"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 28, 2011

Tell Caltrain: No More 8-Ride Tickets on Clipper!

Just recently, SF Weekly published an article mentioning about how bad it's gotten with Clipper card passengers on Caltrain. There's also a new order from Amtrak management (contracted to run Caltrain) to basically be as unforgiving to a Clipper card user whose card is invalid or just having trouble.

Well, there has to be a solution, and I thought of one as I left it in the comments. Soon enough, I learned my fellow blogger, John Murphy, beat me to the punch. While we have the same exact goals, our views on how to implement it is slightly different.

Here's my take on ending 8-ride tickets:
8-ride tickets has been a staple on Caltrain for a long time. It used to be 10-rides until the validation machines at Caltrain stations kept malfunctioning. The tickets had a few basic rules, including an expiration date for use, and any passenger needing to travel further than what's listed on the 8-ride can pay for a zone upgrade ticket.

Not long ago, Caltrain switched from paper 8-rides to Clipper only and it came with some mixed fanfare. The rules of the program had to change because of the way Clipper operated. What was kept was the expiration rules, but the zone upgrade was not available anymore, thereby passengers wanting to go further had to buy an additional 8-ride to their Clipper card or just buy a one-way ticket at the non-discounted (regular) price.

I wrote on my blog about how to properly use it, taking more of Caltrain's side to say that as long as what's out there, follow the rules; that turned-out ugly when Caltrain's web geeks decided to link my blog to their website and I had a flurry of mean spirited commentary on my blog. I felt like I was a puppet spokesperson for Caltrain.

That was not a great move for me. Sure, that added some more ad revenue and fans flocking to my blog. I realized there's a more critical problem with Caltrain and Clipper, 8-rides is just pointless.

My solution:
End 8-rides on Clipper and give everyone an across the board 15% discount by using the universal e-cash fund.

If you ever cracked the numbers on how much an 8-ride can save passengers, the amount is 15% (give or take around 0.1%).

This process would be very simple. Everyone can use e-cash which is like having cash in your wallet to pay for any transit rides you want. Passengers tag-on at their starting point, and tag-off resulting in being charged at 15% off the one-way cash fare.

This makes it simple and clean. No worries about not having enough 8-rides, no worries about last minute zone switching because your significant other wants to meet you at the mall, or you forgot to grab groceries before heading home.

One Transit Agency Did it a Long Time Ago
Golden Gate Transit and Ferry was one of the first transit agencies to adopt TransLink (old name prior to the switch to the newer "Clipper" branding).

Back in the days, Golden Gate had two options for passengers to pay their fare, pay in cash for a one-way ride, or pre-purchase frequent commuter ticket books. The commuter books are very similar to Caltrain's 8-ride tickets because using them came with a discount and had an expiration date. Since Golden Gate's commuter ticket books was zone specific, they had to print multiple types of zone books on a frequent basis to cover all six zones; and that meant a lot of money being wasted.

When TransLink came around, the agency thought smart: Instead of having TransLink sell electronic versions of the zone books and follow the same rules as they had before about usage (including expiration date), they decided to go with the e-cash only route.

Golden Gate Transit and Ferry went with this great offer: Use the TransLink card, and regardless if you ride it daily or just once a year, every card user will pay less and there's no need to purchase e-ride books. This meant all Golden Gate Transit riders gets 20% off (10% on Marin Transit), and Ferry passengers receives a discount ranging from 40 to 50% off.

What Golden Gate did was a bold move, but it made it much simpler for passengers by just asking all passengers to have ample e-cash on their account, and just tag-on and off to be charged the appropriate one-way fare with the commuter discount savings. This helped passengers who decides to exit the bus early or take a longer trip; this also helps with reducing the complaint loads on customer service; unlike how Caltrain's implementation caused a very high number of complaint calls.

How Does the Caltrain Idea Compare to John Murphy's?
His idea is to have a separate e-cash fund known as "Caltrain Cash" which is the only way to receive the across the board discounts for Caltrain. Using regular e-cash would result in paying the regular one-way fare.

The C-Cash fund would be similar to what BART offers, for those wanting high value discount tickets (prepay a high amount to BART and get a 6.25% bonus), it would be designated in a separate fund on your Clipper card and can't be shared between other agencies. Having a separate fund pool means that transit agencies can earn interest on the extra cash (known as the "float") in a savings account. BART is known to make money off the "float" from the residual tickets thrown in the trash (a.k.a. "tiny tickets") and now they can also get "float" from the Clipper card users who have remaining HVD balances on their card.

While agencies can benefit from the "float," that just makes it more complicated for passengers. These days, people wants it to be easy to ride transit without buying separate e-tickets and e-passes and other garbage to make the program complex. Clipper's universal e-cash fund is the easiest way to ride public transit because it's accepted on all transit agencies and Golden Gate Transit didn't want to make their Clipper system complex and just gave across the board discounts to all card users.

