The Mole reads the papers (and other things) so you don't have to

The BRU (sc. Bus Riders Union) had two leaflets aboard the Line 720 bus which I rode. Although I applaud the BRU's effort to improve area transportation, I feel and have always felt that they define their charter too narrowly. In limiting their concerns to buses they do a disservice to their constituents and to all users of public transportation in our region. My suggestion? Rename themselves the “Metro Riders Union” and learn about transportation systems so that they are conversant with the structure, organization and functions of a multi-mode transportation system. That way they could lend their weight to important issues in other modes (rail and subway) of transportation which they currently ignore other than to whine “It's not a bus”. One of the leaflets, as I understood it, described the loss of local bus service cut by the LACMTA on Rapid bus routes and which agency would not restore. What this means is either long waits for a local bus or long walks (Rapid stops can be many blocks apart) from the nearest Rapid stop to your final destination. As an example, the 720 Rapid line will take you from downtown to Santa Monica fairly quickly, but if you must transfer from a 720 to a Wilshire 20 Line bus you may have a long wait and end up taking longer to make the trip than if you had made a good initial connection with the 20 line downtown. The other flier was a reprint of a Daily News article(1) which discussed the BRU goals.

A piece on the Exposition Light Rail Project(2) finally gets to the sticking point in paragraph seven. Simply put, USC doesn't want the thing running down the middle Exposition Bl. One of the options which would eliminate USC's opposition is a $100,000,000 tunnel – that's right folks, 100 million dollars! Another option appears to be a less costly trench – ug, my platoon used to dig trenches but not for light rail. With this project we see the typical lack of the LACMTA's ability to communicate with anyone about just about anything – I'll have more to say about this lack in the “Ride” section below.

The Daily News has a nice diagram of the project but it does not answer several basic questions: How did the LACMTA get so far along with the plan without hammering out ever detail about the route? Why does is is necessary for the route to parallel the Blue L Line for tow stations, viz. Pico and Grand. If the LACMTA staff and management ever actually rode a transportation system in a major city they would recognize that a given line would normally share only one station, the transfer point, with another line. Transfers are a fact of life. The article also talks about a future extension to Santa Monica from the present terminus in Culver City – which brings to mind the Green Line extension to LAX, which has not happened and may never happen. So, forgetting about future extension, what makes the LACMTA that actual passengers wake up every morning wanting to go to Culver City? A relatively inexpensive survey of major downtown employers should settle the question about the point of origin of their staff. Then too, there is the question, given that a potential ridership originates along the proposed route, how many would actually use the “Expo Line”? Readers of my blog already know how I feel about the LACMTA's B.S. (Basic Statistics). I have suggested that a Rapid bus line prototype which roughly parallels the Expo Line route be established to fairly quickly determine ridership. Perhaps this idea is too logical for the LACMTA and its political supporters. Don't like that thought? How about looking at the ridership of the present 33/333 Venice lines and studying the number of boardings at the approximate intersections of streets which run to the proposed Expo Line stations?

My bet? The present value of the projected 43,000 daily riders by 2025 (is that 21,500 passengers coming and going?), doesn't exist today. In any event, by 2025 all the promises will be forgotten and all persons which are parties to this plan will have retired – likely not to Culver City.

The Times is tending to bury Orange Line crash stories(3) – political pressure? I have a difficult time understanding why someone would run a red light if he thought a 60 ton bus was about to share the same space with him. Possible answer: The signage is still not right – this is really no mystery when one looks at the poor record of the LACMTA on signage – however, others share the blame here.

Another METRO on-route accident(4), gets out the 3.5 accidents per 100,000 miles. This is the same statistic that the LACMTA uses to “prove” that the Orange Line is safe, well, really no more dangerous than other lines.

But wait, there's more! Three pages later(6) we find that the LACMTA will ask for cameras at 12 of the 36 intersections crossed by the Orange Line. Well, one out of three ain't bad – is it?? Plans like these from the LACMTA give one an x-ray like picture of its collective mind. When I was an engineering student a professor defined the difference between being efficient and being effective: he said, being efficient means answering the question “Am I doing the thing right? In the affirmative While being effective means answering yes to Am I doing the right thing? I submit that the LACMTA is neither efficient nor effective.

The reporter missed an excellent opportunity to combine information from the the LAPD spokesman who stated that METRO buses were involved in 4,000 accidents last year and relating that to the total on-route mileage for the Valley division of the METRO. It is an excellent test of the 3.5 accidents per 100,000 accident rate which has been recently quoted so often. I wondered why LAPD Commander Paniccia would go on record with quotes like “The Orange Line is a lot safer then driving the Valley in a car.” and “The Orange Line is ... safer than the rest of the MTA”, without supplying any hard facts to support his assertions.. You can have fun supplying words for the ellipses in the second quote.

