Main

March 6, 2014

Taking a Trip to Los Angeles, Using Only Public Transit? Yes, It's Possible....

Today I am departing for Los Angeles for a number of reasons, including some coverage of the California Democratic Convention (which I'll post on my other blog if it's warranted) and to just get out of town and enjoy a change of scenery.

My goal for this trip, transit-wise wasn't so much to prove a point as to avoid having to rent a car, and since half my trip will be spent downtown, and the other half on LA's Westside, I think this will be do-able. I've received some great advice from Twitter transit fan @ExpoLineLedger, and the LA MTA website has also been helpful. (To be clear, I am flying down there, but I'm relying on BART and Muni to get me to SFO, and a bus from LAX to downtown once I arrive.)

I will post updates for the transit portion of the trip on my main Twitter account, @njudah with the hashtag #njcla2014. Posts relating to the CDP Convention will have the hashtag #cadem2014, so if you're not interested in that topic, you can filter those tweets out rather easily.

If nothing else, I'm looking forward to enjoying some sunny weather, check out various attractions, and get a french dip sandwich at Phillipe's, all sans rental car! I'll write a summary when the trip is over.

At a time when our own SFMTA seems to be sabotaging its own Transit Effectiveness Project which cost several million dollars and received hundreds of hours of public input, and a lack of leadership overall in San Francisco on transit issues, it'll be interesting to see how another California city and region handles such things. Maybe there's a few things we could learn from them, eh?


January 25, 2014

Two VERY Important Meetings That Will DIRECTLY Affect the N and The Neighborhood!

Ok, I know I said I was going to be on hiatus working to FINALLY move this blog off of ancient MovableType and on to Word Press, but there are two meetings that people should know about that will have a direct effect on their commute, both for the short term, and in the years to come.

The first, is a meeting to be held on improvements to Irving Street on January 30th, at the San Francisco County Fair building. This is significant, because Irving Street is due to be repaved in 2015.

The SFMTA is holding a meeting, following up on the outreach done to the public for the Transit Effectiveness Project back in 2007-2008. The changes proposed will have a direct impact on the ability of the SFMTA to speed up the N and make it more efficient, while at the same time ensuring safety for everyone who uses the streets and sidewalks in the Inner Sunset.

You can read the details here. If you cannot attend, you can always send in your comments to the SFMTA directly, as well.

Bear in mind that it's important you speak up now and listen also to the extensive work already done on this - in order to be prepared for the 2015 repaving effort, the changes need to be approved in March 2014. Many changes have been made in other neighborhood with success, and no armageddon for local residents and businesses. Be sure to pay attention to this process as it goes forward.

(Please also note this has absolutely nothing to do with vague proposals about the future of Irving between 9th and 10th. That vague concept is a separate effort, and has absolutely nothing at all to do with improvements between Arguello and Irving/9th).

The second (and third) meetings you should be aware of relate to the Sunset Tunnel Trackway Improvement Project. You can read the details at the SFMTA website, in particular the weekend closures that will be necessary (and oh so fun!) during the project.

This is a big deal, so two meetings are scheduled: one will be held on January 29th at 6pm at the Electrical Workers Union Hall at 55 Fillmore Street.

The second will be held on February 6th at the Park Branch Library Community Room, also at 6pm, at 1833 Page Street.

Be sure to attend if you can, and hopefully we will see some interest from elected officials who represent the N Judah line show up and pay attention as well. Past experience has demonstrated that the SFMTA can always hold a nice meeting, but it's the follow-up and the results that matter more - something that's not always the SFMTA's strong suit.

Remember, you are an owner/rider of Muni, and only you can demand better. You're certainly not going to get any help, from the Mayor on down, without making sure they know you're paying attention this time.

October 14, 2013

Enjoying Your Choco-Ration, Muni Riders? AKA How's that 3 Car Muni Metro Working?

You have to give credit to Muni and the SFMTA for one thing - they sure know how to spin the news media in ways that would make the Ministry of Truth blush in 1984. There are many such examples but I'm going to focus on just one today - the news about "test runs" of three-car Muni Metro trains, as reported in various outlets, including The Examiner.

Now, to hear what's said at SFMTA meetings, the press and whatnot, the MTA did oh so much hard work to make this pilot happen. Why, what a smart idea! Make the trains able to take more passengers when things are busy. What a great idea ! Huzzah for the shopkeep! Huzzah for the Salaries at Muni and the MTA!

There's just one little problem with all of this ballyhoo for this allegedly brilliant idea - that is how the system was supposed to work in the first *&^%! place. Yes, you read that right. When the Muni Metro system was designed, trains were supposed to have the option of three, even four cars as needed. Really.

The only reason we haven't had them since the introduction of the Breda cars in the 1990s? Well, that's because the Breda cars, to put it mildly, suck. You can read about how our esteemed ex-Mayor politicized and screwed up this process, but what's more important is the fallout for you, the rider - you got your services cut, and you didn't even realize it. The Breda cars had serious problems staying stuck together in a more than 2 car configuration, and somehow, only now, has the MTA bothered to even try and fix the problem.

(Or, if they had, despite all the Salaries, they failed for 15 years).

So while I applaud seeing an extension of service, and hope to maybe see a 3 car train on the N Judah line someday, I'm not going to hold my breath, and I'm certainly not going to jump for joy when my choco-ration is "increased" by 10 grams when it's actually been cut by 50.

July 2, 2013

A Letter to BART Management and Unions: You Can Both Bite My Shiny Metal Ass

Bite my shiny metal ass.jpgDear BART Management and Unions:

Bite my shiny metal ass.

No, really. BITE MY SHINY METAL ASS.

On Sunday, BART showed it what it can do when it does best, move a record number of people to one of the largest events of the year. Yes it was crowded, and yes it was hot, but BART still managed to get the job done safely and quickly. Well done.

On Monday, BART showed what it can do when it lets BS and pettiness get in the way of its core mission, and stranded hundreds of thousands of people trying to get to work, school, their doctor, the store, or ANYTHING ELSE PEOPLE USE BART FOR. Millions of dollars in productivity were lost, people wasted time burning gas in cars, and some may have even lost their jobs because they were late.

While people continue to insist that San Francisco and the Bay Area are a bastion of leftist thought*, if BART unions thought they'd win over the hearts and minds of workers, public and private for their cause, they have been sorely mistaken. That's because the labor movement, particulary in the Bay Area, no longer covers a wide range of workers, public and private. Most "union" employees work for government agencies, and organizing at private workplaces is non-existent (see any organizers at Facebook or Google?)

Even with the talk of our area "avoiding" the recession, most people aren't making a lot of money. They don't get health care benefits. They don't get raises. The BART unions have done nothing to explain themselves to the public that creates a sympathetic base of support. Rather, there's a lot of resentment, because most people can't see the median salary as "oppressive." You know this list better than we do so please explain why you deserve our sympathy as we struggle to get around the Bay Area.

However, BART management, if you think this means I'm giving your asses a pass, think again. When I read that you paid out a $950,000 payment to FIRED CEO Dorothy Duggar, then gave her almost 2 years of salary while did no work, and gave her bonuses, all I can say is what the Hell is wrong with you people?

How do you give big pay and bonuses to someone whom you fired for not doing their job? We're supposed to trust you to be the bastions of fiscal responsibility here? I can find better people, with more common sense, that don't make dumbass decisions like that. Better yet, take 5 minutes out in the Real World, and see how this kind of nonsense goes with those who do Actual Work for a living.

Here's a proposition - I'll screw up BART and cost a lot less than a couple of million dollars**. Seriously. Hell, I'll do it for 25% of that multimillion dollar salary. Sounds "fiscally prudent" to me!

Ok joke's over. Time for a reality check: it is your consistent failures that have led us to the point where we build stations to nowhere that cost a fortune and don't drive up ridership, and we have to keep bailing out your bad (and sometimes corrupt) decisions. So don't think I'm buying you're "it's the greedy unions' fault" line you've been pumping. You're no better.

If you expect the public to support you when you demand more money to expand services and to do the maintenance and hard work required, both of you need to get off your asses, get back to the bargaining table, fix this sh*t now, or forever lose crucial public support to ensure that as we grow in population, we're not stuck with a transit system from the 1970s in the 2020s.

Do it now. Otherwise, BITE MY SHINY METAL ASS.

Sincerely

Myself, and everyone else in the Bay Area.

*Let's just jettison this idea anyone here is really a leftist. If this was say, Paris, or Brazil, we'd have mass riots. Here, we have mass bitching on social media, and it's not "pro strike."

**Remember Linton Johnson? The guy who was a total failure at his job as a PR guy for the agency? He was never fired. This promise is similar to the one I made in 2011 to do his job twice as good but for half the price. I can live on $75,000 + benefits. And hey, if I screw up, I can still get paid anyway!

Oh, and one last thing. The belagaured SFTMA deserves a round of applause for increasing service to try and help. They had to delay a major retrofit of the Automatic Tracking Control in the tunnel because of BART's strike (an important repair.) I say BART should reimburse the MTA for its troubles during the strike. It's only fair.

June 28, 2013

A Few Brief Suggestions If BART Goes On Strike

Oh here we go again. Another BART contract negotiation, and another threat of a strike. This time, however the threat seems a bit more real, and could start as early as Monday. Needless to say, with ridership at 400,000+ riders a day, this is going to be a cluster-frak, right as we start a week of high heat and the Fourth of July.

I'm not going to go into the reasons the unions want to have a strike (or a "contract" as they say in the news), because, frankly I don't care. It's over health care (as always with strikes nowadays) and it's lovely they pay $92 a month for their f*cking health care. I work for myself so finding an affordable health care plan, even now, is minuscule to none. Anyway, like I said, I don't care anymore, since if we had national health care, BART, and every other business and public agency would save money by not being in the health care benefits business anymore. But why do something sensible like that?

Anyway, what's more important is how to deal with the circumstances. Other agencies will be seeing more riders as people stitch together a new way to work, and there will be more people in cars driving. The former means that agencies like Muni will have more people on board, something we know it can't handle since lately it's been falling apart at the flimsiest of circumstances, and the latter means a lot of people are going to get in their cars, think they're the only one doing so, and spend a lot of time in traffic. Burn up those dino fuels and pay for all that parking!

Here's a few tips that would work. First, if you can carpool to work or school with other people in your neighborhood, do so. It's a pain in the ass, but trust me, you'll all be saving each other's sanity, and some money as well. This doesn't work for everyone, but if you can do so, try it.

Next, just assume that your commute within San Francisco is going to be f*cked up, no matter what. There will be noobs on the bus who don't understand how the bus exit doors work, there will be more people on board, it'll smell bad because of the weather, etc. I'd advise bosses and workers to work out a plan in advance to accommodate this added layer of crap to the commute so no one gets fired for being late. If there's a way to adjust people's time in and out I'd say do so if at all possible.

Finally, if you have the luxury (or the curse) of working at home, try and do that for a few days. The strike, if there is one, is likely to end fairly quickly, so if your work allows you to work at a home office, do so. This is how I will be avoiding the nonsense myself, although I'm fortunate that I can do that - not all jobs handle telecommuting well. Use your judgment.

There's not much else, we, the riders can do in a situation like this. Ultimately it's up to the geniuses at BART and the geniuses at the unions to solve this mess. I'd like to think that at some point, cool heads will prevail, and a resolution that's fair to everyone (riders, management, unions) can come together and avoid a strike. We are, after all, the home to the braniacs of the world, aren't we?


June 7, 2013

Yes, This Month Marks EIGHT Years Blogging all that is Muni...

Loyal Readers:

Today (sort of ) marks the EIGHTH anniversary of this blog.

Yes, you read that right. EIGHT YEARS. And yet you also read why I haven't been updating in a while

That's because when I read tales of Muni and the SFMTA I read a consistent pattern of failure. Frankly, writing and trying to right these wrongs in the media and in our dysfunctional City government gets tiresome after a while. Later on, it gets futile.

Also, the time suck and the quick and easy of Instagram and Twitter allow one to get lazy about writing in depth, respectable writing. That's not an excuse, that's just how it is. I recognize the problem and am working to correct it.

All said, it's been 8 years. I'd urge you to buy something at the store for now and know that while I'd been away for a while, it's time I came back and weighed in on the many issues that face Our City and Our Municipal Railway.

Sorry I was away for too long.
-GSD

March 15, 2013

How Not To Run a Transit Agency That Always Pleads Poverty: Case #237,821 at the SFMTA

In case you hadn't heard, the SFMTA, working on new ways to make your commute a pain in the ass, is pulling another one of its cuts in service at the end of March (ostensibly for "spring break.") While people who work for a living will be inconvenienced, the agency will save a grand total of $45,000. Out of a
budget of $821 million.

$45,000 is not a lot of money. I mean, they could just simply fire one deadwood employee and have more than that to keep service running. My frustration with the SFMTA, as it has been for years, though is how this agency routinely plays the "we gots no money gimme more money" act when something like this is announced, and yet passes over way easier and better ways to "make money" that stare them right in the face?

Case in point: The replacement of all of the streets signs in San Francisco with the new "upper/lowercase' style (mandated, by the way, by the Federal government in case you were wondering why they're doing that). Right now you can buy old street signs from the 1940s era at the Cable Car Museum. It occurred to me the other day that now there's a massive replacement of every single sign in town, surely said "obsolete" signs being pulled down now would be for sale there.

I called over there, and alas, this isn't the case. Instead, they'll likely all be recycled or dumped in a landfill somewhere. This is a classic case of a missed opportunity. I have bought SF street signs from the Cable Car Museum in the past, and they're not cheap. That said, if I could get say, an "Irving Street" sign, a "Judah Street" sign, and so on, I'd easily pay $40-75 a piece. Heck, you could price them by popularity, and make a lot more than $45,000. Even better, do this all on line in the ALLEGED TECH CAPITAL OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM OR SO WE ARE TOLD. Isn't our mayor the "tech mayor" or something like that?

Instead, we're getting a service cut and told there's "no money" for basic service at the end of March.

This is one of many missed opportunities. With all the people who are out there selling Muni themed merchandise, you'd think by now, again in the TECH CAPITAL OF THE GALAZY OMG, Muni would make a few bucks (maybe $45,000?) selling t-shirts and other items online, Zazzle style. When I wore my T-Third t-shirt one day I could not count the number of people who immediately asked "Where can I buy one?" (No, really, I don't wear it anymore because I'm tired of having to tell them they can't.)

Hell, I could run this and I wouldn't need to have a six figure salary, personal chauffeur and the like. Oh wait, I already do. The point is not to get me a gig at the MTA, the point is that once again, low-hanging fruit like this (to borrow a phrase from my fundraising background) is passed by, due to excessive BS regulations at the City of SF, and because no one seems to see what they have right in front of them that could pull in a few extra bucks without a lot of overhead.

More to the point, if we did things like this, we wouldn't have phony cuts like this "spring break" cut in service in March. Ah, well.

PS: Well, if Muni won't sell things online, then I'll fill the gap. Today (March 15th) you can use the code POTOGOLD at our Zazzle store, and you get 20% off select merchandise. Buy something today! Proceeds will go towards a charter ride on a historic streetcar if the N-Judah line is opened up once again to said streetcars. I'll publish a separate post on that shortly.


February 22, 2013

Let's Compare: SF MTA and LA MTA On Cell Phone Service UPDATE!

While I've never understood the "need" for cell phone service in tunnels Deep Under The Earth, especialy since we got along without cell phones for decades, some people think this is a big deal. Thus, it was interesting to read news about cell phone service in the SFMTA subway and service on two lines of the LA MTA on the same day. It provides an interesting insight into how two different agencies take on the problem.

First up: our SFMTA. The article in SFGate.com compares and contrasts Muni's experiences trying to install service vs. BART (which obviously has more riders and tunnels, hence more interest from cell phone providers). In the end, we find that nothing is happening because no one will install the equipment on their dime, and Muni has "other priorities" (Like taking another 9 million dollars out of the general fund to appease North Beach residents regarding the bazillion dollar Central Subway.)

As I stated before, personally I find it to be a minor irritation at best, although some riders have told me there is a legitimate safety issue - if there's an accident or other Big Incident, having some sort of way to communicate beyond the nominal system on the trains might not be a bad idea. What bothers me more is how clearly this is something that doesn't have to cost the agency any money, but there's a lot of talking and treating this like it's the biggest math problem in the world, when it's not.

Why? Well read this article about cell service for the LA MTA's various subway lines. Not only have they found a provider to install the equipment necessary, the LA MTA won't just get the equipment for free - they'll be making a minimum of $360,000 a year off of the system. Cell phone companies will pay to access the system (and who is going to want to miss out on such an opportunity to one-up the competition).

It seems to me that even with Muni's shorter tunnels, I've got to believe in tech-heavy SF, such a system would be a money maker for everyone. Perhaps in LA, they spend less time appeasing the masses with endless "outreach" and spend more time getting things done than we do. Surely, we can do better.

UPDATE: The LA MTA Board approved the contract to get cell service in stations on Feb. 28. Meanwhile the SFMTA spent $9 million local dollars to appease Sup. David Chiu's (loud) constituents regarding the tunnel boring equipment in his district. That's $9 million being taken away from existing maintenance and needs for other lines. Way to go, San Francisco!

January 5, 2013

SF's Newest Source of Sustainable Public Power: Whining About Sunday Meters!

After reading local Twitteratti for the past week, I think I've discovered a truly renewable, non-polluting source of sustainable energy - the endless whining by people about paying for parking on Sundays!

Well, that is, if there was some way to harness it.

Imagine the possiblities. San Francisco would become the world's most dominant energy provider, and we'd put all of the OPEC nations out of business. Seriously. On and on people are loudly whining about this like it's a human rights violation on the level of a low level atrocity the UN usually intervenes in. One almost expects these aggreived souls to call Jimmy Carter to show up and provide relief, as he has in the past in truly troubled parts of the world.

Memo to San Francisco: Calm The Frak Down. It's not the end of the world. Also: you are not entitled to free parking on public streets, and those of us who don't have a car have been seeing our fares on Muni go up and up, while auto parking continued to be subsidized. If you don't think it is, think of what would happen if the SFMTA decided to charge market rate, on a parity with private lots? Talk about a "human rights violation," eh?

Before we go on, a shout out to the screamers - I'm not unsympathetic to the plight of the motorist who gets a ton of tickets. I used to own a (big, gas guzzling luxury) car, and part of the reason the SFMTA is low on cash is because I'm not getting tickets anymore.

I also do not like the idea of using "parking tickets" as a revenue source (vs. using them as punishment for causing dangerous situations), something I've said about a million times on this blog in the last 7+ years. Nor was I happy when a forgotten ticket escalated to almost $100 and the SFMTA went after my tax refund (yes, they will do this, and we'll discuss this in a future post). So there.

That said, this is not an Armageddon for business owners. I say so because I live in a business district, the Inner Sunset, and I can say for certain what happens now - people park their cars after 6pm on Saturday and leave them in the "free" spots all along Irving Street until Monday morning.

This not only reduces the number of spots available for people who might need a car whilst patronizing local businesses, but it also creates a lot of traffic when people are circling the neighborhood or double parking waiting for a spot. Just on the block I live on, what should be a neighborhood street starts to pile up with endless traffic, with the inevitable horn honking on par with a street in Manhattan.

People need to realize that the only reason we didnt' have metered parking on Sundays in the first place was because most businesses weren't open on Sundays, so there was no point to it. In Not Very Religious San Francisco, that's changed, and people hogging the spots for 24 hours+ on Sunday isn't very conducive to business nowadays.

If we'd implemented demand based parking city-wide (which, ironically has reduced the cost of parking in zones experimenting with it) we could manage this even better for those who actually need it. (those of you who are able to walk or whatever and instead drive a few blocks for a pack of cigarettes don't fall in this category). Sadly, the shrill sounds of a Tea Party-esque minority refuse to listen to, content to keep up the shrill.

In the end, to make this work, the SFMTA has to make Muni run more efficiently on Sundays, so for the most part this isn't the Big Issue everyone's whines make it out to be. That's not an impossible task, but it will only happen if Muni's owners (you) make it a priority. Whining on blogs never changed anything, but putting pressure on the clown car that is City Hall sometimes works, and might even end up making a real difference that benefits everyone.

A shocking concept, I know, especially in the City of Choose-Up-Siders, but again, not impossible. Really!

Fun Fact: Los Angeles no longer has coin-only meters. You can pay with a credit or debit card, you don't need to use some stupid "app" that charges you an extra "fee," and they'll be doing more to manage parking in the future than we could hope for. They also are doing more to get people to ride buses, trains and their light rail system. Kinda puts SF and its alleged superiority to shame, doesn't it?

January 3, 2013

Muni 2013. NOW What?!?

Muni 2013! NOW WHAT?!?

A year ago, as I looked towards what 2012 might bring Muni, especially it being the system's 100th Anniversary, with some hope that the celebration of said anniversary might inspire Muni to move forward, and at least remind people why their mass transit system was a valuable asset worth fixing and enhancing.

Boy was I wrong about that.

While I enjoyed most of the celebrations Muni had, as did those who participated, overall, Muni took several steps backwards this year. The stalls in the tunnels have become a regular occurrence. The politicians still play political campaign games with Muni's money - even though Mayor Newsom is long gone from the scene. People on the westside had the opportunity to elect a supervisor with one of the most comprehensive plans and understanding of all forms of transit (not just just Muni) - but instead chose to re-elect a failed supervisor who's more worried about the Grammy awards. We still have people who spend all the time on stupid blog comments running down Muni, not realizing that we're ultimately the ones who will have to force change, not "them."

To be sure there were some amazing things this year too. The ongoing expansion of the F-Line fleet, the successful run of the E-Embarcadero, the good faith efforts of many at the SFMTA to make things work, and so on made for some peaceful moments on the N and elsewhere. Despite the many, many weekends of bus service on the N, the tracks are finished and improvements made on the line got done, and there's a noticeable improvement as you ride from Duboce and Church outbound towards the Sunset.

However, the most important news that could have a major impact on all forms of transit (Muni, roads, bikes, and so on) was also the news most overlooked by the public - the passage of State Senator Mark Leno's bill to allow counties to vote to raise the Vehicle License Fee (VLF) to the pre-Governor Doofinaor (Schwarzenegger) levels. It's hard to emphasize what a big deal this is. If San Franciscans one day chose to do this, it would mean locally-sourced funding for our transit system, and eliminate dependence on Sacramento's endless follies.

Naturally, there is no proposal to vote on, not anything in front of us right now - just the ability to do so if we so choose. However, a properly written and administered VLF hike that had accountability to get things done (and not allow politicians to blow it on all on their re-election campaigns) would end a lot of the financial excuses the system has now. More importantly, it would put the question directly to the owner/riders - yes you want the system to run on time - are you willing to pay for it, or are you going to simply wait for Santa Claus to pay for it with unicorn dust? No matter what, State Sen. Leno's long time work on this issue deserves a high five, and Senator, if you're reading, next time you're in the Sunset I owe you a beer.

That all said, to be honest, after writing about all this for over seven (!) years, I, too began to get a bit discouraged and wondered why I still write about all of this when I don't even get paid to do so. After a much needed break, I'm back online and am looking forward to trying out some new things on the blog, as well as revamp the look and feel of it to something more befitting of the year 2013.

As always, I welcome your emails of Muni triumphs and woe via the Reader Mail section, and always enjoy publishing the many Tales of Extreme Commuting those of you engage in every day to get where you need to go. Now that the folks at Flickr finally got their act together and have made uploading via mobile device a lot better, I'm reviving the NJC Reader Photo Group where you and I can share our experiences via photo online.

For now, keep the faith and help keep Muni accountable in 2013!

December 12, 2012

Breaking the Holiday Hiatus for 2 Community Events

Rather than try and update haphazardly amongst the holidays and end of the year chores I have, I kinda went on hiatus. However, here are a few community events you should be aware of, since both are dedicated to improving life on the westsit.

First, there's an event on Friday, December 14th for the Friends Of Larsen Park. The event is a fundraiser to help enhance the park, most notably by bringing back a jet plane to the park, as we had for so many years in the past. The event will be held at The Riptide, located at 3639 Taraval St (easy access via the L line!) and will have a raffle, t-shirts for sale, and drink specials. The event will also be the venue for Cammy Blackstone, one of Supervisor Carmen Chu's legislative aides, so stop by and support the cause!

Next, there's a community meeting on Saturday, the 15th at 10am for the N-Judah Turnaround Beautification Project. The event will be held at Francis Scott Key Elementary School auditorium, located at 1530 43rd Avenue (at Kirkham). This is a chance for neighbors and N-Judah riders to help enhance the turnaround and make it something that everyone can appreciate. Lunch will be provided, and there are activities for kids, so there's something for everyone. May city agencies will also be there, so if you'd like to find out more, or offer your suggestions, be sure to check it out.

I also want to congraultate the hard-working neighbors who put together the Inner Sunset Sunday Street Fairs this fall. They were a nice bonus to living in the Inner Sunset, and I hope we can continue this in the future as a community building event.


November 4, 2012

Where Are The Good Parties on Election Night?

In anticipation of Election Armageddon, 2012-style, I'm trying to decide if I want to go out to a party somewhere, a bar, or just stay at home and have a couple of Foster's Lagers and twitter up the whole thing.

There's a few candidate parties I'd like to attend but they're rather spread out, and if you're taking Muni like me, that can make the night a bit of a chore. If you have any ideas, please, leave them in the comments!


October 30, 2012

Celebrate the Giants Win and the Upcoming Election With...Yet Another N Judah Shutdown This Weekend!

The Giants won! Hooray! The Election is Almost Over! HOORAY! And the N-Judah will be shut down for rail and road repairs this weekend?

(insert record scratch here)

Yes, you read that right. They've still got more work to be done (If you've been anywhere near Carl and Stanyan you know this because of all of the colorful plastic barriers in place).

So, without further delay, here's the official email from the SFMTA with details of this weekend's fun:

Carl Street Track Replacement Project Continues

Weekend Construction:

  • Track Work West of Sunset Tunnel
  • Street Repaving on Carl Street at Cole, Shrader, Willard
  • and Stanyan Street Intersections
  • Work on Overhead Wire Poles along Carl Street
  • 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2 through 5 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012*
Here is an update on the continuing construction for the Carl Street Track Replacement Project which will provide:
  • New track for a smoother, faster ride on Muni
  • Bulbouts to enhance safety and boarding at N Judah Line stops
  • Curb and ramp upgrades
  • Water and sewer improvements
  • Street light pole replacement

Work slated for the Nov. 2 Weekend:

  • Track repair between Carl Street and west of the Sunset Tunnel within the Muni right-of-way
  • Grinding and paving Carl Street at Cole, Shrader, Willard and Stanyan Street intersections, one intersection at a time
  • Work on the overhead wire poles at various locations along Carl Street
  • Track and street work will generate some noise, including jackhammering, during daytime hours over the weekend

Street Closure and Street Parking Restrictions:

Street will be closed on an as-needed basis at Cole, Shrader and Stanyan street intersections during street repaving

Street parking will be temporarily unavailable near those intersections and around the working areas where overhead wire pole repair work takes place

Mitigation Plan:

If you live on the affected streets, please consider parking your car at an off-street garage or a parking lot such as UCSF Parking Garage and Kezar Stadium on Stanyan Street between Waller and Beulah streets. The project will reimburse you for parking charges. Please submit your parking receipts for reimbursement to: SFMTA Carl St. Rail Replacement Project, One South Van Ness Avenue, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103 Attn: Ha Nguyen.

Muni Service


  • N Judah Rail Line will be shut down during the weekend

  • N bus will travel on Frederick Street

The Church & Duboce Track and Street Improvement Project will continue to take place, which will require the J Church Line only to operate between Balboa Park and Market at Church Street

What to Expect During Construction:


  • Construction crews and equipment will be on site during construction

  • Traffic control officers as well as police officers will direct traffic at critical intersections

  • Noise and dust will be controlled in adherence with City Codes

  • Electronic messaging boards will be used in affected areas to alert motorists and cyclists of detours

  • Local business will remain open during construction



Construction dates have been coordinated between both the Church & Duboce and the Carl Street projects to minimize inconvenience to residents, businesses, Muni customers, motorists and bicyclists.

This schedule is subject to change due to weather or other unforeseen conditions.

The next shutdown on J and N Lines is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 16.


October 25, 2012

What The Heck Happened Yesterday, Muni?

Yesterday our Giants played here at home at the first game of the World Series. Awesome!

People chose to take transit home to watch the game, instead of driving like Muni said to. Awesome!

Then the system decided to choke in ways we haven't seen in a while. NOT AWESOME.

I knew something was up when a friend of mine who wanted to watch the game with me at the Blackthorn on Irving wasn't around at the agreed to time. Then I got a text indicating that "something is up with Muni" and figured maybe it was just being slow.

Then the Twitter exploded with tweets about stalls, a broken set of doors, and more. At first it seemed that the trains were just in manual mode (i.e. slower) but more and more people reported they were not able to get home. Several people reported being trapped on the train, with no information as to why they were stuck in the tunnel. All they knew was they were missing a great Giants game, and this reinforced the all-too-frequent "Muni sucks" meme. Worst of all, riders on the N were short turned after this incident, making them even later getting home.

Now, I know and accept that things break down - heck when you have a backlog of maintenance like Muni does, inevitably things will break down - but it's a bit hard for the average owner/rider to fathom how it is that Muni could pull off 3 days with many well-attended events (Fleet Week, America's Cup and a ton of neighborhood events) without many problems, but can't handle a basic rush hour commute + a Giants game. I mean, WTF?

