America's Dumbest

One can just imagine a meeting of the “Stops and Signs” group at the Taj Mahal (LACMTA HQ). Their combined brain power focused on exactly what to do. Unencumbered by an understanding of maps, the exact bus routes affected, empathy for their ridership or even a scintilla of drive to provide customer service, they press on.

I have it on good authority that one regional bus company, who wanted to post their schedule in one of the kiosks at the LAXCBC, that the kiosks “were inappropriate places to post schedules”. Also that leaving years old schedules posted in the kiosks, discouraged graffiti.

The “Stops and Signs” group's main claim to fame seems to be, being able to say “NO!” in 27 languages.

Not to say that the LACMTA is alone on using “wild” (generally taken to mean unprofessional) signage. Picturedbelow is BCT's (Beach City Transit) take, at the LAXCBC, on informing the public.

With these guys it's either signs which are not so good, or none at all. That is the case of the photo♪ below where there are lots of signs, in fact, all buses which stop here have signs –except BCT.

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

The Los Angeles Times again, reports(1) on the possibility of installing access control on “the first step toward installing 275 gates on the Red and Green lines and at strategic light rail stations.”. Once again we can see the brilliance of the minds at the LACMTA. They have had decades of experience with this problem and, at last, have come up with the solution that should have been implemented from day one. Most engineers, architects and other professionals will agree that it is usually much easier to design and build what is required from the start rather than retrofit later. Perhaps, the LACMTA genii laughed at the other cities and their controlled access systems and thought “we're different, we can save money”. As I discussed last month, the LACMTA can not learn from their own experience --how can we expect them to internalize the lessons which other could teach them? In a, to me, very weak attempt to rationalize the lack of due diligence in the past, the article quotes politicians as saying “While it was conceivable that an 'honor system' was effective ... 20 years ago, ... such a system is simply inapplicable in Los Angeles County today.”. The Times piece estimates that $6.77 million dollars of presently avoided fares could be collected. Using that as a basis and the estimate to install the system, “up to $30 million” means that the losses over 10 years could have paid for the controlled access gates twice over. Also noted is an annual maintenance cost of $1 million per year, which is about $10 per day based only on 275 gates –-this must be based upon fixing vandalism because smart card technology shouldn't require much maintenance. Unless, of course, it is left out in the weather or produced by the same people who make the everlastingly out of service bus fare boxes. Important to note that not all stations or perhaps not even all entrances of a given station will controlled access. What the article lacked was a simple map showing the lines and stations along with a notation as to the percentage (0~100%) of a given station's possible points of entry would have controlled access.

An accompanying photograph, by Brian Vander Brug, on page B6 gives another look into the minds of the LACMTA “Stops and Signs” group. Imagine yourself to be a foreign visitor trying to decode the signage, “Wil/Wstrn”and “Nor Hllywd”, shown in the picture.

Featured in the Times(2) is a large display advertisment, about a half-page in size, funded by LAWA, which touts their Flyaway bus service. Several points were interesting to me. First of all that the fare, $4 for adults and $2 for children, is the same from Union Station, Westwood or Van Nuys --this given that Westwood is less than half the distance to LAX than is Union Station. Earlier I noted that a year after beginning operations they were still using WY license plates on some of their buses but, of course, using California streets and freeways. Remember too, NO CREDIT CARDS and NO DISCOUNTS for round-trip purchases both of which are firm LAWA policies.

Then too, one can obtain a boarding pass from Flyaway for $5 and then obtain preferential treatment, i..e., being allowed to go directly to security screening, bypassing something. Is this how LAWA is supposed to provide public service? By allowing their bus passengers to avoid some hassle while the rest of us must slog through the usual airport process. These guys must have taken their training from the LACMTA.

