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Monday, September 15, 2014

Clipper Card on iPhone's Apple Pay Service - Could it Really Happen?

Greetings readers, it's been a while since I've blogged.  I'm still happy and well, but I've been sticking to my public social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram more often.  I thought I'd write a blog entry today because of what's been happening in the news for the past week.

The announcement of the next generation of iPhones, in particular Apple Pay, is really attracting a lot of news these days as the next cool way for people to pay for stuff at their favorite big retailers without pulling out their plastic credit card.  And while the Android platform has been using their NFC chips for a good while to be able to pay with credit cards and read NFC tags, with Apple playing along, that puts a huge chunk of the smartphone market able to now use NFC technology.

But what really intrigues me about the big evolution of NFC to be capable on Apple devices is the opportunity for public transportation to play a role in being a part of it.  Simply put, will the Clipper Card be an option for Apple Pay and Android?

Here's the pros if the Clipper Card was available as an option for people to scan their phone to a Clipper Card reader:
  1. No more carrying a plastic Clipper Card in your wallet.  Just put your phone to the reader to handle your fare/pass transaction.
  2. Be able to instantly view your card's balance, transfers with the time it expires, and your passes.
  3. Be able to instantly view your ride history, and have instant proof of payment on hand for fare inspectors.
  4. Using the Clipper Card app, be able to add card value or buy passes using a linked credit card with instant available use, without the horrible five day waiting period currently in use for people who buy online for their plastic card.  Read about the five day rule here.
  5. Also, using the Clipper Card app, people can also purchase day passes like for Muni.  Muni does sell the passports for Clipper, but people still prefer the scratch-off ones or buying it from the Cable Car conductor.
  6. Also, there could be an option for people to not use a Clipper Card, and instead use a registered credit/debit card to make their one-time transit fare payment.  It might be a cool perk for those with pre-tax commuter benefit debit cards to simply tap their phone and just deduct the balance from the card; no more need to load the money to a Clipper card, just touch and pay.
But there are some cons:
  1. It may not be possible to have Clipper do this.  The Clipper Card system itself was one of the first smartcard systems ever in the United States, and as of today, the system is outdated when compared to other agencies using smartcards.  When Clipper first started, it started as the TransLink card program which the MTC awarded a contract to ERG, a leader in smartcard technology for transit systems.  But many years later, Cubic, a titan in the transit technology market, bought out ERG and took over its contracts, including TransLink/Clipper.  The folks at Cubic had an uphill battle to get their products to properly function with the thousands of ERG cards and technology in use, such as the BART and Muni fare gates (Cubic products).  Cubic had to take the right route, they couldn't remove the ERG products already wired and installed and start from scratch (that would cost a ton of money), so they made a hybrid system so both ERG products and Cubic products work together.  Since the Clipper system is outdated, it may not be able to take mobile phone payments. 
  2. If the above is true, we may have to wait until 2019-2020 for the next generation of Clipper Card technology to have the features.  The expected end of life for the currently installed technology is to end roughly around 2019 and that's when the contract with Cubic is to expire.  The Metropolitan Transportation Commission intends to put in the next generation of Clipper by starting from absolute scratch, instead of preserving the old infrastructure.  A simple way of thinking is, the MTC may be able to save money by delaying smart phone implementation until the 2nd generation system is functional.  Click here to read about the second generation of Clipper plans.

Akit's Opinions:
In my opinion, I wish the Clipper Card was available as a smartphone function to just tap the phone to a card reader to ride public transit, or even just allowing people to use a linked credit card to just tap and pay for their rides would be wonderful.  Also, with the ability to order passes or load more cash value from your phone means your virtual card on your phone will have instant available use of your pass or funds, without the terrifying five day waiting period or running to your Walgreens or train station to load-up.

But looking at all of the cons, this may be something the MTC may not want to pursue, especially if the Clipper Card program is to be in a coffin by 2019 and a new program will be functional by then.  The technology being used today is outdated but functions as expected.

