A glimpse of BART's fleet of the future

Our friends at BART in the Bay Area are looking at new rail car designs to replace some of their aging fleet. The above video shows three concepts designed by BMWDesignWorksUSA — check out Concept C.

And here’s a web page on the BART website with more information about the future fleet. Below is one of the exterior designs under consideration: it allows for art work to be shown. Very nice.

Rendering courtesy BART.

New smartphone app links Metro riders up with nearby Destination Discounts

Vidappe MapSavvy Metro riders know that their TAP cards are the key to great discounts around L.A. courtesy of Metro’s Destination Discounts program. We do our best to keep up with the latest deals in our weekly roundup of discounts, but it can be easy to forget what’s available when you’re actually out and about.

Enter Vidappe (pronounced “Vid-app”), a clever app for the iPhone (coming soon to Android) that uses the iPhone’s GPS to locate nearby deals and remind users to take advantage of the savings.

Vidappe was created by Star Li, a 2010 Cornell University graduate who hatched the idea while in school. Star and Vidappe are not affiliated with Metro.

The app isn’t specifically designed for Metro deals — in fact it has a database of programs from around the state and country. But users are in control of what deals they want to see. Here’s how it works: after downloading the app, you register for the service (the company tells me all info is kept private), subscribe to the L.A. Metro program and then adjust the sensitivity (i.e. if you live in an area dense with deals you can set the program to alert you only when you’re within a block or two of a deal).

After setting things up the app will send out a gentle alert when you’re in a proximity of a Destination Discount. You can also turn off alerts and just use the app to view of map of nearby deals. I’ve been using the app for a few days now and have found it to be a great and unobtrusive way to remember where I can use my TAP card for discounts.

Interested? The (free!) iPhone app is available for download here and the Android app should show up in the Android Marketplace in two weeks.

If you try it out, let us know what you think!

TAP card caveat: these puppies expire after 3 years

Photo by waltarrrrr via Flickr.

Photo by waltarrrrr via Flickr.

The perils of being an early-adopter: I was recently surprised to discover that my 3 year old TAP card had expired.

And I’m not the only one. We received this tweet today:

@blinkie Tried to load my TAP card with a day pass and the machine said it expired. @metrolosangeles since when do they expire?

It’s a good question, and the answer is: since always. According section 9 of the TAP Cardholder Agreement (which you agree to upon first use of the card):

9.    CARD EXPIRATION
Each Card will expire approximately three (3) years after its date of issuance, except for Personalized Cards which will expire based on Cardholder’s period of verified eligibility.

I was vaguely aware of that TAP cards had a limited lifespan, but I wasn’t thinking about that last week when I added $40 to my card only to have a turnstile alert me that my card had expired (and my added value inaccessible) a few days later.

Not only are stored value and passes inaccessible on an expired card, according to the Cardholder Agreement:

“upon card expiration [...] an administrative fee of $1 per month of Transit Stored Value will be deducted from any remaining Card Transit Stored Value balance.”

Yikes. So how do you take care of an expired card? Answer after the jump (you’re not going to like it). Continue reading

The Source gets a little visual and functional boost

Observant readers will notice a few subtle changes around The Source today thanks to a little update courtesy of Metro’s web team.

Here are a few of the things we added that we hope will improve the reading experience:

  • Featured posts: the most obvious addition is the box at the very top of the page that features stories we don’t want readers to miss. This week, obviously, it’s all about Carmageddon. Apologies to those who are sick of it.
  • We’ve installed a new search engine that will hopefully make finding stories from our archives a bit easier. Our old search didn’t handle special characters (quotations, percentage signs, etc.) very well, but the new system does. Give it a try.
  • The fonts and post formats have been tweaked slight for improved readability – check out the new block quotes!
  • In an effort to keep the community active we’ve added a  “Leave a comment!” link to every post and included the number of comments for each post in the “Popular Posts” sidebar box.
  • Big bold badges linking to Metro’s other blogs, El Pasajero and Primary Resources, are now part of the sidebar. Make sure to visit them!

We hope these changes are an improvement, please let us know what you think in the comments.

Is a social media app the savior of Carmageddon? ABC 7 thinks so.

Our trusty 405 closure countdown clock tells me that it’s 9 days until Carmageddon… yikes!

