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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Strangest Muni Permanent Route Change (44 O'Shaughnessy)

I noticed a tweet today from Jerold Chinn, a reporter for the SF Public Press, and he mentioned about a new Muni 44 O'Shaughnessy reroute and provided a link with the details on the SFMTA/Muni's website.

Muni says the re-route is for the inbound direction of the 44 line (going north). The old route to make the turnaround to go back outbound (southbound) was to turn left from 6th Avenue to Clement, right turn to 7th Avenue, right on California, and a final right on 6th Avenue. Basically, the route is to just go "around the block." See map below:

View Larger Map

But the new route Muni mentioned will instead have the bus continue down Clement to Park Presidio, make a right onto Park Presidio, and right on California.

View Larger Map

From crunching the numbers, that's a 15 block permanent re-route for the line. I feel this permanent reroute is just a joke, why make a bus waste extra fuel driving 15 blocks when it can really just go on its normal route?

Also, why make it go all the way down Clement to Park Presidio? Clement is just as congested as Irving Street on a normal weekday with double parking and heavy traffic. And making it turn onto Park Presidio is not a great idea, what happens if traffic is heavy due to an accident ahead? Is the bus going to attempt to make a wide turn on one of the busiest corridors in the city?

San Francisco's City Government at its "Best" - McDonald's Toy Ban

So our Board of Supervisors (or what I call the Stupidvisors) approved a law where fast food restaurants that serves higher than a set standard on fat, sugar, and other content, cannot give away free toys with their meals. Basically, the is targeting the McDonald's "Happy Meal," but can also affect other fast food chains in the city as well.

But from what this article from the Chronicle says, the owner of a majority of the McDonald's in the city found a creative way to go around it, just have the toy sold as a separate item.

I've known that this law is a joke from the start. Instead of selling a $5 Happy Meal with a free toy, just sell the meal itself for $4.99 and charge the customer an additional one cent to "purchase" the toy." In the end, it's still $5 for the meal and the toy.

Here's another way to look at the argument: Let's say buying a pack of cigarettes comes with a pack of matches free; a city law similar to the Happy Meal toy ban makes it illegal to give away the matches for free, so therefore a business can easily just "sell" the matches for a penny. If the law was different where selling matches was banned, then one can argue in court that a cake shop can't sell them too so customers can light birthday candles on their cake.

So Board of Supervisors... what's the point of the "ban" on giveaway toys in kids meals, when the way around it is so simple? Is this just a way to encourage us San Francisco citizens to go across the border into Daly City (San Mateo County) and pay a smaller sales tax?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Standing in Line for Four Hours for Giants Tickets on Black Friday

Crazy Crab

Can you believe it? We are less than a month away until Christmas. Time does fly fast, doesn't it?

Well... time doesn't fly as long as you stand in line for four hours with only twenty people in front of you to buy Giants tickets...

The Horror of Buying Giants Tickets on Black Friday
Did any of you get any Black Friday bargains? For me, I'd say yes, but here's what happened when I was in line buying Giants tickets on the first day of early sales...
  • On Black Friday, Giants tickets went on sale at 10AM, and in order to buy tickets without paying the outrageous surcharge, I went to AT&T Park's Giants Dugout store to buy my tickets.
  • I stood in line at 9:30AM with 20 people ahead of me and was expecting to get in the door at 10AM, stand in line for no more than 20 or 30 minutes, and get out as quickly as possible. But the horror came when the line was hardly moving...
  • Why? They only had one computer working to sell tickets. Their other computer wasn't operational. With only one computer, it took the average person 10 to 15 minutes to buy the tickets they wanted, and a good majority of the fans was unprepared, thinking on the fly on what games they wanted to see.
  • To make matters worse, the Dugout store realized after two hours, they needed extra workers to run the other ticket computers at the glass window sales booths on King Street. One they got those working, they decided to mishandle the next in line customers by allowing the people in the back of the line to get to the glass window booths first, therefore someone like me, #20 in line, got royally screwed over in this fiasco.
  • In the end, I stood in line for FOUR HOURS just to buy twelve Giants tickets.

Okay, so the Giants Grinch got me again, Giants management making me waste many hours of my life because they were too stupid to use common sense by being prepared for the masses waiting to get game tickets.

