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  • Waiting for a ride

A Ride and a Chat in a Z Car


TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8
Somewhat hesitantly, I step into a 2-seater sports car this morning, small, but not tiny and very comfortable, even with all my usual commuting gear.

Pleasant guy at the wheel. I can tell he loves his car and I ask him what it is – “It’s a Z 2006”. I later learned that Z’s are a Japanese car, manufactured by Nissan. Z cars hold the record as the best selling sports car of all time – over 2 million have been sold. Z owners love their cars!

This Z driver in a bright orange long-sleeved t-shirt, is a regular casual carpool driver and is an SF MUNI bus driver as well. “I love seeing the people and giving them a ride’, he says with a big smile. He’s a terrific driver and I feel relaxed and safe in the car. We talk about public transportation and agree that without MUNI San Francisco would be paralyzed. “And some people say we’re overpaid! We have to be more than just a driver of a vehicle. I have to be a policeman, fireman, attorney, counselor, tour guide, all on top of driving the bus.”

I tell him that I recently learned (SF Chronicle’s Matier & Ross Monday, February 7) that SF’s about-to-be former police chief Heather Fong, who will be leaving SF Hall of Justice some time this year, will leave with an ANNUAL pension of $229,500.

He exclaims “And the city has these huge projects going on, too! “The new Transbay Terminal plus the underground extension of BART under Stockton Street. Who’s paying for all this?” Take a look in the mirror, fellow taxpayers. Our votes on the ballot agreed to salary and pension increases for fire and police officers in 2002, after the 9/11 fall out.

We talk more about the frustrations of traffic and commuting, (we’re both concerned about the new tolls for commuters) and his special frustrations as a city bus driver. “People walk right out in front of us without looking. They’re on their cell phones, or trying to beat the light. But it’s still the best job I ever had!”

We’re soon over the bay bridge and into a sunny San Francisco morning. A great ride, a great driver and a super car.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7 – Are you ready for Carpool Showdown?


Beautiful morning – the sun is shining right into the eyes of all the riders waiting for a car and we’re all blinking and squinting. The minor discomfort is a small trade-off for the gorgeous weather we’re having. The weekend was truly spectacular with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. I felt like I’d gone to Tahiti; we even had a multi-colored, romantic sunset.

But here’s Monday and we’re back on the commute. I’m in the very same Chevy van I’ve been getting lately, with the lady in casual clothing who does not want to chat. Today she has a small, scruffy-cute dog with her, in a carrier on the front seat next to her I and the other rider are in the back seat. The traffic is heavy and vigorous; we’re all moving along at about 40 mph. Lots of single passenger cars ducking in and out of the carpool lane, bringing us to a halt from time to time.

Have you seen CARPOOL SHOWDOWN? It’s a new program on KOFY-TV, Cable Channel 13 every Sunday night, at 9 p.m. It started just last month and takes place right in bay area casual carpools. A host from KOFY sits in the car and conducts a sort of game show, asking the passengers various ridiculous and very amusing questions. Winners get CASH! (ye$!!) I’ve only seen one episode so far and besides answering questions about popular culture (movies, music, celebrities, etc.) there was a very funny activity where riders passed a cucumber to each other – by mouth!

Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves enormously, and especially the winners who emerged from the carpool with handfuls of cash. Check it out. KOFY, Channel 13, 9 PM Sundays. Let me know if you’d like to be a contestant. I’ve asked KOFY how the casual carpools are selected. (Carpool Showdown follows another equally amusing show, “Dance Party” at 8 PM, a revival of the original 1980s show, with couples dancing to popular music. Reminiscent of American Bandstand with Dick Clark.

January’s Foggy Carpool Lane Issues


6-MONTH TOLL REPORT
Last month some mid-year figures came in on the new toll increases that were put in place last July 1 and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission seems happy with them. But how are we doing? Has commute traffic decreased? Is the transporation agency making more money? How’s the casual carpool surviving?

On average per day, there were 1500 FEWER carpool cars crossing the Carquinez Bridge, and nearly 5,000 FEWER carpool cars crossing the Bay Bridge. There has been a daily drop of 11,407 carpool vehicles for all bridges combined (Antioch, Benicia, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Richmond Oakland-Bay, and San Mateo).