The reporter did a nice job in pointing out that, among other ignored locations, Kester Av with 2/7 (28.6%) of the accidents was not scheduled for the after-the-fact photo records. The laugh of the day was provided by a quote from an LADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation) principal transportation engineer who, in talking about the lack of a camera at Kester Av, said “It could be just a coincidence ...”.

This apparently means that, in addition to cameras at the sites of the five (to date) accidents the LACMTA and or LADOT can foresee red-light runners at seven other intersections. It would have been interesting for the Times editors to italicize the sites of accidents to date, in the list intersections slated to have cameras installed, yet none at 24 others.

The Mole Rides Again- so you can enjoy your car

My Thursday commute started out once again, with all the elevators

at the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station out of service. So much for security at these stations. Speaking of security, it is been a number of days since I've seen either Fare Inspectors or Deputies on eiter the Gold or Red lines or anywhere else at the system. Maybe they are taking their year-end vacations.

A bit of good news, found in the new bus schedules, yet unknown by some drivers – see LACMTA above – after six (6) months of inconviencing riders, the Shopping Center “Transportation Center” goes back in operation on December 18. This is less then 10 days after the LACMTA relocated a Huntington Dr stop directly across from the shopping center. The Mole as advocated such a relocation for almost two and a half years because the LACMTA dismanteled the “ Transportation Center” in the shopping center. Ah, the strange ways of the LACMTA!

Thursday's experience with the elevators at the Gold Line Sierra Madre Villa station was repeated on Friday. Since I had to wait for a train I used the “intercom” on the platform to report the problem.

Making a call from this device, which first made its apperance in the last quarter of 20th century in apartment buildings, with the ambient noise level at this station, which is sandwiched between the East and Westbound lanes of the 210 freeway, is something like yelling down a rathole from inside an operating A380 engine. Actually, the yelling down a rathole is a more positive experience because you might be able, at least, to hear the rats scurry around.

In this case, I did hear a beep and clearly and loudly enaunciated the problem using a short grammaticly imperfect sentence. I did note the received light flashing and flashing – for all I know it was flashing when I pressed the push to talk button.

One's request to stop is communicated to the bus driver by pulling on a (usually) yellow signal cord. This will (usually) cause a bell to ring and “Stop Requested” to be broadcast and simultaneously “Stop Requested” will appear on the overhead “message board”. I have seen passengers pull these cords with enough force to cause theBells of Saint Mary's toll for 15 minutes. I have even seen the cords ripped off the wall by people who have only an incomplete understanding of electronics. One would think that the bus manufactures could devise something more 21st Century like for this task :-). But when this simple system fails, as it did the other day aboard the crowded bus numnber on the 720 line, it is not pleasant!

Another day, another bus -this time it was Foothill Transit. The bus was cleaner than the typical METRO bus and warmer. But, the bouncing is the same on these low-rider type buses. There is some squeaking but a lot less rattling – better maintenance??

The ridership? Not so different. An elderly woman sung (too loudly) to herself. A teenage wore a T-shirt on this very cold night, this fact coupled with his actions signaled that he might be on his way home from a special ed class.

(1)Mascaro, Lisa “Bus Riders Want Concessions” Daily News 3 Dec. 2005:na

(2)Mascaro, Lisa “Tracking next big rail project” Daily News 12 Dec. 2005:3

(3)Writer, Staff “Motorist Hurt When His Car Hits MTA Orange Line Bus” Los Angeles Times 14 Dec. 2005:B9

(4)Malnic, Eric “24 Are Injured in Collision of MTA Bus and Catering Truck” Los Angeles Times 15 Dec. 2005:B3

(5)Liu, Caitlin “After Crashed, Red-Light Cameras to Be Installed at 12 Orange Line Crossings” Los Angeles Times 15 Dec. 2005:B6



The Mole reads the papers so you don't have to

In a Times editorial piece(1), Mr. Waldie documents some of the many failures of the LACMTA but unfortunately, like many others who don't use public transportation, his piece lacks specifics as to how to improve the system. In saying “The new Exposition light-rail line to Culver City is essential too.” he demonstrates exactly how much of a transportation light-weight he is.

I suggest that he, like others, is simply a promoter of the LACMTA no matter how inept and dysfunctional the agency, the developer of the “Orange Crash”, may be.

