Monday, January 31, 2011

Clipper, Caltrain, 8-rides, Monthly passes.

@jack650 asked me the following question which dovetails with the @skid commentary.

Do you know if I can switch from an initial 8-ride later to Monthly pass on Clipper? Thanks.

The answer - generally, is no. The question isn't completely specified - does he want to switch to a Monthly the same month, or in a future month. Definitely you cannot apply 8 rides towards a Monthly pass. But this brings up something that has been a huge annoyance for me in the past, and in fact currently.

In December, I was out of town for a week or two. Add in some days where I rode to work, and I was only going to get say 60% value out of a Monthly Pass vs. just buying 8 rides. So I autoloaded some 8 rides on my Clipper Card and started tagging on and tagging off.

In the past, I would do this with paper tickets. When the month ended, if I had extra rides on my 8 ride ticket, I would usually give them away to a friend, but there was also always a secondary market for 8 ride tickets on Craig's List.

Now, as January began and I had a couple of eight rides left, if I wanted to go with a pass, I would basically forfeit the 8 ride tickets. The 8 rides expire in 60 days. If I bought a pass, I would need my card and the 8 rides would basically be unusable.

The only way out that I can see is to get a brand new Clipper Card, load the pass onto it, and give away the old card (after disconnecting it from my Credit Card). This certainly is not the intent of the system.

To me, the perfect setup is to just charge cash, but give graduated discounts as the month progresses, incenting riders to ride more often and get the volume discounts, without them having to figure out how to keep from getting gamed by the system.

As it is, I am in 8 ride ticket hell for now and am thus incented to ride as little as possible! Especially once I zero out my 8 rides and must then pay cash for the rest of the month, lest I start up another 8 ride ticket. Aside from Caltrain getting less money, in theory every time someone who holds a pass rides "for free", we all "win" by getting cars off the road/less pollution. Every rider - even after they stop contributing additional funds, means Caltrain "earned" something towards their overall utility function.

Lord only knows what would happen if I did buy a February Monthly Pass and tried to validate it by tagging on/tagging off, with 8 rides still valid on my card. The system checks to see if the user has a valid 8 ride or Monthly Pass - what does it do if you have both . I wouldn't be surprised if it caused a Segmentation Fault and took the whole system down. Fun for the whole family.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Great commentary on Clipper from @skid


it's so ridiculous that with the right software changes we would all be praising the clipper transition instead of cursing it

Spurred on by me forgetting to tag off on a Southbound trip in the AM, at which point it's impossible to go to Gilroy, yet being charged a Gilroy trip.


Clipper's primary failure is modeling an electronic system after the paper one. So it inherits the shortcomings of both

Part of what Ammon is getting at here is this. I can ride from Millbrae to Mountain View (20+ miles) for the same amount of money as he pays riding from San Bruno to Broadway to grab a sandwich (4 miles). When BART came online with their distance based fares, they did so because the whole thing is "tag on/tag off". Now that Caltrain with Clipper works that way, they could obsolete the zone system completely and just charge by distance. The zone based system that made paper tickets easier to check, was kept despite going to an electronic ticketing system for which a zone based system wouldn't make sense in the first place.

This also applies to things like 8 ride tickets - also an artifact of paper ticketing. Instead of 8 ride tickets, Caltrain could simply apply discounts for riders who ride a certain amount in a certain timeframe - maxing out at the price of a monthly pass.

I think the concept of buying a monthly pass needs to be kept around - where riders don't need to tag on or off, because of the limited availability of translink readers at stations (Pass holders don't have to tag on or off).

D8 DCYF Meeting

Well, I won't say it wasn't worth going, I did get to talk to Gillian Gillett and also Liz Lian Ungar from Friends of Noe Valley. And I learned a little - not necessarily anything applicable, but sometimes academic exercises are useful.

DCYF is an organization that has a pot of money from yet another ballot box set aside, that it distributes to non-profits who write grant applications. The grant cycle just ended with some distributions, if I understand it correctly, so they start anew looking at what neighborhood needs are.

Basically, Noe Valley isn't getting any of this money, and maybe that's just as well. We have a pretty solid support structure, and the problems we face in the Family/Children/Youth space aren't the sort that you solve with barrels of money anyway.

About 30 people showed up. Roughly ten of them we'll call - "People from the City", DCYF staff, consultants, Supervisor Scott Wiener. There were roughly ten parents of children age 2 through late teens, from Noe and Duboce Triangle for the most part.

The last ten or so people caught my attention and gave me some understanding of the scope of DCYF. After a few comments about after school programs for middle schoolers, a transgendered person spoke up and talked about the need for homeless transgender and queers in the 18-24 year old range to have programs for them so they have a place to go, and maybe something to eat. OK - this definitely isn't just a meeting to discuss pre-school options for Noe Valley Stroller Moms! They were outside afterwards doing a post-meeting wrapup session - to them this meeting was important to try to show numbers and get some help. Frankly they were probably the closest thing to the charter of DCYF.

