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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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Another Hearing on N/L Turnarounds and More on October 24th!

Tune your Wayback Machine to January of this year, and recall that Supervisor Carmen Chu held a pretty hard hitting hearing on Muni's faiiures with regards to service west of 19th and in other "faraway" places (read not that far unless you're some doofus hipster/downtowner/outoftowner type that gets all cranky if something's not downtown).

Anyway, it seems Supervisor Chu has decided to do this thing called "holding people accountable" and will have another hearing on October 24th, at 10 PM, in Room 263 at City Hall. (That's this upcoming Monday). You can imagine that there will likely again be some disinfo rehab necessary to decode what's real and what's not.

If you can't make the meeting, you can always check it out on SFGOV.tv, or you can send in comments and questions to Supervisor Chu's office online as well. I'll have to likely cover it via cable tv as I'm busy that day, but just remember that the mainstream media is in full spin mode on behalf of certain people and factions within the city, so don't expect much out of them at this point.

It would be interesting to see how many Mayoral candidates showed up, that's for sure. Even more interesting - how many know what they're talking about and how many are content to say one thing in one place and say another elsewhere.

We'll see!

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!

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 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.

An Open Letter To One of The Best N Judah Operators Ever!

Dear Awesome N Judah Operator From Today:

Hi!

You don't know me, but I'm possibly your biggest fan. No, scratch that. I know many people who are regular riders of the N who are your biggest fans, too. No, scratch that, you have a lot of fans out there who when I describe you and know who I'm talking about. And yet I don't know your name or what you look like (since I usually board in the 2nd car).

So, let me tell you why you are the kind of Muni professional that represents what happens when good people do a great job for the owner/riders, based on today's inbound ride from Irving/7th to Duboce/Church. You operated the train at a safe speed, and we never fell forward from a sudden stop.

When we got to stops, you announced in a clear and easy to understand voice connecting trains or other things a passenger might need to know, such as when we approached UCSF. On top of that, you also reinforced the rules regarding senior and disabled seats which I've never heard other operators do (I'm not saying this doesn't happen, I just haven't heard it personally because I dont' ride every train and bus every day).

My only regret was that I could get to the front car in time before you departed Duboce and Church to either take your picture or at least say "good job" before the train had to leave. So instead, I Twittered 311, and later called them as well, because I think people who do a great job deserve a commendation. Too often, I see the bad apples get all the attention while people who actually do the job are left in the dark.

So today, Muni N Operator let me just say, on behalf of all of us who rely on the N, whenever we board and hear your voice, we know we're not riding the failwhale for our ride. Thanks, and please, keep up the good work.

Sincerely,

The N Judah Chronicles

PS: In a related #muniwin, a big high five to the young person who helped the seniors having trouble bording on the outbound N this afternoon. Way to be a helpful owner/rider!

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.

February 21, 2011

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 18, 2011

What a Shock: the MTA Board Withdraws Requirement Its Employees Pay for Parking Like You Do!

To everyone's surprise (but mine), the SFMTA Board withdrew, without discussion, a proposal to make the MTA and Muni's employees pay for parking, the way every single San Franciscan does, instead of enjoying taxpayer-subsidized free parking. This, as the MTA wants to jack up parking ticket revenue like crazy and jack up meter rates.

Listening to the whining of Muni's employees was bad enough. But even worse was that SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan withdrew this from discussion, without allowing other board members to comment on it at all. He later said his reasoning was based on how the MTA's employees were "feeling."

News flash, Mr. Nolan: you're supposed to be serving the people of San Francisco, not the well paid employees of a dysfunctional transit agency. Mayor Newsom isn't around to pull your strings anymore, so you do have the option to act in the public interest once in a while. But, as a former suburban politician who has made poor decisions since you were first appointed, one wonders if perhaps it's time you resigned so that Mayor Lee can appoint someone more qualified to the job.

Folks, this is why it is SO important in 2011 you select a Mayor who will do serious things about transit, and other Really Big Issues That Need To Be Dealt With, instead of showboaty politics like we've had for the last seven years. Muni doesn't have to be a national joke - it is that way because we've elected people who don't care, or simply aren't qualified to serve in office. Let's try something different for a change.

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 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.

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 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.

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 23, 2010

Charter Service on the N-Judah! HELL YES!

Over the weekend our friends at the Market Street Railway noted on their blog that a ban on chartered historic streetcars on the N Judah line may come to an end. It seems that some tests were done at night and several of the old cars can successfully navigate past the boarding platforms after all.

The ban on any historic trains west of Arguello came about when a wider car hit one of the boarding platforms. However, after last week's test, there's some hope that at least some of these cars could make their way out to Ocean Beach.

This is not unprecedented, and there's plenty of photographs of old cars making the trip. However, I can safely assure you, the Loyal Readers, that if in fact they restore this to Ocean Beach, I am SO going to organize a charter trip, hopefully on the "boat tram" on a sunny day.

August 13, 2010

Friday Roundup: An Event on Irving, Outside Lands, Muni Rider Voter Guide, Etc.

Laundryshowpostcard-1.jpgThere's about half a dozen pieces of blogging detritus hopping around on my Mac's hard drive right now and not enough time to write a separate post for each one, so here's a short roundup on a number of topics.

First, however, is an art show I'd heard about last night at the Inner Sunset meetup at the Little Shamrock. Entitled "Dirty Laundry," it's an art show hosted by ART I.S. at Laundrapalooza (an actual laundromat), on Irving between 23rd and 24th. It's an interesting idea, to say the least and if you're in the neighborhood between 7 and 10 and aren't going to Outside Lands, you should check it out.

- Speaking of Outside Lands, this year's music festival starts tomorrow, August 14th and will last through the weekend. If you're coming out to the festival, don't be a fool and drive. THERE IS NOT GOING TO BE ANY PARKING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND TRAFFIC WILL SUCK. Both the Richmond SF blog and Akit's Complaint Department offer some suggestions on how to enjoy the festival, or at least not have it ruin your life if you live nearby. Personally, I think by only having it on the weekend, and leaving out Friday made it easier for everyone - the Friday commute isn't hosed and it sounds like this time around things will work out better than the first one a few years ago. Plus they have locals providing the food this time. Cool.

- My side project, the Muni Rider Voter Guide, received its first candidate questionnaire returned today. Candidate Jim Meko, running in District 6, sent in his responses just a day after receiving the questionnaire in the e-mail. I was curious to see who would do so, and decided to have a secret prize for the first respondent - a pre December 2009 cuts map of the Muni system which I'd obtained at the end of 2009 from the MTA via then-spokesman Judson True.

Not only is it laminated, in mint condition and easily framed, it is also a reminder that this recent chatter about "restoration of cuts" is not even close to the cuts they made back then - and labeled an "overhaul." Congratulations Mr. Meko and candidates, please send in your questionnaires so voters know how you stand on Muni issues.

-Another update: You may or may not recall a challenge I made to Muni management to actually ride Muni. In June, I marked off Day 42 of the challenge, having heard not a word from said bigwigs. I know, shocking, right?

Well now you can tack on another 45 days to that, bring us to Day 87 of no response from Muni management. You can also tack on 45 days for the long awaited answers regarding the Muni shelters on 9th and Irving as well. Tick tock, MTA!

Finally, this really doesn't have a lot to do with anything, but I collected the "The Social Network" movie trailer (My GOD that movie sounds like it's going to be snoreville) along with all the parodies, which are way more entertaining. Go to the Blog Some People Read, and check it out.

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 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.

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 12, 2010

How I Came to Support the "Fix Muni Now" Campaign - The F.A.Q

I figured I'd start the week with a bang, and talk about this Fix Muni Now campaign that just started gathering signatures for a November amendment to the City's Charter (a local constitution, if you will).

After being against the measure, when I'd heard the concept of it, I am now for it, after doing a significant amount of research the last month or so (related to the Big Project which will be rolling out shortly).

This wasn't an easy conclusion, but I spent a lot of time reading up on everything from "memorandums of understanding" to the charter amendment itself, as well as talk to many experts of all types, and it's one of those things that is unfortunately necessary when you have a City Charter that's been amended and re-amended as many times as ours has.

The fact that we have to vote on arcane policy within one city department regarding one of many of its classes of employees to ensure it's managed properly still drives me nuts - I personally do not care, nor did I want to know the minutiae of the workings of one subset of the MTA's employees - but this unfortunately is necessary course correction for the agency, and we have to vote on it.

To make this a bit easier to read, I'm going to do a pretend "Q&A" about the measure, that hopefully will make sense. Click through and learn more about this thing.

Continue reading "How I Came to Support the "Fix Muni Now" Campaign - The F.A.Q" »

March 24, 2010

A Windfall For Muni? Or Not? UPDATED

Right now, everyone from Governor Schwarznegger to members of the State Legislature are running around patting each other on the back about how much they just "did" for transit agencies like Muni, with this little bill the Gov. signed. Heck, everyone's acting like somehow Muni just received a "windfall" of cash to make its troubles go away.

Really? Well, no. It's more like suggesting Homer Simpson is a "noble hero" worth a handshake when says "Remember when I returned you that money I loaned you? Well now it's time for you to do me a favor!"

As pointed out last week, yes, this is a nice bit of money, after many years of the state's illegal looting of state gas tax fund was found, um, illegal by the courts. But by no means is this as big a break as some politicians would make it seem. Nor has one single legislator conceded that their votes in the past to steal the money voters approved was wrong (do theives ever say "sorry?").

And, the gas tax formula guarantee(80% roads/20% transit), the driver's way of paying their fair share of transportation costs, is no more. The only assurance we have this money won't get stolen again, is to have a pack of Sacramento legislators say "Trust us." So while this is a nice bit of news, better than the usual kick in the face anyone riding Muni gets via the news, it's not all hams and plaques either.

Muni now has a challenge though - they can't just bark out "farehikeservicecuteconomybadstatecuts" any longer - and it will be up to them to show that this money won't just wind up in a work-order mess, or get diverted to things that won't be helpful to make the day-to-day operations work as best as they can in tough times. Those that are interested would be wise to keep their eyes open and not be fooled in the coming weeks as Muni and the MTA make decisions about financial matters.

If you're curious about the San Francisco Transit Rider's Union some folks are talking about, they're having a meeting tomorrow at 6pm at SPUR's "Urban Center" located at 654 Mission Street. Find out what they're all about and share your ideas with them.

UPDATE: It's really amazing to see how many news outlets are just flat-out wrong about what this is and is not, and what the effects will be. It's especially amazing as these are "journalistic" outlets of some sort, and allegedly superior to anyone that doesn't have a Big Jay next to their name. Whatever.

UPDATE 2: And yet another example of the mainstream press calling this a "windfall" when it is not, this time in regards to SamTrans and CalTrain. Amazing.

March 4, 2010

Mind Boggling Legislative WTF: Passing a Law to Make a Thief Stop Breaking Law, Give Back Your Stolen iPhone

wtfjs.jpgStay with me on this one, folks. Trust me, the John Stewart "I'm Literally Speechless After Reading This And Am Putting My Face In My Hands" moment of silence is worth it.

So, it seems that folks in Sacramento are patting each other on the back about how they got some bill passed that would restore gas tax money to transit agencies around the state, including Muni.

Now, recall that the state raid on said gas tax money (which voters said should go 80% to roads and 20% to transit) was ruled totally freakin' illegal by the courts. Stealing is usually against the law.

To put it another way - if someone robs you of your iPhone on Muni they're breaking the law and aren't supposed to do that.

No matter, this isn't the theft of an iPhone, this is theft committed by the state so they get away with it.

Anyway.

So sure, Muni got mugged (as did every road and transit agency in the state). But today's news is no real cause for celebration. You see, they're passing a new law to make the state obey the law it broke, and restore a little bit of the eleventy billion dollars they stole already.

Put another way, a new law was passed to make the thief follow that already existing "thou shall not steak f*cking iPhones on Muni" law, and sure, they're returning your iPhone - only after they broke the glass, f*cked up your iTunes music collection, and loaded it up with lame apps.

Feel free to exclaim WTF if you must, but hold on, it gets better.

The Governor isn't sure he'll sign it into law. Because, being the mugger, he's "not sure" it's a good idea.

Even though the State Supreme Court said to not do so is breaking the law he's sworn to uphold

[Insert Stewart-esque Speechless Face in Hands Moment Here]

###

February 26, 2010

Why the SFTMA/Muni's "Calvinball" Fast Passes Are A Waste of Time

calvinball.jpgIf you want to see ineffective "Calvinball-like" decision making, one only needs to see the latest decisions by the SFMTA on the prices for monthly "Fast Passes" that were approved today. Let's start by going back to the most recent increase, whereby they decided to raise the cost to:

-$60, if you only wanted to ride the bus, the Metro, the cable car, or an express bus, and

-$70, if you wanted to ride the bus, the Metro, the cable car, an express bus, and BART within the city (the BART fare was previously included in the cost of a Fast Pass).

This "compromise" was designed to give you the illusion that you could "save money" if you didn't think you'd be riding a BART anywhere within city limits. However, several problems came up in the process:

-Many retailers would run out of the $60 passes, so you either had to leave and find another, or pony up the $70, regardless;

-It was recently revealed that Translink users who loaded a Fast Pass on their cards not only were being automatically re-upped at the higher level, but now, many machines downtown (which you must use if you've got a Commuter Card benefit) were not allowing for the $60 option;

-And of course, the inevitable confusion and the hassles at BART gates when people didn't realize what they'd done by picking the $60 pass.

All in all, it was a way to give out the illusion of "opting out" of something you don't use. That really doesn't make any sense, because a transit system is not a buffet which you pick and choose - it's a comprehensive system with different modes of transit that when, properly managed, all work together to create an efficient system.

But then came today's epic FAIL of a vote by an ineffective MTA board led by a former politician from the suburbs. NOW, we have the following system, whereby the cost has been raised to:

-$60, which allows you to only ride the bus, or Metro and;

-$70, which now allows you to ride the bus, the Metro, the cable car, an express bus, and BART within the city, and ride the Express buses. (Otherwise you'll have to pay a $5 premium for the cable car and the Express buses) (source: SFMTA twitter account).

Really? And they're cutting service 10% and making Night Owl service a once an hour joke? REALLY?

The MTA bureaucrats who came up with this plan should be ashamed of themselves. They're essentially raising the price of a useful Muni Pass that used to cost $55 to $70, all the while giving off the illusion that they really only raised the cost of a pass by $5. By removing most of the things we'd been getting (like better service, and being able to use BART and Cable Cars and Express buses), they've made the lower cost pass a useless joke.

The MTA should have been more honest and either raised the cost of the stupid pass to $70 (so they don't have to print multiple kinds of passes and f*ck up Translink) or split the difference and raised it to $65. To do so with these Calvinball like rules, all the while of course subsidizing drivers of private cars, and subsidizing other departments with Muni money that others called shenanigans on, is flat out bullshit.

Don't even get me started on how confusing the tourist options have become. That's a whole other game of Calvinball!

NOTE! Was there a better way to balance the budget without cutting service, and all the other lame-ass ways the MTA chose to go? Yes there was - SPUR took the time the MTA didn't to come up with a better budget which you can read about over here, in PDF format.

Did the MTA even bother to look at it or listen? Hell no! Of course not. That would mean they'd be responsible managers of the Muni system we own. Epic FAIL.

February 18, 2010

Looking for Solutions for Your Muni? Don't Wait For City Hall or the MTA....

It was unfortunate to hear the results of the Muni operators' union vote the other day against some minor concessions to try and help stave off the worst of Muni budget cuts, especially since Muni got some rare GOOD news, as the boondoggle at BART was rejected by the Federal Government, meaning that many agencies will be getting a significant amount of money to pay for repairs and maintenance. But after making a few intemperate remarks on that Twitter thing, further investigation by our friends at Streetsblog indicate this was a big ol' TWU leadership failure to inform their members, one which perhaps should be no surprise.

TWU's leadership has traditionally been on the side of the handful of bad apples, going to court to defend them, instead of supporting rules that would reward the good operators in the fleet. We all know this, and it's no secret than in many cases, union membership finds itself with a leadership clique that is out of touch with its members and the public it's supposed to serve.

But don't expect grandstanding politicians like Sup. Sean Elsbernd to be part of the solution. He has made a lot of headlines allegedly being Our Friend Vs. The Evil Muni Drivers with his stupid charter proposal. The problem is, Elsbernd doesn't really give a damn about Muni at all - he loyally voted for Newsom's looting of Muni by other departments - ironically something, in a John Kerry-esque flip flop, now says he's against. As for our "Mayor", Mr. Football Bat, well he's off using taxpayer money for another abortive bid for statewide office, and has never liked Muni anyway, so don't expect any help from him, either.

There's some noise being made by "progressive" Supervisors, but again, it's mostly noise made by freshman Supervisors who have proven more adept at symbolic gestures and big talk, but don't really seem to understand what they're up against, nor do they have a clearer idea of what they would do better.

If you, as the owner and rider of Muni are tired of the political games and nonsense that makes you late to work, to school, and to the things you like to do in your daily life, then, I'm sorry to say, it's going to be you, along with your friends and neighbors, that's going to be the one to get us out of this mess. None of the people at City Hall really care about your daily experiences, be they on Muni or dealing with any city department or issue, so you really can't expect them to do much besides respond to a lot of loud, angry phone calls and emails.

If you really want something to change for the better, we're all going to have to find a way to fundamentally change how the MTA is governed and funded so we don't have these perpetual failures every single year. (And sorry, folks, but this whole "don't let the people or the electeds be involved" bullshit doesn't work, it hasn't for a long time, and anyone who continues to be an apologist for it is no friend of Muni owner/riders)

Just as an aside - when I started writing in 2005, major, systemwide failures were not unheard of, but they did not happen with the consistency we're seeing now. It's now to the point where sometimes I don't even want to turn on Twitter or go online, because I don't want to hear about more misery being inflicted by these fools at the top.

January 29, 2010

This Week Was a WTF For the Records. Newsom's Jihad "War on Muni" is in Full Force

madgavin2.jpgThis week was truly one for the record books wasn't it?

What with some pretty major failures every day of the week, with Newsom's "War on Muni" in full effect, and an MTA Board ruthlessly committed to carry out that war on us owners and riders of Muni (with one exception, thank God), this was a week that really shows just what's wrong with the system, and why we need people to change it.

It's clear that the Mayor isn't just indifferent to Muni owner/riders, he and his overpaid political staff are on a jihad to ruin the system as much as possible before he (finally) leaves office next year. The fatwa was issued several times via his shadowy staff and the clerics at the MTA board, with a zeal only a radical could love.

MTA commissioners have been bullied into not even considering revoking all the freebies cars get in the City, and absolutely refuses to consider real revenue replacements for the Sacramento mugging committed by the Governor. Instead they want to drive this system into the ground and make you pay the penalties in time and money. One has to begin to wonder if Newsom gets some sort of personal gratification for this policy of destruction, the kind you can only correct through years of psychotherapy or at kink.com

But all was not lost. The heroes at MuniFail.com gave us a new tool to express our will, although the Mayor's expensive political spokesman basically said "FU" in the Chronicle this morning. Never mind - at least now we can quantify how much the Mayor hates Muni owner riders!

There were a few bright spots. We had a possible chance to end a foolish waste of federal dollars, but in the end, despite the heroics of Chris Daly (!) the project passed, for now. There's still a chance this will end in ether money for all Bay area transit operators or just plain tears, but I give credit to Daly and the others at the MTC who voted "no" for sticking by their beliefs, despite union and politician bullying.

Other bright spots included a new app to catalog your day in Muni, and a break from all that rainy weather. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi took over this week as SFCTA chair, and we got to see some historical photos of what the place known as the Blackthorn today from back in 1950.

I'm taking the rest of the day off, but I'll be posting some new business reviews, and some new features this weekend. Until then, I'm on Twitter at @njudah and the N Judah Chronicles has a Facebook "Fan Page" (!) also. Many times as breaking news comes from multiple sources (be they the Twitteratti of San Francisco, or our friends at SF Appeal, SF Weekly, Streetsblog, and the myriad of transit bloggers out there), I will first break it on Twitter, and write a post later. Have a great weekend!

January 28, 2010

Sigh...ANOTHER Incident On the N...Gavin, MTA, Do You Even Give a Frak? UPDATE!

At about 2:40pm this afternoon there was an incident involving a pedestrian and an N Judah streetcar at 9th and Judah. Details were vague, although the pedestrian was transported to SF General with non-life threatening injuries. Coverage of the event can also be found at SF Appeal.com and CBS5

Although I did pick up on some information, because I didn't get it officially "on the record" and the head Muni guys on the scene couldn't talk for legal reasons, so I couldn't conduct an interview on the scene like I'd hoped. So following journalistic ethics, I'm not going to transcribe what I overheard, since that would not be a good thing to do.

One thing I do notice people do often is cross against red "don't walk" signals with a green light, because it's not entirely clear by the signage that one should hold off on walking until they get the actual "walk" signal. The signs are a little bit small, and not like the ones in Chinatown which are clearer and at eye level.

I will say that the number of "near misses" and accidents has gone down, but it's never cool when anyone gets hurt, for any reason at all, and I hope the person who fell down is ok and isn't hurt too bad.

Complete set of photos are here.

UPDATE: As I had suspected from looking at the scene, the train never touched the pedestrian at all. In fact the pedestrian had fallen down, and the train stopped so as to avoid hitting the person. Read all about it at the SF Appeal link at the top of the page.


January 24, 2010

A Weird Way To Perhaps Help Cash Strapped Muni And Other Agencies Around The Bay

UPDATE: For more posts relating to this subject, check out this roundup at Living in the O, and tell the MTC you'd like to see those federal dollars spent better. Given that BART's about to announce more cuts, this is a chance to "un-screwup" transit in the Bay Area for once.

Hey! All this week you can get 15% off T-shirts and other items at any Zazzle store or at the N Judah Chronicles store using the code ZAZZLEFORYOU. Offer ends Feb. 3rd!

Over the weekend I got an email from Rebecca at Living in the O about a situation (also reported by Eric at Transbay Blog) about a rather odd situation developing regarding $70 million in federal funds floating around the Bay, and how there may be a chance to rescue said federal cash from a rather useless, expensive project, and distribute it to cash strapped agencies to pay for much needed maintenance.

Basically, the much maligned BART Oakland Airport Connector, a $70 million "bridge to nowhere" style project hasn't been meeting certain federal guidelines to be able to accept the federal cash. If BART doesn't get its act together and have said report signed, sealed and delivered by March 5th, said $70 million leaves the Bay Area for elsewhere. Normally, citizens would be in the position of taking federal cash (and the jobs it might provide) for a bad project, or seeing said cash go to some other state or region.

However, there's a silver lining. The Metropolitian Transportation Commission can vote this week to have the cash re-allocated to maintenance projects for Muni, BART, AC Transit and other looted transit agencies. Under the rules, this money cannot be used for big pay for anyone, only actual maintenance projects.

This would be a good thing in a time of budget crapola. Personally, I think that if we're going to see the feds spend money, the least they can do is spend it on something that might actually be of use, instead of blowing out the deficit for something that doesn't help.

If you're interested in this issue and would like to see a minimizing of budget silliness in the Bay Area, you can email the MTC and let them know what you think, or if you can attend the meeting on Wednesday, January 27th, you can do that or listen in via the MTC website. (As always these things are during the day which makes it very difficult for people to attend in person). Incidentally, Sup. Chris Daly serves on the MTC Board, so you could always email him if you so choose.

This isn't a cure-all, but it'd be nice to see more Muni trains in working order, and see things like tracks being repaired and buses in operation, versus seeing some Disney-esque, expensive, goofball project hog all the money.

January 18, 2010

The Newsom/Ford Legacy: The Total Destruction of Muni (Or Maybe Not.)

Note: I got a guest spot at the SF Weekly blog, The Snitch this week! Check it out! It addresses some of the silly stuff the Board of Supervisors is considering.

If you're not already aware of the iminent trashing of Muni by its own board of directors, you might want to read some of the detailed coverage so you can at least be prepared if they go through to just expect crappy, expensive service. SF Streetsblog has done a good job researching the dirty detailis, and other blogs have neatly summarized the proposal as well.

I'll simply add this - the cynicism of this Mayor truly knows no bounds. He made a point of not mentioning anything Muni related in his lastet "State of the City" speech, saying at the time that his political aides from his failed gubernatorial run told him "not to." Then they release these cuts to service late on Friday so no one would notice it. BraVO, "Mayor" Newsom. BraVO.

More importantly, the MTA board (appointed by Mayor Football Bat) apparently has a mental block on considering anything BUT service cuts and fare increases. The Mayor refuses to make auto owners pay their fair share for using the roads, and the MTA board refuses to consider any other sources of money. We cannot make up the giant hole created by the state with more parking fines, beating on Muni drivers, and cutting service and jacking up costs. This new proposal will pretty much ensure that smug green San Francisco will have a worse transit system than that in most Third World nations.

If you can make it to the meeting tomorrow, show up and let the MTA board know that you, as one of the hundreds of thousands of owners of Muni that you're not satisfied with their performance, and you're tired of their mismanagement costing you time and money.

If you can't (because they insist on holding this during business hours when most of us are at work), write a lot of emails or letters to everyone: Supervisors, the "Mayor," the MTA Board, and even the dead tree papers. Whether it will help or not remains to be seen, but even if the fools at City Hall are intent on making Muni even worse, we can at least give them a hard time about it.

As for me, an idea I'd thought about last month is starting to take on a new life. In 2010, we're going to have a lot of folks running for office, all of whom will be stuffing your mailbox with a lot of junk mail saying how great they are. I've decided to create a "candidate questionnaire," with the results posted here for everyone to see. We'll find out who knows and who doesn't know about getting around town these days, and we'll have something besides pretty pictures and empty rhetoric to judge them by.

UPDATE: If you want to see just how far out of touch the MTA leadership is, go read this piece by Nathaniel Ford and Tom Nolan. The sheer amount of doublespeak they use in this thing boggles the mind. They basically say "every thing is fine, don't worry, and oh yeah I guess we might have a problem, but oh well what can you do we're still doing great."

Remember that when we have one of our weekly downtown tunnel failwhale regattas. More importantly, if you ever wanted evidence that MTA Board members lie, this is an example. Tom Nolan admitted to SF Streetsblog that they pretty much do whatever the Mayor says, and if the Mayor says "loot Muni and screw Muni owners" then they do it. So which is it, Mr. Nolan?

UPDATE 2: The Market Street Railway people write a very informative letter going over the history of the F-Market Line, and point out how this won't be the cash jackpot the MTA's boneheaded staff think it will be, and how Muni is essentially contradicting the Transit Effectiveness Project's report, and every statement they've said about the F Market Line in the first place. This was a point made in yesterday's SF Weekly too.

January 6, 2010

A Response to TWU's "Memo" that Littered Buses Today, And Other Muni Detritus

monopolygif.gifSo I go turn on the Twitter, and it seems many people riding a bus or train this morning got these printed screeds from TWU, who apparently in the second decade of the 21st century, thought the best way to reach the owners/riders of Muni was to litter buses with their POV. While I can't read the entire thing, it's clear this is about the "bonuses" that got everyone in a tizzy last month.

Unlike other city departments, Muni's operators don't negotiate pay every few years - they have a formula that sets their compensation. Essentially it ensures they get paid some of the highest salaries in the nation, while also ensuring that Muni drivers can never go on strike. The idea was to ensure labor peace, as opposed to the risk of strikes, like we saw last year at BART. This was done at a time when no one could forsee just how crap-tacular our economy and government would tank, so it seemed like a good idea.

It is very easy to put all the blame on Muni's financial problems soley on drivers since they're the ones people see every day. Why, we even have politicians, who in the past never gave a damn about Muni, coming up with Yet More Ballot Measures to grab headlines, but who are the same ones who supported the looting of Muni in the first place.

However, these grandstanding moves don't address the whole picture. Muni had a big hole punched in its revenue stream by the state of California's illegal shell game budgets, and no one locally has a plan to replace that with a reliable local revenue source. Instead, the plan has been to drive up fares, and drastically cut service. Yesterday's blog post had a few links to some great summaries of how we really got here, and are worth keeping in mind. Let's not forget there's the little discussed detail about how lavishly management and SEIU members are paid at Muni - but since we don't see them every day, no one talks about that...hmm.

What TWU doesn't seem to appreciate, though, is that the lack of public support for them right now isn't because the public is made up of hateful people who want to force drivers to slave away for 10 bucks an hour with no benefits and regular beatings. They've brought on the pain they're experiencing all on their own. Let's make a quick list:

- Arbitrarily turning the N at 19th or Sunset , stranding Outer Sunset passengers;

-Going to court to prevent the public from knowing who the "worst of the worst" are;

- Coming on my blog and telling owner/riders to "get a damn car" after being criticized for an illegal labor action that screwed the morning commute;

-Rampant absenteeism that screws over schedules, drives up costs, and even fellow bus drivers;

- Using the PA system to attack people,

- Never giving any help to the truly GOOD men and women who actually care about their job well.

(You can find more examples in the NJC Archives for added fun.)

Like so many people at all levels of City government, Muni, the MTA and many people who work there seem to have forgotten that we're the true owners of Muni, not them. We are the ones they are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the system they've been entrusted to manage and operate. We are weary of recession, unemployment, barely-employment, and the constant threat of job losses no matter how hard we work.

We're constantly asked to pay more for less service, and we are always the ones taking it in the pocketbook, while we see high pay for executives and a Mayor who steals money from safety inspectors to pay for expensive political hacks. When we've had another day delayed to incompetence or cuts, and get treated like crap by the people who work for us, we're not going to be very sympathetic to them as a group, no matter what the facts are.

They just know that they're asked to pay more and get less at a time when they can't afford it. If the do-nothings around town sucking down big pay at our expense don't wake up soon, people will find a way to ensure they do, and it won't be pleasant. It might not result in the best policy, possible, but people will find a way to at least feel that the pain is being spread around a bit more evenly.

December 4, 2009

Let's Not All Get Misty About Tomorrow's Impending Muni Permanent FAIL...

So I guess the thing all the "cool" hipster blogs are doing to discuss the impending Muni Permanent Embedded FAIL that starts tomorrow is to write these f*cking "eulogies" for various bus lines. Oh, how cute.

Me, I'm not having any of it. I think our friend Akit has the right idea, pointing out that we're on the eve of a major meltdown on Monday, and it isn't going to be pretty. This isn't the time for mushy nostalgia pieces best saved for the school paper - this is time to get organized.

We have a Mayor and an MTA boss who celebrate these deep cuts as "efficiencies" with doublespeak that would make Airstrip One's MiniTru blush. We have a compliant press who has mis-represented what's happening tomorrow by repeating said truisms. We have a Board of Supervisors who celebrate big big increases in Fast Pass costs for most of us as "keeping fares low" (thanks for nothing, Sup. Avalos and your so-called "progressive" pals!) that boggle the mind.

And we have a laughable attempt by the head of the Muni driver's union to show solidarity with us owners, only to find he's just as full of shit as he's always been. (Hey buddy, check out how your rampant random absenteeism screwed riders of the 71, mmkay?)

I don't have an exact plan or answer about what to do, but I do know this - rampant bitching on blogs here and elsewhere will only get us so far. It boggles the mind that the bike people pretty much get whatever they want, including city funding for the monthly Critical Mass ride, but those of us who own Muni and rely on it to get around town and do what we want to do are ignored. Mayor Football Bat sucks up and subsidizes car travel and talks big about bikes, but hasn't missed a chance to screw Muni riders since he took office. So-called "progressives" talk mushy mouthed happy talk about green this or that, but have proven rather useless as they always always capitulate to power in a tough fight. (Lookin' at you, Mr. Chiu.)

At some point, I think we're all going to have to take a little responsibility and find a way to retake the power away from the bumbling idiots at City Hall and find a better way to run Muni. I have no idea what form that would take, but then again, I'm just a FastPass payin' owner, not someone being paid 300,000 a year plus lifetime benefits, either. All I know is that this half-assed way the MTA is run is NOT WORKING, and anyone defending it needs their head examined.

In the meantime I'm setting up a post for Monday that will be where you can report any and all massive FAILs for the morning commute...

November 23, 2009

Follow Up: Taking Another Look at that Muni Crime Hearing...With Some Surprises...

So today was the Big Day for that Board of Supervisors hearing on Muni Crime. Predictably, mainstream outlets focused primarily on the individual incidents people spoke to in public comment, while Streetsblog put more of a focus on what the SFPD and the MTA were promising, and other outlets provided their take on the proceedings. You can also watch the show at the SFGOV TV website.

Between these, and others, you can get a good idea of what was discussed at the meeting, and you can download the SFPD presentation and read for yourself some rather interesting statistics about the most crime ridden lines and some proposed ways to more effectively deal with Muni safety. Some of it is really interesting!

Now, let's note a couple of things - the Deputy Police Chief who's tasked with things like Muni safety has only been in office about a week so to be fair, he's new (having been appointed by Chief Gascon). Also, reading at least of these solutions fall in to the "No Duh" category. (Really? Putting a real police presence on Muni deters crime? Don't wave around your iPod or iPhone in public? Who told?).

It's at least promising that someone decided to take a look at statistics and determine where best to put police in the pilot program in the Ingleside police station's part of town to better use resources. Although, as a friend of mine pointed out, as more and more SFPD officers no longer live in SF itself, there are fewer off duty officers riding the bus home who used to be able to respond to incidents too. Interesting.

However, we can read all these Big Plans, and we can have the Board of Supervisors use their (limited) role in pressuring the MTA, Muni and the SFPD to do some actual fighting of crime and ensuring of safety, we have to remember how we got here in the first place. Remember, "Mayor" Newsom was looting the MTA budget for the SFPD, and yet somehow crime was going up on Muni, and down citywide.

During that futile fight over the MTA budget, when it was revealed how much money was going to the SFPD(and other departments), with no agreement between the MTA and the SFPD about how this was going to work. People started to take a second look at this massive transfer of cash, and try and get some accountability so at least the MTA would get something for its money. Fair enough

Due to the byzantine way we run the MTA (you can vote on your neighbor's marriage rights but not for anyone directly in charge of the MTA besides our "Mayor"), it's not easy for any elected officials to intervene to try and do something.

So while yesterday's hearing was helpful in illustrating the challenges we the owners face when we use Our Muni, and it did make the SFPD disclose what they say they're going to do, the hearing was not an end in itself, but instead a first step. Frankly, it'll be up to us to keep an eye out and if things don't improve, it'll be up to us (as owners) to tell our employees (elected officials, the MTA, the SFPD) to shape up. At least now we'll have something we can hold them to, whereas before we had nothing.

And, now a note about the hearing that every news outlet, except the Examiner, missed. Reporter Mike Aldax noted the other day that during the hearing one of the committee members was not participating. Instead that member was conducting partisan political attacks on the taxpayer's dime...on Facebook. That Supervisor was of course, Chris Daly, someone we once actually liked and defended back in the day.

I think you need no better example of a dereliction of duty than this latest outrage. He lies in his Facebook updates (the SFCTA cannot run Muni directly and can only administer specific plans with Prop. K sales tax money). He was more interested in throwing an online temper tantrum than actually being productive on an issue that affects everyone, even people in his own district. Some "champion of the people." Naturally, he has nothing to say, despite being on the SFCTA board and Board of Supervisors longer than Sup. Dufty. Naturally, he has never done anything, as Supervisor or a SFCTA board member to enhance Muni, and offers nothing now, despite the evidence this is a problem. Big Surprise.

But why act like such a goofus? That's because he wanted to be SFCTA chair, but one of his own progressive allies voted for Dufty, ensuring Daly lost. That pretty much says it all. Rather than one-up Dufty with a better way to fix Muni, he'd rather lazily post crap on Facebook.

