"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)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Update: SamTrans Will Accept Clipper on December 15th

Clipper on Muni
Originally, SamTrans was supposed to "soft launch" on December 15th, 2010 and do a "hard launch" on February 14th, 2011, but it seems the Clipper folks have some better news...

Just released today on their Twitter stream, SamTrans will accept Clipper cards starting on Wednesday, December 15, 2010, an early holiday present for Clipper card users.

Okay, they are "soft launching" it, which means you can pay for your rides on the buses in San Mateo County, but there is one big drawback until they do their "hard launch" on Valentine's Day:
  • There are very limited locations in San Mateo County to add Clipper value. The map Clipper provided shows there are only some Walgreens locations in San Mateo County, and they are all near Caltrain stations.
One big benefit to add SamTrans to the Clipper card family is Caltrain passengers with monthly passes can benefit with the inter-agency agreement, as long as the Caltrain pass user has at least two zones on their card. The drawback is that since VTA is not yet Clipper ready (another agency with an inter-agency agreement with Caltrain).

While Clipper will be accepted on SamTrans starting December 15th, this is a time to also pay careful attention to your usage. This is their first public usage for the agency, and you need to make sure your fare is being deducted correctly, or if using the Caltrain pass (with two or more zones) that your e-cash purse is not being deducted.

Until Clipper releases information on their website about SamTrans usage, there is no way to know how Clipper will handle selling passes and how to be properly charged for the bus lines that costs more than the $2 adult local fare.

Lastly: Don't forget, BART's EZ Rider card will not work starting December 15th. If you did not cancel your EZ Rider account, do so soon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

$2 for All Day Muni Rides & Free Downtown SF Parking

It's becoming an annual tradition on Muni where just $2 lets you ride Muni all you want for a day.

What tradition am I talking about? It's Muni's "Sunday FunDay Pass!"

Here's the details you need to know:
  1. It's held every Sunday in the month of December.
  2. Just $2 gets you a transfer that doesn't expire until the end of the day.
  3. Ride as many Muni lines you like; except for the Candlestick Express and Cable Cars.
And for all of you Clipper card and metro limited use ticket (LUT) users, you now get the benefit too! The initial transaction with the Clipper or LUT will automatically issue you an e-transfer valid to the end of the day.

(Sucks for me, I already bought a December "M" pass)


Now, how about some free parking? Maybe you don't want to haul all those nice gifts on the Muni ride home. That's right, the SFMTA's other tradition offers one or two hours of free parking too!

Here's the dirty details on the free parking:
  1. From December 1st to 26th, and from 10AM to 6PM each day.
  2. Use one of city owned downtown parking lots listed here.
  3. At the entrance of the garage, the employee will verify your carpool and validate your ticket.
  4. If you have three people in the vehicle, you get one hour free. If you have four or more people in the vehicle, you get two hours free.

Seasons greetings everyone! Remember to buy a gift for Akit!

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Clipper Vending Machines for BART? Can't They Just Retrofit?

It turns out the Associated Press decided to go national with a brief story about BART going nuts over the Clipper card program (via San Jose Mercury).

One item caught my eye today, it says that by March of 2011, every BART station will have Clipper vending machines to add funds to their cards. Since the AP article didn't give much about these machines, Streetsblog SF got some more info and said it will be new machines.

Strange... new machines?

I originally thought when BART stations was going to be able to add Clipper value, they were going to retrofit the existing ticketing machines to do that job. But... new ones?

Why should the MTC waste their money on installing new machines? They could just retrofit the BART ticketing machines to handle it. The machinery is already there, it takes bills, coins, credit cards, and has a round sensor where it can read and write to RFID cards.

What makes this more strange, the BART ticketing machines are from CUBIC! Yes, the same company that's maintaining and operating Clipper. The existing equipment is there, it just needs a software update and possibly some other minor physical upgrades (including sticker signage).

If BART stations needs to have machines to issue new Clipper cards for those who don't have one, buy one of those mass produced telephone card vending machines. The PATH system on the East Coast has telephone card vending machines selling pre-funded Smartlink cards and their ticketing machines can only add value.