On a better note, let's all remember something important:
The holidays are not the same because John Toomey, a.k.a. Santa Claus whom was fired from Macy's Union Square and hired by Lefty O'Doul's, died in late July.

During his stint last holiday season at Lefty's, the message put out showed that us citizens should be generous and donate to needy people in the Bay Area. I decided last year to buy some toys and bring it to Lefty's to donate it to the SF Firefighters toy program, and I was stunned to see the barrel overstuffed full of toys from great people of our city.

This year, I will make sure to donate again, because I know that while I'm thankful to have a job and income, the less fortunate may not be able to buy a toy for their child.

want to propose a challenge to you readers, make a donation, whether it be a toy, dropping off food at the local food bank, or even spend time at a program like Glide to serve food. Make sure to share the holiday spirit with others, and I'm sure someone out there will appreciate what you have donated.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Clipper Card Transition of BART High Value Discount (HVD) Tickets is Poorly Thought Out

BART Gate & Clipper Card

If you are a regular commuter of BART and use High Value Discount (HVD) tickets to save a little money on your trips, you are aware the classic magnetic strip tickets will be going away at the end of the year to be a Clipper only product.

But while you may think, "wow, Clipper will make it so easier!" Ha! Time for a reality check.

The old way to buy HVDs:
  • Any BART ticket sales window at major stations. Accepts cash and commuter benefit checks.
  • Vendors around the Bay Area, including some grocery stores. Accepts cash and sometimes commuter benefit checks.
  • Mail-in tickets to BART sales office. Personal checks and commuter benefit checks accepted.

The Clipper way to buy HVDs:
  • A Clipper card user must register their personal credit/debit card, or use a commuter benefit debit card. Once registered, the user must sign-up for autoload where the card will have $32 in HVD value, and when it dips below the $10 threshold, the card will be automatically replenished with $32 more HVD dollars.

For more information about the HVD transition, click here.

For some of you, this new method might be an okay option to charge your personal credit/debit card to automatically purchase HVD value for BART. But if you like buying your HVDs in cash, you'd be grumpy too.

For those who uses commuter benefits, your options are SEVERELY LIMITED. Here's how it sucks for all of us:
  • Commuter benefit checks/vouchers cannot be claimed for HVDs.
  • You must use a commuter benefit debit card. Some of you have told me your employer doesn't give you one, and you only get vouchers. Basically, you are screwed.
  • You can only use autoload only. If you use a commuter debit card, you must be very strict on your BART spending, otherwise your card can get blocked if you don't have sufficient funds on your commuter debit card.
  • If you still want to use vouchers or a debit card without the stupid rules about autoload, you can only claim them for e-cash (universal Clipper cash fund), but you will NOT receive the 6.25% HVD discount.

Now you know why this really sucks.

As a long time blogger writing about Clipper, I highly DO NOT recommend Clipper's autoload program. It has a bad reputation and if for some reason your card gets blocked (even by accident), your card is unusable for a number of days until the system can resolve it.

For me, I'm very uncomfortable about giving out my credit card number to Clipper. For the fellow wary folks out there, there needs to be better options for all of us to get BART HVDs on Clipper, regardless if you use commuter benefits or just like paying cash to your favorite grocery store for the magnetic stripe card. MTC has said in the past that making other options to obtain HVDs is cost prohibitive, but I think it's very necessary to gain the public's trust in the program.

Here's my recommendations BART, Clipper, and MTC should do to make it easier for all for this Clipper card transition:
  1. HVDs remain available with autoload.
  2. Passengers can purchase HVDs without the autoload commitment at any Clipper ticketing machine (including Muni metro's), BART ticketing machines, and all Clipper card vendors.
  3. Passengers have the right to purchase a single HVD with cash at any location selling Clipper.
  4. Passengers have the right to use their commuter benefit voucher to buy a HVD at Clipper vendors that are willing to accept them.
  5. Passengers have the right to use their commuter benefit card to purchase a HVD at any self-service Clipper card machine, Muni metro ticket machine, and any BART ticketing machine.

If BART is willing to accept this idea instead, I'd say, run with it:
  • Since seniors, disabled, and youth card users automatically gets their discount without the need to have a separate BART pool of funding (they use their regular e-cash), why don't extend the idea to adult Clipper card users by giving every person using a Clipper card a 6.26% discount? By doing it this way, MTC, BART, and Clipper doesn't have to spend millions on reprogramming every single ticketing machine, vendor machine, and rewriting software; they just rewrite the BART fare table by subtracting 6.25%.