If there has to be a compromise, here's my recommendation:
I feel this may be an opportunity for Clipper to work with Apple and Google to allow Clipper card users to get an app that utilizes a plastic Clipper card and an NFC capable phone to let people scan their card to read their ride history and review their balances on their card (currently, the FareBot 3rd party app for Android can do this).  This may also be an opportunity for people to order their passes, add cash value, etc. on their phone, and tag their card to their phone to update the card's data with the new information so people can instantly use the card with the new information.

What's your thoughts on this?  Leave a comment.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New Change to BART to Muni Transfer Policy using Clipper Cards

Clipper Monster Reader FAIL

If you use your Clipper card to transfer from a San Francisco BART station to a Muni vehicle or metro, there's a change in policy regarding the transfer rule.

The old rule:
When exiting BART from any station between Embarcadero and Balboa Park, you have one hour to transfer to Muni.  When tagging the same card you exited with BART and use it on Muni, you get a 25 cent discount on your Muni ride.  When you are ready to take your next ride on Muni (after the Muni 90 minute transfer expires and its less than 24 hours from the time you exited BART), your next Muni fare transaction is 25 cents off.  This is the exact policy just like when BART stations issued paper discount transfers which gave the same benefit.

The new rule:
When exiting BART from any station between Embarcadero and Balboa Park, you have one hour to transfer to Muni.  When tagging the same card you exited with BART and use it on Muni, you get a 50 cent discount.  There is no discount for a second ride.

Note: This policy is not valid if you have a Muni monthly pass.  It must pay in Clipper e-cash funds.  As always, if you have a Muni monthly pass on your card, Clipper always seeks the best deal, instead of yanking $1.50 out of your pool of funds.

Also, this policy is not in use at the Daly City BART station.  Passengers still get a free ride on any Muni line that serves Daly City BART.

How did I notice the change?
When I go to baseball games at AT&T Park, I have to take BART and Muni metro to and from the park.  I noticed when I tagged my card on the Clipper card reader to get back after the game, I had to pay full fare.  When I got home, I reviewed my Clipper card records online and found out that there was that change in transfer policy.

Akit's Opinions:
It's a simple change that makes it more simplified for Clipper card users.  Instead of wondering if the return ride 25 cent discount works, you just get the full 50 cents off in the first Muni ride away from BART.  I like it.

Reference to policy: https://www.clippercard.com/ClipperWeb/muni/fares.do

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Caught & Confronted Foul Mouthed Town Car Driver Stealing Taxicab Fares (VIDEO)

Earlier today, I confronted a towncar driver who was trying to sell to tourists a $3 ride to downtown.  If you watched the video above, the confrontation went ugly and I hoped he realized that he's going to be out of a job very soon and face a $5,000 fine.  I intend to report this to the California Public Utilities Commission and SFMTA enforcement.


But before I get to the laws about this, I also found out this mean asshole's vehicle isn't even legal!  Here, take a look:

The TCP number listed as per the PUC means it's not legal, so we have a dirty vehicle with a driver who steals fares.

The Laws:
The law about towncars and limos is they cannot do on-demand or solicit for rides.  Only licensed taxicabs are allowed to do this.  Towncars and limos are limited to prearranged rides (e.g. appointments).  In San Francisco, this means only licensed San Francisco taxicabs can pick-up passengers without reservation and on-demand.

Limo and towncar drivers who solicits for rides are doing a lot of things wrong:
(1) They steal work from legitimate taxicab drivers.
(2) As it's not a taxi, the drivers may not be subject to the scrutiny the City and County of San Francisco enforces on cabs and their drivers, such as background checks, testing them on the city map, frequent vehicle inspections, inspecting taxi meters, and liability insurance.  A few years back, I had a towncar pull over and passengers yell at me: "do you know where Nob Hill is?"  I responded: "You should fire that driver."
(3) Limo and towncar drivers have been known to rip-off passengers by advertising a cheap ride, then jacking the fare or dropping passengers off in some not so nice areas.  I've never heard of a $3 and even a $5 fare from Fisherman's Wharf to downtown before.
(4) They take advantage of tourists who doesn't know the laws, BUT I DO.

