Ferry Gets Half-Baked Clipper Support

The recent addition of Clipper card readers at the ferry terminals in Alameda and SF looked like at long last the ferry service was going to get Clipper support so books of paper tickets would no longer be needed. And so it is, on October 1st.

Unfortunately, as with many aspects of the SF Bay area public transit system, those in charge of planning the addition of Clipper apparently don't use the service at all, or even listen to people who do.

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Iconic Sea Nettles

Iconic Sea NettlesYou knew, given all the other photos from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, that at some point I had to post the iconic blue & orange sea nettle photo. Well, here it is.

For anybody who’s been down there, you’ll know just how hard it is to get a good shot of these guys. The room is dark, and people are pushing to get to the front and be right up close to the jellies. Oh, and did I mention that they’re constantly moving? Well, they are, not fast, but fast enough to make it that little bit harder to catch them well.


For those not living in the San Francisco area, BART is a regional train service here that connects many of the East Bay cities with San Francisco and the cities on the SF peninsula down as far as the international airport (although connecting to the airport was something of an afterthought that was only added in the time I’ve been living here).

With the ending of the shuttle I was taking from SF to San Bruno, where Devicescape‘s headquarters is located, my only option from Embarcadero to San Bruno is BART. Now, over three months into that commute, I have some observations about BART that as an infrequent user I hadn’t really noticed all of.

OK, it would be a lie to say that I had not noticed the screeching BART trains make through the tunnels as an infrequent user of the service, but now I am on their trains for an hour each day (30 minutes each way), the screeching is unbelievable. I’ve never been on a train service anywhere else in the world that is so loud. Most of the time a conversation with the person sitting next to you is impossible. My noise canceling headphones only managed a small reduction in the noise level.

Choosing cloth carpets for a commuter train in a place where rain is not that uncommon has to rank up there as one of the most stupid decisions ever made. And now the cars have been in service for many years, those carpets are stained and disgusting. Granted, there are a few cars with new hard floors in use, but some of them are labeled as “demonstration” cars, and they are clearly getting old themselves, so unless the demonstration period was measured in decades, it looks as though no plan to upgrade the remaining cars was ever agreed upon.

Cloth seats were also perhaps not the best choice, but at least that is more common on trains that serve cities as far apart as BART does. The problem is that most train services clean them, or replace them when they become too soiled. Apparently not BART; frequently I see seats that are so badly stained I would rather stand than go near them. And that’s just what I can see. A recent report found all kinds of unpleasant stuff hiding in the BART seating.

No Food & Drink
Even more bizarre for a regional train service with journey times of 30 minutes to over an hour, food & drink is banned. They even interrupt useful next train information announcements with warnings about large fines for consuming food or drink on board.

Most train services are happy to have concession stands and/or vending machines within their stations selling food & drink because they get much needed revenue from such stands. Some train systems even have carts being pushed through the trains, or specific cars where food & drink is sold. Not BART.

The reason? They want to keep the trains clean. Clearly that’s not working. They’d be better off selling food & drink in the stations & actually cleaning the trains.

Inconsistent Announcements
I mentioned in the last section that the no food & drink announcements frequently cut off information announcements about the next train (sometimes even the one about the train currently at the station). It is not just the food & drink ones though. BART has a plethora of poor audio quality (often complete with office noise in the background) announcements that are played from the central control centre and will always override the station specific train information.

Bad announcements are not just limited to the stations though. On board announcements are made by the operator. Some are really good at this, others not so good. Either way, it appears that there is no script for what should be said. I often catch a train in the mornings where the operator announces the destination station name at each stop – very disconcerting if you weren’t paying attention. Others give a little more detail, like “This is Daly City; Millbrae train,” which makes it much clearer.

BART frequently stops mid-tunnel, especially the evening trains for some reason, and once again the operator information varies from total silence to a clear reason. This sort of thing should be consistently clear.

Escalators & Ticket Barriers
Everybody understands that escalators & elevators break down, but not daily. Embarcadero station, it seems, has its escalators out of service more often than in service these days. Shopping malls manage to keep their escalators running most of the time, why is it so hard for BART?

Even more annoying, when the escalator is out of service, they chain them off, forcing everybody into the narrow staircase next to it. An escalator can still be used as stairs when it is not running, but it seems BART is unaware of this.

Delays on train services (at least outside of Japan) are not uncommon, but BART seems to have them more frequently than I would expect, and without reason. We will frequently stop between stations for minutes at a time with no more explanation than “there is a traffic jam ahead” (I kid not, that was an actual operator announcement from a few weeks ago).

Indicator Boards
Finally, the overhead indicator boards that are on each platform have 4 lines of text on them than could be used to continually advise about the time for the next train. Instead, BART has chosen to fill them with more of their pointless announcements most of the time, or have them all show just the current time (something I can get from my watch or cellphone).

There is enough space on these boards that they could easily reserve one or two lines for next train information all the time, and scroll their other messages in the other portion of the screen. The current usage of these displays is just another indication that BART management knows very little about running a train service.

Too Rough

Too RoughAs you can see from the photo, the weather out on the bay tonight was far too rough for the ferry service to be running. With rough seas like that, what captain would want to risk taking their high tech catamaran ferry out of the safety of its dock.

Seriously, tonight’s ferry services from San Francisco to Alameda/Oakland was canceled. The service website said this:

Due to extreme weather conditions, ferry service is canceled for the remainder of today.

Does it look that bad? And remember that they ran the boats quite happily through the worst of the weather this morning.

Bus Bridge

As a replacement for the commute ferries, a bus service was operating, but the bus carried around half the normal load of the evening ferries, and was timed to depart from the ferry building 10-15 minutes before the normal ferry departure time. If I was being cynical, I’d say that was by design to encourage people to use alternatives and lighten the load on the buses!

Bay Ship

Bay ShipMore photos of the sunset over the city tonight, only tonight I had the 20D with me, so the photos are sharper! Also got this reflection of one of Bay Ship’s sheds reflecting in the almost totally still water it is built over.

The ship yard was still busy, with crews working on the luxury motor yacht Pangaea (which has been in the yard pretty much the whole year – and seems to be undergoing a major refit) as well as some other vessels they have up on shore or in the floating dry dock.

Ferry Terminal Sunset

Ferry Terminal SunsetStepping off the ferry this evening in Alameda, this was the view down the estuary back towards San Francisco! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the 20D with me, just the trusty Nokia N95, and while the shot is still beautiful, I have to admit it did not do the scene justice. Tomorrow, and perhaps for the rest of this week, I will carry the 20D with me too!

I actually have a few from last week when I took it, but still need to upload those. Watch for more sunset photos in the Flickr stream this week…

Mint Leaf Menu

I have taken a few photos of the Mint Leaf menu and uploaded them here so you can see what options are available.

This is the main menu page, showing all the starters and main course options (click the image for a larger view):

And this is the lunch menu page:

I didn’t include the page with the side dishes, deserts and beverages, the latter including a selection of beer and sake options. If you’re looking for a desert, I recommend trying the Cream Cheese Cigar with Bananas – you might want to share it though!

Mint Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant

Mint Leaf Vietnamese RestaurantHeading out to do a quick network access test at McDonald’s tonight, then on to pick up some dinner from a new Vietnamese restaurant right here in Alameda: the Mint Leaf.

Located in Marina Village, the Mint Leaf is a sit down restaurant. We went for dinner a couple of weeks back and ate in. Tonight I’m planning to pick up and head home since I’m eating alone. Their website is not yet live, but you can check out the reviews on Yelp and ChowHound.