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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How do they do that? Create Metro's award-winning marketing and graphic design

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 you market mass transit to people sitting in comfy cars? You build a good transit system and sell it with advertising.

That’s what Metro is doing with its award-winning communications pieces that appear on buses (outside and in), on trains, in rail stations, on billboards, on bus shelters, on the web, in print publications and through informational brochures that are available aboard buses and trains and in Metro Customer Centers.

The overall goal of the work is to convince those who have never taken transit to try it and to tell those who do take it about new and upcoming services and special offerings that will make their commutes and their lives easier. It also reports construction projects, public information meetings, how to save money riding Metro and how to get discounts available only to Metro customers.

Who creates all the pieces that have won more than 100 awards in the past 10 years? It’s done by Metro’s own in-house communications department, which functions very much like an advertising agency — without the 1950s drama you see on Mad Men, of course.

Among the most recognized and awarded campaigns was the Opposites campaign that debuted in 2008 and featured a series of two simple images each, pairing mass transit with opposites such as air pollution, high gas prices and traffic congestion.

While most work throughout metro is done on PCs, the graphic design for Metro’s advertising and customer communications is done on Apple computers, using Adobe Creative Suite software and Photoshop, plus the usual pencils, erasers, pens and printers. The team produces between 2,500 and 3,000 individual jobs each year.

Why does Metro have an in-house agency rather than hiring outside ad agencies to do the work? It saves time since the staff already knows the product well, so fewer revisions are necessary. And since many pieces are printed in-house too, the production time can be lightening fast, when necessary, as it often is.

Ideas for the campaigns come from the communications team, either in brainstorming groups or individually. But the themes are consistent: The convenience of transit. How much money riders can save by taking transit. How L.A. air-quality benefits from sharing the ride. How the stresses of sitting in traffic can be avoided. What a great improvement in quality of life taking transit offers. Jobs created by transit.

And the goal? To help riders understand how best to use the growing system and to inform L.A. County about its bright transit future … in large part because of the growing transit system made possible by Measure R.

How do they do that? Transmit stories to Transit TV monitors

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.

Metro earns more than $100,000 from the contractor that provides Transit TV each year, helping to subsidize customer-paid fares that cover only 28 percent of the cost of the ride. While this is not a lot of money in terms of the cost of running a huge transit agency like Metro, it’s enough to make it worthwhile and there is no cost to Metro for providing Transit TV.

How do the monitors aboard Metro’s bus fleet receive the programs that change daily? By a specialized digital system created to collect the news, weather and feature programming and transmit it to the buses via Wi-Fi.

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How do they do that? Remove graffiti from the buses

Andre Williams peels off film being tested to protect bus windows from graffiti. Photo by Jose Cordova/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? Remove graffiti from the buses

How much does graffiti removal cost Metro each year? In fiscal year 2011, bus and facilities maintenance spent $8.23 million to clean up graffiti. And that doesn’t include the cost of the Sheriff’s deputies needed to protect the buses and property and pursue graffiti vandals.

Every evening and into the night, about 160 Metro employees over two shifts work to remove graffiti from the buses because that’s when the buses are free for clean up.

Although we tend to think of graffiti vandalism as something that occurs in the dark of night, on buses the vandals often work during the day when the bus operators are busy driving and assisting passengers.

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How do they do that? Tweet service alerts

Stephen Tu ^ST. Photo by Gayle Anderson/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? Tweet the service alerts

Since 2010 when Metro began tweeting service alerts @metroLAalerts, more than 2,100 tweets have been posted — and it remains the best way for Metro riders out and about to get information. Alerts have ranged from “Wet weather safety tips-Do NOT run on train platforms or next to buses. Use handrails & onboard handholds. ^ST” to “Blue Line Update: Trains every 20 min to all stations. Bus shuttles cancelled. Harbor Transitway upcharge is waived today. ^ST” to a notice that the trains have been paused for examination following an earthquake.

To send out service alert Tweets the only equipment necessary is a Twitter account (available for free at Twitter.com), a computer, a smartphone, accurate information and a person to collect that information and write a post in 140 characters or less.

