Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Larger Picture: Bay Area Transit Agencies to 18 Years Old?

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) has been progressing in their projects and game plans as I heard from VTA spokesperson, Brandi Childress. She and other VTA spokespeople have heard about what is going to happen in terms of age youth adjustments. More and more transit agencies around the Bay Area are changing their fare structure in the Youth category. That one is true for one thing. But only in my blog updates what is going on since I first talked about accurate fare information reflected on 511's website in the Bay Area, managed by the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).


Santa Clara County supervisor Dave Cortese, who now oversees all the transit activities in the nine-county Bay Area region, led the way in finding out why BART has never published accurate fares for the youths, senior, and disabled despite the 62.5% discount and reflected on 511's website, leaving me and other riders to figuring out the actual fares myself. However, the lone holdup is at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) where I discussed about a problem that I've discovered when I was trying to sample my next trip as part of putting both BART and the MTC under my microscope. BART has still not changed their booklet to include accurate information on reduced fares for qualifying people. Neither the MTC nor BART have put up a game plan of how the accurate fare information for qualifying people riding BART will reflect the information posted on 511's website. Tony Kovaleski's investigative report in 2012, as stated in my previous blog, said that VTA had problems in many areas that caused VTA to lose more than a million dollars each year due to fare evasion, but that report is only a small portion of what is to come in a bigger picture that I'm about to describe about fare structures among all Bay Area transit agencies.

BART has been quiet about the issues of accurate fare information that is conflicting for adults and discounted riders, combining with the inability for riders to go online to BART's website and file a complaint of more than 1000 words. Those two in combination may have been forcing users to either e-mail BART directly or voice their concerns. It is not known how many riders have switched from riding BART to driving as a result. My most recent check of booklets provided by BART still questions me of why fare information for the youths, senior, and disabled were still not in the booklet. The fare information for qualifying people is a critical tool in figuring out the actual fares on many transit agencies including BART, VTA, AC Transit, SamTrans, and Caltrain.

At the opening of the Oakland International Airport line running from the Colosseum station to the airport, I asked a BART representative regarding the fares for the youth, senior, and disabled - particularly the fares between the ages of 13 to 17 years old. I have learned that there has been an ongoing debate on that matter among BART officials behind closed doors at BART headquarters in Oakland. It is unclear to me of whether there has been any results from the meeting on whether to implement the plan to extend the youth fare to 18 years old.


BART is not the only transit agency to attempt aligning youth fare, despite the serious problem with publishing accurate fare information in all categories in their booklets. Ongoing discussions commenced among several transit agencies, so I looked up all transit agencies that uses the Clipper card and those that will have Clipper card capabilities to confirm that the change is happening. The results were not surprising to me when I read the individual transit agencies' website.

Both Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit has been relatively 5 to 18 years old ever since I first looked up the fare structure online in 2012. San Francisco Bay Ferry has already made the change on November 1, 2014. Fairfield & Suisun Transit (FAST), Valley Intercity Neighborhood Express (VINE) Transit, Solano County Transit (SolTrans), and Vacaville City Coach all have similar youth policies.

At VTA, the Board of Directors took an approach to change the maximum youth age from 17 to 18. That policy was approved and announced on December 12, 2014, and is scheduled to begin doing so in July 2015. Caltrain reacted to VTA's announcement six days later, and started to phase in the adjustments shortly after it's announcement. It is unclear whether SamTrans and AC Transit will have a similar youth fare policy anytime soon. SamTrans and Caltrain are still under my microscope as to why they still never have a mobile website running even after I sent my message to the two agencies.

At Sonoma County Transit's website, it looks like youth fares are treated as the "student" definition, but must possess a valid student ID for a reduced fare. Even with the ID, the fare is only discounted around 10 percent from the full adult fare. It is unclear if Sonoma County Transit does actually have a "Youth" category for riders who are unfamiliar with the system, and whether they have plans to charge youths the same fares as the "student" category as defined in their system.

The four East Bay transit agencies (County Connection, Tri-Delta Transit, WHEELS (Livermore-Almador Valley Transit Authority), WestCAT) has varying definitions of the definition of a youth fare category, but does have a unified fare for youth and adults. However, the fare for the senior and disabled remain at 50 percent from the adult fare. What is confusing is what the maximum youth age is, and whether the four transit agencies has any kind of plan to lower the price of a youth fare to the same level at major transit agencies like VTA and SamTrans.


