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or, better yet, give him a job."
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

How to Access the Elusive Sky Terrace Roof at Westfield Mall SF

The Super Hidden Sky Terrace!
Did you know there's a city policy under the 1985 Downtown Plan that requires new commercial buildings to have publicly accessible open space?  In some places, it's pretty obvious that you are on private property, but enjoying the park like atmosphere in the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco.  For the downtown workers, these privately-owned public open spaces (or what the city calls POPOS), it's an opportunity to enjoy their lunch away from their office desk.

I learned about this from a Tweet from the city government, and the link in the tweet landed me on the San Francisco's Planning Department's website about these POPOS, including an interactive map.

Finding the Elusive Westfield Mall San Francisco's Sky Terrace
One of these public places I wanted to find was the Sky Terrace at the Westfield Mall, formerly the home of the Emporium.  Back in the day, the old roof of the Emporium was the location of holiday carnival rides that was hoisted by crane every year until the company went out of business.

While the city map showed where it was located, it did not tell me how to access it.  Since I was shopping around the downtown area, I decided to drop by the concierge desk at the Westfield Mall for more information.  Asking the young lady at the desk, she didn't know what I was talking about, saying this was the first she heard of this rooftop.  I mentioned about the city policy, and she contacted her superiors for more information.

While I was waiting for five minutes, I did a search on my phone and it told me that there's no direct access through the mall.  Shortly after, the concierge told me the same answer.

How to Access the Sky Terrace
Step one:
You'll need to access it through the outside building entrance on Market located on the far left side of where the building property line ends (next door is Walgreens).  You will see a purple San Francisco State University Banner and the address 835 Market Street.  This is also the entrance to San Francisco State's Downtown Center.

My Alma Mater (times two) and Employer!
Step two: 
Walk through the doors and down the hallway and you will see a security guard desk on the right.  You'll know you are in the right building when you notice the SF State signage on the left just when you enter the building.

Step three:
Ask the security guard that you would like to access the sky terrace.  Depending on how nice the guard is, they'll tell you how to get there, or give you a surly attitude.

Remember, floor nine is the place to go.
Step four:
You'll see an elevator bank to the left of the guard's desk.  Take the forward left elevator and select floor nine (there will be the words "Sky Terrace" next to the button).  This is the only elevator that provides service to the roof, so don't take the wrong elevator.

Step five:
At the ninth floor, just make a quick left and you are at the Sky Terrace!

The Rooftop Experience
Going to the rooftop, it's so hidden and challenging to access that it's so quiet up there.  While the streets are busy with people running around with shopping bags of holiday stuff, you are just alone on the rooftop.  There are tables, chairs, and benches to relax upon, but there are no restroom facilities or any easy to access place to grab a bite.

The view is good, and the most obvious thing you'll see is the famous dome that was originally there when the Emporium existed.  You'll also get a view of the western skyline, including City Hall.

The Dome
If you need food or access the restrooms, go into the mall to the bottom level to access the Emporium food court.

If you have a SF State student/staff/faculty ID card, show it at any of the food court vendors and receive the mall employee discount ranging from 10% to 15% off, and certain vendors selling coffee and beverages for just $1.  To review the vendor list with discounts, click here.

It's a challenge to find because it's not obvious to find.  But if you want some place away from the busy streets of San Francisco, this is the place to find some peace.  Their heating and air conditioning units are also on the roof and will make it a little loud, but if you don't mind the noise, just listen to music or wear earplugs, you'll do perfectly fine.

Word has it it's only open Monday-Friday when the offices in the building are open, but there's nothing telling me that.  I entered on Saturday, December 22nd and while the guard said access to the area may not happen, but the elevator went to the 9th floor without any trouble.  Technically, SF State is open on December 22nd for final exams (yes, there's finals on Saturday), so I guess I got lucky.

There is a change in city laws regarding signage.  In January 2013, the city will be enforcing a signage policy where there must be signage guiding people to these publicly accessible locations.  I'm hoping others will find the Sky Terrace with the new signage, but I'm also betting this hidden spot will still be hidden because people don't really know it exists; even the maps in the mall doesn't say anything about the Sky Terrace.

So now that I told you about this spot, wait until a nice warm day and go enjoy your time on the Sky Terrace!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't Pay the SF Parking Meters on First Three Sundays in January 2013 - No Parking Tickets, Only Reminders

Photo: SFMTA
As you may be aware, the city will start enforcing city parking meters on Sundays from 12 Noon to 6PM starting in January.

This means for us citizens, no more scoring free parking at meters all-day on Sunday, but you still can park for free in the city before 12 noon in the city.  It's still a perfect time for me to handle my Sunday morning haircuts and morning runs to pick up cheap dim sum because I don't have to pay the meter.

But... after reading the SFMTA's press release about this matter, something seemed kinda odd.  For the first three Sundays in January, SFMTA meter maids won't be issuing parking tickets for violators not paying the meter; instead, they will be just leaving a kind reminder for people to pay.

Directly quoted from the SFMTA: "On January 6, 13 and 20, Parking Control Officers will issue reminders, not citations, on cars at expired meters."

So this basically means, I can still park for free for the first three Sundays in January, and all I might get is a kind notice saying, "please do pay."  Odd, isn't it?

Reminder: This policy about getting courtesy notices doesn't affect meters operated by the Port of San Francisco or nearby Fisherman's Wharf (meters that are enforced everyday, including holidays).  You should still pay the meter on the first three Sundays.

Here's another interesting fact about the meter policy change: City meters with a one hour maximum limit (Monday-Saturday) will be all changed to a two hour maximum.  All meters for Sunday enforcement will be a maximum of four hours.  I'm assuming "green head" meters will remain with a very short time limit of 30 minutes or less.

For more information about Sunday enforcement, click here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Muni, Samtrans, VTA & Dumbarton Express Not Part of BART Plus Program Starting January 1, 2013

Back in mid-September, I reported the SFMTA was considering to drop their participation in the BART Plus program.

If you are not familiar with BART Plus, it's both a BART ticket with stored value and a flash pass good for unlimited rides on partner agencies.  This made it perfect for those who needs to take a feeder bus to a BART station without the need to buy multiple passes, and kept it at a simple set price structure so if you need more BART fare on the Plus ticket, you can.

BART Plus was the perfect model of a multi-agency pass, giving passengers many choices, but starting January 1, 2013, BART declared four more nails in the coffin of the BART Plus program, effectively putting it on its own death bed.

Starting January 1, 2013, the following agencies will not accept BART Plus: Muni, Samtrans, VTA and Dumbarton Express.

The only partner agencies the BART Plus ticket will be valid on after January 1: County Connection, Rio Vista Delta Breeze, Tri Delta Transit, Union City Transit, WestCAT and Wheels.

Akit's Opinions:
These severe cuts to the program will only allow access to the very small transit agencies.  All the big agencies that BART Plus users have depended on for a very long time will now be forking more money to ride the big agencies for their daily commutes.  The loss of AC Transit to BART Plus was its first downfall, but losing Muni, Samtrans, VTA and Dumbarton Express is extreme.

BART's reason for this: "...because they (the transit agencies ending on 1/1/13) are using the Clipper Card for travel on their systems."  What a lame excuse.  So what?  Just because these agencies now accept Clipper doesn't mean BART Plus shouldn't be honored.  There has to be another reason why... is it because BART wants more money, or does the participating agencies realize it's a severe money loss?

BART Plus will always be remembered as the perfect program for a one pass solution to ride most (not all) transit agencies for decent price.  The loss of the four major agencies is horrible for commuters.  Many people have been asking Clipper to create a one pass solution, but these greedy ass transit agencies wants to not be friendly and force us passengers to dish out more money for transit fares.

BART, Muni, Samtrans, VTA, and Dumbarton Express: YOU MAKE ME SICK.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Clipper Card Changes for Muni & Golden Gate Ferry

There are some upcoming changes regarding the usage of the Clipper card for those who ride Muni and Golden Gate Ferry.  For many of you, it should not affect the way you handle your day to day business, but it's good to read up on what is going on.  These changes are effective Friday, December 14, 2012.

