How do they do that? Make bus service changes

 

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How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

This Sunday, Dec. 16, Metro made changes to improve bus service efficiency and effectiveness. The same thing occurred in June of this year, as it does every June and every December.

How — and why — does Metro make bus service changes every six months?

The simple answer is so that the bus operators may change the routes they drive. But it is also to give the buses a fighting chance at maintaining schedules that are impacted by the whims of Los Angeles-area traffic, including accidents, special events, crazy drivers and yes, even occasional weather.

Among the great attributes of buses — the reason they are the work horses of transit in congested cities all over the world — is that they are flexible. Their routes can be adjusted to follow changing travel patterns in cities that themselves are constantly changing.

Metro’s 2,228 buses cover 1,433 square miles of service area. They pause at 15,967 bus stops. They carry more than one million boardings each weekday along 183 bus routes. Metro is constantly analyzing these bus routes and tweaks them twice a year.

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How do they do that? ExpressLanes transponders

ExpressLanes transponder

How do the FasTrak® transponders determine who’s traveling in the ExpressLanes?

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways, and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

Most of us know that changes are coming to the 110 Harbor Freeway. This Saturday — Nov. 10 — the HOV lanes will become High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes as part of a one-year demonstration project known as Metro ExpressLanes. The project will test whether ExpressLanes can help improve mobility in the traffic-choked 110 corridor. You may also know that Metro ExpressLanes will open early next year on the 10 San Bernardino Freeway. And that these changes will open the lanes to solo drivers who pay a toll.

Those who use the ExpressLanes must have a transponder in their vehicle. The transponders can determine:

– how much toll to collect from each vehicle because the amounts charged will vary depending on traffic congestion?

– what the real-time speed of traffic is in the ExpressLanes?

– who to bill for travel in the ExpressLanes?

– how to aid CHP with enforcement of the ExpressLanes?

How can a small piece of equipment know so much? In part the answer is that the transponder does not do all of those things but is the first step in making most of them happen.

Prior to about 1990 (and even now on older highways), tolls were collected by human attendants or electronic baskets at toll booths positioned along the highways. The toll booth system required that drivers come to a halt to hand over the toll. With modern ExpressLanes, like the one about to be tested inL.A.County, stopping is no longer necessary. There are no toll booths or attendants.

Different cities have different systems. But for the year-long ExpressLanes demonstration, Los Angeles is using FasTrak®, which is the name of the electronic toll collection system. It includes a transponder that is mounted on the inside of a vehicle windshield. The transponder is a small battery-powered radio frequency identification unit that transmits radio signals. Stored in the transponder is basic account information, including an identification number.

When the transponder passes under the overhead L-shaped antennas along the ExpressLanes, it communicates the account ID to the antennas. The antennas respond by messaging that information to a computer that calculates the toll rate for the individual commuter.

The antennas track the vehicle and transmit its path to a computer that contains individual vehicle accounts. After a vehicle exits the ExpressLanes, the antennas tell the computer that the vehicle is gone, and the account is charged, if necessary. (Trips for eligible carpools, vanpools and motorcycles are free.)

Sensors measure congestion and transmit the speed of traffic flow in the ExpressLanes to a computer network. The computer network manages capacity in the lanes by using an algorithm to adjust the toll, based on traffic conditions. The tolls will range from 25 cents per mile to a maximum of $1.40 per mile. The more traffic in the ExpressLanes, the higher the toll assessed. The less traffic in the ExpressLanes, the lower the toll. However, the toll amount is locked in once the vehicle is in the ExpressLanes.

If speeds fall below 45 mph for more than 10 minutes, the ExpressLanes signs alert solo drivers to not enter the ExpressLanes until speeds climb back to 45 mph or faster. However, solo drivers already with a trip in progress in the ExpressLanes will be allowed to complete their trip. This helps ensure smoother flowing traffic in the ExpressLanes for all who use them.

