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

According to the Los Angeles Times(1) excessive noise levels along the Orange Line route may require the the LACMTA refit some homes, nine at present count, with double-pane windows in an attempt to mitigate the noise. The paper reports that 41 noise complaints were received by the agency. I suspect that the number will rise as residents see that something can be done about the constant noise - there are 244 bus trips each weekday. The LACMTA spin master and the Times did not print any specific factual DB levels in order to better define“excessive”, so we are left to guess at the meaning of “excessive”.

A Los Angeles Times piece(2) points out, of course, that the usual approach is in operation at the LACMTA. The longer we delay construction of the Red Line along Wilshire BL, the larger the cost projection becomes. And anyway, isn't the sun going to expend its' fuel in the future and we won't really need a Red Line extension then, will we?

Then too, the LACMTA has expended funds on marginal propositions such as the Orange Line and the rail line to Culver City, the so called Expo Line, which I believe means the line which Exposes the LACMTA's inability to plan and/or manage. The subject piece also notes the earlier cost overruns along with other performance failures and is much less than a vote of confidence in the LACMTA's ability to learn from past mistakes.

I believe that the sooner that the Red Line extension is started the sooner it will be completed with the added benefit that the costs can be predicted. Cost control on the extension should be implemented along with contractor penalties for exceeding budget, other performance failures AND a project manager other than the LACMTA. Which agency would have an near impossible task in planning their way out of a wet paper bag!

It might make sense too, to open the extension station by station as they do with subway lines in Japan, so that the value proposition for the line is available to the public sooner.

In some respects, this Los Angeles Times piece(3) on the Gold Line express service gives one the feeling of “piling on” the bungling LACMTA. First of all, in my mind the Gold Line termini do not qualify as express “stops”. So in reality, there are only three (3) stops on the express line which are pretty much clumped together. The article, long in justifiable rider complaints, failed completely to address questions to LACMTA management as to how and why the express stations were selected. On many occasions I ride from Seirra Made Villa station to Lake Avenue, but, Lake Avenue is not, as the article points out, an express stop.

I noticed that no one who was quoted, neither transportation scholar nor Gold Line riders had any suggestions on how to improve the “load factor' on the Gold Line. One transportation expert sounded more like a member of the Bus Rider's Union, dissing light rail. Well, believing that everyone is entitled to my opinion, I do have a suggestion. Ensure that every Gold Line station is serviced by at least one bus line. If you bring them directly to the station, not two or three blocks away, they will ride. This is a system of hubs (Gold Line stations) just begging for the spokes (bus lines) which directly connect to the stations and provide the passengers.

The Gold Line should STOP making the driver reliefs at means of a special stop between stations (Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park and Chinatown). Such relief changes should be made at the Union Station terminus, speeding up those runs, or at least not delaying them by several minutes. Too, the LACMTA should consider increasing the speeds of ALL trains on the free running track so that the average speed increases even when the slower times on the grade crossing sections are considered.

I sat looking at a poster, on board the Gold Line the other day, which read“Door-to-door, well almost.”touting the agency's service. The only active department is in the LACMTA is the marketing department which produce the poster and other such such useless material. If the service is good, word of mouth alone will do the job! The new express line is supported by early twentieth century “software” such as the banners in the bypassed stations announcing that the Express trains will not stop here. What is needed is an upgrade of the electronic signs so that they display such announcements and allow for flexibility in scheduling a different pattern of express stops. This is something that has been done for years on the BART in Norther California and for decades in Japan.

Contrary to an assertion in the article, “The line does not have double tracks, so a faster train cannot pass a slower one.”, the Gold Line does have double tracks. What it lacks is siding at points along the line onto which the slower train could be routed and held until the faster train passed. Even then, with the existing tracks and clever switching a faster train could pass a slower one if the slower one is held at a station.

Could it be that the LACMTA is creating conditions for failure, since this line was forced upon them, not invented by them and even actively opposed by them?

I look forward to the time when the Los Angeles Times holds the LACMTA's feet to the fire rather than publishing such pessimistic, at best, commiserative articles like this one.

