Friday, February 25, 2011

Sulky Tween, Train-Obsessed Toddler

Me: Do you think it's going to snow tomorrow?

Wini: No way, it's not gonna snow.

Me: It's totally gonna snow! It's gonna be just like The Snowy Day.

Wini: Dad.

Me: There's gonna be drifts piled up on E Street!

Other Kid (we carpool to school): Wanna bet?

Me: Sure. The bet is, whoever looses, gets a snowball thrown at them.

Other Kid: But if it doesn't snow...

Wini: If it doesn't snow, I get to throw a stick at you!

Me: You won't even be able to find a stick under all the snow!


Me: Nathan, look at that big rainbow!

Nathan: Tracks!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kid Clipper Working

Wini's card has been successfully tested on BART, CalTrain, and SamTrans.

Frequenters of the Bay Area Transit Blogosphere may be amused that she has already asked about how the transfer works between BART and CalTrain at Millbrae.

When I explained about having to tag off CalTrain before tagging onto BART she agreed that that was silly but pointed out that it might be difficult to rewrite the software so you wouldn't have to.

She's been learning about scripting on Roblox (a kind of online virtual reality "lego" world where you can build things and then program actions for your creations) so I guess she's got some appreciation for the fact that it's not always trivial to just make computers do what you want.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Clipper Card: Still Confused

As related in the last post, my daughter now has a youth Clipper card, and I thought I had autoload all set up, after some finagling.

So tonight we went down to Sequoia Station to ride the train, I showed her where to tag on, and the machine read that the card had no funds. Whaaa?

So we bought a paper ticket, like usual.

I think it said on the web site that it takes 3-5 days for an autoload to take effect. Are we still just waiting for it to hit? So now I'm logged into; I see no record of the autoload I thought I set up. So I try to set it up again. But for some reason, on the autoload type-selection page (cash, monthly pass for CalTrain, SamTrans pass, etc) the checkbox for "cash" is just kinda broken--I can't select it.

I was using IE, since that's my "alternative" browser for when I want to access a different account than my usual. So I tried switching back to trusty Firefox, but there's some cookie confusion--I log out of my clipper account, log in as her's, but it asks me to re-enter the card number, and says it's registered to someone else.

As a fallback, I'm trying a one time online fund cash upload to her card. But after I think I've completed it, I see this message:

Please note that when you add value online, it can take up to 3-5 days for the value to be available to be loaded onto your card, and you must tag your card to a card reader to load the value. Your card balance will not be updated until you have tagged your card and loaded the value

Huh? In 3-5 days my money won't be transferred til I use it? The balance still shows as $0. I think this means they haven't actually taken my money yet, but in 3-5 days they'll be ready to take my money, if we use the card. So maybe the autoload I thought I set up is also floating out there, ready to take effect in (now) 2-4 days, when we use the card...

We were planning to ride BART to Union Square this weekend. Maybe I need to go to the nearest Walgreens and add some money directly to the card?

Lame! The MTC spent 10 years and $150 million on this.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finally Got my Kid a Clipper Card

It's a little more complicated than you'd think:

  • Go to SamTrans HQ, during business hours, with kid. This means finding a day that I have off from work, but she doesn't have ice-skating, girl scouts, or get invited over to a friend's house.
  • Fill out form--make sure child passenger has an ID. School ID works (although the minor/senior application form has checkboxes for every other kind of ID--driver's license, passport, etc--except school ID, which seems the most likey--anyway, they accepted it).
  • On the form, there's a blank to put an email address, so we put hers. Maybe that's a mistake?
  • SamTrans folks mail it to Clipper people. Wait a week.
  • It comes in the mail.
  • Try to register it for autoload--but website says it's already registered.
  • Call customer service number on the back of the card. At least they're open late, and are friendly. They can set up a temporary password for the new account, so you can log in. It works, but it seems awkward--I just wanted this card listed on my account. Maybe if you put your own (parent) email address on the application form that will happen? It's not what they said to do. Maybe it's best to leave the email space blank on the application form? Then you could probably register the card under your own account.
  • Now I can log in, with my daughter's email, and a password which I just set and will keep myself, and set up autopay from my credit card. Not quite the way I wanted to do it, but at least the card won't run out on her unexpectedly. (Until my card expires, at least. Since Clipper has all the expiration dates for the CC's we use to autoload, conceivably they could send us warning emails when they're about to expire. That'd be handy, but I doubt it!)

Well, we're ready to ride, now. No more paying adult fare on BART just because BART doesn't sell child tickets at stations. Unfortunately tonight it's bwrw glaw fel hen wragedd a ffŷn, as the say in Wales (raining like old ladies and sticks), so I think we'll stay in.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fresno HSR Station Plans

Very preliminary plans for the Fresno HSR station and nearby developments have been published at

Not knowing Fresno well, I can't comment too much, but I'm glad to see that the station is planned for the middle of town (right next to the historic SP station)--some of the valley stations have been envisioned more like airports, outside of town, with plenty of parking but no connection to their city.