Why did I record and confront that driver?  Here's why:
A week ago, I was waiting at that exact location for a F-Market trolley, but they were taking forever to show-up.  During that time, two limos pulled over in front of the stop, opened their door and solicited a "$5" fare to downtown.

The first vehicle driver, I asked him: "Are you aware of the MTA laws about soliciting?"  He knew he just got caught by a local resident who knows the laws.  He apologized, got back in his car, and apologized again at me.  Since he was playing nice, I told him I wouldn't report him.

The second vehicle driver, I said nothing.  Instead, I decided to take a photo of his vehicle and record about 15 seconds of material while he took about five passengers.  At that point, I decided to take a few minutes at home to report it to the SFMTA, and an inspector contacted me a day later for a copy of the photo and video.  I'm expecting the inspector's case to be a slam dunk and a fat $5,000 fine.  See video and photo:

Today's lesson!
Today's lesson, don't get cheated by illegal operators.  I have a new found respect for cab drivers who do follow the laws and have the right to take on-demand rides.   The cab drivers have to make a living, and I hope the PUC and the cops find that illegally operating towncar and that foul mouthed driver, and tow it away.

I KNOW MY RIGHTS.  FEAR ME you illegally operating towncars and limos.

Friday, April 4, 2014

End of the Clipper Card in 2019? It's Not a Joke

BART Gate & Clipper Card

I got a little clue that the MTC wants to move to the next generation of Clipper card when I read a tweet from the folks from VTA.  I decided to dig around the meeting agenda documents available online to the public from the MTC website.

So it's actually true, the contact for Cubic, parent operator of the Clipper Card program, is going to expire in November 2019, that's roughly five years and seven months away.  At this time, committees of the MTC are in regular discussions about the next generation of fare payment technology for the Bay Area, and while there's no definite answer, there's some hints on what is going to happen after late 2019:

The setup currently used for the Clipper Card/TransLink system is from the late 90s and within the next five years, the equipment will be reaching the end of its life.  The equipment being used right now originally came from ERG, an Australian company originally contracted to do the TransLink/Clipper system; but Cubic purchased ERG and since the network was already established, Cubic had to work with old equipment that's not their own to make it work (it's like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, it won't fit unless you shave the edges down to make it fit).

The MTC admits that trying to integrate the next generation system into the existing infrastructure would be too expensive and risky.  This would mean the next generation fare system may have to start from absolute scratch; this is one of the reasons why they are planning so far in advance for this.

The MTC also mentioned during their planning timeline to learn the lessons from the past to make sure it's a much smoother process.  I remember being part of the TransLink pilot program with very few transit agencies participating and limited usage, and it took many years to finally get all major transit agencies to join and be fully integrated.

Lastly, this second generation of fare payment may also bring in new technologies to improve the customer experience.  We all know about the headaches and limitations of Clipper, including the 3-5 day wait when buying online.  New technologies may allow us to pay for rides with a smartphone or even with credit cards with RFID chips installed.

To read the full MTC documents about the planned project, visit: http://apps.mtc.ca.gov/meeting_packet_documents/agenda_2196/Agenda_Item_3.pdf and start on page 14.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why the SFPD are Doing Muni Fare Inspections Improperly and Citing Innocent People

This morning, I was reading an article written by Jessica Kwong for the SF Examiner about a Muni passenger who was written a ticket by a San Francisco Police Department officer for not paying their Muni fare with their Clipper card.

The article stated the passenger boarded the F-Market streetcar and used his Clipper card to tag at the entry.  Ten minutes later, a SFPD officer asked for proof of payment from the passenger and tagged the passenger's Clipper card at the vehicle's card reader to verify.  The card was rejected and the passenger was issued a $200+ citation for fare evasion.  However, the passenger retrieved his Clipper card records from the Clipper Card website and it showed he did pay the fare.  The passenger intends to contest the citation in court next week.

The news reporter also got statements from SFPD officials and SFMTA/Muni basically stating that a police officer tagging a customer's card on a vehicle card reader is sufficient enough and there's no problems with it.

