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Posts Tagged 'Muni'

Is The Party Over In San Francisco?

As I travel around San Francisco every day I’ve been noticing changes that aren’t looking very good anymore and I’m beginning to believe the party is over.

People aren’t smiling anymore. People aren’t going out as much anymore. People talk more about how tough it is to live here than how great it is to live here. These are signs that there is a shift in San Francisco happening. I do run into people that aren’t like this, but they tend to be older and in more traditional careers that treat their employees like, well, employees. These are usually older people in their mid 40’s at least who have a job that isn’t usually tied to the tech industry and and have lived here for a long time so they’ve got themselves a good set up. Maybe they were able to buy a house when a person could actually buy a house who wasn’t a millionaire. 20 years ago when my wife and I got married we could have bought a house for $200,000. It would have been small, but it still would have been better than some of the apartments that people are living in now that a little more than oversized porta-potties.

Jobs now in the city are paying less at a time when money is worth less unless you’re a programmer which then makes you salaried with little time off to enjoy the things in the City. Even back in 2010 I was being offered jobs at almost twice what the same jobs are going for today. There are a proliferation of contractor positions, but those jobs treat you more like an employee without the benefits and contractor jobs used to pay better than employee positions because they could drop you at any time. Now contractor positions pay less and give you set hours to work and if you take a sick day then be careful because they’ll probably drop you for not doing your job. That’s not the way contractor positions are supposed to work, but very few people are making enough money to take these companies to court since lawyers aren’t very cheap.

The people I’ve noticed who aren’t suffering as much are construction workers, school bus and muni drivers, firemen, police. These are jobs that are more traditional in that you’re paid reasonably with benefits, time off, paid overtime. Personally I’d give up the free lunch and snacks for an extra couple of bucks an hour because I can bring my lunch or buy it cheaper and it’s usually better tasting and better for me. I met a guy worked for our local garbage collectors. He’s making $27/hour and told me the garbage truck drivers make $47/hour. OK, you have to deal with rats and garbage, but that’s a better living than a graphic designer with a Master’s degree being offer a job for $17/hour by a startup as a contractor [ok, not all are like that, but there’s quite a few out there]. Of course there are the doctors and lawyers which there are a lot of in San Francisco as well as health care workers who also make decent salaries. These are the people who smile now. These are the ones that go out to dinner on the weekends and sometimes even during the week. They have the money and time on their hands to really appreciate the City.

I laughingly remember five years ago when I’d pick up kids fresh out of college who would say things like, My Dad got me an apartment and gave me his credit card and is giving me a year to make it in San Fran. Oh joy, Daddy just paid for a year long spring break and my right hand twitched in a smacking motion because they said San Fran [side note: I would even accept Frisco over San Fran]. These people were always going out to a bar or some nightclub every night of the week and they were always asking for a bottle of water in the mornings because they were so hung over from the night before. These people are gone now. I called them long term tourists because I knew they were going to go back home eventually.

Things like that have to happen in order to keep San Francisco what it is, so while even I am struggling to get by right now I know for me it will eventually get better because I was born and raised here and have been through this before. I can handle it. I know where to get a burrito for less than $15 or not spend $4 or more for toast. I don’t take Uber or Lyft to work everyday or order gourmet artisanal food delivered from one of the new food delivery startups that pops up every other week.

San Francisco will never return to the old days and by old days that depends on your age. My Mom isn’t around anymore to remind me she used to pay 5¢ for a candy bar. I find myself starting to say things like that, but it’s more like I remember going out to a bar with $20 for the evening and coming home with change…and I used to drink a lot.

Change is good, but change can also be painful. Let’s hope this leads to something better in the end.

Strikes Happen…

This little train went nowhere...As of today it looks as if the BART strike is over at least for now. I have a feeling in my gut that sometime late Sunday things will break down and the strike will be back on Monday giving the Bay Area a break for the weekend.