The non-carpool daily traffic has increased by 5,045. Congestion at the Bay Bridge toll plaza has decreased slightly, by about a 4-minute gain for commuters.

The Transportation Commission is pleased. After the first six months, the toll take has increased by $68.4 million and there are a few thousand less cars on the bridge each day (the nexus of most of the morning congestion). Looks like the Commission is meeting its goals. For those of us who champion the shared ride concept, this is somewhat disheartening.

It makes it seem as though pre-toll increase on July 1, casual carpooling might have been creating more congestion on the bridge, and hindering toll revenue. I recently read a UC Berkeley study, done 3 years ago on these very issues. In this study, two Berkeley engineering professors took opposing views on the effectiveness of carpool lanes.

Professor Mike Cassidy found the HOV (high occupancy vehicle “carpool”) lanes to be effective in reducing traffic congestion, but thinks the lanes are not being used properly. “They need more flexibility – use the lanes as needed instead of at fixed times”. Pravin Varaiya, the other professor concluded that the under-used carpool lanes simply take up desperately needed space from the regular non-carpool traffic. “Not enough people use them.”

Some commuters think the drop in carpooling, and in all commuting vehicles is due to unemployment and dwindling jobs. And there has been an increase in BART ridership since last July – an 8% rise in the peak morning commute and that may account for a few former carpoolers who are disgruntled with the new tolls.

Another point in this murky debate is that there’s $21 billion of federal money at stake – billions allocated to double the HOV lanes statewide by 2020. Caltrans, who gets this budget and does the work must be slightly dismayed to see carpooling numbers decreasing. In an effort for greater HOV lane efficiency, Caltrans has increased enforcement of carpool cheating (fewer than 3 passengers in a car), and just last month, construction began on an added stretch of carpool lane to the bay area 680 freeway. There is also a plan underway to create “Express Lanes” within the carpool lanes. This allows single drivers to use the HOV lanes if they pay a fee, thereby, theoretically, better utilizing the carpool lane and de-congesting the other lanes of traffic.

While I understand (somewhat) the dilemma of these transportation agencies who all seem to be going broke, I am disappointed that there is no mention anywhere of environmental concerns. Our commuting hordes in their cars and trucks and SUVS are burning up gas and oxygen, while freeways are expanded in a futile attempt to accommodate them. More and more land is cemented over and we are all still stuck in traffic.

Another UC Berkeley study is due at the first anniversary of the new toll increases. Stay tuned.

MEANWHILE, IN THE CASUAL CARPOOL
Tuesday, February 1. And uh, looks like the fog is back with a vengeance! But I’m enjoying a lovely ride in a new Mercedes. A chatty, well-dressed fellow driving. He and the girl in the front seat discuss weather, the storms back east, and how lucky we are to be living in California. Her beautiful long brown hair bounces and sparkles as she talks. She’s from Benicia. “I grew up there.” The driver is a transplant from San Francisco (“We lived in the Laurel Heights neighborhood, and it was always foggy”) and is happy to have moved himself and his family to Benicia. I have no small children but I frequently hear praises sung about the outstanding quality of the Benicia schools.

We duck in and out of the fog as the driver sips his Mountain Dew. Shore birds and ocean grasses poke up through the foggy shoreline water looking like an abstract painting.

