11 November, 2009

San Francisco Muni: the good, the bad and the just plain bloody mysterious

I hate to whine. Really I do. I am generally a very positive person and look for the good in people and situations and for the solutions to any problem. But in the battle to buy a travelcard/translink pass for the Muni, I am beginning to feel defeated. I won't be of course - I shall soldier on.

Anyway to start with the good. I think it is excellent that the buses have bike racks on the front for passengers to use. I'll admit, I thought it was the driver's bike when I first saw this. But it wasn't - a very fit (and you'd have to be to tackle these hills) woman got off and grabbed her bike and set off at a fast lick up the hill. What an excellent idea.

I also like that the Muni is not crowded - at least not by Tube standards - and that people are friendly. Of course I am now of the opinion that it isn't crowded because no one can work out how to buy tickets but perhaps I'm becoming cynical. And any system which has only six exit turnstiles in a row at a major station and these exits are also the entrances, is clearly not experiencing high volume of passengers. Also why are the platforms so long when the trains are two to three carriages at most?

I'm still struggling with the whole exact change only in quarters or dollar coins or bills thing. Do Americans hoard large quantities of coin? I never ever have the right change and have to work out how to get some before I attempt any journey.

Also I still haven't found out where or how to buy a Translink card. Today I was handed a leaflet by a Bart worker but he couldn't say where you bought it. He thought I might get one in the information centre at the other end of the station. This was shut because of the Veterans Day holiday. So then I headed up to Walgreens which I suspected might sell them although they of course had absolutely no advertising or signs indicating this anywhere inside or outside the shop. I am beginning to think there is a conspiracy - that you have to meet a man in a deserted part of town wearing a false beard and uttering a password in order to obtain this mysterious travel pass. And the number of people who work for the Muni who have told me that the reason they don't know anything about it is that it is new. It's not new. They've been piloting this project in the Bay Area since 2002 - I looked it up.

Anyway, having finally met a man at Walgreens who told me he could sell me this pass, he then persuaded me that it might not be what I am looking for and that I ought to get a fast pass instead. That's the monthly travel card which today was definitely not on sale pretty much anywhere. I saw more signs telling me they weren't selling the fast pass than I could count.

So once more I changed some dollars into coins and travelled home. I will get some kind of a pass soon. I'm not sure what or how but I'm determined that I will conquer this system.

By which time there will no doubt be signs up on the Muni warning staff about the bewildered and scathing British woman who is regularly approaching them demanding a ticket.

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