America's Best Poorest Communicators

Signs of the times

The photo♪ above, taken at Union Station shows that, much like the adage “If you don't know where you are going, any road will do”, if you have nothing to communicate, it doesn't matter which electronic gadget you use. Or as we say in the Systems Engineering profession, specification and design precedes implementation. The lack of a systems design seems apparent to me as what you see above represents adopting “new” display technology to old ideas, i.e., replacing wall signs.

What was needed here is an understanding of the information riders need and want. The possibility of finding someone at the LACMTA who has that understanding, the understanding of which possible technology to adopt and the drive to get it done is close to zero, as my pictures, which I have scattered throughout this posting will establish. The most useless announcement that I saw displayed on the platform was the locations and numbers of the ticket sales machines which accepted credit cards. After all, we were on the platform and had already purchased tickets! Were we supposed to memorize the locations of these machines or write the information down and carry it with us? Why don't all machines accept credit cards? Another botched attempt to serve the public by the LACMTA :-).

I have shown you in earlier postings that in San Francisco, Bart, uses signs which tell people what they need to know. (See: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/BART_Millbrae_train.jpg ) Riders here in L.A. Need the same information, for example, at any station on the “Red Line” they need to know if the next train is a “Red Line” train --- one that is bound for North Hollywood or a “Purple Line” train –- one that is bound for Wilshire-Western. Note well, that the LACMTA's solution, I've described this before, is NOT to colour code the trains themselves (see my earlier posting about Tokyo's Yamanote Line) a tack which limits the usefulness of the equipment when more trains are needed on one or the other of the colour coded line, nor is to install much LARGER head signs which could indicated the train's route; red or purple by means of COLOUR. Neither is it to integrate the displays into computer based system which could show down line stations the approximate arrival and ROUTE of the next train. Their implementation is to "display" the colour word Red/Purple and the destination in the small side signs which are NOT easy to see and appear only once per carPLUS one has to look for them. But, then, that is that the kind of work done by "America's Best[2006-2007]".

I searched for a strong adjective to describe exactly what I think of the people behind this latest money wasting scheme, yet one that can appear in a family blog. I have chosen dummy for singular occurances and dummies for the plural case. Please, use my designation, ignore it or make up one of your own and use it in place of #%*&( in what follows. All these #%*&( had to do was go to San Francisco--they could have taken MegaBus) and visit the Powell Street station and look at the signs and interview a few San Francisco natives and have them explain what the signage is telling them and why riders need the information. Then have these interviews transcribed, find someone who can read and explain the transcription and hire that guy or gal to duplicate what San Francisco has.

No, no, no, that would be too easy and they could not show the head #%*&( the “fruits” (think lemon here) of their efforts. And how much money did they spend on what I see as slightly updated technology of the 1980s? We don't know. Our local “newspaper” doesn't know either. After all it is only taxpayer's money, the LACMTA didn't have to earn it, in fact, they didn't even have to show that they deserved it. This is just another stumble step on the road to Snoble finally getting fired so that we can start fresh with a new #%*&(.

Speaking of signage, Culver City buses now display the operator's (driver's) ID number on the scrolling date-time, bus-stop displays. This is something the LACMTA should emulate, so that I/we can write up our complaints from the comfort of our seats rather than hoping that we can read the number from his badge later. My only complaint regarding the Culver City announcement system is that the volume is too high!

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

A Times piece(1) describes how political leaders celebrated this latest “money pit” while critics have questions about the possible effects of the, what I term: “The unneeded line to nowhere”. The LACMTA estimates that the line will carry 21,500 round trips or 43,000 one-way trips. I wonder who operated the crystal ball which produced these numbers. The attribution is to “officials”, since apparently, no one wants to bet their job on these “statistics”. As for detailed analysis, there is apparently none. Contrast this “seat-of-the-pants” transportation system design with what LAWA (Los Angeles World Airports) has done. In planning the move of one of the northern most runways (24L or 24R –- aka 6R or 6L) just 300 feet they make freely available a 27 page analysis ( http://www.laxmasterplan.org/pdf/LAX%20report%20IAMG.pdf ) WITHOUT a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request –- Times editors: have you really tried to dredge up this LACMTA data? How about some investigative reporting on who benefits from contributions to political campaigns made by the contractors who build this stuff? Oh, and then later don't have to pay for “mistakes” because our generous (with taxpayer's money) LACMTA assumes responsibility. Yo, Los Angeles Times! You got King-Drew closed and now your next Pulitzer is waiting for your LACMTA exposé.

