Look for me at the Ocean Beach Bulletin

November 28, 2010

This blog is on hiatus for the foreseeable future. I’ve started the Ocean Beach Bulletin, a local news organization for San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and nearby neighborhoods. Look for local journalism from me and from other contributors at oceanbeachbulletin.com, facebook.com/oceanbeachbulletin, twitter.com/obbulletin and youtube.com/oceanbeachbulletin.

 


My Muni express bus story published on Spot.Us

March 16, 2009

Crowd-funded journalism site Spot.Us has published my story on Muni’s express bus service!

For years, a lack of information left Muni in the dark about what it was doing well, what it had to improve and what its riders actually needed. But a proposed shuffling of resources following the Transit Effectiveness Project, a massive systemwide study, would add more frequent service and extend routes on some express lines serving city commuters. …

Julie Kirschbaum, manager of Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project, says there also are other reasons why Muni doesn’t run more expresses. One is that although they might seem to be highly efficient – buses fill to capacity and swiftly transport full loads of passengers all the way across town with a minimum number of stops – there are some hidden costs to express service. …

Shrinking transit funding from the State of California and the City of San Francisco – as well as the federal government’s preference for funding buildings and equipment, rather than operating costs – will have an effect on Muni, including potential hits to vehicle maintenance, which would reduce Muni’s reliability systemwide.

And budget problems will have an impact on the TEP. “We do expect the budget challenges to slow the implementation of the TEP,” says Muni spokesman Judson True.

In 2008, an idea emerged to charge riders who pay cash fares an extra dollar to board express buses, but the proposal petered out. True said there’s still a chance the SFMTA might decide to pursue an express-bus surcharge again.

“Once an idea is out there it never really goes away. … It’s still out there as an idea,” said True.

In fact, the SFMTA Board is scheduled to discuss its budget for the coming fiscal year at a meeting Tuesday morning, March 17 — including the possibility of raising express cash fares. According to documents prepared for the meeting, Muni could gather an additional $1.4 million by raising the fare for all cash-paying express riders by $1.

Either way, because the TEP is focused on ways of doing business and on redirecting existing resources, Kirschbaum says she thinks the TEP’s recommendations for improved express service will remain largely intact: “Because the TEP service plans are resource-neutral, we’re still looking forward to implementing the TEP route proposals.”

I’ll post the rest of it here soon, but in the meantime please see the story by visiting http://spot.us/stories/76.

In related news, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency meets Tuesday to discuss its budget for the coming fiscal year, including the idea of charging some riders an extra dollar to board express buses. The SFMTA meets at 2 p.m. in Room 400, San Francisco City Hall.

While you’re at Spot.Us, be sure to check out the other stories and ideas there. Spot.Us has brought to light some good old-fashioned journalism, using new methods of publication and funding.

Bookmark and Share


Some riders of San Francisco Muni buses could pay an extra dollar

March 16, 2009

Would you pay an extra dollar to ride a Muni express bus? If you pay a cash fare you might have to do just that, under an idea being considered to help offset big cuts to the transit agency’s funding.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is scheduled to discuss its budget for fiscal year 2010 at a meeting 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, and one of the ideas covered in a presentation prepared for the meeting is to charge cash-paying express riders an extra buck: “Currently approximately 25,700 passengers ride the express routes daily. Assuming that 20% pay cash fares, increasing the cash fare by $1.00 over regular cash fare” would yield about $1.4 million for Muni.

If the SFMTA Board likes the idea, it would present the proposal — and any other potential changes to fares — at public meetings in April, according to documents prepared for Tuesday’s meeting.

In a related development, on March 10 I filed my long-time-coming article on Muni express service with crowd-funded journalism site Spot.Us. Spot.Us tells me they anticipate either publishing the article themselves or reaching an agreement on selling the piece very soon, perhaps even before Tuesday’s SFMTA meeting.

I spoke with Muni spokesman Judson True and Transit Effectiveness Project manager Julie Kirschbaum for my story, and I asked them about the idea of charging express riders a premium on top of the regular fare — something that came up in 2008 but didn’t go anywhere. True told me at the time that although the idea was still out there, he didn’t know that anyone in Muni was considering it actively, but it looks like changes to Muni’s revenue and spending projections changed that pretty quickly.

More information on Tuesday’s SFMTA meeting, including an agenda.

A PDF of the presentation on Muni’s fiscal year 2010 budget.

Watch a stream of the SFMTA meeting live on SFGTV2.

