Thursday, January 31, 2008

10 things I love about the Hong Kong MTR

My trip in Asia continues. I promise I will post at least one picture of the MTR once I get back to SF but it's been so difficult to snap photos in crowded trains where even standing room is a premium. Nevertheless, the Hong Kong MTR is all that I wish BART can be.

What do I mean by that? Well, here are my reasons:

10) The trains have interactive maps that light up at each destination so even if you missed the announcement at each stop, you know exactly where you are. Furthermore, the interactive panels tells you which side of the door to exit at.

9) You can clearly hear each stop, which side of door to exit, transfer directions, and cautionary statements at all times (a computer generated voice, in 3 languages). On BART, each T.O. makes such announcements and while some do a wonderful job, most cannot enunciate or speak loud enough into the speakers.

8) The escalators move faster and so do the people here. I move at very fast speeds and I like the pace of movement here. It's efficient.

7) At each platform, there are glass doors that prevent people from jumping or accidentally falling into the tracks. The glass doors open, along with the train doors once the train arrives.

6) The stations clearly mark which side of pedestrian traffic should go where. For example, even stairs leading up to street level are divided by a yellow line. People going up stay on one side and people going down stay on the other. There is no yielding. Even on the platform, they clearly mark where to line up while keeping the middle part open for those exiting the train (some BART platforms have this). People know where they are supposed to be and no one runs into each other.

5) Stations are clean! They don't smell! They look high-tech with flat screens for news and stock market updates. Stations are well-staffed-- there are always security officers patrolling and you can always easily locate a live agent to help you with something.

4) Trains have very few seats (one row of seats along each side of the train) and equipped with lots of safety poles, handles, side bars..etc. This is smart because the trains are always crowded! Furthermore, right on top of the seats, there are huge signs that say "Show that you are a caring person. Give your seat to someone in need." "You can do it! Show that you care". No handicapped designations...just anyone in need, whether that's someone who is ill, or someone who is pregnant. People don't jump to the seats like BART commuters. They are OK with standing and letting someone else have a place to sit.

3) Stations are like mini-shopping centers with shops, book stores, bank branches, cafes...etc. You can even buy books and other reading material in vending machines!

2) No food or drinks on the train and people actually follow! I've been getting around strictly by MTR and have yet to see anyone even take a sip from their water bottle!

1) Trains are clean! It's a combination of people following rules, plastic floors and seats, and efficiency of the cleaning crew that keep the MTR tidy and effective!

All that said, there is no place like home and I am looking forward to returning to SF later in the week.

One more observation to share with you....the seats on the train are much smaller! I can't imagine having seats of that size on BART. People are "heavier" in the US and most will need 1.5 seats in Hong Kong. Interesting isn't it?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

(updated) Hong Kong Airport Express is absolutely impressive

Took the Airport Express from Hong Kong International Airport into the city and it was so simple, high tech and efficient, not to mention clean! There was news on flatscreen TVs, individually controlled volume built into each seat, clearly pre-recorded announcement of each stop in 3 languages, and interactive map in each car that shows where you are in the journey and lights up the destination on the map upon arrival (also widely deployed in Europe). I was very impressed with the efficiency, cleanliness, visitor-friendliness, and tech saaviness.

I plan to travel by the Hong Kong MTR subway system next within the city. Will do a quick comparison to BART when I can.

Update (2/1): On the way home, we took the Airport Express back to Hong Kong International, and as we arrived at the Airport Express station, we realized that you can actually check in for your flights and drop off your luggage there because every major airline (ours was United) had its own counter at the tram terminal. It is brilliant, not to mention simple! It eases congestion on the Airport Express trains, it frees the travelers of heavy baggage, it saves you time later at the airport check-in terminals, and as baggage-free travelers, it is easier for us to spend our money at the airport shops and resturants! Very cool! 24 minutes, luggage-free ride to the airport.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Masks abound in Taipei

Taipei's public transit system has improved dramatically since my last visit. I even noticed that congestion in the streets have subsided due to the improved public transit. Although Taipei MRT locations are well-positioned and the trains are efficient, it is still quite difficult to get to your final destination by foot. I guess that is why every one out of five cars are taxis. I still prefer the taxis.

