"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)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Muni's Public Relations Office is SLOW! Local Bloggers are Faster (A Month Quicker!)

I find it absolutely strange the SFMTA's PR department decided to send-out a press release on the phaseout of Muni paper passes to mandatory Clipper cards today.

Click here for press release document.
Click here for fact sheet.

Why so strange?

The local blogging community has been forewarning the San Francisco transit riders months in advance about the end of Muni paper passes:

-- On June 9th, Muni Diaries was the first to mention about the mandatory Clipper conversion of the "A" pass.

-- On June 27th, I was able to confirm the deadline dates of other remaining paper passes being phased out from a poster I took a snapshot of at a Cable Car sales booth.

So today's date is July 29th, and that's over a month after my posting and close to two months since Muni Diaries posted the news. How embarrassing. That's our transit agency for you!

Gees Muni, why not pay the local bloggers to do your PR stuff?

August 1st is End of "BART to Muni" Paper Transfers?

We should be familiar with the paper "BART to Muni" discount transfers: If you ride BART and exit at any of the San Francisco stations, you can get a white paper transfer to receive a 25 cent discount riding Muni away from the BART station, and a 25 cent discount for a return trip back to the station. At Daly City BART, passengers can get a free yellow colored transfer for a free ride on Muni's 28, 28L and 54 lines and a free ride back within 24-hours.

In February, the MTC and TransLink/Clipper board posted a list of deadlines that transit agencies must meet to transition paper media to be electronic. On number seven, it mentions that by August 1, 2010, all paper "BART to Muni" transfers must be converted to Clipper only.

Now that we are just a few days away from August 1st, is BART and Muni ready to give-up the paper transfers and force people to use Clipper cards? From looking at the BART and Muni websites, there is no confirmation. The SFMTA website simply says the word "soon."

While BART and Muni whine like little children, Golden Gate Ferry has followed through on their goal to end paper transfers valid on Muni in favor of Clipper cards on April 1, 2010.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Muni was Excellent Today - I'm Not Kidding!

As you may know, I frequently blog and Tweet about the bad things Muni does to the public (delays, no-shows, PR embarrassments, etc.), but when they do something right, I praise them too.

Today is a good day on Muni. I took a short ride on the 38AX Geary Express to 33rd Avenue & Geary and found the vehicle astonishingly clean. Just how clean? There was no graffiti on the walls and seats, no garbage anywhere on the floors, and not even any etching on the glass.

Even all the Clipper readers was working "normally" this morning (unlike yesterday) while I stood around for ten minutes at 33rd & Geary waiting for my 18-46th Avenue bus.

Oh... but the fun doesn't end there!

Remember when I told you about the Muni pamphlet thief on the 18-46th Avenue? Every Tuesday and Thursday, he rides the 18 and always steals all the pamphlets from all the pamphlet holders on the bus, then moves to the back of the bus.

I eventually got fed-up with the guy months ago and yelled to the driver to look at his mirror. He got out of his seat and grabbed all of them from him. From that point on, the usual driver would remove all the pamphlets before the bus ever arrived to pick-up the guy; sometimes he stopped just 100 feet short because he forgot to remove and hide them.

OutsideLands Festival Concert - Muni Info (Really Bad Info)

Today was even crazier. The brazen thief, fed-up with no more pamphlets to steal does something incredibly crude, he rips out the temporary announcement posters (the ones in metal frames) located behind the driver's seat (similar to the one in the above photo). He doesn't gently pull it out, he tears out the entire poster and the second one too.

I yelled out "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!" and the driver was watching too. The driver was really pissed and so was I; the driver slammed the ban hammer and threatened to refuse to pick-up that passenger ever again. I was so pissed-off and shocked (so was the other passengers), I threatened to call the cops.

The lady sitting in front of me said, the guy is mentally disabled. I responded back to her, I knew that, but that's no excuse for what he has done today and in the past. If the guy wants to conduct more problems, I swear I will call the SFPD. He can take a fucking cab for all I care.

Justice served, again! That made me smile.

Just another day on Muni. A good day on Muni!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Major Clipper Failures on Muni Today = Free Rides

It looks like there is another major Clipper card reader failure at hand on Muni today (for the third time). The last two times this happened was on April 22nd, and June 14th. On April 22nd, I reported the TransLink PR folks released a statement mentioning the system was experiencing failures because the update did not work correctly.

Today, Clipper failures are everywhere. Did the MTC and Clipper authorities find a way to update the card readers without having approximately 75% of the Muni fleet having their readers go out of service? It seems not.