Bookmark and Share


SF Weekly calling the kettle black?

February 25, 2009

This morning, the San Francisco weekly newspaper SF Weekly tweeted thusly: “We Hate to Pick on the Chronicle When It’s Down — But Is Anybody Proofreading? http://tr.im/gLPB”. Now, even though I make my living helping smart people look smarter by editing their writing, I

Whats wrong with the ad on the right?

What's wrong with the ad on the right?

understand that mistakes happen to everyone, so I won’t needle the Weekly too much about something I found in its Feb. 4, 2009 edition. But it is funny, so I have to point out that either someone at the Weekly or one of its advertisers needs to look to its own mistakes.

On page 12 of the Feb. 4 SF Weekly, I noticed an ad for a medical marijuana establishment. The ad features a photo of a young businessman, apparently in an attempt to show that a “typical stoner” isn’t who one might think it is. But there’s something wrong. A scan of the ad is included in this post, linking to a bigger version on Flickr. Bragging rights go to the first person who comments explaining what’s wrong with the ad.

And to be fair, it’s likely that this error is the advertiser’s fault, but someone at the Weekly could have caught it before it went to press.

Bookmark and Share


Update on Muni express story for Spot.Us

February 18, 2009

I’ve had a couple of questions recently about the status of the story on San Francisco Muni’s express buses I’m writing for the crowd-funded journalism site Spot.Us, so here’s a quick update.

I am finishing some interviews this week and expect to file my story by this time next week. Once it’s in Spot.Us’ hands, a fact-check editor will have a go at it before publication. My belief is that they’ll publish soon after that, but it’s up to them.

This story has been pushed back longer than I would have liked. But the way Spot.Us works, there’s no definite deadline for pieces — and since I have a wife, two kids and an older house to think about, when I’ve found work that does have a deadline and also provides enough to cover the mortgage payments, I’ve taken it. The unfortunate result is that I’ve put off the Muni story.

One observation about the expresses that I’ll share now won’t surprise daily express riders, but it seems almost surreal to people used to the regular bus or the streetcar: By and large, express riders are really polite. Trying to get on most streetcars and buses can sometimes resemble a contact sport (I’ve had plenty of jabs in the ribs from people who try to shove their way in the door of the L-Taraval ahead of everyone else, regardless of how long others have been waiting), so it’s very odd to see passengers line up neatly for the express and head to the back of the line if they arrive late. And although it can be hard to get a seat, depending on the time and where you catch the bus, the ride itself usually is quiet and civilized.

I’ll post further updates if I have anything new to report, including when I file the story. In the meantime, do visit Spot.Us. Some great pieces already have been published, and others are still in need of funding.

Bookmark and Share


It’s sweet deception, honey

December 30, 2008

That honey you stir into your tea or drizzle on your toast may not be the pure and natural product you think it is. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports today that in spite of the sweetness-and-light image most people have of honey, the industrial honey trade is rife with contaminated products, faulty safeguards, organized crime and deliberately disguised products. This a great piece of journalism from the P-I, well worth the long read through the main story by Andrew Schneider.

Honeys path from hive to market can take many turns, including some that disguise its true origin.

Honey's path from hive to market can take many turns, including some that disguise its true origin.

According to the P-I, honey from China often is rerouted through other countries that have little to no native honey industry. Among the other disturbing findings in the article is that when American honey packers do find that the honey they buy is contaminated, the honey goes back to the producer. (Any guesses as to what a producer willing to ship bad honey once is going to do with this returned product?) None of this is helped by the fact that there is no federal definition of honey. The P-I follows up with at least one more story tomorrow: “Experts say there’s no such thing as ‘organic’ honey made in America, but that hasn’t stopped the industry from putting it on the market.”

Honey laundering: A sticky trail of intrigue and crime

Antibiotic use could taint honey’s reputation as a miracle drug

Bookmark and Share


My Spot.Us pitch about Muni reaches full funding

December 22, 2008

Success! My Spot.Us pitch for a story about San Francisco’s Muni express bus service, and why Muni doesn’t run more express buses, is now fully funded.

Thanks to all the sponsors who signed on to support this story — and, by extension, the concept of crowd-funded journalism. Thanks also to Spot.Us honcho Dave Cohn. Without his efforts, I’d still be in the fundraising stage.

I’m really pleased to be able to get moving on the legwork for this story, which I expect to start in January, and I have ideas for several other stories I think would fit in well on Spot.Us.

My Spot.Us pitch on Muni express buses is here.

Bookmark and Share