"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, January 28, 2011

It Could Take Up to 5 Days for Clipper Card Value to be Added

One of my most popular blog posts here at the Complaint Department talks about the 72 hour rule for TransLink (previous name of the current Clipper Card system), and that any purchases for the smart card system that is done by phone or online can take up to three days to be available.

Clipper has revised this policy by warning customers that it could take up to five days, and while that does sound disappointing that it's extended by two days, we should not be too concerned about this.

I thought this would be a good time to revise how purchasing Clipper value works... here we go!

Here's how adding value works:
If you purchase e-cash, passes, ridebooks, etc. by handling it in-person (vendor, ticket office, automated self-service ticketing machine), the items are loaded on the card and available for use immediately, or if a date specific pass, valid on the first day of the specific period.

If purchased online or phone, your new Clipper card purchase will NOT be available for use immediately. All the Clipper readers will know about your new value upon receiving their update from the Clipper server, and depends on when they get their update. Stationary readers like at BART gates gets the server update within 24 hours as they are hard wired to the Clipper network. Mobile readers on buses and trains don't get an update until they return to the yard; not all buses and trains return to the yard on a daily basis, that's why there's up to a five day waiting period.

When you tag your card to an updated reader, your new value will be added to your card, while at the same time, handle your transaction to pay your fare or validate your transit pass. If your card has the newly updated balance, but the second card reader you use doesn't have the update, it will honor the most recent information that is stored in your card.

That's a lot of material I just mentioned, here's an easy way to understand how adding Clipper value works:
If you own an Amazon Kindle and purchase an e-book using your Kindle, the book is downloaded to your Kindle and you can read it immediately. (Just like getting Clipper value at an in-person vendor or machine)

If you own a Kindle and decide to purchase the e-book on Amazon.com to be loaded to your Kindle, your Kindle won't know about the new e-book until you turn on the Kindle and activate the wireless feature to sync with the Amazon servers and get your new e-book. (Just like purchasing Clipper value online or by phone)

So you might be thinking this entire five day waiting period just plain sucks. I'd agree, but there are other fine options to beat the five day period:
  • Like I explained earlier, purchasing it in-person means you get to use the funds immediately. Vendors have credit card style terminals fitted with a special Clipper read/write device that can update your card immediately. Automated machines can update the card immediately because it validates the cash you fed it, or getting approval from your credit/debit card company to make the purchase.
  • Clipper's autoload program is the other option as the system will automatically add a new pass or e-cash when you reach a threshold or the pass expired. To activate this feature, you must register your card with Clipper and activate it online.
Be warned: If you have autoload, keep a close eye on your registered credit/debit card. If your autoload purchase gets declined by the credit/debit card company or the card expired, your Clipper card could be blocked from further usage because you have a debt owed to Clipper.

You may notice upon tagging your card that your new cash balance or pass was loaded, but when the reader communicates the new autoload transaction to the Clipper server and the server finds out you have a bad credit/debit card, Clipper's server will send a new message to all Clipper readers upon their next update to block your Clipper card from further usage. When you tag your card to a reader with the update to red flag your card, your card is re-written stating your Clipper card is banned from further usage until you resolve your problems with customer service. Once customer service resolves it and they tell the server to remove the blockage, you could wait up to five days for the server to communicate to the readers that the blockage is to be removed from your card's memory chip. When you tag your card to a reader with the command to remove the blockage, and your card is re-written to say your card is in good standing; but if the next transit vehicle says you still have a blockage (didn't get updated), the card reader will honor the latest update as noted on your Clipper card's memory chip.

To fully explain about how this all works, Clipper recently posted a Flash animation explaining about how to add value. To view it, click here.

(Photo is from Clipper card's website)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adding Clipper Card Value at BART Ticketing Machines: Trial Run Until Friday

Curse you BART ticketing machines for not being able to add Clipper card value!

But wait... I told you before BART will be having that ability soon, and there's some great news from the agency:

Starting today to Friday, you can now try out select machines to test at two BART stations in San Francisco.

The two stations: Glen Park & Civic Center.

Testing hours: This Wednesday from 1:30PM to 7PM, and Thursday & Friday from 7AM to 7PM.

There will only be one machine at each station that will handle the Clipper transactions for this test phase. BART engineers will be on-hand to see how it's going, and if you can't find the machine, ask the station agent.

If you want to add with a debit/credit card, you can only do so at Glen Park. Cash will be accepted at both stations. If you pay with cash, you can get a maximum of $4.95 in change (e.g. I want $18 in value, but feed a $20, I'll get back $2).

This is only a test of the machines, and if everything goes well, roll-out on the BART system will happen gradually for the next few months. Please remember, these machines don't issue new cards, you must have a card in possession to participate in this trial.

For more info, click here for BART's press release.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Muni & Nextbus Stop ID Numbers at Bus Stops

Before you start reading today's blog post at the Complaint Department, I have some great news to tell you: I am in today's San Francisco Examiner about the addition of service on Muni's 38L-Geary Limited to fill-in the 2.5 hour gap. You can read the article here or get today's print edition and look at page five. Hooray!

