America's Least Communicative

This picture♪ shows the ticket sales area at the 7th/Metro Station. Note that minimal information is available to the potential passenger. Well, there is a nice big map, but, in order to make sense out of it one would have to have excellent eyesight (I believe that the type size just below the one used is Braille) and a very good idea of how the LACMTA “system” is laid out. Or, someone there to explain how to use the “system”. If you are a visitor –forget it! There is no usable map or fare explanation. Here it is better to show an example of effective communication in transportation and as usual with your Mole, he will use Japan as an example.

Here is a nice picture of the typical situation found in a Japanese subway or rail station.


First, read this description then open the picture. Then note the level of the lighting, i.e., bright, not the gloomy situation depicted in Los Angeles, above. Also, although the schematic map above the ticket machines is not in English, you can still understand that one can plan a route using the map, including the use of transfer points to different lines. On the schematic map, each station has the fare inscribed above the station name, the amount that is required to travel from “this station” (read point of origin). On the map, you can see “this station” denoted by the red arrow indicating “you are here”, in this case “Yokohama”. Oh, and the head which is protruding from the panel is simply a support person who will respond to a bell if a coin jams, etc.

This is what we should have here, but because the LACMTA has a build then design philosophy and since the builders were ignorant of best practices, this ignorance then became their legacy to the “maintainers”.

Last month I discussed the poor communications job which the LACMTA does informing their ridership about subway/rail ticket limitation. Here I take another look at the red/purple line interface between Union Station and Wilshire/Vermont. If you should change trains to one with a different destination you would be in violation of the one ticket one train policy. This is technically s loophole in the LACMTA's plan and one which they have not yet addressed. You're surprised??

The LACMTA's web site offers PDF (Adobe's portable data format) schedules for the various routes. Exemplifying the agency's inability to think outside the box, these schedules are basically the same as the printed schedules. There is no reason to be limited to that format, by being so limited, they miss the opportunity to extend the information to passengers and prospective passengers. I suggest the the PDF files include a complete list of all stops on the route along with a list of the ASA (Automatic Stop Announcement) text if such announcements are made on the subject line. N.B. These two items are frequently not identical. Further, the print schedules should include a symbol or the letters ASA if ASA is available on board.

In the same area, I believe that every bus should have a large poster of the same information the I suggest for the PDA files: map; list of all stops; ASA and etc. That way, and this is the case two weeks after the 2007-12-16 scramble of routes, few printed schedules are available on board buses, passengers could better plot their trip.

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

My criticism has often extended to the Los Angeles Times for what I consider weak coverage which is totally lacking an analysis of the $3 billion per annum mess called the LACMTA. But, after reading an excellent piece(1) in the New Yorker, the Times, at least the Times employees have my sympathy. The article paints a not very flattering portrait of Sam Zell, the $6 billion real estate dealer from Chicago, who now owns the Tribune Company and its wholly owned subsidiary, the Los Angeles Times. Do check out this eminently readable, lengthy article as it has a wealth of well researched detail. I will simply say two things: (A.) Zell specializes in paying the absolute minimum corporate income taxes –which is not a crime, usually and (B.) the Tribune Company purchased the Times in 2000 for about $8 billion in stock, which is about the same amount, if not mode of payment, as Zell will pay for the Tribune Company. Which purchase involves the Tribune Company becoming a sub-chapter S corporation (fewer interventions by our pesky government, no doubt) and taking on lots of new debt –$13 billion. The employees, in an interesting application of an ESOP (Employee Stockholder Ownership Plan) become the owners of the corporation, this may not be as nice for the employees as it sounds. Rupert Murdock is another tough businessman who owns newspapers. The difference between he and Zell is that Murdock has long experience with newspapers and is essentially a newspaperman, Zell does not –is not.

The Los Angeles Times(2), opinion page features a piece critical of the LACMTA for building light rail. I found it interesting in that one reading, since the writing was BUS centric and the writers seemed to think of a transportation SYSTEM in which BOTH BUSES and LIGHT RAIL play a role, is that this is a proposal for a proposal. One of the authors is identified as a 'Transportation Consultant”. They could work for either side, the BRU (Bus Riders Union) in support of their ridiculous buses only, ignore all other options approach OR be co-opted by the LACMTA, for perhaps an even higher fee, to remove them as a possible thorn in the LACMTA's side. Supporting your Mole's thinking is a large (taking more space than the text) picture which makes it a full page article, of a BRU fare protest. The protesters are identified NOT as BRU members or those organized by the BRU but, simply as “A crowd of bus riders”. Please read the opinion and draw your own conclusion. As for your Mole, he remains skeptical.

