Got a great idea for a Metro app? Join Metro's Developer Challenge for a chance to win up to $2,000

Metro Developer Challenge

Apps. We used to call them computer programs back when computers were just for for geeks. Now they’re ubiquitous. Apple coined the phrase “there’s an app for that” and guess what, there is an app for virtually anything you can think of.

There’s even Metro apps – fifteen of them (not that we’re counting) plus Metro’s very own iPhone app. But where’s that killer transit app? The app that takes all the free data Metro provides and weaves it into a a user experience that would make Steve Jobs’ jaw drop? Where’s the app the pulls people from their cars and onto Metro because it’s just that cool?

Somewhere there’s a developer who has that killer Metro app idea and just needs an excuse to go for it – this is where Metro’s Developer Challenge comes in. Beginning April 1st, developers can submit apps that make use of Metro’s transit data (and yes, that includes the fresh new real-time bus arrival data) for the chance to win up to $2,000. That’s $2,000 plus the fact that you’ll be making an app that will improve the transit experience for potentially millions of L.A. County residents.

Metro will be holding a Q&A/kick-off event for interested developers next Thursday from 6 to 7:30pm at Metro Headquarters. It’s a chance for hopeful developers to come meet with the data providers and get the skinny on contest. For those who can’t make it in person, the event will also be live-streaming on uStream. College students: here’s a link to printable flyer to spread the word on campus.

More details on the contest after the jump. Continue reading

Here's a list of ticket machines selling TAP cards and stored value

Attentive readers know that earlier this year Metro began selling TAP cards and stored value on those cards at ticket vending machines at some Metro Rail stations.

Since there are more than one ticket machine at the stations, look for the ones with the green Metro placard on top with the drawing of a hand holding a TAP card. It’s the machine on the right in this photo.

Because we get frequent inquiries from readers about the location of those machines, please find an updated list of the 22 Metro Rail locations where the TAP cards are being sold after the jump. For more info on TAP cards, click here.

Continue reading

U.S. EPA awards Energy Star rating to Metro's Gateway Headquarters building

Metro's Gateway Headquarters. Photo by Metro Transportation Library and Archive, via Flickr.

The award goes to buildings that on average use 35 percent less energy than the average building, meaning about 35 percent less carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — is released into the atmosphere. Here’s the press release from Metro:

Metro’s Gateway Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) prestigious Energy Star rating. Energy Star is the national symbol for protecting the environment through superior energy efficiency and signifies that a building is in the top 25 percent of similar facilities nationwide for energy efficiency.

“While Metro’s clean-burning fleet of trains and buses certainly is all about energy conservation, our overall goal is to apply that mindset to the entire agency, whether it is by carrying commuters who otherwise would drive or through new construction projects. We want Metro to be sustainable from bottom to top,” said Metro CEO Art Leahy.

Commercial buildings that earn the Energy Star use an average of 35 percent less energy than typical buildings and also release 35 percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Continue reading

But wait, there's more to Nextrip

During the many dozens (if not hundreds) of hours I have spent waiting for buses, the thought occurred to me many times that it would be so sweet if I could just look down at a computer or my smartphone and actually see the location of the next bus.

Folks… that day has come.

In addition to being able to find out how long you need to wait for the next bus, customers can now track the whereabouts of a bus on a live map, thanks to the Nextrip program announced on The Source on Wednesday. The following video explains how:

In short, you can get to the live map by clicking here and clicking on the “View Route on Live Map” button. Then, you’ll select your route and you can see the whereabouts of all the buses on that particular line.

Admittedly, this isn’t super precise — the window refreshes every 20 to 30 seconds, it appears — and I couldn’t get this to work yet on my smartphone. But as someone who rides a lot of Metro buses, this information makes me rethink my reticence to ride buses when they don’t run as frequently, particularly at night and on weekends.

Enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments.

Metro begins testing real-time bus arrival system

These three screen grabs from an iPhone show how to access real-time bus arrival info on a cell phone.

I know that many readers of The Source have been asking about this recently, so here’s some good news: Metro today began testing a real-time bus arrival system called Nextrip.

It’s important to consider that this is a test, with Metro tech staffers monitoring some users to see how the system is working. Nonetheless, the system is out there and online, so I wanted Source readers to know about it.

Metro customers can access the real-time data on the Metro website or on their cell phones, which is especially convenient. It’s also possible to get the information via text message if you don’t want to fuss with the Internet.

For those unfamiliar with real-time bus arrival systems, it’s pretty simple. Let’s say you’re at the bus stop at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and New Hampshire and want to know when the next Line 180 bus is going to arrive. The real-time system will tell you how many minutes until the 180 shows up and how long until other bus lines serving the same stop also arrive.

Pretty neat, eh? It’s a lot better than trying to download a pdf timetable onto a cellphone and trying to find when the bus is scheduled to arrive, which in the real world is not always the same as when the bus actually arrives.

Testing will be ongoing for a while. But it’s very good news that Metro is close to rolling out the system. The effort began last March when Metro invited vendors to submit bids to install a real-time system. Then in September, Metro’s Board of Directors selected NextBus as the vendor and awarded them a $1.65-million contract, with the aim of going live in early 2011.

Enjoy the real-time info and let us know how it works. The screen grab below from the Metro Nextrip website shows the various ways you can let Metro know how the system is working. We’ll also make sure that any comments left on The Source are forwarded to Metro’s tech squad.

