Casey Miner

Casey Miner appears in the following:

BART Directors: Maybe We Don't Need a Cell Shutdown Policy

Friday, September 23, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) After asking its newly-appointed Citizen Review Board to consider guidelines for a cell-phone shutdown policy, the BART board of directors yesterday raised the possibility that such a policy might not be needed after all.

"I think we can slow down a bit at this point," said director Joel Keller. "Let's make sure this is properly vetted."

BART has been under scrutiny since it shut off in-station cell phone service to thwart a planned protest last month (and has, somewhat ironically, dealt with near-weekly protests since). Responding to public outcry, the board asked its civilian reviewers to develop potential guidelines for taking such actions in the future.

At yesterday's meeting, review board chair George Perezvelez reported some of their ideas, including one requirement that service could only be shut off in the case of an extreme threat to public safety, and another that three of four agency authorities – the BART police chief, the agency general manager, the board president, and legal counsel – agree that such a step is warranted.

Still, said Perezvelez, the review board's suggestions are right now just that. "It is ultimately your responsibility to make this decision," he told the board.

After the meeting, board president Bob Franklin said he was surprised at his colleagues' suggestion that clear guidelines might not be necessary. "I definitely think we need something," he said.

Board member Lynette Sweet said her priority was seeking public input. But alerting the public to the review board's work is slow going: they do not yet have a real web presence, and meetings only recently began to receive their own billing on the BART website – they were initially simply called "special committee".

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Trouble Finding A Parking Space In San Francisco? There's An App For That -- And It's Changing Parking Meter Prices

Thursday, September 01, 2011

SFpark manager Jay Primus. (Photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

(San Francisco – KALW) The city of San Francisco is making its first round of changes to parking meter costs based on data gathered from its street sensors around town. The idea is for meter and garage rates to be based on demand – so popular blocks will cost more, less crowded ones will be cheaper, and everyone will spend a little less time circling the block. How's it working?

According to Jay Primus, the manager of the program, "it’s a little bit like the Goldilocks principle. We don’t want it too hot, we don’t want it too cold – we want it just right. In this case, prices not too high or too low, but just right for the demand we see."

You can hear the whole story over at KALW.


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BART Protests Round Three: Fewer Disruptions, Clearer Message, But Still No Turning Point

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Police block fare gates at Embarcadero station (photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

(San Francisco – KALW) Last night's protests against BART police, now in their third week, caused far less disruption than the previous two demonstrations. In its place was what one might call dialogue – at least in isolated pockets.

As promised, a small groups of demonstrators took up posts outside Civic Center station just before 5pm, some wearing their signature Guy Fawkes masks, others kneeling on the ground writing signs with Sharpies.

By 5:30 the demonstration had become a march down Market Street towards the other downtown BART stations. Meanwhile, at Civic Center, several demonstrators lingered to debate with counterprotesters supporting BART police.

Counterdemonstrator Geoff Hodgins (photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

One, Geoff Hodgins, held a sign that read: "Don't want to be shot? Don't attack police with a deadly weapon!" He said he'd thrown a sign together at the last minute and would debate people until it fell apart. Another, Kurt Wagner, said he was a former member of the military and challenged a demonstrator on whether she had "ever had to wear a uniform." He said he respected the BART police's need to make quick decisions. The demonstrator, Rupa Marya, was Charles Hill's doctor at San Francisco General Hospital. "I wear a different kind of uniform," she told Wagner. "I'm on the other end of those guns."

Throughout the evening, demonstrators for the most part kept the focus on the issue of police brutality – the protests' original premise. Prior to the demonstration, organizers with Anonymous had issued a statement telling their members to stay on message, in no uncertain terms. "Stay put, stop randomly marching around, and pick a target," was the headline of one section. Another read: "Ideological inconsistency will ultimately do more harm than good, even if the conflicting voices are individually beneficial. To sway people to our cause we must win in the court of public opinion, and to conduct ourselves in such an erratic manner does little in this regard."

The statement was an acknowledgment that even a big and decentralized group -- as Anonymous prides itself on being -- cannot necessarily succeed without leadership. Demonstrator Ryan Bell said he didn't see that as a bad thing. "When someone gets a hold of a megaphone and starts going off about the Federal Reserve and the Illuminati, well – that's not what today's protest is about." Bell said he wanted to see more accountability from BART police, and for them to be stripped of their guns. "They can't be trusted with them," he said.