There are three changes:
  1. The minimum balance on a card to ride Muni is being raised to a minimum of $1.50.  Anything less than that amount will be a rejected transaction.  Those Muni passengers with a monthly pass and has less than $1.50 in e-cash on the card will be permitted to ride as the Clipper card reader will recognize the pass.
  2. SFMTA ticket machines located at all metro subway stations will change the minimum e-cash to be loaded to the card from $5 to $2.
  3. SFMTA ticket machines at metro stations will allow passengers to load a maximum of up to $100 in e-cash onto the card.  Currently the maximum is $300, which is the maximum amount of e-cash a Clipper card can hold.
Golden Gate Ferry
The agency has similar changes:
  1. The minimum balance on a Clipper card to ride the ferry is $4.25.  Anything less and the transaction is rejected.
  2. Golden Gate Ferry ticketing machines will load a maximum of $100 in e-cash to a Clipper card.

Akit's Opinions
These are some good changes for both agencies.

When it comes to the raising of the minimum e-cash balance on a Clipper card, this is a step in the right direction.  This will greatly reduce the abuse of passengers who can rip-off the system by simply loading a nickel on the a zero balance card, ride a bus or ferry, and throw the card away.  It also encourages passengers to take care of their Clipper card and reuse it.

For the metro ticket machines' minimum e-cash load being reduced to $2, this is very good for those passengers who ran out of money on their Clipper card and only have just enough cash for one more ride.  Instead of making them pay for a Limited Use Ticket which wastes resources, a cheap reload is just what the doctor ordered.  It's also perfect when you want to dump your leftover pocket change in the machine by requiring less coins to make the $2 load, but still, BART's ticket machines to dump change is much better and easier.

As for the maximum limit to load a Clipper card, I'm not sure of why they are asking for the change.  There is the possibility that they are trying to limit the abuse of stolen credit cards, just like how BART has a limit of two transactions per credit card, per day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

SFMTA Should Reject Spending $1.6 Million for Free Youth Passes in Light of Muni Metro Meltdown

UPDATE: SFMTA Board approved giving free passes to youth, instead of investing money towards keeping Muni running, especially since the meltdown.  Big frown!  Read Tweet from Muni.

Original posting: Yesterday was one of Muni's worst days ever with two major incidents: a passenger being dragged over 500 feet when struck by a F-Market streetcar, and the meltdown of Muni metro.

Muni Metro serves tens of thousands of people every single workday, and a transformer at the Van Ness station practically ended all tunnel service within the city, therefore forcing city buses to take the brunt of transporting riders from West Portal to Embarcadero.  Muni blames the transformer on the weekend's heavy rains for ruining the commute after 6PM, but fortunately service is restored to the light rail system for the morning commute.

Today at 1PM in City Hall, the SFMTA Board of Directors will be having their last meeting of the year, and I'm betting the board and citizens on the microphone will be ranting about the disruption of Muni metro.  Some will put blame on the weather while others will put blame on the neglect and deferred maintenance now punishing the city.

Also on the agenda is the board will be voting on $1.6 million in grant funding from the MTC to provide free Muni youth passes for those who qualify.  The rest of the grant money ($5.1 million) will be going towards a rehabilitation of the light rail vehicles. (View PDF of proposal here)

Other than my views of using taxpayer money to fund free rides for kids (I deeply oppose any free rides for kids), in light of the major Muni metro meltdown last night, I want the SFMTA Board to reject the $1.6 million in funding and change the proposal to spend that money to fixing the critical infrastructure of Muni in order to maintain operational status.

While I know $1.6 million won't solve all our problems, at least fixing certain critical components such as making sure the electrical transformers for Muni metro won't explode is more important because the metro service serves a bigger population, and not just kids who might be eligible for a free pass.  I depend on Muni metro on days when I go to the ballpark, and many of you depend on it to bring you fast service to your workplace in downtown.

What would you spend $1.6 million?  Making sure Muni works for all, or give free passes for kids?

I'd make sure Muni works for all.  And for you kids, be lucky Muni gives the BIGGEST DISCOUNT for youth passengers versus other agencies in the Bay Area.
  • Muni: $2 adult, $0.75 youth (62.5% discount) with free transfer.
  • Samtrans: $2 adult, $1.25 youth (37.5% discount) with no transfer.
  • VTA: $2 adult, $1.75 youth (12.5% discount) with no transfer.
  • AC Transit: $2.10 adult, $1.05 youth (50% discount) with additional $0.25 for one ride transfer.
 I've made my point.  REJECT FREE PASSES FOR KIDS.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Free Muni on December 28th? SFMTA Board Votes Tuesday

I was looking around the SFMTA/Muni website and reviewed the agenda documents for the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting that will be happening this Tuesday, December 4th.

Other than the controversial free passes for youth proposal (at $1.6 million) on Tuesday's program, agenda item 10.8 sparked some interest...

The SFMTA Board of Directors are going to vote on a proposal for free Muni rides on Friday, December 28th, 2012.  You heard that right, free rides on all Muni lines, including the $5 $6 per ride Cable Cars.

Why the free rides?  It's Muni's birthday, but not just any usual birthday, it's their 100th.  Back in 1912, the city's Muni service was born and after 100 years, now provides over 200 million passenger trips a year.

The SFMTA considered an alternative to have the fare at five cents, but are not recommending as it is more difficult to execute.

If all goes well, the SFMTA Board will approve this and you'll be able to enjoy going around the city fare free!

Akit's Opinions:
I personally think this is a great idea to give free rides for a day to celebrate the agency's 100th anniversary.  It's great for those who are enjoying their time-off, but also gives thanks to those still needing to take public transit to work on the last Friday of the year.

While it may be free, if the city has learned a lesson from the Spare the Air free transit rides, it could possibly slow down bus lines as more people would just take a bus and just get off at the next stop simply because it's free.  Others complained it turns into a moving homeless shelter.  But since it's very late into the year, Muni's passenger loads should be lower.

Five cents or not?  I believe charging five cents has its logistics and cost issues, including the need to print thousands of paper transfers and making sure the Clipper card equipment is modified for that one day.  At least when it's free, you won't have fare inspectors writing $100 citations for failure to pay a nickel fare.

Monday, November 26, 2012

9th Avenue and Judah (N-Judah Outbound) is Dangerous for Passengers

Seasons greetings to all my readers and I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  As some of you may know, I've moved into the Inner Sunset district and have been here for the past few months.  It's always great that I'm just a short walk from all the merchants and restaurants along 9th Avenue and on Irving, especially some places I haven't patronized since I was a little kid eating Sunday breakfast with my parents.

One of the greatest perks is the ample access to public transit.  On 9th Avenue and Judah, you can practically go any direction with the 6, 43, 44, and 66 lines.  But the fastest way to downtown is on the N-Judah.

I love the N-Judah for its air conditioning and quick rides to downtown, but I'm really concerned about the 9th Avenue and Judah outbound stop.  If you have a driver's license, you are aware of the "Do Not Pass" law which requires drivers to stop behind the last metro car door when the train is embarking and disembarking passengers.  It's a matter of safety that passengers can exit the train without getting hit by an incoming vehicle.

While the city does put an effort to put stickers on the back of metro vehicles, police sting enforcement, and those big signs saying "Do Not Pass" (not everywhere in the city), this gets largely ignored at the 9th and Judah stop for the outbound trains.  Every time I exit the metro, there's always a car that buzzes through; even though there's an island between the tracks and the roadway, drivers still ignore the law.

Some of you may be saying, if there's a boarding island, I can pass a metro car that's embarking/disembarking passengers?  The answer is mixed.  State vehicle code, section 27156 makes it clear that only a car can pass a light rail vehicle only if there's specific signage, ("safety zone") traffic officer, or police officer telling the driver to pass, but only at 10MPH.  When there's no specific signage permitting passing or a cop directing traffic, then the Do Not Pass law applies.

9th Avenue and Judah at the N-Judah's outbound stop does not have any signage permitting passing a metro train, therefore it is a violation to pass it.  But one big problem that I have is there isn't even a "Do Not Pass" sign at the stop.  If you see the Google Streetview on the top of this blog entry, there is absolutely no signs anywhere reminding drivers about the law.