Basically, in comparison:
  • I want Caltrain to only accept e-cash and give a 15% discount to Caltrain passengers.
  • John wants Caltrain to have a separate cash fund that will give 15% discount to Caltrain passengers.
Eliminate Caltrain Monthly Passes?
While I'm on the topic of Caltrain, I'm not sure how to eliminate the monthly passes. E-cash paying only with the 15% discount may not give the appropriate discount necessary because people could ride Caltrain just twice a day on weekdays only, or ride multiple times per day every single day.

A possible option is to go with the pass accumulator. This means a passenger just needs to fund their Clipper card with e-cash and when it reaches a certain threshold within a specific time period, a pass is "earned" and future rides during that time period is free. This would end the multiple choices to purchase monthly passes, whether it be online, at a retailer, or an automated machine.

This option would work well for agencies like Muni, but for Caltrain operating a zone system, this would be really complicated on how to calculate a passenger's travels to 'earn' the pass.

Until Caltrain Kills the 8-Ride Tickets...
Do not register for Clipper's autoload program or the automatic loading through commuter benefit agencies.

If autoload screws up and it wasn't your fault (say your credit card charge was denied), your card is blocked from future Clipper usage until it's cleared-up with customer service. That may take days for the card to be unblocked.

If the automatic loading from commuter benefits doesn't happen on-time, you are left out in the cold with no Caltrain pass or 8-rides to cover your journey. That could mean attempting to ride for free and risking a court visit for fare evasion, or paying cash for a regular one-way ticket.

The easy solution is to use in-person vendors, transit agency ticketing offices, self-service machines, or Clipper customer service locations at Embarcadero station and the Ferry Building. By using one of these options, you get your pass, e-cash, or 8-rides INSTANTLY on the card and available for immediate usage. This beats ordering online because it can take up to 5-days for it to be loaded onto the card.

Here's two video examples I produced of how to use a self-service machine:

For commuter benefits, ask your employer or use the benefit agency's website to modify your ordering from automatic loading to one of these choices:
  • Ask for a paper voucher. They are accepted at Walgreens, Clipper customer service, and transit agency ticketing offices.
  • Ask for a debit card. They are accepted at all self-service machines (such as all Muni metro stations), Clipper customer service, and some transit agency ticketing offices.
By going away from autoload and commuter benefit automatic loading, you never have to worry about your card being blocked ever again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Muni Modifies & Clarifies the Definition of "Proof of Payment" & Expired Transfers

Muni Transfer and Muni to BART Coupon

Muni fare inspectors, many of us don't like them, but they do one thing well, make sure everyone pays their "fare share" for riding public transportation.

In a blog post I did just a year ago, I asked Muni to clarify the "Proof of Payment" system. The program's rules was too complex and didn't make a lot of sense to everyone. My particular topic with the POP system was the expired transfer policy and how that is blurred between what Muni called "POP lines" and "non-POP lines."

One of the reasons why I wrote the blog post is accusations from the Chinese American communities of fare inspectors citing people for expired transfers, but I knew the expired transfer policy was much different on buses than trains.

Let's take a look at the rules:
  • Muni defined "POP lines" as all metro lines.
  • Muni defined "non-POP lines" as all bus lines and the F-Market.

Let's say I ride a Muni bus (a "non-POP" line), board the bus with an unexpired paper transfer and it expired during the journey... here's what Muni's POP rule said:
"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."
I challenged Muni to clean-up their rules to make it simpler and universal across all Muni modes of service as the non-POP and POP lines was so blurred in conjunction with the expired transfer policy.

As a result, I did a little looking around the current Proof of Payment policy for Muni under their "expired transfer" FAQ section. Here's what says now:

What if your Proof of Payment expires during your trip?

If you have a paper transfer:
  • Don't get stuck entering with a transfer that will later expire while you are waiting on a platform or riding in a vehicle. If you are not sure your transfer will last, then pay for a fresh trip on the surface or at a Ticket Vending Machine in the subway.
  • If your Proof of Payment is about to expire, be sure to obtain a new Proof of Payment before the old one expires.
  • If your Proof of Payment has expired and you are riding a Proof of Payment vehicle,
  • If you are on the surface, go pay your fare immediately if it is safe to do so, and get a transfer as Proof of Payment, or else exit the vehicle at the next stop.
  • If you are inside the paid area of a Muni station, or on a vehicle in the subway, exit the station and obtain Proof of Payment .
  • Don't try this if Proof of Payment enforcement officers are aboard the vehicle or present in the paid area of the station; it is too late to correct the problem.

If you have a transfer on a Clipper card or Muni ticket:
  • You will need to have cash or a ride available on your card or ticket for a new payment.
  • If the transfer loaded on your card or ticket is going to expire during your trip, do not board the second car of a two-car train unless you are absolutely certain your card or ticket has sufficient cash or ride value to pay an additional fare.
  • You will need to track when your transfer will expire.
  • Upon the 90-minute transfer expiring, you will need to re-tap and hold your card or ticket to a Clipper reader to get an additional 90 minutes of travel time.
  • If the reader rejects your card or ticket, you will need to go to the operator and pay a fare in cash and receive a paper transfer.