As the demonstration continued, long rows of armed police flanked demonstrators up and down Market Street and into and out of downtown BART stations, which remained open to commuters. Both police and demonstrators made their most dramatic showing at Embarcadero station around 6:15PM -- a yelling match and short scuffle that resulted in the night's only two arrests.

A demonstrator is arrested for trespassing (photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

The protest was winding down by 7 and ended by 8, a development which, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, permitted "a massive police and media contingent to disperse as well."

Until next Monday, that is.


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BART Board Divided on Cell Phone Shutdown

Thursday, August 25, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) In the wake of multiple protests that have interrupted train service and forced station closures, the Bay Area Rapid Transit's board of directors met Wednesday to discuss when, if at all, the agency should disable cell phone service on its platforms.

A video of the meeting can be viewed here.

BART cut service earlier this month in what it said was an attempt to head off the planning of a "lawless" protest of July's BART police shooting. Though officials have stood by their decision, the agency has not repeated the tactic since.

The service shutdown caught the attention of groups ranging from the FCC, which is still looking into the matter, to the ACLU, which has sent several letters to BART offering policy recommendations. ACLU of Northern California attorney Michael Risher, who was present at the meeting, recommended that BART adopt a policy allowing cell shutdowns only in extreme circumstances, such as the imminent detonation of a bomb. Under the Constitution, he said, BART platforms are considered a designated public forum, and as a government agency, BART must abide by that definition.

"If individuals go beyond what is permitted by our laws and protected by the constitution [sic] they may be held responsible for their actions; but BART cannot properly prevent protesters or other cell-phone users from speaking with one another on the telephone in the first place," said Risher in his letter.

"We all know you have to allow demonstrations in parks, and you can’t just shut the gates to the park because you don’t like who shows up there," he added at the meeting. "Whether or not the government has a duty to build parks in the first place? I think that’s what’s going on with the cell phone network here."

Several members of the public, including both protesters and regular BART customers, criticized what they characterized as a reactionary and disproportionately forceful response to this month's demonstrations. And even directors who supported the cell shutdown – and BART's right to take such an action again  – seemed hesitant to endorse the tactic wholeheartedly.

"Free speech means a lot to me," said director Gail Murray, adding several times that she was worried BART might be on a "slippery slope." But, she said, "it's not just a fantasy world anymore, it's a post-9/11 world." Murray suggested placing signs outside BART's fare gates designating those spaces as "free speech areas."

Director Lynette Sweet, who has sharply criticized both the shutdown and the agency's subsequent actions, was less equivocal. "Instead of fixing the situation, we have escalated it to the point of, we don’t know how we’re ever going to get rid of the protesters, because they’re protesting for the right reason," she said. "We’re not talking to folks the right way, and we’ve got to fix that."

Sweet also confirmed that neither BART's current legal counsel nor the FCC was consulted before the cell shutdown; interim General Manager Sherwood Wakeman said he approved the move based on his own legal training.

The board did not vote on the issue, but instead directed staff to begin crafting a policy that might incorporate the legal feedback they've received since the initial action. Board president Bob Franklin said he thought all directors could agree that in the future the tactic should be used only in extreme situations, though it was not yet clear what those situations would be. Several directors requested the involvement of the newly-appointed police review board in drafting the policy.

In the meantime, some members of the hacker group Anonymous continued their cyberattacks on BART, tweeting links to nude photographs supposedly of BART chief spokesman Linton Johnson. BART officials condemned the postings.

Casey Miner will be on KALW at 5pm PST with more on BART and the First Amendment.

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Dozens Arrested in Latest BART Protest

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) BART and San Francisco city police arrested at least 45 people Monday night, as well as briefly detained several journalists, in the latest protest against the Bay Area's transit officers.

BART officials began warning customers over the weekend of a possible commute-hour disruption, and police were out in force in downtown stations well before the anticipated 5 p.m. start time. This is the third such protest since the July 6 officer shooting of Charles Blair Hill, a homeless man who allegedly threatened BART police with a knife.

"I’m not against the police department per se," said a demonstrator on the Civic Center platform who identified herself as Lady Katey. "There are some times, some situations, where people are violent and dangerous. But I’m into better cops with morals and values who don’t just shoot people. I’ve been mentally deranged and drunk hanging out in Civic Center, not saying the nicest things, but I didn’t get gunned down for it. We’re here in fear."

