"Akit is the man. He knows Clipper." (spenta)
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"If anyone at City Hall wants to make public transit better for all San Franciscans, it would be wise to follow Akit religiously...
or, better yet, give him a job."
(Brock Keeling, SFist)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Clipper Card FAILS to Fix Problem They Promised to Fix a Year Ago - Muni & BART Transfers

Clipper Card Fail

UPDATE: Clipper responded to Mimi's message:
Hi Mimi. We are in the process of correcting this problem and these transfer rules will be changed within the next month. You - and anyone else - in this situation should contact Clipper Customer Service (custserv@clippercard.com or 877.878.8883) to request a refund.
While satisfactory for Mimi's problem, it still shameful that Clipper failed to fix the problem for nearly a year.

Original Blog Post:
Nearly a year ago, I mentioned about John Murphy's experience of using his Clipper card to ride Muni and BART within a 90 minute period.

Mr. Murphy did the following:
  1. Took Muni to a BART station in SF.
  2. Took BART to a different station in SF.
  3. Transferred to Muni.
The correct way this is supposed to work is that Mr. Murphy should have paid $3.75 because:
  1. He paid $2 to ride Muni.
  2. He paid $1.75 for the BART ride.
  3. His next ride on Muni [within 90 minutes of boarding first Muni bus] is free.
But... he was charged incorrectly, he paid $5.50:
  1. He paid $2 to ride Muni
  2. He paid $1.75 for the BART ride.
  3. He paid $1.75 because his Muni transfer was erased in favor of the "BART to Muni" discount e-transfer which gives a 25 cent discount on the next Muni ride.

Clipper's response to Mr. Murphy's inquiry nearly a year ago stated the following:
You're correct - you should not have been charged for the second ride.

This was an incorrect implementation of Muni's transfer policy and MTC has been working with our contractor to fix the issue.

We encourage customers to access their online transaction history records to determine if they were overcharged for this transfer trip. Customers who are affected by this issue should contact Clipper Customer Service to request a refund for the $1.75 that they were overcharged.

Basically, Clipper and the MTC promised nearly a year ago to fix the problem.  Did it get fixed?  NO.

The Problem Still Exists
Just yesterday, a person by the name of Mimi Chan posted a statement on Clipper's Facebook page mentioning the same exact problem that John Murphy experienced a year ago.  She paid $5.50 instead of $3.75. 

On AC Transit too?
And just to take this home, just a few weeks ago, the SF Examiner reported a similar Clipper card failure regarding people using AC Transit, transferring to BART, and having their AC Transit transfer voided to pay the "BART to AC Transit Bus" transfer discount.

Akit's Opinions:

I have two big issues with Clipper FAILING in resolving this process:
  • They made a promise to fix the problem and didn't do it.  I don't like people who do not keep their word, especially those who serve the public.
  • Clipper and MTC better be ready for a class action lawsuit.  People can only research their Clipper card records online for up to 60 days.  People will start demanding to look at their records ever since 2009. 

Here's a FACT: Clipper (known as TransLink back in the day) started allowing all BART stations to have their card readers active as of August 3, 2009.  AC Transit and Muni has been a part of TransLink/Clipper ever since they started their pilot program back in early 2000.  I'm betting thousands of people have been victims of this particular transfer problem, and they all have a right to a proper refund.

There's no place to hide Clipper and MTC.  You screwed up and the public demands answers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Warriors Coming to SF - Expect Muni Nightmares

AT&T Park - Ferry Boat waiting for dock space

There's now word from the city the Golden State Warriors will have their new home at Piers 30/32 here in San Francisco and be open in 2017.  While sad for Oakland, it's great news for our city to get sales tax money and have a large indoor sports arena for our city.

Surely this is exciting news, but being a local resident of the city, I have fears of a big nightmare.

As we all know, AT&T Park is not far away from the new arena site and if you have ever gone to a Giants home game, you know how bad traffic and transit can be.  Traffic before and after games is slow or just a standstill.  If you ride Muni metro to the ballpark, you know about the passenger crush loads on every single train.  For Caltrain and BART, they are also busy shipping baseball fans to and from the game.

But with the Warriors in town, the worst nightmare will be when both the Giants and Warriors plays on the same day at the same time.  I don't think Muni metro will be able to take on the huge loads of passengers going to both games.