For me, I'm quite worried when I exit the metro at a surface stop.  I fear that a driver will just decide to pass and I'll be the next person going to the hospital.  Back in January, I had a close encounter and two other passengers exiting almost got hit too.

For passengers: Always remember to look before you take the final step off the metro.
For drivers: Respect the law.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Clipper Card Readers Beeping Too Loud?

Now that everyone is used to using their Clipper card to ride public transportation, one annoying issue I've been noticing more often since I moved to the Inner Sunset where public transit options are more available to me, is how loud the card readers are.

For those who tags their card on the Clipper card readers (except those at BART and Muni metro stations), that little card reader can sure screech a loud sound to confirm your proper card tag.  Depending on other background sounds being generated, I can typically hear a card reader beep from a Muni bus a half a block away (roughly 500 feet) or even a block from the bus stop.

Back when the TransLink program was in their pilot program (nearly a decade ago), the card readers didn't make the loud beep, it was a lot more quieter and a lower tone ("boop!").  Worked fine for those tagging their cards and even the error tone sounded more like a buzzer than a screeching three rapid beeps.

It is truly necessary for today's Clipper card readers to be so loud that it can be heard from a decent distance?  That sound should only be loud enough for the passenger to confirm the card has been tagged.  There are no safety reasons that warrants the use of a loud Clipper card beep (e.g. buses with kneeling features must make a loud beep when kneeling and raising).  I believe the tone much quieter so it isn't as bothersome and annoying.

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Leave a comment.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't Freak Out: Don't Pay the Meters on Sundays (For Now)

The city is already starting to update the parking meters with new signage stating Sunday parking will be enforced in the city from 12 Noon to 6PM.

But wait... before you start feeding coins into that meter, you should read the other side of the meter that says Sunday enforcement is effective January 1, 2012.

I took a picture of this meter on Portola, nearby the Round Table Pizza.

Why 12-4PM enforcement on Sundays?  Local church leaders asked the city not to enforce prior to 12 so their members can attend church without fear of being ticketed.  As for me, I can still score free parking before noon to get a haircut.

Also, the meter I looked at says the maximum amount of time you can feed a meter is double the time of the regular Monday-Friday maximum.  I'm not sure if this 2X policy will be effective in neighborhoods with major parking problems (e.g. Noriega, Irving, and Clement).

Also, be aware that meters within the jurisdiction of the Port of San Francisco, including near Fisherman's Wharf operate 7 days a week, including holidays; so if it's Sunday and you are parked nearby the Famous Bushman, make sure to feed the meter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Support the Victims of the West Portal & Ulloa Fire

As Thanksgiving approaches and everyone is planning to meet up with family and friends to share a turkey and tasty pumpkin pie, we should always be thankful for what we have.  Yet, we sometimes forget about those in need or are struggling during this holiday season.

Many of you have known about the big fire that happened at the corner of West Portal and Ulloa, right near the West Portal Muni Metro Station.  The early morning fire was so huge it required over 180 firefighters with multiple ladder trucks, and the Fire Chief and Mayor was there.  It took nearly 12 hours to fully extinguish the blaze, and made major delays on Muni metro.  Just yesterday, a small bulldozer went to the corner property to knock it down.

While I was having lunch with my dad in Parkmerced yesterday, I was reading the West Portal Monthly.  The newspaper stated the fire damaged an estimated 7.35 million dollars.  But what's more sad is all the employees, especially those at Squat and Gobble who can't go back to the West Portal location.  While I'm not sure if those employees were able to work at their sister locations, this is still a burdon on them.

Let's all be generous this holiday season.  If you would like to make a donation to help those employees displaced by the fire, please visit any San Francisco Bank of America branch and ask for your deposit to be sent to the "West Portal Fire Account."

Even though Thanksgiving is a week away, I wish to all my loyal readers a great and safe Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Akit's Thoughts on the Most Recent Election

I'm not all too fond with politics.  I get tired of watching the morning news and a good portion is covering the everything from ballot measures to candidates trying to get into office.  Whatever political junk mail I get, it  goes straight into the recycling bin, phone calls gets immediately hung up, and doorbell ringers will get no answer because I turned off the power to the doorbell.

I'm personally happy its all over.  Can life get back to normal?

Here's my thoughts on some of the political candidates and propositions that was on the most recent ballot:

City Supervisors: As I recently moved from the Outer Richmond to the Inner Sunset, there was no supervisor candidate to vote for.  I personally don't have any favorites as I think most of the board is a bunch of idiots and clowns for passing legislation such as the Happy Meal toy ban.  As for the supervisor candidate volunteers on election day standing in the medians at the St. Francis Circle intersection during rush hour, they were just inches from a car making a wrong last minute lane change and killing the volunteers.

State Assembly: Really?  Phil Ting won?  Never was a fan of him since he used city public funding for a failed bid for becoming mayor of San Francisco; some say he used his failed candidacy as leverage to take a punch at going for the State Assembly seat.  He can shove that "reset" button up his ass.

Proposition A for City College: Okay, so it passed.  As City College is in fiscal shambles and is on the verge of losing their accreditation, if I see another ballot measure in the next few years asking for more money, don't expect my support.  Manage your money and regain the trust of the citizens first.

Proposition F for the research to consider to drain out Hetch Hetchy: Good this lost with 77.4% saying no.  Losing Hetch Hetchy's water would be devastating to San Francisco, especially when we have some of the best tap water in the nation and the hydro power generates electricity for Muni's trolley buses and light rail.

Proposition 30 for tax money for schools: I work for the higher education sector and this is needed to keep our public education running and open for our students.

Proposition 37 for genetically modified labels: I had to compare labeling food as GMO to California's gasoline.  The state's gasoline is a one of a kind blend (pollution control bla bla bla); this means we can't import gasoline from other states that don't comply with standards, and therefore our gasoline costs more to purchase at the pump with limited competition.  If we were the only state requiring GMO labeling, we'd be in the same situation as manufacturers of food would have to produce special items just to comply with California law, and that means passing the cost to the consumer.

That's my thoughts on these ballot measures.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Clipper Card Glitch Screws Passengers Again - When Will it Stop?

Broken readers is just one of many problems.
If you have a Clipper card, you may have been a victim of glitches or problems that are not your fault.  Throughout the years that I've been blogging about Clipper, I've written my fair share of issues and try to get MTC, and Cubic Transportation Systems (the contractor running the Clipper card) to get it fixed.

And while they do admit to their errors and fixes them as soon as they can, the problems continue to persist, like this most recent issue:
Starting on June 1st, Muni decided to end the paper version of the free ride transfers for those who exit Daly City BART and switches to the Clipper card handling the transactions.  This matter was concerning to commuters who used the SF State free shuttle as the transfer policy requires the passenger to ride the 28/28L line bus away from the station within the first hour of exiting the station; by taking the SF State shuttle, the transfer on the Clipper card is void and a return trip from SF State to BART will be charged at regular price.

Muni and SF State worked out a plan, effective August 1, 2012, instead of the one hour policy, it was extended to 23 hours for the first Muni ride.  The reason behind this is students that take the campus shuttle away from the campus, and can still ride the 28/28L line going back to BART with no fear of being charged a $2 fare (as long as it's within 23 hours of exiting BART).  Read story about the change in transfer policy.

But things didn't work out as planned.  As reported by the Golden Gate Xpress, the supposed reprogrammed transfer policy had a glitch and students who took the campus shuttle away from Daly City, was charged a $2 fare for their return to BART when taking a Muni bus.  Muni admitted the error and promised to have a fix by October 26th and Clipper will refund any passenger affected by the glitch.

The problem I have with this is, why do these glitches keep cropping up, and why isn't the contractor (Cubic Transportation Systems) not making sure it works perfectly the first time, every time?