In summary, here's what Muni changed after my challenge to clean-up the rules:
  1. There is no such thing as a "non-POP lines" that made separate and confusing rules, currently all Muni lines are now "POP lines." This means the rules for proof of payment is the same regardless of whatever mode of service you take on Muni.
  2. If riding the bus with a transfer that is unexpired when boarding, but expires while aboard the bus, it's now considered a violation; unlike the old rule saying it's okay, but can't ride the next bus without paying for a new transfer.
  3. They now warn passengers paying with e-cash on a Clipper card to keep time of when the e-transfer will expire vs. a paper transfer that easily tells when it expires (when paying cash).

Muni should at least do some other things to clean-up the rules a little more:
The website's POP rules was updated to end the blurred policies regarding non-POP lines, but many of the sentences still reflects the old rule about when the phrase "POP lines" meant metro lines only.

Here's an example I found on the POP website today. This was found as a general question, and not specific to buses or metro only:
How do you board a Muni vehicle on the street or at an outside Muni station, excluding West Portal Station?

If you already have Proof of Payment:

  • Make sure you have your Proof of Payment before boarding, and that it will be valid for the duration of your entire trip within the Muni Metro System.
In this particular example, Muni's POP website didn't do a great job of doing a full clean-up after redefining what a "POP line" is. They still mention in portions of their website that the POP rules still applies to the METRO ONLY.

They should rephrase the bullet point like this:
  • Make sure you have your Proof of Payment before boarding, and that it will be valid for the duration of your entire trip within the Muni system.
There's other parts of the Muni website that needs to be cleaned-up to make sure the rules are the same throughout the entire system and not separated by metro lines and non-metro lines. If there's a Muni official who can read and rephrase words in the the POP websites here and here, the public would appreciate it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stay Off The Yellow Strip! Stupid People on Sunday Who Risked their Lives

Muni Metro Sign Fail

When you ride any rail transit agency, you always know to stay behind the yellow line or edge of the platform.

Well... just yesterday, I saw two really dumb things happen.

My normal journey on a weekend to AT&T Park for a Giants game is to take BART at Daly City, and transfer to Muni metro at Powell. Let's learn what happened:

At Daly City BART's platform #1, a ten car train usually stops short of the platform and the driver has to manually adjust to move it to the end of the platform. Since the train stopped short and didn't line up with the black tiles (indicating it's a doorway), a bunch of girls decided to walk on the yellow safety strip, and the train just started to move. While they didn't get hurt, it just shows you shouldn't attempt to board a train car until the doors open.

At Powell Muni metro station, I was waiting for the next train to the ballpark, and just about 200 feet was a train approaching. I saw a college age woman standing on the yellow strip with her back facing the approaching train. She was waving her tote bag over the tracks and wanting to pose for a picture, and when the train was less than 100 feet away, I yelled at her to "get off the yellow strip!" because nobody else was doing shit to get her away from the fast approaching train. It was either, yell at the stupid woman, or if the operator was paying attention, hit the emergency stop button and sound the horn. She heard me and quickly moved away.

The Muni metro incident was much worse than the girls at the BART station. In the event nobody did anything, her head would have slammed into the metro operator's mirror that sticks out along the side of the train.

Sigh... safety, people!

Friday, July 22, 2011

No Slacking Off - Muni Youth Passes Sold on Clipper Cards Only Starting August 1st

Muni Paper Pass Switch to Clipper Card Youth

It's time to get serious to all San Francisco parents and youth Muni passengers out there...

In just a little over a week, youth Muni passes will only be sold on youth encoded Clipper cards. That means, starting August 1st, August 2011 and beyond youth passes won't be in paper form.

For those passengers who have a youth Clipper card, you can already pre-purchase your August pass right now at a local Walgreens, Muni metro ticketing machine, Presidio/Geary sales booth, and other locations around the Bay Area (except BART stations). But don't forget, the youth card's benefits goes beyond Muni, for those under 12 years old, they also get the youth discount on BART, and anyone under 18 gets the youth fare on all other participating transit agencies.

Let's just say you (the parent) or youngster forgot to get a youth Clipper card....

Not a problem. A youth card can be programmed and issued instantly on-site at these San Francisco locations:
  1. SFMTA customer service during regular business hours (M-F 9AM to 5PM).
  2. Muni sales booth at Geary & Presidio (Everyday from 8AM to 8PM).
  3. Clipper customer service at Embarcadero station (M-F 5:45AM to 7PM, and Sat-Sun, 9AM to 2PM).
  4. Clipper customer service at Bay Crossings inside the Ferry Building (M-Sat 6:45 to 7PM and Sundays 9AM to 5PM).
Also, SFMTA Customer Service will be open from 9AM to 5PM on these Saturdays and will only do youth Clipper card applicants. No other services provided, including paying those pesky parking tickets:
  • July 30
  • August 6
  • August 27
  • September 3
Please remember, proof of age is REQUIRED. Each card is customized to each person by having their birth date on their card. When they reach the legal age when they are required to pay the adult fare or pass, the card will automatically convert to an adult card.

