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

This piece(1) covers, among other things, how Zev “Father of the Orange Line” Yaroslavsky foreclosed on the use of sales tax revenue as a source of funds for subway construction. This when $300 million per mile is needed to push the Red Line out from Wilshire and Western. Funding, always tight, is crucial these days. Perhaps, we can get the money from Beijing, after all, our consumers will have to get to the store to buy the products produced by their workers – you know, people with production jobs. Ms Horn makes a nice case for subway vs bus along the Wilshire corridor. She also covers the financial position of the LACMTA, in a word (mine) strapped.

The Mole Rides Again, so that you can see how the other half lives

An early bus: a man on his cell phone gestures a lot and also repeats himself. He asks “Do we have cheese?” and later, reminds the someone to “take the hamburger out of the refrigerator.

At Sierra Madre Villa Station. Two elevators have strips of tape, labeled “Do Not Enter”, affixed diagonally across the doors. This slows up the ride to the station. The elevator which finally arrives has even more graffiti scratched on the walls and window as well as some writing in ink. The floor is wet, leaving one to wonder what was spilled. The plastic buttons in my elevator, which are used to select the destination floor are charred and partially melted. It appears as if the vandals are using cigarette lighters to sabotage the elevators. Overloading the heat sensors likely put the elevator out of service. The LACMTA would rather be trapped in a “Groundhog Day” like repetitive loop of vandalization rather than install security cameras or have the premises guarded. Over the long run this is extremely bad economics.

Some Gold Line operators (drivers) close the train doors while waiting for departure at Sierra Madre Villa Station. Passengers wishing to enter can press an outside button to gain access. This reduces the 210 Freeway noise considerably and on these cold mornings make it more comfortable. The operator this morning is not that type, so, many of us shiver in the noise. One day the train left from the southerly tracks and although the driver left the doors open, the open doors were on the North side, away from the freeway so it was a little quieter. It seems to me that the LACMTA should establish a policy that doors will always be left closed, to mitigate the noise levels and to conserve heat in winter and maintain air conditioning levels in the summer. The loads originating at Sierra Madre Villa Station are light, only four people sit in the two cars in my section today – so few will be inconvenienced by having to open the doors themselves. Which doors, then automatically close.

A man on this bus is reading aloud, an article about the demonstrations in Pakistan incited by the US missile attack which killed Pakistani civilians. He obviously has “issues” and is punctuating his reading with lots of “Oh, Wow”s.

Orange Line revisited

The LACMTA refuses to provide us with any hard statistics on on Orange Line ridership. Or, it is also possible that they lack the intellectual ability required to develop proper statistics. We do know that they “estimate” daily boardings at 16,000, which absent any clearer explanation, translates to 8,000 round trips daily. We know that there is neither a fare box nor is any passenger tally taken on-board the buses. So what we are left with, should we choose to believe the LACMTA (I don't believe them because, frankly, I think that only self serving statements emanate from the Taj Mahal) is that there are 8,000 daily round trip users of the orange line. So let's assist the LACMTA make some better estimates of the NEW users of the Orange Line. As you saw last week I don't agree with the Los Angeles Times idea that the Orange Line is reducing traffic on the 101. If the Times continues with this weak line of reasoning, I will have to declare them an adjunct to the LACMTA's propaganda group. Oh, and an important point: The LACMTA has already conceded that many Orange Line riders were already public transportation users.

As step one, I checked 06-1085SYY which is the LACMTA publication which is entitled “Metro Bus and Metro Rail System Map”. Then I looked at bus lines which are near and roughly parallel to the Orange Line. Running south of the Orange Line, is the 750 Rapid from the Hollywood-Highland Red Line Station to Warner Center. The 750's main route is on Ventura BL. The 363 Express bus which runs north of the Orange Line is another possibility. It operates from the North Hollywood Station to West Hills. Today, few would select the 363 over the Orange Line from the North Hollywood Station, but it would be have been a good alternative in the days before the Orange Line began operations. It covers a long section of Sherman Way.