News Flash, "Supervisor" Daly, and "Mayor" Newsom - the two of you are about as useful as a football bat right now, and yet both of you have plenty of time left in office. The people of SF would be willing to forget all of your political shenanigans if you spend the remaining time in office doing something that makes a positive difference in our daily lives, instead of governing by press release and public temper tantrum. If you really don't feel like doing the job, then please quit, tend to your out-of-town interests, and let the adults take over. We'll all be better off.

Live Twittering the Muni Safety Hearing...

I'll be sort of live Twittering the hearing going on RIGHT NOW on Muni crime and whatnot. The individual testiminoy on incidents will garner the most attention with the mainstream media. However, I'll be really looking at what exactly anyone plans on doing about any of this...that's more important.

If you're curious, follow along here!

November 19, 2009

Let's Tone Down the Crazy, and Do Something Real About "Muni Crime"

crime_cover.jpgMainstream press coverage of Muni-related crime incidents has been at best tragic and at worst a "follow the pack" mentality, whereby anytime someone says "o hai! Muni fight," suddenly the press gets all crazy, and wants to hype the hell out of something that happens every day. The only difference is someone put one video on YouTube, and now people lose their shit over the latest "incident" but don't bother to cover The Big Picture.

That's not to make light of such incidents - why just the other night a Friend of the N Judah Chronicles was minding her own business on a bus, when a fight broke out and it spilled over, resulting in her getting an injury to her hand. That sucks, and we hope she makes a full recovery ASAP.

However, it's time to get past the press/blog freakout about the Latest Incident, and start getting something done about this in a more systemic way.

Fortunately, I had the chance to speak to my friend Boe Hayward, who works for Supervisor (and mayoral candidate) Dufty. He told me about Sup. Dufty's hearing on Monday, November 23rd on Muni crime. The hearing will begin at 11am and is in Room 250 at City Hall.

What makes this hearing stand out is that they're actively asking any Muni rider who's either been the victim of, or witness to, any form of crime to speak out. If you can attend, you can email Boe and let him know you'll be attending. They're putting the public comments at the beginning of the hearing, so you don't have to sit through the entire meeting to have your say.

Remember, the SFPD insisted Muni pay a lot in "work orders," claiming they did all sorts of work on Muni. However, as overall crime has gone down in San Francisco, Muni crime has actually gone up. The point of the hearing will be to give the public a chance to speak out, and for Supervisors and others to ask the SFPD about their plans to increase patrols on buses, and so on.

Also, I'd like to add this - I know that Sup. Dufty is running for Mayor, and I know that there are the cynical types that will simply say he's "using" the Muni issue as a hook to run for mayor and blow off this kind of hearing as meaningless theater.

I'd like to suggest otherwise. First of all, anyone staking a political future on anything Muni related is taking a Hell of a risk, and it's not like running around saying "care not cash" which was infinitely easier to "accomplish." More importantly, Dufty is willing to do something with his time in office to at least try and make things better. I can't say the same for the current Mayor, most of the MTA board, and many so-called Supervisors.

Is he the magician that can make it all better? No. But before anyone starts getting their SF-Style judgement on, let's try and work with him, and anyone who is willing to try, instead of just bitch on blogs and comment sections at the Gate. And, let's hold him and others accountable too. We win in the end.

In the end, we own Muni, and as owners, we need to demand better. These folks work for us, not vice versa!

November 11, 2009

Connecting the Dots to Draw a Picture of Future Imperfect Muni FAIL

By now most people know about the upcoming weekends of whimsy on the N Judah Bus, and by now, most people know about the upcoming Really Big Cuts to Service that start in December. All as you pay more, of course. Whee.

However, few are aware of just how much worse 2010 is going to be if someone(s) don't step in and figure out a way to stop the death spiral that Muni started a while back, and continued during a year of crashes, and other mishaps. That's all common knowledge - what is not is that Muni is in far worse shape than anyone knows, and all the "cuts" in the world will not save it at all. (Insert "to save the village we had to burn it" citation here).

This is important for you, the owner/rider to know, because if you rely on Muni, your MTA board and Mayor are doing absolutely nothing to stop this at all. The MTA Board is incapable of making any decisions, and the Mayor has been AWOL for some time and isn't returning to work anytime soon (at least not for us).

First, you're going to pay more for Muni passes, A LOT more if you want to use BART within the city as you do now. If you're wondering why you've only heard it at Akit's blog, here, and maybe a few blogs, well join the club.

At best the MTA and Muni look sneaky, at worst, unaware of their own price increases. Some of the blame can be cast upon inexperienced Sups. Chiu and Avalos, who supported this increase and labeled it "keeping passes cheap for seniors." (Insert George Orwell citation here).

Second, and more importantly, the Muni budget is worse off than they are willing to admit publicly.

We are way past the point of cutting a few jobs or a few routes - after years of illegal looting by the Governor (and Legislature), and semi-ilegal looting by the Mayor, Muni has a revenue hole that you could drive an N-Judah through. This means that despite big cuts and big fare increases, they're still in a death spiral, which means, as always, you and I lose. And they're even taking federal money meant to save Muni's crumbling infrastructure and using it for a one-time budget hole fill.

All is not hopeless. San Francisco could take the lead in re-asserting local control over its own problems. Perhaps if the Mayor and the Board decided to put the same amount of time and energy they currently devote to issues that localities have no control over, and instead did something to show how a "world class city" could develop a decent transit system in a city that's only 49 square miles, maybe, just maybe, people wouldn't shake their heads every time they hear about the latest pronouncement from City Hall.

October 27, 2009

La La La...Let's All Celebrate the Latest (Trial) Balloon Hoax And Take It To the Next Level...

w-balloon-fly-cp-7494848.jpgToday we had a lovely "trial balloon" launched by our "Mayor," and like most balloons in the news recently, is a hoax - a lovely, happy, feel good one, but a hoax nonetheless.

This one came in the form of a fanciful, vaguely thought out notion that we're going to ban all traffic, including the many Muni lines that commute from the neighborhoods to the downtown, in favor of some sort of fanciful thruway dedicated to bikes, "pedestrians," and I suppose all the magical creatures that would thrive in this new Nirvana By the Sea.

Now, nevermind that there's no real study of such an idea, or that a vague line like "move it all to Mission," created by some speechwriter, not a planner or engineer is not serious transit policy. And the fact this would kill off the popular F-Line and the MSR, among many other consequences are to be considered, but nevermind that just now.

As always, this is not a serious idea (think back to the days when the "Mayor" and the Supervisors wanted to de-fund Muni with this vague idea about making Muni "free"), and never will be. It's just a "feel good" blast of the day that distracts you from all the Muni FAILs we've had lately, or the fact that riding the N and getting to work in less than an hour is as much of a myth as this one.

Instead, let's take this, and all fanciful ideas our more psychedelic neighbors can come up with and take it to the next level. Forget banning Muni along Market Street - why not ban it entirely? Ban cars too, since they are Satan's Vehicle of Choice. And bikes too - remember they are forged out of metals in the industrial fires of Hell, fueled by cute puppies and coal. (Shocking but true - bicycles are not all made of hemp).

Instead, I think we should fulfill all these fantasies by going to a unicorn/pony/rainbow/flying carpet system. Muni will no longer be short for Municipal Railway - it'll be short for the Municipal Unicorn Transit System. You won't wait for a mere tram to take you about - you'll simply imagine a unicorn that will take to your destination, stress free.

If unicorns aren't your fancy, there'll be magic carpets for those who are going to a drum circle in the park with friends. Rainbows will be expressways to and from across town. And you'll pay not a dime, because the City will impose taxes on leprechaun gold, wizard's potions, and the legal marijuana that's coming in 2010. There'll be no more angst, I'll change the name of this blog to the "Magical Man from Happyland" and I'll report on the goings on at the newly renamed Gumdrop Lane.

If all of this sounds rather ridiculous, it should. But remember - dumb ideas created by speechwriters don't always go away like silly blog posts. Bad political rhetoric in the 90s gave us the billion dollar boondoggle as the Central Subway. So beware of what you let your politicians wish for!

October 26, 2009

News but Not News from the ABC7 News I-Team: MUNI's Broken Surveillance Cameras

Yikes!

Ok, we all knew the state of repair of Muni's cameras was bad, between anectdotal comments on many blogs and recent events involving crime on muni. But reading the records revealed by the ABC7 "ITeam" today about just how badly in need these cameras are of repair or replacements is rather sobering. (Update: the SF Appeal also had a story about this too).

I'm glad the ITeam is willing to go through the legal hassles to get Muni (or any agency) to disclose to the public, um, what it's supposed to disclose to the public via records requests. The more complicated answer is "Why?"

Now, I'm sure blogville can come up with about a million suppositions (mine being that it would seem if you keep cutting Muni's budgets by 100s of millions of dollars, at least some of those cuts will come from maintenance), but I don't want any more of that.

If no one at the MTA, the MTA Board, the "Mayor's" Office or the Board can either come up with the "why" this is happening or a "how" we might fix it, then they all need to be banished to The Village and we need some people who will start taking a "can-do" attitude.

As it stands, the price we're paying for crappy cameras is way too high.

UPDATE: After I posted this I was talking about this with a neighbor, and they made a bigger point - we just had a Big News Conference about safety, where all the Big Jay Journalists were there (mostly asking about that F*CKING YouTube video), and this information was apparently available, but not revealed.

This, in the wake of (as the Appeal points out) a Big News Conference with our "Mayor" about gov't data tranparency.

Cue "Curb Your Enthusiasm" theme music.....

October 19, 2009

Let's All Have a Freak Out - Why the Debate on Parking Meters and The "News" About Fare Stealing Jerks Aren't Totally Related

freeparkingflickrcc.jpgOh here we go.

I'm getting caught up with blogging today because I was busy all weekend (including a detour to LitQuake where I attended the super-entertaining panel hosted by SFist and SF Appeal) and the next two weeks are going to be really busy for me. However, as I read The Twitter, the newspapers and so on, it's clear we're going to have an authentic Made-In-San Francisco crapstorm coming this week, and well, hey that's what fuels blogs, right?

In this case, we have two pieces of news that don't really have as much to do with each other as spinners and the like would have us believe. However, because the human mind likes to pick out patterns even when one might not exist, we're going to have one of those unproductive debates where shrillness and cleverness beat out the facts. (Remember David Chiu's silly-willy "accounting" about fare inspectors?)

As part of the "deal" crafted by "Mayor" Newsom and the Board of Supervisors over the MTA budget, a study on parking meter hours was preparedTuesday on parking meter hours was prepared. The point was in part to share the budget pain amongst everyone, instead of just Muni owner/riders, and to encourage 21st century parking management as well. There's plenty for people to like or dislike, and the misinformation pumped out by political types and the "Green Mayor" have helped fuel irrational speculation. The irony is of course, once again, "Green Gavin" has stabbed Muni owner/riders in the back, and talked a good game on climate change, but of course goes back on his word. (Insert blogger snark/sarcasm here)

Now, I'm not a car abolitionist, and I absolutely hate relying on fines as a permanent operating fund source. That's in part because for several years I owned a car and racked up a sh*t-ton of tickets which I very much disliked paying and cost me a lot of money! And no one likes fishing for quarters or finding out they don't have any at the wrong time, my primary cause for getting a ticket, if I recall...

Continue reading "Let's All Have a Freak Out - Why the Debate on Parking Meters and The "News" About Fare Stealing Jerks Aren't Totally Related" »

October 9, 2009

Talking About Muni Safety and Crime with Sup. Chu, the SFMTA, the SFPD and More!

3996792070_0bf64ae05b.jpgThere's no denying that Muni safety and crime are of concern to citizens right now. What with the much-publicized fight on YouTube, the gang-related incident that sent a young person to the hospital on Monday, and the many other incidents we've had lately, people are getting worried. A quick survey of the archives here bears this out. So what's anyone doing about it?

Today we had a few steps in the right direction. Rather than take the cynic's view of "oh f*ck this nothing works Muni sucks blah blah blah" (which never accomplished anything, as far as I can tell), I've decided that we take the SFMTA, the SFPD and Sup. Chu at their word and simply keep a vigilant eye on events as they unfold.

The first part of the press conference (pictures are here) was devoted to LRV passenger safety, with a focus on the N-Judah and Taraval lines. Loyal Readers will recall that a recent incident involving a passenger struck by a car while de-boarding the N sparked a rather spirited discussion here last month.

Sup. Chu's office, working with the SFMTA, came up with a partial plan to increase driver awareness with the yellow stickers (pictured at right) which remind drivers that they need to yield to people de-boarding the train. Sup. Chu talked about her own experience with "near misses" on the L and the number of complaints she'd received from people on this issue. Sam Lau, depty COO of the SFMTA, pointed out that existing signage is off to the right, and that these eye-level signs for drivers on the train itself were designed to increase awareness of the law. However, it was also stressed that passengers need to be careful and be aware of their surroundings when leaving the train, also.

Continue reading "Talking About Muni Safety and Crime with Sup. Chu, the SFMTA, the SFPD and More!" »

Fun Friday: Fleet Week, Free F-Line Rides, and a Fun Contest

2007-ba_03.jpg We definitely need some fun around here, now that the weather's finally starting to be truly Fall weather, and we've had to listen to the news over-hype an incident on the Muni system over and over again. (Really, people, all it takes is one cell cam video for everyone to lose their sh*t? It's not like this is a new thing, news media!)

Anyway, there's quite a lot going on because of Fleet Week. Before all the whining starts about "the noise" and whatnot, bear in mind that the F-Market line and the 47 will be running free all day Saturday and Sunday to accommodate the crowds wishing to view the event. So everyone wins!

But wait, there's more. The SF Appeal is now compiling all the SFMTA Muni Alerts into one page, so you can find out just what's up with Muni and various events, including the Italian Heritage Parade on Sunday, Oracle World next week, and some Burning Man thing.

And now some more fun: Way back when I got two tickets to the Nightlife at the Academy thing on Thursday nights. Now, this should have been a cool thing since I live so close to the Academy, and so on, but every time I've tried to use them, something terrible happens.

Either something keeps me working late, or in at least two verified cases, the person I was going to attend with was either rushed to the ER with an injury (they were hit by a car!) and another was taken ill with the flu (ironically after getting a flu shot). I'm convinced that these tickets are cursed (for me) so I'm going to give them away since they expire soon. I figure someone else might as well enjoy them.

So, since trivia contests don't work online thanks to Google, I'm instead going to do an essay contest, 21st Century style. Instead of an essay, I'm asking for short blog posts of no more than 150 words, describing why you should win the passes, and who you would take if you won them. The person you can take can be someone you know, someone from history, a celebrity, etc. Do not submit them to the comments below - instead email me your submission.

Points are awarded for originality, good writing, a sense of humor that's cool or witty, and points are taken off for bullsh!t. Keep it somewhat clean and friendly, folks, and have fun with it!

Later today I'll be posting some news recently announced about some attempts to make boarding the Muni trains a bit safer. We've had discussions on this in the past, so it'll be interesting to see what exactly they're announcing today. If it means you can de-board the N without nearly getting killed all the time, well that would be awesome.

Photo courtesy of the Blue Angels/US Navy

September 30, 2009

"Mayor" Newsom on Muni Crime - Too Little, Too Late

Apparently someone at the Newsom for Governor campaign decided that it was time for a press conference to talk big about crime on Muni, especially after the reports of children being stabbed and so on. The Examiner reports that we've got some Big Talk from the "Mayor," and as always these reports fail to take into account recent history.

After all, it was Newsom who looted Muni's budget time and again for other departments (and for his own office) to suit his own political needs. As a result, maintenance has been taking a hit and whoops! Suddenly you have a lot of inoperable cameras that ensure there's no way for the police to catch the bad people.

If the Mayor and his MTA board had perhaps paid more attention to Muni during the entire time he was in office, maybe things could be a little better. That would assume, of course that the "Mayor" wanted to do his job, instead of goofing off at work and running for higher office. Let's hope that in the future, people in SF will look past "name ID" and maybe take a little more time picking out a chief executive.

There's only one declared candidate so far, and while I'm still waiting to hear more, it is unusual to see a candidate actually stake their reputation on making Muni better. I mean, talk about taking a risk! Hopefully this might lead to a whole bunch of people running who will all try to outdo each other in making our city better.

Ok perhaps that's wishful thinking. But hey, a guy can dream can't he?

August 20, 2009

Routesy for iPhone is BACK Thanks to Some Hard Work and Some Good Reporting!

routesyheader.jpgIn a victory for iPhone users who wanted to use a cool little app to check on MUNI related arrival times, Routesy, which was pulled from the iTunes App Store due to a bogus claim against it by some nefarious folks, is now back, and better than ever.

Now, the iPhone user can choose whatever app they think is best, in a truly competitive spirit. The story, and its aftermath, say a lot about MUNI, San Francisco, local media, and how some people can be good and some can be real jerks.

First, if you haven't already done so, go read the story at the San Francisco Appeal, which has the details on how data owned by MUNI is really MUNI's, people who are unecessary middlemen (and charlatans) can't extort money from people anymore, and those who did pay the extortion got nada as a result. (To quote Nelson, "Ha HA!") MUNI's new contract with The Real Next Bus makes sure that the MTA, and only the MTA owns the data generated by the taxpayer/rider funded Municipal Railway. Yay!

When this all broke (when the maker of Routesy made a routine update to the application, and the chaos ensued) I was finding out a lot of intel on the situation. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn't take the days off of work I would have needed to write a complete story, with the level of detailed research one has to do to get this kind of story done right.

I wasn't comfortable just posting some quickie snarky post, because I didn't want to do a half-assed study of a complex subject, and post something that would be confusing or just plain wrong. But I also didn't want to let it fall by the wayside, a victim of budget cuts at newspapers or considered "unimportant" by deep thinking scribes who have better things to write about than San Francisco day-to-day issues.

That's why I contacted my friend Eve at the SF Appeal, which began covering this in June. I knew they'd do the story right, and I also knew they'd even bother to consider it as a potential story - most other local news entities wouldn't be interested, or wouldn't have the time. I was able to pass on the raw intel I'd collected, connect folks with them, and then let them figure out the details, whatever they ended up being (I just wanted to know what was up, and I didn't have a dog in the fight, so to say). They did a great job, and it's nice to se this thing called "actual reporting of news," regardless of whether the medium is a piece of paper or my web browser. (Check into that, old media.)

You can go there and read the June and August reports, and you'll quickly see that a poorly worded contract between the MTA and The Real Next Bus vendor led to this confusion in the first place - wording that has since been cleaned up. You'll also notice how incredibly f*cked the Apple iTunes store can be to developers - this is nothing new. Although there was a little help from the City Attorney's office, in the end, it took a pro bono lawyer helping out a guy who wouldn't get pushed around by a bunch of legalistic bullies at Fake Next Bus to get things done. In the end, we all won because the right of the public to freely access data generated by publicly funded entities was re-asserted.

Now that we've tipped hats to those worthy of tipping, it's time to wag the finger too. When this whole situation blew up, there was some help from the City Attorney's office. However, if City Attorney Dennis Herrera had used his office and clout to get behind this early on, it probably would have been solved sooner, and the public would have a win, and Herrera could have something he could tout in a future mayoral bid. Besides, his spokesman Matt Dorsey is cool, and it would have been totally boss if he was out there going medieval on our behalf (he's really good at that!).

Likewise, Mayor Newsom had another showboaty press conference about open access to public data, but on the one controversy that concerned this topic, he was oddly silent. That's either because he's completely clueless about the situation, or he just doesn't care about MUNI (like you have to guess which one it is?).

Either way, while he was off playing mayor/gubernatorial candidate for a few hours, when it mattered most, when a Mayor simply could have used the PR megaphone we're paying for, to you know, do something for us, he was off Twittering about Facebook friends or raising money for attack ads. Sigh.

With true competition amongst application developers, be they on iPhone, Android, Palm, or Blackberry, we win when people compete and the best product wins. The worst thing that happened though, was to see how quickly some people capitulated to Fake Next Bus's demands, either by killing off a cool product, or paying the extortion fee to get a monopoly for their product (albeit briefly).

Fortunately for us, this is all behind us, and anyone who wants to build a better app can do so, free of bullying legalistic threats. It's good to know that in a bad situation, some good people are willing to step up, and we all win in the end. Yay good people!

Finally, I'm bringing back an oldie but a goodie. Enjoy:

OnNotice-1.php.jpeg

August 10, 2009

Big MUNI Safety Hearings Today: Big Deal or "meh, Big Deal?"

In light of the recent dramatic accidents on MUNI, we have not one, but two Supervisors holding "hearings" of some sort this morning at City Hall and the press has been getting all fired up about it.

The question I ask is simply...is this a Big Deal, or is this "meh, big deal?"

Of the two Supervisors, I give Sup. Dufty credit for being more on top of MUNI issues than some of his colleagues. He rides the N-Judah sometimes. Whenever I've called Supervisors asking a question, more often than not, it's been his office that gets back to me first with where to go for information. As chair of the functional SFCTA, he's been involved with projects that directly affect transit reliability. And recently he's been out there on the scene of some of the more recent accidents too.

Now, the cynics can get all antsy about the fact he's running for Mayor, and perhaps is looking to use the MUNI issue to ride into office. But let's be real - if you're running for mayor would you really want to stake your future on MUNI reliability, in an era of cuts and work orders? I wouldn't, but the fact he's at least willing to stick his neck out, says a lot.

Sup. Elsbernd, however, doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. It's no secret that he's been a rubber stamp for the mayor since getting appointed a while back, and he's never shown any real interest in making MUNI more reliable (hey he has a car and lives in a big house - why should he?) When we had an attempt to reject the MTA's poorly constructed budget, not only did he vote with the Mayor and the Mayoral-appointed board, he rejected any input from his constituents about sending it back to the MTA for a re-do. He's never shown any interest up until now - it seems unfortunate it took a horrible accident in his district for him to finally take notice that something's wrong over at MUNI. Ouch.

I guess it's nice he's talking tough on some issues now, but if he, and frankly most of his colleagues, had bothered to pay attention once in a while about the years of work order looting, the cuts to training and maintenance, the use of MUNI safety funds to pay for political aides in Room 200, and so on, maybe we wouldn't be in as big a mess as we are now.

So while the mainstream press will cover all of this like it's some Big Deal, I'll wait and see what happens after the cameras are turned off. If we get some changes that make our day run smoother, great. If not, I won't be terribly surprised. At this point, I'm just glad if I don't get stranded at night coming home from work or when I'm out on the weekend for too long.

UPDATE: Reader Jamison has been Twittering the meeting, and noted that Sup. Chris Daly, in his inimitable classy style made jokes about MUNI safety, then attacked Dufty for "not fixing MUNI." Let's be clear - the Supervisor from D-6 (or is it Fairfield?) has never been an advocate for MUNI, has not been able to use his alleged experience on the board to fix it, and does not care about you, the owner/rider of MUNI at all. And, while Sup. Dufty is asking some rather intense, detailed questions, Daly left to get some coffee and perhaps make more jokes at the expense of you, the owner/rider of MUNI.

Class-SEE, Daly. Class-SEE.

August 4, 2009

I Might As Well Rename The Blog "The MUNI Demolition Derby Chronicles"....

BREAKING NEWS: MTA COO Ken McDonald announced his resignation today. Updates at the SF Appeal and Streetsblog SF.

Good grief...I knew something was up when on Twitter I started getting messages about a fleet of helicopters hovering over Market Street, and the first reports of yesterday's big crash. Thanks to on scene pics from Violet Blue, Reader Jamison, the SF Appeal, and many more, we were able to see MUNI's latest disaster.

Fortunately no one is dead (thank God), but it was a bit much to hear Mayor Newsom and Muni Chief Nate Ford plead the case that MUNI is safe when in both cases, it's clear that people who were operating trains and buses perhaps should not have been doing so. And while you can always show statistics that indicate MUNI is "safe", combining these wrecks with a rising criminal element, and you start to realize, no, it's not. One has to wonder if we're going to pay more in settlements than we ever saved with our "cuts." Seriously, you can't take a wrecking ball to the budget, fail to reform work rules that don't allow the bad employees to be fired, and somehow expect everything to run just groovy.

But Mayor Newsom, and his handpicked MTA don't seem to get that, nor do they care. Which is understandable - heck I find myself avoiding commute-time mayhem as much as possible these days, after being stranded downtown waiting for an N that never seems to show up on time.

Which leads me to this email from Reader X, who lives out by the Caltrain station, and reports what many of you have relayed to me on Twitter - the frustration of trying to get an N or a K/T from 4th and King inbound. I know for myself, whenever I'm returning from Palo Alto, inevitably I've got a long ride if I choose the N (which is why I often now take a bus up to Market and switch to the 71.) While I'm lucky personally to be able to choose from 3 bus lines and 1 Metro line to get home, not everyone is as fortunate, so having enough N trains is one of those 'good ideas' that get thrown in the circular file at MUNI hq.

Hi Greg,

Here's one for ya!

The 2nd/King platform is about 500 feet away from the building where I live; as I approached it last night, a downtown-bound T/K was pulling in and I declined to run, opting to wait for the next train; I arrived at the overhead LED at 6:40 PM, with 18 minutes until the next downtown-bound T/K and 9 minutes until the next downtown-bound N-Judah, the latter of which never arrived.

In the 18 minutes until the arrival of the next train, the T/K, which I boarded at approximatly 6:55 PM, there were no less than six 2-car N-Judah trains headed for the CalTrain Depot, NONE of which turned around to conduct service in the opposite direction. The overhead LED kept changing the arrival time of the downtown-bound N-Judah, but it never arrived, making me wonder just how many N-Judah trains can be accommodated at the turnaround under I-280.

While underground on the outbound T/K, I noticed that the platforms were DANGEROUSLY crowded, presumably because many of those passengers were waiting on N-Judah trains.

I arrived at my destination (Church/Market Sts) at 7:15 PM, 15 minutes late for a dinner date, and after an unacceptable 35 minutes of "platform-to-platform" travel time. I sent a complaint to MUNI via their website, but I don't hold out for any explanation; this was the same night that an SUV became sandwiched between two F-line streetcars on Market St because of an allegedly distracted driver, a much more serious problem.

I've actually known a few Loyal Readers who relied on an N or K/T connection to Caltrain that have given up and now drive or actually move, either somewhere else in the City or leave altogether. It's particularly frustrating if you work late way down south and come home, only to find yourself waiting around or taking forever to get home.

Well that's all for now. I'm taking advantage of the sun for a few hours and then going back to work here in the Inner Sunset. Later on, I'll be posting about a whirlwind of free events available this weekend...

July 13, 2009

Today's Record-Scratch WTF? Moment With MUNI...

So I was reading the SF Appeal on this sunny day and came across this article, where it seems the City is handing out goodies to Levis to keep them from leaving their own building. Now, how the City can afford to hand out goodies to the well off in times of alleged budget crisis is a mystery best left aside - today's Record Scratch WTF moment was the part, noted by the Appeal, that there's some deal to adjust MUNI schedules to better "accommodate" a few workers at Levi's headquarters.

Eve said it best (i.e. why not fix it for everyone's schedules?) but I'll take it a bit further - maybe we should get UCSF to threaten to move unless they fix the N Judah and 6 Parnassus and the 71. I mean, more people work and use UCSF than Levi's corporate HQ, and I'm sure they'd all love it if the stupid buses ran on time too.

May 27, 2009

Circling the Drain With the MTA, The Board, and The Mayor: Today's Nonsense...

The rebellion against the MTA budget continues, and as this drama gets extended over time, we begin to enter the "circle the drain" cycle of City Hall shenanigans. Sadly, while the student council that run City Hall has its time in the spotlight, it's you, the owner & rider of MUNI who will lose in the end.

There's going to be another hearing today at noon (!), and there are earnest efforts by people who mean well to try and at least un-screw up some parts of the budget. But with no real leadership on any one side, we're devolving into piecemeal policy, which means that in the end, what we'll end up is something that serves the politicians and the MTA, but not you.

It's interesting to note that recently the MTA announced some service increases on certain lines (even in this time of "no money no money"), but upon further inspection, it turned out it was one line in each Supervisorial district. And people say the current MTA doesn't use politics in its decisions? Ha! Of course, there's no dent in those phony baloney work orders the Mayor's Office used to raid MUNI with.

Likewise, Supervisor Avalos has been trying to fight the good fight, complete with dramatic marches to the MTA offices with a band of ticked off people. But when you look at his proposals, you find plenty to like if you're poor, or a senior citizen, which is fine. What you do not see are any serious revenue proposals to make up for the tens of millions of dollars in cuts issued by Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Democratic Legislature. Remember, 66% of the big MUNI budget hole was caused when the Gov. and his Democratic allies nuked all funding for transit statewide via the Transit Assistance Fund.

Any proposal to save MUNI has to address this massive gap in funding that MUNI was not expecting. To instead make up these "fiddle with the margins" proposals, such as the MTA and Sup. Avalos have proposed, do not address the real issue. And that lack of funding means no money for maintenance (ensuring your N trails parts if it makes it past 19th) and the kinds of things that a system needs to work properly. Likewise, we have to at least be glad the "cut MUNI funding" faction on the board has been reduced by at least one, so far.

And today, there's more proposals to change how the MTA is governed. Every time this has come up, there's a flurry of activity to "change" the MTA, but by election time, proponents raise no money and don't talk to voters, the Mayor's allies downtown drop some junk mail, and it goes down. Personally I always thought it odd I was trusted to vote on "Gay Marriage," the state budget, judges, Supervisors, Mayors, Presidents, BART, and Comptrollers, but not anyone associated with MUNI. Hmm.

At this point, the governance of the MTA has been reduced to a pissing match between Acting Mayor Nathan Ballard, and whoever at the Board is on the phone that day. That's fine for political theatrics, but it does nothing for you, or making your daily life any better.

I've often said that the prism of MUNI policy is a great way to look at how San Francisco really operates, in the past and today. The fact that much of what I wrote a year ago still applies today says a lot. We have plenty of people who love to play games at City Hall. We do not have many people that want to go to work. There was nothing stopping us from heading off the worst of this some time ago. But instead, folks chose to goof off, and sadly, we pay the price.

May 17, 2009

Why You Might Want to Attend a "Transit Justice" Rally at City Hall May 18 - and Why I'm Not Going To Be There

Tomorrow, an assortment of elected officials, advocates and so on will be holding a "Transit Justice" rally over at City Hall at 3pm. Sup. John Avalos has been working with an assortment of folks concerned about the MTA budget, and who want to craft some sort of charter amendment. An assortment of sources inside indicate that this isn't some flaky thing, that Serious People are getting involved to try and come up with a better budget in bad times. For that, Sup, Avalos and the folks involved deserve some praise for their efforts. (UPDATE: You can read about some of the ideas at BeyondChron this morning before the rally).

I, however, won't be there. Aside from the obvious reason (i.e. I have a day job that requires my attention, esp. now as we're on the verge of a cascade failure of that special election thing Tuesday), I'm a bit leery of putting my name forth on anything without reading the details or knowing what exactly is being proposed.

I don't expect to be consulted by every human at City Hall on all things MUNI (God help us all if that happens), but I also never intended this blog to be a Big Political Blog, nor do I want it identified as being solely a part of any one faction either. The whole point is to bring to light the point of view of that of the ordinary owner/rider from a common sense POV. I'm simply someone who wants to get around town with a minimum of drama. That's all.

Continue reading "Why You Might Want to Attend a "Transit Justice" Rally at City Hall May 18 - and Why I'm Not Going To Be There" »

May 12, 2009

Well It Was Nice While It Lasted - Board of Supervisors Set To Approve Newsom's Bad Budget

Well all the hoopla was fun while it lasted, but it seems that efforts to veto the Newsom-created MTA budget fell apart when it was annouced Sup. Dufty decided to switch his vote in favor of the Mayor's plan. This leaves Sup. Sophie Maxwell as the only "undecided" vote, and it's no secret the Mayor's team is pressuring her like crazy to avoid being shown up by the Board of Supervisors. So I think this idea, while nice, is pretty much dead. If our system didn't require such an "all or nothing " approach and a compromise could have been reached, things would be better, but that's not the system we have now.

In the last few days the Mayor has made statements that range from outlandish, to just plain false. He claims he's been "working on the budget the last five days" but where the heck was he months ago when we could have come up with a better plan? (Answer, running for Governor).

And he is being simply dishonest when he doesn't explain one big reason the City's budget is so out of whack - his personal decision to arbitrarily grant huge pay raises in 2007 to boost his re-election campaign. Now, he tools around the state in a hybrid Monster Truck, presenting himself as California's Green Savior.

Whatever. All I know is that if the MTA had been willing to listen and do some better work, we could have had a better budget in these crummy economic times. Everyone has to be willing to compromise, but when you have a Mayor who insists on sticking it to the MTA and MUNI every chance he gets, and who is willing to tell lies so big you need climbing gear to get over them, there's really not a chance for the owner/riders of MUNI to get a plan that can survive tough economic times so our City can remain livable now and in the future.

For now, I'm going to leave this issue alone for a while and focus on some other things, like some new local businesses that have opened up on Irving Street, a comparison of two iPhone applications I've been trying out, and post some other ideas I've had but not had the time to write about.

Also, I'm still looking for guest bloggers as well. Since this proved to be popular when I was out of town last month, I've decided to revive this as a feature for Wednesdays, since that's the day I have to work in an office all day and can't be blogging as much. If you're interested, email me and tell me a little about yourself, why you would want to write for the site, and what kinds of subjects interest you.

I'm especially interested in people willing to write about neighborhoods along the N, local or MUNI history, or anything that's entertaining. Photos are welcome as well. Thanks!

May 8, 2009

Quick Hit: Let's Re-Examine That $8 Million Question, Shall We?

Reading all the coverage from this week's brouhaha between the Board and the Mayor and the MTA over their "budget" has been interesting, to say the least. It's clear that the Mayor and the MTA ignored Sup. Chiu, Sup. Dufty, and the Board at their own peril, all the while as legitimate questions were being asked about how (ir)responsibly MUNI spends our money.

However, there's one point that is getting repeated over and over again, be it in the Examiner, Beyond Chron, or elsewhere, on the issue of Proof of Payment. Over and over we hear the soundbite "$8 million spent to bring in $300,000" and it "sounds" right. Unfortunately, in this case, both Sup. Chiu (who coined this term to much applause at the meeting) and MUNI and MUNI Boss Nathaniel Ford, are both making mistakes.

That's because the point of the proof of payment system is not to collect its weight in fines - to do so would mean that they'd have to issue over 130,000+ fines at $60 a piece to make that much money (aka 365 tickets per day). Are there over 100,000 scofflaws on MUNI? Probably. Is it physically possible to issue that many, with the person-power we have now?

Probably not (especially in a town like San Francisco where you have people ready to protest at any moment, people who lie to fare inspectors about their identity, and fare inspectors more interested in hassling law abiding photographers than doing their job).

More to the point, as I've said before, the point of issuing fare evasion tickets is to get people to pay their fares in the future. Otherwise, by the logic of the "bounty hunter" model, MUNI shouldn't be issuing any fast passes or tickets, and instead have citizens dodge the inspectors on their way to school, work, etc. Fines should never be seen as an area for revenue stability and growth - they should be used (as with parking tickets and other fines) to first and foremost enforce the law and discourage unsafe behavior.

However, MUNI and the $315,000 Man, Nathaniel Ford, showed their side of this classic MTA/MUNI bumble when no one could tell Sup. Chiu how much more in fares the system was receiving as a result of the program. To spend $8 million on a Proof of Payment system with the idea that one would reap more fares as a result, and have no real data to explain to concerned Supervisors and the public why their spending plan makes sense isn't going to hold water with a skeptical public. Especially when you consider this tooting of horns earlier this year indicating a rise in fare collection. WTH?

