Monday, July 31, 2006

Mid-Day BART riders

Since I take BART to work, I get in around 9 and leave around 5:30 or so. In the few occasions that I leave during the day, I usually take my car. That said, my recent encounter during a mid-day BART ride was a bit scary, but not surprising, based on what I've heard and read from everyone.

I had to leave work early to take care of family matters. When I arrived at the Civic Center Station (street level), I noticed immediately that the staircase and surrounding area was occupied by at least 40-50 homeless folks. They were up and about, chatting, laughing, throwing things at each other, or screaming profanities at pedestrians or in some cases, no body. It was a little frightening to walk between them, while cautiously trying to not disrupt their game of catch with an empty bottle and another game of soccer with an empty beer can. On the other hand, I now know what homesless people do in the day time! They have fun and socialize.

When I got down to boarding platform, I noticed more homeless people sleeping and saw a few drunks passed out on the floor. I guess it is cooler inside the station than napping outside under the scorching sun. Who can blame them? I just wonder how they got in?

Once the train arrived, they woke up and joined me in the short 4 car train. My car was fairly empty: me, a few culinary school students in uniform, and them. The drunk men walked in and both found their own 4-seater area to sleep on. One of them kicked some old newspaper out of his way, missed, and almost fell down. He then screamed out an assorment of cuss words while kicking the seat in anger. The other drunk man was already back asleep by this time. He was about 2 rows from me, and I could smell the alcohol.

A few homeless folks also were on the train with me. One immediately walked up and down the trains to ask for money. I didn't feel like reaching for my wallet, but he stood in front of me and kept on asking! To get away from his smell, I ended up giving him all my change. The other homeless folks just slept. One stuck his bare feet out in the aisle.....I sure wish I had a pair of socks to give him, for my sake and his.

It was just interesting to me how different the riders are during the day time! How do they get in? Are they going anywhere? Seems like they just hopped on to sleep or ask for money.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The 1-minute sprint

I've mentioned several times now that I actually connect to a company shuttle at the Civic Center BART station and if BART arrives ontime, I have about 5-minutes before the shuttle arrives. Usually, I have about 3-minutes, which is totally enough time for me to leisurely walk up the two flights of escalators, and across the street to the 8th/Market corner.

Today, I had less than 1 minute to get to the shuttle stop. BART was stop and go the entire way and I was mentally (not quite physically) prepared for an impending 50-second dash once the door opens.

As we approached Civic Center station, I positioned myself 2 inches from the door to get a head start. Once the door opened, I ran. I zipped through people like a motorcycle steering in between cars; shifting right, left and back to right. I ran up the first escalator and cut across slower walkers in front of me...every second counted at this point. My ticket was ready in hand as usual and I made sure I was first to the ticket gate. I sprinted to the 2nd escalator, and saw that there were too many people walking/standing on the escalator so I decided to ran up the stairs. Because I had flats on today, I was able to skip up 2 steps with each step, to make up precious time.

I was really running out of steam by the time I got up there and thought that the shuttle had probably left by now, and I might as well just slow down and look forward to another 15 minutes at Starbucks to pass time. But, there it was.....the white shuttle, with its left turn signal on, just about to leave the stop. I got an extra burst of energy, and ran with all that's left in me across the street. Right as the driver was about to step on the gas, I arrived at the door.

My hard work paid off....I made it. I was huffing and panting from this morning workout, but of course I had to keep my cool once I got in the shuttle. People were already annoyed at me that the driver had to re-open the door and stop the shuttle for me, I certainly didn't want them to snicker at my out of control breathing patterns. So, I tried my best to hold it in, pretending that I made it on the shuttle like any normal person, and took out my Treo, like I normally would.

Inside my head however, I was ecstatic that I beat the clock! I know...ridiculous, but if I had missed the shuttle, I would have had to wait miserably for 15 more minutes while becoming even more bitter about BART.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How much room does one need???

