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/

Video: How to add a TAP card to taptogo.net

In this video I go over how to add a TAP card bought from a ticket vending machine (TVM) to taptogo.net. This is one of the most common questions we get about TAP, and admittedly it’s not as obvious as it should be – but it is really easy.

This step-by-step video will show you the whole process, but you can also just follow the steps listed after the jump.

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Answers to your questions about TAP, 2011 edition

Note to readers: Due to some ongoing tech issues, we lost a couple of posts originally published on The Source this afternoon. We also lost the accompanying comments, which I haven’t been able to recover — my apologies. We did have a backup of the post, however.

We recently invited readers to submit questions about TAP, Metro’s electronic fare cards.

The cards have proven to be very popular – there are more than almost 15 million transactions a month with them and majority of Metro riders are now using them for day, weekly and monthly passes.

As we reported earlier this year, it is now possible to add stored value to the cards at ticket machines at all Metro Rail stations and on the taptogo website, something that had been eagerly awaited by many Metro customers (including us).

Nonetheless, readers have asked us many questions about TAP and that’s hardly surprising. TAP is still evolving. In fact, it was about a year ago this time we answered a slew of questions. And now a second batch:

Will TAP cards ever be available for purchase on buses, since buses still carry the majority of Metro’s daily riders?

Metro officials agree that selling TAP cards on buses could benefit customers. But there are still several issues to be worked — some technical, some not. Metro staff say they will hopefully have a plan soon on how to sell the cards on buses.

When will paper TAP cards debut?

From a technology standpoint, Metro can launch them now.

But Metro staff is still looking at how and where paper TAP cards can best be used. The agency still wants to move as many customers as possible to a reusable plastic card to avoid wasting resources and money on paper cards that are disposable.

One scenario being looked at: using paper TAP cards as a substitute for paper tickets on Metro Rail.

For what it’s worth, bus operators who have participated in focus groups tend to prefer plastic reusable TAP cards in order to avoid fraud and confrontation with bus riders.

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More on those new Nextrip bus stop signs

Nextrip sign prototype.

A prototype of the new Nextrip plaque signs.

Included in last week’s official Nextrip launch was an informational video that included a sneak peak at some eye catching new bus stop signage

This new signage – the first part of a larger initiative to update all bus stop signs – brings Nextrip information to each and every bus stop in the system. It’s a project that shows Metro’s commitment to the real time arrival system by making sure that all riders are aware of the service and have access to the neccessary information.

The Nextrip signs come in a few flavors: cubes with braille stop ID’s, plaques with braille stop ID’s and plain old plaques. All the signs differentiate themselves from the standard stop signage with a dark purple paint job that makes the informational text and iconography (painted in white) unmissable.

Perhaps the most noticeable element on the signage is the large QR code (quick response code) embedded within the information hierarchy. For those who aren’t familiar with QR codes, they allow riders equipped with camera enabled smartphones to quickly scan the barcode symbol which will instantly link them to a web page. In this case, the QR codes will eventually link to a stop specific webpage on Metro.net with Nextrip information, information about the lines served, a map of the area and even nearby Destination Discount offers. For the time being, the codes will send users to the Nextrip page of Metro.net

As you can imagine, as a whole this is a massive project. Metro has 15,500 bus stops which means 15,500 unique signs (and web pages) have to be fabricated and installed. This takes coordination with a number of departments which means the roll out will happen incrementally and line by line. The good news is that it starts soon – the first signs (2,000 of them, covering 11 lines) will be installed in June to coincide with the service shake-up.

Click through the jump for more pictures of the new signage and let us know what you think about the designs in the comments. Continue reading

Committee recommends 7.7-mile bus lane for Wilshire Boulevard

The peak hour bus lane alternative embraced by the Metro Board's planning committee. Click above for a larger image.

A 7.7-mile Wilshire Boulevard peak hour bus plane project was endorsed on Wednesday afternoon by the Metro Board of Directors’ planning committee by a vote of 5 to 0. It is the same route recommended by Metro staff.

The route — shown above — includes a 2.3-mile segment west of Beverly Hills in the Brentwood area and 5.4 miles of Wilshire east of Beverly Hills. A segment of about one-mile between Selby and Comstock avenues in Westwood was excluded. (Here’s more info on all the alternatives).

The five yes votes on Wednesday came from Board members Diane DuBois, John Fasana, Richard Katz, Pam O’Connor and Zev Yaroslavsky.

The full 13-member Board of Directors will consider the same issue at their meeting on Thursday, May 26, when the Board is asked to approve the final environmental report for a project that has been talked about since the 1990s.

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