Sup. Chiu is to be applauded for providing leadership at City Hall where it was lacking on the issues of mass transit, global warming, and budget priorities. I would simply suggest that if we're going to ask the MTA and MUNI to refigure their budgets to something a bit more sensible, we focus on everything and make sure we're measuring properly, to get the best results possible. MUNI and the MTA need to be better at explaining themselves, and it's a bit worrisome when we have the bureaucratic fallacy of "one hand not knowing what the other is doing."

May 6, 2009

The Shenanigans Begin on the Eve of Today's Budget and Finance Committee Meeting...

At 1:30 today the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee Meeting will be held, and Sup. Chiu's move to veto the SFMTA budget and ask them to come up with a more realistic plan will be up for discussion. If you haven't already done so, email your Supervisor and ask them to support this measure, and if you can make it to the meeting, show up and give 'em a dose of reality. I would love to attend, but I have a day job that doesn't allow me to go to City Hall today, unfortunately.

Today's Chronicle had some new political shenanigans being tossed around by absentee Mayor Newsom, though. Even as the MTA released new statistics showing on-time performance is improving (!), the Mayor was out there defending a budget plan that will ensure these gains are lost, and that will balance the budget in such a way that creates long-term problems we'll pay for years to come.

It's clear Newsom has been caught off guard by this situation. You can hear his beleagurement when he says things like "We're at the point now where we can't get down to zero (deficit) without tough decisions," Newsom said. "I hate the idea of raising fares. I don't want to cut Muni service. But I ask (critics), 'What ideas do you have that do not eviscerate public safety and health and human services?' ""

Well, sir, people offered plenty of ways to do so. They asked you to stop using Muni as a cash machine for other departments, looting all the money Prop. A allocated to Muni and use it for fat overtime paychecks at other agencies. The MTA staff made recommendations for more revenue, but you and your allies on the Board of Supervisors pressured the allegedly politics-free MTA to back off of them. And finally, when discussions were being held, you were out of town raising money for your race for governor, so you didn't lift a finger or do a thing (besides re-allocate Muni money to pay for staffers in your expensive office) to live up to all those green platitudes you speak of outside of San Francisco.

Because of the arcane structure of the MTA, vetoing it and forcing a do-over is the only thing we can do to make true "tough decisions." Perhaps if the Mayor actually made some and showed some leadership, he might know what that is.

Until then, it's up to the rest of us to show some leadership instead. It's no way to run a railroad, for sure, but until we fix how the MTA is governed, we'll have no other option but the nuclear one to effect change and force all those well paid "staff" to put in a day's work for a change. No one is delusional enough to think that something isn't gonna give, but the budget "as is" is a joke at our expense.

May 4, 2009

First Stop on the MTA Veto Express: Budget and Finance Committee Meeting May 6th

There's no denying that in general, our economy is in the can, and life's pretty difficult for everyone. That said, when making decisions in these times, one has to sometimes look beyond the short term and figure out decisions that will make the most sense now, and in the future. Since this kind of nuanced thinking wasn't a part of the discussions at the SFMTA, we're now in the position of having to lobby our Board of Supervisors to veto the entire thing, just to get some attention over there.

I've always been realistic about what can and can't be done, but I also know that starting the "cut service jack up fares" death spiral SPUR so eloquently described in its studies on MUNI isn't going to serve anyone in the long run. Likewise, this idea that we pay people to simply not bother to show up to work, and somehow still keep their jobs is a bit mystifying. And so on. It's not like any of this is news, though - the SFMTA was warned about this years ago (before the looting of MUNI by assorted elected folks) and yet, it seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

All this talk is essentially ignored by the SFMTA's mayor-appointed board, so it's time to use the language they have to listen to - a nice big VETO of the budget by 7 Supervisors. The first hurdle will be on May 6th at 1:30 at City Hall, where Board President Chiu's proposal will be presented. If you can attend the meeting, do so and make your voice heard in person. If you can't, be sure to email or snail mail your Supervisor before the meeting. Even if you're a big ol' cynic, do it anyway. Brute force is the only thing anyone seems to understand at City Hall these days, so do your part to give 'em a dose of reality down there.

Also, I've started up a Facebook Group which you're free to join as well. In the end, what's most important isn't the number of people on a Facebook group - it's the number of people willing to send a message to City Hall that the SFMTA can do better - and has to in these tough times.

I'm sending my letter off to my Supervisor, Ross Mirkarimi, and CC'ing Board President Chiu as well. Don't let the spinners and nay sayers get you down - doing nothing ensures nothing happens. Doing something means that no matter what, you can at least say you tried.

April 30, 2009

Friday Fight: The MTA Budget From Hell Has Arrived - Here's What We Have To Do!

This is not really "news" in the sense that it's not like we didn't know this was coming, but the service cuts and jacked up fares are coming soon thanks to the budget passed by the Mayor-appointed MTA Board today. (Kudos, by the way to Streetsblog for their live coverage via Twitter today, and their article today) BeyondChron also has a good piece this morning as well.

Now, we've had a lot of talk over the past few months about how we got here. We've talked about the gutting of state funding for MUNI and BART, we've talked about the Mayor's looting of MUNI, and so on. It may seem like there's not a lot we can do but once again accept inferior service at a higher cost. However, all is not lost and we have some allies you may not be aware of.

When I spoke with Supervisor David Chiu last weekend at the California Democratic Convention, we talked quite a bit about MUNI issues. He made a good point - that MUNI was finally starting to see the light on some progress towards more reliable service, and to start once again the "death spiral" of constantly cutting service and raising fares would kill MUNI in the long run. He also made the point that he's probably one of the few (if not the only) Supervisors who relies on MUNI to get to work on time and conduct his job as Supervisor.

Which is why what he's proposed - getting a supermajority of Supervisors to veto the MTA Budget in its entirety, and force the MTA to figure out a better way to manage in a time of economic hardship - is worth fighting for. It's an extreme step, but one that I think it's time to consider to force the MTA "leadership" to do a better job identifying stabler sources of funding and thinking about the long term effects of their actions. It's not like they're going to get that leadership from the Mayor who appointed them - he's busy with other things, so it's time for the Board of Supervisors to pay attention, read the directions, and do something proactive for their constituents.

That's why I think it's time every one of us lobbied our Supervisor to vote down the MTA budget and force the MTA to get creative and minimize the damage. Now's the time we start putting more things on the table - such as cutting costs in all aspects of MUNI, and to force those people who choose not to do their jobs to get the hell out of the way and stop using MUNI like an ATM machine for lazy bums. I'm far more willing to accept a $60+ Fast Pass if I know that the people at MUNI actually want to do a good job and provide the best service they can in these crummy economic times.

So take a few minutes to fire up your e-mail, or print out a letter, or whatever communication method you prefer, and send a note to your Supervisor (find out yours here at the SFGov website) and CC a copy to Board President Chiu.

It's a longshot, to be sure, but at the same time if you do nothing, you get nothing. If you do something, you might get something better. And if the cost is just a few minutes of your time to contact your Supervisor and get them to stay focused on the real priorities of the City of San Francisco, wouldn't you say that's a good thing for everyone?

If you have other suggestions, or want to post a CC of your letter, please do so in the comments! Also, I started up a Facebook Group for fun - join up and let's see what we can do in the few weeks we have here.

PS: Transportation for America has a new campaign to ask Congress for some cash to help agencies in the short term. I'm not sure this is the best idea, but it can't hurt. Given that they blew all that cash on auto companies that are unable to build cars people want, and to banks that gave out bonuses to people who failed at their jobs, it seems like a few pennies for some buses couldnt' hurt.

April 29, 2009

The 3-Day Grace Period for Muni Fast Passes May Be Over - Is Still Around For Now..

There's word on The Twitter this morning that the 3 day grace period for Fast Passes is no more, and that if you're without one come May 1st and don't pay up the fare, you're gonna get a nice big ticket.

Which is interesting because I hadn't seen or heard any information at all on this subject, beyond today's TwitterRumor. I've put in an email to the MTA's Judson True to find out what's going on and will post here and on Twitter when I find out. But realistically, if someone like me doesn't know, how do they expect others to know?

That said, if MUNI and the MTA are going to make that big of a change, you think they'd do a better job of informing the public, than a casual tweet on the 29th of April. Otherwise one could argue they were hoping people didn't know so they could nail them with a nice big fine.

UPDATE: Word is that despite the fact the passes no longer have the wording, 311, and the MTA indicate that in fact, your 3 day period is still in place. However, as some have pointed out, don't be surprised if at some point a change is announced to close that budget gap.

April 23, 2009

Case Study: How to "Lose" $3 Million by "Saving" $1 Million...

I was perusing the Twitter this morning and noticed a lot of folks were posting links to this story about how some cuts by DPW, saving $1 million, will end up "costing" Muni/MTA $3 million in lost revenue from parking tickets. Predictably the comments section of the Chronicle and Bloggerville has the usual "wtf?" reaction. However, I think this budget incident has a lot to teach us all about How Dumb Things Are Getting.

First, as I've always said, relying on parking tickets as a revenue source is at best unstable, and at worst, takes what should be a traffic and safety enforcement system and turns it into a tax system via the courts. Either way, it's a poor way to plan ahead, since if people start obeying the law and avoid parking where they can get a ticket, the system "loses" money. Ironically the City becomes put in the position of wanting more people to park illegally just so they get "free money" from tickets. That's never a good policy, any way you look at it.

Second, when the public reads this story, inevitably someone asks "gosh, why didn't someone 'run the numbers' to see if cutting DPW street cleaning would really save any money?" And the answer is "and which someone would that be?" Muni/MTA do not run the streetcleaning service - that's the job of the Department of Public Works. That agency had a mandated "across the board" cut to its budget, and they complied with that request. No one at DPW "ran the numbers" because it's not their job - they aren't in charge of the parking ticket program or Muni/MTA's budget. Likewise, while Muni/MTA could bitch all they wanted about "losing money," it's not like too many people were listening.

Finally, this, like many issues, shows that leadership at the mayor-appointed MTA and City Hall has been lacking. If we had a cheif executive who didn't spend so much time away from California and thinking about his next job, perhaps one of the many well-paid people could have figured this out, instead of planning to spend over $1 million for 50 bikes and use them for a press conference. We're finally seeing some hope with Supervisors Chiu and Dufty taking the time to do their jobs (instead of playground antics like some of the other Board members), which is a start.

Let's hope that as we go through Budget Hell, people don't make decisions like these that don't benefit anyone in the long run. And maybe in the chaos, someone will emerge to take control of the situation and find the best fix possible, if the chief executive is no longer interested in doing so. Now THAT would be something worth writing about!

April 20, 2009

A Whole Lotta MUNI News This Earth Day: MUNI Cops, MUNI Reports and Whatnot

This Earth Day, there's a bit of news in Ye Olde Chronicle about The MUNI...most interesting has been the splashback on the SFPD's money grab from MUNI, which is resulting MUNI having way more direct control over the traffic division of the SFPD than expected.

Already the SFPD had to back off of $2 million they wanted from MUNI - but now, because of the grab, 80 of their officers are now going to be taking orders from MUNI boss Nate Ford. The Mayor's office is claiming credit for this move, but as always, if they hadn't authorized the looting of MUNI in the first place, this never would have happened. I can't imagine the SFPD is happy to see their traffic division under the control of the MTA/MUNI, and one wonders if perhaps we had better budgeting this all could have been resolved better.

The Examiner reports on the ongoing Budget FAIL at local agencies, caused primarily by local and state leaders. Remember, folks, President Obama and the Feds can dole out "Stimulus Dollars" for capital projects, but they can NOT dole out cash to plug budget holes for operating expenses. Which means you will see that train get fixed or those ticket machines built, but you may not see anyone able to service them. Or fix them. Or you'll see them idled because there's no cash to make 'em work. Sigh.

And finally, if you want to see some transit pr0n, MUNI daily service reports are now available online. This is something that should have happened long ago, but bureaucratic obfuscation kept it offline and whatnot. Anyway, go check it out and then go bug the Supervisors, the MTA, and the Mayor about it.

Finally, we hear that the mayor of Berkeley, the infamous Tom Bates has done away with his car and is now either getting a ride from his spouse (State Seantor Loni Hancock) in a Prius, or taking AC Transit. Naturally, San Francisco's mayor tools around in a pricey, gas guzzling faux-hybrid, but talks big talk about carbon this and offset that. You know things are tough when the mayor of Granolaville is outclassing you on that whole "walk the talk" thing....

UPDATE: An aide to Supervisor Dufty sent us a dispatch from the Mayor's office with more details....word is that Supervisor Dufty (who has emerged as an elected official who actually cares about MUNI) pushed for some changes after that Big Hearing last week where he and Supervisor Chiu (who also seems to like MUNI) raised the issue about the Looting of MUNI.

Because of some behind-the-scenes work by the Supervisor, the whole "pay for transfers" idea (which was silly since it is counter to every piece of advice transit agencies get) is off the table, and now DPT will be handling late night parking issues and 311 won't be looting so much money. Read about it here and make sure the next time you see Supervisor Dufty, tell him "thanks" for trying to help MUNI out.

April 8, 2009

Want to Help MUNI Out? Don't Call 311 - Use 511 Instead!

Ah, internets. Finally up and running at the new place, and once again it took one smart CWA worker just a few minutes to use his expertise to solve the problem (and I mean that I'm not being snarky). AT&T's stumblebum management and customer service (outsourced to God Knows Where) of course had to drag this drama out 20+ days, but hey, we're back online and I can finally catch up with work, etc.

Which brings me to this piece of news, courtesy of the San Francisco Appeal, our City's newest news outlet. By doing this thing called "actual reporting of news" they found out that if you call 311 with a MUNI related question (in most cases a "when is the next bus showing up" one) MUNI gets billed $1.96 per call. Or put another way, $6.2 million a year.

Yeah. $1.96. So some operator can go on NextMUNI and tell you what you could find out for yourself on the site.

The sad part is if you call 511, MUNI doesn't get stuck for $1.96 in charges. Or, you could use your cell phone to dial up www.nextmuni.com. More to the point, if you call 511, you're likely to get better information anyway, and if you really just wanna know when the next bus is showing up, most phones can use mobile web sites.

Or if you're really desperate, call a friend with a computer and have them look it up. They'll be doing the same thing as a 311 operator - but faster and cheaper.

Once again, these "Gavin On The Toilet" ideas, like the Culture Bus, and so on, all made for wonderful press opportunities, but ended up costing too much and providing too little. But, as BeyondChron reports that seems to be S.O.P. for our City Executive.

April 6, 2009

Return to San Francisco and Budget Armageddon...Make Your Voice Heard Now!

I'm back! After a whirlwind tour of Washington DC, New York City (by way of bullet train) and some of the finest layover airports in America, I'm back. While I was able to sort of keep up on The Twitter with many of you and all, consistent Internet access was a hassle, and I wasn't able to post like I wanted. But thanks to the awesome guest bloggers, the site did not go stale. (BTW, there will be plenty of opportunities to guest blog for the site soon so feel free to apply now for a future gig).

Because AT&T fouled up my new home's internet connection, I'm writing this quick post now at a Starbuck's on Irving, mostly to do a quick hit on the impending MUNI budget FAIL we're facing right now.

I've been reading some of the proposals, and they all seem to fall into the "evil or stupid" categories. It's very clear that the SFMTA really doesn't have a clear idea of what they're doing, and are just running the numbers without really thinking about how to maintain the system in a time of economic troubles. Getting rid of N Judah service on weekends to the waterfront? WTF? It was a disaster when they tried it before - who in their right mind would think this is a good idea, especially now that it's baseball season? Ugh.

Nowhere have they even bothered to come up with new, stable revenue sources. Nor do they seem to have any real plan to improve collecting the money they're already owed. They're getting federal stimulus money to build ticket machines, for example, but aren't going to have the people to service them. And there's no talk of giving up the billion-dollar Subway To Nowhere either, or its pricey contract steered to ex-MUNI employees.

And again, we don't see anyone holding Mayor Gavin Newsom (who authorized the illegal looting of the 2007 Measure A money to fill the pockets of city bureaucrats), Green Governor Arnie, and Democrats in the Legislature (who voted to kill MUNI funding every year for 5 years, and cut all transit funding entirely from the bloated state budget) accountable for their role in crippling MUNI - all while wearing green ties and talking happy green talk to a willing audience on the road (usually via SUV).

I'm working on a more detailed article that I'll post once the dust settles from my (busy) trip out east. For now, I wanted to post a link to Jaime Whitaker's blog post at the Examiner, which has the times, dates and places for tomorrow's Armageddon meeting, and other meetings as well. | | Comments (0)

March 16, 2009

Budget Armageddon Comes to MUNI, "Whether You Like It or Not"....

So by now you may or may not have read about all that wonderful federal "stimulus" money that's coming to MUNI. It's good news, and they're going to fund some much-needed repairs and (gasp!) ticket machines to collect money better. Yay!

Which is all fine and good, but despite the feds dropping almost 70,000,00 into MUNI, it does nothing to remedy the fact that MUNI's year-to-year funding is pretty much devastated by the State of California, after Governor "Green Arnie" and Green Legislature gutted all transit funding. Nor does it stop "Green Gavin's" authorized looting of MUNI by city departments either.

So tomorrow, on St. Patrick's Day, the MTA will be meeting to confront the budget armageddon, and try and come up with ways to fill the budget holes. Tom Prete did a great job on his site posting a piece on a proposal to tack on extra fares for express buses as well as a copy of the MTA 2010 budget proposal and related links.

There's no denying that all government agencies are going to be experiencing troubled times right now, as their revenues are pegged to sources that fluctuate wildly based on how the economy is doing. That said, politicians have been looting transit for many years now to avoid making tough choices, both locally and at the state level, and the cumulative effect of that, on top of today's tough times, makes for a MUNI that's going to raise prices and cut back service - pay more, and get less, basically. This at a time when more people than ever want to use mass transit. Ugh.

So remember all of this when you see Green Gavin or Green Arnie running around talking Big Ideas about the environment, and remember that when it mattered, both would rather wreck MUNI and mass transit than do anything to save it.

For you and I , who rely on MUNI to get around, I'm afraid that poor service is going to become the norm, not the exception, and that MUNI failwhales are going to be in season shortly. It's unfortunate, but until someone presses the "reset" button on state and local government to run better, this is our lot and we're going to have to learn to live with it. Sucks, but it's not like we have a Mayor or other elected officials who seem to want to lead on these issues.

March 9, 2009

New Reports In: Central Subway Cost Overruns Continue...

If you've not already checked out the SF Appeal, San Francisco's newest online news source, you really should. It's a great new resource for local news, and I'm really rooting for them in these turbulent times for local news. They just started up last week, and already have some interesting news worth reading.

The Central Subway - a project that's been beset with problems since it was conceived - is experiencing some rather dramatic cost overruns as the contract to manage the project has ballooned. And oddly enough this outsourced project is going to a former MUNI boss. Hmm.

The Central Subway project continues to roll along, despite its many problems, because the MTA is accepting federal money for the project, and once a project starts to go through the federal process, you can't change it without returning the money (which hasn't been completely secured, by the way).

As it stands, the Central Subway will continue to consume more and more resources, and eventually cripple the MUNI Metro system, without really helping anyone. And any talk of it "going to North Beach" is just talk - the chance the Catholic Church and the "build nothing" crowd in that part of town would allow a massive turnound bored under the church by Washington Square Park is fairly remote.

There are other ideas to help move people more effectively in Chinatown and downtown (do recall that the Stockton Tunnel was originally built for a streetcar line that served the area), but they're essentially moot since any changes would mean starting from scratch with the federal government - and that's not likely to happen either.

February 19, 2009

A Quick Follow Up to Yesterday's Delays AKA Why Does Kavai Muao-Harris Hate Us So Much?

Although I managed to get a short post out before I headed off to a seminar I was running for the day job, I couldn't do any follow up, as the many Twitter DMs, emails and reactions piled up to yesterdays unauthorized labor action by MUNI employee Kavai Muao-Harris, who decided it would be awesome to screw everyone's commute in the morning by throwing a temper tantrum and blocking the buses from leaving.

From my own observations, as well as that of those attending our seminar, there was a definite ripple effect for a good part of yesterday with delayed and crowded buses, and so on. Reading the news coverage of this little escapade, however, is something that easily gets ones blood to boil.

First, the reason for this chidish act was over some stupid assignment for the day's work. Now, if this person had blocked the buses because they were rolling deathtraps, unsafe for passengers, that would have been ok since that would have been protecting the safety of people who use MUNI.

However, for someone who's job is not only to work for us, the owners and riders of MUNI, but also to act as a union negotiator, to pull a stunt like this over something this small is bullsh*t. In the end it was not MUNI management who got screwed - it was anyone who has to be at work on time in the morning (i.e. the owners and riders of MUNI).

I can't stress this enough. I am tired of being told we are "customers." We are not. We own the system, it is ours, and yes it has problems and sometimes the management needs a kick in the backside to get things right. That does not change the fact that the ultimate responibslity of everyone at MUNI is to work for our benefit, not their own. That's the definition of working in the "public sector."

I guess what's most galling is that of course, this person wasn't fired. Now, imagine if you, at your job, did something equally as dangerous to your company's operations over something equally as trivial. Would you get paid adminstrative leave and a long investigation that may or may not involve some sort of punishment? No, you'd get fired in a minute.

Likewise, in this economy, being late to work is a great way to get fired. If anyone lost their job because of this action taken, frankly, they oughta sue this person for lost wages. I sure would.

Finally, there's this gem from Irwin Lum. You remember him as the guy who fought in court to make sure the public didn't know who the few rotten MUNI drivers were. He's the guy that runs the union that never seems to celebrate the awesome drivers who make our day and make the system run right.

“We are still investigating the situation as to what led to this incident,” Lum said. “We would like to apologize to the public for any inconvenience that they may have incurred.”

"May" have ocurred? Are you frakking kidding me? This is as hollow an apology as one could offer. News flash, Irwin: if you want us to take your side in your disputes with MUNI management, why don't you start by trying to show us why we should? Why instead do you keep on defending bad apples like Kavai Muao Harris and a few bad drivers, and instead try and get MUNI to reward the good ones?

Then of course, in the Chron article he did offer a bit more insight:

(Lum) said there is growing frustration among the ranks of Muni employees that goes way beyond the beef over seniority. Not only are employees feeling that management's treating them with a lack of respect and dignity, he said, but morale is plummeting due to the agency's budget constraints, with funding hits coming from the state and a raid of Muni coffers by other city departments.

Well, duh. We've been talking about these issues for years. Helpful hint: why doesn't your union join with Everyone Else Pissed Off at Green Gavin and Green Arnie who've been sticking it to MUNI and MUNI's owners (us) all this time?

Maybe when Green Gavin asks you to endorse his campaign for governor you say "no"? Or maybe, just maybe, why don't you stop looking at all of us as your adversaries and realize we have more in common than we don't. Better yet, kick people who endanger the system for petty disputes to the curb. None of us needs 'em and the bad will they generate across town.

I'm not holding my breath. I think as the economy and governments circle down the drain, no one really cares about anyone else these days. So, the next time these clowns cry wolf, I won't be rushing to help 'em out, even if a "wolf" is really there that time.

February 18, 2009

So There WAS A Labor-Related Interruption to MUNI Service After All..

While doing the "day job" this morning, I noticed this Twitter alert from SF Breaking News about a situation this morning regarding a MUNI slowdown and a possible labor action at MUNI.

In between emails and "day job" work I did some searching to find out what was going on, but nothing was coming up until this story on SFist (thanks Brock!) about a delay caused by a MUNI employee blocking gates and complaining about alleged assignment irregularities and seniority and such.

As we all know, it's illegal for MUNI drivers to go on strike in San Francisco, but that does not stop TWU members from engaging in other actions that slow down MUNI, such as what we saw here. It's simliar to what happened a while back when, as elected officials were trying to garner support for 2007's Prop. A, some folks decided to have a work slowdown over not getting their raises sooner than planned.

Given the fact we're in an economic tail-spin, and MUNI is going to take some hits, no matter who's in charge, it would seem now is not the best time to be doing things to screw up MUNI any more than it really is. If MUNI management is doing something detrimental to the safety of passengers and drivers, then yes, the union oughta say something.

If they're going to save their powder for helping only the bad drivers (instead of the awesome ones we profiled the other day) and the like, they're going to lose the public's sympathy as we all get laid off from our jobs or see our paychecks cut back, with no guarantees of employment for the forseeable future.

Sigh...

February 6, 2009

It's Time to Call Capt. Gavin Planet and His Planeteers on BS: Using Lawyer's Tricks to Rob MUNI

planeto1ms.jpgI'm violating a basic rule of blogging I've tried to keep to in all my online writing - never blog when you're ticked off. But then I read about the crap the Mayor's gang are pulling to rob MUNI of stable funding we voted for and were promised in 2007, and well, I can't just sit idly by and sing the praises of Dear Green Gavin.

This is someone who runs around talking about how frakking "green" he is, gets on magazine covers and praised by So-Called Liberal San Francisco as a Captain of the "green movement," but when push comes to shove on things that might actually do something about the things he claims to care about, lets loose the dogs to MUNI, and gives them shady lawyer's tricks to help out in the brutalization.

Now, in and of itself, budget shenanigans aren't enough to call out Gavin the Green on his nonsense. Everyone's doing it - the birds, the bugs and the state is doing it (let's call it f*cked!)*** - and the Obama "stimulus package" has been a bitter fight for anything not more subsidies for cars and nonsense.

What makes this worse is that this Mayor, who clearly does not want to spend time in San Francisco, doing the job he was elected to do, who has stolen MUNI money in the past to pay political staffers' salaries in his office, and blew money we did not have on plasma TVs and pricey office goodies all in the name of "getting good ideas to run San Francisco" dares to call himself a Captain of "green" thinking, asking his flock to his Facebook page. Remind me how this is better than having a C-Student take us to war in Iraq and bankrupt the country? Hmm?

News flash, Mayor (and his team of boys running things): why don't you spend more time in the city you were elected to run, not in high priced mansions for your fundraisers? Try talking your silly during rush hour when those of us who work for a living are late because your overpaid Smart Kids (who apparently are up for a big job in Los Angeles!) couldn't run a two-car parade, much less a simple transit system in a city of less than 800,000 people.

This is a Mayor, who, during an election year, jacked up salaries arbitrarily for key city employee groups for his own benefit, blowing out the deficit. Had it not been for the bumbling alliterative talents of the so-called "progressives" in illustrating this fact, perhaps we might have avoided some of the budget pain we have, now that times are not so flush with taxpayer cash. D'oh!

You'll have to pardon me if I'm sounding harsh, but I'm sick and tired of being "punished" for the fact I don't drive my old, gas-guzzling, big, annoying Lexus (yes, really, I had a Lexus) and opted out of a car-dependent lifestyle when a crash offered me a way out.

More importantly, I am getting very sick and tired of hearing political platitudes from a Mayor/Captain who claims to be "green" while driving a gas-sucking 20 mpg SUV, and demanding we lay roses at his feet for his oh-so-pious-green silliness.

However, I'm not someone to simply post blog rants and run. Oh no. If city departments can loot MUNI based on spurious claims, well then, it's time for MUNI to issue a little payback.

The police are now billing MUNI for doing traffic duty(!) whenever a bus shows up. Well, then I propose MUNI bill the SFPD for every stolen fare the SFPD fails to capture because they don't patrol MUNI for crime. And for every person harassed by a criminal (think that criminal who beat up people on MUNI, only to later kill a family in SF), well, another bill. And for every drunk driver, or heck, every fool driver who causes MUNI delays that surely the SFPD could have prevented, another bill.

But why stop there? Let's get crazy. Let's bill the library system for every person who didn't read a MUNI map and thus, delayed the buses when someone asked directions. Let's think up all kinds of crazy stuff, and start a war of attrition, where lawyers and bureaucrats and accountants bill overtime, and everyone who pays taxes and lives by the rules, gets screwed. Hey, I hear that if you read, you should bill MUNI! Bill 'em!

Sound like a bad idea? It is. It's time for a clean slate. Time for us to stop the nonsense. And we start by not electing pretty boys and girls who make us feel good, but don't have a record of doing something that actually benefits the people of Our Fair City.

***50 points if you can guess what I'm spoofing here. Hey, we gotta have some fun in a time of crisis, right?

January 28, 2009

An Idea for Some Budget Independence from San Francisco? Let's Take A Trip In the Wayback Machine...

No, really, I promise. This isn't going to become the MUNI Budget Blog. But at least for this month, it kinda has to be, because right now is when plans are being made outside of SF that will directly affect everyone in town, be they a MUNI rider or not. So now's the time to speak up, so we can at least not have a totally miserable day on MUNI all the time.

Today we read the latest Big Bad Budget Blues story in the Chronicle. As I was reading it, I remembered something and did a little digging in my notes. Eureka!

Now, I sometimes give Now State Senator Mark Leno a hard time, not because he's a bad guy, but because he was part of some budget votes that used bond (borrowed) money for daily expenditures, and cut transit funding. And yes, I understand that sometimes Good People have to vote for Bad Budgets and all, but still. We're the City That Knows How, remember?

Anyway, back in mid 2007 I remember going to a "blogger meetup" with his campaign at Martuni's and I politely asked what ideas he had on stabilizing MUNI funding, and I remember jotting down some notes on one that was actually pretty good - allowing counties to go to the people and take a vote to repeal the vehicle license fee cuts Arnie signed into law when he was installed as Governor.

If you think about it, it has some merit. After all, if Orange and Kern Counties want to be bastions of the "No We Can't" crowd, fine! Let 'em. If San Francisco would like to do something different, they'd have the option to put it to the people and let them decide.

Now, passing something like this a) in the Legislature and then b) locally would take some Herculean efforts. However, if Sacramento is going to keep jerking us around, we need the means to declare independence and do what's right for our city & county. If other counties don't want to do this, fine, but they should butt out of our affairs.

I for one, do not want to see streets become a parking lot full of traffic jammed cars where no one can get to work or school. I also don't see anything changing if we leave it up to someone else. It's time for San Francisco to put aside the rhetoric and apply some of that know-how to really do something. I really don't care who it is, but the persons that do will get rewarded because they did something instead of just talk about it.

If you don't think this is a good idea, fine. Then come up with an idea of your own and share it here or elsewhere. I'm not a "toss money at a problem" kind of person, but I do know that if you can't depend on stable revenue, you can never make a realistic budget plan, ever. So, come on San Franciscans! We've got plenty of smart people living here....

January 27, 2009

Quick Hit: Call Speaker Pelosi's Office RIGHT NOW (before Noon Today) To Save MUNI...

The vigilant people at SF Streetsblog alerted everyone to an important amendment in the House that might help transit around the country get less screwed, but it's going to need all the Loyal Readers to take a few minutes out of their day to call Our Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and demand some action out of her office.

The amendment to speak out for is the Transbay Blog reports the amendment went through. It's not as great as the one sponsored by Rep. DeFazio of Oregon, but hey, it is better than nothing.

January 26, 2009

Finally Someone Calls Out Green Gavin On His Transit Flakiness...

To paraphrase Bart Simpson, I always knew someone would finally come out and say this, I just wasn't expecting it here....while Green Gavin is far away in France, oohing and aahing over high speed rail, and demanding billions for a mile's worth of track in a feud with Judge Quentin Kopp, the Overhead Wire points out Green Gavin's impending MUNI FAIL.

High speed rail can be a great thing, and if the bonds approved by voters ever actually get sold, will one day be a boon to the economy, et al. The problem is that Green Gavin, like so many local politicians (and those sent to Sacramento) are perfectly happy to ooh and ahh over sparkly technology far away, but do nothing to make the day to day ride on MUNI one bit better. It's especially troublesome to see the Mayor globetrotting and campaigning out of town at a time when a huge fiscal crisis is hitting the City.

Don't forget, when we voted on a charter amendment in 2007 to amend MUNI, Green Gavin flip flopped in favor of parking spots for cars, before ultimately doing nothing. And now, when the Transit Effectiveness Project is likely to go the way of the dinosaur, where's Gavin? Lobbying the Obama Administration for some real help for MUNI? Asking our City's legislators to not sell transit down the line?

Nope. He's off in France. Or somewhere. Lucky him - at least he doesn't have to wait 45 minutes for the bus like the rest of us!

A Sign of Hope Amongst the Doom and Gloom of DC/Sacto Cuts to MUNI?

As we all know, stable funding of MUNI has led to many of its problems today. By relying on income sources that vary wildly from year to year, MUNI ends up having too much when it doesn't need it and not enough when it does.

Worse, we've had a state Legislature dedicated to cutting transit funding (despite voters wishes to dedicate stable funding for transit) every year. Now, when things are bad, Democrats in the Legislature and the Green Governor want to kill all transit funding, even though you pay taxes that are supposed to pay for that. Ah, genius.

But all is not lost. If you're not already checking out Streetsblog SF, you really should, because between them and the Overhead Wire, they've been keeping a close eye on the Obama Administration's so-called "stimulus plan," which many have critiqued so far.

Today, they had some excellent links to the miserable state of transit in the US and offer ways you, the citizen can bug Congress, give 'em a dose of reality, and reduce the pain somewhat for our beleagured MUNI and BART.

Too often when these issues are reported, the armchair analysts simply assume there's "too much spending" and that "spending needs to be cut." Stupid at best, ignorant and dangerous at worst. We have been cutting MUNI's budgets for decades now, using parlor tricks and gimmicks to keep the system running, and you've seen the effects.

We've cut training for drivers way back (hence accidents and rude drivers.) We've cut back on maintenance (which is why your N Judah trails parts on the way to Ocean Beach or 19th Avenue). And we've always relied on gimmicks like "parking tickets" as a revenue source, something they were never intended to be. Finally, we've been sending a lot of our tax dollars to Sacramento, and Sacramento is sucking them up, using the money to pay for things like debt service on bonds instead of what the law requires (because voters love to vote for "free money" for their pet projects).

It's time to restore a bit of sanity. Yes, MUNI can be run better, and no, it won't happen overnight. We are starting to read more about what it truly costs to run the system properly - now it's time to find solid ways to pay for it.

Put it another way - if it takes 5 gallons of gas to get you to where you're going, and you only have 3, you can play with the tire gauge, lighten the load, try to drive down as many hills as possible and so on, but in the end, if you don't have enough gas, you won't get where you're going. All the gimmicks in the world won't change the fact you're out of gas. Same goes for MUNI.

UPDATE: To be clear, this is nothing unique - the LA Times writes about mass transit misery around the country.

January 5, 2009

Quick And Easy MUNI/BART Guide for Macworld!

This week, tens of thousands of folks will be descending upon downtown for Macworld, for what very well may be the last one ever, now that Apple has said it won't be participating in the future. For now, though, in addition to our normal level of MUNI & BART riding folks, we'll have more people added into the mix. For those of you new to our City, here's a simplified guide for MUNI and BART so you can get around and avoid paying huge parking fees and fines.

Macworld is located at Moscone Center, which is just a couple of blocks from the BART/MUNI Powell Street station downtown. If you follow the Wikipedia link, you'll find that pretty much every major bus and train line hits this station (or right above it on Market Street) so it's an easy way to remember how to get to Macworld. If you're staying in a hotel downtown, chances are you can walk to the show, and if you're staying a bit further away and it's raining, you have at most a short bus ride to get to the event.

If you're staying outside of San Francisco, you can either take any BART from the Peninsula or the East Bay to Powell Station, or you can take Caltrain and take an N-Judah train downtown once you're in the City.