While officials are recommending staying off the roads the weekend of July 16th, those who have no choice are looking for solutions to ease the misery. Metro has decided to offer free rides on 26 bus lines and the Red, Purple and Orange lines to encourage transit as an alternative – but for those who insist on driving the solution may be found in a social media app called Waze.

We briefly looked at Waze back in March when an interesting video visualization of L.A. traffic compiled from the app’s data was released. Now the app is back in the news thanks to the 405 closure. Local news network ABC 7 is promoting the app on their broadcasts and website as a way to best navigate around traffic on Carmageddon weekend.

ABC produced a segment on the technology, which you can view here, but this is how it works in a nutshell: drivers download the app and register as a user, the app then uses GPS technology to track a user’s driving speed and location and combines it with data coming from other users to create a real time picture of traffic conditions. The app then uses this live traffic data to generate the best route.

I’m not a driver so I haven’t tested the app on the road, but it has a slick 3D map interface and an average 4.5 stars (out of 5) on the Apple App Store. In addition to Apple, the app is also available for Android, Blackberry and Nokia.

Five new apps from the winners of Metro's Developer Challenge

Smart Ride shows real time bus arrivals on handy map interface.

Smart Ride shows real time bus arrivals on handy map interface.

Back in March we told you about Metro’s Developer Challenge – an invitation to developers to create apps using Metro’s open transit data for a chance to win some big cash prizes.

Well, a few months have passed, the clever developers have worked their magic and Metro’s judges have chosen the winners. Here they are (with some brief commentary on the apps I’ve tried out):

Best Mobile App: L.A. Metro Alerts by Ross MacFarland (Android)

Ross MacFarland has developed an Android app that “Provides NextBus arrival times to Android phones. Highlights include bookmarking of stops and the ability to get alerts when buses/trains are a desired amount of time away.”

I don’t have an Android device and haven’t had the chance to test this app, but here’s what Metro’s judges had to say: “A great app that’s easy to use…just pick it up and use the tool – all very intuitive.”

Best NextBus Mobile App: Smart Ride By Aaron Bannert (iOS)

Aaron Bannert taps into realtime NextBus data for his app Smart Ride which “Allows the user to access nearby routes and stops, check real-time arrival predictions, track the progress along a route, and watch for transit alerts. A Favorites list can also be created for easy access to one’s favorite stops.”

Of all the apps I tried, this is my favorite. The interface is simple and the functionality is robust. For mobile iOS (iPhone, iPad) users, this app is a godsend! It uses GPS data to round up nearby stops and lists the next three arrival times (real time) for each stop. One of my favorite features in the map mode, which lets you view all nearby stops (and upcoming arrivals) from a Google Maps interface. Another fantastic feature for regular riders: stops can be saved so you can find out when your next bus is coming without any hassle.

Here’s how the Metro judges describe the app: “Has a great look and feel, and provides a route and stop selection process that is easy to use.”

Best Mobile App (College): CSULA Transit by Robert Martin and Andrew Greene (iOS)

Cal State L.A. developers Robert Martin and Andrew Greene win the college category with this iOS app that “Displays real-time updates for all buses arriving at the Cal State LA campus using NextBus prediction services. Also displays upcoming Metrolink train arrivals.”

The app includes the major transit stops for CSULA including the University Transit Center, El Monte Busway and Cal State Metrolink Station. Users can click on their stop and find the next trip times for all arriving transit. The software is simple, focused and fast. Should be a boon for transit oriented Cal State coeds.

Here’s what Metro judges had to say: ““A simple yet user-friendly app with a design well suited for handhelds.”

Don’t have a smart phone? Check out the best web mashups after the jump. Continue reading

Go Metro map gets interactive

The iconic Go Metro map featuring Metro’s rail and bus rapid transit lines just got an interactive upgrade. Point your browser to http://www.metro.net/interactives/go_metro/ to check it out (note: it’s a Flash map so it won’t work on iDevices).

Go Metro Interactive map

So what makes this interactive map so interactive? Clicking on stations reveals a box filled with useful information about parking, bike facilities and local transit connections. It’s also integrated with Google Maps so you can check out the street view of a particular station or open up a full fledged Google Map for trip planning and more.

My favorite feature is the Yelp integration. Each station has a link to Yelp reviews of nearby restaurants and more. Clever, and useful for locals and tourists alike.

Keep in mind, like many of Metro’s web initiatives, the map is a work and progress and there are more bells and whistles in the works. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments.

View the rest of Metro’s system maps here: http://www.metro.net/around/maps/