Muni was smart when they built the platforms along the Embarcadero, they are so long, you can fit at least three train cars.  But Muni metro has a few big problems:
  1. They can't operate three car trains anywhere on the surface or subway (something about running in "tow mode").  The more trains, the better the capacity.
  2. The passenger loads are already at crush loads for Giants games.
  3. The passengers living along the T-Third line will continue to experience hell because it's both one-car trains and for many, can't get on the train to get home.
  4. There's always a backup of Muni metro trains after an event because they line-up trains on the revenue track.  Passengers from Caltrain and the T-Third gets stuck waiting for trains ahead to clear-out.
  5. There's usually a back-up of inbound metro trains at Embarcadero before Giants games.  Why?  Muni officials holds the ballpark bound trains longer at the platform and fill them to capacity while other non-ballpark bound trains are waiting in line.
I think Muni can at least start the planning stages on how to handle the Warriors crowds.  Let's remember there's not much parking around the area and more will be depending on public transportation to get people to and from the games.

Here's a few of my ideas for Muni:
  1. Realign the metro tracks along the surface route nearest to have three tracks.  The outer tracks are revenue tracks and the middle track can be a staging area for extra trains so they don't block regular service provided by the N-Judah and T-Third lines.
  2. Provide express bus service from Embarcadero station to Warriors arena.
  3. Find a way for Giants fans to utilize the future Central Subway while Warriors fans uses the Howard street Muni platform.

Just a few other random transit ideas (more of a dream):
  1. Definitely more ferries with bigger capacity.  Extra boarding/disembarking doors on the boats will help.
  2. Utilize AT&T Park's parking lot for vehicle parking with a nearby ferry dock to provide frequent high speed ferry service to and from the Warriors arena.
  3. Disneyland style multi car trams to major transit stations (is that even street legal?).
  4. Bore another subway tunnel to serve the arena and ballpark.
  5. Offer incentives for people to take transit, such as buy a game ticket and get half-price fares on public transit.
  6. How about a monorail?  "Monorail, monorail, monorail!  Mono... D'oh!"

Friday, May 18, 2012

Don't pay with Clipper for Muni's Bay to Breakers 2012 Express Buses

Clipper on Muni

UPDATE #2: Muni re-updated their website to state if you pay the Clipper fare for $12, you get a return trip on the special express buses AND a 90 minute transfer.  This update is a little too late as the B2B is already over.

UPDATE: Muni has recently announced the following:
"$8 fares for pass holders must be paid with Clipper cards and will receive two express trips, one to and one from the race"
Original Post:
SFMTA just released information about the upcoming Bay to Breakers 2012 Muni service and while it almost seems the same information, there is one critical piece you should be aware of:

If you plan to ride the express buses or take the metro, expect to pay $12 adult fare for the privilege.  Muni will accept both cash fares in the fare box and Clipper.

But there's a big catch:
If you pay in cash, you get a transfer valid until 5PM.
If you pay with Clipper, you only get a 90 minute transfer.

What should you do?
If you plan to ride Muni expresses to the start line and get home at the end of the race, PAY IN CASH.  With the extended paper transfer, you can ride Muni round-trip and it's only $6 a ride.  If you use Clipper, you'll pay $24 for that round-trip.

Have a Muni pass?
If you have a Muni pass on your Clipper card, you pay $8 for a ride with 90 minute transfer, but you still pay MORE than the $12 cash fare because of the 90 minute transfer ($16 e-cash w/Clipper & Muni pass vs. just $12 in cash).

While I am criticizing Muni for their poor job of not fixing the Clipper card issue to allow passengers to pay $12 or $8 AND include an e-transfer valid until 5PM, it's also very unfair to those who have a Muni pass on their Clipper card and will still pay an extra $4 to complete a round-trip versus just paying cash.

For more information about Muni's role for the event, click here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Update: Positive Change in Policy for SF State Students Taking BART and Muni to Campus

New Clipper Card and Carrying Case

I've been reporting for the past few weeks about Muni's plan to end the issuing of paper transfers for free Muni rides at Daly City BART in favor of going electronic only on the Clipper card starting June 1st.

For many regular residents, the change would not affect them as they would still be able to ride Muni away and back to that particular BART station.  For SF State students, staff and faculty, the end of paper transfers would result in a much more challenging problem.