There are some other lines that drop you off closer to the action, but after years of giving out directions to tourists I've found that this has been the easiest way to explain where they need to go, without a lot of gymnastics.

Paying for your ride: MUNI discountinued the old weekly pass, so your options are somewhat limited. You can either buy a monthly pass for $45 (which also allows for free rides on BART within the City of San Francisco) and unlimited cable car rides. However, you can also buy a MUNI Passport, for 1, 3 or 7 days. The advantage? Much cheaper than a monthly. The disadvantage? You can't use them to ride BART for free.

A special warning about BART ticket machines: Whatever you do, do not put a $20 bill in the machine to buy one ticket! You won't get all the change you're due, and unless you plan on keeping that ticket and using it until it gets down to $0, you'll be stuck with it. Instead, use a debit or credit card, and buy a ticket for the exact amount that you need. Or, use a bill changer to break that $20 so you're not stuck with an expensive souvenir BART card.

Continue reading "Quick And Easy MUNI/BART Guide for Macworld!" »

December 8, 2008

Connecting Some Dots on the Latest "News" About MUNI's Funding....

By now, plenty have weighed in on this morning's Chronicle article, detailing the derailing of the much-vaunted Transit Effectiveness Project by bad economic times, and the resulting shockwaves in government budgets. None of this is really new to us at the N Judah Chronicles...we've been talking for a while about the long term effects of the Governor and the Democratic Legislature's almost mythic devotion to cutting transit funds for the last few years, and about bad budgeting in the past on the local level. All of these are made much worse, since now, when times are really bad, we're looking at a catastrophic situation for MUNI.

Even worse, jacking up fares won't even come close to fixing these cuts, particularly those made by the State, who took taxpayer money that was designated for transit and road projects only and decided to spend it on something else. And despite 7 1/2 hours of policy talk, including this super happy rah rah piece on The YouTube, the Mayor never once even acknowledges the myriad of cuts, or talks about how he plans on funding any of this.

To be fair, if the Governor and the Democratic legislature decide to gut all transit funding, the Mayor can't stop 'em. But he and his friends at the Board and the MTA are going to have to figure out a new, more stable way to pay for the costs of the system, independent of the state's whims. It's unfortunate that Sacramento feels a need to take our money, then not even bother to spend it the way they promised, all so they can feel good about themselves.

It is difficult to not be cynical when we read about expensive SUV's for the Mayor, a fleet of expensive new cars for lawmakers right when we can least afford it. It's lovely that some Greenpeace types held some 60s esque rally to 'save the planet', but wouldn't be nice if we could get 300 people to do something more constructive to clean up our act here at home, instead of telling everyone else what to do all the time?

The whole thing is just depressing, especially after attending last week's MUNI Town Hall Meeting, where people took the time to express concerns to MUNI, and MUNI's leadership, to their credit, tried to listen. All of the great ideas in the world mean squat, however, if in the end we aren't allowed to control our own destiny locally and be able to figure out a way to pay for an efficient, well-run way to get around town.

There simply is not enough room, not enough roads, and not enough parking for every single San Francisco resident to drive alone (not to mention all the people who need to come to San Francisco from outside our city limits). It would be nice if that were possible, but laws of physics say otherwise. A well-run MUNI benefits those who require a car or truck, as they can get around easier, while those that do not can go about their business, sans MUNI drama.

For now, I'm hoping that perhaps something might game-change the situation, but if things get to the point where we become a city that tut-tuts the rest of the world on All Things Green, yet can't seem to figure out how to pay for and run a real transit system, count me out. Buzzword laden rhetoric makes everyone feel good, but it doesn't help us live our lives any better one bit.

I did a little bit of research following the MUNI Town Hall Meeting, and will post something tomorrow on that event, sorry for the delay, but the Day Job has to take priority if push comes to shove here!

December 3, 2008

Tonight! MUNI Town Hall Meeting with Sup. Mirkarimi and MTA Director Nate Ford!

This week has been quite a week for all things transit talk. First, we had Our Mayor go all Fidel Castro on us with a 7 1/2 hour speech on YouTube, which included this 41 minute piece on transportation issues. At the suggestion of a reporter from the Examiner, I watched it and it was kinda boring, with the usual "yeah things are not perfect but yeah things are great" spin you get out of City Hall.

What was most glaring, however, was absolutely no mention of the tens of millions of dollars in cuts MUNI has been getting clobbered with year after year from the State of California, and how we're ever going to pay for all these wonderful things Our Mayor talks about in his speech. Still, if you've got the time, check it out.

Also, tonight, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is hosting another MUNI town hall meeting at 7pm over at the SF County Fair Building, conveniently located at 9th and Lincoln.

Given all that's going on, from changes to MUNI courtesy of the Transit Effectiveness Project, to budget cuts, to anything else you might have on your mind, it's worth attending. Mirkarimi's past MUNI meetings have actually been somewhat effective - allowing as many questions to be asked "live" with the rest being answered in writing last time around was a nice touch. So if you can, stop by and make your voice heard.

The SF County Building is conveniently located near many bus and train lines, including the N Judah, the 71, the 44, and the 6 and 43 (2 blocks over on Judah Street.).

November 29, 2008

Don't Forget! MUNI Town Hall Meeting December 3rd!

I'm busy working on the N Judah Chronicles Holiday Shopping Guide this weekend, but in the meantime, I wanted to do some promo for the MUNI Town Hall Meeting on December 3rd at the SF County Fair Building at 9th and Lincoln.

There is the cynic's line that these things are showboaty silliness, but if you attend and ask good questions, you can put some folks on the spot and at least get their remarks "on the record" so we can measure future developments against current promises.

To his credit, Sup. Mirkarimi's past efforts with events like these haven't been BS, and it was because of promises made at one of these we were able to push for the signal improvements at 9th / Irving and 9th / Judah.

These things only work if we all take them seriously. It is easy for us all to complain, but here's at chance to at least force the Powers That Be to pay attention, and if nothing else, politely remind them that MUNI is not an abstract of statistics, budgets and bureaucracy, it's something that affects everyone in the City, even if they don't use it themselves every day.

November 14, 2008

There Will Be Blood: More MUNI Budget Cuts = Even Worse Service, While SF Politicians Commute in Hybrid SUVs...

Normally I like Friday posts to be funny or interesting little items of note for you, the Loyal Readers to enjoy. Sadly, this week some very bad things are about to happen to our hapless MUNI, so bad it warrants a good old fashioned, double-barrelled WTF post, aimed squarely at City Hall, Sacramento, MUNI, and well, ourselves.

Anyway, what sparked this post was a conversation with Mike Aldax over at the Examiner last night, who was curious to hear my reaction to the news that MUNI will be taking another $40 million in cuts this year, in addition to the $37 million it's already taken.

The Big Kids at City Hall (i.e. the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the MTA) and their pals in Sacramento are going to need to put aside their penchant for shell games and politics, and put the city first if we're going to survive this and still have a MUNI worth using. A tall order, especially after a bitter, nasty election season.

But rather than just rant on the latest injustice, instead I want to rehash some recent history as it related to MUNI funding. Too often, we all talk about the latest hit, and forget how we got here in the first place.

It's rather distressing to see the State cut more from transit around the state after our so-called liberal legislators from San Francisco voted in lock-step with the governor for millions more in cuts earlier this year, as they do pretty much every year. Then they plead poverty, want to raise your taxes even more, and then cut transit (and everthing else) a lot more too. That's fair (not).

"Progressive" Board members have shown a slavish devotion to kill MUNI funding in the past as well - remember the silly "youth fare" idea that got played with? Even better, remember how they arbitrarily threw a good portion of their aggreived people under the bus, and of course refused to listen to any other ideas that might have been a win win (i.e. help MUNI and help the Youth of The City).

Neither side comes off as particularly brilliant when one of the few options local governments have to raise money (crummy as they are) are vetoed based on political pressure.

Continue reading "There Will Be Blood: More MUNI Budget Cuts = Even Worse Service, While SF Politicians Commute in Hybrid SUVs..." »

October 15, 2008

Proposition P: Politics and Posturing Promoting Poor Policy = No on P, Please...

(Originally published at Beyond Chron.org 10/01/2008 so it was written for an audience that might not be as familiar with the NJC as readers here might be.)

Just about anyone who lives in San Francisco has an opinion about MUNI - is it doing a good job, a bad job, and so on. However, few San Franciscans have likely even heard of the San Francisco County Transportation Agency (SFCTA) - much less know what to think of it.

And yet, the SFCTA may be one of those rare success stories in local government where a transit agency, run by officials directly elected by the people, actually spends its money and resources on ways to improve transportation in San Francisco. The SFCTA was originally created in 1989 following the passage of Proposition B, a half cent sales tax passed by voters, and now administers the sales tax created by voters in 2003 with the passage of Proposition K.

Unlike other agencies, the SFCTA does not have a lot of overhead, and doesn't dole out high salaries to upper management. Instead its focus is to fund specific projects and participate in regional planning to enhance transportation for San Francisco's citizens.

While the Board of Supervisors often takes criticism for its handling of issues, the fact that members of the Board successfully run the SFCTA is a positive example of what the Board can do when focused. And by law, the SFCTA can only be run by elected officials - unelected officials (such as the board of the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority) cannot be in charge of the sales tax money the SFCTA administers.

Continue reading "Proposition P: Politics and Posturing Promoting Poor Policy = No on P, Please..." »

October 1, 2008

Hey! BeyondChron.org Gave Me A Guest Editorial!

My friend Paul Hogarth, who edits BeyondChron.org asked me to write a short editorial on Proposition P and it appeared today. Go check it out!

The City Hall back and forth about the SFCTA that led to this measure was discussed here a while ago. Basically, Prop. P is one half of a fight one side gave up on a while back, so the duel between two measures that was expected never happened.

There's a lot of Really Important Stuff on the ballot. Things like "president" and so on. There's also plenty of distractions crammed on the ballot. Guess which one Prop. P is?

September 23, 2008

And Now We Know: MUNI Pays $66 Million in Settlements!

In the past, when we've heard about a large settlement paid out to a victim of MUNI, I've often wondered just how much all these settlements are costing, and today's Chronicle tells us - $66 million since 2002.

Reading some of the stories of people maimed or killed by errant buses and the like was really gut wrenching. I don't know that any amount of money would really offset the pain and suffering of being hit by a train or bus. However, I think we as citizens need to take a look at something else - how endless "cuts" and funny money silliness by our Legislature and City Hall created some of the problem with short-sighted budget cuts.

Cutting budgets for the short term may allow folks in City Hall a chance to congratulate themselves about a "balanced" budget. If the result of these cuts ends up with the city paying out millions in settlements to cover the cost of injuring and killing people, whatever money that was "saved" is lost. Worse, we're left with the worst of all worlds - less money for safety AND a system that can potentially kill passengers. However, by that time, the city hall folks who made these goofy cuts are long gone, off to greener pastures elsewhere.

Not all accidents can be prevented. If MUNI does its best to make things safer, then at least the exposure of risk to passengers, pedestrians, and everyone on the road is lessened, and we can all go where we need without risk of daily death or mayhem. Besides, I don't wanna write a blog that's all about the latest MUNI crashes and injuries - that is way too depressing.

September 20, 2008

Weekend Surprise: Weekly Passes for MUNI Are No More....

Seen on the MUNI TroubleAlert today: Starting in October, MUNI will no longer sell weekly passes! I hadn't heard this was coming, and after asking around, no one else seems to have seen this coming.

I'm not really sure what the reasoning behind this is....some people do not need a monthly pass (or would not get full use of it if they travel a lot out of town) and a weekly pass is a nice easy way to do a week's worth of commuting without fumbling for quarters. You can't ride the cable cars for free, of course, like you can with a monthly, but when I was traveling a lot for work I would often buy weeklies to avoid paying for a big monthly pass I wouldn't even get to use.

It may be that the hassle & expense of printing up new weekly passes is enough to warrant their doom. How about you, Loyal Readers? Will cutting weekly passes affect how you spend your transportation dollars to go to work or conduct your daily routine around town?

Gov. Schwarzenegger, Democrats in the Legislature Agree: Let's Continue to Frak Mass Transit, Right When We Need It Most...

The next time you hear Gov. Schwarzenegger talk about how frakking "green" he is, or hear some local Democratic member of the Assembly or the Senate blather on about how they're a green clean energy whateverthefrak, remember this: as of today, once again, the state of California has agreed to gut MORE money from mass transit agencies around the state. (They have done so for the last few years - why stop now?)

They keep screwing over local agencies like MUNI, the LA MTA, and so on, and do so with no punishment. No one will throw out our local Democrats who voted for these cuts. Tom Ammiano is getting a promotion to the Legislature this year, and we can only hope one of the few electeds who actually rides MUNI as part of his daily life will come through for us. But he's only one guy. He can't change a Legislature full of Democrats and Republicans who seem to literally get off on killing transit funds. WTF?

When MUNI has its daily failwhale, remember - as much as we can blame the Board of Supervisors and Our Mayor, the fact is that by cutting off stable funding from the state (i.e. our tax dollars) ensures MUNI is going to go down the drain of "cut service" and "raise fares."

We really need to give the Legislature and the Governor a kick in the backside and remind them that their short sighted plans to get a "balanced" budget with gimmicks is going to hurt our state and our local transit systems in the long run. This is not fiscal responsibility in Sacramento - it's fiscal insanity.

September 18, 2008

Getting Caught Up With The News, and Don't Forget: Obama Event at the Blackthorn Tonight!

Unfortunately, having to work for a living to pay the bills means I haven't been able to keep up with the site like I would like. However, there are only 40+ days left until the election is over (thank GOD), and I'm going to try and keep things going in the meantime as best I can. There are some timely bits of MUNI news you may have missed, though, that I wanted to make sure you got a chance to hear about. (Special hat tip to the fine folks at CurbedSF, who've been doing a good job keeping on top of stuff this week, and in general. Yay Curbed!)

First off, there's a pretty important community meeting about the future of the Duboce/Church intersection, often the place where MUNI Fail takes place. The Examiner did a story today about the proposed changes, and the attempt to do all improvements to the area at once, instead of doing projects one-by-one, ensuring an endless string of construction for the next 400 years. There is going to be a community meeting next week - check out the story at the Ex for details. You can also go check out the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association's blog for more information on how to get involved as well.

Next is news of the new MUNI CultureBus. Yes, you read that right. Starting on Saturday, MUNI will have a new line, the 74x, which will charge a special fare ($7, all day), and connect downtown and Golden Gate Park based museums and such. It's an interesting idea, particularly when tourists are often confused as to how to get from their downtown hotel to various museums and the like.

I wonder if perhaps this isn't the start of a trend for new MUNI moneymaking routes? Maybe we'll get some other specialty lines? North Beach, I'm lookin' at you and all your rowdy bars and restaurants and such.

Finally, in the "boring but important" department, MUNI will be opening a new MUNI maintenance yard on the east side of town this week. This is one of those things we as riders/owners of MUNI don't see every day, but affect our commute.

MUNI has always had a problem with train car storage and maintenance (too many cars, and nowhere to put them all), so opening this new facility could make a big difference, especially with all the mechanical problems train cars often have.

Fun fact for westsiders: the site of an apartment building/grocery store at Irving and Funston was once a train yard for the now-discarded train lines that went out to that part of town. Additional fun news: SFist has a proposed map of San Francisco in "the future" that includes a double-wide Sunset/Parkside district out in the bay.

Don't forget - if you're an Obama supporter and want to help the campaign on the westside, the Obama team will be hosting a volunteer event tonight from 6-8pm at the Blackthorn Tavern at Irving and 9th avenue. If Obama's your candidate for president, why not stop by and see how you can help out?

September 8, 2008

The Axes Fall Soon....Final Transit Effectiveness Project Vote Coming Sept. 16!

2592376516_671b2d292e_m.jpg The Transit Effecitiveness Project, the alleged saviour of Our MUNI, is about to bring down the hammer on the proposed changes to MUNI with a Big Meeting with Public Comment where the MTA board will politely listen to folks and their input, and promptly ignore them and pass the plan anyway.

To be fair, folks did some opportunities to be heard during the proceess. I hate to sound cynical, but for all the good things this plan tries to do, it seems like they're almost ensuring that some parts of the city will be less accessible by transit in the name of "efficiency."

Now, I'm not one of those folks who goes all NIMBY at the thought of change - for example, I like the idea of using smaller van buses on lines like the 39 Teresita, which serve a part of town that needs service, but not a big ol' bus chugging away half empty. And likewise, there are many big promises for commuters to make the main arterial lines run faster.

Like most things done by The City, though, they've made a big assumption that most people use MUNI to commute to a job downtown (or to Caltrain). There doesn't seem to be an accounting for people who need to use transit during the day to go to school, go to the store, assist with an elderly relative, and so on. All of this is cloaked in the language of "sacrifice" - usually made by people on the public dime who won't ever know a day of job insecurity.

A quick persual of The Internets finds many sites where folks are concerned for the 6 Parnassus, the 39 Coit, assorted crtiques of line changes in North Beach, and so on. I'm sure there are others I missed - if you know of one, post it in the comments.

I'd be a bit less worried if I had faith that the great majority of promises being made would happen, thus making the transit cuts more bearable. Given the betrayal of promises made for Measure A last year, however, and the consistent failure of MUNI to avoid accidents of late, I'll believe it when I see it.

For all articles on the Transit Effectiveness Project, check out these entries in the archives!

UPDATE" I apologize to everyone who's been trying to post comments that don't show up. I'm not deleting them - apparently this "spam blocker" I got is too efficient. That and comments seem to be frakked no matter what I do. If I make it open no matter what, the spammers win. If I try and make it cleaner, real comments never make it and I never even hear about them, thus ticking off Loyal Readers.

At this point I'm so pissed off about how Movable Type treats bloggers and these kinds of issues (esp. when we paid for the software and aren't TypePad hippies) I may suck it up and switch to WordPress with all its faults. The fact that I've spent so much time reading worthless "manuals" to try and upgrade this site which was due months ago is just another slice in the "blogging sucks" sandwich.

August 19, 2008

Failwhale Regatta Plans Continue: Will MUNI Do The 19th Ave. 2-Step On Saturday?

As I posted the other day, there's going to be a huge music festival in Golden Gate Park, and the potential for failwhale-on-failwhale action is fairly high. But now I'm really worried for not only the patrons of said music festival, but also those who might want to enjoy a cool block party sponsored by Pirate Cat Radio at the end of the N Judah line at Judah and LaPlaya. (Download a flyer here), and the best way to go would be to take the N, since it ends right there.

Now, we've already been told by the TroubleAlert there's gonna be delays. But if MUNI and their operators start pulling that "Let's Turn Around The Train at 19th Without Telling Anyone" nonsense, well, we're looking at a massive case of FAIL that'll beat July 3rd's Day of Hell.

Let's consider this post an open plea to MUNI managers, operators, and Everyone Else to please try and make this weekend not a Failwhale Regatta so epic we'll be telling our grandkids about it. A lot of people worked hard to create some community events and it'd be nice if MUNI worked as advertised for them.

Oh, and also, it'd be really awesome if MUNI worked as advertised for the citizens of San Francisco who pay for it and technically own it, too.

PS: Does it bother anyone else that we, the people, are the owners of MUNI and yet we have a whole bureaucracy and workforce totally unaccountable to us, as said owners? And, does it bother anyone else that folks are putting a plan on the ballot to create a public power system, with the same sort of lack off accountability MUNI has? Ay caramba!

August 7, 2008

Find out if the Transit Effectiveness Project Helps, Harms, Or Hiccups Your Favorite MUNI Line

Trying to figure out just what, if any, improvements the Transit Effectiveness Project's recommendations will bring is not easy. Every so often I'll read parts of it to better understand what it will and won't do, but trying to read it all at once is a bit much.

Other blogs have provided some interesting analyses, and now, you can look at look at specific lines and see what, if anything will be added or cut. It's by no means the only way one should take a look at the changes, but it is a nice start. Check it out!

UPDATE Since writing this last night, I noticed the Chronicle had a report today.

I think there the concept of van service in some of the lesser used routes, such as the 36 Teresita (which I have used quite a bit) is worth at least exploring. But there might be some ADA issues with that, so who knows if that'll happen. I do know that if you kill off the 36 you doom everyone up on Twin Peaks to cars only, and the current bus runs like, once an hour or something and if you're not right at the stop, they fly by at light speed.

Broken Pantograph Fraks The N and J Today....

I guess it was lucky my days in the office this week were not today...this morning's Chronicle reports Yet Another Commute Meltdown on the N and J, due in part to a broken pantograph.

Any reports from the front lines are welcome in the comments section.

Rhetorical note: Many times MUNI personnel refer to San Francisco Citizens as "customers" - but that's not technically true. We are the taxpaying, fare-paying owners of a publicly owned Municipal Railway, and we are citizens who are responsible for making sure Our Public Officials serve the owners.

That is all.

August 6, 2008

Promises, Promises: The N Won't Stop At 19th? Um, Yeah, Great, But...

One of the most common complaints of Loyal Readers since this blog started in 2005 has been the random, infuriating, and sometimes dangerous arbitrary turnarounds at 19th and Judah Street by N Judah operators.

The effect is not just annoying - if you live in the Outer Sunset, and you're dropped off at 19th, you're looking at a 20-30 block walk, or more. Bad enough if you're a hapless commuter - even worse if you're a senior citizen or disabled citizen who relies on MUNI.

Thus, it was interesting to read this story, suggesting that operators who do this would be fired immediately. This was supposedly due to pressure from Supervisor Chu and Assemblymember Ma, who represent the Outer Sunset District. Um, thanks gang!

I'd love to think this is a reality, but there's just one little problem. After some some bitter labor negotiations with the Driver's Union leaders, which ironically happened right before a serious N/T crash, the union got away with no real changes in their contract, or any of the disciplinary measures sought by management to fire blatantly incompetent employees.

And, in a textbook case of MUNI FAIL, the driver involved in the accident on Monday was observed driving improperly just an hour before the crash that sent 14 people to the hospital by a top manager who called it in, but to no avail. Think that person got "fired on the spot?"

Guess again.

What galls me the most is that the MUNI reform measure, Proposition A, made VERY SIGNIFICANT CONCESSIONS to organized labor to ensure the measure passed, and attempt to address their concerns. Many stricter work rules were taken out, at the behest of the San Francisco Labor Council, and MUNI unions. This was done to try and make it so everyone would win - make MUNI better, and be fair to everyone involved.

For Local 250A's leadership (and please note that it's the leadership, not the general members I'm critiquing) to first act like spoiled children when asked to do their frakkin' jobs properly, then stick us with another contract that basically keeps a status quo no one is happy with is nothing but cynicism, masquerading as "promoting working class interests."

It is also an insult to the SF Labor Council, who negotiated the changes to Prop. A in good faith - only to have their own union brothers and sisters at Local 250A stab the Labor Council in the back.

Add to that the fact we're going to pay millions in settlements for the screw ups of the June and August crashes alone, and you can see why people who have to do their jobs or get fired are sick and tired of this kind of bulls*t.

This is what happens when you have union "leaders" like Mr. Lum of Local 250A, who have a madman's devotion to defending the worst drivers, while doing not a damn thing for the many many hard-working drivers who serve the public with courtesy and efficiency.

(Why, just today on the way to work I observed the driver of the 45 this morning who handled a tough situation with an unruly crowd with class and distinction, or the awesome cable car riders on my commute to Powell station today. Does the union work for them? No, because they aren't causing wrecks or racking up complaints.)

Worst of all? The erosion once again of the public's trust in our City to do something as simple as run the buses and trains on time. Plenty of OTHER cities of less than a million people seem to make this work OK - why do we in San Francisco treat this as some Herculean (or Sisyphan) task?

The boards are open....your thoughts?

July 21, 2008

Some Notes on the "TEP" and This Week...

Some random news this morning before I go to work...the Chronicle has the first of what will be many "take your medicine" articles about the TEP we'll see in local media this year. It's becoming clearer just what the result of MUNI's realignment will do - make arterials like the N Judah and the 38 Geary faster, but at the expense of cutting service on feeder lines that will encourage people to use cars.

My biggest concern about all those glowing reports about the data they collected was that they'll "overhaul" the system to serve Today's Needs, but in 10 years, people will be stranded in new and improved ways since none of the plans seems to account for where all those condos and the like are being built.

In the past, I've encouraged people to get involved and ask questions to ensure that whatever plan comes out is the best one possible. At the same time, it's easy to think that maybe all those hearings were just a lot of hooey and that some Big Consultants looked at the map, decided that not all of the City is worth serving any more, and took the easy way out.

And, as always, MUNI's unions, to whom we capitulated to pass Prop. A, who recently thumbed their nose at any new rules to make them accountable, now threaten to toss any changes, however mild, into the dustbin of history. I really think it's disingenuous of them to do things like this after so much was done to accommodate them last fall - they're making the Labor Council look bad, and that's not fair to the Labor Council.

Finally, a note - I will be taking my first "real" vacation in a while this week, departing for Sunny San Diego for Nerdvana, aka the San Diego Comic-Con. (Hey, it was this or Vegas, and I've been to Vegas enough times already.) While the City's elite are at some Big Wedding in Montana, I'll be with 150,000 like minded folks from around the world (with a/c and celebrities galore). Now who's the nerd, Gavin?

I won't be in any sort of costume, but I will be taking pictures and covering the proceedings. I will also post some business reviews I've been sitting on so the site won't go stale. And I'll create an open thread for people to post any MUNI nuttiness that goes on while I'm away!

RANDOM UPDATE: I was reading SFPD Captain Paul Chignell's daily report of crime and whatnot today and saw this note:

Supervisor Carmen Chu is sponsoring free tickets to the DeYoung Museum on July 27th. There are 200 tickets available and they must be picked up on the 27th at the Museum. Tickets are only available for District 4 residents. For more information, email to chustaff@sfgov.org or call 415-554-7460.

Well who can argue with that? I am not in District 4 as I am in the Inner Sunset but for those of you out there in D4, the lines are open!

July 17, 2008

Some Possible Good News from City Hall: They Might Not Knee-Cap the SFCTA After All...

I had a short break this afternoon and thought I'd write an Important Blog Entry about the potential knee-capping of one of the few effective transit agencies in San Francisco, the SFCTA. (You remember, MUNI's more popular, more successful younger sibling, the ones who FINALLY made things sort of fixed at Irving/9th, while MUNI twiddled its thumbs and some poor woman got run over?)

Not only is this the only agency in San Francisco* where you can elect who runs things, (despite what Supervisor Jake McGoldrick might think), but it's also the agency that spends its money on things we need, and doesn't spend it all on big salaries for managers or on a workforce that balks at doing their job properly.

Anyway, there's been a proposal bouncing around City Hall to change the management of the SFCTA to claw Lolcat Jake for his proposed amendment, which never got off the ground. (Big Suprise.)

There's really no good reason for any of this, it was all just a bunch of caterwauling and strutting, and a veiled power grab by Nate Ford, who's coveted the SFCTA's money for silly spending, loudly and publicly.

I figured it was time for an Important Blog Post, but a little quick reading made me realize perhaps it was not time to hit the panic button after all.

According to the folks at Beyond Chron, late word is that this amendment has been tabled for now.

Hopefully means this annoying (and unproductive) cat fight can come to an end, and we can have the SFCTA focus on spending its money wisely and under the supervision of elected folks (some of whom will be replaced due to term limits later this year). Keep your fingers crossed.

*PS: Yeah, I know, BART has an elected board. But they cover the Bay Area, not JUST San Francisco.

June 24, 2008

Too Busy To Post Something About The Irony...

Loyal Readers: this week is a busy busy week for my in my "day job" so I haven't had a chance to post something which has been bugging me since last week (and which was noted by a commenter the other day) - the irony of the MUNI driver's union walking out of labor talks with the MTA/MUNI, on the eve of a pretty serious crash. We also know now that it was not "equipment failure" as was asserted on the day of the event.

I'll write more later, but for now, I think it's time to put the screws to the union leadership for their constant shenanigans. People compromised a lot to get Proposition A passed last year to avoid a fight with labor, and for the driver's union to now balk at what's left is frankly, dishonest. Now, please note how I said "leadership" just now - that's because it was virtually all rank and file members questioned had no idea what their union leadership was doing.

Unions are strongest and work the best when leadership informs the rank and file what they're doing, and sticks up for the great majority who do their jobs properly day in and day out, instead of constantly sticking up for the few who sour the taxpayers and citizens on MUNI with their out of control behavior. Good unions can ensure workers are treated and paid fairly, as they should - bad unions make life miserable for everyone - including the people they are supposed to represent.

June 16, 2008

Something I Didn't Know About the Only Free "Spare the Air" Day on the 19th...

By now, you may have heard from all sorts of news sources that June 19th is going to be the only free "Spare the Air" day, whereby one can ride any mass transit and not pay a cent for it.

Such "days" are nothing new - but unlike in previous years, while many "Spare the Air" days may be declared, the 19th is the only day to ride free. Otherwise they'll "encourage" people to board a hot MUNI bus. (We all know how well policies of "encouragement" work, don't we?)

And now for the Thing I Didn't Know: the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train to Sacramento, normally a $15+ ride to our Capital City, is free! If you have a need to go to Sacramento or its environs, it's a cheap, pleasant way to get up north, and given how bad gas prices are, cheap. Free just makes it that much better!

Anyway, if you're not a MUNI pass holder, take advantage of the cheap rides, and if you can bail on work and spend the day (with hopefully better weather) elsewhere, check out all the other places you can ride for free on Thursday.

June 11, 2008

MUNI Drivers to Go On Strike? No, But....

Some bad news seems to be brewing over at MUNI these days....the Chronicle and KCBS report that the driver's union and MUNI management are going rather poorly. The driver's union leadership walked out of talks, and Executive Director Nathaniel Ford has been adamant about salary and workplace rule changes he wants to implement.

All of this is happening as gas prices escalate to 4-5 bucks a gallon. and more people are usiing MUNI and other forms of mass transit. Oh and then there's all those cuts from the state. Brilliant.

Now, in this current dispute, it should be noted that it is illegal for the drivers to go on strike. However, there are other options for the union to employ that aren't "striking" but could slow down MUNI if things continue to get heated. Imagine a day when MUNI drivers pull off a sickout (which has been done before), or similar non-strike labor actions.

I don't know that either side in this latest dust-up has a lot of credibility with the citizens and MUNI riders right now. When Proposition A was being created significant concessions were made to MUNI unions and labor so that there'd be a united agreement to reform MUNI. Otherwise, MUNI and its allies at the SF Labor Council were prepared to fight to kill Measure A if they felt it was "unfair."

It is disingenuous of MUNI unions to put up a fuss and for labor unions to allow the driver's union to push back on Measure A's details a year later. Add in the fact that the driver's union leadership seems to have an obsession with supporting a few bad operators, while never once speaking up for the great majority who work hard every day, and, well, yeah.

Likewise, management isn't winning anyone's confidence either. "Times are tough," we keep hearing, but apparently not tough enough to hand out big pay raises to the director, and to spend money on political aides for the Mayor.

This is a moment when it's time for a leader to stand up, get MUNI's management and the unions together, and come up with a solution. I frankly don't care who that leader is (or are). But it seems to me in a city with a good looking, popular, well-paid "Green" Mayor, and a whole slew of well-paid Supervisors, all of whom aspire to things beyond their current job, someone(s) could hold a meeting with all involved and lock the doors, letting no one out until this gets settled.

It's not brain surgery or rocket science. All we need is for all sides to be honest (!) and go back to work doing the job of serving the citizens of Our Fair City.

Right?

June 4, 2008

Let SPUR, the MTA, the APTA, and the MTI Know What YOU Think on..KQED FM!

Word on the street is that from 9-10am tomorrow the Big Kids of Transit from SPUR, the MTA, the APTA and the Mineta Transportation Institute will be on...(drumroll please) KQED FM 88.5 from 9am to 10am talking and solving all the problems of our MUNI.

It may take a little effort but why not try and call in and give 'em all a dose of non-thinktankspeak and a dose of the reality you, as a taxpaying citizen, might have on issues such as MUNI on-time performance, and the like? Or maybe just ask why it is so many cities around the world seem to do what needs to get done, and yet in San Francisco, we've gone from the "city that knows how" to the "city that like pretty people who don't care?"

C'mon..you know you wanna......

May 31, 2008

APTA in Town This Week, With Rail Rodeo!

If you look at the light up display on any MUNI bus, you'll notice a "Welcome 2008 APTA Rail" message along with the usual route number. That's because the American Public Transit Association is having their annual conference in San Francisco this week.

What you may not know is that part of the conference includes a Rail Rodeo, where operators from around the country will compete to see who has the mad transit drivin' skillz.

This is the kind of thing I would have loved to have heard about a bit more in advance, and perhaps go and cover some of the events, instead of just catching a press release on The Google, but having a "real" job sometimes keeps one from being up on every little detail of the Transit Nerd Universe.

May 22, 2008

MUNI Meeting on Changes to the N and More on May 29th!

Thanks to Google Alerts and the good people at the Cole Valley Improvement Association, I caught details of an important community meeting on the future of MUNI, the Mighty N, and more that I'd missed in all the emails and whatnots I get every day. Good job guys!

Just a week from today, May 29th, there will be a meeting discussing route changes as part of the Transit Effectiveness Project at Grattan School, located at 165 Gratttan betweeen Cole and Shrader. Among the routes to be discussed are the N, N-Judah, 6-Parnassus, 7-Haight, 22-Fillmore, 24-Divisidero, 33-Stanyan,
35-Eureka, 37-Corbett, 43-Masonic, and 71L Haight/Noriega Limited.

Although the cynical may deride such meetings as a lot of hooey, the fact is we can't complain unless we get to know the recommendations of the TEP, and respond accordingly. While some of the changes are welcome, there has been the suggestion that such improvements are coming at the expense of neighborhood lines, which while not as well used, do serve a purpose in helping people get around.

The Transbay Blog has done some nice work assessing the TEP, and encouraging discussion of its many points.

Take a look and get involved! Remember, if enough people hurl enough paper and email at the Board of Supervisors, MUNI, the MTA, and the Mayor, eventually they'll have to do something to at least sort of do something.

May 21, 2008

Yikes! Latest Dan Noyes Investigation is Definitely Scary....

If you missed ABC 7's news tonight, check out the story on their website which profiles MUNI's worst driver. (There's also additional info on Noyes' blog, too)

It never ceases to amaze me how MUNI and the driver's union work so hard to protect people like this, and don't stick up for the majority of drivers who put in an honest day's work and try to serve the public.

It's not surprising well-paid MUNI boss Nate Ford didn't want to talk to the media...because I don't know that someone getting paid well, who got a pay raise despite no big gains for MUNI, and who will continue to get paid even if fired tomorrow for incompetence can really say much on the issue.

Ah well.

May 20, 2008

Dan Noyes Is Investigating MUNI Drivers Again...Wed. at 6 and 11!

Earlier today I was waiting in the lobby of our ABC affiliate to do a short little interview with Cheryl Jennings on her public affairs show which appears on Sunday morning. (The actual broadcast with myself and other esteemed guests won't be on until June 8th). While waiting, I got to sit down and watch the mid-day newscast, and noticed a couple of ads.

First was an ad for Dan Noyes' I-Team who is apparently doing another investigative piece on the documented complaints against the worst-of-the-worst MUNI drivers. The report is scheduled to be on Wednesday's newscasts at 6 and 11.

The other ad was on the ABC weather channel (the one you get if you have digital TV) for MUNI itself, but I only caught pieces of it while talking to some of the other guests before the show....it was kinda cool but also kinda open to spoofing via YouTube....