Some of you might be asking, how did I find a lot of card readers out of service today? Here's how: Most of the card readers had all three color lights active while I was waiting for the 18-46th Avenue at 33rd & Geary, and also noticed some on my journey on-board the 38L-Geary Limited and 18-46th Avenue.
  1. Bus #6411 (18-46th Avenue)
  2. Bus #5622 (1-California)
  3. Bus #5509 (1-California)
  4. Bus # 6231 (Out of Service bus)
  5. Bus # 5483 (31 Balboa)
  6. Bus #6241 (38-Geary to VA Hospital)
  7. Bus #6215 (38L-Geary Limited)
  8. Bus #6200 (38L-Geary Limited)
  9. Bus #5578 (1-California)
  10. Bus #6235 (38-Geary)
  11. Two unknown bus numbers (both 38L-Geary Limited)
Remember folks, Muni sent out a bulletin to all their operators to let passengers ride free if the card readers are broken (courtesy of Muni Diaries). I suggest writing down the vehicle's number and time just in case if a fare inspector wants to cram a ticket in your face for "fare evasion."

Dang... Clipper is getting some bad press! Here's KPIX and SF Gate's stories on the Cable Car Clipper issues. Just to add, I've been reporting about Cable Car and Clipper issues FOUR MONTHS AGO. The mass media is slow as hell to report about this, but I'm FASTER!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

SF Muni FAILS to Provide Information on Re-Routes Due to SF Marathon

The SF Marathon is tomorrow and it will cause a world of hell for everyone in the city, especially those who have to drive through Golden Gate Park, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and get in and out of the Inner and Outer Richmond via 26th/27th Avenues.

With all these marathon routes, you'd expect Muni to be up to date with the latest information about any re-routes or changes because it does affect a lot of people who are trying to get around the city. The answer is NO.

I've got proof, the photo I've attached is the "updates" page of the SFMTA's transit section and was taken at 9:10AM on Saturday, July 24, 2010. There is NOTHING specific on how the marathon course will affect transit lines.

I even gave 311 a call to get information. The operator admitted he could not find anything on the SFMTA website, and he looked through his other resources. He told me one of the lines I'm interested in more information will be "going around the [Golden Gate] park." I asked for his source of information and he said he was reading it off a flier given to the drivers. I also asked him if I can get that information in writing and the answer was a big fat NO.

What the hell is wrong with this city government? As a citizen, I have the right to know what is going on and how it affects my movement around the city. The SFMTA should have posted the re-route information at least a week in advance prior to tomorrow's event, but they FAILED.

The reason why I'm arguing this is because I am meeting a co-worker tomorrow at the Academy of Sciences on Sunday, and I will have to take the 44 line in order to get there. Since the marathon goes through Golden Gate Park, I'm worried I won't make it there in time as Sunday service on Muni is far less frequent than weekdays.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Akit's List of Favorite Freebies and Decent Discounts

San Francisco is expensive, and I should know that being a native resident of this city my entire life. Trying to be a penny pincher is tough, especially with the rising costs, from the gas I buy to the food I eat.

I thought I'd show you my favorite places to score great discounts and free stuff. Many require you to be registered as a member of a program or be an affiliate.

Ferry Ride to Sausalito:
  • Save 47% each way. Golden Gate Ferry passengers pay $8.25 cash fare for a one-way ride on the ferry boat, but why the hell would you want to pay that kind of insane price? Instead, use a Clipper card and you only pay $4.40 each way, a massive 47% savings. Even if you paid $5 for a Clipper card, you still save money after a round-trip on the ferry.

AAA Membership:

  • Free parking at Pier 39 for two hours. When I want to go to the Wharf and not experience getting groped on the crowded F-Market streetcar, I take the car to the Pier 39 garage. Bring your AAA card to the California Welcome Center and you get a coupon book; tell the person at the counter you parked in the garage and score a free parking voucher. It's a $14 savings.

SF State OneCard (ID):

  • $8 parking at Mason & O'Farrell Garage. But it gets sweeter than that... it's $8 for up to eight hours. Parking at the lot starts at $2.50 for the first 20 minutes, and other private lots around the downtown area can sometimes charge even more, so just being a student, staff, or faculty, you get the best parking in town.
  • 10% off Westfield Mall "food emporium" vendors. If you want good food, you just show your SF State ID at the food court and score a 10% discount. Most vendors accept it, except the gelato place.
  • Steep discount on computer software at SFSU Bookstore. Just bought a new computer and need Office software, or have an old computer needing a new operating system? The campus bookstore gives generous discounts on the most popular software and operating system updates. For example, I got Office for less than $50 when it costs over $100. Only downside, the Office software is a bulk license, so you don't get any fancy box or instruction booklets.
  • Computer hardware discounts for Apple products. SFSU Bookstore and the Apple store gives discounts to students for buying Apple desktops and notebooks. Staff and faculty may be eligible for discounts as well by showing their ID, but may also get better deals through their union. Average savings is $100 per computer, may sometimes include a free iPod.

