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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How do they do that? Find the right routes

A call center agent at 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 Metro’s call center agents find all the right trip planning answers for 8,000 customers per day?

The men and women of Metro’s call center at 323-GOMETRO (323-466-3876) always seem to have the right answers. The weird thing is that they are using the Metro Trip Planner — the same tool that we use — and coming up with much better routes.

Each day, Metro’s 20 to 55 (depending on the time of day) customer information agents answer about 8,000 calls, plus 200 texts from riders seeking assistance with bus and rail trip planning. The most common question, not surprisingly, is how to get from point A to point B. The second most common: When will the next bus arrive … the same information available on Metro’s Nextrip tool.

Questions are answered in English and Spanish but there also are staff members who speak German, French and Tagolin and the call center is currently working to increase the number of languages spoken to help additional customers.

Monday through Friday the call center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The best times to call are generally midday, since peak question periods generally run 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Text message queries are answered between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The call center staff is located at Metro Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles but handles calls from all over the region. Not only do they answer questions about Metro’s 183 bus routes and five rail lines, but call center agents provide route, schedule and fare information for approximately 70 transit agencies in and around Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. These include the Big Blue Bus, Foothill Transit, Santa Clarita Transit, Orange County Transit, San Bernardino Omnitrans, Riverside Transit Authority and Simi Valley Transit.

And they do all this in less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds — the average length of each phone call.

How do they find great routes we can’t seem to find on our own? The answer is education, plus a handy tool that lets them override the Trip Planner computer’s answer if they want to try something creative or that integrates a particular customer route request.

Agents also undergo an extensive four- to six-week training period, both in class and on the job. And — not a small thing — they are searching and studying the streets and pathways of L.A. County all day, every day, and in the process learning the easiest and best travel routes. The good news for the rest of us is that they are happy to share.

Art for the Expo Line: The Intimacy of Place by Christofer Dierdorff

Art panel above seating area picturing James Achucarro, a boy from the neighborhood, and Soon Cho, owner of Cho Orchids. The reverse side of the panel shows the back and front of their respective heads.

The Intimacy of Place features a sea of faces representing a broad cultural mix of individuals who live and work in the 23rd Street station area. Taking advantage of the double-sided art panel configuration, Dierdorff populated the station with intimate portraits of fronts and backs of heads. His intent is to comment on the nature of public transportation, where people from many walks of life find themselves in close physical proximity with strangers.

The artwork portrays twelve individuals who were photographed in locations that describe their role within the larger community. A variety of professions are represented, including a hat maker, baker,firefighter and mechanic, among others.

Here’s a link to more information about Dierdorff’s work for 23rd Street Station and more photos are after the jump.

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How do they do that? Close the rail stations at night

Photo by Carl Greenlund/Metro

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology and work 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 close the rail stations at night?

Each evening while most of us are asleep, Metro security personnel are carefully examining Metro’s 18 subway stations in preparation for the night’s closing.

Just before 12:45 a.m. on weekdays and 1:20 a.m. on weekends, security teams begin sweeping the subway platforms and mezzanines, looking for sleeping passengers as well as unattended packages. Packages are examined to determine potential harmfulness. They are then removed. If sleepers are found after the last train has departed, they are awakened and escorted from the station. If they are not capable of leaving under their own power or if they appear under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the Transit Services Bureau is notified and they can be transported to another location, such as a detoxification facility. If they need medical attention, paramedics will be called.

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How do they do that? Refuel a bus with CNG

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 refuel a CNG bus?

You can’t just pull into Costco to fill up a compressed natural gas (CNG) bus. When Metro began shifting its fleet of diesel buses to CNG, special stations had to be constructed at each of Metro’s 11 bus maintenance facilities to refuel Metro’s 2,200 buses that run not on gasoline but on gas.

With the retirement in January, 2011 of Metro’s last diesel bus the conversion was complete, making Metro the first major transit agency in the world to operate only alternative clean-fueled buses. Further, CNG is American produced, meaning that Metro is not dependent on fluctuating and unstable foreign oil supplies.

To refuel, a bus pulls up to a service bay and hooks up to a dispenser that looks something like a gas pump, with a hose and a nozzle that mates to the bus. A service attendant attaches the nozzle that automatically locks on during fueling. The nozzle is connected to a tube that carries the gas from a compressor housed nearby in a sound deadening compartment. The natural gas is compressed to 3,600 pounds per square inch as it is dispensed into the bus using a large electric motor or engine driven compressors.