And to continue our love-fest with ABC today (hey, we love KPIX too, ya know) here's a link to some pics from the Eli Stone pilot shoot last year. I only included this because I was thinking of it as I took a walk sort-of-in-the area/sort-of-not before going home today.

May 19, 2008

OMG, Bond Money Being Used For What It Was Meant For: MUNI's Fixing the Fareboxes?!?

I was catching up on all things SF Examiner related this afternoon, as someone keeps stealing all ours at our building, and caught this interesting little piece of info regarding MUNI, fareboxes, and Bond Money.

A quick reminder - not long ago, state voters approved some Really Big Bonds (i.e. Borrowing Money) to pay for things related to our crap-tacular transportation infrastructure. The idea being, of course, that borrowing money to pay for needed fixes to roads and mass transit is worth borrowing money for, the way you might borrow money for home improvements to increase its value or make it safer to live in.

Sadly, our brilliant members of the Assembly and State Senate, in concert with Our Governor, got confused along the way. First, they voted last year for big cuts to mass transit from the general fund, and they took gas tax money meant for transit and put towards Other Stuff. Then, they took bond money, and instead of using it for needed improvements, spent it on day-to-day expenses. That's like taking a home equity loan or a mortgate out at high interest rates and using it to pay for your grocery bill instead of something like the aforementioned house repairs.

Anyway.

But here he we have a rare case of bond money being used for what it was meant for. It is claimed that within 15 months, the aging, past-their-prime fareboxes can be fixed so that MUNI can start attempting to address its pathetic fare collection rate. Is it a cure-all? Not necessarily. But at the same time, MUNI doesn't have to pull $19 million out of something else to get it done. That's not to say it's "free money" - at some point all those bond issues need to be paid back with interest, and voters sure love to vote for bonds in California without thinking of the long term effects.

Used smartly, bonds can be one of many ways to get things done, just as people take out loans for businesses, purchasing homes, and the like. It's not something you want to do all the time (and end up buried in debt), but sometimes, spreading out the cost of a Big Thing isn't such a bad idea, interest or not.

Now, of course, MUNI just has to fix something but let's open that can of worms some other day....

May 16, 2008

The SFMTA and MUNI Wanna Know: Just What Do You Think of MUNI "Wraps?"

So according to my RSS reader of MUNI alerts, it seems the folks over at MUNI wanna know: what do you think of those lovely "wraps" they're putting on the MUNI trains to raise a few ad dollars. They've posted a sort of convenient PDF file which you can print out and send via US Mail to the MTA.

Yes. A PDF. Which you print out. And send via USPS.

Carry on.

May 15, 2008

A Follow Up To Yesterday's Post: Who Is Intimately Involved With MUNI, Anyway?

"I just want the Board of Supervisors to be more intimately involved in how Muni runs. It's all about accountability" - Sup. Jake McGoldrick, SF Chronicle, 5/14/08

Some more things to consider as we discuss Supervisor McG's plans for his ballot initiative on electing the MTA board. I threw out some random meta-thoughts the other day, as I've not read the specific proposal introduced by Sup. McG just yet.

But here are a few more. The Smarter Folks Who Do Stuff In Town are getting a freebie - they can at least subsidize my drink tab when we're all out Talking Policy:

San Francisco County Transit Agency (SFCTA)
Responsible for much of MUNI's funding, paying for our Irving/9th improvements for example.
Chair: San Francisco Supervisor Supervisor Jake McGoldrick
Vice Chair: San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty
Commissioners
San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier
San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin
San Francisco Supervisor Carmen Chu
San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi
San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly
San Francisco Supervisor Sean Elsbernd
San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano
San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell
San Francisco Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval

San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (SFMTA).
Board members nominated by the Mayor per Prop. E
Board members approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Board of Supervisors members can reject the SFMTA budget and send it back for reconsideration.

Question: How does Supervisor McG describe intimate?

Question 2 (Electric Boogaloo): How would you make the people who run MUNI more accountable to the citizens who pay for and rely on it?

Discuss. Enjoy!

May 14, 2008

O Hai! Governor's In Ur Bugdetz, Takin Away MORE Mass Transit Fundz

That sound you're hearing from Sacramento is the sound of "green" PR from our Climate Change Governor colliding with reality. Remember those bonds you voted for to build mass transit infrastructure that got looted by the Governor and the Legislature for general funds use?

Well, now the governor is going to follow up that masterpiece with a nice big cut out of mass transit from the gas tax money that voters and folks approved for....mass transit.

Remember the first rule of government - any big pool of moneys is not safe from grabby hands. Unless they're guarded by fierce attack dogs and the like, when bad times come, the folks in charge take away money you wanted to do one thing, and do something else with it entirely. That's what's happening here.

Then the Really Big Kids in Sacramento leave it up to the local agencies to cry poverty, and take the hit, poiltically.

Oh and those folks who approve of all of this nonsense? They mow down a forest to print brochures telling you how "green" they are. Never minding the fact that they're the ones who could do something to address the structural foolishness of our city and state so we don't go through this every single year.

Maybe for fun we should ask all those candidates running in June to represent us in Sacramento what they think of this idea, and what exactly they'd do differently. And why we should even believe them. Here's a partial list - email 'em and tell 'em what you think (and if I'm missing anyone, send me the link and I'll add it here):

State Senate:
Mark Leno
Joe Nation
Carole Migden

State Assembly
Tom Ammiano
Fiona Ma

Send 'em an email and let's see what happens!

Oh Here We Go: Board Vs. Mayor Fight, Round 3, MUNI Edition...And The Fallout for Us..

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."
-K, Men in Black

Well, here we go: Everybody's Favorite Supervisor, Jake McGoldrick is proposing some sort of ballot measure to give the Board of Supervisors, now and forevermore, more direct appointments to the MTA Board. And once again, policy decisions are being decided by the popularity of Today's Personalities In City Hall, without a lot of thought about long term effects. Throw in a dose of WTF? and you are left with your head spinning.

I haven't read the chapters and verses of St. Mc Goldrick's proposal yet, so instead of getting into the muck on that issue today, instead I'm going to throw out a few ideas and let the discussion go from there:

Continue reading "Oh Here We Go: Board Vs. Mayor Fight, Round 3, MUNI Edition...And The Fallout for Us.." »

May 13, 2008

A Sort Of Update On The New Signals for Irving/9th and Judah/9th

Reader Donald made an observation on a post from March regarding the new signal upgrades for the Irving/9th and Judah/9th intersections that made an interesting point, so I decided to make a few calls to find out what the situation was, and got a mixed bag of answers.

It should be noted that in the original memorandum from the SFCTA, who is paying for the upgrades, this project had a 90-day schedule for completion. What was not made clear was exactly when that 90 days started, making it difficult for the average citizen to take out a calendar and start marking days.

Given how the wheels of government turn, especially when multiple agencies are involved, just saying "go do it" isn't enough - money has to be moved, etc. to get something done.

The new signal equipment is installed, but the entire project, according to Judson True, a MUNI spokesman, is "very close to completion" - however no firm date has yet been set. He did indicate that testing of the signals may begin this week, although no delay of the N Judah is expected as a result.

As I get more "real" information from MUNI, the MTA and the SFCTA, I'll update this post. And, if you happen to spot anything in your travels in and around the Inner Sunset, feel free to email me and let me know what you're seeing.

UPDATE: For some reason this post only appeared just recently, but was supposed to go up at 3pm. Odd.

Anyway, I had the chance to talk to the actual person actually in charge of actually doing this project, and the word is that most of the work is in fact done. The only thing that kept this project from being completed in the original 90 day window were some unforseen issues that required additional digging underground for cabling and the like.

Word is that testing for the system will begin next week, and once it is confirmed to be working, will be unveiled as quickly as possible.

May 1, 2008

o hai! Chronicle 2008 = NJC 2006

Reading CW Nevius's column today in the Chronicle regarding MUNI fare collections and budget woes today is kind of like reading the N Judah Chronicles or SFist.com two years ago.

To which I'd simply say, welcome to the party, Chronicle, even if you're a bit late! Let's be real here: way way way more people read the Chronicle than my goofy blog, and if likeminded folks there can prod some action out of the brainiacs around town, fine with me. (I sure wish I got paid to write this stuff the way the pro did, but I do have a day job, and hey, the NJC have t shirts!)

For fun, I've rounded up all the articles we've talked about on MUNI's budget and fare collection follies, test plans to allow "back door boarding," fun with fare inspectors, and ongoing bitching about MUNI budgets. It's a MUNI festival! Woo hoo!

At this rate, maybe I can use my brain waves to get the Chronicle to write more stories about other things I like, such as anime, movies, Comic-Con and happy hours. Just let me get my tinfoil hat and hippie crystals and I'll be all set!

April 30, 2008

The Transit Effectiveness Project Needs YOU!

By now, most people have heard something about the Transit Effectiveness Project, a project of the SFMTA to try and make things run more efficiently. The braniacs at City Hall have been touting the process as an example of their commitment to A Better MUNI, and clearly the top brass at MUNI and the SFMTA have bet most of their chips on this thing to try and make things better.

The good citizens at The Transbay Blog have posted some very thoughtful comments on the proposed changes, and it's well worth your while to take a look at what they have to say. I was struck, in particular about their comments about the 36-Teresita line, which I have relied on when house-sitting for a friend up in the hills (and have been stranded more than a few times waiting for a bus as-is).

There are many ways you can get involved with the process and offer praise and critiques of the proposed changes. One way, of course is to attend public meetings, a list of which is provided at the end of this post.

For me, I have found the research they've done to be quite interesting, but often times of the "we knew that" variety. For example, they discovered that people want the buses to run on time so they can plan their time accordingly. Well, um, yeah. Also, while they've done a heck of a job pinpointing the most and least used routes, et al, I haven't seen a lot so far about projections for the future.

One of the problems we have now is that we have lots of people living in places that did not have lots of housing 20+ years ago, the last time we made any real changes. So I wonder how they're gonna try and predict where the up-and-coming regions of Our Fair City will be, and how they'll accomodate those changes in the years to come.

Anyway, here's a list of meeting times and places. You can also contact them via email (and be sure to CC your Supervisor and the Mayor when you do!) or via traditional USPS mail. No matter how, do what you can to learn more and get involved.

They can ignore my silly blog, they can ignore a small band of folks, but if enough people learn more and participate in good faith, eventually they have to listen to someone. Surely the good citizens of our city can offer up good ideas to make things work better for all of us, right?

  • Saturday, May 3, 10:30 am, Jean Parker Elementary, 840 Broadway St. (at Powell St.)
  • Monday, May 5, 6:30 pm, Visitacion Valley Elementary, 55 Schwerin St. (at Visitacion Ave.)
  • Saturday, May 10, 10:30 am, Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, 4235 19th St. (at Diamond St.)
  • Monday, May 12, 6:00 pm, West Bay Conference Center, 1290 Fillmore St. (at Eddy St.)
  • Wednesday, May 14, 6:30 pm, Bessie Carmichael Elementary, 375 Seventh St. (at Harrison St.)
  • Saturday, May 17, 10:30 am, Mission YMCA, 4080 Mission St. (at Bosworth St.)

Reader Mail II: A Clarification on Statements Made to the Examiner

Reader Michael wrote in inquiring about a comment I made to the Examiner that appeared in this morning's paper:

I'm not sure if the Examiner quoted you correctly when they wrote:

"'If you board the N-Judah on 48th [Avenue] and get off before downtown, there is no one checking your ticket,' said Greg Dewar, who runs the blog The N-Judah Chronicles."

The statement attributed to you is not correct. Although it is true that MUNI fare inspectors only work the MUNI rail lines; it is not true that they only do so downtown.

I live in the Outer Sunset (43rd Ave.) roughly equidistant from the N and L lines and ride them both regularly...although I tend to favor the N because it is less crowded and runs much more frequently than the L. On both lines, I have encountered fare inspectors well away from downtown.

On the N, I have faced them at 19th/Judah, UCSF, and Church/Duboce. On the L, I have encountered them at 31st/Taraval and 19th/Taraval.

I think when I was speaking to the reporter (while trying to do some work on the computer at the same time) I don't know that I made it clear I was referring to the second train in a two-train N as being where one can board without paying. I don't for a moment think this was an intentional mistake on the part of the reporter - rather I just didn't pick the precise wording with regards to that issue and the mistake would be mine.

One thing I discussed with the reporter that probably didn't fit into this particular story was the fact that once upon a time, on busy bus and MUNI lines, MUNI paid people to collect money and load people on and off the bus at the back doors of said buses and trains, to move things along and collect money they're owed.

However, I think there is a case to be made that having some more fare inspectors on some of the more notorious bus lines is not a bad idea - I think the 71 Haight easily qualifies as one of the biggest fare-evadin' bus lines in the system. Your thoughts? Post 'em in the comments.

April 28, 2008

"Green" Mayor and "Green" Board Show Us Why MUNI Sucks....

Here we go....today it's reported that our green-tie wearing Mayor and allegedly Greener Than Thou Supervisors are starting to feel the heat regarding the proposed parking ticket fine increases, and are threatening to kill the MTA budget to stop it.

Techinically the MTA board is free of political influence (because, you know, you can vote for judges but not MTA board members), but in an odd twist, a supermajority of our Beloved Board and our Mayor can override the entire budget and send it all back with notes.

The Mayor, as usual, always floats out bold "talk" when the issue comes up first, but in the face of any opposition or controversy, backs down, and instead is now talking about screwing the Transit Effectiveness Project he's been promoting, ad nauseum, for a year now.

As I've said before, I was never really comfortable with the idea of relying on parking ticket fines as a stable source of revenue, and have tried, unsuccessfully, to get our Dearly Elected Leaders to realize that these half-assed, fiddle-with-the-margins solutions to MUNI's financial woes will never get us out of the hole and on track to a service that generally works, and is financially secure.

However, once again lost in all these reports and chatter is that once again, our Board of Supervisors, our Mayor, and even our state representatives all seem to be dedicated to cutting as much funding out of MUNI as possible, and never seem to come up with new, stable, fair ways to pay for a system - or even dare audit the MTA and determine just how much money it really takes to run the system, and go from there.

After all, we've had so-called "progressive" leaders actually call for cutting MUNI revenues for certain people, we've had our state Assemblymembers vote to cut MUNI funding from MUNI, BART and every transit district in the state, and our Mayor pushed through big pay raises for certain city employees, blowing out the budget (as well as dipping into MUNI funds to pay for political staffers).

They do manage to slap a picture of the Earth or drive in a Prius in a piece of election junk mail, and the masses are calmed. The out-of-town press comes to town and fawns over Green SF becuase some elected has a hybrid terlet or whatever, and yet, reality collides when a sooty bus arrives 40 minutes late.

Funny that.

So, for fun, I'm going to propose a few "common sense" ideas for the Big Kids at City Hall to consider as they fight amongst themselves and all those special interests at City Hall. I'm sure it'll be ignored by both "progressives" and the Mayor's Voting Bloc, but hey, at least we're converting negative energy into positive, right?

Continue reading ""Green" Mayor and "Green" Board Show Us Why MUNI Sucks...." »

April 17, 2008

Well I'm Glad I Have the MUNI Alerts on RSS After All...

I put the MUNI Alert RSS Feed into Google Reader to see if it'd be useful...and today it was, as it seems there's a derailed MUNI car at the Caltrain Station. As I need to take Caltrain today, well this helps me know that Things Will Be Delayed.

No details as of yet. If you use an RSS reader, you can cut and paste this URL into Google Reader or whatever you use, and be updated on the latest and greatest in MUNI mayhem:

http://www.sfmta.com/rss/announcements.xml

Enjoy!

March 31, 2008

O Hai! Chatter, Chatter, and More Chatter About Fares, Fines, and Fun on MUNI!

The long, slow march towards some increases in MUNI Fast Passes and parking fines continues, unabated, as we approach tomorrow's SFMTA meeting to discuss said changes.

The Mayor's been playfully hinting at said increases, and earlier talk that said Fast Pass increases would happen only as a "last resort" seems to have been just that - talk - since after just 10 days, the MTA folks seemed to have reversed course.

The proposed parking ticket increases seem to be creating the most discussion on local blogs around town. But as always, in these "discussions" some points tend to get missed because we narrow the topic to the point where we exclude a few basic points.

One thing we've done pretty good here in Our Fair City is give MUNI lots of unstable sources of revenue. When times are good, there's "money" and when the inevitable recession hits, suddenly there's "no money." I'm sure to someone looking at a balance sheet, jacking up parking ticket prices is an easy way to show "hey look ma! more money!" but don't seem to realize that relying on parking ticket money to cover the costs of running the MTA/MUNI is inherently unstable.

Put it another way: If you raise the parking ticket fines into the going-medieval-on-your-wallet zone, people are more likely to either a) not drive their cars, or b) make sure the darn meter is fed. Ironically, if more people pump money into the meters, the number of tickets starts to go down because, um, well, people are doing what they're supposed to when they park at a meter.

More importantly, it seems more than a bit strange that we'd take parking tickets, which were once used primarily to cite people for unsafe parking or for meter violations, and turn them into a "revenue source" backed by the criminal justice system.

It also leads one to cynically wonder if the city has so much to gain from issuing lots of tickets if perhaps those meters aren't broken on purpose, just so they can jam another ticket under your windshield. (Given that they've been proven to do a poor job simply collecting the parking meter money in the first place, one wonders if they'll just give up and make everyone pay $60 to park, period!)

All of this comes as we just read the other day about all the City employees who make huge salaries (and will get huge pensions for life too!). The Mayor blew out the budget last year with big pay raises and big increases in the city payroll, but we haven't seen a correlating drop in crime or improvement in city services one might expect.

San Franciscans need to start making smart choices. We can continue to bloat the city payroll, year after year, by "moderates" and "progressives" alike, but we have to be aware that continuing to do so, without some sort of accountability or performance that merits such a bloated payroll has consequences.

The next time you see your car being booted for a handful of EXPENSIVE tickets, think about this: not only are you paying for the people to tow your car away, you're also going to be paying their salary, pension and health care for the rest of their life, too!

UPDATE: I just remembered something. Back in the 1990s, when the State of California was coming up with all sorts of goofball ways to "balance budgets," Gov. Wilson and his allies in the Legislature actually passed a law that mandated local governments had to pay a few bucks to the State of California for every parking ticket they wrote. Locals had the option of just coughing up the cash, or tacking on the surcharge to existing fines.

If that's not racketeering or extortion, I don't know what is!

March 9, 2008

Pictures, Because It Happened: New Signals On Irving and 9th, Hopefully Mayhem and Noise Will Die Down...

2319638529_da343fafe8.jpg Well, it seems the SFCTA meant what they said and said what they meant: as you can see by the picture here (as well as here on Flickr) the process of installing a better traffic signal system has begun.

After hopes were somewhat falsely raised last year, it's hoped that this will not only ensure safety, but perhaps speed things up for both cars AND trains. (And if you're really that curious here's why it makes that turn in the first place)

After a string of accidents, including the tragic accident last month, and other collisions reported in by loyal readers, and a hapless mini crusade, both here and on Mr. Mayor's "blog", it's nice to just see something happen at all. All this effort, just to get someone to acknowledge a promise made back in 2006.

I really hope they make this work, and if it does work out, I think the politicians and the folks at the assorted alphabet soup of agencies need to hear that if they do their jobs and make something work better for everyone (cars, transit, pedestrians, and residents) that's a GOOD thing, and screwing around, spending our money on foolishness isn't.

March 6, 2008

Another Way To Think About The MUNI Fast Pass Increase

The trial balloons for an increase in the costs of a monthly MUNI Pass are being floated, primarily as a "quick fix" for MUNI's persistent budget woes. Always, of course, without mentioning how the politicians keep trying to take away money from MUNI.

No transit system in the world makes all of its money from the farebox anyway, but you know what will accompany this hike - more cuts in service. Pay more for less. The San Francisco mantra, it seems.

But wait! Let's go read some more MUNI news in the Examiner...specifically the fact that MUNI is about to make a huge payout because their employees accidentally killed a child.

This, in addition to the many many payouts MUNI makes due to accidents. As you may recall we've had a few lately, right here on our Mighty N.

So what we're seeing is that we (taxpayers) are paying out huge settlements for horrific accidents. At the same time we 'balanced budgets' by cutting safety, staffing, and maintenance. The politicians got a pat on the back for "not raising taxes," and in the short term, everything was fine, until, um the dying and suffering. If, perhaps we'd spent the nickel in the past to make sure the system was as safe as humanly possible, perhaps today we wouldn't be spending huge payouts for settlements - and lives would not have been shattered by these tragedies.

Not all accidents can be prevented (after all, they are "accidents" and not "stuff MUNI did on purpose to ruin lives"). But when you hear about big pay raises for upper management, big pay for political aides with no background in MUNI safety OR climatology, and science fiction written by the man who played political games with MUNI's budgets, and local legislators that love to talk "green" but vote for huge cuts to MUNI time and again, it's hard to accept that a fare increase of this size is "necessary."

Until people decide that they'd like to get value for their money in San Francisco, this kind of nonsense will continue. So long as you accept the notion of "pay more and more and get less and less", and accept giving big pay raises to people that are not qualified, you will get exactly what you have now. Makes for wonderful blog posts - Hell of a way to run a major American city.

February 26, 2008

Oh My God, It's Finally Here: The Transit Effectiveness Project Report....

For the better part of a year, news of the ongoing Transit Effectiveness Project has been kicked around as meetings, studies and whatnot have been devoted to try and figure out where and what MUNI needs to change in order to be useful to San Francisco's citizens. I've always encouraged people to get involved in the process, mostly because if people just let the geniuses run the show, the result is likely a mess.

The Chronicle has a recap of the report's release, and you can go to the TEP site itself and download copies of the various reports. There's so much here that it's hard to really comment on it without reading it, so for now I'll hold off any big postings until I read it for myself. If any of you have comments as you check it out, please feel free to discuss in the comments section.

And remember: while some of the report inevitably is a bit of the No Duh Institute variety (gawrsh Mickey, folks want the buses to run on time! We needed a study to tell us that), some of the other parts of the study I saw a while back were kind of interesting in showing how people use the system as of today.

MUNI hasn't updated its routes in 20+ years, and let's face it, 20 years ago there were plenty of parts of the City where no one lived, that now house thousands of people, and we still have many "legacy" routes that are the lineal descendants of streetcars (and streetcar companies) long gone.

Enjoy the transit-y goodness, fellow citizens!

UPDATE: The good folks at the Transbay Blog did a nice quick summary of the changes in the TEP. Go check it out!

February 24, 2008

O Hai! CW Obvious and I Sort of Agree on the Central Subway....

Well at least someone besides me said it: CW Nevius wrote a couple of pieces in the Chronicle this past week, expressing similar concerns to my own that we're about to embark on an expensive white elephant of a rail line known as the Central Subway.

The Central Subway is an intersection of petty political promises and half-assed planning that will do nothing to improve transit for anyone, be they those who live in North Beach, Chinatown, downtown, or on the T-Third (!) line, and as a bonus, will need to steal trains from all the other lines to accommodate this short, 3-stop, multi-billion dollar Tunnel of Love.

Mayor Newsom loves to talk about it though, since he can ribbon cut at a ceremony or something. At last year's "Fake Question Time," he was able to say in the same sentence that he "wanted to hear what people thought," but also that "this is a done deal and there's nothing you can do about it." And it would seem he's correct on the latter point - there seems to be this mantra of "if we don't take the Feds' money for this project, no matter how lame, we're 'losing out" on something" that everyone at MUNI and City hall repeat.

Ah well. I keep forgetting that common sense and reason are in short supply these days, and that "leadership" in San Francisco consists of doing Really Stupid Things to appease future patrons of future campaigns. Epic FAIL.

February 21, 2008

MUNI Showboating Continues: "Connected Bus?" Meet "Superbus!"

The showboating at MUNI continues. First, we had the trial run of the cool Double Decker Bus last month, and this month, we had the rollout of the Connected Bus, a magical bus painted green that's going to have WiFi. Wow!

Almost makes you forget about that whole "spend MUNI money on Mayoral aides thing, doesn't it?

Oddly enough, though, when you start to read the info from the Transit Effectiveness Project, and the story in the Chronicle, most people don't really mind wifi on the bus per se, but would rather see MUNI prioritize little things like:
-- Buses that run on time
-- Less-surly drivers
-- Graffiti removal
-- More comfortable seats
-- Back doors that open only for people exiting the bus - not fare cheats sneaking in.

Those darn MUNI patrons. They sure do want the sun and the moon, don't they? Or at least some better service on a rainy day like today.

One wonders if the people who come up with these ideas actually ride a bus. I mean, given the rate of iPod/iPhone thefts in San Francisco, I'm not so sure the place I want to haul out fragile, expensive technology is on a herky-jerky MUNI bus.

Personally I find this latest showboat-y presentation a bit laughable. I mean, doesn't anyone remember the "Superbus" during Dot Com Boom 1.0? That seemed to have worked well, didn't it?

PS: The money quote from this story is how this bus is "not my grandmother's bus." Well that's true. My grandmother's bus wasn't a bus, it was a reliable streetcar, and MUNI and Market Street Railway served the city with good service back in the day.

February 15, 2008

Calling BS on Fare Increases and Fare Shenanigans in San Francisco

Rather than react to the trial balloon on fare hikes MUNI floated today, I decided to take a look back over the past year at all the rhetoric floated by Our Leaders on MUNI fares. Give credit to MUNI and the MTA on this - they are very good at framing issues, mostly by completely ignoring things like "facts" and "past statements."

But first, a comment about "money" and "cuts." I get a bit weary of hearing the "poor us" speech when it comes to money for MUNI. After all, we just voted for Measure A last year which was supposed to bring significant stability to MUNI's funding. Now, suddenly, we're told there's yet another "crisis" and they want us to pay more and get less. Amazing.

Of course, it doesn't help when San Francisco legislators voted for a state budget that whacked a significant amount of MUNI funding. The federal government isn't helping matters by possibly taking away a ton of cash for MUNI projects because of opposition from some folks for a Doyle Drive toll. Using MUNI safety money to pay for political aides isn't exactly good management either, nor is giving the boss a big pay raise in the midst of this "financial crisis."

But these are big issues for another day. Let's instead take that trip in the Wayback Machine and see what's been said about MUNI fares for the last few years.

Way back in February 2006 a report was issued indicating that in many places, 50% of folks weren't paying the fares owed. After said report, did fare collections increase or get better?

No! Because, flash forward to February 2007 and guess what we were talking about? Yep, you guessed it - MUNI still wasn't getting its act together and collect the fares it's supposed to - amazing!

Now you'd think some bright, handsome young Mayor, would seize upon the report and bang his fist on the table saying "Let's do a better job, MUNI! Collect some more fares like you're supposed to." Instead we got some hippie-esque feel-good nonsense from talking about how we should make MUNI "free" (which was thoroughly debunked when the adults studied the idea).

Not to be outdone, Supervisors and other electeds came up with their own notion of a "youth fare", apparently to be paid for with a tax on unicorns and elves. Fortunately, this half-baked idea died as the folks promoting it turned on each other. Woo hoo.

See the pattern? Everyone keeps saying "no money" and yet a big reason they have a problem is because MUNI's not bothering to collect money it is supposed to from its passengers. Instead of demanding MUNI get with the program, the politicians come up with crazy notions to take away more money from MUNI, usually to appease folks of a certain political persuasion. Then they start talking about fare increases and service cuts because...well gawrsh Mickey, there's "no money."

Continue reading "Calling BS on Fare Increases and Fare Shenanigans in San Francisco" »

February 14, 2008

The SFCTA Needs You!

Ah, the San Francisco County Transit Agency, described by a sage scribe as MUNI's successful younger sibling. First we heard the news about work finally beginning on the Irving and 9th/Judah and 9th intersections, and soon afterwards, MUNI Chief Nate Ford started arguing he should be able to drink their milkshakes and take their money. Woo hoo!

This afternoon, I got an email announcing new vacancies for the SFCTA's Citizens Advisory Committee. It seems that there are quite a few vacancies, esp. in the districts which represent the N-Judah line (and oh yeah, one in District 11 too).

Full details after the jump. If you've got the time and want to be able to weigh in on such issues as the Central Subway (!) and the like, well here's a chance to join up and get involved!

Continue reading "The SFCTA Needs You!" »

February 4, 2008

Victory (For Reals) at Irving and 9th!

The always informative and entertaining MattyMatt at SFist.com caught the latest agenda of the San Francisco County Transit Agency (SFCTA) and at tomorrow's meeting there's some pretty big news - it appears that the much touted, delayed, and awaited for signal improvements to the Irving/9th and Judah/9th intersections are finally being made!

You can go check out the agenda online, and scroll down to Item 13, where you can read more, and download a PDF of the plan also.

From what I'm reading, this has been fast-tracked to be done in 3 months. The upgrades are being made via Prop. K funds, and the N Judah trains will be getting their own signal, so cars won't have to risk getting rammed by a mega-ton train. I'm guessing in light of recent events this is getting a bit of a push, but you know what? I really don't care why they're doing it - I'm just glad they are, since this has the potential of being a win for everyone - cars, MUNI, MUNI riders, and pedestrians.

I'll keep an eye on this tomorrow and try and post something in between work breaks if I can....this is good news, though, and unlike in the past, someone is spending money and has presented a fairly detailed plan, which in government-ese means that they're more likely to be doing something than not (Funny how money has that effect on a situation.)

UPDATE: Rachel Gordon at the Chronicle has a short story on the Gate website now also.

February 1, 2008

Dan Noyes and the ABC7 "ITeam" Take On MUNI...What Are Your Thoughts?

Call it showmanship or whatever, but giving Dan Noyes and his crew the name "ITeam" sounds cool. I mean, shouldn't they have a cool headquarters with a bullpen, plasma TVs, a "Trouble Alert" and cool cars and uniforms?

Oh wait - that's the Mayor's office! D'oh!

Ok, enough silliness...last night Noyes and his crew showed some hidden camera footage from MUNI. They had to file a lawsuit to do so, and for several months there was some unseen courtroom drama. Now, they got the footage and they're showing it on their website etc. It's definitely worth seeing, but then again, if you ride MUNI anyways, chances are you've seen stuff like this in 3-d.

Inevitably, reports like these bring up the whole "why focus on the bad apples when so many are good" meme, and there's a point to be made about that. I've seen plenty of awesome MUNI drivers myself and made sure to note it here when I can. Heck, we had one guy use his mad driving skillz to avoid another death at Irving and 9th the other day.

However, at the same time, we again see union leaders seem to insist on sticking up only for those "few bad apples" , as opposed to the great majority of good drivers who pay dues (and union leader salaries). This insistence on defending bad behavior is what frustrates so many people, and lead to a lot of anti-union sentiment, which really isn't productive (and for the record I'm all for good unions, and have worked for many of them in the past).

As always, union folks are invited to particpate here in the comments to perhaps start an honest dialogue and find some common ground between riders, citizens, MUNI employees and City Hall so we can get past blame games and spin, and get something done. I'm not holding my breath on that one, though.

Still, you have to wonder at the massive amount of good karma the union folks at MUNI would earn if they just decided to cut loose the few bad apples, and spend more time rewarding the good people who try to make the system work.

I don't know that most of us have anyone defending us or getting us big pay raises if we're a consistently crappy employee, and most of us have to work in a reality far different from the one that seems to operate at MUNI. One wonders at what might happen if said realities collided.

January 24, 2008

What Would You Do With a Million MUNI Dollars, Mr. Mayor?

Some days you don't have to do much to write a little blog about MUNI...it just sort of writes itself.

KCBS had a report about the Mayor's eagerness to spend MUNI dollars on expensive staffers for his office, to the tune of about a million dollars. This is on the heels of an article in the Chronicle covering the issue, but with a slightly different take.

It's funny how we were just asked to give MUNI dedicated resources as part of a "reform" measure (which just saw its campaign committee fined for ethics violations), and right away, the only thing our Mayor can think to do is give out big pay raises to the bosses, and take money away from MUNI and give it to people in his office. After all, it's not like it's his money out of his pocket, right? And clearly, San Franciscans like him so much they must think this is ok.

Funnier still, when you read the experiences of everyday people who don't buy their girlfriends $100,000 rings, you wonder if perhaps the Mayor could have complied with his own directive to "cut spending" by starting with his own office, instead of giving out big pay to more city employees, and getting them plasma TVs to watch Project Runway with.

Of course, all would be forgiven if they decided to say, raid the MUNI fund for a $150,000/year job for folks to blog about how great the new plasma tvs are, but that's probably not happening....

UPDATE: Rachel Gordon at the Chronicle has another story detailing the expenditures, the spin and whatnot. Oh and that blogging job pays only $85,000 after all....given how much the staffers get paid over there, I'd say the guy is getting shortchanged.

January 18, 2008

SF Chronicle Reports on Recent MUNI Accidents...And A Minor Clarification...

This morning's Chronicle has a report on recent events and MUNI safety that's worth checking out. I think that as we go forward, the good citizens of San Francisco are going to have to keep pestering their elected officials and others if we're going to see any of that Measure A money spent to benefit the folks that pay said money (i.e. the citizens!)

Also, a couple of folks have emailed regarding a comment I made in the story that perhaps needs a slight clarification. The incident I described happened at Irving and 9th, and in this case a guy crossed the street on a red as a 44 O'Shaughnessy was rushing through the intersection to pick us up. As some of us saw what was happening, we were all convinced this was going to be another accident, but the driver in question saw the guy and managed to avoid an accident. Being an idiot I forgot to note the driver's badge number so I could send a compliment in to MUNI because this guy was on the ball.

While this did happen on the same night as the fatal accident on the N, the one described above has nothing to do with the N accident, and just because in this particular case some guy crossed on a red, that has nothing to do with the other incident.

In this case I was merely pointing out that there are many reasons why the streets are unsafe, and as such, no one "solution" will magically solve all our problems.

January 16, 2008

Reader Mail: Another Fatality on the N Judah

Holy guac! We just got word of news about another potential fatality on the N-Judah line this evening. Reader Jeff writes:

Greg:

News helicopters are overhead right now. Judah is closed off 28th Ave - 30th Ave. I just got home, but it looks like it happened about an hour ago.

My neighbor tells me someone was trying to get onto the train and got caught somehow. Passengers tried to alert the driver, but the train didn't stop in time.

I'm guessing the accident will be on the 11:00 news with all the details.

jeff

I got home around 8pm and missed this incident. This sounds pretty bad, though, so if anyone has info or details, please feel free to post in the comments. I'll be up for a few more hours to post details as they come in.

UPDATE: Bay City News has the story so far....

UPDATE 2:, The Chronicle has more information about the incident as well. This is so depressing.

Continue reading "Reader Mail: Another Fatality on the N Judah" »

"All of This Has Happened Before, And Will Happen Again..." AKA Cylon Prophecies and MUNI Back Door Boarding

The Cylons in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica have a prophecy they keep repeating: "All of this has happened before, and will happen again." One could say the same thing about the MUNI test program to allow backdoor boarding to try and combat fare evasion, et al.

The thing is, once upon a time, MUNI had "back door boarding" and the like on busy lines, by paying people as "loaders" to collect money and get people on the bus as fast as possible. This has long since been abandoned, in the interest of cutting the payroll. Is this the best way to do things? Maybe, maybe not. But it is interesting to see MUNI revive ideas and call them "new" when in fact a quick look at MUNI history shows that a lot of this is not really new at all. There are plenty of good ideas out there, and many can be found in the history of MUNI. I suppose we're paying the big kids big bucks and giving out big raises so that they can rediscover MUNI history and re-brand it with the help of expensive consultants.

Awesome.

