Thursday, September 30, 2010

Caltrain Clipper FAILBLOG #4

This is a good one.

The Millbrae Intermodal Terminal contains both the Caltrain and BART stations in Millbrae. You can connect from the two services at this spot. Depending on the connection you are making, this can be difficult - for example transfering from BART to a Southbound Caltrain, you must go up a set of stairs, exit BART, walk across the upstairs level, and down a flight of stairs to the Caltrain SB platform.

However, if you are transfering from a Northbound Caltrain to BART, it's a snap. Exit your Caltrain, and on the opposite side of the platform are the BART gates. There are two sets of BART gates on the platform, one on the Northernmost part of the platform, and one sort of in the middle. Since I have my bike with me, I am usually in the Northernmost Caltrain car - the bike car. This means from the door of my Caltrain to the BART gates is roughly a 5 yard walk. Perfect.

Aside - For the purposes of this conversation we will ignore that this set of fare gates which is next to the Caltrain bike car does not have a faregate that facilitates bikes, and the emergency gate which you are supposed to use to get your bike onto the BART platform is routinely blocked by BART staff.

OK, so I am getting off Caltrain and I'm going to get on BART, by entering the gates which are five yards away. There is only one problem. Since I am adopting our fancy new technology, I am using my Clipper Card to pay for both my Caltrain and BART fares - which should be super convenient. However, before I enter the BART system, I need to "tag off" from Caltrain. I look to my left. I look ahead. I look right.

There is no Clipper Reader in sight. What is in sight is the rarest of all birds, a BART train at the station at the same time as my Caltrain arrival. If I can just get "tagged off" and "tag in" to BART, I can make this train and avoid a 15 minute wait. So I start running down the platform. With my bike. Wearning bike shoes.

I run 30 or so odd yards and there it is - tucked behind a bank of pay phones.

At the far end of this picture is where I got off @Caltrain a... on Twitpic

Aside - why are there more payphones here than there are Clipper readers?

Suffice to say, shortly after I heard the "BEEP" from the Clipper reader, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a BART train leaving the station. That left me the time to take the picture.

In the right foreground of the picture you can see the Clipper reader. If you squint real closely and look on the left side way in the background, past the handicapped lift and the handicapped riser platform, a sign that shows where I came from - the BART gates that I wanted to enter but could not until I ran 30 yards down the platform to find a Clipper reader.

The BART gates aren't near anything else. The only persons who would use those gates are transferring from Caltrain - someone initiating a BART trip at Millbrae has to enter the Intermodal station from the BART side and go up to the upstairs level where there are a dozen or so gates, and would have no reason to then trek down to the Caltrain platform. If both systems use Clipper, the only way those gates retain any usefulness is if there is a Clipper reader at the fare gates. But no - they put the Clipper reader in the middle of nowhere, positioned in a way that adds no value (pun not intended) to the ridership.

Of course, how it really should work is that I don't need to "tag off" from Caltrain at all. When "Tagging on" to BART at Millbrae station, the system should recognize an open Caltrain trip, and "tag off" of Caltrain and "tag on" to BART in one fell swoop.

But what do I know, I'm not a train guy. I'm a computer programmer.

If you squint real closely

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Clipper Caltrain FAILBLOG #3

Caltrain has a multi-ride discount program called the "8 ride pass". This is a pretty good deal, the discount is pretty steep. In fact, it is perhaps too good - a rider must ride the train round trip 16 times per month in order for a Monthly Pass to be a better deal than the 8 ride tickets. Which pretty much means that if a rider works from home or drives to work once a month, they are better off with 8 ride tickets instead of passes. Caltrain would be better off in a future round of fare changes to increase the 8 ride prices more compared to the Monthly Pass. In this manner, they would collect more money and service more trips - a rider who has a Monthly Pass feels that they now have to "pay" to drive, whereas if they are on 8 ride tickets, driving costs money but saves them money on train fare. This makes the marginal cost of driving higher, and encourages people to become more loyal train riders. But I digress - this is about Clipper.

Recently I have been using 8 ride tickets using my Clipper Card. Normally I get a Monthly pass, but I had a month where we were out of town two weeks, so I did the math and decided to go with 8 ride tickets. This causes a bit of consternation because I need to use up my 8 ride tickets by the end of the month so that I can go back to using a Monthly Pass. This wasn't so bad in the days of paper tickets when I could sell my extra tickets - with the 8 ride on my Clipper Card it's much harder to transfer the extra rides.