What we want the LACMTA to tell us is: What was the average weekday ridership of lines 750 and 363 for the period, for the months which correspond to the months of Orange Line operation and for the same period one year ago. In other words, how many people rode lines 363 and 750 during the period November 2005 through January 2006? Then, how many people rode lines 363 and 750 during the period November 2004 through January 2005? I submit that the ridership of these two lines would show a drop from the pre-Orange Line figures. We can then subtract one-half of the drop (reduce the value to individuals) from the 8,000 people who now use the orange line. The remainder are not necessarily new public transportation users, but we would have some idea of the potential siphon effect of the Orange Line.

I also offer the idea that, in paying the big bucks to Berkley Phds, the Los Angeles Times, like the LACMTA, is wasting money. What it could have done was exactly what I did, study the free maps and then, request the actual ridership values from the LACMTA, under FOI (the Freedom of Information Act), if necessary. I believe that the only expenditure required in that case are nominal photocopying fees.

(1) Horn, Katherine “Rev on the Red Line” CITYBEAT 19~26 Jan. 2006:9


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

A quiet time for the LACMTA in the newspapers this week.

The Mole Rides Again - so that you don't have to endure this stuff

The Metro comments page is gone – too many complaints? The Metro Marketing Department is probably boasting that complains are way down. Here is what the site returned when I tried the link (from an earlier post, below)

This page will be unavailable until further notice. You may still contact us at (213) 922-6235, 1-800-464-2111 or 1-800-COMMUTE or via e-mail at customerrelations@metro.net.“

It's cold, two rows ahead of me sits a man with long gray hair and a noticeable, fairly fresh wound on the right side of a bald spot on the back portion of his head. He pulls the signal cord and stands up.

Two Latinas across the aisle from him move to take his recently vacated seat. He quickly sits down again so as to deprive then of the seat – but only for 10~15 seconds, then he gets up exits at his stop. Weird??

Some buses now announce the route number and destination when the doors open at a bus stop. Nice idea, Montebello Transit has had it operating for some time now and it is good for the visually and linguistically challenged. If it worked, that is. About eighty percent (80%) of the buses which I have used recently have announced the WRONG route and WRONG destination. Further reducing the effectiveness of this new feature is the low volume and mush mouthed synthesized voice which it uses. Reason: A bus may make its first run as a 267 and everything will be OK. However, and this happens a lot, the next run of the same day will be as a number 264 but there seems to be no provision for communicating that fact to the “system”. It will announce the starting route all day long, mostly, it appears to me, erroneously. Here again we can see just how quickly the LACMTA will attempt to apply technology yet, at the same time we can see how poorly they can integrate discrete technology packages. Look at what they have on board now, the GPS driven AVA (Automatic Voice Announcement) system, the Transit TVs and now, the route number and destination announcement – let's call that RDA (Route and Destination Announcement). None of these technologies are integrated! The AVA and RDA are not coordinated and Transit TV still doesn't provide the promised route maps. Additionally, some drivers turn the volume of the AVA to ZERO, so passengers hear nothing. Also AVA was not ready for almost three (3) weeks after the schedule change on 2005-12-18. PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique) and CPM (Critical Path Method) has been in use for over fifty (50) years in the U.S. and was first used in the building of atomic submarines to keep things on track. But, looking at the way in which the LACMTA plans and schedules projects, you can be sure that few if any in that organization are familiar with the methodology.

What is needed is a DEMAND from the technical people at LACMTA (I seriously doubt that there are any) that vendors integrate this technology. Doing so would mean that the RDA would accept its input for route from the AVA. The AVA could be augmented by adding the Route and destination data which in turn could give the RDA a better and cleared voice. In technical terms, such disjointed sub-systems are known as “silos” in that they stand alone with no interconnection. Just thinking about it likely gives the LACMTA a headache. LACMTA as a system implementer is {select from the following list: inept, unskilled, incapable, incompetent, unskilled, }. In reality, no information is better than the wrong information!

