Mole's Comments

While riding through San Marino, I overheard the driver talking to the Post Office on his cell phone about how he could get a replacement for the thirty-seven cent stamp that a Post Office machine failed to deliver on Veteran's Day.

If you intend to use L.A.'s Metro you had better accustom yourself to litter and lots of it. The buses can be quite dirty, I told you about fingernail clippings last week and I have seen an Oriental man eating something wrapped in what looked like a leaf, dribbling some kind of sticky stuff all over the floor. When the driver told him to stop eating he threw it out the bus door into the street. The bus stops are much worse. It is my experience that, where litter cans are provides, people will only use them if they are closer than three fourths of their arm length. Where no litter cans are provided the bus stops are filthy.

The worst example of this litter can be found in Pasadena. At the Lake Avenue Gold Line station bus stops, which are located on the Lake Avenue 210 overpass, on both the East and West sides of the street. Try as I might, I cannot goad the City of Pasadena to either: (i) install trash cans themselves; (ii) install them with partial funding from the LACMTA or (iii) require the LACMTA to install trash cans. So much for civic pride?

System? What system?

My basic complaint about our Metro “system” is that it is not a system. Stanford Optner(3) defines a system as “... an integrated complex of functionally related components”.

In the case of the LACMTA, the functionally related components are vehicles, things that transport people. Since the LACMTA's predecessor, the RTD (Rapid Transit District) was an organization which provided bus service, that mindset was adopted, without change by the LACMTA. With the RTD, routes crossed and only minimal effort was devoted to making routes mesh. The same attitudes drive the LACMTA today. So, 98% of my complaints could be addressed and rectified if only the LACMTA staff and management would all wake up some morning and decide to build us a public transportation system.

I will give a few examples, some of which are reworked and repeated from an earlier posts, of the failure of the LACMTA to apply “systems thinking”to their mission.

At Westfield Shopping Center in Arcadia. two years ago there was a transportation center located within the shopping center less than 30 meters from an entrance. When construction started on Phase II of the shopping center, the transit center was relocated out to Huntington Drive approximately two blocks from the nearest store. This was intended to be a temporary move until Phase II was built and was so indicated on prior schedules for the Metro buses which severed the area: Bus lines, 79, 264 and 268. The same stop was served each day by Foothill Transit's line 184.

Phase II construction was completed in September 2004. In September of 2005 the new transit center opened in the shopping center with the only user being: Foothill Transit's line 184 and now only weekdays because the weekend service has been canceled. Although line 79 continues to use the stop on Huntington Drive- with its magnificent bus pad- lines 184, 264 and 268 no longer stop there. The line 264/268 stops have been relocated, close to two blocks away, for the North bound buses this is across Baldwin Avenue from each other, for the Southbound buses the stop for both lines are located across busy Huntington drive on the South West corner of the Baldwin intersection! In the past, riders had the possible choice of lines 264 OR 268 for a trip to Pasadena, now they must walk across busy streets to take advantage of one or another of the lines. All the while checking the their bus timetables and watches while estimating probabilities that their intended bus is late or that they should start crossing the busy streets to catch another bus. This example simultaneously demonstrates a lack of systems thinking and an extremely thoughtless approach to the people who they “serve”.

Lines 264, 267 and 268 pass near the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station. In this case near means about two blocks for the 264 and 268 and for the 267, across Sierra Madre Street about one fourth block North of the Gold Line elevators. The 267 riders are faced with a situation where is no traffic signal and no crosswalk, So passengers on the 267, like myself, make the J-walk dash across the street between traffic. These buses could easily be routed through the Sierra Madre Villa Station as are Metro lines 181 and 267, along with the Montebello line 20 and Foothill Transit line 187. But no, our LACMTA wants us to have our two block morning run, which is especially fun on those rare rainy days! Here is integration LACMTA style. Their attitude is: don't worry they can always catch the NEXT Gold Line train and they are not made of sugar so they won't melt in the rain.