It's not an isolated problem for Cubic, it's a chain of failures due to idiots programming the stuff without testing it.  Here's a list of their failures for the past few years:
  1. In August 2012, there was a discovery that happened in 2010 when their cards enrolled with autoload funded their cards, but didn't charge their credit card at the time of the reloading of funds. Passengers were finally charged in August 2012 on their credit cards for the reloaded funds.
  2. Back in May 2012, AC Transit passengers complained that when they rode an AC bus, transferred to BART, and took another AC bus, they were overcharged on their fare.  This glitch was the same problem Muni passengers faced before (see below).
  3. At the same time, passengers who rode Muni, took BART, and transferred to Muni was also overcharged.  I originally reported on the problem back in June 2011 and while Clipper promised to get it fixed, people were still getting screwed until May 2012.
  4. A software glitch delays the implementation of Clipper on Samtrans.  MTC fails to notify public until I broke the news.
  5. In October 2010, I reported on the Clipper card readers beeping like crazy and it wasn't fixed until February 2011.
  6. In early August 2010, those who linked their Clipper card with Wageworks was very angry when a glitch in the system resulted in pre-tax transit benefit users not getting their passes or funds loaded to their card in a timely manner. (Via my blog and SF Appeal)
  7. On one day in July 2010, a software update to Clipper card readers on Muni failed to work properly resulting in disabled Clipper card readers.
  8. April 2010, software update disables TransLink (pre-Clipper era) card readers.

I think I've made my point clear.  MTC needs to force Cubic to wise up and make sure that whenever there's a software or firmware update, that everything is throughly tested BEFORE the public uses it.  For every mistake or problem, people lose money from their Clipper card from errors or overcharges, transit agencies don't generate the correct revenue, and the time wasted for fixing the errors and issuing refunds to those affected.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Simple Tips on Taking Public Transit to Giants World Series Parade

This Wednesday at 11AM is going to be a great day for San Francisco when everyone is getting Halloween candy and watching the San Francisco Giants at the World Series ticker tape parade.

If you plan to go to the parade, are you prepared to take public transportation?  Taking your car into downtown SF is going to be the worst idea ever with traffic, tons of people, and limited parking.

Public transit is your BEST option!  At the 2010 World Series parade, tons of people took Muni, BART, Caltrain, and the ferries to get to the city to watch our team celebrate, now it's 2012 and tens of thousands of fans will flood the city again.

Being prepared is the best way to make it through public transportation.  Here's my simple tips on how be ready:
  1. If you ride BART, buy your round-trip BART ticket TODAY.  Do it on Wednesday and wait in a long line for a ticket.  By having a ticket ready for entry, you can get through the gates quicker.
  2. If you ride Golden Gate Ferry, you can also purchase your round-trip ferry fare early by visiting one of the Golden Gate ticket machines at the terminals.
  3. For other transit agencies that utilizes cash fares, make sure you carry enough dollar bills and coins to cover your rides.  Nobody likes people who holds up a bus when they are digging for that remaining quarter in their pocket.
  4. If you really need a seat on BART, you may want to take a train going the opposite direction and board the train deeper in their system, such as Richmond station.
  5. Parking at stations can be a problem on Wednesday.  Some parking lots allows you to reserve a space, so do your research and be ready.  Many BART stations with parking allows you to pre-pay for parking and you get a reserved parking space.  I suggest you do it.
  6. As always, my best tip of all, GET A CLIPPER CARD.  Clipper cards are valid on all the major transit agencies going to San Francisco.  While there's a $3 new card acquisition fee, that will pay off when you don't have to suffer waiting in a ticket machine line; it's like the express pass to getting on that boat, bus, or train.
Clipper, the express pass to skipping waiting in line for tickets.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Opinion: It's Time to Simplify the Clipper Card

One of the big problems with Clipper cards is that all the rules regarding the use of paper passes, transfers, and particular rules for the paper fare medias was transferred to exactly mimic onto Clipper cards. For many of us long time Bay Area residents, we all know about the 3-day grace period with Muni passes, or the 25 cent fee to transfer one time onto AC Transit...

But to tell you the truth, it's way too complicated. Think about it this way, Clipper's programming rules are so complex when someone tags their card, it needs to know if the person rode the same agency recently (e-transfer), rode a partner transit agency (inter agency e-transfer), has a valid pass, has a ride ticket book, or just has e-cash. Clipper had to grandfather all the old rules on the books for decades and now we're paying the price.

Clipper's plan for the smaller agencies (5% of all Bay Area transit ridership) will be to simplify the rules because they've admitted in writing that they made a big fat mistake with grandfathering the old rules and resulted in taking too many years to establish Clipper on all the major agencies.

Here's examples of the complex rules on fare products:
  1. Transfers within a same agency: Muni is 90 minutes with unlimited transfers. AC Transit is 25 cent fee upon boarding second bus, must be within 90 minutes of boarding first bus, and only one transfer ride allowed as third ride would be full fare. Golden Gate Transit/Ferry, automatic calculation upon tag-on and tag-off. Samtrans and VTA requires a day pass to be purchased.  All other agencies: No transfer policy.
  2. Passes: Muni is monthly with 3-day grace period and various types to also cover local BART service. AC Transit is 31 day pass. Caltrain is monthly pass with two zones or more gives free rides on Samtrans and VTA. VTA and Samtrans has monthly pass with no grace period. Some agencies don't offer passes (e.g. BART and Golden Gate) doesn't offer passes.

The miracle solution would just be one fare can get you everywhere and all transit agencies are combined into one agency, but that's a far fetched dream, yet, would be easy to run Clipper.

Why not just simplify the operating rules for Clipper? My proposal to be used on all agencies:
  1. E-cash payment of fares: Stays the same.
  2. Ride books/10-Rides/8-Rides/High Value Discount Tickets: Eliminated in favor of a across the board discount for paying in e-cash.
  3. Transfers within same agency: Passengers get e-transfer valid for 90 minutes for no fee and good for as many transfers within the window of time. Not necessary on BART and Caltrain because transferring is just waiting on same train platform/station.
  4. Passes: No pre-purchasing of passes needed, all passengers pays rides with e-cash and "earns" their pass when reaching a certain e-cash threshold within that monthly period (a.k.a. pass accumulator).
  5. Inter-agency transfers: Transferring to any neighbor agency is automatic 25 or 50 cent discount.
  6. Inter-agency passes (e.g. Caltrain 2+ zone monthly pass): Old agreements honored.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Loose Pocket Change? Feed it to Your Clipper Card

BART Ticketing Machine with Clipper card add value option

Pocket change, the worst enemy of my pockets. It’s heavy and just sits in a jar at my home all day long while it gets bigger and bigger.

Ever had one of those times where you wanted to just get rid of your pocket change, but tired of packing your own coin rolls or going to a local supermarket to use one of those change sorting machines where you pay ten cents for every dollar?

Well, here’s the easiest way to dump your change with no surcharge, it’s for paying your public transportation. No, I’m not encouraging you to dump tons of nickels into a bus farebox, that just holds up the bus and you get that awkward stare from fellow passengers. Just feed it to your Clipper card's e-cash purse.

There’s one easy way to do this, just go to any BART station’s ticketing machine. The nice part about BART ticketing machines and Clipper is you can put as little as five cents onto the card and up to 30 coins per transaction. Once you put in 30 coins, the machine locks out additional coins, and you just confirm the value and tag the card to update the balance for instant use. If you have more coins, just do the transaction again.

Some of you may be asking, can I do this at a Muni metro or Golden Gate Ferry ticketing machine? You can, but the software will first ask you what specific amount you wish to input into the machine before you are allowed to feed coins. Always select the lowest amount because the machine will lock you out at the 30th coin, but you can still feed bills into the machine to fill in the gap. Be warned, the machine will only give a maximum of $4.95 in change if you overpay, so have dollar bills handy, and not a $20.

There is one big weakness for both of these options: They won’t take pennies.  Why not add more e-cash to your Clipper card and get rid of most of your pocket change?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Creative Ways to Flout SF's 10 Cent Shopping Checkout Bag Law

Safeway Parking Lot - Shopping Carts in ADA SpaceAs I feel the 10 cent retail checkout bag is totally evil and it gained some notoriety on SFist, I was thinking of ways that storekeepers and citizens can give the finger to the city by beating the law their own way.

