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  • Waiting for a ride

No Fun, No Heat, Just a Ride


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16
I’m wedged in the back seat of a Honda CRV next to a child seat, the kind that seems to be permanently attached. There is barely enough room for me and the little seat is digging into my ribs. It’s horribly uncomfortable plus, I cannot attach my seat belt – whatever the connection is has been taken over by this contraption. The driver does not acknowledge the fact that there is not an adequate seat for an adult in the back of this huge SUV, nor does she respond to my question about a seat belt.

It’s a cold, wet day and there’s no heat in this car. The driver is a plump be-spectacled woman in her late 20s, early 30s. Her long dull brown hair is pulled back in a pony tail. No make up, no frills. No heat.

The passenger in the front seat is a guy with a shaved head who is about the same age. Both of these folks are wearing dull gray and black clothing. Combined with my physical discomfort, these 2 people are so drab and emotionless I feel like I’m in a prison van. About half-way through the ride the driver rolls down her window and icy air fills the SUV. Fortunately, just as I’m about to complain, she rolls it back up. These kinds of rides, and happily they are few, make me feel like a piece of cargo. It’s just a ride.

Traffic is heavy and sluggish; we’re moving at about 20 mph. Plenty of time to admire the beautiful bay. Lavender-grey and white puffy clouds filter the morning sun and the city softly glows across the choppy winter waters. A solitary snow-white egret hunches over the shallow shoreline pools by Emeryville.

We zip past the gridlocked toll plaza at 60 mph and are in the city by 8:15 a.m.

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.

February Sunny Groundhog Days


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2. GROUND HOG DAY. A huge line of cars all the way around the block. I’m the only rider, at least for the moment. I get into the back seat of a lovely, luxurious Cadillac. A very stylish lady is at the wheel in a wonderful black & white checkered pant suit. She’s model thin. A great hair cut and perfect manicure. I want this car and that haircut! The car reminds me of the Chryslers my parents always used to have – big, leathery, roomy. This one has a sunroof, and a super large gps screen. It’s a beautiful sunny morning and there will be more of the same today and for the rest of the week. Almost impossible to imagine the howling snowstorms going on in the east. But the bright sunny light on Groundhog Day means Mr. Groundhog has seen his shadow and we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter. Mmm. We roll past Berkeley and the view of the city in brilliant light and shadow is reminiscent of an Edward Hopper painting.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3. Frost on the windshields this morning but sunny. Once again I’m the only rider in line, but the street is empty and not a car to be seen. Within about 5 minutes they start pulling up and then a few more riders come along. My ride is in the back seat of a sporty Nissan. The driver barely acknowledges us but is eager to take our $1.25 toll. There’s a book on the back seat, “Discipline of Godly Man”. KGO radio is on REAL LOUD. The driver listens intently, concentrating on the traffic. A contrast to his nearly horizontally reclining seat.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4. Today’s driver looks familiar. But he drives like a maniac, and you’d think I’d remember that before I got in this killer car. Too late now. It’s Friday light so he has more room to drive like a lunatic. Lane changing and going too fast. I’d guess him to be a mid-level management guy. Business suit, crisp blue-striped dress shirt (even on Friday!), short hair and fingernails that look chewed. The car is a small, new Honda. Once the traffic gets heavier near Berkeley he is forced to slow down and we all relax.

He takes 3 of us and accepts the $1.25 without a murmur ($3.75 collected for a $2.50 toll). Ah, but it’s a gorgeous morning and the promise of an even more gorgeous weekend. I saw the first pink blossoms on the flowering quince and plum trees today. I think the Groundhog might be wrong.

Happy weekend.

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.

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?)

November 18 and 19 The Rain Begins and there’s more Toll Talk


THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18 is a shivery windy day with the sun poking through lots of clouds. Rain predicted for Friday and the week ahead. Cars are lined up and waiting. I pass on the first car – the hip hop blaring from behind the closed windows is practically shaking the car. No thanks. My ride is the next one in line – a Lincoln MKZ. A luxury suv with all the trimmings, and the driver declines the toll. Hey, speaking of tolls, have you heard the one about the Toll Plan for Downtown San Francisco?

This is a congestion pricing plan that would levy a $3 toll for travel in a downtown zone 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. There would be a cap at two trips or $6 a day for travel in and out of the central area as well as within it. Bridge toll payers would get $1 off the congestion toll. People living within the toll zone, low income people and disabled drivers would pay 50% of the toll; taxis, buses and emergency vehicles would not pay at all.

I know, I groan too at the thought of yet more tolls, but have you tried to drive a vehicle in downtown San Francisco during those hours? When I drive and pick up carpoolers, it takes me nearly an hour to get from Union Square to the carpool line on Beale Street. The traffic is practically gridlocked. Something has to be done.
And tolls may help discourage people from bringing their cars into the city; HOWEVER, some sort of alternative needs to be offered – shuttles, better bus and BART connections, and so forth. According to TOLLROADNEWS (Google, and see for yourself), this sort of toll plan has worked in London, Rome and Stockholm. If it happens in San Francisco, it would be the first such plan in North America.

Some years ago when I visited London, I took the subway everywhere and it truly goes everywhere. Connections are easily made with buses and it was easy walking distance to get to where I wanted to go once I emerged from the subway. It’s not quite like that here. BART is good, but limited; MUNI is getting better, but there are long waits between buses on many of the lines. And keep in mind there are people who simply have no alternative way to get to work other than driving their car.

But it doesn’t look like this plan is going into effect any time soon. The project is now in its 4th year of studies and public consultation and there’s a long way to go. Still, it’s encouraging to know someone is thinking about ways to fix this traffic/commute mess. Thank you to Paul Minett at Trip Convergence, Ltd in New Zealand for passing this information on to me. He is a true sustainable transportation hero!

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 19
Cars are lined up waiting for riders. I join 2 guys in a big Chevrolet van. And away we go into a gray misty and chilly morning. The driver is dressed very Friday light, from his 2 layers of t-shirts and loose gangsta style jeans to his reclining position in the driver’s seat. He’s almost laying down. Once underway he strikes up a conversation with the fellow next to him in the front seat. The driver is on disability leave from MUNI, and is on his way to group therapy today. Sounds like he had something like a nervous breakdown from too much MUNI. “I stopped seeing the passengers as people after 9 years,and just saw them as numbers. I couldn’t do it anymore.” Ahem, and this guy is driving my carpool today. Okay, well so far so good. He continues talking about his life, his frustrations as a single parent of 3 kids under 10 years of age (also one 25-year old back east who just made him a 49-year-old grandfather of twins). He was raised in the Bayview section of San Francisco, as was the front seat passenger, and they fist bump when they realize they had classmates, teachers, and various adventures in common. They’ve both moved out of the city for survival reasons. “Too many kids gettin’ shot. I didn’t want that to happen to my kids. I’ve got full custody of them now.”

Intense. The view out the window as we round the corner onto the bridge is a welcome relief. About 30 wild geese are resting in the shallow water, rinsing their feathers and gearing up for more flight. Magnificent.