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

The photo above is that of the sculpture on the north side of the Green Line El Segundo/Nash Station. I wanted to give the LACMTA a hand but perhaps they deserve only a finger, well technically, four fingers.

Just a reminder that all photographs and original written materials are copyrighted 2007 by LametroMole. Clicking a photo will often present you with an enlargement.

LA Times(1) “Defense” budget The only reason that I reference this article is to contrast the reporting, or rather lack of reporting, concerning the LACMTA's budgets. I did some research into the 2007 LACMTA budget and found this link – N.B. The Los Angeles Times seems unable to unearth this data.

The total annual resources of the LACMTA is $3,012,000,000, yes that is three billion twelve million dollars! The source of this annual “income” is as follows

Source Amount Percentage [as computed by your Mole]
Fare Revenue 279,000,000 9.2

Prop A Tax 675,000,000 22.4

Prop C Tax 760,000,000 25.2

Federal Grants 404,000,000 13.4

State Grants 183,000,000 6.0

Interest Income/Bonds 196,000,000 6.5

Other Local Revenue 515,000,000 17.0(a)

(a) Lots of money, ranked third among all sources, but no detail, Providing detail could tell us: was the Metro On-line Store making money :-)? and was TransitTV making a significant or any contribution to revenue? and etc, etc.

In reviewing expenses, I found that $830 million, 27.6% of all expenses, was in “Funds Programmed to Others”, i.e., amounts which CPAs might consider to be “Accounts Payable”. Again there was no detail, leaving one unable to evaluate whether say, “Security Expenses” were greater this year than last?, exactly how much was paid to the Sheriff's Department?, what, in my opinion unnecessary expenses, were the result of printing promotions and “America's Best[2006-2007]“ related?, how much does Roger Snoble's PR firm cost? and etc, etc.

If a private corporation who had $3 plus billion revenue and stock which was listed on the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) and provided such a poor excuse for financial reporting, Federal warrants would fly!

My challenge to the Los Angeles Times, the Daily News et al., is to put a multi-skilled reporting team on the LACMTA's 2007 budget and see what they can find -- you know, like they did with the Drew-King expose.

LA Times(2) presented “America's Best[2006-2007]“ solution to the fact that Red Line trains have two destinations the last station in common being Wilshire-Vermont. The solution? Calling the segment that ends at Wilshire-Western the “Purple Line” and updating all maps and printed materials. This is somewhat akin to proposing towing your car to the paint shop for repainting when it won't start. Too, the LACMTA's colour coding “scheme” is somewhat like painting the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is something to do, it won't cause much harm but, it is not the solution to the underlying problem. The underlying problem is not one of identifying things on a map – it is a problem of communicating train destinations in a simple straightforward manner to potential passengers.

Colour coding vehicles used in public transportation has its' downside. The fleet utilization might decline due to an excess or shortage of vehicles of a given colour. The public could be confused by seeing the ”wrong”vehicle at their stop. In Japan one can occasionally see a green striped car coupled into the middle of a “blue” train and vice-versa.

On a weekend several weeks ago, as I rode very crowded Line 40 I wondered why “America's Best[2006-2007]“ did not use a larger 720 Rapid bus on the route. After all, the 720s do not run on weekends and the confusion factor would be minimal, with the bus making more stops rather than fewer, especially if the buses had a Line 40 head sign.

What needs to be done right NOW is to improve the signage used externally on the current Red Line trains.

The problem definition with the dual termini Red Line problem is: “How can we simplify the communication of the destination of a Red Line train to its' potential passengers? One answer, which I believe to be the most cost effective, is to enlarge the external destination signs which already exist on the outside and front of the train and MAKE THEM BRIGHTER. They are currently small in size and dark! Contrast the size of these tiny signs with those much larger head signs found on the Rapid Line buses.

Changing the maps colour keys for one segment of the line (the Wilshire-Western segment) is not the solution to the problem as stated. Standing on the platform with a beautiful map will not help.