The Mole Rides Again - so that you don't have touch the graffito on the seat to see if it is wet, before sitting down

The Gold Line “Express”Service was expected to start operation this week. I intend to ride it soon, but I saw no trains in operation. What happens in a “real” limited service operation, is that regular trains are sidetracked so that they can be passed by the limited. I doubt, actually I pray, given the abilities of the LACMTA to handle the level of complexity involved in sidetracking, that that is not the case here. What will happen is that regular service will suffer as a result of the limited service. The only people to see a limited train pass will be those who are stranded at the stations being bypassed. Of the thirteen Gold Line stations, only three are en route stops. I have seen express service in cities around the world, but never where the stops are so clumped together. Not counting the two termini, the“Express”service stops at Del Mar, Mission and Highland Park.

The latter two being adjacent and spaced from Del Mar by the bypassed Fillmore station. This patter was likely the work of the staff that estimates Orange Line daily boardings at 16,000. Note that there are no central Pasadena stops on the “Express”since both Lake Av and Memorial Park are bypassed.

When I am able to ride the “Express”, I will attempt to determine how many people are bypassed as a percentage of riders.

I rode a 720 Rapid (bus number 8011) to Santa Monica on Thursday, 23 February around 11:00 AM.. Very noisy! It was the driver (29688), a slim black man with short graying hair. He was “preaching” to a woman who made much of the trip standing in front of the yellow line which we passengers are exhorted by signage and verbal orders not to cross, and stood within a foot or so of the driver. He was going on and on and on about why Issac or some other biblical character was or was not counted as dead and a whole lot of other things which were and are of little interest to me (sorry, Mom). This was obviously a guy who took his bible, if not his driving, seriously. Lots of the passengers were becoming jittery trying to figure out how the driver could be so engrossed in a conversation, cite lineage (who begat whom, etc.) and still drive. Not even considering that passengers were not given the choice to be there for the sermon and had no way of avoiding it. His primary audience appreciated his performance enough for the whole bus, with hand clapping and sounds of agreement.

My belief, drivers should check there religion at the door before an attorney rides their bus and begins action calling for a cessation of unwanted religious services.

(1) Writer, Staff.“Homes Near Orange Line May Get Double-Pane Windows” 12 Feb. 2006:B4

(2) Liu, Caitlin. “Subway to Sea Is Far Off at Best” 16 Feb. 2006:B4

(3) Liu, Caitlin. "Express Adds Little Luster to Gold Line”20 Feb. 2006:B1



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

Here we go again! Another sad Los Angeles Times(1) story by an editorial writer which echoes the whining by one of the paper's columnists in his story many months ago. Is there no institutional memory at the Los Angeles Times? - there is certainly none at the LACMTA.

Mr. Turner does Los Angeles Times readers a disservice by not better informing them and exhibits his own lack of planning skills by not using one of the tools which he habitually uses in his daily work, viz., the Internet. Had he spent just 15 minutes exploring the Metro web site (www.metro.net) and clicked on the “Riding Metro” link he would have found answers to most of his questions about transfers and fares. Further, using the Metro “Trip Planner” he could have had his route selected for him and his fare options computed. This web site is much less than perfect so he would have had to noted the buses and trains selected for his route and then used another “tab” on the “Riding Metro” menu to view a schedule for each of the selected modes. Schedule production, of course, as any software engineer will verify, should be an option in the “Trip Planner” software.

Optionally, he could have called 1.800.COMMUTE, negotiated a telephone tree and then have an agent do the work for him.

There is lots wrong with public transportation in our area. The base fault is that the LACMTA refuses to think in terms of a transportation system. I have continually criticized them for this lack of “systems thinking”, i.e., they think in terms of bus lines and rail/subway lines. Visit any major city in this county or in the world for that matter and one will see that bus lines “spoke” to rail or subway stations. Not so in Los Angeles, where our bus system is a vestige of the old RTD days when there were no rail or subway stations to server as hubs. In today's environment, and here the Sierra Madre Villa Gold line station comes to mind, if a bus stops within two (2) or three (3) blocks of the station that is close enough for LACMTA work.

Had Mr. Turner taken his luggage with him he would have found that the transfer from the Blue line to the Green line would have required two (2) elevators and a struggle to work one's way through the crowd in order to ride the second elevator since they are not adjacent. In fairness to the Times readership, Mr. Turner should be required to repeat his trip after doing the proper research toting a medium size suitcase along with him.