At Hollywood Bl (Prospect Av) and Los Feliz where two “Rapid Lines”, lines 780 and 754, are nearby, but neither cross nor mesh in any way, the passengers who want to transfer to line 754 must make “a block and a half”dash, past 754 buses which are out of service (on breaks) to the head of the queue to the point from which the “active” 754 is waiting Since there is absolutely no attempt to schedule a departure time for the 754 that takes into account the scheduled arrival time for 780 line and a dash time less than that required by a world class runner. So, at the end of my dash I am usually treated to a blast of the 754 bus's exhaust as my reward. The LACMTA's attitude? “Let's 'brain storm' this and make a nice linkup of the 780/754”? NO, it's “F'em!, They can wait for the next 754, let em work on their 100 meter dash times and get faster”. Incidentally, the 754 does not stop on Venice Bl so that one could easily catch the Line 33/333 buses.

The 780 line referenced above, inexplicably, does not stop at Colorado andArryo Parkway which would be just a short walk (Mapquest qoutes 0.12 miles) North to the Gold Line Memorial Park Station.

I am sure that those who read my blog may have many complaints of their own. So just link here http://mtaweb6.mta.net/cc/cc.asp for the LACMTA form and register your ideas, complaints and suggestions directly with the LACMTA. Or send them an e-mail message, to customerrelations@metro.net

The reason that the Mole doesn't ask for your feedback at this site – he can do nothing for you – But, maybe together we can goad the LACMTA into action!

The Times(1) covers the ongoing seat belt dispute and, from my standpoint, the unreasonable efforts on the part of LACMTA drivers to avoid practices (wearing seat belts) which result in improved safety. The article recycles the same anecdotes, by self serving drivers, about being assaulted, spat upon and etc. In not picking their fight drivers are on the opposite side of this issue from the thinking public and therefore lose sympathy.

The “Los Angeles Times” research department and editors should have supported the reporter with factual data about assaults on LACMTA drivers for say, the past ten years. Further, the new “sort of” real time cameras which have been recently hailed by the LACMTA should restrain assault minded citizens.

And really, how much time and effort does it take to reach down and push the seat belt release?

The LACMTA could take the same action which does the San Francisco “Muni” system.

That is, to make it a felony to assault a LACMTA driver and post notices which clearly state this fact on each bus. These notices are large, noticeable posters which are unavoidable, when one boards a Muni bus.

On Thursday, I rode the LACMTA bus “system” extensively. Here are the results of my seat belt compliance survey: Only two drivers on the twelve (12) buses which I observed, were actually wearing seat belts. One driver wore his uniform shirt tail outside his trousers and it completely covered the entire seat belt and attachment point – if we give him the benefit of the doubt, then compliance on “day one” was only 25%! On Friday, I found that NONE of the drivers of the five (5) buses which I rode, were wearing seat belts = zero compliance.

Orange Elephant (cont.)

Another Times piece(2) about the addition of strobe lights to Orange Line buses contains this quote, regarding strobe lights, from a LACMTA official: “But when you get far away it gets intense”, provided my laugh of the day! Is far away like Long Beach?

First, the strobe light idea was floated as the output of a safety group “brain storming” session. My own research, as reported here, indicates that the staff at the Miami-Dade “model” proposed this idea in 1999! And then, only for the mini-buses which shared their busway route with larger buses. The idea was that the strobes would give the smaller buses a bigger virtual visual image.

On TV last night (Tribune Broadcasting's channel 5) they reported that of all things, the LACMTA was considering repainting the “Orange Line's” buses, covering the less visible silver or gray with – yes, you guessed it – ORANGE! They also had more Yaroslavski spin.

It is rumored that the LACMTA will also paint two foot wide white stripe longitudinally on each bus. The stripe will carry 18 inch letters high which say: “We don't have the time and money to do it right in the first place, but we have lots of time and money to do it over. Your LACMTA at work and re-work”.

It's a laugh a minute with the Orange Elephant!

