I'll still use my TransLink "M" pass for the next couple of days because the new month is approaching soon, but the paper pass will be my new mode of riding Muni. The TL card will still be used for other transit agencies where reliability is much better, including BART and Golden Gate Ferry.


On a side note, did any of you registered TL cardholders get a letter in the mail recently about the Clipper transition? It was so brief and such a waste of paper. They could have saved money just sending e-mails or postcards.

Monday, April 26, 2010

9 Really Bad Habits People Do on Muni

After reading the popular posting on SFgate called: "Heinous crimes to commit in San Francisco" that has a list of basically annoying crap that people do on the streets of our city, I thought to myself, I can make it a step better by making a list of my own.

So on my way back home on the 18-46th Avenue, I wrote down a bunch of ideas down. Here's what I got...

Really Bad Habits People Do on San Francisco Muni
  1. Boarding the back door. Just today, I took the 8X-Bayshore Express from the Hall of Justice (jury duty) to Market street, and I'm trying to exit the bus, but this old Chinese lady boards and continues shoving me while I'm trying to exit. She crushes me against the center handrail and nearly destroyed the proximity card I carry to work.
  2. Take a shower asshole, because you smell like one. On my ride home on the 18, this guy carrying a couple of grocery bags smelled like pee, really nasty pee. The passengers were opening windows, and I was near the point of puking. If you smell bad, or you put on too much cologne/perfume, do me a favor, call a taxi.
  3. Clipping your nails. If you read my blog, it's one of my popular entries. Clipping nails is one of the nastiest things to do while on the bus. Littering the ground with nails, and the loud noise it generates just pisses people off, but no passenger has the balls to stand up and say: "do your shit at home!"
  4. Yak yak yak on that cell phone. Please do me a favor, either hang-up or talk so silently that the person next to you can't hear a thing. I don't need to hear that your prescription Viagra didn't work.
  5. Carrying porno on the bus. I don't want to know that some star is doing their first (censored!). I remember several years back and I was riding the 38 Geary and this guy was hiding porno behind his jacket and it accidentally fell to the floor. How embarrassing!
  6. Farting. Also known as passing gas and the dutch oven. If you are old and fart on the bus, it's time to use one of those bathroom stick ons near your butt to cover the smell.
  7. Ringing the bell late. There is no excuse if you ring the bell with just feet to go before the next stop. Half a block please.
  8. Stealing all the info pamphlets from the bus. If the pamphlet holder says "take one," it doesn't mean TAKE THEM ALL! There's this jackass on the 18-46th Avenue bus in the mornings who steals all of them, every single pamphlet (no matter how useless the info is). When Muni did serious re-routes on December 5th and published colorful pamphlets, that asshole took every single one of them from every single holder, and did it again the next day.
  9. Paying the fare box with coins, other than quarters. I want to get to work, or get to a nice place for dinner, so please don't waste my time by feeding the farebox with nickels and dimes. And for those assholes to pay with pennies, it's time you went to a Coinstar machine.
Here's your opportunity for your annoying observations, post a comment!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Viewing TransLink Card Balance and History is Easier and Faster

If you have a TransLink card, you can register it online and use the online features such as adding passes and funds. The most frustrating part was getting a history report because it took days, and knowing the balance of the card had to be done via their automated telephone line.

Good news folks... it's now been automated and you get the card balance information and history reports instantly!

When you log into the TransLink.org website, you'll notice on the left side of the secure page links to "check card value" and "check card activity."
  • When you click on the value button, it will tell you how much e-cash your card has and what type(s) of pass(es) you currently have.
  • As for the card's activity report, when clicking on the link, it still says it will be e-mailed to you, but if you simply just hit the "submit" button, you'll get a link to view your history report. The report may take a little time to generate, but it will tell you a detailed history of your trips and your card balances.
The activity report is very helpful if you get a citation from a fare inspector or a police officer. The document can be used as proof for a successful appeal. I highly recommend registering the card just in case if gets lost or stolen; a replacement card can be sent and the balance is restored.


In other TransLink news, the management board is meeting this Monday to discuss updates on the TransLink/Clipper program. Unfortunately, there's no very juicy news to report after reviewing the documents. No news is good news?

TransLink's website has been updated to inform the public about the transition to the Clipper Card.