If there's a MTC, Clipper, or BART representative out there, will it be new machines or retrofitting the existing BART ticketing machines?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Get Your Calculators - Clipper Just Got More Expensive

Last Friday, the Operations Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (or what I like to call, the defacto Clipper Board of Directors) had their monthly meeting to discuss about updates about Clipper, amending existing contracts, and change orders to increase funding for the program.

Item three of their agenda contains a memorandum from the Executive Director. Here's the highlights:
  • As we all know, November was the big transition of Muni's "A" paper pass to Clipper (40,000 users). This is the biggest transition to date for the program and a month prior to the November switch, 40% of pass users already converted.
  • Clipper has faced a big challenge in advertising and promoting to people with limited English proficiency (LEP). SF Supervisor Chiu was the one who lit a fire under Clipper's butt on the issue.
  • Due to the lack of promoting to LEP communities, the Executive Director asked the Operations Committee to approve $500,000 (yep, half a million) for customer education and in-person outreach with Swirl Marketing. MTC and Clipper have already spent $900,000 and another $1,000,000 on marketing, but that budget included MTC's other services like FasTrak and 511 as well. Amazingly: "This amendment will bring the total contract amount to $16,398,475" (ouch).
  • The MTC also proposed to amend a contract with Booz Allen Hamilton, a company that provides "technical oversight of the Clipper Contractor and coordination with transit operators and other consultants." The amount to amend: $950,000. The total contract with Booz Allen Hamilton would be $5,507,988 (if passed by the committee).
  • It seems the demand for Clipper cards has skyrocketed and the MTC underestimated the demand by a a few million dollars. In a previous posting, I mentioned Clipper spent $1 million for 475,000 cards ($2.11 each), now Clipper wants to change the contract with Cubic by spending an extra $4 million to get nearly two million (actually it's 1.9 million cards, but those government folks thinks two million is a nice round number) additional cards in stock to meet demand.
  • The Clipper employment program and customer service needs a boost as well with $1.05 million more on top of their existing contract with Cubic.
  • Since VTA wants to adapt their ticketing machines to add Clipper value, that's another $550,000 in the bucket.
  • The MTC wants to add a third in-person customer service center (the first two will be in SF) by placing one in Oakland. That'll cost $400,000.
If my math is correct, these contract changes, procurements, and/or adjustments is: $7,450,000.

I'd better pray this investment is going to pay off dividends in the coming years.

In other meeting news, the BART Board of Directors is meeting this week and will talk about the transition of EZ Rider card users to Clipper. Unfortunately, last week's meeting on the 10th was abruptly canceled, but I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the General Manager's memorandum before the webmaster deleted the agenda's PDF file. The PDF file I got is a lot more extensive than the presentation now being shown on the current agenda on page 16.

Here's the highlights:
  • December 15th is the deadline for EZ Rider users to transition to Clipper. So if you have that EZ Rider card and try to use it on the day after... sorry!
  • For those who carry two cards: One for EZ Rider parking and the Clipper card for transit, a solution has been found to make it one card for both parking fees and transit fares.
  • There was an increase in the tagging error rate, up 1.7% from 5% reported in last July's meeting. This is due to a major increase from 14,000 trips to 45,000 trips every weekday. The cause of the increase in read errors is due to the inexperience of new users.
  • At its peak, EZ Rider had 50,000 users, but the Clipper transition has reduced it to now 9,000 still using the EZ Rider card.
  • Clipper increased their telephone customer service staff from 22 to 52 to meet demand of the transition of paper passes from other agencies.
  • In the month of September, Clipper has processed over 4,000,000 "fee generating transactions." Another way to think about it, a 400% increase in just six months.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Akit Delayed Muni Metro Today

Before you think I caused trouble on Muni metro today, please be aware: No, I didn't go nuts on the train, nor did I cause a disturbance with the fare inspectors. There is a very good explanation on why I had to be involved in delaying Muni metro.

