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

The OP-ED page of the “New York Times” featured a piece(1) by a Stanford University Business School professor on Wednesday 25 October 2006. He advocates the use of masks, surgical and industrial, in order to prevent flu contagion. It seems to me that mass mask usage may be effective, if weird. He also mentions hand washing, which is a very good thing, especially if you ride public transportation. Unfortunately, men, by anecdotal evidence as well as documented studies, don't seem to get it vis-à-vis hand washing. Therefore, I would like to recommend two excellent “web sites” that cover proper hand washing. The first is the NSF's (sc., National Science Foundation) site which is just great for children – I kind of liked it too. The other one, makes its' point with less fun, but it does make it. Please, don't take this personally, because I know that you always wash your hands with soap while singing the Happy Birthday song, twice. But you could pass these links on to any teachers and/or children with whom you are acquainted.

The LACMTA is way overreacting to being named “America's Best”! In my opinion the full title should be “America's Best example of the way not to do it”. So based on more output(2) by the hardest working section of the LACMTA, the PR section, let's review exactly why they are “America's Best”. They say: “Among achievements that earned Metro the award: the bold typeface below continues this quote – my rebuttals are not in bold typeface)

>Opening of the successful Metro Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley

Successful?, if you ignore the accidents which continue to occur and are able to swallow the fictitious ridership statistics. The LACMTA's reaction to these accidents has been to place traffic cameras at some of the intersections, so that blame can be assigned for the accidents. This is much less than a proactive approach to the problem. Successful, if you consider that the passenger “load factor” is pulled out of someone's – mmm..., desk drawer? And certainly successful, if one considers that a portion of that “load factor” is due to driving traffic to the Orange Line because of cutbacks and cancellations which affected other bus lines in the Valley.

>Beginning construction and tunneling for the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension light-rail line between downtown and East LA [sic].

Here, we have to ignore the botched planning that resulted in extra costs due to the mis-routing of the line through the Ramona School property school. N.B., this extension is not yet completed!

>Expanding the Metro Rapid [sub-]system which is halfway to the goal of 28 lines with more than 700 vehicles by 2008.

Using the LACMTA's metrics in football, a 50 yard field goal attempt could be considered a success if the ball was kicked 25 yards.

>Operating 2,000 clean-air CNG [sc., Compressed Natural Gas] buses with plans to have a 100 percent CNG fleet by 2008.

Use the football analogy above, but consider success to be 16.7 yards as, I believe, there are a total of 6,000 buses.

>Increasing Metro Blue Line ridership to more than 80,000 average weekday boardings making it the second most successful light rail line in the nation.

Wow, doesn't that make them “America's Second Best”, at least in this category. And, what a dis to “America's Actual Best” in this category. Not even a clue as to who is the actual winner. You would think that the LACMTA would take a cue from the “Oscars” and name the winner.

>Planning the Exposition light rail line for the 2010 linking of downtown LA[sic] and Culver City.

Which planning exemplifies the LACMTA at its' best! Consider the fact that the planning was completed before USC expressed feelings that having a light rail line past their campus is NOT what they had in mind. But the best part is that there seem to be no reliable estimates of traffic between the two end points. No one at the LACMTA seemed to think that we should institute a rapid bus line over the proposed route to see if the prayed for traffic actually exists. Further, this is another grade level plan – like the Orange Line – which allows for lots of interaction between trains and automobiles.

>Recording an all-time high 84% customer satisfaction rating among riders surveyed and an 83% improvement rating over the previous year.

I never saw a survey form and I ride a lot of buses and trains! So, if your survey population is ten (10) people who are promised a $500 prize (or something) for being satisfied. An 83% improvement – from totally sucks to “America's Best”, in most categories, in one year. Why am I especially suspicious of this one???

>Other factors cited were service innovations, technological advances, customer-focused initiatives and improved public recognition and acceptance of Metro services.

The above must be too secret to actually give details. Readers of this blog can find ample evidence of the LACMTA's failings in these and other areas. However, I would like to change one word in the PR B.S. (sc., Basic Statement) directly above, i.e., acceptance should be replaced with putting up with. My advice to the awarder is that next time, solicit opinions from users of a system before giving the award. :-)

I did some research and found that the winners of the last three “America's Best” winners were:
2005 OCTA - Orange County Transportation Authority;
2004 BART- San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District;
2003 RTD - Regional Transportation District, Denver, CO.

Please draw your own conclusions, but, to mention BART, a truly great system in the same paragraph with the LACMTA is ludicrous.

