Friday, March 31, 2006

3 Important Questions Answered!

Crowded, but on-time train today..which is more than I can ask for these days. Lost a couple seat fights to other standing passengers....I shouldn't have hesitated when the seats opened up, because once I did, others took charge and planted themselves on the seats. I was merely trying to be polite, looking around for elderlies who might need the seats more than I do. Instead, a couple 20-somethings claimed the seats before I did!

If you look back on my blog entries this month, it's really been a rough March. Fires, bomb scares, delays after delays. Of course, the 24 days of rain this month doens't help timely arrivals and departures, although I can't understand how weather can affect a heavy duty transit system that is digitally controlled. For a recap of the rough month of BART incident and delays, take a look at Michael Adamick's article on Contra Costa Times:

BART has been a popular water cooler topic this month with friends and coworkers. Each of us pay a good amount of money for a roundtrip ride and cannot comprehend why it is so difficult for BART to keep the trains on-time and keep the trains clean.

I asked Mr. Adamick the top 3 questions that many BART passenger would like to know: (Thank you, Michael Adamick, for taking the time to respond!)

1. How are our BART fares appropriated? How much of it goes to employees, management, maintenance/service..etc.?
MA: Fares make up 60 percent of BART's budget, which goes into a large pot with state, federal and local tax funds. The money is then divided up between maintenance, employees, capital, etc. I'm not exactly sure of the breakdown, but employees take up a large chuck of change. There's 1,300 or so of them.

2. Are train operators trained?
MA: Yes, there is training -- extensive training. About 50 percent of bart people who try to become train operators actually fail the training and have to try again. It's apparently pretty difficult.

3. Are train operators evaluated?
MA: Yes, they are evaluated. I'm not sure how rigorously, however.


In response to #3, I really wish passengers had some say in their evaluation! Maybe there are passenger satisfaction surveys, but I personally haven't received any. I feel that BART is out of touch a little bit with passenger needs and expectations.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Some thoughts after the computer glitch fiasco

Although it took me nearly 2 hours to get home last night due to the 90-minute delay caused by a computer glitch in the BART system, I found out from a few coworkers today that it took them over 3 hours to get home! I guess I was lucky to have caught the first train that was back in service. (To put a positive spin on all this!)

Amidst this disasterous evening, I do want to compliment BART station agents and control center for their constant updates. They were very good about letting us know that the delay will be a long one and what the cause was. Whether it's a bomb scare, fire, or a medical emergency, passengers really appreciate continuous updates. It's good to know why we have suddenly stopped or why the engine shut off or why there are no trains in service. We get very anxious and impatient when we are locked inside a train that isn't moving, and have no idea when we will be able to get to our destination, or at least get out to get some fresh air.

If any BART employees happen to read this blog, please do realize the importance of updates in delay situations. Passenger need them to stay calm and sane.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

90-Minute BART Halt!

For those of you who have just read my previous post, please disregard the last sentence where I stated that I, for the moment, am an appreciative BART rider.

I had a funny feeling that when I said that (or typed that I guess), something was going to happen to make me regret writing it. And goodness, was I right!!!!

The moment I walked into the Embarcadero station, I saw the electronic signs that usually say the time or flash the train that is arriving, scrolling an unfamiliar error message. The station was PACKED with lines twirling in all directions. The barely audible station agents made an update- there is a computer glitch and all service have stopped!

While everyone expressed a huge sigh of annoyance, we had no idea how bad this delay was about to get! It was 5:3opm, passengers were coming down from the escalators, elevators and staircases. People were pouring into the boarding level by the hundreds every minute, from all directions. Meanwhile, we got an update that they were still fixing the glitch, and we should expect a 20 minutes delay. The lines twirled until they could twirl no more. The station was like a refugee center, completely overcrowded!

We then got another update- this time, they said we are 30 mintues delayed and they don't know when the computer glitch can be fixed and we should take alternative transit. I have no alternate transit- carpool I guess, but I don't know where I would get dropped off at once I'm in the East Bay. I couldn't take the AC Transit to cross the bridge because I don't have a connection to my city. I considered taxi for a moment, but with the traffic hour wait time on the freeways, the taxi fare would probably be over $200. At this time, people who were lucky enough to have alternative transit options left the station, while others who didn't, sat down on the floor. I remained standing..there was NO way I would sit on the floor of a BART station.

45 minutes went by and suddenly we heard trains moving. One train pulled into the station and lucky for me, it was MY train. I knew I had to fight with the hundreds of people around me to get on the train. I squeezed myself into the corner of the train entry...tucked my arms inwards. Whew..I made I thought!

The train held at the station for 15 more minutes- it was so crowded that my body was touching the man behind me and the woman in front of me. 5 minutes into the train, we stopped and got an announcement that the computer glitch was not fully fixed and they are halting all service again!