The change of the youth age from 17 to 18 years old seems to be more of a welcoming sight for Childress at VTA and Cortese as both the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and MTC chairman. However, I have yet to hear from BART's Board of Directors, including BART's general manager Grace Crunican and several other BART spokespersons. 

Even with my last blog in my investigation on why BART never had a fare table for the youth, senior, and disabled in BART's booklet claiming their 62.5 percent discount, it was impossible for me to contact BART with more than 1000 characters on BART's comment page. I particularly want to ask BART on why BART chose to put the actual reduced fares only on BART's "Fare Calculator" section of the website instead of publishing the actual fares in BART's three booklets that I reviewed several times. It remains unclear of why the actual fares at BART on 511's website is still not reflected on the actual fares via BART's website. But still, Cortese promises an investigation, but I have yet to hear from him on the status of the investigation.

Childress, on the other hand, does promise some results from information collected by fare paying customers for the youth when VTA kicks in the change in the youth fare policy so that VTA will know how many of the riders are actually youths. Would Cortese ever agree with that? Time will tell...

Original Work: Kyle Chak
Twitter: @KyleSChak 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

CBC's Marketplace: My Take on Some of my Best Episodes Watched

Vacationers like me and Canadian viewers love to know what is definitely wrong with someone trying to rip them off. So the duo of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television show called Marketplace has anyone's back. The show to me is described as Canadian's consumer investigative show. In this blog, I give my take about two more episodes that caught my eye, as well as my short take on why Marketplace is my favorite show. The two episodes referenced below is something that I want to talk about.


Some of the episodes tackle issues that one from another area that also tacked the same issue in the United States. Fighting for Fido is one of the shows that showed how animals got sick by eating treats from a Canadian perspective. San Francisco Bay Area is the first and original place where a dog's owner that resides in Morgan Hill, California got sick from eating jerky treats made in China in 2012, as reported by KNTV television. I almost felt horrified of hearing some serious sickness from pets in Canada and the United States. It nearly mimicked the same story that aired on KNTV by reporter Vicky Nguyen in terms of subject matter, though I thought that the perspective is not the same because of the way the word gets out to people. Many Americans and Canadians who either tuned in or saw the story online probably knew the story on a Morgan Hill family have eventually spread nationwide and eventually into Canada. (Morgan Hill is about 10 miles, or 16 kilometers, from the capital of Santa Clara County, San Jose.) So far, no health officials can confirm the ingredient in question as reported. And to me, figuring out why there is nothing new about sickening pets is scarce. Therefore, the mystery behind it all still remains.


One other example that I wanted to bring up is shopping comparison between the United States and Canada in the episode called Price Wars. The episode was on Tom Harrington shopping in Toronto and Erica Johnson shopping about 20 miles south of the U.S.-Canadian boarder in Bellingham, Washington. That part of the story caught my attention, as I do look at items from the three stores mentioned in the segment - Target, Walmart, and Home Depot. While Target may have shuttered its operations in Canada, I focused on prices on brand-name products. The question in particular is how the prices between the U.S. and Canada fare long after Harrington and Johnson aired their story on price comparisons. The only store not mentioned in the video was Costco, a Washington state-based company with operations throughout Canada, including a store I saw in Richmond, British Columbia during my June 2014 vacation.

I decided to shop around for any price comparison at Home Depot and Walmart, using my Ibotta app at all times while in the stores. Instead of Bellingham, where Erica Johnson shopped at, I replaced them with Walmart stores Morgan Hill and Gilroy, and a Home Depot store in Pleasanton (city in eastern Alameda County). 

At Walmart stores in Morgan Hill and Gilroy, I found that a Great Value Rainbow Sherbet is $2.97, and a Great Value Frozen Orange Juice is $1.53. If you opt for a Great Value Premium Instant Coffee, the price is $4.48. If you opt for some Great Value Shredded Hash Browns, it will cost you $2. 

At a Home Depot in Pleasanton, I wanted to look at toilets, of which all of them are American Standard. Three types of toilets appeared, all with a 10 rating. What does a 10 represent? The answer is simple - a 10 represents that the toilet performs best, while a 1 performs the worst. About five years ago, when I bought an American Standard Champion 4 toilet, the test revealed a 10 because of the need to not clog often, and the improved performance convinced me to buy that toilet. 