The American Public Transportation Associations (APTA) is located in D.C. so I wonder if being in the West, where it is warm in winter, has anything to do with “winning” the “America's Best” award.

What will actually transpire as a result of this stunning achievement, becoming “America's Best”? I estimate that: (1) Overtime in the LACMTA's PR Division will go up; (2) printing costs will skyrocket as all printed material must now use “America's Best” as an adjective or adverb; (3) Everything else will pretty much remain the same.

Oh, and the overly compensated Snoble, as the “leader of America's Best”, will be given a pay increase in the $100,000 range.

My train of thought then shifts to the cost burden of being selected “America's Best”. What do you think that it will cost to plaster “America's Best” on the left and right sides of 6,000 buses? I estimate that each metre long “America's Best” decal costs, conservatively, $5 each and $10 in labour to affix each of these beauties. In total, the system wide cost is 6000 times $ 20 = $120,000 or in terms of basic $1.25 fares, the money spent by 96,000 riders will let them know they are on board “America's Best”! Please note, this does not include printing “America's Best” on every bloody poster and document you could ever imagine up to and including the company toilet paper and probably anything else that moves or stands still. Those added costs are likely to make the $120,000 look like peanuts :-). These costs are totally unnecessary as is all else in this campaign of self aggrandizement.

Disclaimer: These costs are likely to be higher than my estimate because I have made no allowance for designing, ordering or receiving the decals. Neither is an allowance made for preparing work orders to affix the decals, redo of unsatisfactory work and etc., etc.

Ear to the Rail

Once in a while I need to be reminded why I don't podcast. Listening to this very serious guy in Korea helps – you may like it you may not – BUT, if you are able to listen very carefully, you will hear about some features which “America's Best” have yet to implement.
Although my last visit to Seoul was several years age, I found the transportation system then generally excellent. It was helpful for me to be able to read Hangul in route planning.

Here is a link to a discussion of Seoul's revamped bus system:

In the podcast he cites an URL for the bus map, the link below is much better for English speakers:

The Mole Rides Again - so that so that you are spared the angst of riding “America's Best” and other lines, too

A ride on the 108 line
By the time we stand in the sun and wait for two no- show buses as five PM comes and goes, my fellow passengers on the 108 line bus from Marina del Rey and I are unlikely to be counted among Metro's, they say, 83% satisfied customers. Who are these riders? Predominantly they are Latino with a sprinkling of African-Americans and a dotting of Anglos. They are mostly people without a car, at least temporarily, or not enough cars for the entire family. They depend on public transportation and may be forced to adjust their personal routes every six months as “America's Best” drops some lines and reroutes others as IT sees fit, with little or no concern for those who must depend upon its services.

For example (again) line 220 was drastically cut in June 2006, with promises that the Culver City Bus would take over the dropped portion. In fact, Culver City took over only about 6 or 8 BLOCKS of the old 220 route and only six days per week dropping Sundays. That the LACMTA would spend taxpayer’s monies and forego fare revenue by publishing full page advertisements showing a “rider” kissing a bus driver (vide infra) shows just how little contact to reality this agency has.

I exit from the Green Line's Vermont Av station to the west side of Vermont Av. I want to take a Gardena bus south, but Gardena Bus Lines seem to feel that one of their bus stop signs in unnecessary here.

The wooden slat bench at this mainly Metro bus stop has its' share of graffiti with bits of litter stuffed between the slats. No litter cans are provided nearby, so this busy stop qualifies as one of “America's Dirtiest”. So, passenger wannabes also stuff their fast food waste and other unsightly trash into the 15 meter by 1 meter by 30cm (deep) steel lattice covered used-to-be concrete planter whose arbusto has died. It is memorialized by the 4 meter dried remnant which remains on the steel trellis.

A man, seated on the slat bench, is busy creating his own memorial mound, composed of the sun flower seed hulls which he spits toward his feet after eating the nut meat.

A large person of indeterminate sex, wearing large earrings, gets off a bus and tosses two bundles to the sidewalk. One of them, a mesh laundry type bag, must of contained a glass bottle because we can hear it break. Soon, the smell of whiskey diffuses through the air. S/he realizes the loss, reaches into the bag, extracts the bottle and tosses it into the middle of the sidewalk.