However, with my expertise on writing about the Clipper Card for numerous years, there's some serious flaws with having police officers and fare inspectors to verify a passenger's card use by tagging a card reader.  Here's why:
  1. When a passenger boards a Muni vehicle and tags their Clipper card upon entry, the card reader will immediately verify the transaction with a green light and single beep.  The screen will also show the type of transaction completed ($2 fare deducted, transfer being used, or valid pass).
  2. Once the card is tagged, it cannot be tagged again on the same vehicle reader; this rule is called "passback."  This is a standard rule used on all electronic transit fare cards to prevent a passenger from using the card for valid entry, and "passing back" the card to their friend or family member to tag the card again so they can score a free ride.
  3. The "passback" is removed after a certain set amount of time for those who ride the same bus again for a return trip (for example, if I board a 6-Parnassus bus at 1PM, have lunch, and board same exact bus at 2:15PM, the passback is eliminated and tagging my card won't result in a rejection).
  4. When a passenger transfers to another vehicle, the card is perfectly okay to tag and get the green light to enter.  This is because they are boarding a new vehicle, even if they tag card on bus #1 at 1PM, and board/tag bus #2 at 1:10PM.
PROPER FARE INSPECTION: When a police officer or fare inspector uses a handheld card reader that is issued by Clipper, it will read the card and verify if the card was tagged or not by showing a "YES" or "NO" on the screen, followed a confirmation sound of "ding" or "buzz."  If it says no, inspectors can immediately review the card use history clicking on a few screens on their reader to check if there's a valid pass and the last several times the card was used.  If it all checks-out fine after the secondary card history check, all is well; but if it shows passenger failed to pay, a ticket is issued.

IMPROPER FARE INSPECTION: If a police officer or fare inspector verifies use by tagging the card to a Clipper card reader, it will either give a single beep/green light confirmation or red light/error confirmation.  The single beep/green is because the "passback" was eliminated after the set window ended, but a red/error sound means the "PASSBACK" IS STILL ACTIVE.  Cops and fare inspectors SHOULD NOT use this method of inspection because if they get the red light, and are ignorant to realize "passback" is active, the passenger gets a citation and have to waste their time at a court hearing to fight the charge.

As for the statement from SFMTA's Paul Rose saying there's "no concerns" about law enforcement officers verifying via the vehicle's card readers, he is half-correct and half-wrong.  Here's why:
  1. Correct statement: This can only happen in the Muni metro.  Only if a passenger tags their card upon entry to a subway station's fare gate, and a police officer verifies by tagging the card on a train's card reader, it will give the green light.  The rules state when a Muni passenger tags their card upon entry via a faregate, it is not necessary to tag their card on the vehicle card reader when they board the train; but if a passenger tags their card in the vehicle (after tagging card to enter the metro station) and a police officer checks the card, say 10 minutes after on the vehicle card reader, it will result in a red light/denied message and is subject to a ticket, even though they have tagged their card lawfully at a Muni fare gate.
  2. Incorrect statement: There is a serious concern if a police officer verifies a passenger's Clipper card at the vehicle card reader because the "passback" may still be active on the card.  Reason for this explained earlier in this blog entry.

Akit's Opinions:
In summary, if we assume the passenger does have proof from the Clipper Card website saying he did tag his Clipper card and was cited by a police officer, he should be found not guilty or have his case dismissed on the grounds that the officer improperly issued the ticket.

Due to the poor judgment of the police and SFMTA, and improper procedures to verify Clipper card use, strict policies needs to be written-up to prevent this from happening again.

Fare inspections SHOULD NEVER be verifying card use by using a vehicle's card reader because of the "passback" policy.  ALWAYS use the handheld card reader.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Horrible Budget Ideas from the Geniuses at Muni (SFMTA)

On February 4th, the SFMTA Board of Directors had a special meeting covering various issues and topics.  One of the topics they covered is the upcoming fiscal year budget by showing a PowerPoint presentation.  Thanks to the public disclosure laws, we are able to view the materials the board gets to see.

To view the budget presentation, click here.

A lot of the material was all blah blah blah that wouldn't matter to me, but I found a chunk of information that made me quite frustrated that SFMTA employees would try to make the Board even think about accepting.

