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Isabel Angell

Isabel Angell appears in the following:

Feds Investigating Alta Bicycle Share Over DC Pay Dispute

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

KALW

After Capital Bikeshare employees complained about unfair wage practices, the Department of Labor opened an investigation into Alta Bicycle Share -- the company operating bike share systems in New York, D.C., and Boston.

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San Francisco Crowdsourcing Bike Share Stations

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

KALW

Bike sharing is coming to San Francisco and Silicon Valley this August. It’s being launched on a small scale at first -- just 750 bikes in the whole system. But the city is turning to the public to help them plan the system's expansion.

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BART Extends Bikes on Board Pilot, Postpones Final Decision

Friday, May 31, 2013

KALW

At a public meeting last week, the BART Board of Directors decided that two five-day pilots weren’t enough to make a permanent decision about whether to allow bikes on trains during peak hours. Instead, they decided to create another pilot -- this one five months long -- review the results, and make a permanent decision in November.

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California's High-Speed Rail Meets Opposition Over Eminent Domain

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Marketplace

In 2008, California voters approved a $10 billion bond for a high-speed rail system that would get travelers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours. The rail will have to travel through California’s agricultural hub -- the Central Valley -- but some local residents are trying to stop the project.

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Bay Area Drivers Face Few Consequences in Pedestrian Deaths

Thursday, May 23, 2013

KALW

Most drivers who kill pedestrians in the Bay Area are never charged -- even when they are found to be at fault, according to analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting. And the drivers who are charged face light punishments at best.

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Should Bikes Ride on BART Trains? Agency Officials Says Yes to Full Access

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

KALW

After several pilot projects testing bike access on Bay Area Rapid Transit trains, BART officials recommended that bicycles be allowed on trains at all hours and in all stations. This would be a big change from the current rules under which riders can’t bring bikes on trains during peak commute hours or into the cramped 12th and 19th Street stations. 

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Bay Bridge Bolt Fix Could Cost $10 Million, Opening Date Still Unclear

Thursday, May 09, 2013

KALW

California officials say they have a plan to stabilize bolts that failed earlier this year on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

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A Fare Decrease? SF Area Bus Company Cancels Price Hike, Considers Lower Fares

Monday, April 29, 2013

KALW

Typically transit agencies raise prices as time goes by, not lower them. But AC Transit, the bus system that services Alameda and Contra Costa County in the East Bay Area, has canceled its fare increase scheduled for July. And it might even get cheaper to ride the bus. 

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Bids to Build SF Central Subway are $100 Million Over City's Estimates

Thursday, April 25, 2013

KALW

The bids are in to build San Francisco’s Central Subway project – and the price tag will be over $100 million more than the city expected.

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Recovering Stolen Bikes with Social Media and Cycle Vigilantism

Monday, April 22, 2013

KALW

If someone steals your bike, it can feel pretty hopeless, and enraging. That’s because it is. But, angry cyclists are finding a community online that is willing to go to great lengths to help a fellow cyclist. Social media is creating the digital equivalent of the back of the milk carton but for bikes, with a few elaborate success stories. 

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California High-Speed Rail Gets First Contractor

Thursday, April 18, 2013

KALW

The first construction phase for California’s high-speed rail plan to link San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours has a builder. And the bid came in $200 million under expectations. 

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San Francisco Airport Bans Rideshare App Companies from Taxi Line

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Last month, San Francisco International Airport issued cease-and-desist orders to six different app-based rideshare companies like Lyft, SideCar, and UberX.

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Ostriches, Brownies, and Childbirth: Memories of a Golden Gate Bridge Toll Taker

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Last week, the Golden Gate Bridge switched to its new all-electronic tolling system. The change has been smooth, with just a few reports of confused drivers stopping at the toll plaza. For most people, it won’t be a big deal, because over three-quarters of commuters use the electronic payment system Fastrak.

