Welcome Message to Mr. Art Leahy, LACMTA CEO

Required! Truth in Advertising

Last month I said: A Welcome Message to Mr. Art Leahy, along with some suggestions – one longish one right now: Mr. Leahy, please freeze all changes scheduled for June 2009 AND institute a two pronged program, one to collect first hand usage statistics rather than depending on the time wasting, ineffective, poorly sited and scheduled “feedback meetings”, the other to get your “marketing department” off their FAT chairs to sell services, BEFORE canceling or reducing service. They should form a flying team and get out to neighborhoods, libraries and etc., in order to make presentations on what is available and take comments. Many people work and find it impossible to attend the “feedback meetings”, others do not really understand how things linkup, in other cases they don’t linkup at all. Above all, think TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM not buses and trains.

Mr. Art Leahy, welcome to your new position at the LACMTA/Metro! I wish you every success in turning the present dysfunctional organisation into one which will provide the kind of mass transit system which Los Angeles needs and deserves.

Much is being made of the fact that you were once an RTD (Rapid Transit District) bus driver. Personally, I have a difficult time understanding why that is related, other than tangentially, to your present job, any more than someone having worked as an airline baggage handler would be qualified as an airline president.

That said, Mr. Leahy, I am not hopeful. It is said by some, that the past is the best predictor of the future. On that basis, I find that the door which closed behind you at Orange County Transit (OCT) had barely stopped reverberating(0), when OCT announced dramatic cuts in service levels and fare increases. Therein sir, lies your legacy.

Too, the structure, which you now head, can best be described as a Byzantine organisation. It has, at least, two main irreconcilable constituencies –Metro “system” passengers and automobile drivers. In the past this Mole has suggested –without success– that the structure be split along those lines, i.e., Mass Transit and Highways, with executive responsibility divided as well, both reporting to a common executive who reports to the the LACMTA board. Further suggestions, that the agency be: a) depoliticised and b) professionalised by adding industrial engineers and credentialed transportation professionals to the staff.

My open letter to Mayor Villraigosa (2006-09-17, included below) documents another of your challenges, perhaps an insurmountable one, viz., the fact that politics permeates the structure and organisation of the LACMTA. If a camel is a horse built by a committee, then our present mass transportations “system”, is one built by a political committee with diverse, often irreconcilable, aims and agendas.


An open letter to the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa, regarding our local transportation system.

Dear Mayor Villaraigosa:

I am respectively writing this appeal to you in order to request that you take action to address both the dysfunctional LACMTA and to institute a non-political LAC transportation commission to oversee the Metro system.

My rational for this request is outlined below:

As presently constituted, the LACMTA board and management is insensitive to the needs of the users of the Metro system;

Mr. Snoble, has demonstrated, publicly, his lack of fitness and lack of leadership for his position. Including, but not limited to, wanting to eliminate security as a cost saving measure:

Planning for system additions, if it can be called that, is piecemeal, irrational and lacks comprehensiveness. As examples, the expensive, unnecessary and dangerous (it is a grade level fixed rail link) “Expo Line”, the Gold Line Extension which initiated construction BEFORE obtaining firm right-of-way and cost agreements and the “new idea” for “trolley cars” citing San Francisco as a model;

The LACMTA wastes money on things like the money losing “Metro Store”, on board TransitTV which is annoying to riders while offering little hope for the promised income, automatic announcements of bus destinations, triggered by the bus door opening at stops, which seem to be incorrect 75 percent of the time, thereby failing their intended population – those with vision challenges. At the same the LACMTA fails to use technology to solicit ridership feedback about planned route and schedule changes, depending instead on 19th century meetings, which are designed by virtue of location and timing to ensure low attendance by the system users. Readers of my blog at http://LaMetroMole.BlogSpot.com are familiar with a long list of complaints , e.g., the costly line 232 backtracking and others, regarding the LACMTA, some of which have been reported to, and ignored by the present LACMTA.