Masks are nothing new in Asia, especially after the SARS outbreak. But I've noticed that they are still being regularly used by people in public places, from buses, restaurants, airports, to malls. They are now very fashionable too-- you can get them in any design at the night markets, from Hello Kitty to Burberry imitation patterns.

Pleasant trip overall! to Hong Kong.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Checking out rapid transit in Asia

I am in Asia for a little over a week and will definitely make an effort to check out any rapid transit systems and compare it to BART. First stop....Taipei's MRT. Will post my thoughts when I have the chance.

Before I forget, did BART add more direct trains to SFO from Pittsburg/Baypoint? Seem like they did! I didn't need to transfer at Balboa Park for once. BART to SFO...still the best way to go, especially in the horrendous wet weather on Friday morning.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another spill, another stain

A man comes in and sits next to me with a hot cup of coffee in hand. I was annoyed-- another rule breaker. At first, I didn't say anything, but he was slurping loudly, every 5-10 seconds. I looked at him purposely each time he slurped, and when he realized, he turned to me and said, "Is this bothering you?" I said, "You know you're not supposed to eat or drink in here? Otherwise, I'd be bringing in a cup of coffee too. I definitely need it." He says half jokingly, "No one's ever stopped me before. At least I"m not eating, right?" I replied, "I heard they ticket. Watch out."

At the next stop, he got up to give his seat to a pregnant woman (good for him for doing that! very few people, men and women, care enough to do that.) As he got up, a girl squeezed passed him and knocked his coffee with her huge backpack. He spilled the coffee. Most of it went on his hand and shirt but a good amount went on to the floor and his vacated seat.

He looked at me and said, "First time I've spilled, really!" A few people near the area threw in some napkins and tissues to soak up the stains. In the end, the stain was small....but yet, it was another brown mark on the BART train floor and seat.

I've gotten criticized by some of you before for not taking my action to the next stage....meaning reporting him to the T.O. I pointed him to the rules, but that's as far as I went! If someone is eating a stinky breakfast burrito, drinking alcohol, or something illegal, I would have definitely called the T.O. or in more severe cases, the BART Police. But I do believe enforcement needs to start with BART...especially for something like coffee. It only takes one ticket from BART officials to stop someone from breaking the rules again. If they can't circle around trains to enforce, they can't expect riders to get out of the seat, squeeze through the crowds, go to phone, and make such a call in front of everyone. Don't blame fellow passengers for not reporting....this is not a suspicious bag! This is one of many commuters who bring in coffee despite knowing the rules. BART needs to show that they will indeed enforce their own rules! It's great and noble if a passenger is responsible enough to report every single violation he or she sees....I'd have a lot of respect for that person, but if the rest of us don't, it's not our fault.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What went right today?

So many things went wrong today. But to be fair, the one thing that went right during my BART ride today is in fact the most important. The train was only 5 minutes late so I was able to make it on my shuttle.

Now...let's talk about the wrong. Wow, where can I start. It began with a clueless driver who continued to back up his car despite my car being right in back of him. I first backed up a bit out of courtesy, then he kept on going, so I went to my horns. I honked and honked...I really think he's deaf or had his radio blasting. I had no choice but to back up more. I had planned to say something to him in case I passed him while walking but he just remained seated in his car. What a freak.

Then, in the train. I took up one of those backboards near the train doors. The trains were packed. When we got to MacArthur, I realized that I was blocking the doors so I stepped out to make room for people entering and exiting. I made eye contact with most of the people walking into the train. Then, as I walked back in to re-claim my space, some woman decided to stand in my spot along with her multiple bags that I vacated only to let her and others in. She saw me standing outside of the door while people walked in but she obviously doesn't care....I left therefore I matter what reason, right??? I was not about to let her do that so I said, "Excuse me, I was standing here before the doors opened." I know she heard me but she said, "What?" I was not in a spiffy mood so I raise my voice a bit, "I was here, then I slid over so I wasn't blocking the entrance," gesturing here and there with my hands. "Oh you want to stand here?" she said. "I WAS here!" I said and stood in the small space that remained. She didn't leave but neither was I. I stayed standing like that most of the ride until she left at Embarcadero.