I’ve realized that when I say to myself, don’t they remember? This has happened before. Most of the people in San Francisco haven’t been here before and don’t remember things like June and July it’s normal to have fog in the city and sun in the summer is considered odd. Our summer comes in September and October. Like the weather, transit also has it’s shifts.

It has been awhile since there was a BART strike which probably means that half the people in the City weren’t here for the last one. Hardly anyone was here for the 1989 quake and has forgotten how people used to get to work when BART and the Bay Bridge were closed down. I think the ’89 quake is one of the reason I never liked the idea of working outside of San Francisco. You can get to and from here in the case of an emergency, but it isn’t as easy.

During the ’89 quake people discovered the ferries for the first time in I don’t know how many years. Suddenly people were saying things like, Gee, it’s kind of nice to glide home across the Bay with a glass of wine in your hand. Yes, it does sound a bit like I wonder what the poor people are doing, but it sort of became a luxury commute for some people compared to having to drive or deal with grumpy people smashed together like sardines on BART.

Then there is the casual carpooling which has been around for years. I worked with a guy who used to drive into the City across the Bridge and he’d always pick people up who would give him money to cover the bridge fare which would also help cover his gas as well. Now that BART has been on strike there’s an uptick in the number of people looking into that way of getting to work.

There was also a boom in people who realized that they had a job where they weren’t retail and didn’t have to be face to face with people every day so they could work from home once the internet was more robust.

All of these things led to a drop in the use of BART and to a lesser extent MUNI. People found a way around the problem which in the long run was more enjoyable and gave them an alternative. This caused less crowding on BART and MUNI [I’m not sure why MUNI is affected by a BART strike, but in the past numbers have shown the two co-relate].

BART strikes to me are like a purge that’s needed every once in awhile to get ride of extra people that bloat public transit. In the long run that means less income for public transit which can lead to an increase in fares, but the ride is more enjoyable. Ultimately the solution to the problem would be for people who work in San Francisco to live in San Francisco. They could spend the money from their higher incomes in the City and give something back.

Eau De Muni

She's Dead Jim...I had the pleasure [more like displeasure] today of riding MUNI downtown. It had been awhile since I’ve had to make this trip and it was a good reminder of some things you’ll encounter on a trip downtown thanks to SFMTA.

I always new it smelled on muni. You pack a lot of people in very close together like sardines and the body warmth and sweat provides a lubricant you use to slide through the people to get on and off the trains. Today was a bit different. Now I’m used to odd smells. I’m used to some rather repulsive smells and I’m not sure how I earned this talent, but I can identify some of the most disgusting biologically created aromas known to mankind and some not so known.

This could be from a friend that stayed with me many years ago who when I was throwing out some old ground beef asked me for it. He said he’d mix it up with some stuff and feed it to the dog. By mixing it up with some stuff that meant boiling it in water and then letting it sit on the stove for a few days. Now to be honest at this point in my life I was living on my own for the first time and had lots of extra cash so aside from breakfast in the morning what was usually a bowl of cereal and an English muffin I ate out quite a bit and only noticed this odd pot on the stove one weekend.

Upon seeing this pot and pulling the top off I was allowed to experience a smell so bad that it made me gag and run to open up the windows while trying to find a place to get rid of the rotting meat. When my friend came back to the house I asked him in a rather not to polite way why he left a ball of rotting meat on the stove. His answer, It’s for the dog and dogs eat carrion. OK, somewhere this vegetarian mixed up carnivore with carrion, but I set him straight that this was not acceptable in the house and that dogs ate fresh meat, not rotting meat that was being helped along.

Well, that was the aroma that filled the train today. It was horrible and you can add to that the fact that there’s only a few tiny windows way up top that you can open that won’t really ventilate much more than the recirculated air on the trains. What was worse is that it was a warm day on muni which meant that they didn’t have air conditioning on the train, but the heat which just made the smell of rotting flesh even more pleasant when you warmed it up a bit.

