How We Roll, Oct. 14: Silver Line platform update, S.F. luxury bus post mortem

Art of Transit:

A red sky morning || photo 📷 @robblanum #latergram #metroexpoline #GoMetro #sunrise

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From the Department of It’s Important: Dive into the weeds and learn about Metro’s potential 2016 ballot measure and long-range plan update. Work is well underway to figure out which projects may be included and if you care about that list, now is the time to get up to speed and get involved.

From the Department of Self Promotion: My colleague Joe Lemon has constructed a fascinating look at 12 L.A. area communities before and after transit. Check out the satellite maps such as this one of Little Tokyo in DTLA:

 From the Department of Different Mets Opponent, Similar Bad Feelings: 

And, yes, the Dodger Stadium Express is ready to go on five days rest for the big game Thursday afternoon against the Mets and then will be ready to take the mound again on Saturday and Sunday against the Cubs.

How one Metro bus stop could be years late and double the cost (Daily News) 

A rendering of the Silver Line platform adjacent to Patsouras Transit Plaza.

A rendering of the Silver Line platform adjacent to Patsouras Transit Plaza.

A critical look at the project that will build a new platform for the Silver Line adjacent to the Patsouras Transit Plaza at L.A. Union Station. The cost of the station has risen to $37 million from $17 million and construction has yet to start.

One of the big hold-ups, according to Metro: accurate mapping of the subway station underneath the location of the platform. That’s important, as the platform will be elevated and needs to be anchored into the ground. The initial cost projection by the agency was also low — Metro didn’t realize the scope of the work that would need to be done, including widening of a freeway bridge sitting on top of utilities and the subway.

Obviously a tough story. On the plus side, the people interviewed inside and outside of Metro seem to agree that it’s a good project that will make it easier to access the Silver Line at Union Station while making the station safer than the current stop adjacent to the freeway ramp on Alameda. The project is currently scheduled to be complete in spring or early summer 2017.

The MTA is sitting on $1.3 million from expired TAP cards (LA Weekly) 

Attentive readers already know (and many dislike) that TAP cards do eventually expire, although not as often as in the past. The Weekly reports that riders who have purchased TAP cards have a cumulative of $1.3 million that they have yet to transfer to new TAP cards. As the story notes:

So what does the MTA do with the stranded $1.3 million? Right now, nothing. The TAP cardholder agreement gives the MTA the right to draw down the balances on expired or inactive cards at the rate of $1 per month. However, the agency hasn’t gotten around to doing so yet. [snip]

You just have to find your expired card, and call the toll-free number during business hours.

If you have an expired card and money still on it, call 866-TAPTOGO during business hours to transfer the money to a new card. It may not be an ideal arrangement, but Metro wants to see customers get their balances restored.

Behind the failure of Leap’s gentrified buses in San Francisco (NYT)

A screen grab from a Leap promotional video. Click above to watch video, which is quite hilarious in its own peculiar way.

A screen grab from a Leap promotional video. Click above to watch video, which is quite hilarious in its own peculiar way.

Farhad Manjoo uses his State of the Art column to look at one of the notable startup failures of recent times: the luxury buses that briefly trolled San Francisco for $6 a ride and complete with vegan snacks, a coffee bar and wifi. This is an awesome column.

Leap, in retrospect, was a bold idea that might have had legs. Muni, San Francisco’s public bus system, is overloaded and underfunded, and the success of ride-hailing apps like Uber suggests a public willingness to try new tech-enabled options. But in its design and marketing — in its full-frontal embrace of the easily pilloried paleo-snack-bar techie lifestyle — Leap exuded a kind of bourgeoisie exceptionalism that fed into the city’s fears of gentrification and won it few fans. As I stood inside the abandoned buses, it became obvious why the start-up failed: Leap was created by and for tech bros. It was born inside the bubble, and it could never escape.

If you have time, read this. The column is entertaining, well reported and insightful. Farhad doesn’t necessarily think private transit buses are doomed to fail, citing the popularity of something similar, Uber. But he shows that Leap’s approach to the private transit thing was begging was trouble.

Speaking of Uber…

Uber is taking millions of Manhattan rides from taxis (ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight)

Taxis in San Francisco East in 2010. Photo by Giacomo Carena, via Flickr creative commons.

Taxis in San Francisco East in 2010. Photo by Giacomo Carena, via Flickr creative commons.

HWR always enjoys a good debunking. A statistical analysis shows that fears of Uber adding traffic to lower Manhattan appear to be overblown, although the carsharing service has certainly eaten into taxis’ slice of the pie in many parts of Gotham.

Better buses make a better city (Washington Post)

In this op-ed, David Alpert (the founder of the pro-transit Greater Greater Washington blog) asks readers to imagine standing on any street corner and being able to board something fast, reliable and that whisks them in any direction they want to go. And then this:

But a certain technology can provide this: the bus. All it takes is the political will to modify our streets and traffic signals to make the bus frequent, attractive, reliable and speedy.

The peak hour bus lane on Wilshire Boulevard has managed not to ruffle too many feathers since fully opening earlier this year. Photo: Metro.