The Times also buried(2) its piece on the fifth Orange Crash on a page deep in the paper. It was likely too embarrassed to print the usual comments from the politicos about how safe the line is and how it is all the fault of the drivers who insist on crashing into the LACMTA's beautiful and safe buses.

It was interesting to read(3) that LAPD officers are attempting to critique the safety design of LACMTA's accident plagued Orange Line. To me, this seems to be another LACMTA “least cost” effort since these officers are professionals in the area of law enforcement. The question which the piece neither asked nor answered is: Are these the right people to task with such a responsibility.

It seems to me reasonable to utilize professional transportation engineers with a strong background in safety issues to try to fix the obviously broken Orange Line design.

Color may be an important factor in the Orange Line accidents(4), but, in the piece we are told nothing about the coloration adopted by the Miami-Dade model from which the local Orange Line is derived. The report which I read about Miami-Dade's experience indicated nothing about color.

Further, the Times neglects to tell us about the nature of the intersections where the accidents occurred, viz, the degree of concealment afforded the buses by sound walls, hedges and etc. Perhaps a table is in order, one that can be constantly updated, since it appears that according to the LACMTA's statistics we can expect more accidents.

Now the LACMTA official spin(5) appears to be that the Orange Line is safe, it is experiencing accidents at a statistical acceptable rate.

We all know the old saw that says there are liars, damn liars and statisticians. I submit that although MTA buses may experience accidents at the rate of 3.5 per 100,000 (a quote from the LACMTA) miles, these accidents are randomly distributed, i.e, no single line experiences an accident every 28,571 miles as the Orange Line has.

Working alone, using only information freely available to the public, I have determined that the annual “on route” mileage, i.e., not mileage used to position the buses to the garage or start of the route and etc.

It works out to 2,415,504 “on route” miles annually. Given the expected accident rate quoted in the piece, i.e., 3.5 accidents per 100,000 miles or one accident approximately every 28,571 miles. After performing a simple division we find that the expected rate of annual Orange Line accidents will be 84.5. This is great news, isn't it? - it proves that the Orange Line is even safer than we thought because that works out to more than the one per week experienced to date!

Apparently, the Los Angeles Times saw no need to “do the math” and prepare readers and Orange Line riders for what lies ahead.

The unnamed LACMTA officials had best stop attempting to baffle us with their B.S. (Basic Statistics) and start trying to impress us with some solutions to the Orange Line problem – solutions other than blaming motorists and dreaming up ways to take photos of red-light runners which are only of use after the fact. Then, they should address the issue of the bus system wide accident rate rather than expressing it as what appeared to be, in my reading, a goal.

On the Daily News(6) “Editorial & Letters” page a letter takes Yaroslavsky and the LACMTA to task for aspects of the Orange Line, including low initial ridership estimates. I am unsure of what constitutes “fair usage” in this case, so I will only quote the writer's first 16 words. “County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavl's and his cohorts at the MTA are real geniuses. Just ask them.” It is a great read so here is the link

The Daily News(7) features a story on the the plan to place cameras, which would record red light runners in the act, at 13 Orange Line intersections. The plan demonstrates the full abilities of the LACMTA brought to bear on the problem. Cameras would be placed at only one third of the line's 36 intersections – no doubt the Ouiji Board Section of the Marketing Division divined that red light runners would concentrate their efforts on the intersections selected. Again, the LACMTA has placed its emphasis on the after-the-fact “solutionsrather than concentrating on being proactive.

Too, the piece shows us nothing about what the Miami-Dade busway looked like before and after it suffered a spate of accidents during the early months of operation. Both papers seem to lack reporters who are willing to dig deep for the facts and seem to be most comfortable when paraphrasing LACMTA press releases.

The Mole Rides Again- so you might not have to

The Westlake-McArthur Park Red Line station is filthy! The litter starts before the entrance and like Hansel and Gretel's trail of crumbs leads the way up and down the steps or escalators to and from the platforms.

Talk about an unclean environment, the South-East corner of Olive and Olympic features an erupting trash can – it appears not to have been cleaned since the Clinton Administration.

On board a 720 bus number 835: A petite latina tries to navigate to the rear exit but is blocked by the over capacity load of passengers. She finally reaches the door but the driver starts to pull out. The lady says “Back door!” the usual and accepted manner of notifying the driver that someone needs to exit. The driver a black heavy set woman delivers a lecture, including, next time I will make you walk back from the next stop [note to those who are unfamiliar with the 720 line this can be six or more blocks]. The point: expect to be treated something like cattle when you ride these buses. Although, cattle trucks probably offer a smoother ride than the 720 buses on Wilshire Bl.

