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)

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