What's your opinion? Leave a comment.

Central Subway - The Subway to Nowhere

Muni to Chinatown Station?

When you think of the Central Subway, how do you feel? In my point of view, I think the subway is a poorly thought out project.

It's truly a "subway to nowhere." Why would the city decide to build a subway that ends in Chinatown? Sure, it helps the infamous overcrowding of the 8X, 30, and 45 lines, and the horrifying traffic on Stockton, but that's mostly it.

Just Chinatown?
Why doesn't the line go any further than Chinatown? The city is installing a stop in tourist infested Union Square, but what's the use of stopping there when tourists have only one place to visit, Chinatown?

Can't the line go further to end at Fisherman's Wharf?

Getting to the Wharf from downtown is a total pain in the ass, you either have to wait at a Cable Car stop and pay an outrageous $6 fare or be sardine packed on the F-Market streetcar. By having a light rail line going underground from Union Square to the Wharf, tourists and residents alike can get between these areas in record time, and it helps reduce the overcrowding on the F-Market and Powell cable car lines.

If you can shuttle more passengers to the places they need to go, Muni stands to make a bigger cut of money from their farebox revenues and get people from end to end in record time. Even the residents of North Beach and Wharf areas would benefit too with quick metro service to downtown.

Common sense! A lot of the general public has it, except for most of our city politicians and people coordinating the subway project.

Monday, November 14, 2011

14 Realistic Vision Statements for Muni

Muni to Chinatown Station?

Muni's vision starting in the year 2013 is:
"San Francisco: Great City, Excellent Transportation Choices." (PDF document)

What a classic! We the public believe that!
I think I just peed in my pants.

I thought to myself, let's make some real vision statements for Muni... here we go!
  1. "We continue to suck, and the public knows it."
  2. "Proposition G saved us millions, and we used it to pay for the central subway."
  3. "On time to us means if we never show-up, we don't get in trouble."
  4. "We think fare hikes is an easy way to fix our budget."
  5. "Slow is our middle name."
  6. "Central subway will solve all of our problems."
  7. "NIMBYs rule our agency."
  8. "Preventative maintenance is our tenth priority over other items such as my big fat salary and pension fund."
  9. "Our reputation is like our graffiti problem, we can never get it clean."
  10. "Fail, on top of fail, on top of more fail = fail sandwich."
  11. "We don't suck as bad as AC Transit, but they got cooler looking buses."
  12. "Screwing the public everyday."
  13. "There's no such thing as a guarantee, except fare hikes and cuts in service."
  14. "We love cameras, including the malfunctioning ones operating on our entire fleet."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Akit Voted - His Opinions on the Results

San Francisco Proposition B Fail

Voting, a time for us citizens to make serious choices, and tell politicians we like them or hate them with the stroke of a pen; instead of opening our wallets.

It turned out a lot of my picks on the ballot didn't turn out the way I wanted it to go. So here's my views about it:

Mayor Ed Pak, I meant Rose Lee, sorry, Ed Lee wins
Great... just great. If you read my twitter feed, I don't like the guy. I didn't put him as any of my choices on the ranked choice ballot. What's so bad about the ranked choice ballot is if you pick three candidates and they don't make it into the last round after most people are eliminated, basically, your vote doesn't count for one of the last two survivors.

District Attorney Gascon wins
Not a bad choice. But I wouldn't pick Fazio because he was the lawyer for Ed Jew whom is now enjoying time in a federal prison camp.

Sheriff Ross wins
Interesting, real interesting. Not much to say, but from meeting him in person, he's a nice guy.

Proposition A wins
Bonds to refurbish schools is okay for me. If I have kids, I'd send them to SF public schools and are well maintained and not at risk of falling down in an earthquake.

Proposition B wins
Fixing potholes with bond money. I voted no because we never need bonds to fix our streets. Shouldn't the extra money saved from Proposition G (a.k.a. "the public seeks revenge on Muni employees") and money from the general fund be enough to fix our streets?

Proposition C beats D
Oh god. I picked D over C because we could have saved an extra $300 million in ten years by going with D. Hey, $300M could keep our streets nice and smooth instead of potholes every day. But give some credit to Adachi, if he didn't speak up and demand pension reform, proposition C wouldn't pass.