Usually, I'm one of those "nice" passengers that always scoot to the window seat to leave the aisle seat open for the next passenger's convenience; I also always stand up if I'm ever in the aisle seat for the window seat passenger to leave the train; and whenever in a 4 seater quad area (when the seats face each other), I make sure to leave enough leg room for the passenger across from me.

Yesterday afternoon, I was very tired. I wasn't feeling well and had to take two Benadryls (imagine the drowsiness) to fight off symptoms. For once, I did not get up for the person next to me to get out, and instead, just squeezed my legs inwards and towards the side, to make room for him. He was angry at me!! He made many "tsk" sounds, shook his head, shrugged his shoulders as if he is trapped inside and can't get out, and then blurted out, "Don't blame me if I step on your toes," sarcastically.

There was plenty of room for him to walk out of his seat. I'm about 105 pounds-- there is ENOUGH space between my feet and the seat in front of me for him to make his way out.

I've seen plenty of people who never get up for someone to exit their seat and never considerately take the window seat just to make it easier for someone else to take the aisle seat. One of the very few times that I actually didn't get up (for very legitimate reason), I get scolded?

I just gave him a dirty look that pretty much said it all. He ended up getting out just fine, so I don't know what he was complaining about.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The down escalator domino effect

This is something that bugs me to some minor degree on a daily basis, but today, it was bad enough to compel me to write about it!

Those of you who take BART regularly know that people who are in a hurry or just like to walk faster, take the left side of the escalator and stairs, and those who can't walk fast, prefer to stand as the escalator moves, or just have plenty of time to spare, are supposed to take the right side of the escalator or stairs. Common courtesy, widely-accepted by most daily commuters, or at least, it should be.

Well...this scenario I'm about to describe actually apply to people who are more often on the left side, people who like to move more quickly. Do you ever notice the tendency for some escalator riders to suddenly stop walking down along the downward movement of the (down) escalator, just about 5 steps away from the platform? I know it's just 5 steps until we have no more steps to walk down, but just let the movement carry you to your final step...why suddenly stop walking down and put a sudden halt to the 15 people walking behind you to the same speed/downward rhythm? Instead, these people stops walking all of a sudden as we are about 5 to 6 steps away from the lower platform, as if they are scared or hesitant to take the last few steps as the down escalator diminishes. Or, maybe they forget that there is an endless line of people walking down behind them like robots who are not prepared to suddenly stop their bodies from moving (or falling) forward.

Today, I was in the middle of a domino effect that ended badly with a few people on the ground. Luckily, I was about 7 people away from the source of the problem, so I had the time to quickly step aside to avoid a tumble. Everyone was walking down the escalator in a steady pace when this woman decides that she is too close to the end of the escalator steps and must stop. The man behind her, naturally not prepared for this red light, walks right into her, while the woman behind him, walks into him and pushing the first woman down on her knees. At this point, the woman was blocking the entire escalator exit to the platform, causing everyone on their way down to either step into the man and woman #2 already on the ground and join them, or to piss off the escalator riders on the right side by forcefully invade their territory in order to maintain their balance.

It was a big mess!!! There were 3 people on the ground, and many squeezed awkwardly on the right side trying to avoid becoming part of the tumble. As this was happening, a Dublin/Pleasanton train comes and goes. (Luckily, not my train!)

Why? Tell me why must someone stop their walk down the escalator before the steps actually end? I know this scenario is impossible to picture if you don't know what I'm talking about, but my goodness, I've always hate being stuck in back of people like that because usually, my train's door is wide open while they decide to halt their speed, and by the time I actually get down to the platform, the train is gone!!!!

Why wasn't the "No Free Ride" announced on the news?

I watched 3 different newscasts on Sunday evening stating that Monday is yet another Spare the Air day. However, none of the newscasts indicated that no free rides will be offered this time around!!
Good thing I brought my BART ticket anyways today because to my surprise, the ticket gates were up as usual and there were no signs and posters declaring "Ride Free on Spare the AIr Day".
I don't mind not riding free, but shouldn't the newscasts responsibly tell us that portion too? To many of us, we equate "Spare the Air Days" with free rides. To people who don't normally take public transport, the free rides are great incentives! How do you think they felt when they walked up to the ticket gate and found out that had to buy a ticket?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What Spare the Air Day means to a few people I know

Another Spare the Air Day....kind of scary how many we've had the past few weeks....I never realized air quality in the Bay Area could get so horrible. Even if ridership on Spare the Air days doesn't exceed expectation, the campaign is at the very least educational for many of us who know little about the affects of weather have on air quality.

