Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Portable Smog Checks, BART’s Wi-Fi & Speeding

April 22, 2013 14:00 pm · 14 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

COMMUTER: About two weeks ago, I saw on Treat Boulevard a portable smog check. The shoulder was coned off, and cars were stopped to have a smog check. My question is, do I have to stop, or can I refuse to have it done?

–Slogging Past Smog

TRAFFIC JAMMER: SPS, we are in luck. A Claycordian police officer was kind enough to help the Jammer out with the answer to your question. Here’s what he found out:

The portable smog check is totally voluntary. A California Highway Patrol officer is usually on scene to facilitate the process and help not freak motorists out. The officer explains that it is voluntary and only lasts 10-15 minutes.

Although there is a “smog check” reference, the program is run by one of the state agencies concerned with air quality, rather than the Department of Motor Vehicles or CHP.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: While we’re on the subject of this helpful local police officer: The officer also had a bit of fine-tuning for the Jammer’s answer to the following question that ran last week:

COMMUTER: I was in a hurry and drove over the speed limit on Highway 4, something I’ve seen people do hundreds of times without getting caught. But I was pulled over and the officer wrote me up. I have never had a ticket. How do I get set up with traffic school so it doesn’t go on my record?

–Too Old for a Ticket

TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer explained that the ticket will probably run around $350 (ouch!) or more, but that TOFAT can take traffic school to mask the ticket. She also said TOFAT could expect to get a letter in the mail telling him how to proceed. Here’s the officer’s friendly amendment:

Although it is customary in Contra Costa County for the Court to send a “Courtesy Notice” with the information you indicate, it is not required and not universal.  It is exactly that: a courtesy.

Now, the same information may be obtained at the Court via the Court Clerk and/ or during arraignment, but the violator is obligated to appear in court at the date indicated on the ticket (unless the aforementioned notice changes that date and only if the violator receives such a notice).

COMMUTER: When on BART, a wifi network called wifi_rail comes up. My device connects to the network but the Internet never works. Does BART have free wifi or not?

-Wannabe Wifi

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s a really excellent question, WW. The Jammer ran it by Alicia Trost, BART’s communications manager, and she answered swiftly and in detail. Her Jammerness knows how much her beloved Claycordians like detail, so I am presenting her thorough answer in its entirety:

Yes, BART has free wifi but you get what you pay for and you can’t get it everywhere. Here’s why:..

BART contracts out wifi service through a company called WiFi Rail. The vendor has had trouble coming up with the capital to fulfill the contract, resulting in spotty service.

Not all trains and stations are equipped.  The current system is operational in 12 stations from Balboa Park to 19th Street and Lake Merritt, plus along trackway. Signals are up along this route but not every train car has hot spots. 59 control cars, situated at the front, end and middle of 10 car trains have hot spots (out of a fleet of 669).

There is currently no charge to customers to use the service but the vendor has always intended to either add advertisements or charge subscription fees customers. As Wi-Fi rail identifies funds they will install more signals throughout the entire system.

However there will soon be some improvement.   In January, the Board approved a separate contract that would purchase 100 on-board communication devices paid for by federal security grants which will enhance security on the system as well as make the train car a wireless hotspot.

It will deliver stable wifi service. Total hot spots when the project is complete will be 309 cars (out of 669). Adding these units will extend Wi-Fi service to Concord and North Berkeley, and potentially the Coliseum station.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

1 MK April 22, 2013 at 2:13 PM

Great news about the Bart wi-fi. Thank you Mayor!

2 MisterC April 22, 2013 at 2:19 PM

The times I’ve gotten onto the wifi_rail network, I’ve had a choice of free access to Bart’s websites, or paid access to the Internet. I’ll have to check and see if I can get free access to Internet as well.

3 Larry April 22, 2013 at 2:23 PM

Why would BART grant a contract to a vendor lacking the resources to complete the contract? There is no logical reason. Either incompetency or graft has to be in play. It’s about time the Grand Jury took a long, hard look at BART and presented a report that would identify what is going on in that agency that the District Attorney or State Attorney General couldn’t ignore.

4 Peter April 22, 2013 at 3:10 PM

Hmmm your wrong about the prie of wifi on bart…

Once the service covers the entire BART system, WiFi Rail plans to give customers 3-and-a-half minutes of free access for every 30 seconds that they watch an advertisement, Hernandez said. Or, they will be able to sign up for ad-free subscriptions at $6 for two hours’ use, $9 a day, $30 a month or $300 a year.

5 Peter April 22, 2013 at 3:12 PM

Scratch that even worse than that article
Day Passes – $10 : Monthly Passes – $30 : Annual Passes – $300
Corporate Accounts are also available.

Compared to 4g on a phone for 30 bucks a month but ummm everywhere.. It’s a terrible idea that will die

6 mike mac April 22, 2013 at 3:35 PM

A state police officer is on duty to “facilitate the process”? Really, voluntary? Only 10-15 minutes to do a smog check on a coned off public street?

Humm, I wonder what else the CHP finds at these “voluntary” stops.

7 Teacher Wannabe April 22, 2013 at 3:38 PM

@Larry. Don’t blame BART, blame the wifi people. BART can only install/utilize what’s given them. If the grand jury investigates anyone it should be them.

8 WC44 April 22, 2013 at 3:52 PM

mike mac @ 6
The state police office is on duty to collect overtime paid for by another department and boost their pension which is paid by you.

9 Doubtful April 22, 2013 at 3:58 PM

Lets see did bart have the needed technical knowledge to write proper contract requirements?
Did they have people smart enough to review proposal from company?
Did bart think to include a penalty clause in the contract with performance goals and dates, or are they just going to keep paying for failure?

Never fear markie D. will convene a committee,
then set up yet another state commission,
which will as usual do nothing.

10 @WC44 April 22, 2013 at 4:07 PM

Overtime is not figured into a cops pension. And the cops are there to do ZERO enforcment. You know NOT of what you claim.

11 Concord Guy April 22, 2013 at 4:32 PM

Peter in Post #4:

It is “you’re”, not “your”.

12 bumper April 22, 2013 at 4:59 PM

Wait until those smog checks become mandatory, just like the bi annual inspection process. There’s also a program in the works similar to red light cameras: a sniffer will sample your car’s emissions, while you drive, then send you a violation if your car is out of specs, or pollutes too much.

13 John Fitzgerald April 22, 2013 at 7:29 PM

Anyone else realize we are becoming a police state? Big Brother seems to have his eyes, ears and, if #12 (Bumper) is correct, nose too. Things have sure changed for the worse since I was a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s when our country’s citizens seemed to have basic freedoms.
By the way, the smog check is merely a way to tax us more than we already are and monitor our every move. It is voluntary at this time to see how the populace reacts. In due time it will be mandatory. Wake-up America and read “1984” and “Brave New World.” Wow! “The times, they are a changin’.”

14 Janis Mara April 24, 2013 at 11:21 AM

@Peter, great research job. I am going to contact WiFi Rail and see if they can clarify this.

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