The Mariposa Station on the Green Line is my favorite Green Line station. The name itself, meaning butterfly, is nice and the hand and footprints of children are preserved in concrete at the base of a pillar at ground level. A moment in time for these apparently young children is captured forever. About fourteen years on (no dates are provided), one cannot help but wonder: where are they now? Do they even recall that moment?? But the other “art” at the station, at least as far as the seating or chair/bench art is brutal - at least as seating! The eastward view from the station platform looks out at a large area, perhaps three blocks by three blocks which is in the process of being leveled for future construction. A large mound of earth, with its longest axis running north and south, covers about one fourth of the site. This mound is slowly being reduced and distributed over the nine square block area.

As a lady and I wait for a bus outside the station, I ask her if she knows anything about the plans for the site. She tells me that it will be a retail area with a park. Listening to her describe it, the part about the park sounds very iffy to me. We talked about the area surrounding Mariposa Station and she said that she remembered a time when the only building in the area was the Continental Building which was surrounded by strawberry fields – but not forever and no longer.

The concept of painful seating is echoed at the El Segundo/Nash Green Line Station. But here it more a question of coldness, as the seat portion of the chairs is a solid and cold steel. Above the down stairwell, six clocks either signify the concept of a moment in time or document the lack of LACMTA maintenance because all six are stopped at apparently random times – two second hands have fallen off as well.

The stair risers have words deeply etched into them. For example, “Burnout”, some are oriented in the expected manner while others are upside down. This station also has sculpture. A large cupped hand, perhaps ten feet from palm to finger tips is constructed of wire. The thumb and index finger grasp a steel "paper airplane".

For some reason, perhaps because I was thinking of the children's hand and foot prints at Mariposa Station, I think about an Iranian film which I saw at an UCLA film festival earlier in the year. Titled “Jazireh Ahani” (Iron Island) it was an award winner, directed by Mohammad Rasoulof. It presents the yin/yang of human life though the story of a group of people living aboard an abandoned oil tanker in the Persian Gulf.

I am on a 232 line bus headed toward Long Beach. The man in the seat behind me is making unnerving grunting noises, something like a pig, and occasionally spits – hopefully on the floor.

Two apparent strangers strike up a conversation. The less presentable one offers that he works for the Sheriff's Department. By his overly long hair and scruffy clothing, I judge that it must be undercover work. The details are easily drawn out of him and we find that, in truth, his is more of a “volunteer crime watch” position or something like that since he is inarticulate. He says that he will soon work a two day shift at an unnamed Sheriff's station. His “real job” he explains is greeter/door opener and he last earned “73 cents and a banana” as tips. I couldn't make this stuff up! I bury my head in the LA Weekly so that I don't somehow become involved in the conversation. The paper has a full page ad touting “America's Best”. It features a picture of an embarrassed looking smallish man whose sleeve patch identifies him as number 19963, with several lipstick outlines of lips on his face. The ad wants us to believe that the kisser is the large African-American woman who is hugging him. I discussed this ad with Molette, she asked relatives and was assured by her grandmother that it has been at least, 30 to 35 years since lipstick was not kiss-proof. So, we can expect the same truth in advertising from the LACMTA that we can expect in other aspects of its business. This ad predates LACMTA being selected “America's Best”. Variations of the ad can be seen in even small weekly papers like the Santa Monica Mirror. Mr. Snoble, et al never hesitate to spend the taxpayer's dollars. Could this be a reward to the papers for not being critical of the LACMTA? I wish the Times were more stable right now and able to do a deep investigative series on the agency.

Please excuse me for a few weeks while I get back to my book, a script of “The Blunderer” by Molière. Is it about the head of the LACMTA?

(1) Weiss, Lawrence M. “Face Facts” New York Times 25 Oct. 2006:A19
(2) NA “Metro News” LACMTA publication 07-0914mm” Oct. 2006: Page 2 (my numbering since “America's Best” didn't see fit to number the pages)


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

On 8 October, the “Los Angeles Times” printed “They've Got a Ticket to Ride” covering the LACMTA classes to teach senior citizens how to use the Metro system. I cannot believe that any training session can condition seniors to put up with the rigors of public transportation here in Los Angeles – I can barely tolerate it! Teaching people, most of whom are no longer allowed to drive, in groups of forty (40) sounds like life-time employment for the teachers AND for very limited return in fares to the LACMTA. I believe that the focus should be to improving service and especially the ambiance for everyone. Riding in dirty, graffiti defaced conveyances, with annoying cell phone users, TransitTV, people who talk to themselves and conversations laced with the F-word and the N-word should soon change the happy smiles, depicted in the piece, to frowns. This is nothing but more puff coverage of the LACMTA as delivered by the obedient Los Angeles Times.