But L.A. Has nothing on Philly(2), where a bus driver assaulted a 52 year old woman, grabbing her by the hair, knocking her head into a pole and tossing her out the door into traffic! She had yelled at him when he missed her stop.

The Mole Rides Again - so that you don't have to avert your eyes while fellow riders pick their noses

Random rides:

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 which 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.

On board a 720 Rapid bus (8096) bound for Santa Monica. There are two (2) uniformed Metro employees on board this bus. They may be trying out a new “system”. One drives while the other distributes day passes and transfers – anyway, that is my perception of what should be happening. However there is some confusion on the part of the passengers about who is supposed to be doing what on this very crowded 10:00 AM run. One male passenger is turning left and right trying to figure out where he will receive his day pass. The attractive Latina driver (16526) must have had the same DI that I did, and it shows in her language – the passenger replies in kind. Somebody needs an anger management class. The Metro worker who distributes things, a Black woman (71033), is unfailingly polite and seems unflappable.

Nothing electronic seems to be operational on this morning's ride on the 264 line. No, AVA (Automatic Voice Announcements) , the TransitTV screens are (thankfully) dark, no (usually incorrect) ADA (Automatic Door Announcements). Although the date and time do crawl on the display and the “Stop Requested” sign does light up. Driver seat belt usage seems to be up, although my driver doesn't use his.

All the passenger windows are grimy. The bus has been cleaned to LACMTA standards, i.e., good enough. The same is true for the heavily vandalized elevators at the Sierra Madre Villa station.

Another bumpy ride on 720 Rapid down Wilshire. Every jolt is preserved in my handwriting as I take notes – Mole as seismograph. The operational phrase here is: “If it doesn't get reported it doesn't get fixed”. The single bolt that holds the vertical “hold on” pole in place has rattled out and is gone. Our trip has what sounds like a discordant steel drummer as an accompanist. This is bus number 8007. It is an 8000 series, a shock absorber-less product of NABI. The missing bolt is on the left side, at about the midway point of the third window. At the Hollywood-Western Red Line station I help an older man plan his trip to John Wayne airport as best I could: Red Line to 7th Metro Center, then the Blue Line to LB transit Mall and then find an OC bus on his own from there. He wasn't in a hurry his flight was leaving in a week so he was simply planning in advance. It turned out he was Iranian so we spent a few minutes talking about Persian food – one of my favorites along with Mexican and Italian :-).

I'm on a line 181 bus today. It is well marked up with graffiti. Some of these buses are also used on a line which serves students.

These budding artists have left their mark on EVERYTHING. Even the TransitTV screens have heavy black lines on them. So much for the idea that TransitTV reduces vandalism.

(1) Turner, Dan. “Taking the rapid out of transit” Los Angeles Times 5 Feb. 2006:M1

(2) N/A. “Bus Driver Is Charged in Attack on Passenger” Los Angeles Times 10 Feb. 2006:A21



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

Strangely, there has been almost no LACMTA coverage in the local newspapers this week.

The Mole Rides Again - so that you can listen to XM radio in the car

Two faced cameras have begun to appear on some buses. One lens takes a picture of the driver's view through the windshield. The other, is aimed at the passenger area. So, smile and give a big shout out to those who monitor these devices. Don't expect it to be seen though because, my incomplete understanding of the mechanism at this time is that they are inertially triggered. That means that it is not recording at all times, and that if the driver breaks hard then the devices will start recording. It's purpose seems to be two fold: (1) to determine fault in the case of an accident and (2) to see if those “oh, my neck, whiplash” claims have any validity. It would seem to have only limited security functions, other than after the fact. I will try to find out more detail and pass it on when I do.