Commuter Benefits Program
  • Save up to 40% on transit costs to work. Your employer may be participating in a commuter benefits program. If you take public transit or park in a parking lot that accepts commuter benefits, you could get your tickets, passes, and parking permits pre-taxed from your payroll. I save at least $140 a year by buying my passes pre-taxed. Try the calculator to see how much you might save.

Boudin Bakery:
  • Free bread. If you register for one of their loyalty program cards, you get a free loaf of bread every month for 13 months. Each loaf costs $3.99. I buy some cheese and tomato sauce to make mini pizzas.

Trish's Mini Donuts (Pier 39):
  • $2.50 for a bag full of donuts. It's a little trick, buy the second smallest size offered (about $4), and when you are done, keep the bag for your next trip (I suggest shaking out the sugar in the trash before neatly putting it in your pocket). When you come back with the old bag, they'll refill it as much as it can hold for $2.50.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Clipper Card's Growing Pains

Last night, KPIX did a news story about the Clipper cards having some really bad growing pains. One person had video proof of problems with Cable Car conductors not knowing how their portable cardreaders work, another getting charged incorrectly multiple times when transferring from Golden Gate Ferry to Muni, and another getting the runaround with customer service for a wrong charge.

The Cable Car problem has been an issue for four months
The TransLink/Clipper card was first accepted on Muni's Cable Cars on March 24, 2010 as long as passengers met one requirement, there must be a valid Muni pass on the card. On April 5th, I reported my experiences with my card and the Cable Car conductors and got mixed results with one confirming my pass while another didn't even carry it on him. It started getting odd the conductors have been given explicit instructions to carry the device, but they didn't while other didn't really know how to do it.

What really crossed the line is when a Cable Car conductor scanned my card on April 17th and the reader said "NO." I told the conductor there is a pass on there, and he used the features on there to review my e-cash balance and valid passes, and it was listed on there. After that point, I was so fed-up with the problems after problems with the Cable Car conductors not doing their job or lack of training, I went back to a paper pass.

When reviewing the KPIX video footage of one of the user's experience on the Cable Cars, the problems have been going on for 4 MONTHS and now Muni will take action by giving their conductors proper training and make sure they have their equipment on hand. I've been giving early warning signs to Muni and Clipper on my blog for months, and they finally listen? GRRRRRR!

Yeah, there are growing pains
Clipper might be growing a little too fast. But it's strange that many don't complain about the first two agencies that started first with the TL/Clipper card, AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit/Ferry. These two agencies have been the first two agencies heavily using it, from giving it to East Bay college students to ride AC Transit for free, to automatic discounts for all Golden Gate passengers without the need to buy ticket books. I observe more complaints about Muni using Clipper than anywhere else, but as we all know, Muni has been the punching bag for us city citizens for everything that goes wrong.

Nobody likes to experience problems, especially when it involves your own money. You would think it would be easy to resolve, but as with any public agency, welcome to the world of bureaucracy. I should be fortunate that I haven't had any recent serious issues, but that's because I have been sticking to a paper Muni pass and only riding BART with my classic TransLink card.

With all these issues, it's common to hear all the gripes now. When Seattle's ORCA card was released to the general public, it also got an earful for all the growing pains, but it's absolutely normal. When everyone understands how things work (e.g. 72-hour policy for Clipper) and customer service is well prepared and trained, things should be better for all of us.

Keep those eyes peeled
I highly recommend for all Clipper users, keep an eye on your account and all transactions. Your online account can give you a report on every single ride you have taken for up to the last 60 days. If you notice a problem, report it to customer service immediately. Be aware, if you see a problem when conducting a transaction on a bus or train, Clipper can't investigate until that transaction shows-up on your ride history report, which can take a day or two.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The History and Demise of Muni Tokens

If you have lived in San Francisco for at least five years, you should already know about the Muni tokens. Muni sold these little coins in bags containing ten, and made it easy for passengers to drop one little coin instead of multiple quarters or dollar bills into the farebox.

Even better, the tokens were good for life (similar to "Forever" postage stamps). When Muni sold the token bags, each token was 25 cents less than the adult cash fare, a great bargain for those who ride Muni on an infrequent basis.

Token Hoarding became a Big Problem
The tokens became a hot item to purchase when Muni announced their fare hikes months in advance. Since the tokens was fare hike resistant, people would go around to every vendor in the city to snatch all the token bags they can get their hands on and save up to 50 cents per token (tokens are purchased prior to fare hike at lower price, and utilized after fare hike).