Service alerts on metro.net home page

Most Tweets report service disruptions — planned or unplanned — that will delay customers. They include scheduled maintenance procedures like track grinding, new train testing or power systems work. They could be equipment malfunctions caused by severe weather damage, power outages or jammed doors. They might be police activity due to suspicious packages, trespassers on the tracks, medical emergencies or passenger disruptions. They could be due to traffic accidents, blocked lanes or tracks or protests. Or they could be the result of planned changes in traffic. This Sunday’s L.A. Marathon is an example.

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How do they do that? Power the trains

Expo Line test train pulling into 23rd Street Station. Photo by Gayle Anderson/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? Power the trains

In politics the third rail is an issue so powerful, politicians do their best to avoid it. In the subway the third rail is a line of track so powerful, patrons make sure they avoid it.

And rightly so, since Metro’s trains run on 800 volts – enough to propel a packed rush-hour train at speeds of up to 70 mph through the Red Line tunnel between Hollywood/Highland and Universal City station.

On subway trains, the third rail is the source of the electrical delivery system. The same power is delivered to light-rail lines such as the Blue, Gold, Green and Expo lines via an overhead catenary system. No petroleum gas for the trains. No CNG (compressed natural gas). Just good old-fashioned electricity.

Where does the electricity come from? Like petroleum gasoline and compressed natural gas, Metro buys it. Electricity can be a product of nuclear, coal, gas, oil, water, wind or solar farm sources. In Metro’s case, the intermediary source is utility companies, including LADWP and Pasadena Water and Power — the same companies that supply power to many of our homes.

Although Metro buys many millions of dollars a year in electricity to power the rail lines, electricity is a whole lot less expensive than petroleum gasoline or even CNG. And CNG, as we’ve said in the past, is much less expensive than petroleum gas.

Like the CNG used to power its bus fleet, the electricity Metro buys is produced in North America, which means it escapes the pricing spikes of petroleum produced by unstable countries. And this, of course, is a good thing, especially right now, with gasoline prices rushing upward.

A Federal Transit Administration chart from 2010. Click to view larger image.

The other benefit to electricity is that Metro’s train lines will become greener as utilities develop more renewable power sources. Subways and light rail already produce fewer greenhouse gases per passenger mile than most cars — and should improve as more wind, solar and geothermal power plants come online.

Also, electricity as a power source is generally quite reliable, both in terms of supply and in terms of subway and light-rail performance. But it does have its weaknesses.

While the third rail on subway track is installed in a protected environment inside the subway tunnel, light rail can be subject to weather. Light-rail cars are linked to the power source via catenary wires installed overhead 12 to 16 feet above ground. (Catenary, for those of you who took and remember physics, is the curve assumed by a cord or chain – or even a spider web — that hangs freely between two fixed points.)

But back to the weather issue. Remember the massive storm of January, 2010 that tipped a tree onto the Gold Line catenary lines in South Pasadena? The line was closed for hours while a bus bridge ferried passengers around the spot where electricity was shut down. South Pasadena is a perfect example of what happens when the power is cut off … although in that case a tree was also blocking the tracks.

Despite occasional stoppages ordered by Mother Nature the catenary system seems to work pretty well. Maybe that’s in part because the system has had more than 100 years of refinement. The first tram with overhead lines was presented by Warner von Siemens (yes, the same company that constructed some Metro Rail cars) at the International Electric Exposition in Paris in 1881. The installation was removed after the event but the light-rail thought persisted. And we’re glad it has.

How do they do that? Detour buses quickly

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 detour buses to avoid unplanned traffic snarls?

Unlike yesterday’s advance-planned bus detours around the Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland, adjusting bus routes on the fly to avoid traffic snarls or police activity can be tricky business. Where’s the snarl? What’s the cause? How long is the snarl expected to remain? How do you let the public know the bus stop has been moved one block south because the street where it normally sits is shut down? It’s all part of life for Metro’s bus operations team that plans routes, watches traffic and follows every single bus in operation 24/7.

Is there ever a day when all 2,000 buses run without interruption and on exactly the same routes they are intended? Nope.

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