This is something I've been waiting for a long time, Muni and Nextbus are putting up stop ID numbers at stops where the electronic signage is not installed.

I first noticed these in my neighborhood at the 18-46th Avenue bus stops where there's no waiting shelter. The stickers were big and put on the poles painted in yellow saying "BUS STOP."

The stickers are spreading around the city; the one photographed is on 14th Avenue & West Portal for the 17-Parkmerced stop.

If you ever wanted to find out when your next bus or train was to arrive, but you are not at a bus shelter with the electronic signage installed, calling 511's voice automated system was a little challenging if you didn't know the "stop ID number." The system would ask you for the transit agency's name, bus/train line, direction (inbound or outbound), and location of the stop. Sometimes, the system would not recognize the route you requested, especially the K/T lines and the Powell/Mason/Hyde Cable Cars.

But fear no more SF citizens! We just tell 511 the digits and that's it! I can't afford an iPhone, so I rely on 511 to provide me the information.

If you want to use text messaging for Muni predictions, just follow these steps:
  • Text message contact number: 41411
  • Message: "nextmuni (and the bus ID #)" For example: "nextmuni 16896"

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Akit's Huge Victory Over Muni - No More Stranded 38-Geary Riders

A Victory for Akit - 38 Geary Restored
I can now declare a huge victory! Akit's Complaint Department has been successful in having Muni adjust their bus schedules to fill in the two and a half hour gap of no inbound service at the 48th Avenue & Point Lobos terminal for the 38L-Geary Limited and 38-Geary.

A little background...
I've known for months that Muni has been leaving passengers stranded for nearly 2.5 hours on Saturday nights at the 48th Avenue starting point. The time gap is when the last inbound 38L-Geary Limited (5:37PM) departs and the first local 38-Geary departs (8:02PM). I finally got fed-up with the problem after seeing lots of people standing there with no bus in sight to take them home.

On January 5th, I wrote a blog entry to expose this huge gap that left passengers out in the cold and my proof was reviewing the schedules posted on 511.org.

The blog post got Muni's attention when they decided to take the easy route by posting an online notice to the public about no service on Saturday, January 15th. The next day, I criticized Muni for not trying to find a better solution, and for not placing signage at the bus stop to tell people of the 2.5 hour gap; nearly a dozen people were left stranded for hours for a Muni bus to take them home.

A Huge Victory!
The victory is super sweet today because Muni added extra 38L-Geary Limited buses to pick-up passengers on Saturday evenings from 5:37 to 8:02PM. 38L buses departs from 48th Avenue every 10 minutes starting from 5:30PM to 7:10PM, and the last three are 7:22, 7:35, and 7:48PM (see 38L Saturday inbound schedule). The next bus would be the regularly scheduled 38-Geary local bus at 8:02PM (see 38 Saturday inbound schedule).

But the victory celebration doesn't end there...
If you didn't read the above paragraph carefully, this is what makes my victory party even better, the 38L-Geary Limited service will now operate for TWO MORE HOURS!

Why? That's because the old schedule said the last 38L is supposed to leave at 5:37PM and therefore the 2.5 hour gap until 8:02PM. Instead of adding extra 38-Geary local stop buses, they added 13 MORE LIMITED RUNS! (5:40PM to 7:48PM), which means, you can go out and eat dinner, and still catch that inbound 38L-Geary Limited bus home.

A little blogger can make a big difference to our great city of San Francisco (Akit for Mayor or Supervisor?). Now, let's celebrate, sing it Kool & The Gang! Anyone want to dance the electric slide?

UPDATE 1/25: I'm in today's SF Examiner! Click here to read article or get today's print edition and look at page five.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Support Caltrain's Weekend Baby Bullet Service - Ride It!

Caltrain is getting hit hard with some serious budget shortfalls since the agency depends on funding from SFMTA/Muni, Samtrans, and VTA. But while they had to cut a few trains here and there, the one cool bonus is the pilot program for weekend Baby Bullet train service.

If you have ever taken Caltrain on the weekends, all the trains are local, and it can take a long while to get to your destination. The popular Baby Bullet that provides express service on the weekdays are now on weekends for the next couple of months. I'd say, that's a great benefit, especially I'm not 100% comfortable driving my car on the 101 or 280 from SF to San Jose.

While it is great to get from SF to SJ in about an hour, one of the big problems is they are only running one bullet train set for the entire weekend service, and the timetable shows that it better benefits South Bay residents wanting to visit San Francisco because the schedules are in favor of them (e.g. mid-morning express, versus the early afternoon southbound express).

If Caltrain wants to be impressed that Baby Bullet weekend service should stay, we need to ride it to our favorite destinations.
I plan to take it this gorgeous weekend down to San Jose for some of the best ramen at San Jose's Japantown and ride the light rail to Miliptas for some new shoes.