Therefore, I request that you constitute a new transportation board, comprised of transportation professionals, not politicians. I further request that a staff group, again, comprised of transportation professionals, be established to oversee ALL Metro system planning. This group will report to the new board with their recommendations for system changes which are: rational, comprehensive and supported by a detailed cost-benefit analysis.

It is my firm belief, that implementing my suggestions will result in a system which is better suited to the needs of the city of Los Angeles and to Los Angeles County as well.

Respectfully submitted “

Good luck with the present board and don't hold your breath while you wait for politicians to either i. relinquish power or ii. act rationally for the benefit of the general public. I am sure that your experience in Orange County has made you aware of the political dimension of mass transportation.

Here are my specific, if unsolicited, recommendations in addition to the ones repeated at the top of this posting, for you.

Assign a staff member to read this Mole's blog. Someone in Snoble's administration was reading it. I could tell by the fact that the simple to fix embarrassing mistakes of the agency were often quickly (for Metro) set right. There are more subtle, for Metro staff, issues which have not been addressed.

Decide that passengers and pedestrians and others need to know who is driving these monstrous Metro buses. Therefore, cause the onboard display software to be modified so that the headsign and inside display shows the operator number. One can almost guarantee that, as a result, drivers will improve and complaints will drop.

Consider quickly establishing an Industrial Engineering Group. You can pay them by use the funds freed-up in firing most of the PR/Marketing Department people and especially Snoble's personal high-priced PR consultant. I have heard you speak and I know you don't need that guy as a shield. You will also find that by using technology in place of people as a supervisory control, you will end up with over staffing at the supervisory level –here think about the necessity for the ten (9) supervisors hired by Snoble to ensure on-time bus service. I know that you are already using the GPS and other feedback available from the on-board systems. Industrial engineers can greatly assist in this area, you know, actually doing something instead of writing about how great things are as the present PR/Marketing Department does. Nothing against USC, but Purdue educated industrial engineers should definitely be considered.

Maintenance, a word you will find is poorly understood by your organisation, must be improved.

The “system” is characterized by filth. A photograph, from a past report depicts a dead pigeon on Blue Line tracks at the juncture of the Green Line and Blue Line –I won't give you the names of the two stations, there are so many of them. This is one of the reasons that makes explaining the “system” to new users so difficult. Sadly, the dead pigeon, much decomposed, is still there today. This is hardly the work of a group the pridefully considers themselves to be “Americas Best” (another mistake to be rectified (see the lead photograph above).

Another photograph from the past, shows broken cable supports at the Green Line Aviation Station, since repaired. Now, there is new similar damage at Aviation Station, although in a different location.

Other photographs illustrate the sub-standard work done by the contractors at the Douglas-Rosecrans Green Line Station. Which leads me into a discussion of the Metro contracting process. Which process has left us with poorly joined rails and much of the metal left unpainted, again problems at –but not limited to– the Douglas-Rosecrans Green Line Station.

Not to be forgotten is the lack of deployed trash bags on most buses and the filthy bus stops, pictures of which also appear in this blog.

Drivers contribute to litter too. Almost ever week I see drivers toss something out the window of their moving bus or an often still burning cigarette into the gutter at the LAX City Bus Center and other places where the drivers take breaks.

It would be nice and healthy too, to eliminate smoking at all bus stops.

Each month, I show problems with head and tail sign disagreement, indicated by “Numbers of Buses whose Head and Tail signs disagree:” at the end of the posting.

Assign the 800-commute group the responsibility to randomly, say, one call out of ten, use the presently semi-useless “Trip Planner” to handle calls. Problems, and I am confidant that problems will be experienced, can then be passed on to your IT, department for an attempt at resolution.

Mr. Leahy, do you really want you maintenance group, assuming that there is one, to develop their task list from my postings?

Unfathomable to su Topo, is why taxpayers should have to pay for, but not limited to, the following: rebuilding the Orange Line road base which evidently was poorly constructed; repairing the Gold Line structural concrete which was allegedly built the same contractor who worked on the Boston “Big Dig” tunnel that partially collapsed and killed a woman; any other failures to perform on the part of LACMTA contractors.

