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

In what turns out to be a very nice story(1) the Los Angeles Times reports on a man whose working life will likely not be exceeded by your Mole or his readers for that matter. The piece details the long career of Mr. Arthur Winston who retired on his 100th birthday!

Happy Birthday Mr. Winston and many happy returns!!

Actually, the Times was beat on the story by the Chicago Sun-Times which ran it on Wednesday. And the CBC Radio (Canada) ran an interview on “As It Happens” on Wednesday evening. In the interview, Mr. Winston said that he would like to take a trip to Brazil and look at the moon there. He seemed quick and witty. Your mole should do as well when he is half Mr. Winston's age :-).

The Mole Rides Again - so that you don't have be surrounded by people who were born without an “inside voice” and are forced to always use their “outside voice”

I was riding along thinking about the Bank of Japan's (BOJ) contemplated action vis-á-vis interest rates. BOJ, Japan's Central Bank, presently issues loans with a prime rate of at or near zero percent interest. This is good for the borrower and not so good for the bank's income statement. BOJ is thinking about actually charging a higher interest rate due to the fact that Japan's economy is strengthening after a decade of poor performance. Such a rate increase means that investments, with funds borrowed at zero percent interest, are possible but would not be undertaken at a higher interest rate. BOJ's action has the potential for impact on the world's economy, so it must be studied carefully before implementation.

Suddenly, I was brought back to earth by a nearby conversation. Two people were discussing finance! These people would make BOJ's economic committee seem like amateurs. They were talking about a mode of finance, that, although I have been unable to avoid the industry's TV commercials, with which I have no first hand experience. So I listened intently. The mode is often referred to as “Check to Cash”.

The financiers talked nonstop about the details of personal finance using one, or in their case, several companies concurrently. I learned that there are many companies in this business, the names flowed too fast for me to keep up with them and as I did not want to attract attention to myself by taking out my notebook. I ask that you please, be content knowing that there are lots of offerings in this commercial space, and accepting these few which I could remember: Cash & Run; NIX; Money Mart; Advance America; Payday Advance and Speedy Cash. Using “check into cash” as the search argument, Google returned 97,100,000 pages!

The problems apparently develop when one's note comes due – incidentally, the note is your pre-dated check for the amount which you are to receive in cash, plus the finance charges. When your payment is due, the loan company simply deposits the check, if it bounces they simply resubmit the check as many times as required until it clears. I could not clearly understand whether the loan company charged an additional fee for the delay of not. What I did understand was that at least one bank, Wells Fargo, charged $33 for each time a check bounced. I also understood that Wells Fargo did not cancel the checking account but rather they put up with the – what seemed to me an endless cycle of overdrafts – because it is profitable business.

Bottom line: to me, this sounded like a sad situation of people attempting to make their way on a limited income who were pinched between a lender of last resort and their bank.

Come FLYAWAY with me

As promised, I took a FLYAWAY bus from Union Station to LAX. The pleasant surprise was that usual $3 one way fee was waived and will continue to be waived through 31 March 2006(2). Passenger luggage was stowed in compartment underneath the passenger compartment. My bus was an older one but still appeared to be cleaner than LACMTA standards (this service is provided by LAX, actually, “Los Angeles World Airports”). Of the 47 passenger seats on my bus, just 11 were filled so either the word is not getting out or the demand for this service has been overestimated. Strangely, the several buses which I noted had Wyoming license plates? We left just seconds after 2 P.M. and although I had expected a 45 minute trip, we arrived at the third LAX stop, Tom Bradley Terminal in just 28 minutes and 55 seconds! That time is about half the time required by the Red Line -> Blue Line -> Green Line ->LAX shuttle route from Union Station to LAX. It is about one third of the Line 439 -> LAX shuttle route originating at Union Station and terminating at LAX.

Bottom line: This seems to be a service with some possibility – partly because it is not administered by the people with the anti-Midas touch, the LACMTA. That being said, I wonder if the demand for an East side to LAX service currently exists. Perhaps FLYAWAY's viability will increase in the future when the Grand AV plan is more fully developed, with hotels in the area and a centrally located hotel stop is added to the route. In the intermediate term the actual cost of the service to the potential Metro user is $6 - $3 for a day pass used to get to Union Station then FLYAWAY's $3. Demand could be increased by working on fare sharing arrangement between FLYAWAY and the LACMTA. I would suggest that a passenger be allowed to board a FLYAWAY bus for $1.50 and his day pass. Then Metro could pay FLYAWAY $1.25 for each day pass presented. Doing this would reduce the passengers cost to $4.50, Metro would make $1.75 on each , only slightly used day pass and FLYAWAY would make $2.75. At any rate, some sort of fare sharing could boost both public transportation usage and the use of the FLYAWAY service. A discount on round trip ticket purchases could be considered as well.