If Caltrain believes this is too popular, maybe they'll add on additional service for more flexibility. Keep on riding everyone!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

All-Day Express Bus Service for the 38-Geary?

As I'm sitting here at home taking the day off work due to the cold, I spent time watching a bunch of YouTube videos about bus rapid transit (BRT) used in places like Bogota, Colombia. They spent a dozen years developing their transit system to allow people to travel long distances quickly with unique features including level platform boarding, free feeder buses to major stations where passengers pay only for the BRT ride, and a central control office that operates like an airport's traffic control tower.

While us San Franciscans can dream of the day when we can have bus rapid transit on corridors like Geary Boulevard, Van Ness Avenue, and 19th Avenue/Park Presidio, there are some serious issues when it comes to implementing BRT here in San Francisco:
  • One of the reasons why a city would build BRT is due to severe traffic congestion. Sure, it would rip away a few lanes of traffic, but if the system works successfully, more would ride the bus instead of taking their cars. San Francisco does not have a huge traffic problem, even though we do get grumpy about how long it takes to drive along 19th Avenue.
  • Another reason why a city would build BRT is because it either serves multiple cities/counties or the city is so large, it truly needs a transit service that is fast. San Francisco isn't that big and Muni only serves San Francisco (okay, part of Marin County on Sundays). AC Transit and VTA operates in a larger area, thereby the BRT service was a necessity to move people around.
  • Lastly, BRT would be built in areas that are not highly developed, but having the line would actually help build development. If Muni targets Geary and Van Ness corridors, it's likely they'd face some heavy resistance from store owners and residents about the construction and/or loss of business and parking. Muni got lucky with 3rd Street, since it wasn't that much residential and was mostly industrial, it was an easy build to get the T-Third line running, and the new transit line helped build new housing projects and the UCSF Mission Bay campus.

I was thinking to myself, could Muni fix the 38-Geary to provide faster service to our city's residents without the huge expense of building BRT?

Sure, the 38L-Geary Limited was a smart idea to shave about 10 minutes from end to end, but it still has a reputation for being slow. The Geary express buses during peak morning and evening hours are fast and popular, but they don't run all day long to provide that great service to the public.

If the city can't build BRT service, why not modify the Geary bus line service? Instead of having a skip-stop service like the 38L, why not split the limited buses into three segments and have an all-stop local/feeder bus?
  • The "A" line service provides skip-stop service (using existing 38L stops) from downtown to Presidio.
  • The "B" line service provides skip-stop service from Park Presidio to Presidio, and expresses to downtown.
  • The "C" line provides skip-stop service from 48th Avenue to Park Presidio, and expresses to downtown.
  • The "local" line services all stops on existing 38-Geary bus stops for those who cannot walk from the skip stop to their final destination.
Presidio Avenue and Park Presidio Boulevard are the two main transfer points for the skip-stop buses. A passenger needing to go from 6th Avenue to 48th Avenue can ride the "B" bus to Park Presidio, and a timed transfer for the "C" bus is there to take the passenger to 48th.

The three lines is made for passengers to go to & from downtown with express service for those living far away from the downtown region, but it can still be treated like the 38L-Geary Limited because the transfer points still allow those to ride to their destination that's not in downtown.

I'm not exactly sure how faster the ride might be. For sure, the "B" and "C" lines would be quicker because it doesn't have to make additional stops between their region and downtown, and can utilize the Masonic tunnel and Fillmore underpass. If Muni also implements ticketing machines at stops, the buses don't have to idle at their designated stops that long.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Muni is Paying Attention to Akit's Blog - But There's One Mistake They Made

As a result of some recent Akit's Complaint Department reports, Muni has taken the positive steps to make changes after I challenged them to do better.

Youth and Senior Muni Paper Passes - Extended Until May
I was the first to report before the news media and the press office of Muni said it was official: the youth and senior paper passes was extended from January to May.

I first got word from Clipper on their Twitter account, and not long later, Muni quietly updated their website to say the paper passes will end in May.

My initial post about the delay.
My second post about Muni quietly confirming the delay.

But I still challenged Muni do to a little better; they needed to at least get the word to the general public, and their press room did. Read the press release here. They also sent out the same press release via e-mail to local media outlets.

Strictly Hardly Bluegrass - Waiting for Bus to Home 25th/Fulton

The 2.5 Hour Gap for Saturday evening service for the 38L and 38-Geary
I argued that it was not appropriate for Muni's most heavily used transit line to have a 2.5 hour gap of no service on Saturday evenings when the last 38L departs 48th & Point Lobos at 5:37PM, and the first 38-Geary (regular) bus leaves at 8:02PM.

One of my commentators pointed out Muni posted a service alert over a week later to give notice to the general public about the 2.5 hour gap. Sadly, the agency took the easy route by publishing a notice, and did not correct the bus schedule to at least fill in the large gap.

(The best solution is to have all Fort Miley operators during the 2.5 hour gap to make a right turn on Point Lobos at 43rd, pick-up the folks at 48th Avenue, and start their run inbound towards downtown.)