Another demonstrator, who gave his name as Jabar, said he takes BART regularly for work but disapproved of the agency's actions. "It just keeps happening," he said of the police shootings. "They're not investigating themselves, and the person they brought in to do the independent investigation works all the time with police." He was referring to Mark Smith, the agency's new independent police auditor, who also worked in police oversight in Chicago and LA.

Like last week's demonstration, this was organized mostly online by cyberactivist group Anonymous. In the past week members of the group have also targeted BART's website, posting customer information and personal addresses of BART police officers on public websites. Those actions, in addition to the regular commute disruptions, had many commuters fed up.

"Ever since Oscar Grant I’ve always been on their side, I’ve always completely understood what they’re fighting for," said one woman of the protesters. The woman who gave only her first name, Esther said, "I feel like I would have even have joined in. But the fact that they’re ruining everyone’s transportation, it's not helping anything. If anything I think it's a step back for them."

Tension began building inside Civic Center station shortly after 5 p.m., as isolated protesters found themselves surrounded by police in riot gear and even more media. Police responded to raised voices and yelling as disruptions, arresting four people before declaring an unlawful assembly and clearing the station just before 5:30 p.m. Civic Center and Powell stations were closed intermittently throughout the evening as the demonstration turned into a march going up and down Market Street. BART police and demonstrators engaged in repeated shouting matches, in particular over the issue of whether shouting is allowed.

"How come you get a megaphone and we don't?" demanded one demonstrator.

Asked about this later, BART deputy police chief Dan Hartwig reiterated BART's official position that demonstrations on train platforms are a safety hazard. "That platform is not designed for anything besides waiting for public transportation," he said. "We have free areas throughout our system that any demonstration, any protest is welcome to exercise their first amendment right."

Hartwig also defended his officers' use of megaphones. "We utilized the megaphone to read a disperal notice and only to read a dispersal notice," he said. "We’re there for the right reasons. We’re the police officers, the peace officers, within this system. So if we choose to utilize that megaphone it’ll be for the right reason, and that’s what we did today."


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BART Board President: Cell Shutdown Justified (UPDATED)

Monday, August 15, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) BART board president Bob Franklin Monday morning defended the agency’s decision to disable cell service on several platforms last Thursday, to disrupt a planned protest that was to be organized in part, via mobile communications among the participants. Franklin said any inconvenience passengers might have experienced paled in comparison to the potential danger and chaos of a large protest.

“As a board member I cannot tolerate a protest on the platform,” he said. “In downtown San Francisco at the peak of the evening, there’s way too many people, trains coming in at 80 m.p.h., a thousand volts of electricity nearby, it’s just dangerous.”

A protest Monday night closed four BART stations and did not appear to involve any violence, property destruction or clashes with police as reported to KALW live in this report.

On July 11, a month before last Thursday's cell shutdown, demonstrators upset about the BART Police killing of a homeless man named Charles Hill filled downtown stations, crowding platforms and at one point attempting to climb on top of a stopped train. “No one was killed,” said Franklin of that demonstration. "And someone could have easily been killed.”

Franklin seemed unclear on exactly who had made the decision to shut down phone and wireless service, saying that it was either the police chief or the agency's general manager. But the fallout from that decision, he said, is now out of BART’s hands.

“This is untested in the U.S.,” he said. “It happened, and now the country weighs in. It's no longer a BART policy issue.”

In addition to First Amendment issues, the intentional disruption of cell service raised questions about the legality of shutting down an entire communications network, even if only temporarily. In a statement, FCC spokesman Neil Grace said the agency was monitoring the situation.

“We are continuing to collect information about BART's actions and will be taking steps to hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised, including protecting public safety and ensuring the availability of communications networks."

BART was the victim of a cyberattack by hackers group Anonymous over the weekend, which the group said it staged in retaliation for the cell phone shutdown. The data breach compromised the personal information of more than 2,000 BART customers. On a conference call with reporters, BART Chief Communications Officer Linton Johnson repeatedly characterized BART as the victim and said the agency's priority was the safety of paid patrons. The right to free assembly, he said, did not extend to within BART's fare gates.

"Passengers have a Constitutional right to safety," he said. "People are forgetting the fact that there are multiple Constitutional rights, and we have to protect all of them."

Johnson described the decision to cut off phone service as "gut-wrenching," and added that BART felt "every life is precious." He declined to specify what measures the agency was taking to protect its customers personal data in the wake of the cyberattack, but did say that it had reached out to the FBI.