The fueling system incorporates several safety features to prevent fire or explosion. Smoking is not allowed near the stations and all electrical systems are sealed to prevent sparks. CNG is only flammable if mixed with the correct ratio of air so the fuel in the cylinders in each bus is not explosive. Buses hold roughly from 17,000 standard cubic feet of gas (for a 40-foot bus) to 27,000 (for an articulated bus) and take only a few minutes to fuel.

CNG costs roughly $1.50 per diesel gallon equivalent, including compression and dispensing costs. This is less per gallon than diesel but cost is not the reason for the conversion to CNG. In fact, CNG buses cost about 10 to 15 percent more to operate than standard diesel engine buses, largely because of increased maintenance costs. But the move to clean air vehicles, ordered by Metro’s Board of Directors in 1993, was decided because the health benefits of running a clean-air fleet are immeasurable.

Compared with diesel buses, Metro’s CNG fleet reduces cancer-causing particulate matter by more than 80 percent. And because of the switch from diesel to CNG, Metro avoids emitting nearly 300,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per day.

Art for the Orange Line: A glimpse of Stoney Point Park by Lisa Adams

The artwork honors the area’s rich history of horse-keeping. This galloping horse imagery was recently translated by Perdomo, the artwork fabricator, into a 27-foot long elliptical glass mosaic artwork.

Lisa Adams’ artwork for Chatsworth Station monumentalizes the Northwest San Fernando Valley’s landscape and equestrian lifestyle in the forms of native flowers and galloping horses. The imagery was recently fabricated by teams of artisans who translated Lisa’s original artworks into the durable materials of porcelain enamel steel and glass mosaic.

(Here’s a link to more information about Lisa’s work for Chatsworth Station.)

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How do they do that? Save money by recycling

Photo by Moria via Flickr

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 resource and energy conservation program save the agency $2 million per year?

In part it’s the little things that add up and Metro is constantly looking for more ways to conserve energy. Setting all of the agency’s multi-function photocopiers to double-sided printing, for example, is expected to save $20,000 annually on paper costs, at the same time it reduces the agency’s waste stream and conserves energy.

Metro also recycles a long list of items. In addition to being helpful to the environment, recycling and reselling can be revenue producing at a time when transit agencies are scrambling to balance budgets. Recycling of cardboard, paper, trash and aluminum cans from all facilities reduces landfill use, as well as landfill and recycling fees for Metro.

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Art for the Orange Line Extension: Western Imaginary by Ken Gonzales-Day

Bags of glass mosaic pieces created at Perdomo, the artwork fabricator, ready to be assembled into the mosaic artwork. All images courtesy the artist.

Ken Gonzales Day’s artwork presents kaleidoscopic views of native manzanita and oak trees, inviting passengers to find shapes and faces hidden within the patterns at Canoga Station for the Orange Line Extension. These images are currently being translated into two 27-foot long elliptical stone and glass mosaic artworks, which will be embedded into the new concrete platforms being added at the Canoga station. (Here’s a link to more information about Ken.)

There are more photos of the artwork being assembled after the jump.

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California's first multi-modal system & the world's first bus rapid transit station turn 40

Bus rapid transit in Los Angeles began with the El Monte Busway, which broke ground 40 years ago this week.

Today BRT in L.A. has expanded to several other transportation corridors, but this is the original, the grand-daddy of them all:  The first multi-modal system in California and the first dedicated BRT station in the world.

While some things have changed (the draft environmental impact statement was only 17 pages long, and the El Monte Busway is now part of Silver Line service), the busway is as popular as ever.

Forty years later, daily ridership has grown from 12,000 to an estimated 40,000 as new terminals are planned for both El Monte and downtown Los Angeles.

The story and images of this historic transit line are up on the Metro Library’s Primary Resources Blog.

How do they do that? Learn to drive a bus

Metro's longest serving bus operator, Donald Dube.

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 teach bus operators to drive?

Metro employs about 4,500 full- and part-time bus operators and all have participated in the agency’s training program that currently includes four weeks of basic skills training, four weeks of classroom study, DMV testing and two weeks driving a bus under the close supervision of an experienced operator. Little known is that all operators must go through rigorous customer service training to learn to defuse difficult and sometimes dangerous situations that occur daily on the streets of L.A.

Before training can begin, potential operators must pass background and physical checks, test at the 10th-grade level in reading comprehension and be at least 21 years old. And they must be hired. Hiring is based on a variety of factors. A good driving record is essential and prior bus driving experience can be helpful. However, it’s thought that bus driving skills can be taught but not everyone can handle the stresses of driving a bus full of passengers in our traffic clogged and complicated city.

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