January Casual Carpooling Diary


TUESDAY, JANUARY 11. I’m in a Honda sedan, with Christmas decor hanging from the mirror – snowflakes, a silver angel with gold wings, a bell, plus a company parking pass. The driver takes an extra passenger, so we’re four in the car, and I see that she unabashedly accepts $1.25 from each of us. I wonder if she does that every time. The driver is youngish, wearing a jaunty black cap with a little brim. Traffic’s heavy, but the carpool lane moves along with no trouble.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 12. Its a bit warmer and because I’m running about 30 minutes later than usual, there’s more light in the morning sky. A much more optimistic way to start the day than in the damp, dark chill. The ride is a Toyota sedan, the driver a 50s something lady, pleasant. We all comment briefly on the warmer temperatures and then settle down. I saw a brief flash on the news this morning that UC Berkeley had just released a study on carpooling in the bay area – something I’ve been waiting for since the toll increase July 1.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 13. My ride’s a shiny new Mazda 3. Weather is wet sprinkles, but nothing serious. But ah, the sunrise – flaming orange and red! Guy driver is in his late 30s with a cute short, standing-on-end haircut. We pass a huge truck carrying a load of flattened cars. I try to count how many cars are squashed together, but give up. They’re too tightly smashed together, but it could total 100 cars. Fallen warriors taking their final freeway ride.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 14. I’ve ridden in this VW Jetta before. I remember the driver, but not the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke, which I wasn’t aware of until we were underway. 60s something guy in Friday casual. Navy blue wool jacket, khaki trousers. There’s a handsome leather briefcase on the back seat next to me. The driver turns up the radio – KCBS – for the sports news and then switches to KFOG. He fiddles with the air dials and we get a blast of perfumed air – kinda spicy, a little floral. It’s not bad and it covers the cigarette smell pretty well. It’s a fast Friday light commute and we’re in the city in 35 minutes.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 18. 3 foggy days off work and now today we’re back and the sun is out. Fog still lingers in low spots along the freeway and out in the ocean. Traffic’s heavy and sluggish. The electric freeway sign near Hercules (yes, that’s a town, for you out-of-staters. Hercules was begun in 1881 as company housing for the California Powder Works – manufacturers of dynamite and other explosive products. The town’s name came from the company’s leading explosive product – Hercules Dynamite.) says it’s an hour to San Francisco. Usually it says 25 to 30 minutes. Quite a few non-carpool cheaters are ducking into our lane and slowing us down. The light holiday traffic is definitely over. I’m in a small Ford pickup truck, the kind with a back seat, but it’s small and the three of us are tightly tucked in. The driver’s a young guy, in his 30s. He spent his holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr Day yesterday) at the zoo in San Francisco with his kids a 5 year old girl, 10 year old boy.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19. A beautiful morning, sun, clear air, about 50 degrees. The weather lady on Channel 4 this morning said it was 85 in L.A. The West Coast is drying out after a soggy beginning to this month. I’m in the back seat of a VW sedan. When I pass my $1.25 toll up, the driver holds out a glass jar that has a hand-lettered sign “$1.25 per person”. The front seat passenger gets in and says “I don’t have any change; I’ll catch you next time.” The driver is clearly not happy with this, but off we go. We enter San Francisco, basking in the California golden sun.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 20. Full moon. Gorgeous sunrise. I’m in a Nissan. Me and my big bag are squished into the front seat. Very heavy stop-and-go traffic in all lanes. The carpool lane is packed and moving even slower than the other 3 lanes. The driver is a round, jolly fellow, dressed all in black. Nearer to the bridge I see the tide is way out.

MONDAY, JANUARY 24. Four of us are in a Volvo sedan. It’s a chilly morning but the young Asian-American driver is not going to turn on the heat. In fact, I see the a.c. is on. I’m wedged into the front seat with my usual big bag. Traffic is plentiful, but moving between 40 and 50 mph. The warmer sunny weather should hang around this week, but this morning it’s the fog and sun light show. Beautiful. I’m earllier than usual, getting back into training for the May 15 Bay to Breakers. So I’ll stop at the gym before work. Groan.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 25. The thick fog swirls around us as we leave Vallejo. Visibility is nearly zero crossing the Carquinez Bridge. I’m in a Chevrolet SUV. A big bald guy is riding in the back seat, I’m in front with the driver. She’s early 50s casually dressed in sweater and slacks. “Your SF Giants” decal is on the windshield. No a.c. today but the heat is at the lowest possible setting and the car is quite cool. Something about the combination of damp and fog that makes it feel even colder. I add my toll payment to one of the cupholders which is holding a fat makeup brush.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 27. Long cold line today. Vallejo and the surrounding area is suffocating in the thickest, wettest fog I’ve seen. It is relentless, accompanied by a brisk icy-cold wind. After a 10 minute wait in the line of riders I’m in the back seat of a Toyota sedan. Mom is driving and her 12-year old daughter is in the back seat, next to me, doing homework, headphones plugged in. Radio is STAR 1013. We emerge from the fog, somewhere around El Cerrito and suddenly it’s a brilliantly sunny morning. Traffic drags past Berkeley and I enjoy the view across the bay of the city softened in a hazy morning glow. The power lines along the freeway are filled with small birds all in line enjoying the morning sun.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 28. The fog thickens. I’m in the back seat of a small Toyota. Feels like an unusually small interior, but I’m not sure of the model. The driver’s wearing her Friday jeans, hanging on to the steering wheel which is encased in a plastic cover featuring Betty Boop. The toll $ is important to her and she looks expectantly at me when I first get in, struggling with my bag, my seat belt, my bulky scarf, and then finally I pull the $1.25 out of my coat pocket. She drums her fingers on her tightly-jean-clad leg as we roll along. The dusk-light light has enveloped the entire bay area this morning.