This situation is a reminder that we need people at City Hall and the MTA and Muni who can be responsible with limited resources. Thus, it was quite aggravating to hear, on a day when we are reminded the system is literally falling to pieces, a few greedy politicians at City Hall want to use one-time grant money for giving away fake "free Muni" to the kiddos, instead of using to do something like, um, oh I don't know FIX THE DAMNED TRAINS AND BUSES.

I think we have to call it like it is here - these greedy politicians (people like "Supervisor" David Campos) are proving that they are either too stupid or too greedy to understand how Muni works or how best to spend our money. Greedy David Campos doesn't really even care about fake "Free Muni" for the kids - this is just a stunt he can use, along with all that money he's raising from special interests - to boost his campaign for Assembly in 2014.

What's that you say? You didn't know that Greedy David Campos, who is running unopposed this year, is raising money for a campaign? And he's not even going to serve a full term if elected in 2014? Well now you do - and you can see why Stalin-style elections don't serve anyone well. No one can stand up to his politics of personal greed and his anti-Muni policies - he gets a walk, and he gets to dole out your money to a narrow faction of people in town he'll need in 2014 to run for another office.

Supervisors, naturally, are threatening to hold a hearing on this issue. You can bet that the greedy politicians and their apparatchniks at politically connected non-profits will be there for public comment to blather on about how we have to give the "gimmes" another goodie, even though we don't have the cash to operate the system properly.

If you'd like more reliable service, and would like to put a stake in the heart of greedy politics, send your Supervisor a note telling them just how stupid it is to take one-time grant money and blow it on a program that's all about politics, and not about making Muni better.


October 17, 2012

Tech-y People Gather to Fix Transit at Reroute/SF This Weekend!

An array of groups around town are gathering this weekend at a "hackathon" to come up with new and interesting ways to use open data and more. The event, known as "ReRoute/SF" is being presented by Engine Advocacy in concert with Hattery Labs, the SF Mayor's Office, and the SFMTA. Not only does it promise to be an interesting weekend, I have been chosen to be one of the judges for the event as well!

Teams will be taking on various challenges, as outlined at the event's site at re-route/SF, and will include trip planning, better use of available data, and rider feedback on current problems. All projects will be open source, and available to the public once the event is over.

I am interested in seeing what the various teams come up with. While I don't think "apps" and the like are a cure-all for what ails transit in San Francisco, I continue to be impressed with what people can come up with using the endless creativity that exists out there, especially when it's used for something useful, vs. yet another ad delivery platform. I'll write about the results on Sunday!

October 6, 2012

So How Are You Gettting Around On This Busy Weekend?

It's no surprise that we're in the middle of the Weekend of Eleventy Billion People in SF. (If it is, you must have been asleep all this week). There are so many events going on, and about a million visitors expected to stop by in a city of less than a million to begin with, this is a really big test for Muni, BART, Caltrain, cabs, and bikes. The question remains - will this be the most amazing cluster-frak ever? Or will everyone come through?

I decided to go see the Blue Angels over on Beach St. by the Municipal Pier on Friday. It was crowded and there was some traffic, but I never waited too long for a Muni train or bus on my way out there. (Side note: if you can, get an outdoor table at The Pub SF, and you can enjoy a beer or lunch while watching the show).

After the show, we decided to take a long walk back through North Beach, and ended up just walking to Powell Station. The trains were definitely a bit more crowded than normal rush hour, but not much. Also, at Civic Center, the station had really good signage directing people to the special buses for the America's Cup race, and other events.

What's been your experience? Describe tales of wonder or woe in the comments section!

September 12, 2012

What Happened To Those "N is Near" Shirts Everyone Liked? The SFMTA Got Them Censored Online!

These last few months I took a sabbatical of sorts from posting here at the blog. After over 7 years writing about all things Muni, I needed a break, plus my work schedule changed enough to where for a while I was so tied up in all sorts phone calls, a LOT of reading, and so on, at the end of the day the last thing I wanted to do was look at a computer.

I'd hoped to return to blogging with some fun posts, photography and the like, but instead it seems there's a bit of a mess going on courtesy of SFMTA, one that takes a bit to explain. So grab a coffee/chai/water/cocktail/large beer/water and have a read:

As most of you know, I have been selling t-shirts and other items via on-demand producer Zazzle.com for some time. This was never a huge cash cow for me, but I made enough to cover blog costs and assorted minor expenses (the overhead with Zazzle is very high and they do the taxes, so the net is $2 a shirt, more or less).

The most popular was our "The N is Near" shirt, and over the years we came out with several others. I used Zazzle mostly because I couldn't afford to make a large order of shirts in bulk, and then try and sell them on my own via stores, etc. and I don't have the space to keep inventory at home.

These have been online in one form or another since 2006, and it's not like it was a state secret that I was doing this. Plenty of other people have published similar items at Zazzle, Cafe Press, or elsewhere. Many artists also produce Muni themed art, and there's even people around town who get tattoos related to Muni because, well, it's OUR system and it's part of SF life.

A few months ago, I got a notice from Zazzle saying that an anonymous "copyright holder" was ticked off and my designs for The N is Near, the "Muni Failwhale" and (oddly enough) the "80th Anniversary" were taken offline.

To me this seemed strange since it's not like anyone would confuse these with official SFMTA anything, and the designs were original creations, with the exception of the "failwhale" design, which was a parody of the clip art Twitter used to use when Twitter would have a hiccup in service.

Since the "copyright holder" was anonymous, I wondered if it might be the infamous NYMTA, which attacked an SF local artist for making Muni themed t-shorts a couple of years ago.

Here's a copy of the notice I received for "The N is Near" (it's virtually identical to the other ones I got)

Dear gdewar, Thank you for your interest in Zazzle.com, and thank you for publishing products on Zazzle.

Unfortunately, it appears that your product, The N is Near - N Judah Chronicles.com, contains content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines.
We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.

Please help us make our content approval process better by taking this short survey.
The details of the product being removed are listed below:

Product Title: The N is Near - N Judah Chronicles.com


Product Type: zazzle_shirt


Product ID: 235713382677527250


Result: Not Approved


Policy Notes: Design contains an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and we will be removing your product from Zazzle's Marketplace due to infringement claims.
Image: Image

If you have any questions or concerns about the review of your product, please email us at content_review@zazzle.com and we'll be happy to provide you with additional support.
Best Regards,
Content Review Team
Zazzle Inc.

In a bit of irony, about a week after this notice, I got an automated message from Zazzle.com asking me to finish my design for an "N is Near" baseball hat. O, the hilarity.

Needless to say, this was a surprise, and was also very vague. I appealed the decision, mostly to find out just who was claiming this, since it was anonymous.

Here's the response to my appeal. I've added bold text for emphasis:

09/10/2012 02:40 PM Hello Greg,

Thank you for being a Seller at Zazzle.com!

We would love to offer every design that our users submit, however we must abide by all applicable laws and standards as well as our own content guidelines and copyright policies.

Unfortunately, it appears that your products did not meet Zazzle Acceptable Content Guidelines. Specifically, your products infringes upon the intellectual property rights of San Francisco Muni. This includes images of buses, logos, maps, signs, etc.

Zazzle has been contacted by representatives from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and at their request, to remove designs that may infringe upon their rights from the Zazzle Marketplace.

We are sorry for any disappointment, but hope you will understand our position in this regard. For future reference, please review Zazzle Acceptable Content Guidelines at: http://zazzle.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/143.

If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Thanks for using Zazzle. We look forward to seeing more of your creative designs!

Best Regards,
Mike
Content Management Team
Zazzle, Inc.

Folks, what we have here is a perfect storm of a typical dot-com company's TOS crap, a dysfunctional city agency that seems clueless, and an overly aggressive City Attorney's office who chose a sledgehammer, when a simple phone call to me would have solved this matter call to everyone's benefit. (Ha.)

Zazzle, of course is free to invent whatever terms of service they like, and even if said terms blow up things like "fair use," "satire," and freedom of speech, so be it. The fact is it didn't have to be the SFMTA to contact them and claimed "infringement" - any pissant in the world could have contacted them and they'd pull it down, because they don't want to have any legal battles over a few items from one of their thousands of users and don't bother to investigate if such claims are warranted or not.

All I can say is that I'll pull the plug on the store with Zazzle.com, despite years of patronage, make sure to tell everyone I know not to use Zazzle.com, and and go my own way, saying "F*ck You" to these bozos on the way out. Fine.

What's more troublesome is both how the SFMTA is now claiming "copyright" over images in the public domain (and even a representation of things like buses and streetcars), and their selective enforcement.

There are plenty of apps in the iTunes app store that use both images from Muni/SFMTA and data, and I don't see the City Attorney, acting on behalf of the SFMTA, kicking their asses. Nor are they paying "royalties" to the agency (at least as far as I know, app makers let me know if this isn't the case). Hmm.

In fact, the City of San Francisco has routinely bragged about "crowdsourcing" and "open data" for some time now, so it seems a bit strange that now they want to take things you and I, the public own via our public transit system and now say "you can't use that, pay us or get a legal brief jammed up your ass." Gee, how "open." **

I wonder when they're going to bring down the hammer on artists who make creations based on Muni, people who create prints (like this wonderful one I just purchased) , non-profits who support Muni like Market Street Railway, or people who take pictures and post them on Instagram, Facebook and so on.

Sound silly? Not under the interpretation of the law the SFMTA is operating under, and the City Attorney is enforcing. Sure it may be bullshit, but who has the money to hire a lawyer and fight a City with endless amounts of time and money to peruse this, because, of course the CIty is an efficient operation and things like homelessness, crime, crime on Muni, and the like no longer exist, so time now to go after artists and writers, right?

I've talked to more than one attorney and while battling with Zazzle might have a little merit, in the end it's not really worth it. I'd make more money going the do it yourself route and wholesale to local retailers, so it's best to just let them continue to be jerk-asses, and move on. Besides, locally-sourced anything helps everyone, right?

For now, though, if you have any of these shirts you have a collector's item now. Even if we come out with some new designs, I'm not so sure we'll be bringing these back. Hang them in the closet for 30 years and have your kids take them to Antiques Roadshow: 2040 on the moon or something.

The real problem is the SFMTA. They don't seem to understand actual copyright law, what is and isn't "intellectual property," and are enforcing their unique view very selectively, most specifically on one blogger who writes about the pain and joys of Our Muni. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

All I can say is this - I'm not such much mad as I am annoyed, and I find all of this to be particularly so as we are supposedly celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Municipal Railway. San Francisco led the world by creating the first publicly owned agency in the United States dedicated to one thing - serving the people of the City of San Francisco, who are its owners and riders. I wonder how this got lost over the past century.

*Muni has talked of a "licensing" system because someone over there saw New York City making big cash of its licensing of logos, etc for the various departments (including the NY MTA) and probably thought "Gawrsh! We could get free money too! Let's endlessly talk about it for a long time like we do with everything!"

However not only has said system never happened, even if they followed the NYC model, the net amount of money they'd earn would be peanuts, because the volume just isn't as high. Put it another way - after years of selling these things, they'd get maybe $75 after I pay off expenses (the domains, hosting service, software etc) and give them 10% of the net. Citywide, they would maybe get enough for some ivory backscratchers for the SFMTA board or something at best.

**Crowdsourcing didn't work so great for Muni and the SFMTA recently, when they conducted a poorly executed operation to "crowdsource" a new (needless) logo for the SFMTA. Look how well that turned out.

Another blogger wrote about this situation yesterday before I did. Check out what he uncovered!

June 2, 2012

The N Judah Shutdown Reminds Us Why They Built The Line Way Back When

Last night I wanted to attend a party held by my web services provider downtown. Normally this would have been a short trip on the N to Montgomery St. Station, but alas, no N due to the shutdown. Instead I took my (normally) trusty backup - the 71.

Little did I know I'd be boarding a bus that would exemplify everything that is wrong with riding mass transit - from serious overcrowding, to deadbeats back-door boarding to avoid paying fares, to a herky-jerky ride, and of course being so crowded the bus literally smelled like a sardine can (and not in a good way). Needless to say, I was glad to get to my destination without being too late, and at least the party had free beers.

However, as we were lurching towards downtown on an over-crowded Haight Street full of buses and double parked cars, it served as a reminder of why the N Judah line was built in the first place, and why the decision to go to "trackless trolleys" in the post-war era has proven to be a near-fatal mistake we are still recovering from.

First off - why the N was built in the first place. Before the N was built, most of the Sunset District was made up of sand dunes. The City and various other interests wanted this area developed, but there was no easy way to connect with downtown and the rest of San Francisco, hence the N Judah line was conceived and built.

After having this long service interruption, and lenghty delays on crowded streets and buses, you begin to appreciate why people in the 1920s, upon hearing of the N-Judah's approval called it a "God-send to Humanity." Not only does cutting through the Sunset Tunnel save a lot of time, LRVs/Streetcars can carry a lot more people per vehicle than the buses can.

Likewise, you start to realize that the "cost cutting' mentality that had us lose many of our rail lines in favor of the so-called "Trackless Trolleys" took away many well-used rail lines, and replaced them with buses that provide that inimitable herky-jerky ride one is accustomed to on lines like the 38 Geary, not to mention that said trolley buses don't command the street presence a rail line does. It's yet another example of how short term thinking, particularly by politicians, damage Our Muni for decades.

That said, once this N-pocalypse is over, the work done will make things ride smoother, and like dental work, it's painful to get done but once it's over, it's OVER, and people in the future will be glad we put up with the hassles for a little over a week.

April 9, 2012

Quick Hit: Video of Mayor Lee Driving Old Number One from the Muni Celebration Last Week

Last week was the first of what will be a few events commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Our Muni. I took a moment to shoot a short video with my iPhone of Mayor Lee driving Old Number 1 on the tracks over by the Market Street Railway Museum. It's a little bumpy because I was trying to hold my phone as well as assorted swag from the event all at the same time, but it came out ok. Besides, when is the last time you saw a streetcar with a police escort?


April 2, 2012

An Important Announcement Regarding the Board of Supervisors Race in 2012

The annoucement being from my friend Kevin way out in the Mission. Check out his video! KEVMO 2012!

Any announcements about rumors in District 5 will be made at a later date.

March 30, 2012

Yes, There's a Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) Meeting Regarding the N on Saturday. Why?

So, in keeping with my 'duties" as the guy who blogs about all things "N" related, there's a meeting tomorrow at Jefferson Elementary regarding the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) for the N-Judah and the 28. You can read all about the details here at the SFMTA website, if you're interested.

My questions is simply this: Why are we having this meeting in the first place?

The TEP was completed FOUR years ago, and was done so with tremendous public input. There is no good reason to have more endless "talk" and "outreach" for this plan. If we hadn't had an incompetent (Nathaniel Ford) at the helm of the SFMTA for so long who took this multi million dollar plan to improve service and put it on a shelf to rot, and a Mayor who used the SFMTA like an ATM machine, we'd be a lot further along towards having something we could all enjoy.

Instead, the agency is still stuck in first gear with the endless prattle about "parking meters" and the like, and there's no one really standing up and taking on the problem the way we should. Instead of trying to find rent money in the couch cushions, the SFMTA, the City of San Francisco, and its associated politicians need to get a grip on reality. The way to fix the system was completed years ago. Now it is time to look at how much it costs to pay for that plan, and then find the money accordingly, through a combination of efficiency at the agency AND replacing stolen gas tax money and work order money with something permanent (and that is NOT PARKING TICKETS).

I've been saying this for several years now, and it's time someone listened. I'm not the only one who has seen the problem and discussed it, and I won't be the last. But as we all know, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. It's time for someone at City Hall to wake up, stop coming up with new ways to bust the budget, and show some leadership on this problem.

I'm not holding my breath, though. Given the political games the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors and the assorted special interests would rather play at City Hall, it's not likely the people's business will be a priority anytime soon.

Due to Weather Conditions N-Judah Track Replacement to Continue This Weekend...Sort Of.

The recent rainy weather has been great for filling our reservoirs and our plant life, but it has caused some delays in recent weeks to the track replacement plan for the N Judah on Carl Street in recent weeks. Rain has been forecast for this weekend, so I contacted the MTA to find out if the work would go forward or not. They sent me this update, which indicates a scaled back work plan, but work, nonetheless.

Here's the latest update from the SFMTA, verbatim. As always, the weather may affect this schedule so if you're not sure what's going on, call the numbers listed below in the update and your questions will be answered.

Construction scheduled for March 30- April 2 has been scaled back due to the weather forecast.

Dear Neighbor/Business Merchant/Muni Customer:

Construction work will still take place and the N Judah Line will be under bus substitution. However, the extent and noise of the work will be at a reduced level. Driveway access will be maintained and there will not be overnight noise.

Work slated for the weekend of Friday, March 30 until Monday, April 2 includes:


  • Potholing work on Carl Street between Cole Street and the Sunset Portal Tunnel area

  • Roadway work on Carl Street between Hillway Avenue and Cole Street


Work hours on Saturday, March 31 and Sunday, April 1 will be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The following measures will be taken for your safety and to minimize inconvenience:

  • Carl Street will remain open with two-way traffic and adjoining streets open as well

  • Street parking will not be available in and around the construction sites

  • Temporary bus stops on Frederick Street (two at Cole, two at Willard, and one at Stanyan) for the N bus shuttles will require parking removal

  • Local access will be granted and all local businesses will remain open


Driveway access will be maintained. However, there may be delays until equipment and/or trucks move out of the driveway area. Please notify a member of the construction crew on-site for assistance in safely accessing your driveway. Please contact Hubert Wong at 415.734.8432, Danielle Des Champs at 925.575.0011 or Jeremiah Kent at 510.815.0031.

Dates and details are subject to change due to weather and other unexpected conditions.

Muni Service

  • Muni buses will provide substitute service for the N Judah Line.

  • N Judah bus shuttles will substitute for N Line rail service and will operate all weekend between Ocean Beach and Church Street.

  • The first outbound stop will be on the northwest corner of Market and Church streets.

  • The first outbound accessible stop will be on 14th Street at Church Street.

  • From La Playa to Arguello the N buses will follow the regular N Line route.

  • East of Arguello the N service will re-route around the construction and street closure.

  • The service will run as an express between Cole and Frederick and Castro and Duboce.

  • N Owl bus service will be rerouted from Carl Street onto Frederick Street.


Project and Contact Information

Please visit the project webpage at www.sfmta.com/carl or contact 311 for service details and updates. If you have any questions or should any issues arise please contact the project team via e-mail at CarlStRail@sfmta.com.

March 27, 2012

Inner Sunset Community Meeting Announced for April 13th!

Inner Sunset residents are organizing a Community Meeting on April 13th and the public is invited! The meeting is being organized by neighbors to get people to know their neighbors and to discuss topics of interest to residents of all sorts. The event will be held at St. John's Recreation Hall at 5th and Irving and will run from 6:30-10:00pm.

The event includes a potluck dinner where people are invited to bring a dish to share as well as utensils and plates, and later will have people break out into discussion groups on topics that attendees propose at the event. It is being orgainzed by the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors and if you'd like more information, or find out how you can help out the event, contact Adam Greenfield via email.

We are fortunate to have so many people who take the time to organize events and other community amenities that enhance the neighborhood as a whole, and promote the idea of the Inner Sunset as a place where people find ways to work together, rather than the choose-up-sidery stuff you see elsewhere. Let's keep up the good work!

March 11, 2012

Paving the Road to Hell With Kids, Santa Claus, and David Campos!

It's said that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. If that's the case, then the Road to Hell Paving Crew is earning triple overtime with the awesome sounding, budget busting "plan" by "Supervisor" David Campos to give free Muni for the children. I mean, what's wrong with that? Shouldn't we please think about the children, after all?

In San Francisco's feeling-based politics, this is something that makes everyone feel wonderful. How can anyone be against something like this - it's like being against puppies, or unicorns that poop cinnamon buns with no trans fats.

Unfortunately, this "plan" is not only a budget buster for the SFMTA and Muni - it's also an example of some of the most cynical politics our "leaders" have to offer. All in the 100th year of Our Muni.

Let's tackle the money first. It's no secret that the SFMTA and Muni are in trouble financially. After the past looting of the SFMTA (and all transit agencies) by the state over the last few years, and a few more years of "kick the can" style budgeting by our former "Mayor," financial gimmicks won't work anymore.

The SFMTA has already been discussing revenue sources, and they've even suggested more service cuts (using the doublespeak term "right sizing") in addition to previous years' cuts. Right now the agency faces a gap of over $50 million.

Now, you'd think that blasting a hole in revenue of $4 - $8 million dollars in this climate would be insane. And you'd be right. However, "Supervisor" Campos and his merry band of political apparatchniks just don't give a damn. They insist on sticking to the idea that government is Santa Claus, able to give away treats and goodies to all the good boys and girls, because after all, it's free, right?

No, it's not. First, the true cost of the program, be it for just the reduced lunch eligible population ($4.0 million) or to all the kids (&7.9 million) is actually more than what's been stated in SFMTA reports. That's because those numbers only account for the loss in revenue to the agency and not the cost of administering the program, or the "outreach" they'll have to do.

(Side note: guess which politically connected "non profit" will get the cash to administrate said outreach? I'm betting it's the one that is doing Campos' political bidding for this ill advised plan).

Second, at best the funding for this "plan" will come from a myriad of one-time sources. "Supervisor" Campos, in his role as chair of the SF County Transit Agency (SFCTA) has already shown a willingness to use the SFCTA's money (normally used for capital projects and planning) to partially pay for his plan. At best we may see some short term funding cobbled together for a year, possibly two. We all know what happens with short term one time funds, right?

Here's where the cynical politics kick in. If we are to have a truly honest discussion on making "free Muni for the kids," then the program has to be sustainably funded for the long term. That means that "Supervisor" Campos should be talking about putting a nice big tax hike, be it on sales taxes or property taxes to pay for it, and go out and campaign for that, instead of just creating an election year bonus for himself.

You know what will happen if this ill-planned idea goes forth with a cobbled together funding plan. Campos will revel in the praise for "saving the children," Everyone will be happy. Then in a year or two, long after the election year signs have gone down and the junk mail recycled, the SFMTA will be back at Square One, with no resources to continue. They'll be made out to be Evil Meanies, and Campos will be nowhere to be found.

(Also, we are teaching our children a rather bad civics lesson - organize only when you get a direct goodie from the government. Don't be held accountable. Don't pledge to behave on Muni if you get it for free. Just go to City Hall, yell a lot and hang out with the progressive political machine, and demand your cookies, damnit.)

It's especially cynical when you consider that "Supervisor" Campos has not yet made any serious pledge to serve a full four year term if elected (backed of course by taxpayer dollars!).

Rumor has it that Campos sees himself running for another office midway through his term. To dismiss this (often repeated) rumor, he can simply sign a pledge indicating that he's going to serve the term for the office he is running for in 2012. Then at least he'd be around if and when the thing collapses

If he does not, then his cynicism is transparent. Using both taxpayer funds for his campaign spending AND using taxpayer money to potentially bankrupt the SFMTA for his showboat-y, feel good "plan" only to skip out of office to another one is just plain wrong.

Finally, there's this: this year marks the 100th anniversary of the radical concept known as the San Francisco Municipal Railway, which had at its premise the lofty idea that a public transit system should be run for the benefit of all of the people of San Francisco - not an elite. We should be coming together to find new and innovative ways to pay for and operate a world class transit system.

There are plenty of hard working people within the SFMTA who who want the system to work. I know - I've met them and yes they do exist.

There are plenty of people who live and/or work in San Francisco who want the system to work.

There are even a few people in City Hall who feel the same way. (A few, but yes they exist too.)

With all the geniuses we have in town and in the region, surely we can put aside the politics of the "choose up sider" and the cynical incumbent protection racket, and think not just for November 2012, but for November 2050.

Of course, that doesn't fit well on a piece of crappy junk mail, nor is it a crowd pleaser with the political apparatchniks and the non-profiteers that all want their "gimme" from Santa. However, it's also the right way to go.

PS: Some fun facts - during "Supervisor" Campos' term in office , the cost of an Adult Fast Pass has skyrockted. I wonder why he and his progressive allies don't do something about that? I mean, don't we deserve a break too? After all we actually work and pay taxes.

PS2: This half baked idea has been floating around for a while. Fun fact: there's already a plan and funding to give financially disadvantaged youth Muni passed. None of the money got spent because no one can figure out how to give a Muni pass to a child. Really. Yeah, I know. (Also, here's an article I wrote last year on this issue, as well)

January 23, 2012

Some Good News From Muni (Sort Of), Some Better News from the SFPD (Really) and Why Both Make Politicians Sad!

While getting caught up on news related to Our Muni, I caught two short stories that warrant a bit of discussion. Both are interesting, to say the least, and both are likely leaving some Supervisors in tears.

The first is a report that claims that fare evasion has taken a hit since last year, as Muni has stepped up fare enforcement. Now, this is a bit tricky in that, as you may recall from a discussion on this issue in 2009, Muni hadn't been keeping the kind of detailed records on fare enforcement vs. costs, leading to that misleading "bounty hunter" meme we still keep having to listen to.

That said, if more people are bothering to pay the fares they should be, instead of stealing, that's better for everyone because it means Muni is getting more of the money that it's actually owed. Now is not the time for the clucking of tongues - it's time to build on the success and expand it to more lines to make people take responsibility for themselves.

The fact that it's doing as well as it has, despite political opposition from so-called "Progressive" Supervisors like David Campos, who successfully stalled the fare enforcement plan to make people "feel better" says a lot. So-Called "Progressives" love to meddle with the SFMTA and Muni, but they never accomplish much, aside from proposals to cut the agency's funding even more than it already is. Doesn't it make more sense to have people simply pay their stupid fares so we can avoid fare increases in the future? Bueller? BUELLER?

Anyway, onwwards to some more news, this time from the San Francisco Police Department. In a report issued on Jan. 23rd, the SFPD noted the closure rate of cases related to Muni crimes (assaults, thefts, etc). and it looks like the record is pretty good. There's always room for improvement when it comes to combating violent crimes on Muni, but again, this is better than other agencies. It is interesting to note, once again, that the areas that had the most crime are represented by Supervisors who've opposed upgrades in law enforcement on Muni. To me, that is insane.

I'd love for someone to tell me how it's a San Francisco Value to allow punk kids to trash our buses and trains, or to assault people on Muni Metro platforms, and be allowed to get away with it. I simply do not understand why people on the T-line should be victims of crime (Remember all those assaults of elderly Asian Americans last year?) just because some politicians think that's acceptable behavior. It's not, and it costs all of us money, and when that happens it is those least able to afford fare and Fast Pass increases who take a bigger hit. How that's "fair" is lost on me.

However, one thing to also keep in mind is that if you must use your smartphone or MP3 player on a bus or train, you really need to be careful about it. After all, that new iPhone or Droid is worth several hundred dollars, and if you're buried in a tough Angry Birds level it's easy to not notice someone ready to take it away from you. It's best to pay attention to your surroundings, especially late at night when you might be one of a few people on a streetcar or bus. Be safe, and always, if you see something going on that shouldn't, call 911 and report it.

January 4, 2012

Muni 2012. Now What?

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Municipal Railway, something you're sure to hear a lot about in the months ahead as various local history organizations, the City of San Francisco, and the SFMTA mark the occasion in various ways.

It's difficult for some to imagine just how radical a notion it was to create Muni back then. It was the first municipally owned transit system in the United States, with the truly radical notion that a transit system should be dedicated to serving the needs of a city's residents first, and to be a tool with which to enhance the lives of everyone.

Yes, there have been private companies that have come and gone, but their primary mission was to serve stockholders. In the post-quake years, Muni would become not just a form of transportation, but a way to encourage development in parts of the city not yet settled (particularly places like West Portal and the Sunset), and to always put the people first.

It's safe to say, we've come a long way, baby. Not always in a good way, either.

That's why we as the owners and riders of Muni need to make 2012 the year we take it back. We don't need to pitch a tent city downtown to do it, either. It is, however, critical that no matter who's in office or what the economy is like that those of us who live and/or work in San Francisco start to make this the year we did something, instead of just bitching at blogs or going to some "meeting."

For too long, many at the SFMTA, Room 200, and City Hall have been content to kill our system, either through neglect, active mismanagement, or through the endless emotional blabbering that passes for "politics" in the Enlightened City. This has not been working, and it's time for people to actively put it all in the trash.

What does this mean?

It means when you see cheap politicians running for re-election this year, cramming your mailbox with piles of junk mail, that you throw it away in the recycle bin. Instead, challenge the politicians yourself when they come to your neighborhood. Ask them why they supported huge increases in fares, and why they refuse to support reasoned and balanced solutions to Muni's perpetual funding issues. Ask them why they are happen to engage in endless rhetoric, but the sad fact is after four years in office, Muni has become worse under their watch (that is, when some of them weren't off spending your money to run for mayor). It also means you need to tell our Mayor* that while he was content to ignore Muni during his temp term in office and during the campaign, he can't do so now.