In Japan, where they use a technique which I believe is unknown to the LACMTA, called “planning”. Planned a long, time ago was the central Tokyo transportation. It consists of the two concentric circles of track of the Yamanote Line. The outer circle travels clockwise around the “loop” and the inner circle counter clockwise. Other rail lines spoke out from some of the loop stations. In addition the east side of the loop has a tangential line which touches many of the eastern Yamanote Line stations. That, tangential line, is called the Keihin Tohoku Line. At one time, all Yamanote Line train cars were painted green. In the same time frame all Keihin Tohoku train cars were painted all blue. Currently newer model carriages use simple horizontal color accent strips. This color scheme makes sense, mostly at stations which come in contact with the tangential line, Keihin Tohoku Line, to prevent one from boarding the wrong train. Now, at any Yamannote line station, given that the stations are in the middle of the two concentric tracks confusion, for the Japanese at least, is minimized by excellent signage. In Japan signage in general, is FAR SUPERIOR to our signage and extremely superior with respect transportation systems. Either of the Yamanote line trains will get you to your destination station. Although choosing the wrong train will send you around the loop for a longer trip. Here are some links to pictures of the Yamanote Line color scheme and the Keihin Tohoku color scheme.

In the years which I lived and worked in Tokyo I have been a passenger on many of the Japanese train lines and learned to plan short fast routes using several transportation modes. Tokyoites would laugh at this relatively simple problem of the dual termini on the Red Line which the LACMTA is in the process of botching.Why would they laugh? The answer is in this link this link to part of the Tokyo transportation system here.

Locate the green circle of the Yamanote Line in the center of your screen. On the right side of the map you can then see the that the Keihin Tohoku (Blue) touches the Yamanote line (Green) between Tabata (top right) and Shinagawa (bottom right).

Japan offers easy to understand signage as well. When one is dealing with a 17 million population, it is unacceptable to have them wandering around trying to figure out how to use public transportation. An example of the signage found at all rail and subway stations – with several signs visible from various points along the often long platforms.

Basically, there are three parts to these signs. Think in terms of the letter “T”. Along the top of the “T” is written the name of THIS station. On the left side of the “T” the name of the station adjacent to this station in the direction of the arriving train. On the right side of the “T” the name of the station adjacent to this station in the direction of the departing train.

The signs are usually standardized for a given train/subway line but this sign configuration will appear in various sizes. There is a picture of one of here.

In the picture, you are standing on a platform at Minatomirai station. The train which you board will be headed next for Shin-Takashima Station and it came from the station immediately proir to Minatomirai which is Bashamichi.

If the current system implemented best practices, such as those implemented in Tokyo, we would be able to say to a friend who wanted to ride to the 7th and Metro Station downtown: “Take a Green Line train from Mariposa Station in the direction of Aviation Station, ride to Rosa Parks Station then transfer to the Blue line in the direction of 103rd Street Station and ride to the end of the line". In the case of the LACMTA, they tend to confuse things by giving the stations several names, some of which are NOT printed on the signs. Although it is nice to honour people by naming stations after them, it make for a difficult ride since the naming is not standardized. What can one expect when the system is "guided" by politicians.

I have been attempting to communicate the signage ideas described above to the LACMTA for years. It was/is an invitation for them to join the rest of us in the 21st Century and upgrade signage including the scrolling electronic signs which exist in every light rail and subway station. I advocate doing what the Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) has been doing for years – scrolling the destination of the arriving train, in addition to larger external signs on the train itself, on the signs. Presently, LACMTA signs uselessly scroll time and date or sometimes accident notification, station elevator out of service information, or at best the “Train Arriving” notification which appears about the same time as the train comes into view. Wouldn't expenditures to improve system signage be so much better than monies spent on changing the logos as they did several years ago or plastering everything with “America's Best[2006-2007]“ which is their current project.

BART signs post arrival – the inter-arrival information give the destination of the next few trains along with their ETA (Expected Time of Arrival) at the station where you are viewing the sign.

In San Francisco, these electronic signs in each station are bigger and scroll not only the destination but also the expected arrival time at the station in which one is waiting. The information could be force fitted into the current LACMTA electronic signage, e.g., No. Hollywood (10:23); Wilshire-Western (10:37). Only the computer systems need to be updated and perhaps not even that needs to be done. It is likely that the current computer system has the capacity to function as I suggest if reprogrammed. The station signs currently posted by my beloved LACMTA were not placed by design, rather they seem to be established at various heights and are often invisible to seated passengers. This means that in addition to not understanding the Red Line PA announcements you will also not be able to easily see the station signs. Or see that you are at a station immediately before your destination so that you can start preparing to exit.