If anyone recalled the Mayor Frank Jordan era, Muni decided to implement a new fare structure where passengers had to pay an extra 50 cent fee to ride express buses or pay for a premium Muni pass, and eliminated all transfers.  The citizens hated it so much that Muni decided months later to restore transfers and kill the premium fees for all express buses.

So here's the stuff that made me go nuts:

Page 10: Automatic Indexing
The SFMTA is going to raise the price of its fare products by 3% for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.  What this basically means is your Muni fare will increase from $2 to $2.25 ($0.75 to $1 for youth, seniors, and disabled), and monthly passes will rise two dollars for adults and one dollar for discount passes.  Some of the fare products like visitor passports and cable car fares will remain the same.

Pages: 15 and 16: Possible Revenue Sources
I thought they've gone insane by proposing these ideas to generate extra money:
  1. They want to raise the price of riding the F-Market historic streetcar line.  On top of the regular Muni fare, a premium surcharge will be $1 per adult, and $0.50 discount for eligible people.
  2. Or instead of a surcharge, one idea is to charge passengers the equivalent fare that Cable Car passengers pay at $6 per single ride on the F-Market.
  3. For passengers who ride the limited lines and peak express bus lines, a surcharge on top of the regular single ride Muni fare of $1 for adults and $0.50 discount for eligible passengers.
  4. A policy to ban "M" Muni Only adult passes to ride the limited and express bus lines, therefore forcing those passengers to either pay for a "A" Muni premium pass or pay the FULL MUNI FARE + SURCHARGE if they only have the "M" pass.
  5. A plan to increase visitor passport fares by $1 or $5.
  6. A plan to increase the "A" pass $2 above indexed price due to BART's increased cost for rides within San Francisco.
However, since the Clipper card would be responsible for many of the fare and pass transactions, it will come at a big cost to Muni to modify the fare structure.  They estimate it will cost more than $250,000 to have the Clipper software rewritten with the new rules, but also have to tackle the Title VI equity analysis.

Pages 17 to 20: Possible Revenue Reductions
So by raising money (as seen above), the agency also wants to lose money in their real stupid ideas:

  1. The SFMTA wants to continue the free Muni for youth program at an expense of $2.7 million for the 2015 fiscal year, and $2.8 million for the 2016 fiscal year.
  2. The agency also wants to extend the free Muni for youth program to include 18 year olds which will balloon the program's expenses to $3.6 million for 2015 FY, and $3.7 million for 2016 FY.
  3. If the agency considers number two, they will also have to rewrite what "youth fare" means for passengers.  By redefining it to say it's good for 18 year old passengers, Muni is expected to lose up to $2.1 million in fare revenue.
  4. If the agency decides to eliminate Sunday meter parking fees, the loss would be about $9.3 to $9.5 million a year in revenue.  This takes into account the agency's estimated 'cost savings' for killing the Sunday meter program.
  5. If a proposal to give free Muni to seniors and disabled passengers is approved, upon the assumption that 50% of citizens are eligible, Muni is going to lose at least $4 million in revenue, and if it's increased to 67% are eligible, Muni is going to lose at least $6 million.