The peak hour bus lane on Wilshire Boulevard has managed not to ruffle too many feathers since fully opening earlier this year. Photo: Metro.

I humbly suggest the key phrase there is “all it takes.” If elected officials could do any of those things easily — or really strived to do them — I suspect they would have been done.

Attentive readers will note that we’ve discussed this a few times. Bus lanes are often unpopular with other motorists and merchants, who want street parking. Traffic signal priority — and it depends on what the meaning of “signal priority” is, btw — is usually just extending a few green lights a few seconds, at least as practiced here and in most places.

On the upside, Metro is looking at adding bus rapid transit in two key corridors — from the NoHo Red/Orange Line station to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena — and along Vermont Avenue. Also, Metro is looking at developing a frequent bus network that would add buses to key corridors while possibly subtracting them from less busy routes. More on that soon.

Relief for local rail woes is taking shape in concrete by the Hudson (NYT)

From the Department of Foresight: It could be decades until new rail tunnels connecting New Jersey and Gotham are built. But Amtrak and N.Y. area rail officials are taking a big step by building concrete tubes under western Manhattan to preserve the rail right-of-way between the future tunnels and Penn Station.

Watch the video. Someone in San Francisco East took their smart pill! 🙂


Things to read on transit 1: HWR’s unofficial second-favorite NFL team gets some love in the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column. They’re playing our (for now) unofficial favorite NFL team on Sunday in Buffalo in what could be a classic trap game.

Things to read on transit 2: Fun coverage by National Geographic of the latest Solar Decathlon, a competition to design the solar homes of the future. Check out the entry from Team Orange County:

Recent How We Rolls:

Oct. 12: transit stations and gentrification, the residential rise in DTLA, cool map showing where the jobs are in our region, the impact of Metro fare increases on ridership on the different rail lines.

Oct. 9: shade versus bus shelters in our region, pics of the community replaced by L.A. Union Station, a greenie looks at the issue of whether should we love or hate self-driving cars.

Oct. 8: more buzz on a potential ballot measure and potential transit projects, why guys lie about carburetors, a transit Armgeddon below the Hudson and Lex Luthor’s plans for the West Coast.

Oct. 7: ideas for Metro’s new Chief Innovation Officer, Paris sucker punches smog, Uber vs Lyft vs transit, an airplane seat arrangement scheme spawned by the Devil herself/himself.

Oct. 6: Gov. Brown signs bill allowing double-articulated buses, the ivory tower gives letter grades to Metro stations, thoughts on the non-war on driving, the cost of L.A.’s Olympic ambitions.

Metro is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I’m on Twitter and my photo blog.



11 replies

  1. RE: Expired TAP cards:

    For Suica cards in Japan, funds remaining is never an issue because unlike TAP, Suica cards can also be used to purchase goods at convenience stores and vending machines.

    So if there is a small balance remaining say about 88 yen or whatever, one can use the entire 88 yen balance remaining on the Suica card to buy a 120 yen bottled drink at a convenience store and pay the remaining 32 yen in cash.

    This is another reason why it makes sense for TAP to expand toward purchases of retail goods. It will negate this issue entirely and won’t tie up CSRs time on the phone in doing menial tasks like transferring funds from one card to another.

  2. The article about Leap is a fair and balanced article and there are many excellent points that noted the reasons of their failure. If private mass transit is to take off, it needs to be open to the masses, hence the term “mass” transit. The mass includes those with disabilities and ripping apart the ADA lifts for a snack bar or a $6 bus fare (regardless of distance long or short) isn’t a big mass market appeal.

    But knowing the tech industry who as Steve Jobs once said “think different,” it’s that they also don’t let failures put them down and prevent them from improving themselves. Rather, they use failures as positive experiences on what not to do in order to make a better product.

    VCs who backed Leap will also use this experience not as “I lost millions of dollars in backing Leap,” but look at positively as “we spent millions of dollars to try out something and we now know what not to do and now can give advice to other prospective private transit companies on what they shouldn’t be doing.”

    It wouldn’t be surprising that rideshare companies like Uber, who is currently resting what they call “smart routes” up in the Bay Area used the example of failure of Leap to their advantage:

    Uber “smart route” concept: make Uber cars go up and down popular streets like a bus

    The difference between Uber smart routes and a Leap? Uber runs on a distance based system, in smaller vehicles, definitely “no frills” compared to Leap’s snack bar offerings, so it’s practically running a bus-like service using a distance based system that many people for years (including Metro) have said that it can’t be done.

  3. How does the stalled Silver Line platform fit in with the Union Station Master Plan?
    The USMP calls for relocation of the Patsouras Bus Plaza to the other side of the concourse. It seems like an odd choice to move forward with this multi-million dollar platform when the bus plaza is just going to be moved later on anyway, leaving the Silver Line platform somewhat isolated. Especially given the unexpected problems, it seems that plan could be scrapped in favor of just having the Silver Line stop in the relocated Bus Plaza once completed.