We waited again for another 30-45 minutes inside the train. People were sweating, babies were crying, people were yelling at each other or yelling to their friends on the cellphone. I couldn't lift my arm high enough to get access to my purse to pull out my magazine. The woman in front of me had horrendous breath, but after 30 minutes of smelling it, it just became part of the air and I couldn't smell it anymore.

FINALLY...the train operator announced that the glitch is fixed. We moved to the next station only to stop ONE MORE TIME! Luckily, we stopped only for 2 minutes or so and resumed again.

It took me nearly 2 hours to get home today. Surprisingly, after yesterday's 2 hour drive into Downtown SF, I just laughed at this horrible commute experience.

One thing that I am proud of however....while many passengers around me caved into the 90 minute delay and sat down on the ground, whether at the station or on the train, I did not! I remained standing the entire time. I was not about to let the germs, bacteria and virus thrive on my body.

I'm just happy to be home.

A taste of rush hour traffic

For the first time in quite awhile, I actually drove to work yesterday because I needed to attend an evening work event. Maybe it's because of the rain, or it was just a very bad day on the Bay Bridge, but it took me nearly 2 hours to get from my residence in the East Bay to get to Downtown SF. Imagine that....almost 2 hours to drive a little over 20 miles. I even left 45 minutes earlier than usual in anticipation of bad traffic. I was prepared for an one hour drive or even 75 minutes, but not 110 minutes! The hopeless speed that I was moving almost drove me to insanity. Not only was I running late for an important meeting, I needed to go the restroom.

Today, I resumed my normal routine of taking BART to SF. At least for the time being, I have a new found appreciation for BART.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The morning after....

I generally don't buy the newspaper before I hop on BART. I rely on my magazine subscriptions or a good book to get me through the ride. I get my news from the SF Chronicle website ( and generally don't like flipping through the big pages on BART since I rarely get a seat. HOWEVER...there is one exception to this non-habit...and that is when one of my teams win an awesome game the night before. When that happens, I cannot get enough of reading the morning-after articles or watching the highlights. I can read the same article and smile at the same photos over and over and never get sick of them!

It can't just be any game, it has to be an incredible and emotionally charged game, like a huge win against a deeply hated rival, a comeback, or a game with huge implications!!

Last night, my beloved Bruins pulled off the most amazing comeback game that I've ever seen them play! It was just unbelievable and a serious miracle that they pulled themselves together to shut Gonzaga down the last 3.2 minutes, while scoring 11 points. It was a newspaper-purchase-worthy game for sure!!! Even though I already read the articles around 1am last night, I didn't care, I wanted to read it in hard print too. My 30-minute BART ride zipped by instantly. I was in total morning after bliss.

Baseball season is less than 2 weeks away. My newspaper purchase goes up generally during the Giants season, although last year, my purchase was very low due to their disappointing and injury-plagued season. Usually, when they lose, it bugs me to even look at the headline and photos from other passengers' sports pages.

I hope to be spending many quarters this baseball season!!! It only means good things when I do.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bomb scare on BART today

It took me two hours to get to work today because BART trains were suspended due to a bomb scare at West Oakland station. It wasn't at all inconvenient, in fact, I was glad that they take these things very seriously. I ended up getting a coffee at a nearby cafe and worked at home for an hour or so before heading back to the the BART station.

You can read about today's bomb scare here:

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A "captive" audience

Thanks to my good friend R.S. for reminding me to write about interesting people who sell things, perform, or beg on BART.

There are too many to write about, so I will just list a few of them out:

1) A middle-aged woman walks around in old and dirty gym clothes telling people waiting in line that someone stole her purse so she has no money to get home and asking if we can spare $1. I almost fell for it but overheard the man in front of me tell her, "You asked me the same thing yesterday and the day before." She had to quickly think of an excuse and said, "Yes, I've been here since then, and still need money to get home." The worst part is, SO MANY people fell for her trick. I think she probably gets at least $100 a day with that false story.

2) Once, while on a train ride home, a woman fights her way to the middle of the train and starts belching out "Ave Maria." It was so loud that those of us standing close to her were visibly annoyed. No one looked at her while she was singing and when she was done, no one clapped or gave her money in her hat. Everyone was grouchy and uncomfortable and her singing just wasn't appreciated in that cramped condition. Besides, it wasn't that great...just loud.

3) A frail old man walked towards me during a train ride to ask me, "would you like to get closer to God"? I didn't want to be rude and tell him to leave me alone, so I said, "thanks, I'm OK." He then asked everyone else on the train, one by one, whether they would like to get closer to God. Some people ignored him, others said, no thanks. Daily BART commuters really just don't want to be bothered. We just want to sit quietly (or stand, in most cases), and do our reading or stare into space.