Then finally, I get to Civic Center. A family of 6 (mom, dad, and 4 kids) cover all the turnstiles because they can't figure out how to get out. The kids don't have tickets. The mom doesn't have enough on her ticket. So they hover around the turnstiles, blocking anyone from putting a ticket in. I had 30 seconds to make it up the stairs, run across the street to catch my shuttle. I squeezed through them, stick my ticket in and walk through the turnstile. The mom and 2 of the kids followed me through. I gave them a dirty look and shook my head. I had no time to report them so I said, "Pay for a ticket next time." The 2 remaining kids were still stuck but they just crawled under the turnstiles. I dashed for the shuttle....but I think another passenger was telling them off as I started running.

Is it over? No! As I was running towards street-level, I stepped into a wet puddle of what used to be a old donut. I just washed it off in the bathroom as I got to work.

What a ride!! Now, can I win the lottery to balance out my day??

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Do you give money to the homeless?

For the first time in awhile, I saw someone stopping to pull out her wallet to take out a dollar to hand to a panhandler. This made me think of the changes in me since I first started riding BART long ago.

As you know, we see a wide variety of characters in BART stations. Long ago, I used to give money to older homeless folks, female panhandlers with kids, and any homeless folks with pets. I also used to buy the "Street Beat" (can't recall the name) or the newsletters shelters encourage the homeless to sell. It got to the point that I knew who was going to be where on what day. I knew who to expect at each corner and what they'll say. I had money ready in my pocket before I saw them!! I guess you can call me naive or pure hearted back then....I actually believed that the dollar or two, sometimes more, I gave them was going into something that will make a positive impact.

Eventually, I stopped, at least with the homeless (I on occasions give money to performers if they are really impressive and if I'm in a good mood). I realized that I've been giving the same young man money next to the same Starbucks for a few years now and he's not even young anymore. If I get to work earlier, I see him lying next to a bottle in a brown paper bag. I also noticed during volunteer events that while the homeless come in smelling like alcohol, they do not want to go to the alcohol abuse assistance kiosk...they want to go straight to the freebies and leave right after. For a few years now, I've stopped giving money to the homeless although my heart sinks and I give in when I see them lying next to the extremely underweight and malnourished dogs. While they have the brains to know that help exists, the dogs depend on them for survival. But I have to ask myself, is my money actually going into food for the dogs or to a pack of cigarettes? Somehow I don't want to know.

Was this woman I saw like the old me? I wonder how long will she continue to pass out money for? At some point, I would expect her to become disheartened like the rest of us.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Laziness, arrogance, or just a big heart?

A friend of mine told me that he's been seeing unfinished BART tickets being left around at stations. The amount on the tickets range from 50 cents to $3. I've seen abandoned tickets too. Sometimes they are left on top of the turnstiles, other times they are left by the ticket machines, or just dropped on the ground.

Are people too lazy to insert the amount of money needed to get them home? Or is the remaining amount so insignificant to them that they don't mind just tossing it? Or do they want to save someone else a few bucks and make their day?? I think it's all of the above?

I save up my small amount tickets for donations later but I guess leaving it for someone else to use is serving a similar purpose....kind of. I receive monthly commuter checks so I choose not to take the time to insert the remaining amount needed to get me to my destination. Lining up and then inserting the right amount will probably make me miss my train....since I always only have a few seconds to spare. From the commuter checks, I have collected a small stack of large amount BART tickets waiting to be I can see why people some people would leave their tickets instead of finishing up the amount themselves. Am I lazy? Yeah, I admit it. Too rushed? Definitely! Arrogance? Not really. $2 can buy a greasy but good meal at Jack in the Box!

As long as someone is using or collecting these abandoned tickets and they are not just being thrown away, I think it's fine! Some people might not care about $2.20 but I'm sure there are people who would be happy to pick up a partially free ticket and save that money to buy candy for their kids.

I always recommend saving the small amounts and just donate it!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More hanging straps needed in the demo cars

I think the new BART train set-up is great! Love the plastic slip-resistant floors, more standing room around the doors, and the hanging straps. However, I noticed today that when it's crowded, the few hanging straps were not enough. There are a lot of people who cannot comfortably reach up to the overhead poles, so the hanging straps are definitely needed. But three on each side is certainly not enough. The straps are the first things standing female passengers go to when there are no seat handles left to hold (including yours truly) and the straps are certainly not meant to be shared, well, at least I'm not willing to hold the same strap as someone else.