I am aboard a 720 Rapid bus rattling its way toward Santa Monica. It is Friday, January 13, 2006 about 2:30 in the afternoon. It is bus number 8009, and as usual it is crowded, it is being driven by black man, operator number 18900. He has a sharply creased uniform shirt but, he has an unpleasant word for everyone. He tells an elderly woman who seems to have irritated him by holding her pass for him to see for too long, “I don't have to study it, this is a Rapid move on!”. A Latino gets, “The way you're lookin' at me – there must be something wrong with the date” (on the passenger's day pass, which turned out to be OK). These drivers, although seemingly few in number, are unsupervised, unchecked and unmannered. Well, your Mole putting this in print for all to see. No wonder they turned off the complaint forms on the Metro.net web site.

The constant noises on board many buses make me think that I am in the middle of a heard of Snuffalopoli (derives from Snuffy on CTW – Sesame Street). The snuffling also proves that few carry pocket tissues. Infrequently, one sees what is to me one of the grossest human activities, viz. The blowing of the nose into a handkerchief, then placing the filthy thing back into a pocket. Years of living in Japan have conditioned me to prepare to leave home by, among other things, placing several packs of pocket tissues in my business case. Indelibly etched into my mind is watching Tokyoites react to handkerchief use by a foreigner aboard a Yamanote train. These Japanese are usually shirankao (know nothing faced), but in this case they reacted with perceptible disgust.

Another Ride on the 901 Line

After ensuring that my life insurance was paid to date, I took a North Hollywood to Warner Center round trip on the Orange Line. At the North Hollywood station I found some simple technology that seemed to be working. It was an electronic sign which showed the departure time of the next bus. While I was waiting I wondered why the incoming bus dropped passengers about four bus lengths from the start of the “U”shaped arrival and departure area. It is only multiple bus lengths but, I couldn't see any reason for it.

I took a seat to wait the 7 minutes until th next bus. A rough looking woman vaulted the low fence that separated the waiting area, which is non-smoking, from the adjacent sidewalk. Of course, she immediately lit up and the second hand smoke from her noxious cigarette, drifted directly toward me. I moved. The bus pulled in but the driver refused to open the from door, forcing all boarding through the other two doors. Once on board, I noticed, as a valued source had said, the were no fare boxes. And the Transit Tv could not be seen due to the glare – no loss :-). I noted that the driver creeped through intersections on the green light. I found the “Stop Requested” announcements annoying since the buses are committed to stop at each station. The trip worked out to be about 42 minutes, not bad. The buses, for some unknown and unknowable reason, seem to have no AVA so one must pay attention. We arrived at Warner Center with only 8 of the 57 (14%) seats with occupants. This trip did not contribute much to the LACMTA's boasted 16,000 boardings.

I returned aboard bus number 9225 which displayed a head and side sign of “File Chk” proving as with most LACMTA services, “All of the things don't work all of the time”. I kept a detailed log of passenger boardings and exits on this run.

Warner Center +6=6, DeSoto +5=11, Pierce College +9=20, Tampa +4=24, Receda -4+6=26, Balboa -1+4=29, Woodley +2=31, Sepulveda -4+7=34, Van Nuys -8+17=43, Woodman +3=46, Valley College -1+8=53, Laurel Canyon -4+2=51. We ended with 51 of 57 seats full, i.e., 89.4%. Contrary to the LACMTA's spinmeister's comment about Transit Tv, no one missed a stop due to becoming overly involved with the programming. At the Sepulveda Station I counted cars in the only lot that is easily seen from the bus. The lot is advertised as having 1152 spaces, of which, my rapid count determined that, only about 50 were occupied. That is much less than the Times has been quoting, a little over 4% utilization as opposed to the Times 25% figure. If the low parking lot utilization rates predominates at the other parking lots, then major holes are poked in the Los Angeles Times contention that congestion on the 101 is being reduced by attracting drivers to mass transit. In what appears to be a logical approach, a single deputy boarded at Laurel Canyon and found a “free rider”.