To make matters worse, I drove by the bus stop just after 6PM on Saturday the 15th and noticed about a dozen standing at the 48th & Point Lobos stop. Some of them looked like tourists while the rest are locals. Since Muni made an effort to put a public notice online, did they post at a rider alert sign at the bus stop? The answer is no. There was ZERO signage at the stop. I saw the 38L outbound that just dropped off passengers drive off back to the garage. There wasn't even a Muni supervisor at the stop, unlike on Saturday the 8th when I noticed the white city truck at the location.

As a courtesy, I decided to pull over my car and give a call to 311. I told the person about the issue and asked for a Muni supervisor to go over there and inform the people because there was no signage telling them to walk six blocks to 42nd Avenue.

It took five minutes to explain this to the 311 operator. Why? The operator is a total moron; he said: "the 38-Geary doesn't run to 48th Avenue from 8AM to 6PM." Well, no shit Sherlock, I live in the Outer Richmond district and know the 38 and 38L lines very well; were you listening to a word I said about the problem? I told him to go to the SFMTA website and look at the alerts.


I like it when one person can make big changes to a major city agency; but it's only bittersweet for me because Muni messed-up by not modifying 38-Geary service or posting a notice at the bus stop.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Muni Quietly Confirms Delay of Youth & Senior Passes to Clipper

After a couple of days since my previous post about Clipper officials mentioning of a delay in the mandatory paper pass to Clipper card transition of all youth and senior Muni passes, it is now confirmed by Muni.

Muni has quietly updated their website with the following information:

"May 2011 is the last month for the paper version of the Senior and Youth pass."

Unfortunately, city government bureaucrats don't do their jobs very well because they didn't cover all their bases. The SFMTA's "Passes, etc." section of their site still says:

"You may also buy a paper Senior Pass at your nearest
neighborhood store through the January 2011 pass."

Also, wouldn't it have been nice if the SFMTA published a press release to inform the local news media, do a 511 alert, and other social media networks to spread the word? I wonder how many Muni paper pass vendors even know they are still allowed to sell paper passes until the last one issued for the month of May?

Geesh, I should have been hired to do media relations for Muni and Clipper.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BREAKING: Clipper Card Mandatory Switch for Youth and Seniors DELAYED

My suspicions are correct, the MTC is following through with delaying the mandatory Clipper card transition for all seniors and youths who uses their paper passes on Muni.

Originally, Clipper was supposed to be mandatory for all "Y" and "S" passes starting with the February 2011 pass, and this has been the official notice the SFMTA and their press relations department has been telling everyone about.

I received a Twitter reply from a Clipper representative just moments ago (link fixed):
  • "Actually, Muni Senior and Youth passes will still be available in paper form until further notice."
While Muni's press relations hasn't provided a press release about this, if it's coming from the folks at Clipper, I will have to assume the delay will be true.

If the MTC follows on their path to delaying the pass transition, the new goal will be June 2011; they want to accomplish the full transition of nearly all Muni passes (except the senior "P" pilot pass and "L" lifeline pass) before the start of the new 2011 fiscal year (July 1, 2011).


However... I still encourage all youth and seniors of San Francisco to register for a Clipper card. This means, get your butt down to a registration site or a transit ticketing office and complete the registration forms and provide proof of age. For more information on how do get a youth or senior Clipper card, click here. As one of my commentators said, you can get an INSTANT youth or senior Clipper card if you visit a Golden Gate Transit/Ferry ticketing office, and this means no waiting two to three weeks for it in the mail.

Monday, January 10, 2011

PSA: Don't Illegally Dump Christmas Trees & How to Legally get Rid of It

Since the holidays are way over, it's time to put that fresh cut Christmas tree away.

Unfortunately, there are some San Francisco residents who think it's OK to dump their tree on the corner or leave it next to some random trash dumpster (that's not their own) and assume someone is going to pick it up. The worst one I've seen is a tree dumped in the median of Great Highway, directly across from the Beach Chalet. Remember, dumping your holiday tree inappropriately can be considered illegal dumping, it's against the law, and will cost more as the city has to pick it up, not the city's garbage pickup company.

But there's an easy solution, and you don't have to shove it in your compost bin.

Recology will be picking up trees this week during your normal trash/recycling/compost pickup day. All you need to do is leave your tree next to your bins and they will do the rest. There are some basic rules to follow: No flocked trees, lights, plastic bags, and stands must be removed. If the tree is more than six feet tall, Recology is asking customers to cut it in half.

If you don't get your tree taken away this week, you'll have the fun job of breaking it apart and cramming it into your compost bin. So, take care of it now!

$1.5 Million More to be Spent on Clipper & Updates from the MTC

You'll hear it here first, because I'm the the person in the Bay Area reporting on the hottest Clipper card news coming fresh from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's mouth.

In today's news, the MTC recently published their Operations Committee agenda and will be meeting this Friday, January 14th at 9:30AM.