The cost of extending the “Rouge Line” to Santa Monica, presently at $5 billion is addressed by an article(2) in the Times. Here is some news that will likely astound the LACMTA: It's not going to get any cheaper!”. So, being mostly politicians and not traffic engineers, they would rather do something, anything that is cheap and can be perceived as progress. Again, had the LACMTA had some concept of rational planning of a transportation system we would not have this hodgepodge that they have cobbled together. My headline for this Times piece(3) would have been: “Tight budget provides LACMTA with opportunity to justify transportation plans”. I have a difficult time believing that the totally dysfunctional agency has an solid statistics upon which to base their “plans” or what I prefer to call “political dreams”. The LACMTA should really be three agencies: one devoted to municipal transportation (bus, light rail and subway); another to freeways/highways and the last concerned with Metro link (heavy rail). That way they could compete for project funds which, in a fair world, would go to the agency which could shown the most transportation for the buck. The way things are today the LACMTA appears to me to be a $3 billion per annum slush fund to be spread around in such a way as to the most political good. The best possible outcome of the money shortage would be for the LACMTA to cancel all plans and to reconsider each project and to prioritize them as to ROI (Return On Investment). And please understand, that I believe that the project sponsors should be placed in a bet-your-job position if anything goes wrong.

The money pit called the Orange Line is in the news(4) again. Now, they want to place sixty-five (65) foot buses in service. What the weak-brained LACMTA is attempting to do is increase the ratio of passengers to the (one) driver. What they are seeing is that the Orange Line should have been light rail in the first place – then, another car could be coupled on to the train and the number of passengers increased much more than the 16 additional people offered by the bigger buses. Further, these bigger vehicles should finish beating up the road way which has already been destroyed by the present 84 passenger buses. The weak reporting/editing in the article shows up in a review of the various bus sizes on page B10. N.B. The cost for the new 65 foot buses was, conveniently for someone, not available. The fact the the Times went to press with this important fact missing shows that the paper's mast head should have the motto: “All the news that they put in the press release”. Of course, the LACMTA is rushing to spend money on a vehicle that is ONLY suited to the Orange Line and cannot be shifted to other fleet operations – does that surprise you?

Metolink in Orange County is the subject of a Times article(5). The piece talks about 13,000 total riders which I recompute as 6,500 people going to and returning from work. The picture on page B12 shows low density seating and the number of daily passengers is more like an hours worth of rider in NYC. This train seems to benefit only the affluent and does not integrate at all to the Blue Line or any other of the LACMTA. Even if it did connect, the Blue Line does not offer any form of rush hour express service. That would demand that the LACMTA would know the sources and destinations of its' passengers. No doubt, the result such mental exertion would be a headache. The telling sentence in the article is this: “Freeway projects will remain the transit agency's main focus”. Perhaps it should be retitled as “the Orange County Freeway Authority”.

Ear to the Rail

The British are coming, the British are coming! The British supermarket, Tesco, is coming to LA with their “fresh & easy Neighborhood Market”. Tesco, which ranks tenth in size based upon M+M Planet's Retail Global Top 30 Ranking (see: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0DQA/is_2002_June_6/ai_87145917 )
As best I am able to describe it, based upon my reading, Tesco seems to be a cross between Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.

Group: Country: Net sales (m [euro]*): Grocery sales (%)

Wal-Mart US 243,281 40.0%
Carrefour France 69,486 70.5%
Ahold Netherlands 66,593 92.0%
Kroger US 55,959 91.0%
Metro Germany 49,522 49.7%
Albertson's US 42,781 90.0%
K-Mart US 38,665 37.0%
Safeway Inc US 38,314 92.0%
Costco US 38,131 41.0%
Tesco UK 38,059 90.0%
Rewe Germany 37,540 70.3%
Aldi Germany 32,400 84.0%
Intermatche France 31,900 82.4%
Sainsbury UK 29,743 90.0%
Ito-Yokado Japan 29,624 47.0%

* Values in millions of Euros, convert to US dollars by multiplying the Euro value by 1.36102. (Euro rate from Live rates at 2007.08.28 19:36:16 UTC)

N.B. Sensitive readers please skip the following paragraph.

One of our local newspapers, the Los Angeles Times has already launched a broadside(6) against Tesco. They were critical of the manner in which the Chinese employees of Tesco, in China, slaughtered and prepared (ugh) soft shell turtles for Chinese citizens' consumption. The Times seemed to want to blame the supplier (Tesco) rather than the Chinese diet or Chinese culture for this unpleasantness.

