Thursday, July 30, 2009

Around the Bay

No end in sight

The poor economy is hitting transit agencies in two different ways:
1. Declining tax revenue forces agencies to cut back service
2. Less service, higher fares and high unemployment kept riders away

Just a year ago most transit agencies saw record ridership as the gasoline prices continued to soar. This year, financial and economic pressures resulted in ridership decline. In June 2008, Caltrain had a ridership increase of more than 16% compared to 2007. This year, Caltrain lost 11.7% riders compared to 2008. Overall, Caltrain still gained ridership from 2007.

SFO shuttle

Earlier this month, BART imposed a $4 surcharge on all riders entering and and exiting the SFO station, including airport employees. While the surcharge still make BART competitive to driving and parking at the airport or taking a taxi or airport shuttle, that $4 surcharge is a significant financial hit to employees at the airport, especially those who do not work for the airlines.

The SFO did one right thing in response: operate a free shuttle between the airport and Millbrae station. Although the shuttle may look silly and adds travel time for those transferring to and from BART, it helps to cut down fares as much as in half. For those who transfer to and from Caltrain, the shuttle avoids an even sillier transfer at the San Bruno station between two BART trains, which isn't worth the $4 fare, or even the old $1.50 fare.

Although the shuttle is intended for employees, there's no restriction for other riders from using this service. As long as BART refuses to waive the surcharge for SFO's employees, you can try this shuttle.

No cell phones for transit operators

Recently, yellow stickers are appearing inside VTA buses over the driver's area. These yellow stickers remind drivers not to talk on cell phones (including hands free) or text while driving. Some agencies apparently have gone much further by prohibiting drivers from possessing a phone while on duty. In Boston, a driver got a suspension by carrying a cell phone (was reported to the management by a journalist who thought the driver was talking on the cell phone but was actually talking on the bus radio). Another driver in Boston got fired by making a stop enroute, leaving his driver seat and talk on a borrowed cell phone.

The tough rules were recently implemented in Boston as an reaction to the light rail crash on the Green Line two months ago, which the operator was texting and rear ended another light rail vehicle. The agency at that time permitted operators to carry those devices as long as they don't use them, and have fired operators for cell phone violations prior to the crash.

While drivers should never use any kind of personal communicating devices while on the driver seat, the agency in Boston was overreacting to score political points. On the other hand at VTA, because it is typical for bus drivers to relieve another enroute at a bus stop, having a cell phone in those situations keep them in contact with the supervisor. Also, it is a bad policy to encourage passengers or others to snitch on drivers who are obviously not putting anyone at risk.


Anonymous said...

I've seen some VTA drivers in the past couple of months using their cell phones while driving-I've just assumed that complaining will accomplish nothing.

I've seen some drivers stop in the middle of their routes to ostensibly use the restroom, only to return from the gas station/convenience store in question with junk food, leading me to believe that cell phone usage is a possibility there.

Also, on the 22, drivers frequently stop in order to idle; I've also seen drivers get out and take a cell phone break there as well.


arcady said...

The Millbrae shuttle is a potentially very useful thing for those of us coming from the South Bay and unwilling to put up with the triple transfer. As for the cell phones, I think the MBTA policy of not even allowing the driver to carry a cellphone is absurd overreaction, as there's a whole number of legitimate reasons to have a cell phone besides talking while driving. In the UK, train drivers are actually given cell phones, which are meant to be used to contact the signallers and such. It's a handy backup for places where radio coverage isn't great, or if the signal post phones aren't working.

VTA Rider said...

Line 22, most trips between 7am-6pm were padded by up to 4 minutes, so drivers are prohibited leaving time points early, so they wait. When school resumes and as traffic increases the waiting will perhaps stop.

I wholeheartedly agree that drivers should not use their cell phones while driving, but they should be allowed to carry and use on their layover or flat periods.

Amanda, several of the terminal locations do not have adequate facilities for drivers, so I do not mind them stopping mid-way of the route to use the restroom. VTA is getting better with this.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm not against drivers taking impromptu restroom breaks out on the job; its the coming out with pop and junk food that pisses me off (and aren't drivers not supposed to eat while driving? Oh well, good time to be a personal injury lawyer, I guess).

I always worry that a driver is going to step outside the 22 while its idling, talk on his/her phone, and forget just exactly how many minutes they are ahead of schedule. Of course, running the 22 like the 522 would get rid of that.

At least its not as bad as what happened last summer on the 22-the driver, ostensibly because he was pissed off at a passenger for pulling the stop cord a few too many times, simply pulled over and took a smoke break, turining the engine off completely. RAR, Blue Collar Tough Guy Bus Driver!!


accountablevta said...

The drivers are not supposed to leave early, but many still do, some leave as much as 5 minutes ahead.