Another protest is planned for 5 p.m. PT tonight at the Civic Center station in downtown San Francisco, and Johnson would not rule out the possibility of again disrupting cell service. Board president Franklin, however, said he didn't think such a move would be prudent, as the location for the protest was already set. "I don't think the tactic will be as effective as it was last Thursday," he said.

To hear a candid interview with Lynette Sweet another BART board member, head over to The Takeaway, where she criticizes the cell shutdown decision in no uncertain terms.

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SFMTA's New Chief Doesn't Own a Car, Commutes by Bike

Thursday, August 04, 2011

(San Francisco, KALW) On August 15, San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency will get a new chief.

Ed Reiskin will replace Nat Ford as the overseer of all things transit-related.

Reiskin is  currently the head of Public Works in San Francisco. He's never run a transit agency, but he's been a manager in city government for a long time.

What's more, he actually rides Muni -- so he knows what he's getting into. He'll start the job facing a whole array of challenges, from implementing a new contract for Muni operators to trying to solve long-term budget problems.

KALW's Casey Miner interviewed Reiskin on his plans.

In the interview we learn that SF's new transpo chief doesn't own a car and commutes to work by bike. He did admit to occasionally sharing a car though, so he's not all together unfamiliar with the Bay Area driving experience.

As for what he's planning to change at "In terms of the specific priorities, I’ll find that out once I get there."

Muni bus in San Francisco, California (Photo by BrokenSphere)

Listen to the full interview at KALW News. There's also a transcript.

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In Oakland, Laid-Off Airport Construction Workers Protest FAA Shutdown

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Oakland workers protest the FAA shutdown (photo by Casey Miner)

(San Francisco – KALW)

Looking at a half-completed tower at the Oakland airport, project foreman Kelly Cervantez said he and his workers had no idea the shutdown was coming until 3pm on the Friday it was announced. That left them no time even to properly store their construction materials, he said, and he didn’t know how much extra time that would set them back. “There’s material exposed to the elements that’s not supposed to be out there,” he said, giving as an example steel that ocean breezes might corrode.

The Oakland airport project is just one of the thousands idled by the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration after the Republican controlled house added a policy change to a routine extension bill.

This week, said Cervantez, workers were supposed to begin putting on the tower’s outer wall, as well as building the pipes that will hold its electrical wiring. “What you’re looking at is just a shell,” he said.

“The responsible thing to do would be to take a little bit more time, instead of running off for recess and just leaving this for the next six or eight weeks,” said Pete Figueiredo, treasurer of Operating Engineers Local No. 3 at a press conference at the Oakland airport.  Figuerido was referring to the fact that the fight will likely not be resolved until September. “Politics and recesses are at the heart of these decisions.”

Work on the 236-foot control tower, which is being funded with $31 million in stimulus dollars, began last fall, and workers estimated that there are at least 10 or 11 months of construction left to go. It’s currently scheduled to open in 2013.

Oakland mayor Jean Quan also threw her support behind the workers, taking the microphone to remind people of the city’s dire job numbers: 28% unemployment among African-American men in some neighborhoods, and equally high rates across the building trades. “It’s disgusting,” she said of the standoff over FAA funding. “Thousands of people have been laid off over something that can’t be that controversial.”

Oakland's partially completed air traffic control tower (photo by Casey Miner)


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Oakland: 356,000 Parking Tickets a Year, 14 Staffers to Handle Complaints

Thursday, July 28, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) The city of Oakland issued 356,000 citations last year. That’s nearly 1,000 a day. Even counting repeat offenders, that’s a lot of angry citizens, and they are not shy about saying so: the office has a whole Yelp page devoted to bashing it. But this seemingly vast and hated bureaucracy? It’s actually only 14 people – total. Mitchell and her fellow cashier are the only two staff who work the windows. Which means that with a few exceptions, they’re the only ones dealing with the ticket-paying public, day in and day out.

Listen in with Casey Miner at KALW News.

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Meet Mark Smith, Bay Area Transit's New Police Auditor, Appointed After High-Profile Police Shootings

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Independent Police Auditor Mark Smith. Photo courtesy of BART.

