Muni, BART & Getting the Fuck Around

SF Announces Plan to Legalize Tech Buses, Protesters Remain Skeptical

Following a year of roaring criticism of tech buses, ranging from Rebecca Solnit's “alien overlord” essay to December's blockades, Mayor Lee and SFMTA today laid out a proposal to legitimize the shuttles that have been accused of illegally using Muni stops and enabling exorbitant rent increases.

“These shuttles provide more than 35,000 boardings per day in San Francisco, eliminating at least 45 million vehicle miles traveled and 761,000 metric tons of carbon every year from the region’s roads and air,” SFMTA wrote in a press release.

The release went on to detail the agency's 18-month pilot program for the shuttles, which will be voted on by the MTA Board on January 21st:

  • Charging a daily fee based on the number of stops that a shuttle provider or employer makes in order to fully cover the SFMTA’s cost of administering and enforcing the program and includes private investment to improve select stops. Fees are estimated to raise tens of thousands of dollars monthly to the largest transportation providers.
  • Approval of 200 bus stops (out of more than 2,500 total in the Muni system) to be used by providers;
  • Private shuttle providers will pay to use Muni bus zones, based on a per stop, per day, cost recovery schedule. Due to Proposition 218, the SFMTA cannot create a fee structure that goes beyond the cost to provide such a service or policy;
  • Providers would operate in accordance to agreed-upon guidelines, such as yielding to Muni and pulling to the front of the zone making more room for other vehicles, and avoiding steep and narrow streets;
  • The Agency would enforce these rules to ensure only participating companies are using shared zones. It will be illegal to use all other bus zones;
  • Each commuter shuttle will be issued a unique identification placard so enforcement personnel can easily identify vehicles; and
  • Providers would share data with SFMTA to ensure that location information is available for complaint follow-up, enforcement and to support the agency’s transportation system management.

SFMTA didn't detail how much the shuttles will be charged, but reporter Sarah G McBride tweeted it would be “around $100k a year”—far shorter than the $1 billion protesters were demanding last month.

However, the agency promised some community input into the routing of buses, writing “[we] will ask shuttle providers to propose stops for inclusion into the bus zone network and will ask San Francisco residents for their input to determine specific bus zones that can be used.”

The Housing Rights Committee issued a press release in anticipation of the Mayor's announcement, in which the group reiterated their demands that “the [tech] industry must contribute significantly for its impacts on local infrastructure and neighborhoods.”

“We are prepared to be demand more of City Hall if it appears that Mayor Lee's plan is not realistically aggressive enough to address the concerns of poor, working, and middle-class San Franciscans,” wrote Eviction Free San Francisco organizer Jennifer Cust. “The tech industry has fueled soaring rents and accompanying evictions that have uprooted longtime residents, families, artists, teachers, and many others. The industry must step up and contribute to help San Francisco retain its diversity, culture, and affordability.”

We'll update as this story develops.

UPDATE 4:15pm: Reuter's reporter Sarah G McBride further clarified the $100k/year amount, tweeting that companies with shuttles will pay “around $100k each for a total of about $1.5 million over 18 month pilot program.”

[Illustration by Lincoln Smith]

NY Times Blames Public Transportation for Gentrification Crisis

As many San Francisco residents have noted, the New York Times recently 'pivoted' away from lamenting The Death of Paris to join San Francisco's opinion page funeral precession.  And while their usual spiel explores known conclusions such as high rents pricing out the poor, yesterday, the Times' Timothy Egan pointed fingers at our terrible transit system.

Egan gets off on the right foot…

San Francisco still has its Hitchcock moments — the Mediterranean light, the Golden Gate Bridge poking out of the fog, the allure of possibility, all there in a film like “Vertigo.” But of late, the city named for a 13th century pauper from Assisi serves more as an allegory of how the rich have changed America for the worse. […]

The texture of inequality can be felt, and seen, in the rise in private transportation — the fleet of buses giving tech workers a bubbled commute between the city and the social media campuses to the south. At the high end, Google’s top executives are building an $84 million private corporate jet center at San Jose International Airport.

… but then he snaps his brittle ankle and falls to the floor:

While New York’s subway system boasted of moving 5,985,311 people on a single day in October (an all-time record), the Bay Area’s trains, buses and light rail cars limp through technical failures and labor strife. They’re old, dirty, slow and prone to “system-wide breakdowns,” as the euphemism goes.