If you recall the so-called "Happy Meal Toy Ban" that's being enforced by the city, the law stated that a toy cannot be given to free for kids meals if it doesn't meet strict nutritional requirements.  The fast food establishments decided to say "shove it [up your ass]" to the city government by still giving out the toys, with a small ten cent charge for the toy when a meal is purchased.  Basically, the law was practically useless.

When I wrote the blog entry about the toy ban, I said that charging the toy item as a separate fee is very legal.  If the city said no hash browns could be given for free in your meal, the store just reduces the meal by a dollar, and charges a side hash brown as a separate item for a dollar, therefore the cost difference is the same and the law is useless.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and will not be held legally responsible if you get you caught by city officials.  You are responsible for your own actions.  Consult with legal council before you take-on any of the "suggestions" I've provided.

Store owners - How to flout SF's 10 cent bag law or flick-off the city government:
  1. If you have the work force, go into the store parking lots and give away free grocery bags as a "random prize" for being a loyal customer.
  2. If you go to fairs, they always have those spin wheels for people to win little prizes like flashlights; that's all perfectly legal, so why not just spin the wheel at a grocery store and every space is a prize of a free shopping bag?
  3. Instead of recycling those boxes you dump out after shipments, why not give customers a free box?  It's not a bag, it's a box!
  4. Give out coupons to your customers or use a store loyalty card: Ten cents off your grocery bill for every visit at the register (just don't mention the word "bag" on the promo). 
  5. Encourage people to recycle their cans: Install a recycling machine, for every two cans, you get a paper bag.
  6. Have a non-employee or a homeless dude stand outside the store and sell bags for a nickel, or install an old newspaper machine and sell them for a nickel.
  7. Make the 10 cent fee a "feel good" proposition: Every bag we sell goes to raising enough money to get the ban the 10 cent law on the ballot.  Or if you want to get cute: Get a bag, we'll donate 10 cents to AIDS research (bring your own bag, and you don't like AIDS research?)
  8. Open a Speakeasy on shopping bags, gotta know the secret knock at the customer service counter and they'll sneak a bag from under the counter.
  9. During the holidays, do "free gift wrapping" but it also comes with a bow that doubles as a handle.
  10. For large items, just get those adhesive stick-on handles.  Makes carrying items easier and there's no 10 cent fee.
  11. Give out a punch card (or use one of those punch-card phone apps): For every ten bags you purchase, you get $1 store credit.

Why SF continues to suck, and why I patronize Daly City.
Daly City, I still love your free bags.

Citizens: How to make the 10 cent bag law a big joke:
  1. Go shop on state or federal property and don't pay the fee (I'm buying my postcards at Hyde Street Pier, National Park Service property).  Just like the fois gras ban was limited to state law, people could go to Native American reservations and federal property for their fix as it's legal.
  2. Go shop outside of city/county lines.  Mayor Ed Lee will wonder why there's a drop in local sales tax money.
  3. Pay the cashier exact change for the products, but charge the 10 cents on your credit card.
  4. Bring a garbage bag to the check-out line.  Don't worry, it's a Hefty!
  5. As per Twitter user WagonMoster: "I have closet full of plastic shopping bags, I'm now going to use those when I shop, just so I can get dirty looks.
  6. Buy dirty videos and magazines, but refuse to pay for the bag.  Carry them around with you while you get stared upon for being a pervert, but explain to people that you refuse to pay the 10 cent bag fee, and maybe get some pity while they give you a newspaper to wrap that stuff up.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

SF's 10 Cent Checkout Bag Ordinance - It's Stupid & Let's Repeal It

Why SF continues to suck, and why I patronize Daly City.
Why I shop in Daly City, SF continues to suck ass.

Starting on Monday, October 1, 2012, a revised city ordinance will change the way we shop and purchase items in San Francisco.

All plastic bags issued by all San Francisco retail establishments will be banned and will only be allowed to give out paper and reusable bags.  The law also requires a minimum ten cent charge per bag given to the customer.

The money collected by the vendors for the bags will be kept for their establishments to compensate for the higher cost of paper bags; none of the money collected will be given to the city.

Fines for non-compliance of the no plastic bag rule and failure to charge a minimum of ten cents per bag will range from $100 to $500 per violation.

On the other hand, restaurants in the city can still issue plastic bags with no fees attached until the ordinance affecting them will kick-in on October 1, 2013.

People can avoid paying the minimum 10 cent per bag charge if they bring their own bag, or do it Costco style by not taking a bag and just stuffing it in their coat pockets.  Those using WIC or Food Stamps are exempt from the 10 cent per bag fee.

Akit's Opinions
I personally think the 10 cent minimum charge per paper or reusable bag law sucks big time.  Why force retailers to charge a ten cent fee when establishments should be making their own choice?  As the city doesn't collect any money from the 10 cent minimum policy, establishments can just decide to absorb the cost or slightly raise the cost per item to compensate for the mandatory use of paper bags.  In the past, IKEA decided to charge for every plastic bag at the checkout, but was not forced with a gun by local city governments to charge a mandatory fee, they did it independently and it worked.  People decided to leave the individual items in their carts (like what many do at Costco) or buy one of their 99 cent huge bags.

The other problem I hate about the 10 cent minimum charge is being told to carry my own bags.  That's fine for me when I drive my car to go shopping as I carry a variety of bags in my trunk for big and small things.  But how about those times I may take the bus and I see in the store window something I like?  Do I carry bags in my coat pocket?  No.  There's no room in my pockets as I have other items like a tissue packet, hand sanitizer, and my glasses case.

It makes practical sense to eliminate plastic bag usage, but sometimes plastic is better than paper; for example, when the ban goes into affect for restaurants, paper bags are not the best item to hold hot food.  When the city banned styrofoam food containers, the new paper containers did not work great on items like steamed rice, spaghetti, and anything that uses some kind of sauce like gravy or curry on rice; the container would get so soggy, you could poke a finger into the container.

I've lived here in San Francisco my entire life and will continue to do so, but I'm getting real tired of the city government and it's Board of Stupidvisors turning us into a nanny state telling us what aspects of our lives should be good and bad.  We had clowns pass a law saying that kids toys can't be free in their fast food meals, and now we're forced to pay a fee for every single shopping bag?

I'll be happy to do one of two things: Vote for any city supervisor candidate who will repeal the 10 cent minimum charge law, or get it repealed by getting it on the ballot.  Angry citizens should unite together and lets kick this city's government's ass.

And while I'm angry, I don't mind continuing to shop in Daly City and Colma, San Mateo County is happy to accept my sales tax money and doesn't have a stupid 10 cent bag charge.

For information about the new ordinance: http://sfenvironment.org/article/prevent-waste/checkout-bag-ordinance

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Muni Tickets Can Be Hacked for Free Rides

A video was released on the internet showing a PATH (a New York & New Jersey rail system) paper ticket with RFID technology being able to be easily re-written using a specific type of cell phone by easily replenishing the number of rides loaded onto the card.

As PATH uses the same gate and fare technology as Clipper, Muni is now the unintended victim of this hack as the same process can be done to their metro station issued paper tickets with the same electronic fare card technology (a.k.a. Limited Use Tickets or LUT).

This current hack is cannot reprogram hard plastic Clipper cards, it only affects the paper electronic tickets.  Interestingly, this could also have an effect on Golden Gate Ferry as all single and round-trip ride tickets are also issued in paper ticket form (as seen below).

Muni Limited Use Ticket
The paper LUT that can be hacked

While the person who created the application with their smart phone is not going to release it, and did an effort to inform officials at PATH and the SFMTA about this problem, it makes me wonder...

Why such a huge lack of security on those paper tickets?  Now Muni and the MTC will have to spend a ton of money getting newer and more secure paper tickets to issue to Muni, and those tickets are not cheap to produce.  Muni purchases those paper tickets in bulk for an approximate cost of 25 cents each; Muni used to charge metro passengers a 25 cent fee when the machines was just installed, but quickly waived it when the public got mad, so the agency now has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.  With the need for more secure tickets, expect the cost to go even higher.

