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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