Please understand that although the Rapid Bus system looks good on paper, it bypasses many riders forcing them, to transfer multiple times,unnecessarily and increases their commute times.

Rethink the Rapid system and drop lines that are not productive, the 715 comes to mind although there are others, re-instituting lines like the 315 of the past. If you don't want to do this than accept your Mole's description of the Rapid lines, “Moving Fewer Faster” and paint it on all Rapid buses.

Your legal group, needs to have a fire ignited under them. Some one or some group is defacing buses with “whois” bumper stickers. This person, person(s) or group can be quickly and easily located and should be charged with the same crime(s) as those (mostly) young men who “tag” Metro property. For sometime now, I have been listing buses so defaced at the end of the posting (vide infra),See ”Numbers of Buses Defaced by WhoIs stickers:” ) But, of course, under Snoble no action was taken. Defense attorneys for “taggers” could claim selective enforcement of the law and might find a receptive ear and support in the courts. So, someone should get off their fat chair and bring Mr. Whois to a screeching halt, I challenge you to do this before the end of May 2009.

Mr. Leahy, you will have to extract an action plan from the details below, by yourself.

Snoble's legacy. Talk about a customer de-centric organization? The LACMTA no longer sells Day Pass Tap Cards (DPTCs) aboard Metro buses, neither are DPTCs available, as someone with the most basic system of logic would expect, from the rail/subway station vending machines. Instead, paper Day Passes are, at the time of this writing, still available from the rail/subway station machines. I recently rode a bus whose fare box had a neatly printed, if ungrammatical note taped to it, “… M.T.A. no longer sale [sic] TAP cards. …”. This situation forces people who would ordinarily benefit from the use of a Day Pass, to make unnecessary trips to outside vendors, if they can find them, in order to purchase a DPTC from a vendor.

Searching the “vendor directory” at http://www.metro.net/riding_metro/pass_token/SalesLocations.asp and selecting 90045 as the zip code argument resulted in this message: “ADODB.Recordset error '800a0bcd'
Either BOF or EOF is True, or the current record has been deleted. Requested operation requires a current record.
/riding_metro/pass_token/locations_zip.asp, line 13”

All this is brought to you from the people who gave you the “Trip Spoiler”. Your Mole’s term for the software which Metro refers to as the “Trip Planner”.

It is this Mole's assessment that the TAP system, with its' high overhead costs, will actually decrease “system” earnings. That is, given the same ridership after a full year of use, net revenue from fares will decrease year-over-year. My estimate factors-in the fact that by not having DPTC onboard they will collect individual fares and generate more revenue then that earned by selling day passes. This is a easy prediction to make as the cost of paper transfers was pennies, with virtually no additional costs, other than some shrinkage due to the few, perhaps only one, driver who sold passes off-the-books. Although as a Systems/Industrial Engineer, I like the TAP system technology, in this case I believe that ibm (it's better manually). What was needed was a better driver end-of-shift accounting which under Snoble, gave too many a headache. Something no more complicated then what is used by the concessionaires to control their vendors at Dodger Stadium.

As usual, the LACMTA doesn’t disappoint, that is, if one’s expectations are even slightly high. The current Day Pass status is a result of the LACMTA’s nescience and their consequent ephemeral planning.

Well, Mr. Leahy, this is probably not the welcome which you were expecting but I hope that you find my comments germane and actionable. If we should pass each other at the Taj Mahal, I will suppress my desire to smile .

The feedback on Leahy so far, from my sources: Apparently, Leahy will judge drivers by early/late route performance. Just what we need drivers who feel hassled! He is strict on the uniform “dress code”. There are also reports of staff nervousness, especially on the part of those who left Leahy's administration at OCT, now there is an expectation that at least some of those "heads will roll” –All feedback in this paragraph was provided by Metro sources.

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

A Times piece(1) details the background of Mr. Art Leahy.