Luckily I didn’t have to put up with it for too long and there was only a few people who seemed to even notice it. It was either that or rotting flesh and muni go together so well that no one was bothering to notice. The biggest problem is that the drivers are sectioned off in their front compartments with a large window on the side they can open that brings air in and pushes it out into the train so they don’t have to notice the smell of rotting flesh until it’s time for them to leave the train or get on and you’ll notice how quickly they move then.

To me it seems wrong that SFMTA doesn’t care enough to get the insides of the buses and trains cleaned so they don’t reek of a rotting human intestines [yes, there was a bit of that smell too that I remember from working as an EMT many years ago. People who need to use the muni trains and buses shouldn’t be forced to start their journey having to hold their nose or wondering how bad it’s going to smell today. Granted, I understand that public transportation is there for the public at large and not just for a privileged few. If that were true, the privileged few would take cabs or drive to work, but when you live in SF you have to find less expensive ways to get things done and it is of my opinion that having to deal with muni funk on a daily basis shouldn’t be one of them.

WiFI Sí! Metro No!

We got tech. Wait, they cancelled these?Not the catchiest headline, but it’s early and it’s still better than what you find in the paper here in the City. I’ve written about this once before and I was happy to see that sfgate.com finally picked up on it. The Metro tunnels still have no wifi service even though most of the people who live and work in San Francisco use them to get to work.

Chances are pretty good if you work in San Francisco you will have to take a metro train at some point on your way to work. This is the dead zone for cellphone and data reception. There were numerous times where I would hop on at Montgomery and get off at West Portal and while waiting for the 48 bus would check my phone to see a message was left telling me that they needed me back at work immediately! I note this was always poor planning on the part of the companies I worked for and most of them are out of business now.

If there was cellular service or data service available in the metro tunnels I would have pulled out my iPhone and been surfing the web and saw that I was receiving a call. Business people I’ve noticed love iPhones, but keep the ringers turned off so their butts don’t sound like they’re playing video games and because of this it’s easy to miss a call if you aren’t looking at the phone. There’s the vibration to alert you, but that has caused people to develop phantom vibration syndrome where your butt or chest sends messages to your brain that you’re receiving a call because the nerves that sense the buzz fire off even though there’s no phone there which means you tend to ignore the buzz. If you’re really hip you turn the vibrate off and then you won’t notice the call for a couple of days.

Such is life in San Francisco where we are trying to attract more and more tech companies to a town where technology doesn’t work on our transit system. This is like trying to attract dairy farmers to a town that’s made it illegal to have cows. Metro needs to get it’s act together and maybe some of the tech people will drop a dime or a million to help us out. They’ve already installed their own bus system which is more upscale and efficient than Muni so why not save some money and help out our local transit system?

The next step once the wifi is in place would be to redo the metro trains to be more suited to the laptop/iPad/tablet crowd. Maybe they could have little flip up tables that passengers could rest their devices on. This would especially be good when your train stops in the middle of the tunnel for 10 minutes to a half hour due to delays and you’re dead in the water. Muni has never been a very enjoyable ride for most people. This is probably why so many people pop in headphones and close their eyes. I see this and think that every person doing this has the phrase, there’s no place like home repeating in their head until it’s time to get off. I tend to agree that there is no place like home and if you get to look at the same screen on your way to work as you do at home that there is a connection that makes life more livable for you.

For awhile I had to take only a bus to work out in the Potrero [actually it was three buses to get there and took me over an hour to get to work as opposed to the 40 minutes to get downtown] and I had service the entire way. It gave me a great way to kill time and I actually stopped getting the newspaper because I could read it for free on the trip into work. It was a bit on the leisurely side of things and I thought about how maybe it would be good if I took the 48 down to 24th and Mission and then hopped on BART where I would be able to get downtown without losing signal, but that would add time to my journey. Besides that, the Mission District is still a high crime area. If you don’t believe me click on the link and type 94110 in and then type in 94116, 94122, 94121, 94118 afterwards. Leaving out the Mission Hipsters, the Sunset and Richmond Districts are were most of the people in San Francisco live who work downtown and specifically in the Sunset District [the largest neighborhood in the city] you’ve got to hop on a train to get there.

