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Posts Tagged 'transit'

Ridesharing Get The Go Ahead!

Side•CarOn Thursday, September 19th the California Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 in favor of accepting the ridesharing technology as a legitimate business in California. While it has started in San Francisco due to the need of people to get from point A to point B and not have to wait an hour for a taxi it has grown into something more than that.

As a public disclaimer, I do drive for Side•Car so I am a little bit biased in this area I’ll admit, but I also have lots of people around town who also take taxi’s and even friends who are taxi drivers to fill me in on this so keep this in mind.

To make things clear from the beginning for those who have been trying to get a taxi and had trouble here are some of the reasons why.

  1. Taxi Companies are in the business of renting taxis: There is no incentive for a company to get you from point A to point B. The taxi companies make their money from renting the taxis or in short, they don’t make money from you taking a taxi, but from the drivers who rent the taxis.
  2. There is a combined total of roughly 1200 taxis available in San Francisco: This is split between all of the taxi companies. If you call for a cab to say, Yellow Cab which is the largest you have about 400 taxis available. This cuts the availability of taxis to riders significantly.
  3. It’s much easier to hail a taxi on the street than call for a pick up: Cab drivers are not employees of the cab companies, but independent contractors so they are under no obligation to pick up a call that is requested. There is no require of a cab driver to do anything other than pay for the taxi rental and return it with a full tank of gas at the end of the shift. Anything they do in between is up to them.

Do you see a problem here? Granted, ridesharing companies such as Side•Car, Lyft and Uber aren’t under a requirement to get you from point A to point B either, but there is a psychological mind set amongst the drivers that works in their favor. While there are a few who drive solely for income it is still not the same as a job. They can do it whenever they have free time and start and stop when they want so they can work it into their schedule.

Rideshare companies have been called elitist by cab companies saying that they won’t pick up low-income or elderly people who don’t own smartphones. I would disagree with this. I have had numerous people I’ve given rides to from 20-70 and all income levels in my car. I frequently drive through the Tenderloin or low-income areas that are underserved by taxis and notice quite a few people on the streets with smartphones. I frequently have picked up people at the local grocery stores who need a lift home with several bags of groceries and sometimes if I have the time I’ll help them unload and carry their bags in. I also have people call for me that need their parents picked up and dropped off in various locations around town so it is definitely a scalable technology. Smartphones are also being given away at this point in time and who in their right mind in this day and age doesn’t own a smartphone that calls for a ride? Last time I checked the majority of low-income people don’t take cabs, but wait for the bus using a state subsidized clipper card.

The biggest boon to riders is that if you are outside the downtown or Mission District you can now get a ride. The Sunset, Richmond, Ingelside and Oceanview areas are a no man’s land for getting a cab. I can’t even count the number of people in the Sunset or Richmond who’s said how great rideshare services are because they simply can’t get a cab in those areas.

Now regarding the safety of vehicles in participating in ridesharing there have been a few new requirements.

  1. Each company must keep a $1 million dollar insurance policy to cover each driver in excess of each driver’s insurance.
  2. Each company must maintain a strict drug and alcohol policy [as in no drugs or alcohol]
  3. A 19 point vehicle inspection is required of each vehicle someone driving for the companies must undergo.

There are other points, but these are the safety issues some people might be concerned with. All of these except the last have been met previously. Since most of the companies require each car to be from the year 2000 or later the chance of one not passing a 19 point inspection is rare. I know most oil change companies provide a 21 point inspection when you get your oil changed and if you change it regularly like I do then you know exactly what is wrong with your car so you can get it fixed.