Akit's Angry Opinions
I've never seen such stupid ideas in my life.  So let's go down the list of their bad ideas.
  1. New adult fare at $2.25 a ride will definitely slow down the system for passengers paying the farebox; although, the agency would consider giving passengers who pay with Clipper a fare discount as a way to encourage more usage and speed boarding times.
  2. I really don't like the idea of charging any premium fee for the F-Market route, especially for those who live near the F-Market line along the Embarcadero.  Why punish the average citizen who can't afford the parking rates and make them pay extra to get to their house or workplace?  The F-Market has been the perfect alternative for visitors and citizens to get to Fisherman's Wharf without paying the insane Cable Car single fare fee of $6 a ride.
  3. What I hate even more is if Muni charges a $6 fee for the F-Market, equal to the Cable Car fare.  If anyone recalls the 74X CultureBus, a premium Muni bus service, they were charging a very high premium fare of $7 a ride (went up to $10), and because of the high fare for passengers, died a horrible death because of severe lack of ridership.
  4. I am very against the idea of making all limited lines and peak express lines a premium fare service.  If anyone recalls this, I reported back in 2010 that Muni attempted to make the express lines a premium fare service and rejecting "M" passes, but finally decided in September 2010 to not go forward with the idea.  Some people have to commute long distances on Muni, and the limited and peak express buses helps get them to their destination in a respective amount of time.  If there's a premium fee, it will force people who can't afford the extra cost to take the much slower local buses.  But how about the people who live west of 43rd Avenue and Geary?  The only bus line from 48th Avenue to 43rd is the 38L-Geary Limited inbound line, and will you force the elderly and disabled who live deep in the Outer Richmond district to walk several blocks just to save money?
  5. If Muni says okay to a premium fare for limited or express buses, I'm very against having "M" pass passengers get their passes rejected and being forced to pay the regular fare PLUS the premium fee.  At least give these people some respect by either honoring the pass and charging a small surcharge or honor the pass as full fare with premium.
  6. I've never liked the idea of giving out free passes to kids.  I applauded the MTC board for saying screw you to the kids on the idea of spending public money for free rides for the youth, only to have the SFMTA board decide to spend its own cash for the pilot program.  And the youth responded by humiliating themselves in the news media by getting angry (here, take a look at a Chronicle picture of a kid so upset he's not getting free rides on the bus).  Renewing the program comes at a huge expense to us taxpayers.  Remember kids, the price you pay for Muni rides today is the best offer versus all the other major transit agencies in the Bay Area.  And, you get a FREE TRANSFER.
  7. Oh, and let's not forget the idea to give seniors and disabled passengers free rides too.  Where do you think that money comes from?  The public's pockets.  I wonder how many people will try to fraud Muni and the MTC who issues the disabled IDs.  Get a crooked doctor to sign-off paperwork and why not apply for a shot a free rides on Muni for life?  Sounds similar to people who cheat the disabled parking placard system.
  8. Last but not least, let's talk about the end of the Sunday meter fees.  I think charging for Sunday meters is a great idea because business districts gets more turnover (more customers), there's more available parking, and for anyone who doesn't want to pay the meter fees, can opt to ride Muni as an alternative.  When Sunday meters was free, visiting neighborhoods with major parking issues like Irving Street from 19th to 27th Avenue was horrible; cars wouldn't move for hours and some people would double park forever waiting like a vulture for an open space.  So keep the Sunday meters running.
A lot of times, Muni's 'smart people' likes to rattle the cage and think of these harebrained ideas, including restoring programs like charging a premium fee for express buses when it utterly failed in mere months over 20 years ago.  Some of these ideas won't likely be implemented because it will anger the public, but some might fly without a doubt like continuing to give the kids free rides.

When Muni pulls these ideas out of their ass, I'm very grumpy.  I would spit on their grave if there was one (can anyone find the CultureBus gravestone?), but for now, it's just ranting on this blog.

If you feel the need to express your opinions about Muni's ideas to raise money and give out more free crap, contact your city supervisor.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why I Stopped Commuting on Sunset Boulevard - It's Too Dangerous

Sunset Boulevard has always been a problem for both drivers and pedestrians.  The death of a pedestrian who was flung into the windshield of a car at the notorious crosswalk on Yorba and Sunset is probably one of the worst intersections for pedestrians in the city.

I used to commute along Sunset Boulevard to/from the Outer Richmond district and SF State, and I never liked driving it because of the danger factor.  I decided to drive along the Upper Great Highway as an alternative because it was safer.

Here's a list of incidents I've encountered on Sunset Boulevard that made me switch to the Upper Great Highway:

1: On numerous occasions, I've stopped for pedestrians waiting to cross at non-signal controlled intersections.  Almost every time I've stopped, I've seen other drivers buzz by without even slowing down either on my right or left.  I've even stuck my arm out to warn drivers on my left to stop and let the pedestrian cross safely.  On a few other occasions, I've stopped for the pedestrian, only to be honked by the driver behind me and that driver merging into another lane just to pass me.  Lastly, I've had one incident where I stopped for a St. Ignatius student, only to have a driver cuss me out at the next red light signal.