TransLink made an official apology through their Facebook page about the problems with card readers over the weekend. But... I beat them to the punch a day earlier.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Update: Official Response on Why TransLink Card Readers Failed over Weekend on Muni

On a post I did on Monday about TransLink readers on Muni not working properly, there's been a lot of speculation and plenty of comments of people's rough experiences, including fare inspectors giving out citations.

Just this morning, a presentation was posted on the MTC's website in preparation for the upcoming management board meeting happening next week Monday.

On page four of the document (near the bottom), explains in one sentence of why TransLink failed:
"The DesFire software release on April 16th caused many on-board CID1s to power down after reboot."
In simple terms, the software update they used screwed up the card readers on Friday, April 16th; and the main reason why I experienced so many hardships on the weekend (April 17 and 18). I'm not sure if they resolved the issues as it has not been mentioned in the presentation.

It's humiliating to TransLink, and upsetting to the general public because everyone would expect the software update would be tested for reliability and quality before doing a wide distribution to the hundreds of vehicles that roams the streets of the Bay Area.

UPDATE: Here's official word from TransLink on their Facebook page - "Translink apologies for any problems cause by a large number of card readers being out of service last weekend. You may have noticed this if you rode the bus or Muni metro. The problem occurred due to a bug in new software being rolled out to the readers; the problem should now be fixed."

Service Cuts on Muni on May 8th - Where's the Schedules and Trip Planning Updates?

With only two weeks and a couple of days left until Muni's so-called "10%" service cuts, you'd expect time schedules and online trip planning programs (Google Maps and 511.org) would be updated so the public can prepare for this.

Muni really cut it close during service changes effective December 5, 2009 when Google's trip planning program was ready eight days before, and 511's trip planner was an awful four days before the changes. The revised time schedules was less than four days published to the public.

For those who ride major lines that operate on a frequent basis (e.g., 38L), there's no real need for a published schedule or online trip planning, but for those who ride bus lines that operate every 15-30 minutes, it's a big necessity to minimize waiting in the cold or wet weather.

Currently, Muni has all their website visitors go to 511's website to view bus/train schedules and thereby is the official resource for all passengers to find out when buses depart or arrive. At this time, 511.org does not have any updated schedules.

Also, 511's online trip planner program allows the public to input a specific date of their journey to distinguish weekday schedules, holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays. At this current time, a user can schedule a trip plan up until May 10th, better known as the first weekday of the service cuts. As you see in the image below, the service changes has not yet happened because the 18-46th Avenue bus line will be changing to 20 minute frequencies instead of 15 minutes.

I actually like Google Maps better for trip planning because it's easier to read. The service changes have not yet been updated on Google Maps (as seen below).

Come on Muni PR people, step it up a notch and give us at least our time schedules!

Monday, April 19, 2010

TransLink's Reliability on Muni is Tanking

Last weekend is the worst experience for me using my electronic "Muni only" pass on vehicles and the Cable Cars. I've never seen such poor performance from the equipment, from ones with blank screens (no power), all three color lamps lit (out of order), and a handheld card reader saying "no."

In a recent conversation, I spoke to one of the operators about the reliability of the readers. He noticed only 60% of the readers are working (in other words, 40% are busted). I asked him if he was given any training on it, he received some training, and is required to report any problems during his inspection of the bus before leaving the yard. We agreed that within the past month, the reliability of the card readers on Muni vehicles has been hitting new lows. That conversation alone answered most of my questions from a previous blog post.

Here's a list of frustrating issues I've noticed on April 17th and 18th:
  1. In the mid-afternoon on Saturday, I rode the K-Ingleside outbound on vehicle 1534, and while the air conditioning was busted (it was very humid), the card readers on the vehicle had all the lights active (out of order). 311 was not very helpful in filing a report: My message, their response, my reply, and their lazy excuse.
  2. In the evening on Saturday, I rode the Mason line Cable Car from the Wharf to Powell, showed my card to the conductor, and he pulls out his reader and received a "NO" message in red letters on his screen. He tried a couple of more times and received the same thing. He took a look at the card's "products" and noticed the "M" pass was on my card. He let me go since I had a valid pass, but he and I were scratching our heads on what the hell is going wrong with the program.
  3. Since I was concerned that my pass may have been wiped out, I took a test run on the Muni metro and my pass was recognized by the fare gates, but the train I boarded also had the three color lights lit.
  4. Around noon on Sunday, I rode the 38-Geary outbound and when boarding, the reader's screen was blank (no power), the driver told me that it was broken and let me go.
Reliability is a key problem for TransLink for mobile devices installed on the vehicles, and the handheld card readers that are used by Cable Car conductors and fare inspectors. It's poor enough for Cable Car conductors to refuse to carry their readers with them, but worse when the reader says "no" when there is a valid pass.