Another Times article(2), which this Mole read as a further indictment of Solow, shows exactly how Rip van Winkle like Solow was during most of his tenure. I am not sure that, at this juncture, he is yet fully awake.

Proving that Metro employees are not alone in having criminals among their midst, The Argonaut reports(3) on the arrest of three Big Blue Bus employees. They were somehow making money out of the city’s Rideshare program. Leahy, take note. When I tossed an expired pass into a trash can very near the Taj Mahal, someone was quick to retrieve it and asked if I had any more. I said “No”, and the person told me that her “friend” could submit them as proof of using Metro and get a refund. Perhaps the TAP system will have better control –but I would not count on it.

The LA Weekly in reporting the provision of rail cars for the LACMTA, says(4) “… Snoble sought a transparent approach that allowed even the snafu-riddled Italian firm [Ansaldobreda] to bid on the taxpayer-financed project, but now it would be forced to face healthy competition”. La Taupe was near shock to read the words “transparent” and “Snoble” in the same sentence, in fact your Mole would have bet that such a sentence couldn’t be constructed. This about a guy whose organisation spent about one million dollars ($1,000,000) or the equivalent of eight hundred thousand (800,000) full fares in order to propagandize us in favor of measure R. What is no surprise is that the process is termed in the report “a political procurement”. This article represents great work by Ms Barrett.

A Times account(5) on Metrolink plans, attributes the need for a fare increase to offset “… rising labor and maintenance costs”. There are several line items in the Metrolink budget which could and should be slashed, to offset rising costs –Solow’s $220,000 plus annual salary, and the lines for his perks and expenses.

Another Snoble legacy, the ill-conceived and poorly planed “Expo Line” is covered by both the Santa Monica Mirror and the Times.

Typical of the Snoble era, the LACMTA’s “Do then Plan” approach to life has resulted in a situation, like that which we saw in the case of the Gold Line/ Ramona Opportunity High School, which would cause an onset of déjà vu in normal people. In this case we have conflict which should have been prevented by better planning for a rail maintenance facility [covered in (6) and (7) and the routing of Phase 2 of the “Expo Line”(8).

In a brochure, the LACMTA asks(9) us to help stop vandalism. This is quite a demonstration of nerve from an agency which freely allows its’ buses to be defaced with “Whois” bumper stickers (vide supra). These items allow anyone, whose IQ is equal to or greater than his body temperature, to identify and find the culprit(s). This crime has been allowed for years. (See Your legal group, above).

Ear to the Rail

Your Mole loves music, including classical music. His number one radio source for it is KUSC (91.5FM) www.kusc.org. On which station he recently heard Emmanuel Chabrier’s (1841-1894) excellent Pastoral Suite performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under the direction of John Eliot Gardiner and from the DG 447751 recording.
You can download a Chabrier sample at http://www.kara dar.com/Mp3composer/SearchAutore.asp?Autore=Chabrier and of course hear more complete works on KUSC.
The Saturday before Easter, Su Topo woke up early enough to hear the beginning of “Alma del Bario” at 6AM on KXLU (88.9FM) www.kxlu.org. The announcer, was a lady who, enunciated beautiful, clear Spanish.

Cosmological Corner
Using 100,000LY (light years) as the diameter of our Milky Way galaxy Google told me that the circumference was: “pi * 100 000” = 314,159.265LY. Dividing that value by a nominal 100 year human life span yields 3,141.59265. In other words, 3,141 human life spans (at 100 years) would be required for light to make one circuit of our galaxy. Please note, this is based upon last year’s size –currently the galaxy is thought to be up to twice as large.
One galactic revolution takes 225,000,000 years! (See: http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/milkyway.php) Expressing this in human live spans (225,000,000/100) results in 2,250,000 which enable us to express a human live span in terms of fractional galactic revolutions, i.e., 4.44444444 × 10-9 i.e.,[.00000000444444444], a small fraction, isn’t it? Nota bene, the galactic revolution cited above my be incorrect, as la Taupe posted earlier our Milky Way galaxy is thought to be larger than previously thought. The effect is to make the human live span a smaller fraction of the rotation, sorry .
The Technology section of BrandX explains(10) how Johns Hopkins University (The link for the university is http://www.jhu.edu/ ) researchers search for hydrogen cyanide, which is a “compound basic to DNA”, as indication of extra terrestrial life.