What documentation is acceptable? Here's the list from SFMTA:
  • Birth certificate
  • State-Issued Driver’s License
  • State-Issued Identification Card
  • Passport
  • San Francisco City ID Card
  • Matricula Consular/Consular Identification
  • Alien Registration/Permanent Resident Card

: If the student is eligible under the SF Unified School District (SFUSD) for a "Youth Lifeline" pass, a Clipper card is not required at this time. Click here (PDF document) from the SFUSD on information about the differences between the regular youth pass and the lifeline.


Over 17,000 got their youth card. If the youth passenger hasn't obtained one, DON'T BE LAZY. No more excuses, and don't be like those whiners who had to switch from paper passes to Clipper for AC Transit. They were warned years in advance, and thousands slacked off until the last minute, and bitched and moaned at Clipper.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Powell Street Parklets are Gorgeous & There's Safety Hazards

Powell Street Parklet

If you've been on Powell Street lately, you might have noticed the new parklets just south of Geary. This has made it able to expand the sidewalk to ease overcrowding while eliminating most parking spaces.

I'm impressed, San Francisco government, you can do something quite interesting. It's a little disappointing they couldn't expand the sidewalk to cover the entire block; instead, there are still some parallel parking gaps, but it's only for active loading zones, such as the one in front of DSW, and others in front of hotels.

The way it's made is very interesting, there's plants, places to sit, high top tables, and extra space to walk around without that Times Square feeling of being crushed while walking. Even more interesting is the solar panels, but I'm not sure what they do.

Powell Street Parklet

Here's some odd observations from the use of the parklets... I've noticed Cable Car passengers waiting at O'Farrell lining up for the Cable Car because of the way the parklet was built near that corner. Um... there's no such thing as a line, unless if you are at a turnaround.

Safety & Tripping Hazards
While I do love these gorgeous piece of works, there's some things they really need to fix.

Powell Street Parklet Safety Hazard

The above photo is a perfect example. The edge of the parklet is supposed to be level with the height of the curb. In this shot at the northeast corner of Powell and Ellis, this particular parklet is not even with the curb (about four inches at its highest point). That's a definite tripping hazard.

Powell Street Parklet Trip Hazard

A second hazard as seen in this photo is where you see the brown slabs of wood and the metal parts sticking out. This particular piece is where the solar panels are attached to, but why are the metal parts just sticking out like that? I know it's all about looking futuristic and such, but what will it cost the city in lawsuits?

Lastly, there's also some gaps within the parklets where the safety barrier meets the road. While I don't have a picture of it, those gaps within the parklets has been encouraging people to jaywalk across the street where they encounter no gap on the other side's parklet. It also encourages cars to double park and let passengers off in those gaps, and that means holding-up city traffic and the Cable Cars.

Hopefully the city is reading this and can get the contractors to make some necessary corrections so we have happy tourists willing to come back to the city, instead of injured tourists thinking of visiting somewhere else next time.

Costco Takes Away Executive & Business Early Hours (Again)

One of my most popular posts on Akit's Complaint Department is from September 28, 2008 when I mentioned my regular Costco location at El Camino Real in South San Francisco eliminated executive/business hours. Not long after that blog post and some heat on Yelp, the executive/business hours was back on the board.

It's 2011 and it happened again.

Costco Member Hours (El Camino Real)

The photo above shows Costco El Camino's new hours for weekdays, now open to all member levels at 10AM, instead of Executive/Business at 10AM and Gold Star at 11AM. It's a little strange they wiped off the other operating hours, such as optical, pharmacy, and all holidays.

Below is what the old board used to say.

Costco (El Camino) Gives Back their Executive and Business Early Hour

The early member hours was one of the big benefits to those who held an Executive or Business membership because everyone was able to get into Costco one hour earlier than the Gold Star members, and that meant less crowds inside the warehouse and shorter lines for check-out. When I was working part-time, I'd go to Costco at 10AM and was able to get out the door in less than 20 minutes.

This member hour benefit also helped the business members because they can grab everything before the crowds show up, and especially when rolling a flatbed in Costco, you don't want to break someone's ankle.

As of today, Costco's website for that particular warehouse still mentions executive/business hours is still from 10-11AM while the photo shows it not correct. I feel they eliminated the special hour, but with such huge omissions on their new sign in the other stuff like holiday closures, their other services (gas, pharmacy, etc.), are they trying to tell people that the special hour is still enforced, but not in writing?

If you love Costco's Executive & Business member early hour, call the El Camino Real location: (650) 757-3003 and demand to speak to a manager.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Clipper Card's $6 Muni Fare? Overcharged? You Might Not Be Alone

Would you pay $6 on your Clipper card for a Muni ride? If you were thinking the Cable Cars, that's not correct, conductors only accepts passes and not e-cash.

Something really weird is going on where some people on Twitter have complained they were charged $6 on e-cash for their Muni ride. One passenger was able to provide proof by taking a snapshot and uploading it (click here to see).

For the tweets: Tweet #1, tweet #2, tweet #3.

Reading the tweets from the person who snapped the photo, she was able to contact Clipper for an appropriate refund for the overcharge.