The hoarding of tokens became so bad, there was a shortage of tokens. Muni ordered their vendors to limit sales to one bag per person, and the agency also decided to print "token tickets" as a substitute for actual tokens. The discount still applied per "token ticket" but it came with a little surprise, it was NOT fare hike resistant because there was an expiration date.

The Decline of Muni Tokens
Things changed for the little coin that saved people money. On September 1, 2005, Muni raised the adult fare from $1.25 to $1.50, but the token's special discount was to end. It was the last time the cheapskates can hoard on the token (coined version) before the hike because the price per token after the fare hike was to be the same price as the adult cash fare ($15 for 10 tokens or tickets).

Since 2005, the Muni token has been a ghost just wandering around the transit system. The token in coin and paper forms is a legal form of payment for passengers, but hardly anyone used it anymore. The coin was disappearing quick as a result of Muni realizing producing more coins was more expensive than the paper ticket version, and was a form of punishment for those who hoarded the coins just to save a few dollars (basically, those who hoarded promoted the token's demise). The paper ticket version was also not going well because passengers realized there are very few locations in the city that sells the ticket books, plus, with no discount per ticket, it was easier to shove a bill and a few quarters down the machine.

Tokens on Life Support (barely)
More recently, it has quietly disappeared with no more coins in circulation, nor paper tickets produced. The SFMTA's website now tells passengers to purchase their tokens through the Clipper card program. Clipper's price is $20 for 10 rides (e-tokens) or $2 per ride, the equivalent of paying cash or Clipper e-cash per ride on Muni.

Save the Token or Kill it?
Since Muni's current policy is the price per e-token using Clipper is the same as paying out of a passenger Clipper e-cash purse, it seems worthless for the public to even think of buying them.

Is there any real reason why Muni still sells them since it's demise in late 2005? I used to purchase the token ticket books (after 2005) because I used to get $30 Commuter Check vouchers to cover riding the bus to work on a part-time basis and I didn't need a monthly pass. Since TransLink/Clipper is now available on all Muni buses and trains, I can easily convert my Commuter Check vouchers into e-cash.

If Muni continues to sell the e-tokens using Clipper at the same price as an adult fare, the token will die for the consumer. The token can be saved if Muni is willing and able to offer passengers a discount for buying bulk pre-paid tickets through Clipper for those who infrequently rides Muni and knows buying a pass is not worth its value. Caltrain sells eight ride tickets for a discount, BART sells high value tickets with a 6.25% discount, and Golden Gate Transit & Ferry used to sell discounted commuter ticket books, but switched to Clipper by giving every cardholder the discounted rate, regardless if riding only once in a year, month, week, or daily.

Here's a good head scratching question: If Clipper is taking over sales of e-token rides, do they have an expiration? If not, the fare instrument would be fare hike resistant because people can buy as many 10 ride e-tokens as they please before the fare hike is active, thereby saving money per ride. But, if Muni demands e-cash be deducted to make-up the difference, then it's pointless to even consider buying the e-tokens regardless if they have an expiration or not.

Photo of Muni token from Flickr user "cbcastro" using a Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Clipper Card Paying for SF's Parking Lots Could Cause Legal Trouble

SF Appeal and the Examiner posted reports about the Clipper card being being used for a pilot program to pay for certain San Francisco MTA owned garages at the following locations: Mission-Bartlett, Japan Center, North Beach, Performing Arts, and Vallejo.

It sounds like a great idea, extend the usage of the electronic fare card beyond public transit to pay for other items like parking lots, street meters, and maybe even your Slurpees and nachos.


But here lies the problem... I can easily forecast a major legal issue Clipper, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and the SFMTA must resolve prior to starting this program: Commuter benefit programs.

What's Commuter Benefits?
You might be familiar with commuter benefit programs, the employer enrolls with a commuter benefit company to issue out passes, vouchers, and debit cards for the employee to take public transit or use designated parking lots that would provide a pre-taxed savings that could save a person up to 40% (average is 20%). Depending on a person's salary and how much is needed to pay for transit and/or parking, the savings can be significant.

Clipper's e-cash, e-tickets, and e-passes can be purchased using commuter benefits programs. They can be automatically added on a monthly basis, submit a paper voucher to designated in-person add value locations, and debit cards can be used at transit agency ticket offices, Clippercard.com, and automated add value machines.

It is my understanding of the commuter benefit programs that there are some restrictions on the proper usage of the funds. One detail I have learned is Clipper is not legally allowed to issue cash refunds to those passengers who cancels their Clipper card and if ever their card e-cash funds was paid with commuter benefits (just a penny in the e-cash purse from commuter benefits voids the right to a refund).

