Monday, December 29, 2008

BART track fire between Lafayette and Walnut Creek

Have you heard about the BART track fire this evening? If you were on one of the disrupted trains, let us know how you felt BART handled the situation? Were you well informed? How helpful were the bridge buses?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Thank you for yet another year of support and time you've given to BART Musings. I absolutely enjoy reading everyone's opinions and have learned quite a lot. I am still on maternity leave but will return to full time work first week of March. Meanwhile, I will continue to read, hear, and observe anything and everything related to BART and BART passengers and post the most interesting on this blog.

Thanks again for all your support! Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

BARTing with the Raider Nation

Let's get one thing straight first. My husband and I are longtime 49ers fans (great game, by the way!) but he was recently invited by a vendor attend the Raiders-Texans game in a luxury suite and appreciatively accepted the invitation. He figured the suite experience itself will make a Raiders game bearable. He decided to take BART to the Coliseum to avoid potential traffic on and off 880. He looked up the BART schedule for both ways and off he went to the Raiders game.

The first thing that went wrong was BART's next train signage. When he arrived at the platform, it said next train, 2 minutes, and 22 minutes. He waited 10 minutes and the next train was still 2 minutes away. Then, suddenly, the train that was supposed to arrive in 2 minutes disappeared! Without any announcements on when the next train will arrive, he and others waited and took him 1 hour and 15 minutes to get from Orinda to the Coliseum. Ridiculous.

Now, once he FINALLY got on the train, the BART ride itself was quite "interesting". Inside, there were many Raiders fans, of course. A few of them were actually drinking beer on the train! Where is the BART police? Apparently, there were 2 groups of fans drinking; one drinking Corona, the other drinking Bud. When they saw each other drinking and appearing intoxicated, they happily, and loudly toasted each other and screamed profanities related to the Raiders. How lovely.

Not that all Raiders fans are like this of course, but this experience only reinforces the stereotypes of what most associate with the Raider Nation.

Anyhow, my husband's BART experience to the Raiders game was quite negative-- while he did enjoy the suite experience, he left at half time to beat the BART crowd in the return trip.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yet another reason to take BART....

$5 tolls! My goodness, the frequency of increases is starting to get ridiculous. Yes, I know this is for retrofitting but what percentage is truly going into that? And what about the money previously put aside to complete this project? I'm sure there is an obvious answer for that as well but the bottom line is, at this rate, in this economy, we're not far from a $10 toll. The "just take it out of the people's pockets" mentality will never go away.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Drive or BART..what I ended up doing on Saturday night

If you had a chance to read my previous post, you'd know that I insisted on driving while my husband wanted to take BART into the city on Saturday night for a semi-formal company holiday party to avoid weekend traffic across the Bay Bridge.

Well, as adamant as I was, I conceded and took BART into the city in my dress, high heels, accessories and a heavy coat. I really had preferred the comfort and cleanliness of our own car but gave in to BART for two main reasons: 1) with a 7 week old precious little thing at home, both of us wanted to enjoy the open bar and did not want to be the designated driver, and 2) my husband swore that the Palace Hotel was less than 10 steps away from the BART exit.

I hadn't been on BART for some time since I've been on maternity leave so the ride was QUITE interesting. Sure, there were a few people dressed nicely to attend the opera, holiday concert, or company banquet, but there were PLENTY of interesting characters as well. I was also shocked just how crowded the train was-- it was more crowded than a weekday peak train! Or perhaps, we were just lucky enough to pick the train with the most passengers going to the airport with huge suitcases. I also witnessed plenty of passengers who reminded me just why I used to carry a bottle of Purell with me to work. One guy picked his nose and grabbed on to the safety bar, one women scratched her inflamed acne before holding on to the pole, while another sneezed into the hand that held on to the handle. I made every effort to balance on my high heels without touching anything but my husband. The air was stuffy and my eyes started itching too for some reason.

But as we arrived at Montgomery (or should I call it Dubai Tourism Central), I was pleased to find out that Palace Hotel was indeed about 8 steps away from the exit. For that, I was happy to have taken BART. "Let the party begin" I thought...I conceded for the right reasons.