Akit's Opinion
This is very odd. Other than Cable Cars, there's no such thing as a $6 fare on Muni. Is there an explanation from a Clipper or MTC representative of why the card reader was programmed to accept a $6 fare? Muni operators aren't supposed to mess with the driver's console, other than pressing the on/off switch when it's malfunctioning.

On the other hand, if this was a widespread error, this can happen when Clipper's server sends an inappropriate update to all consoles within the Muni system. All buses & trains in the yard would receive it overnight and all the hardwired readers would also get it too.

If you rode Muni this week, I highly suggest you take a look on your Clippercard.com account and review your ride history. Demand a refund if you were overcharged.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What's the Hurry on the Upper Great Highway?

The Upper Great Highway, a place where driving is easy, gets closed on occasion due to flooding and sand from the beach piling up on the road, and very little traffic to fight over. It's been my normal route when I have to drive to work because driving on Sunset can be a little stressful, especially worrying about pedestrian right-of-way and traffic cops waiting to nab you.

Just today on my regular drive on Upper Great Highway going southbound, I was driving along and noticed a car pass me on my right going 45, and the one behind me deciding to tailgate me, get upset, and pass me too (I was driving the 35 MPH speed limit). The first car that passed me also decided to cut-off other cars so it could be in front of the convoy (I'll explain about the convoy in a moment), but because of the driver's speeding, had to slam his/her brakes upon reaching the red light.

In other instances when I drive on that stretch of road, especially in the evenings, I find a lot of arrogant drivers who feels it's absolutely A-OK to run all the red lights and speed the hell out of the stretch.


My dad told me a long time ago, the Upper Great Highway never had signals, and that became a hot spot for drivers to drag race their cars. But once the signals was installed, things changed.

These days, the traffic signals are all timed so drivers who drive about 33-35 MPH gets green lights with no need to hit the brake, those who go slower may eventually get a red light, while others who drives too fast will eventually have to hit their brake to stop at a red light and wait for a moment to turn green.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of people who just feels the need to speed; what's your damn hurry? For those who wants to drive super fast and cut cars off, they will eventually get caught with a red light. Those who wants to be the leader of the convoy (cars driving within the signal cycle) also realizes that speeding means using their brakes more often for red lights, while other cars who are in the other lane driving the speed limit zooms by because they can time the signals just by driving a certain speed, or if going a little fast before the signal turns green, can just adjust their speed very slightly and won't need to hit the brake at the next signal.

There are days when I wish the police was keeping a better eye on that stretch of road. The worst drivers decides to break all the rules by speeding and blowing through red lights. Others decide to stop at a red light and just proceed through while it's still red. I've only seen a couple of occasions when police officers pulled over a driver for running the red, including once instance where I was in the left lane and in the right was a red light runner that blew a signal while a US Park Police officer's patrol car was right behind the driver (that driver definitely got nabbed!).

Even if cops can't patrol the stretch, it would be nice if the city could re-install the missing 35 MPH speed limit signs to remind drivers that going 45 is unacceptable.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sunday Streets Forces Muni's 18-46th Avenue to Take 51 Block Detour

Awful Muni Fare Prices
One of my favorite Muni bus lines is always the 18-46th Avenue because it's the easiest and most direct route to my office at SF State and stops not too far from my home in the Outer Richmond district.

But it made me a little suspicious of why the Sunday Streets organizers could not accommodate the 18 bus along its normal route via Great Highway, and instead, re-route it by forcing it to drive 51 blocks (3.7 miles) versus its regular route that is a mere 8/10th of a mile. What a waste of gas and time for one of the most timely bus lines in all of Muni.

Here's what the normal route looks like. On La Playa, it turns right onto Fulton, left on to Great Highway, left onto Lincoln, and right onto 46th Avenue. Average time: Approximately 3 minutes.

View Larger Map

Since Sunday Streets happened, Muni had no choice but to re-route the bus. Instead of turning right onto Fulton, it was left on Fulton, drive 24 blocks to 25th Avenue, take Crossover Drive, turn right on Lincoln, and drive an additional 27 blocks to reach 46th Avenue. Time: At least 10 minutes with no traffic, but since Sunday Streets shut-down Upper Great Highway and the road was too narrow on Chain of Lakes (the closest location for vehicles to get across), it took the 18 bus at least 15 minutes to do this re-route.

View Larger Map

Going northbound was much worse for the 18 bus because it can't make a left turn at Lincoln & 19th Avenue; it has to follow the turn procedure the 29-Sunset uses by going around 20th Avenue and using the left turn lane at Irving & 19th and that adds on at least another 5 minutes, especially with the infamous Irving street traffic. Muni buses also can't make a left turn at 25th Avenue & Fulton, so it has to go one block ahead to Cabrillo; that adds on more minutes to the trip.