The Mole Rides Again so that you don't have to watch passengers litter the buses, trains and stations

2009-04-03: At 9:50 I am aboard a 439 Line bus, number 6412 driven by operator 460(?) (something is wrong with his I.D. number, but three digits are all that he has on the badge). Here is yet another reason why the operator's I.D. number should be displayed inside the bus on the scrolling informational sign and outside the bus on the headsign. This driver is carrying on a non-stop conversation with a woman who is seated at the extreme front of the bus on the right side. The conversation is carried on in a fairly low tone, unlike some of the on-board conversations which have assaulted my ears. They are dissecting someone's personality and the woman offers some personal insight “... I'm not confrontational ... “. The conversation moves on “... hit the Lotto ...”. Another woman, this one a bottle and can collector, the noises made by her collectibles giving her away, boards. A man slowly presses the keys on his cell phone [... beep ... ... beep ....] and then demonstrates that it possible to use many words in a conversation while simultaneously reducing the information load of each word. A five minute conversation reduces to: “I'll see you in Pasadena”.

2009-04-05: Bus number 11047, a 232 Line Bus to LAXCBC (LAX City Bus Center). We "pass" a red light at Century BL and Sepulveda headed north at about 16:20. The driver #71590, with First Transit, is engaged in a lengthy conversation with a passenger who is standing in front of the yellow line, in the forbidden area.

2009-04-19: Bus number 9382, a 704 Line Bus to Santa Monica. This bus should be given a rest so that mechanics could give it a thorough going-over and tighten up everything which is loose and rattling loudly. A woman, on her cell phone, is berating her mother about something. Then, it's: “... hold on, I've got another call ...”. Perhaps it would be better if the mechanics rode along so that they could more quickly find and fix the problems. She is back on the cell, she is apparently someone who, instead of carefully thinking out her plans, prefers to start an endless cycle of calls letting each call fill-in part of the plan and then re-calling all those affected. So far today this has required several iterations.

On board bus number 6577: The third set of seats on the right side have been “repaired". The outer seat top has been repaired with wide transparent tape, apparently to attach the sear back to the frame -- a "Metro fix", at least it's not duct tape .

At the LAXCBC, there is a garbled side-sign on one of the well-kept secret and poorly routed 626 line mini-buses. Vor is at work "cleaning" the LAXCBC. Su Topo believes that Vor is ineducable, well, not completely, as he has hidden his name badge. Unbelievably, he is transferring the contents of a large semi-stationery trash, can one item at a time, using his "grabber" device, to his mobile trash can. They seem to have taught him to sweep up the cigarette butts from between the inter-slab cracks, yet he leaves lots of detritus around the base of the palm trees.

On a westbound 117 a man confined to a wheelchair engages two younger men in conversation: "How many of our presidents are not buried in the U.S.?” ... and on and on. Another wheelchair passenger disposes of his candy wrapper by dropping it to the floor. (Yet another point in favour of deploying trash containers aboard buses –IF the passengers use them.

On 2009-04-17 around 14:30, as we left the LAXCBC aboard bus number 6426, the operator whose number is unknown because she is wearing a short sleeved blue knit shirt without an I.D. patch, made a rolling “stop” over the crosswalk with the clearly marked STOP sign.

Did la Taupe see this correctly? Bus number 5367 painted blue and silver??

2009-04-24: As I ride this morning, I notice an Oriental woman, and although women's fashions usually are of little interest to this Mole, in this case her multi-coloured, layered effect is glaringly "anti- fashionista". She wears: a Burberry "type" jacket; under which is a long green T-shirt; then an orange T-shirt; then, an once white T-shirt.

