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Archive for January, 2009

How To Cheat The FasTrak System, Part II

If you have a FasTrak transponder on your dashboard, the little square device that allows you to blow through the toll plaza without fumbling for cash, you know that it really is a cool idea. If you’ve had one for any length of time, you also know the system is, as they say in the military, FUBAR. A recent Contra Costa Times story and editorial point out that rental cars can use FasTrak lanes without paying.

A reader just alerted us to another FasTrak scam: He has a hybrid car with stickers for the car pool lane. And he has a FasTrak tag. But he keeps it in the metalized bag so no toll gets registered, and since car pool lanes have no cameras to take license plate pictures, he’ll never get caught.

Are all FasTrak systems this hinky? What can be done to fix the system?

(Photo: mightyohm on flickr.)

Posted on Friday, January 23rd, 2009
Under: Misc. Transportation | No Comments »

BART officer training revealed


Commuters, readers, transit experts (we know you’re reading), policy wonks and public transportation riders, thanks for your suggestions when the Queen was trying to get a copy of the BART training manual. Legendary Medianews cops reporter Harry Harris has produced a story revealing that BART officers get hundreds of hours more training than the minimum required.

This is good news in terms of our safety on BART. It also adds to the puzzlement over why BART Officer Johannes Mehserle apparently drew his gun and fatally shot a prone, unarmed Oscar Grant III on New Year’s Day. Harris’ story includes interesting details including which police academy Mehserle attended.

A related story by Medianews reporters Denis Cuff and Janis Mara reveals that in its 36-year history, BART has had four officer-involved shootings, according to spokesman Linton Johnson.

Posted on Thursday, January 22nd, 2009
Under: Misc. Transportation | 3 Comments »

Advertising on BART cars: Easy money or tacky intrusion?

BART might steer its train cars into new money-making territory: turning the cars into moving billboards to help bail the transit system out of a budget jam.

We can hear the outcry. Don’t tarnish the sleek silver and blue cars, a well-known symbol of BART, with tacky advertising. Don’t let advertising invade one more place in our cluttered landscape. Those arguments will be one part of the debate whether BART should proceed with the advertising scheme.

But transit officials also said the economic downturn and the state’s raid on transportation funds has driven BART to scour and scrape for new ways to cut costs or raise money. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, January 20th, 2009
Under: BART, Fare systems, rail | 8 Comments »

BART Police Training Manual: Now You Don’t See It, Now You Don’t

In the wake of the fatal officer-involved shooting on New Year’s Day, questions are flying about BART police training. If you’ve seen the chilling video of the shooting, it’s hard not to wonder how an officer could seemingly pull his gun and shoot a man lying on the ground with his hands behind his back. Wasn’t the officer trained not to do such a thing?

That certainly is a good question, and the BART police manual would be a good way to answer it. BART spokesman Linton Johnson says there isn’t such a thing.

“There’s not really an officer’s training manual,” Johnson told Medianews in a voicemail message last week. “We hire out of police academies. You’d want to call the police academies to get their training manual, if there is one.”

On Saturday, Jan. 17, a letter from two BART directors published in the Contra Costa Times said, “BART’s Police Department … has established policies and procedures that prescribe appropriate conduct expected of all members of the department, both sworn and non-sworn.” Seems like policies and procedures might fill the bill, no? Wouldn’t those have to be written down?

BART has devoted a section of its Web site to its police force. Readers, if you have found anything useful here, please feel free to comment. The SWAT Team page is not very specific, telling us that the team gets training from “a number of sources” including the FBI and “other local teams.”

“Team members train on scenarios which include situations on-board trains within tunnels, on elevated trackways, or in stations.” But there’s no manual?

(Photo: BART Web site, SWAT Team page) 




Posted on Monday, January 19th, 2009
Under: Misc. Transportation | 2 Comments »

In wake of shooting, BART board meeting a venting event

“For God’s sake, could you at least apologize?”
For six hours, members of the community harangued the nine members of BART’s Board of Directors for what they described as stonewalling, covering up and remaining silent about the officer-involved shooting New Year’s Day that left Oscar Grant III dead.
Though speakers were supposed to be limited to three minutes, the board allowed them to talk pretty much until they wore out. And as the six-hour meeting progressed, eventually every individual member of the board made an apology – the public apology community members sought.
“I have five sons,” one man told the board. “They are straight-A students. What am I supposed to tell them about authority (in light of this action)?”
The board agreed to set up a board committee to review police procedures and consider the possibility of creating a BART civilian police review board. BART director Carole Ward Allen, who represents the Fruitvale area where Grant was shot, revealed plans to set up a community meeting in the near future so BART riders can continue the dialogue with BART representatives.
The meeting’s agenda was originally devoted to other matters, but was changed to accommodate the outcry. For that reason, because the public had not been given notice, under the Brown Act the board was unable to make any definite decisions. But action on the three pledges will probably start next week.
As the meeting wore on, businesses in downtown Oakland instructed employees to leave early and closed their doors before 5 p.m., fearing another riot like the one Wednesday night in which the Fox Theater was damaged.

Posted on Thursday, January 8th, 2009
Under: Misc. Transportation | No Comments »

BART Officer-Involved Shooting


As not only the Bay Area but the entire country knows by now, a BART passenger was killed in an officer-involved shooting New Year’s Day, and the incident was recorded by other passengers and put up on YouTube. The fallout has been relentless. Last night, there were riots in Oakland, and today, people are sounding off on BARTRage, a local blog created years ago for precisely that purpose.

Capricious Commuter co-author Denis Cuff is currently at the BART Board of Directors meeting in downtown Oakland, where BART’s headquarters are located. Dozens of speakers addressed the BART board, and the atmosphere was heavy.

At the meeting, Amos Brown, on the national board for NAACP, senior minister at the Third Baptist church in San Francisco, asked the board for reverence and respect for human life and saidm, “BART in tandem should join with this audience in saying that was murder; don’t explain it away as a mistake,” he said.

What should BART do – what can it do – to calm the situation down? What would you do if you were on the board?

 (BART officer shooting video courtesy of YouTube.)


Posted on Thursday, January 8th, 2009
Under: Misc. Transportation | No Comments »

Are DUI checkpoints effective?

DUI checkpoints don’t catch a lot of drunken drivers. For example, a Saturday night checkpoint in Martinez that 592 drivers passed through caught just one, according to police. Law enforcement representatives admitted that this is the case in a recent Medianews article, “DUI checkpoints ineffective, group says.” The American Beverage Institute advocates doing away with the checkpoints, saying it would be more efficient to rely on roving patrols.

That article caught the eye of Beverly McAdams of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who fired off an e-mail to Medianews in response. According to Mcadams, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 2009
Under: driving, Freeways, Misc. Transportation, Safety | No Comments »