In contrast to the professional article above, a Times(3) columnist, features the ideas of amateurs on how to fix L.A. Public transportation. This is a lot less costly than actually performing a study of the situation and formulating a solution. Although I believe in generating ideas by brain storming, Nothing I read in this piece can be considered better than replacing the present LACMTA and replacing it with a professional organization. I will mention just one of the ideas contributed to this piece. It was the suggestion to use flood channels as the route for transportation. This is not necessarily a bad idea, it is just that it is extremely unlikely that the flood channel routes are a corridor that provides a sources of traffic –or destinations for that matter.

In another opinion piece(4) the Times prints various ideas for transportation. Again, I don't want to identify any of the ideas as bad, per se, but none of them seem to originate with true transportation professionals. The lead opinion writer is a writer for the Simpsons! An “organizer” for the BRU (Bus Riders Union), you remember them all buses and only buses seems to be their motto, asks for “reliable 24/7 service and a bus every five minutes”. He demonstrates a misunderstanding of basic economics and apparently feels that there are to few mostly empty buses now.

The three articles cited above clearly demonstrate what is wrong with the Los Angeles Times coverage of the LACMTA. They count these columns and opinions as if it were coverage. I will give them this, it does yield the most words for the lowest cost. In reality, what the Times gives us is NOT coverage. Nothing can replace a knowledgeable beat reporter!

The Los Angeles Times(5) shows that the LACMTA is equally inept in public transportation and its' administration of freeways, or should I say its' attempt to convert freeways to tollways.

We can read about the complaints(6) of those whose businesses are adversely affected by the Gold Line extension construction. Not one word appeared challenging whether the Gold Line extension is the best use of transportation funds, i.e., will there really be an adequate return on the capital investment? It East L.A. Really a source and destination of passengers in numbers not found in other areas. Because of the lack of transparency tremendous secrecy surrounding LACMTA and the details of how they spend their current $3 BILLION budget, we will never know. The Los Angeles Times weak coverage certainly isn't any help either.

Featured in the Daily News(7) is the “good news” that legislation holding promise for funding for the subway to the sea, vis., the Red Line extension to Santa Monica. The bad news is twofold: I. Iraq funding is also include in the bill, for which no Senate number was provided and II. With the current economic conditions which prevail in our country, I wonder if L.A.'s transportation desires will rate very high. We have the sub-prime mortgage problems along with the attendant SIV (structured Investment Vehicle) problems –SIVs were supposed to be a method by which the risk was spread but, now seems to be failing, along with organizations like MGIC (Mortgage Guarantee Insurance Corporation) and others who don't have the funds to pay off on the “guarantee”. Not to mention the fears of a general recession. In other words don't hold your breath.

On the afternoon of Christmas day I viewed a CNBC special(8), part of which was devoted to UPS. UPS is an organization that truly can be considered on of America's Best. The organization uses scientific methods, and a large compliment of Industrial Engineers,in its management. Just a few examples: drivers are taught to fasten their seat belts while starting their trucks; left turns are eliminated wherever possible.

Ear to the Rail

Those of you who have an interest in improving your understanding aspects of ... iTunes©, <http://www.itunes.com/> allows the free downloading of some education related podcasts of university lectures and etc. You will need to download the iTunes software, but the files will play on most regular MP3 players, i.e., an iPod is not required.

Here is a link to the CSPAN podcast area, which I found very informing. If it is available listen to the presentation by Amy Chua, a Law professor at Yale, who has written several books. In this broadcast she discusses her latest, “Day of Empire” http://www.c-span.org/podcast/ .

Cosmology Corner

WBAI , , New York City or KPFA <http://www.kpfa.org/>, Berkley, both Pacifica stations broadcast Dr. Michio Kaku's “Explorations” <http://www.mkaku.org/> . Here is a great program featuring Dr, Kaku and the famous Brian Greene talking about string theory http://www.kpfa.org/archives/index.php?arch=22800 .

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) has a series called “Quirks & Quarks” <http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/>. Click on the link and use the site search function to find things which interest you.

The Mole Rides Again, so that you don't have to decrypt recorded announcements.
LAWA LAX Shuttle: Communication is a fragile thing. I listen to the recorded announcement: “This bus serves all [departure level] terminals on your return to LAX wait for the shuttle at the Blue signs on the arrivals level”. Of course what they want to say is: “This bus serves all departure level terminals. When you return to LAX, wait for the shuttle to the parking area at the Blue signs on the arrivals level”.

I watch a crowded articulated (double) 115 line bus head east on Manchester. Did the LACMTA read the Mole's posting of 2007-12-15 ? No, more likely the bus driver misread his bus number and drove this bus out of the lot.