Something to "Like": California High-Speed Rail revamps Facebook page

California High Speed Rail Facebook ScreenshotThe California High-Speed Rail Authority has updated their Facebook page and want you to join the conversation:

Our Facebook page is proving to be a good place to hear the latest news, talk about the project, share your thoughts and get your questions answered. We hope you’ll join us there and encourage your own Facebook friends to do the same.

The more voices we have in this conversation, the better this project will meet California’s need for a low-cost, clean, fast and convenient way to travel. Join us today!

A quick recap on California’s plans for high speed rail: the initial leg is planned for San Francisco to Anaheim and will eventually reach as far south as San Diego and north to Sacramento – linking the state’s major cities with trains capable of speeds of up to 220 mph.

Also worth following: the Authority’s Twitter and Flickr pages.

Los Angeles Times reviews L.A.'s other car — a Metro Bus


Online at latimes.com: A crash-less course in driving MTA’s new natural gas bus

A million or so boardings on an average weekday translates to a lot of people whose other car is a Metro bus. Maybe that’s why Los Angeles Times auto critic David Undercoffler wanted to take the newest member of Metro’s clean-air fleet for a test drive.

“I’ve driven $250,000 luxury sedans around racetracks, one-off prototype vehicles that won’t hit the market for years and ultra-rare carbon-fiber-bodied sports cars. But nothing matches the experience of driving a 16-ton bus around a training course and then slamming on the brakes, turning the instructor standing behind your seat from a patient, brave man to a human-shaped projectile wearing a sweater vest,” says Undercoffler in a featured review published online today in the Business Section at latimes.com.

The very nicely produced video by Tim French and Jeff Amlotte is just as good as being there. Enjoy the ride.

A look at Vancouver Translink's Twitter pilot

Most readers are already aware that Metro has a few Twitter accounts including @MetroLAalerts – an account dedicated solely to service alerts that was launched last February. What readers might not know is that there is no dedicated Twitter team at Metro. In fact, most of the updates on @MetroLAalerts and @MetroLosAngeles come from one dedicated young staff planner who in addition to his normal duties provides the round-the-clock updates and replies.

With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at what our friends at Vancouver’s Translink have been doing with a Twitter pilot they’ve been running the past few months. The pilot is covered in great detail over at The Buzzer Blog (with some great charts), but here are the basics:

  • The @Translink Twitter pilot launched in November 2010.
  • The agency had a Twitter account prior to the pilot (3,883 followers) but it wasn’t fully staffed or consistently updated.
  • The pilot involved adding an additional customer information staff member for each shift who would consistently monitor the Twitter account between 6:30am and 11:30pm.
  • In the first month of the pilot, the number of people following the Translink Twitter account increased by 1,140 to 5,023 followers – a 30%  increase.
  • The number of tweets coming from the agency increased from 278 tweets in October 2010 to 1,151 tweets in December – a 314% increase.
  • Translink also embraced the two-way nature of Twitter and began following their followers – they followed 75 in October and increased to 884 in November.
  • A foul weather event in late November that led to an increase in tweets from the agency also led to an increase in followers, mentions and retweets.
  • The pilot has been extended to the end of this month and the agency hopes to continue the service pending funding approval.

Continue reading

A closer look at transit ridership around LA County

The proportion of commuters who use mass transit to get to work varies wildly across the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area (which encompasses Los Angeles and Orange Counties). Source: 2000 U.S. Census.

Last week, The Source mentioned an Australian study that concluded that perhaps the connection between higher density and transit use was not as robust as previously thought. The study authors also suggested that Los Angeles was a prime example of their theory: a dense city with “relatively low rail and bus use.” I think that suggestion merits a closer look.

Legend

For starters, what’s relative? Across Los Angeles County, 7.3 percent of people over the age of 16 ride mass transit to commute to work. That is certainly below many older cities and counties with more miles of fixed rail than Los Angeles. These cities include Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York — where in the New York-White Plains metro area 44 percent of commuters use mass transit. But the percentage in L.A. County is still above the national average of five percent who use transit to get to work. And it’s similar to the percentages in some metro areas that are about the same size as massive L.A. County.

Secondly, as the following map illustrates, the proportion of residents who ride mass transit to work varies wildly across the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the Census Bureau. Noticeably, the densest parts of L.A. also contain high proportions of transit commuters. Here are some examples from randomly chosen Census Block groups around L.A.: UCLA, 41%; Hollywood, 39%; Downtown, 59%; Koreatown, 64%; MacArthur Park, 67%; the area southeast of the 10 and 110, 85%.

Source: 2000 Census data.

Continue reading

Need assistance? Live Help beta arrives on Metro.net

Live Help Screen Shot

Metro has recently launched a new feature on Metro.net, Live Help beta.

Live Help beta creates a seamless link between Metro.net and Customer Relations, allowing patrons to chat live with Customer Information Agents via a web based instant messaging interface. This provides web savvy (or phone-phobic) customers with an easy alternative to calling 323-GO-METRO, Metro’s Customer Relations line.

Robin O’Hara, Senior Communications Officer at Metro, says the purpose of implementing Live Help is simple: better customer service.

The growing popularity of Metro.net, which has seen a 27% spike in page views since relaunching last year, also played a part in the decision to launch the new service. “More of our customers are using Metro.net and we wanted to deliver the best technology possible in helping them to navigate not only our website but also the Metro system,” says O’Hara. Continue reading