As I've mentioned before, with the current policy regarding the use of the Clipper card, SF State affiliates have two options, they can take the free ride on the Muni 28 line or take the SF State shuttle.  Either way, the ride away from the station is free.  However, the return ride is much more challenging as those who took the free shuttle earlier has their free ride back on Muni voided because of a current rule: If a passenger does not tag their Clipper card on a Muni bus within one hour of exiting the Daly City station, the return ride transfer is VOID.

When it comes to SF State students and rising university tuition and fees, justifying to pay an extra $2 to ride back to BART can get expensive and not many are happy about the changes.

Confusing Information to the Public
What really stirred the pot of controversy was what the university's CampusMemo (a weekly employee newsletter) and the student operated Golden Gate Xpress newspaper reported to the public.  Both the CampusMemo and Xpress reported that the return ride on Muni to Daly City BART would be free, even if the person took the campus shuttle to the campus.  But they did not highlight their source of information about this new change in policy, and I solely relied on the SFMTA's alerts page about the upcoming change on June 1st.

When You Need Help, Just Ask!
Instead leaving the big elephant in the room with a huge sack of peanuts to see what will happen, I decided to contact the SFMTA for some assistance.  I e-mailed Paul Rose, Media Relations Manager of the SFMTA and asked him if the university was correct in the new policy change to allow SF State affiliates to ride back to BART for free within 24 hours of exiting the station, even if the person took the campus shuttle away from the station.

Paul Rose, SFMTA Media Relations Manager stated:
SF State brought this issue to the SFMTA’s attention and have come up with a solution that will be implemented no later than August 1. Although the initial transition will take place effective June 1 and customers will be required to take the first transfer to Muni within 1 hour from BART, this will not impact SF State students as the shuttle does not run during the summer. A business rule change will be in place by August 1 which will extend the transfer period requirement for the first trip on Muni to 23 hours which will continue to allow SF State students to take either the shuttle or Muni for their first trip and allow a second return trip within 24 hours.

We will update our website once the change is closer to taking place.
A Win for SF State Affiliates
Based on what Mr. Rose stated, this means SF State affiliates can take their first Muni bus within 23 hours of exiting Daly City, and can still take a second free ride on Muni within 24 hours.  This definitely benefits the campus community and provides additional flexibility for those who takes the campus shuttle.  It also clarifies the confusion of if they will have to pay for the ride back to BART or not.

An Exploit for Non-SF State Affiliates?
While it does benefit the students, the unintentional consequence (or benefit) is that non-SF State affiliates can also use this to their advantage.  If the passenger exits Daly City BART and a family member picks them up from the station, the passenger still has two free rides on Muni and must use the first free ride within 23 hours and is eligible for the second ride within 24 hours of exiting the station.

Why? Muni buses and trains does not register on their Clipper card operator consoles on what route and direction they operate.  In fact, if you log into your Clipper card account online and download your activity report, you will see that if you tag your Clipper card on a Muni vehicle reader, it will say: "SFM Bus" indicating you took the Muni, and "MTANONE" as the route.

If Muni maintains that policy of not indicating what route the bus runs on their Clipper consoles, for the bus lines that covers Daly City BART (14L, 28, 28L, and 54), this means passengers scores two free rides on practically any bus line on Muni.  Say for example: I exit Daly City BART with my Clipper card and my wife (in reality, I'm still single) picks me up at the station.  The next morning, I can ride any two Muni lines I want and not pay a single cent because the operator console uses a generic universal identification for the entire Muni fleet.

I guess you win some and lose some.

On a final note, this is the first time I've ever contacted a media relations manager for anything relating to my blog, and I appreciate Paul Rose taking time out of his day to conduct some research and provide me a helpful response to share with my readers.  Cheers to you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Easy Solution for SF State Students Regarding Change in BART-Muni Free Transfers to Clipper Cards

Clipper on Muni

Is there a solution for the upcoming change in free Muni rides for Daly City BART passengers that are also SF State students? If you recall from my previous posts (post #1 and post #2), Muni has decided to eliminate the transfers and go Clipper only starting June 1, 2012.

With the paper transfer, a student can take the SF State shuttle and still get a free ride back on Muni to Daly City BART. However, with Clipper, a student MUST ride Muni in order to ‘earn’ the free Muni return ride back to the BART station. With the campus providing the free shuttle, it eases the crowds on the Muni 28 line, but with the mandatory Clipper card transition, this will be a big problem as the flow of passengers will be uneven.