    • Hi Estaban;

      Good question. My understanding is that Silver Line platform will likely stay put given that the freeway can’t be moved. Also, it could be a long time until the master plan is actually implemented — at this point, it’s not yet funded.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. LA city has used the COG system to shut residents of central and south LA out of the decision making process. Every other region in the county has had opportunities to support projects and we have had zero. Who are we supposed to turn to to have our voices heard?

  5. Ops! The Sliver Line platform construction is delayed in part due to Metro’s own internal problems. The platform is a critical need because people are towing their suitcases between the Silver Line and the LAX Fly Away bus stops.

    On a related issue, the Express Lanes are less than miles per hour during peak hours. Can Metro increase the minimum to at least five passengers instead of three per vehicle during peak hours to pack more people per vehicle in order to reduce the traffic on those lanes during the peak hours?

  6. If you have a large amount left over on your expired TAP card like over 10 bucks or so then it might be worth to give a call. But I doubt most people will bother wasting time on the phone if the amount left over is like a few bucks or so.

    But then again, if you add up a lot of low values balances across lots of expired accounts, it can add up to a large sum of money. A remaining balance of $2 across 500,000 expired TAP cards is still a million bucks.

    Now if there was a way to do this online, then people might do it because people nowadays prefer doing things online than waiting on the phone. Transferring two bucks online is faster and more convenient than transferring two bucks over the phone with long wait times.

    So what does Metro do if they are stuck with lots of expired accounts with small amounts left over in them? Is it money that’s unusable forever? Can it be reinvested back into the system somehow? Certainly you’re not going to be use it to fund a Metro employee vacation trip to the Caymans, right?

    • With the transition to Metro staff running TAP, Customer Service Centers need to be able to do these transfers. Also, the call center needs to be open beyond 4:30 pm. ExpressLanes has walk in centers open on Saturday to handle transactions like replacing failed transponders (I had to do that recently), but if my TAP card fails I can’t walk in and get it replaced, but can only call.

    • Metro can draw down on the remaining funds on expired cards and cards that have no activity on them after 18 months, at a rate of $1 per month. It’s noted on the TAP Cardholder Agreement (, Section 9.2.2 which reads:

      “Following 18 months of Card inactivity or Card expiration, an administrative fee of $1 per month of Transit Stored Value will be deducted from any remaining Card Transit Stored Value balance.”

      If you look at this from a taxpayer’s perspective, it can be looked as a scam:

      1. You load cash value
      2. You have a small amount of money left over
      3. It’s not worth it to call as that’s the only option available to do balance transfers
      4. Add up lots of funds remaining on a lot of TAP cards, it’s sum can be quite big
      5. Metro gets to keep the money and use it however they feel like it (with no oversight)

      Certainly worth something to write a concern about to your elected representative serving on the Metro Board.

    • Oh, so many questions:

      Why does a card expire? Why is there no warning that expiration is imminent? Why can’t you find out the balance on an expired card? (On a ticket machine or turnstile, status shows only that the card is expired, whereas for active cards it shows the balance. It’d be nice to know whether it’s worth your time to try calling.) Why does the ticket machine explicitly tell you to go to a Metro customer service center to resolve the problem–and when you do, the rude employee tells you to pound sand?

      • “Why does a card expire?”

        You eventually get a new debit or credit card, don’t you? You eventually need to renew your drivers license or state issued ID, right? Same thing. Eventually, cards do go bad and technology needs constant upgrading (i.e. EMV chip cards that banks are issuing these days to replace magnetic stripe cards, federally mandated Real ID standard drivers licenses, etc.).

        Contactless cards such as TAP run on very low power called near-field communications technology, but as with anything that requires power, it will eventually go bad. It used to only last three years, which was what the older TAP cards were. Technological advancements have increased the lifespan of these to ten years, which is what the current TAP cards are. But as much as technological advancements have been done, there is no such thing of a card that lasts forever or fool proof technology.

        Could the old cards that lasted three years may last three and half months or four years? Perhaps.
        Can you risk driving on an expired drivers license without getting pulled over by the police? Perhaps.

        But why risk it? You just have to use your best judgment. But it’s no one’s fault but yours if you failed to pay attention.

        “Why is there no warning that expiration is imminent?”
        “Why can’t you find out the balance on an expired card?”

        Are you sure that uou just haven’t been paying attention to these things?

        Register your cards at and all such information will be noted there. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed all the ads on board Metro saying that you should do so. There’s ads all over the Metro system warning customers that they should know their expiration date of their TAP cards. It even says so on the back of every TAP card “Call 1.866.TAPTOGO for customer service or visit”

        Also, when your card expires are always shown when you load or check the balance at the TAP vending machines and turnstiles as you go through them. It even says how to do this on Metro’s own “Check you TAP card’s expiration date” webpage:

        As soon as you get a new TAP card, you should jot down the date it’s supposed to expire and write the date of it’s expiration with a permanent pen or using a label printer. That’s what I do with all my cards; I make sure to know the expiration date of each card as soon as I get a new card and every card has a label sticker I put on the back of my cards on when the card is to expire.