4) I know that BART riders have nowhere to go while on the train, but there is just something totally wrong when a mother brings her daughters to sell Girl Scout cookies from train to train. It's dangerous for kids to walk around and try to maintain their balance during the stop and go. It's not safe for passengers either to try to take out their wallet with one hand while holding on to a safety bar with the other. That is just irresponsible parenting, don't you think?

5) An obviously drunken man (he might be high too) has a cellphone clipped to his jeans. However, he walked around the train, literally spitting out the request, "got any quarters to spare so I can make a call?" You can smell the alcohol and whatever else he has consumed 10 feet away. Everyone was cringing while anticipating him visiting their area next to ask for money. I didn't check if his cellphone had enough battery life left for him to make a call, but I somehow doubt the money he's asking for will be going into a payphone.

There are many more stories but these are just a few interesting examples! BART is never boring, that's for sure!

Monday, March 20, 2006

A ride on BART with my folks

My parents were visiting me for a few days and I've decided to take them with me to work via BART. I had just a few minutes to teach them proper BART etiquette (have your ticket ready before you enter the booth, make sure you have the right amount, stay on the right on escalators unless you're walking up and do not take more room than you are entitled to on your seat.) They were pretty good about following my instructions and moved smoothly from the lines, through the booth, up the escalators, and into the train like trained BART riders.

When they got on the train, they instantly noticed the little things that bug me daily. For example, a man taking up two seats: he was seated in the aisle seat, while his computer bag and old newspaper took up the window seat. I usually force people like that to move their stuff out so I can take the empty seat, but my parents were too nice and bashful....they just looked at the seat and hoped he will get the clue. As expected, he didn't. I then asked him to clear out the seat for my mom. Eventually, we all got a seat, in 3 different locations, leaving my parents plenty of time to observe BART and its diverse riders.

Immediately after we got to SF, my dad asks, "why don't they ever announce the stations clearly? I can't understand what they're saying? I will get lost if you aren't here with me." Yes dad, I does seem like they like to employ train operators who mumble or are too softspoken or just don't care about passengers who rely on their announcements to get around, although eloquent operators do surface every so often. My mom then said to me, "I see people eating on the train. Why do you tell me you don't have time to eat breakfast? You can eat it on BART." I had to tell her that no food or drinks are permitted on the train, although many passengers completely disregard the rule, thus, leaving food and coffee stains all over the seats and floors. I said instead of getting mad at me for not eating breakfast, they should be proud of me for respecting rules. Finally, my parents commented that they really should enforce a max capacity rule on the trains. I completely agree!! There really should be some type of signal when the train becomes uncomfortably crowded, forbidding additional passengers from squeezing on. Maybe a weight warning bell, like on an elevator? But that would be rather embarrassing for someone overweight to squeeze on and hear the loud buzz! Not nice.

Overall, however, my parents still thought riding BART was better than braving the Bay Bridge traffic and repeatedly wonder why LA does not have it!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Art of Hair

One thing on BART that you may not want to have a bird's eye view of, but you do, is hair!

As a standing passenger, you see pretty clearly how clean someone's hair is, whether they have dandruff, whether they are balding, how they are covering their bald spots, and when they are long overdue for a cut or color job.

A couple noteworthy observations I want to point out here. I see two trends in bald (or balding) men. The first is those who do whatever they can to cover up the bald spot by growing their hair long, and covering the spot with it. It looks ridiculous. One man that I won't ever forget has a handful of hair that is about 6 inches long, that goes from his right temple to his left. It does a poor job covering his baldness as the skin is quite evident and frankly, it looks very sad and pathetic, that someone finds it that difficult to accept baldness.

The second trend is those who shave their heads or keep it at a very short length so the bald spot just blends in. I much more prefer this trend. It looks cleaner and people just don't laugh at you behind your back!

There are, of course, still people who wear toupees. That, by far is the MOST ridiculous, and thankfully, a dying practice. I once saw an older man who has some natural hair left around his ears that were gray, but awkwardly positioned on top of his head is a dark brown toupee!! It was so ridiculous looking and out of place that everyone who passed by him gave a second glance.

To all bald or balding men out there, you should definitely accept baldness gracefully and tastefully bcause there really is nothing wrong with being bald! Unless you can afford a hair transplant and deal with the pain, keep your hair short, or shave it, and be proud!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fire at Embarcadero BART today!

BART made the news today, and it's never a good thing when that happens. I wasn't involved in the fire and the evacuation process, but I can only imagine how chaotic everything was.

Most of you in the Bay Area probably already heard, but for those of you not near SF, this is what happened on BART today:

It's crazy!! I hope everyone who suffered injuries will recover soon.

Monday, March 06, 2006

How vain is too vain?

We're all vain to some degree. Most of us take a quick glimpse of ourselves as we walk past a mirror or we stop to fix our hair or outfit when we're washing our hands in the bathroom.