I will say, reliability on the metro fare gates is excellent. I've never seen a reader ever go "out of order," although on a couple of occasions, the turnstile didn't unlock when I got the green light to enter.


Something very strange is going on. In my observations and reading other blog posts (like Eye on Blogs) just within the last 30 days, things have turned really sour. Muni and the TransLink folks needs to work on this problem. Could it be a software problem, or is it the reliability with the electrical systems?

The big day when TransLink becomes Clipper is just a couple of months away. While Muni is giving away their remaining stock of TransLink cards to the general public (the old cards are OK to use when name change happens), why give out more cards when the poor reliability of the system is already costing the agency thousands of dollars in lost fare collection?

I may be an advocate for TransLink/Clipper for it's potential to save agencies money and making it easier to pay for transit, however, the reliability of the system must be their highest priority. The TransLink management board meets Monday, March 26th at 2PM and I hope the board members are reading this (ESPECIALLY NAT FORD), because they are going to give an earful to the contractors who are executing the TransLink/Clipper program.

I am highly considering to tell Commuter Check to mail me a paper "M" pass starting with the June benefits period instead of having funds added to my debit card which is used to buy the TransLink e-pass.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

18-46th Avenue Spared from 30 Minute Frequencies (Except Late Night)

This is a bittersweet victory for those who ride the 18-46th Avenue and/or have also advocated to SFMTA to prevent the outrageous 30 minute frequencies (non-peak service hours) originally proposed in February by management to their board.

I wrote back on March 1st on my blog about the 18-46th Avenue by giving an in-depth look at how much the line has already changed (especially with the reroute via Balboa), and how ugly 30 minute frequencies would be to a line that serves various communities and a major higher educational institution. I have argued that by allowing Muni to force 30 minute frequencies on non-peak service hours, why should the line take a 33% cut, while others are getting next to nothing?

In today's bittersweet victory, Muni caved in, however... the 18 line did get get some cuts that are not as bad as originally planned. Let's take a look:
  • Current weekday frequencies: Peak service - 15 minutes, mid-day service - 20 minutes, and late night - 20 minutes. Last bus just past midnight.
  • Revised weekday frequencies: Peak service - 20 minutes, mid-day service - 25 minutes, evening - 25 minutes, and late night (at 11PM) - 30 minutes. Last bus at approximately 11:30PM.
  • Current weekend frequencies: All hours - 20 minutes.
  • Revised weekend frequencies: All hours - 25 minutes.
Service changes effective May 8, 2010. That's right folks, it's officially May 8th, while others have argued it's May 1st.

I'm still against any service frequency cuts to the 18-46th Avenue due to its importance to connect with major downtown lines, and being the sole service that serves the western edge of the city, the apartments on John Muir Drive and Lake Merced Hills, and the Janet Pomeroy Center. Since the changes to the 88-BART shuttle removing service to the secluded apartments at John Muir Drive, it has been a large impact on those commuters that now depend on their car or the (worsening) frequencies of the 18-46th Avenue bus line.

Be warned: 511 and Google Maps online trip planning program websites are not ready with Muni's frequency changes when you set the date on or after May 8th, 2010. Also, 511's time schedules are not published, so it is unknown of when buses will depart/arrive based on Muni's modified frequencies schedule.

It is my expectation that Muni will publish the new time schedules and have the trip planning programs ready with at least two weeks before changes happen. I will be watching Muni very carefully and publish updates as we approach "fail day."

To view the upcoming weekday and weekend frequency changes, click here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Muni Service Cuts in May - Akit Reminds Muni how they Failed Before

I'm a pretty well informed citizen of San Francisco. I read the news from various sources and keep up-to-date on my tweets; it's sad to see that our public transit agency wants to take a step backward in the wrong direction to hurt not just their customers, but send their overall reputation further down the grave that we call the "Central Subway."

I've heard word that there was a last minute long shot appeal to see if an environmental review was necessary to give the "10%" cut in services on Muni, yet I had a gut feeling that it wasn't going to go well; I was right, the board kicked it to the curb with a 7-4 vote.