It means something else, though. When you're on a bus or streetcar, you be sure to give up a seat in the designated area to those who need it. If some youthful numbskull is too plugged into his MP3 player, remind them to do so. If you have an operator that is doing a good job, tell them so when you leave the bus. (even better, send in a note to the SFMTA for what it's worth). Take your backpack off on a crowded bus so everyone can fit in. Avoid the urge to eat that burrito. Set a good example. While I don't advocate violence (well...) if you see someone behaving badly and can't bonk 'em on the head, use that fancified phone to take a picture or video and shame them online. While it's easy for us to bitch about Muni, we have to start taking it back not just from the politicians and bureaucrats, but also from the public trolls that ruin our city for us and those who choose to visit Our Fair City.

We have a lot to feel good about our 100 year experiment - and a lot that needs to be done better and smarter. For my part, I plan on pointing out the nonsense and relying on a mix of reason, history, and investigation to do my best to help us all stay informed and to look back at the end of this year and be able to say we did something.

Happy 2012 and let's kick some ass.

PS: If you've not yet purchased a copy of the latest Muni history book, I urge you to do so at Market Street Railway Foundation's store. I got a copy for Christmas and it has a lot of interesting historical notes not covered in some of the other books, and the old photos are awesome!

PS2: On an unrelated note: I had a rather kick-ass ride on Muni last night. I was over at Stonestown and wanted to join some friends back home in the Inner Sunset. This meant taking the M to Forest Hill, then catching a bus back home. These kinds of connections can be fraught with crazy, but instead, not only did my M arrive in time for me to catch the 44, the 44 operator was one of those "kick ass" ones that got sh!t done.

She kept things moving, helped the passengers out, and when some jerk-ass double parked on 9th, she used her professional skills to asses the road situation, and passed them so we didn't get stuck at the red. Needless to say, I profusely thanked her and my friends were surprised I got there so quickly.

November 8, 2011

Community Meeting Regarding Carl Street Rail Repairs set for Nov. 9th!

Many regular N owner/riders may not be aware that starting in February 2012, the SFMTA will begin significant repairs and upgrades to the N-Judah tracks that run on Carl Street from Cole Street to Arguello Street. This is a much needed repair/improvement to the line, but you can be sure that during the time of the repair work, there will be significant delays on the line once work gets started.

If you live along Carl Street, you can likely expect issues regarding parking and access, and even if you don't, this project will directly affect your day-to-day use of the N. The SFMTA is hosing a community meeting on November 9th from 6pm to 730 pm at Grattan Elementary School Auditorium, located at 165 Grattan Street San Francisco, CA, 94117, where MTA and Muni staff will be there to talk about the work, and to answer questions.

If you can't make it to the meeting on time (oh, I don't know, because the N might be delayed during rush hour commute, right?) you can also email comments about the project directly to the folks in charge of the project via this email: CarlStRail@sfmta.com. Additionally, you can contact the PR officer assigned to this project at the following email address/phone number:

Jeannette Sanchez, Public Relations Officer
Phone: 415.701.4790
Fax: 415. 701.4391
E-mail: jeannette.sanchez@sfmta.com

and, if you want to get all specific, the contact information for the project manager of the project is here:


Ha Nguyen, Project Manager
Phone: 415. 701.4296
Fax: 415.701.4208
E-mail: ha.nguyen@sfmta.com

The last meeting was held way back in July, and it's unlikely there will be another before the new year, so you might want to stop by and check it out, or at least email/phone in your questions, so there's no nasty surprises come February.

November 7, 2011

If You Value a Good Muni, Do Us All a Favor and NOT Vote for Ed Lee Anywhere On Your Ballot!

photo_4.JPGI hadn't planned on making any endorsements this year, in an attempt to stay above the fray and perhaps launch a revamped Muni Rider Voter Guide instead. Unfortunately, various events beyond my control pushed a lot of my plans off the table. As I've watched this campaign circle the drain, fueled by some of the most dishonest campaigning I've seen in my life, I can't just sit by and keep quiet. That's why I'm asking people to vote for whomever they like, but to please not vote for Ed Lee on any of the 3 ranked choice votes they get.

There's just too much that's wrong with the Temporary Mayor's campaign, from the casual dishonesty used to get him on the ballot, to the ongoing stories of money laundering, shady voting practices, and more that make any of the other candidates a better choice. More importantly, Lee's slavish devotion to the Central Subway, at the expense of riders on every other line is enough to disqualify him, and there's nothing to suggest Muni would get any better under a second Lee administration. If anything, we'll have more corrupt pay-to-play politics and other nonsense, the kind that gave us those Breda cars under Willie's adminstration.

Several friends and I have created an informational site, Ed Lee Not For Me which I encourage you to read and pass along to your friends. None of us are working for any candidates or anything like that - this was something we came up with the other night to try and make a last stand to stop the City from circling the drain, as it has been for some time. Check it out and be sure to vote tomorrow!

October 19, 2011

"Supervisor" Campos' So-Called Free Muni Plan - Cynical Politics Disguised as Charity

Reading the latest on the so-called "free Muni for kids" plan being pushed by So-Called Progressive "Supervisor" Campos just reinforces much of my misgivings from some time ago. You'd think that this idea would have died off by now, or at least been fixed to something rational the cash-strapped agency could support. This is San Francisco, however, and anytime you can push the right politically-correct buttons, people will follow a bad policy.

Already the cost of the program (which "Supervisor" Campos never deigned to explain how to pay for) has ballooned, but again, no one at City Hall seems to care, as they passed some gutless resolution asking the MTA to do this, costs and impact be damned. Worse, while Campos puts himself out there as some saint for pushing this and making everyone "feel good," the sad fact is that Campos doesn't give a damn about the MTA, Muni, or kids.

All he cares about is putting some feel-good crap on a piece of junk mail to get re-elected. Remember, this is someone who works closely with ultra-left organizations like "POWER" who believe in cutting service to the L-Taraval, the N-Judah, the 38, the 71 and other lines, all for a vague sense of "justice." If he wasn't getting "free Muni for the kids" he'd have found some other feel good cause to bankrupt Muni with. All he cares about is himself. I mean, even So-Called Progressive John Avalos, running for mayor, has said that the scheme is a "pipe dream."

The SFMTA board was right in suggesting that they'd be open to the idea, if Money From Elsewhere Not the SFMTA ponied up the cash. However, therein lies another policy FAIL that SF politicians love to engage in - grant funded projects with a time limit.

You can almost predict what will happen. Somehow, somewhere, in our broke-ass economy, someone will find some one-time money source to pay for this so-called "pilot project." People will get great press conferences, the special interest groups will sing praises to the politicians at election time, unicorns and magical frogs will pervade the city landscape, and everyone will think everything is Super OK.

Then reality kicks in when the one-time money runs out. By now, the politicians who pushed this have moved on to the next job. The special interests scream murder, and the kids are trotted out to cry on cue for the cameras. People scramble to "save the program" (which, come on, do you really think the economy's going to be better in 3 years) and the mess will have been made.

No one will be held accountable, and the hard work to put in to make the SFMTA self sustaining never happens. Sure doing so now would not make for good mail piece politics in 2010, but it would be the best course for THE ENTIRE SYSTEM AND THE CITY OF SAN FRANCISCO.

Next time you hear a So-Called Progressive talk about Muni, be very skeptical. They all have a track record of betting wildly with your money, without putting much thought into the outcome. It's easy to fall for tales of unicorns and magic frogs. Both, like the promises of politicians, are also bullsh*t.

September 16, 2011

ORLY? The Latest "Free Muni" Scam Debunked...7 Months Ago.

You can tell it's election season, and that some folks are starting to lose it. Take for example the latest gimmick in the SF Mayor's race - Sen. Yee's plan to de-fund Muni, all in the name of "thinking about the children."

To which I would simply say, ORLY?

This is one of those "feel good" things politicians love to promote, and just hope to God you don't poke around the news archives. That's because this idea has been talked to death, most recently in February this year, when it was revealed that a plan to give "poor" kids free passes was stuck in a web of bureaucracy and "feelings." At the time I talked about this good-sounding idea was another Road to Hell Paving Crew plan, and why it was necessary to think of the big picture, whereby everyone, including the youth of San Francisco, benefits.

What bothers me most, however, is how once again we see how Muni can be ruined by the politicians. It's easy to whip up emotions with nice-sounding things like "free Muni," "free Muni for kids," "Central Subways" and the like. I'm sure the copywriter who came up with all of those felt really good about themselves and their work that day.

Unfortunately, good campaign rhetoric does not always make good transit policy. In this case, it's even more ironic, given Sen. Yee's penchant for cutting Muni funding while in Sacramento. Worst of all, even if he got elected, it's not like this would happen, so it's a double screw - either it screws a cash strapped agency of more money, or it's just a crass attempt to rally votes in a close race. Been there, done that, time for a change.

When voting this fall, ignore the junk mail, the TV ads, and the online ads, and instead go back a few years and read up online from various news sources about the candidates. They can spend millions of dollars on propaganda, but you, the voter, can render it moot via the recycle bin, the ad blocker, and the mute button, and you'll be better off for it.

September 14, 2011

Dear BART: I Will Do Linton Johnson's Job Twice as Good for Half The Price

Dear BART Board Members:

It's been tough lately, hasn't it? I mean what with shooting and protesters and the like? And the whole "not having an adult in charge because you fired the Big Boss" thing isn't helping either. Tough times.

Here's one thing that is not helping your agency right now - your PR people. It seems like every day I'm reading of a new and improved way to drag a mass transit agency into the mud thanks to bad PR. The whole "Jack Bauer"-esque stuff with the cell repeaters just poured gas on a raging fire. Then to read this latest blundered "staging" of support just made me laugh. Not laughter because it was funny, but laughter because if one doesn't laugh, one needs a bourbon to deal with how foolish this all is(and I'm cutting back these days).

Now I'm not a genius from Smarton 5*, but I've been around the political block enough times to know how to do basic public relations. It's not Monday morning quarterbacking to know that a) turning off some cell repeaters wouldn't stop a protest anyway and b) if someone in upper management decided to do so, the first thing I'd do is STFU and keep quiet, since there's so many parts of the Muni/BART tunnel that have no cell service anyway (it being several stories underground covered by concrete, steel, and buildings), it's not like anyone would have known**. More to the point, that call should never be made by a PR person - that's simply not their job.

Oh, but it's the details too. Things like sending out an email to the entire Bay Area press, and not BCC'ing it so we all end up with a big email list in our inbox. Things like, oh, I don't know, not escalating things with these protester types. Here's a hint - you can never go wrong with being honest with the press and the public, and make your points in the court of public opinion. Most importantly, the spokesperson does not run the agency, and is not the star - the agency is, and that agency is owned by the public.

Again, I'm not saying I wouldn't make mistakes. But I sure as heck would know when to stop, take a breath, and assess if what I was doing was in the interest of the public or not, before storming around like a bull in a china shop. I also wouldn't let the foolish antics of ill-informed, poorly organized protesters drive my actions, either (because let's face it both sides at this point are both piles of #fail right now).

Let me know what you all think. I'm available starting October 1st. Oh, and as a bonus, if I do get the job (and get some decent health benefits for a change), I'd totally take all the transit bloggers on a ride on BART or something similarly fun, and I'd make sure MyBART gave out more prizes.

Sincerely,

Greg Dewar

*I totally borrowed that joke from comedian Tom Kenny from a bit he did in 1992.

**Do not even try and change my mind on the cell phone repeater issue. I honestly don't give a fuck about the protesters since they can't muster up one bit of sympathy for a BART patron stabbed by a crazy schizo with a knife. Nor do I give a fuck about them since they so bravely busted up a privately owned flower stand. How "brave" of the trustafarian left in this city. Not.

August 29, 2011

The Darwin Awards Come to Muni & Caltrain, It Seems...

Recently I was on the N inbound, on my way downtown to do one of several tedious errands one Thursday (side note: Chase Bank sucks, bigtime, avoid them if you can), and was on a packed train. As we entered the tunnel, the operator announced something I never thought I'd hear:

"We have to slow down, folks, because someone is walking on the outbound tracks. Sorry for the delay."

Wait, WHAT?

At first I thought he meant "someone is on the tracks because they are contemplating something horrible etc" but no, he in fact meant that someone decided to take a stroll through Sunset Tunnel in the middle of the day. REALLY.

We sped up slightly as he announced that this Genius of Pedestrianism decided to walk on the outbound tracks, presumably because she realized, oh, I dunno, there was a double train weighing millions of tons right behind her?

As we passed by upon our arrival, our travel time delayed by someone dumb enough to walk through an active train tunnel in the middle of the day, some of us opted to give her a one finger salute, while others just had to stare at someone who is either crazy, dumb, or obnoxious to do such a thing.

Not only did they endanger themselves, had our operator not spotted her in time, he could have easily been involved in an accident that would have consequences for those of us onboard as well as fatal consequences for Ms. Darwin. Of course she had that serene look of "it's all about me, I don't care what I do, screw everyone else" on her face that too many San Franciscans have. And of course if something DID happen, the SF Internet's Band of Commenters would have of course immediately blamed Muni, when in fact it would have been the fault of the idiot walking in the tunnel.

A few days later, I had another Darwin contender. This time I was waiting for the N outbound at Judah and 9th. I watched in astonishment as Ms. iPod crossed the street against the light and RIGHT IN FRONT of an oncoming N. The operator frantically blared the air horn, but of course, she was in her own little world of Justin Bieber and was not paying attention. Even crazier, once she'd crossed she walked on the tracks in front of the train, totally clueless as to how near death she'd been.

I tapped her on the shoulder and said "you should be more careful, we don't wan't you to die by Muni LRV!" in a nice way but she was oblivious. The sound from her iPod was so loud, I doubt she could hear anything. Again, if not for the cosmos looking out for her, she could have easily been killed.

I do not understand how people in a dense urban environment can wander about, be it on foot, by car, or by bike and live in this little fog bank of their own making, completely unaware of what is going on around them and just expect Everyone Else will look out for them. It's crazy, but what's worse, if and when any of these folks are subjected to horrific injuries or death, not only would that be a horrible thing to happen, but Muni (aka all of us ) would be expected to pay the price.

It'd be nice to think there was some solution that The Government could come up with, but at this point you could have neon billboards in 50 languages telling people to do or not do something, and that indefatigable "me me me the rules don't apply to me" mentality of many people these days would render them useless. I just think it's unfortunate we have an unofficial death penalty for dumb behavior, but those can be the consequences when you walk in a tunnel.

PS: Please note that the truly sad situation about the woman who was struck and killed by a Muni bus last week doesn't fall into this category of situation, so don't send in nasty emails saying I think she "deserved" it - she did not.

From all accounts so far that bus was on a street it should not have been - cars have trouble on Hartford as it is - and it sounds more and more like a management/operator failure that resulted in tragedy.

August 23, 2011

How'd I Miss This? A Bomb Threat on the N???

Yesterday I spent most of the day doing what seemed like an endless amount of errands all around the Richmond district. Somehow, during the day I missed this incident, which I just read in the daily report from the SFPD Taraval Station report :

Suspicious Occurence-Muni 2:12 pm - 9th/Irving Numerous officers responded to a report of a bomb on the Muni N-Line LRV. THe officer located the LRV and spoke with the operator who said that a passenger said he was going to blow up the LRV. The officers spoke with the passenger, who appeared to be mentally challenged. He did not have any explosives on him.

Needless to say, I'm glad it was some nutjob, and not a real terrorist or something. However as of late there's been a lot more crime in the Inner Sunset, and it's high time we ask our electeds and our wannabe electeds to get on the ball here. We've had two bank robberies on Irving, break-in thefts are on the rise, and we're getting the violent, nasty punks who sit on the street all day that used to be in the Upper Haight. One of them even threatened me with a knife a few weeks ago while I was sitting at an outdoor cafe having a coffee. Being against crime doesn't always make one popular these days, but if I'm picking sides I'm picking the one that isn't out to steal from, or hurt me.

August 16, 2011

Reset SF (aka Ting For Mayor) Hosts a Muni Forum on 8/23

Next week "Reset SF" (aka the Phil Ting for Mayor Camapign) is hosting a forum on Muni issues on August 23rd at the Hall of Flowers building at 9th and Lincoln. Although this is a campaign event, I've attended one of these events before and they do try to listen to people a bit more than your standard campaign fundraiser/rally. Internet Cynics can yak all they want about how this is all "fake," but you have to give Ting's campaign some credit for at least trying to do something different.

I will be speaking at this event as a blogger/person interested in Muni, but as I have said before, I will not endorse any candidates for Mayor during the election season. Instead I've extended an offer to all of the major candidates to talk to them and their campaign staff about Muni issues for an hour. The goal is to gauge candidates' interest/knowledge in Muni, and to encourage good policy making so no matter who wins, we at least have a shot at getting away from the mistakes of the past.

I've already met with City Attorney Dennis Hererra, and have talked to Bevan Dufty and Joanna Rees' campaign about setting up a meeting too. (Personally I would really like to meet up with Jeff Adachi, if only because he's not just an attorney - he's a filmmaker - and I saw his responses to a Democratic questionnaire that indicate he really DOES understand Muni.)

I'm still trying to figure out the best format for a re-run of the Muni Rider Voter Guide and would appreciate any suggestions you may have. Last year's experiment went well, but I would like to try some new approaches too, so that you the voter/rider/owner of Muni can make your decision based on substantive information, and not the 1minute/2minute back-and-forth that so-called "debates" provide.

August 15, 2011

What Would YOU Ask New SFMTA CEO Ed Reiskin?

As you may have read elsewhere, Muni's new CEO Ed Reskin started his new job today. Despite not having direct transit experience, Mr. Reiskin (who hasn't owned a car since the 1990s) was picked primarily for his administrative skills and his ability to navigate City Hall.

It will be interesting to see how this works out, and what will happen, post-election (which has been convulsing for weeks now). We have an opportunity to make some changes and have Muni move past the Era of Ford, but what changes will happen and whether they are any good is anyone's guess.

I am going to try and get a short interview with Mr. Reiskin once he's settled in to his new office. In the meantime, what kinds of questions would you like to ask the new Muni/MTA boss? Or alternately, what issues would you like to see him make a priority moving forward?

Post your questions in the comments section and let's see what happens!

July 3, 2011

Think You Can Do a Better Job Driving a Muni Bus or Cable Car? Prove it, On Your PC!

15478577ab.jpgGive Google credit for one thing - if you use their Google News Alerts to track certain subjects, they sure do a good job of finding things you'd never think existed. Today I present to you one of my all-star Google Alert finds: a Muni Bus/Cable Car simulator all the way from Germany. Apparently it's brand-new - when I first saw the Torrent link I assumed it'd been out for a while, but I was wrong.

Oddly enough, the Google Alert found a BitTorrent site, so I took the time to find the game's publisher, Astragon, and to a site devoted to just the game. (I didn't want to link to the BitTorrent site directly since that's kinda like condoning stealing) After looking at some of the screenshots and the videos, it does look pretty good. Sadly, it seems you can't drive an N Judah all the way to the ocean, nor can you short turn said N either. However, you CAN operate a cable car, and any one of a number of PCC streetcars and buses on various routes, real and imagined.

I found it interesting that part of the game was to make money via fares. Maybe someone should show this game to Muni, and to Supervisors who like to play games with Muni's money, and educate them a little. My only regret is that this game doesn't have any westside lines to try out, nor does it feature the infamous Bredas.

Then again, you can still buy model BART trains, some old model Boeing trains, and even PCC-style Muni cars, but I have yet to find anyone that offers a model of San Francisco's one-off Bredas that grind away day after day. Maybe as a sequel, the can have a simulator of the MTA board, which would allow for some Grand Theft Auto-like responses to stupid things Muni does. (I kid.)

I don't have a PC so I can't play this on my computer, but if anyone tries it out, post some comments and let us know how you liked it! For now, check out this video and enjoy the rest of your weekend! Also, July 4th is the LAST day you can get 17.76% off your Muni related T Shirts at our online store with the code "LANDOFTHETEE". Buy one today!

June 30, 2011

Hey! Inner Sunset! What's Up With Our Sidewalks? (Also: Some Things For Sale!)

berrymess.JPGIf you've been to the Inner Sunset any time in the last year, you know that some significant improvements were made to calm traffic and improve pedestrian safety. The sidewalks have been repaved, "bulb out" curbs have been added at key intersections to improve safety crossing the street, and new bus shelters have been installed.

Thus, it's a bit disheartening to see people trash these things when they're not even that old. For example, over by the bus stop at 9th and Irving Outbound, some jerk-ass decided to dump his Jamba Juice all over the sidewalk, rather than simply deposit in the trash can just steps away. How do I know this? I caught the guy in the act.

I was picking up a newspaper at the rack nearby when I heard this weird slushy sound, and looked up to see this little troll dumping purple crap all over the place. I would have taken his photo and done a little Internet Shame, but by the time I got out my iphone, waited for the camera to boot up and all, the troll sped off. What was once a nice looking, nearly new sidewalk now looks like crap.

paintmess.JPGThat's not all. Not one block away, in front of CitiBank, someone decided to deposit latex paint (at least that's what I hope it is) all over the new sidewalk. I have to wonder, what was the circumstance in which someone couldn't simply dispose of this properly, and none come to mind that justify it.

I doubt any of this will be cleaned soon. It may seem like a bit much to be annoyed at this, but people have been working hard to make this a nice neighborhood, and the last thing it needs is to be trashed by ignorant trolls who seem to feel the entire planet is their garbage dump. If you see someone pulling something like this, call the police or something or at least snap a picture and put them on the Wall of Internet Shame.

PS: I'm making some changes to the interior decor of my apartment and I find myself with two really nice bar chairs that I can't use. They are in great condition, and I've seen similar ones sell at West Elm for $150 each. I'm willing to let these go for significantly less. Email me and make an offer - I can take cash or credit cards (thanks to the good people at Square)

I also have an Emerson MW 8108p microwave I have had in storage for several years - it's practically new, and is super powerfull (1100) watts. Make an offer if you're interested!

PS 2 (Electric Boogaloo): This weekend, you can buy any of our shirts at my Zazzle Store and get a 17.76% discount with the code LANDOFTHETEE when you check out.

We have Men's and Women's "Failwhale" shirts and men's and women's "The N is Near" shirts, and we even still have some "Adama for President" ones left too. The sale lasts until July 4th so buy one today!

June 16, 2011

LelandYee.com Today Is Like Reading the NJC Over A Month Ago! (UPDATED 6/22/10)

During today's monumental Irwin Allen style Muni disaster, a Loyal Reader let me know that apparently State Senator Leland Yee (who is running for Mayor) apparently decided to jump on the Muni Bandwagon and his campaign website is hosting a petition to protest Soon to Be Ex-Muni CEO Nathaniel Ford's big payout to leave his job.

Oh, really?

This sounded strange, since I had posted a similar petition back on May 9th. Even stranger, I didn't see Sen. Yee sign the petition, nor promote it to his followers on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

While I have not decided which candidate (if any) I might support just yet, I do get tired of politicians who discover the "Muni issue" at election time, only to toss it aside once elected. It does not help that during his million dollar campaign last year (with no opponent) I didn't see Sen. Yee tout his accomplishments on behalf of transit riders in San Francisco. Nor did I ever hear him explain why he voted for the Schwarzenegger/Democrat budgets that literally stole money from all transit agencies across the state.

Hmm.

Message to all mayoral candidates: Muni is not an "issue," it is a system of transportation that desperately needs a reboot. I do not need to hear more platitudes from any more candidates that fit on your junk mail. I want to see an action plan that you will institute to overhaul an agency that for the last six years has been dominated by politics, non-existent leadership, and a (thank GOD) Ex-Mayor that took pleasure in wrecking the system for Muni's owner/riders for political reasons.

I realize some of you perhaps weren't concerned with this before, but that's no excuse. We can't afford to continue to screw this up and expect that we can also pontificate to others about how to be "green."

That is all.

PS: I realize it sometimes sounds like I give ol' Leland and his campaign a hard time on Twitter, but it's not like I have an axe to grind against him personally. I've actually attended his events in the past, and at my old job, I even worked on an independent expenditure campaign on his behalf in the early 2000s, so haters, tone down the hate tweets. I'm just calling it as I see it.

UPDATE: Not only did Sen. Yee not show up at the meeting until late (whatever), Yee actually defended his votes to cut State Transit Assistance funding at the bidding of Gov. Doofinator and the Democrat leadership with bullsh*t that broke my BS detector. He actually said "no one told me not to do it." (WRONG). News flash "Senator": no one told me not to steal from my neighbor, but I still didn't do it.

My GOD, I really wasn't going to have a go at anyone this early in the campaign, but this kind of politician doublespeak is something we really don't need anymore.

If You're Headed Home Tonight to the Westside, You Might Want to Use A Surface Bus!

Based on tweets from various folks I follow on The Twitter, as well as a report from the Examiner, the Muni Metro tunnel is pretty much closed from Embacadero to Castro Station, after an N pulled out cables and concrete from a wall (?!?) in the tunnel. Sure there's a bus bridge, but you know how that ends up.

Right now your best bet is to take a surface bus home to the westside. I guess that N Judah Express Bus is coming in handy today - hopefully it can handle the load as people try to get home. Personally I'd take any one of a number of buses - the 6 Parnassus can take you from downtown to the Inner Sunset, the 71 can take you there too, and to points of interest in the Outer Sunset. If you're headed to the Way Outer Sunset, then the new NX is your best bet.

If you want to get really crazy and are over in the Financial district, you could take a 1 California to the 44 O'Shaughnessy, but that's a bit of a stretch.

Personally, I find this particular catastrophic Muni blowout to be ironic, given how Soon To Be Ex CEO Nat Ford was spending all day today spinning his years in office. Joe Eskenazi at the Weekly, however, expertly called BS on that today.

June 15, 2011

Why Nathaniel Ford Failed Muni, the SFMTA, and You, the Owner/Rider

By now the news about Mr. Ford's departure is the news heard 'round the SF Interwebs. Read all about the news at SFGate, the SF Weekly, the Bay Citizen, and more. This didn't come as a complete surprise - there were indications the only reason Ford was sticking around as long as he did was due to the contentious nature of the recent negotiations concluded with TWU Local 250A.

Ford's recent behavior made it clear he was on the way out - from the many, many weeks out of town looking for a job, to the public dance he did with the airport authority in DC (all on the taxpayer dime). This, while he was the highest paid public official, no less, while employees were being asked to give up pay and benefits during a recession. Way to inspire morale, Mr. Ford.

It's a tad ironic that Mr. Ford is leaving in June, in that this month marks the sixth anniversary (!) of the blog. For almost the entire time I've been writing this, Mr. Ford has been the CEO of the SFMTA. While I, like many, was willing to give him the benefit of an open mind when he started, I was one of the first to question the sanity of paying someone big pay with a contract that allowed him to get paid no matter how good or bad a job he did. (for almost all posts mentioning Mr. Ford, click this link)

Now, to be fair, one of Muni's biggest problems - a lack of money to adequately fund a functioning system - can't and shouldn't be blamed on Ford. It's not his fault that Governor Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the Legislature looted the state transit fund to all transit agencies. However, it is his fault he went along with former Mayor Newsom's looting of the agency to fund other departments via reasoning that would make any rational thinking adult say "What the f*ck?"

In fact, the true reason Ford has failed as the CEO of the SFMTA is because in the end, he never was the CEO, despite the big salary, mortgage, pension and benefits. Ford was nothing more than a puppet for the former Mayor, who reveled in soundbite politics, gimmicky programs, and using Muni as an ATM machine for departments more valuable to him politically.

Ford never once stood up to Newsom, while at the same time grinding down moral with his blend of authoritarianism and non-management. Ford (along with his easily intimidated colleagues on previous MTA Boards) were easily intimidated by Newsom staffers and the Mayor himself, to keep valid local revenue options off the table.

In the end, despite spending millions on the Transit Effectiveness Project to build a better Muni, he instead used it to make cuts. When my colleague Joe Eskenazi and I called bullshit on Muni's downward spiral, he called us liars - but when challenged could not refute a single thing we said. Instead he screamed and yelled at his staff. And so on. He just never stepped up and did the job that he was so well paid for. Instead, he either didn't care or didn't perform.

However, now that he's leaving, we as the owners and riders of Muni need to take some responsibility too. We cannot allow an opportunity to bring in inspirational and competent leadershpi to a major city department get pissed away by politics and the typical San Francsico foolishness that often governs these decisions.

It's our Muni - let's make sure that the Supervisors, the new SFMTA Board and our temporary Mayor understand it's not time for games or who knows who - let's get the best of the best and start a new chapter in Muni history.

June 9, 2011

Bumbling by Management & TWU Leadership Fails Operators and Riders Alike!

By now most have read the news that Muni's operators have voted in a landslide against the first contract under the terms of Proposition G. There's plenty of post-vote finger pointing, for sure, but in the end, I'm not sure who's "winning" in this situation.

TWU's leadership is almost legendary at this point for finding new ways to fail at their job, so much so that one wonders why Muni's operators put up with them. They have continued to invent new ways to piss off the riding public, and even other city unions with this weird combination of whining, tough "talk," and absolutely no ability to connect with the public at large. (Odd when you consider they work in a job that requires working well with said public). It was very clear by their actions they sent the message to their membership that they should vote "no," without saying so. Wow. Way to negotiate in good faith, guys.

However, management isn't getting a free pass here either. It was never realistic to patch all of Muni's deficit from one union out of many at the SFMTA. Nor did it help to hire an expensive contractor to handle communications, sending the wrong message during a time when Muni is pleading poverty. Compounded with the news that CEO Nathaniel Ford is likely to be quitting (and getting a golden parachute in the process), and it's no wonder that it was hard to take management seriously during these critical negotiations. Without anyone (not even our Temporary Mayor) making Muni a priority in a time of crisis, it's no wonder things fell apart.

