Seems Less Technology

Op Num: 1999

One of the items which the LACMTA proudly proclaims to have resulted in their being selected [ONE] of America's Best, was their seamless integration of technology. Yet, as the line above shows, it is really other organizations, in this case it is Culver City Municipal Bus Lines which are using technology to improve their riders' experience.

It is a small step taken by Culver City and the “Op Num: 1999” above (I have a picture but decided not to use it), but one which make both riders and drivers more aware of exactly who is driving. There is no need to look for a number on a badge, an almost impossible task on a crowded bus, so that you can report the driver.

Conversely, the drivers will, since their identities are easily known, tend toward civility. In fairness to the Culver City drivers, I have yet to find a really rude or even uncivil one on the Green Buses, before or after the change in display.

I wish that it was the case on the Metro where rudeness, inattention to driving, mostly due to cell phone usage, is the order of the day in at least 30% of the cases.
I urge my readers at LACMTA to use their vaunted seamless integration of technology skills in order to implement what is without question a trivial task and one which Culver City has already done! Big Blue Bus as well, could and should implement the same sort of display.
The LACMTA becomes quickly enamored with what ever captures their attention at the moment. As an example, the Montebello buses have had automatic announcement of their buses' destinations when the door is opened. I call this feature “DADO” (Destination Announcement on Door Open). This is a real service, not only to those whose vision is impaired, but to all who are unable to read the head sign destination –this is especially important when head signs are out of order, a not infrequent occurrence.

Several years ago, the LACMTA tried to implement the DADO system and now, it seems, to have quietly died. They could not rise to the challenge of making their system announce the true destination when: a bus was reused on another route, it would keep announcing the first route of the day; they couldn't even get it to announce properly on the return half of the same route.
Now, it appears to be dead while many other agencies, like Montebello, have the system working perfectly. Why? Is it: lack of initiative?, Lack of motivation?, Poor planning?, Sloppy execution?, No follow-up?, Atrocious management? OR all of the above?

The signage at the LAXCBC (LAX City Bus Center) has taken a stumbling step forward –one cheer for the Stops and Signs Group at the LACMTA. Where the percentage of correct schedule information posted for the Torrance Transit number 8 bus was ZERO, is has increased to 33% correct. A correct schedule is currently posted but, the TWO INCORRECT SCHEDULES, more than five (5) years out of date are still in place in the information kiosks. All are located in different places so, if one is lucky and searches the correct panel of the correct kiosk you will be informed. But, there is only one in six chance that you will be lucky , two in six chances that you will find an outdated schedule. The LACMTA will not give you any help in finding the correct schedule, there is no sign at the number 8 bus stop indicating where the schedule is posted. But, that is still better than what someone told me about the response (posted earlier) the BCT (Beach Cities Transit) received from the LACMTA, viz. “... the kiosks are not the proper place to post schedules". The LACMTA, obviously on a power trip, would rather deny another transportation organization any help at all than simplify the rider's commute. The instructions from the Taj Mahal about posting the number 8 schedule, likely were: “See that a correct schedule for the Torrance Transit number 8 bus is posted”. It's OK Metro guys, we won't call you perfect idiots. After all, we know that no one is perfect :-).

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

While are friends at the LACMTA are thinking deep inside the box, probably curled up in the fetal position, In Europe, according to The Economist(1), Guillaume Pepy of France's SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) rail system, is using to attract new customers, improve service and profitably while making train travel a pleasant experience. “A ticket from Paris to Marseilles now costs as little as €22 ($32)”.
If the LACMTA ran that segment it would probably cost $300 and take a week, with no weekend service. Of course, there are many differences between Europe and Los Angeles, but that is not a reason to quit trying! Or did the LACMTA ever start trying?

At first glance, it would seem that an article in U.S. News & World Report(2) would militate for public transit. The piece includes a table entitled “Bad Air” which list our home city at the top of the list (not a good thing) with 22.6 micro grams per cubic meter of fine particulate pollution. Enough to say that this is one and a half time the Federal standard of 15.0 micro grams per cubic meter.

However, unless a lot more of us surrender to the delights of public transportation, no mater where you are you will just spend time trapped in traffic in a bus breathing in these goodies, which are produced by combustion and plentiful on and near our roadways. Wearing a mask won't do any good because the filtering characteristics of easily available masks are course grained and will let these ultra fine particles pass through the filtering mechanism. After reading this article your Mole has more of a desire to move to Idaho than write about the noble work of LACMTA.

