Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Unwilling Carpool Mom

Dear Nathaniel Ford,
You have such a friendly face. And you identify as Nathaniel Ford, Sr. That makes me wonder: Does Nathaniel Ford, Jr. ride Muni to school?

I'm asking because my son should be riding Muni to school. A short trip on the 24 followed by a few stops on the 71 or a brisk walk should get him to school in under 30 minutes. But it hasn't worked out that way, Nathaniel.

Day 1 of school: We checked NextMuni and saw that the next 24 would arrive in 39 minutes. Nathaniel, this was at 7:15 in the morning. How could a major bus line be so fouled so early in the morning. When we checked, I figured that it would determine how quickly my kid would need to finish his breakfast, brush his teeth, and walk two blocks to the bus stop.

But really, what it meant, was that I would need to drive him.

And I'm glad I did. Because Abby, who lives down the street, went to wait for the 24. And guess what? It DIDN'T EVEN STOP at the corner bus stop because it was too full. And Abby was late for her first day of high school. Imagine how Nathaniel, Jr. would feel if he was late for his first day of high school. Ick.

Day 2 played out the same way.

Now, guess what? I'm driving in a parent car pool. TO HIGH SCHOOL, Nathaniel. These kids don't want to pile into a car with moms and dads and Renee Montagne. I don't know how old Nathaniel, Jr. is, but my teenager would much rather skulk over to the bus stop and make his own way to school. Except if it means getting up at 5:30 in the morning so he can overcome the vagaries of the Muni schedule.

For the time being, our small group of parents in the neighborhood have thrown up our hands. We're driving our kids. Taking three more bodies off the bus and putting one more car on the street. It's really that very last thing any of us wanted.

You know what would be really cool, Nathaniel?

If there was more planning around FREQUENCY and less around whatever determines how buses leave. Looking at the schedule, the frequency for the 24 at 7:15 a.m. should be about every 10 minutes. Given the length of the route, I figure that at 7:15, you had a maximum of 8 buses deployed. How could things have gone so wrong so early?

Maybe it's this crazy thing about drivers not having to call in sick.

Or the fact that somewhere around one in five drivers are no show on any given day.

Nathaniel, our city deserves better. I don't want to be carpool mom. That's why I live here instead of Walnut Creek.

Fix this. If not for my kid, then for Nathaniel, Jr.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Typing Lesson

Dear Nathaniel Ford,

When I was in high school, they made all the girls take typing lessons. Sexist, yes, but here I am typing away with a decent level of accuracy and speed.

Ms. McKim used to teach the keyboard by making us typists just repeat the same couple of letters. To trick us, she'd sometimes throw in a new letter.

She'd recite, "F F F space. H H H space. F F F space. J..." and so on.

I thought of Ms. McKim while I waited for my train at Montgomery today. There we were, one stop from the Embarcadero dispatch station and the trains were coming just like Ms. McKim's typing lesson.

J J J wait. N N N wait. J J N wait. L.

It makes me wonder if the person in charge of sending trains out is learning to type. That's the only explanation I can think of.

Why is it like that?

You know what would be better, Nathaniel Ford?

If, right there where the trains are arranged and sent out, somebody said, "Hey, instead of sending a train to the same line twice or three times in a row, let's make the next one a K. The people of Ocean Avenue have been waitings a long time."

What do you think, Nathaniel?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dear Nathaniel Ford - The Silence of the Driver Edition

Dear Nathaniel Ford,

Today I got into Powell Station to find an L sitting there with all the doors closed. The train was not quite full, so I was exasperated. Then I noticed that the door in the very front was still open. I rushed up and got on the train. Hooray! No wait.

Oops. Wait. The front door stayed open. All the other doors stayed closed. We stayed put.

Finally, the door closed and we were on our way.

At Civic Center, some passengers got off, more got on. The doors closed. Then the ones in the middle opened. And we sat there. It was during that three minute wait that I decided that tonight, really, I would begin writing to you.

While my fellow passengers muttered and swore, I began composing my theme. "Dear Nathaniel Ford." I fantasized about, one day, getting a response from you. But for not, just writing is enough.

Eventually the middle door closed and we were on our way. Our driver as as silent as a monk who had taken vows. He was a rabbit, or a fish. Not a sound, never mind and explanation, passed through his lips.

You know what would be really nice, Nathaniel?

If Muni drivers simply told passengers what the issue was, and set an expectation. Like when you call PG&E and they say, "The wait is 6 minutes." Sometimes the wait is two minutes; sometimes it's 10. But just that voice makes the customer feel better.

Why is it that some drivers are regular Chatty Cathys and some are as silent as a snowfall?

That's what I'm wondering, Nathaniel Ford.

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Lost Boy Edition

Dear Nathaniel Ford,

I've been meaning to write for a while. Last week I really meant to because I saw something that I thought would interest you.

I was riding home on the L and we stopped at Civic Center. We passengers could hear the driver on the radio saying something like, "I see him."
Then we saw the driver leave our train. He walked down the platform and then returned to his spot in the front. More radio muttering. Then he said it again, clear as day. "I see him."
He got out of the train again. All the doors except the one in front were closed. People were saying things like, "For Chrissake" and "Not again" and "F**k this." We'd been stopped for two or three minutes. Not a long time, but we didn't know why.

Then the driver returned to the train with a boy who looked scared and about 8 years old. He brought him into the front and we heard him again on the radio. The driver said, "You ever drive a train?" Then he said, "I got him. On my way to Van Ness."

Then we passengers understood. Our driver had spotted a lost boy. We got to watch the boy reunite with his mom. It was touching. We passengers clucked and wiped little tears from our jaded eyes.

But, Nathaniel Ford, you know what would have made this better?

Just one small announcement from the driver. Something like, "We've got a lost boy and I think I see him. Please be patient while I get him."

Who is going to mutter and swear at that?

But he didn't.

Why aren't Muni drivers more communicative? This could have been a situation that had your customers cheering. Instead we went from irritated to less irritated.

Wouldn't it be great if all the drivers were communicative, Nathaniel Ford?