Mary Currie, the spokesperson for the Golden Gate Bridge Transit District, estimates the switch to all-electronic tolling will save the district – which is facing a big deficit– $16 million over the next eight years. “Every government agency is faced with having to downsize, and as service providers in the transit world labor is our biggest expense,” said Currie. “So that is directly relates to the all-electronic tolling project. It’s labor.”

In other words, it’s the toll collectors. Officially called “bridge officers,” they’ve been taking drivers’ money since the bridge opened in 1937. On March 26, 2013, all 28 of them clocked in for the last time. All but eight officers had arranged to retire or switch to another job in the district.

Jacquie Dean was one of those eight bridge officers, and she said goodbye to a career that spanned 18 years on the Golden Gate Bridge. As the country moves to all-electronic tolling, Dean represents a group of people who soon won't be there to have stories to tell. From ostriches to babies to "the best sunsets in the world," Jacquie Dean shared some of her favorite memories of the bridge and her feelings as she moves forward.

Like Dean's memories of the driver who always hands out goodies to the toll takers. "Joyce...makes the best brownies in the world....she is just the nicest lady." And the relationships that develop even in the brief period of time it takes to make the toll transaction. "The kids grow up," she says. " You watch them from the first day of kindergarten -- they bring you little pictures that they've drawn -- graduations from fifth and sixth grade...going into high school."

And then there was the day the ostriches got loose. "I don't know if you know ostriches are quite fast and quite strong," she says. "And our toll man had to go out there and try to wrangle ostriches on the Golden Gate Bridge and it did stop traffic for about 30 minutes."

But Dean didn't get to deliver a baby -- that job fell to one of her colleagues. "And actually on (the baby's) birth certificate it says he was born on the Golden Gate Bridge. There are only two people in the world that were actually born on the Golden Gate Bridge."

Listen to the conversation below.

 

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BART, Unions Begin Contract Negotiations as Agency Emerges from Deficit

Friday, April 05, 2013

BART train (photo by Keoki Seu via Flickr)

Rising ridership and sales tax revenues on San Francisco's BART system mean the agency is no longer operating at a deficit, which has triggered labor negotiations that could give union workers their first raise in four years.

BART contracts for its union workers – who make up almost 90 percent of BART’s over 3,000 employees– are set to expire on June 30th. And that has sent BART and union leaders to the negotiating table. Both sides are hoping to avoid the bitter and contentious fight that happened during the last contract negotiations in the summer of 2009.

But things were different in 2009. Ridership was declining, and the system was facing a $250 million deficit over the next four years. BART went into negotiations with the goal of cutting $100 million in labor costs through reductions in health care and pensions, and changing what they considered “wasteful” work rules, like unnecessary overtime. A last-minute deal that kept wages static, prevented a strike by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, or ATU – the union that represents the system’s approximately 900 station agents and train operators.

That deal did save BART the $100 million it wanted and laid out plans for four of the five unions and non-union employees to get a one percent raise if strict guidelines were met, including increased ridership and sales tax revenues. This week, BART announced the guidelines have been met, so most of their employees will be receiving their first raise in since 2009.

“With record ridership and an aging system, our employees are working hard to provide on-time, reliable service for our riders,” BART General Manager Grace Crunican said in a press release. “The bar was set high for our employees to receive this increase and the predefined standards were met.”

Since 2009, BART has increased its ridership – from 340,000 to over 390,000 in the latest monthly report. And it’s no longer operating on a deficit, but the system does have a $10 billion unfunded capital need for renovation and expansion projects.

“This year’s labor negotiations will be focused on bargaining a fair contract for our hard working employees as well as ensuring the long term financial health and sustainability of our system,” Crunican said.

BART says they’re looking at the same issues as last negotiation: employee health care, pensions, and work rules.

“We must pave the way for BART to continue to be the backbone of Bay Area transportation for decades to come,” Crunican said. “BART is looking to protect its future fiscal stability with measures to more effectively share the risks and costs associated with its employee benefits program.”

Antonette Bryant is the president of ATU Local 1555. She said calling last negotiation contentious was “a gross understatement.” But this time, she said, she wants to have the contract settled June 30th.