In what appears to be original copy from the “Daily News”, the “Press-Telegram”(2) covers the present situation in the ongoing battle between the BRU (vide infra) and the LACMTA about just who gets to screw up local public transportation and the methodology by which it is to be screwed up.

This is a perfect segue for my opinion, reprinted regularly, regarding the BRU (Bus Riders Union).

FreedomOf SpeachFreedomOf SpeachFreedomOf SpeachFree
Although I applaud the BRU's effort to improve area transportation, I feel and have always felt that they define their area 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”.
FreedomOf SpeachFreedomOf SpeachFreedomOf SpeachFree

Why the “FreedomOfSpeech” border? Well, in the past the BRU has had my opinion of them redacted – because I linked to their site, so that my readers could see the BRU's opinions fully developed. N.B. BRU, NO LINKS this time. By the way BRU, you may freely quote my opinion, you are welcome :-)!

Holla out to those who so kindly link to my blog. I don't have a links section as such, but I hope that this list, in no special order, will do:





I am especially impressed by the MetroRider's graphics. He has even iconized your Mole. His image has me wearing a “Metro” hard hat. Although truthfully, your Mole's weight is much more in proportion to his height, which is solvable by the “Katie Couric Photoshop diet” and your Mole likes to think of himself as at least slightly better looking than the graphic.
Whatever their opinions, to all of the above I say: “Thank You!”. If I missed you as a backlinker, I will do his periodically and pick you up, I hope, then –sorry!.

Ear to the Rail

I have found that the link below, to the 1 October 2006 "Background Briefing" broadcast, offers the best succinct summary of the current situation in Iraq as well as coverage of our relationship with Japan with some emphasis on Japan's new PM, Shintaro Abe (Ah-Bay). The broadcast features (former) Ambassador (to Croatia) Peter Galbraith on Iraq and Dr. Chalmers Johnson, professor emeritus at UCSD talking about Japan. You can download the MP3 for later listening or listen to it in place. You can hear Ian Masters live on KPFK 90.7FM Sunday mornings in the 11:00 – 13:00 time slot. The broadcast is also concurrently streamed at http://www.kpfk.org/ at that time.

The Mole Rides Again - so that so that you too, can learn from others

Foreigners are always a good source of information. I talked to a woman from Belize who told me that the capital was Belmopan - “... the Bel from Belize and the mopan from the local river, the “Mopan”. I also found out that Belize is the only English speaking country in Central and South America. Although, Spanish is their second language. She said that, weather wise, February through April is the best time to visit.

A forester from New Zealand told me about seeing trees whose age, established by growth ring count, were alive when Columbus discovered “America”. He told me that New Zealand maintains its forests on a 27 year cycle of cut and plant. He made me aware that New Zealanders, working in the California “Gold Rush”, returned with pine seedlings which provided the country's initial timber. Also, he noted that his country was discovered by the Dutch sometime after the initial 1778 “first fleet”, carrying convicts, arrived in Australia.

A Puerto Rican said that about 60% of his countrymen wanted to maintain some form of relationship with the US while only 5%, much lower than I had thought, sought independence..

I am at the LAX City Bus Center. It is Sunday 15 October around 13:00. A Metro cleaner is hard at work. Cleaning the area? No, this big man with glasses, over-the-ear headphones, the standard Metro International Orange vest with silver reflective stripes and a large ring of keys dangling from his neck, is trash can diving for recyclable bottles and cans. This might not be a Metro employee, just someone doing “community service”. Which brought to mind the problem with everything that is littered ending up in the Pacific Ocean. PBS' Earth and Sky broadcast talks about the problem. “Rain that falls in urban areas typically flows into sewers and storm drains. This urban runoff has been found to contribute greatly to pollution in rivers, lakes, the ocean, and other natural bodies of water. It’s been estimated that some cities need nearly a billion dollars each in upgrades to their storm water systems, in order to comply with the U.S. Clean Water Act.”

The U.S. Clean Water Act is summarized here. The site says “The statute employs a variety of regulatory and nonregulatory[sic] tools to sharply reduce direct pollutant discharges into waterways, finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and manage polluted runoff.” Based upon my observations , we here in Los Angeles have a LONG, LONG way to go. On Pico Bl at the NE corner of the intersction with Granville Av, I noticed that the storm drain had "strainers" in the form of a perforated steel plate. But this approach to preventing trash from entering the storm drain system is extremely rare!
I can't leave this without a link back to the Los Angeles Times series(4), "Altered Oceans" - even though I have an earlier link to it. This is Pulitzer Prize writing.