The party was wonderful!! I had the opportunity to meet and chat with some very nice people who made the evening very fun and entertaining! He certainly works in a company with some good, decent people. My husband and I had a great time and safely took BART home. It was a lovely evening.

So, in the end...yes, I conceded but I was glad to have taken BART although I have to say, it was an unpleasant ride to the city being overly crowded and full of passengers who did not care much about personal hygienes....but hey, that's BART, and I'll be back on there full time soon enough. I guess the important thing is that we had a good time and we were safe. Thanks to all who chimed in.

Oh, and p.s. GO BRUINS!

Friday, December 12, 2008

When BART just isn't an least in my eyes

Now, tell me if you side with me or my husband! It's a funny situation really. Tomorrow night (Saturday) is my husband's company holiday party. I'd categorize it as a semi-formal affair. Being on maternity leave and spending most of my days with my precious newborn son, I've sort of been looking forward to dressing up and spending a nice evening out while my in-laws take care of the little one. I have my dress picked out and will be wearing a coat I've never worn before. Bottom line is...I'm looking forward to an adult evening and dressing up.

Now, my husband just said that we should take BART instead of driving because the Saturday evening traffic will be horrible. Yes, I know the traffic will be awful and we had already set expectations that the drive across the Bay Bridge will take a long long time. But to take BART to avoid traffic? I can't wear a light black dress on the train! My legs will be exposed and with a strong wind passing by, who knows what else?!? It's just not feasible. I'd much rather be sitting in traffic but in the comfort of our car! If I was dressed in pants or even a long dress with long boots, yes, BART is not a problem. BART to Giants games? Sure! But I just don't think BART is the ideal mode of transportation for a semi-formal affair! Not to mention the forecast indicates RAIN tomorrow evening..which of course will make traffic worse, but will make BART ride wet and slippery too! I'm not arriving with my hair and dress half-wet.

Am I wrong here? I'm pretty adamant that we're driving in traffic tomorrow night.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

BART Musings Special Feature-- Interview #2 -- A daily commuter

The 2nd interview features a frequent rider/daily commuter since 2005. The questions simply focus on how he views BART and what he likes/dislikes about it. I'd say his opinions of BART are actually fairly positive but he's just started taking BART since 2005, relatively recent. I'd like to compare his responses to someone who's been taking BART for close to 10 years...the differing opinions would be interesting to read. (Thank you to the interviewee for giving his time!)

BART Musings Special Feature-- Interview #2 -- A daily commuter

1) How often do you take BART? Which stations are your origin and destination?

I ride BART an average of 3-4 days per week round trip between Pleasant Hill and Civic Center station. To and from Civic Center, I transfer and ride the MUNI metro out to the Sunset district.

2) On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most satisfied, how would you rate your BART commute experience? Why?

At this point, I would rate it a 7, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's been awhile since BART has served up any truly awful delays. If you would have asked me back in the Spring of '07 when they were having all of those computer problems and massive delays, I would not have been nearly so generous. Also, when you compare it to the awful lack of reliability and slowness that I experience on the MUNI portion of my commute, it makes BART seem pretty reliable.

3) How do you feel about BART's destinations? How well do the routes serve your needs?

The routes serve my needs reasonably well at this time, it goes most places I need to go and is usually a reasonable alternative to driving into downtown San Francisco or Oakland. One thing I have always thought would be intelligent for BART would be to offer service along the 680 corridor... basically linking Walnut Creek BART with Dublin/Pleasanton BART a stop along the way at Bishop Ranch.

4) How do you feel about BART ticket prices? Why?

I feel that prices are reasonable. It costs me $9.30 round trip from Pleasant Hill to Civic Center and back. Bridge toll alone would cost $4.00, and there is no way I could make it to the far side of the city and back on $5.30 worth of gasoline, even at today's low prices. Nevermind parking costs, wear and tear on the car, and time lost to traffic each way. BART seems a bargain by comparison.

5) How do you handle parking? Do you believe BART should charge for daily parking? How do you feel about BART increasing the parking fees?