So my advice is...add more hanging straps! There are a ton of people who are under 5'6" and cannot comfortably reach the overhead poles.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

If only BART can be like this everyday

My BART experience today was incredible. I missed my usual train but 1 minute later, an near empty train arrives with clean new floors and clean plastic seats! No one was waiting on the platform since the previous train had just departed. I walked in, sat down across 2 seats (since it was empty!) and even stretched out my legs!

The train operator was loud and clear, the train even made up time and arrived right on time as if I didn't miss a previous train, and the train never got crowded.

It was the best BART experience I've ever had! Now I know this probably won't happen again but it was nice to walk right in to an arriving train, have plenty of empty and clean seats to pick from, have enough room around me to relax and extend my legs, hear a TO who can speak clearly, and have the train arrive right on time!

Was I dreaming? (No, but it sure seemed like one)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Question of the week: When will EZ Rider Card take Commuter Checks?

This is my question, and actually, I should have remembered to add this on to the "BART Wish List".

I am lucky enough to receive monthly commuter checks from my employer. Why does EZ Rider Card only accept credit card information right now? I'd also like to take advantage of new technology and efficiency. When will BART accept commuter checks for EZ Rider Cards?

Improved cellphone coverage added in some SF stations

I found this to be good news. Rachel Gordon of SF Chronicle reported that BART is improving cell phone coverage at Balboa Park, Glen Park, 16th, and 24th stations. For me, having reliable cellphone reception at Balboa Park is crucial since it is a SFO to Pittsburg/BayPoint connecting point for me and the place for me to arrange pick-up back at Orinda station based on train times.

Good move! Now, if only we can get Wi-Fi so I can stay fully connected with work while on BART (Blackberry is no help when you're under a presentation deadline). But if that happened, I'll probably have nothing to write about on BARTMusings since I won't even raise my head to look around me anymore for the weird, funny, or annoying. That's not good.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What a model BART passenger!

With the rain and delays today, it was very pleasant to see someone so considerate and courteous on BART, not to me (I was just observing from afar) but to others around him. He looked like he was in his 50s. He was sitting down but immediately got up to give his seat (not a handicapped seat) to a slightly older woman who was very happy and gracious to be seated. Then, as he was standing, he noticed that another woman was struggling to reach up to the safety pole due to her height. He immediately offered to trade spaces with her so she is able to comfortably hold on to one of those handles attached to the seats.

If you're this man and are reading this, I just have to say wow, there are very very few people left in this world (well, at least the BART world) who are as considerate as you! Thank you!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

My book is your book

BART was unbelievably smooth this morning...on time and I got a seat after just one stop! I popped open my reading material, the February Consumer Reports issue, and started digging into the reviews for exercise machines. The issue extensively covered all sorts of machines from treadmills, ab toners, body toners, ellipticals..etc.

As I was reading, I noticed a head creeping behind me...I guess I felt the breathing. I slightly looked at the window to check out the reflection....and not surprisingly, I see a man stretching out his neck to position himself to read my magazine with me! His head was about 3 inches from mine, in fact, he ended up leaning on my back cushion. He was certainly not shy about making my making reading material his!!

Since I didn't smell any bad breath from the proximity of his face, I decided to not turn around and make a stink about it (actually, if I had turned around, I might accidently give him a peck on the lips...that's how close he was)...but that doesn't mean I can't play a mean little game. I started flipping around pages, from front to back, I looked at the cover, turned it around, then pretended to read the index pages (very tiny text which he could not read). Finally, I saw in the reflection that he gave up and leaned back on his seat.

