How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.
Metro earns more than $100,000 from the contractor that provides Transit TV each year, helping to subsidize customer-paid fares that cover only 28 percent of the cost of the ride. While this is not a lot of money in terms of the cost of running a huge transit agency like Metro, it’s enough to make it worthwhile and there is no cost to Metro for providing Transit TV.
How do the monitors aboard Metro’s bus fleet receive the programs that change daily? By a specialized digital system created to collect the news, weather and feature programming and transmit it to the buses via Wi-Fi.
Each day Transit TV runs dozens of short programs of national, world and local interest on a variety of topics including news, health and fitness, safety, L.A. history and self-help.
For example, a segment called Transit TV Teacher offers short lessons on common mistakes such as the difference between the words “there” and “their.” How-to tips might explain how to prepare a resume. A Hulu-produced show called The Morning After offers synopses of the previous night’s TV programming.
Daily news segments come from AP news and Telemundo. There are a variety of trivia games for riders to play, with answers sent in via email.
Recently Transit TV began running clips from Metro Motion, Metro’s TV news show that features a variety of entertaining and informative transportation news and feature stories throughout Los Angeles County.
Most stories change daily, although contests change weekly and there are several transmissions throughout the day. How does this happen?
Segments from the wide variety of sources are posted to the Tezo Systems (for Transit TV) ftp site. Tezo itself produces local content that is moved to the publishing queue. The content is assembled into a 1-hour loop that contains several dozen pieces including commercials that, as on TV, pay for the shows. The pieces are recoded to make them compatible with Transit TV specs. This allows them to play on the monitors on the buses. The encoded loop is then transmitted over the internet to a server in downtown Los Angeles.
From there the 60-minute loop of shows is sent over the cellular network to station servers at each Metro division. From the station servers content is transmitted via Wi-Fi to onboard computers (called media engines) on the buses. When the buses come within 600 feet of the station servers they automatically communicate. If there is new content, the buses collect it. Throughout the day the media engines are constantly looking for this communication. Typically the buses return to the division yards at some point during the day and pick up any refreshed material. New content is typically available in the morning between 8 and 9 a.m., with additional news available in the afternoon between 5 and 6 p.m.
In addition to the shows, games and news, GPS-triggered advertising banners promoting businesses that the buses are passing by pop up as the buses are passing. See an ad for ice cream? You just might be able to hop off the bus and buy some.
Transit TV debuted on Metro’s 2,000 buses in 2006.