I used to use reserved parking, which worked pretty well, and seemed a fair cost for convenience. Once I moved a mile and a half away from the BART station, I started riding a bicycle to and from the station, so parking is a piece of cake. I actually think riding the bike is faster than driving and circling the parking garage is.

I think that charging for reserved parking is a good idea, so long as there are people willing to pay, and there is ample parking still available for those who do not want to pay the premium. I think that a modest daily parking fee is fair, since it is a fee for use of the facility. I don't agree with raising fees much beyond a dollar or two because I think it would tend to discourage more people from taking the train.

6) Do you feel that BART's train interior serve the needs of passengers well? How can it be improved?

They need to finish removing those filthy carpets. It would be nice to see some more racks or open areas where airport-bound travelers could stow their luggage. Also, more grab handles for standing riders, and I really like the idea of adding a third set of doors in the middle to help people enter and exit the trains faster. If I'm making a wish-list, I'd also add a display in each car that tells you the name of the station you are at, and the name of the next station you are approaching.

7) What do you like most about BART? Why?

The thing I like most about the BART system is that it is fairly consistent and reliable (at least it has been lately). I have pretty good assurance that I will get to work on time and home around the same time each day. The thing I like most about riding BART is that it allows me to use otherwise-lost commute time for personal pursuits that I otherwise don't really have the time for. In the morning, I get to read the paper cover-to-cover, in the afternoon I can usually read a good 25-30 pages of a book. In a household full of kids and family obligations and the stress that accompanies that, it is nice to be able to have a solid block of time twice a day to decompress.

8) What do you like the least about BART? Why?

The thing I like the least about BART is the infrequency of service. Nothing is more galling than getting to the bottom of the escalator and seeing that the Bay Point train just left, and the next one won't be there for 10 or 15 minutes. They really ought to be able to provide more frequent service, particularly on the busiest line. This does not seem to be a problem on most other metro systems I've riden on.

9) Do you have commute alternatives? Why do you select BART?

My only real alternative would be to drive myself into the city. I choose BART because it is more attractive than driving. Driving would mean having to pay for gas, bridge toll, battle traffic all the way into and then through the city, then have to pay for daily parking once I arrived. Then, I would have the fun of fighting traffic all the way home. I find driving in traffic to be frustrating and stressful. Given that as my alternative, I'd prefer to have a comfortable train ride each way and deal with the occasional delay or bothersome fellow passenger.

10) How many years have you taken BART? Do you feel like it has improved or gotten worse in general? Why? Please consider all elements from customer service, ticket pricing, train schedule/routes, on-time ratio, train operator performance, station condition, to train interior...etc.

I have riden BART daily since 2005. I have riden it intermittently since the 1980's. I'd say that overall, BART has gotten quite a bit worse, but I don't really blame BART for that. I have far more unpleasant rides today than I recall having in the distant past. BART 20 years ago was essentially the same from an operational standpoint, but it was much less crowded, and there seemed to be far fewer rude, disgusting, or frightening fellow passengers. I can't really blame BART for that, I think that is more of a symptom of society in general.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Valid complaints from a regular BART commuter

I received this email from J.A.B., a regular BART commuter and completely relate to his reaction to such annoying and inexplicable behavior from fellow riders. Honestly, I think there are 3 types of riders: the first are people who just get it and always know to move efficiently and considerably, the second are people who are just plain clueless and are unaware they get in other's way, and the third are people who just don't give a **** what they do and what others think.

J.A.B. brings up some very valid points in his rant below! Tell me if you relate or not! I certainly do! Even though I've been on maternity leave for over 2 months now, reading these scenarios still brought out some sighs and chuckles!

I have to vent about a couple things I observe and experience way too frequently on BART that I consider serious breaches of the etiquette of the daily commute. (For the proper definition of ‘etiquette’ in the rush-hour commute environment please see me in person during 8:30 - 9:00 a.m. on most weekday mornings.) These breaches are annoying to me every time I see them happen or experience them, so I should label them offenses, because that is what they are. They have no redeeming social value whatsoever and on my best days they annoy me. I wonder if others have noticed and experience them too, and what your reactions and thoughts are.