The LACMTA Marketing Department is at it again!

According to a multi-coloured, heavy stock not inexpensive card (06-1844EB©2006LACMTA) the El Monte Station is being expanded. Six bus bays, designated A through F, are being added at ground level on the West side of the station. Metro buses 270, 170/176, 267 and 268 will stop at Bays A, B, C ans D respectively. Foothill Transit buses 178 will stop at Bay E and buses 269 will stop at Bay F.

The card then goes on to show the Bays numbered 1 through 10 in the main, i.e., older part of the station, yet, and I would say inexplicably, but that is always the case with the <please fill in your own appropriate derogatory adjective> LACMTA, fails to show the bus numbers that stop at those numbered bays.

(1)Wride, Nancy. “Getting Off the Bus After 76 Years of Work” Los Angeles Times 23 March 2006:B2

(2) Details at 1.866.IFLYLAX = 1.866.435.9529


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

Your Mole has been traveling again so this post will be briefer than he would like.

The Mole Rides Again - so that you don't have wear a face mask to protect yourself from a flurry of dandruff when the old Chinese man in the seat in front of you tosses his head

Like the movie “Groundhog Day” the construction at Pasadena's Del Mar station goes on and on. Now they have the usual direct access entries, nearest the 686 bus stop on Del Mar AV, completely blocked for no apparent reason. This forces everyone to thread their way through other ongoing construction to the “main entrance” on Raymond AV. Of course, the LACMTA has not seen fit to post any signs directing one to said main entrance. I had to dodge past a fork lift to enter the station. This is all under the LACMTA rubric, “They'll figure it out”. I did want to use the Fillmore station, I was the only passenger and even though the bus head sign displayed “Fillmore Station”, the driver said he didn't go there.

Aboard the Gold Line, scattered on the floor and on the seat across from me, were individual phony finger nails – she didn't like the color?? Near the door was another “work” product of the LACMTA's Marketing Department. A poster, featuring Rapid Lines, headed “What's not to like?”. There were pictures of smiling, perhaps drugged, passengers who are ecstatic over Metro Rapid. The text talks about easy transfers, etc. - apparently they haven't read my earlier post about transferring from the Rapid 780 to the Rapid 754 at Vermont AV and Hollywood BL.

I was aboard a 439 bus from Union Station to Redondo Beach. This is an interesting route, part freeway and part meandering through Culver City – Fox Hills Mall and the smallish shopping center adjacent to the 405 on Howard Hughes Parkway. What a cacophonous ride! First there was the always present “bleed through” from portable electronic devices played at maximum volume. Then the cell phone users in conversation with someone who must have their tin can connected by string to the network. If anyone is motivated to construct a concordance of a random sample of cell phone conversations, surely, What? And Huh? Will bubble to the top of the list. Following in order we have the TransitTV, which on this trip featured two overly cheerful guys with their “recipe”, Viz., Chili. It was basically, add a chopped onion to a half pound of ground beef, dump in a can of pinto beans and a can of kidney beans, drained, and this was emphasized, of the liquid. I won't give you any more because this recipe may be copyrighted. If you are unlucky enough to be aboard the bus for more than half an hour, you get to hear and see these guys twice. Then TransitTV feels that you must hear loud music as accompaniment for pictures of frolicking seals???

But full volume is reserved for commercials. For example, the one where a man boasts of making more than $150,000 last year and this year is better. A woman tells us how she made $8,000 yesterday! Bank robbery? No, it is a work at home scheme. Whatever happened to the promised on route maps that they were touting before installation of these useless devices. Add to all this the chatter of your fellow riders and it is impossible to read. The woman in the seat behind me was trying to work out a calendar for February by discussing the matter with herself – I made up one for her. She needed it for a court appearance – I didn't ask.

The only thing it was possible to read aboard this noise factory was the bus schedule. I have checked several and found that a complete list of stops for a given route is nowhere to be found in the schedule. This would be very helpful because some drivers don't really know all the street names for their stops. If there is both a regular and an express route, think 78/378, then the express stops should be printed in bold face type.

Speaking of Union Station, there is an new bus service in operation from berth 9 in Patsaouras Plaza there. Called, “FlyAway” it began operations on 15 March and promises a 45 minute trip directly to your/from LAX terminal for $3 one way fare. Service leaves every half hour from either end, Union Station and LAX, of the route. The buses are NEW! There is a FlyAway ticket office behind and to the left of berth 9. It is advertised as a service of the “Los Angeles World Airports”. I will use the FlyAway service on my next trip and report back to you here. I can just picture the LACMTA management slapping their foreheads and saying “Duh, why didn't we think of this?”.