But, why hasn't the LACMTA done this already? The answer is not because they are “Americas Best [2006-2007]” but ..Well, please, you fill in the blank.

The LACMTA has not updated the current on-train external destination Red Line signage to make them bigger and brighter and changed the in-station scrolling signs to include the destination and ETA (expected time of arrival of the next train for that platform or taken other actions to improve the system signage is because the LACMTA __________________________________________________________________. Use as many words as you require, however, no naughty words, please. Example: ... because the LACMTA only thinks that they are “Americas Best [2006-2007]”, in reality they are not. You can send your statement to the LACMTA via this link.

Note the link failed when I tested it today! You are not surprised? I reported it as "broken" and today, 2007-02-24, it is back in operation.

Ear to the Rail

Here are some audio links that demonstrate that the LACMTA lags other systems in their implementation of modern communications in addition to their feeble attempts to provide useful signage.
From the San Francisco Bay area. http://www.bart.gov/news/features/features20051012.asp

The “Big Apple" offers this.

China too, has “podcasts”.

The Mole Rides Again - so that so that you won't have to express your feelings in a crude manner, after boarding what you thought was a North Hollywood train, only to find out it was headed for Wilshire-Western.

Then there is the Red Line sound system, which has been provided by “America's Best[2006-2007]“. The question to ask here is: “Could a student learn any English from the on-board PA? I rode car number 520 on a North Hollywood bound Red Line train. The train engineer's announcements were unintelligible. They sounded something like, but not as clear as the “Martians'” ack-ack language as portrayed in the film “Mars Attacks”(3). In Japan, by way of contrast the on-board PA is clear and I did learn lots of Japanese from those announcements. This Red Line announcements along with the discussion the printed materials coloration described above, is indicative of several of the LACMTA's problems .

First of all is the LACMTA's attention span – it makes a hummingbird seem like the Thinker. Secondly, they are unable to define problems. In systems engineering this is an initial, and critical step. If you don't know what the problem is, you will not be able to devise an appropriate solution. I defined the Red Line coloration problem above.
Last week I posted pictures of existing signage at Union Station, the purpose of which was to direct people to the Gold Line. In fact, since it did not supply complete information, it only allowed the potential passenger to narrow his search. These signs were costly, yet they were based upon incomplete information and likely devised by people who either never had taken the Gold Line or already knew where it was. They may also been somewhat inarticulate and believed in the LACMTA motto: “What we can complete by 5 PM is good enough”.

I ride a 439 Line bus which stops at the Fox Hills Mall Transit Center. The bus stops and a potential passenger asks the operator, “Do you go to the CBS studios ?” “No”, the operator replies, “I'm going Downtown”. What the she (the operator) doesn't say and may not even know is that her line goes to the West Los Angeles Transit Center where the passenger might have caught one of several buses which pass the CBS Studios on Fairfax! Contrast the LACMTA's aka “America's Best[2006-2007]“, with the requirements to become a with the requirements to become a London taxi driver!

The potential passenger will ultimately arrive at the CBS Studios but will he sing the praises of the LACMTA after he finds that he could have arrived much earlier with only a single transfer?

February 11th about 10:30 AM, I have just arrived at the LAX City Bus Center. . As I walk to the airport shuttle I notice that there are two workers who can be identified as LACMTA employees by the Metro logos on their clothing and truck. The license plate of the the truck, which has an orange trailer attached, is 1184055.

One of the employees, who wears a blue jump suit seems to be the “guard” as he is performing no task which I can identify as work. The other seem only to be strolling around the area, which is filthy, carrying a broom and dust pan. I am early so I wait and observe for a while. Soon I understand – the broom carrying employee is offering his services to arriving buses. This in spite of the fact that these buses have only left their sectors hours ago AND it is Sunday a day of relatively light bus travel. “America's Best[2006-2007]“ management has struck again!