Ah, the yellow signal cords. Yesterday, I saw a woman input as much force into the cord as Ray Mysterio jerk pulling himself to the top rope so that he can execute some kind of diving maneuver. I can imagine that her model of the cord was that it physically signaled the Taj Mahal (LACMTA Headquarters at Chavez and Vigness) which in turn sent out a signal to the on board “Stop Requested” sign. In fact, like many of the on board systems, this one too need work. If people don't pay good attention during the fleeting life of the “Stop Requested” sign and it's attendant “Stop Requested” announcement, they may think that no stop has been requested. So, they pull the cord. Nothing happens. They pull the cord again harder. This cycle repeats until other passengers call out “It's gonna stop!” as they did the the woman with the Ray Mysterio force. What should happen is that the “Stop Requested” sign should repeat without the audio. The ADA (Automatic Door Announcements) continue cheerily (I think) announcing the mostly wrong – a minimum of 50% of the announcement is wrong on either the bus number or destination or lots of times both .

The mole rode the Big Blue Bus Rapid number 3 to LAX the other day. Nice ride! The driver told your mole that these smooth riding, quiet machines were made by “New Flyer”. I can only guess that somebody's brother-in-law is the salesman for NABI, which company makes the bone jarring, ear irritating, rattling Rapid buses used by the LACMTA. This, again, presents an opportunity for the NABI field engineering staff to turn these bucking broncs into smooth rolling advertisements for their product. A Mole source tells me that it is the fault of lack of maintenance by the LACMTA on the Rapid buses, either by plan or lack of funding to keep the equipment in proper order. The 720 line Rapids still do not have AVA (Automatic Voice Announcement) of stops on many buses at this late date – months and months after system wide introduction of the feature. Yet they have instituted a new line 720 stop at Park La Brea. A more thoughtful and consistent LACMTA would allow the 745 Rapid to stop at Arroyo to allow a connection with the Gold Line Memorial Park Station. Speaking of the Gold Line, “tests” for the new express trains are now underway. The express service is scheduled to go into effect on 13 February. Makes me wonder though, why one month is needed for testing? It would seem to this Industrial Engineer that at least some “test” trains could carry passengers, instead of running empty, and at the same time see if the stations chosen for express stops are the right ones. But there is the right way, the wrong way and the LACMTA way.

Orange Line Cost-Benefit Analysis (Cont. I.)

Th LACMTA refuses to give any hard statistics on Orange Line (Line 901) ridership. The buses have no fare boxes which drastically limits their use on other lines in the system. And they don't provide any ridership counts either. The propaganda arms of the LACMTA and other county agencies with a stake in the matter are all busy telling us how great the Orange Line is as a means of justifying their $350,000,000 investment. That works out to $ 7.10/”boarding” using a ten (10) year amortization period on the capital investment.

To develop that ($7.10/”boarding”) value, I invoked Python (a Linux scripting language) and used 4,160,000 annual week day ”boardings” (16,000 * 5 *52) and 832,000 annual week end ”boardings” (8,000 * 2 *52) for a total count of 4,992,000”annually. Regarding the 8,000 weekend count: I pulled the figure from just where the LACMTA gets their values – well, almost anyway – I got mine out of the air. Then I divided the initial $350,000,000 investment by 10 to get an annual cost. I divided that quotient by the total annual passengers to develop the cost for ”boarding”. Now, IF and only if, the LACMTA is truthful about the daily “boardings the daily loss generated by a “boarding” buying a day pass would be $4.10 or $10.10 if two boardings equals a round trip passenger (see Disclaimer, below). Now on an annualized basis, using the $4.10 loss per “boarding”, this amounts to $17,888,000 or $178,880,000 over the ten year period. But wait, there's less! If we could figure out how many “new to public transportation boardings” resulted from building the Orange Line then we could figure out their marginal costs – likely to be astronomical because the LACMTA already admits that many Orange Line users were already using the Metro before the Orange Line was built. So the LACMTA is moving the same people around for a lot more money. The LACMTA serving you, by spending the public's money, not always is the smartest way!

Disclaimer: I didn't factor in maintenance costs for either the buses or the roadway, fuel, driver costs, possible additional legal costs and funds to settle claims for future accidents and a whole lot of things that really need to be considered. Importantly, I considered a “boarding” to be a person. That is very likely not the case. The 16,000 daily boardings could be the actions of as few as 8,000 people making a round trip. In which case the cost per person would double to $14.20 with the attendant $10.00 loss per passenger cited above!

Your Mole is on a business trip so he may miss a posting or two.

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