A Metro Rapid bus. Photo by Waltrrrr, via Flickr creative commons.
How do they do that? is a new 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 the street signal lights know to stay green a little longer or turn from red to green a little sooner when Metro Rapid and Metro Orange Line buses are approaching?
The process — called transit priority technology — causes traffic signals to hold green lights longer or shorten red lights to reduce the amount of time buses have to wait at intersections. Buses do still need to stop at red lights, just fewer of them or for shorter time periods.
All Rapid and Orange Line buses are equipped with special transponders that emit signals to a series of wired loops embedded in streets in the city of Los Angeles. As a bus passes from one loop to the next, the data is sent to a centralized computer in downtown L.A. This data is then used to determine the bus speed and location.
Metro’s Nextrip Bus Arrival Information System has recently reached the one-million hits per month milestone. Seventy percent of the users are using the web and 23% percent are using mobile phones to access the information.
Although the SMS/Text feature is not the most commonly used feature of the system, the SMT/Text feature does appear to be the most popular feature among the younger student population. Moreover, Metro’s SMS/Text users are ranked number one in usage in comparison to many similar transit systems in the United States (i.e. transit systems in San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, etc.).
The American’s with Disabilities Act community is also starting to show an interest in the Nextrip system with an overall four percent usage rate, which represents a 50% increase in month-to-month usage. Nextrip signage continues to be installed on the streets with about 1,816 plaques, which includes Braille raised cube inserts. Finally, testing is underway to add rail arrival information to the Nextrip system.
The website Walk Score has just gotten even more valuable. You may be familiar with the website already. Until now it has helped people find housing within easy walking distance of various amenities, such as parks, cafes and grocery stores. More recently it added a “Transit Score” feature that shows which neighborhoods have high quality transit access — or none at all — and everything in between.
This week it launched a beta version of a feature that’s kind of like the inverse of Transit Score called Apartment Search. With Apartment Search, you can input the address of your workplace, the time you’re willing to spend commuting and your mode of choice — car, transit, bike or walking — and it will instantly generate a map showing all the apartments in that geographical area.
Another handy feature is that it’s possible to filter the results by Walk Score. So in effect you can say: “I want live in a ‘very walkable’ neighborhood that’s a 15 minute bus ride from my job,” and Apartment Search will show you a map depicting all the listings that meet those criteria.
A number of readers have contacted us regarding the recent disappearance of the Go Metro iPhone app from the iTunes App Store.
Indeed the app is no longer available – Metro removed it because a new and improved official app is on the way. The new app is scheduled for release in October/November and will address many of the issues users complained about in the original. Additionally, the app will be multi-platform – available for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices.
A few key features of the new app include:
Closest stations/stops based on GPS location
Real time bus arrivals
Scheduled info offline (does not need wifi)
Maps offline (does not need wifi)
Service Alert notification
Favorite a map, line, stop/station, trip itinerary
Stay tuned for a sneak preview and screen shots of the new app. In the meantime head over to Metro’s Mobile Resources page and download one of the award winning apps from the Developer Challenge or test out any of the other third party apps.
Metro's added over 1,000 Twitter followers since May.
Last week the Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly newspaper for the D.C. area, took an in-depth look at the efforts of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to improve their customer communications (and image) by diving into the world of social media.
The article is well worth a read – it focuses on WMATA’s newly minted PR mouthpiece Dan Stessel who has spearheaded a Twitter initiative that has more than doubled the agency’s followers (the count stands at 14,785 at the time of writing) and introduced a human voice to the normally impersonal customer communications.
In the past we’ve taken a look at Vancouver Translink’s Twitter initiative – a project that started last November as a pilot program and introduced dedicated Twitter staff that brought Translink from 3,883 followers to 12,650 followers today.
Here at Metro, our social media initiatives have focused primarily on The Source, but our Twitter presence has been steadily growing (and, in my opinion, improving). At the start of the summer @MetroLosAngeles had about 4,300 followers, today we have 5,687. It’s an improvement, but we’re still not reaching as many people as other agencies.
Savvy Metro riders know that their TAP cards are the key to great discounts around L.A. courtesy of Metro’s Destination Discounts program. We do our best to keep up with the latest deals in our weekly roundup of discounts, but it can be easy to forget what’s available when you’re actually out and about.