Commuter benefits can pay for parking as long as "parking at or near your work location or at or near a location from which you commute by car pool, commuter highway vehicle or mass transit" (ASI Flex).

It brings up a big question, can pre-taxed funds on a Clipper card be legally used for parking in San Francisco's garages?
That really depends... yes, a person who commutes to and from work and pays for their parking with commuter benefits are entitled to it, but how about those who uses the lots for a leisurely purpose, like paying the J-Town lot so the person can see a movie at Sundance Kabuki?

I have never heard of the SFMTA allowing their parking meter cards to be paid with commuter benefit vouchers, so how can a Clipper card funded with commuter benefits be allowed to pay for the garages?

Also, how can the system tell if a passenger is using it for a lawful purpose (parking to go to work) versus a non-commute purpose?

Let's also throw another wrench into the problem...
Clipper's potential could be extended to even more usage beyond public transit and parking, say purchasing groceries or buying a burger at a fast food restaurant.

The Octopus card in Hong Kong has grown so successful, you can buy food at McDonald's, get groceries, buy baked goods, and other unique products and services that are not transit or parking related.

This brings up a new legal challenge for Clipper... commuter benefit programs cannot pay for anything other than transit and parking.

It would likely be if items were to be purchased from a Clipper account, it would come directly from the e-cash purse. E-cash is the term used for the universal electronic funds that currently pays the fares for transit if a passenger does not have a valid pass.

Also, the source of funding for the e-cash purse can come from two ways, paid directly from the customer or paid in pre-taxed commuter benefits. By funding e-cash with pre-taxed commuter benefits, it makes the e-cash fund toxic and restricts the Clipper user's right to only use the card to pay for transit and parking. Just like I mentioned earlier, once the e-cash purse is funded with just a cent of commuter benefits, a passenger is not entitled to a refund if they cancel their card.


If my analysis is true and correct, there will have to be a solution in place prior to the start of the SFMTA parking garage pilot program.

For those who funds their e-cash purse with transit benefits (assuming Clipper does not want to issue two cards: one for lawful transit purposes and the other for pleasure), there may need to be more than one e-cash purse maintained in the account. One purse would be used for commuter benefits funds while the general e-cash purse is funded through a person's out-of-pocket expenses. When riding transit, the commuter benefits purse is used first, and when depleted, the general e-cash purse is used.

But what to do with the commuter benefit funds right now? Many people have an e-cash purse that is mixed with both out-of-pocket cash and commuter benefits. If Clipper has to create two purses, how will they sort-out the mixed e-cash purse issue?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Learn Where to Get a Free Clipper Card this Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

Want a Clipper card but don't want to wait for it in the mail or can't visit a location like a local Walgreens?

You are in luck, Clipper will be giving out cards at multiple locations for the next three days:

Tuesday, July 13th from 7-10AM:
  • Montgomery Street Station
  • MacArthur BART
  • Palo Alto Caltrain
  • Hillsdale Caltrain
  • 14th & Broadway in Oakland
Tuesday, July 13th from 4-7PM:
  • 4th & King Caltrain
  • Embarcadero Station
  • Civic Center Station
  • San Rafael Transit Center
Wednesday, July 14th from 7-10AM:
  • Millbrae Caltrain
  • 19th & Holloway in San Francisco (SF State)
  • Walnut Creek BART
Wednesday, July 14th from 4-7PM:
  • 4th & King Caltrain
  • 16th Street & Mission BART
  • 24th Street & Mission BART
  • Downtown Berkeley BART
  • Golden Gate Transit Ferry Terminal in SF
  • Concord BART
Thursday, July 15th from 7-10AM:
  • Dublin/Pleasanton BART
  • Fremont BART
  • Mountain View Caltrain
  • Redwood City Caltrain
  • Montgomery Station
Thursday, July 15th from 4-7PM:
  • Richmond BART
  • Daly City BART
  • Embarcadero Station
  • San Rafael Transit Center
It's first come, first served. During the first week of Clipper, they ran out of the cards fast.

Remember, they are only distributing adult cards. If you need a youth or senior card, you must apply for one. If you are disabled, apply for a RTC card.

Learn how to use Clipper from the expert (me!), click here for the best instructions in town.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Can Muni Simplify the Proof of Payment Policies?

I've mentioned in a recent blog entry about needing some clarification about Muni's "Proof of Payment" policy.

I stated my interpretation of the expired transfer policies are different between POP (metro) and non-POP lines (buses and F-Market). For metro lines, an expired transfer during the journey is bad because of the risk of a $75 ticket, but for buses, the policy is different as an expired transfer during the journey is OK, just as long as the passenger entered the vehicle when the transfer didn't expire.