The New York Daily News(3) (http://www.nydailynews.com/) tells us about a hero who jumped down onto the tracks of the northbound No. 1 Line at the 116th Street Station and rescued a man who had fallen off the platform. The hero, Veeramuthu Kalimuthu, jumped over the live “deadly third rail” to make the rescue. Whether would-be rescuer who a citizen of Los Angeles could survive a rescue attempt is questionable. As your Mole has pointed out in the past ( http://lametromole.blogspot.com/2007_07_01_archive.html ) our LACMTA has not seen fit to place warning signs of the 750 volts present on the third rail in the subway stations. It is doubtful that most Los Angelenos could even identify the third rail.

The Argonaut(4) ( http://www.argonautnewspaper.com/ ) shows that the Metro riding public will only stand for so much service reduction cutting, it appears that they are mad as hell and won't take it any more. The piece also documents complaints about the planned reductions of the 115 Line. But for your Mole, there was humor. In talking abut what you Mole has termed “Moving fewer people faster” in his criticism of the Rapid lines, a Metro official, said “We're implementing six new Rapid lines this year”. As if was in some way compensation for those who will be left without a bus line or at best, diminished availability.

Buried deep within the Los Angeles Times this blurb(5), in describing the installation of turnstiles in the subway and at some light rail stations, says “... could save the [LAC]MTA as much a $7 million a year.” What does that “save” really mean? Does it mean that they are spending more than $7 with the present security arrangements? Or does it mean that the quoted 5% of fare cheats will now pay $7 million in fares? We are told that the installation will be performed over the next two years, wanna bet?, but not how much it will cost. A real weak effort which was too little too late from Zell's Times! They which declared P. Ditty to be Tupac's killer.

Unlike our gutless Times, The New York Daily News(6) doesn't hesitate to report on city managers. They report on their MTA manager's use of police officers as chauffeurs. “Elliot Sander - who pushed the subway and bus fare hikes that take effect Sunday - is chauffeured around the city by a police detective who made $70,000 in overtime last year, the Daily News has learned.”

Sounds like our own over-remunerated Snoble, doesn't it? But, does Mr. Sander also get a highly paid outside PR guy to prevent him putting his shoe in his mouth, which shoe hardly ever touches the floorboard of a bus or train, as I assume is the case with Snoble?

Ms Willow Duttge(7) does a nice job in presenting the interrelationship between corn, ethanol and food prices in the Condé Nast Portfolio (See: http://www.portfolio.com/ ). Your Mole has reported on this instance of unintended consequences before (2007-10-13). OEV (oil equivalent value), although not covered in this piece, is a term which can be used to describe pricing of alternative uses of the commodity corn. In short, the raw material will seek a use which offers the highest price and presently, for corn, that use is for ethanol. The article does a fantastic job of explaining why, e.g., chicken coat 6.5% more. The effect of articles like this is to pour freezing water on those who hope that ethanol will save us from a variety of transportation and energy related problems.

The Los Angeles Times echoes the ethanol/corn theme(8) and reports '... that a “corn shock” might not be far off –and it could lead to $5 gas and 43.50 eggs ...' The piece features some informative pie charts that show, e.g., the percentage of the corn crop devoted to ethanol jumped from 10.3% in 2002 to 24.7% last year.

Once again, the LACMTA's Marketing Department has again demonstrated, that when it comes to wasting money printing things, they are second to none. This time, again exposing the rail/bus dichotomy in it's thinking, they publish a “Metro Rail Pocket Guide” number 06-11821R. Although, there is lots of white space left in the publication, which a creative designer could have used to show bus lines which are available at a given subway/rail station. Instead they give us useless info such as, the number of miles of track (73) and direct us to their web site for bus information, which, is not so easy to find. You would first have to locate the “System Map” then enlarge it, then, you could find the rail/subway station and see bus lines serving a station on a station by station basis. Are we having fun yet? (see: http://www.metro.net/riding_metro/maps/system_map.pdf ).

Ear to the Rail

Regarding time and dates, please take a look at these sites.