“We want them to pay a fair wage for our employees and increase safety and service for the BART patrons,” Bryant said. Meaning, they want a pay raise.

Bryant also said the one percent raise announced this week should not be considered as the transit workers’ only salary increase.

“I want to make it clear that this is not benevolent,” she said. “This is something they have to do. They owe us the money from the previous contract negotiations.”

As negotiations go on, both parties hope to have a deal by June 30th and to prevent the fighting that happened four years ago.

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Poll: Fewer Than Half of Californians Support High-Speed Rail

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A map of the planned high-speed rail system in California (photo by flickr user Richard Masoner)

Back in 2008, California voters approved a $10 billion bond to plan and build a high-speed rail system across the state. Four years later, support for the high-speed rail has waned. Now that the estimated cost is $68 billion, a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that only 43 percent of likely voters support the project.

That number hasn’t changed since the last time the survey was conducted, about a year ago. When asked if they would support a high-speed rail if the cost was lower, support jumps to 55 percent. But the cost has gone down since the last survey, from $100 billion to $68 billion. It’s unclear what number would tip the public back in favor of the system, but they haven’t reached it yet.

At the same time, a majority of Californians (59 percent) think a high-speed rail system is important to the state “quality of life and economic vitality.”

Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has continued to win or settle its legal battles with cities across California. The Authority plans to move forward with construction this summer. The state must spend its $2.35 billion of federal funding on the project before 2017.

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Devil's Slide Tunnels Open After a Long Fight

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Devil's Slide Tunnels under construction in 2009 (photo by flickr user Mars Hall)

The new tunnels at Devil’s Slide on the northern California coast are finally open to drivers. This marks the first time cars have driven through a brand-new California highway tunnel in almost 50 years. The Devil’s Slide tunnels, officially named the Tom Lantos Tunnels, have been under construction since 2007 but have been a source of controversy since the 1970s.

When Highway 1 was built along the California Coast in the 1930s, it included a 1.2 mile stretch of road on an extremely unstable piece of hillside between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay called Devil’s Slide. During especially rainy winters, the ground would give way, causing the road to break and forcing drivers into a 45 mile detour. In 1995, the road was closed for 158 days.

Since the 1960s, California’s Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, had been looking for an alternative route. Caltrans proposed a highway bypass that would cut through the coastal hills. Locals and environmental activists were vehemently against the bypass, which would have been a larger freeway and split Montara State Park. The groups successfully used the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Coastal Act to postpone construction of the bypass through the 1970s and 80s. At the same time, the groups fought for a tunnel as the solution to the Devil’s Slide.

Caltrans had originally said that a tunnel would be too costly, but an independent study in 1996 showed that the tunnel was “reasonable and feasible.” In November of 1996, 74 percent of the voters of San Mateo County approved an initiative that stated a tunnel was the only permissible repair alternative to Devil’s Slide.

Construction began in 2007. The tunnels are over three-quarters of a mile long, with a total of 32 ventilation fans. The project’s cost of $439 million was fully funded with Federal Emergency Relief money, secured by U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, the tunnel’s namesake.

In a press release, Brian Kelly, the acting secretary of California’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, praised Caltrans and the other groups that worked to make the tunnels a reality.

“Ingenuity, will, and perseverance combined to get this project done. The new tunnels are state of the art structures that blend well into the beautiful, natural surroundings on this stretch of Highway 1,” he said. “Thanks to the work of the men and women who dedicated themselves to completing this project, motorists and emergency responders will have a safer journey from this day forward.”

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Bike Sharing is Coming to San Francisco and Silicon Valley

Monday, March 25, 2013

A D.C. bike share station (photo by flickr user James D. Schwartz)

Bike share is rolling into the Bay Area this summer.

In August, Alta Bicycle Share will launch 700 bikes at 70 stations. Half the bikes will be in San Francisco; the rest will be distributed throughout Palo Alto, San Jose, Redwood City, and Mountain View. The project is being led by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (known as the Air District), along with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and other local transit agencies.

