Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dear Nathaniel Ford - Enjoy Your Family

Dear Nathaniel Ford,
Oh my! Word has just gotten out that my city will be giving you a big bucket of money so that you can spend more time with your family.

$384,000 will get you a lot of time with your family, Nathaniel. And congratulations on that lifetime of subsidized healthcare and FREE rides on muni for you and that beautiful family. I'm sure that you'll enjoy it.

You know what, Nathaniel? I'm not enjoying time with my family right now. And I think you can guess why. It's because my son is sitting at the Muni stop at Stonestown waiting for an M train. It's been 35 minutes already, and a train is due in just 14 more minutes.

Of course, this won't happen to you. You'll be with your family while you wait. Or maybe you all can just jump into a taxi. $384,000 goes a long way.

You commented tonight that it's been a "great experience" leading Muni. Allow me to make it more concise, Nathaniel. For your passengers, it's been simply an experience.

Enjoy that family time, Nat. And godspeed. We'll never forget your contributions to the city.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dear Nathaniel Ford - It's Been a While

Dear Nathaniel Ford,

Forgive my poor correspondence over the past few months. It's not for lack of subject matter. Why, just yesterday, I stood at Embarcadero Station waiting for a T-Sunnydale while a driver exited the train and joked with a station agent that he needed to get some smokes. An N Judah, crowded with passengers, waited at the edge of the platform while the driver disappeared for a bit and came back laughing. He took his time getting settled in to his seat before moving the train forward. Imagine the people who stared longingly at the platform as they waited to jump 20 feet forward before the doors could open. Maybe some of them wanted a smoke too.

And that's not all, Nathaniel. Even though I walk to work in the morning, I'm still subjected to the maddening evening  commute in which the trains "self bunch" as they exit Embarcadero. J-J-J-N-N-L. Ah, the poor J rider who misses those three will wait 30 minutes before another trio emerges.

But today, Nathaniel, I encountered a whole new world of commuter woe. Masses of confused seniors, sullen teens, and angry moms found that they were unable to purchase their monthly passes without providing documentation proving their ages. The oft-delayed Clipper program has finally arrived. Today the staffers at Walgreens tried to explain why IDs were now necessary to purchase the passes that have been available to any citizen. Cheerful Clipper Commodores (the name is mine) attempted to decipher the byzantine process that around 75,000 youths and seniors must navigate in order to get their discounts.

Here's a snippet of my dialogue with Commodore Joseph:
Joseph: "All you need to do is fill out an application and you'll get the  youth pass in a couple of weeks."
Me: "If it takes two weeks to process a youth pass, will the monthly fare be pro-rated?"
Joseph: "The rate is $20 per month, but you need to have an ID for the youth and not a school ID."
Me: "What kind of ID?"
Joseph: "Only a passport or a birth certificate."
Me: "And if it takes two weeks to process, will they still charge me for the whole month?"
Joseph: "It's still a discount."
Me: "In the meanwhile, how does my son get his discount?"
Joseph: "The buses still accept the discount fare."
Me: "So he can get on the bus, pay 75 cents, get a transfer, and then take the subway?"
Joseph: "He has to ride at least one stop, but yeah."
Me: "But if he just wants to get on the subway, he has to pay two bucks."
Joseph: "Until you get a birth certificate and show it to us so we can make his pass."

Nathaniel, let's face facts. There are many thousands of citizens in San Francisco who cannot produce a birth certificate or passport in order to ride the subway to school, or to the senior center for a free lunch.  President Obama is trying to pass the Dream Act for them.  (Come to think of it, President Obama also thought that producing a birth certificate to satisfy seemingly capricious demands was stupid.)

Sure, there are probably hundreds of citizens who will grab granny's passport and show it in order to get a discounted Clipper card for themselves. The former suffer. The latter only get caught if they fail to notice the fare police before turning in the other direction.

Don't even get me started on the hundreds of kids who can no longer get a free muni pass so they can get to school.

You know what would be great, Nathaniel?

If the Clipper program were actually about making transport more convenient for all. But it's not. It's inconvenient. And, at its core, it's unfair to the San Franciscans who need equality the most.

Tomorrow, I shall begin the process of getting a youth Clipper card for my enfranchised child. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dear Nathaniel Ford - A New Year?

Dear Nathaniel,
I've been such an unfaithful correspondent lately, but I don't want you to believe that it's not because I don't think of you often. In fact, I find myself invoking your name frequently; it's similar to how I invoke Jesus, with a sense of frustration and futility, but with a tiny glimmer of hope that perhaps I'll be heard.

Did you hear me on Friday evening, Nathaniel? It was such a beautiful night with the moon illuminating the balmy streets, filling the hopeful hearts of San Franciscans. We couldn't wait to get home, shed the quotidian cares of the week, and get our parties started. But we had to.

Entering Montgomery Street station at 6:30, I found little space on the platform and, while inbound trains abounded, outbound trains were not in sight. A helpful announcement crackled over the platform, and those who can make out messages challenged by poor P.A. systems, a thick accent, and the howls of angry commuters may have made out more than, "problem with outbound..." That's all I needed to hear.

I ascended the stairs and hopped on the F, making my 7 mile per hour way home. During that ride, I invoked both you and Jesus. I even gave you the same middle name.

Nathaniel, dysfunction is endemic in your system. Where is the pride? How hard is this? New Yorkers, whose system is geometrically larger and more complex than ours, accepted poor service in the midst of a giant blizzard. Here ins San Francisco, we're asked to accept abysmal service in the following conditions:

  • Rain
  • Heat
  • Wind
  • Baseball season
  • Fridays
  • Holidays
  • Evenings
  • Mornings

It's a shame that commuters don't commute on pleasant Tuesday afternoons during basketball season and stay home the rest of the time.

I understand that you're soon to be fully vested in our city's astonishingly generous pension plan. It's been five years Nathaniel and you'll now enjoy a lifetime of salary, health insurance and even free rides on Muni. It seems like this has been your primary goal for these five long years. Isn't it time to let someone else give it a go?