Below is a picture of land cleared for a park? on the north east corner of Nash and Mariposa. If you are able to view an enlargement (by clicking on the picture) you will see a Green Line train and perhaps an airplane.

Then there are the cold, uncomfortable chars at the El Segundo/Nash station.

(1) Spiegel, Peter “Defense budget: big as a tank” Los Angeles Times 5 Feb. 2007:1

(2)Green, Angie “Color subway commuters confused” Los Angeles Times 7 Feb. 2007:B4

(3) Mars Attacks , Tim Burton, With: Jack Nicholson, Glen Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, …, Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 1996


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

The photo above shows a Line 232 bus stop sign. Careful study will show that it is only hanging by one band. Eventually, given a high wind, that band will snap and the sign will fall and injure someone. Perhaps then it will be repaired by "America's Best[2006-2007]".

One of the LACMTA's many bragging points and one of the reasons it says it was selected to be “America's Best [2006-2007]” was its' “seamless integration of technology”. Lots of the said technology, when implemented by the LACMTA, under performs its' promised functionality - but that is another story. Late last year the Times printed a piece(1) on the slow in coming, Transit Access Pass, the so-called “TAP” pass – I know, I know, two “passes when you decode the acronym. In fact, the concept of tapping as described in the article is today obsolete! True smart cards need only to be close to the read device without requiring any physical contact – for that reason they are often called “proximity cards” because they only need to be in the proximity (nearby) of the read device. Read more about proximity cards.

The article goes on to say that the budget for this idea is “more than $165 million ...” and “... $32 million ... to provide customer service.”. In total 197 million dollars or in terms or standard fare riders 157,600,000 passengers – that's right – 157.6 million passenger fares will be required to pay for this dream. Then, each year, as I understand the piece, the base fares of 25,600,000 passengers will be required to fund the annual customer service. As far as I am concerned technology is a good thing, but in the well buttered fingers of the LACMTA we are unlikely to see a true ROI (Return On Investment) as is the case with them so many times. The LACMTA and its' board seem to fall in love with any concept which is presented and as spenders of public funds, NOT business people, they are incapable of arriving at a logical plan. It is obvious that they are technological neophytes based upon the last paragraph in the article which quotes a user of the system who says '“They are pretty much getting the bugs out of it”'. It shows that the LACMTA is again, like their “M3” maintenance software project, attempting to implement something without performing due diligence, reviewing industry literature, talking with other implementers. and etc., etc.

“America's Best [2006-2007]” again demonstrated that “communication R not us” as evidenced by a report in the Times(2). It seems that it took 8 hours for them to react to an (apparently) accidental mercury spill which occurred on 22 December 2006. So much for the security which we have been assured does exist.

Everyone wants to get into the act and everyone in Los Angeles believes that he is a transportation engineer! In two columns, Steve Lopez reports(3) first that the city “transportation chief” drives a large SUV and refuses to talk about it. After reading the piece I suggest that we term the transportation chief “Clams” for his tendency to “clam up” when asked embarrassing questions.

Then, a week later, Lopez writes(4) about how he feels that the old railroad right-of-way which connected downtown with the coast passing through the old Palms station should be used again for light rail. This may not be a bad idea (I.) IF we had a transportation planning agency and (II.) IF said agency determined that actual sufficient passenger traffic existed somewhere along the route. However, we do NOT have an effictive transportation planning agency and as a result people like Lopez who have a pet project idea are given the opportunity to waste public funds proving that the idea is no good – think Expo Line here. I like to call the Expo Line the “if we build it they would come, if they existed” line. My opinion: The Red Line should be extended to Santa Monica and supported by feeder bus lines to points north and south.

A report in The Argonaught(5) details a request [petition] to the LACMTA to extend the Green Line to LAX. What a concept? Then it would be possible to ride public transportation from downtown just like they do in Chicago and Atlanta. Please note that the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) has direct service from the Loop (Downtown Chicago) to BOTH local airports: O'hare via the Blue Line and Midway via the Orange Line. Atlanta also has downtown to airport public transportation via MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Agency).