MONDAY, JANUARY 31. The last day of the first month. Perhaps the fog is finally lifting. There’s a gorgeous sunrise with little pockets of fog hugging the low land areas.
I’m in the same Chevrolet SUV as last Tuesday, the one with the “YOUR SF GIANTS” decal on the windshield. The driver is again dressed casually, and I wonder where she works. Today’s news announces that construction begins on an underground subway link in the city, from the CalTrain station to Chinatown. Stockton Street, which runs alongside Union Square, will be torn up for a year and half.

Car Pooling and Commuting in the Cold First Week of the Year


Wednesday, January 5 Icy cold morning. No fog today, and an incredible sunrise, with bands of pink and gold against a sharp blue sky. I’m in a small Hyundai sedan and snug and warm in the back seat. The driver is a slightly plump pleasant-looking fellow with a beatific smile and wire rimmed glasses. In his black jacket and trousers and white shirt, with a close-cropped thinly-haired head, he’s a stereotypical country preacher. He graciously accepts our toll contributions. It’s a quick ride today, moderate traffic. When the San Francisco skyline comes into view it’s a knock-out. The early sun is bouncing off the high rise windows making a golden light show. The toll gates are nearly empty – where is everybody? Maybe skiing in all that lovely Sierra snow.

Thursday, January 6 We are squealing and moaning in the carpool line this morning. There’s a really dense frigid fog and a brisk wind that feels like small sharp knives on your skin. After about 5 minutes of this agony cars start pulling up. One rider ahead of me in lin is a guy I frequently see. He’s huge – must weigh well over 300 pounds. When I’ve watched him getting into cars the car noticeably sags. Two drivers this morning turn him down, refusing him a ride. Poor fellow. I and another lady get into a small and tidy 4-door Dodge sedan. I’m in back next to a child’s car seat. The driver is being stingy with the heat. I can see it turned down to the lowest setting. Perhaps because he himself is a quite large fellow. The sun is out in Berkeley – no fog, but the city is invisible, covered in the same thick fog we left in Vallejo.

Friday, January 7 Brrr. That damp cold wind is still with us out here in the casual carpool line. About 20 riders are lined up waiting and shivering. The lady in front of me has a horrible cold and I instantly decide not to get in a car with her, even if it means waiting longer. The rider in line in front of her turns down a ride so the coughing, sneezing lady takes the ride. I move up behind the rider who declined the ride and ask her why. “The car smelled like cigarettes and the ashtray was overflowing”, she said. I agree I would not have taken the ride either. After 10 minutes our ride is a big lovely BMW sedan, the full luxury model. Warm. Yum. A young very pretty dark-skinned driver greets us. Unfortunately, just after we enter the freeway she gets on her cell phone and spends the entire 40 minute commute laughing and chatting and I stop relaxing. She occasionally adjusts the heat and radio (KISS-FM) with her one free hand.

It’s a very gray morning, no lovely sunrise to welcome us on our journey. But traffic’s light and we’re breezing along at 70 mph. (and with only one hand!).

MUNI BUS SHELTERS. I usually walk the 3 blocks up Fremont from the carpool drop off to Market Street and catch a bus. Often I have to wait in the bus shelter, and I’ve noticed that it’s really not much of a shelter, especially in this cold, wet miserable weather. The good feature about it is that is has automated signage that keeps riders informed when the next bus is coming. I noticed in Monday’s Chronicle (January 3 Bay Area section) that SF Chronicle writer Will Kane wrote about the bus shelters, and it sounds like I’m not the only one who finds them lacking in, well, shelter.