For an interesting proposal regarding world time, GMT, UTC, Zulu and etc. See: http://www.internetnews.com/commentary/article.php/3734396/Is+it+Time+to+Globalize+Time.htm
For information on ISO dates, along with some insight as to why your Mole uses this method see: http://www.saqqara.demon.co.uk/datefmt.htm
Cosmological corner

For those who don’t have enough to worry about, the Australian magazine Cosmos http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/1878 provides a link to information about WR 104 which has the potential of ending life on earth, see also: http://www.physics.usyd.edu.au/~gekko/pinwheel.html

For an interesting view of a galaxy with a diameter that is about one half of our “Milky Way”. See: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap080308.html

The Mole Rides Again, so that you don't have to be concerned when the bus doesn't stop where the announcement says it will

This was the month to assist ladies from Australia. First there was, shall I call her Dulcinea Dos?, a young lady in the medical profession who I assisted (I hope) in finding a bus to Venice Beach.

Later, I provided relatively minor assistance to two Australian ladies, one of whom was involved in finance , who were headed to Disneyland –they had quite good directions from their hotel. We had an interesting discussion regarding the founding of Australia in the 18th Century, say 1788. We also discussed the fact that the USA was the preferred destination of English prisoners until our Revolution put a crimp in those plans and Austrailia was substituted. The crimes which would make one a candidate for a free ocean voyage we often very petty. For a nice summary of a book which your Mole has read, see http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/jun1999/fat-j25.shtml .

I met a techie, like me, at a bus stop. He had a Blackberry so I asked him about downloading bus schedules from www.Metro.net->Riding Metro->Timetables ... He was kind enough to demonstrate how his Blackberry displayed the download and the output of trip planner. There seems to be no free Adobe PDF reader for the Blackberry, so the output wasn't that great. However I found a third party PDF reader for the Blackberry which sells (rents?) for just under $20/YEAR! Adobe, get busy! Later I found out about www.metro.net/mobile --perhaps it does a better job displaying the schedules.

Right there, I did a roadside systems design for people with Blackberry or similar devices or possibly some cell phones. When one established communication with the metro web page it would read the GPS coordinates from your device and locate the nearest bus stops on both sides of the street, then provide you with the next three approximate times when buses would pass the stops in either direction. Now that is integration of technology. Will the LACMTA ever take on such a task, :-), I doubt it. Of course, my rough design will require lots more work. What if there were several stops within the area?, etc., etc., ... Anyway, if the LACMTA decides to do so, remember, you read it here first and I expect them to name it “MoleRoute” or some such honorific.

The 780 bus which is my ride this afternoon is rattling like a submarine which has seen too many depth charge attacks. I pull the signal cord when the ASA (Automatic Stop Announcement) says “ Hollywood and La Brea” but, the bus speeds by the intersection.
I ask the driver why we didn't stop. He replies, “It's not a 780 stop”. I follow-up, “Why is it announcing the stop”? His answer? “Oh, they never update those things”. Getting there is 50 basis point, i.e, half of one percent, of the fun :-).

Your Mole was out of town much of this month, as a result he did not ride much. What does seem constant is the number of fare boxes out of service –at this point we again think seamless integration of technology and insert a laugh track— the overall ratio at this point seems to be 1:5, that is one out of five fare boxes is out of service. I will start formalizing my monthly report as “Fare Box Score Box” and print the raw values as well as a ration. It will appear at this point, below is a sample based on actual numbers from a single day during the month of March 2008.
Fare Box Score Box
Rides 4*
Out of Order Fare Boxes 3
Ratio 3:4

*One was a Big Blue Bus
(1) Not cited “Face Value Mr High-speed Europe” The Economist Newspaper 23 Feb. 2008:85

(2) Volland, Adam “The Smallest Pollutants Are Linked to Outsize Health Risks” U.S. News & World Report 10 Mar. 2008:53

(3) Pesce, Nicole Lyn “Subway here races 1 train, saves life” New York Daily News 20 Mar. 2008:na

(4) Walker, Gary “Plan to eliminate Metro bus 108 through Marina area draws public criticism” The Argonaut 6 Mar. 2008:4

(5) Hymon, Steve “Train stations to get turnstiles” Los Angeles Times 29 Feb. 2008:B4

(6) Donohue, Pete “He drove fare hikes, but MTA boss is driven by cop on overtime” New York Daily News 2 Mar. 2008:na

(7) Duttge, Willow “The Ethanol-Industrial Complex” Condé Nast Portfolio Nov. 2007:56

(8) Hirsch, Jerry “Corn is king –and therefore a growing problem” Los Angeles Times 2 Mar 2008:A1

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