2: Bad signal timing.  The 'green wave' signal pattern is great for drivers as long as you drive at or slightly below the speed limit to keep the cars moving; unfortunately for many years, the city's signal engineers badly timed a signal that encouraged speeding.  If you were the lead car waiting at Ocean Avenue (northbound), got the green light, and accelerated to the speed limit (35 MPH), you always got the red light at the Vicente intersection.  But for drivers who speed faster at about 40 or greater, by the time the vehicle reaches Vicente, they still have the green for a couple of seconds or blow through the yellow light because they know that going faster than the speed limit guarantees safe passage.

3: Speeding.  While the 'green wave' encourages drivers to drive the speed limit, I've seen many drivers speed between Vicente and Ocean because there's no traffic signals for an entire half a mile.

4: Lack of enforcement.  I've complained to SFPD's Taraval station to do something about the speeding problems and dangerous crosswalks only to get nothing in return.  I've only encountered one pedestrian sting at the Yorba and Sunset crosswalk, and it nabbed a ton of drivers who blew through.

5: Too many accidents.  I've seen too many on Sunset.  I've seen a car vs. pedestrian crash on Sunset and Noriega, a car going too fast that slammed on their brakes too late and smashed into a stalled car, and a few cars that have flipped over when they go too fast on the curvy road between Sunset & Ocean and Lake Merced & Winston.

This is why I took a different route instead of Sunset Boulevard.  The road rage alone really messed up my psyche, and at least the Great Highway was a more smoother commute and relaxing.

City Only Takes Action When Someone Dies
It's not a great thing for me to say this: When the city really wants to invest in intersection and road changes, they only take real action when someone dies.  Here's a great example of a major change:

At the intersection of 47th Avenue and Fulton, it was a two-way stop for north and south traffic.  Those going east and west along Fulton had no stop sign.  Residents in the neighborhood hated the intersection because it was too dangerous to cross and cars had to quickly get through the intersection with major blind spots giving limited view of incoming cars.

The neighbors complained to the city, asking for a 4-way stop.  I asked the city myself for the 4-way stop, only to get a written response later on stating they will not change to a 4-way stop because it would "delay Muni."  Instead, the city lengthened the red zone so the cars stopped northbound and southbound could see better for incoming traffic.

It wasn't until one day, a pedestrian crossing the street was hit and killed by a car on Fulton (remember, 47th Avenue and Fulton didn't have a stop sign for eastbound and westbound Fulton) that change was coming.  After that point, people started leafleting the neighborhood campaigning for a 4-way stop to be at the intersection.  In the end, we got our 4-way stop and now it's a lot safer.

Sadly, it took a pedestrian death to make a change.  Hearing from the city saying that a 4-way stop would "delay Muni" before the pedestrian death was a horrible mistake.

It makes me frustrated that a lot of these improvement projects comes at the cost of someone getting killed before action can take place.  Why did the city and state government (since it's also a state highway) install a brand new pedestrian warning signal along Sloat Boulevard?  That's because a Lowell High student was struck and killed by a driver.

However, I will applaud the city for making some improvements without hearing about someone getting killed, such as the traffic calming project along 25th Avenue in the Outer Richmond district.  Four lanes was too narrow and dangerous for drivers, but when it was reduced to two lanes (one each direction) and a middle turnout lane, things was a lot better and calmer.

How I Would Improve Sunset Boulevard
If I had all the money I wanted and can flex the laws, here's what I'd do:

1: Reduce the speed limit to 30.
2: Put those radar traffic signs that tells drivers how fast they are driving.
3: Install traffic signals along every intersection.
4: Cut lanes from 3 each way to two
5: Fix the 'green wave' signals to not reward drivers who speed.  I've heard of some signals intentionally give a red light when a driver goes too fast, a nice punishment.
6: Improved lighting at intersections.  For us drivers, it's our responsibility to identify pedestrians at every crosswalk and intersection we approach.  Having bright lights at the intersections during the night helps us see better, especially when a pedestrian is wearing all black or colors that blend into the background, such as wearing green or brown as Sunset Boulevard's sidewalks are full of trees and dirt.
7: Using the extra space from reducing from 3 to two lanes, I would make bigger pedestrian refuge zones with steel barricades at the medians and crosswalk bulb outs so pedestrians would cross less of the road.
8: I would eliminate the Muni stops at Yorba and remove the dangerous crosswalk.  Instead, I would move the stops closer to the Sloat overpass and build stairwells, and accessible ramps or elevators so people can use those to get from one side to the other without crossing six lanes of Sunset.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Muni Substituting Diesels on Trolleybus Lines on Sunday - Major Delays to Happen