The first is the inexplicable pausing near the top of the up escalator by the walking traffic line. If you haven’t experienced this just simply get in the line that walks up the escalator, the one on the left. If it’s not completely packed you will find yourself going up at a certain pace then, depending on the length of the line, you will halt. This could happen 3-4 times as you go up. When you get close enough to the top you will see the cause: people pausing significantly or stopping altogether as they near the top of the escalator. Why, people? Why? You’re walking up the escalator, which are pretty big steps, bigger than the actual stairs and those in your home or where you work. Then, just as the steps get smaller as the escalator reaches the top, you stop or slow way down. Why? You’ve already done the hard part, you walked up the steep high steps. Now you get to the top, where the steps get smaller and smaller until it’s flat and you slow way down or stop. Why? It is actually getting easier at that point but you all pause or stop like you have to jump that last 5 feet.

I note that some women are wearing what I consider difficult shoes and I understand why they need to tread cautiously. But I also notice that frequently those women don’t slow down as much as the real offenders. They get it. Probably because they’re 4-inch heels taught them how to negotiate that part. But the rest of you: Why? If someone who does this has an answer I’d love to hear it. If you’ve never thought about this, perhaps you should pay attention at that moment of your commute and ask yourself why you’re doing it. (I also note that this seems to be less of a problem on the down escalators. For some reason folks seem to be able to handle this particular problem a little easier going down.) And this happens every single day, without exception.

The second issue is what I call the “I want/am going to occupy the space where you’re standing,” regardless of whether the train is stopped or moving. When this happens while the train is moving it is especially egregious. Either way it is an offense. This one happens in different ways but a typical one is like this: I will be standing (because I ALWAYS have to stand, which I generally don’t mind, BTW). I will be standing in my spot, wherever that may be, and someone will come up and say, “Excuse me.” By their words you might think they want to go past. In some cases I know it is impossible for them to, either because I’m standing right next to the door or there are just too many people on the other side of me. Whichever, they’ll come up and say “Excuse me” indicating they wish to pass. But they don’t: instead, they want to occupy the place where I’m standing. Sometimes I know this as soon as it happens (see above); sometimes I don’t realize it until after it has occurred. This morning, e.g., I experienced the latter. I got on a car where all the seats were taken and there were a handful of people (4-5) standing in various spots. The middle of the car was unoccupied with standers so I went there, as did one other commuter. The other 10 or so standers were either gathered around the doors or spread out in different spots, none of them near where I was in the middle, except for the one guy, about 2 feet away. At the next stop about a dozen or so commuters got into the car. One came up behind me, said “Excuse me” and when I leaned over as far as I could to let her pass, she simply stopped where I was. Now, there was no reason for this kind of proximity, this doubling up of standers in the aisle, given the available space in the car. BTW, I have experienced that kind of crowded conditions but that is when there are about 50 people standing in the car, which was nowhere near the case this time. The only thing I could imagine was her motivation was to be next to one of those handles that are on the seats (not the poles or the overhead bar). Essentially what she wanted was to occupy the space where I was standing.

Another frequent example is I’ll be standing and the train is still moving but someone, overeager to exit the train, gets up from his/her seat and seeks to stand where I am standing. This one bugs me even more for a number of reasons, (1) it’s a safety hazard to make some move while the train is moving, (2) it assumes I cannot move out of the way when the train stops and people are exiting, and (3) it is basically you telling someone to “get out of my way,” which your mothers should have taught you is rude.

Now, half (maybe a little less) of the time I would be willing to relinquish my space. But I want people to be honest about it. I want them to say, “Excuse me, I want to stand where you’re standing. Would you accommodate me?” If you don’t realize you’re doing this, please be a little more mindful of your actions and others. If you want pole position at the door to be the first off, go there and stand there, like the rest of us do when we want pole position, or make the move when the train has stopped. But don’t ask someone to move so you can have his or her space just because you want it and without a good reason, especially when the train is still moving. That is rude, plain and simple. And rudeness in the commute is no good for anybody. Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

BART Musings Special Feature-- Interview #1-- David Vartanoff, Transit Enthusiast/Historian

As promised, I am doing a few interviews with those with a different perspective on transit who can offer their point of view on BART. The first Q&A was with David Vartanoff. David has been intrigued by trains since he was very young and long followed and studied trains from different locales. Below is my conversation with David. Special thanks to David for offering his time and opinion. I know I certainly learned something and I hope all the readers will too!

