Why the SFTMA/Muni’s “Calvinball” Fast Passes Are A Waste of Time

calvinball.jpgIf you want to see ineffective “Calvinball-like” decision making, one only needs to see the latest decisions by the SFMTA on the prices for monthly “Fast Passes” that were approved today. Let’s start by going back to the most recent increase, whereby they decided to raise the cost to:
-$60, if you only wanted to ride the bus, the Metro, the cable car, or an express bus, and
-$70, if you wanted to ride the bus, the Metro, the cable car, an express bus, and BART within the city (the BART fare was previously included in the cost of a Fast Pass).
This “compromise” was designed to give you the illusion that you could “save money” if you didn’t think you’d be riding a BART anywhere within city limits. However, several problems came up in the process:
-Many retailers would run out of the $60 passes, so you either had to leave and find another, or pony up the $70, regardless;
-It was recently revealed that Translink users who loaded a Fast Pass on their cards not only were being automatically re-upped at the higher level, but now, many machines downtown (which you must use if you’ve got a Commuter Card benefit) were not allowing for the $60 option;
-And of course, the inevitable confusion and the hassles at BART gates when people didn’t realize what they’d done by picking the $60 pass.
All in all, it was a way to give out the illusion of “opting out” of something you don’t use. That really doesn’t make any sense, because a transit system is not a buffet which you pick and choose – it’s a comprehensive system with different modes of transit that when, properly managed, all work together to create an efficient system.
But then came today’s epic FAIL of a vote by an ineffective MTA board led by a former politician from the suburbs. NOW, we have the following system, whereby the cost has been raised to:
-$60, which allows you to only ride the bus, or Metro and;
-$70, which now allows you to ride the bus, the Metro, the cable car, an express bus, and BART within the city, and ride the Express buses. (Otherwise you’ll have to pay a $5 premium for the cable car and the Express buses) (source: SFMTA twitter account).
Really? And they’re cutting service 10% and making Night Owl service a once an hour joke? REALLY?
The MTA bureaucrats who came up with this plan should be ashamed of themselves. They’re essentially raising the price of a useful Muni Pass that used to cost $55 to $70, all the while giving off the illusion that they really only raised the cost of a pass by $5. By removing most of the things we’d been getting (like better service, and being able to use BART and Cable Cars and Express buses), they’ve made the lower cost pass a useless joke.
The MTA should have been more honest and either raised the cost of the stupid pass to $70 (so they don’t have to print multiple kinds of passes and f*ck up Translink) or split the difference and raised it to $65. To do so with these Calvinball like rules, all the while of course subsidizing drivers of private cars, and subsidizing other departments with Muni money that others called shenanigans on, is flat out bullshit.
Don’t even get me started on how confusing the tourist options have become. That’s a whole other game of Calvinball!
NOTE! Was there a better way to balance the budget without cutting service, and all the other lame-ass ways the MTA chose to go? Yes there was – SPUR took the time the MTA didn’t to come up with a better budget which you can read about over here, in PDF format.
Did the MTA even bother to look at it or listen? Hell no! Of course not. That would mean they’d be responsible managers of the Muni system we own. Epic FAIL.

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11 Responses to Why the SFTMA/Muni’s “Calvinball” Fast Passes Are A Waste of Time

  1. MrEricSir says:

    This is from the geniuses that gave us the Culture Bus. What else would you expect but complete incompetence?

  2. Natalie says:

    I’m starting to more seriously consider the suggested March boycott of Muni after this.

  3. Joel says:

    When I first transferred here just a bit back in ’06 from Chicago, where the equivalent of what we once knew as a FastPass was $75, I thought that the $45 FastPass was one of the very few actual bargains in this town, but that I’d be willing to pay additional money for better service, which I noticed was exceptionally poor by comparison.
    And here we are. In just a few years, I’m paying (as of now) at least 1/3 more, but the service has somehow gotten worse, with the added dick-kick of fewer options. I’m still not sure if I’m going to pay the extra $10 or not, but as a resident of the city–someone who actually used the cable cars as transportation and not just an experience, who lives out on the Avenues and relies on Express buses more often that most–I’m rather chapped that I have to. To put it mildly.
    I love it out here, but damn this city is dysfunctional.

  4. Joel says:

    And I have to say, I’ve been a relatively big Carmen Chu fan (she’s always been very responsive to emails I’ve sent) but where has she been in this process? We’re in the relative boonies out here, and frankly, I believe we rely on Muni more than a lot of other neighborhoods in the city do, where walking and cycling can often be much more feasible. Beyond that and all the aforementioned, things like slashed Owl Service affect the Avenues, where cab drivers fear to tread, much moreso than other parts of town.
    Ach, I need to stop thinking about this and enjoy my Friday night…

  5. murphstahoe says:

    A subversive plot by the bike anarchists to force everyone onto bikes!

  6. Ned says:

    Great article, Eric.
    @MrEricSir, I’m pretty sure the managers at the MTA knew the culture bus would be a flop but the Mayor wanted it, and the MTA does what the Mayor wants.
    And the Mayor is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, and he certainly is not committed to public transit!
    Gavin for Lt. Governor!

  7. Jeff says:

    The higher fare could result in current 16X commuters packing onto the already overcrowded 71L and N Judah lines instead. Fun times ahead!

  8. anonymouse says:

    I love the idea of SFMTA charging other city departments for parking placards via work orders. It’s only fair, after all, given how Muni has been ripped off by work orders. And they really do need to make better use of their control of parking revenues.

  9. otto says:

    Looking at the SPUR proposal … Muni spends $5 million a year handling “Where’s my bus?” calls?
    Maybe they’d save money actually running the busses in a orderly manner.

  10. Brian says:

    Something reasonable like a zone-based system would just make too much sense. You know, like the kind they use in places where transit doesn’t totally suck?
    I just get the feeling that everything needs to be torn to shreds and redone. It’s not like the service that they’re trying (and failing) to provide is something new. Why does this have to be so hard?

  11. anonymouse says:

    San Francisco already has a zone-based system: if you want to go further than 4 miles from the geographic center of the city, you pay an extra fare. Pretty much how it works in Portland, except here it’s a side effect of the city and transit agency boundaries, whereas there it’s a formal zone system, but the effects and even the size of the zones are roughly the same. An extra charge for express service might make sense: those routes are more expensive to operate because it’s peak service ad tend to be longer routes, and collect less revenue because there’s no turnover (each seat is occupied at most once per run, generally), but in SF it’s probably not worth it as the purpose of those routes is to take some load off the inner segments of the big local bus lines like the 38 or 71.

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