Garcia: New fare system, but same old Muni

The first time I tried to pass through Muni’s new technology-updated Clipper gate, it closed on me — literally. The Muni worker testing the gate apologized.

Three weeks later, Muni is still apologizing because technology does not appear to be its thing. Agency officials didn’t think about the motion sensors on one side of the gate being used by fare-jumpers on the other? Technology in the wrong hands, to paraphrase the immortal Willie Mays, is like playing with blasting caps.

And it’s blowing up on Muni. Nathaniel Ford, executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said, that there are bound to be glitches in any new technology, but really, how many speed bumps must a department hit before it realizes the wheels are missing?

It’s no surprise that a recent survey found that Muni passengers are the least satisfied they’ve been in a decade or that supervisors are calling for hearings to discuss the problems that board President David Chiu called “extremely challenging.’’

The changes to the system were supposed to make it faster and more efficient. Yet for Muni’s riders, it’s been just the opposite, enough for one rider to say “bring back the turnstiles.’’

“Since the Clipper gates were installed, there are now long lines of passengers waiting to go through,’’ said Muni customer Angela Chan. “With the Muni Fast Pass, you could just insert it, grab it and race through the turnstile. Now we have to wait for the Clipper gates to open and it just slows everyone.’’

Everyone, it appears, except those who have figured out that they can just reach over the gate, wave their hand, and watch as the Clipper gates open, allowing yet another passenger a free ride.

Does anyone really have faith that Muni can reboot the sensor system so that the exit gate won’t open when someone tries to trigger it from the other side? If so, they probably weren’t there when Muni’s computer system started taking Metro passengers around town without drivers — prompting snide columnists to name it Hal.

The problem with the Clipper gates has been known for months, but the system’s designers somehow still haven’t solved it.

There are also snags with the SFMTA’s new smart meters, including such small details that people can’t read the meters in the daytime when the sun is reflected on the screen.

They must have tested it at night.

Hardly Strictly a musical gift to The City

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since philanthropist-banjo player Warren Hellman came up with “this little idea’’ about throwing a free concert in Golden Gate Park featuring his favorite music.

“We had no idea what it was going to be,’’ he told me. “I thought nobody might show up.’’

Yet about 10,000 did, and then things started getting big. And when blues artists, rock and roll stars, soul singers and folk bands started asking to play, he had to come up with a new name. And that’s how the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival was born.

Hellman’s multimillion-dollar gift to San Francisco is now a tradition, a worldwide attraction and one of the biggest concerts in the United States. It arrives next weekend (Oct. 1-3) with more than 60 acts, including the legendary Doc Watson, Nick Lowe, Justin Townes Earle and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings.

For a man who has made his fortune investing in companies, the festival is a testament to real growth. More than 700,000 people turned out one year and Hardly Strictly is now on the wish list for just about every musician in the country.

“The question always is should we have more days or more stages?’’ Hellman said. “But I think we’re probably topped out. The enormity of it now is just kind of amazing.’’

It’s also created a new social element for Hellman, who said he received the biggest compliment of his life recently after a performance by his band.

“Someone came up to me and said ‘Hey, aren’t you in The Wronglers?,’” he said. “In 40 years of investment banking, no one has ever recognized me.’’

He calls the music festival the “world’s most selfish gift.’’ Thanks to Hellman, it’s one that keeps on giving.

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