Well, almost like they do in Chicago and Atlanta, except our system would still require you to haul yourself and your luggage from the Blue Line to the Green Line up and down escalators/elevators which are often out of service. Perhaps, if you don't live at 7th/Metro Station, you will have additional transfers to endure. If the Green Line is actually extended to LAX, the final transfer to a shuttle bus would be made at a new station nearer the airport so in the strictest terms it would not connect DIRECTLY to LAX as they lines in CHI and ATL do– the transfer to a shuttle bus would not occur at Aviation Station, which is how it is done now, but it would still occur. I feel that it at this juncture, it may not be cost effective to extend the Green Line to LAX. After all, we now have the FlyAway buses that will take you from Union Station to LAX without the hassle of transferring with luggage presently required. Oh, and if you don't live at Union Station, you may have other transfers to make. Further, if you have to end up taking a shuttle bus from the Green Line anyway, what is 10 or 15 more minutes?
Given that the Green Line, unlike the CTA and Marta lines, will NOT be extended to directly to LAX but rather to the new “nearby” Green Line station, would it really make sense to go ahead with such an extension and spend money on reducing the shuttle bus riding time by 10 minutes and increasing the Green Line ride by 10 minutes? I think not!

Today it requires, at least two transfers, one from the Blue Line to the Green Line and the other from the Green Line to the airport shuttle bus designated “G”, at the Aviation Station. The difference in time is small and the amount in lost “opportunity cost” is great.

That money should be spent on extending the Red Line to Santa Monica.

In the planning stage for the Blue Line, if there ever was one, they should have considered dual termini (like the Red Line is presently constructed – one at Wilshire-Western and the other at North Hollywood) one Blue line to Long Beach and a switch to a spur Blue line to LAX. That way trains could be timed for LAX to coincide with peak travel times with less frequent service to LAX at other time periods. Anyway, this is all academic given the existing light rail layout. Whatever is done consideration must be given as to how the down-line stations (Mariposa et. al.) will be served.
Step one would be to assemble all LACMTA top executives and board members with two pieces of luggage at the 7th/Metro Station at 6:00 AM for a fun trip to LAX for an imaginary 9:00 AM flight. Immediately upon arrival at LAX they could be shuttled to the Proud Bird for a breakfast and speech on transportation planning. That would build empathy for LAX travelers and the situation those travelers presently face. It might even get the board members to admit that they are NOT transportation professionals and get them to STOP WASTING public funds on less than hare brained schemes.

The photo below shows a "hanging sign" at the LAX City Bus Center which is similar to the 232 sign situation pictured at the the top of this post. There are several of these signs at the bus center, only one of which is broken. Providing that you already know where to go to catch the free LAX shuttle, you can easily find it. What is lacking is a LARGE sign over the entry way to the free shuttle area, but as usual, the people who plan these things for the LACMTA have no concept of signage or traffic flow.

The LACMTA Planning Department?? I don’t think that one exists! Take for example the “America’s Best” decals and logos which appear on everything at no small cost.

“County supervisor and Metro board chair Gloria Molina accepted the Outstanding Transportation System for 2006 award from the American Public Transportation Association in San Jose on Tuesday “[10 Oct. 2006](6). Which means that the award will expire on approximately 9 Oct. 2007 when a new “America’s Best Transit System” is chosen.
If the LACMTA had a Planning Department then they would have insisted on printing 2006 – 2007 on the decals and other materials. But no, the LACMTA will be guilty of false advertising when the 2007 – 2008 award is announced! Either that or they will have to remove these expsnsive decals and toss them.

Ear to the Rail

Podcasts can be good or bad. They can be educational or a complete waste of time. If you use an mp3 player on Metro or anywhere else you can find out about podcasts which are offered by PRI (Public Radio International) visit: http://www.pri.org/wtl_podcasts.html Another of PRI's programs is “MarketPlace” which offers business news several times each day. Take a look at http://www.marketplace.org/ for more details.

Software which will allow one to subscribe to podcasts is available at: http://www.podcastingnews.com/topics/Podcast_Software.html If you like classical music, as I do, a list of European stations which stream their broadcasts on the Internet is available at : http://classicalwebcast.com/europe.htm I especially like Antena 2 from Lisboa, Portugal which is first on the list and produces an extremely clear signal. Here is a direct link for you to copy and paste: mms://rdp.oninet.pt/antena2

The Mole Rides Again - so that so that you don't have to wander around wondering what the signage is trying to tell you

Your Mole was out of town and did not ride much lately, but in an attempt to compensate he took lots of pictures – some under unusual lighting and motion conditions, so please view them more as illustrations of a point and less as photographic exemplars.

