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Archive for January, 2008

the horror: AC Transit’s jet lag


When I called attention to another local news outlet’s story on AC Transit’s love affair with Belgian-made Van Hool buses a week ago, I said I would be waiting impatiently to read this week’s sequel.

Looks like the East Bay Express’ Bob Gammon saved the best for last. This week’s story gives AC Transit officials a lot more to explain, and it certainly left me wishing I had done all that digging through the bus agency’s records.

While I enjoyed reading last week’s story, it didn’t convince me that these buses had dragged down the entire agency nearly as much as the drop in Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2008
Under: 511, AC Transit, air travel, Buses, Funding, transit equity | 9 Comments »

another view of rail crossing deaths


Sometimes the most interesting things you find out about something is when you’ve finished writing the story.

Today I got an e-mail from someone who had read my story on the Union Pacific Railroad installing cameras in its locomotives to record railroad  crossing and “trespasser” deaths and lesser accidents and near-misses.

If you saw the story, you might have seen the black-and-white images of a train almost plowing into a big hopper truck, then missing it by what appeared to be a couple feet.

The person who e-mailed me, whom I don’t Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, January 30th, 2008
Under: Amtrak, rail, Safety | 9 Comments »

the 63% solution

Yesterday I read among the comments to last week’s post on fixing federal transportation funding that the Bay Area spends two-thirds of its transportation money on public transportation while barely one-tenth of commuters actually use it.

Another comment expressed incredulity over that figure, considering how much money it takes to maintain roads and highways, not to mention the $5.7 billion going into replacing the Bay Bridge’s eastern span.

But the immediately apparent bottom line is correct, according to Randy Rentschler, spokesman and lobbyist for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The commission’s initial framework for its 2030 transportation and growth plan calls for 63 percent of the revenue the Bay Area receives to be spent on public transportation. That’s comparable to Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, January 25th, 2008
Under: BART, Bay Bridge, Bridges, driving, Environment, fuel, Funding, Transit vs. driving | 25 Comments »

Van Hooligans

uncool-van-hool.jpgIt was with some pride that I dissected this week’s East Bay Express cover story on the rise of Belgian-made Van Hool buses at AC Transit. I enjoyed seeing that regular Capricious Commuter commentator David Vartanoff was quoted in the story and that another regular voice on this blog, V Smoothe, had a scathing critique of the story on her own blog,

I read Bob Gammon’s story, “The Buses from Hell,” with interest, wanting to know as much as possible about these buses that get some riders and bus drivers so angry they might be provoked to throw something at these vehicles with sleek European styling. He’s won more awards for his work than I’ve submitted entries for, so I knew this would be something good.

I mean, you can’t go wrong when you start a story with, “Pamela Daniels lost her left leg to a Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2008
Under: AC Transit, Buses, Funding, Safety | 14 Comments »

the next big thing in transportation


As I sit here high above the Nimitz Freeway, members of my favorite Caltrans maintenance crew are busy patching a 1-by-1-foot hole in the highway’s bridge over High Street.

How appropriate that I just got off the phone with Steve Heminger, who had just flown in from Washington, D.C.

Heminger, who by day is executive director of the Bay Area’s very own Metropolitan Transportation Commission, was tapped in 2005 by Nancy Pelosi to serve on the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.

That hole in the Nimitz is but one of many such holes in freeways around the nation, and the money to fix them — permanently — is Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, January 18th, 2008
Under: Freeways, fuel, Funding, Safety, tolls | 22 Comments »

vacation from transit? no way!


They say true love knows no bounds. During last week’s trip to see my wife in Istanbul, I had to test this theory.

The city has many things to see. Hundreds of historic mosques, the breathtaking Hagia Sophia cathedral/mosque/museum, which was built exactly 1,400 years before the Golden Gate Bridge, and Topkapi Palace that served as home for generations of Ottoman sultans and their concubines. 

We saw those things, but then I had to see the world’s oldest subway, which opened in 1875.

At 1,180 feet, it may be the world’s shortest subway system, but I found out later that despite all the hype, it’s not as Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, January 16th, 2008
Under: Golden Gate Bridge, other, rail | 2 Comments »

storm, what storm?

Item 1: I’m going on vacation. No blog posts until Jan. 16 or so.

Item 2: I’m flying out of SFO this evening, and I’m hoping that howling I hear outside subsides enough for my plane to take off.

Catch up with you later…

Posted on Friday, January 4th, 2008
Under: air travel | 3 Comments »

don’t stick a fork in it just yet


In one of those happy accidents that can only happen to the easily distracted, I found a blog dedicated to pointing out the most expensive whatever.

I had received a Google alert (I haven’t started my Google boycott just yet; it’s just so darned useful) that fond a mention of the Bay Bridge in It was a photo of fireworks with the Bay Bridge just visible, and it referred to the bridge as the James “Sunny Jim” Rolph Bay Bridge.

I was sure I had heard the name in passing, but was disturbed that if this was the official name of the bridge, I should know more about it. So I did a bit of searching and found out that Sunny Jim was Mayor of San Francisco, Depression-era leader of the Golden State and was also known as “Governor Lynch” for his praise of a San Jose mob that dispatched a couple of kidnapping suspects. I learned that he died two years before the bridge opened in 1936 and was reminded that there was a time in this country that such a naming was a memorial, not a lifetime achievement award.

Anyway, one of the search results was a Dec. 27 blog post on, which chronicles anything that fits the name of the blog, including such things as an $880 pair of microscopic dice and a $32,000 astronaut-headed PEZ dispenser (Did you know that “PEZ” derives from Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008
Under: Bay Bridge | 2 Comments »