Riding is believing: OEI kicks off ride along program

By Nolan Borgman/Transportation Planner

Could a simple bus ride change our perspective on how to solve transit’s toughest problems?

Any good designer knows that understanding a system they seek to improve is critical to success. But understanding it as a designer is not sufficient. To create a truly great system, you must empathize with the user. At the Office of Extraordinary Innovation we believe that riding the system is crucial to understanding how best to improve it. And that does not just mean riding to and from work, which offers a narrow view.

This is why OEI has created a new Ride Along program that gives employees at Metro Headquarters the opportunity to get out from behind their desks and ride a mile (or more!) in our customers’ shoes.

Our first ride took us from Union Station through downtown Los Angeles and along the ExpressLanes on the Silver Line on the 110 freeway. From there, we took the Green Line to Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station and boarded the Blue Line back downtown for our connection home via the Red Line.

For our second ride, we hopped on the Purple Line to Pershing Square, where we boarded the Montebello 40 route at Pershing Square. The bus broke down (it happens), but we grabbed the next one to Atlantic Station. From there, we took the Metro Rapid 762 to South Pasadena where we strolled through the business district en route to the Gold Line back to Union Station.

For our third ride, we toured Metro’s new Bike Share system in downtown Los Angeles, learning how to use the system and visiting eight of the 61 stations, as well as bike facilities along Los Angeles and Spring streets.

At OEI, riding the system to develop a deeper understanding is a deeply held cultural value. It gives us the space to see how our work hits the ground, and we think everyone should have that opportunity whether they are an executive, an accountant or an administrative analyst.

With three outings under our belt, we have forged new questions, insights and relationships about the rider experience. For example, we gained a better understanding of why we need to make connections easier, provide more accurate real-time trip information, cut wait times and develop new service models that fit local context.

Understanding our service in the real world helps us improve, stay accountable, and build a balanced transportation system that can work for everyone. It gives us ideas and it reminds us of why we come to work each day. In the spirit of innovation, this program is an example of implementing an idea and iterating to make it better.

14 replies

  1. I would love to see a Metro employee riding the Silver Line during the rush hour commute and converse with regular commuters. How innovative is that?

    • Also, ride the Silver Line from San Pedro to El Monte and back…..Perhaps Metro’s eyes will open up to the fact that this route is way too long…..

      • Or try to wait for the Silver Line at one of the freeway stops on the 110. The noise is deafening! Same goes with the freeway stops for the Gold Line on the 210.

  2. This is the best idea ever. Some people work all their lives to make a difference for others, but have never really walked or rode in their shoes.

  3. It appears the majority of the rides were not on the core system. Lines such as the 4 Line, 20 (720)Lines, 204 & 207 lines. Or perhaps any of the lines that run southbound from the CBD.

  4. I think that the idea is great. It allows first hand understanding of the gritty little points in the system and nuances of the actual rider experience. 2 recent examples that point to the benefit of real world understanding:

    1. I watched how Metro staff managed the Rose Parade traffic at the Gold Line Lake Station. The planning and execution (and the benefit of having staff direct riders) was enlightening. Major kudos for maximizing the safe use of the limited platform space.

    2. As part of my efforts to exercise and explore I have been riding the Gold Line, getting off at a stop and walking to the next stop on the route (or even skipping one.) This last Saturday I saw poor planning in action (not on Metro’s direct part). I rode to the Duarte station and walked up to Huntington Dr. After grabbing a meal, I walked out toward Irwindale. I walked along the north side of the street figuring that the sidewalk would likely continue on that side. When I got to the bridge at the wash, nope! The sidewalk was only on the south side of the bridge, no crosswalks at the nearest intersection. Shortly after getting across the bridge, the sidewalk disappears, leading one to walk off the side of the road, then that goes away, but a sidewalk appears on the north side of the street (another crossing of a major street away from marked crosswalks). After getting to the intersection Irwindale and Huntington, I decide to keep going east, the sidewalk then vanished again on the north side (no signs or markings to that effect on the west side of the intersection, but there was a “crosswalk to nowhere”. After coming back from points east (now on the south side of Huntington), I tried to remember what I had seen of the access to the Goldline. Remembering the parking structure on the west side of Irwindale, I crossed it and started south. The sidewalk goes south to the edge of the Fwy, then ends, (no signs or warning that this will happen), so jaywalk across Irwindale. After crossing the fwy bridge I see the GL station, but there are no signs for pedestrians on how to get there. Summary: Post signs ahead of time to direct walkers where to cross and when sidewalks will end, also signs for the pedestrian access to stations would be useful.

  5. I would suggest riding either the Blue or Expo lines (as suggested above) – the Kinkisharyo cars are extremely cold – it feels like ambient temperature (or slightly below), but feels much colder due to the full-car-length ceiling vents at high volume.

  6. I recommend that the next field trip be on some of the gritty bus routes. Try some of the bus routes that carry the most people and go through some of the least picturesque parts of the city. Check reality out.

  7. I want to know how they feel, not what they ride. Do they feel that their green line or blue line are safe? Do they think that they should clean up their trains? Do trains run frequent enough?

    It is an innovative idea to try out the system, but it is even more important to be open to observe where the problems are.

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