BART Director James Fang again chooses bling over cheaper & more sensible technology

18 May

So you might have thought that BART directors couldn’t shock me anymore. After approving the half billion airport connector blingfrastructure that robs funds from BART operations and capital projects, they couldn’t do anything worse, right?


Today, Matier and Ross wrote the most maddening piece about BART Vice President James Fang’s ridiculous proposal to use cell phones to pay for fares. The price tag for studying this technology? $350,000!

Greg Dewar did an excellent job picking this proposal apart:

It should be noted that yes, you can use cell phones in Europe and Asia to make purchases of all sorts. Cell phones in Europe can be used with vending machines to buy sodas, and Japanese cell phones can show television broadcasts and so on. There’s just one problem – not one US cell carrier currently supports any “pay by cell” techonlogy, nor do any other transit agencies, any vending machine companies and so on. So Mr. Fang is either a liar or a fool when he somehow suggests that magically, within a couple of years, the US will be falling in line with European or Asian standards for cell phones amongst all its cell phone carriers.

So ok, BART is sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into a pie in the sky project. That doesn’t surprise me in the least. What really irked me was Fang’s statements about Translink:

“I think (the phone technology) is a very good thing for the district,” he told us before heading off to Europe. “And when our project hits, I guess it will show TransLink was a disaster.

“And remember – I told you so.”

WTF? TransLink hasn’t yet been implemented on BART, and Fang is already calling it a failure, even though it’s been incredibly successful on both AC Transit and Muni. Again, Greg Dewar says it best:

The TransLink system, which cost a ton of money and allows for more efficient fare collection with BART, MUNI, AC Transit, and Golden Gate Transit, is FINALLY almost ready to go. MUNI passengers are already finding that using a TransLink pass is easier, and it’s expected to help all beleaguered transit systems with money issues. And yet Mr. Fang insists on spending scarce taxpayer dollars to go on junkets and insist on repeating his campaign gimmicks – on our dime. Worse, he’s actively undermining a significant regional project the public seems to like for no other reason than his own personal political gain.

If you haven’t yet, go get yourself a TransLink card and let’s prove to Director Fang how terribly wrong he is. Oh, and San Franciscans, please start looking for someone to run against him in 2010 – I’d happily volunteer on that campaign.

11 Responses to “BART Director James Fang again chooses bling over cheaper & more sensible technology”

  1. Dave C. May 18, 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    I hope that all these awful things the BART directors are doing galvanizes people to work for major change next time they’re all up for re-election (are they all up in 2010, or just some?) I’m an example of someone who never paid any attention to the candidates for the BART board, but I plan to pay close attention next time around.

    If this string of lousy decisions motivates people to vote better directors into office, then that could be a silver lining. Since few people pay attention to the candidates for BART, maybe an active campaign by the transit community could be decisive in getting more sensible people into office.

    • Becks May 18, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

      Half of them are up in 2010 and half are up in 2012.

  2. bikerider May 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm #

    Translink IS a disaster.

    10 years late. Well over one quarter billion dollars to develop. And yes, still buggy and unreliable.

    If simple paper proof-of-purchase tickets are good enough for DB, SBB, and, well, pretty much every major non-US metro on the planet, then it is certainly good enough for the Bay Area.

    p.s. Fun fact: standard junior-level class for my undergrad EE degree had as a laboratory assignment to build a smart card system using standard off-the-shelf parts. You had one week (2 in-lab class sessions) to complete the assignment — that included both the hardware and software components. This was in the late 1980s.

    • Dave C. May 18, 2009 at 9:38 pm #

      DB? SBB? WDTASF?

      • Eric May 19, 2009 at 12:08 am #

        Deutsche Bahn, Schweizerische Bundesbahnen.

    • TransLinkInsider May 20, 2009 at 6:51 am #

      For bikerider: I’m not sure where you found information suggesting that TransLink has cost $250+ million to develop. As the Chronicle recently reported (based on analysis by me after reviewing actual expenditures related to TransLink’s implementation), the program has spent just under $90 million on implementation, which includes delivery of the TransLink Pilot Program.

      • bikerider May 20, 2009 at 11:50 am #

        The 2006 ERG contract (as reported by the press) was nearly $150 million. Up from $38 million just in 1999. Plus there is all the costs individual transit operators will have to eat.

        (Not that “just” $90 million is anything to boast about, BTW. That’s more than what Alameda county will spend in 20 years on bike facility projects.)

    • Todd August 9, 2009 at 1:00 pm #

      Wow, just got my new Translink Card! I originally ordered one because I don’t take MUNI very often and didn’t need a monthly MUNI card. The Translink card would keep me from having to search for quarters as the bus comes zooming down the hill! Or running into merchants and begging for change. Or, worse yet, just paying more then I owe because I don’t have change.

      After learning of the features Translink offers, the best is that, if you DO use monthly MUNI passes, you can just load one on your card on the internet! I remember having to wait in a long line to get those paper monthly passes on the few days that they offered them. What a difference! And now you can buy them all month long!

      AND if you loose it, your various passes and values on the card are “INSURED”. Ever lost a paper MUNI pass? It’s like loosing cash. Now, with Translink, you just go online to your account and deactivate the lost/stolen card and put the value on a new one. I keep an extra pass at home for this reason.

      I went to Walgreens, bought a Translink for my friend. I added a monthly MUNI pass on it and 20 E-cash so he can go to oakland via BART sometimes to see his dad. He tried it today and said it worked like a charm.

      The customer service people seem really nice and helpful also.

      I wish we had more DISASTERS like this :p

      Get one. You’ll love it! Makes fantastic gifts also!

  3. Nick S. May 19, 2009 at 12:09 am #

    I’ll sign up for that campaign too. I’m looking for some political campaigns for ’10.

    I don’t know much about the history of the TransLink project, but I’ve been a user of it since October. It has made my life so much easier. I live in Oakland and go to school in SF, so I use AC, BART and Muni on my regular commute. Not having to carry cash or multiple passes is great.

    I think it’d be great if we could pay for our commute with our cell phones! However, I think it’s unnecessary for BART to spend this money when there isn’t a single US phone that could take advantage of this. If they did make US phones to utilize the technology, people would be able to use it on BART and…..? Exactly. Only BART. If we were in Japan and BART was the one agency not using cell phone tech for paying fares, it would be one thing. But it’s quite the opposite. BART is trying to be the first. It’s trying to bring this “new” tech to us. I would not buy a new phone just so I could pay for BART with it. If some sort of deal was made so that other services and agencies in the area would be switching to accept cell phone payment, then maybe it’d be okay. But things like this should not be a priority when we’re in the economic situation we’re in. When BART and the other transit agencies are operating with deficits and are planning on cutting service or raising fares, or both, we can’t afford to waste this money.

  4. V Smoothe May 19, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    This blog is on fire lately! I am loving angry Becks.

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