Most of the applicable commentary to me - a father of a 2 year old in Noe who hopes to be able to send his son to school nearby and have something to entertain him with after school - also nearby - was mostly off topic for the meeting. Of course we did go into that topic, which is basically the school assignment system. Turns out there is also some trouble that you might get the school you want, but might have trouble enrolling in after school programs in the same neighborhood - one parent complained that they got into Alvarado School in Noe, but then AFTER school they had to truck over to Japantown.

Other random topics - why not throw in the trouble between dog owners and parents (this time in Duboce, not Noe Courts), Swim lessons closer to D8 was brought up as well.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Noe Valley/Glen Park/Castro Community Meeting, Jan 27, 7 PM

What are the needs of children, youth & families in District 8?

The SF Department of Children, Youth & Their Families wants to know.

We are conducting a citywide Community Needs Assessment and we want to hear
from your community.

DCYF is hosting a community meeting in partnership with the Friends of Noe
Valley and Upper Noe Neighbors.

Please join us:

Thursday, January 27, 2011


James Lick Middle School’s Auditorium

1220 Noe St.

All community members of District 8 are invited to participate in this
meeting. For more information or questions, please contact Maria Porter at
DCYF at or at 554-8791


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Caltrain funding rant.

The absurdity of this situation is beyond comprehension.

There is a $30 Million deficit. Meanwhile, Caltrain is spending $165 Million to put in three grade separations and elevate the San Bruno Station.

Grade separations are certainly a helpful thing. But what irks me is this. According to the 2010 ridership stats San Bruno station is used by ~380 riders daily. Meanwhile Caltrain cancelled trains 236, 237, 256, and 257 – trains that carried roughly 1100 passengers daily. Why is it that the riders of those trains are expected to use a different train, but the people of San Bruno – who have voted against Caltrain with their feet – are not expected to use a different station? Millbrae Caltrain/BART is 2 miles from San Bruno station and has a lot of parking. San Bruno BART is 1 mile away from San Bruno station.

Eliminate stations – not trains. Run faster trains, attract more riders – the same fact sheet indicates that the average Caltrain trip is twenty miles. Running with fewer stops – permanently – provides a superior service on the whole that will attract more riders and removes the cost of maintaining, upgrading, and rebuilding the underutilized stations.

This is already proven – since the introduction of limited and bullet service, the stations with bullet service have seen an increase in usage, and the ones without have had decrease in service – it is not far fetched to conclude that the people living near Hayward Park (current ridership 227 per day) simply started using Hillsdale instead – the extra time to the train more than made up for by a faster trip to their destination.

Of course, we then get into the issue of “Capital vs Operating” budgets. If Mike Scanlon is really worth $350,000 per year, he can work on solving that problem. He has the access – US Congresswomen, Mayors, and CA assemblymen are showing up to these meetings.

On another note, SamTrans – also run by Mike Scanlon – has reduced funding to Caltrain last year and is threatening another reduction. This for service that is inferior and in many ways duplicative to Caltrain and BART. Why? Occam’s razor says – if SamTrans funding were cut, there would be no “Friends of SamTrans” with Congresswomen and CEOs showing up to save the system. Given the choice of cutting the budget of SamTrans and losing the money for good, or cutting Caltrain and enlisting high-powered allies to get more money – Scanlon made the obvious choice, except from the standpoint of the ridership.

Today's blood boiler

From Carole Sykes via the Alto Velo Mailing list.

Cycling Community,


The accident involved Rene Baker from LGBRC who was hit in the bike lane by a Mercedes. 


I was riding ahead of Rene on Foothill heading to Edith. A car heading the same direction went into the bike lane. Rene was well to the right in the bike lane. The car hit her from behind going between 40 to 45 mph. The driver claimed (to me) that he never saw her.  She was hit so hard that she came out of her shoes, was thrown into the air and initially came down onto the car's windshield shattering it.  There were two eye witnesses who were behind Rene taking this all in. The Police were on the scene within minutes. The driver did stop and seemed genuinely concerned but I'm not sure he was processing much of anything. He was cited for being in the wrong place on the roadway and released.  I just don't know why he was driving in the bike lane as there are no roads or driveways to the right on that stretch of road.  There were so many cyclists out on Foothill because of the nice weather he was destined to take someone out.


She is in Stanford Hospital and had surgery today for a compression fracture of L1 – the vertebra was broken all the way through making it a very unstable fracture that had to be fused.  She is recovering this evening having been very lucky after being very unlucky….  She has some nasty road rash and a questionable broken elbow (waiting for x-rays).  She will be a Stanford for 2 to 3 days and right now is as comfortable as can be expected.  Pain control will be the next challenge over the next several days.  She is expected to make a full recovery.