I use 8 rides for zone 1-3 and zone 1-4, my two most common Caltrain trips. The 8 ride tickets are "autoloaded" from my Credit Card. I was working my zone 1-4 eight ride down to zero rides, so I could turn off the autoload and pay the one way fare if needed to end the month. Taking the train to Lawrence from SF one day, I tagged off at Lawrence and looked at the reader to see how many rides I had left. I figured I would have two or three rides left. I tagged the reader and saw this...


??? What happened? I had 2 rides left, but Clipper added another 8 rides to my card? Why? I asked Clipper and they said that the card does indeed autoload another 8 rides onto your card when your eight ride ticket gets down to 2 rides.

This is just stupid. The best I can guess is some brain surgeon at Caltrain or Clipper looked at it and said "Well, it will be more convenient for the user if we add more rides at 2 so they don't run out". Of course, this makes no sense - in order for the rider to use a ride, they have to access a Clipper Kiosk. And if they can access a Kiosk, they can have a ridebook added. The system should wait until the rider gets to zero rides, and THEN it should add 8 more rides.

At first glance, this really only impacts someone who is trying to bleed their rides down to zero, like I was. If I had just turned off the autoload as soon as I knew I didn't want to buy any more tickets, I would have been fine. Except for one thing.

Eight ride tickets expire. In 60 days.

By autoloading new rides when you still have 2 left, riders who ride occasionally are penalized by their tickets starting to expire before they really need to buy the tickets. Bogus.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Caltrain Clipper FAILBLOG #2

Usually I have my trusty Caltrain paper monthly pass on me. Soon though, paper passes will go the way of the dodo, and you will need to "load" your monthly pass onto your Clipper Card.

In our last installment, we looked at a poorly placed Clipper reader. The readers are there for riders to tag on and off the train, so that the system knows how far you have ridden the train, and can charge you appropriately. But how does that work if you have a monthly pass, you ask?

I will be "autoloading" my pass onto my Clipper card via my Wageworks Credit Card every month. So come the first of the month, I will have my pass ready to go. However, the pass is autoloaded into the system, but not magically transmitted to my Clipper Card. In order to get my pass onto my Clipper Card, I need to load it onto the card by tagging on and off to ensure the zones traveled match the zones purchased for the pass.

Here's where it gets dodgy. If I have a Zone 1-4 pass, does Zone 2 "match" that pass? Answer - no. This is a problem. I work near Lawrence Expressway, in Zone 4. But the Baby Bullet trains require me to get off the train in Mountain View, in Zone 3. On the first of the month, if I get on a bullet train, and tag on in Zone 1, and off in Zone 3 - that doesn't "match" my pass. I will get charged a $7.75 cash fare that I have already effectively paid by buying my monthly pass. Additionally, my pass will still not be activated.

I asked Clipper about this...

"Yes, you do need to tag off in Zone 4 or else you will be charged the Zone 1-3 cash fare.

I understand that it can be inconvenient, but since Caltrain is a zone-based system with open entry/exit, they have instituted the policy that every c...ard be charged the maximum fare (from the originating station) until the card tags off at its destination. At that time, Clipper searches for an applicable pass or ridebook. If there isn't one, than the fare is deducted from the cash balance.

- Lisa

Kind of sucks given that Caltrain's Clipper Brochure says this...

Monthly Pass: When you load a Caltrain monthly pass, you’ll receive unlimited rides within the zones specified, just like a paper Caltrain monthly pass. Monthly passes can be purchased on the 21st of each month for the coming month through the 9th day of the valid month.

Technically correct - the rub being that you have to go through the proper procedure to "load" the pass.

I told Mike Scanlon last month - "I am not a train guy", and he fed off this to say something about "this seems like common sense but...". Well, I AM a programmer guy. This should be trivial to get right. No - this IS trivial to get right. But they FAILed instead.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Clipper Card Caltrain FAILBLOG #1

I took Caltrain to Santa Clara today. After getting off the train, you need to "tag off" if you are a Clipper Card user. This can often be quite frustrating trying to locate the card reader, but at Santa Clara it hit a new low.

This is what @caltrain thinks of their @bayareaclipper users ... on Twitpic

Here is the Clipper reader, off the sidewalk, off the curb, sort of dumped into some landscaping woodchips, behind the trash can and some newspaper racks. It was probably placed before the construction started, but it's still very poorly placed, in a spot where there is only 2 or so feet of open sidewalk before another curbing.

If you look to the very right of the frame (or by looking next to my shadow taking the photo) you can see that there is in fact another Clipper reader on the platform itself. So it's not like there isn't an "accessible" Clipper reader - I just want to know why they decided to put another one behind a trash can. Even if there were enough detraining passengers that a second reader would speed things up, nobody can get to the second reader, especially with a crowd around the first one.