Propositions E and F
Annoying propositions about inactive laws and "campaign consultants." Nobody really cares.

Proposition G Loses
Raise the sales tax by 0.5% to 9%. Um, that just encourages me to shop more in Daly City and Colma where the tax is a nice 8.25%!!!!!!!! I totally voted no on this one.

Proposition H Wins Loses
The school district assignment proposition barely wins loses with just 115 votes making the difference. The controversy about neighborhood schools has always been a hot topic in this city, and I'm going to bet within five years, this issue is going to be raised again.

I love voting... it's an opportunity for average folks to give the middle finger to the city government.

Friday, November 4, 2011

BART Has Ideas of Changing Fare Structure - Big Savings but Fare Hike Too

BART Gate & Clipper Card

Today and yesterday, the BART Board is having a retreat and talking business over teleconference across the east and west bays.

BART is considering to change their fare policies to make it more attractive than their basic system of mileage based fare with minimal discounts for adults for riding often. To review the documents, click here (PDF file). Additional documents are attached within the PDF file to review.

Here's a list of what they may consider to do. They could pick and accept all of them, just a few, or just none of them:
  1. Continue with usual fare increase every two years. Next increase would be 3.9%. Would raise extra $13 million.
  2. Establish a monthly pass under a zone based system. Loss of $10.5 million.
  3. Extend youth discount up to age 17 (currently ends at age 12). May stick with 62.5% discount or may reduce it to 50% discount. Loss of $4.6/3.1 million, respectively.
  4. Offer passengers who ride more than 40 times in a calendar month the privilege to ride BART for free for the remainder of month. Loss of $8.4 million.
  5. Increase capital surcharge by 10 cents, from 12 cents to 22 cents. Raise extra $8.3 million.
  6. Automatic 15% fare discount to all Clipper card users. Loss of $22 million.
  7. Peak fare and off-peak discount; 15% fare hike on rush hours, 10% discount during non-rush. Raise $6.8 million.
  8. Lifeline program to those making less than $25,000 or $50,000 by offering a 50% discount. Loss of $16/$18 million, respectively.

Akit's Opinion
In a fantasy world, we would approve of all the cool benefits that we can take advantage, like extending the youth fare to up to age 17, monthly pass, the free rides after 40 rides, 15% discount for Clipper users, and the lifeline program.

But in the real world, all those fantasy options comes at a cost to BART and taxpayers. The only way they could compensate for the losses is to raise fares. They already do a fare increase every two years, and would need to do a fare hike during peak transit times to encourage less crowding by having those take BART during non-peak hours, and increase the capital surcharge.

In a marketing and PR standpoint, it would make BART look more attractive for many people. Passengers have been begging for a monthly pass system for the longest time, youth from ages 13-17 have been screwed over by not getting a youth fare discount while other transit agencies still offer it until they become 18, no need for high value discount tickets to ride BART as all Clipper users are eligible for the automatic 15% discount, and those with low income can save money.

BART's current fare structure and rules works well for them as their farebox revenue generates over 50% of the agency's income. And in a time when the status quo works well, BART could be hesitant to change it. I feel their current fare structure is simple enough to understand, how far you go determines your fare, simple to understand discounts for youth, disabled and seniors, and high value discounts for adults.

But even though the current fare structure is simple to use, it's getting old. People want rewards for being loyal riders, and there's very few incentives for people to use. The only few incentives for the regular commuter is using commuter benefit vouchers, high value discount tickets, and Clipper fare payment. BART used to offer a credit card that gave people free BART tickets for using their card on everything, including buying groceries, but that card disappeared.

I like the idea of a monthly zone pass. People can benefit from traveling around the Bay Area without worrying if their Clipper card has enough money, and it makes it easy to budget a passenger's cost to ride BART every month and year.

I also like the 15% discount for Clipper card users. It sounds like they want to follow in the tracks of Golden Gate Transit when they decided to give all passengers a discount to ride when using Clipper, versus having everyone buy GGT electronic zone based ticket books on Clipper. By having BART encouraging Clipper usage, the agency can save money on reduced maintenance on ticketing machines as they are used less often, and can buy less mag stripe tickets because people use a reusable and refillable Clipper card.

Surely, I don't like the idea of a fare hike, but I have to sometimes accept that fact. As I am not a regular commuter on BART and stick to weekend rides, I would benefit with the 10% fare discount, but regular commuters would grumble at paying a 15% premium. But even then, the premium fare would be zero percent if BART offers the 15% discount for using Clipper.