For the price, American Standard has three choices between variations of the Cadet 3, the Champion 4 Max, and the newly introduced Optum VorMax (toilet that is designed to clean the entire bowl). The Cadet 3 cost $188, and $10 less for both the dual-flush and the 10" rough-in variations. If users want the Optum VorMax, you must shell out $288, while the Champion 4 Max toilet goes for $219 (normally $238).

Both Johnson and Harrington have yet to compare prices at Costco stores. Personally, I wish that both Johnson and Harrington would compare and shop there. I heard that while the prices may be in huge bulks, I believe it may be worth the trip to try it out. 


So why is Marketplace is considered my favorite Canadian television show? The main reason to me has something to do with not only personality, but how fun and entertaining the duo really are. Out of a scale between 1 (the least entertaining) to 10 (the most entertaining), I gave my overall rating of a 9. In some of the shows like "Fighting for Fido," "Canada's Restaurant Secrets," "Price Wars," and "The Dirt on Hotels," (the latter including the sequel) those three shows are very entertaining in one way - they alert consumers on things that may inconvenience customers, sometimes on a wide scale

The next time that I'm back in Vancouver on vacation, I think Harrington and Johnson would want me to watch more of Marketplace - they're the ones that give viewers and vacationers from outside of Canada great advice on things to look out for. While I may not be able to watch Marketplace all the time in the United States (due to some restrictions), I do look forward to hearing about anything that may inconvenience all of us, both in Canada & the United States. 

While the Vancouver metro area is the first-ever Canadian metropolitan area that I've ever visited, I do look forward to seeing more of Canada the next time I do come back to Canada for my vacation from Santa Clara County. Perhaps I should discuss my experience in Canadian hotels next time, tuning in to Tom Harrington and Erica Johnson in CBC's Marketplace. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog is written in American English as the blog originates from Santa Clara County, California. Units  in this blog are in imperial units instead of metric units (e.g. 65 MPH is ~105kmh, 10 miles is ~16km). No pictures or videos are embedded in this blog due to restrictions, as all copyrights related herein, if any, belong to their respective owners. The author does his best of respecting the rules of writing blogs when possible. The author of this blog does not have control over external links. Any infringement of this blog will be subject to action. The author reserves the right to revise the blog, including upon request. Any of my blogs, including this blog, is subject to removal at any time, including upon request.

Original Work: Kyle Chak
Twitter: @KyleSChak

Friday, March 6, 2015

Canada's Restaurant Secrets Follow-Up: Comparison to California's Eating Ordinance?

If I have watched CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) television show called "Marketplace" on a segment called "Canada's Restaurant Secrets," viewers in Canada have their hands full of what what was really inside Canada's restaurants and fast food chains. Tom Harrington and Erica Johnson compiled thousands of inspection reports to show viewers the results. 

After I viewed the video, the problem on eating out is that Canadian restaurant chains have no such requirement for restaurants in Canada to post inspection results outside their windows. Out of all the restaurants in Canada that post inspection results outside the windows, only Toronto has this kind of distinction. In comparison, in Santa Clara and Alameda (pronounced AL-LA-ME-DA) Counties in California, restaurants are required to post inspection results outside their windows. Most of Canada like Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Montreal, and Edmonton currently have no such desire to post their health scorecard outside their restaurants. Many restaurants in Santa Clara and Alameda counties have restaurant inspection cards labeled in three colors: green for "Pass," yellow for "Conditional Pass," and red for "Fail." San Francisco, however, opts for a numerical score card. 

When I compared reports out of "Marketplace" to reports in the Bay Area, many local leaders were taking action. For instance, Santa Clara county supervisors led by Dave Cortese (pronounced CORE-TEH-ZEE) passed an ordinance requiring restaurants to post inspection cards outside their windows at restaurant entrances. On the sad side, Tom Harrington and Erica Johnson could have compared the use of color-coded signs in Toronto to signs posted throughout Santa Clara and Alameda counties. 

Would Johnson and Harrington ever fly out to the San Francisco Bay Area from Canada to see the inspection signs for themselves? Or would Johnson and Harrington ask Santa Clara and Alameda County health officials to fly up to Toronto and convince Canadian health officials to have color cards? Let's hear from anyone... 

Original Work: Kyle Chak
Twitter: @KyleSChak