Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Impressively on time

On a more positive note, trains between Pittsburg/Baypoint and SFO/Daly City have been impressively on time this week so far, at least for me! One train this morning even came 30-45 second earlier! It's been great. Keep it up, BART.

More from the $5 homeless man

Last week I wrote about a homeless man who asked me for..not change, not $1, but $5, and then got mad that it's impossible for him to make a living out there.

I saw him today, and again, asking for $5. He said, "Anyone got $5 to spare, I need to get some food."

Get some food? With $5?? Come on now! Cost of living around Civic Center Station is not that high. It is lined with 99 cent food options, ultra cheap donut and coffee shops. Even Starbucks has breakfast pastries for $1.35. Not even my lunch costs $5 since I prefer to have a large bowl of soup w/ bread these days instead of full entrees.

I'm sure he has plenty of reasons for asking for $5 instead whatever he can get (hopefully not alcohol and drugs)....but this is just a bit much. This brings me back to the shocking revelation I experienced 2 years ago from volunteering at SF Homeless Connect Day. There I was, trying to do my part to help the homeless, but guess where 99.9% of them immediately headed to as I tried to introduce them to the wide scope of services available from jobs, job training, detox, health services, and a bunch of freebies including games, portable radio, magazines, watches, food and clothes. Where did they want to go? Not jobs, not training, not detox or health but straight to the freebies. Sure, food and clothing are critical items but those are packaged up for them to all take with's not going anywhere. They won't even spend a few seconds to learn more about how to get themselves out of that mess. So much for ending homelessness.

**Apparently I need to clarify here since a reader accused me of being unreasonable. The food and clothing packages are made available to all homeless people at the end of their visits. They're not even remotely interested in spending 2 secs to pick up a flyer on training or detox and immediately demands to go directly to the exit...where the freebies are. Look, I'm not unsympathetic, in fact, I'm anything but. I've volunteered, I've donated, I've helped those with kids and pets especially...but cut me a bit of slack when I'm only sharing a slice of reality here from MY personal experience working at homeless events.***

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

When bikers ride BART in groups

I do see both sides to this bike dilemma: BART is sometimes not the most bike-friendly service, yet at the same time, how can BART fit all these bikes during peak hours. With gas prices still on this ridiculous rise, the problem will only get worse as more commuters turn to cheaper alternatives. Today, I rode the the train towards the end of peak hours where bikes were allowed onboard. I was just tired and have a long day at work decided to take an extra 15 minutes at home in the morning to finish up my morning smoothie.

Typically, whenever I have the luxury of taking this slightly later train, I do see 2 or 3 bikes per car, and they don't really get in the way. However, today, there were 7 FULL-sized bikes in my car and boy, did it get crowded!!

The riders looked like college students and their bikes immediate blocked both doors and the aisles. They insisted on being in the same car, but I looked in the car in front and in back...both had a few bikers in them so it didn't make sense for me to ask a few of them to move cars since it would just crowd another car.

I felt like I was inside a bike garage. I was seated but every few minutes, a bike wheel rolled over my feet, or a bike handle bar jammed in my face. A few other passengers actually moved cars because our car just became a crammed-up bike garage. I was too tired and cemented in my seat that I decided to observe all the way so I have some material for the blog.

The bikers were definitely biking rookies as they didn't even move their bikes to let people out at Embarcadero and Montgomery. Passengers were not happy, as they tiptoed around the bikes just to get out. At Civic Center, it was practically just me and the bikes, and one of the bikers straight stepped on me as she was trying to maneuver her way to an empty seat. That just about did it for me...before I walked out of the train, I said to them politely but instructionally, "You guys should have split into two groups or something so you don't block the train doors. And generally, there is an bike etiquette, you're supposed to stay out of the way to let people in and out of the trains. Is this your first time?"

Their reply was "Yes, this is our first time taking BART. We'll be doing this all summer. They'll be more of us riding bikes to classes together."

They're innocent and learning...I couldn't say much more but, "Good for you. Way to be green."

Bike ridership on BART will only increase with these outrageous gas prices and now with summer vacations! I guess the rest of us will just have to put up with bike-packed train rides.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Interesting" conversation with a homeless man

As you know, there is quite a homeless population around the Civic Center Station. I've had memorable experiences with them in the past decade, from making weekly donations in the beginning to the same man until I realized I'm not helping him, to having a homeless man point a toy gun to my head, to witnessing public urination in broad daylight.