(1)Liu, Caitlin. “Bus Drivers Ordered to Buckle Up” Los Angeles Times 17 Nov 2005:B2

(2)Liu, Caitlin. “Orange Line Buses May Get Strobe Light Signals” Los Angeles Times 18 Nov 2005:B3

(3) Optner, Stanford L. Systems analysis for business management Prentice-Hall 1975


Public Transportation

The Los Angeles Times published a romanticized view of bus travel in the Sunday Magazine(1). The people described in the piece seem to be not like my or your fellow passengers – or perhaps, he is writing about the Big Blue Bus. So, if it inspired you to ride the bus here are some additional on-board encounters for which one must prepare themselves before traveling on public transportation.

A. People who cut their, so far only, finger nails on the bus. Several months ago, I saw a Mandarin speaking woman cheerfully clipping her nails and letting the clippings fall where they may. Just a week ago or so, I saw a youngish Anglo woman spraying the area with clippings as she busily clipped her nails in tiny segments – all the while reading a book on product design.

B. Aggressively friendly religious proselytizers who either force religious tracts (mostly “Awake”) on fellow passengers or, soliloquize about god, just short of haranguing.

C. One must not forget the bus operators who feel that it never too cold to turn the air conditioner on 45°. I have traveled on buses where the passengers opened windows in order to warm up!

On board a 720 line bus, I saw the first actual example of a recent direct political action. As a passenger exited, his hand slapped a sticker in place on the raised portion of ceiling just above the step leading to the higher section at the back. The message on the sticker was “Resist of Die! No school Nov. 2 Student Walkout Drive out the Bush administration! and referenced this web site.

I waited for a bus at Patsaouras Plaza in front of the LACMTA's Taj Mahal aka LACMTA Headquarters. It is an interesting place with some real art works to be seen there. For example, on the south end of the Plaza, standing in the arc between Bus Bay 9 and Bus Bay 1, the separation between the roadway and the waiting area is made of half inch steel plates. These plates have been rounded on top and have various figures cut out of them. Real art, not like the ugly, Bashi construction pipe tower which was erected and torn down in less than two weeks. If one stands between the second and third rail – the Mayan bird and rocket ship – and looks out about two meters into the roadway, one can see the visible deterioration of the brick roadway. This, in spite of the fact that just a few months ago the Plaza was closed for a lengthly and no doubt expensive repair project. Said project occurred, to my way of thinking, not very long after the original construction which opens the question of the suitability of the original project specifications.
Any taxpayer should question the LACMTA about exactly who paid the bill for this rework. It would seem to me that there should be some contractor liability because, even now the structure can be felt to move and flex when a bus passes.

The Bus Bay area has trees around the periphery. The base of each tree has been used as a convenient disposal are for cigarette butts. These areas are never cleaned, neither is there any attempt to limit the butt disposal by placing screens around the tree bases nor are cigarette disposal receptacles provided.

One can also see the same problem with cigarette butts at the bus stop outside the Taj Mahal. No screening has been provided over the grating around trees at that bus stop nor are cigarette butt disposal receptacles provided. Therefore the accumulation of cigarette butts is neither prevented nor cleaned.

The large planters in front (south side) of the Taj Mahal building have become litter cans for cigarette butts and all manner of other litter. System patrons and Metro employees -who can often be seen taking smoking breaks in front of the building and providing a sea of smoke to walk through – contribute to this litter. About a year ago I suggested to Roger Snoble (the $300,000+ per year CEO of the LACMTA) that they for providing for proper disposal of smoking detritus and clearly and permanently marked the area with the internationally recognized “No Smoking” symbol. It is unpleasant to have to pass by the area and become enveloped in smoke. Most of the smokers are easily identified, by their Metro badges. I believe that the LACMTA should be concerned about the environment. Even more important, I feel that they have an obligation to their employees to promote a healthy NON-SMOKING lifestyle. At minimum the LACMTA should provide their smokers with a private smoking area and teach them how to keep the public areas clean.

