Thursday, June 25, 2009

ACT Workshop at Caltech

Hi everyone,

This morning, I am leading a workshop with Juan called "Creating your presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn". The workshop is for the southern California chapter of the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT), the trade association for TDM and rideshare professionals.

You can check out a PDF of the presentation here: http://jmatute.googlepages.com/ACTWorkshop.pdf

The presentation goes through the basics of the three social networking sites and brings up good examples of how people are using these sites to disseminate information to commuters.

Sirinya

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Metro Releases Schedule Data in Google Format - Google Transit to Follow!

Last week, Metro quietly published a developer site to publicly release GTFS data (the backbone of Google Transit) at http://developer.metro.net.

Today, they announced it in a press release: L.A. Metro Releases Transit Data to Spur Applications Development and Grow Ridership. In the release, they say the Developer Site "is one of a number of exciting interactive developments that will be announced in the coming weeks."

This can only mean one thing, that Metro will soon be on Google Transit. I know that there are some upcoming schedule changes because of the new Gold Line Extension, so that may complicate the release of schedule data, but I would expect Los Angeles to be able to use Google Transit in the next month or so. Of course, if this doesn't happen we'll tell you what you can do to apply pressure.

Join the Los Angeles Wants Google Transit Facebook Group to keep updated on the push for Google Transit.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Metro Board meeting on Long Range Transportation Plan this Thursday

Thursday is a crucial step in making sure the Wilshire Subway is funded. Measure R provided the funds for additional transit projects like the Subway to UCLA. The Wilshire Subway is currently in second place on a long list of projects to be funded with Measure R funds. On Thursday, the board will finalize which projects make the cut, and how they are prioritized. Having Wilshire Subway supporters will help the politicians make the right decision - to fund the Wilshire Subway, which will have the maximum benefit not only for UCLA and the Westside but all of Los Angeles.

Join Bruins for Traffic Relief on Thursday at 1pm at the Metro Board Meeting adjacent to Union Station. You can take the bus or subway to Union Station. Check Metro's Trip Planner for instructions on how to get there on transit. Just remember that the subway will bring the trip time from Westwood to Union station to around 30 minutes, and enable you to take subway transit to go downtown, Hollywood, and many other places giving you a more holistic experience of Los Angeles and all the things it has to offer.

If you are a UCLA student, staff, faculty, or affiliate, please wear school colors to show your support.

Using Metro on the Smartphone

For the past few weeks I've been playing around with Rapid on the Cell and the cell phone version of Metro's Trip Planner as part of my ongoing look at how new mobile technologies can help people better interact with public transit. A lack of information is a big barrier to transit use for choice riders. The internet has revolutionized the availability of transit information - no longer do people have to have paper copies of time tables and route maps to figure out how to get around.

However, as the internet becomes more mobile with laptops, cells, and smart phones, it seems Metro has not kept up. Metro currently has two mobile offerings, TripPlanner and RapidBus.net.


A screenshot taken by Sirinya of the Rapid on the Cell site while she was tracking the whereabouts of the next 720 from her home computer for Juan

Rapidbus.net allows visitors to read the same next bus displays at Metro Rapid (7-series) stops, but from their web-enabled cell or computer. As frequent transit users know, the information provided by these screens is not the most accurate.

One downfall of the line I frequently use, the 720, is that there is no option to see when the next bus is arriving at stops in Santa Monica. I assume this is because there are no inductive loops for signal priority in Santa Monica, which I believe drives the Next Bus times. One additional downside of using the inductive loops in the asphalt rather than GPS positioning is that the first stop for which next bus information is available often reads "Unavailable" until a bus is only a few minutes away.

All in all, Rapidbus.net is a useful tool that can help users minimize wait time at bus stops. I used it to get home from downtown late Saturday night, and was able to arrive at my stop only 3 minutes before the bus arrived. At the time, the 720 was operating with 15 minute headways.
One downside of Rapidbus.net is that, at least on my cellphone (a Blackberry 8820), it does not enable deep linking. Deep linking would be useful if a user wanted to save a bookmark of nextbus information for a stop they frequented (work or home) and didn't want to spend the minute or so it takes to navigate the Rapidbus site to find the next bus information.

On the cell, a user must click links for "MTA" (the first one, not the 2nd of the two MTA's available), then the line they wish to travel on, the direction they wish to travel, then the stop they wish to view information for. The computer version is more user friendly.
One additional errata is the presence of a Sepulveda stop on the 720. The stop is actually at Bonsall, 400 yards away.
Using Trip Planner on the cell is a bit more difficult. Trip Planner online is notorious for errors. Luckily, TripPlanner on the cell can provide useful information for users who have figured out how to use the site. The trick is knowing Metro's convention for cross streets, which is a "/" rather than a "&". If you use a & which is the convention on Google Maps, you'll never find what you're looking for.

Once you get past that part, you have to verify that TripPlanner understood your intersections correctly. Then it gives you some options of what bus to take. If you're not familiar with different routes, this can be difficult, especially if you're not familiar with the difference between two or more bus numbers which use the same route (920/720/20). Eventually, it's possible to figure out what time the next bus is scheduled to arrive. This is useful information.

One huge drawback to TripPlanner on the computer by phone is that it doesn't include owl service. I found this out when using TripPlanner on my cell to come back home from a night out at Karaoke in Korea Town. It was around 1 in the morning, but TripPlanner showed the next trip at 4:38 in the morning. Because PDFs don't load well on my cell, I couldn't access the time tables. I had to call a friend to find out when the next 20 bus might be coming.

At the time, I wasn't aware of NextTrip, which is accessible by clicking "Riding Metro" and then "Metro Bus" on the mobile site. This would only have been a viable option since I knew which line I wanted to take and which stops I wanted to use.

Both of Rapidbus and TripPlanner on the cell have shortcomings, but are useful to a patient user who has some degree of bus riding experience. I'm looking forward to the one day, very soon, when Google Transit rolls out in the Los Angeles area. After that, many other good things will happen.