(San Francisco – KALW) When Oscar Grant was shot and killed by BART policeman Johannes Mehserle two-and-a-half years ago, the BART police force was heavily scrutinized and audited. The auditors recommended more than 120 changes, including arming BART police with tasers and providing crisis intervention training. But just a few months later, BART was involved in another shooting, again near the Fruitvale station in East Oakland. Then, earlier this month, a BART police officer shot and killed a homeless man named Charles Blair Hill on the platform of Civic Center station.

So has anything changed in BART police protocol? After the Hill shooting, the BART board launched an investigation. It’s the first big challenge for the agency’s new independent police auditor, Mark Smith. Smith sat down with Casey Miner to discuss how BART police conduct their business. Listen to the interview over at KALW News.

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The Perils of Walking in San Francisco

Friday, July 15, 2011

Photo (cc) by Flickr user deevinebovine.

(San Francisco – KALW) At least 800 people are hit by cars every year in San Francisco. Pedestrian-car collisions account for almost a quarter of the city's trauma patients.

Why are the city streets so dangerous? KALW News reports on the perils of walking in SF.

The report describes dangerous unmarked, but legal and official, intersections, sans paint and lines. One pedestrian even describes the "dip and dart" where you start at one edge of an alley, where it intersects the main road, and walk into oncoming traffic to get to the other side. And that's the legal crosswalk.

"We have streets that are designed for the rapid movement of cars instead of for people to be able to get around safely on foot," says Elizabeth Stampe of WalkSF.

Listen to the full story at KALW News.

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SFpark Makes its First Move

Thursday, July 14, 2011

(San Francisco – KALW) San Francisco’s ambitious parking program will meet its first test later this month, when the city adjusts rates at meters in eight busy neighborhoods to try and better match supply and demand. The program, called SFpark, uses data from sensors embedded in the pavement to track parking demand in real time at meters around the city, and prices each block accordingly: meters in more congested areas are more expensive, while those on emptier streets are cheaper. City staff will make the first price adjustment later this month, based on data collected since the program’s official launch this past spring. The verdict? Prices at about one third of meters will go up by 25 cents to a high of $3.75/hr; another third will drop by 25-50 cents, to as low as $1.75/hr. The final third will remain the same, as will rates at city-owned garages.

SFpark manager Jay Primus said that while the preliminary data is fascinating, the really useful information will come out later this summer, when the city makes its second price adjustment.

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San Francisco's Taxi Wars Heat Up

Monday, June 27, 2011

(Photo: Casey Miner)

Listen to the radio version of this story at KALW.

(San Francisco) Most people don’t think of taxi cabs when they conjure a public transportation network. Seven thousand taxi drivers make constant pickups around San Francisco, and officials say a proposed series of changes could make life better for them, and attract more people as passengers. But not all the cabbies buy it, and they’ve been making their feelings known.

Last Tuesday more than 100 taxis converged on an MTA board meeting to protest what they say is unfair treatment by the city. They drove around City Hall for two hours, with signs on their cabs saying, “Strike,” and honking pretty much continuously.

Driver Sung Nguyen said. "We’re here to strike the MTA; they [treat] the cab drivers unfairly. About the five percent credit card fee, the electronic waybill," the current record keeping system, which could change under the new rules.

There’s a lot to the San Francisco taxi wars, and it can get confusing pretty fast, so here’s a primer on all the taxi turmoil:

The roughly 7,000 taxi drivers in San Francisco are operated by more than two dozen companies. They aren’t city employees, but the city regulates them just like any other mode of transit. It’s been that way since 2009.

Over the past several months, the MTA has tried to make some changes to the way taxis operate, similar to those imposed in other cities, like New York, also over driver objections. First, the MTA mandated that all drivers accept credit cards. If you’re a passenger, that’s great. But credit cards come with processing fees, and those fees come out of the drivers’ pockets. That’s one of the reasons for the protest.

The MTA also wants to install backseat terminals in all the cabs that would show ads and other information, as well as let passengers swipe their own cards. And they want to start requiring companies to keep electronic records of every pickup and drop off.  Right now, drivers are supposed keep those records on paper – they’re called waybills. Officials say these changes will modernize the industry and make it better for everyone. But some drivers think the city is just out to make money.

Ricardo Silva was one of the protesting taxi drivers at City Hall. He’s been driving for almost 14 years. He gave up a day of work to protest, because, he says the demonstration is more important. He says drivers can’t afford the credit card fees, and that electronic records are too invasive. "It’s like, tracking us, it’s like we are criminals, you know what I mean? Prisoners don’t get that, why do cab drivers have to? They get bracelets but when they are finished they take the bracelets off. But now they are 24 hours tracking us. It’s not fair."