Related: Your Bike Goes Here: BART Welcoming Bikes on Trains All Week

Aaron Richardson, a spokesperson for the Air District, said Bay Area residents should expect to see the number of bikes increase quickly.

“We will be growing, this is the initial amount in the pilot,” he said. “We’re actively searching for more funding and sponsorships.” The pilot will cost $7 million. The Air District's website calls for an additional 250 bikes to roll out in the months following the program's launch.

Alta Bicycle Share already runs Boston’s Hubway, Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare, and other programs in Chattanooga and Melbourne, Australia. The company also has the contract for New York's incipient program. Both Hubway and Capital Bikeshare have proven popular, with Capital Bikeshare logging over three million rides since it was launched in 2010.

Related: The Secret Routes of Silicon Valley Company Shuttles

Kristin Smith is the communications director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which has been a big supporter of the the project. She said the Coalition was hoping for more bikes to jumpstart the program. She noted that Washington DC started a bike share program with moderate success in 2008, but when the city joined forces with Arlington County, VA in 2010 and dramatically increased the size of its fleet, Capital Bikeshare really took off.

“That’s a thing to think about,” she said, “not starting too small.” But “we are very excited about bike share. It works all over the world, and it will work in San Francisco.”

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Your Bike Goes Here: BART Welcoming Bikes on Trains All Week

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A commuter with his bike on BART (photo by Isabel Angell)

Usually, bikes aren’t allowed on San Francisco-bound BART trains during peak morning commute hours, or back to the East Bay in the evening. And they’re not allowed in the 19th Street or 12th Street stations during commute hours at all. But this week, BART has opened up all hours and stations to bikers. It’s a trial period, and to make it work, BART officials and cycling groups are urging to riders follow the rules: no bikes on the first three cars during peak hours, and no bikes on crowded trains.  The transit agency has also produced an explanatory video about the pilot program.

Robert Raburn is on the BART board of directors, where he represents parts of Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda. I ran into Raburn as he was wheeling his own bike around the station, making sure everything was going smoothly. He said he was excited to see how things go this week– but that people have to be patient.

“The reality is that in many cases we’re not going be able to open the floodgates and allow hundreds more bikes on any one train," he said. "That won’t work. We’re asking all bicyclists to use common sense and courtesy.”

At least this morning, the common-sense approach seemed to be working. In the hours I rode the train –- from 7:00 to 8:30 -– I didn’t see anyone shoving their bikes onto a packed car.

It seemed like what hadn’t been working was the ban. I talked with John Dillon at the 19th Street station– a station that usually doesn’t allow bikes during peak hours.

“Usually I ride my bike to a station that’s about two (stops) further away and then illegally put it on a train I’m not allowed to ride and try to keep it out of people’s way. But I have to get to work,” he explained.

When I talked to him, Dillon had just let a crowded train pass by. He said he always waits for a car with more room -- even if it means missing two or three trains.

Keith McKinnon takes BART from El Cerrito Plaza to Embarcadero every day. He said he regularly sees bikes on trains they’re not supposed to be on, but it doesn’t bother him. When I asked him if bikes ever make the train too crowded, he shook his head.

“No, the bicyclers usually stay out of people’s way,” he said. “They’re usually off on the side. So no."

Of course, not everyone flaunts the ban– I talked to plenty of people who were excited to finally board with their bikes. Ronnie Haning said that’s why he took BART today.

“I like riding my bike on the weekends,” he said. “Why not, you know, commute for a week?”

BART’s already updating cars to make more space for bikes. The fleet will be fully modified by June. After this week, BART officials will meet with community members, and survey commuters to decide whether they want to get rid of the bike ban for good.

 

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Private Contractors May Not Be the Answer to Public Transportation Cuts

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fairfield Transportation Center (photo from Fairfield and Suisun Transportation's website)

(The Bay Area -- KALW) As cities across the country face steep budget cuts, many local governments are looking at their transportation departments and wondering if someone else could do the same job for less money.