Enter Vidappe (pronounced “Vid-app”), a clever app for the iPhone (coming soon to Android) that uses the iPhone’s GPS to locate nearby deals and remind users to take advantage of the savings.
Vidappe was created by Star Li, a 2010 Cornell University graduate who hatched the idea while in school. Star and Vidappe are not affiliated with Metro.
The app isn’t specifically designed for Metro deals — in fact it has a database of programs from around the state and country. But users are in control of what deals they want to see. Here’s how it works: after downloading the app, you register for the service (the company tells me all info is kept private), subscribe to the L.A. Metro program and then adjust the sensitivity (i.e. if you live in an area dense with deals you can set the program to alert you only when you’re within a block or two of a deal).
After setting things up the app will send out a gentle alert when you’re in a proximity of a Destination Discount. You can also turn off alerts and just use the app to view of map of nearby deals. I’ve been using the app for a few days now and have found it to be a great and unobtrusive way to remember where I can use my TAP card for discounts.
Interested? The (free!) iPhone app is available for download here and the Android app should show up in the Android Marketplace in two weeks.
The perils of being an early-adopter: I was recently surprised to discover that my 3 year old TAP card had expired.
And I’m not the only one. We received this tweet today:
@blinkie Tried to load my TAP card with a day pass and the machine said it expired. @metrolosangeles since when do they expire?
It’s a good question, and the answer is: since always. According section 9 of the TAP Cardholder Agreement (which you agree to upon first use of the card):
9. CARD EXPIRATION
Each Card will expire approximately three (3) years after its date of issuance, except for Personalized Cards which will expire based on Cardholder’s period of verified eligibility.
I was vaguely aware of that TAP cards had a limited lifespan, but I wasn’t thinking about that last week when I added $40 to my card only to have a turnstile alert me that my card had expired (and my added value inaccessible) a few days later.
Not only are stored value and passes inaccessible on an expired card, according to the Cardholder Agreement:
“upon card expiration [...] an administrative fee of $1 per month of Transit Stored Value will be deducted from any remaining Card Transit Stored Value balance.”
Yikes. So how do you take care of an expired card? Answer after the jump (you’re not going to like it). Continue reading →
Observant readers will notice a few subtle changes around The Source today thanks to a little update courtesy of Metro’s web team.
Here are a few of the things we added that we hope will improve the reading experience:
Featured posts: the most obvious addition is the box at the very top of the page that features stories we don’t want readers to miss. This week, obviously, it’s all about Carmageddon. Apologies to those who are sick of it.
We’ve installed a new search engine that will hopefully make finding stories from our archives a bit easier. Our old search didn’t handle special characters (quotations, percentage signs, etc.) very well, but the new system does. Give it a try.
The fonts and post formats have been tweaked slight for improved readability – check out the new block quotes!
In an effort to keep the community active we’ve added a “Leave a comment!” link to every post and included the number of comments for each post in the “Popular Posts” sidebar box.
Our trusty 405 closure countdown clock tells me that it’s 9 days until Carmageddon… yikes!
While officials are recommending staying off the roads the weekend of July 16th, those who have no choice are looking for solutions to ease the misery. Metro has decided to offer free rides on 26 bus lines and the Red, Purple and Orange lines to encourage transit as an alternative – but for those who insist on driving the solution may be found in a social media app called Waze.
We briefly looked at Waze back in March when an interesting video visualization of L.A. traffic compiled from the app’s data was released. Now the app is back in the news thanks to the 405 closure. Local news network ABC 7 is promoting the app on their broadcasts and website as a way to best navigate around traffic on Carmageddon weekend.
ABC produced a segment on the technology, which you can view here, but this is how it works in a nutshell: drivers download the app and register as a user, the app then uses GPS technology to track a user’s driving speed and location and combines it with data coming from other users to create a real time picture of traffic conditions. The app then uses this live traffic data to generate the best route.
I’m not a driver so I haven’t tested the app on the road, but it has a slick 3D map interface and an average 4.5 stars (out of 5) on the Apple App Store. In addition to Apple, the app is also available for Android, Blackberry and Nokia.