The Times stretches in attempting to justify the LACMTA's plan to partially control access to the rail system by a weak, disjointed and to my way of thinking, irrational piece(3) in, of all places, the Calendar Section. The LACMTA says they need more money AND that people are avoiding paying for their transportation AND the majority of the world's truly great public transportation systems have controlled access is the way to make people pay. But not Mr. Hawthorne --he feels that that proposal for controlled access, in his own words, “... promises to have a substantial architectural and urban-design effect.”. Wow, that certainly is a good reason to allow some people to ride free. I submit that this requirement presents an architectural challenge and Mr. Louis Sullivan ‘s quote “… form follows function …” was never more applicable then in this case. Further the article's jump-head, '“A wrong-headed transit “solution”' applies equally to Mr. Hawthorne's thinking. He takes the MTA's Ms Matsumoto's use of the phrase “architectural constraints”, then by his clairvoyance, asserts that “... the very use of the phrase [“architectural constraints” --your Mole's insertion] suggests that the culture of the MTA sees these issues less clearly than it should.”. Later, Mr. Hawthorne continues, “There is something dismaying about this plan in purely symbolic terms”. Frankly, I would not want to be this guy when Zell gets his hands completely on the Los Angeles Times. I suggest that while he remains in Los Angeles, Mr. Hawthorne visit the Gold Line Lake Street Station and enjoy a site where the LACMTA's badly needs a “betrayal of their design. But first, he should ensure that his health plan covers hearing loss. To cheer him up after he can read the hilarious noise abatement plan, posted on 2007-09-15, “designed” for stations like Lake Street. After that he can visit any number of Red/Purple Line stations which hang things, read art, from their ceilings yet make no provisions for cleaning them. This leaves patrons to inhale fine dust particles and view the litter that others toss onto any flat surface, high and low, in the stations.

In reality, there is no real design to betray just seat-of-the- pants by our below average management, past and present, and the politicians who place them in positions where they can do the most BAD.

I once heard a comedian, talking about the slogan of a business, say that their slogan was, “We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you!”. Could that apply here? You can decide for yourself.

When one reviews the LACMTA's “financial statement”(4) --or at least the only thing available to me-- it is no wonder that they ignore their ridership.

On page 5 of the document they present revenues. I've added the “percent of Total” column. By the way, there is no "Tab" in HTML and although at first, I didn't feel inclined to format the below as a table, I ended up doing it. I used an irreducible minimum of the HTML table features in creating the table, although it looked OK in Compose mode, it created lots of extra space above the table in the post. So please bear with me. Other features, things like embedded LINKS fail if there are several links too close together (words or sentences between them) . I just got tired of all the hand work necessary to make links work and BlogSpot has no "easy" way of providing feedback. Entering long discussions with other users is NOT my idea of fun and something for which I just have no time. Sorry! In my real life, I prefer to use LaTeX, which is a great way to produce documentation. or any textual matter. LaTex is available for Windoze as Mktex (http://miktex.org/) which is good, but, be warned it is NOT for the faint hearted.

Anyway, I did find time to search the internet and found the solution to eliminating all the extra "whitespace". Many thanks to:


Resources$ in Millions[Percent of Total]
Fare revenue2799.2
Prop A cent sales tax67522.4
Prop C= cent sales tax76025.2
Federal grants40413.4
State Grants1836.0
Interest income, bonds1966.5
Other local revenue51517.0

Fares, at the rates then in effect, accounted for less than 10 percent. So, the LACMTA could completely withdraw from transportation and still provide a nice living for its' top level staff. The bus operations and capital accounts taken together account for over 35% (one billion, eighty three million dollars) of expenses. Percentages do not sum to 100% due to rounding.

Canceling lines, running short lines and reducing the frequency of service, all serve to reduce those bus related expenses. The price is paid by the user, no buses, infrequent buses or buses that don't stop where stops are needed, are all part of the price paid by those who really don't have a voice (see my comments under “Mole Rides”, below, about the 704 line as an example of “gonzo” bus service). What little voice they might have is muffled by the LACMTA habit of scheduling “public meetings” at times when their ridership is working.

Then the LACMTA smiles and winks and says “we solicited public feedback”, stifles a laugh and goes to happy hour. The job of the LACMTA as they see it, is satisfying those who supply the majority of their funding, viz., the state and federal political structure NOT those who are dependent upon them for transportation. Yet this will not stop the “management” (see my comments under “Mole Rides”, below, vis-à-vis out of service fare boxes below) of the LACMTA from raising fares and providing less service.

Ear to the Rail

I have been watching http://www.france24.com/ to see how the transport strike is progressing. The grève (strike) is causing lots of problems because although Paris, with a population of slightly over 2 million is smaller than LA, but its' mass transportation is used by many people –- I believe that are half a million passengers per day, in Paris. Seeing the capacity of of the trains that are running reminds me of Tokyo, but no pushers that I could see.