While Spare the Air day is supposed to encourage drivers to take public transportation, I know a few people who think of it in a totally different and twisted manner. They prefer to drive on Spare the Air days because they can get to work faster on the emptier roads and avoid over-crowded trains. They report that the toll plaza is emptier, the parking lots at work and streets are less crowded, their door to door drive time is actually shorter than taking public transport. So why bother...they say.

I think to change these people's poor attitudes, CalTrans (or whatever organization manages the bridges) should charge an extra $5 (ore more since Bay Area drivers may not think much of five bucks) for bridge toll on Spare the Air Days. I also think more companies should proactively partake in Spare the Air days by distributing exact bus/BART routes for employees...or even better, they should charter vans or buses to pick-up employees from stations or bus stops, if there is no direct route to the office by public transport.

Then again, for my selfish reasons, I don't want the trains to become more crowded than they already are. It's not like BART will increase the number of trains in operation to accommodate a significant rise in ridership on Spare the Air days.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why I drink black coffee

It's never easy going back to work after a relaxing vacation, but today, my BART ride was so smooth that it helped me readjust to a busy schedule. I found prime parking spot at the Orinda lot and caught an earlier train that delivered me 10 minutes prior to my shuttle pick-up. Can't complain about that!

With 10 minutes to spare, I decided to get coffee to jump start my day at the nearby Starbucks. Keep in mind that around the Civic Center BART Station, I'd rather be standing in a long line waiting for coffee than standing by myself at the corner of 8th and Market, waiting for the company shuttle to arrive.

While waiting in line, I saw a homeless man walk in to Starbucks (not a shocker). He then walked straight to the coffee condiments counter, grabbed the carafe of milk and poured it straight into his mouth (a big shocker!) I couldn't tell if his mouth actually touched the carafe but it doens't matter, the site of him drinking the milk was absolutely disgusting that everyone just got their coffee, skipped the creamer/sugar and left.

After he finished the milk, he went for the half-half. I was waiting for a Starbucks barista to tell him to stop, or to change the carafes of milk and half and half on the counter, but they never came. That leads me to think this homeless man is a regular and fills his stomach on Starbucks condiments often.

After he poured the half-half in his mouth, he grabbed a few backs of sugar and left. I believe he made several folks into black coffee drinkers today!

I've been preferring my coffee black lately, and this is just another reason why I should drink my coffee black. You never know who's used the milk before you. I actually witnessed something similar at the Gourmet 360 Burritos in Downtown SF where a homeless man filled up on free salsa at the salsa bar. I never touched the salsa there again.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Leaving for week-long vacation, but let me leave you with some thoughts about the SFO route

As critical as I can be sometimes about what goes on during my daily BART rides, BART does have merits. One in particular that I'd like to point out again is the SFO route. Many of us dread the long trek to SFO and the $10+ per day we must pay for parking. It is not easy to find a friend or parent to drop you off and pick you up, and taxis would be way too expensive if you're coming from the East Bay. And of course, the stuffy and overcrowded Super Shuttle is not exactly a desired alternative either.

I was skeptical when I first heard about the SFO-bound trains. I didn't think it would be convenient to carry luggage on BART and I also questioned the proximity of the BART stop to actual terminals. But, it is so rider-friendly and worth every penny. You arrive in front of the terminal tram, which then takes you to your desired terminal.

Sure, it could get a bit uncomfortable with all your luggage stacked in front of your legs, and yes, you may get a few dirty looks for taking up some free standing room. But, especially for those who take extended trips, $10 RT (approximately) on BART is the most cost-effective solution yet. You don't need to deal with parking lot shuttles that rarely come around, nor the horrible 101 traffic.