UPDATE: I just had an idea after publishing this.  Since the metro gates have magnetic card swipes, why doesn't Muni modify the ticket machines to issue a mag stripe paper ticket?  The paper ticket can also have information printed so it can still be used as a "flash ticket" for passengers who transfers to a bus line.  Mag stripes might be hackable, but reduces the risk because it doesn't use chips to use Clipper, and if it was hacked, would only be good on swiping at a metro gate; but an inspector can still visually look at the ticket and see if it's still valid or expired. 

Inside a Muni Limited use Ticket
The inside guts of a Muni LUT

It also comes to mind about Muni's decision to replace fare gates at their metro stations.  The agency and MTC spent millions of taxpayer dollars on fare gates that looks nice and accepts Clipper cards and LUTs sold at ticketing machines just outside the gates.

Why didn't the agency just consider a barrier free system?  It would have been simple and affordable by:
  1. Painting a yellow or red line to designate the free area and paid zone.
  2. Installing single ride ticketing machines that issues a printed ticket with no Clipper technology on the ticket.
  3. Have Clipper card readers at the painted line for those with the cards to tag and enter the paid area.
  4. Have fare inspectors do more random checks as there's no barrier to separate the paid and free zones.
Muni already runs on the honor system when you board a train or bus, so why put gates at the metro stations?

At least Apple didn't release an iPhone 5 with NFC capabilities, then people will attempt to hack their smart cards for free transit rides.

Let's remember folks, cheating public transit doesn't benefit anyone, including yourself, it hurts everyone.  Be honest and pay your share to ride transit.  If you cheat, you are scum, and scum will be punished.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Muni Considers Ending BART Plus Relationship - Another Nail in the Coffin?

Last week Friday, the SFMTA had a hearing to consider ending Muni's relationship in the BART Plus program.  While this is not yet official, it would still have to go under the Board of Directors for a final vote.

For those of you not familiar with BART Plus, here's how it works:
BART Plus is a combination of a BART ticket with privileges to ride neighboring public transit agencies (a flash pass).  The ticket has varying price points and is sold on a twice monthly basis with the "A" and "B" tickets valid for the first fifteen days and the last fourteen to sixteen days.

Passengers using BART Plus gets some nice perks: The 'last ride' bonus will let passengers with less than enough credit on their BART ticket funds get to ride one last time regardless of how much the fare is; the ticket is returned to the passenger so it can be used as a flash pass.  The flash pass portion is valid with multiple transit agencies as a local fare credit.

AC Transit Killed Their Relationship
The biggest hit to BART Plus was the end of acceptance on AC Transit in 2003; a major connection for BART passengers within the East Bay.  The only discount BART and AC Transit passengers receives today is the 25 cent discount when transferring from BART to AC and vice versa using a Clipper card.

Muni's Relationship is Tender
Muni is one of the busiest transit agencies in the entire Bay Area, especially when comparing the high number of passes sold every month versus other agencies that operates in larger counties.  BART Plus and Muni plays a vital role for passengers to save money while being able to commute just using one ticket.  This is especially true for passengers that may have to ride more than just Muni and BART to get to work by combining everything into one.

But How About Clipper?
BART Plus can never convert to Clipper until all the agencies under the Plus ticket can have Clipper card readers installed, so the old fashioned ticket will still be in existence.  Muni claims that they have to end their relationship because of the agency's goal to end paper passes and convert everything into Clipper.

Akit's Opinion
BART Plus is the first of its kind to be a multi-agency transit pass integrated with BART access.  If you are to compare other agencies with their pass agreements, the second best is Caltrain with their 2+ zone monthly pass giving passengers access to Samtrans and VTA at no extra charge, and an optional discounted Muni pass.  Other agency agreements like Muni's "A" pass only gives Muni passengers access to BART.

It's been the MTC's dream for a Clipper card monthly pass that can access ALL transit agencies for one flat price, but that dream may never come to fruition because of the numerous transit agencies running in the Bay Area.  BART Plus' old agreements makes that dream real for passengers and saves them tons of money to get around the Bay Area with relative ease, even though it's not compatible with the Clipper card.

Ending Muni's relationship will be a major setback for BART Plus.  Losing AC Transit was bad enough, but Muni may kill BART Plus, or at least put another nail in the coffin.  I think Muni's statement about trying to end all paper passes is a bunch of junk; they will make plenty of BART Plus passengers angry and the public knows Muni is being greedy by asking for people to fork over more money.

Why can't we all just get along with each other?  The Bay Area transit agencies should be playing nice with each other with generous transfer and pass agreements making it easier for everyone to ride one agency to another.  Instead, each one wants to be Mr. Tough Guy and force us passengers to pay more.  A lot of the transfer agreements is a bunch of crap; 25 cents here, 50 cents there; it's not much.  Caltrain, Samtrans, and VTA have a really cool transfer agreement for those who rides Caltrain with 2+ zone monthly pass, so why can't other agencies work on an decent agreement that works for their passengers?

Lastly, here's a reason why the Clipper card goes through so much hell and is probably one of the most complicated fare card systems in the entire nation or possibly the world; each individual transit agency has their own fare rules, transfer rules, inter-agency rules, and pass rules that makes it so much more difficult for tourists or possibly the average citizen to understand.  The MTC made one huge mistake: They allowed the Clipper card to absorb the grandfathered rules that makes no sense, such as the 8-ride Caltrain ticket, instead of working on better solutions like changing it to a 10-ride or an across the board 50 cent fare discount whenever you transfer between one agency.

Maybe if transit agencies played nice with each other, they can help get more cars off the road, and with increasing passenger loads, show to the state and federal governments that they need more funding to meet demand so more buses and trains can be operating.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Discounts for Oakland/Alameda & Harbor Bay Ferries starting October 1st with a Clipper Card

In a recent board meeting of Water Emergency Transit Agency, the organization has approved for passengers to use their Clipper cards on board trips along the Oakland/Alameda and Harbor Bay Ferry routes. There are some perks and will be some definite losses for passengers:

AT&T Park - Ferry Boat waiting for dock space
Starting October 1st:
  • The one-way adult fare for the Oakland/Alameda ferry using Clipper will be $4.75.
  • The one-way adult fare for the Harbor Bay ferry using Clipper will be $5.00.
The board decided to give all Clipper card users the discount price that is afforded to those who buy the bulk 20 ride ticket books. Oakland/Alameda passengers save $1.50 per ride ($4.75 Clipper e-cash vs. $6.25 regular cash fare) and Harbor Bay passengers also save $1.50 ($5.00 Clipper e-cash vs. $6.50 regular cash fare).

This is similar to Golden Gate Ferry’s policy for all Clipper card passengers to get the same discount as their former printed ticket books. Prior to Clipper, the TransLink card gave the same discounts, regardless if the passenger rides regularly or just a few times a year.

The board also decided to change the transfer policy for Muni. Effective October 1st, a passenger who paid the full fare in cash or used the ticket books was given the privilege to ride Muni for free away and to the SF terminal. The policy is now changing to 50 cent discount per direction and passengers must use the same Clipper card they paid to use the ferry to utilize the discount. This is exactly similar to Golden Gate Ferry’s existing transfer agreement with Muni.

Those with the ferry paper transfers will still be able to use them on Muni until November 1st, they have granted a 30 day grace period for people to use them up.

Akit’s Opinion
I like that Oakland/Alameda and Harbor ferries will be giving all Clipper card passengers the discount price, no matter if they are a regular commuter or just someone going to the farmer’s market on Saturdays. The discount price makes it attractive to casual passengers because a round-trip ride can save an adult $3 for a round trip ride. I applaud SF Bay Ferry for not trying to do something stupid by making passengers by Clipper card e-ticket discount books (I’m talking to you Caltrain).

Without the need to buy bulk ticket books, there’s no more worrying if a passenger is running short and needs to get more; this means passengers can simply just recharge their Clipper card at vendors like the Bay Crossings booth in the SF Ferry Building, the Clipper card machines at Golden Gate Ferry SF terminal, or any Walgreens in the Bay Area.

If you were to compare the cost to get from SF Ferry Building to Jack London Square ferry terminal, the ferry is the better choice. Passengers could take BART at Embarcadero, but the passenger must also take AC Transit too, and the total cost would be $5 ($3.15 BART and $1.85 discounted AC Transit fare for transferring from BART to AC). A trip on the ferry is $4.75.