Are all cell phone users hearing challenged? I have found a direct correlation between the loudness of the ring tone and the number of rings we must tolerate before the owner answerers the thing. The louder the ring tone the longer it will take the owner to answer.

Seat belts optional. That seems to be the bus driver's attitude toward the recent ruling that requires them to wear seat belts. It will likely take an accident with fatalities or a law to change this attitude. I have stopped tallying usage but, it is lower than 20%!

(1)Waldie,D.J. “Go west, young subway rider” Los Angeles Times 5 Dec. 2005: B11

(2)Writer, Staff,”5th Crash on Orange Line: No Injuries” Los Angeles Times 3 Dec. 2005:na

(3)Covarrubias, Amanda “Officers Assess Busway Safety” Los Angeles Times 7 Dec. 2005:B1

(4)Liu, Caitlin “Bus Color a Grey Area, Studies Show” Los Angeles Times 7 Dec. 2005:B1

(5)Liu, Caitlin “Six Hurt in Latest Orange Line Crash” Los Angeles Times 8 Dec. 2005:B3

(6)Rosebrock, Robert L. “Nice Figures” Daily News 8 Dec. 2005:22

(7)Mascaro, Lisa “MTA weighs bus line cameras” Daily News 8 Dec. 2005:4


The Mole reads the papers so you don't have to

Competency(1) appears not to be a word which one can apply to any aspect of the LACMTA's work.

As in the case of the Orange Line, where the lessons learned years ago by the Miami-Dade busway project were ignored by the LACMTA, the situation documented by the subject article is being addressed by the LACMTA after the fact. As a reminder to the LACMTA, it is “Plan then Do” not

“Do then Plan”! Apparently, Ms Molina sees the current impasse as a clever plot by Ramona High School to finance new construction, rather than yet another manifestation of the ineptness of the agency of which she is a director. If anything, Supervisor Molina makes an articulate case for the de-politicization of the LACMTA and placing it in the hand of transportation professionals. Zev Yaroslavski's biased defense of the $350 million Orange Line provided the initial basis for such a move.

I would have liked to read a synopsis of the appropriate director's meeting minutes where the impact of various potential Gold Line routes were discussed. Certainly, such documents are available under the FOI (freedom of Information) Act.

Again, Times editors have declined to lend support, in the form of graphics, to the reporters' work. On the same page they printed a large (200 square Cm) detailed map of the Hollywood Christmas Parade along with supporting text yet denied us the following:

  1. a map of the entire Gold Line Extension route;
  2. an estimate of the current completion status (percent completed) by each segment of the route;
  3. possible alternative routes as opposed to the “street running” described in the piece.

The map which was supplied was practically worthless!

It is unfortunate that the “Bus Riders Union”(2) has chosen a title for their organization that so narrowly defines and therefore limits their objectives. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, they refuse to recognize that a world-class transportation system needs a variety of vehicles, viz., buses, trains and light rail, all integrated.

The LACMTA does deserve credit for implementing the Rapid service. The LACMTA's extreme weakness is in tuning the Rapid system. I will cite again, just a few here. The link-up of the 780-745 Rapid lines is flawed causing an unnecessarily long walk to make a transfer. The 745 Rapid line lacks a stop at Venice Bl which would allow an easy transfer to the 33/333 lines. A ride on the 720 Wilshire Rapid line frequently feels like a ride in a plumber's truck. Many fittings have shaken loose and it seems there is no attempt to tighten them up . All the shaking, rattling and rolling means that cell phone conversations and portable audio devices demand maximum sound levels. The buses either lack or have such a poor suspension system which results in a bone-jarring ride. At peak and other times, most buses are packed adding the sounds of human beings in various degrees of discomfort. If Rodin's “Gates of Hell”had a sound track, this would be it.

One would think that the LACMTA has some recourse to the bus manufacture and leverage to demand corrective action – and that would certainly be the case if the LACMTA gave a damn. In parallel – assuming an ability to operate in parallel which I doubt exists in the organization - with adding new Rapid service the LACMTA should undertake a review of existing Rapid service with an eye toward making improvements.

The piece quotes: “Surveys show that about one-third of the riders on rapid buses are new to public transit”. Based upon first hand experience, I submit that such results could only be obtained by taking the survey on the first day of the school year.

It would seem that the usually quiet, Roger Snoble, can be paraphrased as “Damn the potential fatalities, full speed ahead, as long as the motorists not the LACMTA is at fault”(3). Snoble's attitude will clearly and unfortunately result in fatalities in the future. Blaming the hapless drivers, as do Snoble, Yaroslavsky and Greuel, seems to be the latest political ploy used to mask poor system design and the failure of the LACMTA to incorporate safety features like crossing gates into the plan.

