Dispatches from San Jose: VTA's Eco Pass

A thing of beauty: A multi-modal street in downtown San Jose serving light rail and buses in exclusive lanes, as well as private automobiles. Photo by C. Rubin.

One of our goals at The Source is to give attention to novel transportation ideas found elsewhere — whether it’s innovate ways to finance transit projects or finding better ways to share bus schedules with the public. With that in mind, we turn our attention to a transit pass program run by the Valley Transit Authority (VTA), the public agency that serves the San Jose metropolitan area with 75 different bus routes and 42.2 miles of light rail service.

It’s called the Residential Eco Pass, and it offers deeply discounted annual transit passes to residential communities.

To get the inside scoop — its genesis, successes, and challenges — I recently spoke with three officials at VTA who have worked closely on the program: Chief of External Affairs Greta Helm, Sales and Promotions Supervisor Dino Guevarra and Deputy Director of Accounting Ali Hudda.


Implemented a decade ago, the residential program was designed to mimic VTA’s successful employer-based Eco Pass program, which is designed to make it easy for workers to get transit passes through their employers and has been adopted by several of the region’s major companies such as Yahoo! and Lockheed Martin. The overarching goal of the residential program is to get transit passes into as many people’s hands as possible — i.e. to provide a cheap and easy way for San Joseans to try public transit and see how it can enhance their travel around the region.

How It Works

To obtain a Residential Eco Pass, a so-called housing community — a homeowners association or residents of an apartment or condo building — must agree to buy an annual transit pass for every resident over the age of five. According to Gueverra, the Residential Eco Pass is most often treated as a community amenity and the cost is absorbed into the price of rent or homeowners dues. Continue reading

Metro.net gets updated with an improved Service Advisories page

The Metro web team has revamped the Service Advisories feature on Metro.net with an interface facelift and improved functionality to make it easier for Metro bus and rail riders to stay on top of service issues that may affect their travels.

What’s new? Here’s a list of features that have been rolled out:

  • Filter by mode (bus, rail, special)
    Allows customers to view advisories be specified modes. Only ride Metro Rail? Choose rail from the dropdown menu and filter out the bus advisories.
  • Filter by date
    Allows customers to view service advisories by a specific date. So if you know you have a big meeting coming up you can check ahead to see if there are any planned service advisories that may affect your trip.
  • Current and upcoming advisories
    Complimenting filter by date is the ability to view upcoming service advisories (more than a week in future) in addition to current advisories. On the main service advisories page the current advisories are display, but an additional column lets you see if a given line has any upcoming advisories.
  • Better organization
    In addition to filtering features, the service advisories page has been reorganized to make information easier to find. Instead of a long list of advisories with full descriptions all on one page, the list has been truncated. Wordy descriptions have been replaced with succinct headlines that link to a page with a more detailed description of the advisory.
  • Live service alerts and Trip Planner integrated onto Service Advisories page
    Customers don’t have to search Metro.net for other useful features when viewing service advisories – the @MetroLAalerts Twitter feed and the Trip Planner are now included in the sidebar of the Service Advisories page.

Access the Service Advisories feature directly from the homepage of Metro.net – it can be found in the sidebar or from the top menu under Rider Tools. You can also access the page directly by going to http://www.metro.net/service/advisories/.

So what do you think of the updated Service Advisories feature? As with most features on Metro.net, feedback is encouraged so that the service can be improved to better serve customers. Leave your comments here on The Source or contact the web team directly using this form.

Video: Metrolink Positive Train Control System

In a post earlier today we told you about a $6.6 million federal grant to help fund Metrolink’s efforts to install Positive Train Control (PTC) along its commuter rail system.

But what is PTC exactly? This informative video from Metrolink features some nice computer animation that explains how system works.

In a nutshell: a network of computers and GPS technology connect trains, signals and central offices to ensure the safest possible operation of trains.

Mapnificent, now for LA

Suppose you’re out and about in LA, and you’ve got a spare hour. What to do? Where could you go? How far could you go?

Thanks to Mapnificent, it is now possible to figure out just how far you could roam within a certain period of time in the Los Angeles area.

Developed by a German graduate student named Stefan Wehrmeyer, Mapnificent produces Google Maps that show how far someone could travel from one point using mass transit, walking or biking.

Wehrmeyer explains his project in much greater detail here and in the video below.

Continue reading

Metrolink launches user-friendly mobile site

Metrolink Mobile Image

Metrolink has launched a new mobile website that allows its patrons to access vital information about the commuter rail system while on the go.

A Google Maps enhanced trip planner, service updates from Twitter, schedules, a system map and station information are all accessible from the new mobile-friendly interface.

I gave the site a whirl from my iPhone and I have to say – I’m impressed. Pointing the iPhone’s browser to metrolinktrains.com, the same URL used to access the full-fledged site, automatically loads the mobile site.

The home page is simple in the best way possible. Eight large, touch-friendly buttons make navigating the site a breeze. Each section loads quickly and seem perfectly optimized for the smartphone. The service alerts page in particular looks like it will be of great use to Metrolink riders who don’t follow the agency on Twitter.

In a press release, posted after the jump, Metrolink calls the site a beta release – but clearly the agency did their homework before launching this one.

On a side note: Metro’s own mobile site has received a quiet update. Service alerts from Twitter are now featured prominently on the home page and a tab has been added for news which features the latest headlines from The Source. Check it out on the mobile web at m.metro.net. Continue reading

Metro's Paul Taylor talks up Beijing-Metro traffic pact on KCRW show

Paul Taylor in China. Metro's Deputy CEO Paul Taylor (third from left in front row) meets with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport in late August, early September.

Paul Taylor in China: Metro's Deputy CEO Paul Taylor (third from left in front row) meets with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport in late August, early September.

Recently returned from meetings with Beijing transportation officials concerned about a wildly expanding traffic knot in this populous city, Metro’s Deputy CEO Paul Taylor discussed the global implications of traffic management on KCRW’s design and architecture show hosted by design editor Frances Anderton. Listen in online at kcrw.org.

Taylor returned from the Beijing meetings held Aug. 30 – Sept. 1 with a proposed agreement to pool traffic management expertise. The Metro Board of Directors formally approved the Memorandum of Cooperation with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport at its October meeting. The agreement does not involve any exchange of funding resources.

For the backstory see The Source post Sept. 15: Wide, wide world of transit: Metro and Beijing Transport team up to battle traffic congestion.

Regional Trip Planner gets a visual update and Google Maps integration

Regional Trip Planner, old and new.

A sample of the cosmetic changes to the Regional Trip Planner.

Metro has begun to implement changes to the online Regional Trip Planner – namely an updated design and Google Maps integration.

The visual design has been updated to match the look and feel of the redesigned Metro.net website, the language has been updated to be more user-friendly to first time riders and the addition of Google Maps provides much improved visuals and functionality.

Here are a few facts about the Regional Trip Planner:

  • This September the Trip Planner provided 5,392,130 trip itineraries.
  • The Trip Planner has scheduling data for 70 Southern California transit carriers.
  • The Trip Planner was first introduced in 1999.

The changes are live, and you can check out the updated Regional Trip Planner now.

Plans are in the works for future improvements to the software – let us know how you feel about the recent updates and what you’d like to see in the future by leaving a comment.

Tech tip: easily view PDF timetables using gPDF and Google Docs in Firefox and Chrome

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

Poll: multiple Twitter accounts for service updates?

Yesterday we told you how to sign up for text message service alerts from Metro’s Twitter account @MetroLAalerts.

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

How to get Metro service alerts via text message

Metro Twitter SMSMetro’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.