If a sig-alert occurs and the toll payer is not able to travel at the minimum average speed of 45 mph, the customer’s FasTrak account will automatically be credited with the toll by the next business day. Net toll revenues will be reinvested into transit and other transportation improvements in the corridors where they are generated.

While the principle behind most HOT lane transponders is similar, L.A. County’s ExpressLanes transponders are unique. They have been upgraded with the addition of a switch that can be changed to indicate 1, 2 or 3+ occupants in the vehicle. In this way, eligible carpools, vanpools and motorcycles can travel in the ExpressLanes toll free. The transponders can’t confirm the passenger count. But enhanced California Highway Patrol enforcement can and will. When the transponder is detected in the ExpressLanes,  overhead enforcement beacon lights emit to correspond to the switch setting on the transponder. This light is visible to the CHP, which will use it as a guide for occupancy enforcement.

If you have an existing FasTrak, it will work on the 110 and 10 ExpressLanes to pay a toll. But if you want to travel toll free on the 110 or 10, you will need to use a switchable FasTrak. You are not required to maintain more than one account. In fact, it’s recommended that only one FasTrak account is maintained based on the toll facilities that the customer uses most. If switching to Metro ExpressLanes, customers should contact their currently issuing agency for infomation about closing their FasTrak account prior to opening the account with Metro.  

Here’s more information about FasTrak, including how to sign up for an account and get a transponder.

How do they do that? Train explosive sniffing dogs

Wilson. Photo by Anna Chen/Metro

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they do that? Train explosive sniffing dogs

Xxara is happy-go-lucky, always hungry and loves to play. No, we’re not talking playmate of the year … although in some circles she certainly would be considered.

Xxara is an explosives scent dog who works the Metro beat for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Canine Services Detail. It’s her job to search for explosives on Metro buses, trains and property. Or it will be, when she is fully trained. Currently the two-year-old black Lab retriever is acclimating to the kind of life she didn’t know at the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) training center at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

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How do they do that? Cast Metro in movies, commercials and TV shows


How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they do that? Cast Metro in movies, commercials and TV shows

The answer is that they don’t. The production companies come to Metro. Usually.

For the 2003 movie “The Italian Job” the film makers approached Metro and booked a shoot that lasted a few days at the Red Line Hollywood/Highland Station and the 7th/Metro Center Station.

In the completed film, a convoy of Mini Coopers (watch trailer) drives down the steps of the Hollywood/Highland Station and into the subway tunnel — a period of time that lasted only a few seconds in the movie but involved days of shooting. For the shoot, the stair railings had to be removed to accommodate the cars and the production company constructed false steps to protect the real ones from the pounding of the Mini Coopers, which were small but not exactly weightless.

Rather than ducking into the Hollywood/Highland subway tunnel as it appeared in the movie, the cars were filmed driving down the platform and onto the tracks at 7th/Metro Station because there was more room to maneuver. Also, a pursuing train that’s supposed to be the Red Line subway was actually a Blue Line where it runs underground just before emerging at Pico Station.

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How do they do that? Make roads smarter

Photo by Carl Greenlund/Metro

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they do that? Make roads smarter

In their future form, smart roads could be the automated highways of tomorrow — the roadways we cruise, possibly in self-driving cars, hooked to a group of other cars headed in the same direction. By traveling together cars can move faster and distances between them can be decreased, since the group accelerates and brakes simultaneously. This maximizes road capacity while it minimizes the chance of accidents, which slow down traffic.

Obviously we’re not there yet. But there are a variety of smart road technologies being used in Los Angeles County and Metro is participating — primarily by helping to fund them — in programs to squeeze more capacity out of streets and freeways. They may not be smart roads of the future, but they are promising advances.