As you may have been aware, the Operations Committee is the defacto Clipper Board of Directors after the TransLink/Clipper Board (high ranking managers of major transit agencies) was disbanded in July; but still, some money and key dates had to be tossed round with the MTC's approval, and the Operations Committee always handles it.

If you have been keeping watch on my blog, I've been telling you about key dates of the transition of Muni paper passes to Clipper. It seems Muni has been doing quite well as disabled and 40,000 "A" pass customers have done it very smoothly and has continuously campaigned for the remaining passes to transition in February and April; but it looks like the MTC published notes to delay (or what they call "revised") the implementation.
  • The current goal of transitioning paper "M" passes will remain the same; they will not be sold in paper form starting with the April pass. 50% of passengers already switched.
  • The "Y" and "S" pass is supposed to be transitioning starting with the February pass but the MTC is looking into delaying it until June.
  • The disabled monthly pass/sticker already transitioned to Clipper, but for some odd reason, the MTC wants to delay transition until March 31st.
Onto other key ticket/pass transition dates:
  • BART's high value tickets are slated to go Clipper only starting March 1st. However, there is discussion to delay it.
  • Senior and youth BART tickets are to transition starting May 1st, but once again, there is a discussion to also delay it.
  • Caltrain does not intend to delay transitioning 8-rides (end of January) and monthly passes (starting with March pass) and will stick to their schedule.
  • VTA will accept Clipper cards starting March 1st, just in time for Caltrain's mandatory pass transition.
Also attached to the agenda is the Executive Director's memorandum to the Operations Committee. Here's what Steve Heminger is suggesting to spend money on:
  • MTC wants to amend a contract to add $100,000 to a "Consultant Assistance Program" to do field inspections and project management support.
  • MTC also wants to spend $150,000 for a new contract on a different consultant program to "perform oversight, monitoring, and performance management functions related to the distribution/sales of Clipper cards and value."
  • $475,000 is slated to be spent on customer education for the delayed transition of remaining passes no later than June ($125,000), and to help subsidize (50% MTC & 50% SFMTA) Muni's cost to purchase their limited use tickets ($350,000).
  • $340,000 contract amendment with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. to provide "continued assistance on SFMTA's Clipper related customer education and in-person outreach initiatives through FY 2010-11."
  • $450,000 "change order" (a what?) to Cubic Transportation Systems to implement a "day pass accumulator" program for VTA and AC Transit. VTA intends to use the program to give free rides to passengers who spends so much in e-cash fares in a 24-hour period, while AC Transit suggests to use it to replace transfers.
GRAND TOTAL of all new contracts, amendments, and change orders: $1,515,000 (or basically $1.5 million). Akit's opinion coming up...

In other Clipper news, the Executive Director also mentioned some other items:
  • The Operations Committee complained about the poor performance of Clipper on Muni vehicles. The report shows that performance ratings has dramatically improved since May 2010. The December statistics are by the Muni divisions with 100% on-board equipment availability for the electric trolley fleet at the Presidio division and the lowest at 92.5% at the Kirkland diesel bus fleet.
  • While Hemminger is pleased of the improvements, SFMTA is in the process of hiring extra maintenance staff to help maintain the Clipper equipment and the agency is learning lessons from Golden Gate Transit as they were the first agency to go full Clipper/TransLink on all vehicles.
  • The wireless network established at Muni bus and metro yards was not "optimal" to provide updates to all vehicles, and it's essential to give updates as people have purchased Clipper funds online and phone, and to update the hotlist of red flagged cards (e.g. lost card, theft, bad credit card, etc.). The contractor is working on fixing this.
  • The next big projects coming up for Clipper will be "Phase III" of the smaller transit operators joining the consortium, a "period pass accumulator," and being able to pay for parking at SFMTA owned lots.
  • In order for the MTC's investment in Clipper to be worth its money, the goal is for Clipper to have at least 20 million transactions in a month; as of December, Clipper is currently at 7 million.
It's time for Akit's opinion... (applause!)

Muni paper passes being possibly delayed:
I honestly believe this has to be one really stupid decision. Muni has been promoting the original deadline dates to transfer to Clipper on their bus advertising for the longest time. The disabled pass already transitioned, so why the hell delay something that has already been done? Also, the youth and senior passes is slated to go next month; a little late on the request, isn't it SFMTA? If you haven't requested your youth or senior Clipper card, do it NOW or you'll be like those idiot parents in the East Bay not signing up their kids in a timely manner.

$1.5 Million?
The MTC could save $125,000 by not spending it on customer education, if Muni and MTC rejects to delay the youth and senior passes. If Muni has to delay those passes until June, they will have to make new publications and ads about the changes, and will spend money printing new passes for the next six months.

The expenses on the pass accumulator program is worthwhile to make Clipper a more smart system, and to help subsidize Muni's expenses on the limited use tickets issued at their metro ticketing machines.

As for the consultant firms, I'm on the fence with that one. Do we really need to spend extra dough when you've already approved millions in the past for them to do the work needed to get Clipper running?