The decision affects not just the San Francisco Bay Area, but the entire state of California opening the door to ridesharing in parts of the state that may not be considered large enough to warrant taxi service. Overall the price of rideshare works out cheaper than a taxi because a tip is expected on top of the fare regardless of whether or not the driver gave you a good ride or not [but we won’t talk bad about you if you do tip]. The taxi system and the way it works doesn’t support the needs of the people it was meant to serve. Ridesharing companies offer more drivers at more times in more places around the Bay Area so it is easier to get to the people and to get them where they need to go. I’ve personally used the service several times and found that I never had to wait longer than five minutes. When I’m driving and I take a call that’s ten minutes away I frequently wish I didn’t have to make the person wait as long, but usually the drivers are happy that I’m at their door within the time noted by the GPS locator used by the apps. Probably the biggest reason I like driving for a rideshare company is that it takes me all over the city to see  what’s happening now and not in tomorrow’s newsfeed.

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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.

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.

BART vs. Muni

Last Friday I had to meet up with a friend I’m doing some freelance work for and I had to meet her in Oakland. As you know I have a hatred for the Bay Bridge, so I suggested that if we could meet somewhere near a BART station that would work out best for me. She found a coffee shop right next to the Rockridge BART station so we had a date.

Now it’s been close to 10 years since I’ve taken a trip on BART and it was hard to remember what it was like back then. Well, 10 years ago is a long time these days. I hopped on MUNI and rode it down to Embarcadero and went up and then back down to BART. The first thing I noticed was that there were fewer people waiting for BART. The MUNI had been jammed up all the way down to Embarcadero with people who were more likely to push and shove to get their way around. BART was a whole different story.

First off, MUNI has cold hard seats that encourage you to spend as little time on it as possible. BART had nice cushioned, comfy seats that while being stained a bit and dirty wasn’t so bad. There was also lots of room on BART and less people. I do remember many years ago when I had to use BART during rush hour to travel to a rehearsal space in Oakland that was fairly uncomfortable, but nothing near what it was during rush hour in the city.

So as I’m sitting down in my comfy chair and we speed off into the transbay tunnel the first thing I noticed was that we were going fast. Then I noticed it was kind of loud. I pulled out my iPhone to run my decibel meter to find out that the average noise level was 95db with a peak of 105db. That’s louder than MUNI, but then I noticed something I never noticed on MUNI. I had 5 bars of service underwater and free WiFi access. WTF? Why doesn’t San Francisco have this? There was a guy sitting across from me who was happily surfing the web and going work on his laptop while we were cruising along just like me on my iPhone. I kind of wished I had the iPad with me as it would have been enjoyable to watch a TV show while I was cruising along.

It turns out that to watch a half hour TV show I would have had to travel almost to Pittsburgh to get the whole show in. BART is fast. It also uses the Clipper card now so I didn’t have to buy an extra ticket enroute that I would probably never use within the next 10 years. All in all, it was a nice fast trip. In the BART station the announcements were in a very well spoken, understandable English and the stations overall just seemed cleaner. There were signs that told you which stops to get off at for the various destinations around the Bay which was a nice addition as I didn’t realize how easy it was to get to places outside of San Francisco. Now if they could only find a way to put a station near IKEA and the shopping centers next to it we would travel across the bay far more often. I think I may have found an alternative to the hell of the Bay Bridge, I just need to see what’s around the stations for me to visit.

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Sometimes San Francisco get’s it right.

Something I always disliked about going to work was having to get the fastpass at the end of every month. I’d usually forget and all the places around me that would have them would be sold out, or the smaller places would have them, but sell them cash only because they didn’t make anything on them.

Now Muni I mean the SFMTA has changed all that. They’ve come out with the clipper card that you can refill at any Metro station or online. No more having to deal with cash only or being sold out. You just tap your card and the nifty little gates open. If you’re transferring to another bus or streetcar you tap it and it will tell you how much time you have left (90 minutes from the time you first got on). The only thing I don’t like is that this means they won’t have to print as many fast passes every month yet raised the price to $60 for muni only or $70 for muni and BART (SF Only).

The clipper card also works on AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit and Caltrain as well as BART and they’re trying to get all the other transit companies hooked in as well. If your employer has a system where your transit fees are taken out pre-tax, they can work with that as well. If you’re visiting San Francisco they have a temporary card that you can get that lasts for 31 days, but I’d suggest anyone who visits get the regular clipper card that’s free until June 2011, then the price is $5 I believe.