This an example of something the MTA and drivers don’t see eye-to-eye on. Christiane Hayashi is the city’s deputy director of taxi services. She pointed to a stack of paper waybills as evidence of how antiquated the current system is. "These are filled out – sometimes they’re filled out fully, sometimes they’re filled out partially, sometimes there’s just a name on them, sometimes they’re empty. Here’s one that just has two entries; neither of them is legible. These are not reliable business records. They’re not reliable transit records."

The city’s hoping that by switching to electronic records they’ll be able to get a picture of how the taxi industry operates. Things like, where are the busiest areas for taxis? When do most people take them? Why are people taking them? Hayashi says that we know these things about agencies like Muni and BART, but, not taxis. "What data do we have about the taxi industry in one of the world’s most important cities, San Francisco? Nothing! Absolutely nothing."

Hayashi says the city is trying to help cab drivers. If they know more about the business, they can work on getting more people to take cabs. But not all the drivers trust the city. At Tuesday’s meeting, the MTA board was supposed to discuss some of the taxi issues, including a fare increase that would be the drivers’ first raise in eight years. They were also going to consider issuing temporary driver permits that could put more cabs on the street at busy times. But at the last minute, they had to take everything off the agenda. They said they needed to finish a legally required environmental review. The change didn’t stop drivers from packing the meeting room. Joe Marabole spoke for an industry group called the United Taxicab Workers.

"I wanted to thank the MTA for uniting San Francisco’s cab industry with its corrosive policies such as the sale of medallions, the rear seat terminals, has awakened an industry that has long tolerated abuses from the MTA. You should not be ruining our industry. We won’t go away. We will return again and again until our voices are heard."

One issue raised by the drivers was the very relationship between drivers and the MTA. The city makes money from taxis, but the drivers aren’t city employees. So what amount of regulation is fair? MTA’s Christiane Hayashi says, "These are working people, and I trust in that. We’re not interested in being Big Brother."

The Board will take up taxi issues again in August. If you want to know exactly what day, just listen for the honking.


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Later BART Service Could Slam Minority And Low Income Residents

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

BART train (photo by Miggslives/Flickr)

(San Francisco – KALW) The results of a passenger survey are in, and they could spell trouble for later weekend BART service.

Earlier this spring, the BART board directed staff to study the impact of changing the schedule (running the last train one hour later Friday nights and the first train an hour later Saturday mornings) on the system’s low-income and minority riders. After surveying nearly 2,000 passengers in multiple languages, staff found that those riders would indeed be disproportionately affected, complicating BART’s plans to move ahead with a fall pilot.

In brief: the survey found that 56% of Friday night riders are minorities, and 49% are low-income (note: the questionnaire did not address potential overlap). On Saturday mornings, 68% were minorities, and 53% low-income. Overall, 40% of Friday night riders were headed to or from work. On Saturday mornings, the number was 70%. Both percentages were significantly higher for low-income and minority riders.

Unsurprisingly, late-night Friday riders overwhelmingly supported extending the train schedule, with 81% of those surveyed in favor of the change. Only a quarter of Saturday morning riders felt the same, given that for them it would mean driving, carpooling, taking the bus, or being unable to reach work at all.

The survey did offer some unexpected insight into BART’s late-night passengers.

Conventional wisdom has it that the last Friday trains are full of partiers, but the survey showed this isn’t necessarily so. Only 14% of late-night passengers said they’d been out at bars or clubs; another 27% said they were visiting family or friends. Taken together, those groups exactly matched the number of riders going to or from work. BART board president Bob Franklin, who has pushed hard for the pilot project, found those numbers encouraging. “That’s the only argument against doing this: that you’re pitting discretionary riders against people going to work,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily hold up.”

Franklin said that he thought the survey was hampered by who it targeted – that is, people already riding BART, as opposed to those who might ride it if trains ran later. The low number of partiers, he said, might provide a clue, since many revelers presumably don’t ride BART because it closes so early. He thought the same might be true of many workers in the entertainment industry. “There’s a big variable that’s unaccounted for,” he said. BART would need to do an additional study to try and find those potential riders.

