Metro provides digital timetables for each of its 191 bus routes and 5 rail lines in the PDF format. While PDF is a universally accepted format, and an accessible one at that, I find PDF documents to be a bit disruptive when browsing for vital information – like timetables – on the web.
Metro’s web and operations teams are currently in the process of creating HTML timetables – timetables that can be viewed in your browser like any other web page – for Metro.net, but until the conversion is complete we’re stuck with PDF’s. The good new is that there’s a solution for users who’d rather view timetables in their web browsers rather than going through the hassle of downloading PDF timetables and opening them with a separate program. Continue reading →
Commenter B. Kuo brought up an idea – something that some at Metro have been kicking around for a while – suggesting that Metro should have multiple service alert Twitter accounts so that riders can choose to follow only the lines that matter to them. It’s a good idea, especially if you’ve hooked your phone up to Twitter – you probably don’t care to be text messaged regarding a line you don’t ride.
A few transit agencies do this very thing – locally there’s Metrolink which has unique Twitter accounts for each of its seven commuter lines. On a larger scale there’s the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). They have Twitter accounts for each rail line (eight in total) and one catch-all account for CTA buses. Metro would probably do something similar to this. Continue reading →
Metro’s Twitter account for service alerts, @MetroLAalerts, has been around since the beginning of this year and provides daily updates on rail and bus service issues throughout the Metro system. Unlike the more generalized @MetroLosAngeles Twitter, @MetroLAalerts is reserved strictly for service updates.
Despite the potential usefulness of @MetroLAalerts, the account has only managed to acquire just short of 1,000 followers – a drop in the bucket when compared to Metro’s overall bus and rail ridership. Earlier this week a reader mentioned the this could be due to a lack of marketing – and I agree – but promotion aside I think many people think they need to be connected to web or own a smart phone to take advantage of Metro’s service tweets. Fortunately, Twitter is more versatile than that – all you really need to receive service alerts while on the go is a mobile phone capable of receiving SMS (text) messages.
Here’s how (it’s really easy):
1. Text START to 40404
2. You will receive a text message from Twitter asking you to either sign up or enter your current Twitter username and password.
3. After your account is set up for SMS alerts, text either ON metrolaalerts -or- FOLLOW metrolaalerts to 40404.
4. You will now receive text messages to your device whenever @MetroLAalerts updates (be aware of your mobile carrier’s text message plan, each tweet is treated as a standard text message).
5. To turn off @MetroLAalerts text messages, text either OFF metrolaalerts -or- LEAVE metrolaalerts to 40404.
No smart phone or pricey mobile web plan needed – just your basic cell phone, an SMS plan and this guide and you’re on your way to taking advantage of @MetroLAalerts.
I spent Friday at the annual Mobility 21 Transportation Summit, which was held at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. Mobility 21 is a group made up of businesses and transit agencies that works toward regional transportation improvements in Southern California.
As for the summit, it mostly consists of panel discussions on a variety of topics. To boil it all down to its core, here’s the messages I took away from this year’s edition:
•Transportation funding remains in short supply. This is a constant topic of discussion at M21 summits — really the only thing that changes from year to year is the particular threat to funding.
•There’s a lot of enthusiasm for public-private partnerships, but still a lot of questions about how to use private dollars to build public projects.
•The next federal transportation spending bill is huge. The challenge, in short: how to spread the “peanut butter” — i.e. funding — around the country to get the necessary votes from Congress but how to actually use the money to get real results. In other words, spending and results are not necessarily correlated. Continue reading →
One goal of The Source is to get you -- the taxpayer -- inside Metro HQ.
It was one year today that we launched The Source on the Metro website, hoping to better explain government to the people who pay for it: you.
Here’s my first post, explaining what we were shooting for on The Source. And here’s Fred’s first post, explaing his ambitions to cover an agency that he — Fred doesn’t own a car — relies on most days. Excerpt from Fred’s post:
By compressing its massiveness down to the size of your web browser and providing daily postings on what’s going on, where your money’s being spent, and how you can get involved, my hope is that The Source will provide a level of accessibility, transparency, and understanding to Metro’s customers and taxpayers that simply wasn’t before possible.
In the next few days, we’ll post a reader survey because we want to know what readers want/need from The Source.
In the meantime, it’s (hopefully) onward and upward with a busy day today. Public officials are scheduled to hold a news conference later today in Leimert Park to discuss the federal loan to speed construction of the the Crenshaw/LAX Line. And in downtown L.A., the Metro Board of Directors’ planning committee is set to discuss Metro staff recommendations for the Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector projects.
We’ll have coverage later. And, of course, thank you all very much for reading.
A screen shot of a trip request on Bing from 7th/Figueroa to Wilshire & Crenshaw.
We recently got the news that Microsoft’s Bing had just released Bing Maps with Metro bus and rail trip information. Microsoft started the service last month — with information initially for 11 major cities, including L.A. Chicago, Minneapolis and New York. It’s fairly obvious that Bing wants to compete with Google, which already provides such info on its maps. Bing also has Metrolink schedules, but no info yet for the muni bus lines in L.A. County.
I took Bing maps for a spin is the first time yesterday. I like the interface, but it didn’t take long for me to find a glitch. In the map posted above, I asked Bing for directions from 7th/Figueroa in downtown L.A. — i.e. the 7th/Metro Center rail station — to Wilshire/Crenshaw. But Bing maps didn’t seem to recognize that I could transfer to the 720 Rapid Bus after getting off the Purple Line at Wilshire & Western — and instead ordered me to walk the .6 miles. Hmm.
In Bing’s defense, there were other trips it seemed to competently plan. I’ve also found glitches in Google Transit and Metro’s Trip Planner — there are simply times when logic fails all these programs.
The Board of Directors of Metrolink are scheduled Friday to vote on a contract worth up to $120 million for the installation of a positive train control system. The contract would be with Parsons Transportation Group.
The technology was created to prevent trains from colliding. Metrolink has been pursuing such a system in the wake of the deadly crash in Chatsworth in Sept. 2008 between one of its trains and a Union Pacific freight train. Twenty five people on the Metrolink train were killed, including the engineer, who was found to be text messaging in the seconds leading up to the crash.
Here’s the agenda. Metro is one of the five county transportation agencies in Southern California that provides funding to Metrolink.
In our recent (unscientific) poll of Source readers, 83% report having some sort of smartphone. Android devices are the most popular, just beating out the iPhone. At the same time, over 10% of readers report having no mobile web access at all.
Of course, this poll only represents the Source readership, who are likely some of the more tech savvy of Metro customers. Still, it implies that smartphone apps are probably worth investing in and that Metro would be smart to study cross platform apps.
San Francisco Muni NextBus real-time information on an iPhone. Photo by Jamison Wieser via Flickr.
Next week a $1.65-million contract with NextBus, Inc. for a real-time bus arrival system goes in front of the Metro board for approval. If approved, Metro riders could be receiving real-time bus arrival information via text, cell phone, smartphone and web by early 2011.