However, on my return home, I saw four deputies chatting in a Red Line Station without checking a single passenger who exited my train.

This more than offsets the single deputy's efforts.


Happy New Year!
¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

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

Two out of three ain't bad(1)! Although I support both the extension of the Gold Line and the Red Line, with the caveat that the LACMTA is an unfit project manager for either project. Look at the route problems which the agency is encountering concerning a Gold Line extension station, a location which impinges upon a school grounds. This well after the initial planning stage of the project. I am running out of synonyms for “inept” to apply to the LACMTA

I consider the Expo Line purely a waste of money. As I have often said, it would be a simple matter to ascertain whether a sufficient ridership exists along the planned route by simply constituting a Rapid bus line with stops at the planned stations. This would support the, usually plucked from the air LACMTA ridership projections, as well as allowing to fine tune final station locations. If the ridership does not materialize, not much if anything is lost – the Rapid line could be moved up to Venice Bl and continue in operation. N.B. Today, after several months of operation the LACMTA is unable to tell us how many of the daily Orange Line boardings represent new patrons of the “system”.

Too, supporters of the Expo Line had better take a ride on the existing Gold Line segment and see first hand how light rail slows at each and every grade crossing. Perhaps, then they would be less overjoyed at what to me is the LACMTA latest money wasting project. I can only hope that USC's opposition to the present route will cause this folly to be canceled.

All preventable loss of life is tragic. In this case(2), how quickly a young, promising, talented life is taken. And how few words, just 9, are required to communicate the sad news. This is a tremendous loss to the young lady's family and friends, especially at the time of year during which we are usually in a celebratory frame of mind.

My sincere condolences the the young lady's family and friends.

The article(3) would have been more creditable had the LACMTA provided us with data regarding the actual number of new passengers using the Orange Line. These data are readily derived from the tallies taken aboard each bus by the driver and available at the end of the working day. Each passenger is categorized by type of fare payment at the time of boarding: pass, cash, other agency transfer and etc. A line by line comparison can be made and as a result a better idea as to whether the Orange Line is attraction new passengers or simply being used instead of other LACMTA in the valley.

Inexplicably, rather than telling us like it is, we are given the usual platitudinous remarks of Zev Yaroslavsky, unsupported by hard facts. This in the face of, “But the LACMTA has acknowledged that many Orange Line users had already been taking buses to get around, ...”.

Further, accidents are a fact of life on the 101, to factor them out of the statistics, as was the case in the Berkley study, distorts and favorably biases the overall performance of the 101. It may well be that the Orange Line is acting to improve conditions on the 101 but, I remain unconvinced. Perhaps, if a control study was done, one that simply looked at the 101 for equivalent periods in the recent past to determine if periodicity was extant, I would have a higher level of confidence in the report. As my statistics professor used to say: “Correlation is not causation!”. Also, 101 freeway usage statistics should be available from the DOT (Department of Transportation) under FOI (Freedom Of Information).

I wonder why it was necessary to hire Berkley PHDs to perform the study and what about UCLA/USC PHDs??? Lots of questions ...

I was in fully holiday mode, so I may have missed some Orange Line accidents. As far as I know, the Times didn't report any. Step 2 would be, Step 1 is burying the stories, not printing them at all. If a car crashes into an Orange Line bus and it is not reported, does it happen? It is a if a tree falls in the forest kind of thing ...

The articulated, three door Orange Line buses do not count passengers as do all other buses as described above. Nor, apparently, do they even have fare boxes aboard. Which makes one wonder from where does the LACMTA pull these highly touted 16,000+ daily boarding figures. My analysis? Wish fulfillment values! Further, Orange Line fare payment is on the honor system. You know what that means – a certain percentage of free riders. What a beautiful excuse: “I wanted to pay on board, but there was no fare box – so I thought it was free”. And what would be the LACMTA's response to that assertion? “Duh ...”.

Interesting piece(4)! However, since only the LACMTA spinmeister, Littman,is quoted, I found the topic of "Transit TV" to be one sided and therefore, unbalanced.