Most of us care about our looks to a normal degree. I see some women bravely walk into BART with no make-up at all, then when they sit down, they grab out a huge make-up bag and start applying foundation, eye liner, eye shadow, blush, mascara and curler, lipliner, lipstick..the whole works! It takes them 30 minutes to finish applying make-up. I often wonder what they would do if they didn't get a seat? Go to work without make-up? But I think that's a normal level of vanity. I personally wouldn't want to do all that on BART since I like getting ready in my own home. Besides, it only takes me10 minutes for make-up and 5 for hair.

However, there are people who take vanity to a whole new level! They don't care that they are in public, and they will just stare at themselves in the mirror for ten minute straight or longer. I saw a woman today who stood in front of a window on BART. Because BART goes underground several times during the Pittsburg Baypoint to SF route, the window becomes a clear reflection, like a mirror. This woman could not take her eyes off herself in the reflection. She brushed through her hair with her fingers, then pouted her lips, touched her hair some more, and flashed smiles at herself.....then repeated the whole routine again. The entire ride she was checking herself out in the window. That was just too much! This other time, I saw a woman who brought a small mirror in her purse, took it out, and started checking her eyebrows, make-up, hair, teeth, lips, and also smiled at herself in the mirror during the ride.

Why would anyone do that? I check on my compact every so often to make sure I don't have anything awkward on my face or teeth, but I look at myself for 1 second or 2 seconds max. What would propel these women to look at themselves for 30 minutes straight? Even if they are the most gorgeous women, which they are not, they still do not need to stare ar themselves in that fashion. Were they trying to look good for someone at work? Were they practicing a smile for an admirer? Or are they just so vain that they don't realize they're doing this?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A crowded train with a crock pot full of sour cabbage

I haven't had any luck lately with getting a seat on BART. The trains have been crowded and I consider myself lucky if I can keep a corner to myself.

Believe it or not, a woman brought with her onto the train a crock pot full of sour cabbage or some type of pungently sour and spiced vegetables. Immediately, the sour smell spread throughout the train. I love sour cabbage, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables, but bringing a freshly made pot of something so pungent onto a crowded BART train is somewhat inconsiderate. In fact, you're not supposed to bring food or drinks onto the train at all, although many people still sneak in coffee or fast food. Scent tend to magnify on BART- burgers, fries, chicken, pizza...I've smelled them all. It's disgusting. The sour cabbage scent turned into a smell resembling dirty bathrooms. Normally delicious foods just do not smell good on BART. There just isn't enough oxygen for all of us to breath in as it is.

That is why BART commuters hardly participate in pot lucks at work! When we do, we usually bring the salad, drinks, cookies or brownies....things that don't stink up the train. Well, at least I bring those things because I don't have a signature dish to show off, but still...even if I did, I wouldn't subject fellow passengers to 30+ minutes of unpleasantry.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What could be worse than a Southwest flight?

My title is misleading because there really isn't anything worse than a OAK to MIA flight on Southwest and making 2 stops and a plane change along the way. Lucky for me, I didn't take Southwest to a business conference in Miami. I took a direct nonstop flight from SFO to MIA on American, but boy, it felt like a Southwest flight! The conditions reminded me of a crowded BART train and a delayed SW flight (meaning the cabin hasn't been cleaned).

The long 5.5 hour flight between SFO and MIA seemed longer than it already is because the cabin temperature was so high! Some people were sweating profusely, and the heat, as expected, brought out many assortments of body odors. The lavatories have not been cleaned and you can smell the urine from 10 rows away. I had to keep on applying lotion around my neck to mask the scent.

People were very grouchy and unwilling to make room for others walking down the aisle. Babies were screaming, making the conditions even less tolerable. The beverage cart was slow to move down the aisle, and we had no food service, but only the option to buy cold sandwiches or mixed snacks that used to be free. Meanwhile, you can smell the food from first class and see the empty champagne glasses brought to the back of the cabin by attendants for disposal.

One man in particular was completely inappropriate. He got upset at the man in front of him for leaning his seat back! He yelled, "there is no room for you to lean back. see where my knees are? i am cramped." The flight attendant had to reason with him that everyone has the right to lean back. But the man continued on about the crowded conditions and pushed the seat in front of him forward, each time the passenger tried to lean back. Totally immature and inconsiderate! If he wants space that bad, why doens't he just fork out the $$ for a first-class ticket??? Oh..he can't afford it? Well, just sit back and don't cross your legs, like the rest of us!

I took BART to the airport for the 2nd time during this trip, and while the ride was long and I missed some train connections which made my wait even longer, it is still a more ecnomical and traffic-free way to get to the airport. I urge everyone to try it out!! But, be prepared to have a book or stack of magazines to read because it is a LONG ride.