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or, better yet, give him a job."
(Brock Keeling, SFist)

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).