A recent anonymous commenter made a good point:
Not sure what you mean by non-POP line. All of what I have read explains that every bus, train and platform is POP.

"You must have valid Proof of Payment when riding on a Muni rail line or bus route or while within the paid area of Muni stations."
My response to his/her comment:
It's a two part definition:

Proof of Payment is required for all Muni lines as inspectors can check if a passenger has a valid pass or paid their fare with a transfer.

Proof of Payment is also defined to differentiate the metro lines vs. the non-metro lines. Metro requires valid "proof of payment" which is a valid pass or non-expired transfer during the entire journey. Non-POP lines are defined as the buses and F-Market where a valid pass is required or a non-expired transfer upon entry (OK to expire during journey).

It made me think about the POP policies posted on the SFMTA website. It's just way too complicated.

The word "Proof of Payment" is defined in more than one way, and that confuses the hell out of me. When it is defined as a receipt or pass for when riding all vehicles and paid platforms, it's quite simple. But when using it to also define "POP lines" and "non-POP" lines with different sets of rules (e.g. expired transfer policy), it messes things up.

It also complicates the problem with Clipper cards. Since passengers who pay with e-cash don't get a paper transfer that tells them when it expires, some may not keep track of what time they first tagged their card, and if their card is still valid within the 90 minute window. When a person tags their card between minute one and minute 89 of their valid transfer for entry to a metro vehicle, their entry is valid, but most won't keep track of their transfer validity. How is this handled when encountering a fare inspector?

I propose simplifying the Proof of Payment system to make it easier for everyone.
  1. The standard rules of fare evasion still applies. No proof of payment and boarding through the rear doors of buses regardless of valid proof of payment in constitutes a violation.
  2. Proof of Payment is required for all Muni lines.
  3. To obtain proof of payment, pay at a faregate, a farebox on vehicles, or for metro vehicles, the operator's cab on the first car. Clipper automatically retains proof of payment electronically when successfully tagged on a card reader.
  4. For paper transfers, riding any vehicle requires the transfer to not be expired. If expired, obtain a new transfer from the operator.
  5. For Clipper e-transfers paid with e-cash, entry into the vehicle for the first tag gives 90 minutes of validity, however, if the passenger enters a vehicle with less than 30 minutes left on the transfer, the passenger has 30 minutes to complete their stage of the journey without being fined (e.g. passenger enters w/e-transfer with 15 minutes left, but can ride until 15 minutes after e-transfer expires).
That was easy, just five rules. There's no fork in the road that separates the "POP lines" versus the "non-POP lines," and differing expiring transfer policies. Either you have proof or not.

Muni can still speed-up their bus service if they allow all-door boarding. Yep... in their [unionized] dreams.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Food Police Hates You in Livermore

I don't usually report on items outside of San Francisco or the transit sector, but I felt this blog entry was important enough to report on because I'd get upset too at the way people are being treated.

In Livermore's downtown district, there is a live concert program known as "Concerts on the Green" (a.k.a. "Tuesday Tunes") that has been happening in the area for the past six years every Tuesday evening during the summer. The downtown business association who runs the concert series obtains all the permits and items needed to operate a free concert at an outdoor public venue at Livermore Plaza.

But it seems the concert series is turning the public's faces red since the "food police" has been checking if the food and beverages they bring to the concerts are only purchased from vendors from the downtown business area. The way they check on the food and beverages is by reviewing the receipts issued.

People in Livermore are mad. A Facebook page was created for people to vent their frustration on the issue because the tradition has been people have been allowed to provide their own food and beverages from ANYWHERE, even if it was purchased outside of downtown. People have also protested this policy by holding a separate picnic near the actual concert site where they bring their own food, regardless if purchased from downtown or not.

The banging of pots and pans has received the attention of the Contra Costa Times with a front page article and KGO-TV news. The people on the Facebook page mentioned the KGO report is not entirely correct stating the outside food ban includes merchants/vendors outside of the business district, not simply city limits.


The downtown association's message is to "buy downtown" in which I want to defy that rule. Why should I purchase food from some kind of monopoly at a free public concert on public property?

This is really discouraging for visitors who attend the concerts. Within the city limits, there's a Trader Joes and Safeway, and yes, the tasty sandwiches and bags of chips are banned at the concert. There is a KFC within the downtown limits and that's OK, but bringing other KFC from another Livermore location is banned too.

I'm one of the many people who would throw away their receipts in the garbage can upon purchasing an item, unless if I paid it with a credit card. If I buy a few bottles of soda before I go have a picnic with my friends, do I carry my receipt? Not likely.