I seriously think it’s time for the city to get into the 21st century and get wifi in the tunnels. Some people like being disconnected from technology in the tunnels and that’s fine. You can turn off the ringer and vibration and have a nice conversation with the homeless guy telling you Elvis is alive and living as a black man to occupy your time on your trip to work. Today’s story is dedicated Greg Dewar of N-Judah Chronicles who does a much better job at pointing out the flaws of muni than I do.

Muni…’Nuff Said

I haven’t really had to ride Muni much in over three years. In the past three years most of my jobs have been work from home or drive from home jobs, so aside from the rare occurrence I apparently have been lucky. I used to hop on the 48 Quintara which is the only reliable bus in the city, get off at West Portal and hop on any metro train to go downtown. Sure there were a few grumpy faces, but for the most part all was good.

Well things have changed. Now things are fine until you get off somewhere downtown and getting out of the station is like running the gauntlet. I’ve heard about people being shot in the stations, one guy was stabbed in the head, then there is the crazy women who walks around in a heavy coat talking to no one who is interested in listening to her yell things like, I know why we have an AIDS crisis and nobody else does. It’s because we have people f*cking in the mouth! Nice morning commentary Gretchen Carlson.

If you’re traveling on the cheap to San Francisco you don’t rent a car you take the bus everywhere. When I took a trip to London I didn’t rent a car, I took the metro and it was pleasant. Did you know they have ice cream dispensers in most of the tube stops? When I was in NY, pre clean up, the trains while having a few shifty looking characters on them ignored you if you ignored them. We like to show everyone that we’re at the forefront, so why can’t we with Muni?

If you need to get anywhere fast you take the metro. From the Sunset District if you try and take a bus downtown you will definitely take twice as long as the metro and your entire ride will be accompanied by eau de urine. This is what we don’t want the visiting tourists to see. People not of San Francisco like to call us smug, but how can we be smug when our public transportation sucks so bad?

OK, we’ve got the cable cars and F line. Those are more kitschy tourist attractions than something very many people use to get to work and they run on their own tracks. We have new metro cars, but our buses haven’t changed much over the years. We had a few testing free wifi, but I haven’t seen those in about five years. The metro when it goes underground needs cell and wifi service. San Francisco needs to move forward, not at a standstill or move backwards. We are one of the top tourist cities in the world, but how many people come back more than once that aren’t driving? Also shouldn’t we make it safe for those of use who have to commute to work? Muni needs a major overhaul and it needs it now.

Why I Dislike Muni

I have to admit that I haven’t had to take Muni on a regular basis in almost three years and now that it’s back in my life because of work I don’t like what I see. While for me it’s rather efficient, it’s the way it takes you from one place to another is what bothers me.

I have to take the 48 Quintara to whatever metro will get me to Civic Center and then board the 19 Polk towards Hunters Point to get me out to the Potrero Hill area. It’s takes about 45 minutes which is good considering, but there are a few things that I encounter along the way that I don’t like.