January 7, 2008

MUNI Bullsh*t Results in Tragedy - Injury at Irving and 9th!

This is one of those times where all the "I told you so's " suck because it means someone got hurt - and I mean really hurt.

While having a pint at the Blackthorn Tavern, awaiting the begining of pub trivia, Bobby, the owner alerted me to a situation just outside the door. It seems that at 5:41 pm (according to sources on the spot) an outbound N-Judah making the potentially hazardous left turn hit and injured a woman who'd had trouble crossing the street. The combination of slick rails owing to the recent rain, combined with the fact that humans, cars and trains have to share a busy intersection have resulted in a needless tragedy.

Loyal readers will recall that we have tried, with marginal success, to try and improve safety at 9th and Irving, both here and at the Mayor's "blog" with mixed results. MUNI, in its imitable bureaucratic style, promised to "study" the "issue" and promised to do something.

Problem is, we were promised a "solution" (scramble signals that would give pedestrians their turn to cross the street, then keep them OFF THE ROAD when cars and LRVs and buses were in the intersection) that should have happened sometime in Spring 2007, but of course, after making promises to fix the problem they since have offered nothing but excuses and bullsh*t.

Now someone has been hurt, potentially fatally, and we can expect to pay out another big settlement because Mayor Newsom, the Board of Supervisors and the Esteemed MTA would rather talk and talk than do and do. (Ironic, since common sense would dictate that fixing the big problem would be cheaper in the long run than payouts for incidents like these, but I suppose in today's San Francsico, the hipper-than-thous can't be bothered.)

It was especially galling to hear some spokes-droid for MUNI pumping out true bullsh*t to the press about "how they continue to study how to make things safer" when they knew exactly what to do - but offered more BS at the time instead of just getting the job done.

Being right sucks in situations like this, because it means someone got hurt, and it was senseless. MUNI, the MTA, and the city of San Francisco should be ashamed of themselves. I don't give a good goddamn how cute the Mayor is or how great the scenery is. If we can't even have the basics of a safe, reliable transit system and a government that gets the things done, none of that means squat.

For shame, City That Once Knew How. For shame.

What Is Going on at 19th Avenue and Ulloa/Vicente? UPDATED

"Mason Powell," one of our loyal corrrespondents, reports that something is blocking 19th around Ulloa and Taraval, necessitating a re-route of the bus he was taking from the Daly City BART to Irving Street.

Trains don't seem to be delayed (too badly), however. Anyone see what happened?

UPDATE: Flickr user DeathByCamera took some pictures of the incident yesterday and posted them to Flickr and SFist's "contribute" section!

December 6, 2007

Double Decker Muni Bus!

On the same day that the Mayor said that his own ballot initiative to make MUNI efficient "85% of the time" was fanciful (!), he and the folks at MUNI also rolled out the Magic Double Decker Bus, which will start a trial run on December 12th on various routes.

Details of the routes served, etc. are avaiable at the MUNI/MTA website, if you're curious. I took a quick tour of the bus and it's very Las Vegas-y (the bus will be on loan to MUNI, then be delivered to Vegas). Personally I think they should run this on one of the steep lines, like the 1 California, and charge extra for the front row seats up top.

If and when I get a chance to actually ride it with real passengers, I'll post more fun photos!

November 20, 2007

Does MUNI Boss Nate Ford Deserve A Raise? Mayor Newsom Says "Yes" - What Do YOU Think?

Sometimes writing this little blog is like shooting fish in a barrel, especially when you open a newspaper and read this little news item about MUNI Boss Nate Ford's raise.

The story reveals so much more than just the facts - in this case the MTA board is giving serious consideration to giving Our City's highest paid (at $298,000/year, plus low interest home loan, plus pension, plus benefits etc.) a nice big bonus. It gives us a nice overview as to why it is people distrust MUNI, and the junkie logic that seems to infect the place.

Note, for example how not only does Mayor Newsom believe Mr. Ford should get his big bonus (despite the fact that the papers tell us MUNI has Big Problems), he also interjects that the voter mandated 85% on time rate is "unrealistic" and that it should be abandoned.

Note also that he supported the measure in the first place, but, like he does so often, he's now against it. Just like when he supported the formation of a Taxi Commission, only to then support its total dismantling with the infamous "Measure A." John Kerry would be proud of these flip flops. So is San Francisco, according to the latest vote count!

Likewise, when Andrew Sullivan of "Rescue Muni" is asked whether Ford deserves the raise or not, we get an answer only a politician could love. Is he for the raise? Against it? In the effort to try and offend no one, he ended up not saying anything. C'mon, Andrew, you're better than this. You're the head of a group that claims to be for us riders. Now is not the time for Establishment Doublespeak to make everyone happy - now's the time to make some noise.

Even funnier (in the "funny as in frakked" way not "funny as in ha ha" way) is Mayor Newsom's statement that to make MUNI run a losy "80% of the time," the system needs $90 million more dollars.

Now, putting aside the fact that Loyal Readers have pointed out time and again how meaningless the systemwide percentage statistic is, I find it really kind of insulting that after we went through all the pain and suffering that was the Magical Measure A campaign, we're now being told by Mayor Newsom what boils down to "We can't even do a half-assed job without more money, and most of that has to go to the boss, even though we screwed up the T-Third rollout and spent a bunch of money on parties, and frankly I don't care because I have a free car from you taxpayers!"

Or something like that.

All this, right as they're considering a pay raise for Nate Ford. Even though the system's at a C- level of service, he gets a raise. And they'll pay him no matter what for the length of his entire contract - even if he got fired tomorrow for gross negligence. In other words, there's no "performance incentive" here - just more and more money for the top, while we get stuck with higher fares and more service cuts.

I guess since the Mayor's so popular, this is what folks want. And I suppose that asking MUNI to keep its employees from stealing from us or at least collect the money they're owed in an efficient manner is too much to ask of a popular Mayor or the best paid guy in City Government.

Meanwhile, we see the results of squandered money, and opportunity every time a Loyal Reader sends in a tale of woe to the site.

And people wonder why a blog about MUNI gets so many hits in the first place. Now you know!

If you'd like to send an email to the Folks In Charge, why not contact the SF MTA, or send an email to Our Mayor Have fun with it and if you've got a particularly entertaining one to share, send it in and we'll use it in a future Reader Mail feature!

November 15, 2007

Reader News Alert: Accident at 9th and Irving Between N-Judah and a Honda?

Reader Patrick sent me an email about an hour ago indicating that there's been a collision between a Honda car and an N-Train at 9th and Irving. As I'm at work I can't just run down the street and check this out, so if any other Loyal Readers have any info to report, please do so in the comments section!

For those of you just joining us, I made safety at the 9th/Irving and 9th/Judah intersections a mini crusade, with mixed results. Any pedestrian, motorist, or mass transit rider, however can witness a host of near-misses and other problems at these intersections on a daily basis.

Maybe this accident will move along MUNI's folks, flush with Measure A money and whatnot, to get off their backsides and make good on a promise they were supposed to have fulfilled almost a year ago!

November 12, 2007

Well, A Week Later It Looks Like Measure "A" Did Pass After All....Now What?

Sorry I've been away for so long...but the ongoing distraction of finding a non-crackhouse apartment in the unusually bad, dot-commish like rental market these days is becoming such a distraction I don't really have the time to write genius posts on things like MUNI or that non-election we had last week. All I can say is, if you're thinking of moving, don't for now. It's really not worth the hassle. Usually when I go apartment hunting it takes maybe a week at the most, and I always find something I like. This time - well let's just say that the phrase "all the good ones are taken" pretty much sums it up. After almost 2 months it was really only yesterday I found something that was truly worth renting - the rest were these bizarre "in law" units that were being rented for like, $1400 a month.

Anyway, enough of that. It looks like despite the best efforts of a few, and the total lack of voters at the polls, Measure "A" ended up passing. Um, hooray, I guess? We've had plenty of discussions here about how Measure A isn't perfect, but frankly, now that it's passed, it can be amended if something doesn't work out. More importantly, it's up to us and our elected representatives and our popular Mayor to make sure that all those promises Sup. Peskin, SPUR, and others made about how this thing was going to "save" MUNI are actually met - and that won't be easy.

Personally I found it interesting that in the supposedly "conservative" suburbs, almost every tax measure or bond issue passed, while in supposedly "crazy lefty" San Francisco, something that had "global warming" and "mass transit" stamped all over it was close. Perhaps the stereotypes of the outsiders don't fit the Bay Area after all.

November 1, 2007

Last Call for Folks to Help Out Measure "A" , If You're So Inclined....UPDATED

If you're one of those folks who thinks a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow, there are some chances for you to get involved with volunteer efforts to help pass Measure A. Those of you who are not so inclined, I'm sure there are things you can do as well. Since the only people who contacted me were the volunteers of Measure A, I shall be posting some info which is as follows, reposted from their email:

Help Us Reach Voters on MUNI Friday, 11/2 and Monday, 11/5 After Work!

Help flier every commuter on a train leaving downtown. Meet at Montgomery MUNI Station (on the north side of Market by the circle fence) at 4pm or 5pm each day. Bring your friends! It will be two hours of fun, crucial outreach. Many bus riders still don't know about these Propositions so it's our job to use people power to show them there's a chance for them to vote to make their commute better.

Help Us Walk Precincts on Saturday, 11/3!
We are walking Precincts 10am and phone banking 1-7pm. Meet at 350 Kansas by 16th.

Help Us Get Out The Vote On Election Day (Tuesday, Nov 6)

We really need your help to get transit supporters out to vote. Even if you can only volunteer an hour, anything you can do will help us.

We will be meeting at 7:30 am at Castro Station to talk to transit riders on the way to work, and we'll be meeting at Montgomery Station at 4pm and 5pm to reach people as they go home on Election Day.

If you have any questions, or need additional directions to find us, please call Fred at 415-XXX-XXXX or email at firecircus@hotmail.com. Thanks for your help and support of Measure A!

Well, there you have it. In a low-turnout election, even just a few hours reminding people that there's an election can make a big difference. All those high school civics class lines about "participation" aren't as far out as they sound. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy voting on Election Day!

UPDATE: Dave Snyder, transit policy guy at SPUR sent me an urgent email asking folks in Our Part Of Town to help out on Sunday. If you're an N-Judah rider, and you would like to help out, they are asking good people to staff information tables at our infamous 9th and Irving intersection (where we scored a minor victory for pedestrian safety, better car traffic and faster transit) from 11am to 5pm. Please contact Dave Snyder at 415 216 7393 for more details. Or email him at DSnyder@spur.org .

October 27, 2007

Tell 'Em How You Really Feel: SPUR Forum With MUNI Unions, Employees, Etc.

If you're wondering what to do during your lunch hour on Monday, why not stop by the latest forum at SPUR, since not only will they be talkin' all things MUNI, but they will be talking specfically to MUNI operators and union representatives. Billed less as a presentation and more as a discussion intended to elevate the dialogue, it should be interesting. Or entertaining. We'll see.

Unfortunately, I don't know that I can make it personally since the day job probably won't allow me time to take a long lunch break at SPUR's offices (located at 312 Sutter Street in downtown), so if anyone attends, please drop us a line and let us know how it went!

October 20, 2007

Don't Forget! TEP "Dose of Reality" Day is Monday, October 22nd!

Just a friendly reminder....if you're ready to speak up and tell the folks in charge of the Transit Effectiveness Project a dose of your reality, as well as hear more about what they say they're doing, you can do so at Monday's meeting right here in the Inner Sunset...info is as follows:

Inner Sunset, Mon. Oct. 22, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm
County Fair Building (Hall of Flowers) near entrance to SF Botanical Garden
9th Ave. at Lincoln Way
The nearest Muni lines are N-Judah, 6, 43, 44, 66 and 71.
Check it out!

October 18, 2007

A Challenge to the MUNI Labor Leaders Who Stuck It To MUNI, the Public, and Proposition A Today....

I have a rule which is never to blog when I'm mad. It leads to all sorts of bad karma which I, and the cosmos, simply don't need.

So, when I read this little nugget about how the dispatchers and supervisors union decided to stick it to us today with a cute little "sickout" because they're not getting their 5.75% raise sooner than they wanted, well, the original post, well let's just say I composed a rather rabid post.

Cooler heads and a couple of pints at the Blackthorn prevailed and now, I am trying something new to stick up for us, the MUNI riders and us, the San Francisco taxpayers.

I am openly challenging Transport Worker's Union Local 200 President Glenda Lavigne to compose a short, concisely worded piece which I will publish in the alloted space to tell us, the taxpaying, MUNI riding public the following:

-Why this was such a great idea given that Proposition A is in trouble? Are you politically tone deaf or what?

-Why this was a good idea given that people compromised many reforms in proposition A to accommodate the union bosses' wishes, only to see that goodwill kicked in the face with this action?

-How their demands for more money and cushy rules benefit us, the MUNI riding public?

-And finally, why it is they think this kind of action is somehow going to benefit MUNI reform and make MUNI better? How are those of us who don't get automatic pay raises, union protection, and who pay the taxes that pay their big pay and pensions benefit from their selfish actions?

Rather than place blame or choose up sides, I'm offering a free space for Local 200 to speak up, justify their actions and engage in a free discussion with you, the readers at the N-Judah Chronicles. I'm sure that there's nothing Local 200 would like more than a free forum to talk to you directly - so I'm providing it. I'm sure the free exchange of ideas with you the MUNI rider and SF taxpayer will be most illuminating and informative.

Here's their response as of 10/18/2007:

If it's blank, keep returning to the site. I'm sure they're gonna respond any minute now!

October 12, 2007

Give A Dose of Reality to the "Transit Effectiveness Project" This Month!

For the past several months, Really Important and Smart People have been working on a project called the Transit Effectiveness Project which is supposed to really analyze how real people such as yourselves use MUNI, and make adjustments since they really haven't changed a lot of routes in say, 20 years.

The words that describe said action sound great, and it's a cornerstone of the reforms in whole Proposition A campaign as well. Which is great, if it is something that is driven by good research and input from you, the citizen. If it's just a snow job by overpaid "consultants" and bureaucrats to make people who get paid too much to look good, it's just more hype.

Recently, many of you have written in about the collision of reality and statistics on MUNI, so you can see the bad side of this sort of thing. But how, then can one speak up and be heard by The Powers That Be at MUNI.

Wonder no more. The nice people at SPUR sent me an email with a list of meetings you the public can attend. Now, be aware that many times when "public meetings" are held, they are more "lecture" than meeting - but ultimately that's only if you let them lecture you. Show up, ask questions, take notes and hold them to their promises. Let them know what's really going on and hopefully a dose of reality will accompany reams of statistics.

First, there's SPUR's MUNI Monday meeting where representatives from the TEP will speak about the latest news, at SPUR's offices at 312 Sutter Street from 12:30-1:30pm. These can be quite informative if you can make it - but be sure to ask questions when they finish up.

The TEP itself will be holding "community meetings" around town, most notably here in the Inner Sunset. Meeting dates and times are as follows:

Excelsior District, Sat. Oct. 20, 10:00 am to 12:30 pm
Monroe Elementary School, 260 Madrid St. at Excelsior Ave.
The nearest Muni bus lines are 14, 29, 49 and 52.

Mission District, Sat. Oct. 20, 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm
St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Alabama St. at 24th St.
The nearest Muni bus lines are 9, 27 and 48.

Inner Sunset, Mon. Oct. 22, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm
County Fair Building (Hall of Flowers) near entrance to SF Botanical Garden
9th Ave. at Lincoln Way
The nearest Muni lines are N-Judah, 6, 43, 44, 66 and 71.


Civic Center, Tue. Oct. 23, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St. at Polk St.
The nearest BART and Muni station is Civic Center.
The nearest Muni bus lines are 9, 19, 21 and 49.

Getting ticked at bad service, or showing concern online or in print is the first step. Showing up to these meetings and shocking 'em a little with what you're seeing is the next. Pile on the reality and your ideas, and hopefully at least some of it will find its way into whatever Big Plan the TEP people come up with.

October 4, 2007

Today In MUNI News: Pain, Suffering on the L, Possible Relief Elsewhere...

Wow, what a day in MUNI news. First, we hear of an incident where a man got his hand caught in the doors of a departing L-Taraval at Embarcadero, and was dragged by the train as it left the station.

I can only imagine how scary this must have been for the aforementioned victim and the passengers on the train - especially when attempts to stop the train for such a mishap didn't seem to work at first. The good citizens on board the train who did their best deserve some kudos for paying attention and trying to help - instead of just taking the "screw you" attitude some would suggest is more appropriate.

At the same time, I'm also a bit surprised this doesn't happen more often. So many people will try to jam their hands or feet into a nearly-closed door in an attempt to board, this is bound to happen. And, it's not like the doors on MUNI trains are all in tip top shape - if you've ever been on one where they don't open, or don't close, you start to realize the doors aren't as friendly as those on say, an elevator.

Either way, though, the entire incident sounds like one that I'd just as soon never see repeated again....hopefully the injured party got treatment and is doing ok.

Today's Examiner has some early reporting on the potential for a Bus Rapid Transit system on Van Ness Avenue. Done right, this could be a big help for both buses and cars. When I used to commute from Marin County to San Mateo County (one of the worst commutes you can imagine), every day I had to drive down Lombard and Van Ness. If they move the buses to their own lanes so they're not cutting across, and reduce local car trips in favor of faster bus rides, I think the BRT might have the effect of speeding up car rides on Van Ness since the traffic would be a little more orderly.

Or not. Who knows? But this is all in the early stages, so it could go any one of a number of ways.

UPDATE: If you can, try and see local filmmaker Blake Weirs' film "New Urban Cowboy", which I mentioned previously. There are showings tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at the Roxie Cinema, and I think many would be pleasantly surprised at the film's subject and message about how, yes, it is possible to turn a crack town into a nice town. Check it out!

September 30, 2007

Wanna Corner Mayor Newsom on MUNI? Come to the Rescue Muni Fun Fest on October 1st!

Tired of bitching about MUNI on my blog? Sure you are.

Wanna say something to the Big Guy who will be appointing the new MTA Commissioners now that he's asked for the resignations of the folks he hired on that board?

Or, do you just wanna to tell the guy how happy you are about the current state of MUNI management?

Well, you have a chance. Go, my friends, to the "Rescue Muni" meeting on October 1st (AKA tomorrow) and ask the most probing, nonpartisan questions you can think of.

Remember, no one serious is challenging this guys for his actual job, so your unexpected questions will be of value. Remember also that during the Mayor's "problems" about that whole "you know" thing earlier this year was dismissed by Rescue Muni because he appointed such good folks to the MTA board.

People who he now wants to fire.

Ummmm....Yeah.

For now, let's take a look at a YouTube Video of an N-Judah Chronicles neighbor who has some things to say about MUNI. Perhaps in his inimitable policy deliberations, Mr. Newsom might pay attention to what us mere citizen/taxpayer/riders have to say about what's going on with MUNI....

September 21, 2007

How You Can Help Out The MUNI Reform Measure This Fall!

The kind folks at SPUR sent out an email recently letting people know how they can help out the MUNI charter amendment on the ballot this fall. Since the fall election is easily one of the deadest in recent history, it's likely that turnout will be low, thus making any volunteer effort that much more important to ensure the measure succeeds. Here are the details from Dave:

I’m writing to ask you to join your fellow SPUR transportation committee members and our allies in the Transit not Traffic campaign phone bank to identify absentee voters who support better Muni. We’ll feed you. It’s fun. It’s effective.

SPUR Day at the phone bank is a week from today, Wednesday Sept. 26, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Put it in your calendar now, and call me at 781-8726, ext. 135 to reserve your space. The phone bank is hosted by the SEIU. The address is 350 Rhode Island, Suite 100 South. It’s near 16th Street on the north side of Potrero Hill.

You can phone bank any day, Monday through Thursday, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Call Natasha at 415-357-1593 to volunteer on any other date.

This election is going to be close. If we lose, it will be hard to fix Muni in subsequent election cycles. Please, find the time to make a few phone calls.

So if you're interested in helping out, be sure to give Dave or Natasha a call and let 'em know you're ready to go to work! Should be fun!

September 19, 2007

News From Cole Valley! Possible Changes to the Carl/Cole Stop and Cole Valley Festival 9/23!

Quite a bit of local news in Cole Valley these days, some N-related, and some only sort-of-N related. First, Reader Chris alerted me to this meeting that was announced via email to people living in Cole Valley, about a meeting to begin preliminary discussions with the community about potential improvements at Carl and Cole Street.

Among the things being discussed for this key stop on the N are the moving of the inbound stop to accommodate a new platform so that the N doesn't have to make 2 stops - right now it has to stop once at Carl and Cole, and again if anyone needs assistance getting on the train. Some have raised concerns in the past about disabled access at Carl and Cole, hence the study, I'm guessing.

Other items include the new bus shelters that are coming soon, adding such things as ticket machines, etc., and other amenities. The meeting is on September 27th at Grattan School. If you live in the area and have any concerns, now would be the time to express them as they begin to get the ball rolling.

Remember, with a lot of these kinds of things, if no one shows up early on, it becomes harder to get your $.02 in later on. Even if you can't make the meeting, if you've got concerns about the future of Carl and Cole, email the MTA and let them know!

On a lighter note, the annual Cole Valley Festival on September 23rd. As always, one of our favorite local artists, Niana Liu will have a booth selling her works.

Niana's work often has a MUNI focus, such as this piece on MUNI fares we linked to a while back. She also produces these wonderful gift items celebrating neighborhoods in San Francisco, too.

Quite a lot going on in this corner of the N, for sure. Hopefully the storm will pass and this weekend we'll go back to the "San Francisco Summer" weather we'd been enjoying so far!

September 11, 2007

The Computer Museum Known as the MUNI Control Center: Years of Half Assed Budgeting Come Home To Roost

Rachel Gordon writes an interesting piece in the Chronicle about the aging control infrastructure that runs MUNI. To many who have been involved in MUNI and transit issues, the control center's quaint and aging technology is the stuff of legend - most people have cell phones or PDAs more powerful than some of the machines that run MUNI.

While Ms. Gordon's piece does a good job of informing the public some of the specific woes of the system and how it impacts our ride each day, it is more revealing about the effects of half-assed management and budgeting by elected officials, and armchair-quarterbacking by the public on MUNI.

Put simply, for a long time, our elected officials, our esteemed entrenched bureaucrats, and yes, us, the public, have taken the easy way out on decisions regarding MUNI, and now we're paying the price.

Phony compromises, allocations of money that can "only" be spent on one thing (giving us the bizarre situation of piles of money that can't be spent to improve the control system but CAN be spent on nonsense and pay raises) and the like create the Seven Headed Hydra of Problems the system now faces.

Or, put another way - you can't cut back on the things that matter, like maintenance, information technology, and the true costs of running a system on time for the City of San Francisco, while at the same time spending tons of money on pay raises, unnecessary bloated middle management, featherbedding by the civic unions and interference from political hacks, and expect MUNI to run any better than it does today.

More importantly, it's time for MUNI management to do what it can to be more honest with the public about what it costs to make a system run properly for all of us, and demand no less from our posturing politicos. To continue accepting empty platitudes about "do more with less" and to not be willing to cut out the deadwood or collect the fares from the deadbeats does nothing to build the kind of trust MUNI will need to earn our support in the future.

Likewise, it is very easy for politicians to put a picture of the Earth on a campaign sign or drive around in a Prius in an ad, or pose for Vanity Fair talkin' greenie chatter, but it's much harder to make the special interests involved capitulate and do the right thing for citizens and taxpayers and riders of MUNI.

August 28, 2007

How's This For A Birthday Present: Spare The Air Day Free Transit 8/29!

What a great birthday present. Well, sort of, anyway...it seems that Wednesday is a Spare the Air Day, meaning that MUNI buses and trains will be free and BART, CalTrain, and ferry service will be free from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.!

Read more about this wonderful day at the Examiner and enjoy what is going to be Yet Another Warm, BM/Rapture-like Day. Use up one of those "Get Out Of Work Free" days if you can!

Party like a rock star and don't bother driving. See you at the Blackthorn late this afternoon, where I'll be spending my Schrute Bucks and having a wonderful day...and if you're wondering how to make a blogger's day, well, here's the amazon list...or just stop by and say hi....

My Amazon.com Wish List

August 27, 2007

When A Few Taxi Cabbies Get Crabby, Will MUNI Reform Suffer?

Ah, the end of August. The weather's nice and sunny, my birthday's coming up in a few days (one I share with such luminaries as "Weezy" from the Jeffersons, John McCain, and Elliot Gould), and....and...well that's about it. Oh, and then there's some election thing going on this fall too, right?

Given how things have gone for the MUNI reform measure, Proposition A, it is unclear if there will be any formal opposition to the measure this fall. But that's not to say someone won't say something to spoil the fun.

In today's Examiner, we got a taste of that, and found why it's so hard to eliminate government agencies once they're created, as some taxicab drivers announced their opposition to Prop. A, because it eliminates the bureaucracy at the Taxicab Commission, and instead put taxicab decisions (as well as all transit decisions) in one place - the SF MTA.

Frankly, it makes sense to have one agency be in charge of all things related to transit, to better coordinate efforts and avoid the duplication of service San Francisco seems almost in love with. Any changes, though, are bound to be difficult, and in this case there's a fear about what the merger may bring - coupled with a lot of anger that's now being used to try and stop MUNI reform. That's unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Cutting out the Taxicab Commission and placing the decisions regarding taxis in the same place where decisions are made about cars, buses, trains, parking, tickets, et al would allow the MTA to coordinate policy better, so there's some coherence to decisionmaking. And, if they screw up, or try to violate the public's will on things like taxi medallions, it will be pretty easy for the public to nail the folks responsible - instead of diffusing responsibility as we have all too often in San Francisco government and policy. Most other cities and counties, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere, coordinate policy like this - why should we be any different?

Besides, given all the problems this agency has had in its short lifetime, perhaps it's just as well it be eliminated. Although it was created by an initiative by Supervisor Gavin Newsom, Mayor Gavin Newsom apparently had so little interest in appointing people to serve on said commission, it allowed for all sorts of taxpayer funded drama. Now, according to the article in the Examiner, the Mayor supports eliminating the commission he created in the first place.

To me, that seems to say it all. If the guy who invented a new city commission no longer has any interest in keeping it going, and merging it with the MTA ends up with a more streamlined government decisionmaking process and a better-run MUNI, well then, so be it.

Change is never easy, but I'm not convinced that in the end taxicab drivers will be hurt by this measure in the long run. No one will dare mess with the voters' will as expressed in previous ballot measures, and let's face it, in this town, if someone did, concerned folks I am sure would put forth something for us to vote on in the future. MUNI reform is too important to let it be badmouthed by critics who may end up better off than they are now.

August 23, 2007

A "Victory" In The Irving/9th Street Safety Crusade?

This morning's Examiner has some news that should be of interest to Loyal Readers: it seems that The MTA/MUNI/Whatever is finally appropriating some money to improve signals and safety at Irving and 9th.

The news could be considered a "victory" of sorts for the mini-crusade I'd been pushing, both here, and at the Act Locally SF "blog", but I think that'd be a bit too pretentious, don'tchathink?

However, I think this whole situation reflects the Average S.F. Citizen's frustration with MUNI, the City, and the kind of groupthink that envelop said institutions. It does not require a freakin' "TEP" or armies of imported "consultants" to figure out that:

a) something wasn't working right with the situation at Irving/9th and Judah/9th to begin with for cars, transit, and pedestrians

and

b) there were/are some fixes MUNI, with its armada of highly paid City Workers and Geniuses could have implemented by now

and

c) that requests to do so fell on deaf and often hostile ears when brought up, both by this blog and by others, including elected officials.

Whatever. I'm just glad something is being done, especially, as I like to remind people, this was promised almost a year ago at a town hall meeting sponsored by Sup. Mirkarimi. (And unlike that other town hall meeting, they didn't dodge questions on this issue.)

In an irony of ironies, not soon after I spoke with Ms. Rocha on the phone, I was going to the post office at Irving and 9th where I not only almost got hit by a speeding car making a right turn, while dodging that car, I then had to dodge a cab making a left ,which was not only speeding, but Ol' Cabbie was on the frakking cell phone, oblivious to traffic or anything besides That Big Phone Call.

Being the speedy walker I am, I dodged both, but of course, a senior citizen or one of our disabled citizens might not have been so lucky. I told the idiot cabbie to "be more careful and get off the cell phone" and he replied with some choice language not meant for the kids and to "shut up."

Ticked as I was, I replied to him in his native language, which elicited a surprise. I learned very little in junior high school, but being friends with the foreign exchange students taught me a few things, including how to tell someone off in languages from around the world. Who says the public education system isn't worth something?

If we'd had the fixes, though, Rude Cabbie, myself, and everyone could have made our way safely and happily, sans drama. Maybe when MUNI finally engages in the fix in the year 2015, we can achieve something close to Nirvana, at least while crossing the street or heading home....

PS: Today's Examiner also had a short roundup of the cuts MUNI and BART will be getting, thanks to the enviro-hip Legislature and Governor. Remember, next time you see Assemblymembers Mark Leno or Fiona Ma, be sure to thank them for the budget cuts to MUNI, since as we all know unstable funding is what is necessary to make the system run better!

August 22, 2007

A Record Scratch WTF Moment In Today's Chronicle With Mayor Newsom

Today's paper had some notable MUNI news. First off, we read a report by Rachel Gordon on efforts to improve the on-time reliability of MUNI, which is showing some signs of progress on paper, but riders don't seem to be "feeling the love," so to speak. That's mostly because no matter how much overall the system seems reliable (at what, 67% now?), none of that matters if you're trying to get your errands done or get to work and have that "oh God is MUNI going to crap out on me when I need it most" feeling.

There's been some progress, of course, since the Bad Old Days of the T Rollout, but that is not saying much given how completely frakked up the whole thing was. On the other hand, turning around a big, old institution like MUNI can't happen in a day, either.

That's where the record-scratch WTF moment came, with this comment from Mayor Newsom, who prides himself as being a "green" eco-conscious kind of guy:

"The concern about reliability is not a surprise," said Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is running for re-election this year and knows that Muni is a bread-and-butter issue for a San Francisco mayor. "We are working on making improvements, with more resources, more staffing."

Um, really? As I recall, when this Mayor, who is literally bulletproof from any threat to re-election, pulled a John Kerry-like flip-flop when a serious, difficult proposal to reform MUNI was being negotiate. Rather than tell some special interests to "stick it" since he is virtually un-opposed for re-election, he ran away from a tough choice.

Now that the dust has settled, and his pals aren't against the reform amendment any more, presumably he can "safely" support it now. I tried calling the Mayor's office, but no response was forthcoming. Maybe I should act locally, instead

The other record-scratch moment , of course was news of the lovely budget our Greenie Governor and so-called Greenie Democrats from San Francisco passed in Sacramento. This floater not only includes a $1.3 billion cut in transit funds for MUNI and BART (and every other agency in the STATE), the fiscal fiddlers up north are now taking bond money (borrowed money) to fill in the gap (after telling you that they were going to use that money for "infrastructure.")

It's quite interesting to see Assemblyman Mark Leno run around with a picture of Mother Earth in his campaign signs, and see Assemblywoman Ma drive around in a Prius in her election ads last year, but when push came to shove, they voted to cut MUNI funding. Next time you see one of them and hear them talk about "fixing MUNI," you might want to remind them of this little maneuver of theirs and see what happens.

PS: Be sure to order a any one of our shirts ASAP since we'll be closing down the store very soon now! Check 'em out! There's something for MUNI fans, Battlestar Galactica fans, "Playa Hatahs" and more!

August 9, 2007

MUNI Reform Coming to Fall Ballot, Sans Big Opposition

Well, this has been an interesting week. I'd refrained from commenting on the early reports about the ongoing shuffle behind the scenes as pro-parking and pro-MUNI reform folks were going back and forth, since I knew that commenting too early on endless speculation would be kind of silly.

From reports online and at the Chronicle, a suitable compromised was reached. The MUNI reform measure will go forth, without any high-dollar opposition from folks who were pushing a downtown parking measure that would have been trumped by the MUNI charter amendment.

This also lets the Mayor off the hook since he can now support the measure he was for, then against, and now seemingly can be for, without making anyone mad.

As I've said before, there's some things to like in the measure, and some things I'm not particularly thrilled about. However, when you compare the original proposal (which angered both labor union bosses and developer/parking advocates) and compare it to the one we can vote on this fall, not too much has changed, and the two biggest funders of a "no" campaign are no longer opposing it. That's no mean feat in the shark tank of local politics and policy.

In upcoming posts, I'll be taking a closer look at different pieces of the plan and hope to start up some discussion this fall. However, no matter how you feel about MUNI, the fact is, we do have a chance to right some wrongs and plug some holes in the system, and rather than resign ourselves to cynicism, we should spend more time focusing on solving problems, and not just complain all the time.

After all, the bike people and the dog people get pretty much everything they want, because they're organized and they push for solutions they want. More people ride MUNI than ride bikes or have dogs - maybe it's time we got something that benefited us for a change!

August 8, 2007

Riding One of Those Fancy Hybrid Buses: A Quick Review

By now, you are bound to have seen one of MUNI's fancy new hybrid buses around town. In my neighborhood they've been spotted on the 44 O'Shaughnessy and 29 Sunset lines, but they pop up with more frequency around town as more buses are introduced into the fleet.

I have tried these buses on several occaisions, either going to my favorite Chinese restaurant, Melisa's over in the Richmond.

More recently, I rode several on the 29 Sunset line from beginning to end on a wonderfully sunny day, as part of a new feature that was to have debuted already (MuniTrekker), but sadly I had to shelve the photos since many of them didn't come out as well as I would have liked. D'oh! Thus, I had to postpone the feature's debut. But at least I got this shot of the interior of the bus. Woo hoo.

Generally, I have to say, as buses go, these are a lot better to ride in than your standard, lurchy-jerky-make-you-queasy MUNI bus, as you wind your way around town. These are much more stable, and they are easier to board for most people as they don't have steps at the front and back door. An informal survey of bus drivers indicated that they found the new buses much easier to handle in traffic than the older models, and the view from the seats in the back (which are elevated) is quite nice. And there's the fact that they are a lot quieter, as well.

The one caveat I'd offer, along with that piece of conventional wisdom called "low floor buses will make MUNI perfect" that people chant over and over, is this - yes it's great that it's a "low floor" bus, but the sacrifice is a significant loss in the number of senior and disabled seats at the front, not to mention that some modles of wheelchair may have a harder time getting in the disabled area, even though getting on is much easier without the steps. When there are not a lot of folks on board, this can be mitigated a little, but when it gets crowded it could be trickier.

I've never been one to worship at the temple of Hybrids Are Superior To Everything, but I have to say, given how lousy the ride usually is on a regular MUNI bus, the prospect of a better ride is quite appealing. If it saves some money on the diesel bill and pollution, that's lovely as well.

If you've ridden a hybrid bus and have a comment, please post in the comments section!

July 30, 2007

Doin' Jury Duty, Thinkin' MUNI: Big Vote Tuesday, July 31st....

This week I've found myself trapped in the labrintyh known as the Hall of Justice for voir dire jury duty. And unlike the one in SuperFriends, there's no TroublAlert computer (but there is the ongoing nuttiness involving Sup. Ed Jew).

As such, I can't attend the Board of Supervisors meeting where they'll be voting on the now-infamous MUNI Reform Charter Amendment. There's some things to like about this, and some that are kind of lame (why, oh why, is it an article of faith amongst SPUR and Rescue MUNI that public input on who runs MUNI is a Satanic Verse?), but at this point, I like it if only because it's putting the Mayor and the Board on the spot as to whether all their "greenie feel good talk" is for real or not.