Ms Susan Valot, a reporter with KPCC 89.3FM, presented an excellent two-part series on transportation centered housing. I will quote only a single sentence: “Ted Balacker of the conservative Reason Foundation says the costs of transit-oriented development outweigh the benefits.” This is exactly how I feel and how I reviewed an earlier Times piece on transportation centered housing (see: 2007-07-14).

Listen to Part one at:

Part two at:

Cosmology Corner

More bad news: Honey, I’ve shortened the life of the universe!

More on parallel universes (I don't think the ones in which the LACMTA does everything right are included, sorry)

The Mole Rides Again, so that you don't suffer the embarrassment of attempting to explain to visitors that although everything is plastered with “America's Best”, that that is not really the case.

Returning from LAX, I helped a visitor to LA, who turned out to be a helicopter pilot, find the right bus to a hotel. In return, I received a nice, but too short, briefing on buses in Europe, specifically Belgium. The buses there are typically €1 (about $1.47 at today's rate) and seemed to have good coverage.

Aboard a 232 Line bus, an old man sings snatches of an not too pleasant and unrecognizable song. A UAL flight attendant shares on-board cooking tips via her cell phone: “Just use the thing that we use to pass out the nuts, clean it and then you can heat it in the oven – it should taste good!”.

An Asian man is paying with lots of pennies, it is taking forever. I arrive at LAXCBC a man is cleaning up, no not the hit-and-miss Vor. Let's call this man “Speed” is walking past 99.9% of the litter, stooping down slowly once-in-a-while to pick something up. He moves deliberately for only a short time and then increases his speed as he walks to a Metro vehicle and drives off. He leaves the LACBC looking as if it were never touched.

In reviewing the upcoming December changes, I finally see the pattern. It is: Push Rapid service and discontinue limited and local service. This will usually mean longer walks to the bus stops both coming and going. Is this really a service to the public? They can't get people on Metro buses now, except for the passengers of last resort. How can they entice new passengers with walking further than the front door to the driveway thrown into the mix.

The 704 Rapid service to Santa Monica is a good example of a bad idea. In fact, one might them the 704 as “gonzo” (style emphasized over substance) bus service. Where the old 304 Line ran pretty full, the new 704 lines often have low ridership. I heard a Rapid 704 bus driver explain it approximately this way: “[The city of] Santa Monica doesn't want Metro buses here [in Santa Monica]. They make more money if our service is not good ...”. I have commented on this bad idea (704 Rapid) earlier on 2007-10-13.

Today I rode three Metro buses and the Big Blue Bus. On three of them the fare box was out of service (OOS). You're right! All three Metro buses were free and did not collect a dime of revenue –-well, they might have collected something if they didn't start the the day with the fare box OOS. Because OOS fare boxes do not contribute to fare revenue, the LACMTA “management” is forced to raise fares, that is much easier than to force the suppliers of the fare boxes to make them operate as they should. I am NOT saying anyone at the LACMTA is receiving kickbacks. However I would like to know why the agency is so complacent about holding the vendor's feet to the fire about this issue. Interesting isn't it?

In the same vein, over the Thanksgiving weekend –by the way, I hope that you had a very happy Thanksgiving-- Molette and I visited the Green Line Stations which I wrote about last month. Surprisingly, the escalator at Mariposa Station was back in operation. I don't think that it was really fixed, just placed back in service. It was making all kinds of grinding and screeching noises. Such noises mean parts are scraping against one another, well running equipment doesn't make such noises. It could be that they threw the thing back together because they didn't like what I wrote about it OR the picture WAS worth a 1,000 words for those that couldn't read.

The other bad news is that the contractor, i.e., Sema, working on the Douglas-Rosecrans Station is proceeding, however slowly –I believe that the “S” in Sema is for snail– on what I consider to be a lifetime job for them. Molette and I wanted to check out the progress on what will be the area's Tesco Fresh & Easy store, after the office supply store moves to their new location (next door to the existing O.D. store) in early December. Tesco can then start work on refurbishing the building. I estimate that it will take about six weeks to two months. Will the Colorado based Sema finish their work by then? I doubt it.

Here I am again, at the corner of Manchester and Lincoln at about 2PM on a weekday. 115 Line buses have streaming by, four passed in just a few minutes and all are “full” so we are being bypassed. One stops a few bus lengths from the formal bus stop and drops four people, he leaves without me and others although I run for the bus. Way to go LACMTA. Lots of empty 704s run on Santa Monica BL but inadequate capacity here. Likely according to plan. then they can cancel the 704 for lack of riders.