Franklin said he still wants the pilot to go forward, and that he doesn’t think the challenges are insurmountable. “If not now, then forget it,” he said. “There’s momentum to get it done now.” Though he said he had not yet decided exactly how to move forward, he would consider proposing either a BART-sponsored late-night bus service or hiring new part-time workers to help speed up maintenance. The maintenance staff have said repeatedly that their work window is non-negotiable – in other words, that any extension of service at night must mean later service in the morning. But Franklin and another BART director, Robert Raburn, disagreed. “I don’t think we asked the right questions,” said Raburn. “Instead of asking how we could impinge upon existing service, we should have looked at how we can work with our maintenance department to maintain the trains during a shorter window. That’s what’s going to be needed in order to provide better service.”

The board will discuss the findings at its meeting later this week. They might note the one thing Friday night and Saturday morning riders agreed on: they both thought trains should run more frequently on nights and weekends -- every 15 minutes instead of every 20.

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With Nat Ford's Departure, What's Next for SFMTA?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Muni bus in San Francisco, California (Photo by BrokenSphere)

(San Francisco – KALW) With the official announcement today that San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency chief Nat Ford is departing after five and a half years on the job, the big question on people’s minds is what’s next for the city’s transit agency. Given that it handles -- or at least has a hand in -- almost every mode of transportation in the city, Muni needs not just a strong leader, but a versatile one.

This is not a calm time at MTA: The city recently launched SFPark, a dynamic pricing plan aimed at reducing congestion in the city; it’s implementing a number of changes to the way taxis are regulated, monitored, and priced; and it’s negotiating with the federal government over a billion-dollar full funding agreement for the Central Subway project. The agency is also in a particularly tough place with Muni’s operators, who overwhelmingly rejected the contract negotiated by union leaders and forced the union into binding arbitration.

Though the arbitrator’s ruling overwhelmingly favored management, both Ford and MTA board chair Tom Nolan said the city should prioritize improving its relationship with the rank and file. “We have to be very prudent and judicious as far as how that new contract is implemented,” said Ford. “We need to recognize that our operators are a great asset to this agency.” Nolan agreed, adding that the new chief would be expected to reach out and remain accessible to employees at all levels of the agency.

What else is the MTA looking for in its next chief? “The next person has to do everything Nat did, and work more closely than ever with our employees,’” said Nolan. He said the board would like to hire someone with a deep understanding of San Francisco’s complicated politics – and that a transportation background isn’t necessarily required.

Though he praised Ford’s work and refrained from any criticism, Nolan did express a wish that the next director would occupy the position for longer than Ford did. “I’ve been in my job for 17 years,” he said. “That’s unrealistic to expect. But when we go through all this, we want the person to stick around long enough to do something substantial.”

Bicycle and pedestrian advocates said they’d like to see the next chief prioritize complete streets and continue funding infrastructure to improve street conditions. “When we build great bikeways for people of all skill levels, people bike,” said Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of pedestrian advocacy group WalkSF, agreed. “This is a walking city, and how we spend our time and money should reflect that,” she said.

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Amtrak California Ridership Hits Record Numbers

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A billboard for Amtrak California.

(San Francisco – KALW) California's high-speed rail project may be struggling to find funding, but it's not because nobody wants to ride trains.

The state's transportation department, known as Caltrans, reports that ridership on Amtrak's California lines is up significantly. The Capitol Corridor route saw an increase of almost 10% over the past year, while ridership on the San Joaquin route went up nearly 13%.

Revenue on the San Joaquin route increased by 19%.

The numbers – which, according to Caltrans, are at an all-time high – are notable because the routes are similar to those eventually envisioned for the state's high-speed rail system, linking the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Bakersfield.

Caltrans rail marketing chief Debbie Mullins said a large part of the increased ridership could be attributed to high gas prices. But, she said, advertising matters. Beginning in March, Amtrak undertook a $1.3 million PR blitz, stringing billboards around major freeway corridors in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and the Central Valley. The billboards were black and white, with colorful icons showing all the benefits of riding a train: food, power outlets, etc. They also featured 26 different taglines emphasizing the benefits of train travel over both cars and planes ("Experience space travel," "There's no backseat driver when there's no backseat"). Mullins said Amtrak is planning a more comprehensive study to quantify the effects of billboard and online campaigns.

What does this say about the state's appetite for high-speed rail? Mullins declined to speculate, but she did note that Amtrak ridership has risen steadily despite fluctuating gas prices. "People recognize the amenities of the train: food, electricity, just the freedom to walk around," she said. "Once they're introduced to that, they look at the train with a whole new set  of eyes."