I guess I was being mean but I personally wouldn't do that and invade someone's space. I didn't care that he was reading my material but he was way too close....if he was standing and reading down, FINE! Resting his head on my seat cushion was too much.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Last minute parking job

I am worried right now...why?? Because I had one minute to catch my train from the parking lot and I made the (poor) decision of not readjusting my car a bit better in order to dash for the train. I'm worried that I will come back to my car and see a dent or worse. It is a poor decision because 1) my car is currently positioned in a way where the car in back of me (not next to me, this is a parallel situation) might need to turn his/her steering wheel a few times to get out but there is room (I think), and 2) while I made it onto the train, the ride itself took 15 minutes longer than usual due to constant stop and go so I missed my shuttle and was very late to work anyways. So I probably should have just missed this train, readjust my car, and catch the next one. URGH...poor decision.

I'm planning to leave work early today for the sole purpose of getting my car out of there before the owner of the car in back of me gets there. I don't want to see a dent or any type of mark on my car even though it is my fault for parking my car so close to the other car. I'll let you know what happens.

UPDATE: I made a point to leave work early and returned to the Orinda station way before commute rush hours. I was able to get my car out of there and leave plenty of room for the Volvo to get out. I took a closer look as I got there and realized that there was enough room for the Volvo after all, even if I hadn't arrived before the driver. yes, I was a bit close but the Volvo wasn't locked in. But knowing the impatient world we live in these days, any inconvenience could easily tick people off. I've heard nightmare stories about parked vehicles getting keyed. I was prepared for it, but luckily, the Volvo driver had no clue who was parked in front of him/her.

Friday, January 04, 2008

How was BART today?

Seeing the crazy winds, pouring rain, and widespread power outages, I decided to stay put and work from home. The creek in Orinda is the highest I've seen in awhile, in fact, it looks more like a roaring river than a peaceful creek. The tall trees are being blown so hard that they are awkwardly bending at an angle far too wide for their own good....I hope they don't snap off! I also just heard that our office building in SF shutdown today due to power outage. I guess I made the right decision.

BART is delayed as well, as expected on a day like this. Did anyone brave BART or any public transportation today?

Stay safe, everyone!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Do the right thing or just mind my own business?

An interesting situation happened today. All the seats were taken in the train and in comes an elderly lady at West Oakland. She was standing precariously and carried with her 3 different bags as she tried to grasp on to the safety pole. You can tell she wanted to sit down. I was standing near her. The 4 handicapped seats around her were all occupied: 3 by gray-haired riders (noticed how I didn't quite say senior citizens) and 1 young man.

I felt bad for the elderly woman as the train started moving at a faster pace. She was struggling to keep her balance, especially with her multiple bags. I typically always give up my seat, if I have one, to someone who looks like they need it more, but only about 75% of the time would I actually ask someone else to give up their seats to someone more entitled. Today, I felt like I should say I asked the young man if he wouldn't mind letting the elderly woman sit down.

I said: "Hi, would it be alright if you let this lady here sit in your seat?"
He said: "You talking to me?"
I said: "Yes, I think she could use a seat. Thank you."
Elderly woman said: "Oh thank you."
He said: "Uh, I have a fractured toe, my doctor told me to stay seated as often as possible."
I said: "Oh, OK, I see."
Elderly woman looked at me and said, "It's OK," and shrugged.

It was awkward. I didn't know if I should believe him or not....there's no reason not to I guess. Meanwhile, the 3 gray-haired non senior citizens in the handicapped seats pretended they didn't hear the conversation. I couldn't quite ask them to get up since with their gray hair, they *could* be entitled to the seats although they really should have known better because it was obvious the elderly woman was older than them by at least a decade!

Should I have just minded my own business? I don't think so. Who knew the young man was going to come back with a fractured toe reason? Sure....West Oakland is only about 5-6 minutes from Embarcadero where she would get a seat for sure, but seeing the way she was struggling to balance herself, I didn't think she could last even 2 minutes. Well, she heavily swayed her way through the Transbay Tube and made it to Embarcadero where she finally sat down.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy new year and back to the grind!

Thank goodness that many people still have not yet returned from their holidays because parking and BART today was extremely smooth and stress-free. In addition to finding a great space immediately, BART was on time, and there were even a couple seats left. Furthermore, everyone seemed to be in a fairly good mood; wearing new clothes they bought or received for the holidays, carrying new purses, wearing new ties or shoes, and feeling well rested.

I still have a recovering case of post-holiday depression but overall, I am ready to tackle the new year.

Happy 2008, everyone. Here's to a smooth year of BART commuting.