There just seems to be something wrong with a driver that almost made a paraplegic out of a mother of two and he walks away with a moving violation.  I thought that to have a driver’s license you had the responsibility to operate a motor vehicle in a safe manner.  There have been too many of these kinds of ‘accidents’ that have really hurt or kill people.  And there is nothing more than “oh, it was an accident” which strikes me as a completely “of no consequence” event so that there is NO imperative to operate motor vehicles in a safe manner.  Oh yes, I know that you can bring a civil case but that is a different thing compared to a criminal system that judges something as wrong and/or illegal. 


There is something wrong with the law around this – mainly because there is no law.


Carole Sykes

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Woodside Vigilantes

This AM - commuting to work on Canada Road. 7 man paceline. As we approach the stop sign at Olive Hill, and start to slow, we are passed by a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer. The truck and trailer then start to drift into the bike lane!

The truck pulls up to the stop line fully over to the edge of the road, blocking the bike lane, stops, then pulls out back into the nominal traffic lane.

Showed us! Of course in the process with his trailer he almost showed the lead man the ditch well before we got near the stop sign.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More Parklet Fun

Another parklet has been proposed in front of Arizmendi Bakery in the Sunset.

As is the custom, there is an Online Petition to garner support. Please help our underserved friends in the Inner Sunset or Greg Dewar will come get you!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Clipper response on Facebook Re: Millbrae

I made a comment on Clipper's facebook page about the poor placement and insufficent number of Clipper readers at Millbrae Station and how they really make the transfer difficult.

After a month, they responded.

Hi John,

Bay Area Clipper commented on their wall post.

Bay Area Clipper wrote:
"John and Jonathan,

Thanks for reaching out to us. We've heard from a few customers about the placement of the Clipper readers at Millbrae and have provided the feedback to the appropriate teams at Clipper and Caltrain. We'll look into a solution to make that transfer easier.

- Lisa"

I for one was telling everyone I saw go through this hassle to "Email Caltrain, Email BART, Email Clipper, please". Thanks for getting the numbers up.

For reference, I emailed Caltrain Customer Service about this, this was their response.

Dear Mr. Murphy,

Thank you for your comments concerning the placement of the Clipper Card readers on the northbound platform at the Millbrae station. As you may already know, this station is a BART facility and due to wiring issues, etc. Clipper was not able to put a reader closer to the entrance to the BART platform.

We regret the inconvenience this causes. Caltrain patrons may want to board a Caltrain car that will stop in front of the card readers, which will eliminate the need to walk back an forth to tag off.


Astrid Lindell
Customer Service Representative 2

My dad wanted a TV in his bathroom, my Mother said she didn't want to see any Coax running around the house. That is a "Wiring issue". My dad punched a hole along the drywall, ran the coax, patched the drywall, repainted, voila! Brent Musberger in the loo.

Asking me to ride another car is amusing, given that I have a bike and cannot. Caltrain has a specific luggage car which is primarily used by people transfering at Millbrae to get to SFO. Wheelchairs are also in specific cars.

The inconvenience is 100's of Clipper users who will end up missing a BART train at Millbrae, per day, at 15-20 minutes per. The burdened labor rate of those patrons would more than pay for multiple new readers in a month or two. Brutal.

Well, cross your fingers. I suspect this nefarious wiring issue will be resolved. But what do I know, I'm not a train guy. I'm an electrical engineer.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Caltrain is going broke

So they raised fares. Gotta get more money, right?

The fare increase was authorized in October. There has been plenty of time to get ready for it.

This morning, I tagged on at San Francisco, and my card was debited $11.25 - the amount of money it would cost for me to ride to the farthest point in the system - Gilroy.

Or not. The fare to Gilroy was $11.25. Now it's $12.50.

Upon exit, I was refunded $3.50, making my trip $7.75, the old fare to Lawrence.

I tagged on again, just to check. It deducted $7.75, the amount to ride to SF. I tagged back off, getting the refund as if I didn't ride the train.

I wandered over to the ticket machines. Ticket to SF from Lawrence - $8.50, the correct amount.

One week in to the fare increase, and the Clipper system is not reflecting the new fare structure, at least not for one way trips. I have not triggered the autoload on my eight rides to see if I am undercharged for purchasing one - that will happen tonight on the way home (hopefully before Caltrain sees this and gets Clipper to fix it).

Great. Raise the fares, scaring off customers, but don't actually charge the higher fares to the customers who stay. While it is really in my best interest to just keep my mouth shut, chances are this blog entry won't be the trigger, and even if it is, if history is a guide it will take them a while to get it sorted out anyway.