The transfer at Balboa station is not bad at all! Usually, the SFO train comes in less than 6 minutes.

From my station, the ride takes about 55 minutes, including the transfer, but you save on gas and extended parking, or taxi/shuttle fare. Of course I don't enjoy riding the train for an hour, but with a good magazine in hand, the time flies by! And on the way back home from SFO, you will always get a seat!

I can't say the same for the Oakland Airport route (AirBART is a bit sketchy), but it definitely is an option I'd consider if I am going way for more than 5 days.

After reading this SFGate article,, I just wanted to share that despite all my grumblings, taking BART to SFO is not bad at all.

Now, do I sound like a BART spokesperson or what? Nah...I'm just telling the truth, as I always do...which will include the bad and the good!

Is Sudoku the solution?

I have seen people at airports and trains completely engrossed in Sudoku. I've seen coworkers exchanging Sudoku puzzles and giving each other advice on which edition is best.

Although BART was on time today (thank goodness!), it was an extremely crowded train. While most people were uncomfortably miserable, I noticed a few passengers solving Sudoku puzzles and appear to be completely in their own peaceful Sudoku world. Granted, they were seated, and the rest of us were standing.

I've never tried Sudoku. Since I've never enjoyed crossword puzzles (unless I am desperate to pass time on a long flight, then I do pick up the In-Flight magazine and try out the crossword), I just assumed that Sudoku would not be enjoyable too.

Sudoku players out there- what's great about it? why is it so engrossing? Please do tell! I really do want to know. If it can make my BART ride go faster, I am willing to give it a shot!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Delays again? Reliability rating must be very low right now

I'm NOT at work right now, instead, I'm at home, waiting out a BART delay because I just couldn't stand there anymore without knowing when trains will start moving and when I might actually get to SF! I am tired of paying for taxi at the Civic Center station in order to get to my office in SOMA because BART has not gotten me to the station in time to catch my company shuttle. Who is going to pay me back for the taxi fare? BART? I don't think so.

Again, there were no signs outside the station telling us that there was a huge delay. I inserted my ticket to go up the platform and waited. The announcer blurted something completely inaudible...and apparently, he said that trains will start moving shortly but expect delays up to 20-30 minutes for Westbound passengers and 45 minutes for Eastbound. So, I left. Unfortunately, I didn't know that BART would take off $4.65 from my ticket???? Was that a mistake? I was too pissed to line up in front of the slow-acting agent to argue this amount. I figured I'll just not buy a latte today to make up for the difference!

It may not sound like a big deal for those of you who don't rely on BART to go to work, but whenever it is delayed, it is a huge inconvenience especially due to the fact that I have a connecting shuttle that doesn't come often enough. Literally, every minute counts for me because I have a very short window to catch the shuttle. And don't suggest that I should leave even earlier to anticipate delays....I already do, and I shouldn't have to inconvenience myself even more (think standing around the lovely Market/8th environment) just to allow BART room for delays.

Right now, if I were asked to rate BART's reliability, it would be 30%. I have had to spend $8 extra, at least 2 a week, on taxi fare to the office! I can't take it anymore....I already pay $8 to take BART to SF, I shouldn't have to pay another $8!

To read about the delay, see: *one correction though, ACTUAL delays westbound were definitely more than 15 minutes. BART under-estimates yet again.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Coffee drinker deservedly spills hot coffee on himself

BART was just 3 minutes late today...I was able to catch my company shuttle by sprinting up the stairs.

Many people may not be aware of this, or just don't care, but in every BART train cart, there are 3 signs that say "NO FOOD OR DRINKS. VIOLATORS SUBJECT TO FINE". Many passengers don't follow this rule. I see food on BART all the time, and coffee is a constant presence on BART too. Maybe it's because passengers who bring food and drinks don't ever get fined as the sign states. I have yet to see an agent coming through the trains checking for food/drinks and ticketing violators.