That’s exactly what Fairfield, California thought. The small city (about 100,000 residents) contracted MV Transportation to run the bus system for the Fairfield and Suisun Transit organization, or FAST, hoping the company would bring a regular bus service to its suburban population.

But the reality was less than perfect, and it could serve as a cautionary tale to cities considering a private company for their public transit.

Zusha Ellison, a reporter for the Bay Citizen, uncovered a whole mess of problems with MV Transportation, from chronically late buses to city council members forgiving some of the $164,000 in fines that the company had racked up.

Ellison talked to George Fink, the former head of FAST, who spent his time trying to reign in MV Transportation. But the transit company was well-connected in the local government, which made it difficult for FAST to police the company. Fink remembers getting calls from his boss after criticizing MV Transportation, telling him to back off.

There have been other cases where private operators have taken over public bus systems with mixed results. When Nassau County, New York shifted it's bus system to a private operator, service was reduced on 60 percent of the routes in an effort to limit losses*. North of New York City, a Poconos bus operator filled a gap when transit cuts reduced public bus service, but the fleet used was shabbier and drew regulatory scrutiny. And a private eco-friendly operator in Detroit launched with some fanfare last year, only to shift business models for lack of customer demand.

The Farfield California is one example--a stark and cautionary example--of what can happen when local transit is turned over to private ownership, according to the Bay Citizen report.

 

* Ruth Ott of Veolio Transportation, the company that runs NICE Bus, wrote to contest our assessment of service cuts that we first reported the cuts a year ago. She writes:

We have improved both service quality and operational performance ... Customer satisfaction and customer perception of punctuality, vehicle reliability, bus cleanliness, quality of passenger information, operator courtesy have all increased significantly, by 50% to 60%, as measured by independent market research surveys.

We have made the best use of the available budget for transit service.  The available dollars in 2012 were actually $35 million less than the $156 million that had been estimated by the MTA [ed note: the previous operator].

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Anti-Islam Ads Return to Muni

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A controversial Muni ad from last year's campaign by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (photo from flickr user Steve Rhodes)

(San Francisco - KALW) Many San Franciscans were shocked by anti-Islam advertisements that appeared on ten Muni buses Monday. The ads show inflammatory quotes by Islamic fundamentalists accompanied by a picture of the speaker, an anonymous terrorist, and in one case, a victim. One shows a picture of Osama Bin Laden next to the quote: “The first thing that we are calling you is to Islam,” alongside an image of the burning World Trade Center.

This isn’t the first time San Francisco has dealt with controversial ads from the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a controversial anti-Muslim group led by Pamela Geller. Last August, Muni buses featured ads calling Palestinians “savages” and urging people to support Israel; the ads sparked outrage. In response, Muni launched a self-funded campaign alongside the AFDI ads saying the transit agency did not support discrimination.

The disclaimers the SFMTA ran in response (photo by Steve Rhodes via flickr)

AFDI ads have also appeared in the New York City subway system and on DC's Metro.

San Francisco officials are once again roundly denouncing the ads.

In a press conference held on Monday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee made it clear he does not support the ads.

“Hate has no place in our city,” he said. “San Francisco is a city that celebrates its diversity and hateful speech and discrimination against our Arab and Muslim communities will never be tolerated."

San Francisco Board of Supervisors president David Chiu echoed that sentiment. "As a former civil rights attorney, I'm proud to stand with our Arab and Muslim American families to send a united message that San Francisco embraces diversity and tolerance, not hate and bigotry," he told the crowd.

Chiu said he planned to introduce a resolution formally condemning the ads as racist and Islamophobic at the Board’s next meeting.

Muni believes it must accept the advertising from the AFDI based on a federal court decision in New York last year. In that case, a district judge ruled that New York City’s transportation agency couldn’t discriminate against advertisements that could be considered offensive– especially if they were political in nature.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency –which oversees Muni– has announced it will donate all $5,000 of the revenues from the ads to the Human Rights Commission to study discrimination against Muslims and Arabs in San Francisco.

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