Much is made of the use of strobe lights on the buses. My view is that since usually these lights will pop out of the partially obscured busways that it will result only in the flash seen before the crash. The idea of installing cameras to record the “scofflaws” is great after the fact but is not much of a preventative measure.

What is also needed is a “Black Box” and speed warning announcements that are tied into the on-board GPS (sc. Global Positioning System) that will serve to moderate driver's speed across the intersections. The “Box”could also monitor driver seat belt usage, now mostly unused, by measuring varying G-forces on the seat belt.

More accidents will happen: 144 weekday bus runs per day across 36 intersections guarantee it!

The Times piece(4) brought to my attention an agency, viz., the Federal Railway Administration, of which I was unaware. It was interesting, but not surprising, to read that self-investigation is ineffective.

As I read, I saw that the headline could equally apply to our own LACMTA by simply substituting the phrase “ U.S. Rail Agency's” with “LACMTA's“ and “Train” with “Orange Line”. Consider how rapidly Greuel, Snoble and Yaroslavsky blamed the motorists, ignoring any and all responsibility of the LACMTA, for the Orange Line accidents. In the latest case, their spin began well before any detailed investigation could be completed much less begun.

It is past time to put the LACMTA in the hands of transportation professionals and take it out of the hands of people who are looking for successes to tout in their next political campaign or on their résumés. To Greuel, Snoble and Yaroslavsky, et al, I suggest that they remain silent and wait for the investigations of these unfortunate accidents to be completed by impartial investigators. While waiting they could consider how Orange Line safety could be improved by the agency for which they are apologists.

The Los Angeles Times , as well, has its share of responsibility. The paper is too quick to print the self-serving comments of the those cited above. Rather, the Times should agitate for complete investigations and solicit comments from local experts and outsiders too.

From the Metro Marketing Department

A new card, “New TVs Offer Headlines & Tips For Riders” (06-1020tr) replaced the much larger promotion for Transit TV which was occasionally found on board buses. This new blurb eliminates any reference to “local area maps” which the larger sheets promised. This leaves it up to passengers to work it out themselves as to which bus lines cross their present line and where they cross. N.B. This excerpt from the card which discusses income to the LACMTA if not benefits to its ridership “- and pay Metro a percentage of advertising revenues”. It doesn't take an accounting major to determine that unless the LACMTA has a bean counter on site at Transit TV, the LACMTA will have to take Transit TV's word as to revenues or losses. The only guarantee, covered in an earlier posting, is $100,000 per year – assuming Transit TV remains solvent.

“Go Metro Destinations” (06-0882sy) lists potential destinations by rail/subway line station. Notably absent from the Union Station entry on page – oh, there are no page numbers - are: Metro Customer Service and Metro Pass and token sales. Also no attempt is made to show, at least, Rapid Bus connections, e.g., not shown is the weekday Rapid 780 to Hollywood which is only a few blocks south of the Gold Line Memorial Park Station. This brochure subsumes but may not replace “Metro Gold Line Destination Guide which is identified by – whoa, there is no I.D. Number for this one. It includes lots of plugs for shops, e.g., “Galco's Soda Pop Stop”. Helpfully, it includes addresses for the Gold Line Station so that one could use the “Trip Planner” feature to plan ongoing bus transportation, if any. The LACMTA Marketing Department, with an attention span of something less than that of a hummingbird, forgot to include the station addresses in “Go Metro Destinations” (06-0882sy) .

“Metro Orange Line It's a bikeway, too.” (Duh, No I.D. number) on page (Oops, No page numbers either) indicates the process by which one secures his bicycle aboard the Orange Line buses. It appears that three (3) people will be displaced when you fold up the seats in order to stow your bicycle, absent from the brochure are some karate tips so that you can defend yourself when they react to their loss of seats.

(1)Liu, Caitlin and Rubin, Joel, “School in Light-Rail's Path a Study in Complexity of Transit Planning” Los Angeles Times 26 Nov. 2005:B4

(2)Liu, Caitlin, “MTA to Expand Rapid-Bus Service” Los Angeles Times1 Dec. 2005:B1

(3) Covarrubias, Amanda and Liu, Caitlin “4th Crash on Orange Line Busway Injures 3 Passengers” Los Angeles Times 2 Dec. 2005:B1

(4) Liu, Caitlin, “U.S. Rail Agency's Investigations of Train-Vehicle Crashes Called Flawed” Los Angeles Times 3 Dec. 2005:B7

Next week: The Mole rides again!

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