In the end, it is the many good operators, and the owner/riders, who will lose in the aftermath of this blundering about. If, after arbitration operators stage an illegal strike, or other job actions, whatever good will is left with the public will evaporate. An already moral-starved agency will continue to sink, and those of us who rely on a functional Muni will be stranded on the way to work, school or the store. Even people who don't use Muni will feel the pain as increased traffic will take the place of buses and LRVs stranded or slowed by a labor action.

I think what's needed now is not a lot of nasty talk on blogs or comment sections with the usual witty rejoinders ("Muni sucks" "Privatize Muni" "Operators Suck" "Riders Suck") and the usual choose-up-siderism San Francisco is famous for. Instead, I think it's time once again for we, the owners and riders of Muni, to send a message to our elected officials and to TWU's union that we are sick and tired of the bullshi*t.

Instead we want them to take all ther well paid selves together, and figure out how to make the system work for riders first. Anyone who doesn't believe in that should be politely shown the door and never allowed back on City property, and those that are interested in stepping up should do so and lead. Those who wish to occupy Room 200 need to put aside the nicey-nicey phony politics and step up and make it clear what their action plan is. Yeah, we all know you think Muni is an important "issue," candidates, but for us it's a system that serves the city's residents. Got a plan, candidates? Well let's hear it.

We have waited too long and paid too much for something that simply isn't working as it should.

May 16, 2011

Is the End Truly Near for the N Judah? Let's Take a Look! UPDATED:

NJudah-postage copy.jpgNo one would debate the fact that our Mighty N is having a tough time of it these days. If you're downtown you see a conga line of Ms, Js and Ks going by while you wait forever for an N that shows up late, and is often too full to board.

Other times, you are stranded if you're going to the Outer Sunset, kicked to the curb at 19th, and you have to walk 20 blocks to get home. Between these, the traffic, delays when cars double park, and the overall decline of Muni under Nat Ford and crew, well, it's not a great time to be riding the N.

However, examining this proposal to create "express buses" for the N (PowerPoint file here) demonstrates once again that Muni would rather throw away the $3 million Transit Effectiveness Project, which laid out the plan to improve the whole system, and instead implement gimmicky "solutions" to make Muni's owners feel like something's being done, and get the owners' other employees (i.e. the electeds). Just like with plenty of Muni's other gimmicks, it is a "looks great on paper" solution.

Before we get to it, let's take a breather and remember how we got here, since it's clear Muni would like to have you forget that the State of California illegally looted hundreds of millions of dollars from it (and all transit agencies). With the various deals cut by Democrats in the Legislature and the former Governor, the gas tax no longer helps fund roads and transit like it did in the past.

Despite being illegal, that money is gone for good. There has never been a serious proposal by Nat Ford or the MTA to replace this with a new funding source. Instead they've downsized the system, and they've refused to even consider real revenue measures. Instead they want to parking ticket the city to death, and use other "couch cushion" measures. They simply are out of their league at this point. The fact that they're dreaming that "operator pay" is the only reason they have money problems just underscores the fact they don't know what they're doing.

Likewise, there's both a huge backlog of maintenance and assorted outdated work rules that are creating problems too. The fact that the MTA can't hire an out-of-work LRV operator from elsewhere to fill gaps in the workforce is significant too, as is the fact that when Muni wastes money on golden parachutes and big pay for management and big benefits, we then don't have the money to hire good people we need anyway, union rules or not.

Anyway, now that's out of the way, let's look at what is being proposed. As always I have to be a bit suspicious, since Muni's management hasn't been that honest with the public. Basically what we have here is an express bus that would serve the Outer Sunset between 19th and 48th, then use an alternate route to get downtown. They claim it would be 1 minute faster inbound and 2 minutes faster outbound. (This is the part where you can tell this was done based on a spreadsheet, and not on any real studies).

Continue reading "Is the End Truly Near for the N Judah? Let's Take a Look! UPDATED:" »

May 13, 2011

Reader Mail: A Little Help Regarding Bay To Breakers, Please?

Reader Anonymous sent in this note the other day expressing confusion regarding the various transit options as presented by Zazzle and the SFMTA. I took a look at the web pages in question myself and this seems like a case of a lot of options being presented in such a way that to the average reader, they come off as confusing, but that's because I speak "bureaucrat" as a second language. In terms of presenting data to humans, it's not as clear as it could be.

First, Reader Anonymous's letter:

Greg,

Muni is kinda dropping the ball on how to get from the sunset to the starting line.
Was reading and now totally confused. 10$ no matter what from inner sunset?
Do I buy in advance? Can I use my Clipper? Can I get off at Powell?
Each site says something different.
Then no twitter mention of it at all on sfmta or anything. And nothing on mfnta or 511 homepages.

and then this was forwarded to me...
http://www.sfmta.com/cms/malerts/SFMuniBaytoBreakers.htm

how that site was found, I do not know. I could not find it starting on their homepage.

and then this info...

http://www.baytobreakers100.com/BtB2011_transport.html
http://zazzlebaytobreakers.com/index.php?page=transportation-parking

So ten bucks if I hop on at 9th and irving? Do I need to get a sticker before? Can I buy on muni? I guess can't use clipper card?

last year..
http://sfist.com/2010/05/14/bay_to_breakers_pubglic_transit_cha.php
$7

Muni just bumming me out right now.

and on top of that, parking for registered runners is $10 downtown. Not really motivation to take public transit.

Thanks.

See you at B2B

I took a look since I hadn't been paying a lot of attention to Bay To Breakers, aside from just knowing that Sunday's going to be crazy no matter what and I could see where people would get confused. What jumped out at me, however is that it appears to read that if you want to ride the special express buses, you can't use a Clipper card to pay for the service, you have to pay $10 for what amounts to an all day pass good until 5pm on Sunday. Fine, but then I read WHERE to buy these and this is what I came up with via the SFMTA site:

Pre-Race sales locations, 5 to 8 a.m.

Van Ness Station.
Castro Station.
West Portal Station.
Post-Race sales locations, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Fulton @ 30th Avenue.

It would seem to me if these "special event stickers" are a Golden Ticket to Muni fun pre- or post- race, they'd be sold in a few more locations. Put another way, how would an out-of-towner know where to go to buy one of these things? Why can't they just tell people to use their Clipper Card? People can already get a "temp" Clipper Card at BART stations, it would seem that would have been the best way to go, but then again I'm not paid a six figure salary to figure these things out.

I haven't done Bay to Breakers in literally decades, mostly because I don't like crowds that have the potential to become a riot or a zombie apocalypse (but the race is cool and I do like to watch it on TV to see drunk people in costume). But it would seem that when presenting the public with options, spending a little more time putting some thought into presenting that data online would make it easier for people to understand their options.

Best advice I can give is this: Whatever mode you choose (Muni, Bauer, etc) for all that is good in the world DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE AND PARK AT THE START OR FINISH LINES. Just don't. Not because of "the environment" but because you'll be dooming yourself to a world of pain no one should have to endure.

May 9, 2011

Should San Francisco Taxpayers Pay A Wall St. Style #FAIL Payout to Nat Ford? If Not, SIGN HERE.

Doesn't it piss you off when you, as someone who does Actual Work For A Living, hears about how banks and Goldman Sachs and Wall Street pay out "bonuses" to morons who created the Depression 2.0?

Doesn't it piss you off when you, as someone who does Actual Work For A Living, hears about how A Few City Management Types also get "bonuses" even though they totally screwed up the City we live in?

Doesn't it piss you off when you, as someone who does Actual Work for A Living hear about a screwed up Muni contract that pays operators not to work when if you did that you'd be fired?

Wait, you don't?

Then stop reading now. Because if you honestly think that losing bazillions in the private sector not only is OK but prepares you for the public sector, then you should really go read something else, and leave now.

If you're a taxpayer, a citizen, an owner/rider and you're sick of people who get paid to not show up to work, I urge you to sign this petition today saying "no more."

The rumor is that once the negotiations between the operators and Muni come to a close, Nat Ford will run away from the mess he's caused, put Muni in the hands of a "temp" Mayor, and yet, still get paid big pay, a ginormous pension (contributing to the pension crisis) and more. All because after all this time, he turned out to be nothing but a puppet for Prince Newsom and a failure who ruined Muni even more than it already was.

Before he even got hired I questioned the wisdom of a "get paid no matter what" contract and ironically the same people who rail on public worker unions justified this crap about "hiring the best person." Did we?

NO.

Sign the petition now to say "no Wall Street Bailout for Nat Ford" and at least put on notice Temporary Mayor Lee and the legion of candidates running for office we, the owners and riders of Muni, are watching this time.

And this time we're not missing a beat.

UPDATE: If you don't put your name on the petition, the usefulness of the petition is lost. I can't submit a list of "Name Withhelds" to the MTA and expect them to take it seriously.

PS: Not to toot my horn but when Nat Ford tried to challenge the Muni Death Spiral story last year, when challenged to prove even one point where we were wrong, he couldn't do it. Worse, he called anyone who dared talk to us "snitches." Six years ago, I thought you might do some good "Mr." Ford. Today, all I can say is take the stench of your demoralizing failure to somewhere else. Buh-BYE.

Another Anonymous WTF Flyer From Persons Unknown About Muni

anon_muni_flyer_2011.JPGReader Katie alerted us (and everyone) via Twitter of this rather strange, anonymous flyer she noticed over the weekend. It's the same as the one I found defacing a Muni bus shelter. To read it in its entirety, click here, and you can check it out.

As with a lot of these things, there's no one claiming responsibility for this little missive. What makes it more strange is that it's a mish-mosh of operator complaints, things that are somewhat true, and some things that are simply false. It seems to take an anti-everyone attitude (open attacks on management and the union leadership, for example), and overall, doesn't make a lot of sense.

I called around this morning to find out if anyone knew who published this, or why, but what few calls were returned indicated people had no idea what this was. Could it be a disinformation campaign or something by forces unknown? Who knows?

Official union document or not, I have to say as someone who used to work with unions conducting both member-to-member communications, and outreach to the general public, TWU 250A has to be worst at communication I've ever seen. When they talk to the press they sound like pouty children throwing a temper tantrum. During last year's Prop. G campaign, they paid for some of the most dishonest mail I've ever seen in politics. They talk to the public in poorly worded dead tree flyers, unaware of this thing called the Internet, and the options it offers to talk to the public in the second decade of the 21st century. Let's also not forget other anonymous screeds that created all kinds of panic in the past that seemed to have the tacit approval of someone in charge, but we'll never know who.

It doesn't portend well, and the news that Muni CEO Nat Ford is going to possibly quit after the negotiations are over to cash out his golden parachute (i.e. get paid for not doing the agreed work for the contracted period of time) and you kinda wanna go all "pox on both of your houses" on everyone.

Ugh. In the end, great operators and the owner/riders lose once again.

April 18, 2011

So Much For Reason: Muni's Management And Unions Choose to Act Like Spoiled Children!

HomerChokingBart.jpgSo much for a call to Muni's management and unions for some adult behavior.

Today, we read in our esteemed Fourth Estate that Muni's union is holding a "strike authorization vote" amongst its members. Now, for those not versed in union terminology, an "authorization vote" is usually required amongst its members before its leadership can have the ability to call for a strike later on. The idea is that it has to be something a majority of the members want, instead of something imposed on them by their leaders. It doesnt mean that anyone's striking just yet.

There's just one problem - while the huffing and puffing may make TWU Local 250-A feel good, at best it's more ridiculous posturing. It's the same as Muni's management (via $100,000 spokesfolks) saying they're taking away paid lunch hours. Since neither side is particularly sophisticated, both seem content to escalate, attack, lie, cheat, and more to get their way. This, before negotiations have even started? Brilliant.

In the case of a "strike authorization vote," TWU Local 250-A's "leaders" know full well that strikes are for all city workers under the City Charter. This was passed after a strike by both San Francisco's police and firefighters during a wage increase dispute during Mayor Alioto's reign in the 1970s. They can pimp some junkie logic to the media about how this isn't the case, but they know internally that any strike they attempt would not only be illegal - it'd likely mean the end of the employment of a lot of people.

As always, when this kind of crypto-bullshit rhetoric is unleashed, howler monkeys on SFGate are screaming the usual nut-wing nonsense, Muni management and TWU are screaming like bratty kids on the playground, and the rest of us sit here and wonder where we can get jobs that pay well and don't require us to do anything productive.

However, the question we should be asking is: where are the adults in San Francisco to step in and calm things down so we get a fair system that benefits everyone? We have St. Mayor Ed Lee, who gets lavish praise from his PR department at the Chronicle, saying that Muni isn't important, and instead is focusing his efforts on giving a billionaire free land so that other billlionaires who don't pay taxes can have their little boat race in the future, and who takes orders from his behind the scenes masters like a good waiter.

We have many people aspiring to be Mayor, and they rank as follows:

-One who voted for the massive cuts to Muni while serving in the Legislature
-One who is crowdsourcing his platform
-One who likely never rides Muni
-One who should be our Muni rider advocate, but we haven't heard from in a while (we miss you, you-know-who!)
-One who is too busy playing political games in his first term in office to pay attention to Real Things of Important
-And one, to be fair just jumped in, so we can't really say much about him. yet.

(Did I miss anyone?)

As for us, the Owners who are also Riders, we were told there was a union for us - but instead it is a wannabe arm of One Side's Political Machine and has TWU on its board!

Won't someone please think about the children?

Won't someone PLEASE speak up for people of all ages, ethnicities, income levels, private workers, public workers, union worker, nonunion worker, senior, disabled rider, those of us Without Cars, and well the CITIZENS OF SAN FRANCISCO who rely on a functional Muni for our daily lives?

Anyone?

Anyone?

April 14, 2011

Let The Crazy BS Begin! AKA The Myth of "Driver Pay" Being the Main Reason the MTA Is In the Hole

As someone who supported Proposition G, watching the opening salvos in the media, from both TWU Local 250 A (operators' union) and the $100,000 PR folks the MTA hired (who never send us any of their press releases, hint hint) has been an extremely depressing experience.

That's because the huff-and-puff rhetoric on both sides ensures a sh!tstorm for the next few months, and the likelihood that whatever we end up with won't serve anyone. Employee morale? Improved service? A contract that is fair to all (owner/riders, operators, taxpayers, the agency)? Fuggedabout it.

That's because the agency is taking the tack that "driver pay" is the Only Thing Killing the Agency (not true), and the union is taking the attitude of "it's not our job to care about the agency's problems, unlike other unions who made sacrifices" (also, not true). The end result is well-funded antagonism, a flurry of stupid blog comments, and once again an agency that is adrift, leaderless and not being honest with themselves, the public or its employees.

There is no doubt that there are things in the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the agency and the union contains legacy clauses left over from decades past, and all sorts of weird clauses that cause the infamous "pay me not to show up to work" situation, and so on lead to significant costs to the agency, and any sane person would agree they shouldn't be there. No one is served by them, and the promise of G was simply that under collective bargaining (you know, that thing everyone supported in Wisconsin?) there'd be a way to negotiate these out, or take them to an impartial arbitrator. Anyone who thought G was a Magic Cure-All to all the agency's problems was smoking ground up unicorn dust. Fixing these problems is merely one of many Big Changes the agency needs if it is to function properly.

Continue reading "Let The Crazy BS Begin! AKA The Myth of "Driver Pay" Being the Main Reason the MTA Is In the Hole" »

April 7, 2011

Muni Isn't Continuing to Dig It's Own Grave - It's Tunneling to the Earth's Core UPDATED

The_Core_Poster.jpgReading the news of the last week, it's becoming clear that a mass transit agency with an unfocused CEO, a leaderless "board," showboaty "hearings" from overly ambitious politicos, and a Mayor who is more interested in giving away City assets to billionaires is a great way to destroy a failing agency. Worse, the response to these troubled times from Muni to the owner/riders and their elected leaders has been to take a "f*ck you" attitude, and meanwhile we keep on paying with our time, with increased fares, and with poor service.

Consider the latest "OMG WTF" moment with Muni - a faulty door that wouldn't close while passengers were on board in the tunnel downtown. This is a serious safety issue, and if anyone had fallen out the door or something similar, Muni would have millions of dollars in lawsuits on its hands. This is in the wake of the California PUC slamming Muni for safety violations. Worse (for Muni), Supervisor Scott Weiner just happened to be riding the train (he being an Actual Muni Owner/Rider in office, unlike most) and made some observations, which were later aggressively challenged by Muni Operations chief John Haley.

If this sounds familiar, its the same new, aggressive "best defense is a good offense" PR strategy used at the hearing on unannounced turnarounds a while back, and with the PUC's complaints. The attitude over at Muni management has gone from passive agressiveness to an up front contempt for the people who own the system, and is a new low in public sector services, even for San Francisco.

In light of this new, aggro tone, it was curious to see that Muni's beloved, well paid managers decided that in addtion to the many well paid PR people they have in house, they had to spend another $100,000 for an outside PR firm, just to handle the media for the upcoming labor negotiations with the Muni operator's union, Local 250-A. What...the...F*CK?

Seriously. This is SOP for not just the MTA, but for the city - put lots of people on the payroll at six figures to do "press," and then hire more people on the outside as well. If the people in-house can't handle the job, fire them and hire new ones, don't spend more money on outside consultants, who have no accountability to the folks paying the bills. Or, better yet, hire me to do the job. I'll do it for lower fees, and frankly I'd kick ass. (Sorry, but as someone who is struggling to pay the bills seeing folks get all these big government gigs, I can't help but think I'd do as good a job, and I actually ride Muni.)

The fun keeps on coming with Muni. Management now claims that they're going to actually use the Transit Effectiveness project they paid $3 million for (sound familiar?), but as always, they have to invent new ways to blow it. In this case, we apparently can't implement anything until after several years of endless hearings and whatnots.

Bullsh*t. The TEP was created after several long years of hearings, meetings, and more. This thing is DONE. There is no reason for more endless talking, and spending of money on consultants and hearings and PR. It is time for the agency to create a new funding plan to implement and DO IT. I realize that getting things done isn't the norm at the MTA, and given how aimless the agency, and the City are acting these days, I don't expect much to happen. Basically, the MTA has known what it has had to do - its leadership has been either too incomptent or too timid to implement it.

Operators continue to do no favors for themselves - once again we have a story of an operator texting while driving, and employing Muni's new "f*ck you!" PR strategy, told the owner/rider he was an "asshole". Naturally he only faced a 3-day suspension for potentially killing innocent passengers. Brilliant. All on the eve of labor negotiations that matter? BRILLIANT.

Not to be outdone, TWU's leadership got their weekly "ain't my job" comments in, when the subject of fare evasion, as we find out once again that fare evasion is costing the agency a lot of money (gee, where have we heard this before?). And, of course, the union's leaders chimed in with their classic "ain't my job" response when asked why this is the case.

Really? Listen, genius, it IS your problem because the agency is facing cuts. I realize that to some Supervisors, and to certain political factions, stealing fares from the poor is considered something worth celebrating, but when people steal fares, they are in fact hurting those that can afford it the least when fares go up. Even if Muni only collected HALF of what they're owed, they'd be doing a lot better. I guess asking people to be honest in San Francisco is asking too much, at least in some cases.

Finally, an enterprising Muni owner/rider came up with a single-serving site that's not only funny, but has some useful information. How F*cked is Muni? popped up around the blogs a week or so ago, and it's actually somewhat helpful. Try it out sometime.

Finally, Friend of the N Judah Chronicles, A Streetcar Named Taraval has a Muni Drinking Game that sounds rather fun. If nothing else, it's something to do as you give your regards to the Earth's Core during your morning commute.

It's kinda fun while you're commuting on your way to give your regards to the Earth's Core.

UPDATE: If you are curious as to how Muni management views your safety, not to mention the TWU leadership, look at this coverage following up on the incident whereby a driver was illegally texting while driving. It's to be expected that union leadership backs a bad apple who committed a crime (texting while driving is illegal, obviously) and endangered lives. What's more shocking is that Muni management, under John Haley, initially took the driver's word over that of the Muni owner/rider, and had to be shamed into doing something only KTVU broadcast the video.

If you have a phone that can shoot video, always try and use it to document an incident, since clearly Muni's management doesn't take safety seriously, and will use their new obnoxiousness to bury it, otherwise.

Shameless Appeal For the Blog: If you've ever considered buying a shirt, or other item from the store, now is the time to do it. We are going to be making some significant changes to the items we sell fairly soon, including the discontinuation of some, and the addition of some new designs. I'm also looking for a local vendor to start producing them so that we could offer these in local store (and at a significantly lower price than Zazzle). Buy now!

March 31, 2011

Declaring War on Muni's Proposed Fare Increases

So I was reading the news that Muni plans on jacking up the cost of monthly Fast Passes once again. Ever since Nathaniel Ford took over the MTA, jacking up fares has been a constant. Even though this latest increase appears small, when you consider how cheap a Fast Pass was just a few years ago, and add in the fact that there have been significant, permanent cuts to service, and the fact that reliability is a joke, and you realize that the San Francisco Mantra of "Pay More, Get Less" (at least for us citizens, not billionaires) is alive and well.

I think it's time Muni's Owner/Riders drew the line, and said "Hell NO" to this latest increase. As in the past, if Muni simply did a better job of fare collection, and collected what it was owed, this fare increase, like the last one, would not have been necessary. And no, I don't suggest that we do this via more fare inspectors per se, instead I'd like to see the MTA board and its very well paid CEO get locked into a room and not let out until they come up with a complete overhaul of how Muni is funded, permanently, and get us out of this death spiral of cuts and fare increases.

We pay a lot of people very well, and we no longer have Prince Newsom standing in the way. Since apparently this concept is difficult for the massive MTA to understand I'll break it down for them:

1. You paid millions for the Transit Effecitiveness Project, which tells you what system you need to run properly. Use it. Figure out how much it would cost to pay for it, no cuts ,no buts, no nonsense. There. Now you have your budget. (Don't forget to include maintenance - broken buses and trains serve no one.)

2. Now find a way to pay for it. First, squeeze every penny of efficiency you can, and PROVE IT to the public. No more "pay me not to work days" for operators. No more "pay me not to work days" for the CEO. No more waste. And document, document, document.

3. Relying on parking tickets and fare evasion fines is a stupid way to make up for hundreds of millions of dollars the state illegally looted over the past several years (a co-production of our ex governor and his Democrat allies, LOL). After you've done 1 and 2, and proven to a public weary of bullsh!t from City Hall that you are not going to spend money on silly stuff, find a permanent, stable LOCAL way for us to pay for it. If that takes lobbying, some hard work and late nights, and mobilizing resources to get things done, THEN DO IT. I'll leave it to the well paid folks to determine this one, but it has to happen. And you're going to have get the approval of 2/3rds of SF. Yes, that's difficult, but it has to happen.

4. This will never happen, but the bazillion dollar Subway to Nowhere needs to go. I know the money can't be used for anything else, but what is the point of building this drag on the system, when the money could be spent better, elsewhere? Again, killing it won't happen, but don't be surprised if a Republican Congress decides to do to it what others did the Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere. After all, they just killed all that money to keep the Presidio self sufficient as a "FU" to former Speaker Pelosi.

These just the thoughts that come to mind after writing about this nonsense for almost six years - and most of it should sound familiar, as much of it has appeared here or in the SF Weekly before. The point is this - at this point, we need something simple people can rally around to call attention to this current problem, and the projected future problems in an election year. So I suggest to those that consider themselves "pro-Muni" and "pro-Transit" to get behind a "no fare increase/no cuts" campaign NOW, and force some honesty in the discussions about Muni, past and present.

If people in other countries can brave getting shot at to bring freedom to their countries, surely comfortable San Francsicans can let the MTA, Mayor Lee, and the Board of Supervisors know that the leadershp vacuum on the MTA Board and in the CEO's office is no longer acceptable, and it's time to be proactive to make this city have a transit system that would make as many people as possible WANT to use it, instead of driving a car all the time.

PS: Some have noted some new ads on the site. As always, said ads help pay for the costs of running the blogs. Anyone is free to advertise (well not jerks, but you know what I mean), and the rates are reasonable, either by contacting me directly, or via various ad networks.

March 29, 2011

AYFKM? Big Pay for Big Bosses of Transit - Even Though They're Not Working...

pile-of-money.jpgSo, while the ongoing drama known as "What About Nathaniel?" drags on at the SFMTA, we're getting news that Yet Another Transit Boss is due to be fired - but still retain big pay and benefits. Dorothy Duggard, BART's big boss, is set to be let go from the agency, but despite essentially being fired, will still get her big pay and benefits for 15 months. This is simliar to Mr. Ford's contract (which the N Judah Chronicles has criticized since Day One), which also guarantees him big pay and benefits, even if he is fired.

Now, there's been a lot of howling and screaming about how "driver pay" is allegedly the reason both agencies have financial problems, but not once do you hear a newspaper editorial or most people criticize these huge salaries for the bosses, which also include these provisions that get them paid even if they are fired. Wouldn't you like to have a job where you could literally show up to work, completely screw up, and the moment you're fired, you STILL get to keep on getting paid and get your benefits for a year or more? I know I sure would.

The same people who think we should pay the rank-and-file minimum wage always seem to back this concept of big pay for public sector bosses, saying we need to "get the best people." Really? Would anyone argue we got our money's worth from Ford, who spent most of his time tearing down the Muni system and looking for another job? Would anyone say BART is a model of efficiency?

I think people deserve to be paid well and fair in the public sector, especially since they don't have the opportunity for things like profit sharing and stock options like those in the public sector. However, at some point one has to ask where is the "service" when you have a class of folks who make a career of jumping from agency to agency in search of a platinum parachute or another set of perks? At what point do we start paying 500,000, or even a million dollars a year for some CEO of the MTA or BART, because it's what conventional wisdom says such people cost?

To me, and most sensible folks, unless we're hiring Harry Potter, Darth Vader, Admiral Adama, or Yoda to come in and use their skillz and magicks to save Muni, this spiral upward of executive costs is just a race to nowhere. If we're going to ask drivers and other workers at agencies for "sacrifice," some has to come from the top too. It's only fair.

March 17, 2011

Make Up Your Mind, Mr. Ford, SFMTA Board. We're Sick of the Drama

If you've been following local news at all, you know that the CEO of the MTA, Mr. Nathaniel Ford, has been a candidate to take over the Washington Airport Authority (WAA) in DC. The "will he stay or will he go" drama has been extended over and over and over as the folks in DC can't decide what to do, and ambiguity from the MTA board and Mr. Ford about his plans. Now, it seems no matter what, his future is in doubt.

Now, far be it from me to say someone shouldn't persue a career and the opportunities it presents, be they near or far. I do have to say though, that someone that is as well compensated as Mr. Ford, on the public's dime, only ask that he complete his job here, before taking off for exotic locales elsewhere. As it stands, if Mr. Ford were to be asked to leave, he's still going to get paid his huge salary and benefits for a little over a year. This, right as historic labor negotiations, mandated by 2010's Prop. G are about to start. EXCELLENT timing.

Don't you wish you had a job where you could tell your boss "I quit" or get fired and still get paid full salary and benefits on the company dime for a year or so? I sure would! People bitch about Muni operators, but come on, this has to be a bit more of a problem. I'd been warning people from Day One of Mr. Ford's contract that having a provision that keeps him paid for the duration of his contract no matter what was a mistake, and 5 years later, we're seeing it become a real possibility.

This isn't the first time Ford has been considered for another job elsewhere. To me I have to wonder how focused he is on the problems of the agency if most of his time is spent looking out the window at happier locales. What's really sad is that as I read the posts from when he started, there was a real sense of optimism that things would get better. Needless to say, that hasn't happened.

Without knowing who might replace him, I can't say that a change would do much to improve the agency. However, I think it would be nice to see this matter resolved, one way or the other, and move on. Unfortunately, after all the damage that's been done by Ford and some of the MTA Board members, I question whether this agency's leadership understands the situation it's in, and that it's time for bold action to set things right - while we still can.

As it stands, we, the owner/riders are losing daily, when things are literally falling apart, and San Francisco, the allegedly "green" city, has a transit system Third World countries wouldn't put up with.

March 1, 2011

Show Your Support Tomorrow Morning for the Parklet In Person, Or Via Petition!

parklet -3b.jpgRegular readers know that I've been one of the proposed 9th Avenue Parklet's supporters - that's no surprise. As an avid fan of Park(ing) Day, I think this project is a great idea and will be yet another improvement to our neighborhood.

Tomorrow, at 9am, there's a hearing at City Hall, Room 400 where public testimony will be presented on the project. As always, when they schedule these things early in the morning, that excludes anyone who can't have the flexiblity at work to attend (myself included). So, in light of that, you can send an email or sign an online petition indicating your support.

What's nice about this project is that it isn't going to cost the City any money, and if after it's installed, if it doesn't perform as hoped, it can always be moved to a new location (although another permit would be needed).

That's what is nice about this project - and why the handful of negative nabobs's false arguments don't hold up in light of the facts. So join in with the great majority of folks who support the project, and once it's done, I'm sure people will wonder why it didn't happen sooner (which is usually the case in these situations.)

Update: Streetsblog SF reported that the landslide of support for this project was pretty amazing. I'm not surprised, since there was so much outreach done on behalf of the project. It was telling that what little opposition there was didn't obey the rules for public comment, and had arguments so poorly articulated, they were not taken too seriously.