I’m disappointed at the decision to cut the Muni transfers to just 50 cents per direction. Muni put the pressure on WETA to cut it down; while they say it’s in line with existing agreements with Golden Gate and BART, I think it indicates the SFMTA is trying to save money.

For regular commuters who uses ticket books, they get screwed because the ticket books gives free round-trip rides on Muni ($4 value), starting October 1st, they will have to pay $3 round-trip to ride Muni.

Casual passengers who switch from regular cash to Clipper won’t lose any money. The cash policy (pre October 1st) gives passengers a free Muni round-trip transfer at full value ($4). But when reduced to a 50 cent discount to and from the Ferry Terminal and compared to the $3 in round-trip savings for paying their ferry ride with Clipper, there’s no gain or loss for them.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Add Value on Clipper Cards at All VTA Light Rail Stations

Golden Gate Ferry and Clipper: NEVER pay full price for ferries. Sorry tourists, locals rule the Bay. The news about Clipper cards these days is relatively slow, but there's always small projects that should get some attention like this from the folks at VTA.

In a recent press release: All VTA light rail station automated ticketing machines can now add Clipper card value utilizing cash, debit, and credit cards.

The machines are now able to do all Clipper types of add value, including e-cash, VTA passes, and other agency passes such as Muni, Caltrain, and AC Transit.

What's interesting about the modified add value machines is that a passenger must drop their card in a small container to make the Clipper card add value purchase; versus other transit agencies where one must tag their card to initiate the process, and tag one more time to complete the purchase and update the card's information.

The South Bay has had a big problem with the lack of Clipper add value locations before it was mandatory on July 1, 2012 for all pass users to convert to Clipper only.  The only locations in the South Bay was limited to a handful of in-person vendors and the VTA office.  The addition of 62 light rail stations and their ticketing machines expands the number of places for passengers to add value to their Clipper card.

Even though it's exciting to have additional Clipper card add value locations, they still can't issue new cards.

Now... onto getting those Caltrain ticket machines modified... if they ever will.

For a description of how to add value at a VTA machine, click here (PDF).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Clipper Card Fee $3 - How to Not Pay It

Three Generations of Transit Cards (TransLink Pilot, TransLink, and Clipper) Widescreen
Three Generations of Transit Fare Cards
The MTC has announced the Clipper card will no longer be given out for free starting September 1st.  The new card acquisition fee will be $3 in which they claim will be to cover the costs associated with the procurement of the cards.

Why an acquisition fee?
The acquisition fee has been a hotbed of controversy because the MTC originally proposed the card fee to be $5.  But after filing a required report under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they decided to drop it down to $3.  It was right in the middle for the agency, it didn't heavily impact people that are disadvantaged, but also didn't give out the cards for free.

The other controversy has been the cards have been treated as an item that can be thrown away.  As you may recall, some people who take longer and more costly trips on public transit have been abusing the system by taking advantage of the card's negative balance policy.  A passenger adds very little money to a card with $0 acquisition fee and riding transit that costs more than what was funded to the card; once it goes negative, the passenger just throws the card in the trash.  Because some people abuse the system this way, the MTC and public transit agencies lose a grand total of $700,000 in transit fares and card procurement costs.  One solution being implemented in the future is to force BART passengers to add funds to their Clipper card at the exitfare machines if there's not enough to cover the ride.

$3 fee to be a failure
In my own opinion, the $3 acquisition fee might be able to stop some people from abusing the negative balance policy, but the MTC is still going to lose money from those who can still take advantage of it.

Here's how simple it is.  Assuming BART is out of the picture, the most expensive transit fare is Caltrain at $12.75 one-way from zones one to six.  If Clipper also implemented a $10 minimum e-cash add on per new card, a passenger must pay $13 ($10 e-cash and $3 new card fee).  That means that while the passenger's one-way ride on Caltrain is paid in full, the passenger still has 25 cents left, therefore he/she can ride any other agency (except BART) for just 25 cents and dump the card in the trash.

UPDATE: Oops, I screwed up.  The new card fee doesn't make the e-cash total $13, it's still $10.  Therefore, if a passenger rides the $12.75 Caltrain ride, the passenger dumps their card in the trash after the first use of the card.

As I've just shown, people can still "save" money while transit agencies lose money.

How not to pay the $3 fee
The MTC is advising people to get the fee waived by ordering their card online and enrolling in the autoload program.  But as we all know too well, autoload has problems, just like the recent report of people whose money was loaded back in 2010 never got charged until just days ago.   So who wants to trust the MTC and Clipper on a piece of junk program?

Of course, the other way to avoid the fee is to get your new Clipper card now until September 1st, but how about after September 1st?

There's still a way to avoid the fee and it takes a little ingenuity.  Just obtain your card online, register a credit card under autoload, and as soon as you get your new card, CANCEL AUTOLOAD.  You see, you get a free card registered under your name (protection in case you lose your card), and you dumped autoload like dumping your date after a horrifying dinner.

Talking about dating... Akit's single!  Ladies, want to date a blogger?  :-)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why I Don't Use Clipper Card's Autoload: 2010 Glitch Now Charging Customers

Clipper on Muni Epic Fail I've warned people before, Clipper card's Autoload program has problems.  But in light of the problems came the worst epic fail of all... being charged on your credit card for a reload of e-cash two years ago.

That's right.  KPIX reported yesterday that the folks at Clipper and MTC noticed a glitch in the system back from 2010.  Clipper card passengers who rode affected vehicles had their funds automatically reloaded for reaching a certain threshold, but the information from the consoles was not transmitted back to Clipper for credit card processing.

Basically, the passengers went off scott free with some free e-cash that was never charged to their linked credit card.

But now that the MTC found out, they are sending notices out to nearly 8,000 Clipper card users that they will get charged for the amount they owe.

Akit's Opinion
I can understand the MTC's point of view of getting back $230,000+ lost dollars, but it took two years?

Let's remember that Clipper card history reports can only be retrieved by customers as far back as 60 days.  The MTC should make an effort to show each customer being billed for the two year old charge to get some kind of documentation back from two years ago.

Now you wonder why I warn people to not use Autoload.  You'll get screwed no matter how long ago it was.  Stick to loading e-cash and passes by going to vendors and self-service machines.  You'll always know that when you load funds, it's both instantly available to use and you get a receipt of your transaction as proof.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Muni Operator Refuses Disabled Passenger to Board Bus - IT WAS ME

Life just bit me in the ass.
On my bad days, I had to wear an orthopedic boot.
Being injured is not fun.  I've been suffering with a foot injury which also causes ankle pain for about a month, and I have to use a cane and ankle brace on most occasions.

Just today, I was waiting for the 38L-Geary Limited going outbound from 20th Avenue and Geary, and here came bus number 6415 approaching the stop.

As I'm waiting on the curb, the bus doesn't even make an attempt to pull to the curb.  He lets the rear doors open to let passengers off and board, but he notices me standing at the front door as I had no choice but to walk ten feet to the bus.

I indicate to him that I want to board the bus.  He refuses to open the doors.  I even said to him that I am disabled and showed my walking cane to him.  Still refuses to board.

I was pissed.  He let others board the back, but refuses to let me in the front?  The bus may have been crowded, but the passengers getting off should have provided enough room for me to get a front seat for the disabled.

And to make matters worse, just before he was able to leave, he briefly opens the front doors, then shuts them.

I've never been so pissed-off at Muni as I am right now.  I've already filed an ADA complaint against them.  Just because I filed a complaint with Muni, odds are, the operator will not be punished.  So what better way than use my blog to further humiliate the driver and this agency.

Info to know:
Line: 38L-Geary Limited
Direction: Outbound to 48th Avenue & Pt. Lobos
Location of incident: 20th Avenue and Geary
Time: Approximately 2:00PM
Bus number: 6415
Operator: Male, Asian, mid age

On a final note, I boarded the next 38L-Geary Limited and behind me was a lady with a walker needing the wheelchair lift.  After I boarded and took a seat near the front, the person sitting on my left commented to the lady needing the wheelchair lift "you've got to be kidding me."  I wanted to slap that person; learn to keep your mouth shut if you don't have something nice to say.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The 2012 Survival Guide to the Outside Lands Festival

Parking HOG - Fail and Pissed Off Staff

Outside Lands is back for the 2012 three day festival starting this Friday and going until Sunday, and you know what that means for us local citizen commuters and people who live nearby... three nightmare days.