This placement makes no sense. There are a lot of translink placements out there that seem to makes sense at first glance but in fact are quite broken, but this one is broken on its face.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ford's Paradox - Central Subway and Congestion Pricing.

I saw the following snippet on the SF Appeal that I found very humorous, in this article.

During his presentation of the report to the board, Ford said that with local sales tax revenues in decline and other sources of SFMTA revenue susceptible to market fluctuations, "We need to seek out more stable funding sources."

He cited ideas such as congestion pricing and variable parking prices in more parts of the city as ways to add revenue.

"Without these, we will not be able to close critical funding gaps" to pay for projects such as the Central Subway Project, he said. The Muni extension is slated to open in 2018.
Each of the board directors addressed the report and expressed how they would like to see Muni service improved.

This is amusing to me. A lot of transit advocates oppose the Central Subway on the grounds that it's pretty much a waste of money. I am in this camp - the arguments for the Central Subway trumpet the fact it will go to Caltrain, as someone who has taken the MUNI underground to Caltrain I can very clearly state that getting off at Powell and walking 5+ minutes the opposite direction of the Caltrain station, then going down 2 levels to switch to the CS, will not be an improvement. At that point, I'd rather just go to ground level and walk down 4th Street.

Most people advocating for the CS (aside from Construction firms who stand to profit and Politicians who will get photo ops) don't actually take transit. They just know that Stockton Street is a mess, and think that a subway will magically fix that. They look at a map in isolation and see the "connection" at Market which isn't really a connection, or they just assume that since we are building it, that there will actually be a connection. They ignore that the Chinatown stop will be NINE stories underground - tell me how that is an improvement to a ground level stop for the 30/45?

On the flip side, Transit Advocates generally are in favor of congestion pricing, and people who don't take transit think congestion pricing is a dumb idea. Now, Nat Ford is connecting the Central Subway with congestion pricing. In order to have the money to complete and run the Central Subway, we're going to have to raise parking prices and implement congestion pricing.

So if you are against the Central Subway, would you be willing to let them build it if we get congestion pricing? (for the record, I am completely ambivalent on congestion pricing - I rarely drive or bike in the areas affected). If you are for the Central Subway, but were told that if we build it that the city will be implementing congestion pricing, does that change your mind?

Personally, I say no Central Subway, no congestion pricing. The Subway is a waste of money, and I'm not so sure that we really have the traffic to justify congestion pricing - granted I have driven onto the Bay Bridge from SoMa during rush hour once or twice and it wasn't very pleasant, so I can't really speak to this compared to people who deal with that daily. I just wonder how much money the city would take in compared to the implementation, and if it is justified by whatever benefits congestion pricing would bring (vs the unintended side effects).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Noe Valley Parklet "status"

Here is an email I received from Robert Roddick yesterday.

The Merchants Association conducted a survey of its members and also non-members and the result was that Seventy-Two (72%) favored the Park Lets. Sixty-eight percent supported Park Lets as beneficial for business. The remainder just liked the idea.

The results were forwarded to all members in good standing and to Andres Power on Tuesday.

The first choice was Martha Bros. and the second was in front of the old Real Foods, but this was disqualified as there is no operating business to assume the responsibility. The next choice was Just For Fun.

Andres Power was in agreement and I believe that the establishment of the Park Lets at these locations is now proceeding. The details of the site business's responsibility are being finalized.

The Noe Valley Association will take up the cleaning and maintenance in conjunction with our ordinary every day cleaning, beautification and maintenance schedule.

From the newspapers and Andres Power it looks like Park Lets will become part of the ordinary permit procedure. I hope and expect that it will require Conditional Use Hearings before issuance. This is something that the NVA and the Merchants will be watching closely.

Bob Roddick

This doesn't necessarily sound good for the residents of Vicksburg Street with respect to their concerns that a parklet in front of Martha Brothers will not attract coffee drinkers and people with their dogs, but will instead become a magnet for drunks rolling out of the Dubliner.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

You hear that Mr. Anderson?... That is the sound of inevitability... Goodbye, Mr. Anderson...

I received the following tweet this morning...

@murphstahoe Haha, SF is claiming $52K legal costs against Rob Anderson for losing lawsuit against the bike plan than a minute ago via web

Checking out link to the case


The City might not get it but you gotta love the fact he'll have to deal with it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Noe Valley Parklet Feedback

Update - fixed reference and link - grant came from the "Noe Valley Association" which is different than the "Noe Valley Merchants Association.