Here’s a quick overview of what’s going on:

•Caltrans and Metro are in talks to mirror a program already running in Orange County on the northbound I-5 freeway. By offering real-time travel comparisons between the freeway and Metrolink, electronic message signs let commuters know when it would be faster to take Metrolink than to stay on the freeway. Comparative travel times would work the same way in L.A. County comparing, say, commute times on the 210 Freeway with the Gold Line speed to Pasadena. The intent is to encourage drivers to consider transit as an option.

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How do they do that? Assist stranded motorists on L.A. County freeways?

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How (and why) does Metro assist stranded motorists on L.A. County freeways?

Whether it’s a flat tire, an empty gas tank or an overheated radiator, chances are that at one point or another most of us will need help on the freeway. All we have to do is dial #399 on our cells or smart phones and the Metro Freeway Service Patrol will arrive to help us resolve our problem.

Those without cell phones can use a freeway call box by dialing the # sign. Operators are on duty to answer calls in English and Spanish and there’s translation into other languages possible. The service also is equipped to serve the deaf and hearing and speech impaired. And it’s free.

The Freeway Service Patrol is constantly cruising. During peak commuting hours, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., 152 roaming tow and service trucks crisscross L.A. freeways, looking for disabled cars and waiting for calls. Drivers patrol a designated section of freeway called a “beat” and often come upon a disabled vehicle before the motorist can call for assistance. At midday and on weekends, service is reduced to 41 trucks. But the mission is the same: to assist stranded motorists and keep the freeways safe and flowing. A car stuck in traffic for 5 minutes can quickly cause a 20-minute or more backup during rush hour, just when we most need mobility.

Service Patrol trucks assist more than 25,000 vehicles a month for all manner of problems. The most common is changing a flat tire but they also jump start dead batteries, refill radiators, repair leaking hoses and provide enough gas to get stranded motorists off the freeway. They also help motorists contact their personal auto clubs and help remove road hazards (think ladders and couches) from the freeways. They will not, however, tow vehicles home or to a personal mechanic because the Service Patrol trucks need to quickly return to the freeway to help out other stranded motorists.

The Metro Freeway Service Patrol also operates the Big Rig Service Patrol on the 710 and 91 freeways — thoroughfares that are particularly filled with trucks. This service is specifically designed to help out heavy duty vehicles like semi trucks that cannot be assisted by a normal size tow truck.

What does freeway rescue have to do with trains and buses?

Metro is the transportation planner and coordinator, designer, builder and operator — in charge of promoting mobility in L.A. County. The FSP tow trucks reduce traffic congestion by getting disabled cars running again or by quickly removing them from freeway lanes. This reduces chances of further incidents caused by onlookers and impatient drivers. FSP also helps save fuel and reduce air polluting emissions by reducing stop-and-go traffic. The ultimate benefit is that motorists are kept safe and freeway efficiency is maximized. The FSP program is funded by a combination of state and local Proposition C funds. Prop C passed in 1990 to fund transportation improvements and help reduce traffic congestion.

So program #399 into your phone and next time you have a problem on the freeway, give them a call. But remember that #399 does not replace 911. Use 911 if you need a medical, fire department or law enforcement response.

How do they do that? Answer customer queries and complaints

Metro Red Line. Photo via Carl Greenlund/Metro

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How does Metro’s customer relations team answer queries and complaints?

In a very real sense, complaints are the reason for being for Metro’s customer relations team. All day, every day they work with confused or unhappy riders who look to them for relief. Their job is customer satisfaction and it can be a challenge.

And yet, customer relations reps report that most people — probably 75 percent — are courteous even when reporting a problem, which certainly speaks well for Metro patrons, as well as for the representatives who undergo extensive customer service training to help them learn how to help the public in a positive way.

The customer relations section was designed to be an easy access point for Metro patrons, the general public, elected officials and residents to present complaints, inquiries and concerns to Metro management. Reps also are responsible for making friends for Metro, even following a less than pleasant transit experience. They are there to provide customer education, when necessary. And they provide Metro management with timely reports that reflect the transit system as viewed by the customer.

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