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  • Waiting for a ride

Wednesday, July 28 The Old Transbay Terminal – last chance to see it

I arrive at the Vallejo carpool line at 7:30 a.m. and am greeted with a wonderful long line of cars, all patiently waiting. My ride is a VW Passat, a great car. I recognize this driver and have ridden with him before. Suit and tie guy in his 50s, careful driver, nice temperature in the car. I give him $1, the rear passenger gives $1.25 and off we go. Traffic is still vacation-light and when we reach the toll gates, they are nearly empty. I glance at the on-going new bridge construction and remember this is an historic day for the new bay bridge. The first piece of the 525 foot tower will be put in place today. Once completed and lit up, it’s going to make a powerful architectural statement – one giant tower holding the cables for the 4 1/2 mile span.

Another major transportation project begins next week with the closing of the old Transbay Terminal at 1st and Mission Streets. Check out the website (www.transbaycenter.org). The proposed animated sketches you see are a HUGE departure from the old building – very light and airy. Construction on the new permanent terminal, which will be located where the old one now stands, will be ongoing for the next 7 years, and will centralize the region’s entire transportation network, including Caltrain and the High Speed Rail.

When the old terminal closes next Friday, August 6, all bus service will move to the new temporary terminal at Howard and Main Streets. A full list of bus stops at the temporary terminal can be seen at http://www.temporaryterminal.org. Us casual carpoolers, who line up on Beale, between Howard and Folsom, will have a front row view of the action at the temporary terminal, which is right across the street from our line up area.

The changes aren’t good news for everyone. Besides displacing a number of permanent homeless residents who’ve come to call the Terminal home, the demolishing of the 70-year old structure will end the lives of the giant trees that have provided shade, homes for hundreds of birds and one of the few living green environments in the south-of-Market chaos.

If you want a last look at the old terminal before it’s blasted away, there are hourly guided tours this FRIDAY, JULY 30. Meet at the ground floor entrance at 1st & Mission Street at noon, 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm or 4 pm.

Tuesday, July 27 Remembering the Jitneys

Yawn, shiver. It’s 6:45 a.m. and 55 degrees in the Vallejo carpool line. Happily I’m quickly in a Toyota 2-door pickup truck. No heat, but it’s bearable. The driver is a large, almost sumo-looking fellow and he’s probably not feeling much chill. I plop $1.25 into the little tray between the seats – “thanks” – and we exchange comments on the state of this miserable ‘summer’ weather. KOIT radio, light rock, less talk, and light traffic too, today.

I often think about an earlier version of car-sharing that San Francisco commuters enjoyed in years past. The Mission Street Jitney. If you were around in San Francisco in the 60s and 70s (or earlier), you probably know about the Jitneys, the cars that ran up and down Mission Street, picking up passengers on nearly every corner. A ride at that time cost a dime, although the term “jitney” was slang for a nickel, which was originally the standard fee. The first time I saw a jitney I was relatively new to the City, having just moved here in 1967 from St. Louis. What I saw was an oversized black car pull up to a curb on Mission Street. A couple of people jumped out and another person jumped in. There was a clandestine, almost sinister feel to the activity, and I remember wondering if I was witnessing a CIA or FBI operation of some sort, or perhaps some criminal activity. I became even more alarmed when, a few blocks later, I saw the same thing happening again. At the time I didn’t see any signs on the cars or on the curb indicating that this was a licensed form of public transport. Later, when the jitneys were gone and I learned what jitneys were, I was sorry I’d never had the opportunity to ride in one. Over-regulation and the advent of BART finally did them in.

They first appeared in San Francisco in 1914 as transportation for the workers and attendees to the World’s Fair (the Panama-Pacific International Exposition). By 1915 there were over 1400 private Jitney operators and that number doubled within a few years as they provided transportation for suburbanites coming into San Francisco. Many people moved to Oakland after the 1916 earthquake, along with some Jitneys, and the Jitneys would transport them from various spots in Oakland to the ferries that crossed the bay.

As the years passed, Jitneys upgraded their cars and some even became mini-vans, but the spirit of the Jitney remained. A fast, personalized service with a variety of driver and car styles and a natural flexibility. Sounds a lot like the casual carpool, don’t you think?

An Early Jitney Driver