How We Roll, Monday, August 31

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And for those curious about bus racing…

How close are we really to a robot-run society (Fresh Air podcast) 

Host Terri Gross interviews the NYT’s John Markoff about his new book on robots. Much of their discussion involves self-driving cars and some of the robot-like technology already available that leaves some of the driving up to the car. For example, adaptive cruise control slows down a car to avoid other cars ahead on the road.

Would you trust this robot bus operator -- from Call of Duty -- to sell you a day pass?

Would you trust this robot bus operator — from Call of Duty — to sell you a day pass?

Not in the interview, but something I’m curious about: what will robots role be when it comes to transit? Although I know there are some automated people movers in the U.S., will there ever be such a thing as automated transit buses and trains? Or do buses and trains retain their human drivers — and all the amazing, adaptive thing humans can do — even if/when cars become increasingly automated?

What about other jobs at transit agencies? Robot fare inspectors? Robot janitors? Robot — gasp — bloggers? Hmmm. Actually, maybe a robot has a better chance of staying awake at transportation funding panel discussions 🙂

How to keep Metro riders safe from harassment (LAT)

A pair of rather pointed letters in response to last week’s LAT story about sexual harassment on the Metro system. From Paul Zimmelman:

There should be a police officer at every station to eyeball potential troublemakers. A security guard should be on each train walking it from end to end. The cameras are nice, but who is watching the video?

Metro’s response to the LAT story is here. The LASD has said they don’t have the staff to patrol every train and bus.

Roughly five million people left California in the last decade. See where they went (Sacramento Bee) 

Photo by David Herrera, via Flickr creative commons.

Photo by David Herrera, via Flickr creative commons.

Not a transportation story per se but ponder this: five million left between 2004 and 2013 and about 3.9 million arrived from other states. Still, California’s population grew because births outpaced deaths and foreign migration. The current number is about 38.8 million residents according to the Census Bureau bean/peoplecounters.

Imagine what traffic would be like in many parts of the state if more people remained here! Or imagine the demand for transit. The Bee article makes the case that losing residents harms the state’s economy. The cynic-who-resides-within-me wonders if dispatching residents elsewhere is perhaps sound transportation policy for the time being.

According to the nifty graphic in the Bee, Texas was the biggest recipient of departing Californians with four other Western states — Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — also serving as primary landing zones. Vermont, btw, dispatched/exiled the fewest number of its residents to the Golden State.

If L.A. bids for 2024 Olympics, will taxpayers be on the hook? (LAT)

Ah, one of our favorite subjects: the Summer Olympics. The U.S. Olympic Committee — after choosing Boston as well as the first guy chose the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones — now wants L.A. to compete with other international cities to host the Games.

But first the City Council must consider whether going forward could mean putting taxpayers on the hook for any cost overruns. From the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti: “Connie Llanos, a Garcetti spokeswoman, said the mayor “is confident that after a thorough vetting from the City Council and community members, everyone will agree that the potential for economic, civic and cultural gain will far outweigh any risks of agreeing to a financial guarantee.”

We’re obviously keeping an eye on the issue here because transportation is a huge issue when it comes to the Olympics. The five Metro Rail projects under construction are all scheduled to open by 2024 and LAX officials have said that their people mover between airport terminals and the Crenshaw/LAX Line could be complete by 2023.

If L.A. was to be awarded the Games (a decision that won’t be made by the International Olympic Committee until 2017), the question is what other (if any) transportation improvements could be made to our area? Would some transit projects be accelerated? And what about the Purple Line Extension, which isn’t scheduled to reach Westwood until 2036 under the current long-range plan? That’s significant as UCLA would host several events according to the committee overseeing L.A.’s bid effort.

Stay tuned — much shark jumping still to come on this one, people. One other semi-related factor: Metro is considering an update to its long-range plan and a potential 2016 ballot measure, although nothing has been yet decided.

And from the Dept. of Infrastructure…

Leaving Desire (New Yorker) 

New Orleans, LA, Monday August 29, 2005 -- An aerial photograph from one of the first New Orleans Fly Over showing the flooding as a result of the breeched levees. Marty Bahamonde/FEMA

New Orleans, LA, Monday August 29, 2005 — An aerial photograph from one of the first New Orleans Fly Over showing the flooding as a result of the breeched levees. Marty Bahamonde/FEMA

While I was away from most computing devices last week, the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina passed. This article from the New Yorker, originally published in Sept. 2005, takes readers aboard a rescue boat in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. It’s a short read by New Yorker standards but suitably informative and heartbreaking. It’s still hard to believe this could happen in an American city.