In New York, at least, rich and poor are more likely to rub elbows, and even make eye contact while getting around. The commute is a daily reminder to the very wealthy that not everybody can afford those new condos overlooking Central Park, just listed at $53 million.

Here, transportation segregation is on the rise because you can’t rely on the public system. And when you put the working poor and middle class out of sight, you put them out of mind. The sleek fleet of Google-bound buses and black über-taxis is a market response to a costly, unreliable, unpleasant transit system.

Outta sight, outta mind.  The Peril of the Bay isn't the obscene concentration of wealth, the indifference to the poor and starving, the unsympathetic beliefs that the poor are that way because they're too lazy to program, companies extorting tax breaks from their paid-for mayor… No, it's that the cyber nobility aren't forced to smell the riffraff on the bus, so they forget that not everyone can afford to live in mansions atop Pac Heights.

If only we could be more like ungentrified New York…

This isn't to say that Muni is a beacon of perfection, or BART doesn't occasionally try to poison its passengers with toxic dust.  But blaming the one transportation network that doesn't discriminate is pure bullshit.

Luxury shuttles aren't a response to Muni's slowness—Muni doesn't go anywhere near Mountain View.  It's not BART's fault that Apple is building its new headquarters 30 miles from the nearest station. And let's not pretend that Uber passengers are disgruntled ex-bus riders, especially given that the company justifies its existence because of a “broken” taxi system.

Transportation segregation is all about the money.  Companies seeking cheap land and low taxes, proximity to transit or population centers be damned.

[NY Times | Photo by Cisco Kid]

How to Charge Your Phone on BART

The BART Idiot Hall of Fame is a Facebook group dedicated to shaming passengers for taking up too many seats or attending to their personal hygiene while the train is in motion, but this man is no idiot.  Willing to root through the festering germ nest to his right, he has found a way to convert his ear-shattering commuter train into a charging station.

The daughter of train operator describes the scene:

There is an AC outlet in each train car, about mid car. Lots of people know about this and plug in their cellphone chargers. It's meant for car cleaners to plug in their vacuums. Funny thing is: some people forget and exit the train, leaving their phones still charging!

Although, one spoilsport advises against it:

I would advise against using those outlets. Like someone said they do have surges. Every time the car goes through a gap (no third rail) the outlets loose power. When Third Rail is established again, power comes back. So there is a constant on/off cycle happening with those outlets.

This is why you should obviously (obviously) be carrying a surge protector in your bag at all times.

[BART Idiot Hall of Fame]

Mona Caron's "Manifestation Station" Seized by Muni, Could Be Destroyed

Mona Caron's brilliant futurist utility box, which was reported destroyed on Friday by Mission Mission, has been found in captivity in an “anonymous-looking” MTA building in the northeast corner of the Mission.  The reason?  Graffiti.  This utility box was graffiti.

Thanks for cleaning up the streets, Muni!

UPDATE: Paul Rose of SFMTA writes in:

The controller box was replaced after the completion of the Church & Duboce Rail Replacement project, as part of a system-wide upgrade of various electrical sectionalized switches and associated controller boxes. The urgency of replacing the switches was made apparent after the nine day shutdown at Church and Duboce, when one of the switches failed shortly after it was re-energized. To upgrade the switch at Church & Duboce, the associated painted box also had to be replaced. We are working to have the box re-painted by the artist. We anticipate this process will be complete within the next 3 months.

[via Hugh D'Andrade]

Google Bus Driver on the Mission: "OMG, It Is Such a Nightmare!"

A bad dream on 10 wheels.

In a post that miraculously features only four pictures and no numbered captions, BuzzFeed tracked down a Silicon Valley shuttle driver and interviewed him about what it's like to cart San Franciscans to the salt mines.  While the perks are nice (not having to deal with public transit riffraff, one rider brought him coffee everyday!), it turns out that hurtling down Valencia at 35 MPH is a major stress.  He explains:

Driving in the Mission and Noe Valley, oh my god, it is such a nightmare going through there. The lanes are really small. It is so dangerous. Thankfully nothing has ever happened, but there were lots of close calls. People would open their doors and I’m doing 35 [mph]. I had to swerve because I don’t want to hurt anyone. In a split second I would rather crash into the car next to me than take their door out.

Pedestrians and motorcycles and cyclists are all sort of trying to, in my mind, kind of sabotage me. It is important that I keep level headed and keep the task at hand. “You have a couple minutes to blow, so don’t worry about that bicyclist that just hit the mirror.” Because that happens a lot.