What makes me even more frustrated is just how soon the "10%" cuts will actually happen. SF Weekly claims it will start May 1st, and the SF Gate's City Insider says May 8th; but regardless of what date it may be, May will be the worst in Muni's history.

How can Muni decide to take drastic cuts with so little notice? Does less than 17 days notice actually give Muni the balls to pull off a massive PR campaign to inform the public of their beloved transit service going to make drastic cuts?

Let me refresh Muni's memory on some blog entries that gained major attention for FAILURE TO PROVIDE AMPLE NOTICE:
  1. When Muni announced their so-called 10% cuts at their board meeting, they specifically targeted the 18-46th Avenue in a showboat attempt to say that service will be reduced from 20 minutes to a whopping 30 minutes mid-day, evenings, and weekends. I wrote a very serious in-depth analysis on why it was not fair to discriminate the 18-46th Avenue with 33% cuts while others are getting less than 10%.
  2. The most recent cuts happened on December 5, 2009, and I reported on November 24th that Muni has not made an effort to provide new published bus/train schedules in a timely manner and online planning programs were also not ready. This story alone spread like wildfire and it really caught Muni's attention very quickly.
  3. On November 26th, two days after I reported the failure of map planning programs, Google Maps was ready.
  4. On December 1st, just a few days away from the major changes, 511's online trip planner program was updated with Muni's changes, but there was no time schedules posted.
  5. I also gave a brutal punishing to Muni for failure to provide ample notice of an adult pass hike that was scheduled for January 1st. On November 5, 2009, I argued it was not fair to give such late notice of a pass hike because it would affect people who need to update their payroll deduction for their commuter benefits program. Just few days later (November 8th), I caught Muni in the act of updating their website about the pass hike.
This is a serious warning to Muni management, do not make service cuts without giving the public ample notice. One month's notice is barely acceptable, but with only 17 days left until the new month, that's not enough time to publish a new schedule, and not enough time for the techies at Google and 511 to input the new data into their trip planning program.

You've already screwed-up December 5th's cuts, so why should be trust you to get the time schedules and trip planning software updates in a timely manner? This is especially true for me, the 18-46th Avenue passenger whose going to have to get the worst punishment while others who ride major lines may not even notice much of a difference.

Here's an additional posting showing evidence of Muni's PR failure: The PGA golf tournament at Harding Park where Muni only gave the public one day's notice of major bus re-routes for the 18-46th Avenue and (the former) 88-BART Shuttle. And even then, I did all the research and posted it faster than 511's alerts page.

Akit Helps to Make Changes in Las Vegas Transit

It's been a few weeks since my trip to Las Vegas where gambling kicked my butt, but the shows are totally worth the money.

During my time off (thanks furloughs), I decided to try out the Regional Transportation Commission's public transit service in the city so I can go around the Las Vegas Strip and to Downtown without the need for a taxicab... boy was I in a world of hell.

Fast? How fast? Pretty damn slow is a better way to say it.

On the day I arrived, they just added new bus service making limited stops along the strip and cutting through some side streets for a quicker ride to the Strip, but it was an absolute horror. The brand new buses were packed like sardines with very narrow aisle space for standees, minimal air conditioning (some buses had NONE with NO SLIDING WINDOWS!), and infrequent service. I was lucky I was walking around with crutches and was given a seat all the time.

They also run double decker buses along the strip and make every stop about a quarter mile. That was a hell hole too. I thought it would be worse than Muni, and I was right. Ever waited at a bus stop for 45 minutes, at the 35 minute mark, one bus arrives so packed the driver can't even allow others to get aboard, and everyone is forced to wait for the next one that never shows up. Everyone waiting at the stop was hailing cabs and I was asking people if they wanted to share a cab too. I finally gave up after their customer service folks took forever to give some answers and just walked it to the monorail.

Just to insult the paragraph above: Over two dozen buses were going the other direction, and in the same direction I'm waiting at, about six limited stop buses passed by AND NOT FULL!


When I came back to my home here in SF, I decided to write the RTC a nice message about my experiences. I even told them they could save some time if their drivers didn't keep punching the emergency brake and curbing their wheels before opening their doors (Muni doesn't do it).

They finally wrote back to me just a couple days ago and apologized like crazy. They also mentioned that "based on popular demand" the double decker buses will not serve just a short portion of the Strip, but will also restore service to Downtown (PDF document).