View Larger Map

Maybe the next time the city wants to host Sunday Streets, how about allowing the 18-46th Avenue bus be able to drive slow along the short stretch of Great Highway instead of inconveniencing a lot of people by taking a route that is triple the time? If Muni can allow the 44 bus to cut through Golden Gate Park's road shut downs on Sundays, why can't they accommodate the 18 line? I hope Muni doesn't make a solution by making people walk from 46th & Lincoln to catch a second bus at Fulton & La Playa; the line carries a lot of elderly passengers and some can't walk too far.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cable Car Conductors Can't Make Change Due to Fare Hike

San Francisco - California Cable Car Line
This is one of those rare moments when I have to sympathize with Muni employees for the job they do.

For the past few weekends, I've been chatting with Cable Car conductors up and down the Mason, Hyde, and California street lines to get their take about the new $6 single ride fare hike that started on July 1st.

Here's what came out of some of those conversations:
  1. A conductor didn't like the $6 hike because it annoys him that he will now have to spend much more time collecting cash and giving change, versus the old $5 fare that was much easier to collect. A conductor's job is not just to collect the cash, but to also be the rear brakeman, whether it be the crank on the Hyde and Mason lines, or the main brake lever on the California line. By taking more time collecting cash and giving change, conductors will have to skip a bunch of passengers paying for their ride to make activating the brake a bigger priority.
  2. Another conductor I chatted with said he has constantly ran out of dollar bills. The old $5 fare was so much easier because making change was so much faster. By making it $6, he has to constantly give out $4 in single dollar bills in change (when paying $10), therefore he runs out of singles rapidly. He'd like the old $5 fare back, if it was ever possible. He also told me that he regularly has to ask passengers paying with a $20 to tack on an extra dollar so he can give $15 in change.

I know what you are saying... the Cable Cars are for tourists willing to dish out the big dough to ride such a short ride. But what's it worth when conductors quickly run out of dollar bills to make change? Conductors could beg passengers for more singles, let the passenger ride for $5, or just let the person go for free. Does Muni expect their conductors to carry several stacks of $1 bills at one time to handle the tourists on the busy days?

On the other hand, the fare hike has allowed Muni to make more money; the sales booth at the Powell/Market turnaround has plenty of money to accommodate the $6 fare, and whatever the conductors collect means more revenue.

What's your take? Fare hike worth it, or just a waste of time?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Akit Says: Skip Autoload on Clipper

There's a lot of heat coming towards Clipper these days, and that anger is coming from their Facebook page where many are arguing about the annoyances of the autoload program.

One person argues that it's another layer of annoying bureaucracy he has to mess with when making changes to his Clipper card account and reducing the amount being loaded for the next month due to a planned vacation. Another argues that his credit card has been rejected. And many others have been angry with the up to five day delay to switch their credit card accounts or their account has been blocked and will take days to get it fixed.

Going devil's advocate, there's no way to get around that five day delay. If someone wants to activate autoload when their pass expires or their e-cash balance gets low, that takes up to five days; when someone wants to alter or end autoload, that can also take up to five days. Even if someone's card gets blocked because of some funky autoload problem, that takes up to five days. That's a technical limit of Clipper because not all mobile Clipper readers (e.g. buses and Muni metro vehicles) may not get their update for a few days until they return to a yard that can connect to the Clipper server. Read more about the "five day rule."

But there's a very easy solution that can get you away from this entire wreck... just don't sign-up for autoload.

I've never been a fan of autoload, and with concern that my credit card could accidentally be rejected and my e-cash and pass (funded from pure cash or a different source) being suspended for days on end until the problem can be resolved, that's something I just don't want to touch. When you get into a problem with autoload, you have to mess with Clipper customer service, and that's just another layer of bureaucracy you need to fight with.

Here's what I do, and it works very smoothly without any hiccups throughout the time I've been using Clipper:
  1. Since I use commuter benefits, I only request for one of two options: Paper vouchers or a reusable debit card with the credit value reloaded to it every month.
  2. When using a paper voucher, I just go to an in-person retailer that accepts the vouchers and get it converted into e-cash or to a transit pass. When using a debit card, I go to a self-service machine and swipe the debit card to buy the e-cash or transit pass. Either way I pay for the e-cash or pass, it is available for use INSTANTLY or valid for the first day of travel for the new month.
  3. If I ever need to add additional e-cash value, I just go to a vendor or self service machine and just pay cash or use my personal credit card. It's still available instantly for usage.
By following the steps I mentioned above, you'll never have to encounter the mess with the automatic loading process or working with customer service when your account goes awry.

About Commuter Benefits and What Your Choices Are:
If you use commuter benefits and instruct the company to automatically load it to your Clipper card, it's not worth the $2 monthly surcharge and the hassle of communicating with both your benefits company and Clipper when your e-cash or pass(es) does not get loaded on-time or goes missing.

If you went with automatic loading (via commuter benefits), you have to plan further in advance prior to the benefit company's deadline (around 15-20 days before the commuter benefits company sends the data to Clipper). If you decide to switch at the last minute (after the deadline), it would be up to Clipper if they will allow you to cancel the pass and get the e-cash value instead.