This survival guide is NOT for those of you going to the event.  This is for us locals who wants to go on our happy way to other things in life, like our jobs.

Traffic impacts:
If you normally drive north and south through Golden Gate Park, literally every park road entrance in the "Outer" district areas will be closed to traffic starting at 8PM this Thursday.
North-south alternate routes: Great Highway, and Crossover Drive (19th Avenue on Sunset end, and Park Presidio/25th Avenue on Richmond end).  If there's no bad weather or high winds, Upper Great Highway is an excellent alternative than detouring via Sunset Boulevard.

East & West routes: No known traffic closures outside of Golden Gate Park, but if entering or driving through Golden Gate Park on going east or west may experience road closures or detours.
East-West streets to avoid: Lincoln and Fulton.
Better east-west streets to use: Judah and Balboa.

Public transit impacts:
For those of you commuting on Muni lines: 5-Fulton, N-Judah, 71-Height Noriega, 28-19th Avenue, 38-Geary, and 38L-Geary Limited, expect heavy ridership.  Last year, concert goers took the 38 and 38L, which is a decent walk to Golden Gate Park to attend Outside Lands.  To give you an idea, buses packed to maximum capacity and LONG WAIT TIMES.
Alternate public transit routes:
Sunset district: 6-Parnassus, NX-Judah Express, 66-Quintara, 16X-Noriega Express, and 48-Quintara/24th.
Richmond district: 1-California, any weekday peak express buses (1AX/BX, 38AX/BX, 31AX/BX), 31-Balboa,
North-south routes: 18-46th Avenue and 29-Sunset.

Parking impacts:
If you live not far from Golden Gate Park, prepare for hell.  If you have a garage, no problem.  If you park your car on the street, you should park it there on Friday, and don't move the car until Sunday evening.

Blocked driveway?  Call 311.  Outside Lands will have one dedicated SFMTA parking officer and two tow trucks in each affected neighborhood.

Don't let this event ruin your weekend!  For more info, view Outside Land's "311" page: http://www.sfoutsidelands.com/311/

Monday, July 30, 2012

Did the SF Marathon Violate City Law Regarding Public Notices?

When Tour Buses are Rude - Blocking Traffic

Are athletic events in the city giving proper notice to people in affected communities about road closures?  The answer is yes and no

In the San Francisco Transportation Code, Division I, Article 6 (Temporary Use or Occupancy of Public Streets), section 6.12 (b) states the following:

If the temporary street closing is approved, the applicant shall cause notices of the event to be conspicuously posted on both sides of the street along the entire route, at not more than 300 feet in distance apart on each street so posted, but not less than three notices on each street forming part of the route. The notices shall be posted not less than 72 hours prior to the scheduled start of the event. The applicant shall remove the notices within 48 hours after the completion of the event, or be liable for the costs of removal by the City pursuant to Article 10 of the San Francisco Police Code.

Each notice shall be headed "STREET CLOSED FOR ATHLETIC EVENT" in letters not less than one inch in height, and shall in legible characters (1) briefly describe the event to be held; (2) identify the date and time the event is to take place; and, (3) warn that the street will be closed to traffic at that time.

Some events have followed 6.12 very carefully by putting them on lamp posts and in areas lacking lamp posts (such as in Golden Gate Park) on temporary construction work A-frames every few hundred feet.  The AIDS Walk in Golden Gate Park also put additional signage at main entrances to the park where closures will happen in very large metal signage at least a week in advance.

But I'm very disappointed at the SF Marathon's organizers.  I regularly drive through Golden Gate Park on a daily basis and all I've noticed was just temporary barrier fencing laying down on the ground at every intersection.  On Saturday, less than 24 hours before the race, I drove on eastbound Fulton to 25th Avenue, and drove through the park to the Sunset district and also noticed just barricades.  There was no "STREET CLOSED FOR ATHLETIC EVENT" signage anywhere.  I had to find out about road closures by reading the Chronicle and looking at the marathon's website.

Why is the city lacking the proper enforcement of posting the signage around the marathon/race routes?  I feel the notices are helpful, and it's not just for people who live on the streets.  When I drive by and notice the signs saying the road is closed, it makes me curious to do a little research to find out for myself.  And the 72 hour policy works well, giving people at least three days advance notice to be warned to alter their route.  If I didn't tell my parents to take Great Highway to get around, they'd be stuck driving in circles or fighting through the traffic valve going eastbound/westbound between 26th and 27th Avenues.

The city and athletic event organizers can do better.  I know they can.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

MTC Votes: No Funding for Free Youth Passes for Muni

Free Muni Rides for Kids? For many months, the battle of youth Muni passengers getting free passes for rides has been a hot topic.  While many youth and low income advocates are pushing hard for it, and the SFMTA and SFUSD has put their support towards it, I've noticed a lot of other people feel they don't like the idea.

The epic battle raged on yesterday at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's meeting where they decided on the fate of giving $5 million in funding, which will cover over half of the $9 million needed for the 22 month project.

The vote was close and it failed with only seven commissioners saying yes, and eight commissioners saying no.  Majority ruled and the attendees was angry because all the work they've done just went down the toilet in a very close vote.

Akit's Opinion:
I can sympathize the fact that the people who have been hard at advocating for the free passes are both upset and depressed.  When you fight hard for a cause and it can be taken away with a simple vote, things can go from bright to dark in a flash.  But just because the MTC voted against giving $5 million for the project doesn't mean you should get full blown emotional with anger and crying (as shown by the Chronicle), will not being able to get free passes affect your grades?  I've seen people with much more difficult financial situations and those in foster care beat the odds.

I have to look at the whole picture.  What can five million dollars be used for and how can it benefit everyone?  It doesn't make practical sense to give the youth of SF free rides.  I believe money should be invested in something that can benefit EVERYONE and would be a long term benefit versus a 22 month pass pilot project.  For five million, it could partially pay for a new bus which can last at least 10-15 years and serve hundreds of thousands of passengers in its lifetime, rehabbing transit vehicles so they can operate longer with fewer breakdowns, fund transit routes to areas neglected with lack of transit, and plenty more.

There can also be the argument of discrimination; why should the MTC, a regional authority regarding transportation would give Muni a huge chunk of money for free passes, when other agencies such as AC Transit and VTA would only get some funding for a reduction in fares or passes?  It could be argued that others that live in Marin County (which is under the MTC's jurisdiction) and San Mateo County can also demand for it too.  So truly the project will be more than just several million, because other counties and their advocates will demand they should get free passes too; therefore a chain reaction will start.  Even if the pilot program is successful, continued investment into it will be extremely expensive, and what will happen if the MTC decides to kill funding to it?  I feel the youth of the Bay Area will revolt.

If there's a middle ground to all of this, I'd consider an option to only give the youth of San Francisco two rides per school day with the usual 90 minute electronic transfers on their Clipper card.   This keeps both the costs lower and would supplement the years of neglect from the SFUSD for not funding school buses to get students to and from school.  Having free rides on weekends, holidays, and non-school hours is a big no-no.

As I mentioned in my blog in March, the youth of San Francisco should be grateful of Muni's contribution to keep fares low.  When comparing transit agencies within the region, Muni gives both the steepest discount (in comparison to the adult fare) and free transfers valid for 90 minutes to get to where they need to go.  Other agencies gives a discount, but doesn't come with transfer privileges:
  • Muni: $2 adult, $0.75 youth (62.5% discount) with free transfer.
  • Samtrans: $2 adult, $1.25 youth (37.5% discount) with no transfer.
  • VTA: $2 adult, $1.75 youth (12.5% discount) with no transfer.
  • AC Transit: $2.10 adult, $1.05 youth (50% discount) with additional $0.25 for one ride transfer.
Lastly, cheers to the MTC for doing the right thing.  Kids, stop crying and getting angry, it makes you look like fools in the Chronicle.