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Should BART Run an Hour Later?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Flickr photo by richardmasoner.

(San Francisco, CA – KALW) BART closes just after midnight every night of the week -- including on weekends, when people like to stay out late. It’s been that way for 35 years.

This year, the BART board wants to change that – just a little bit. They’re thinking about extending service by one hour on Friday nights, and making up for it by starting trains an hour later on Saturdays. The last train would leave San Francisco just before 1:30am. The first one would start the next morning at 7.

It might seem like a small change, but it could have big consequences. Listen to the story over at KALW News.

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Pricey Gas or No, Californians Get Out of Town

Friday, May 27, 2011

Yikes! Photo by Ben Trefny.

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) Gas prices are up! Or no, wait, maybe they’re down. Either way, a highly unscientific round of calls by TN suggests that Californians are finding ways to get out of town this Memorial Day weekend.

A recent survey by AAA found that while travel numbers aren’t exactly flying off the charts this year, neither are they declining. The survey predicts that just over four million Californians will travel 50 miles or more, a very slight increase over last year. What's more, nearly all of them will drive. AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said the numbers may reflect people’s desire to go on vacation no matter what: about a third of travelers are expected to stay with family and friends rather than in hotels.

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How Dangerous is Walking in Your Neighborhood?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Photo courtesy Transportation for America.

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) Walking around can be a harrowing experience – just ask anyone who's ever looked both ways, sent a prayer skyward and sprinted across a busy, crosswalk-free road. A new report by transportation advocacy group Transportation for America documents just how dangerous walking can be. Using a combination of census information and data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Highway Administration, the report finds that more than 47,00 pedestrians were killed in the past decade; nearly 700,000 were injured.  The fatality numbers, said the report's authors, are the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every month. "If that happened, you can be sure there'd be no end to Congressional hearings and investigations," said Transportation for America director James Corless.

Within the numbers are some sobering racial and ethnic disparities: Latino pedestrians are 62% more likely to be killed than whites, while African-Americans are 73% more likely to be killed. Senior citizens of all races are at risk, but again, racial minorities are much more likely to die.

The report points out that while motor vehicle travel has generally become safer over the past 10 years – around the country, car accident fatality rates have fallen – in 15 of the country's largest metro areas, pedestrian deaths have increased. The report's authors attribute the problem to roads designed with only cars in mind: the most dangerous streets by far are major arterials, where speeding is common and pedestrian amenities rare.

Fixing these problems is relatively cheap: the report points out that changes as simple as lowering speed limits and adding crosswalks significantly reduce risk. But ultimately they advocate for government on all levels to design streets with a variety of uses in mind – what's known as a "complete streets" approach.

The top four worst regions are in Florida, followed by Southern California and Las Vegas. In the San Francisco Bay Area, which ranks 41st of 52 metro areas, 685 people died in the past ten years. Wondering how bad things are in your area? The group's got an interactive map where you can plug in your address and see for yourself.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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SF Taxis: To Make System More Efficient, Rates Must Rise

Thursday, May 19, 2011

(photo by Marlith via Wikimedia Commons)

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) Starting this summer, San Francisco’s taxis will be among the most expensive in the nation – but officials are hoping they’ll also be the most used. The MTA, which has overseen city taxis since 2009, voted Tuesday to raise rates by 10 cents per fifth of a mile -- or per minute. The board also wants to raise the drop fee, or the rate meters display when passengers first enter the cab, but they won’t take up that issue until later this summer.

It’s the first in a series of steps the city hopes will make more efficient use of the city’s 1500 licensed cabs. Higher rates mean a steadier cash flow for cabbies, who aren't always inclined to risk picking up passengers in far-flung neighborhoods. But the increase is only part of an ongoing campaign to integrate taxis more fully into city life.

After the vote, several drivers said that while the fare increase was a good start – they haven’t had a raise in nearly a decade – they still felt there was a long way to go. Particularly contentious has been the issue of credit card transactions (cabbies pay a 5% card processing fee), and electronic waybills (detailed records of all taxi trips). Those last two issues will be addressed at additional "taxi town halls" coming up this summer.

The city’s liaison to the cab drivers is director of taxi services Christiane Hayashi. I caught up with her to ask about what’s in store for SF’s cabs.

How would you describe the taxi situation in San Francisco right now?

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