If you've been a reader or a commenter here, I urge you to take a look at the measure yourself, and if you feel so inclined, tell the Board and the Mayor what you think. It's part and parcel of the San Francisco lifestyle to bitch about MUNI - now we have a chance to vote up or down at least one attempt to try and move things along. Either way, check it out and enjoy the mayhem at tomorrow's meeting!

July 27, 2007

MUNI Screw Up Brought to You By the Letters K L and M and a Friday Link to Metblogs

Thank the Good Lord I don't have to leave the Sunset until later (to go see the Simpsons Movie if you must know), as once again both MUNI and BART managed a nice blowout this morning, once again delaying people on their way to work.

Frankly, we just have to get used to this. Once again, the politicos in charge of MUNI are inventing new ways to drop the ball on actually fixing MUNI, but do manage to look good when smiling for magazine covers....just like they talk a good game but do nothing to make good on past promises to make the N safer and faster.

On a lighter note, the super-cool Anna at SF Metblogs was kind enough to link to what will probably be our last T Shirt with Goodstorm - our Stop Global Warming - Ban Burning Man shirt.

I have nothing personally against Burning Man per se - if .02% of the city's population has an interest in something and pursue it, more power to them. I just get tired of the intolerant, hipper than thou silliness these supposed purveyors of free expression love to rub in everyone else's face.

Funny how the people who speak loudest about tolernace, diversity, "fun" and whatnot tend to be as smug and exclusive as any frat house or society ball. Meanwhile, more people are at Comic-Con right now, and frankly, it's a lot more relevant to most people's entertainment than some party in a hot desert.

Enjoy your weekend!

July 24, 2007

Everyone Sings Kumbaya At City Hall When It Comes to MUNI

Who says City Hall's denizens can't hold hands and sing Kumbaya in peace and harmony? To read today's Chronicle and today's Examiner, that seems to be the case as negotiators found enough cookies to give to labor unions (who'd previously opposed any MUNI reform efforts) to put this thing on the ballot. And belatedly, the Mayor and others joined in. Kumba-ya

Snark aside, this should be interesting. There's enough in this measure to try and stabilize MUNI funding and give at least some more latitude in workplace rules and the like, which we all know is a Good Thing, and reduces some of the bureaucratic paperwork and overhead of taking money from parking meters and giving it to MUNI. However, it also continues the trend of keeping as many of the actual decision makers insulated from any check or balance from you, the MUNI rider, which I'm not so sure is a good thing.

What do you think? Post your comments here! Also, we're continuing to raise the issue of safety at Irving and 9th, both here, and at the Mayor's own website in an attempt to get a response from the Powers That Be.

So far, we've heard just the sound of crickets chirping....hmm....

July 11, 2007

MUNI Reform Measure In Danger - Unions, Politicos, Readers: What Are Your Solutions to MUNI's Woes?

Reading the morning Chronicle today, it looks like the much talked about MUNI reform charter amendment proposed by Supervisor Aaron Peskin may get talked to death behind closed doors today. Or not.

These days it's hard to tell what's going on at City Hall, what with all the shenanigans and whatnots. (For some recent coverage of this issue, check out this piece in the Examiner, and another at the Chronicle.)

The proposal has evolved somewhat over time, but so far, from my read (and that of folks who study these things more than I) is that the measure would stabilize funding for muni and knock a good 25% or more out of that perpetual structural deficit we keep hearing about. It also tries to address the problem of greenhouse emissions - something San Franciscans talk a good game about, but don't always play.

And it does seem to address some issues related to management to try and force some more accountability to the workforce, instead of just treating MUNI like a job-for-life program, regardless of ability, and reward those who are trying their best to make MUNI work for us (which I am assuming is most MUNI employees, right?).

That said, there does seem to be more provisions that would have the effect of having fewer elected officials (who we can demand results from) having a hand in MUNI's affairs. Ever since the 1999 "Proposition E" measure passed, it almost seems to be an article of faith with Those That Know that the less the public, the taxpayers, and those we elect have to do with MUNI, the better it will run. Has that been the case so far? Hmm....

Continue reading "MUNI Reform Measure In Danger - Unions, Politicos, Readers: What Are Your Solutions to MUNI's Woes?" »

July 9, 2007

And Now, Another Crusade: Making Irving and 9th and Judah and 9th More Safe

Hopefully, all of you Loyal Readers had a fun Fourth of July holiday. I went to a party at SF Metroblogging's Anna whose place featured the groovy view you see in the accompanying photo. Thanks, Anna!

However, as I was out and about on all these sunny days we had, a problem which won't go away, despite everyone's attempts to ignore it, reared its ugly head as it does most every day - the unsafe intersections at Irving/9th and Judah/9th.

Right now, the status quo is simple: no one wins. Every day you see plenty of near-misses as N-Judah trains try to make a left turn going outbound, or trains trying desperately to sync with the traffic lights, but can't because of other delays.

Cars are not having much fun - they're often stuck in the middle of the intersection and end up turning as the light changes to red, clashing with pedestrians. And people walking or riding a bike? Well, even for those who can sprint across the street, it's a crapshoot, and for our seniors and disabled citizens, it can be really tough. This is not working for anyone.

The funny thing is, we were promised a fairly obvious solution to this rather serious issue way back in November 2006, when assorted citizens and Sup. Mirkarimi challenged MUNI management on this issue.

Continue reading "And Now, Another Crusade: Making Irving and 9th and Judah and 9th More Safe" »

July 2, 2007

So How Was Your Commute Today?

So how was your commute today?

The Chronicle reports no major dramas, so far, and my own limited experience has been fine. In fact, today was the first time in like, forever, that I went to Safeway on Market, exited the store and a virtually empty N-Judah car pulled up, around 4ish, and was air conditioned quite nicely! I was shocked.

I took a few pics of a very busy Duboce and Church intersection as several J's were changed to N Outbound, one N was changed to a J Outbound, and so on.

And, in a bit of irony, some hapless volunteers were out at the 9th and Irving N Judah stop trying to get signatures to get Mayor Newsom on the ballot. Somehow, I think anyone running for re-election in this town might wanna consider alternate venues....

How was your day? If nothing else, the weather was really great today! Not a hint of fog, even in the Sunset!

June 30, 2007

A Quick Update From the Mayor's "Town Meeting on MUNI" AKA Fake Question Time and a WTF on NextMuni

Loyal Readers: I attended the Mayor's "Town Hall Meeting" (aka what some people call Fake Question Time) this morning. I will write more later, but for now, I have posted some short raw videos at my YouTube account - the video quality is cameraphone-esque, but the audio is OK. I also have a few photos up at my Flickr account"

There were many ironies surrounding this meeting - from the chaotic traffic mess on Stockton Street I ran into, trying to get back to Market St. to the following email from Reader Melissa, regarding some oddities with NextMuni. Here's what she had to say:

Hi,

Nasty surprise on a Saturday morning: arrival times at Carl & Cole are no longer available on NextBus.com

I had come to depend on real time predictions at my stop in order to deal with over crowded and delayed trains. If there was a gap of more than 10 minutes between trains, I knew the train would be too crowded to board by the time it reached Carl & Cole. I could take a bus, a taxi, or call into my 9am meetings from home.

After talking with a 311 rep this morning, I learned that NextBus, not Muni, decides which stops to use when reporting data.

If anyone else is interested in suggesting that NextBus add their stop to the real time predictions website, contact NextBus directly.

If my stop isn't added back, I will probably start driving. :( I've had it with Muni. ;)

Melissa brings up an interesting point, ironic, especially when everyone at the meeting was falling all over themselves to talk about how great expanded NextMuni is. I personally had an odd little hiccup when I tried my usual N-Outbound bookmark on my phone, and found it nl longer worked, since it seems they've made some adjustments now that the N goes back to Caltrain.

I also noticed they now mark two stops for inbound trains at Duboce and Church: one is the famous Duboce and Church Stop but the other is new to me on NextMuni, the Tunnel Entry Point Near Church, whose stop is one minute away from....Duboce and Church?

It would seem like the interruption at Carl and Cole is temporary, but if anyone has more complete information, please let us know. I would have been happy to put this in the question pile at FQT, but alas, I'd left before this message arrived.

However, given that they didn't answer any of my questions about the missing scramble signals at 9th/Irving and 9th/Judah, and my question about a potential shortage of streetcars once the Central Subway is built...well, you get the idea...sigh....

UPDATE: Reader Melissa sends us this update, with some notes from NextBus/NextMuni:
Hi Greg,

I hope other people whose stops have been removed will be able to convince NextBus to add them back.

I thought about canceling my plans today so that I could attend Newsom's Muni meeting. From your description, it sounds like it's a good thing that I didn't. ;)

FYI below is a response I received from NextBus.

Cheers,
Melissa

Thank you for alerting us to the problem. Do to a configuration problem
for the N-Judah, predictions are not currently available for stops at Carl & Cole and Carl & Stanyan.This will be fixed as soon as we can receive corrected data from Muni.

Michael Smith
NextBus


June 28, 2007

Which Stops on the N Would You Give Up To Speed Up the N?

Oh no, here it comes. Reading today's the latest pronouncement from Our Mayor on Muni, it looks like the topic of MUNI is about to go through the "talk is cheap" machine once again.

That's because it's easy to confuse the rhetorical barb of "eliminating MUNI stops will make it more efficient" with a reasoned, thought out plan, such as the Transit Effectiveness Project is supposed to be. The former is just a reflexive statement with no intrinsic meaning people "agree" to because it sounds reasonable, and the latter is the product of serious, quantitative research.

There's no doubt there's a lot of duplication of service, some left over from the days of multiple companies providing service in the Olden Days. And, there's no doubt that there are some stops that are really unnecessary (why is there a stop at 12th and one at Funston, a short block apart, on the N line?). However, if we go down the road of just cutting stops at random to make MUNI and electeds look good, we're in for some trouble.

Personally, I question the wisdom of Our Mayor putting all the "Fix MUNI Eggs" in one basket, if only because it seems like at any given moment, whenever one asks the Mayor anything about MUNI, he seems to repeat "TEP" as many times as he can. That's fine if the TEP lives up to the hype and produces well researched results. It sucks if we get a consensus-built "compromise" designed to appease and accommodate, and make people look good in the short term.

The best way to avoid such a mess is for you, the MUNI rider and citizen, get involved as much as you can with the TEP and force them, and those Elected Folk, to listen to regular people as they deliberate.

Hopefully, when they sit down with all the king's consultants and all the king's men, they put our MUNI back together again, and do so in a way that benefits everyone in Our Fair City.

June 22, 2007

Got Something to Say About MUNI? Tell it to The Mayor June 30th!

By now, most Loyal Readers, and frankly, most San Franciscans, have something to say about MUNI's performance of late, and in general. Now, you have a chance to tell the guy who appoints the people who run MUNI exactly what you think at a so-called "Town Hall Meeting" on June 30th.

Now, bear in mind that these things are highly rehearsed affairs, where they screen the questions, and the Mayor tends to punt most questions to "staff," who do the work of sounding out the latest MUNI press release, or whatever. In other words, if you're looking for a chance to let Mayor Newsom know what you think about MUNI, playing by the rules won't work.

Instead, show up and be prepared to raise your voice. Make a scene. Be funny. Be silly. Do something to get your views known. For example, show up wearing a fashionable N Judah Chronicles T shirt, and in your own subtle way let the folks at MUNI and City Hall know you're letting folks know just what a day on MUNI is really like.

Or, just show up in an Adama for President shirt. Either way, it'll at least make a boring "meeting" more fun!

June 10, 2007

MUNI Maladies Roundup in Today's Chronicle: Some Extended Thoughts

If you haven't already read it, check out the Chronicle's front page story by reporter Rachel Gordon about MUNI's current state of affairs. It's definitely worth reading, if only because it's the first time in a while we've seen a paper try to take in the totality of all of MUNI's ills, all at once - no easy task.

However, I would suggest a few more things to think about as one tries to consider how they as a citizen of Our Fair City might weigh in on the Great MUNI Debate. The first is the issue of "money" - a common refrain amongst the politicians, the bureaucrats, and advocates is that MUNI has "no money" and that there's "no money" to pay for a MUNI that works (and yet they "have money" for all sorts of nonsense elsewhere.)

Missing in this analysis? No one has ever honestly come up with a budget that shows exactly how much it costs to actually provide a MUNI system that works. Years of half-baked "cuts" to "balance budgets fairly" and the like have produced a mentality that so long as the system is "balanced" and that all decisions are "balanced" one can continue to run a proper system.

That's foolish thinking. Things cost what they cost, no more, no less. Such thinking appears "balanced" when in fact it can be quite short sighted. Remember the pilot project to make the 1-California Line run more efficiently that was tested earlier this year? There was shock and awe at the fact that such a plan cost an "extra" $168,000. No, it was not an "extra" $168,000 to make the system run properly - if that is what it actually costs to make the 1-California run properly, then that is what it costs.

Continue reading "MUNI Maladies Roundup in Today's Chronicle: Some Extended Thoughts" »

June 4, 2007

The N is Going Back To Caltrain! For Real!

Well it's looking like all the rumors are true the N is going to go all the way to the Caltrain station once again. I'd been hearing about this for a few days but waited until I heard some Official MUNI Notice about said so.

Pardon me for not celebrating just yet. Until we see all these "fixes" implemented and see how it goes, I'm not going to get fooled like I did before when they told us how great things were gonna be by not going all the way to Caltrain. Let's see what happens!

In the meantime, what are they going to do about all those signs?

May 30, 2007

Let's Pay People More Money to Do What They're Supposed To Anyway!

Reading the paper this morning, articles in the Chronicle and the Examiner told of a simply fascinating idea - paying MUNI employees "bonus" money for simply coming to work - like they're already supposed to. (Why can't any of us get deals like that, eh?)

Once again, MUNI logic and Real World Logic collide. Given that members of Local 250A are already the highest paid drivers in the area, I don't quite understand why it is we need to pay these guys another bonus simply for doing what they're supposed to be doing - showing up to work every day. Plus the $350 "bonus" doesn't seem like much of an incentive if workers can take extended leaves of absence - and get paid!

I am still working on talking to Supervisor Peskin directly about his recent proposed charter amendment for the fall ballot that would address some MUNI issues. In the meantime, do you think paying MUNI employees a "bonus" to show up to work, and perhaps reduce the rampant absenteeism causing some of the delays on the N, the J, the T, et al is a good idea? Let people know in the comments today!

May 23, 2007

Why I'm Keeping Quiet on Sup. Peskin's "Big MUNI Fixer Upper" Plan For Now

Several Loyal Readers have written in asking why it is I have not discussed Supervisor Aaron Peskin's proposed charter amendment to "fix" MUNI, which has been in the papers the last few days. Good question!

The answer is this - while I have read the same press coverage everyone else has, I don't like the idea of immediately jumping up and responding to every single piece of news without finding out for myself what's really going on. It's quite easy for politicians or bureaucrats to announce something and rattle off a list of Things That Make Us Feel Good, but in the devilish details, we the riders get screwed once again. Hey, remember how they kept promising having the N go to Embarcadero would speed things up?

Rather than just do the usual blogging-shmo thing and react, I'm going to try and see if Supervisor Peskin will deign to talk to a lowly citizen blogger, and do a little digging instead, and see what I find out. In the meantime, if you see something on MUNI or have ideas for subjects that could use a bit more of a once over than a regular blog post, feel free to send them in!

Special Note:If you haven't already done so, fill out the Reader Survey so we can fine tune this site to better suit the needs of MUNI riders everywhere! Thanks to all who have filled it out so far!

May 11, 2007

Friday Round Up - New Chances to Tell MUNI Like It Is (Sort of)

Whilst perusing the likes of SFist.com I found this recent post announcing a so-called Town Hall Meeting with MUNI Director Nate Ford. The devil, as they say, is in the details - apparently the people at Rescue MUNI have indicated this meeting came about only because of a petition by commuters from the Peninsula upset with the Caltrain to MUNI.

Devilish detail #1 - if you live in San Francisco, you get squat. If you live elsewhere, someone listens. WTF? Devilish detail #2 - the "where" and "when" - in this case at noon at a conference room on the second floor of the Ferry Building. Nothing indicates an easy to attend meeting like one held somewhere hidden in the Ferry Building at noontime.

But devilish detail #3 - the biggie - is this really a "meeting" or one of those self-serving "lectures" like the ones the Mayor's been holding around town? I really hope it is the former, and not the latter.

Supervisor Mirkarimi's event last fall at least tried to hold MUNI leaders accountable and has been used to hold them to promises (often broken).

More importantly, questions not answered in person were done in writing afterwards. And, the meeting wasn't allowed to devolve into techno-talk - the real-world concerns such those brought up by Loyal Readers were kept at the forefront. It's hard to know for sure, at this point, and while I'm hopeful it'll produce something concrete, it's all too easy for bureau-bots and status quo defenders to turn a public meeting into a PR stunt.

I am not sure I can attend this one myself, but I am definitely going to try - if any of you are interested, you should attend, and post your thoughts in the comments section afterwards! This kind of meeting is not a cure-all, but it's something for now, and why not take advantage of the chance if you can?

NOTE: A Loyal Reader (who'd rather not use his or her name online) made a suggestion that people stop by the Mayor's Neighborhood Lecture in West Portal to try and ask a few questions , but since the topic is officially "public works" I don't know that would be particularly helpful. If you go, let us know what happened!

May 9, 2007

"All Options Are On The Table" -- Let's Hear Your Thoughts...

Hopefully both Loyal Readers and New Readers saw today's front page article in the Examiner today. Aside from the fact that Rockin' Reporter Alex Rocha managed to talk to a certain local blogger, what's more important is that MUNI is clearly feeling some heat to do something, anything, if not to totally repair the system, to at least make people feel better. Maybe doing this blog and publishing our comments isn't futile after all? Hmm.

Fine. Here's the thing. We can always talk about "common sense" solutions as citizens and users of MUNI, but the fact is, we're not privy to the endless amounts of data, engineering, and whatnot that makes up running a mass transit system for a major US city. The good citizens on the MUNI Citizen's Advisory Council deserve a lighter lit because they rock and a big thanks because they must possess the patience of Job to put in the (unpaid) hours to try and wrest some answers from MUNI. That said, when I read this whole "all options on the table" rhetoric, my DNFW antennae are raised.

Why?

Simple. We get the rhetoric of how they're trying to "help" and sure, possibly, not having the N have to bottleneck at the overworked Embarcadero station should help, but does that mean that instead we'd just push the problem to the Caltrain station?

Continue reading ""All Options Are On The Table" -- Let's Hear Your Thoughts..." »

May 8, 2007

N-Judah Field Trip: Let's All Look At The Potential New Bus Shelters

So, if you were at a MUNI bus shelter recently, and wanted to see when the next MUNI bus was going to arrive, in many places (if not all), you got a lengthy notice about the proposed bus shelters, which will be on display at City Hall on May 10th and 11th. Now, who can resist such a field trip, right? Count me in!

But, as always, there's another lesson to be learned here - how you can have an army of paid professionals at City Hall to "communicate" who can't. I mean, putting this lengthy message on NextMuni is goofy enough - but when you realize that at stops there's only two lines of text to display, well couldn't someone have, oh I don't know, written this a little tighter?

Then there's the info on the City's website, which refers you to the MTA's site for more "information" - only to repeat everything word for word you've already read. Weird.

Just another day at MUNI, I guess!

UPDATE (5/10): I posted some quick photos on Flickr. Flickr Uploadr was being rather uppity this evening...

April 30, 2007

Save the N-Judah! A Call To Action UPDATE: Tell it To Nate Ford IN PERSON May 3rd!

Scroll down for the update on how you can take the fight directly to MUNI's leadership!

Loyal Readers: It's time for N-Judah riders to take a stand and do what we can to Save the N-Judah. For some time now, I've been hearing many N-Judah riders report the fact that during peak times, the N-Judah no longer completes its route to Ocean Beach, but instead arbitrarily drops people off early, without warning, and turns around.

This has to stop. Now.

And it won't stop unless people start mobilizing and taking action so MUNI stops with the excuses and starts doing the job right. Today I'm going to suggest a start -- flooding MUNI and the Mayor's Office and the Board of Supervisors with our grievances.

Here's how it will work. If you, or a friend or neighbor, has the experience of having the N-Judah crap out on them midway through the ride, send MUNI an official complaint via their Black Hole Complaint Form, then immediately post a copy in the comments section of this post as well. And, for added impact, CC a copy to the The Mayor's office and the supervisors who represent the N.

Obviously there's a limit to how effective this sort of thing can be, but it is a start. We simply can't MUNI ruin our N-Judah line like they have and get away with it.

Since playing nice doesn't seem to get the attention of these folks, it is time to turn up the volume and let MUNI and our elected officials know, we're tired of excuses - we just want the N to work!

Hopefully, by CC'ing your complaints to the comments section, we can hold MUNI accountable by shining light on the complaints so they can't just bury them like they usually do. If you have other constructive suggestions or ideas, feel free to email me at any time!

URGENT UPDATE: Thanks to one of our Loyal Readers who serves on the Citizen's Advisory Council for MUNI, I got ahold of copy of Thursday's Meeting at which Mr. Nate Ford and Mr. Ken McDonald will be discussing issues related to the T-Third line's integration with existing operations.

I am doing my best to re-arrange my schedule to be there and let 'em know in person what we think of what seems to be official policy ruining the N-Judah's reliability. If you are as ticked off about MUNI's foibles and would like to take the message directly to the folks in charge, why not stop by?

April 24, 2007

MUNI Boss Nate Ford Says "The Worst Is Over" - Is It?

Well, according to the breaking news at the SF Chronicle, "the worst is over" from MUNI's latest follies and meltdowns.

Despite the charts and graphs, I keep noticing it takes me longer to get around, and I can't count on MUNI, and especially the N-Judah like I used to.

What do you think? This is an open thread - please post your comments here and let people know what your commute's like. Is "the worst" over?

PS: Don't forget to let the Supervisors that represent the N know what you think!

April 19, 2007

T Third Opening Ceremony Photos Up on Flickr.com!

Loyal Readers: I finally downloaded all the photos I took of the T-Third Opening Ceremonies on April 14th and posted them to this Flickr Photo Set! If any of you have some photos, post a link in the comments section.

Enjoy!

UPDATE: Matier and Ross report on the cost of the parties - $158,000! The trains may have been screwed up, commutes ruined, and faith lost in the MUNI or MTA or whatever, but the elites had their fun! Yay!!!

Thursday Commute: How's It Going So Far?

I took a few days off because frankly, after last week's disaster, and the Cylon-esque T-Third Ceremonies (for which I'll post a short article and photos later), I needed a break.

However I wanted to start an open thread here on today's commute, which according to the Chronicle is potentially a disaster as the Giants have an afternoon game, and they'll be trying to cram as many trains in the tunnel as possible.

Given many of the problems people have been talking about, similar to the one that Metroblogging SF writer Jason DeFillippo reported yesterday, it makes me a bit worried.

Post your observations in the comments. Also, feel free to discuss the latest ratings by citizens of MUNI, which has dropped to a C-. Is that acceptable to you as a MUNI rider? Or perhaps should MUNI shoot a little higher?

PS: If you haven't already seen this absolutely priceless photo by Luke Thomas at Fog City Journal, check it out. It was taken during the big Meltdown of 2007 last week. What captions would you come up with for our Fearless Leaders?

April 13, 2007

Friday the 13th: MUNI Meltdown Wrap Up, and More!

Well, it's been quite a week, hasn't it? Frankly, although I've got a lot of work and whatnot to do today, it's Friday the 13th which frankly rattles me - and I'm not even superstitious! ( although one reader has suggested that perhaps the double whammy of MUNI and the 13th might make things a bit better.)

First, a thanks to Traci Grant of NBC 11 for my first "earned media" appearance on TV. Today, Ms. Grant posted a comment in our Commute from Hell thread looking for emails from you, the riders of MUNI, about your experiences this week. Send her an email about your latest horor story and she might use it on the air!

In more serious news, today MUNI decided to "fix" things with the T-Third line by replacing the rail services with a "shuttle bus" from Sunnydale to Caltrain.

On April 14th.

The same day as the big opening of the T-Third line!

Yes, you read that press release right. You have to wonder how the various PR people are going to spin that one to the press and a disillusioned public, much less Speaker of The House Nancy Pelosi, who will be there to kick off a train line that's being served by buses.

I'm going to try and be at the event tomorrow, but if any of you are going, take some pictures and post them to Flickr (or your favorite photo sharing site) and write in about your experiences!

Enjoy the weekend and good luck with the Friday commute!

April 12, 2007

Past Apologies, Current Events, and More!

Well these last few days have been rather dramatic, eh?

"Mason Powell" found this apology from a simliar crisis in 1981, which was posted on shelters, buses, etc. so I posted a copy (which originally appeared in the book "Tours of Discovery" by Anthony Perles) on Flickr for everyone's enjoyment.

I also had the chance to talk to NBC 11 today about the recent MUNI follies. If you're near a TV at 5 or 6pm, and you're interested in seeing me look like a goofball on TV, check it out.

After the interview, I took the N-Judah to the Inner Sunset(where a particularly distressed gentleman finally shook his head in disbelief and shouted "WHERE ARE THE N JUDAHS?!?"). Upon departing the train, I ran into Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and the Senior Action Network, who were holding a press conference with the SFPD about pedestrian safety on sidewalks. I took a few quick photos, and once they were finished, took the opportunity to ask Sup. Mirkarimi a few questions.

As some of you may recall, during a town hall meeting on MUNI last fall, scramble signals on Irving and 9th and Judah and 9th were promised to help speed up the trains and improve safety for pedestrians and cars. This promise has not only not been kept, but now MUNI is fighting the effort entirely, and Sup. Mirkarimi was clearly ticked off about it.

He told me that another Town Hall Meeting on MUNI is coming - one where you can ask any question you want and they'll be followed up as before. We'll definitely be keeping you posted on that when a date is set!

Keep sending in your comments about your experiences this week, and don't be shy about sending your comments to all the Supervisors who represent the N-Judah line. The Mayor and the Board can't ignore us if we all make enough noise.

UPDATE: Some have suggested that those upset about the recent follies pay a visit to the MTA, MUNI, and assorted local dignitaries on Saturday. Hmm.....

April 11, 2007

Being MUNI Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry...

Although I still would like to hear your tales of commuting woe, this bit of news merited an entry on its own.

As I mentioned earlier, SFist hero MattyMatt posed some video detailing the dreadful N-Judah performance on Tuesday, and included a link to a pretty sincere apology from MUNI director Nate Ford.

45 minutes later, it was removed, and this error screen appeared in its place.

I have no doubt Nate Ford was trying to be honest about the situation, in particular apologizing for MUNI's seeming inability to communicate with the public, despite paying all those pros all that money.

I also have no doubt that upon seeing such an apology, some MUNI or MTA bureaucrat took it down.

Time to make 'em all accountable: the Mayor, the MTA board, the Board of Supervisors, all of 'em. And someone needs to say they're sorry.

April 10, 2007

Did Today's Commute Suck, or What? - UPDATED

Wow. It seemed like today we had a Commute From Hell Festival today on MUNI. First, we had a derailment this morning which created endless amounts of fun for everyone. This is on the heels of a less-than-stellar opening of the T-Third, and the confusion caused by the switchover from the N to the T for trains headed to Caltrain.

This afternoon was not much better. When I went to the Montgomery Station to catch a much-needed N around 4:30 or so, I (and a lot of my fellow riders) waited for an N to show up.

While talking to everyone on the platform, many people reported that when their commute this morning was delayed, they were told the cause was not just the derailment but the odd "too many trains in the tunnel" line instead. Curious.

I talked to a passenger who'd been waiting in the Montgomery Station since 4:15 waiting for an N,with no luck. We waited, and waited and waited, until an N showed up at 4:55 or so. Sure enough, the N was already crowded, leaving little room for all the passengers getting on at Montgomery Station.

I quickly did some math and realized that frankly, it didn't matter if I got on or not - by the time the N got to my post office, it'd be closed. So I gave up and went back upstairs to meet up with a friend instead and waited out the storm.

I'd like to hear from more of my fellow N-Judah riders about how your commute has improved (or declined) following the changes to the line, and what (if anything) you were told while you waited and waited and waited....

UPDATE: The MTA/MUNI website is a mess, so I found this link where you can send in your complaints. Sure, they may end up going down the MUNI Black Hole of Non-Responsiveness, but try it anyway.

UPDATE 2: MattyMatt of SFist posted this great video, as well as an apology from MUNI director Nate Ford. Check it out.

I think it is great that Nate Ford has chosen to act like a responsible person in this very crappy situation. Too bad the MTA board, the Board of Supervisors, and the Mayor couldn't find the courage to do the same.

April 4, 2007

MUNI "Exploring" New and Improved Ways to Pay for Service - But Seems to Forget Some Basics

If you've read the N Judah Chronicles for any length of time, you know that one thing I have consistently advocated for is a more stable source of funding for the service so it just works, instead of having it go down the "no money, cut budget, no money, cut more" toilet bowl.

In both today's Chronicle, and today's Examiner, some new ideas were proposed for discussion, ranging from the usual (increase parking ticket costs, and meters) to the dumb (automatic fare increases, charging for "transfers") to the wild-eyed (selling sodas at rail stations and jacking up random taxes for fun).

Eeeeeyeah.

Realize, that this comes on the heels of Mayor Newsom's fanciful proposal to eliminate all fares, which gets the excitable folk in town all happy and smiley at the concept. Of course there's no way to pay for it, aside junkie logic about how "collecting the money costs too much." But hey! It made people feel good, right?

And to add to the cavalcade of "good feelings" we had the proposal to cut bus passes for the oppressed 18 to
24 21 year olds, because we "should" - and the "money" will just "appear," right?

Continue reading "MUNI "Exploring" New and Improved Ways to Pay for Service - But Seems to Forget Some Basics" »

March 7, 2007

Mayor, Supervisors Agree: MUNI Should Be Free, Suggest We Pay For It With New Unicorn Tax!

Reading news about MUNI these days, you begin to wonder if the people in charge live on the same planet, much less same city, as we do. It was not long ago we found out why it is MUNI has a recurring problem with "deficits", and that perhaps Our City Leaders might have read something about this as well.

Clearly they didn't. Or if they did they seem to have come up with new junkie logic, even more impressive than recent examples we've seen to justify the vague, probably-won't-happen-anyway promise of "free" MUNI.

It goes something like this: MUNI is doing such a bad job of collecting fares anyway, why not simply abolish them (and the $137 million it brings in) and instead, make MUNI free. It'll "boost ridership" and the system will "run better." Everyone's happy and has that feel-good sensation that makes the world a sparkly, happy place.

Notice how there's one thing missing in said junkie logic: how to pay for the system as-is, not to mention paying for the system we need, or the system's unforeseen costs in the future. No matter -we can raise the tax on unicorns (or perhaps tax gun-wielding dragons) and we'll be fine!

Riiight.

Continue reading "Mayor, Supervisors Agree: MUNI Should Be Free, Suggest We Pay For It With New Unicorn Tax!" »

March 5, 2007

N-Judah Trivia Time: Which Supervisors Represent the N on the Board?

Trivia Question: Which members of our Esteemed Board of Supervisors represent the N-Judah line in City Hall?

Think about it for a moment.....and now the surprising answer!

Trivia Answer: More than you might think. I took a look at the map of Supervisorial Districts at City Hall's website, and while some were obvious, others were not. Here's the list, with notes, starting from Ocean Beach:

Continue reading "N-Judah Trivia Time: Which Supervisors Represent the N on the Board?" »

February 28, 2007

How "Fair" is a "Youth Fare" for MUNI?

The other day while perusing the pages of the Examiner, I happened upon this Op-Ed piece by Supervisor Ed Jew on a proposal being fast-tracked through the Board of Supervisors to offer a discounted "youth fare" for people 18-24. Now, I'd heard of this idea a while ago but I had no idea that suddenly it was being rushed to a vote so quickly by the Board. So, since I was heading to City Hall anyway, I decided to drop in on the Board of Supervisors meeting Monday afternoon to hear some more, first hand.

Now, some info: the Board of Supervisors can't arbitrarily order MUNI or the MTA to do anything on a whim - the resolution, spearheaded by Everybody's Friend, Sup. Jake McGoldrick, is after all, just a resolution, and it alone can't really do much. However, as Sup. Daly pointed out, while it wasn't an ordinance, it could have some influence on MUNI and the MTA if enough supervisors supported it.

Now, I have no doubt in my mind that Supervisor McGoldrick means well with this move, so much so he was willing to ram this through as quickly as possible (although eventually agreeing to hold it up a week for more discussion, etc.). I respect his opinion and I have no doubt he's trying to do something good. What I don't understand, though is why this is so important that it needed to command the Board's attention when other matters were more pressing.

Nor have I heard a single argument that persuades me that this is such a crisis, we need to hand out a discounted fare to a small group of people, at a time when MUNI's ability to collecte revenue is not as well organized as they should be.

Continue reading "How "Fair" is a "Youth Fare" for MUNI?" »

February 27, 2007

MUNI Fare Shenanigans AKA Just Because Scofflaws Are Free Spirits Doesn't Mean the Rest of Us Aren't Paying....

Quite a lot of news regarding MUNI fares today. First off, we find out in today's Chronicle that apparently, MUNI isn't collecting enough of the money it's owed, and that fare evasion is costing the system real money, far more than that projected deficit that we keep hearing about.

Think about it. Despite the fare evader junkie logic we've grown accustomed to hearing, the fact is that scofflaws and cheats are starting to cost the system real money - which, if spent properly could make your commute a lot easier.

When you combine this with the money the MTA isn't collecting properly from parking meters, you start to realize that even if MUNI and the MTA collected even a little bit more of the money they're owed, they wouldn't need to jack up parking garage rates or parking tickets, or fares, or taxes.

Heck, they'd even have more money to do things that would benefit you, the citizen transit rider, such as making the buses and trains run on time, instead of settling for a less than stellar record. Really!

Well, not. The potential for a better funded MUNI exists, but it's only going to happen when the People In Charge make the changes needed to end the era of half-assed budgeting and "feel good" policies, and invest in the time and effort to make some of these things happen. Don't hold your breath - pester those responsible instead, and hope for the best.

So remember: the next time you see some freeloading hipster jump on the bus in some sort of misguided attempt to stick it to The Man, he or she is actually stealing right out of your pocket - and all of ours. Just because they are a "free spirit" doesn't mean the rests of us aren't paying the price.

February 26, 2007

Hey! The NJC Got Mentioned In The Examiner!

If you read today's Examiner, you may have seen this story about the impending changes to our Mighty N and for once, they quoted me, instead of some insider. Woo hoo!

As for the subject - the impending change to the N's route to stop at Embarcadero and no longer go to Caltrain - I'm taking a wait and see approach. If, as it is claimed, it really does make the N run faster overall, well then I'm willing to put up with the hassle. When I commute I'm already making a switch to BART at Embarcadero, which is even more of a hassle sometimes than switching MUNI lines.

But I can imagine what a pain it would be for a daily commuter from SF to the Peninsula on Caltrain, and if the J's performance continues to suck like it has in the past, I'd be very nervous about that N-J-Caltrain switch.

If you're a daily commuter from SF to the Peninsula, and you see shenanigans once the switch is made, email us with your tales of woe, and we'll get the word out!


February 25, 2007

Fare Evader Junkie Logic - Celebrity Style

Whenever I listen to the plaintive cries of fare-evaders I wish I could tape the "junkie logic" these folks use to try and explain away why they boarded without paying like the rest of us citizens.