BART Musings Q&A with David Vartanoff

Q: You are a multi-decade transit enthusiast/historian. That is extremely interesting. Can you tell us a bit more about what that entails? Which transit systems have you traced, experienced, or researched.

A: I have loved trains, subways, streetcars from infancy. Railfan is the polite term. That said, I spent many hours during summers in Chicago riding, watching the L and mainline RRs there. After Granddad gave me a camera at age 11, I began documenting trains on film. Since then I rode the last day of streetcar service in DC, the last day of the 'North Shore Line' between Chicago and Milwaukee, sampled the Cleveland/Shaker Heights Transit Lines, the last 4 Baltimore streetcar lines and living in Philly as both "transit" and main line commuter. When I lived in NYC, I rode nearly every route end to end and both the last run of the Myrtle Ave El, and the first service on 6th Ave to 57th (since extended through new runnels to Queens). In the post BART new systems era I have sampled DC, Boston, LA, Baltimore's new lines, Portland, Sacto, and San Jose. Not having got off this continent, my knowledge of foreign systems is indirect.

Q: What do you think are BART's strengths? Have they changed throughout years?
BART's 'strengths' are decent time reliability and convenient train arrival signage. I should say both of aspects were unreliable in the beginning.

Q: Which transit systems would you rate as amongst the best in the US? In what ways can BART learn from them?

A: Chicago and New York, despite mistakes and need for more routes, both cover at least a great deal of the neighborhoods. Both systems have cleanliness issues but as a rider a dirty train @ 3 AM beats walking home. BART needs to offer high usage discount passes with better fare integration with bus systems.

Q: You were at BART's opening day, and the opening days for many of the new routes. Do you feel that BART has met passenger expectations? As you've read from the comment sections on, many passengers have complaints about BART. Complaints from no parking, to frequent delays, to unclean stations, to not enough safety handle bars on trains. Do you think most passenger complaints are legitimate? Are these complaints common in other transit systems?

A: Depends on which of the promises anyone believed. BART said in pre-revenue propaganda, seats for everyone trains every 90 seconds. The cars had NO hand-grabs for standees when delivered. Never did they achieve the 90 second headways. BART was sold to the voters as Buck Rogers space age public transit, and NOT a subway system. As such, the carpeting and comfortable seats were supposed to connote upscale commuter rail ala LA Metrolink. Ridership, however, is greatest in the very urban core BART tried to discourage. Note that urban riders pay a higher % of the net cost of their trips.

As to service quality, ALL systems tend to generate complaints. That said, BART's on-time stats are good; most times I ride, I am not delayed much. The cleanliness issues are really class issues. Suburbanite who come with high cleanliness expectations are unrealistic. Without frequent cleaning, which is not economically feasible, such expectations will never be met. Some years ago there was a website called The Weekly Breakdown for Chicago riders to vent. Their complaints were more serious--broken down trains, broken faregates etc. Similar complaints come from New Yorkers. Bay Area suburbanites' cleanliness expectations of BART will never be met.

Q: What are some of BART's weaknesses? In what ways would you like to see BART improve?

A: BART has an extremely poor routes, station design and locations. The cars are overly cushy instead of practical. There is NO 24/7 service, yet it has an overcharging fare system, and no express service.

Q: Now, let's focus on commuters. How do Bay Area commuters differ from others you've witnessed?

A: As I've mentioned, Bay Area commuters have unrealistic expectations of comfort. They also do what I consider "silly" lining up at platforms and exhibit "amateur commuter" behaviors like staying seated until the train has arrived at their station.

Q: Do you ride BART? What's your personal opinion of it, as a passenger?

A: Yes although as I do not have a regular same location job, my usage is random as to both time and route. While I believe I have a valid view of BART, ultimately this interview is my opinion, others will see things differently.

Q: How and where can we find some of your writings on transit systems if we want to read more of your work?
A: As a long term Rescue Muni member, Google will find many of my comments in the RM yahoo group.