I am waiting for a 232 Line bus at the stop in front of LAX this is Sepulveda and Century (approximately) and I notice that the 220 line schedule decal (the money wasting idea of a few years ago - these things are made to stick and last) is still in place on the bus stop sign pole, although the 220 sign has been removed from main sign. Godot would arrive sooner than the 220 which was discontinued (technically, the line was truncated because it still covers a route between Hollywood and Culver City) about seven months ago. And as I like to remind them, leaves uncovered the south side of the airport and a good sized chunk of Playa del Rey. Only blocks of the old 220 route was covered by the Culver City Line and then only Monday through Saturday.

Here are photos of Union Station signage. The one below shows that, although the “designers” could have included “(Enter tunnel for Tracks 1 and 2)” next to the Gold Line portion, they didn't.

Likewise, for the sign above the tunnel (below) although there is LOTS of space to include it.

And they could have included Gold Line on the track identifier signs - but, as you can see (below), they didn't. All the other signs have either "Platform A" or "Platform B" so they could have included "Gold Line" without too much damage to history. What they did do and one cannot easily see this, was to make a large expensive sign which is invisible at certain angles, and yes, I did take the photo from one of those angles.

Then we have pictured below, the very large signs at Sierra Madre Villa Station the terminus of the Gold Line in Pasadena. It is part of the LACMTA's signage division whose motto is "Too Big, Too Small or Not at all!".

At the Sierra Madre Villa Station we can also see the “bench”, which was photographed in the early afternoon. Why this bench is placed in the exact center of the overpass linking the station parking structure to the station proper is unfathomable to me. Especially since it is so well camouflaged to be practically invisible at night. I wonder how many curses ring through this area as people run into it?

The signage at the LAX City Bus Center for the BCT 109 line (Beach Cities Transit) looks temporary, at least that is the feeling one gets from this sign pictured here. They (BCT) could remove the two signs at places where they will never stop identified in an earlier posting (the north side of the 96th Street and Airport BL intersection on both the east and west sides of Airport BL) and use one here and one on the north side of the intersection of 96th Street and Airport BL. Or "America's Best[2006-2007]" sign division could make up a "BCT 109 Redondo Beach ..." decal and afix it under the BAY 6 sign shown here.

At Mariposa Station on the Green Line I took a picture of the children's hand and footprints which are preserved in concrete and which date approximately to the station's opening. If these are real children's artifacts the children shold have been allowed to write their initials or some indication of their identity in the wet cement. I am now wondering if this is an "art installation"?

Also at Mariposa Station, take a seat? No thanks! Not if feels a uncomfortable as it looks and it does. Since the planners and those who selected “art” for the stations never planned to ride the line or use the seating it didn't make much difference to them if was comfortable or not.

I'll have more pictures next week too, and please note that all photos and other materials are copyrighted 2007 by the LAmetroMole, with all rights reserved. My attorney wants me to so inform you. :-)

I would like to say that clicking on a photo will "usually" enlarge it - but for some reason, not always.

(1) Guccione, Jean “MTA tests what it hopes will be easy ticket to ride” Los Angeles Times 28 Dec. 2006:B3

(2) Blankstein, Andrew and Guccione, Jean “MTA admits subway spill errors” Los Angeles Times 19 Jan. 2007:B1

(3) Lopez, Steve “Transit boss' SUV too big to ignore” Los Angeles Times 21 Jan. 2007:B1

(4)Lopez, Steve “It's wrong to waste a right of way” Los Angeles Times 28 Jan. 2007:B1

(5) Not Identified “Group of elected officials and activists asks [sic] MTA to extend Green Line to LAX” The Argonaught 18 Jan. 2007:3

(6) N/A abclocal.com Page, Eyewitness News Tab. Retrieved (e.g., 8 Feb 2007) < http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=local&id=4655039>

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