Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

$4.09 gasoline and other walking tales

Posted by shannonclark on May 14, 2007

So a few evenings ago on my way to my frequent late night working cafe, Ritual Roasters, I walked past a Chevron station. A station without the huge dominating signs, just a lone small sign on the ground showing their prices. I took a photo, the premium gasoline is priced at $4.099/gallon here in San Francisco as of May 11th 2007.

I do not own a car having sold my last car in 2004 after only driving it for just over 13,000 miles in the 4 years I had owned it. When I need a car (very rarely these days) I do use CityCarShare to get an occasional car, though I may shift over to ZipCar as they seem to have more cars and might work better for my primary needs (for a car alternative to the train to get down the Penisula for meetings & events). In any case, I haven’t paid personally for gas in many many months.

On the other hand, this higher price, combined with the recent highway collapse due to fire in the East Bay, seems to have had some impact on the number of cars in San Francisco – at least some of the time it appears that there are more parking spaces available. Now whether $4+ gas will inspire greater public transit ridership remains to be seen, I hope that it does to a significent enough level that they start to rebuild resources.

But there are still so many basic steps which the Muni and other public transit agencies in the bay area need to do. Starting with the most basic – there are about 100 too many such agencies (perhaps I’m exagerating a bit but there are nearly a dozen different public transit agencies with service just into or within San Francisco, not to mention countless other smaller agencies in surrounding towns and counties.

But a few other major, yet simple, steps which should (I think) be taken.

1. Public transit has a public mission. As part of this, buses and trains (in particular the BART across the bay) should continue service every evening until at least 1 hour after the bars and nightclubs close. If on the weekend this implies possibly 24hr service, so be it. The public interest in having easy ways for people who have been drinking to get home is very high. Not to mention that by making it easier to get out of the city you encourage more people (including lots of college students) to spend literally spend money as well as time in the city. When I lived in Berkelely I did not stay out late in the city as if I missed the last Bart (at about 12:20pm) I would have been stuck taking a very slow, hard to find where to catch bus which ran only a few times each hour.

2. Service in the late nights should be much more frequent and easy to use. Especially between 10pm and 2-3am along any routes with significant nightlife. At present buses (and trains) seem to essentially stop just before midnight not to resume until just before 1am in most cases. And anytime after 11pm using buses or trains to get around the city is dicey at best – often taking 4-5x as long as the same travels would take during more “regular” hours. Again this is a public interest matter – make it easier for people to reach nightlife without driving and you encourage more late night business (i.e. more spending on local bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and nightclubs).

3. Reward bus drivers who make it EASIER for people to use public transit. A few nights ago a bus driver gunned his bus and raced past the stop I was just about to reach. The next bus would not be stopping for nearly 40 minutes (I walked a while then waited, arriving home some 40 minutes later than I had hoped). Bus drivers have a really hard job – and more often than not a really thankless one but seemingly they have incentives not to make it easier for people to use their services.

4. MAKE IT EASIER TO SPEND MONEY. The Muni does not sell “fast passes” in many places at all throughout the city. In fact last month I went to nearly a dozen places which were all sold out of the fast passes – and dozens of other stores which did not even sell them. They do not sell them from any of the many machines which otherwise vend passes (well the muni does not have machines – the BART does – yet another example of why too many agencies is beyond silly but also counterproductive).

Fast passes should be hard not to buy – they should be sold at every station, possibly by every bus driver, residents should easily sign up and get fast passes in the mail every month. Every little corner market should be equipped to sell them (and yes, they should make some money on selling them).

Further the various transit agencies should make it easier to do routine, regular tasks which anyone using the public transit might want to do. For example, getting to either of the major San Francisco area airports (and why San Jose’s airport is nearly unreachable via public transit at least from San Francisco is a reasonable question). As it stands today, SFO is relatively easily reached – however the BART to there is technically “outside” of San Francisco, so anyone with a Fast Pass (MUNI) cannot use it to get to the airport, instead you have to purchase a separate fare – for about $5.00 each way. To get to Oakland you have to also pay a separate fare, but then even worse you have to pay a yet additional fare for the ‘air bart” and endure a 20 minute bus ride from the BART station to the airport (quite why it is so long is not at all clear – but it is about 15 minutes too long – really the train should get you no more than 5-10 minutes from the gates in a more ideal world).

Furthermore if you should need to get to the airport early in the morning, or if you arrive late at night, there are NO public transit options left to you. Personally I think that like not closing until an hour or so after the last bars close, neither should the public transit routes from the airports stop until after the last plane of the night has landed (and the passengers have cleared customs and gotten their checked luggage). And there should be public transit options which get anyone in the bay area to either airport in time for even 6 AM flights. i.e. transit options which get you to the airport by 5AM or even earlier (so you have time to get from the train to the departure gates, clear the security lines, and get to your gates with ease).

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One Response to “$4.09 gasoline and other walking tales”

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