At least with a paper voucher or debit card, you are in full control of how you want to spend your commuter benefits and you get about 16 months to decide how to spend the amount (Commuter Check vouchers expires 16 months from date of issue); for example: If I go on a 10 day vacation, instead of using the voucher to get a pass, I'd instead ask for e-cash.

There are some challenges with not using autoload...
  1. If you use BART's high value tickets on Clipper, autoload is a mandatory option. The only way to go around is to go back to old school high value tickets. BART has a mail-in form you can use and you can pay with commuter vouchers, personal check, or combination of both.
  2. Since you don't have the ability to automatically reload e-cash upon reaching the balance threshold or a new pass on a monthly basis, you need to keep careful track of your e-cash balance or keep reminders to buy your new pass at an in-person vendor or self-service machine.
Just a last piece from me, Akit:
There's probably many of you who hasn't experienced any problems with autoload, and I congratulate you for being able to work within the system. One thing I've learned is that 99% of people will always be okay, but there's always that 1% who will yell, kick, and scream that their problems are bigger than the 1% out there, and when they do kick and scream, it's gets peoples' attention and it's worse than they are meant to believe.

My point is, if it works fine for you, keep doing what you are doing. This blog piece is to make it as hassle free as I can make it by avoiding the bureaucracy known as Clipper as much as possible. I use automated machines because they don't mess-up and I don't have to interact with possible human error at Walgreens. Plus, if my commuter benefits debit card gets rejected at the machine for some odd reason, at least my Clipper card isn't also going to be suspended; unlike others who uses autoload, gets their debit card rejected, and gets their Clipper card suspended.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Clipper & Muni Listens to Akit's Requests: Card Readers at AT&T Park

Clipper Card Readers at the Ballpark

Finally, Muni and Clipper has done something I've been asking for years to do, have Clipper card readers placed at the 2nd & King platform for the folks leaving AT&T Park to quickly pay for their ride so they can go home.

What Muni and Clipper has done is installed card two card readers onto a cart and is being powered with a small electrical generator. This means there's no need to fight for the Clipper card readers on the metro trains, and you just tag your card prior to even stepping onto the platform. I was hoping they would install readers on the ramp leading to the platform, but this substitute will work just fine.

The photo I took was at the north end of the platform nearest to the 2nd Street gate entrance/exit to the ballpark.

Dreams do come true! Thanks Muni & Clipper.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sausalito Ferry Passengers Paying for Wrong Boat

If you have been on Golden Gate Ferry or read the news lately, automation has taken over ticketing services for the agency as a cost cutting measure. Golden Gate Ferry purchased self-service ticketing machines utilizing Clipper card technology (similar to Muni metro's vending machines) and also installed Clipper card readers at the entrance to the Sausalito ferry terminal.

The new automated machines have made it easier for passengers to purchase their ferry boat tickets and they also get to have fun with the Clipper technology as the tickets issued by the machines are paper tickets compatible with Clipper card readers (exactly like the tickets issued at Muni metro stations).

But for some people (mostly tourists), they don't realize that when they take the Sausalito ferry back to San Francisco, they pre-paid for the wrong boat...

Sausalito's ferry dock is shared by two companies: Golden Gate Ferry and Blue & Gold Fleet, and their final destination in San Francisco is different (Ferry Building vs. Pier 41).

Ferry boat fees:
Golden Gate Ferry adult cash fare one-way: $8.25 ($9.25 starting August 1st)
Blue and Gold Fleet Ferry adult cash fare one-way: $10.50

What happened?
On Monday, I was having an ice cream overlooking the ferry dock at Sausalito and noticed a lot of passengers boarding the Blue & Gold Fleet ferry back to Pier 41. Many passengers just walked into the boat and either had a prepaid ticket issued by Blue & Gold or is going to pay to the cashier onboard the boat.

But about a dozen people with the Clipper Limited Use tickets issued by Golden Gate Ferry's ticketing machines decided to tag their paper ticket to the Clipper card readers recently installed at the terminal. The crew member from Blue & Gold did nothing to stop those passengers holding the wrong ticket, nor asked passengers what (or if any) pre-paid fare payment they have on hand.

Basically, those dozen or so passengers are going to get the shock of their life. In addition to paying $8.25 to Golden Gate, they'll also pay an extra $10.50 to Blue & Gold... a grand total of: $18.75 for a one-way trip!

Most of the passengers who did this are those who had bicycles rented from one of the many bike companies around Fisherman's Wharf. They ride the bike through Fort Mason, across the Golden Gate Bridge, down the winding road to Sausalito, and take the boat back to the Wharf. Many of the victims purchased the WRONG ticket, or bought the right ticket (paid round-trip at Golden Gate SF terminal) and boarded the wrong boat to go back.

I could play the blame game and accuse our visitors of not paying attention, but as long as people can easily pre-purchase a Golden Gate Ferry ticket at the Sausalito port and board the wrong boat, the problem won't go away.