How about I bake my own goodies? What's wrong with homemade stuff to share with friends? Want a cookie?

The situation would be different if the event was held on the streets with businesses surrounding it (e.g. Fillmore Jazz Festival and Union Street Festival). It would be totally unethical for festival/concert organizers to hold an event and say they won't allow food purchased from vendors just steps away from the concert stage or purchased from vendors not "on the block." Sure, the festival/concert can have their own food booths (usually overpriced), but people have a choice to buy locally or bring in their own goodies and enjoy the booths and free music.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What's the Policy for Riding Muni Buses when Transfer Expires During Trip?

Here's an interesting question to think about:

What is Muni's official policy when a transfer expires while in journey on a non "Proof of Payment" line?

I have to ask this question because the SFMTA/Muni posted a new campaign on fare evasion as well as updated their "Proof of Payment" policies in coordination with the Clipper card.

The expired transfer policy on buses (NOT TRAINS) has been a frustrating policy and the fear of fare inspectors giving out $75 tickets makes the matter worse. During SFMTA board meetings, public commentators express that if they ride a bus line like the 30-Stockton and it expires during their journey, they allegedly claim the passengers get ticketed by the fare inspector for an expired transfer.

I originally stated in April the policy was confusing, but while doing very in-depth reading, it is clearly separated between metro vehicles and non-metro vehicles. For metro vehicles, an expired transfer is bad. But for buses, an expired transfer during the journey is OK.

It's time for Akit to ask the hard questions to Muni officials. I expect a response.

As for their most recent changes to the POP page:
I can easily understand the policy for all metro lines regarding expired transfers:
  • The transfer must be valid during the entire trip, that includes waiting at paid waiting areas.
  • If the transfer expires during the journey, a passenger must pay the driver, or if in subway, can also go up to surface to pay.
But with the updated material added to the "Proof of Payment" page, it's really confusing what the SFMTA is telling us passengers about the expired transfer policy:

As it says on the newly updated material near the top of the page:
  • "Don't get stuck entering with a transfer/fare receipt that will later expire while you are waiting on a platform or riding in a vehicle. If you are not sure your transfer/fare receipt will last, then pay for a fresh transfer/fare receipt on the surface or at a faregate in the subway."
This sounds a little confusing. What is a definition of a "vehicle" in this context? Does it pertain to metro vehicles only or all vehicles (including buses)?

To make matters worse, when it comes to their FAQ section titled: What if you lose your Proof of Payment? What if your Proof of Payment expires during your trip?
  • "There is no need to correct the problem on non-POP lines, but you will not be able to subsequently board a POP line or enter the paid area of a subway station without obtaining Proof of Payment."
This tells me if I ride a non-POP line (buses), if my transfer expires, I don't have to do anything, and I can continue riding without being cited/ticketed by a fare inspector.


Two conflicting statements... so what's the answer?
OK SFMTA PR folks, let's get your official answer. If my transfer expires during the journey on a bus (but was valid upon boarding), what's the rule? Will I get cited for an expired transfer by inspectors?

Muni's Rail Service via St. Francis Circle Returns September 4th

At the SFMTA meeting today, big boss Nathaniel Ford has stated rail service for the M-Ocean View and K-Ingleside lines is estimated to return on September 4, 2010.

As you may recall, the St. Francis Circle rail project has forced Muni metro to use bus shuttles between West Portal Station and Balboa Park Station for both the M and K lines. The M-rail line has been temporarily suspended, the K line now terminates at 14th Avenue and West Portal, and L-Taraval trains are running on a more frequent basis with two car trains running everyday.

This project has run into some controversy. For example, the photo I've provided states that Muni has been in trouble with residents and business owners over the buses idling with their engines on at West Portal for long periods of time. As a general rule for terminal stops, motorized vehicles must have their engines shut-off while waiting for their next run.

If you have ever driven across St. Francis Circle during the construction, the temporary driving configuration around the track project is really confusing, and I almost feared getting my car hit with the sharp left turn needed to go onto Portola.

Since the project end date is September 4th, just imagine riding the M-Ocean View or K-Ingleside shuttles while school and college is in session. That's right, get ready to enjoy your bus shuttle ride full of school children, SF State students, and City College folks when it reaches mid-August.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Free rides on Muni with broken Clipper readers, but how to handle Fare Inspectors?

Oh joy, oh joy! Earlier this morning, Muni Diaries addressed a peculiar problem with the Clipper program: What should a passenger do when the reader is non-functioning?

SFMTA got back to them and here's their answer: Free rides for passengers if it's broken.

Muni operators are required to report problems to central control and treat it just the same as if a cash farebox was broken/malfunctioning.