As I mentioned before, students have two options when they exit BART:
  1. Ride the Muni 28 away from Daly City to get free ride, and can choose the SF State shuttle or Muni 28 to get back to Daly City BART.
  2. Ride the SF State shuttle away from Daly City, and must take the SF State shuttle back to Daly City BART or pay $2 on Clipper card for return ride on Muni 28.

Due to the problem with the automatic voiding of the e-transfer, this will mean more people will ride the 28 line to SF State because they have two free options for the back to BART. By taking the shuttle away from BART, they are stuck with only one option for the free return ride.

Students interviewed by the Golden Gate Xpress said they hate the policy change from Muni.

I said to myself, how can this be easier for everyone? One idea I had is to install Clipper card readers on the SF State shuttles to validate the transfer for passengers to get a ride back to BART via Muni.  Now I realize that’s a very expensive option and shuttles would have to be taken out of service to install the equipment.

I thought of a very low cost, less confusing, and easy solution that will work:
Muni should allow SF State students, staff, and faculty to take the bus for free for the return ride back to Daly City BART (no Clipper card required).

How? Every student and employee of the campus carries their university ID. Students, faculty, and staff show their campus ID to the Muni operator at the 19th & Holloway bus stop for their free return ride.

The flashing of the campus ID is only good at 19th & Holloway and only for the route going to Daly City BART.

Passengers would have to follow the honor system to only exit at Daly City BART and not any of the interim stops between SF State and BART.

Cost wise, it wouldn’t make much of a difference than what’s happening right now with the paper transfers (take transfer, ride SF State shuttle away, and return to station on Muni). The Clipper card makes it challenging and students will be grumpy if they have to dish out an extra $2 because their e-transfer expired for not taking an away trip on Muni, or being forced to wait in long lines for the SF State shuttle.

What do you think of this idea?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Be Warned: Curb Address Painting Scam in Outer Richmond District of SF

Curb Painting Scam - Richmond district, San Francisco

I'm no fan of law breakers, and especially those who is looking for a quick buck from elderly residents of my neighborhood, the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco.

When I was getting ready to leave my house just last Saturday, I noticed a couple of my neighbors had a piece of paper taped over their curb, so I took a look and shot a photo (as seen above).

I've known that painting addresses on curbs next to the driveway is both a scam and a violation of the law.  The last time I caught someone doing it, I got super lucky when a SFPD officer's car was approaching my block, I flagged it and told him that he's just feet away.

For what happened just a couple days ago, I gave a courtesy call to the SFPD Richmond station at 6th and Geary.  The sergeant said they can't do anything in the immediate time and they can only take action if someone sees a person doing the act.  He gave me the phone number to dispatch and that ended our conversation.

I put out a tweet to warn everyone about this:

What's up with the scam?
Here's the problem.  It's a violation of the law to hire someone or do it yourself, and could be considered graffiti, for the exception of the SFMTA who is the only authority allowed to paint curbs (public property).  The city only sanctions the SFMTA to paint curbs for parking purposes, and for residential areas, it's normally the red curbs which costs a couple hundred, and gives the city authority to ticket anyone parking too close to one's driveway.

Here's a video where a business next to Union Square hired painters to paint their curbs, but was illegal because the city didn't do the job as required.  They also painted over a blue zone:

For this particular curb scam, they call themselves "Community Services" and I found through a search online that they've been doing this before as noted on this flier (click here).  The one found on that link is exactly similar, but the one found on my block now has a sobbing story, by providing "self-employment for students and artists throughout the city."

My response, they are putting up a fake suck-up story to suck you out of $15.

Anyway, emergency personnel can find your address, it's on the front of every single building!

On Sunday... caught in the act!
Odds of me catching the crook in the act was a long shot, and the odds was much worse because I didn't get home after the Giants game until 6:30PM.  While I was eating dinner, I heard outside the sound of a spray paint can.  I looked out my window and noticed a person walking in white coveralls (almost like a hazmat suit) and wearing an orange construction vest.  He was also carrying stencils clipped to his hip.

The guy was looking at a fancy car across from my house and looked at the sign saying not to paint the curb.  He continued on his way up the block.  I knew I caught the bastard in the act and called dispatch to nab him.

While I don't know if the SFPD ever caught the guy, in my point of view: if there's a person wearing white coveralls and an orange vest walking down your street, I don't think the police will have a hard time finding the person.
I don't see any desperate "students" or "artists" going up and down my block doing this.  It's just one person doing the job.  Just invest a little money in some white paint, black spray paint, and some stencils, write a fake sobbing story, and here comes the $15 to $20.