The other stuff...
It's good to hear of improvements to the card readers on Muni vehicles. It's really obvious that since 40,000 already transitioned from the "A" pass, readers have to be operational and functional all the time.

I appreciate the MTC's plan to get ready for the joining of smaller transit agencies to Clipper, and to be able to pay for parking in SF with the card.

Lastly, any word on Clipper cards able to add value at all BART stations? I know it's supposed to go hot by March, but there's no word in the agenda notes.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It's Ugly: Caltrain 8-Ride and Monthly Pass Transition to Clipper

If you ride Caltrain and depend on the 8-ride tickets or monthly passes, you could be in a shock during the months of February and March as the paper version will not be sold. But have no fear, Clipper is here! Okay, maybe a little fear or a lot.

8-Ride Tickets
Big Changes in Policy with 8-Ride Tickets
  • Clipper card machines to purchase new cards and adding value are not at all stations. To make matters worse, passengers must buy their 8-rides at retail locations, automated machines at places like SF Muni metro stations, or online (with standard 3-day waiting period). Read more about how to add value. Until Caltrain can find a way to allow Clipper purchasing at their stations, you should make preparations now.
  • The card must be tagged-on at your starting station and tagged-off at your ending station. This means, if you have a zone one to zone two 8-ride, you tag on in zone one, and tag-off at zone two.
  • There must be at least a minimum $2.50 on the Clipper card at all times when using Caltrain. Used to be $1.25, but fare increase for 2011 has changed it.
  • You can have up to 24 rides stored on the card. When it drops down to at least 16 rides, you can purchase another 8-ride.
  • You can purchase multiple 8-ride tickets for multiple areas. For example, I can load a zone 1 to 2, and zone 1 to 3 on a single card; but be aware of the 24-ride limit.
  • Unfortunately, you cannot do zone upgrades, unlike the paper system. If you ride beyond your designated zone, you will be charged the e-cash fare; the system will not deduct one ride and the upgrade fee. Also, since there is a tag-out procedure, you can't buy a paper zone upgrade ticket to cover your butt.
  • You can tag-off at the same reader you tagged-on and get a full refund within 15 minutes (perfect when there's a train delay or incident). If tagged-off beyond 15 minutes, passengers get charged a one zone e-cash fare (or one ride if their 8-ride ticket covers just that one zone only).
  • It is unclear if someone has a three or more zone 8-ride and tag-off midway. Will it deduct e-cash or just deduct a ride?

Monthly Passes
  • Starting with the March pass, all monthly passes will be on a Clipper card only basis. If you have two or more zone purchased, you can ride VTA and Samtrans free (local fare credit) by tagging card to bus/light rail platform reader. VTA will be active in February, just in time for Caltrain's transition.
Big Changes in Policy for Monthly Passes
  • Unlike being able to purchase paper passes at station machines, there is no way to purchase a Clipper e-pass at your station machines. Look for retailers or enroll in autoload.
  • The card must have at least $2.50 minimum e-cash value at ALL TIMES when tagging-on Caltrain.
  • You can mix a monthly pass with an 8-zone ticket on a single card.
  • On your first ride for the new month, you must tag-on and tag-off for your pass to be active.
  • Once you do your first ride, you don't have to tag-on and off for the entire remainder of the month. The conductor will scan your card and will tell him/her what zones you are covered.
  • Optional: You can tag-on and off, but only do it within your designated start & end zones.
  • Zone upgrades are available, but you must buy a paper zone upgrade and show it to the conductor when he/she scans your card.

Akit's Point of View
I totally support a transition away from paper passes and 8-ride tickets, but the changes in policy makes it a total mess. Why didn't Clipper try their best to exactly mimic policies set forth just like the paper versions? Here's my list of arguments to this being a terrible transition:
  1. Ticketing machines can't handle Clipper monthly pass or 8-ride transactions. Very few vendors in San Mateo and Santa Clara county contracted to handle Clipper loading.
  2. Zone upgrades banned on 8-rides for Clipper.
  3. Still have to purchase a paper zone upgrade for a monthly pass.
  4. System unable to charge an automatic zone upgrade fee when a monthly pass or 8-ride is present and the passenger tags on and off.
  5. Unclear policy regarding what would happen if a 8-ride passenger exits at a zone less than what's designated.
  6. For e-cash only passengers, there is no day pass option; only paper will exist. Ride three times, get charged three one-way fares.
  7. If a monthly pass passenger has to tag-on their pass at the first day of travel for the new month, but decides to cut their ride short (e.g. take BART at Millbrae), one may be charged full one-way fare instead of pass.
  8. Why not just enforce a policy of tagging-on and off every single time? By allowing automatic charging of zone upgrade fees and handling appropriate charges for taking less of a ride than the designated zones purchased, it makes it easy.
Maybe Caltrain should have followed in the footsteps of Golden Gate Transit & Ferry. Instead of those complicated paper ticket books while operating a zone system, they simply gave all Clipper e-cash paying customers a discount. Passengers would not have to purchase zone specific tickets to get their discounted rides, they just used their card to get the equivalent and it helped infrequent passengers get an incentive to ride the system even more.