They are aesthetically pleasing to look at, but they’re full of cracks and openings and on a rainy, windy, 40-degree 7 o’clock commute morning, they provide little comfort. The designer, Olle Lundberg, disagrees, saying they needed to be open for people who are disabled or in wheel-chairs, but I’ve seen people in wheelchairs trying to navigate in and out of them and it isn’t easy. They’re just not wide enough for people to really get into out of the weather and they are very breezy.

Muni has installed 100 of these shelters so far, with 1,000 more planned before 2013. The cost per shelter, $10,000 is underwritten by Clear Channel in exchange for exclusive advertising rights.

Inadequate bus shelters are perhaps a small issue, compared to the greater woes of commuting and working and getting through each day, but when added to the frustrations of traffic, tolls, inadequate public transport, it matters.

Two Winter Rides


Thursday, November 4 First of all, last night’s (November 3) sunset. The best I’ve ever seen, including Hawaii. Truly. The western sky was filled with layers of red and golden light. It was spellbinding, and a fitting close to a very wild, outrageous and special day. The celebration in San Francisco today for the Giants brought 500,000 people out on the street to laugh, scream, wear orange and black and share a few crazy wonderful hours. Wow.

Back on the freeway this morning, I’m in a Chrysler SUV. Two guys in front, I’m in back. The driver is a dead-ringer for Wayne Knight (the actor who played ‘Newman’ on Seinfeld and also the computer tech in Jurassic Park). KNBR radio is re-telling highlights of the world series and yesterday’s events.

Tuesday, December 21 The solstice today, officially the first day of Winter. However, the days now begin to get longer, and I always think of this day as an overture to Spring, rather than the beginning of Winter. I’m in a big Chevrolet van. Both the driver and passenger in back wait patiently as I struggle with my bag, plus a bag of office Christmas gifts. The guy in back finally takes my big bag and puts it in the back seat. The driver looks good in a gray striped suit trousers, a pink sweater and a gray scarf tied jauntily around his neck.

Guess I missed last night’s lunar eclipse. When I got up at 5:30 a.m. the moon was full and bright. As we approach the view of the city the sun slants through the clouds and makes a golden San Francisco. Spectacular. Traffic is holiday light and this looks like about a 40-minute commute today. I start my winter holiday tomorrow. Today is my last commute of the year. Merry Christmas!

Out with the Old, In with the New – 2011 is here


Tuesday, January 4, 2011. Groan. It’s time to get up at 5:15 a.m. and go back to work, after nearly 2 wonderful weeks off. A hard start to the new year. Huge fog going on this morning and we can barely see out the windshield en route to the casual carpool. As the sky begins to lighten, the fog clears slightly. My first carpool ride of 2011 is in a big Ford Pickup with a roomy and comfortable back seat for me and my stuff. Both driver and truck are very tidy and organized. His jacket and satchel are neatly stowed behind the driver’s seat. Driver is wearing a dark plaid shirt and black trousers. Crisply neat hair-cut, slicked back. With the combination of the country music on the radio and the pick-up truck, this guy would look right at home wearing a cowboy hat. The passenger in the front seat talks about the weather for awhile, actually for quite awhile, and then settles down.

We take off in light fog, but as we cross the Carquinez Bridge it’s like being in an airplane. No bridge, no water, no visuals at all. Just thick, thick fog. Sight returns after we get across the bridge and traffic is moving along. A last spectacular look at the fog just before we round the corner to the bay bridge – it lays like delicate lace over the shallow water near the shore.

OLD YEAR/NEW YEAR. It’s time for the old to make way for the new and in California we have our new Governor (Jerry Brown, inaugurated in Sacramento yesterday, California’s 39th governor). It’s a tight budget for him to work with (a $28 billion deficit). I hope this doesn’t impact us commuters with yet more tolls and restrictions and higher mass transit fares.

The old Oakland-Bay Bridge is gradually being taken over by the emerging new Bay Bridge and its 525 foot tower. The tower’s fourth and final section will be in place in March, 2011, and the bridge is now expected to be completed in 2 more years – 2013. We’ll be feeling some of that work in early summer when the lanes get re-routed again.

This morning, as I walked up from the carpool drop off to my bus stop on Market Street, I was shocked to see all the open space where the Transbay Terminal used to be. A lot happened during my 2-week absence. You can check out a speeded up-time-lapse video of some of the demolition at
transbaycenter.org/construction-updates/construction-cameras/demolition- camera. It’s fascinating watching the site grow dark as night falls, and gradually light up with the morning light and traffic. This winter will see the end of the demolition and the beginning of the new foundation construction.