Just the other day I couldn't help but laugh at yet another well-heeled upscale hipster, trying to explain why he didn't have a transfer or a pass in the Van Ness station that utilized such extreme junkie logic, even the MUNI fare inspector had a look on their face of "Oh my God, I've finally heard it all." Trying to remember it properly just gives me a headache.

Then I opened up the Examiner and read junkie logic, boomer celebrity style in the form of Ken Garcia's column in the Examiner. Now, normally I don't spend a lot of time reading Ken's columns since I pretty much know what he's going to say in advance on any issue, but the headline made me curious.

After reading it, it was clear what the problem was - he doesn't mind the MUNI fare inspectors doing their job and applying the rules to Everyone Else, he just doesn't like it applied to his own kid or her friends. While admitting, yes, they screwed up, he feels his kids and their friends should have gotten a mere warning, while you, I, and Everyone Else should get a big ticket and more.

Apparently, fare inspectors are to deduce that kids from the good part of town deserve a pass, while another kid with the same story (and from a part of town Mr. Garcia doesn't like) should get a ticket and a slap upside the head.

After all, shouldn't MUNI inspectors just "know" that "good kids" (i.e. his) deserve a break? And if they don't, that must be because (as he alleges without any statistical evidence) "most" transit inspectors are ex-thugs and not qualified to do their job - simply because, well, they did it "too well." See how junkie logic works? Yeah, my head is spinning too. And not in the good way.

It's not his kid's fault, and it's certainly not his fault as a parent for not buying his kid a bus pass, it's always Someone Else's Fault. (Thank you, baby boomers for that gem of current American life) But if you or I screw up on MUNI, don't look for any sympathy from Mr. Garcia and his band of junkie logic practicioners - it never works that way!

February 21, 2007

We're Number 1! We're Number 2! Well Sort Of!

If you haven't already seen the latest statistics gathered by MUNI it's worth checking out. There's some interesting information in there, but there's also a lot of work produced by the No Duh Institute on the Obvious as well.

For example, we find that our N-Judah is #1 amongst streetcars for keeping to the schedule 75.8% of the time. Yay! Then you remember, voters passed a measure (oh how we love our ballot measures) demanding that by now, MUNI would be on time on 85% of bus lines by....2004.

Ok, so we're number 1, but we're also not quite number 1. I get it.

As stated earlier, while it's fascinating to find out some bits of info, such as the fact that the 90-Laguna Honda is the shortest bus route (at only .06 miles!) and that the 105 Treasure Island (yes, there is a bus that goes all the way out there) had the best on time performance, there was a lot of info that comes from the No Duh Institute.

Take, for example, the pilot program tested on the 1-California line, after Our Mayor was left stranded watching 4 buses go by while he waited to go to work. Many things were tried to get the line working more smoothly and efficiently, including towing people who were parked where they shouldn't, making sure drivers were there to drive the buses, and so on. But in every report you read, there's this "gasp!" of "Oh my goodness, it cost money."

To which I simply say, "No Duh."

Seriously. If after all the research is done it takes X amount of effort costing Y amount of money to make the buses run on time then that is what it actually costs. You can't expect to do all the things needed to make a bus run on time in a congested small dense city and expect it can be done for free. That's the effect of years of nickel-and-diming the budget without any regard for what really needs to happen to pay for it.

Continue reading "We're Number 1! We're Number 2! Well Sort Of!" »

February 1, 2007

Your Questions Answered: MUNI Responds to Last Fall's Town Meeting

As you may recall, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi held a Town Hall Meeting on MUNI issues last fall. For those who attended, it was an interesting opportunity to address MUNI management directly, sans PR flacks or pre-canned responses. It ended up being quite a lively evening.

However, with so many people attending, not everyone's question could be answered in the time allotted, so Supervisor Mirkarimi collected the rest of the questions and had them submitted to MUNI officials, so that they'd be addressed by MUNI management.

Well, today in his office's newsletter, they released the answers to all those questions. (If you don't have Microsoft Word, you can
download a PDF I made of the document here.

I think it's nice when elected officials hold town hall meetings that are actual meetings where the public can ask any question they want, and hold our city's leaders accountable - instead of packaging some infomercial type meeting that's boring PR. I look forward to more such MUNI Town Hall Meetings in the future!

November 13, 2006

A (Belated) MUNI Town Hall Report AKA Mr. Ford is Off the On Notice Board!

Sorry for the belated coverage of the MUNI Town Hall organized by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi - but the timing of the event, so close to events affected by my other job prevented me from writing a decent review of the meeting. And what a meeting it was!

It was notable, not just for the cool swag they were giving away, but also for the kind of straight talk MUNI riders have wanted from MUNI for some time. As such, The N-Judah Chronicles is now officially taking Mr. Nate Ford, General Manager of MUNI, off the goofy "On Notice" board we featured a while back.

Why? Simple - because he was willing to stand up on a stage at a community event, unfiltered by bureaucrats and spin-meisters, and give frank, informative answers to citizens' questions. That is all anyone really wants -and he was also willing to freely admit when he didn't know a solid answer to a question and would have MUNI department heads also get up in front of the group and answer some specifics as well.

Continue reading "A (Belated) MUNI Town Hall Report AKA Mr. Ford is Off the On Notice Board!" »

November 5, 2006

An N-Judah Stop Right On Your Desk

While attending the MUNI Town Hall hosted by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi (which I'll write about in more detail later this week) one of the handouts given was this really neat little postcard, which had a die-cut "model" of a MUNI train, along with safety tips for kids in and around the T-Third line which will be up and running in a few months.

I'd always wanted a model MUNI for my desk, but no one makes one for model train sets, so I was resigned to perhaps building one out of Legos, but now I have one thanks to MUNI!


November 1, 2006

MUNI Drivers Are Rude to Anyone After All!

Editor's Note: Don't forget to attend the MUNI Town Hall tonight!

This morning I read an interesting missive in the SF Chronicle about Yet Another Rude MUNI Driver - only this time it was not you or I , the average MUNI rider that was the victim of said MUNI Follies - now MUNI drivers are taking public time to use their PA system for partisan politics and insults!

As reported, a MUNI driver decided to attack Supervisor Chris Daly for the "crime" of riding the F-Line, and singled him out for ridicule to the other passengers. Now, whatever one feels about Mr. Daly, the fact is he is as entitled to a rudeness-free ride as the rest of us.

Thus, a MUNI driver making rude, false statements, for the entire car to hear, was simply uncalled for. It's stupid, unprofessional, and wrong. It'd be stupid, unprofessional and wrong if the (well paid) MUNI driver did the same to any rider, be they Mayor Newsom, you, I or any other taxpayer/rider on the MUNI system. Is it too much to ask these folks to act like the professionals they claim to be? I guess so!

Supervisor Daly is lucky that he has the means to hold this bozo accountable. I just wish we as riders could get the same kind of service addressing rude, stupid, or incompetent MUNI employees as well. I don't think it's too much to ask well-paid public employees with large pensions to act in a civilized manner to all passengers, regardless of partisanship, race, sexual orientation, ZIP code, and the like.

I'm not holding my breath on this one though. Something tells me the some of the MUNI drivers these days don't really care anymore, because, well they really don't have to -and let's face it, it's not like the buses they have to drive are in the best of shape anymore.

This is too bad, because when you get great service from a pro operator, you realize how simple it is for people to act like a pro and everyone wins. Unfortunately the "bad apples" seem to be multiplying, as I hear similar stories from riders around the city every day.

Mr. Ford, are you listening? Unions, how about you? "Union labor" is supposed to mean the best quality workers with the highest standards. I use union businesses all the time and they seem to get it. Show us you're better than this, gang!

UPDATE: Muni Executive Director Nate Ford spoke frankly to people at the MUNI Town Hall on 11/1 about the issue of driver courtesy, which was something of significant concern to the assembled crowd, and assured those in attendance that drivers who were rude to customers (any customers) would be investigated, as Mr. Daly requested in his situation. Most recently the union representing MUNI drivers not only defended rude, obnoxious behavior by their members, they have also taken more steps to attack Mr. Daly. Impressive!

Thus, we taxpayers have a union which works to ensure 25% of operators are not at work on any given day, now we have a union that also defends rude behavior. If they can stick it to a Supervisor, what chance do you or I have at getting good customer service? Think about that as you wait in the rain for your bus or MUNI train today.

Once again, the bad apples spoil the bunch. Unfortunately in this case, the leaders of the ATU are promoting the bad apples, and spoiling things for the good folks in their membership. The bad apples get the protection, the good folks don't get squat out of their union leadership, and it's the public that loses. Sad.

October 29, 2006

Town Hall Meeting on MUNI in District 5

Want to let Nate Ford, the MTA, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, and a whole host of Important Folks what you really think of your daily N-Judah ride? This week you'll have your chance at a Town Hall Meeting organized by Supervisor Mirkarimi's office, on Wednesday, November 1st at 7pm at the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park at 9th and Lincoln.

This is a great chance to hear firsthand from the Important Folks what's up, and give unfiltered feedback to said folks. Supervisor Mirkarimi deserves credit for getting this meeting together. I will try and attend, but my day job will probably have me working late, so if you attend and want to report back to us here at the N-Judah headquarters, please do!

No word on if coyotes, sex acts or coyote sex acts will be discussed, as they were in Jake McGoldrick's district....

September 14, 2006

Mayor Newsom Gets an Earful, and Maggie Lynch Says a Mouthful - The Latest MUNI Blowout!

On Wednesday, I hopped on MUNI, to take a trip downtown to check out the "soft launch" of the Market St. Railway Museum and take a few pictures. Although the "official" opening is not until early October, the Museum is open now and has some great exhibits plus some really nice photos and posters for sale. What could possibly go wrong?

Little did I know we were going to have Yet Another Muni Blowout, and we were also going to get Yet Another Mindbending Quote from Muni Spokesdroid Maggie Lynch. I was amazed.

First, of course, was the meltdown itself, when we were all stuck on the N-Judah waiting to go into the tunnel, only to find out that a train ahead of us was "stuck" and we had to get out. There is nothing as fun as being cooped up in a crowded train, not knowing what's going on - or why you can't leave.

The many rush-hour commuters that morning were just thrilled to get out en masse to try and catch a train on the F-Line, or one at the Church St. Station. The poor station agent just let the masses in, to speed things up for people so they could get to work on time. No one was happy, to say the least.

But the real fun was watching coverage on KPIX News about the latest meltdown, in particular this gem of a quote from our well-paid spokesdroid:

Muni spokesperson Maggie Lynch said, "Unfortunately, what we've had is like Lemony Snicket -- a series of unfortunate events -- and they just came all together, and it makes it seem like there is an overriding problem."

Put aside for a moment the mismanaged cultural reference, and read that statement again. It flies in the face of any reasonable nalysis of the many analyses of MUNI indicating significant systemic perfomance problems with MUNI management and service.

To somehow suggest that there's "no problem" after Yet Another MUNI Folly Day, as MUNI's spokesperson does is simply amazing. I can't fathom how someone could say something like this with a straight face, much less repeat it to the press and expect to be taken seriously.

However, Mayor Newsom does not seem amused by the latest antics. Let's hope he can suggest to the well-heeled managers of MUNI it is in their interest to get things on the move. Something's gotta change soon, or we're all going to be a city of de facto pedestrians, outrunning MUNI.

UPDATE, 9/16: The Chronicle recaps the week in Muni Follies, with a bonus of both an F-line closuer and our famous Cable Cars as well. And we got more silliness from MUNI's spokesdroid.

I wonder if we are at that point in our culture where an agency can routinely screw up and the People In Charge can keep peddling the PR that "nothing's wrong" and still a) be taken seriously by The Media and The Public and b) keep getting paid out of our taxes and fares?

September 12, 2006

Another "No Duh" Moment With Muni: A $5 Cable Care Fare May Be Too Much for Visitors After All

Once again, the half-assed budgeting and planning by MUNI reared its head in the "No Duh" section of the San Francisco Chronicle today when it was revealed t that raising the cable car fare 67% to $5 may be pushing people off the system. The raise was part of the MUNI "raise fares kill service" death sprial SPUR has documented so well.

While those of us who follow such things see this as yet another "No Duh" moment for MUNI, it really isn't. See, unlike us civilians, the folks who run MUNI don't sit down, figure out how much it actually costs to run a competent system, then figure out how to pay for it in a reasonable way.

Instead they screw around with the margins, protect fat paychecks for management, and you and I, the rider/citizen/customer are left wondering why it is a supposedly green city like San Francisco has such a dopey transit system.

But to truly appreciate the thinking of the manager types that run things, check out this quote by well-paid spokesperson Maggie Lynch on why the Cable Cars aren't doing as well this year vs. years past:

Lingering winter rains probably drove some people from the open-air cable cars, and the growing popularity of the F-line historic streetcar that runs between the Castro and Fisherman's Wharf also may play a role, Lynch said.

You have to be f*&%$ing kidding me. The fact she can say this with a straight face to the press is either an example of sheer nerve, or sheer stupidity. Notice the use of the qualifier "may" to escape any sort of "WTF" questioning later on. Nice!

Now, I love the F-Line streetcars as much as anyone else, and think the work the Market Street Railway Museum to fix up these cars and promote MUNI history is one of the coolest things anyone's done lately. I also dig the fact you can take a historical streetcar to work.

But to think that tourists from around the world are coming to San Francsico for the F-Line instead of the historic Cable Cars is a joke.

Tony Bennett didn't sing about PCC cars. If you asked people in any city in America, or the Rest of the Planet, what iconic image represents San Francisco, frankly if you found one person who said "the Historic F-Line cars" over Cable Cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, fog, or anything else the city is famous for, I'd be amazed.

But what is most amazing is how much of our taxes and fares go to pay people who peddle such logic to you and I, expecting us to nod our heads and say "Duh, yeah!"

Then again, MUNI originally wanted to abolish the cable cars entirely, and successfully conned voters into voting for a measure that claimed to be "saving" the cable cars, when in fact it dismantled the majority of the system that was left, leaving the tourist ride we have today.

I guess at MUNI, some things never change.

And you wonder why I have an "On Notice" board....

August 1, 2006

The Gavin and Jake Show Comes to the Richmond AKA "The Geary BRT /Anti Sex Act Meeting"

Looking for some fun on a Saturday afternoon but low on cash? Then go to your local neighborhood Town Hall meeting with your Supervisor and Mayor Newsom. Never have I been more informed and more entertained all at once.

There was an interesting presentation about the first steps to study a Geary BRT and the Mayor and Supervisor Jake McGoldrick had Nate Ford of Muni and, well, just about every department head to answer questions on Geary BRT, and well, just about anything else (such as the coyotes that are apparently living and getting it on in Golden Gate Park - who knew?)

Say what you will about our Mayor and Supervisors, but Gavin Newsom and McGoldrick handled the crowd like a couple of pros. Both handled some serious questions (as well as some really weird ones) adeptly and Newsom was not afraid to put department heads on the spot when asked about timelines to fix things.

And both kept their cool when this one lady was upset about drug dealing and "sex acts" in Golden Gate Park (and who kept yelling "don't forget about the sex acts!" - yikes!) while the Mayor directed her to talk with an SFPD captain at the meeting so they could clear out the weirdoes from the park.

Overall they did their best to accommodate everyone in the 2 hour time period, and the Mayor and Supervisor McGoldrick's staffers were all very thorough and organized. And, oh yeah, they had a ton of free stuff, donated by local businesses - good coffee, water, snacks of all sorts, and whatnot. Community groups also had tables for all sorts of local initiatives. Very cool.

Mason Powell and I both were surprised at just how organized the whole thing was. We stopped at Trad'r Sam for a drink, then went home. All in all a pleasant way to spend the day with our City leaders and citizens.

PS: While our Mayor and Mr. McGoldrick were celebrating the neighborhoods of "the Avenues," our allegedly local paper, the Guardian, was doing its best to dis our brothers and sisters in the Sunset and the Richmond with this weird post in their new blog. I didn't realize if I didn't live in the Haight or SOMA or the Mission I was a nerd "way out there" in the boonies.

I have no problem with the .02% of SF who goes to Burning Man - hey, everyone has their interests, and that's totally cool. But it is telling that it is Mayor Newsom who is the one supporting the neighborhoods, and the Guardian is playing the role of adolescent, hipster choose-up-siders.

July 27, 2006

Friday Fun With Vintage Sesame Street Videos and a Reminder about the 38 Geary Meeting

Mason Powell alerted me to this, which is a classic 70s Sesame Street video. It seemed appropriate for the site:

Also, don't forget about the meeting slated for tomorrow to discuss how to fix the 38 Geary line. As I've stated before it's important that people stand up for sensible traffic solutions in all parts of the city, since bad service in one part of SF can affect other parts pretty easily.

Meeting info, once again:

What: Richmond Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Newsom and Supervisor McGoldrick


When: Saturday, July 29th from 12:00 to 2:00

Where: Presidio Middle School, 450 30th Ave between Geary and Clement.

Thanks for your help!

July 26, 2006

SF Examiner Doesn't Forget the Past : It Doesn't Even Know It!

This morning's papers are full of news about our MUNI. They're starting to do test runs of the T-Third Line, which is due to open on weekends January 2007, and for full service later in 2007. There's the fallout from the Spare The Air Days (both positive and negative), and the inevitable call for free rides every day, all day.

All interesting, to be sure, but what stuck out today was this peculiar editorial in the billionaire out of towner owned Examiner suggesting that privatizing MUNI would make the system run better.

Umm...yeah. Right. That will improve things. I look at the oh so brilliant innovation and customer service of big monopolies like AT&T, Comcast, and the like.

After dealing with customer service by way of New Bangalore when I have a billing problem, and put up with mediocre, overpriced service that profits a handful of execs, you'll pardon me if I don't sign up for privatizing a service that inherently can't make money without cutting off service to a vast number of neighborhoods and people.

But that's not the point. What's most surprising is that a paper that was once a part of San Francisco History and a former flagship paper for the infamous Hearst Corporation, can't seem to remember San Francsico's own long history of competing streetcar lines. Nor does it seem to remember that consolidation of these many systems into one devoted to the public interest, not personal profit, was necessary for the city to be served properly.

And, it seems the out-of-town editorial writers didn't read any of SPUR's analyses which point out that much of the inefficiency of today's MUNI is left over from duplication of service left over from the old systems, which need to be addressed.

If someone can show me a city where they have a privatized system that serves the entire public equally and cheaply, hey, sign me up. But when a private, chain owned paper that's supposedly been a part of the City for the last 100+ years can't even remember some basic facts of San Francisco history, well, perhaps that's just one more reason we shouldn't rely on large, out of town interests to work in the public interest.

July 24, 2006

And Now, A Study on Muni by the Institute of No Duh

Betcha didn't know that Muni's been running kinda slow lately, did ya? Well just in case you really didn't know, a new study was commissioned that found MUNI has been slowing down 1% a year, for the last 20 years!

Now, what struck me was not so much that the MUNI system has been getting slower and whatnot due to traffic and the like - rather it was the fact that these kinds of studies hadn't been done over the last 20 years. Now you would think that a system that keeps saying it "needs money" and complains about "no money" but can only seem to come up with fare hikes and crappier service as a stopgap would instead take a look and ram through some real changes that would make the system work better.

Then, oh I don't know, if it worked better, maybe more people would ride it, sans bribes from Spare the Air folks. But instead, we've had pencil pushers who just look for some half-assed fix, and never really confront how to make a system that works, how much a functional system costs, and then find stable ways to pay for it.

The report on KTVU was illuminating in one respect - it seems Mayor Newsom was delayed so much by a 1BX bus he ended up walking to work. At least he rides the bus once in a while. We all knew Slick Willie was too arrogant to even look at a bus, much less ride it, and I don't know how many of our esteemed electeds actually ride a bus anymore.

July 19, 2006

Yet Another "Spare the Air Day" on July 20th! (and July 21!)

Good news! The sun is shining, the weather is warm, life is good...but oh, there's that whole smog thing going on. So while you're enjoying the non Twain-like summer weather be aware that we may have a bit of a problem with the air.

Not to worry. The kind folks at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have found the funds to pay for Yet Another Spare the Air Day.

That means that MUNI, BART, the esteemed CalTrain and many more Bay Area mass transit systems will be free to all who wish to ride.

Now, don't think that a Spare the Air day is just for people too lazy to spend some cashola on El Muni to get to work. Soon-to-be-contributing writer Mason Powell used a "Spare the Air" day to take advantage of BurgerMeister's excellent chicken wing deal on Monday, quickly commuting from the Peninsula to get one heck of a deal on a week's worth of excellent chicken wings and get back to the Peninsula.

Now, if that isn't helping our capitalist system, I don't know what is. Fair to say, if he didn't have the Spare the Air day, he might not have purchased those wings (since they'd have a 10 dollar premium from BART and MUNI).

It is too bad those of us who buy monthly passes don't get a little check in the mail on these days, since we did pay The Man in advance. But you know what? I'm willing to cut some slack on this one. Even if my chicken wing deal wasn't as great.

UPDATE: July 21st has now been declared a Spare the Air day and the hot weather is with us one more day (at least). Ride MUNI to your favorite after-work place and have a cocktail and watch the sunset.

July 17, 2006

Standing Up for Our Oppressed Brothers and Sisters on the 38 Geary

Those of us lucky enough to right our beloved N-Judah, complete with tracks and a certain "get the Hell out of the way, cars and cyclists, the train is comin' through" character sometimes forget just how herky-jerky a bus can be. Then you transfer to one and wonder "just why DID they go to these crazy buses anyway?"

That in itself is a long and tortured story, one that is not unique to San Francisco. But after 50 years of fallout from some disastrous decisions made in ways only San Francisco can seem to invent, there's some hope, at least for our Oppressed Brothers and Sisters who ride the 38 Geary.

Not everyone knows that the 38 Geary is the busiest transit route in the Western US (and one of the top 5 in the United States!), serving 40-50,000 +passengers every day. Now, with that many riders, you'd think that the system would work well to serve those to use it every day, but it's easily one of the biggest pain-in-the-ass routes one can ride.

I speak from personal experience when I used to live off of Geary and rode the 38 downtown to catch BART, and even in my not-so-remote location, the buses would often fly by, totally packed, and more than a few times miss my connecting BART. Let's just say after enough times on a crappy, over-booked, herky-jerky bus, I moved, and I'm happy I did.

However, there's an effort by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research group and the coaltion of supporters known as Go Geary to organize support for a Bus-Only lane that could one day be upgrade to a rail line.

While the hope of a rail line on the former B Geary Line might be hoping for a bit much, the fact is a Bus-Only lane on Geary St. would make a hell of a lot of sense. Sure we wouldn't get the satisfaction of a "real" rail line, but who cares?

The benefit of a rail line would still exist, but there'd be no need to lay track and build the assorted expensive whatnots one needs with a full fledged rail line. More importantly, if you make mass transit work, run on time, and use modern, clean, and non-craptacular buses, guess what? More people will use it, and the system will ensure that the local business and residents are well served by something they pay for via taxes and fares.

As it stands now, we spend millions for a system that's not working , groaning under the load of passengers it has - and it has no room to grow. True, this is not as easy as snapping one's fingers and making it happen - there's gonna be disruptions and construction hassles. However, they will be nowhere near the mayhem caused by putting the BART/MUNI tunnels on Market st. back in the day, and it's incumbent on us to press for a plan that minimizes the hassles as much as humanly possible.

But this being San Francisco, we can't all work together so everyone - residents, business owners, and riders SHOULD be able to work out a plan that serves the best interests of the city. But no.

There's always someone who has to take on the role of self-appointed loudmouthed jerk, and in the case of the plan for fixing the 38 Geary line, we've got one in the form of an angry one-man band whose personal grudges threaten good policy.

I'm not bothering to even link to this grudge-match guy, because frankly, I'm sick of dorks like him dominating policy discussion when it comes to trying to move the city forward. People like him mistake personal animosity for political action (or in his case, inaction) and its this kind of attitude that has turned San Francisco from "The City That Knows How" to "The City That Knows How To Whine, Bitch, and Moan."

That's why if you can, you should sign a petition, send a letter, wave a sign, or do something to get our elected folks, our appointed folks, and the other folks who are paid by us to make transit work properly, and find a way to make the 38 Geary plan work for everyone involved, and not have plans scuttled based on the irrational rantings of one person.

Trust me when I say you don't wanna f*ck this one up. We've been paying for the mistakes of the past of those who looked for the half-assed way out for a long time, and one has to think about the legacy to future generations before signing some idiot's petition to screw things up yet again.

For a chance to stand up for an HONEST fix to the 38 Geary mess, you should consider stopping by the meeting at Presidio Middle School where you can talk to Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, and Muni folks about how to best go forward on moving San Francisco into the 21st Centry - and avoid screwing up because some bitter men can't get over the fact they suck.

Richmond Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Newsom and Supervisor McGoldrick
When: Saturday, July 29th from 12:00 to 2:00
Where: Presidio Middle School, 450 30th Ave between Geary and Clement.

May 31, 2006

Lighting A Lighter Because SFist.com Rocks!

Sometimes you need to stop the bitching and light a lighter in salute of those who rock and today, N Judah Chronicles lights its lighter in honor of SFist.com for its recent series interviewing Director Nate Ford of Muni.

SFist did not a mere "interview" but a 7 part interview with Mr. Ford with some very direct and common sense questions about Muni, and about how he plans to tackle running our beloved Muni System. You can find all seven parts at SFist, each in it's own little section: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7. Check them out!

Now, in and of itself an interview with a public official in charge of a large metro transit system may seem ordinary, but when you consider that some self styled alternative papers, their competitors, and other mainstream publications rarely report on Muni's doings, much less ask questions of relevance to the average rider, you begin to see why the N Judah Chronicles is lighting its lighter. It's as if SFist.com figured out that if you include topics people actually care about, instead of what you think they should care about, they might, well I dunno, read what you're writing!

We're also lighting a lighter for Mr. Ford because he's been making himself available on the radio, on SFist.com, and other media outlets and trying to answer the public's questions as best he can now that he's settled in. It takes a lot of courage to sit and face the music with the myriad of folks and groups that make up our fair city, and the fact he's willing to talk is a good sign. So we're saying "thanks" to Mr. Ford and hope that our riding experience will improve under his tenure, and appreciate his candor so far. Hopefully it won't be extinguished by our fair city's tendency to go nuts sometimes.

May 17, 2006

Check out SFist's Expose on NextBus, Muni, and Junkie Logic

Sometimes someone else does such a kick ass job on a story, you just have to give it some publicity. This little expose by SFist.com on the NextBus/Muni follies is really worth checking out. Just go there and read, and you'll see. It's pretty startling.

Right on, SFist! You beat out the Guardian, the Weekly, the Chron, the Examiner, and more with this one!

UPDATE: I had a chance to listen to a little bit of Muni Director Nate Ford on KGO AM radio this morning. Someone asked him about this very issue, and he was pretty forthright in his response, saying that while implementing NextBus was a priority, but he was also worried about rolling it out without it being ready to go (a contrast to the comments of Ms. Maggie Muni). He did say more than once he supported NextBus in principle and that it would be helpful to Muni in assessing how the system's doing, as well as be useful for passengers.

I think it's notable to hear the boss speak, and contrast it with the snark of Muni's spokesbot, and the confusion of Muni employees. Maybe it's time Muni make some changes so that employees are as knoweldgeable and polite and direct as their boss.

May 10, 2006

Muni Executive Director Nate Ford Speaks Tonight

Nathaniel Ford, the new executive director of Muni, will be speaking tonight at a meeting of the San Francisco Young Democrats. While it is unclear if this meeting is open to the public or not, I can't imagine such folks would object to citizens seeking an opportunity to get to know the Man Who Could Fix Muni.

The meeting starts at 7pm tonight, and is located at the State of California's big office building at 455 Golden Gate Avenue, in the basement conference room. Be advised this is a "secure" building, and you will have to go through security checks. (Why groups feel a need to even have meetings like this in such a pseudofortress is beyond me, but that's a question best left to another blog.)

Mr. Ford is beginning to make himself available to the public and the local press, so let's take advantage of this opportunity to engage in some constructive discussions about all the things we bitch about on our beloved N-Judah and Muni.

Special Note: Thanks to the sheer incompetence of the folks at Earthlink DSL, I can't get online at home - haven't for almost 3 weeks. If you need DSL, for the love of all that is decent, don't use Earthlink!

May 5, 2006

When Gas Prices Go Up, It's Time to Cut Service, Jack Up Fares!

For the last 3 weeks I've been working on site for a client in the East Bay, which has meant not only taking Muni every single day, but also connecting with BART in downtown. I'd blocked out of my memory just what a slow, counterintuitive managed system BART is, but here it is, back again! Woo hoo!

Both MUNI and BART are in the midst of inventing new ways to screw up. Now, you'd think in the midst of some of the highest gas prices yet, when commuters in and out of the urban and suburban areas are feeling a real pinch, that the transit agencies would use this to show people a cheaper, faster, better way to get to work. In the process they'd boost ridership, and they'd be forced to find ways to be more efficient so as to do the job of transit, right?

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Continue reading "When Gas Prices Go Up, It's Time to Cut Service, Jack Up Fares!" »

February 28, 2006

Muni Riders Don't Pay? Who Told?

So it seems in today's Examiner, (as well as today's SFist )we have this article, claiming that in some spot surveys 50% of the people on Muni ain't payin the fare. All I can say is "Who told?"

What's funny is that part of the reason they are having such a problem is because due to "budget cuts" they have cut the number of ticket people in the stations. So by saving a few bucks on a few staff positions, they're now losing 50% of the revenue at the farebox. Brilliant, guys! (Almost as brilliant as the Muni spokesperson claiming it costs only a dollar at the farebox - it does not.)

So some geniuses will go back to the drawing board and try to figure out The Big Issue here. But let's take a break from classes at No Duh University and look at a few basic facts:

1. You can get on a Muni train without paying if you get on the second car. There is no one checking for passes or fares or transfers on any of the second cars on the N-Judah, or any other line. So it's very easy for Deadbeat Hippie or his friend Bennie the Burnout to hop on and not pay. The chances of getting busted are fairly low.

How you fix this I have no idea. But as it stands, hopping on and taking a ride on the Deadbeat Express is not that hard.

2. There's no way for bus drivers to prevent hippies, burnouts, and deadbeats from getting on at the back door of the bus. Ever been on the bus downtown at rush hour? Inevitably some losers push their way on in the back even though the sign says "no boarding via the back door."

But what is the driver supposed to do? They have to let people off the bus in the back, and I drivers have to focus on driving the bus safely, not getting up and beating down the masses for not paying. Although I have talked to some bus drivers who wouldn't mind "explaining" the concept of paying and not being a deadbeat with more forceful means once in a while - esp. during rush hour when everyone's clamoring to get home.

I don't have any magic answers for these. Then again, I'm not paid to do so, either. As it stands we're once again reaping the "benefits" of management that places a premium on paying high salaries for management and mindlessly "balancing budgets" - without any regard to how such piecemeal moves actually hurt revenue - not to mention service - which is the point of the system in the first place.

February 25, 2006

You Leave Town for A Couple of Days, And Suddenly...

Wow. I leave town for a few days and come home to hear about all the gas and water drama on the N-Judah I missed, as well as some words of wisdom from new Muni chief Nathaniel Ford.

While it is encouraging to hear a Muni Chief who is willing to buck the naysayers at the MTA who are too busy "balancing budgets" and throwing up their hands at the idea of providing reliable on time service, it's also a bit troubling when you hear noises that sound a lot like "let's make the buses on time by just cutting out more stops." Kinda Soviet-like.

We'll see, and hope for the best....

February 21, 2006

When's the NextBus? Ask Your Web Browser. Don't Ask Muni.

Someone, please get Nate Ford on the phone (or email, or whatever). We have a some SF Muni Follies that need to be fixed, stat.

One of the things that makes certain lines, like our beloved N-Judah, easier and more convenient to use is of course the digital NextBus readouts, installed at key bus shelters up and down the line that tell you exactly when the next train or bus is scheduled to arrive.

It's great in general, but when it is pouring rain it's critical in helping you decide whether to ride out the storm a few minutes or go elsewhere and come back. Everyone likes it. So why the hell isn't it working anymore?

Continue reading "When's the NextBus? Ask Your Web Browser. Don't Ask Muni." »

January 19, 2006

Another Blast from the Past: Wise Words from SPUR!

If you haven't already done so, I highly recommend checking out the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association website. They have all sorts of good information and some very in-depth studies on how to improve Muni. I've added a link on the link list to the right to their section on transit issues.

However, what was most interesting was a snipped of a statement on Muni made by SPUR which had some very pertinent points about Muni. You can read it in its entirety here, scanned in from a book on Muni entitled "The People's Railway: the History of the Municipal Railway of San Francisco" by Anthony Perles.


Here's a sample:

"Second, everyone must recognize that transit is an essential public service just like schools, streets, and fire protection. In this context, referring to a 'deficit' is nonsense; no transit system in the nation supports itself from the farebox. If you ever hear a politician refer begrudgingly to the 'Muni deficit,' he will have failed the test

Third, the Mayor and Supervisors must adopt a a strictly enforced 'transit first' policy. Even if Muni is fully budgeted and if management proves itself extremely capable, service will still be poor because of transit's inability to escape congestion caused by autos, double-parked trucks and construction. New legislation is needed to establish a transit street system, giving transit top priority in any conflict."

Now what's most interesting is that this was written in 1973. Yet you could make this (and other arguments SPUR made in 1973) today, and it would be as relevant to the ongoing Muni situation.

I think it is a chance to give SPUR its props for having some incredible foresight over 30 years ago. But it is also a time for us as citizens to ask why it is we let our elected officials get away with rhetoric and hot air, and why we as citizens feel it's ok to accept mediocrity, instead of the best. Remember, we can bitch about Muni and those doofus gummint folks, but in the end, they're our responsibility, and it's up to us to kick 'em in the butt until they get it right.

Otherwise I'll never be able to get home from Kennedy's on time!

January 14, 2006

New Muni Policy AKA The Official Boning of the N-Judah

Just when you though things couldn't suck enough, what with the delays, jacked up fares, and whatnot, now comes what is surely to be the official boning of Muni and the N-Judah starting next week - they're actually closing the downtown subway starting at 10 p.m..

Now, of course, they tell us it's a yearlong project to "make Muni better." And while hate to join the ranks of the knee jerk cynics, it's really hard for me to believe these folks can really do anything to make things better. They've already paid an incredible amount of money to the incoming Muni director, Nathaniel Ford, who not only gets paid, but even if he gets fired STILL GETS PAID FOR SEVERAL YEARS MORE. And they keep finding ways to avoid real funding solutions for Muni in favor of screwing the fare-paying customer.

Now this. And of course, they're great at flashing this update on the few stops that have NextMuni installed, but they don't really know what they're doing. Just remember - whenever you read "subway service replaced by bus service" you might as well read "reliability thrown out the window and a crowded ride on a jerky bus."

SFist, one of the few online outlets for the kind of news that matters, has kindly provided an unofficial map showing the area to have what little reliability and usefulness tossed out like a morning log. They've also provided some predictions and suggestions for the new year-plus state of affairs for downtown Muni.

Needless to say, that chance to take an extended work assignment out of town is starting to look good. Frankly I don't wanna be here for the total boning of my beloved N-Judah. The least Muni could do before this giant municipal screw job is buy us all dinner first. At least then we'd feel better in the morning, waiting for our "buses."

(Special Note: It's nice to see that some media outlets in this town can provide relevant commentary and notes to things that matter. Unlike the whiny, useless Bay Guardian, or the sophomoric and equally useless SF Weekly, at least SFist tries. And these guys aren't paid nearly as much as the community-college dropout writers at the big weeklies.)

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