If you don't know what the heck Clipper is, I wrote a great guide giving you all the info you will ever need.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Clipper on Muni Cable Cars - It Can be Improved

One of the items I forgot to add to my Clipper wish list is regarding acceptance on SF's famed Cable Cars. For nearly ten months, Clipper cards have been accepted on Muni's famous Cable Cars, but not without a few bumps in the road...
  1. For at least four months since late March 2010, conductors have been poorly trained in using the handheld readers and/or refusing to carry or use the equipment. While I did address these problems two weeks after the first day of usage, it wasn't until the Chronicle published a "City Insider" article and the agency promised to retrain their staff.
  2. Due to a massive glitch in an update TransLink (previous name of Clipper) provided, I was hassled by a Cable Car conductor and led me to go back to paper passes.
  3. For the last couple of months, I've gone back to my Clipper card with my "M" pass loaded and it's been working fine, for the exception of a few Cable Car conductors just saying it's okay without even scanning it.
But the one real awkward issue with Clipper and Cable Cars is only monthly Muni e-passes are accepted; e-cash is not accepted as payment.

This should be a goal for Muni and Clipper by finding a way to accept e-cash as payment for those occasional passengers that doesn't need a monthly pass. In one view, it's an easy way for conductors to handle less cash by deducting funds, but this may also promote more heavy usage thereby forcing conductors to work more with the portable reader than just taking $5 bills and issuing a paper receipt.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2.5 Hour Schedule Gap Between Muni 38L-Geary Limited and 38-Geary Service

If you ride Muni's 38-Geary lines, including the 38L-Geary Limited, you could be standing at a bus passenger shelter for up to 2.5 hours waiting for the next vehicle.

For those who ride the 38-Geary Limited or 38-Geary (local stops) inbound from the 48th & Point Lobos terminal stop on Saturdays, there's a 2.5 hour gap from when the last 38L departs and the first 38 (regular bus) begins.

Here's the Saturday schedule:
The last 38L-Geary Limited leaves 48th & Point Lobos at: 5:37PM.
The next vehicle to leave 48th & Point Lobos would be a 38-Geary bus starting at 8:02PM.
See schedules from 511: 38L inbound Saturday, and 38 inbound Saturday.

UPDATE 1/24: Schedules have been updated with coverage during the 2.5 hour gap. Read here.


Some could argue that passengers waiting at 48th Avenue could walk to 42nd Avenue to meet-up with the 38-Geary buses that departed from Fort Miley/VA Hospital, but the tourists don't know about that.

Many tourists wanting to visit the Cliff House and Lands End on a Saturday takes the 38L-Geary Limited to the end of the line (48th & Point Lobos), and expect a bus to arrive at that same location for their return trip back to their hotels in downtown. But... for those who arrive at the bus stop for the next vehicle back to downtown starting at 5:37 will be waiting until 8:02 for the next one due to a huge gap in the Muni schedule.

Sometimes I see a handful of people between those two times just sitting there and waiting for the next vehicle. I kinda feel sorry for them that there's no bus that's going to take them toward downtown with such a huge gap in service. The walk between 48th and 42nd Avenues is a little hilly but very pleasant, but for those with disabilities, it could prove too difficult to walk the six blocks.


I have to wonder, what was Muni thinking by leaving a 2.5 hour gap in service? They can't take the 18-46th Avenue bus as an alternative to reach either 42nd and Geary or the Ocean Beach terminal at LaPlaya & Cabrillo (the former terminal of the 38-Geary line) anymore because the route going around the Cliff House was eliminated over a year ago.

I would suggest Muni should at least do one of two things: Start 38-Geary Saturday inbound service earlier from 48th Avenue, or force drivers dropping off the remaining outbound passengers between 5:37PM and 8:02PM to pick those passengers up and at least drop them off at 42nd & Geary for an opportunity to catch the 38-Geary inbound coming from VA Hospital.

Sorry for all the edits. I published it prematurely, so you e-mail and RSS subscribers may have noticed a blank post, and I also changed the title of the post three times.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's Resolutions for the Clipper Card Program

A very happy new year from Akit's Complaint Department! If you have made some New Year's resolutions, you are not alone! A few of my resolutions is to find a girlfriend (ladies, I'm single!), take Muni more often to work to save gas, and read more books.