A more critical viewpoint is available here (read earlier posts), which covers complaints about interruptions to passenger reading, failure to deliver on the promise of route maps on the Transit TV screens and etc. Drivers too, seem less than enamored with the TVs, and have complaints about them, yet another source of noise pollution . It is well known to Industrial Engineers that constant noise can produce fatigue and that accidents result from fatigue.

(1)“Liu, Caitlin 3 L.A.County Rail Projects Move Ahead” Los Angeles Times 16 Dec 2005:B3”
(2)Writer, Staff “Woman at Bus Stop Is Fatally Struck by Car” Los Angeles Times 22 Dec. 2005:B4
(3)Caitlin, Liu “Orange Line Eases A.M. Rush on 101” Los Angeles Times 30 Dec. 2005:B1
(4)Hymos, Steve "District Has No Clothes, and Other Visions" Los Angeles Times 6 Jan. 2006:B2

The Mole Rides Again - so that you can vicariously enjoy his travels

It's a fact: In spite of the recent decision requiring bus drivers to use seat belts, in practice, seat belts are optional for bus drivers.

The young woman across the aisle, traveling with a young child and the child's grandmother, bites her nails and spits the pieces out. The child crawls on the bus floor, but not too long, before grandma takes over. But then, even a short time on a LACMTA bus floor is not a good thing.

All the while, another young woman tries to negotiate a place to say on a push-to-talk cell phone. We all can hear both side of this fairly loud conversation. We learn that she has been “kicked out and has nowhere to go”, but not the reason. She gets off the bus after we hear that the man to whom she has been speaking may be able to arrange a place for her to stay.

I arrive at Westfield Shoppingtown and expect to wait only 10 minutes for a 268 bus. As I glance toward Baldwin, I see that the 268 has decided to skip this transfer center this morning. I call out an unheard cheery greeting to driver, not forgetting his familial group and prepare to be one hour late! Communication is not LACMTA's thing. When the semi-annual schedule change took place on 18 December it seemed like it would be a good thing.

The way it used to be: several years ago there was a mini transportation center inside the mall. At that time buses would transit the mall from about 9AM to 9PM. During earlier and later hours all buses would all stop at the front of the mall at a regular bus stop on the street. This worked just fine.

Since the LACMTA is incapable of having an institutional memory, on 18 December they scheduled some buses (Lines 264 and 268) to transit the mall on all runs while the 79 follows the historical 9AM to 9PM schedule for mall entry. These routes are documented in the printed schedules. Concurrently the LACMTA has completely removed the old bus stop. Further, the LACMTA is unable to communicate (or schedule either, if you followed the above comment) some drivers feel that it is OK to bypass the mall before 9AM and after 9PM. The result: stranded unhappy passengers. The joke used to be: (Q) What happens to the children when cousins marry? (A) They go to work for the office. The (A) should be localized to: (A) They go to work for the office if they can pass the pre-employment test, those that fail go to work for the LACMTA and those who fail badly go to work for the LACMTA routes and schedules department.

I arrive at the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station to find, as usual, elevator problems. Two elevators are out of service, likely sabotaged by the same people who have deeply etched graffiti into the panels and windows (the windows are plastic) inside the elevators. The platform is reached by riding four (4) floors up in the parking structure and then crossing a bridge and finally walk or ride two levels down. For some reason, the LACMTA has decided that an iron bench is required on the right side of the bridge half way across.

Today the Wilshire and Vermont station is littered with newspapers. This litter might be caused by those who scavenge for beverage containers in the trash cans. A coffee container is abandoned mid platform. There are no security or other LACMTA employees in sight. In fact, I have seen very few deputies or fare inspectors during recent weeks. Perhaps, they read the Mole and discovered that it is not cost effective to spend $500,000 yearly to attempt to collect $12,000 yearly, of which 60% is likely uncollectable. During the ten minutes which I waited for my Red Line Train, two people couldn't find the right platform – not unusual in this two level signage challenged station.

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