Things to read while sitting/standing/stuck on transit: A father takes his two sons on a road trip of American ballparks and discovers that the Giants’ Buster Posey handles a simple autograph request like a — what’s the Yiddish word? — giant tuchus.

Things to read while sitting/standing/stuck on transit 2: NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast tackles HBO’s mini-series, “Show Me a Hero.” It’s a smart discussion about the mini-series that looks at the city of Yonkers’ fighting a court order to build public housing in mostly white neighborhoods.

I’ve only seen the first two of the six episodes. It’s good stuff, which is what you would expect from David Simon, who oversaw “The Wire” and the under-appreciated “Treme,” about rebuilding efforts in the aforementioned New Orleans.

Like those other shows, “Show Me a Hero” tackles local government in a way that is unusual for television or the movies. As far as I can recall, most TV shows on local government focus on police and the courts (“Parks and Recreation” being the obvious exception). It’s nice to see something different and the writers of “Show Me a Hero” have obviously been around local politics and, more importantly, local politicians. If you can snag some HBO time, watch it.

I’m also on Twitter, Instagram and have a photo blog where I share my non-transportationy stuff.  


10 replies

  1. “Would you trust this robot bus operator — from Call of Duty — to sell you a day pass?”

    Why would I need a human/robot to sell me a day pass when it would be simpler to just program a daily cap? The whole “plan ahead and purchase” or “waste my time clogging up the line behind me to talk with a bus driver” thing is so outdated.

    It’s far more simpler to program the fare system to just stop deducting the fare once hitting the daily limit.

  2. RE: bus racing

    Of course, how likely is it that we’ll see wide open and empty roads like that in the streets of LA?

    In real-life LA, doesn’t matter if you’re on a bus, a Ferrari, Corvette, Hummer, Skyline GT-R, or a Fiat 500. You’re all stuck in traffic!!!

  3. “The LASD has said they don’t have the staff to patrol every train and bus.”

    It’s not like these problems are specific only to LA either.

    Sheriff Jim McDonnell or whomever is handling the Metro security ops can easily take a flight to NYC, Madrid, London, and Tokyo out of LAX on a fact finding mission to figure out how his peers in those cities manage to handle security.

    Why do bureaucrats in LA have a penchant for wasting taxpayer dollars in trying solve stuff on their own and keep wasting precious resources in re-inventing the wheel when there are cities with far more expertise in this matter that LA can just as easily learn from?

    It’s really this easy:

    1. Go to Expedia
    2. Book a flight+hotel ticket
    3. Go around the city using their transit system with a GoPro camera
    4. Come back home and show the video to everyone how they manage to do it

    You can do this stuff in less than a week and at less taxpayer expense than wasting people’s money trying to figure this stuff out on your own and just by copying what other cities have figured out eons ago!!!

    Honestly, LA can a learn a lot from these cities considering that they manage to run an efficient and safe transit system, despite having been attacked by terrorists, both domestic and international.

  4. “will there ever be such a thing as automated transit buses and trains?”

    Dubai Metro – the world’s longest automated driverless train (built in less than 4 years, are you listening Metro?)

    Buses without drivers being tested in Trikala, Greece

    “Robot fare inspectors?”

    They’re called automated bidirectional fare gates and has already been in use in Japan since the 1990s.

    “Robot janitors?”

    Already being used in Upper Merion School District (King of Prussia, PA)

    Say bye bye to your pensions and jobs, union workers!!!

  5. It’s not a robot society more than a self service society. People will continue to do more things by machine, but there won’t be some disembodied voice that they will be talking to.

  6. If we get the Olympics in 2024, the closest rail stop to UCLA will be the Expo line’s Sepulveda station, a short bus ride away. Assuming the Purple line’s Wilshire/La Cienega station is open by then, it’s a longer bus ride, but people might still take it. You guys are probably going to want some dedicated shuttles for both. Getting the Westwood stop open 12 years ahead of schedule would be ideal, though likely laughably unrealistic.

    • Hey Pat;

      I agree it’s unrealistic under the current schedule, although I don’t think it’s impossible. As you probably guessed, the biggest obstacle is money. Measure R sales tax revenues flow into Metro over time, meaning there’s only so much that can be spent on any particular project in any given year. This is one of those things that may depend on what (if anything) happens with the long-range plan update and potential Metro ballot measure next year, as well as the appetite of Olympic officials to get the train to Westwood. I agree with you that a shuttle bus from the Purple Line is seemingly a realistic option, perhaps with the use of additional bus lanes. Stay tuned…

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. To me, the main benefit of an LA Olympics is that the Olympics are categorically exempt from CEQA. Just remember to put the Purple Line extension into the bid packet.