Orange Elephant
Or all this spin is making me dizzy

Last week I suggested that the Orange Line was designed by a politician. That statement must be qualified. The Orange Line plan was more likely advanced by an idea, which was “inspired” by the “South Miami-Dade Busway” in Florida, which opened in 1997. I have a pdf (Adobe portable document file) open concurrently on my ThinkPad desktop. The document with an internal “signature” title of “FACTMIAM_Rev4.PDF” was created on Friday, September 10, 1999 at 11:58:43 AM and is six pages long, It makes for an interesting read. The original busway was 8.5 miles long and intersected with 16 streets and had 15 stations. “There were “32 accidents in the first four months of Busway operation.”(2) “... service is not much faster than when the buses operated on US 1. The scheduled timesaving is less than ten percent. However, passengers perceive a time saving.(Ibid, emphasis mine) More from the document: “An alternative to the at-grade crossing traffic control system needs to be developed in order to address safety issues and increase the time savings currently being experienced by the Busway.”(Ibid) The system has since been extended to 13.5 miles and 22 stations, with an additional 2005 upgrade. Please carefully note, that the Miami system which is claimed as the “model” for the Orange Elephant was experiencing and solving their problems in 1997, about eight (8) years ago. Our LACMTA was smart enough to stea .., ah I mean, be inspired by the Miami project but not smart enough to review materials, such as this pdf, which were available six (6) years ago.

As part of the LACMTA's spin campaign, I couldn't help but wonder why the picture on page one of the Times(3) article, referenced last week, didn't include a caption comment by Yaroslavski, something like: The emergency services really responded promptly to this accident.

It would be well that Line 901 passengers are offered gratis training in the PLF (Parachute Landing Fall), before boarding the buses, in order to reduce injuries when they are thrown through the air when the inevitable crashes occur.

Next week: System? What system??

(1) Honig, Joe. “Through My Window” Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine 23 October 2005:Essay
(2)Unknown author, “FACTMIAM_Rev4.PDF” Miami-Dade Transit Agency 10 September 1999:6 pages
(3) Covarrubias, Amanda and Liu, Caitlin. “Crashes Heighten Busway Concerns” Los Angeles Times 3 Nov. 2005:pages1A and 22A)



Orange Elephant

The Los Angeles Times(1) published an excellent article which exposes the duplicitous actions of the LACMTA to the brilliant light of public scrutiny. My only question centers around the pre-accident travel time - “ ... just under 40 minutes.”. The empirical values which I published here earlier, are: 45 minutes 42 seconds outbound (to Warner Center) and 52 minutes 58 seconds inbound (to the North Hollywood Red Line Station). Not covered, as well, were the number of intersections found on the Miami busway which served as a “model” for the Orange Line. The Orange Line is almost twice as long, 14 miles vs 8 miles for the “model”, so, assuming only 18 intersections for the Miami line, then Miami's experience factor could extrapolate to almost twice the expected frequency accidents on the Orange Line. I computed that the Orange Line involves 2.7 million weekday intersection crossings per annum, which becomes over 3 million intersection crossings per annum when weekends are considered (see earlier post for details). Now, admittedly, this only a crude estimate of true exposure. I will leave it to other statisticians to develop a more elegant value, one that considers the traffic on the North-South streets which intersect the busway and other important elements.

Holding the reporters of this article blameless, I wonder:

  1. Where was the Los Angeles Times on the dangers inherent of the LACMTA's Orange Line scheme during the design and planning phases?;

  2. Was political pressure applied to force through the Orange Line?.

Here again, we see the NIH (Not Invented Here) attitude of the LACMTA, i.e., “Oh, we are different, We are better, We can do this, It is no problem!”. Along with the never ending search for the “magical” transportation segment that must contain the word cheap in its definition, all the while refusing to think about a transportation system, as in – Ok, we'll cancel other lines to fund the Orange Line!