What Does It Take To Get People to Stop Plowing Through Passengers at Muni Stops?

The other day I got an email from a Concerned Reader, who noted that while waiting for the N the other day, they noticed several cars plow past a stopped N that was deboarding passengers. When one of the drivers of said cars was stopped by an off-duty Muni employee, who told the car driver what they were doing was both illegal and unsafe. The response? A laugh and a "oh f-you" attitude. Wonderful.

I have to say that in some places, the problem seems particularly acute, despite those stickers on the backs of the trains, a solid percentage of clueless drivers just plow through, stuck in their little haze of cell phone use and/or a clear inability to grasp the concept of driving in a dense urban area. I don't fault the stickers - you could have a giant neon sign pop up in several languages saying "don't pass the train, dimwits, you might hit someone" and they'd still do it. Once I saw a particularly egregious violation and I was seriously tempted to grab a bottle of juice out of my grocery bag and chuck it at the car (who almost ran over a couple of kids) but common sense won the day and I didn't do it.

Maybe the solution is something a bit different - perhaps it's time we make it significantly more difficult to get a driver's license, and require people to actually know something about safety before being allowed to drive their cars on the road. I realize that the concept of teaching people how to drive and issuing a license saying they're able to is completely foreign to Americans, but it's worth looking into. Also: perhaps it's time to stop jerking people around on parking tickets, and instead save the big fines for serious moving violations that put everyone at risk (cars, bikes, people, transit). I think we'd have a safer city fairly quickly, for sure.

PS: And yes, bicyclists can be jerks too, and yes some pedestrians can be jerks too, and yes Muni operators etc. etc. etc. but it's not necessary to go through each of these any time one talks about auto safety. I mean, even the AAA would agree that no one is served by people driving dangerously, right?

February 25, 2011

News You Can Use: Critical Mass TONIGHT, Construction at Duboce/Church this Weekend!

There's a few things you should know during NonSnowpacalypse Friday...obviously today is Critical Mass day, so be aware of that as you plan your trip home if you're downtown.

More importantly, there is major construction at Duboce and Church this weekend that will affect both the N and J lines. The MTA sent out this bulletin detailing just what is happening. Read it carefully - when the N is replaced by a bus it is significantly slower because it has to cut through Haight Street (and then you realize WHY they built the Sunset Tunnel!). Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just post the bulletin so you'll know what's up?

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates Muni, has scheduled rail maintenance work on Church Street and Duboce Avenue on Saturday, Feb. 26 and Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011.

Muni will adjust service on the J Church and the N Judah rail lines for the weekend.

What to expect:

Muni J & N Line Subway Service
· J and N trains will operate in the Muni Metro Tunnel between the Embarcadero Station and Castro Station.
· Train destinations signs will read: Shuttle Train.
· Church Street Station is the transfer point to street level service to the outer terminals for both the J and N lines.

Muni J Line Street Level Service
· J Line customers can continue their trip at the regular outbound stop on Church Street at Market Street.
· J Line trains will service all stops between Church and Market streets and the Balboa Park Station.
· The last inbound stop will be at Church and Market streets, and customers can continue downtown by transferring to the Shuttle Train in the Church Street Station.
· Accessible service for customers with disabilities will be provided by the J Supplemental Shuttle Bus. The northbound Shuttle Bus will depart from 18th and Church streets. The next stop will be at Market and Church. The southbound Shuttle Bus will be at a temporary terminal on Church Street just south of Market. The next stop will be at 18th and Church.
· Transfer locations for the Muni 22 Fillmore bus route are at the Church and Market streets islands.

N Line Street Level Service
· N Judah Line trains will not operate between Church Street Station and Ocean Beach.
· N Line customers can travel by Shuttle Bus between Ocean Beach and Church Street Station, then transfer to inbound subway service. The only missed stop will be at the east portal of Sunset Tunnel.
· Inbound and outbound N Line customers can catch Shuttle Bus service at the temporary terminal at 14th and Church streets

Other Service
· Muni Route 22 Fillmore bus customers should expect delays. Electric trolley coaches will serve the route during the day, and Owl service will be on motor coaches.
· There are no changes to service on K, L, M and T line trains, Muni N Owl Bus and Route 37 Corbett service.
· Look for extra Shuttle Trains running between Embarcadero to Church Street Station.
· Please look for directional signs to temporary bus stops.
· SFMTA Ambassadors will be in the area to provide information and to assist customers in making connections on Muni bus and rail service.

CONSTRUCTION
What to expect:
· Duboce Avenue between Church and Fillmore will be closed to motor vehicles all weekend.
· Vehicular traffic will be restricted to one lane in each direction on Church Street between Market and Hermann streets.
· Police officers will be on site directing traffic.
· Some street parking will not be available in or near construction zones, specifically on Church Street between Duboce and south of Market.
· Residents close to construction will be subject to some noise.
· Local access will be granted.
· Local businesses will be open.

So, to sum up-everything's "normal" today (Friday), construction is on Saturday/Sunday, and the N will still work in the subway, it's just that once you get to Duboce/Church, you have to board a bus outbound (and vice versa).

As for snow, if it does snow (which it isn't) just be prepared for assorted unpredictable mayhem, similar to when it's sunny, it rains, it's windy, or there's Giants fever.

February 21, 2011

Another Open Letter to Mayor Ed Lee: Muni Deserves Your Attention, Sir.

February 21, 2011

Mayor Ed Lee
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 200
San Francisco, CA 94102

Dear Mayor Lee:

A little over a month ago, I extended a sincere invitation to you and your staff to join myself and fellow Muni owner/riders on a ride on Muni as a fun way to discuss the challenges ahead for Muni during your interim term in office. Some dismissed it as a joke, but I was being honest, and thought it would be a nice way to get past the politics that cloud Muni, and replace it with some common sense thinking as we move forward.

Needless to say, it was disappointing to hear that during your term in office, you said that Muni's problems simply were not a priority for you, and instead things like a yacht race for billionaires took precedence over something that everyone uses, like Muni.

But rather than hurl political stones, I'd like to simply offer a few suggestions as to why this year Muni needs the full attention of yourself, the Supervisors, and the general public. Maybe you could take a look, and realize that Muni's not on the road to glory, but in fact an agency beset by management problems and long term financial problems not solved with slogans or gimmick fixes:

- Proposition G will allow, over the long term, for changes in work rules that can help make the system more efficient and cost-effective. It is not a cure-all for the agency's woes, as "operator pay" is not the single driving force costing the agency. However, for G to succeed, the SFMTA must be prepared to conduct a collective bargaining session that is successful, and right now we don't know just how prepared the agency is to re-negotiate a contract that hasn't been negotiated in decades against a union leadership that is openly hostile to the agency and Muni's owner/riders. (Note how I said "union leadership", not union members, because the great majority of Muni's operators do a tough job well and deserve a better union leadership than what they have).

- Muni's very well paid CEO, Nathaniel Ford, has been shopping for a new job for the last several years. He is clearly not interested in working here anymore, and the disarray the agency shows now reflects this. It was reported that he's a finalist for a job in Washington DC, and if he leaves, it'll be on the eve of the aforementioned negotiations. We can't have a management vacancy at a time like this, and we need someone at the top who wants the job and is able to do it. To ignore this is to ensure more failure.

- The chair of the MTA Board, Tom Nolan, is clearly out of his depth, as a former suburban politician. The fact that he actually said "Family trumps Transit First" ("family" defined as wealthy people whose nannies need parking permits in already-crowded neighborhoods) shows that he just doesn't seem to understand how different San Francisco is from San Mateo County. (not to mention that his remarks shows clear contempt for families that can't afford "nannies" and need a reliable, affordable system for their families to thrive in the City). Find a way for him to graciously leave the stage and replace him with someone who takes a more balanced view.

- Muni's fiscal woes are no state secret. They are, however, caused primarily by the multi-year looting of the agency by the State of California, and the outrageous looting of Muni funds by the previous Mayor to other departments have been the primary reason the agency is in such trouble. "Gimmick" funding, such as increased parking ticket fines, will not (and should not) fix Muni's woes. Only by creating honest, long term, predictable sources of revenue, will we replace all those state dollars the ex-Governor and Democratic legislature looted over the past 7 years. Without your support, any proposals that might help us for the long term are likely to die.

We cannot put off these problems until the next Mayor takes office in January 2012 and let Muni idle like a bus stuck in traffic, for a year. There are many important issues competing for your attention, but to push Muni's problems aside, like a political football no one wants to touch, just makes the problem worse.

As a world traveler, you've seen plenty of other places, often without the unique benefits our City offers, build mass transit systems that are truly "world class." There is no reason that Muni can't be in that league, it is only because people have chosen to make the system a national joke. That's not good enough for me as one of the hundreds of thousands of owners of Muni, and it shouldn't be good enough for you, as both a Muni Owner/Rider and one of the people in City Hall charged with doing the people's business.

As always, feel free to contact me at the email address listed above. Thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Greg Dewar
The N Judah Chronicles

Why The Plan for Free Muni for Low Income Kids is A Bad Idea - But Not For the Reason You Think

Oh, here we go again.

Once again, the Road to Hell Paving Crew (aka obnoxious city politicians) are firing up divisive rhetoric on an emotional issue to advance their personal political career. In this case, it's "Supervisor" David Campos, who has done a great job whipping up emotions and catering to the extreme left in his district over the issue of free passes for low income students. It makes for great politics (who DOESN'T want to help "low income kids?"), but it makes for lousy policy.

That's because it sets a precedent that an affordable Muni system is only for a few people, narrowly defined as "poor," while the rest of Muni's owner/riders, who have been stuck with spiraling Fast Pass and fare costs, are being set up to take even higher fare increases in the future to subsidize the so-called "free" passes. This continues San Francsico's tradition of being a great place if you're extremely poor or extremely rich, but everyone else gets screwed over. How "fair."

This isn't the first time a So-Called Progressive has invented a new way to de-fund Muni with feel good ideas. Nor is it confined to So-Called Supervisors. Our Allegedly Moderate Ex-Mayor Newsom was also playing politics with the "free Muni" idea, even though every analysis proved it to be utter bullshit.

I'd like to offer a few alternative takes on this. First, if Muni had simply bothered to collect the fares it was owed, the last fare increase would not have been necessary, thus ensuring that youth from all parts of San Francisco wouldn't have had their fast passes raised. Muni's fare enforcement plans were finally gathering some traction, until it was stopped by...."Supervisor" David Campos (and the same rent-a-mob he packed the hearing with last week.)

News Flash, Kids: When people steal from Muni by stealing fares, the people hurt most are the poorest owner/riders. That's because when the thieves steal, fares go up, thus hurting the poor. This is logical, but we all know how far logic and reason go down at City Hall.

Second, as it stands, the SF Unified School District can't even get the current program right - 12,000 eligible students weren't getting passes they were entitled to, because of bureaucratic bullsh*t.

Third, all Muni owner/riders are entitled to an affordable system - it was the reason the system was created in the first place. Muni has steadfastly refused to consider funding proposals that would eliminate subsidies for auto drivers, stable, long term sources of revenue, and relies on gimmick funding (i.e. parking tickets) as a "solution." Heck, the head of the SFMTA Board was more interested in parking permits for wealthy parents' nannies than ever challenging the status quo (gotta love suburban politics in SF). Why didn't Campos and his crew ever stand up for a better funding for Muni so this whole "issue" wouldn't be a problem.

Oh, right. That's hard work and no chance to make bombastic speeches at public comment time. I forgot, working on detailed problems to solve them doesn't make for good junk mail or headlines.

Instead of engaging in the politics of division, and enhance the downward spiral of Muni, how about using a little capitalism of sorts, and do a good deed for everyone involved? (I proposed a modified version of this to progressive who supported that "youth fare" for 18-25 year olds - which became 18-21 as they bobbled around - and not one progressive would even let me finish explaining it before they said HELL NO. Oh well).

Continue reading "Why The Plan for Free Muni for Low Income Kids is A Bad Idea - But Not For the Reason You Think" »

February 10, 2011

Hooray! We're Number.....6? ORLY?

Earlier today I spoke with Mike Sugerman of KPIX News for a report this evening about a recent "list" posted by US News and World Report that ranked various transit agencies and apparently San Francsico came in 6th. Apparently this is a reason to celebrate! USA USA! We're Number Six!

As I indicated to Mr. Sugerman, however, if you do any ranking of major agencies, Muni and SF will always rank in the top 10-ish no matter what, simply because of the sheer number of people who ride it every day. The US News rankings, however were a bit odd - Portland ranked higher than SF, but serves fewer people in a far less dense area, for example. They also compared the speed of BART to DC Metro - but that doesn't account for the fact that BART has so many far-flung suburban stations with low ridership - whereas DC Metro, despite IT'S problems, does a better job of serving the Greater DC area than BART does in some regards. And, if you compare things like "operating cost per mile," well, Muni ranks VERY high in that regard.

I think it's more important to rank Muni in terms of how it's actually serving the owner/riders of San Francisco, which by any measure, has been a mish-mash of stitched together budget games, and has chosen to ignore the $3 million Transit Effectiveness Project (except when to justify cuts). The TEP provided a blueprint to build a system - it was up to the SF MTA Board and the politicians at city hall to find a way to pay for it. But when you have an MTA Chair like Tom Nolan who says "family trumps a transit first policy" (if by family you mean a handful of wealthy people whose nannies can't use Muni because it's not working right), you can't really expect the bumbling politicians to do any better.

January 19, 2011

Thanks, Scoutmob for Promoting Our Proposed Ride on Muni with Mayor Lee!

SM_email_logo(SF).pngThis week I had a unique opportunity to promote the blog and our proposed "Ride Muni with Mayor Lee" event with Scoutmob, one of the latest iterations of the "really good deal" websites. This was a chance to reach many people who perhaps haven't already seen the blog, and to promote our idea for pushing Muni issues higher up the agenda for the folks at City Hall.

There's no cash involved in this deal, it's more of a light promo kind of thing, but I figured it was a good idea, and I do like Scoutmob over some of the others. For one, they have deals in all parts of San Francisco, not just the Mission and tourist spots. For another, they've had some amazing deals right here in my part of the neighborhood, including a 50% off coupon at Pacific Catch, and others at Cha Cha Cha, Social Brewery, and more. And, unlike other such sites, I'm not getting daily emails about spa treatments and nail salon deals.

So, if you're already a Scoutmob person, note our spot in the daily newsletter this week. If you've not already checked out Scoutmob, please do so. They have apps for all the major smartphones, but even if you don't have a smartphone, you can still use the site's deals!

Anyway, check it out, and if this ride with Mayor Lee thing works out, maybe we should do it with all the candidates for mayor in 2011, or perhaps the new Supervisors. Could be a fun ongoing feature!

January 14, 2011

Is It Possible to Have a Rational Conversation about Parking, Muni's Budget, and Transit Policy in SF? Signs Point to "NO" (Part 1)

Is it possible to have a rational discussion on parking, Muni's budget, and public safety in the City That Knows How?

Judging by the latest demagoguery via the politicians, their allies in the press, etc. I'm thinking "no." Instead, people use bits and pieces of fact and fiction to fan the flames of rage and prejudice to accomplish their own narrow goals. Meanwhile, getting something of substance of done, such as a rational policy that works for the City, is lost by the wayside.

Let's take on the hot topic this week: The Parking Tickets Are Too Damn High. In a PR blunder worthy of Enron, the MTA basically stated that to make more "money" for the agency, they would need to get more revenue from parking tickets. WTF?

Now, that's not quite what the agency said (although it was close) , but that didn't stop certain well-paid columnists from fanning the flames of screaming Gate commenters and screaming ex-politicians to revive the "Muni sucks and drivers are being picked on" meme. And today we have a mayoral candidate fanning the flames some more with a bullshit "petition" with more misinformation, all to get votes and look popular with the voters. Meanwhile this choose-up-sider rhetoric creates a false "us vs. them" conflict that ensures rational discussions cannot be had.

So, let's inject a dose of rational, calm, reality about all this. I'm sure the politicians and their PR people won't go for this, and dead-tree media allies won't listen, but at least it will be out there on The Google in case anyone's reading.

First off, as I have said over and over and over and over, and over again, relying on parking ticket fines for a primary income source is wrong, morally and fiscally. They are to be used to punish bad behavior (or worse dangerous behavior) and regulate the use of public space for the common good and move traffic along. THAT IS ALL.

Trying to make up the enormous hole in Muni's revenue caused by years of looting by Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Democratic legislature, as well as Ex Mayor Newsom's looting via phony "work orders" will not be made up with parking tickets. That's like fishing for change in the couch cushions to make up for the fact 30% of your income was stolen from you by a thief.

It is simply not a stable source of "revenue" that can be relied on, year to year. Just this last year we've seen a drop in citations, in part because parking control officers had to be redirected to other duties for things like Giants games (and celebrations! yay!), and we had to stop hiring so many people because of budget woes.

More to the point, as you raise tickets to punishing levels, people will get the message, and behave properly, thus not getting a ticket. Thus, the original intent of said tickets, correcting bad behavior, has won out. That should be considered a victory by everyone since it means people are obeying the law. This is especially important if illegal parking is blocking cars and Muni, making sidewalks impassable for seniors and the disabled, blocking fire hydrants, and so on.

Let's not forget that the MTA has been working on some ways to improve parking meters, making it easier for people to pay upfront, and manage parking based on actual demand (which in many ways might end up with people paying less during certain times). Again, this is common sense. Better to simply collect what's owed, and allow people to obey the law and pay their fare share. Right?

Otherwise, you end up with a bizarre system where the MTA has an incentive to punish people vs. persuing common sense, and doing so through the criminal justice system. By the logic of "parking as revenue," I suppose we should simply red-stripe the entire city, and have people play a game of cat and mouse with the DPT, artfully dodging tickets or getting nailed with a $500 ticket for a meter that's expired for five minutes.

However, the people you need to blame for this state of affairs isn't at the MTA - it's the last 15 years worth of politicians who have encouraged this type of policy behind closed doors because they don't want to pay for Muni via taxes.

This way, they can play Santa Claus and make it seem like there aren't as many taxes in San Francisco as there are - they just call 'em fines and fees. It's dishonest - but it also makes voters feel good too.

Meanwhile, finding a stable, honest funding mechanism that makes us less dependent on Sacramento's BS is out the window, and the politicians can run away when they get elected to higher office. I've no sympathy for scofflaws who flout the parking rules, and they do need to be punished.

Relying on a decreasing number of scofflaws, however leads to this kind of destructive cycle that serves no one well. We need a fully funded MTA and Muni that is running efficiently and sans foolish spending, but we also need to ensure it has the money to do the job in the first place.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow

January 13, 2011

Guest Blogger Roundup: What Would YOU Ask Mayor Ed Lee?

Mayor Ed Lee is in fact an interim Mayor until a new one is elected in November 2011. This we all know.

However, it's not like Muni and the MTA are in a holding pattern - things are happening RIGHT NOW that affect your commute and your daily life. Is this the time to allow Muni and the MTA to act on behalf of the few, the bureaucrats and the do nothings?

NO!

That's where you come in. Next week I want to feature short, snappy posts from you, the owner/riders of Muni in addition to the day-to-day posting we have here at the N Judah Chronicles to ask Mayor Lee (whom we've already asked to ride Muni with us!) answers to the questions that vex the Muni Owner/Rider. This isn't the province of the "gotcha" question - instead this is a chance to see what will happen in the next year, and influence whomever becomes the next Mayor after the election in 2011.

So, it's on you, my fellow Muni owner/riders! I'll have my own questions, to be sure, but for now, let's ask Mayor Lee when he'll be riding Muni with us, and what he wants to do to make Muni better NOW!

January 12, 2011

If You'd Like To Improve Boarding on the N at Carl and Cole, Write the SFMTA

A while back, the MTA announced some proposed improvments at Carl and Cole to improve pedestrian safety and speed up boarding. This is one of those issues I've been following, but not writing about because towards the end of last year Things That Have Nothing To Do With Blogging began to get in the way of me posting things in a timely manner, which for me is very frustrating. (Not being paid full time to do this has its drawbacks.)

Fortunately, Streetsblog SF was on the case, and reports that after some tinkering to alleviate neighbor concerns, a plan is to be voted on next Tuesday by the MTA Board. If you take a look at the proposal, there's nothing radical about it, and it would help safety and improve boarding times at one of the busier stops (inbound and outbound).

Yes, a few parking spots will be lost. But let's be realistic - losing 3 spots is not going to end anyone's business - this is already an area with very little parking to begin with. It is foolish to think that every single patron of every business is driving, parking a block from the business area, and patronizing the businesses. Just the patrons of the Kezar Bar and Restaurant would take up all the parking, and there'd be spillover all over the place. And yet, despite these and other realities, there's a few busybodies who would rather endanger others and decrease efficiency for the entire line, based on nothing more than rhetoric and "beliefs."

I wouldn't be behind this if after all the research and reading I've done I thought it would do nothing, or worse, be something that would damage a neighborhood I very much like and whose businesses I patronize and damage the N as a whole. That's why I urge folks to email the MTA board, and ask them to try and do the right thing in this case, and continue the ongoing commitment to safety for pedestrians and owner/riders on the N, as they have done on Irving St.

January 11, 2011

An Open Invitation To Mayor Ed Lee: Let's Take A Ride on Muni! (UPDATED)

January 11, 2011

Mayor Ed Lee
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 200
San Francisco, CA 94102

Dear Mayor Lee:

Congratulations on becoming the new Mayor of San Francisco! You bring decades of public service and hard work on behalf of the people of San Francisco to office, and although the challenges the City faces in 2011 are difficult, I am sure that as many have said on your behalf, you'll work to do what's best for all of San Francisco.

Muni and the SFMTA aren't just political footballs to be kicked around, the way some have done in the past. Instead, it is a transit system and agency that was established with the unique prospect that transit agencies should be run on behalf of those that own it - in this case the people of San Francisco. Thus, Muni's unique in that it has literally hundreds of thousands of "owners" who ride the system daily.

Running a system for such a diverse group of owners isn't easy - but it is also a necessity. It is also an agency with severe, systemic problems that can't be solved overnight.

Therefore, I am extending an invitation to you, as our new Mayor, to carve some time out of your busy schedule to come ride the N-Judah with myself and other transit/urban life bloggers.

However, while we'd be honored with the privilege of speaking with you, I would prefer most of all that you ride with and listen to the people of San Francisco who rely on Muni to go to work, attend school, take care of their families, and enjoy living in the greatest city in America.

I think if we spent some quality time up and down the line, you'd get a chance to hear people's stories about Muni's successes, its failures, and the hope in all of Muni's owner/riders that City Hall can put aside politics and make a functional Muni something everyone can be proud of. Who knows? Perhaps if this works out, we could have a "Mayor on Muni" in other parts of San Francisco too!

Sincerely,

Greg Dewar
The N Judah Chronicles

PS: I noticed this afternoon you've invited China's President, Hu Jintao, for a visit to San Francisco sometime this year. May I humbly suggest that perhaps all of us- you, me, the President, and assorted friends of a great transit system all take a ride together, if possible? It would be a way to showcase the many diverse neighborhoods that the N-Judah line serves, and a chance to showcase our city to the world in a way that's never been done before.

As always, email me and let me know. Thanks!

What REALLY Happened At Yesterday's Hearing at the Board of Supervisors

You can read the Chronicle's account of what happened at yesterday's City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee of the Board of Supervisors, but you won't really hear what actually happened there. Yes, you get the party line from Muni management, in particular John Haley, the Director of Transit. You can watch the spectacle online at SFGOVTV.org

What you didn't hear about, however, was the fact that said Director of Transit not only was poorly prepared for the hearing, he often refused to even bother to answer questions of the two supervisors on the committee, Supervisor Carmen Chu (also comittee chair) and Supervisor John Avalos. Several times during the hearing, one or both would have to call BS and demand, more than once that their questions actually be answered.

Also, another typical Muni tactic was employed during the "presentation" - the use of stale facts to reinforce their facade that "everything is ok." In this case, they used only a few months of data from September-December 2010 to somehow gloss over the fact that a) short turns are a problem and b) we've had a ton of meetings and a lot of promises about this problem that Muni has failed keep, and led to this hearing in the first place! Another tactic: using only SF311 calls to count complaints, essentially saying to anyone who used any one of a number of ways to contact Muni (via a Supervsior, etc) "we're stacking the deck against you." Fail, fail fail. And on it went.

Overall, though, what I came away with after sitting through this hearing was a distinct lack of faith in Muni's management. It's very clear that their so-called "policy" of not short turning trains only when there's a train five minutes behind is just words on paper - anyone dumped off late at night who has to walk to La Playa from 19th Avenue knows that. But when even a Supervisor can't get an answer out of Muni management, how the heck can we, as the mere owners of Muni, expect any respect?

However, the meeting also had some highlights, too. For one, we saw what it's like when Supervisors aren't passing useless "non binding resolutions" and headline grabbing BS, and instead working for the good of the City. Supervisor Chu, in particular, deserves praise for staying on top of this issue and not just letting it slip by after past bogus meetings. Supervisor John Avalos also deserves some praise for being ready to get in Muni's face about their promises, their lack of responsiveness and making a basic point - we can't expect people to use a transit system that's unreliable, and then turn around and start talking about things like congestion pricing that would essentially discriminate against those in the west and southwest of the city. Sitting in the audience, I realized THIS is what it's like when City govenrment represents the people for a change, and it sure felt good.

It was also nice to see some members of the public speak out too, many of whom read the blog, and all of whom used a variant of the term "owner/rider" in their comments. I finally got to meet my twitter friend Katie, who gave a concise and eloquent account of the effect short turns have on the disabled. In a bitter, ironic twist, she was short turned at West Portal on the way home from work later that evening. No, really.

Going forward, I think there's a few things we can do to try and keep this issue on the minds of the well-paid folks at Muni management. One is to flood 311 and every email inbox we can find for Muni and the Supervisors and the Mayor every single time this happens. The other is to start asking our new Mayor to consider cleaning house at Muni. We have already passed a difficult proposition that will, over time, bring some sanity to work rules and the like. Now it is time to take a hard look at the well paid management, in particular, Mr. Ford, and evaluate if we're getting value for the money we're spending up there.

No one "hearing" can solve anything, but it's good to know that Sup. Chu will be keeping this issue alive as we go forward in 2011, with a new Mayor, a new Board, and the potential for another new Mayor this fall.

January 6, 2011

UPDATED: Supervisor Carmen Chu to Hold Hearing on Unannounced Turnarounds on the N-Judah and L-Taraval Lines Monday, Jan. 10th!

Yes, you read that right. Supervisor Carmen Chu is holding a hearing as chair of the Board's City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee to ask the perennial question all riders of the N-Judah and the L-Taraval ask - why the frak does Muni insist on dumping people out at 19th Avenue outbound with no prior warning?

The hearing will be held on Monday, January 10th at 10:30am in Room 250 in City Hall. Because it's during working hours, many people are likely to not be able to attend (I will try but I may have a conference call for work at the same time). Naturally, SFMTA boss Nathaniel Ford won't be there, but John Haley, Director of Transit, will be, to listen and get a talking to from the supervisors.

Now, let's be clear, this issue has been talked about for a long time, and so far, every time we get the MTA bosses to make promises, and nothing happens. For fun shall we review a few past posts?

2007: Reader Mail from Eve Batey (then of the Chronicle, now of the SF Appeal) , Reader Mail from N Rider Jeff, Follow Up to Jeff's Complaint, How a Bad N Judah Line Hurts the Poor, Yet Another Reader Mail complaint, Big Promises Made to Assemblymember Fiona Ma and the Sunset District Neighborhood Coalition (via Reader Mail), More Big Promises Broadcast In the Press

2008: After All Those Promises of Firings, The Turnarounds Continue, And Continue

2009: Reader Warren's Complaints about the Same Operator Doing Turnarounds

You get the idea. This doesn't even include the bazillions of Tweets made by frustrated commuters over the years.

Now, telling tales of how this kind of unreliability is a royal pain in the ass is important, so that perhaps someone at the MTA or Muni might have a Grinch-like heart-growing experience and decide to do something for a change. It goes almost without saying how traumatic this kind of unreliability is for seniors or the disabled living on the west side - but let's face it everyone relying on Muni on the westside is screwed in one way or another and it's unacceptable, period.

Just as important, however, is demanding very specific dates and promises of what will be done to fix the problem once and for all, and what the MTA and Muni need to do so.

Recall that in 2006 at a town hall meeting, Nathaniel Ford made promises to fix the 9th/Irving & 9th/Judah signaling problems that were endangering people. Soon afterward, in 2007, the MTA quietly backed off their promises. It wasn't until a woman had her legs cut off by a train in 2008 that the SFCTA stepped in to pick up the slack and build a system to try and prevent this.

Because the timing of this meeting means you may not be able to attend, I would urge you to please email Supervisor Chu (and CC your own supervisor if you don't live in District 4 since these kinds of FAILs can affect people on all Metro lines) and describe in brief how these turnarounds affect you, and demand that the MTA commit to producing an action plan with specifics. You should also CC your comments to the SFMTA, and/or hit them on Twitter at @sfmta_muni now, and every time they screw up, in the hopes they might one day listen.

There's no magical solution to all of this, but it's time the MTA and Muni be told what to do by the owner/riders, and demand specifics as to what they will do (not plan to do) to fix them. We've talked too much about this already - playtime is over, it's a new year, and it's time to do something.