I finally ride on a 115 bus number 5144—Run 002, which left Playa del Rey at 2:29PM.

It is just after noon on 28 November, I just boarded a 704 Line bus, headed Downtown. The driver is rough, giving us a jerky accelerate—brake ride. His operator number is 28635, seemingly a nice guy, but he need some more or better training. I took an informal passenger count between Santa Monica BL at 4th Street and Santa Monica BL at Sepulveda. We started with 11 passengers and as we left Santa Monica and Sepulveda we had had 23, or somewhere around one third capacity of the bus! The writing is on the wall! Metro will next cancel the 704 between downtown Santa Monica and Sepulveda, due to low ridership –an effect of the LACMTA's own 704 express Service which eliminates many stops and makes the bus less valuable to many riders who are left stranded between the stops, this phenomenon results in a self fulfilling prophesy, i.e., it has been long rumored that they wanted to get rid of both the 4/304 Lines. The old 4/304 Lines, as I have said, were always crowded. What a masterstroke, kill the Line(s) by “improving” service!

The PA system at the Green Line Aviation Station is emitting annoying sounds sometime it changes to a louder buzz. I report it via the platform telephone. I will check it in one week, just before I publish this. Surprisingly, when I do check, it is in good order.

232 bus: A youngish Asian man licks the screen of his cell phone and kind of nibbles on the corner. The screen look to me to be, well, yucky.

The 232 stops are labeled “LAX Transit Center” while the next 232,\ has a head sign which reads, “LAX City Bus Center” and bus number 11034, a 232 Line bus, has “LAC City Business Center”. The only consistent product of the “Stops and Sign” group and by extension, the LACMTA is their inconsistency.

It's Friday and raining in Los Angeles as I head downtown aboard a 439 Line bus. Guess what? The fare box is OOS! While the Times article (discussed above) estimated loses due to “fare avoidance”, nothing is ever written about loses due to OOS fare boxes?? I believe that the Times reporters don't ride the buses much :-). And another “sleeping” group, the one which should have been on top of this issue, within the LACMTA seems powerless to correct the problem.

1 December, bright and cool aboard the Blue Line: The operator makes an announcement about bringing bags (of recyclables?) aboard and delaying the train. A woman does her homework, she is studying flash cards and silently mouthing the words. A young mother winds up a toy bee (a toy based upon the movie?) and hands it to her son who seems to be more interested in smashing it against the train seat.

Red Line: The IMHO (in my humble opinion), more of the new, stupid, money wasting signs (See: 2007-09-15) have sprouted at stations between 7th/Metro and Union Station. They mostly give useless information, e.g., about purchasing tickets --while the ticket machine areas have little information-- and contribute NOTHING to the riding experience, such as telling us when the next train will arrive and its' destination. It is what one expects from those who have never been a subway passenger even in cities as near as San Francisco.

Taj Mahal; A large banner at about 5th floor height boasts, “Named as America's Best Transportation System”, yet lacks the qualifying “October 2006 – September 2007”. It is held in place by wire cables so it appears that it will be there for a long time. I want to climb up and add an “*” to “Named” and a footnote, “but not by those who use it.

While I am there I try to pick up a current 232 but they are still distributing the year old and obsolete, year old December 2006 ones, yet they are inaccurate.

I am riding a Big Blue Bus number 3 Line to the Marina. The two guys behind me can't talk without 1 curse word for every three words spoken. BBB rides are usually more genteel than those taken on Metro –not this one. They are talking about a bigger than usual paychecks, due to being laid off and estimating the amount of their future unemployment checks. I just can't imagine people of the middle-class actually riding on buses, especially those of the upper middle-class. So the world will end, not with a bang, but with overheating i.e., Global Warming.

Riding the 439 Line from Westchester to Downtown L.A. Can be nerve wracking –it seems to me that the slightest deviation from normal conditions will incite the bus drivers on this route to go into “Detour Mode”. “Detour Mode” means that they will take a secret route and leave passengers stranded. I covered this earlier, on (2007-08-18). But today, even though all four signals at the Manchester and Sepulveda are flashing red and traffic has slowed to a crawl, the bus does show up and only ten minutes late. This mess was apparently not enough to trigger the arrival of neither maintenance personnel nor Traffic Control Officers.