The two women, seated behind me on a bus, are playing some kind of irritating noise producing game on a cell phone. Actually, only one is playing and producing the sound while the other mimics the noise. I speculate as to the sum of their IQs.

A quote from Carl Bernstein as it appeared in the “Forbes”(3) is apropos: “We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. For the first time, the weird and the stupid and the course are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.”

At the Fox Hills Mall Transportation Center, a teenager kicks at a pigeon, I am not sure that he makes contact, but the bird flies away.

Life is bittersweet. A Latina hugs and kisses her mija. Over her shoulder I see another mother's plea, in the form of a computer printed 8 ½“ X 11” poster which includes a picture, asking for help in locating her daughter, missing since 17 October. I hope that her search ends with a happy reunion. The juxtaposition of these diametrically opposed extremes understandably darkens my mood.

On board a Culver City bus, two young black students, one with shoulder pad, cleats and a helmet discuss a non-present third person's football skills. The one with with equipment says, “ ... he's a work in process”. Aren't we all?

On a Big Blue Bus heading for LAX – I respond to a woman's question about exactly how to get to the airport from the LAX City Bus Center. She is from Denmark, actually a Danish island west of the main Danish peninsula. I help her off the bus with a large bag, show her the way to the LAX shuttle and teach her the acronym “TBIT” for Tom Bradley International Terminal and she is off.

On another bus, I meet a transportation professional. We discuss GPS-AVA (using the Global Positioning System as part of an Automatic Voice Announcement) of bus stops.

My main complaints about the LACMTA's implementation GPS-AVA system are: (1) Bus operators, in some instances, are able to drive faster than the system can cycle, therefore the system is announcing stops which the bus has already passed; (2) the latency (time to acquire the required 3 satellites and perform the necessary computations) of the system is such that the system must be programmed to announce - “Stop “A” followed by stop “B” when the two bus stops are too close together to allow for individual announcements. This is confusing to bus passengers, especially to those who are unfamiliar with the route and don't know exactly when to signal for a stop; and (3) inconsistencies in pronouncing local street names, e.g., “Luh Cienega”, compounded by truncating full street names so that they become identical, e.g., both Center Drive and Center Place become “Center” (Line 439), as in announcing a stop as “Center and Center” vs “Center Drive and Center Place”. On another bus (Line 111), I saw Aviation Bl displayed as Aveation Bl, which is the way the guy pronounced it.

I believe that problems (1) and (2) are solvable by using a RTOS (Real Time Operating System), so that computations can be performed and announcements made in a deterministic (within a known and acceptable time period) manner. My candidate for such a RTOS is a Linux distribution which implements a real time kernel (basic logic of the operating system). (3) too, is fixable but only with a change of management at the LACMTA :-).

Although it may be impossible, no matter what RTOS is used, to announce stops that are very close together, an alternative form of surface tracking could be used. Beginning at the location of the GPS position “fix”, using speed/distance covered in order to announce stop. The system could then revert to GPS tracking for stops which are more widely spaced. Such a mixed mode implementation will ease the system hardware/software requirements and lessen the cost as well.

My intent is to motivate the LACMTA to take action to improve the system and to make the passenger's experience better.

I meet a young lady from 上海 (Shanghai, China, if you don't read Han zu, or if the characters fail to materialize on your browser) and we share (for me, at least) a pleasant ride to UCLA. She has an interesting job that is generally similar to mine. She smiles at my Chinese mispronunciations – likely stifles a laugh. She re-teaches me how to write gua, which means melon – there are many Chinese foods which I like that are melon based, e.g., bitter melon soup and etc., and I can write lots of them in Chinese characters, or at least I could after my tour in Taiwan. She leaves soon for the next stop on her business trip. Before I leave her at UCLA, I make her aware of alternative routes back to her hotel. I ask her to let me know how her trip progresses by means of e-mail messages. I wonder if I will hear from her? Enough of that, Don Mole, we have knights with whom to do noble battle.

(1)Weikel, Dan “They've Got a Ticket to Ride” Los Angeles Times 8 Oct. 2006:B1
(2) Uranga, Rachel “MTA ruling expected” Long Beach Press-Telegram 20 Oct. 2006:A4
(3) Bernstein, Carl “THOUGHTS On the Business of Life” Forbes 27 Feb. 2006:p120
(4)Weiss, Kenneth R., et al “Altered Oceans series” Los Angeles Times 30 Jul~10 Aug 2006

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