The Times attack on a potential advertiser is strange. Especially since it is based upon solely upon the turtle issue –- not the whole host of things, like forcing overtime work without pay, like our own Wal-Mart has been charged with and after having its' day in court, received a guilty verdict. The Times piece offended my sense of fair play. So, I say let's give Tesco/Fresh & Easy a fair trial. The marketplace will decide.

You can read about the plan for the new markets at: http://www.freshandeasy.com/home.aspx

The also announced a recycling program –- see:

The Mole Rides Again – so that you don't have to sit and speculate as to why the 439 fails to appear.

It is Monday morning, 20 August 2007, which begins a new writing cycle for my, what has become, monthly posting by your Mole. My first trip of the day starts on Sepulveda Bl just past La Tierra waiting for the 439 line bus which was scheduled to leave the LAXCBC (LAX City Bus Center) at 8:50. It didn't show! Not a surprise, since Monday is a day of high absenteeism. I wait filling the time thinking up different naughty words for the acronym “LACMTA”. I can't share them here, because this blog is planned for family reading, but that should not prevent you from playing the game too :-).

The 9:50 doesn't show either – something must be wrong. True there are a few minor blockages due to the widening of Sepulveda in this area, but nothing major. And the Culver City 6, Big Blue 3, and the 42/42A are all using the route. I need to get to Pasadena, so, I switch sides of the street and ride the 42 to the LAXCBC where checked for a sign indicating route change, there wasn't any. I talk to a Russian student from Samara. See part of their transportation system at www.samaratrans.info/metro/lang/eng.htm

Samara is about 1000 KM south east of Moscow. He said that I wouldn't know where it is --- he was right, following with: “It's not Moscow!”.Then I take the 232 to Mariposa station on the Green Line. As I board the escalator at the station, the east bound train leaves, what else?

Seated across from me on the Green Line train is a woman who has apparently modeled herself after Kat von D of LAInk. She bobs her head in time to the music which is evidently emanating from her player, she also taps her foot and seems to have spasms of RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) --- all this concurrent with rearranging her handbag.

At the Blue Line transfer point: a dead pigeon forms part of the detritus, all of which underscores the LACMTA's policy of NEVER EVER cleaning or maintaining tracks, stations, transfer points and etc. Doing her part, a young woman distributes candies to her friends, carefully unwrapping them before discarding the wrappers on the platform.

7th/Metro station: I note that only the base of something remains on the platform. The top portion, which once might have been a System Map has broken off or been vandalized. A recorded platform announcement asks us not to stand, walk or sit at the edge of the platform. A musical tone precedes a live announcement in a feminine voice, not a word of which is understandable to me in any language of which I have knowledge. The Red Line announcements have two modes: 1> Soft, mumbley and unintelligible and 2> Loud, sharp, painful to listen to and understandable. This train uses Mode 2.

This is tuning out to be the trip from hell! The Gold line is “single tracking” the Mission and Southwest Museum stations, past a maintenance problem. In my car, at the end of the train, three fare inspectors, they don't “bother” anyone and do nothing except keep their radios on full volume. They never inspected a single ticket the whole time I rode with them.

Arcadia is forever tuning its traffic signals. The signal contractor must be related to someone. Today is no different in that traffic, including my bus, creeps through the controlled intersection. While in the area i sample a few bus lines and find that the 267 line no links, however loosely, to the Green Line. It appears that as of 24 June 2007, that portion of the route was snipped away. The overall route from Pasadena to El Monte Station is now faster although less convenient –- sounds familiar doesn't it? By this single action the LACMTA took away one third of the Metro bus routes to Serra Madre Station. Then they complain about Gold Line ridership!

I am aboard a 425 line bus in Pasadena. It has a “new” fare card taped to the longitudinal bulkhead behind the driver. It cites the “off-peak” fares, but does not include the time periods during which the fare will be in effect –- communication LACMTA style :-).

Later, I ask a source about the reason for Gold Line “single tracking” and receive a complex response which includes several possibilities for the problem. First, some terminology: catenary wire – the wire which supports the wire through which current passes; contact wire – the current carrying wire; pantograph – the metal structures which you see on top of train cars which touch the contact wire and route the power to a circuit box and on to the motors; See a schematic of this description at www.railway-technical.com/ohl001.gif

Now see the pantographs on a Gold Line train, here www.pasadenacal.com/transportation/train2.gif

On the date of this writing (2007-08-21) only the Daily News has an all to brief notice that the Gold Line will be running 20 minutes late and the Los Angeles Times has nothing at all --- at least, I could not find anything searching on-line with their extremely poor search tool.