What's your thoughts about BART's proposals? Like them? Hate them? Leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

BART Publishes "How To" Videos on Clipper - Akit Beat Them to the Punch Over a Year Ago

Wow BART, you finally made a video on how to use Clipper cards on your add value machines and enter/exit your gates.

BART also produced how to add value videos here and here.

But wait just a second... you folks at BART are way behind the times, because I shot and edited this video over a year and eight months ago:

Get with the times, BART! A single person with a cheap digital camera and a Mac was able to record and produce a video in less than a day. For you guys, it's HD cameras, contractors editing video, and lots of money. Heck, why not pay me $500 and I'll do it all myself?


In other BART related news:
The agency is working with the MTC on a possible plan to modify the exitfare machines to allow passengers with insufficient Clipper card funds to pay the difference before exiting. This policy will fight back against those who exploit Clipper card's negative balance feature and contributes to the $700,000 yearly loss the MTC has to swallow. This is mentioned in last week's BART Board of Directors agenda documents (PDF document).

Lastly, the MTC's operations committee is supposed to meet this Friday, but there's nothing interesting to report.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Clipper (Cubic) Hits a New Low - Exposing E-Mail Addresses

Muni New Faregates - Civic Center Station Secondary Gates (Edited)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a party foul. In the news today, Clipper and the MTC are apologizing for releasing the e-mail addresses of over 1,700 card users. This happened when an e-mail was sent to customers whose credit card registered with autoload was going to expire. The employee whom works for Cubic (MTC's contractor for Clipper) sent the mass e-mail to those applicable customers, but forgot to place the contacts in the BCC (blind carbon copy) address list, therefore a ton of people got it.

But that doesn't end there, people outraged about it also hit the "reply to all" button on their e-mail service to let out a rant, but to also annoy those who became victims and didn't want any part of this mess.

You can review these news sources: SFGate/Chronicle and Muni Diaries.

Akit's Opinion
Clipper is hitting new lows, and this one is another kick to the nuts.

I don't get it, why doesn't Clipper/Cubic use automatic e-mail notifications for this? Why does an employee need to dig-up the e-mails, copy and paste it (in this case, incorrectly), and send off a mass message like this? Shouldn't the website automatically know when a credit card is about to expire and automatically shoot-off an e-mail?

Automation for Clipper has been slow at times, they used to manually e-mail reports when people requested it, then was able to automate it by having users log into the website and just clicking on a couple of links to instantly view the report.

Some are saying "yeah yeah, at least it wasn't as bad as the MyBART incident." But if you are a victim getting all that junk anger mail from other Clipper card users who hit the "reply to all" button, you'd be pissed too.

Clipper really needs to clean-up their reputation. There's a lot of positive stuff that shines good on the agency, but there's a lot of things that really doesn't make a lot of sense. Other than not automating e-mails, they also haven't done the following to fix or improve:
  • Allowing all BART ticket machines to sell all e-passes and e-ridebooks for all agencies, other than just letting people load e-cash only. If you are at Daly City BART where Muni and Samtrans also stops at, wouldn't you want a place to buy your bus passes?
  • Installing Clipper add value machines at more than just a few Caltrain stations (which are not yet operational).
  • Finding other ways for people to fix autoload problems causing the card to be blocked, whether it be going to an automated machine or the in-person customer service centers to resolve it.
  • Finding decent methods to stop people from exploiting the negative balance feature.
  • Toning down Clipper's trademark beep sound. You can sometimes hear it a block away, on a noisy street!
  • Why does youth who ride AC Transit need a Clipper card with their photo so they can be eligible to buy a youth pass? All the other agencies doesn't require a photo Clipper card to obtain a youth pass. When a youth passenger loses their specialized card from AC Transit, they have a bigger hassle than those with a uniform policy of no photo.
  • BART passengers who wants to pay for their parking without obtaining a special EZrider hangtag by just tagging their card and punching in their parking stall number.
  • BART doesn't like the idea of adult passengers being able to buy HVDs at their ticketing machines or a vendor, everyone must use autoload (which many hates to use).
  • Caltrain's stupid policies on 8-rides and monthly passes on Clipper.
  • Want to add one to this list? Leave a comment!