Today was interesting...even enlightening, in a weird way. I was walking out of Starbucks with a cup of coffee, looking for my shuttle, when a homeless man (HM) yells to me:

HM: Hey you, got five dollars to spare?
Me: No, sorry I don't.
HM: **ck you then. Look at you and your fancy caffe latte. You don't have five **ck** dollars for me. **ck you. (He was looking straight at me, and about less than 3 feet away)
Me: I honestly don't. Sorry.
HM: Sorry my ass. **ck you. Can't I make a decent living around here??

I quickly walked away and into my shuttle for safety. I was a bit shocked by his last statement. "Decent living"? That's what he calls panhandling and harassing passerbys who don't have money to give? And what's with asking for FIVE dollars? What happened to "any change?" I guess inflation affects them too.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Once upon a time....BART lucky days happen!

What a difference temperature makes. Today, as you all know, was much cooler, both in the morning and evening. By luck and whatever else, the morning train was right on time, and had a seat left for me! Wow...I felt so happy and grateful since I felt so tired today. This hasn't happened to me in quite some time! The way home, same thing. Though off schedule by a few minutes, the moment I descended down to the platform from the escalators, the Pittsburg/Baypoint awaited my arrival. The train was cool, clean (yes, clean! don't know why!) and had plenty of seats left for my picking.

Today's BART experience was so pleasant that it's hard to believe. After a tough and uncomfortable week last week, this was a welcomed change. Yeah, year, of course I know my luck won't continue on forever (tomorrow will probably be horrendous just because I posted this), but one good day like this sure picks up my BART-rider spirit!

Wish all of you will also have such a comfortable and lucky day with BART this week!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The test of heat tolerance

I'm not sure if BART is cutting back on electricity or what but the past couple of days, every train I've been on have NOT had the AC on. In the mornings, the trains have been warm, but since it's only about 70 degrees outside, the car temperature is definitely tolerable.

The afternoon/evening rides are quite the opposite, however. With the Bay Area heat wave and temperatures way above 90s and in the East Bay, 100+, BART trains with no AC are hell, to be blunt.

There have been delays in the afternoons due to shortage of trains from overheating (heard from KTVU 10pm News), and add that to peak commute hours where there are already long lines waiting at each downtown station, the trains were very hot, full of odors, beyond standing room maximum capacity, and wet with sweat.

Let me describe that in more detail for you. The moment you walked into the train, you can't breath. It is so hot and so stuffy that you need to fan yourself just to generate some air to suck in. Everyone is sweating, some more than others. I was sweating around my forehead but nowhere else, while others were soaking wet all over, some were only wet on the face and armpits, and a few lucky ones didn't sweat at all but were fanning profusely. Handlebars and overhead safety poles were also lined with sweat from being held on to by overheated passengers.

I believe it must have been at least 90 degrees inside these trains. No air coming in from ANYWHERE and to make matters worse, the train was traveling much slower than usual, with plenty of stop and go's. It was a long miserable ride.

One standing man in a suit, dress shirt and tie was so hot that his sweat was dripping from his face onto the floor, like a leaky faucet. A few drops fell on the toes of the woman sitting next to me.

I was lucky enough to be seated. I used a magazine to fan myself during the entire ride, so were most of the people around me. You absolutely needed to.

Some people who couldn't stand the heat and overcrowding had to exit the train early. Although their exit didn't loosen up any spaces since a new line of passengers awaited the train at each stop. It was awful.

Needless to say, you can smell body odors everywhere but in that condition, there were worse things to think about. I pretty much focused on getting myself through the ride by fanning an counting down the stations.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A sight that left me speechless

I've seen this once before but something about it this time shocked me and left me speechless. What did I see? A huge mass of human feces just sitting mid-staircase off 7th/Market off Civic Center Station. I've seen human feces near there before but never this large, this evident, and this exposed! I see and smell urine in the area almost daily but this mass was just a shocker.

I hope it's gone by the time I use those stairs later today. If not, I don't even want to imagine the swarm of flies and whatever else that are living off the pile.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A closer look at "demo" cars

We've all seen the demo cars. They are indeed much better than the original. I like the plastic floors, fewer seats, full-length handle bars, and overall, I just like having more standing room altogether. With the recent ridership surge however, I took a much closer look today at the demo car I was in to see if it truly will make a big impact.