Of course, if he ever feels like taking a cyclist who “accidentally bashes their head” on the mirror to task, he can just climb out of the shuttle and bark threats at concussed rider like this guy.

[BuzzFeed | Photo by Jim Greer]

Student Rescues Woman from Stubborn Creep on BART

BART photo by Steve Lambert

We all know the situation — a creepy stranger just won't stop hitting on someone.  The creep's inexhaustible stubbornness shrugs off even the most direct signs of disinterest.

Local student and blogger Chris Brecheen found himself witness to such a situation while on a nearly empty BART train:

He waited until the train was in motion to make his move—a true sign of someone who knows how to make the environment work to their advantage.  Then he leaned forward.  “Hi.”  “How you doing?”  “What are you reading?”  “What's your name?” “I really like your hair.” “That's a really nice skirt.”  “You must work out.”

It was painful to watch.  She clearly wanted nothing to do with him, and he clearly wasn't going to take the hint.

How uncomfortable.  What should one do when one sees a victim in this situation?  Awkwardly pretend not to stare while secretly hoping the creep gets the message?  Or should one step up and play the hero?  Brecheen took the latter path.

Read on for the satisfying conclusion to his epic tale.  It's well worth it.

Have you ever helped someone out of a similarly awkward jam?  Was public transit involved?  Let us know in the comments.

Pop-up BART Arcade Proves Past Better Than Future


Back in 1976 when it was but a wee little tike, BART did what many four year olds do: it started playing video games.  Over at the Chron's The Big Event blog, Peter Hartlaub dug up some photos of old local arcades, including this one on the BART platform at Powell Station.  That's right: an arcade!  On the BART platform!

Installed by Atari, the cabinet contained six arcade games.  Atari and BART split the quarters as part of a revenue sharing arrangement.



The Golden Age Arcade Historian blog has more details on the BART arcade, including the above photo scrounged from an old Atari magazine.  According to the caption, this cabinet is the “Atari Theatre Kiosk.”  The upper part of the cabinet contained a slide projector which, of course, displayed ads.

This seems to prove that the past was better than the future, or at least more futuristic.  Why don't we still have this?  As Hartlaub points out, “Hipsters + Pong = $$$.”  And it's not like BART couldn't use the money.

While smartphones make it easy to play games while waiting for your train, the social aspect of an arcade right on the platform has been lost.  Sure, the original Atari company is long gone but there's plenty of other local game developers that could use such an opportunity to show off their wares and entertain commuters at the same time.

Incidentally I could find no information as to why this was removed.  If anyone has more details on this arcade, share away in the comments.

(Photos: SF Chron and Atari Coin Connection via Golden Age Arcade Historian)

Supervisor Campos Issues Senator Yee's Statement on BART Strike

Because Uptown Almanac is An Esteemed Source of Political Journalism (or something), our inbox is flooded with a torrent of statements and press releases from various politicians and other such humanoids.  Most are forgettable, gutless platitudes that only a middling Democrat could possibly grind out.  However, yesterday's series of statements on the BART strike carried with them a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

Take Senator Leland Yee's statement, dumped out around noon yesterday:

“I stand with BART employees in their efforts for a fair contract. BART Management needs to understand the importance of worker safety and get back to the table and negotiate in good faith. A quick, fair resolution to this conflict is in everybody’s best interest.”

Then, a hair over four hours later, Supervisor Campos churned out a nearly identical quote—some segments ripped off in their entirety:

“I support the efforts of BART employees to secure a fair contract. BART Management needs to get back to the table and negotiate in good faith. BART management also needs to address the workers’ crucial safety concerns. A fast and fair resolution to this conflict is of the utmost importance to the entire Bay Area community. Riders need a dependable public transportation system and workers need a safe workplace.”

Is it plagarism? Lazy regurgitation of party talking points? A simple #oops?

Accident-Prone Muni Rudely Blocks Panhandle Bike Lane

Details are pretty sketchy at this point, but this is what CBS 5 had to say about the carnage:

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said the 43-Masonic bus hit a car making an illegal U-turn near the intersection of Fell Street and Masonic Avenue around 6:20 p.m.

According to witnesses, the bus pushed the black Volkswagen sedan for nearly a city block to Fell Street, where it came to a stop in the park.

Witnesses said the driver either lost his brakes or may have suffered a medical emergency. The bus driver was taken to the hospital, while the driver of the car was able to walk away from the accident. No passengers on the bus or any pedestrians were injured in the incident.

[Photo by mom_shorts]