There is a story about the plan in The Fresno Bee. A few threads in the comments in the online article are:

  • This is all a waste of money (yawn).
  • This will help revitalize downtown Fresno.
  • This is another doomed scheme dreamed up by politicians to revitalize downtown Fresno.
  • A fun surprise: several readers say what Fresno should really be working on is a light rail system. One even linked to map of his proposed system.

At least with the low opinion of downtown Fresno, held by locals and others, nobody is objecting that elevated tracks will ruin it.

About all I can think of to say pro or con these plans themselves is that it seems a shame not to reuse the historical SP depot.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Roads, Transit, and the Constitution

Some republican wanker from San Diego has gotten some attention in the transportation blogosphere for commenting that highways are mandated by the constitution, but transit must pay for itself.

When I say that he's from San Diego, in fact naturally he's really from the inland desert swath of exurbia next to San Diego. And when I say he's a wanker--well, click on the link a take a look at this doofus.

So what does the constitution actually say? Here is the so-called Postal Clause:

(The Congress shall have power) ... to establish Post Offices and post Roads;

Of course, to adherents of original intent, this can only mean dirt roads for walkers, horses, and wagons--since cars and asphalt hadn't been invented yet.

The postal clause is cited as the federal government's authority to build nationwide highways, especially the interstate system. Of course, the basic interstate system being long complete, the money the feds pour into highways now is really for local transportation. The 80 may be national infrastructure, but most of the traffic on the 280 are commuters--for that matter, so is most of the traffic on the 80, from about Roseville on west.

The usual progressive pro-transit argument that follows this point is that, if the federal government supports local car travel, it should support local transit as well.

It seems fair, but is the best answer? Is routing transportation funding through Washington optimal? Hardly. It motivates regions to fight to "get their share" of money, instead of solving problems in ways that are sustainable. And I'm pretty certain that in the current arrangement, those of us who live in older metro regions (which tend to be disproportionately donors to the federal budget) taking transit, or at least driving relatively shorter distances, are actively subsidizing new freeways out in the boonies, paying a bunch of freeloaders to drive their monster-truck SUV's across vast swaths of exurbia...

If regions had to pay for their own transportation, we would probably see more effort to coordinate transit and development, so that their investment (of their own money) would show a better return. Proposals to dig tunnels anywhere some NIMBY objected to hearing to trains would probably receive the laughing dismissal they deserve. Some cities might even figure out they could solve their "transportation problems" without spending money on infrastructure at all, just by making it convenient for people to live close to where they work.

Of course there are reasons to keep the federal government involved in local transportation--one of the more important practical ones being that it's the part of the government that we pay most of our taxes to, so that's where the money is. There are plenty more. (This article was inspired as an answer to a smug, overly simplistic view of the constitution. I don't want to oversimplify on my part--I'll freely admit, transportation funding is messy and complicated, and probably has to be). But given the state of the national budget, local funding for transportation is becoming more and more of a reality anyway, and transit advocates should look for ways to turn this to their advantage.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

How to Make Clipper not Suck for CalTrain

For details of the suckage, here are clipper-related posts over at the Holierthanyou (bike/transit) blog--or see what everyone's saying about clipper + caltrain via!/search/clipper%20caltrain. Heck, even CalTrain's own instructions are confusing.

I think the crux of the problem is that Clipper tries to make CalTrain work like a "user-operated virtual faregate system". I.e., it's designed for BART, and users are supposed to pretend they're on BART. There just aren't any actual gates, you just have to remember. This is a bad fit to a proof-of-payment system.

I can think of two ways of making Clipper actually work well for CalTrain:

  • Use RFID on trains to automatically scan cards as people get on and off. (That would actually be a problem for people like me that have a GO pass for CalTrain but keep a Clipper card for other systems, but I think the solution would be to tie GO in with Clipper). This way you really wouldn't have to think about tickets at all (if you set up autoload).
    • Or: At least automatically scan cards for exiting the train, so no tagging off is necessary.
  • Instead of the simplistic tag-on/tag-off interface, connect Clipper with regular ticket machines that allow you to load up the virtual equivalent of any regular ticket type (one-way to zone X, day pass to zone X, monthly pass, etc). It's a more complicated interface for getting on the train (but the same as buying a paper ticket, anyway), but no tagging off necessary.

Of course, all this would cost money to implement. CalTrain doesn't have it, but the MTC always seems to find the money for nifty gadgets.

Library Automat at Millbrae BART

I saw this machine at the Millbrae BART machine last night:

I figured it was for downloading eBooks to readers, but in fact it's a machine that dispenses physical library books:

A touch screen, similar to an ATM screen is used to display and select from over 800 books that are delivered through an opening in the front of the unit by a robotic arm.

It'd be nice to see this at CalTrain stations but I suppose the library likes the security of putting it in view of a station agent.