I call it a victory for all Las Vegas visitors who suffered. The "Akit effect" spreads beyond the Bay Area!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Visit San Francisco's Cherry Blossom Festival 2010

Horray! It's the return of SF Japantown's favorite festival, the Cherry Blossom Festival!

Why am I in such a great mood? It's the time for Japantown to show its best to everyone. From cultural performances, live bands, homemade arts and crafts, and amazing food supporting great community organizations.

Likewise, I wish I could title this posting: "Meet Akit at the Cherry Blossom Festival" because I'm the guy for over 10 years at every J-Town festival holding the Teriburger sign, but I can't be there this year. For the past month, I've been suffering through three different foot injuries (two to my right and one to my left), and it's too risky to be standing for up to 10 hours per day. It's a sad moment for me, but I know the world won't collapse because I can't be volunteering.

On the brighter end, I hope you can drop by to Japantown for the festival. As always, you'll try such amazing food from all kinds of great Japantown community organizations, and you'll know that every dollar you contribute goes to great causes, because that's the spirit of our community festivals.

I know there's so much going on around the city this weekend (Sunday Streets, baseball, etc.), make sure to drop by J-Town for a little bit of fun too!

For tips on a great time at the festival, read this previous entry from my blog.

Good info:
  • First weekend: April 10 and 11.
  • Second weekend: April 17 and 18.
  • Operating hours: Approximately 10:30AM to 5PM (sometimes 6PM).
  • Main festival areas: Post St. between Laguna and Fillmore, Webster between Geary and Sutter.
  • Parade on Sunday, April 18th from Civic Center to Japantown. Starts around 1PM.
  • More information: http://www.nccbf.org/

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Muni Needs to Treat Malfunctioning TransLink Readers as a Broken Farebox

The complaints keep coming in about TransLink... the vehicle readers are not working at "normal" status. When a reader is working normally, it helps generate revenue for Muni as it collects fares just like a cash farebox would. But when the reader malfunctions (screen is off, reader shows "out of service" or the red lamp glows), it means a loss for Muni as many operators just let you aboard.

Just today, I was waiting for my 38L bus and I noticed the express bus ahead of it had the red light glowing, and the 38L bus I boarded had totally no power (blank screen) and the driver told me he attempted to restart it multiple times.

The message I'm trying to put out there is Muni needs to start treating dead and broken TransLink readers as serious as a broken farebox.

It's gotten to the point where almost every business day for the past few weeks, Muni officials have been handing out FREE TRANSLINK CARDS to the public at various locations around the city whereby it seems the testing phase of the program is over so the masses can use their card without problems. But if the readers are broken or non-operational, what's the use of giving away thousands of cards?

Muni management needs to get very serious with this problem before people may just revolt and pay cash or continue to buy paper passes. They need to look at two areas for improvement:
  1. Check with the drivers on training. Did they get any training? Did they get sufficient training? Is it time to give them a refresher or should they be given more training on how to resolve problems? If they are able to know how to unjam a coinbox when overloaded and are able to program the electronic signage that says the route and terminal, a little more training on how to resolve TransLink reader problems goes a long way. If the reader is busted upon the driver leaving the yard, return the bus to the yard, and exchange the bus while a TransLink tech person is checking it out.
  2. Start shouting at the MTC and the contractor operating TransLink to find technical solutions. Reader problems are more common on the vehicles versus the permanently installed readers at ferry terminals, BART gates, and Muni gates.
Muni seriously needs to resolve the TransLink problems or there will be more people upset about getting citations from fare inspectors for failing to tag their card because the driver just let the passenger just board. I'm waiting for an answer from the SFMTA about the policy of broken TL readers when the passenger has a pass and is either attempting to board the vehicle or when a fare inspector uses their handheld reader to check the card.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Big Updates on TransLink to Clipper Card Transition & $2.63 Million Revised Budget (Was $1.4)

Ready to take-on even more TransLink card news? Sure you can! The MTC's Operations Committee is meeting this Friday to talk about the big transition from TransLink to Clipper, and they will be recommending approval to spend thousands of extra dollars for the transition and also add some more features to improve the program.

Let's take a look!

In the TransLink contract actions document, it mentions a new customer service option for cardholders and when the new Muni faregates will be ready for operation:
  • The MTC wants to open-up an in-person customer service center at one of the downtown BART/Muni stations, and they are keeping their eye on Embarcadero station to be the location. They will be able to add funds, exchange broken cards, and everything else just like the telephone center does; but this means instant service instead of mailing cards and waiting days for a replacement. The plan is to open the new center on June 1, 2010. The cost: $500,000 for just one year.
  • Muni will have the new metro faregates and vending machines in operation in August of this year.