I’ve been looking at new cars – it’s getting time to retire the old Hyundai. I plan to get a hybrid, but have been so happy with my Hyundai Elantra, I’d like to continue with Hyundai. Especially after reading December’s reports from both the auto insurance industry and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Topping their lists of the safest new vehicles for 2011 is Hyundai Genesis (large sedan) and the Hyundai Sonata (mid-sized). Hyundai even got a high mark from the auto insurance people on its small SUV, the Hyundai Tucson.

Happy New Year to us all and safe commuting.

Week End, Week Begin


Friday, December 10
The last ride of the week is a small Toyota sedan. The driver is a 50s something fellow, wearing a khaki baseball cap. A red rabbits-foot dangles from his keychain. The fog is intensely thick with so much moisture in the air it feels like a soft rain. The car is very warm and I’m comfy in the back seat. The driver didn’t say good morning to me or to the lady who comes along and gets in the front seat. Nor did he acknowledge the toll we passed to him. Now I remember this driver. He’s like a robot. But he’s a careful driver and the car is warm, so I can’t complain. KOIT radio is loud in my ear from the rear speaker – all Christmas music. Traffic is heavy and sluggish today, not at all a Friday light commute. I gaze out the window at my fellow commuters, all of us grimly on our way to work on this wet, gray morning. The burden of the holidays presses down on us. BofA has resumed its foreclosures, after a brief hiatus to justify their questionnable procedures. Washington is caving in to the tax extension. And “Jingle Bell Rock” is loud in the car.

Monday, December 13
I’m tired after a full week end of Christmas chores (outside lights, tree purchased, cards written) plus the usual weekend duties. I’m riding in a vintage Volvo sedan – all leather seats, badly cracked, but still stylish. A friendly mellow guy with an Eastern European accent is driving, drinking his Starbuck’s coffee from a styrofoam cup. Another damp, chilly day. The weather people tell us that it’s in the high 80s in L.A. – a mere 500 miles down the road. We are once again serenaded to KOIT radio’s non-stop Christmas music. This morning features several versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. I’m drifting along to the music in this warm car and am suddenly startled to see a big white truck on the other side of the freeway, stopped at an angle, blocking traffic. The retaining wall doesn’t allow a complete view, but from all the emergency vehicles it looks like some sort of unhappiness. It’s affecting traffic on our side of the freeway, too, as everyone slows down for a look. We pick up speed after a few minutes and breeze on across the bridge, passing a lone egret in the bay shallows, and on into the city, which is in a soft-focus fog cover.

This week – Other Tolls of Commuting


TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7
Dramatic fog with the sun breaking through is a lovely way to start the morning. I’m wedged in the back seat of a small sedan. I spot a plastic bag of tasty looking cookies next to the driver. I’m dieting (again) and my food radar is highly sensitive. Have you seen the latest reports on American obesity? 68 percent of us are either overweight or considered obese. I struggle to remain in the 32 percent group.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 8
What a rainy morning! I almost decided to take the ferry – the early morning news said there was a 3-car accident on the Bay Bridge and that several lanes were closed. At that time, they predicted a gridlock until 9 AM. But it cleared up quickly, so I decided to go with the carpool. An interesting ride in a Chevrolet 3-door pickup. The driver, a construction sub-contractor, talked at length about his tech toys. His phone does practically everything and can even produce a map and driving directions by voice activation. Traffic was still very heavy, so I and the lady rider in the back seat were treated to a series of short cuts around the freeway system. At first I had my doubts, but it actually saved us time and we eventually ended up in San Francisco at the usual time. I mentioned the express lane system that has just begun on the bay area carpool lanes and both of my companions were appalled, as am I, by this nutty idea. “Short-sighted”, exclaimed the driver. “it may bring in a few bucks for awhile, but before long, there will be too many cars and it won’t be worth it to commuters to pay extra for the lane”. I pointed out it that it would also impact the carpoolers by eventually ending the carpool advantage. “If the idea is to minimize the number of cars on the road and make it easier for commuters, funds should be spent on developing better mass transportation. More BART, more ferries, better connections between all the systems.”

