Saturday, September 6, 2014

BART and the Ticket for Idiots

Today we took a ride on BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit. Being a newbie can be difficult. It was nice to have so many helpful people volunteer to steer us in the right direction. If they hadn't, I wonder where we would have ended up?

First, we had to buy tickets. Do they have manned ticket booths so you can talk to a live person? No. Instead, they have credit card vending machines that are terribly confusing. We managed to find a roving attendant who told us we needed to take the Richmond/Fremont line, then transfer at the MacArthur station to the SFO/Millbrae line and then get off at the Powell Street station. He also told us to buy round trip fares because they are cheaper than buying two one-way tickets. $7.80 per person. He pointed us toward the vending machines and off we went.

There were two vending machines, side by side. Just about when we are about to reach the front of the line for the left machine, it proclaims itself "out of order". Literally. (I didn't know machines could self-diagnose like that. Who knew???) So everyone from the left line shifts to the right line. Each person in turn ahead of us efficiently purchases their tickets lickety-split. So fast indeed that we can't watch and learn how it works. Damn!

Now it's finally our turn and there is a line 10 or 15 people deep behind us. The pressure! Brad sticks in his credit card. In response, it displays a confusing set of options, such as "add 1 dollar", "subtract 1 dollar", "add 10 cents", "subtract 10 cents", and a few other options I don't have a chance to read. I'm expecting something like "choose your destination" or "choose 1-way or round-trip", not simple mathematics! Brad starts pushing buttons, adding dollars, and then realizes the total says $22. WTF??? He quickly hits cancel and we are back to square one. People behind us are getting restless: Places to go and things to do.

Brad reinserts his credit card. This time we realize the system defaults to $20. Hmmm. How convenient for them! So we need to buy two round-trip tickets for a total of $15.60. Brad doesn't see the subtract 10 cents button, panics and just subtracts four dollars and hits okay. The ticket pops out. He reads it. It states that it is good FOR ONE PERSON ONLY! I ask him "What the hell, Brad? What about me? And why did you pay more than double for it???"

We get out of line, much to the relief of the folks behind us. We look at the turnstiles and see they require each person to insert a card. Damn! I guess that verbiage on the ticket doesn't lie. What to do? Brad goes back to the end of the ticket line we just vacated to buy another ticket. I'm thinking "I refuse to buy another ticket, damn it, just because they have a sucky, confusing vending system and we panicked!" So I hunt down the roving attendant who helped us earlier. Fortunately, he says this kind of thing happens all the time because of their confusing vending system. I couldn't agree more. He motions for Brad to come over to the information booth and give him our ticket. The attendant puts the card in a reader, retrieves 40 cents from some secret hiding place (a placard on the door to the booth says attendants have NO MONEY), and issues us a handwritten paper ticket outlining our route and the fact that we purchased round-trip fares for two. He then explains we must not lose this ticket and that we must present it to an attendant at the exit booth so that we can bypass the turnstiles and proceed through the emergency/handicapped gate. Things are finally looking up!

I LOVE public transportation, especially when it works like clockwork like it does here. The train was waiting for us and whisked us away immediately. No waiting. Then the transfer at the MacArthur station went well, and the Powell Street exit worked perfectly for our needs. It landed us right at the food court at the Westfield Mall downtown and since we arrived hungry, it couldn't have worked out better. And the paper ticket got us out the exit area without a hitch.

On our return trip, we showed the information/exit booth attendant our paper ticket so they would let us in, bypassing those pesky turnstiles again. We proceeded down to the train platform, obviously confused, trying to figure out which side of the platform we should be standing on. Another kind soul waiting for his train told us we were about to get on the wrong train and steered us toward the correct platform to stand on and which train to transfer to. We then got on the right train and got off at the right transfer point. Again, we just stood there confused yet again, trying to figure out what platform to approach. This time the conductor himself opened his side window and stuck his head out and yelled at us: "Do you two want the Richmond train?" I said "Yes, we're trying to get to Berkeley!" He replied, "Well get on quick!" (Geez, I wondered, do we have idiot tattooed on our foreheads or what???) Anyway, all the help was much appreciated.

Finally, we got off at the downtown Berkeley station where we had to show the attendant our handwritten ticket yet again to get past the turnstile exits. As I pulled the paper out of my pocket, Brad told the attendant, "Here's our ticket for idiots!" The guy just looked at me stone-faced, having none of it, while his partner started laughing. I sensed this wasn't going well, and quickly realized I had produced the Big Bus tour ticket we used earlier (for our tour of San Francisco) for his inspection, NOT the BART ticket. As I hurriedly pulled out the correct one, the attendant finally grinned. He and his buddy couldn't help but agree, "Yep, that's the idiot ticket, all right. Have a nice day!"

1 comment:

  1. HAHAHA, sorry but I am laughing so hard because you are such a GOOD writer!!
    Glad you got to Bezerkeley..........Love Me