So, here is the best analysis I can print without compromising my source. Somehow, the contact wire became enmeshed in the pantograph and peeled off “several car lengths” of contact wire, droppers (see the schematic linked to above) and assorted other hardware. This must have been scary because the contact wire has a +740 AC potential with a health current as well.

The cause? The several main possibilities, in no special order, and the actual cause is not limited to my list, they appear to be: a.) the contact wire sagged because of the high temperatures and was caught up by the pantograph; b.) some bit of supporting hardware (see the schematic linked to above) and note how the structure attached to the masts supports the catenary wire) failed and dropped the whole mess into the pantograph; c.) the contact strip which is affixed to the pantograph head (all on the top of the car), the horizontal piece at right angles to the direction of travel (see the Gold Line picture linked above) failed, perhaps cracked and “bit” into the contact wire yanking it loose; d.) the contact wire was subject to abrasion over a period of time, it severed and engaged the pantograph.

This is at least the second time in four years that a similar accident has occurred. On Sunday, 10 August 2003, the Pasadena Star-News head read: “Electrical problem snarls the Gold Line”. “...
The incident occurred at 4:02 p.m. when a bracket separating the overhead wires broke and the wires became tangled.” The fault in this case was attributed to my b.) above.

This part of the power system takes a beating – night and day, hour after hour. Using Google, I performed some research researched and found this from a Japanese source (See: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/77459/ABSTRACT?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0 )

“It is expected that rubber damping hangers or friction damping hangers will reduce contact loss of the pantograph and wear of the contact wire. © 1998 Scripta Technica, Electr Eng Jpn, 123 (4): 67-76, 1998”

If you have the same deep interest in engineering that I do, you will be interested in a paper on “tribology”, viz., “the study of the effects of friction on moving machine parts and of methods, [such] as lubrication, of obviating them”. See:
This too, is a Japanese paper – unsurprisingly, nothing from the LACMTA was found.

And if you are still not satisfied that the LACMTA is a group of rank amateurs see: https://entry.rtri.or.jp/newsletter/14/RTA-14.pdf . This is a Japanese publication, in English, showing how seriously true professionals take the rail business!

At http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1466816
I found this: “With electric locomotives, the pantograph's slider is not simply a piece of coal, but there is a tiny pressurized copper tube inside, connected to a loco-side sensor. If the slider is damaged, it breaks the tube, the air inside escapes, the sensor notices and the locomotive will instantly take the pantograph down to avoid further damage such as tearing down the catenary.” Which makes one wonder, is the Gold Line equipped with such a pantograph “slider” contact? How about the other light rail lines??

Perhaps the Times editors and reporters will get up off their chairs and get the whole story for us-- all the details and tell us just how dangerous this accident was vis-à-vis passenger safety. I think it was very dangerous and personally I wouldn't want to be anywhere near a 750 volt wire which was whipping around. Even without power , a wire of this size could easily do the work of a guillotine on whatever part of one's body it struck!

Accidents happen Mole! So, what's your point. Simple, I know that the LACMTA thinks of maintenance as something to be avoided, therefore, we as passengers need to know when and with what degree of diligence did the LACMTA inspect the mechanical aspects of the power supply, i.e., were the pantograph bars inspected for cracks, nicks and etc.? Was the entire mechanical pantograph structures checked for proper function, rigidity and movement? Was the mast and related supporting structures carefully inspected? Was all the inspection done on a time table which would uncover flaws before any
MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) could accumulate? For example, if pantograph contact bars are expected to fail after 10,000 hours of use, were the bars inspected on a schedule that would ensure potential failures could be replaced before they accumulated more than 10,000 hours of use?

I have other “interesting information” about events which followed the Gold Line accident
described above, but I will not publish them at this time.

My own opinion? Snoble and staff are the epitome of the “ignorance is bliss” appellation and I have never seen the LACMTA take ANY ACTION to make me think of them as proactive. Look back to the Orange Line accidents. These were carbon copies of those experienced by a similar system in Miami which is claimed to be the inspiration for the Orange Line, yet the LACMTA here was totally reactive. They waited until the accidents began to occurred here before taking any action at all.

If the LACMTA and/or their operations are found to be in any way at fault in this matter, no matter what the reasons: failure to inspect capital equipment; failure to maintain capital equipment and etc., Snoble should be fired! Further the operations of the LACMTA should be removed from political supervision and placed in what I would term, “Technical receivership”.

