Stored value now available at TAP website and on all ticket vending machines!

Over the past couple of months, Metro customers have been able to add stored value to their TAP cards at 22 ticket vending machines at Metro Rail stations.

The test of stored value has gone very well — so well, in fact, that Metro today is selling stored value at all ticket vending machines in Metro Rail and Orange Line stations. The machines will allow customers to add stored value in increments of $10, $20, $40, $80, $100 and $200. Cards also remain for sale at 22 machines — here are their locations.

In addition — and just as significant — the website now allows customers to put increments of $5, $10, $25 and $50 of stored value on their TAP cards (sign in, click on ‘fare products’ and then the arrows next to “fare description.’) This is especially convenient for those who don’t take Metro Rail and don’t have easy access to the ticket vending machines. The uber-alert L.A. Streetsblog site already seems extremely happy about this according to their post yesterday.

Stored value allows customers to put cash on their TAP cards and have the cost of single rides automatically deducted whenever they take the bus or train — just tap your card at the gate and go. It’s very convenient for Metro riders who don’t want to hassle with buying paper tickets before each ride, especially those who don’t ride enough to justify buying a daily, weekly or monthly pass.

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Got apps? Reminder to attend tonight’s Developer Challenge Kick-off event

Metro Developer Challenge

Last week we told you about Metro’s Developer Challenge – your opportunity to create the next great transit app with Metro’s open data and possibly win $2,000.

Tonight we’re throwing a kick-off and Q&A event to get all app developer hopefuls up to speed on the specifics of the contest and get the ball rolling. There will be a presentation and the data providers will be there to answer your questions . The event gets underway tonight at 6pm at Metro Headquarters.

If you  can’t make it, the event will also be streamed live on uStream and WebEx (WebEx password: kick-off).

On a personal note I really hope developers out there jump at this opportunity. Metro offers mounds of data relating to its transit services – including the long awaited realtime bus arrival data – but L.A. still lacks great transit apps when compared to other cities. Portland in particular is a much smaller city that has a wealth of home-grown third party transit apps (I counted 39), and many of them are really great (I’ve found the feature set of PDX Bus to be impressively robust).

The way I see it, this isn’t just a challenge to create some great transit apps, it’s a chance to prove that Angelenos have brains in addition to beauty, and that we can app with the best of them.

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.

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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.

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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 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

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.

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