In another list of TL contract actions, AC Transit riders will be saving some money by committing themselves to the TL/Clipper card:
  • AC Transit customers will be getting an incentive to ride the transit agency for 25 cents less than the regular fare. The MTC will invest $250,000 to promote the TL/Clipper card to be the primary fare card for all transit rides on AC Transit.

But I've left the best for last... the cream of the crop!
The TransLink/Clipper folks have a presentation, and includes images of the new Clipper card and some design changes to the existing equipment as well.
  • Starting April 15th, the old TransLink symbols and signage will be changed to the new Clipper logo. Current cardholders will get a notice from the authority of the transition from TL to Clipper.
  • (As you already know) June 1st will be the opening of the in-person customer service center.
  • On the week of June 14th, the massive switch will happen for Clipper. The new website Clippercard.com will be born (currently, it's just a parked domain) and the rebranding should be completed.
  • Starting June 15th, Clipper cards will start being distributed to the public. The TL cards are still OK to use while the transition is happening.
  • While the adult clipper cards will have a blue background with white arrows (their new logo), discount cards (e.g. seniors) will have a different card with a white background and blue arrows to differentiate the type of card issued.
  • The distribution of Clipper cards will be free (upon approval from the TL board), instead of paying the $5 fee.
  • A current cardholder of a TL card can have their data transferred to their replacement card in two ways: The telephone customer service will mail a replacement card within 2-3 days, or visit the in-person kiosk and the transfer will be done on the spot.

This is all great news. Be aware folks, I didn't list every single item mentioned down from the notes provided from the meeting. If you want to review all the documents to be discussed at the Operations Committee meeting, please click here.

Like I said before, the TransLink/Clipper folks are facing a steep challenge to make their goal dates.

In my opinion, there are some operational expenses that sounds really costly. I don't necessarily agree MTC needs to spend $250K to give 25 cent discounts for AC Transit riders for a short term period to encourage them to ride transit. In one way, it's too much money to fry, on the other hand, how about giving us Muni riders a 25 cent break too?

While I may disagree about spending a half million dollars to operate an in-person customer service center, I agree that we need to have such a location. People like instant satisfaction when they can use an automated machine or go to an in-person authorized vendor to add funds and passes without the 72 hour delay or waiting days for a replacement card to be mailed. Some have argued they have a monthly pass on their TL card and the delay for a replacement card means the passenger will pay cash for their rides, making their pass utterly useless for a short time. Since many people commute to/from San Francisco and stop at a downtown station, it's easy to understand why a place like Embarcadero is the perfect spot.

511 Fail: System Error


If you recall my previous article that was featured on SF Appeal (thank you Eve for the research credit) and a news report on KTVU (no credit for my work and was reported one day after my posting), it was going to cost $1.375 million just for the initial transition of TransLink to Clipper.

But now... in addition to that, let us add on $500,000 for a new customer service booth, $250,000 for 25 cent discounts for AC Transit, $300,000 will also be used to purchase additional Muni faregates as backup stock in case of a failure, $80,000 to "implement revised transfer rules" between Golden Gate Ferry and Muni, and a contract revision to add $125,000 to the $1.375 million being spent to advertise TL to Clipper. This is all found on the Operations Committee agenda. Just these additions alone costs $1,255,000.

The project transition costs has now skyrocketed to over $2.63 MILLION.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cable Car Conductors Don't Carry TransLink Card Readers

In light of word from the SFMTA that Muni's famous Cable Cars now accept TransLink cards with monthly passes only is a great step forward for the agency (also, kudos to SF Appeal for their coverage), I thought it was time to try it out for myself.