This Sunday is the big NFC championship game where the 49ers are traveling to Seattle to face the Seahawks.  But the more troubling issue is why Muni is not allowing any trolleybuses to run in the city, and instead substituting it for diesels all Sunday.

From the Chronicle, the reason why the trolleybuses are being locked in the garage is a precaution in case there's fans rioting in the streets.

Riots?  If citizens wants to riot, they'll vandalize or destroy any Muni bus they please, regardless if it is diesel or electric.

The truth of the matter is, if Muni takes all the electric trolleybuses off the streets on Sunday, you will experience severe delays on all trolleybus lines.  There are not enough diesel buses to make-up for a huge loss.

And how do I know of the delays?  Last week Saturday, Muni switched all electric lines running along Market street to diesel only (excluding the 14-Mission), but they had a legitimate excuse, there was major road construction on Market and it blocked the overhead wires and the tracks used by the F-Market.  I ride the 6-Parnassus, but the diesel buses ran too far apart, with wait times of 30 to 40 minutes; normally the wait with trolleybuses is about 15-20 minutes.  Even the bus substitution for the F-Market was terrible, I was waiting 25 minutes for a bus that was sardine packed; after that point, I turned around and went home.

But wait, there's more.  This Sunday, Muni is cutting-off all Cable Car and F-Market service and they are also going on diesel as well.  For the entire three day weekend, the N-Judah will not run trains from Duboce and Church to Ocean Beach, and instead run much slower and smaller capacity buses.  This means that all the diesel lines will be STRETCHED THIN.

I seriously question the SFMTA's choices of cutting-off all the trolleybus lines for diesels.  Like I said earlier, with all the lines being forced to diesels, there is not enough diesel buses to make-up a huge gap like this.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Don't Anger the Casino Junket Buses in San Francisco

The local news is reporting about a plan for the city government to charge shuttle bus companies who pick-up their passengers at public transit stops to pay a fee every time the company uses the stops.

In my opinion, it's a fair compromise that would then sanction/legally allow private shuttle companies to use the stops to pick-up commuters and take them to their technology company jobs.  A lot of people enjoy this shuttle service perk because they don't have to drive, and one single bus can take dozens of cars off the congested roads and highways.

On the other hand, protesters have made two points, the use of public transit stops for other than public transit buses is illegal, and that it's driving-up the costs of housing in San Francisco.  I can understand the illegal use of a transit stop, but I'm not against tech folks finding residence here in San Francisco; they have the money, so let them spend on what they want.  Living in San Francisco is a great experience with tons of cultures and world class food; how boring would it to be living in some city with a not so interesting neighborhood?

If the city just kept giving a blind eye on the illegal use of a transit stop, shuttle bus companies have a couple of choices: Either risk the $271 fine for parking in a transit stop, or double park as the double park penalty is much lower than a transit stop violation.

But there's a bigger question out there: How about the gambling buses?

Way before technology companies made it big with shuttle buses picking-up passengers, the casino junket buses was driving people up to Cache Creek casino on a regular basis by using transit bus stops and double parking on the streets.  Now with even more casinos within a reasonable vicinity of San Francisco, I see more of them daily.

I feel the city is still going to give a blind eye on the casino junket buses and protesters wouldn't dare to block the casino buses.  Why?  Simply my dear, it's the angry old Chinese ladies.  If you know about the ones who shove their way into a Muni metro vehicle at Powell station, good luck blocking a casino bus while the pink bag ladies will kick their asses.  It may sound amusing, but it's the fear factor that keeps the city government and protesters away.