I have found that there is an amusing side effect of sticking your nose where perhaps it doesn't belong. Suddenly a mild mannered Silicon Valley engineer with no real authority becomes the listening board for random issues and the "owner" of issues - e.g. "How are things going with 'your plaza'". This becomes more prevalent when you have a big email distribution list, which of course I would never abuse ;)

So now I occasionally get random emails that are directly or tangentially related to the two most recent issues I have been pontificating about - Caltrain weekend Bullets and the addition of public space in Noe Valley (I will use a generic term there rather than "Plaza" or "Parklet" or "Town Square"). For example the bullet train thing has gotten me a lot of email from people about High Speed Rail, Gilroy Service (apparently an extension to Salinas is what would solve the whole problem), and running 10 minute headways all day long. Surprisingly, no "What we need to do is kill Caltrain and run BART down the Peninsula".

Last night, I got another email regardling "Public Space in Noe Valley". For those not following the saga, the Noe Valley Association wrote a grant which was looked upon favorably by San Francisco's San Francisco's Pavement to Parks program to put a Plaza on Noe Street in Noe Valley. I became a F-List Celebrity in Noe Valley - at least electronically - for advocating for this plaza but alas, we lost this battle in spectacular fashion . Instead Pavement to Parks decreed that Noe Valley would get two "parklets" along 24th Street.

If one thing was generally agreed upon during this whole saga, was that no matter the outcome, the process was flawed. While the NVA was very well meaning, many citizens felt that they figured out something they liked, and flung it upon an unsuspecting populace. They developed the idea, went to P2P, P2P approved the idea, and got set to roll it out. The idea was then leaked, a few people with enough influence to get their phone answered by our Supervisor put a bunch of DON'T BLOCK NOE signs in their windows, and the project was deemed to be too divisive before people who might like the project got to voice their opinions. So then me and mine got equally as pissy, and a lot of people who probably would have nice conversations over the Giants prospects in the playoff race ended up screaming and shouting at each other, online and in public.

That's water under the bridge. Supervisorial Candidate Rebecca Prozan saw me on the street and told me she thought she had figured out my plaza problem (again with the ownership meme!). "Vicksburg" - she said confidently. I had a bag of bagels and my wife was waiting for me, so I just nodded and said "Vicksburg" and pointed at the Farmer's Market and said "Well, maybe we'll get a 'plaza' here" - referencing an effort to get money to buy the Noe Valley Ministry's parking lot and turn it into a non-street-blocking public space. What I really wanted to say was "It's over, we had fun, we lost, sometimes that happens, now I just want to go to Healdsburg and work on my tomatoes.

However, there is one open issue. We get two parklets! And this brings this longish thread (I like to write - deal with it) to the new news. Remember several paragraphs ago where I said I often get random emails? Last night I got an email address "To all those involved in the decision-making of the parklets on 24th Street:". Remember - I am an engineer in the South Bay, not a politico in San Francisco. I am not any more involved in the decision making than the author of the email.

I struggled with what to do with the missive. Then thinking back about the whole thing - I recalled that the problem with the Noe Street Plaza was that everyone was upset that decisions were ostensibly being made by a secret cabal - and not by the public at large. Noe Valley is a community - and as such, we are ALL the decision makers - are we not? So in that spirit - I am publishing the email. I have redacted the names because while I think the content is relevant, the persons involved did not expect to have their names and emails published.

To all those involved in the decision-making of the parklets on 24th Street:

Please keep parklets far away from any bars because people coming out of the bars late at night tend to congregate on the sidewalk and stay for a long time (sometimes hours). This creates a noise disturbance for the residents. Late at night their voices and laughter travel far distances, unlike during the day, because their voices aren't masked by other noises. And having just left a loud bar, they continue talking loudly as they had been used to doing inside the bar.

I know you are considering placing a parklet at Martha Bros. or by the parking lot owned by the Noe Valley Ministry (used for the farmer's market), but these locations are very close to the Dubliner bar. PLEASE do not place any parklets on the eastern half of that block. If you "must" place a parklet between Sanchez and Vicksburg, please place it closer to Sanchez to remove its temptation from the departing bar patrons of the Dubliner.

Thank you for considering these facts.

Name Redacted
Vicksburg Street resident

cc to other Vicksburg residents

As to my personal opinion on this issue - I do not drink coffee and Sanchez is a long way from my house so a Martha's parklet would be underused by me. But you see, I'm ambivalent about the outcome - I'm concerned about the process ;)

But I'm pretty sure this means that Rebecca Prozan has not solved "my plaza problem".