January 1, 2011

Muni 2011: Same Old, Same Old, Or A New Hope?

Let's face facts, 2010 sucked. Well not completely, because the Giants won the World Series, and a few other good things, but overall things kinda sucked. The economy continued to suck. San Francisco's carnival of lost souls known at City Hall continued to suck. And Muni? Do I even have to go there?

Despite that, I actually have a small bit of hope that things might not be as bad as they could be. Small, minuscule, nano-sized hope, but hope nonetheless. But first, a quick review of 2010 is in order.

Three things characterized Muni's ongoing drama this year: the cynical manipulations of a so=called "Green Clean" Mayor (and the overpaid leadership known as Nathaniel Ford), the ongoing fetish of Soon To Be Ex-Governor "Climate Change" Schwarzenegger and his Democrat allies to defund all transit with shell games, and the treatment of Muni as a political football by So-Called Progressives.

Re-reading the 2010 archives, it's clear that all the hype and PR shenanigans about being "green and clean" by Ex Mayor Newsom didn't match up with his policies in San Francisco, especially when it came to living up to that "transit first" thing everyone says.

Continue reading "Muni 2011: Same Old, Same Old, Or A New Hope? " »

December 29, 2010

UPDATED: The Stealth Appointment to the SFMTA Board AKA "Gavin C. Newsom Will You Please Go NOW!"

Student Body President Gavin Newsom is about to ascend to the dubiously useful job of Lt. Governor. And yet, like the guy who graduates from high school yet keeps coming back around visiting the teachers and hitting on the girls still in school, and never quite leaving, ASB President Newsom is doing the same.

He's already planning to extend his term for various reasons relating to the ongoing political shenanigans being engineered by members of the Board of Supervisors about who will be Mayor for a year, etc. However, what no one seems to be talking about is that the Mayor wants to have one last appointment (aka an FU) to the SFMTA board who, while a wonderful human being, isn't really qualified to be on the board. The Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors is set to approve or disapprove of the appointment on Monday, January 3rd.

Newsom's appointee, Leona Bridges is touted as having a background in "finance" and there was endless talk from the PR machine that this is what the MTA "needed." But Ms. Bridges' career, while very impressive, has nothing to do with municipal finance or any experience with the myriad of complex funding sources for the MTA/Muni. More to the point, Muni's financial problems are not simply a matter of shuffling the pennies around better - it's about replacing the huge hole put in its budget by Gov. Schwarzenegger, Gavin C. Newsom, and the Democratic Legislature with a stable, local, fair funding source.

There's no indication that Ms. Bridges has any experience at all with Muni other than riding the 38 (for which she should get some sort of award because the 38 Geary can be a pain in the ass to use sometimes). That's nice, but after waiting 7 months to appoint someone to fill this vacancy, the Mayor could have done better. As always, however, he has shown his contempt for Muni and its owner/riders.

We can only guess at how much ASB President Newsom will want to interfere with City Hall in 2011, since he doesn't plan on moving to Sacramento anytime soon. And like the ASB President who can't seem to get that he's no longer the big dog in charge in highschool, but instead a freshman at the university, Newsom proves once again why at his core, he's just not that ready for the big time.

Go to Sacramento, President Newsom. You wanted the job, and you wanted to leave this one early. You got what you wanted. Now GO, and leave the running of San Francisco to a new class of leaders.

PS: Not a word from any of the so-called transit rider unions, from what I can see in the email box, and not a lot of talk from the so-called "progressives," who are too busy playing games.

This is an opportunity for some of our new members of the Board, particularly those like Mark Farrell, Scott Weiner, and Jane Kim who did very well on the Muni Rider Voter Guide questionnaire, to put the brakes on politics and put Muni owner/riders first.

UPDATE: The PR offensive at the Rules Committee is pretty intense, but the complete sellout by so-called "progressives" is even more intense. Ms. Bridges' testimony showed she really doesn't understand what Muni's financial problems are - we can't audit our way out of all of the mess we're in, and it's clear no one on the Committee or the nominee realized that.. When asked about her position on Prop. G, she said she had "no position" on it, and gave a long winded answer about labor relations. In other words, she's both for it and against it at the same time. Or not. Or something. (David Campos didn't help matters much by misleading the public about the nature of the issue as well, but what "progressives" don't know about Muni could fit in a warehouse or 10).

Score one for President Newsom, and another demerit for so-called "progressives" and the so-called "moderates" who not only capitulated to Newsom one last time, but proved once again that when difficult decisions regarding the running of Muni come up, they simply aren't up to the job. If people like David Campos really lived up to the rhetoric they spouted last year, they'd have recommended a pass.

Instead, they've just shown that they'll always get taken in by well-scripted rhetoric, and don't understand what the true current status of Muni really is, or what it takes to make it work.

December 22, 2010

Yes, Virginia They're Paying $800k For Bus Pass Kiosks. But Wait, There's More!

By now you may have heard that the MTA will be opening up two "kiosks" to sell Muni passes and the like, one at Geary and Masonic, and another downtown. The Chronicle pretty much repeats the main talking points about how "convenient" this will be, while the SF Weekly points out some of the absurdities of spending over 800,000 dollars to build two little kiosks, and rightfully so. I mean, really?

Much of the reason anything costs a lot when a city department contracts out work is due to a myriad of requirements contractors must follow that have little to do with making sure they can do the job, and more to do with some politicians' agendas that sound good in a sound bite later on. And in this case, some of it was due to the fact that the Feds were providing the money, and there are rules on what said money can and cannot be spent on (generally the Feds do not want to fund a day-to-day expense, instead preferring to pay for capital projects instead, and that's a good thing, trust me).

But lost in all of this is one basic fact - it was not long ago that one could by passes in the large, existing facility at Geary and Masonic. I remember buying them not that many years ago, only to be in for a rude surprise when they closed it (ostensibly for "budget cuts") without much warning.

So the question is this: Why build a shiny kiosk when they could just as easily use the existing office they used to sell said passes out of? And why, oh why, does the MTA insist on tacking on a tacky $3 "fee" for people to walk into the office and talk to a person?

That's just crap, and another example of the nickel and diming Muni will do to us owner/riders, and how they won't find real solutions to make up for the huge gaps in funding. Perhaps it's time to put the MTA Board on the "Naughty" list for Santa this year.

December 14, 2010

Is It Possible to Have a Civilized, Intelligent Conversation About Congestion Pricing? Or Are We All Big Jerks?

Between the SF County Transit Authority's mediocre PR of a mere study on a potential way of managing traffic, the inflammatory coverage provided by local media, screaming commenters on various news sites, and a chorus of BS from politicians around the Bay Area, I'm beginning to wonder if it's possible to talk about anything of substance anymore.

So let's get a few things out of the way first about so-called "congestion traffic charges". There is currently no plan for "tolls" in and out of San Francisco. Read that again, Peninsulans. THERE IS NO PLAN BEING VOTED ON BY THE SFCTA NOW TO ENACT "TOLLS" IN AND OUT OF SAN FRANCISCO. Period.

The only thing the SFCTA is doing is looking to study the issue. Which in San Franciscospeak means "study it to death with a million studies, issue lots of grants to consultants, and have no real policy for several years." So calm the f*ck down.

The fact that San Mateo County's "leaders" are already going to Defcon 1 over a mere study says a lot about how easy it is to get into office in Daly City, and how said leaders don't really know much about what they're talking about.

I have suggested in the past that any plan to charge drivers for driving on roads at peak times in San Francisco would be fraught with peril, if for no other reason than trying to implement a plan similar to what has been done in say, London, would be difficult because it would have to be based on certain assumptions about who drives where and when that would inevitably lead to some people getting genuinely, unintentionally, screwed. And if the hysterical reaction by the press and the politicians to the concept of a "study" is any guide, the ensuing cascade of bullsh*t will bury it, whether it's a good idea or not.

Left out of any of this talk is the brutal truth that the Bay Area's transit agencies do not connect very well with each other. Muni, for all its problems, does manage to connect the majority of places within the city to each other, even if that means a long ride or a million transfers.

SamTrans, however does not. If you live in San Francisco and work on the Peninsula (or vice versa) and you are not directly served by a SamTrans line or BART, getting between those two destinations is tough. (The exception being if you can take a Genentech/Google/Yahoo/Bauer bus).

SamTrans is generally looked down upon by San Mateo residents, the system is primarily oriented to shuttling people at rush hour, doesn't have transfers, and you can live in parts of SMC and never see any form of transit (which isn't an accident). SamTrans has also routinely rejected advice from the federal government that would make the system more efficient and serve more people. Try spending a week in the county without a car and you'll start wishing you were on Muni again.

As an example of this disconnect, when I used to work in South San Francisco and was living in SF, the BART station in SSF hadn't been finished yet. The only way to sort of get to work would have been Caltrain, but the stop was across the freeway. Worse, it didn't run late and I often worked long hours. Thus I had no choice but to drive. No amount of financial pain would have "encouraged" me to switch because it wasn't practical.

Also left out of the discussion is the fact that Caltrain is being de-funded as we speak, with the leader in said defunding being…San Mateo County, which started to withhold money from the system. Add in the standard "state stole money over the past several years from all transit agencies" disclaimer, and you start to realize that having only the "stick" of a congestion pricing scheme without the "carrot" of a functioning regional transit system won't work.

It would be nice to think with so many smart people, and so many billionaires living around here, we could come up with a smart way to deal with these problems. Given the fact we're about to give away the waterfront to a billionaire, we have city "leaders" up and down the Peninsula doing their best to compromise transportation (as they did in the 60s blocking BART), and so on, I'm not awaiting any brilliance from anyone, anytime soon.

UPDATE: Here's an example from CBS Radio of the kind of dishonest reporting on this issue. The SFCTA did not "vote down" a toll plan on the southern border, because THERE WAS NO PLAN TO BEGIN WITH. All they did was vote down studying that specific idea - the SFCTA will continue to studystudystudy the idea, but there's no real plan to actually implement ANYTHING now, and likely will never be for many years. Even if such an idea got to the policy stage, it'd have to be voted on and get a 2/3rds vote as it's likely to be considered a "fee."

Once again the dishonest reporting leads to hysterical reactions that reinforce stereotypes, and an honest discussion about traffic, transit and regional challenges is lost to the screamers and the fools that republish said screaming.

UPDATE 2: Possibly the most misleading story yet comes from the Mercury News, which is so full of half truths and basically acts as a PR sheet for ambitious politicians in a term limited world. I find it fascinating people actually get paid to write this kind of nonsense.

December 12, 2010

O RLY? The Annual Promise to Keep the N From Stopping at 19th And Turning Around...

One of the emptiest promises Muni management and San Francisco politicians can make to those who ride the N-Judah is the golden one known as "we'll finally stop those trains from dumping everyone at 19th and turn around."

This week the Muni PR machine was in full spin mode, with a "report" (because after all, paying someone big cash to write a "report" solves all problems) that Something Would be Done About It. You can read coverage at the SF Weekly, the Examiner, and a short rundown at our nieghbor blog Ocean Beach Bulletin.

Now, to be fair, they're not really promising it will stop doing this, they instead claim they'll tell you in advance (ha!) an advise you of "other buses" you can take if your N dumps you at 19th and you live in the Outer Sunset. In other words, doing what a normal, professionally run agency would have done (aside from that whole "do the job you're paid to do" thing in the first place).

Let's not forget that we hear these promises all the time. This is one of the most common complaints, and you can do a quick search of the archives and find Reader Mail detailing said problems for years, and likewise the empty promises and press conferences that sound wonderful, but do nothing.

I also have to wonder what "buses" one would take to get to Judah and La Playa after being dumped at 19th? Anyone? Worse, how does that work out for those that need disabled access, or for seniors? As usual, the bean counters and bigwigs at Muni have no idea how much of a problem this causes, because they simply do not ride Muni on a regular basis.

As always, just like the Newsom/Chiu Big Committee on Muni, these fools at City Hall and at Muni miss the point. You can make all the promises you like, but if you simply don't pay for the maintenance needed to keep the fleet running, have a labor force that's dependable and ready to work every day, and keep on raiding the Muni budget at the local level (not to mention state cuts), inevitably you simply do not have the fleet needed to serve Muni's' owner/riders at the level needed to serve the public that pays for the service.

The N's performance has been slipping as of late to begin with, but this "news" isn't really news to people who rely on Muni to get around town. The real news is that once again the media is taken in by this PR nonsense, and can't even read their own archives to be a little more skeptical of Muni's promises.

October 29, 2010

The Muni Subway System Is Failing Every Week. Who Do You Have to FIRE To Get This Fixed?

It's a well known fact that for every week for the last few weeks, Muni's owner/riders have experienced unbelieveable delays due to the fact the ancient computer running the system has failed. It's happening so often at this point, the only thing you can rely on is that there will be a big ol' failure - you just don't know when.

Now, we have a very well paid CEO, who makes more money than a Supreme Court Justice, and who is supposedly in charge of the MTA and Muni. Given that this system is failing so regularly, you think this dynamic CEO would use all the power he has to un-frak this situation, especially when there's the World Series going on. Instead, Ford and his upper management pals on the MTA board were conspiring to take away free game day tickets intended for front-line Muni workers to keep for himself. What, he can't afford a ticket of his own with that big salary of his? Classy.

At this point, you'd think more people at the MTA board, or even the Board of Supervisors would be hoppin' mad at this and be demanding that an action plan be made a priority to stop talking and start doing something about this. Instead we have our supervisors out of the loop, composing lots of lofty non-binding resolutions, and our downtown gang likewise silent on the issue (you think they would since the fails are DOWNTOWN).

What is the point of paying these big salaries to all these people up and down the pay scale at Muni if they're not going to even tackle basic problems like this? It's not like this is a sudden event - this problem has been going on for years. It's been talked to death, like many problems at Muni. Meanwhile we continue to find money for useless projects.

Seriously, though. Who has to get fired for us to get something moving around here? Clearly the current regime at the MTA Board and Nathaniel Ford aren't doing the job. They are doing a great job of driving down morale and mismanaging the agency at a time when we can't waste our pennies, much less our dollars.

October 28, 2010

Quick Reminder: If You Haven't Voted Yet, Try the Muni Rider Voter Guide and Remember This...

It's the end of the election cycle so work has me in Spreadsheet Hell most of the day. However, I wanted to post a quick reminder about the Muni Rider Voter Guide. If you haven't already voted, consider checking it out to see where the candidates stand on the issues, and which candidates never bothered to respond (most D10 candidates and a certain top candidate in District 2).

Also, as we now are experiencing a weekly shutdown of the subway control system, when you go to vote ask yourself this: Which candidates are likely to be the ones that think this is a problem and will try and do something about it, and which would be more likely to talk around the issue, and be more concerned with endless "non binding resolutions" that have nothing to do with the problems we're actually needing some help with.

Go Giants!

October 24, 2010

How Do You Know When the TWU Is Lying? They Send You A Piece of Political Junk Mail

bsflayertwu.jpgI've been busy lately with Other Things Besides Blogs, and frankly, watching the sheer amount of lying and acrimony going on this election season has been truly depressing to follow.

But even in San Francisco, the bastion of the hyperbolic junk mailer, the campaign put out by the Transport Workers Union Local 250 A and their well funded union allies (locally and national), have set a new standard for campaign bullsh*t. It's mostly "the management sucks " and "ooh poor us stop picking on us." Completely full of sh*t and devoid of facts, but that sells in SF.

It's not unexpected. There's no way that TWU, and their big money pals would let a simple reform to (gasp!) have TWU collectively bargain just like every other union in the public and private sector be changed. Nor would they allow for Muni's owner/riders to demand that work rules function to keep Muni safe for workers AND cost efficient as well so services don't get cut

Let's review the history of the folks sending you this crap in the mail and see how much we can trust them and anything they say:

-TWU is the union that defended the worst drivers in the system, and went to court to try and prevent the press from exposing these folks' bad behavior, including Muni's worst.

-TWU is the union, in concert with its allies at the San Francisco Labor Council, forced major concessions on the 2007 Prop. A measure (ensuring it would not perform as advertised), then a year later, reneged on even the few changes they agreed to at the time, threatening labor actions that would delay Muni owner/riders. Wow, classy. Force a compromise, then backtrack on the deal a year later? Who's the bully now?

It gets better- the political consultant who worked to pass the weakened Prop. A is also the consultant working to defeat Prop. G - Stearns Consulting. Wow.

-TWU Local 200, not to be outdone, stuck it to riders with a sickout because they didn't get their pay raises sooner than already planned also during the campaign for 2007's Prop. A.

Remember, Prop. A was gutted on behalf of powerful union leaders. See a pattern here? "Compromise" with labr ends up being "Do as we demand, and we'll stick it to you anyway." Such "victims."

-When TWU's bosses ordered an illegal labor action shutting down a morning commute last year, your humble Muni blogger dared stick up for Muni's owner/riders. In response, one of the more eloquent members of TWU told us off, saying "get a damn car." Clas-SEE. More contempt for the Muni Owner/Riders.

-TWU is the union that consistently thinks its job is to back the few bad drivers - not the majority who are good. WTF?

Don't reward the good guys and gals with merit pay or bonuses for outstanding rider service - backing the bad ones is SOP at the TWU. When a Muni operator used the PA system to berate a Muni rider (a SUPERVISOR no less), not only did TWU back the driver when said rider filed a complaint, they endorsed his opponent in the campaign for daring to file a complaint. Wow.

-TWU is the union that refused not once, but twice voted against mild, one time only concessions (not affecting their guaranteed pay bump), while every other city union, including those representing the lowest paid workers in SF, did so to save city services in a crisis.

Even other unions at Muni didn't get this, and instead, watched as TWU collected its pay increase. That's gotta hurt if you're a social worker or a janitor or one of the folks laid off at Muni in charge of washing buses.

-TWU is the union that ordered its operators to pull out of the 50 year old Cable Car Bell Ringing contest, ruining a tradition loved by locals and tourists. There's no other way to interpret the message they are sending to the Muni owner/riders except "F*ck You!" (as my friend at the SF Weekly points out.) This is the way you win friends in an election year?

-When Muni made a mild service restoration earlier this year, it was none other than the TWU leadership who stoop up against restoring the service cuts. That's right, TWU was actively fighting for Muni cuts. Remember this when you get some piece of dishonest junk mail laden with bullsh*t claiming that the TWU is pro-owner/rider from Stearns Consulting.

(BTW, read in the linked memo about how they no longer honor "Operator of the Month" - another sign they just can't bring themselves to celebrate good operators.)

-TWU is the union leadership that engaged in illegal campaigning on City Property, in defiance of every legal opinion and law out there on this issue. They had to stoop to illegal campaigning to get your vote. For shame.

Need I go on? I think you get the picture - you simply cannot trust the slick mailers Stearns Consulting and the TWU laders are pumping out. They don't give a damn about you, they don't give a damn about the majority of good operators, and they don't give a damn about Muni.

They are in this for their own self interests. They have a record of not keeping their word, not being truthful and using the San Francisco Labor Council to bully anyone who suggests the radical notion that Muni owner/riders' interests be put first, and that the function of a transit agency is to provide safe, reliable transit - and not be simply an entitlement program.

Since the main arguments against Prop. G tend to be vague, hysterical BS about how this "hurts" Muni operators and service, and crybaby rhetoric, let's review some actual facts. I realize for TWU leadership this is considered "racist" or "anti worker" but I think by now we realize just how honest these folks are.

First, do recall that I was originally very much against this measure. I even called Sup. Elsbernd some unfortunate names at the time, because I hadn't done my homework and was suspect of its goals. You can find many times when I've said that "driver pay" is not the only reason that Muni has troubles. Excessive overtime pay and the "pay me not to work" nonsense, however is ONE reason it has problems.

Then I did far more research that most journalists in this town on Muni, labor policies, labor law, and the like for the Muni Death Spiral, and after all that work, I, as an anti-G person, changed my mind, and decided it was a difficult, but necessary fix. It is, however, one of many that need to happen, either at the MTA or the ballot box.

Second, let's be clear-there is nothing in this measure that says operator pay will go down (despite what the Bay Citizen says). No one likes me to say this, but operator pay under collective bargaining could just easily go up if in the end Muni gets a better handle on the excessive overtime that is killing the system. Even more important, you get rid of the "pay me not to work" rule that screws over riders AND operators and the savings literally roll in.

In fact, we could easily have a system where we have our best operators, who are out there kicking ass on behalf of the public, to get a bonus for being awesome. Yes, it can happen. So don't believe this "victimization" stuff TWU's putting out - it's just not true.

Third, many people are using a straw man argument that since this measure does not address EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM with Muni, we can't approve it. Bullsh*t. There is no doubt amongst anyone with any clue about Muni that there are many Big Problems that need to be fixed, and any reader of this blog or its archives know I've been the one sounding the alarm on 'em: Bloated management. State raids on local funds. State raids on the state transit budget. Raids by other departments on Muni's budget locally. No stable revenues to replace said raids. Lost fares. Lost parking meter fees. Crime on Muni. Aging technology. And so on.

Just because this measure only deals with one aspect does not make it invalid. More importantly, so-called "progressives" kept claiming they had some Super Duper Fix Muni Everywhere measure that would Solve Everything.

After being talked and talked and talked about with endless Supervisors posturing on the issue, guess what happened?

Sup. David Chiu tossed it in the dustbin of history, part of a bargain with Mayor Newsom. Whom we all know to be oh-so-pro-Muni. And honest.

So to summarize: Progressives had a chance to do something about Muni. Progressives could have even worked with Sup. Elsbernd to make a plan that would have universal support (like we had for the Hospital Bond in 2008). Progressives instead fumbled the ball, and chose back room deals, which have produced…nothing.

Finally, let me say this: After over 5 years of following Muni as a citizen/owner/rider, I have to say that this fall we have to assert ourselves as the True Owners of Muni, and remind everyone from the Mayor to the MTA to Muni to all those who work for Muni, that we are the owners of Muni and it is their job to work for us.

We are more than happy to reward professionals with great pay and benefits, if that means we also have a workforce that is helping us make this the best transit system in the country.

We are not, however, an endless supply of free money, and we will not see our system run into the ground for the sake of a few union leaders who clearly do not understand who they really work for.

October 7, 2010

Were You Affected by Today's Muni Power Outage Downtown?

I knew SOMETHING was up today when suddenly Irving Street didn't have the usual rhythm of Muni train traffic it does during the day. Then the Twitter was abuzz with reports, first of a "medical emergency," later corrected to a temporary power outage at Muni's Central Control, effectively shutting down all downtown trains.

Fortunately, it was fixed quickly, but the residual delays will be with us for awhile. Were you stuck downtown? What was your experience with the delays today?

September 28, 2010

UPDATED: WTF? Details, Please: TWU Told Cable Car Operators NOT To Participate in 48th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest???

Aside from this tweet from KCBS News Radio, alerting us that apparently the TWU leadership told cable car operators to not participate in today's Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest, a tradition that dates back almost 50 years.

I'm trying to find out more information aside from this tweet, but I'm coming up with nothing and I don't have time to take Muni down to Union Square. So any links would be appreciated.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised anymore by the brain-dead antics of TWU's leadership, which not only make them look foolish, they are hurting their members with their poor ability to lead. At this rate, if Prop. G doesn't pass in a mega-super landslide and ONLY a landslide, I'll be surprised.

UPDATE: Here's Barbara Taylor's report, and what's interesting is that the people not participating said that the union bosses told them not to, but when asked, the union bosses claimed they had nothing to do with it.

One of these statements is true, one is not. How are we to find out which is which?

This ruined a nice, fun thing, that was free of politics and the usual craziness associated with Muni. And now the TWU leadership decided if they don't get to dictate terms to Muni's owners (you) and get everything they want at the expense of service, they're going to throw a tantrum. FAIL.

September 24, 2010

A Suggestion for N Judah Riders Returning From Downtown Today

It's a warm sunny day! It's going to be great weather this weekend! Annnnnnd.....it's also Critical Mass Day today. Um....whaa?

We all knew this was coming. There's no need to re-hash the monthly "Critical Mass: Evil or Not?" diatribes. Putting aside that, there's a real logistical problem for anyone who's downtown (or transferring from BART downtown to Muni) - the surface routes are more or less screwed, thus sending more people underground. It's also not a state secret that despite the demand for N-Judah service, Muni insists on running many empty J Church trains, and half-empty KLMs while N Judah riders are stuck waiting forever for super-crowded trains. (And, for fun, Muni loves to kick everyone out at 19th. ARGH!)

So, what to do if you're a westside person who tries to rely on the N to go home, and woudl especially like to not spend hours in the station waiting for Ns that will never show up?

There are a few options, but it depends on where you live. If you live in the Inner Sunset or thereabouts, you can always take one of the many KLM trains to Forest Hill, then get out and transfer to a 44, a 43, etc. If you live in the Outer Sunset, however, this isn't as much of an option. Likewise if you're going to the Inner or Outer Richmond, it too gets to be a bit much.

I'd be curious to hear what folks out there might suggest. Of course, if your time permits, you could stick around downtown, find a place to enjoy a (beer/coffee/tea/lemonade/water/whatever) and just let the madness pass by until your favorite street-based Muni line is free, but not everyone has that option.

As for me, this is one of the very few times I'm glad I work at home on Fridays. There are few upsides to working at home these days, but I take the few I can get!

September 22, 2010

What's Up With the Muni Rider Voter Guide?

Muni_Avatar-1.gifOur deadline has long since passed, and so now I thought I'd take a moment to re-introduce you to the Muni Rider Voter Guide I've been working on since August. It's been an interesting experience, to say the least, being the one giving out the questionnaires instead of being one of the people assigned to help answer them.

Based on that (often painful) experience, the idea was to make something simple that would allow candidates to talk about Muni openly, and not have to worry about trying to make the answers fit in order to get some endorsement. Instead, candidates were asked a short list of questions that try to find out how they use Muni (if at all), and get a better idea of how they see things, so you, the voters, could pick out candidates you think might have something useful to do if elected.

This was also a practice run for 2011, when we'll have a very open Mayoral campaign, and will have a chance to elect someone who might actually think their job is to make Muni better, not take a sledgehammer to it, or steal from it. In the process I've learned a few things:

- Because we were not offering an endorsement, some candidates took the questionnaire less seriously than others. I can understand that (given that they're under a pile of literally dozens of these things) but one thing we asked candidates to do if they didn't want to participate was to simply email in and say so, rather than ignoring it.

It was especially disappointing to see so many candidates in District 10 not participate - this being a district that will see many changes in the next 4 years and will have continued issues with Muni service as a new neighborhood is literally built out there.

That said, most candidates participated and got their work on time (even if I coudln't post them right away!) and we should note that Jim Meko was the first candidate to return one to us, and he is now the winner of a Pre-December 2009 Muni map, sans cuts. (And a shout out to Judson True, formerly of the SFMTA for being so kind as to get us a stash of these last Christmas. Yay Judson!)

- We gave people too much time to answer six simple questions. Instead, we should have instead given people maybe 2 weeks tops to return it, instead of almost a month. If nothing else it would have been easier to manage the flow of returned questionnaires.

- Generally people seemed to like the questionnaire format, as it avoided the "when did you stop beating your dog" variety, or the questions that ask about arcane pieces of information at the expense of a real discussion of the issues. At their recent endorsement meeting, Rescue Muni used copies of our questionnaire to discuss amongst themselves as they met with candidates. Yay Rescue Muni!

Finally, one last word about how I came up with these questions. With the assistance of local bloggers Matt Baume and Jamison Wieser, the idea as said earlier was to get a better sense of how candidates perceive Muni and its problems, and what they think their role is. Overall I have to say the great majority of people answering these provided honest, thoughtful answers, and it's clear voters have some distinct choices in districts around the City.

In particular, to lighten the mood, each candidate was asked to tell a funny or interesting story about their experiences with Muni. I found the responses to these questions to be incredibly diverse, and incredibly revealing about each candidate and what they're all about. Go check out the responses for yourself, and if you have suggestions for how to improve or add to the Muni Rider Voter Guide for the Mayoral campaign in 2011, feel free to email me with your ideas.

September 16, 2010

Tomorrow is International Park(ing) Day! (Updated with More Events!)

pd_logo.pngTomorrow marks yet another International Park(ing) Day, whereby people around the world legally pay for parking spaces on city streets, and turn them into parks and whatnot that people can enjoy.

It's the bane of the Gate commenter types and the elite who want to hyper-regulate your personal freedom in San Francisco, but such overzealous types are the people who always see the glass as half full of arsenic anyway. Instead, go to the International Park(ing) Day site, and find one near your home or office tomorrow!

This is the start of a series of events, unrelated but all coming up soon, including:

-Saturday, September 18th from 10-4pm, the Yes We Can House at 6th and Irving will host a "Free Fix-It Day." If you've got something around the house that is broken (aside from electronics) stop by and someone will help you try and fix it. Or, are you handy with tools and fixing things? Stop by and volunteer your services!

-Sunday is the 30th Annual Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park in Sharon Meadow from 12-5pm. Many people who got their start in comedy in SF will be performing, and as always, this event tends to add on more performers as the day goes by. This has been an institution for local comedy and one I try to attend as often as possible.

Finally, some advice - if you're from Elsewhere and want to go to something in the Park, you really should avoid driving unless it's necessary. Last weekend it was jammed full of people, and often times people think just because there's this "garage" near the Science Academy that somehow there will magically be "parking."