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

A photo(1) in the Los Angeles Times shows three of four Gold Line riders with their feet up on the seats! This is in spite of the many announcements, scrolling signs and etc. asking people NOT to do this. The February 2006 issue of“Metro News”(no other identification is printed on this brochure) in addition to telling us that we can “Get There 15% Quicker On [the] Gold Line Express”, devotes several paragraphs to using Metro for dates. It starts “For that special date on Valentine's Day or any other time ...”, unfortunately, I don't know any women who would be pleased by an offer of a date that promised the Metro as the primary mode of transportation.

Especially, since it would be possible to her to leave the, say, Gold Line with an image of someone's boot on her dress. People who place their feet on the seats leave the residue of their travels on the seats when they leave. Perhaps some fresh asphalt or perhaps, something much worse.

In Japan, such thoughtless people would be ostracized. Mothers take special care to remove their children's shoes before allowing them to stand on the seats. Americans, it seems, are much less sensitive about cleanliness.

A Los Angeles Times piece(2) mentions “Roving transit police offices and civilian fare inspectors” but what about sheriff's deputies that once were quite visible but today are less frequently seen? And does the $19 million in security costs reflect the cost of the deputies? Which civilian fare inspectors are virtually toothless, in that they can only ask fare cheats to leave the train. I applaud the subject article in that it, unusually, contains some hard data. Unfortunately, the data are not subjected to even minimal analysis.

Take, for example, the estimated more than 6,000 per day fare cheats. At a loss of a single base fare of $1.25 per“free rider”, and using 6,000 as the number of daily cheats, this is a loss to the LACMTA of $ 7,500 per day. Resulting in an annual loss of $2,737,500! Pretty soon we will be talking about real money. Taken another way, had the Red Line installed a controlled access system to begin with, the capital cost would have paid for itself by now. Further, consider the the $19 million cost, “... most of that is to ask people if they paid”. This in itself is a losing proposition. If the 51,900 riders who were cited last year each paid the maximum fine of $250, and that amount was collectible, the agency would stand to collect $12,975,000. Then the return on the $19 million fare collection investment works out to be 27.3 percent. In effect, this means that twenty seven cents is returned for every dollar spent giving new meaning to the term "wastefulness". I have frequently commented in my blog that the ROI (Return On Investment) for this function would be poor, but I never thought the it would be this poor. What one can see from the ROI is that it would be more cost effective to stop fare collection even if the fare cheats increased almost 400 percent! Actually, the ROI is worse than I have shown because: (1) not all of the 51,000 would have been cited for a violation which resulted in the maximum fine (even if skateboarding is a crime); (2) not all fines will be collectible: and (3) there are additional costs for court appearances, fine collection and perhaps even public defenders that increase the collection costs and therefore reduce the ROI.

If the fare inspection costs are prorated to each of the Gold, Red, Blue and Green Lines based upon say, the number of stations on each line - there are 62 in total (I counted common stations in the total of the older line's allocation), the Red Line's proration, with 16 stations, of the $19 million would be $4.9 million.

So, with $2.7 annual additional fare collection and almost $5 million, actually less than $5 million because some security service would still be required, in reduced costs the Red Lines capital cost ($30 million) of installing an access control system could be recouped in under four years.

Then take the fare inspection process itself. Many riders and even a large percentage of the fare inspectors do not understand the current LACMTA fare policy. Riders are required to buy a separate ticket for each of the color coded lines, mentioned above, or, alternatively, purchase a day pass. The fare inspector's likely check only for the date printed on a ticket NOT the point of purchase. I.e., if a ticket is purchased from a Gold Line ticket machine, it is so indicated on the ticket and the ticket is technically only usable on the Gold Line. This is a change from several years ago when one could freely ride the entire system no matter where the ticket was purchased. In truth there are “fare cheats” who are known neither to themselves nor to the fare inspectors. My solution? color code the tickets. The Gold Line machines would issue gold tickets, the Red Line, red tickets and so forth. If one's ticket color did not match the color of the line on which he was riding, he would be in violation. Simple to understand, simple to implement, simple to communicate and simple to enforce.

We know from experience, that the LACMTA is congenitally unable to manage any project no matter how insignificant. Consider the latest fiasco, installing equipment that will announce the bus number and destination when the door is opened at a bus stop. As I detail at http://LAmetroMole.BlogSpot.com, currently these devices are either not operational or announce incorrectly at least half the time.