  1. People need to bathe more often. The stench on Muni now is unbelievable. People seem to me like they bathe maybe once a week if that and you’re lucky if they shave once a month.
  2. Why do y’alls have to be so loud. If you’re talking to a person next to you there’s no reason to exceed 100 db even if the bus or metro is loud.
  3. Driving apparently is no longer a required skill to navigate a bus. There is this kind of fascinating experience when you get stuck standing or are not sitting in a front facing position I can only call the air hump. It’s the constant gas to brake ratio that literally makes you look like you’re having sex with the air. It is an annoying feeling to have to spend 45 minutes humping the air in front of you and is especially creepy if it’s a crowded bus.
  4. People who ride Muni now are rude. I was yelled at a week ago by a girl because in trying to see if I could get 3G access on the Metro [you can’t except for Castro station or BART] I held up my phone in a somewhat vertical manner and she yelled at me to not take a picture of her. I really didn’t have an interest in taking a picture of her and if I really did I would have used a decent line and asked her so she’d remember me. So now I am a dirty old man for holding up my phone on the Metro. Also most people on Muni have a frown on their face.
  5. The buses and Metro generally need work on them. This is something that’s been mentioned in numerous articles before, but part of the bad driving by people is because the buses are older and need work. I’m sure this would help with the air humping action as well as the frowns on everyone’s face.
  6. The Clipper Card is still a mystery. When I have it filled and tap it, it sometimes beeps once or sometimes twice. I have no idea what either one means and there was one time when I got on and tapped it and it turned out it wasn’t loaded, but no one seemed to care until I tried to transfer and they were checking the cards. I will continue to claim that I didn’t know if they check my card on any bus trip and I figure that should go over well because they need a machine to tell whether or not your card is valid and there’s nothing that tells you whether it’s valid or not.

If my family had two cars this wouldn’t be a problem as parking where I work is easy. Hell, it’s even free for me, but I can’t leave my wife without a car for the better part of day because she starts to get cabin fever after a couple of days. What would be the best for me was if I could just spend all my time in the Sunset and only have to run out of the house for little trips around the neighborhood, but you know, like all of you, we need jobs to work and there ain’t no one looking for web designers and code monkeys in the Sunset…yet. If you are, contact me immediately.

The Metro Tunnel Needs Wi-Fi And More

I had to take a trip downtown the other day and started thinking about some of the jobs I used to have down in the financial district before I had my iPhone. Mobile devices don’t work in the tunnel once the train starts in past West Portal station. They barely even work inside the open air station for some reason, but more importantly it can take you 20-30 minutes to get from West Portal to the Embarcadero and you don’t have access to the outside world from the inside.

You can’t make phone calls which some people appreciate because of the thick concrete and you can barely get 3G/4G service at a couple of stations and that’s only for about a minute. I think it’s time that SFMTA installed Wi-FI or at least allow 3G/4G access while in the tunnel. There are a couple of reasons for this idea that I like.

First, it eliminates the need for big bulky newspapers. I always hated people sitting next to me stretching out their hands reading the morning paper on a crowded streetcar or the occasional elbow as a person flips a page of a book they’re reading. With a mobile device you have a much better confined  reading space that fits with a crowded streetcar better than paper.

The second is that some people like to use social media apps or read their email or stay connected to their place of work in case something comes up on the way in. It’s really sad to me that I am more connected hopping a 48 Quintara to the Mission than I am on a streetcar going to the financial district.

There’s lots of things you can do to occupy yourself with a mobile device to kill the time, especially when the driver tells you there’s a delay and you’ll have to wait. Most of the apps though require a hook up to the internet to get you the information you was to use. Happy passengers aren’t grumpy and crazy. If I’m stuck by a delay and find out that after 45 minutes on the train that my wife was in a car accident or something happened to my daughter that would be bad, very bad.

BART understands this and I wrote about this previously. I hoped BART one day at Embarcadero and happened to notice as I hit the tunnel under the bay, that I could hook up for free to BART’s wi-fi service. The trip was almost an hour and the entire way I was surfing the web, sending emails, made a couple of calls just fine. I even had a cell phone signal under the bay. This leads to more productivity for some people or just happier riders for the less productive who just want to hop on in their trip from one part of town to another and watch a TV show on Hulu or Netflix. It would give them a chance to tune out the crazies or people who talk too loud to the person sitting next to them. Now we just have to figure out who’s job we would have to cut to make that happen. Maybe a marketing director or two since you wouldn’t need them if they made the trip more pleasant.