A man boards the bus and sits a few seats ahead of me, across the aisle. He carries a copy of The Wall Street Journal. The incongruous items are his shoes. They are sort of pointed, like women's shoes, but more squared off at the front, with a leather piece that starts under the tip and curves a few inches up over the top. I turn and smile out the window, all that is missing are the bells.

Memorial Park Station: A man, who appears to me to be “troubled”, walks up to the platform emergency telephone and asks the operator “What time will the next train arrive?”. The emergency operator, whose reply is audible to all, says, “It will be there soon”.
A smart move on the part of the operator: she cleared the line, intended only for emergencies, avoided an argument and preserved her sanity all in the shortest possible time.

Gold Line: The fare inspectors are actually at work, not just having a fun ride as I usually report. This is one of the few time for me to witness them –usually it's the deputies— in action. In my ¼ of the train only one citation is written. Someone bought a ticket on the Red Line and is using it on the Gold Line, which act violates the “one Line one ticket policy”, although he stated his belief that it was OK to do so,it is a belief shared by many others. He is citing “Federal Regulations” in support of his case but the Fare Inspector is polite but firm. This process is taking about three as long as the usual citation processes which I've seen. In defense of the passenger, the LACMTA ALWAYS does a poor job of communicating and at the bottom of the list is the manner in which they explain the “new fare policy” for trains. In the past a ticket purchased on any of the rail lines could be used until it expired –usually several hours after purchase. The Fare Inspectors move to the next ¼ of the train and on, followed by the man who was cited.

Across the aisle from me a woman reads a paperback. She is missing her left hand but compensates very well. Many men are missing body parts, due to war, industrial accidents and etc. Fortunately, fewer women must face this situation. It is a sad thing for either gender.

Red Line: Unfortunately, this seems to be “wounded woman day”. One is seated facing me, up and across the aisle. Her right hand is bandaged and she has what seems to be wires running down her upper thigh and under a bandage on her knee.

Blue Line: Three men passengers, who obviously don't ride much, are discussing their theory on how the Blue Line operated –giving that up they turn to shop talk. The automated announcement system says, “San Peadro” rather than “San Pedro”. It is kind of like the 117 line where they announce “Century and Aviation” as “Century and Century” and the 111 line where “Arbor Vitae” is “Arboor Vitae” and other variants and the 439 line where Center Drive and Center Drive West becomes "Center and Center", in the Promenade at Howard Hughes shopping center, just minutes away from Fox Hills Mall.

A woman seated directly across from me, who is difficult to understand reduces her understandability a lot more by eating and talking on her cell phone with her mouth full. She is telling someone about how she spent her day in court, I don't think that she is a lawyer.

Culver City 6 (too noisy to read, so, your Mole notes his fellow passengers - but in an observational, not in a voyeuristic manner): An old man's lower denture falls out an clatters to the floor. A young girl proudly demonstrates her vocabulary to her mother. A woman boards –she carries a Trader Joe's shopping bag and a small pet carrier with two kittens inside. She starts to peel an orange, thinks better of it and wipes her hands on a large paper napkin. Seated behind and to my left sits a French couple and an Australian couple are seated directly in front of me. The woman seems to be in charge of the trip, she takes a largish plastic case from her bag and goes through some ticket folders.

Finally! The customer comment form is up and running again http://webapps2.metro.net/customercomments/ . It was disabled for WEEKS! Way to go LACMTA, you have found the ideal way to reduce comments and complaints for America's Dumbest AND eliminate complaints about your process at the same time!

From your Mole, to all who see this:

¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

(1) Song, Jason “May need a ticket to ride” Los Angeles Times 30 Nov. 2007:B1

(2) NA, “Los Angeles World Airports advertisment” Los Angeles Times 18 Nov. 2007:B7

(3) Hawthorne, Christopher “MTA is on wrong track” Los Angeles Times 5 Dec. 2007:E1

(4) Jager, Rick “Metro Facts at a Glance” http://www.metro.net/ 21 Nov. 2006

Mole’s Copyright Statement
All photographs and original written materials are copyrighted © 2007 by LAmetroMole. ♪Clicking a photo will often present you with an enlargement.

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, sustainable development, environmental, community and worker health, democracy, public disclosure, corporate accountability, and social justice issues, etc. We have included relatively brief quotes from articles and etc. rather than a simple link because we have found that links frequently go "bad" or change over time. We believe this constitutes a "fair use" of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without fee or payment of any kind to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?