Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How not to save time on your commute.

Today, riding along Central Expressway, at the Fair Oaks exit.

Driver in White Van cuts me off from proceeding straight on Central, careening into the exit at top speed, losing perhaps 1 second they would lose had they waited. Since I had to veer off from my path on Central at this point, I gave the driver a one finger salute and decided to follow the van onto the offramp. The ramp ends with a fork onto Arques Eastbound, where one can access Fair Oaks, or left to go onto Westbound Arques or Central Expressway the other direction.

The van was in the right lane of the fork but stuck behind traffic waiting for the red light at the end of the ramp. As I closed up to the van, it quickly accellerated to the left and onto the turn onto WB Arques and headed back onto WB Central. The driver looked at me through his open window and shouted an obscenity at me.

He didn't want to wait 1 second for me to get to a backed up traffic light, and he was so incensed he might have to discuss it that he took a 3-4 minute detour.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Caltrain - 4th and King Ticket Checks

Over the last few months Caltrain has started checking tickets at the entrance door at 4th and King prior to boarding. I had seen this in the past, but usually for off peak trains. Now, they are doing the checks throughout the peak of rush hour.

Personally, my Clipper card (Caltrain ticket) is buried in my wallet, which is buried in my backpack, somewhere. Since I have a reliable form of transportation (my bike) that has a variance in travel time from home to the station of roughly 2 minutes, I typically arrive shortly before departure, and if I have been lucky with the lights maybe I'll get a hot drink. So I head to the gates with my bike and my hot drink, and now I am fumbling into my backpack for my ticket, the same as the rest of the ridership heading towards the doors.

This leads to a long queue as people look for their tickets and are slowly processed by 2 conductors at the doorway, scanning Clipper cards with the slow hand held readers. The end result, lately has been that the trains have been departing 4th and King a few minutes late as passengers are processed and then scramble into the train.

There is an upside - this pretty much nips fare evasion in the bud. Which is a good thing, right? Thing is - fare evasion isn't a big problem for Caltrain - the ridership generally pays their fares. The riders *not* paying their fares are typically not Joe Commuter trying to save a few bucks, they are various n'eer do wells with much larger problems than paying a Caltrain fare and who, faced with the prospect of paying a fare would probably just not ride the train at all. And if we cite these folks (*if* they have a valid ID), they'll probably just bypass the court date, not pay the fine, and sort of slip into the ether. It's not like we're going to put anyone into San Quentin for a $5 Caltrain ticket.

I'm making an assertion on fare compliance - let's use the google machine to research this - here's an article regarding fare evasion on VTA that claims fare evasion on Caltrain is one tenth of one percent!

I have attended several JPB meetings over the years where the topic of service cuts has been discussed, usually this brings out someone whose station or train is up for elimination, and they propose that Caltrain do a better job of checking tickets in order to get more money to keep the trains running. The answer from CEO Mike Scanlon is always the same - fare evasion is very low.

Meanwhile, on-time performance in March of 2012 dipped to 92.6 percent. You tell me, what's a bigger problem - .1 percent fare evasion or 7.4% late trains?

And remember, the door checks are only at 4th and King. The conductors still need to perform on-board checks if they are to catch any fare evasion from passengers boarding at any of the stations down the line. While 4th and King may be the most popular station in the system, the other stations combined have substantially more boardings. I have had my ticket checked at the door, and then again on the train, probably 50% of the time.

I have heard anecdotes that conductors have claimed they have found that many customers had not tagged their card - but this is *always* on the first couple days of the month, when customers who have paid for Monthly passes have forgotten to activate their pass. Those customers don't have to tag on daily and they might forget on the first. In that instance, the door check is ensuring compliance with the technical parts of fare payment, but it isn't keeping people from evading fares - they have already paid. It would be simpler just to have one person on that day calling out to passengers to remember to tag on, without the time consuming scanning of cards of those who already have tagged on.

Caltrain needs to ditch the door check.

If you agree = send an email to Caltrain

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bumped off half empty caltrain...

Dear Caltrain

This morning I was bumped off of train 220 with my bicycle at 4th and King and lied to by the employees working the door. They claimed the train was full of bikes. I informed the door man that I believed he was not being truthful and I would find out - he curtly replied "not unless the train leaves the station 5 minutes late".

Of course, I then boarded 322 and talked to someone boarding 322 who had just missed train 220 at 4th and reported seeing several cyclists board 220 at 22nd, and twitter reported the train was 80% full.

Here is the underlying scenario. As I was walking to the door, another rider rode her bicycle through the 4th and King station at high speed. I looked at the doorman as he told her not to ride through the station and I said "Deny her boarding". The other door employee then informed her the train was full of bikes, resulting in myself and one other rider also being denied boarding. The employee persisted in his claim that the train was full, which I fully expected to be untrue as I had just witnessed 3 other cyclists board without incident while getting my coffee, and no indication of a count being done or any knowledge of capacity. My suspicions were proven correct.

While I agree with the conductors instinct to deny the passenger riding through the station boarding, his methodology was lazy and sloppy, was and ultimately costly to other passengers.

John Murphy

San Francisco