I is my strong belief that a thorough housecleaning is overdue at the LACMTA. The cleaning should start at the top and everyone who concealed material facts about Miami's experience and refused to extrapolate those facts to the Orange Line plan should be fired! The LACMTA should no longer be allowed to spend public funds for anything without the approval of an independently constituted approval committee. Said committee should consist of ten members, of which no fewer than 80%, in total, are certified transportation engineers, industrial engineers and safety experts.

I looked over a brochure (06—110ns) published by the LACMTA's Marketing Department. The brochure seems to put all the responsibility for Orange Line safety on the backs of everyone except the LACMTA. In the Los Angeles Times(2) the facts are professionally presented. That said, I also feel that the piece needed an extra paragraph, which specified the approximate effect on the advertised time of travel of the newly mandated 10 miles per hour speed through green lights.

The Times seems to follow the TV dictum: “If it bleeds, it leads”, since this was the first LACMTA article – certainly the first Orange Line article that appeared on page one above the fold. Notably, what is lacking in this piece is editorial support for the reporters. Specifically, on page A22 we find the same old recycled map of the Orange Line. What is needed is a LARGE map showing all 36 Orange Line intersections AND the nature of the obstruction to vision where they are present.

Also, I contend that the coloration of the buses, primarily silver, is not that which makes the vehicles most visible to motorists and pedestrians.

This, below, regarding coloration, from a web site.

"Of the two studies identified that actually sought to test the association between vehicle color and crash involvement, one found that silver cars were least likely to be involved in injury crashes (Furness 2003), and the other found that white or yellow cars were least likely to be struck by other drivers who committed infractions (Lardelli-Claret 2002). The finding that silver cars were safest was contradicted by many anecdotes of silver being seemingly invisible to other people and to animals, especially against the sunset."

A Los Angeles Times(3) piece covers part of the scramble now taking place to “fix” the Orange Line. It covers a brainstorming session at the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation. Brainstorming is a useful technique by means of which to generate a free flow of ideas, in this case however, it is being applied on the wrong side of project completion. What is missing from the Times article is a brief description of the role, if any, played by the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation in the review and approval process, if any, which let to the building of what is shaping up to be an Orange elephant. Of note too, was the idea of using strobe lights on the Orange Line buses. I have seen strobe lights in use in Phoenix, AZ as a means of signaling other buses that there are passengers on board the signaling bus who wish to transfer to the signaled bus. This avoids stranding passengers in the heat for long periods. In the San Fernando valley, the strobes would be most visible where they are least needed, i.e., where there are no visual barriers. I believed that where obstructions exist, the strobe would only result in the flash that is seen before the crash. The Times sets out the facts but gives us no background. It does not help one understand why the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation, obviously a city agency, is advising on a Los Angeles County matter. And what does Mr. Yaroslavsky, Mr. Snoble and the LACMTA have to say about the issue that just days ago they were trumpeting? In addition, we readers would like to know the real costs of the Miami “model”. This means initial design and construction costs, increased, retrofit costs and increased insurance costs along with costs associated with accidents and injuries. Access to these data will allow us to estimate the true costs of the Orange elephant.

In fact, a lengthy piece, which will allow readers to understand exactly how and why the accident statistics of the Miami were apparently ignored, is needed. Even more importantly, why the actual Miami operating procedures and methods which were used to reduce accidents there, were not in place on day one of Orange Line operations here, is a question screaming to be answered. These issues can be addressed in the “Los Angeles Times” by publishing a carefully researched, detailed chronology which investigates the Orange Line from conception until today.

(1)Liu, Caitlin. “Orange Line Model Beset by Crashes”. 4 Nov. 2005:B1
(2)Covarrubias, Amanda and Liu, Caitlin. “Crashes Heighten Busway Concerns” 3 Nov. 2005:pages1A and 22A)

(3)Liu, Caitlin. “City Moves to Improve Safety on Orange Line Busway” 5 Nov. 2005:B3

Next Week: More Orange Elephant, no doubt

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