A few things I noticed that needs to be addressed:

1) Why are the overhead bars still so high? And if they must remain high, why only 6 hanging straps for those who are under 5'5" or 5'6" to comfortably hold on to? I am around that range and unless I'm wearing high heels (which seems to be rarer these days), I cannot comfortably hold on to the overhead bar. Yes I can over-stretch to do so but with my big computer bag, it's not the safest or most comfortable position.

We need more full length bars that run from ground to ceiling. Those are thin and don't take up much room!

2) Why are the cloth seats still around? This demo car was new but already, I saw white and yellow stains spread around the "new" seats!

3) In my opinion, still way too many seats. BART seats take up a lot of room. Why not just a single row of bench seating parallel to the windows? Or just much fewer seats all around? Like Muni trains? Keep a couple seats by the door for handicapped and maybe a couple others where it makes sense but that's all we need. In Asia, Europe, and other places I've travelled to, that's the way to do it when mass transit is THAT widely used! It's about standing room, not seating comfortably in cushioned seats. BART is past that now. With gas prices soaring and most of the Bay Area population being so green-conscious, BART needs to serve its purpose well.

Max capacity standing room only trains sometime get so crowded that you are practically attached full body to the person in front and in back of you. Something needs to be done.

Other thoughts on this?

Monday, May 12, 2008 - verdict?

I'm really glad that it's now easy to check real-time train arrivals/delays on our wireless phone now. I was at a doctor's appointment this morning, and with the long wait, I had no idea what time trains come during post-commute hours. I decided it was a good time to put to the test! The result? Unexpected...and bizarre.

Immediately it showed me 5 minutes, 10 minutes, as the estimated arrival time for the next SF bound trains from Orinda. Wow...I thought, this is cool! So I thought I had 10 minutes to comfortably get myself over to the station, park my car and walk up to the platform.

However, as I arrived, I saw the previous train (5 minutes before the one I wanted to take) arrive. I didn't rush, thinking I still have 5 minutes to get up there.

Well!!! I was wrong! I walked up and saw on the schedule that the next SF-bound train is 20 minutes away!

How did that happen?? Where did my intended train go? The real-time schedule said it would arrive in 5 minutes so why the 20 minute wait?

Needless to say, it didn't come in 5 minutes and I decided not to wait the full 20 minutes. I left the station (after paying the minimal fee to get through the turnstiles) and had to drive to work. After a certain hour, I do not have a connecting shuttle to take to work, and finding a taxi is a difficult task in that area for some reason.

Verdict- good concept but could probably use some fine tuning!!! What did happen today?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Update to "late and crowded train" post

You probably read this already on SF Chronicle Thursday but I'm glad BART is thinking about making the trains more commuter-friendly. In addition to fewer seats on the trains, they need to put in more safety bars, not just up on top by vertically from the ground up so kids, or height-challenged adults can ride safely as well. Please do this fast, BART! Make the peak hour rides slightly more comfortable, please!

What do you do when you see a very pregnant woman on BART?

I've written about this before and have gotten all types of comments back. Recently, I've had several friends who are expecting and our conversations have ignited my interest in this topic.

For as long as I can remember, I have always given up my BART seat to someone who is visibly pregnant. When I don't have a seat and they remain standing, I let them stand in my space if it's closer to a safety bar. It's no secret that the extra weight, the fatigue, the limited range of motion, and the slightly slower ability to react can be potentially dangerous for a pregnant woman. Let's say a train suddenly jerks, the rest of us usually find our balance after a quick bending of the knees. For a pregnant woman? If she is not holding on to something, she falls. The fall doesn't just hurt her but could also jeopardize the fetus. We all know that but for one reason or another, many pregnant women remain standing on BART. I'd give up a seat to a visibly pregnant woman before I give it up to elderly person who appears healthy enough to stand.

I know opinions differ on this subject. I recall one man who left a comment expressing his disagreement saying that society already expects him to give up the seat to elderly and handicapped, now pregnant woman too? It's not fair, he says.

There is no BART rule that says you have to give up your seat to a visibly pregnant woman, so no, of course you don't need to.