Disclaimer: If you just ate your lunch, I'd suggest coming back in 30 minutes. This story is a little bit nasty...

After a nice lunch at Ike's Place at Lime (on Market), I took the F-Market to Van Ness station to catch the next train to AT&T Park to buy some World Series goodies. Lucky for me, the N-Judah just arrived when I got on the platform.

I was sitting in the second car, in the front half section, and facing towards the rear end. At Civic Center station, a man just stood up, was walking towards the third exit door, and he tripped and fell face first into the floor (everyone heard a big thud sound). A couple of passengers helped to pick him up and the train doors closed and progressed to Powell.

Ugh, not a pretty sight. He was all dizzy and was bleeding all over the train floor and his clothes. When the train got to Powell, I got off quickly to move to the first car so I can inform the driver, and also noticed the injured passenger exiting; the guy was so out of it, he fell on his back on the platform and scooted himself against the wall.

I got the driver's attention and quickly told him what was going on. As a trained first responder at my job at SF State (even though I was not on-duty), the safety of myself and others is a priority and the risk of blood borne pathogens on the floor was also a serious concern. The driver hit the emergency brake and called Central Control for an ambulance. At the same time, a station agent was on the platform to look at the guy who got hurt.

The train was stuck on the platform for about 5-10 minutes to assess the situation. The driver eventually ordered all passengers off the train and another N-Judah arrived shortly thereafter.

In the end, the passengers wasn't happy they had to get off the train, but most understood why.

I'm no hero, I just did the right thing like any responsible person would.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Akit says: Don't Exploit the Clipper Card - You Ruin it For Everyone Else

Remember the Muni gate controversy where people could wave their hand and get free entry through the gates? My blog entry said that we live in a society full of rules, and if you don't respect them, you'll pay a serious price for it. I wasn't amused that a news reporter mentioned this to big TV audience, but this is nothing new because people have always ripped-off Muni in some way; hell, I see it every time I ride the 38L-Geary Limited.

In today's news, it seems like the mass media wants to grab the news football, run like hell, and at the same time, carry a megaphone and yell at people just how to exploit one of Clipper's benefits. In summary, Streetsblog SF published an article mentioning about how the Clipper card's negative balance benefit can be exploited by having someone add just a couple of dollars and ride an expensive public transit ride (like BART to SFO), get the card into the negative balance, and just throw the card away. Since obtaining the card is free with a minimum purchase of $2, going one way to SFO is a huge savings (for scumbags).

Unfortunately their co-publishing deal with SFGate made their story headline news on that website and people are tweeting the crap out of it saying it's some sort of scam, cheat, or "dirty little secret."

I'm not at all against Streetsblog SF for posting their story, the media have a right to expose weaknesses. But the co-publishing with SFGate and putting it on the top of their page as a major story just made the can of worms explode. I would have kept it low profile so only a few hundred knew, not the tens of thousands. Now, I'm going to bet the local TV news stations will start reporting all about this exploit, and making the problem even worse.

Now, all because of this mass exposure, the people who use the Clipper card honestly are now screwed because this exploit got out like a rabid dog on the loose. The negative balance feature was to help passengers prevent getting stuck without a transit ride as long as there's some kind of positive e-cash balance on the card; if there is zero balance or a negative balance, the card cannot be used again until the funds are replenished.

Akit's opinion:

Nat Ford, CEO SFMTA (Parody)

Heads don't need to roll and people don't have to be fired. The folks at MTC and the Clipper board had good intentions to have this great benefit to have the card go negative so you don't get trapped, now, it's ruined for all of us honest folks who don't abuse our transit system.

Well, there's no turning back now; the negative balance issue is going to go nuclear by who else (assuming it will), BART Board President, James Fang. Yeah, you know the guy, the one who spent $350K on a cell phone program to pay transit fares and said TransLink (former name of today's Clipper) is a total waste; but the truth is, Fang's gamble went down the toilet fast because TransLink picked-up steam big time when it was available to the public.