That thing fills up FAST on weekends, and with so many direct routes to the park (71, 44, N, 5, etc.) if you really don't need to drive, don't bother. It's no faster than Muni, and in many ways is MORE miserable than any crammed Muni bus. Also, if you think you'll find parking on the street near the Park, fuggedaboutit. Most side streets are already jammed up with residents' cars due to the many curb cuts here, so thinking you'll find a free spot that's easy and convenient is a lovely dream, but not likely to happen.

Save yourself the aggravation and the parking tickets and just bear with Muni for now, and remember these kinds of problems when you go vote in the future. Your Muni won't get better unless the people you hire know there's a price for screwing up on event days.

September 12, 2010

Rescue Muni Candidate Forum Monday, September 13th!

I forgot to mention on Friday that there's a candidate forum hosted by Rescue Muni tomorrow, Monday the 13th over at the County Fair Building on 9th and Lincoln. You can read about the details here and if you can stop by, do so and get a chance to talk to candidates running for Supervisor this year.

Also, I'll be doing some promotions for the Muni Rider Voter Guide now that most of the questionnaires that are going to be in seem to be in. I'm still waiting for people who missed the deadline (despite being given three weeks to fill it out!) too, but for the most part, people seemed to figure out how to follow directions OK.

September 7, 2010

Is The Infamous Sickout Flyer Real or Not?

Thanks to a friend I've managed to acquire a copy of the infamous anonymous flyer calling for a sickout as reported last week.

Upon looking at it (or at least a scan of it) I have to say I have no way of telling if this a) the work of just some upset employees doing something on their own, b) if this is something "official" (although it doesn't seem like it) or c) dare I say it, a fake, or at least a bad practical joke.

I'd be curious if anyone out there could shed some light on this. It reads like something a group of upset people might do if they felt their views weren't being heard. How many people will heed its call for an uprising is beyond me. I'd appreciate any insights people out there might have before we have an ongoing freakout.

For what it's worth, I'm starting to think this is going to go nowhere. I mean, what person in their right mind would want to shut down Muni the week of the Giants/Dodgers series? No matter how ticked people might be at upper management, et al, would anyone REALLY want to mess up people coming to town to cheer on the Giants at this time? I think not.

September 3, 2010

The 61% Lie

You have to be impressed with Muni's PR department. They can pretty much get the mainstream press to print whatever they want, and make everything sound great. Take for example, this "61% restoration" meme that you're hearing everywhere.

Sounds great, right? I mean who wouldn't want 61% of something?

The problem is, it's a number taken out of context and conveniently forgets the recent past. Let's review:

-December 5, 2009 - Muni makes a significant number of cuts to service. This is spun by the Mayor and Nathaniel Ford as the "first overhaul of service in 30 years," when in fact it was a major service cut. Who knew that Big Brother had slick hair and a drinking problem - this is easily one of the most Orwellian statements to come out of the Mayor's mouth in his entire career.

-April 2010 - Muni makes MORE CUTS to service on top of the ones made in December amounting to 10% of scheduled service. This ends up being significant and Nathaniel Ford proudly proclaims "it will be a smaller system." A man got paid over 300,000 a year to dismantle a transit agency. Minds blown.

-Today: After lots of fiddling with numbers, and lots of one-time-only gimmicks, the 10% cut has been reduced to about a 4% cut. The politicians and spinners rejoice, and the public is made to feel like they "got something" when in fact they still got cuts now - and don't realize they face HUGE ones in the future if Muni doesn't get its financial house in order with better efficiency and stable revenues.

(Now, short term fixes to alleviate the pain are fine, if you use the time you've bought to find long term, solid solutions. Does anyone think Gavin Newsom and Nathaniel Ford are doing that?)

(Crickets chirping.)

However, remember - no one is talking about repairing the damage done in December 2009 - and no one is talking about adopting a comprehensive service plan outlined in the Transit Effectiveness Project which essentially laid out what you have to do to make things work (mostly), and how much it costs. That kind of sensible, science-driven process was disposed of by a pack of political hacks in City Hall whose combined understanding of Muni could fit on the head of a pin. Instead we talk about nickel and dime bullsh*t and all the while you and I are stuck waiting for a bus or train that never shows up on time.

And to top it all off, the operators' union leadership wants to through a wrench in all of this, because they don't want to show up to work on time, and don't think it's fair they do the work they did in the past but don't do now.

And people wonder why #munifail is such a big topic on The Twitter.

Friday: The Week In Review, Some Fun Things, And More...

This week has been interesting, to say the least. And by "interesting" I mean "OMGWTFLOL" or something. I mean, the evening commutes this week have been marked by incredible delays and failures. You'd think by now someone at Muni might figure that if it's going to work at some point in the day, perhaps the evening commute might not be a bad place to start. Alas.

Someone decided to revive the concept of the "Dear Mr. Ford" feature of SFist.com and make a whole blog about it, noting the recent commuting craziness. Interesting.

Other Muni Detritus:

-Over at my side project, the Muni Rider Voter Guide, the deadline is rapidly approaching. I think I made a mistake in giving candidates too much time to fill this thing out, especially since it's short and isn't tied to an endorsement. I'd list who hasn't responded, but that would take up too much space so instead I'll list who did instead:


-District 2: NONE
-District 4: NONE, but there's only one candidate anyway
-District 6: Jim Meko, Glendon "Anna Conda" Hyde, Harold "H" Brown, Dean Clark
-District 8: Scott Weiner, Bill Hemenger
-District 10: Lynette Sweet, Steve Moss

The deadline is coming up in a few days so I'm hoping to hear back from more people. If you live in any of these districts, you might want to bug candidates you see out and about asking for votes to return their questionnaires soon. So far the responses we've received have been very revealing about the candidates' experiences with Muni and what they'd do if elected.

-A lot of attention was given to the opposition by TWU to Muni service cuts this week, first by myself and later by our friends at the SF Weekly and elsewhere. However, commenter David, who is keeps a vigilant eye on daily service reports, noted that the real opposition is due to reformed sick leave and absence policies, which drive up overtime costs, and allow for that whole "pay me not to work and screw you" policy that is killing Muni's budgets (along with plenty of other reasons). Good catch, David!

-We're still waiting for a clarification on the mysterious "Route One" message some N riders heard the other day, and we're still waiting to hear when the Irving St. bus shelters might make their return (although in fairness they are putting one up for the 44 on 9th right now).

-Friend of the NJC Matt Baume sent us this video of the speed of the N Judah on Sunday, August 29th (yay!) which indicates where it's moving along and where it slows down. Very interesting use of public data!

-Finally a few fun notes: This weekend is the San Francisco Zine Fest over at the County Fair Building. This is always a fun event to attend and many cool people will be showing off some interesting zines. (For the Youth of America, a zine is like a blog but on paper, printed at Kinkos). Back in the olden days, I produced more of these things than I care to admit, I have to say.

Also, the famous Trolley Dances will make their return on October 16th on the N Judah line. This is an annual occurrence we've been reporting on since 2006 and it's great to have them back on the N! Best of all your only cost is your fare! What a bargain!

Have a great Labor Day Weekend! Post any events of interest in the comments!

September 1, 2010

Reader Mail: Cryptic Talk of an "Intentional Slowing of Service on Route 1"

questionmark.jpgEarlier today I got two Reader Mails that have to be the oddest things I've heard in a while from people during their morning commute. Read and be prepared to be bewildered. First email is from Reader Margaret:
Hey there, This morning on the N Judah heading downtown, around 8:20am right around the Chruch and Duboce stop, our female driver made an annoucement along these lines (forgive me as I don't remember the specifics): "To my regular riders, they're intentionally trying to slow down service on this Route, Route 1. The management knows about it. If you want to see it fixed, call the media and have them investigate." Have you heard anything about this? Thanks!

And, here's an email from Reader Shari, also on the same train, it seems:

Hi Mr. Dewar,

As a resident of the Outer Sunset I do enjoy your MUNI updates. Today I was taking the N to Civic Center, as I do four days a week, and I got stuck with a driver who is regularly slow and runs late. Today, as we got to Duboce and Noe, she announced that the reason we were having to stop for extended periods involved something called "Run One." She said that it involved intentionally sending more people onto that particular train and slowing it down. She also stated that the media and MUNI were aware of what was going on and that patrons could discover the meaning behind this by seeking out these sources. She said nothing else on the topic.

I've searched online and found nothing. I don't know if she was just acting crazy or if something was going on, but I would like to find out as it made me 10 minutes late to an important law school class and if someone was behind it, I want to know who it was and why they did it.

I figured you might be someone who could confirm or deny the truth of the driver's statement. I'd really appreciate your insight.

Given how the MTA has made swiss cheese out of the Transit Effectiveness Project by half-assedly implementing cuts (but not the associated service increases) and whatnot over the past few years, you could almost imagine some genius that could come up with an idea like this, but that is supposition, not a fact. Without any supporting documentation, we don't know what to make of this cryptic statement via the PA system.

I did a little searching and found nothing either. So, I'm going to attempt to contact Muni on Thursday morning and see if I can get a response. Considering that I never got any of my questions about the bus shelters answered, this may require me to use the amplification of the SF Gate Transit Blog to get some attention.

Guess Who's AGAINST Restoring Muni Service in San Francisco… UPDATED

Have you ever read the news and had that moment where you wonder…are you really reading the news or are you reading a satirical version, like The Onion, instead?

When I read last week in the Chronicle that as Muni plans to restore a tiny portion of the service cuts of December 2009 and May 2010 this week, there was some talk that the Transport Worker's Union was against restoring said service.

Wait, WHAT?

I had to re-read it again just to make sure I understood: TWU was against restoring service it used to provide, not even all of it, and asked their membership to boycott a signup of new routes and schedules. (Thankfully, the rank and file said "Heck No.")

Then, a confidential source emailed to me the actual newsletter, outlining the TWU leadership's plans to seek an injunction to block the restoration of service. Read it for yourself and see. It's for real.

Which, after reading, I said again, "Wait….WHAT?!?"

After writing about the Muni and Our Fair City for as long as I have, you'd think that by now nothing would surprise me. But after reading this latest bit of news, I have to say even I was shocked.

Let's review: Muni's made huge cuts since December 2009. Thanks to some one-time budget shuffling and other temporary measures, we're getting a tiny bit of service back for a while. And the people standing in the way of it are…..TWU's leadership?

You have to begin to wonder what reality these folks are living in, since clearly it's not the one you or I or anyone sane shares in this crazy city of ours. I mean we're talking about restoring a portion of service that clearly wasn't an issue to provide before May 2010, and it's being opposed by the people who were doing so without too much mayhem back then. Now, however, it's a "safety" issue?

Needless to say, this is comes off as a big "screw you" to Muni's Owner/Riders. It certainly isn't going to help gather any allies to fight Proposition G (Fix Muni Now.) It certainly isn't going to help relations between the Muni Owner/Riders and the operators, and it certainly isn't any help to the great majority of operators we're cutting only about half that amount instead. We're not even talking about repairing the damage done in December 2009 (which was spun as an "enhancement"!), and this has been accomplished through one-time measures, not through any major changes in Muni's finances.

That said, would it have killed TWU's leaders to support this as a way of at least pretending to care about the many Muni Owner/Riders who are not happy with the waste of time a slow, expensive, unreliable Muni creates?

It seems we have our answer.

UPDATE: My colleague at SF Weekly weighs in on the issue too.

UPDATE 2: It now seems there are calls for a sick-out this month (strikes are illegal, as we all know.) The flyer proposing this notes that:

''IF WE DON'T COME TO WORK HALF A MILLION PEOPLE WILL NOT GO TO WORK. IT'S TIME TO USE OUR POWER. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. IT'S TIME TO TAKE A STAND,''

Oh, really?

News flash, dumbasses: if you f*ck over half a million people in this town, you're also f*cking over a lot of voters. Maybe you're not aware of this, but we are. And if you pull stupid shit like this, don't be surprised if something a lot tougher comes out on the next ballot.

I'm issuing a challenge to Rafael Cabrera, the president of TWU - if you don't stop what is basically an illegal strike, I am going to ask every single Muni Owner/Rider to hold you and your fellow union leadership personally responsible for lost wages, lost business, lost time at school or with family if you screw up our Muni. It's bad enough you're against restoring service - now your members want to ruin our daily lives.

It's too bad we don't have a rider's union (one that's not a front group for the union that's a "progressives only" club) that could stand up to this bullshit - or at least work it out so this doesn't have to happen. As it stands, we have a group of people who are on fire and continue to pour gasoline on themselves. At this point, even the liberalist liberal is going to say "fine, flame on, fools."

August 26, 2010

Two Awesome Muni Drivers That Deserve Some Recognition

IMG_1151.JPGThe other day I was taking the N home on one of those rare hot days we're known to have. We got on at Embarcadero Center and of course there were a lot of people waiting in a steamy station, and we knew that if we didn't get on ANY train that showed up, we'd be waiting forever, given that Muni loves to run empty J Trains and keep the N as crowded and slow as possible.

The fact we even were able to get on the train was a miracle, and soon we were packed to the rafters and off to the Sunset. Needless to say, this kind of unpleasant ride is SOP during rush hour, so complaining about it wasn't worth the trouble. However, little did we know we were about to be on a Muni train run by an actual professional. In this case, we had an operator who CLEARLY announced each stop, AND connecting trains and significant landmarks/destinations as well. Needless to say, it was a welcome sign. I remarked to my colleague how we were lucky to even hear the stops, much less the connecting lines. A toursit from Texas said "It's always nice to have a real person's voice on these things. These days you get the robot on the telephone most of the time." Indeed.

I'm kicking myself for not noting the number of the train they were on, because I wanted to call Muni and tell them to give this person some sort of recognition. It sickens me how the TWU leadership continually rewards the few bad apples, instead of getting recognition for the good people which would encourage excellent service. Then again, you could write a telephone book-sized thesis on just how out of touch the TWU leadership is with its own members, the labor movement, and reality in general. (For fun, read this piece about how the leadership - not the hardworking rank and file - are balking at restoring some service cuts. Really!)

The other story was related to me by a friend who was on the 22 a few days ago. The bus was crowded and he noticed two shifty types who were acting a bit strange. Then, he (as well as many others) noticed these guys were pickpockets, preying primarily on an elderly man and a few others. Now, everyone SAW it, but no one was saying anything, so my friend decided to tell the driver. He didn't know that he was telling the Jules Winnfield of bus drivers, though.

Immediately the driver stopped the bus. He then made sure the doors were locked, got up and said "THERE WILL BE NO PICKPOCKETING ON MY BUS!" then put out the signal to call the cops. The criminals were desperately trying to leave, but no dice. The police came and the elderly man got his wallet back. Needless to say, that is rather cool. But there's also an uncool part of this story - plenty of people clapped at the end and knew what was going on, but didn't do anything to help. Fortunately, we Muni owners had a professional on board that day, and two hoodlums were taken away by the SFPD.

I will repeat this until the day I die that the majority of Muni operators are good people who want to do a good job. The leadership of their union is a clueless aristocracy that is unqualified to be in charge of a two-car parade, much less the leadership of workers critical to making sure our Muni runs on time. The rank and file need to have a coup d'etat and remove these folks. They deserve better and so do we.

August 11, 2010

Who Should Run San Francisco and Muni? Ask The Muni Rider Voter Guide

This article also appeared in a slightly edited form at the SFGate Transit Blog also. If you're a new arrival from the Gate, welcome!

It's no secret that Muni's problems are on people's minds these days. Sunday's FailWhale Regatta in the tunnel, which led to a total shutdown of service downtown is the latest reminder that Muni Has Problems, and they're not going away anytime soon.

Thus, while I hate the discussion of Big "P" Politics when talking about making Muni the best system possible, there's no denying that the people we hire/elect to run San Francisco have a direct influence on what happens to Muni.

However, if we leave rating our job seekers/candidates to the "professional" politicians and interest groups, we can't expect things to change. Tonight, the San Francisco Democratic Party, often claimed to be the most powerful force in local elections will be voting on endorsements tonight at the UNITE HERE union hall located at 209 Golden Gate Avenue.

They'll do so without asking any of the prospective candidates one single question about transit, Muni, or how to improve it. Neither will the have been asked their position on the Fix Muni Now Charter Amendment - which 75,000 people signed a petition to amend the City Charter and fix arcane work rules at Muni in the hopes of making the agency use its resources more efficiently. At least, that's according to the latest download of the questionnaire on their site.

This is especially surprising because Party Chair Aaron Peskin has been one of the few people, as an elected official and as a civilian since leaving office, to try and take on the challenges of fixing Muni. He has always been candid about what's worked, what's not, and how difficult it is to fix a large city department like the SFMTA. (Yes, really. Calm down.)

It's not surprising, however, given that there are candidates voting for their own endorsements, and incumbent Supervisors serve on the party's board of directors, that Muni issues might get swept under the rug. An Ivy League degree is apparently no guarantee someone won't play games with your fare and tax dollars, or engage in political shenanigans.

You, the Muni Owner/Rider lose in the end. A good transit system isn't a Democrat or Republican issue, and I don't care if someone is left, right, up, down, or whatever - there are no partisans when you're stuck in a crowded N-Judah at rush hour and can't get home. So to see a political organization with this much power simply ignore anything Muni related is a disappointment.

However, I'm going to quit complaining and propose a solution.

Continue reading "Who Should Run San Francisco and Muni? Ask The Muni Rider Voter Guide " »

August 3, 2010

Your Choco Muni Rations are Up, Even Though They're Down...

There was a lot of Muni news today, enough so that it's enough to make one's head spin - especially after the spin being put out there by certain candidates for higher office. Echoing earlier spin, we're now being told we're getting even more service "back" in the sense that the 10% cut made earlier this year won't end up being a 10% cut by sometime next year. All just in time for someone to look good in front of the cameras statewide. What a surprise. (Insert chocolate ration reference here.)

As we discussed in the Muni Death Spiral, and as I've learned since then, Muni's budgets are highly politicized and dictated to the agency out of Room 200 to look good for the short term. There's no real plan to either keep this service going, or restore the massive cuts of December 2009 (spun as an "overhaul" by Big Brother Gavin).

Why, just this week the many, many tax paid spokesdroids at Room 200 were continuing to prattle on old spin about "on time performance" - which doesn't cut the mustard with actual riders of Muni who experience unreliable service.

All we're doing is having a few one time givebacks to cover costs now - with absolutely no plan to find stable, sustainable cash for the long term. Deferring problems for later is a staple of SF politics. It is also short sighted. It's pretty obvious that Mayor Newsom and Nathaniel Ford don't care about any of this - they're both looking to leave soon anyway - and they don't mind sticking it to their respective successors down the road.

Right about now you'd expect "progressive supervisors" to chime in with some solution, but don't expect any help there either. But perhaps that's a good thing. They really need to take the time to understand Muni better, before sticking their noses. Too often, we end up with bad policy based on feel good progressive politics, not on helping make Muni run better for you, the Muni Owner.

Here's a suggestion absolutely no one will heed - let's pass Fix Muni Now, and let's get the MTA to get a handle on the costs it can control, without compromising safety or service. If the agency can show some good faith in reigning in its overhead without resorting to gimmicks like cutting training and maintenance, I think voters would be willing to replace the giant hole created by the illegal state looting of Muni with something local. I don't think they would this year, nor do I think they should.

I still don't see "driver pay" causing the majority of the agency's problems (it does not) but unchecked overtime is causing a problem, as it does in other city departments. Plus, the sheer amount of asinine statements out of the TWU leadership (note leadership not rank and file) is ensuring that FMN passes, because these "leaders" don't seem to have any sympathy for the Muni Owners at this time. (Please note many drivers DO care, and DO want to do a good job and make sure Muni runs well for you, though).

It's times like these that make me almost want to ignore these things, but I can't, when for every awesome day where Muni works like a charm is countered by 2 where I'm late to an important meeting or am stuck waiting for people who are stuck in unreliable Muni circumstances.

July 15, 2010

Can Muni Owner/Riders Trust the So-Called "Progressive" Muni Charter Amendment? A Challenge to the Supervisors!

My good friend Joe at the SF Weekly blog, the Snitch, has a short post up today with the outline of the so-called "Progressive" Muni Charter Amendment. It covers a number of issues, and I'm going to take a look at the full text before I pass any final judgment on it.

However, this so-called "progressive" charter amendment on the outset has some serious flaws, policy-wise and practical. It makes some noise about funding Muni - fine - but it also is giving Supervisors the power to easily discard any route changes they don't like, practical scientific analysis be damned. It also does nothing to overcome the burdensome, costly and often antiquated work-rules that result in things like the infamous "pay me not to work" scam, and other inefficiencies as well. (Sup. Campos was offended by this, apparently.)

WhatEVER. Remember how everyone did what organized labor demanded in 2007 with Prop. A, and it ended up blowing up in everyone's faces? That went well.

There's another, more practical problem with this amendment - besides being complicated, there is absolutely no organization, no cash on hand, no nothing going for it right now to see it get passed. Fix Muni Now has been up and running and had to earn 75,000 signatures on the street, while this thing is bottled up at the Board until at least July 20th, if not later. So while one is a coherent, viable operation to pass a difficult measure (Fix Muni Now), "progressives" aren't even organized enough to wave signs for this thing. (Good luck with that).

It would have been nice if there was one, multipartisan thing on the ballot to improve Muni, kind like how we all came together to save SF General Hospital, but that's in the Haley's Comet league of Things That Rarely Happen.

As I said, I'm waiting to see the official wording and read every line of it myself (So you don't have to!). For now, though I am issuing a challenge to the progressive Supervisors who created this thing: I'm asking them to post here why they feel this is the best way to "fix" Muni, and answer questions from you, the Muni owner/riders and from myself.

Let's see if they can talk to you directly and explain this in their own words. I wouldn't suggest holding your breath though - you don't want to die of asphyxiation!

July 14, 2010

75% On Time Rate For Muni? Big Deal.

So the "big news" from our friends at Muni is that the agency is now on time 75% of the time. Mayor Green Gavin was quick to belch out some press releases, and naturally, the press is in full stenographer mode on this one.

There's just one thing - the number is meaningless. First, this was after major service cuts (spun as an "overhaul") last year, so comparing a smaller system to a larger one is comparing apples and oranges. More to the point, it doesn't really matter if Muni is "on time" 75% of the time if the system isn't reliable. Think of the many times you've tried to get home on an outbound N, only to see an endless line of empty Js and KLMs speeding by, thus ensuring the only N showing up is super crowded.

So while everyone at City Hall pats themselves on the back for a Muni well done, remember that figure when you're stuck waiting around for an hour because of an unplanned for absence, or because something broke down. If nothing else, you can figure out the odds of when you'll be lucky enough to be using it when it's actually running on time.

July 6, 2010

Some Muni Service "Restored" But Only For The Short Term...Let the Vuvuzelas of City Hall Blast Away!

So, a lot of vuvuzelas are being tooted at the MTA and City Hall for this so-called "restoration of service" that the MTA approved today, and that's just lovely. Well, for the vuvuzela-tooters, anyway.

Lost in the shuffle is that all of this "restoration" talk is that this partial "restoration" is completely based on short term fixes, which mean that a year or so from now, Muni will be back to slashing service. Meanwhile Mayor Green Newsom and the Board can brag about how great they are. Even if the Muni operators had voted for the one-time giveback (which would have meant we could have virtually eliminated the 10% Ford-Newsom slash to service), it too was nothing more than a short term solution.

Now, don't get me wrong - it's nice to see at least some service restored, especially in areas that were hard hit by the cuts (thinking of lines like the 66 for example) and at least for now, we won't have as many Muni failwhale regattas as we have been lately. But it's not going to last long, and in the long term, we may be faced with worse choices later. Plus, once again we have the Mayor trying to sound like Mr. Transit, when a lot of the problem started, and remains with him and his handpicked management team.

There is some talk of some Muni "reform" measure by "progressive" Supevisors, but as of July 6th, there is no final plan, there is no campaign to get it passed, there is no money to get it passed, no track record of passing these things, no professionals in charge, and once again, we have a compromise to appease public employee unions that will likely sink it, given the way we were bamboozled in 2007 with Measure A and its compromises. That means that whatever long term local funding solutions are in this alleged package, it's not likely to pass since as of now, with only a few months until the election, there is no operation in place to get a complicated law passed by the voters.

Meanwhile, the Fix Muni Now campaign has been up and running for months, and seems to have submitted enough signatures for the ballot, and that's great. However, the savings that the Fix Muni Now proposition proposes won't appear like magic overnight, and is designed to fix arcane rules and an outdated charter amendment. Any fixes it makes to Muni will take some time, which is not a bad thing - but again, that's the thing with authentic, long-term solutions - there's no instant showboat-y payoff.

For now, let the vuvuzelas of the politicians and the extremist groups drown out the sound of reason. We got 5% of our service back!

Update: It's amazing to see how well the spinners have now got the press saying this is a "service enhancement." No, it is not. It is returning half of the cuts made a few months ago. And don't forget the cuts in December that Prince Gavin called "a major overhaul" of the system, when in fact it was more.

I hate to use an Orwell reference but this is so memory hole/chocolate ration. Seriously.

June 30, 2010

What Do You Call A One-Time Solution to Muni Cuts? "A Bold Solution to Agency Woes!"

Whenever people start talking about "saving Muni," the tendency is to not talk about things in the broader context of what's happened, but instead take a hyper-focus on the immediate press releases and hot air downtown. That makes for easier stories to write, but it doesn't give you, the Muni owner, the full picture.

For example, Mayor Newsom's been breathing more hot air than a dragon on crack lately. He's been doing a good job demonizing the Muni operators way beyond what's fair (this is to make him look "tough" to out of town voters). Now he's screaming at the SF County Transit Authority about a one-time $7 million grant the SF MTA went, hat in hand for, a few months ago. As the SFCTA is not an ATM for the MTA, and has a responsiblity to administer sales tax revenue, it wisely said "not without conditions" which would ensure the money wasn't blown on Newsom work orders, big pay for management, or other nonsense.

Claims are being made such conditions have been met, and this one-time cash grant to the MTA is likely to go through. But the Mayor being the Mayor (and egged on by his PR minions) had to go all "FU" to the Board of Supervisors (who also serve as the SFCTA board), which is unecessary and stupid. I suppose if the Board and the Mayor agreed to make July 1 "Rainbows and Puppies Day," he'd be screaming about how they didn't love puppies enough or something. WhatEVER!

But let's toss aside the shenanigans. Muni has always betted on getting this cash in the first place, even though there were no guarantees. That's part of Muni's budget game - bet on getting money that may never show up. Think of it as you deciding to pay your rent or mortgage payment with a magical bag of gold coins that falls from the sky, then hoping that it shows up by the end of the month. Crazy? Yes. SOP at Muni. Yes.

More importantly, the Orwellian doublespeak downtown will sell this as "saving" Muni, when it doesn't. It's a one time cash grant that'll keep away cuts for a year. That is all.

Same goes for the proposed federal money for operations some people were demanding yesterday - from an even more unreliable source than that rainbow showering gold cois (AKA the Feds). Mayor Newsom's crew spews bile at anyone that dares suggest auto drivers share the pain in any form, and TWU does as well when asked for a short term pain sharing agreement to alleviate cuts now, until we have a long term plan.

Oh, that long term, stable source(s) of revenue for Muni? What's that you say? Something to actually save Muni for good instead of fiddling around year to year? Well, as always, it's easy to propose short term solutions from short-time politicians, and it's easy to latch on to easy-sounding ideas that make ideological sense.

It's much harder to come up with a comprehensive plan that divorces our fate to that of a failed state and federal governments and builds back a functioning Muni (vs. Ford's "smaller" system of FAIL). But that doesn't make for a nice press release, does it?

June 29, 2010

42 Days and Counting: That Challenge to Muni Management and More!

42dayscounter.jpgA while back I issued a semi-serious, but also semi-satirical challenge to the management of the MTA to actually ride Muni for a month, as a way of illustrating how the latest round of service cuts (or if you speak bureaucrat, "service enhancements") are starting to stack up and make Muni less of an option for many people.

It's been 42 days now since that post and predictably, there is silence from Muni. Big surprise, I know. If you tried to take a Muni Metro train during say, Pride Sunday, you KNOW what a mess it was. That+Giants Game+Usual Sunday Fun = no one getting around anywhere fast.

So again, for fun, I shall updated these at random and see how we go. We know the Mayor can't really rely on Muni, since it doesn't go out of town to all those places he's campaigning for Lt. Governor, and it's not like he would know how to pay for a bus fare or anything since Muni is not on Planet Gavin. As for the Board....well...let's not go there.

I'm adding a new countdown as well...the number of days it takes to find out when the new bus shelters on Irving will be installed and the story behind what looks like two new parking spaces where the N stop at 9th and Irving is. I've emailed folks as of June 23rd and have yet to hear back. I made the mistake of trying 311 on Twitter, where the response first was "call 311" and then "we don't know." So why tell me to call 311? Seems kind of silly, yes?

irving9thparkingatstop.jpgAnyway to illustrate my question re: parking, here's a photo of said spots. Notice how while they would do a nice job of blocking speeding cars who think Irving is a 4 lane highway and seem to be eager to run down pedestrians, said spots would also be blocking people getting on the N at the stop too. And there are no meters. So are they "real" legal parking spots or what?

June 26, 2010

Is a Rally for Transit on Tuesday a Rally for YOU, the Muni Owner/Rider, or a Rally for Something Else?