Back when TransLink was in its baby stages, I participated in the program as a monthly Muni passholder and the agency mailed me a monthly Muni sticker to be used as a 'flash' pass for all buses and vehicles not equipped because the metro was the only vehicles used in their initial pilot program. This meant I showed my card to the Cable Car conductor and they'd give me the OK since it was valid for the month. (See photo of stickers)

Today, Muni doesn't give monthly stickers since all vehicles have the proper equipment, and the Cable Cars were the last to be equipped due to issues with historic monument rules. The conductors are supposed to carry handheld cardreaders, but on Saturday April 3rd, it didn't go so well:
  1. I rode the California Cable Car and the conductor didn't carry a cardreader. But he asked me a few questions such as if I had a monthly pass, and I paid the $60 fee; he simply said "OK."
  2. I also rode the Powell/Mason Cable Car from California to the Powell turnaround and the conductor also didn't have the cardreader. He also let me go because he also asked me the same questions as the California conductor asked.
Zoomed and Cropped TransLink card

On the Powell line Cable Car, I had a great discussion with the conductor and while he knows he needs to carry a reader with him, he believes it's too much of a safety risk to do so. Since the conductor is responsible for the rear braking system, giving the one/two bell signal to the gripman (operator of Cable Car), collecting cash fares, and answering tons of questions by curious tourists, it's a lot for a conductor to do. We agreed that installing card readers on the vehicles may violate historic monument policies and the devices would need to have the batteries recharged every single day.

In my opinion, the conductors needs to carry them in order for TransLink to be a big success, there's really no excuses to exclude themselves from being part of the program; they just need to get used to how it all works and understand the ultimate convenience of using one card to ride multiple transit agencies around the Bay Area.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Muni's Expired Transfer Policy - Big Differences Between Metro and Buses

Muni's expired transfer policies are confusing and many would assume that an expired transfer while in-transit is a big no-no on all vehicles (even I believed that too). I have viewed the SFMTA's website for more information and found out how the policy works between the metro lines versus all the other services Muni provides. By reading this, you will know your rights as a passenger so Muni fare inspectors are not abusing or being ignorant of the rules.


Before I start, let's define "Proof of Payment" versus "fare checking:"
  • "Proof of Payment" covers all metro lines: J, K, L, M, N, T.
  • "Fare checking" covers all Muni lines excluding the metro.
When you read the SFMTA's website on Proof of Payment and Fare Checking, read it carefully as many POP rules don't overlap "fare checking" policies. Example: On POP lines, it's OK to board the rear doors with valid proof of payment. On "fare checking" lines, all riders must board the front door regardless of valid media in hand.


The next time you encounter a fare inspector, there is a difference in how the expired transfer policy works while riding the metro (POP) versus other vehicles ("fare checking"):
  1. If you ride the metro, it is considered a "Proof of Payment" (POP) line and your transfer must always be valid (not expired) during the entire journey, including waiting at underground station platforms. The rules state: "Your Proof of Payment must be valid for the duration of your entire trip within the Muni Metro System, including time spent within the paid area of stations or waiting at station platforms."
  2. However, the expired transfer policy cannot be enforced on Muni buses, and historic streetcars. As always, a passenger must always have a non expired transfer to board the bus, but if it expires during the journey, the fare inspector cannot cite for an expired transfer because Muni policy states the expired rule is only for POP lines (last bulletpoint). Fare inspectors can still cite passengers for not having any fare media in hand or a transfer or pass not covering the appropriate date/month.
Remember the keywords in the quote in number one: "within the Muni Metro System" as this is important to remember; enforcement of expired transfers can only be on the metro. Also, fare inspectors cannot enforce POP on outdoor station platforms (except West Portal) since it is OK to pay in cash to the driver.

Passengers should always be aware to always have a pass or transfer at all times regardless if riding the bus or metro as fare inspectors can at least check if all passengers have some kind of legitimate proof they paid or used their pass to board the vehicle.

A reminder to TransLink cardholders who use e-cash to pay for Muni rides: You don't have to fear an expired transfer for a bus line, but use a stopwatch while riding the metro in the very rare situation a fare inspector pulls out their PDA device to check the validity of the TL card. In my opinion it is relatively difficult to cite passengers for an expired transfer when passengers can't visually see if the e-transfer expired or not (versus a paper transfer).


If you get a citation for an expired transfer while riding a non-metro vehicle, make sure the inspector writes down which bus line you rode on the citation, and contest it. Print out the material from the links below and provide it as your appeal. Make sure to highlight the sections from the SFMTA website that clearly states that expired transfers can only be enforced on POP lines (metro lines).

Appealing and winning gets saves you $75 by not paying the fine; and why not ask the city to reimburse a postage stamp, the time wasted writing an appeal, and the doctor treatment of psychological trauma for fear of inspectors (a new condition called PTFID: Post Traumatic Fare Inspector Disorder)?

To review the city's transportation code (article 7), click here.
To review SFMTA/Muni's interpretation on article 7 of the transportation code, click here.