Gees... this sounds so familiar. Muni published the bulletin on June 29th, but I addressed the issue on APRIL 8TH! What took you so long, Muni?

I suggest printing a copy of the bulletin and carrying it with you if a Muni operator hassles you.

But while passengers will get a free ride on Muni, this doesn't address the fare inspectors who carry their portable card readers. The card readers they carry is to verify if the passenger tagged his/her card on the vehicle card reader; but since the reader was broken on the vehicle, how should the passenger handle the situation if encountering a fare inspector?

There are two unique situations when experiencing a broken vehicle card reader and encountering an inspector:
  • If the cardholder is an e-cash customer, the fare inspector's card reader will say "NO" for not tagging card to pay fare. Depending if the fare inspector understands the problem, it is possible a $75 ticket for fare evasion may be charged.
  • If the cardholder has a valid pass or transfer, but could not tag card due to a broken vehicle reader, I'm not sure what the response will be on the inspector's card reader. Some people who have a valid Muni pass but the reader is broken on the vehicle have been allegedly hassled by fare inspectors for "failure to tag."

(Muni bulletin from Muni Diaries)

Problem with Muni 3-Day Grace Period for Clipper Cards?

I received an e-mail tip from one of my blog readers mentioning he/she is having issues with his/her TransLink/Clipper card with regards to Muni's 3-day grace period and BART privileges as per Muni's "A" adult fast pass.

The person stated he/she has received automatic adding of his Muni "A" pass through Commuter Check and the commuter benefits company has informed the Clipper folks with ample time for the pass to be loaded on the card.

However, for the past few months since the person has had an "A" pass on his/her electronic farecard, and stated he/she has been experiencing issues during the first three days of each new month. Since Muni "A" fast pass users can use BART within San Francisco, the person argues when the new month arrives, his/her rides on BART are deducting from the e-cash purse, instead of utilizing the new monthly pass that was automatically added. The writer informed Clipper about this problem, but has yet to receive any appropriate answers to resolve the issue.

For example: Let us assume I have a June "A" pass, and my commuter benefits company automatically adds the July "A" pass to my Clipper card.
  • When it is June 30th, I ride BART within San Francisco and no e-cash is deducted due to my June "A" pass.
  • When it is July 1st, the new July "A" pass is supposed to cover me for free local BART rides, but instead, it is deducting $1.75 per ride.
  • When it is July 4th, I am not charged e-cash for local BART rides because the July "A" pass is in effect.
This is a really odd situation. I've noticed other people voicing similar issues, and wonder why their e-cash purse is being deducted during the first three days of the month instead of honoring the new "A" pass added to the account (that is, assuming the user has their new passes automatically loaded).

My understanding of how Clipper operates is it must exactly mimic fare, pass, and transfer policies just like people who pay in cash, buy tickets, and/or utilize paper passes. If I always buy paper "A" passes, I know I'm supposed to use the new month's paper pass for BART during the first three days of the month, as the agency does not recognize Muni's 3-day grace period for the previous month's paper pass.

Last October, I wrote a blog entry explaining how the Muni pass expiration policy works:
  1. I am on reoccurring purchase of monthly Muni pass for Clipper.
  2. On June 30th, I'm still using my June Clipper e-pass.
  3. From July 1st to 3rd, tagging my card on a Muni reader still shows the June pass (expiration June 30th), but the system recognizes it as OK to ride due to the 3-day grace period.
  4. On July 4th, Clipper reader on Muni now says pass expires on July 31st.
I was also informed by the TransLink representative last October the first three days of the month will not affect BART rides with the "A" pass. I cannot prove this one sentence statement is true and correct because I don't commute on BART (this was prior to the creation of the "M" pass).


I would like for you readers who have Muni "A" passes on your TransLink/Clipper card, automatic loading of the passes, and utilizes the free local BART access: please leave a comment on my blog if you have been experiencing similar problems like one of my readers did. You can remain anonymous on the comment board on Akit's Complaint Department's blog.

If a Clipper representative or public relations officer from the MTC or SFMTA is reading this, I would like to hear your official statement if there is an alleged "A" pass glitch problem or just a unique problem for one or just a few people. If it is true, what ways are Clipper and Cubic Transportation Systems going to resolve it and how can users get reimbursed for the e-cash purse deductions when they have a valid "A" pass for the new month?

Everybody remember:
Muni paper "A" passes must be Clipper only starting November 1, 2010 and if there is a serious glitch regarding BART access, this needs to be addressed and resolved quickly prior to the change. Would Clipper like to hassle with just a small handful of complaints or wait until the passes go full-blown electronic and receive thousands of phone calls and e-mails?