So I got an email from the SF "Transit Rider's Union" the other day, asking me to attend a rally on June 29th at noon at the Federal Building on behalf of "funding transit" with Rev. Jesse Jackson. Sounds great, right? More money for Muni, less cuts, yes?

A closer inspection of the flyer, however, indicates this may not be what it claims to be. Yes, the rally is in support of a bill that would free up federal funds to pay day-to-day costs for a short time, instead of paying for infrastructure. That flies in the face of decades of federal transportation policy, but given how bad things are nationally, some people see it as a solution. However, it's a very short term solution that once again makes our local Muni dependent on outside sources of money, and it's one that won't last long anyway.

Let's take a closer look at the group this group that claims to be pro transit rider - it's the TWU national and local, and ATU locals and nationals (another transit union that mostly represents BART workers). The flyer talks mostly about getting operators paid, and makes only a few concessions to those who ride transit.

Does anyone else see the irony in this?

We had a chance to roll back cuts, acting locally. If the TWU (the only union in the City that doesn't participate in collective bargaining and the only Muni union to avoid any hardship) had agreed to some short term give-backs, we could have rolled back recent service cuts.

If the Mayor could pull the flagpole out of his backside and stop blocking a rational, well-studied expansion of parking meters, we could have rolled back recent cuts. (Both packages ended up being about the same amount of money).

If we'd put aside our locally generated sense of greed and entitlement, and done BOTH, we could roll back even more cuts, or reduce monthly pass costs a little. Or something else sensible. Yes, these too are short term solutions, but it would have helped Muni do that whole "get owner/riders to their destination on time thing" better, and been a decent local stop-gap until a permanent local funding replacement for looted state operating funds could be restored.

Of course that didn't happen. The Mayor threw one of his patented hissy fit+fatwas aimed at anyone who suggestewd "parking meters" as a response to the crisis, and the TWU threw their own temper tantrum and literally said "the budget problems aren't our problem" in response.

Wow. This is the City That Knows How?

I'll repeat once more - driver pay is not the main cause of Muni's problems. But excessive, unplanned overtime is costing the agency millions of dollars it no longer has, and asking Muni operators to engage in collective bargaining is not unreasonable.

Public service unions, and in particular Muni's unions, have to understand that the great majority of us don't have pensions, do not have guaranteed pay and work, and are operating under extreme duress during Great Depression II. We are being forced to sacrifice more and more in the way of taxes, fees, fines, and fares, and get less and less service. Meanwhile, we see others who continue to be able to get paid not to do their jobs, or do them poorly (conduct which would get us fired in a minute) and screaming protests saying "give me more" begin to fall on deaf ears, even progressive ones.

More importantly, we seem to have a group that claims to be for us the Muni owner/rider, but at every opportunity, seems to think "working in coalition" with Muni unions means "do whatever they want because their union president is on our board. That is NOT what it means.

A true, honest, coalition means everyone helping each other in common cause and recognize that a functioning Muni that serves the owner/riders is the end goal - not just helping one pressure group over another for their own selfish ends. I believe it's possible for everyone to find some common cause on making Muni a world-class system, and I'm willing to work with anyone who wants that goal.

I do not, however, believe that the bullying tactics of extremist organizations and unions who tell me I have to accept higher fares and attacks on reasonable reforms serves anyone.

Until San Francisco's alphabet soup of groups and activists realize what true solidarity and coalition building mean, continue to watch as people claiming to be your friend are simply using you to prop up a few loud groups - all at your expense.

June 23, 2010

Only A Few Days Left to Sign the Fix Muni Now Petition!

There's only a few days left to sign the Fix Muni Now charter amendment, so if you haven't already done so, find a volunteer gathering signatures and sign it. (if it's from a paid one, hold your nose and do so, it's better to sign a petition from a volunteer, though at this point, don't let that stop you.) As always, Absentee Mayor Newsom is only supporting it now, hasn't signed the petition, and is trying to take credit for it, even though he was silent when we needed him most. Hopefully his support won't kill the thing.

Despite the heated rhetoric from the Mayor, TWU Local 250-A, various politicians and the like, all of whom have been all too happy to engage in the kind of rhetoric best suited for a schoolyard fight, this is just a minor correction to the Charter, that may end up in some cost savings for Muni. That is all.

This amendment says NOTHING about Muni pay, does not "bust unions" and simply has one holdout out of dozens of city unions finally do what the rest of them do - engage in collective bargaining. It will also allow Muni to send to impartial arbitration outdated "work rules" and have these things dealt with in a calm and rational manner.

Now, I will note a few things. As said before, there is nothing in this amendment regarding the actual pay of Muni operators. In fact, there's no reason why in the collective bargaining process, a merit pay system that rewarded the really good ones with a true bonus couldn't end up a part of their contract.

There's no reason why in exchange for cutting overtime costs, pay might be bumped up slightly, so at least Muni management knows what's going on. All of that could or could not happen as part of the natural collective bargaining process. So all the screaming bullsh!t from people calling this "racist" or whatever is just a sign that some people feel entitled to something, and don't care who else they hurt in the process.

And, as always, let's remember that Muni's fiscal problems stem primarily from the loss of annual revenue from the State, and the lack of a stable local funding source to make the State irrelevant. Yes, the overtime costs and the myriad of old fashioned work rules are causing problems, but it's only one part of the Muni Death Spiral.

Like cancer, if there was only one cause for all of the problems, fixing Muni would be simple. But like cancer, that's not the case, so get ready for more fun on the ballot this year, and in years to come.

UPDATE: The Snitch blog at SF Weekly expertly calls out Mayor Newsom for his SOP of coming to the party late and taking credit for it only after it's popular. Kinda like Healthy SF.

June 12, 2010

Why TWU Local 250A's "FU" to Muni Owner/Riders Is a Good Thing! Really!

If you've not heard already, then you should know that a plan to eliminate some of the service cuts imposed by Nate Ford, Gavin Newsom and the MTA with some givebacks by our Muni operators was voted down on Friday.

While I've never bought in to that whole bag of Gate-commenter nonsense that "driver pay" was the only thing crippling Muni's finances (it isn't), the one-time givebacks asked for weren't that bad. At the very least, it'd have been a show of support for both the riders, and for other unions, since other unionized employees have suffered layoffs and pay cuts, all the while TWU Local 250A is getting pay raises and big overtime bonuses.

No other unionized group working for the City has this deal - they also took pay cuts and layoffs during a horrific economic crisis. Plus, Muni runs like crap now, with endless delays and cutbacks that cripple many of the community routes people rely on.

So here was a chance for the much-scrutinzed Muni operators to show a little good faith effort and share the pain and they chose instead to endorse service cuts and a nice, big "f*ck you" to other unions and most importantly, to you, the owner/rider of Muni. "Why," you ask "is this a good thing?"

Simple. We now know where their true loyalties lie, which means now, we also know where the loyalties of so-called "Transit Rider Unions" lie too. Since Muni is the fashionable cause of the year, we have many little groups running around claiming to be All About Muni. But look close and you'll find that one, the SF "Transit Rider's Union," counts in its leadership the head of TWU Local 250A, and another, called "MORE" is nothing more than a front group for the ultra-leftists in town (who never cared about Muni ever) and for TWU.

In other cities, TWU actually IS a friend of the owner/rider of other transit systems (no really, I'm not making this up), but not here. When you see a group use bullying tactics and scream racism because they don't want to negotiate with collective bargaining like EVERY OTHER F*CKING UNION IN THE NATION, and defend an arcane pay system that results in "pay me not to work" rules and endless overtime, you realize these folks simply don't care about Muni, or you, the owner/rider. (Remember, these are the people who told you to "get a damn car" in response to actions that delayed a morning commute).

Their actions also ensure that ballot measures to create new sources of stable revenue for Muni won't pass, because people will look at this and think that Muni is just wasting a lot of money. (It does dumb things, but stealing away a good portion of the budge via work orders and Sacramento really causes the most damage).

As such, they deserve no representation in any group that claims to speak for us. They are free to work with a rider's group, but not dictate to it. They already have a group for them - we need a group that speaks up for the 700,000 owner/riders that have been forced to accept a slow, expensive, poorly managed mass transit system in a city of only 49 square miles.

So while I'm sorry to see that some service cuts won't be healed anytime soon, at least we now have on the record where one group stands - which is not with us. They are entitled to do that. We, however, are entitled to take back our Muni from the politicians and the do-nothings, and fix it.

PS: I'd love to have seen the upper management of Muni, and Prince Gavin do a pay cut too, but of course that never happens.

PS2: A reader noted that out of about 2000 operators only 1200+ voted. I guess that whole "pay me not to work" thing extends to union activities too?

June 10, 2010

A Technically-Enforced Break And Some Other Random Thoughts

IMG_0839.JPGThanks to a strange problem with MovableType, I couldn't log in and add or edit new entries for some time. Since there's virtually no support for fools like I who actually paid for this thing in 2006, it took a while for me to fix the problem. However, even if I hadn't had that mishap, I would have been taking a break from blogging all things Muni and neighborhood related anyway. This month will mark the 5 year anniversary of the blog, and lately I've needed a break from said issues for a little bit.

That's because despite Muni being the new "hot issue" that everyone seems to suddenly care about (as if Muni didn't need an assist some time ago), the level of lies and disinformation being pumped out from a variety of sources make sorting through it all about as pleasant (and as time consuming) as cleaning up the Gulf Coast, and frankly, it gets to be a bit much.

Plus, this latest technical annoyance is the last straw, and I'm finally migrating to WordPress, if for not other reason than I can at least get help faster if I need it instead of just using an orphan product with no support.

So for now I'm going to maintain a lighter posting schedule, but as always, I invite those who'd like to contribute a Guest Blog Post to email me and contribute something while I work out the plan for a revamped site with some new features. I'm also working on some other, non-Muni related projects too, but those will be revealed when they're ready to go.

I'm also soliciting advice on a Muni candidate questionnaire which I've mentioned previously. The questionnaire will go to all candidates for Supervisor, and have results posted on line. I've got a pretty good idea of where I want to go with this, but if anyone has any suggestions, I'm listening.

The goal is not to stump candidate with arcane questions about Rule #24521.a.1 about some thing at Muni, but instead get them to go past "oh yes me support Muni" glittering generalities and instead show that either they a) actually use Muni or b) at least give a damn about it. If nothing else, it could be fun to see the responses from the more "unusual" candidates, right?

May 28, 2010

Urinating In Public: It's Not Just For Bros at BTB Anymore! Now it's a "Giveback" from Muni Operators!

IMAG0012.jpgReader Brendan was riding the N Judah the othe day, and spotted a flyer tacked on to an out-of-order farebox with an "out of order" sticker on it. Despite the sticker, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what it says. Click on the picture for the details or read Reader Brendan's message:
Hey Greg,

I found the following bulletin taped to an out of order fare box on the last car of an outbound N tonight. Most of it is obscured by an "Out of Service" sticker, but you can get the jist from what is showing.

"Complains have...operators urinating in pub(lic)...of 3rd and Marin Street. This is unprofess(ional)...tolerated. Employees will...action up to and including disn(???)... Your coope(ration)...appreciated.

So basically it appears that a few of the bad apple Muni operators are having a piss party in the vicinity of 3rd and Marin (a whole block away from the new yard, which I assume has facilities for them to use).

Thought you'd find it amusing.

You'd think with all the emotional and political fallout from Muni's collapse would make folks at Muni, who are on the hot seat already, try and keep things in line at least for the short term. Hmm.

May 20, 2010

Pictures from Today's Accident on the N at Funston and Judah

0520000907.jpg
0520000920.jpg
0520000905.jpg Reader Scott provides us with some photos and a first-hand account of today's scene, where a minibus and an N Judah train had an accident over by St. Anne's and Funston Avenue. It has not been determined which driver was at fault, but Scott does provide some insight into how these situations can be handled, or not handled:
Coming back from dropping my kids off at school, I came up 14th Ave in front of St. Anne's. The N-Judah was stopped in the middle of the intersection and a paratransit van was blocking the street.

As the on-scene Muni employee was recording information on their accident sheet, some people were getting off of the paratransit bus and walking around, leaving. The bus driver was walking around as well, going into the church at one point. It was hard to tell who was who. I kept hearing the bus driver telling the Muni guy that there were no injuries.

I watched for a minute and realized nobody was watching the folks in the van and that some of them were injured. A quick call to 911 would solve that, right? NOPE. Took 2 calls and almost 10 minutes before the first PD officer arrived. SFFD arrived right afterwards and took over. They calmly started evaluating everyone and found that there were in fact multiple injuries and that the passengers weren't able to evaluate themselves or communicate.

Funniest part? Watching the scene unfold and the calm atmosphere with everyone doing what they needed to UNTIL the lady that was obviously the MUNI manager in charge got there. Took her 5 tries to parallel-park her car before she got out and started barking over the radio. Tension escalated, voices rose, radios chattered and the calm disappeared. Another example of how NOT to manage a scene.

Last I saw, the SFFD was loading the passengers into another bus for a hospital trip for a better checkup.

We need a stop sign at this intersection.

Hopefully no one was seriously hurt. People using roads near any Muni train need to realize that these huge machines can't stop on a dime, and you have to pay attention when driving near any Muni train. That's not a commentary on Muni operators - that's just a simple fact. Even under the best of circumstances, stopping a rolling Muni train takes a while - that's just physics at work. Likewise, Muni operators are challenged with many things going on around them to keep track of as they pilot a bus or train in urban areas.

UPDATE: Examiner coverage, SF Appeal coverage and SFist coverage of the incident.

May 19, 2010

A Call For Calm Reason When Discussing This Alleged MTA Charter Amendment, PLEASE!

Wow, that was fast!

Within moments of an announcement of a potential charter amendment to change the way the broken, dysfunctional SFMTA is run, the Mayor's crack team of taxpayer-funded PR people were in full attack mode. Apparently even discussing any idea to change the MTA is sacrilege, Satanic, even. Because it's so well run and cost-efficient and gets you where you wanna go on time, right?

I'm going to take some time to read this thing myself later today. I'll keep an open mind, although it's difficult to assess this since nothing is set in stone. In other words, people need to tone down the alarmist reactions and remember the following:

-There is no evidence, that this thing will go to the voters at all,

-There is no evidence if it does go to the voters that said gang of Supervisors will raise the (tons of) cash and hire the talent to run "real" campaign to pass it.

-We have no idea if it will be modified, or if, as my friend Joe at SF Weekly suggested, just a bargaining chip in a bigger political poker game.

So for now, while I applaud anyone for at least trying to tackle the Muni mess, we are a long way from anything real that can be objectively assessed. That's why it was so disappointing to see so-called "rider advocacy groups" like Rescue Muni on the immediate attack, doing the Mayor's bidding early this morning on Twitter with alarmist rhetoric over this thing when really, we have no idea what this thing is going to look like.

Wouldn't a better response to this mushy proposal have been a detailed critique + actual suggestions to improve it so we get a better Muni? Isn't that what rider advocacy groups do best? Or is currying favor with Room 200, and the political establishment more important?

It's the San Francisco Way to play "choose up sides" and fight to the death if something wasn't made by The Faction One Belongs To, because playing politics is more important than actual results. For the Mayor's press flack to run around screaming about this thing is laughable as Mayor Newsom is simply unable to tell anything but lies about Muni, and has done a lot to destroy it.

Don't think for a moment that this doesn't apply to the "progressives" who came up with this - they literally copied the Fix Muni Now amendment and pasted it into theirs, but of course didn't bother to include Sup. Eslbernd in the discussions because of political differences. Cheap shot, boys. A better Muni isn't a "progressive" issue or a "moderate" issue or whatever - a better Muni is what we owners of Muni deserve, and we don't give a damn about political sides.

So, to review: some Supervisors (!) have made a suggestion that may get totally rewritten, and may not even get to the ballot, and if it does, may not even have the cash (at least $500,000-$750,000) and talent to get it passed. There's plenty to like and hate. There's plenty of time for everyone to modify this before it might go to the ballot. It might be all nothing more than a bargaining chip to achieve some other goal so all this emotion may be for naught anyway.

All we really know is that the moment you discuss trying to fix a broke Muni, you start to find out how San Francisco's dysfunctional politics prevent practical solutions - and you start to see who represents which factions that keep it that way.

Maybe the real solution is for the alleged elected officials and their apparatchiks to stop worrying about which "team" gets more political points, and instead worry about how best to achieve something for the common good of Muni's owners. Wouldn't that be a nice change?

May 17, 2010

An Open Challenge to the MTA Board and Muni Management-Actually Ride Muni Every Day For A Month

double-dare-logo-copy.jpgReading today's Chronicle on the hassles created by Nathaniel Ford and the MTA's major cuts this morning read like a "No Duh University" report, whether you're a Loyal Reader of this blog, or any blog about Muni, or about San Francisco. It is but the tip of the iceberg - between the many, many tweets I get from readers describing amazing failures of the system as is today, and my own experiences, it doesn't take a rocket scientist (or an overpaid Muni manager) to figure that they've found a new way to wreck the system.

It's also clear that no serious attempts were made to control costs or reform Muni substantially. Between the management/labor audit, work order audit, and the effectiveness of fare enforcement (and let's not forget their fantasy budget projections) , it's clear that many of these cuts never needed to happen. Nathaniel Ford and his boss, Mayor Newsom, and all the overpaid managers and consultants could have cared less. They don't seem to understand how Muni works, nor do they realize they work for us, not for the frat boy in Room 200.

So today, I'm issuing a challenge to the senior management of Muni and the board of the MTA: I dare you, no I double dare you, to ride Muni exclusively for a month. And I don't want to hear the typical elected official/bureaucrat's excuse about "oh I'm so busy I can't use it all the time blah blah blah."

News flash: we, the owners of Muni are also busy. And yet you somehow deem our time worthless while you enjoy big pay, benefits or whatever it is that keeps you in a position to continue to ruin our lives and our city with your poor decisions.

So let's see which one of you, if any of you, is up to the challenge. I would have issued this challenge to the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, but we know how pointless that would be. Either they'd lie about it or ignore it anyway.

Who wants to take bets on whether we'll see our pricey, under qualified management team on Muni for a month? Anyone? Anyone?

May 14, 2010

Fare Collection In the Alternate Universe Isn't That Far Fetched...

showme.jpgLast night on the first half of the season finale of FRINGE, we finally got to see the alternate universe we've seen hints of for the last 2 seasons. We saw a United States similar to ours, but not the same, and at least 30-50 years ahead of us in technology.

In addition to such sights as Martin Luther King Jr. on a $20 bill and most of the central coast of Califonia simply gone (or at least not a part of the USA, we're not sure), we also saw a place where fare evasion was almost nil - by way of the use of a national "show me" (the alt-universe's word for national ID card) required to board any bus, anywhere in the country. Yikes.

Compared to what we have (a semi-functioning Translink/Clipper card and fare enforcement that's suspended when successful) and you begin to realize the over-reaching statements about "racism" and "fascism" about San Francisco is a bit far fetched. I mean, a national ID card required to ride the bus? Ouch.

But here's the truly witty rejoinder - this isn't advanced technology from an alternate universe at all. Estonia has a national electronic ID card that's used for all kinds of things: voting online, voting in person, a travel document in the EU, paying bus tickets, etc. Reloading it isn't a pain in the ass, it's more accurate than Clipper, and overall said ID card is way way more useful than a California driver's license, a passport, and a Clipper all in one.

Oh, and what happens if you don't pay? Well, unlike here, where some foul mouthed "f*ck you pig" rhetoric is fashionable amongst the trustafarian, temper tantrum leftists, in Estonia, not only are you issued a fine - you're taken off the bus, put in a police bus, and taken to bus headquarters where you're given a lecture on why not paying is not cool. Needless to say, they're not having the phony debate about "ooh fines aren't a bounty ergo we must stop enforcement of all fares and pay for Muni with unicorn taxes" talk we have here. It's a bit extreme, but that's how they do it in Estonia.

The point? Simply this: A tiny nation like Estonia seems to have figured this basic stuff out. Heck, Third World countries have figured basic things like this out and run better transit systems than we do in larger areas. And yet in San Francisco, the alleged home of "tech innovation" and whatnot, we have an over-politicized, inefficient way of doing things that ensures we get the worst of the worst. And whatever you do, don't expect the owners of Muni to do anything to help - it seems they'd rather leave the system in the hands of a lying incompetent fool like Nathaniel Ford, then wonder why it sucks.

We don't need a national ID card to improve collection of fares. But we do need a sense of duty that we're all in this together, and have everyone (insert list of ways to improve Muni finances here) do their part. If we're not willing to do our part, don't complain when they cut services again, and again, and again.

For more information on the alternate universe in FRINGE, consult your local library or such sites at Fringe TV where you can find out more, and endlessly speculate about said alt-world.

April 28, 2010

MTA Boss Nathaniel Ford Will Never Get It. So Why Do We Pay him $300,000 per Year?

There's really not much worth saying in response to Nathaniel Ford's "letter" to the SF Weekly this week in response to our cover story that my esteemed colleague Joe Eskenazi hasn't already said, but I simply wanted to add a few comments.

One, it's clear that Mr. Ford is either too stubborn or too clueless to understand the fundamental concept that we are not "customers" consuming a product, we are the owners of Muni for whom he and the MTA operate said service on behalf of. Instead, he's just a Wall Street CEO working on behalf of a handful of people in Room 200 at City Hall. It's time for him to go.

It's especially clear with the clueless cuts he's made that will ensure a slower, less reliable Muni - one he was paid very very very well to maintain and improve. This is Wall Street bonus logic on Main Street - pay people bonuses for being a f*ck up.

Finally, I'll say this - it's alleged we never mentioned the massive state cuts by the Governor and the Democratic Legislature to transit that I've talked about ad infinitium for years. So, for fun , I thought I'd quote the section where it's mentioned just so Mr. Ford can have someone read it to him . No, it wasn't a 10,000 word section of the story - but we also would never have been able to print a 15,000 word story on Muni, either.

"Over the past three years, the state has reneged on providing $179 million to Muni; even the $36 million so-called "windfall" it recently gave the agency was only a fraction of the transit funding originally approved by voters, after the state government filched the rest
."

And, for laughs, here's a link to every single blog post that mentions said raids in Sacramento by the Governor, the Legislature, etc.

Mr. Ford can make all the excuses he wants - the fact is once the raids started it was incumbent upon him, the MTA board and "Mayor" Newsom to find a suitable replacement for said money since it was gone for good. Issuing bogus parking tickets and a few extensions to parking meter hours are not stable sources of revenue. And all the "stable sources of revenue" don't mean squat if the Mayor's just going to shove more phony "work orders" down Muni's collective throat to satisfy the short term demands of his vanity bid for Lt. Governor. That said, it was what he was paid so well to do - and he failed. And for his failure he is rewarded with lots of money and perks.

Such is the San Francisco Way these days - pay people a lot of money to do a very poor job. No wonder we have a bazillion dollar deficit.

April 27, 2010

Wow, You Miss one SFCTA Meeting, and Suddenly All Hell Breaks Loose

Sometimes while I'm working I'll have SFGOV TV on in the background, just in case something happens. This morning I was out and about and wasn't able to catch the SF County Transit Authority meeting, and apparently (according to various sources), things got very ugly.

rockem-sockem-robots-game.jpgI'll have to watch the replay online when it comes out, but word was that Sup. Daly, apparently unhappy at the Fix Muni Now campaign, decided to call Sup. Elsbernd a "racist" (the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard) and that things got so heated that people had to block Daly, who, in his true bully-boy fashion, was acting like he was gonna throw a punch or something on his colleague. WTF? Whatever record Daly had in the past has been eclipsed by his mindless behavior of late. This is the learned debate of our city leaders over Muni policy? God help us.

But not to be outdoen, "Supervisor" Alioto-Pier made a visit from her faraway home to spend a few days doing a job she doesn't seem to want much, to try and torpedo plans (supported by all the businesses and residents in the area) to extend the F-line. Turns out Ms. Pier (I can't call her Supervisor because she doesn't actually do any work for the public at this point) decided to use her bullying abilities to help out a handful of wealthy donors to some failed campaign (which one?) of hers and screw up what was a great plan.

This little meeting proves that the bullying do-nothing out-of-towner elitists exist on both sides, and that both "Supervisors" are embarrassments to our City.

April 23, 2010

Did Muni Boss Nate Ford Even Read The Article He Hates So Much? Even He Can't Say!

This was too hilarious to just re-tweet on Twitter: Word is that Muni Boss Nathaniel Ford, who's been screaming mad about "snitches" (but not about demolishing your Muni and jacking up the price), was asked if he'd read the cover story co-authored by Joe Eskenazi and myself. He says no, but also wrote a letter criticizing it.

Which makes one wonder - how can one write a letter attacking an article if they didn't actually read it?

Something tells me Mr. Ford has spent so much time in the doublespeak world of Newsomville, that he probably can't remember the Message of the Day his boss dictated to him, and now honestly doesn't know. It's not like he's been particularly forthright with us in the past to begin with, right?

Happy Friday. Oh hey Mr. Ford? Word is there was yet another accident on the Muni Metro system late last night. Helpful hint: when putting buses and trains on the system, you're supposed to avoid accidents, not cause more of them.

Oh and that whole "serving the public" thing? You're supposed to avoid making our lives miserable with slow, unreliable service at high prices, NOT stick it to us while you reel in big pay and make Muni the Mayor's punching bag. Consider this a message from the owners/riders of Muni - WE'RE NOT "CUSTOMERS," DAMMIT!

Just so ya know.

April 19, 2010

Maybe It's Time Nathaniel Ford Left, And Replaced With Someone Who Will Work for US for a Change?

As the owner/riders of Muni, we need to ask ourselves if our appointed managers are doing the job. And, after much review of his tenure, I am finally beginning to wonder if we have hired the best person for the job. I'm talking, of course, about the very, very well paid Nathaniel Ford, our alleged "CEO" of the MTA, but who seems to think his job description is to ruin the agency as much as possible. I'd resisted for some time now to join the call to see this guy go, understanding that his job sure as Hell isn't easy. In light of recent events, however, he needs to leave.

Reading about his temper tantrum with Muni management, in reaction to the article SF Weekly reporter Joe Eskenazi and I wrote last week was amusing at first - it reminded me of the time I wrote an article in high school that pissed off the principal because the school board read it.

Re-reading the post, I realized just how arrogant, and how dishonest Mr. Ford is as our CEO. He's not upset at the content of the article - he's just upset that public servants talked to the public (i.e. us, the owner/riders) and spilled the beans on the lies and deceit about Muni that have been a hallmark of his tenure there. No disputing the facts, and no plan of course to fix Muni - just engage in attacks, no doubt coordinated with Mr. Mayor. (Also a hallmark of the Ford regime: a significant decrease in morale at all levels of the agency.)

More importantly, since he started, he seems to have shown a true distintrest in trying to make Muni the best it could be, despite bad times. He is now openly admitting he is going to significantly downsize the system, permanently, and basically ignore that $3 million Transit Effecitiveness Project to guide said cuts. Even if Muni were to get "more money," (and you know they'll be begging and crying and saying "state gov't" this and so on) the cuts will be permanent, so no matter what ends up happning, you will be relying on a slower, stupider, crowded, and dirty system - far worse than the one he found when he was hired even if Muni gets "more money". Sound practical? Of course not.

This is not acceptable, and since Nathaniel Ford doesn't seem to get that his first duty is to serve the owner/riders, and not the whims of the Mayor and his political apparatchniks in Room 200, then it's time for him to take his trail of destruction elsewhere, and let us find someone else who understands that public service is not about personal power or personal enrichment with big pay, but instead a chance to do some good for the people (us) who pay their salaries.

Realistically, nothing will happen until we replace Newsom (or whomever is actually in charge at City Hall), but for now, every time there's a public hearing, let Nathaniel Ford know what you think about his Muni-bashing tenure at one of those phony public hearings the MTA likes to hold to make you feel like you have input, when in fact they made the decisions long ago. It's a sad state of affairs, but then again, that article in the Weekly wouldn't have struck a nerve if there wasn't truth to it.

April 16, 2010

Happiness (Foursquare Day) and Sadness (N Judah Delays ) on A Friday...

NJudah-postage copy.jpgThis morning was one of those mornings I woke up early, turned on the computer and suddenly got a zillion messages about today's Sunset Tunnel disaster. My first impulse was to turn off the computer, and literally run out of town when these things happen, just because it's so depressing. If ever you wonder why it is that folks literally celebrated that tunnel as a "God-send," taking the shuttle downtown would remind you why.

There are several reports that the reason the wires were collapsed was because someone decided to steal copper wiring, and thought that stealing it from you was a good idea. I'm still trying to verify this, but I've now heard it twice from 2 sources, and from the accounts of the damage, that would be about right. But I'll still try and find out for sure.

However, some happiness to brighten what looks to be a nice Friday, weather-wise. As you may or may not know, today is Foursquare Day, the first sort-of-holiday for a mobile app. What this means is many places are doing specials on drinks, food, etc. You can find a list of San Francisco events here, most notable are the ones at Pacific Catch in the Marina and in the Inner Sunset, who are attempting to get the "Swarm" badge for all who participate. There's also one at the Ferry Buliding too.

Also, don't forget that tomorrow is Dogfest 2010! Whether you have a dog or just think dogs are awesome, this event, which is a benefit for McKinley Elementary School, is always a fun springtime event and procee