Today's PSA
If they knock or ring your doorbell, tell them no and do not give any money to them, and call SFPD at: 415-553-0123 to give a full description of the suspect.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Clarifying Misconceptions about Free Muni Rides when Exiting Daly City BART

Three Generations of Transit Cards (TransLink Pilot, TransLink, and Clipper)

In a previous post, I mentioned about Muni’s decision to end paper versions of the yellow BART to Muni transfers from Daly City BART and that it will go electronic only via the Clipper card.

The message being given to the public is going in multiple directions, so I’m going to clarify this by getting the message from the source (SFMTA/Muni).

In the SF State CampusMemo released yesterday, it states:
“Beginning June 1, free transfers between BART and the Muni 28 line at Daly City Station will no longer be done via paper transfer. In order to get the free transfer from BART to the Muni 28 line, fares will have to be paid with a Clipper card. The Muni return fare will also be free if the return trip takes place within 24 hours, regardless of whether the BART-to-SF State trip was on the Muni 28 bus or the SF State shuttle.”
The last sentence (highlighted in bold) throws the whole situation in the wrong direction. My interpretation of the last sentence: If a person exits Daly City BART with their Clipper card and boards the SF State shuttle, they are obligated to a free ride back to BART via Muni 28 line.

Here’s the correct way to understand how this works: As per SFMTA:
“Beginning June 1, 2012, paper transfers will no longer be available for free transfers between BART and Muni at Daly City Station. If you transfer from BART at Daly City Station to the Muni 14L, 28 or 54 routes, your Muni fare will be free only when you pay your BART fare with a Clipper card and you board within one hour after exiting BART. After making your outbound journey on Muni, your Muni return fare will also be free when you return within 24 hours. You must make an outbound journey to receive the free return.”
Therefore, the last sentence from Muni (highlighted in bold) clearly states that a passenger must take an outbound ride on Muni (not the SF State shuttle) in order to qualify for the return ride back to BART.  How does that work?  The free rides (both outbound and inbound) is automatically voided after one hour passes from the time the passenger exits the BART station.  A person "earns" their free ride back to Daly City BART only if they validate their Clipper card by tagging their card on a Muni bus when leaving Daly City BART.

Since Muni is the official authority regarding this matter, SF State is not correct in their statement that taking the campus shuttle qualifies for a free ride on Muni back to the BART station.

There's very few solutions that can resolve this matter, such as installing Clipper card readers on SF State shuttle buses to validate the cards when students board the shuttle at Daly City, but as long as there are no more yellow paper transfers, this will be a long term problem and will surely rake Muni extra $2 fares here and there.

Let’s go over some common scenarios people may encounter, and if they would be eligible for free Muni rides:
Scenario #1: A passenger exits Daly City BART and uses the same Clipper card they exited to ride Muni 28 to SF State within one hour of exiting the station. The passenger returns from SF State to Daly City BART via the 28 line within 24 hours of boarding the first Muni bus using the same Clipper card. What is the correct answer?

Scenario #2: A passenger exits Daly City BART and rides the SF State shuttle to campus. The passenger returns to Daly City BART via the 28 line after his/her classes are over for the day and uses the same Clipper card he/she exited BART with. What is the correct answer?

Scenario #3: A passenger exits Daly City BART and gets picked-up by a family member to take them home. The passenger rides the 28 line back to Daly City BART the next morning using the same Clipper card he/she used to exit BART yesterday. What is the correct answer?

Answer to Scenario #1: The passenger receives a free ride on Muni for exiting BART ($0 deducted from Clipper card), and receives a free ride back to BART ($0 deducted from Clipper card). The reason: He/she followed the procedures correctly: Exited BART and entered Muni with same Clipper card within one hour of from time of exit of BART gate to the bus, and boarded Muni for the return trip within 24 hours.

Answer to Scenario #2: While the passenger gets a free ride away from BART via the campus shuttle, he/she is not eligible for the free ride back to Daly City BART because Muni’s rules state a passenger must make an outbound trip on a Muni bus.

Answer to Scenario #3: Similar to the answer for Scenario #2, passenger does not qualify for free Muni ride back to Daly City BART because the passenger did not ride Muni away from the station.