There is no easy solution to fixing this problem. They cannot simply eliminate the negative balance program because BART does not have exitfare machines capable to add enough value to a card to match the distance taken by the passenger, and Golden Gate Transit & Caltrain customers may go into the negative balance because they charge the maximum price and must tag-off to be charged the appropriate zones from point A to B.

To resolve this issue, MTC and Clipper will likely have to take one or more of these suggestions:
  1. Stop giving away free cards, even ones where you add a minimal value to get a free card. Clipper was supposed to charge a $5 after a brief free card promo period. But... someone decided to extend the free plastic Clipper cards to JUNE 2011. Even if someone exploits the card, it won't be such a bad impact.
  2. Raise the $5 fee to the price matching a one way ride on the most expensive transit option available (the deposit is not credit to one's account, only to be refunded if the passenger quits Clipper). If Caltrain is the most expensive at $11.25 for a one-way trip, then make that the deposit fee to obtain a card. This will piss a lot of passengers off, but it's a way to prevent ripping-off the program. If the card is negative and a person wants their deposit fee back, the deposit funds wipe out the negative balance, and the remaining deposit balance is refunded to the person.
  3. Continue the negative balance option, on one condition: BART will not let passengers exit with a negative balance and they must use an exitfare machine that has been modified for Clipper cards to pay the balance to exit the system. Other agencies like Golden Gate Ferry may also demand it too because people can exploit the expensive cost of a ferry boat ride with the tactic used by Clipper card users exploiting BART.
  4. Modify the negative balance policy in a way where the maximum is not $10 negative, make it $5; or, to gain entry to certain higher priced transit agencies (BART, Golden Gate, and Caltrain), the card must have a higher minimum balance.

In another perspective, I just wonder how many people have even exploited this at all? Sure, one is too many, as transit agencies are financially hurting. If it's a few, it's not a huge problem, but since featuring the story on SFGate to a wide audience has now destroyed its reputation, how many more will exploit it?

Be honest people, you don't want to cheat the transit agencies. Doing so may benefit yourself with financial savings, but in the long run, it hurts the transit agencies with reduced fare revenue to run buses and trains, and hurts the public with higher fares and taxes.

As usual, those cheaters and scammers will give some lame ass excuse like some little kid who just lied to their parents. They'll say something like, "I'll do what I want!" Here's my reaction to such a childish comment, "I don't mind humiliating you on my blog! Let me get my camera."

As a previous commentator said: "morals, honor and respect: Amen!"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Illegal Dumping is a Big Problem & How to Fight Back

Almost every single day I ride Muni's 18-46th Avenue from the Outer Richmond district to SF State, I find illegally dumped items on sidewalks; in many cases, at the same spot time and time again. For example, I always find some kind of nasty looking treasure on the intersection of 33rd Avenue and Balboa, and the problem has been so rampant in that location, the city put up warning notices on the utility poles saying "NO DUMPING."

Some of the most common things I find is old televisions (the bulky tube TVs) and soiled mattresses. I sometimes find drawers and cabinets, while others are e-waste like computers and monitors.

Dumping items on the street is illegal. Our streets are not places where you can dump your used personal property and it's a free-for-all for people to grab the freebies. Dumping stuff on the streets is a huge eyesore and makes our streets look ugly.

Anyway, nobody wants a used mattress. I don't even want to know what the hell is that stain on it. Do you like a computer? How about one full of someone's personal information and possibly a virus?

I try to do my best as a local citizen to get those illegally dumped items removed. I always give a quick tweet or call to San Francisco 311 so it can be picked-up, but for every time the city has to do it, it comes with a high cost. DPW's clean-up trucks go around the city picking-up illegally dumped items from requests from the general public and whatever they find when they pass by. One time, I called 311 to report a huge TV on the street corner, and due to its size, they have to bring two city employees to remove it because who wants to pay workers comp for a back injury?


Here's some ways to fight back:
  • If you find someone illegally dumping, call the cops: (415) 553-0123.
  • If you find illegally dumped items, call: 311 or (415) 701-2311. You can remain anonymous.
  • Humiliate people who do it: Tape a sign on the illegally dumped item stating: "Illegally dumped, SHAME ON YOU!" You could also post a sign on a nearby lamppost saying: "To those who illegally dump, I know who you are."