While researching, I also found this document:

The most interesting portion of the pdf (linked above) was the analysis, which included the possibility of dispensing ear plugs and the concern that solid walls between the freeway and the tracks “May give people on the platform the sense that the 'hidden' condition of the platform could compromise their safety” … 'hidden' condition? Haven't these people ever ridden on a subway?? At least, the powers that be recognize the noise problem. Notable too, is the estimate of noise level (84-88 dBA).

Of course, we don’t know at what time of day the noise level was measured. At midnight the 210 is much less noisy than at rush hours when the platforms too are crowded. I found that an aircraft, specifically a Bae-146-200A, produces 76.5 dBA on takeoff, as measured from 6500 meters (just slightly more than 21,325 feet or a little more than four 4 miles) away, i.e. a lot further away than the freeway is from the platform. See: http://www.geocities.com/peopleplanes/Carrier/BaeSnd.html.

For more fun with sound, check out the dBA information at http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/eng99/eng99325.htm
From which I extracted this:

Decibels Source
0 db Threshold of hearing
30 db Whisper
40 db Buzz of mosquito
50 db Normal conversation
70 db Vacuum cleaner
Vide supra Noise on a Gold Line platform that is coaxial with the 210 freeway
100 db Subway or power mower
120 db Rock concert
128 db The typical cell phone ring tone heard on Metro, just kidding:-)
130 db Jackhammer or machine gun
150 db Nearby jet plane

The noise and its' suppression indicate the LACMTA's overarching philosophy: “If we build it wrong, we can fix it later, If we can find the funds”. This usually results in spending more money than would have been required to do it right in the first place. Think about the repaving of the “Orange Line” roadway, crumbling Gold Line structure and not providing controlled access to the light rail/subway systems. Both of which projects the LACMTA has indemnified the contractors be assuming the costs themselves. Oh, with taxpayer money, of course!

The method by which they plan to mitigate the noise too, is hilarious. The plan is to put up electronic signs that will indicate when a train is available for boarding. In effect penning up passengers and keeping them away from the noise until the last minute . If the barrier walls which baffle the freeway noise in some areas are effective, why can't they construct them at the Gold Line stations where noise is a problem. The answer: It's spelled - M - O - N - E -Y.

With the arrival announcment method proposed, one wonders, how many passengers will be injured in the race to the platform. People will run into the bench that is for some unknown reason positioned on the overhead walkway to the Sierra Madre Villa Station. See photograph include in posting of Saturday, February 03, 2007

It is the 21st of August about noon and I am on board a 117 line bus. It is bus number 6340 driven by operator number 25686. She insist on producing a loud, tuneless, irritating whistling sound. My advice: Do give up your day job.

It is about 8AM on 28 August. I am aboard bus number 1236. A largish (1' X 4') piece of plastic which appears to be part of a protective window covering rattles as we ride. Someone has inserted it between the rear window and the seat back of the right side, rear longitudinal seats. It has rough edges and a father warns his young son away from it.

For all the advertising by “America's Best[2006-2007]”, including an on-board “transit ad” touting the hard work of a woman who handles the distribution of schedules (No doubt she works hard and well) –- very few buses seem to have the schedule which corresponds to the current route available. I am sure that this is another cost cutting measure.

Other Summer Rides

Today is the first weekday of the new fare structure and it is coming as a surprise to riders. The fare box has a new decal but no reminder that the fare has changed.

30 June 2007 on board a line 232 bus, number 11033. This guy, operator 70509. He loves his horn blow it a lot. He is a rough driver, too --- just like too many First Transit drivers.

A passenger on a 111 line bus chats with the driver about a miracle gasoline additive that is bound to save money, blah, blah, blah. All the while I am reading a photocopy of some pictures of two early teen-age girls who have gone missing --- sad.

(1) Lin, Rong-Gong II and Rabin, Jeffrey L.“Major work begins on Expo Line” Los Angeles Times 11 August 2007:B1

(2) Bloomekatz, Ari B. and Hymon, Steve “'Subway to the sea' plan still adrift” Los Angeles Times 11 July 2007:B1

(3) Lin, Rong-Gong II and Rabin, Jeffrey L. “Mass transit takes a hit in state budget” Los Angeles Times 23 August 2007:B1

(4) Lin, Rong-Gong II “MTA to super-size bus service on Orange Line” Los Angeles Times 25 August 2007:B1

(5) Reyes, David “O.C. planners hope Metrolink expansion lures more riders” Los Angeles Times 1 September 2007:B1

(6) Hirsch, Jerry “Local and global reputation of British grocer Tesco at odds” 2 Aug. 2007:C1

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