As many of you know, I am the unofficial lord of information about the Clipper card program, and I thought of some great resolutions for the MTC, Clipper, and their participating agencies should try to stick to:
  1. Get BART ticketing machines able to add Clipper value. I know they are going to be ready within a few months, but let's see if they can stick to their goal.
  2. Find a solution for Caltrain users to add Clipper value at all stations. The Clipper folks told me they were originally intending to move the old Clipper machines Muni had at their metro stations and send them to Caltrain, but that was scrapped.
  3. The next batch of Clipper cards ordered should be a little more scratch resistant. My card has only been in use for six months and the front has tons of scratches and a few rough patches.
  4. Find a way for transit agency ticket offices to issue youth and senior Clipper cards on the spot instead of waiting weeks for a card to be mailed.
  5. It would be great if I could pay for city owned lots with my card. The SFMTA intends to start a pilot project with certain city garages, but no recent news about this.
  6. More Clipper card vendors are needed in the western part of SF, especially at SF State and the Outer Sunset.
  7. Mini Clipper cards and licensed products like wristbands and watches. Hong Kong's Octopus Card program does this extensively.
  8. Late night transfer privileges on Muni. Clipper cards only give the standard 90 minutes versus the paper transfers valid until 6AM the next day.
  9. Extend Muni transfers on Clipper from 90 minutes to two hours.
  10. Save a little money for each e-cash ride on Clipper than paying coins or bills to encourage faster boarding than a bus idling to handle cash paying customers. In Washington D.C., passengers save 25 cents on Metrorail and 20 cents on Metrobus by using their SmarTrip card than paying cash.
  11. Buy Clipper e-cash value in bulk and get bonus e-cash. New York City does it with their MetroCard.
  12. Being able to purchase high value BART tickets on Clipper without enrolling in the autoload program.
  13. Install Clipper card readers at the entrances to the 2nd & King Muni metro station due to the thousands of ballgame fans at AT&T Park.
  14. A calmer beeping sound for confirmed transactions on all Clipper readers (not including BART and Muni metro gates). Instead of "BEEEEEEEEEP!!!!!!" how about "Boooop!"
  15. A card acceptance sound emitted for the BART gates.
  16. Stop selling Muni e-tokens/e-ridebooks. It's pointless when each token/ride costs the same as paying in e-cash (no discount).
  17. Allow Muni limited use tickets (LUTs) to have at least four rides instead of the maximum of two on it.
  18. Work with a bank to issue a debit/credit card that can be used as a Clipper card too.
  19. Work with local universities to have them issue their photo campus ID with Clipper technology loaded on it. They already do it at the Peralta colleges. Maybe support campaigns for local universities to also include discounted transit pass benefits as part of their campus fees/tuition.
  20. Establish a mobile Clipper sales van to visit certain stations and neighborhoods on certain days and commute hours. For example, a Clipper van is at Hillsdale Caltrain station every Wednesday during morning rush, relocates to San Mateo City Hall for mid-day, and the van moves to Palo Alto station for the evening rush for the Stanford students. The next day, they go to the North Bay to primarily serve Golden Gate Transit customers. It always operates on a set schedule so everyone knows each week, and each certain day and time is their opportunity to add value and buy passes.

After sending out a Tweet to everyone on their wish list, here's what came back:
  1. Parking meter and taxi cab payment. (@jashsf)
  2. Fixing website, full of HTML errors and odd login. (@mrericsir)
  3. At Millbrae Caltrain station, make it possible for those transferring from Caltrain to BART to simply tag their card at the BART gate to both tag-off for Caltrain and tag-on for entry to BART (no need to tag-off a Caltrain reader and enter BART after). More readers at Caltrain stations and fix autoload of 8-ride Caltrain tickets to only add-on at zero, not two remaining rides. (@murphstahoe)
  4. For 8-ride e-tickets on Caltrain with e-cash balance on card, be able to get automatically charged the zone upgrade fee when going beyond the zones designated on 8-ride. (@makfan)
Got your own ideas? Leave a comment.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Became a Victim of Road Rage Today & I was Obeying the Law

I guess today is not going to be a great day because I became a victim of road rage.

Here's the whole story:

I was driving to work this morning and encountered two blacked-out traffic signals in a row. State law requires all drivers to treat dead signal intersections as a four way stop (refer to DMV driver manual, page 22).

As a mostly law abiding citizen (I jaywalk to my car across the street from my home), I stop at each dead signal; at the first signal, a truck decides to switch to the right lane and pass me without stopping at the limit line. At the second signal, a luxury sedan decides to blow their horn like hell simply because I'm obeying state law and also passes me in the right lane without stopping. At both of these locations, the vehicles behind me was at least 150 to 200 feet behind and I intentionally drove slower on approach to each dead signal.

The luxury sedan decides to take on some road rage. At the approach to the designated left turn lane, I enter the lane and the sedan decides to cut three lanes of traffic (the far right lane to the far left turn lane) to get behind me. I turn to the next street where the driver decides to pass me, cut me off, and hit the brakes. Having no choice, I had to slow down and attempt to pass to get away from the freak, but decides to go on more rage by blocking my lane changes. It's similar to what happened in this bus cam video, but at least I didn't smash the driver's bumper.

Sheesh! What a morning. I did call DPT signals to get those lights checked-out so I don't have to encounter it on my commute back home. And to that luxury car driver, up yours, and how about a trip to traffic court for blowing through a traffic signal?