So what do you do when you see a very pregnant woman on BART? We all know there's some discomfort associated with being me, I think they deserve a seat more than the rest of us.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Another late and overly crowded train

The past 2 weeks, SF-bound trains from Pittsburg/BayPoint have been continuously late (except this Monday) and as a result, jam packed beyond maximum capacity due to the extra long lines collecting at each station with each late minute, and of course, the general overall increase in BART riders due to soaring gas prices.

This morning's train was 10 minutes late. By the time it pulled into Orinda, passengers were already literally packed like sardines. The 2 women in front of me in line chose not to go in, but I had to go to work, and so did the 8 other people waiting in back of me. The line on the platform became nonexistent as soon as people realized that the train is now boarding on a first come first served basis. Even though there appeared to be no more room for additional human bodies, we all know anything is possible...much to the dismay of those already in the train.

I squeezed myself in and found a half square foot of space to stand, right under this tall, elderly man. Because of his height, our physical proximity wasn't too awkward. Sure, our bodies were touching but at least our faces weren't a centimeter apart.

Why not just get on the next train you ask??? I would have if it's within 5 minutes away, but it was TEN MINUTES AWAY still! By the time that train comes around, it'll be another jam packed train!

To make matters worse, there were people with large luggage pieces on the train too. 3 small bodies could have used that space to ride the train!

What is going on? Mechanical problems? Train shortage? Why are commute hour trains arriving late more than on time (I count on time as within 5 minutes delay) these days?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Run! It's a school field trip!

This morning, I was shocked by how crowded the Orinda BART Station entrance was. There were about 200+ high school students hanging out in front of the ticket turnstiles. As soon as I saw them, I ran as fast as I could to get through the turnstiles and up the escalators to secure a spot on the platform.

It's absolute madness! Slowly, the students started coming up to the platforms. There was NO ROOM for them all to stand. Thank goodness the train came before all of them made it up, so they, all 200+ of them, had to wait for the next train. I got onto this one safely, without 200+ extra bodies crowding with me.

It's great they are taking BART for school trips but it is a problem when they are trying to get on during busy commute hours. I can't imagine what the next train looked like!! I mean, the trains are usually already crowded at Orinda, with long lines awaiting at Rockridge and MacArthurs.

Will the teachers divide them up train by train???? I sure hope so. But even with a 10 car train, that's 20+ extra bodies per train. I may be underestimating the total count....but there were A LOT of kids there, at the very least 200.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Kids ride free this Sunday, May 4th (but don't they already walk under?)

I guess Nestle Nesquik is sponsoring this special event where kids can ride free on Sunday, in addition to hanging out with the Nesquick bunny at certain locations. More information can be found here:

Great promotion for BART and Nestle. Fun for the family. But...when I saw this, the first thing that came to my mind was, don't kids already ride free? Not because they are supposed to but more often than not, I see many kids who can bend over under the ticket gate get through that way instead of using a ticket. Most of the time with their parents.

Not everyone does that, I know, but more than 50% of parents I see on BART who have taken kids with them do not pay for them.

At what age is a ticket required? I assume if they are in a stroller, it's ok, but what about 5 or 10 year olds? I've even seen teenagers go through the gates without paying.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Standing with Mr. Etiquette

No seats this morning, as expected, but at least I got to lean against the in-between train doors, which is not bad. Standing immediately in front of me was this man who is super friendly and nice. He was also Mr. Etiquette. Why? Because whenever someone vacated their seat, he was quick to offer it to the passengers standing in front of him instead of taking the empty seat himself. IN FRONT is the key word here....he forgot apparently that I was in BACK of him and kept on letting others sit, even those from far way, and completely blocked me from taking one of the empty seats which was just a couple feet from me.

The first few times it happened, I didn't care much. I thought it was refreshing that he was so nice to others. But then, I got annoyed because in order for him to back up for others to take the seat, he actually stepped on me a few times! He didn't even know!

Finally, I had to say "excuse me" in an attempt to try to take one of the empty seats before he "saves" it for another. But as he finally allowed me to move past him, I was too late, the seat was gone.

Oh well, no big deal really. Leaning against the door isn't a bad thing! It was just funny that this man made a point to let everyone within his sight to take the seats, but either purposely denied me or just a case of out of sight, out of mind.

It's OK to me really. I'm capable of standing.