As our shortcut took us past a part of the bay I had never seen up close before (somewhere near the Richmond Bridge), the driver reflected that most of the time he just accepts the long daily rides, but he realizes the toll it takes on his time – time away from family and relaxing. “I’m so tired when I get home at night, all I can do is fall into a chair. I spend 10 to 20 hours a week, just driving.” We all agree. The lady in the back seat added, “and if these tolls and fares go up any more, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m at my limit now.”

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 9
Today I’m in a big Chrysler (I think) sedan. I’m about to sink into the back seat and spread out with my large bag, when I’m joined by the rider who was in line behind me. Two ladies are in the front seat, so we’re a full load. Happily, it’s warm and feels wonderful – a lovely car. I shift around and get settled and the guy next to me asks the driver, “Mind if I crack the window?” She politely nods yes. Well, it’s more than a crack, and the air is cold. And I DO mind. He plugs ear phones into his head and zones out. I pull out my book and start reading and realize it’s getting COLDER. The jerk has increased the crack to halfway down. Now we have a damp cold breeze circulating through the car. I pull on my hat and wrap my scarf around my neck. Usually it’s the driver who calls the shots on the heat and general comfort of the car, not one of the riders, so I’m a bit surprised that the cold air isn’t bothering the ladies up front.

I turn my attention to the view. The fog is spectacular and as we approach the city, just the very tops of the tallest high-rises are jutting out of the foggy blanket.
The driver takes us up to Market, which is a nice extra; saves me 2 long blocks of walking to the bus stop, and I grab my bag and get out.

It’s only later at work that I realize I’ve left my book in the car. Damn, it’s a library book, too. Hopefully the driver will find it and contact me (are you out there?)

Monday, November 29 The Tolls are Rolling in!


Damn! Ice on the windshield this morning, and it’s 28 degrees. I am happy to see a long line of cars waiting for riders so no waiting in the cold. It’s a beautiful clear morning and a rosey-hued sunrise is pushing up over the horizion. I’m in a commercial electric contractor’s Ford pickup. I’ve ridden with him before. I like him, like his truck and like his radio choices. Today it’s NPR and the buzz is all about the WikiLeaks. He switches the dial to classical piano (a Bach sonata) which is a nice accompaniment to the view of the bay this morning. The sun is now up and the water is so calm it looks like frozen ice. The city is looking lovely as usual in this golden light. A few stray ducks flap along over the water.

The toll gates at the bridge are a backed-up mess for the non carpoolers. It’s one of those moments when I renew my love for the casual carpool. In spite of the toll crazies and the occasional cantankerous ride, it is still such an amazing system. But it seems that Caltrans and some of our other transportation officials don’t see it that way. Take a look at Michael Cabanatuan’s front page article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (“Toll Lane on I-680 Working as Planned”). I talked about this issue in my September 10 Blog – “The Express Lanes Are Coming”.

What is going on is this: the 800 miles of carpool lanes in the bay area are being converted into Express Lanes, the southbound Interstate 680 over the Sunol Grade being the first to go. An Express Lane means that single drivers can use the carpool lanes by paying a toll, tallied by the ever-lovin’ FasTrack transponder. Sure, carpoolers can continue to use the lanes for free but as I suspected, the increased use by the single, paying drivers is adding congestion to the carpool lane. One carpooler commented, “It used to take me 50 minutes (to get from San Ramon to San Jose) but now it takes me 10 to 15 minutes longer.” I predict it’s just going to get worse.

The story comments on the toll revenue that has already been made, as though this is a marker of the ‘success’ of the new Express Lane plan. Cabanatuan reports, “In its first two months of operation, the lane has collected $105,611.” It is expected to eventually bring in about $5 million a year. The cost of setting this up, reconfiguring this one lane on this one portion of a single freeway (electronic toll-collection equipment) was about $37.6 million.

Of course, Caltrans claims that it is helping to de-congest the traffic. “it gives people some stability in their commute and the ability to get from point A to point B in a fixed period of time.” If you can tell me exactly what that means, go for it. I would also like Caltrans to tell me (and all of us who commute) why this is a better way to spend millions of dollars to accommodate cars instead of coming up with an effective public transportation plan.