So, let us address the type of access control system that should be installed on the Red Line and in future, on all lines. First of all the equipment should have a good track record to recommend it, not as seems to be the usual case, that it is sold by somebody's brother-in-law. Next it must be flexible. I would look first to the JRE (Japan Rail East) the agency that includes Tokyo in its area. The system which was in use used tickets that were magnetically encoded with the issuing station and fare paid. These tickets are then inserted into a slot on an access gate. If all is ok, the patron is allowed access, if not the case must be resolved by an agent - an agent can control 10 or more access gates which results in a relatively low labor cost.

When the patron exits at his destination station if his fare is proper he is allowed to exit. Otherwise he must go to a fare adjustment machine near the exit and insert his ticket along with an amount calculated by the fare adjustment machine. When he does so, a new exit ticket will be issued and he then exits after inserting that ticket in the slot on the exit gate. These machines are under two meters long with lots of mechanical and electronic subsystems inside. JRE is constantly looking to apply the most current, maintenance free and simple to use access control that is available. Meaning that they quickly adopt new and usually better systems so in the year or so since my last trip things could have changed.

Note: I would not allow any LACMTA staff , management or administration to junket to Japan, rather let JRE people , and possible their top vendors come here with their advice.

With respect to the person who was whining that he felt passengers who are subject to access control would be treated as cattle, I invite him to read my analysis above, grow up, develop a more balanced approach to economics and visit any city that is comparable in size to Los Angeles and see a world class access control system in operation. Just because an insignificant minority may jump the turnstiles in, e.g., NYC, is an illogical reason to avoid installation of turnstiles in Los Angeles.

The Mole Rides Again - so that you don't have your olfactory glands assaulted by a bag of reeking beverage containers

I bought a March Metro pass on 27 February. I joined the line as the 38th member.

Only two of the three sales windows were open so it took twenty eight (28) minutes for me to be served. That works out to one minute and twenty eight seconds (1:28) per person. Had the third window been open throughout my wait I would have been served in approximately 19 minutes. The service was somewhat slowed by people breaking into the queue to (apparently) ask for change, about schedules, why the Metro Link window was closed and etc. Short breaks for no discernible reason taken by the sellers. The question remains why the LACMTA doesn't ensure that all three sales windows are not opened promptly when the queue length reaches 15 or so in other words, use the same metrics in use at supermarkets for opening an additional checkout. And they should ensure that all but the very shortest breaks are covered as well.

Anyway, I left a line with forty four (44) people, but, at last, all three windows were open.

On Monday, some main LACMTA system was down (out of service). This left some buses without any of their electronic goodies (AVA, ADO, Fare Boxes and TransitTV) and others with varying degrees of reduced service. I plan to find out more about the manner in which buses are electronically linked to the Taj Mahal and if possible, write about it later. Many buses could NOT COLLECT FARES. This made the riders happy and again exposed the LACMTA's lack of“systems thinking”.

It would seem that, at minimum, the fare boxes could be outfitted with a simple drop slot into which the passengers could drop their fare payments after inspection by the bus operator. Such a simple go around is called a backup system. But, as usual, the LACMTA is unable to understand terms such as: redundant systems; independent operation and backup systems. This is a preview of what will happen if the agency is allowed to go its own way on an access control system for the Red Line.

I was trying to read on a 780 Rapid bus to Glendale. I gave up! I was trapped between an old guy, at the front of the bus, who was proselytizing in English and Spanish, forcing pamphlets on people and reading the Bible, whether his fellow passengers wanted it or not, and a woman directly behind me, who was carrying on the longest, most boring telephone conversation I have ever heard. She was complaining to a boyfriend(?) that he had only sent her ten of the 24 text messages she had in her mailbox. Apparently, one's worth is measurable by the number of text messages received. She also had a vocabulary that would make my platoon gunny blush and did not hesitate to use it.

On the spot, The answer to America's economic problems came to me. A 100% tax on cell phones! This could be reduced to 90% if the user conducted 100% of her calls in test message format or some percentage determined by the mix of voice and text.

The TransitTV was quiet unless it wanted to sell us something then the volume jumped up by about 75%! LACMTA, can't you just please, just leave us alone? Why playing a radio on the Metro is an offense but conducting a loud profane cell phone conversation is not, remains a mystery to me. Especially, as seems to be the case, due to hearing impairment or lack of common sense, we are forced to listen to a squawk box like rendition of the other party. Why acting “in a loud or unruly manner” is an offense but high pressure selling of your conceptualization of god is not, puzzles me too.

(1) Melcon, Mel. "Transit Yes, Mass No”PHOTO 20 Feb. 2006:A2

(2) Liu, Caitlin. "MTA Looks at Turnstiles to Snag Scofflaws”25 Feb. 2006:B1

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