This morning, on the opposite side of the cart from where I was sitting, I heard a man frantically shouting, "Coming through, make way, hot beverage here!" as if he is entitled to extra caution and space because he was balancing an overfilled hot cup of coffee. People reluctantly made room for him, mostly because they don't want to be wearing coffee stains themselves all day. One woman with an iPod didn't make room for him, and he yelled, "Excuse me, I got a very hot cup of coffee here, please make room." The train abruptly moves forward, and he spills coffee on his hand. He yelled,"Goddammit! Excuse me miss!" She looked at him and moved. I was hoping and waiting for her to yell back at him, since he is the only one at fault here.

I didn't see what happened afterwards, but I was surprised no one scolded him for bring coffee onboard and creating more stains on the floor and seats! I was way too far (and tired) to yell across the train, but he's lucky he didn't rudely yell at me to move!

Why didn't the ticketing agent stop him? What do they do in there behind the window? Obviously we know they don't have change signs they plaster the "NO CHANGE" on every window panel. They don't stop people from sneaking in through the gates, nor do they stop bikers during commute hours.

I hope just for one week, BART agents will make the effort to ticket passengers who bring food/drinks onboard to teach them a lesson. Otherwise, the rule will never be followed.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Stick-on BART maps

Reader Rafael once again emailed me a very good point. I'm sure all of you guys (especially daily commuters) have seen the stick-on BART maps on the trains. Basically, in every cart, there is one large map board illustrating the entire Bay Area transit systems/connections, and on the left bottom corner, you have one 12X12 (apprx) inch square sticker that is plastered on top of the original map to show the new routes.

It looks cheap and tacky but I understand why they don't change the entire map. It would be too expensive and a poor use of our BART fares to change the map panel every time they extend or update a route (but of course, hiring staff members who could care less about customer service is not a good use of our BART fares either, but they still do it!)

Most of the stick-on maps looked like they were carefully stuck-on -- the routes and colors on the stickers connected perfectly with the routes and colors of the original map board. However, I have seen several maps where it was evident somebody just plastered on the corner sticker and the Fremont route is now part of the Richmond route, Caltrain route connected to nowhere, and the Peninsula has somehow enlarged and shifted to the north.

What if they extended the Dublin/Pleasanton route further? Will they stick a new sticker on the right bottom corner too? That really would be tacky.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

BART switching issues...AGAIN!

BART was miserable today. The moment I got to the boarding platform, I sensed something was wrong because of the longer than usual lines! Then of course, I read the electronic bulletin: Passengers should expect at least a 10-15 minute delay due to "ongoing switching problems." What does that mean exactly? Why is it ongoing? Why can't it be fixed during the long weekend when most people are not.

So I stand out there on the platform, wrongly dressed in summer gear when there is not a bit of sun out and the wind is blowing, just waiting for the train to come. For 8 minutes, there was no indication when the next SF bound train is coming. Finally, one arrives, and I thought the worst part is over. The train operator announces again that there are BART delays due to "continuing switching problems" but again, that explanation only brings about more questions from the rest of us that are left unanswered. She then goes on about how several trains have been asked to turn around once we get into SF, but she "thinks" our train will turn at 24th Street station although she "can't be sure." Thanks for this very useful announcement, I thought to myself.

To make matters worse, our train had to stop for several minutes at 12th Street Oakland station in order for passengers from the previous train, who were forced to deboard, to get in our already crowded trains. The ride was rough...with the train pulling into a halt every other minute. It was packed and patience was wearing thin. Passengers pushed and shoved to get out of the train, instead of the usual annoyed but reserved "Excuse me".

At Embarcadero, Montgomery, and Powell, the train would stop for at least 3 minutes. It didn't help that we hadn't received any explanations for why we're holding at each station. I really would like someone to explain why there are ongoing switching problems? Why it hasn't been fixed over the holiday weekend? Why they believe this "ongoing" explanation is acceptable? Because to me, that is not an satisfactory reason for my late arrival at work, my missing the company shuttle pick-ups so I need to pay for taxi to get to work, and my usual 30 minute ride turning into 45 minutes.