Next to her is seated a woman with a persistent cough –which, when I see her light up after exiting the bus an take short deep puffs, turns out to be cigarette induced.

Many of Metro's passengers come from our lower socio-economic classes, who, unfortunately, think that they will escape cancer and other diseases caused or exacerbated by tobacco, by having "good luck".

2009-04-24, in the early afternoon I am aboard a 704 Line bus, bus number 18382, the driver of which seems unable to consistently pull up to the curb in order to pick up passengers. I couldn’t see the drivers I.D. badge, which is just another point in favour of scrolling the drivers I.D. inside AND outside the bus.

Dedicated to the Dulcinea of my dreams
Her name is Dulcinea; her country El Toboso, a village in La Mancha; her degree at least that of Princess, for she is my Queen and mistress; her beauty superhuman, for in her are realized all the impossible and chimerical attributes of beauty which poets give to their ladies.
Miguel De Cervantes (1547-1616), Don Quixote, (1605)

Fare Box Score Box

Bus numbers of buses with Out of Order Fare Boxes: 7172; 6309; 6322; 5169; 5163; 5069: 5097;
Note: Few entries above do not necessarily mean more working fare boxes.
Numbers of Buses Defaced by WhoIs stickers: 5113+UR; 5221+UR; 8052+UR
+UR = whois sticker and the ugly residue left after passengers partly remove the sticker.
Numbers of Buses whose Head and Tail signs disagree: 6439—42/blank;

(0) Abdollah , Tami “Orange County to cut more bus services”. Los Angeles Times. 10 march 2009: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/orange/la-me-oc-bus-cuts10-2009mar10,0,530085.story Accessed 2009-04-28

(1 ) Harmon, Steve “Former bus driver new MTA chief in L.A. County”. Los Angeles Times. 6 march 2009: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-leahy6-2009mar06,0,7510085.story Accessed 2009-04-25

(2) Lopez, Robert J. and Weikel, Dan. “Federal inquiry finds rail oversight woefully inadequate”. Los Angeles Times. 4 march 2009: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-metrolink-hearing5-2009mar05,0,1147588.story?track=rss , accessed 2009-04-25

(3) N/A. “Three Big Blue Bus employees arrested for theft after city audit of Rideshare program”. The Argonaut.23 Apr. 2009:p6


(5) Weikel, Dan. “Metrolink considers 5.5% fare increase”. Los Angeles Times. 3 Apr 2009:A8
(6) Heineman, Hannah. “Light Rail Maintenance Yard Site Proposal Draws Fire”. Santa Monica Mirror. 9~15 Apr. 2009:p2

(7) Groves, Martha. “Rail yard idea sparks alarm at arts center”. Los Angeles Times. 26 Mar. 2009:A5

(8) Groves, Martha. “Expo rail board prefers direct path”. Los Angeles Times. 4 Apr. 2009:A7
(9) N/A. “Help stop vandalism”. LACMTA brochure 09-1424TR. © 2009.

(10) Johnson, John Jr. “Life, actually?”. BrandX. 22 Apr. 2009:p16

Su Topo’s Disclaimer and apologia
I try to write an easy-on-the-eyes page using text input. Blogger.com, however, has other ideas and will often not stay with a single font type or point size, produces extraneous spacing and etc. I wish I had time to debug the html which they produce, it is NOT the straight text which I pasted into the form, but I don’t. Therefore, I apologize on behalf of Blogger.com for the changes which they make, of which I do not approve. Sometimes, what I see, thankfully you don’t, is 24 point type –it is giant and other times they swallow my text, although it still seems to be there. In fairness to them, things seem better, although this is partly because I do understand which of their “features” do the most damage to me and consequently do not use them. Communicating these problems to them, for me, is something like having teeth extracted without the benefit of anesthetic, actually it is less fun than that. By their design, there is no simple e-mailing them with "Please look at my posting of 2009-02-28, it is weird!” I am hoping that one of their developers will some day read this, copy my code and improve their text to html engine. Until then, lo siento.

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