I suggest Golden Gate Ferry should at least do a few things to help people from not being upset and paying for two ferry services just to get across the bay:
  1. Have the ticketing machines at Sausalito ask every ticket buyer what ferry they are attempting to purchase. If they choose Blue & Gold, tell the rider to just pay on the boat, if they choose Golden Gate, tell the rider to pay now.
  2. Put instructions on the back of the paper ticket reminding passengers to only board Golden Gate Ferry and mention it's not valid on Blue & Gold Fleet.
  3. The Clipper card readers just beyond the security gate should be only activated when a Golden Gate Ferry employee turns a key or uses a special Clipper card to activate the reader for boardings, then turn-off the devices so it's not accidentally used by passengers of the wrong service or have it automatically make an error sound telling the passenger they are boarding the wrong service.
Blue & Gold Fleet should at least:
  1. Have the staff at least ask each passenger what their fare payment is prior to entering the security gates to the boat.
  2. Make an announcement prior to boarding the boat at Sausalito that Clipper is not accepted.
  3. Install clear signage telling people how to pay.

A Tip For Golden Gate Ferry Passengers
Don't pay full price, buy a plastic Clipper card and you only pay $4.85 a ride on the Sausalito ferry. You save $3.40 a ride or $4.40 a ride (when cash fare goes up $1 on August 1st).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Clipper Card Updates: July 2011 Operations Committee

Clipper on Muni
The MTC's Operations Committee will be meeting on July 8th at 9:30AM and it's time for another monthly Clipper card update from the folks who makes the big spending decisions for the blue card.

Here's information from the minutes from their previous meeting on June 10th:
  1. The MTC is working with Muni on the final transition of all youth pass users to switch from paper to Clipper cards.
  2. Starting August 1st, RTC cardholders (disabled cardholders) who has an authorized attendant, can request a specialized Clipper "attendant card" so the attendant can also be eligible for the appropriate discounts.
  3. To meet the needs of Caltrain passengers, MTC is working with Clipper and Caltrain to install add value machines at Caltrain stations at San Francisco, Palo Alto, and San Jose.

Here's what's going to be talked about at the Operations meeting:

More Information about the Attendant Cards:
The attendant cards will start August 1st, but will only be issued if the disabled cardholder requests for one. They don't want to go widespread and automatically issue attendant cards because the transit agencies are concerned if these cards are going to be fraudulently used (e.g. an attendant using the card when not accompanying the primary cardholder).

Fare Media Transition to Clipper
For the agencies participating in Clipper, they are required to meet goals to transition their fare media to Clipper, otherwise there could be sanctions issued by the MTC for failure.

Many agencies were able to meet their scheduled deadlines, while some others were able to temporarily delay it, a few fare media hasn't met their goals, and some media can't do it because of certain circumstances.

The most infamous of failure to comply is BART. They were supposed to transition all high value discount tickets by March 1, 2011, and the red and green tickets by May 1, 2011. MTC warned BART of the consequences for failure to comply and they have agreed to transition the three media types by the end of December 2011.

There's a long list of fare media that has been or will be transitioned. I'm cutting this short to only include those that hasn't been transitioned:
  • AC Transit: Senior/Disabled 10-ride and monthly, Class Pass, and 1-ride tickets for social service agencies has been waived for now.
  • BART: High value, green, and red tickets failed to transition and is proposed to do so by the end of this year. Orange tickets and BART Plus is on waivers. BART Plus can't transition because it utilizes non-Clipper transit agencies, such as County Connection.
  • Caltrain: Go Pass was supposed to transition on January 31st; MTC is working with Caltrain on a new date.
  • Muni: BART to Muni transfer at Daly City station was supposed to so by August 1, 2010, but is a complex problem for those who utilizes SF State shuttles away from BART and takes Muni back to BART. The classic Muni token was supposed to transition April 1st, but that's as rare as the dodo bird. Muni passports was supposed to transition on June 30th, but Muni only sells the paper scratch-off version. Muni transfers are supposed to be transitioning on September 30th, but that's being discussed, possibly due to other concerns regarding POP enforcement.

Akit's Opinion
I'm satisfied the MTC is finding a solution for the attendants who accompany disabled passengers to receive the same discount benefits while on duty. But I am concerned that with lack of enforcement, the cards can be abused by attendants whom are not accompanying their disabled passenger by giving the attendant discounted rides, to which they are not supposed to get.

For the fare media transition, many agencies have been able to transition their media on-time or with a slight delay. I'm not impressed with BART's lax effort to stick to a schedule, and now they get another six months to slack off.

One of the bigger controversies that will come out from the media transition is Muni transfers. City supervisors have considered to eliminate transfers as a cost cutting measure, but it leaves a gaping hole in the transit agency's enforcement policy, how will they enforce 'proof of payment?' By only giving transfers for Clipper users only, cash paying customers will get no receipt, thereby the enforcement of POP officers will switch from checking passengers at random stops to just enforcing the no entry through the back door rule. If enforcement is too lax, people will just board the bus illegally through the back door and if not immediately caught by the driver or POP officer, it's a free ride. If Muni wants to get serious to eliminate paper transfers, they'll need to do some serious enforcement on bus and metro lines to make people change their thinking. Read more about my thoughts about eliminating transfers at this older blog post.