How to get rid of large & bulky items (legally):

  • See if a local charity organization is having a pick-up. In my neighborhood, we get a courtesy card every couple of months of a charity asking for donations. Usually, huge items like mattresses are not welcomed, but they may accept large electronic items like TVs and computers.
  • Keep an eye out for drive thru drop-off events in your area. Some of them are available to anyone, regardless of what neighborhood or city you live in. In other cases, you must live in a particular neighborhood to utilize the service. Be aware, there may be certain limitations on what you can drop-off.
  • Goodwill locations are usually happy to accept a lot of items, that is, if you are willing to haul it and carry it yourself.
  • Contact Recology (a.k.a. Sunset Scavenger & Golden Gate) for pickup. If you have trash service in the city, you get free junk removal. The freebie pick-ups depends on the service the company provides (homes, apartments, multi-unit buildings, etc.), but each pick-up can be up to ten items. They can collect all kinds of items, and usually more than what other services will do for you. For more information, click here.

Take action! Keep our city streets looking nice!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Clipper Card Gets People to SF Giants Parade Today - Who's Laughing Now?

For the past few days, people have been posting their anger on Twitter against Muni and Clipper for the mandatory conversion of the "A" adult paper passes to Clipper only. But there's also the usual anger from other people saying it doesn't work on BART, Caltrain, and other agencies.

Here's some of the Twitter anger: Tweet #1, tweet #2, tweet #3, tweet #4, and tweet #5.

Well, today is the big SF Giants parade in celebration of their World Series victory, thousands are packing mass transit with longer trains on BART, extra ferries on Golden Gate Ferry, and lines everywhere for train and ferry tickets.

For those who says "Clipper sucks," who's laughing now?
Using the card is like the express line, no feeding bills into the farebox, you can enter the rear doors of Muni metro, no waiting for BART tickets, and speed through the line at the Golden Gate Ferry!

Here's some of the positive feedback for today's "who's laughing now?"
Tweet #1, tweet #2, tweet #3, tweet #4, tweet #5, tweet #6, and tweet #7.

If you don't have a Clipper card, why not get one? Visit your retailer and read my expert guide about Clipper.

Lastly, congrats to our hometown heroes, the San Francisco Giants! Goooooo Giants! Sing it Tony Bennett!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Update: Answer to Why Political Ads are Not on SF's Lampposts

Happy election day everyone. I hope you have already voted or will do so today.

In a recent blog entry, I mentioned it was really nice to not see those political ads on the city's lampposts. I never really knew why the practice has stopped and I assumed it was because it was just a waste of money with all that paper and labor needed to put it up on every single post in the city.

Just recently, a blog entry in SFGate's "City Insider" was talking about Proposition "B" and it mentioned about rules regarding the posting of bills or ads on city lampposts. They also provided a link to the Department of Public Works website about the city code regulating postings.

In summary of the city's policy, the city does not permit any signage larger than a letter size sheet of paper, and this includes political signage. Here's more info from the DPW's site:

To legally place a sign on a utility pole, it must:
  • Be less than 11 inches in height
  • No higher than 12 feet from the ground
  • Conform to the shape of the pole
  • Be attached with tape or other non-adhesive material such as twine, string or other non-metal banding material
  • Include a legible posting date in the lower right hand corner
  • Be removed after 10 days, if the sign is promoting a date specific event
  • Be removed within 70 days of the posting date
  • Not be installed on historic street light poles, traffic signal poles or traffic directional sign poles.
Good work SF, no more eyesores on our lampposts! Now, let's start getting after the other political annoyances like doorknob hangers, robo calls on my home phone, calling my cell phone (which is VERY ILLEGAL), and all that junk mail you keep mailing me weeks after I voted absentee.

Just mail me a voter information booklet; that's all I need to vote with. I don't read the paid arguments section.