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March 27, 2012

Tales of Extreme Commuting: Episode 2

Today is the second episode of a new, occaisional feature called "Tales of Extreme Commuting," where readers who have extraordinary commutes can relate their tales of win and woe, and at the same time spotlight the challenges of cross-jurisdiction commutes in the Bay Area.

Extreme commutes can include one that requires many transfers in San Francisco, or a commute to and from San Francisco to other counties (and vice versa), or really be anywhere in the Bay Area.

The goal is to have readers suggest to Extreme Commuters how they might make their ride easier, and highlight the weak links in the Bay Area so that they might be fixed. Hopefully, someone at the alphabet soup of transit agencies is reading this.

Email me if you'd like to submit to a short questionnaire and I'll post it here in a future entry. Today we have a tale from NJC Reader @makfan, who commutes from San Francisco to .

1. Name/Occupation:

My name is Mike and I'm a software engineer in Silicon Valley.

2. Neighborhood/City you live in:
I live in Castro/San Francisco.

3. Neighborhood/City you commute to:
I commute to the Sunnyvale/Mountain View border near 237, two or three days each week.

4. What lines on (Muni/Caltrain/VTA/Other) do you take and how long does it take you each way? While you're commuting, what do you do (read, listen to music, sleep, etc):

Southbound, I nearly always leave home between 6:25 and 6:30 am. I take MUNI Metro to Caltrain (usually the T, but I have to be prepared to take L or M and wait for the N at Powell or the 30/45 on 5th Street). I almost always take Caltrain at 7:14 am to Mountain View. I grab the light rail at MV (only 5 minutes leeway with the latest VTA schedule changes) to Middlefield, then either walk one mile or take the VTA 32 community bus the last mile.

Northbound, I usually leave the office around 6-6:10 and walk back to Middlefield to catch VTA at 6:30. Then I take Caltrain at 6:46 pm. Sometimes I get picked up at Caltrain, otherwise I repeat the T or N ride back to Castro.

I usually do nothing on Muni and VTA but people watch. On Caltrain, I use my iPad to read, work puzzles and follow Twitter. I always eat breakfast on Caltrain. On the way home, I often meet up with a friend on Caltrain and we chat or watch the Sharks if it's an away game day. On home game nights, I take the last local Caltrain and don't hit the city until midnight.

5. What is the weakest link in your commute? What would make things better?
I'm always at risk of missing the Caltrain I want because of MUNI delays. Also, I can almost walk from Mountain View to my office in the time it takes to ride VTA because we're just not that close to light rail. If Caltrain expresses went to Sunnyvale, the same VTA 32 bus from there would save time.

In general, with so many transfers, I am completely at the mercy of the schedules. A recent 3 minute VTA change has made my transfer at Mountain View in the morning shaky because Caltrain did not change to match it. I have an injury right now so I try not to walk that last mile but if I miss my usual light rail, the next one doesn't have a good bus connection.

6. Has your commute made you consider moving closer to your job or changing your job to one closer to home? Have you considered other changes to accommodate your ride each day?
The sleep deprivation gets to me at times. I own my home and don't really want to sell it right now. Also, my partner's job is near our home and he needs to be close to work. The saving grace is that I get to work at home at least 50% of the time, so I don't have to do this every day. I wish my office was in an area with more services - I can't do a single errand at lunch here, except for the post office.

7. Anything else you'd like to say/vent/express?
Similar to your first respondent: why no WiFi on Caltrain yet? Why do the agencies change their schedules without seeming to consider the people who transfer? Why is it so hard to buy/add Clipper tickets, especially away from SF? Why do the outbound MUNI trains stop at the far end of the platform instead of near the middle?

Baseball nights going home on Caltrain are not much fun. I don't mind people enjoying their sports and an adult beverage, but it goes from a relatively quiet ride to a party zone. When you are just wanting to go home and eat dinner, the noise and litter from food and drink gets annoying. The trains are completely full.

The upside for me is that I have made some new friends on the train, which I wouldn't have done driving solo. I typically drive once a month and always look forward to getting back on the train.

March 15, 2012

Tales of Extreme Commuting: Episode 1

Today I'm starting a new, occaisional feature called "Tales of Extreme Commuting," where readers who have extraordinary commutes can relate their tales of win and woe, and at the same time spotlight the challenges of cross-jurisdiction commutes in the Bay Area.

Extreme commutes can include one that requires many transfers in San Francisco, or a commute to and from San Francisco to other counties (and vice versa). The goal is to have readers suggest to Extreme Commuters how they might make their ride easier, and highlight the weak links in the Bay Area so that they might be fixed.

Email me if you'd like to submit to a short questionnaire and I'll post it here in a future entry. Today we have a tale from NJC Reader @oshanada, who commutes from San Jose to SF daily.

1. Name/Occupation:

My name is Shanners and I work in retail sales at a department store in San Francisco Centre.

2. Neighborhood/City you live in:

I live in west San Jose.

3. Neighborhood/City you commute to:

I commute to downtown San Francisco, on Market near 5th.

4. What lines on (Muni/Caltrain/VTA/Other) do you take and how long does it take you each way? While you're commuting, what do you do (read, listen to music, sleep, etc):

My average commute starts at least 2 hours before my shift starts. If I work a 9am shift, I wake up at 6 am and drive 5ish miles to the Lawrence CalTrain station by 7:10am. Other stations in my area *are* serviced by the baby bullet trains, but I have a free parking technique at Lawrence that saves me $4 a day and allows me to leave my car overnight if I end up staying at my boyfriend's.

From CalTrain, I change to BART at the Millbrae intermodal station and end my journey at Powell Station.

For all modes of public transportation, I listen to music, read Twitter, peruse Pinterest, and attempt to read my Kindle. Most people seem to treat CalTrain as their personal office space, so it's hard to concentrate on my reading. BART sounds like its trains travel through tunnels of screaming demons. I really don't know how anyone can handle riding on that thing without headphones blasting music.

On my trips home (on weekends or anytime after 7pm) , it's faster to take the N or T from Powell Station to CalTrain. Or walk, if it's sunny.

5. What is the weakest link in your commute? What would make things better?

CalTrain and BART don't seem to have any agreement on arrival times. My CalTrain connection, which on paper is timed to arrive 3 minutes before my BART departs, is always late. Even when it's late by just a few minutes, I still miss the connection. BART waits for no one. And there's no transfer from CalTrain to BART--it costs me $13 one way. That's $26 a day, or yes, $500 a month.


6. Has your commute made you consider moving closer to your job or changing your job to one closer to home? Have you considered other changes to accommodate your ride each day?

I got a job in San Francisco so it would be easier to move to SF later on. I could take a similar job in the South Bay but I don't want to live there. That said, I am spending so much money that I can barely save for a deposit on a room in SF. Because my commute is so long and stupid, I spend a lot of time at my boyfriend's house (where the commute is a short ride on the 31).

7. Anything else you'd like to say/vent/express?

This is my transit wishlist: It sounds so entitled to ask for this, but better wifi on BART or wifi at all on CalTrain. Better rolling stock on BART (or just cars that block the damn sounds). CalTrain would make a killing if they sold food and drink onboard like Amtrak. More Clipper addfare machines EVERYWHERE.

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