Notes on Metro technology

Lan-Chi Lam is the Interactive Design and Strategy Manager at Metro. She will be writing occasional posts to update readers about Metro’s use of technology to communicate with our customers.

Mobile Web

As of December 2011, 30 percent of all web traffic visiting metro.net came from a mobile device (smart phone, cell phone, touch pad). With roughly one million visits per month, this equals approximately 300,000 visits to the site from small devices. Why the surge? Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock for the last few years, you already know its hard to deny the disruptive and immersive beck and call, er, ding and beep, of a mobile device.

I’ve been following our mobile trend for sometime and initially it was about iPhones (iOS) but once Android entered the market, there was a noticeable dramatic shift — especially this year, the Android take-over was fast and furious.

What devices are Metro customers using to visit metro.net?

  • Android – 58%
  • Apple (iPhone, iPad, iPod) – 37%
  • Blackberry – 4%
  • Others – 1%
Chart: mobile breakdown from Dec 2011

Mobile devices visiting metro.net, Dec 2011. (iOS devices are a similar orange)

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More sign language

Metro and Caltrans also are investigating the possibility that real-time Metro Rail travel info could be displayed on electronic highway signs, as Metrolink announced yesterday.

By offering real-time travel comparisons between a particular freeway and, say, the Blue Line, the signs would let commuters know when it would be faster to Go Metro than stay on the freeway.

Caltrans is the lead agency on the project and in Orange County worked with Metrolink to develop the travel time software. Caltrans is now looking at opportunities to expand the system to include freeways signs in Los Angeles. If so, the next step would be to determine which rail lines to start with. Two logical ideas would be the Blue Line and the Gold Line because they parallel freeways and have ample parking at various locations. (Why abandon the freeway if you can’t find a place to park your car when you get to the station?)

In the Bay area, a test of the travel time/rail time system displaying comparisons of transit and highway driving times for Millbrae and Redwood City train stations showed an increase in ridership at both. This good idea is still in its infancy but certainly could be a useful tool for commuters if it can be made to work successfully.

How do they do that?

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.

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Nextrip proving to be popular; train arrival data may be coming next year!

Photo by Raymond Dang/Metro.

From Metro CEO Art Leahy’s daily email to staff:

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.

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Walk Score launches apartment hunting tool geared towards savvy commuters

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.

Here’s a promo to get you excited:

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Metro iPhone app removed from App Store in anticipation of new (improved) app

Oops!

Oops! But a better app is on its way.

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.

Transit and Twitter, how Metro and other agencies are taking on social media

Metro's Twitter Followers May 2011-August 2011

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.

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