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.

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