A driver has an additional patch below his operator number on his right sleeve. It is bright and says “Named America's Best” --they are still trying to get mileage out of the 2006~2007 event. I want them to add another patch below the “named”one. It will say: “But not by its' riders!”.
Foothill Transit is another company who identifies its' drivers by operator number on the scrolling light panel on board this 787 line bus. I am reminded of this fact when riding on a Culver City bus, line 6, number 7060, which for some reason has an inoperative scrolling display.

I ride a 790 line bus up Wilshire. A elderly woman has mistaken this bus for a 720. The 790 is an express from Santa Monica to Westwood. The driver refuses to drop the woman at 14th Street –-she is apparently head for a hospital near there and is forced to ride all the way to Westwood. This is yet another example of drivers on a “power trip”. This is in spite of the fact that traffic is terrible and we crawl up Wilshire with lots of forced stops.

On another line, another driver complains that the passenger had signaled too vigorously from the bus stop. He answers “I had too, the bus ahead of you passed me by and I'm late for work”. The driver: “You don't have to do nothin'”. No extra charge for the [bad] attitude OR for the lack of supervision of the drivers.

The photo above underscores a philosophical difference between other transportation organizations and the LACMTA. It is a matter of “Mission Statement”. I don't know if organizations like Culver City Bus and Big Blue Bus have formal written mission statements or not but I can tell that both define themselves as being in the transportation business, while the LACMTA, if they have given any thought to the matter at all, they would be inclined to identifying themselves a being in the bus/rail business. How can a photo tell me that? Without context it can't so here is the context. All lines were forced to give up the bus stop on Sepulveda BL just south of Manchester, then the one on Sepulveda BL just south of La Tijera BL due to the widening of Sepulveda BL in the area. Another reason to admire Culver City Bus is that they
kept the transfer system, meaning that one can actually travel from point A to point B for a single fare. Unlike the LACMTA and Big Blue Bus who seem to want to squeeze the last penny out of their riders, many of whom don't have a choice of transportation modes, BUS is it!

Big Blue Bus was able to keep their stop on Manchester, just west of Sepulveda so there was no big problem for them at first. Culver City of their own volition, knowing that many people transfer at Manchester and wanting to continue to provide service to their riders, established the stop pictured above. Doing so prevents the three long, perhaps four regular balk walk, including at least two busy street crossings back to Manchester, which the LACMTA inflicts on its' passengers.

Above we can see the the bus stop at Sepulveda just south of La Tijera. Note the succinct Big Blue Bus sign. Above it is the LACMTA sign –yes I know, I haven't show all of it. It doesn't make any difference because they stopped writing in mid-word when they ran out of space –sort of like those “P l a n A h e a” posters that are presented as a joke, SEE: http://www1.istockphoto.com/file_thumbview_approve/1330478/2/istockphoto_1330478_plan_ahead.jpg.

At the same stop we can see (above) how clearly Culver City Bus communicates.

The ASA (Automated Stop Announcement) system aboard metro buses, manifesting true LACMTA inflexibility, continue to announce stops at Sepulveda & Manchester BL and Sepulveda & La Tijera BL, leaving riders pulling the stop cord and wondering what is wrong.

In closing we can't forget that Torrance Transit now holds the record for for the most useless information available because of its' two 2003 schedules, now long out of date, posted in
the LAXCBC (LAX City Bus Center) one of which is shown above. Torrance Transit also holds the record for lack of observational skills, in that their stop is numbered “12”, actually one of two number 12s, when it should logically be number “3”. Then again, they may have simply given up fighting that black hole of inactivity, the LACMTA's “Stops and Signs” group.

Also, we must not forget to recognize the LACMTA for their New Year's “More for Less” gift. They informed us that our monthly passes would no longer be accepted on LDOT Dash in downtown L. A. nor would they be good on LDOT Computer Express Lines. Oh, there is no reason to say “thank you” to them, however I would recommend saluting them, a single finger will suffice. Perhaps you will choose your index finger for the salute, you know, conveying the idea that they are number one. Or, since it is your choice, you might use another digit :-).

(1) Bruck, Connie “Rough Rider” The New Yorker 12 Nov. 2007:p52

(2) Moore, James and Rubin, Tom “Train wreck” Los Angeles Times 13 Jan. 2008:M5

(3) Lazarus, David, “Southland transit in need of big ideas” Los Angeles Times 9 Dec. 2007:C1

(4) Selman, Matt, et. al. “How to get from here to there” Los Angeles Times 27 Dec. 2007:A19

(5) Lin II, Rong-Gong and Harmon, Steve “Carpoolers'free ride may be over” Los Angeles Times 14 Dec. 2007:B1

(6) Renaud, Jean-Paul “Gold Line construction isn't golden for some merchants in East L.A.” Los Angeles Times 27 Dec. 2007:B1

(7) Friedman, Lisa “Millions for Southland projects” Daily News 19 Dec. 2007:A1

(8) Use search feature at http://www.cnbc.co/

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