Friday, November 26, 2010

Transit Agencies: This is why you should have your data in GTFS format with a license that allows for non-commercial derivatives

Mapnificent from Stefan Wehrmeyer on Vimeo.

Mapnificent now available in Los Angeles.  Transit agencies take notice.  It takes a developer with some specific expertise just a few lines of code to roll such products out to new cities, and they can provide immense value to your users.  Any investment your agency makes in publishing schedule data in GTFS (Google Transit's General Transit Feed Specification) will be leveraged several times over with third party sites like Mapnificent, Walk Score's Transit Score, and of course Google Maps for Mobile (available for all major smartphone operating systems).  Can your web site do that?  How much would it cost you to develop the capability in-house?  Wouldn't it be great to provide this kind of service to your customers with no additional expenditures or contracts?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Metro's Visa+TAP program seems destined to flop

Metro is looking at rolling out Visa cards for use in contactless fare payment, but these cards will only allow pre-existing tap products (day/week/month/quarterly passes) but no new declining balance option?  Perhaps these cards will offer this ability and Metro's staff report is misleading - if this is the case I'd love to be corrected in the comments.

The potential benefits to customers are limited:
  • one fewer piece of plastic to lug around (for a small subset of customers who have Visa ATM cards)
  • as this enables no new fare payment options there are no other benefits.  There are already limited-value debit cards for sale, so that aspect of the product is not new.
The benefits to Visa seem much greater:
  • Metro, a government agency with some trust from riders, markets a Visa Debit card to the unbanked.  Visa (and the issuing bank) earn a service fee for each initial purchase and reload.

The main benefit of enabling contactless payment debit cards for use with a transit system is in offering a declining balance payment option.  New York MTA has figured this out with their integration of Mastercard's PayPass.  This enables PayPass holders to use that card as cash fare, giving occasional riders the same ease of payment as pass-holders.

It seems that Metro has defined the problem as: "How do we offer some sort of branded contactless fare payment system that will allow us to demonstrate technological advancement in fare payment when the Board asks about other system's programs (e.g., New York's) without further troubling the Board with the root political issues surrounding use of declining-balance fare payment with multiple agencies?"  Metro will never be able to move forward with new, innovative, fare products unless it solves that issue, and the Metro Board is the only body with the political to solve it.

I would think that most customers would define the problem as: "How do you make my transit experience more seamless?"  The proposed Visa cards do nothing to address this problem.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Can the richest neighborhoods be exempt from bus lanes?

Can the richest neighborhoods be exempt from bus lanes?  Richer cities Santa Monica and Beverly Hills are already not participating in the bus-only lane.  Now, Metro and LA DOT must decide whether the richest section of the City of Los Angeles that the bus lane passes through will also be exempt.

Here's a look at median household income (2004) around the Wilshire Corridor.  Blue = highest incomes, yellow = lowest incomes.

Note that UCLA students are poor... Wilshire Blvd is in red.

And here's a look at traffic along the Westwood to Beverly Glenn segment in question:

Note that there is substantial traffic east of Manning

Residents are worried that subtracting a general purpose traffic lane will lead to more traffic.  However, if residents are worried about neighborhood traffic rather than transit riders, they are misdirecting their concern. I argue that the majority of PM peak traffic congestion  in Westwood and Brentwood is a direct result of the current metering system which restricts access to the 405.  Vehicles arrive at the 405 onramps a rate faster than the meter allows access to the freeway.  This backs up vehicles seeking to enter the freeway, essentially turning Wilshire Blvd into a waiting area, which creates congested traffic through on side streets Westwood and Brentwood even when there is little congestion on the 405.  There is a real trade-off between congestion in these neighborhoods and on the 405 that residents in these areas do not seem to be aware of.  More on this in a future blog entry.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Metro Planning an Android App

As a frequent reader of Engadget, I know that job postings frequently spill the beans on planned technology developments.  From this job posting, I learned that Metro is planning an Android application.  This shouldn't be surprising, given that Android is the most popular operating system for both Metro Riders and the fastest growing smartphone OS in the US.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NBC Universal Evolution's Proposed Shuttle System an Inadequate Mitigation Measure

NBC Universal is planning a sizable development (3000 residential units, plus studios, office, and an expansion of the theme park.) on a portion of their property:

They're also planning to create a new shuttle system to mitigate some of the traffic impacts:

They outline how this proposed shuttle will work in mitigation measure B-2:

  • Service from Lakeside Plaza Drive Transit Center to the Universal City Red Line Station
  • Service from Lakeside Plaza Drive Transit Center to Downtown Burbank & Burbank Media District
  • Service from Lakeside Plaza Drive Transit Center to Hollywood
  • Service to operate with 15 minute headways during peak hours and 30 minute headways during off-peak hours
  • Shuttle system to be guaranteed for 20 years

On the surface, this seems like a viable way to shift some trips to transit.  However, I have several concerns with the proposed shuttle system:

  1. How will the system integrate with the existing Metro & Municipal service in the area?  Will the system use TAP cards? Will it accept transfers?  In order to get a meaningful share of trips originating or terminating in the project area, the private shuttle will need to integrate well with the greater Los Angeles Transit System.  Connecting with the Universal City Red Line Station is a start, but people want to go places other than those served by the red line.
  2. Fifteen minute headways are inadequate for peak periods. The shuttle route to the Universal City Red Line Station is 2 miles long.  This means that two shuttles will run during peak periods, and one shuttle during off-peak.  To be more attractive to users, service would have twice the number of shuttles and operate every 7 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak hours.
  3. Even with the service improvement, ridership on the line will lag. In order to be a effective, a transit line must connect at least two places where people want to go.  For example, the Metro 704, 720, and 733 lines all connect downtown LA with Downtown Santa Monica
  4. Those going from much of the project site to downtown Burbank will have to transfer shuttles at the Lakeside Plaza Drive Transit Center.  This transfer penalty would mean that few people with a choice between the shuttle and a car would take the shuttle.

Also, they'll buy Metro one (1) articulated bus and operate it for 3 years, and then pay for a portion of operations for another 7 years. (this is measure B-1)

A more effective traffic mitigation alternative

NBC Universal not build a private shuttle system and instead pay a portion of the cost to extend the Metro Rapid 750 line or create a new Metro Rapid line through the site to Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena.

As you can see from the map above, the proposed Metro Rapid line or extension would connect major job centers along the route (in darker shades of blue).  The connection between these cities currently one of the biggest gaps in the Metro Rapid System.  The proposed line would connect:

  • Universal City Metro Rail Red Line Station
  • Universal Studios
  • Evolution @ Universal City
  • Warner Brothers Studios
  • NBC Studios (Alameda)
  • Burbank Metrolink Station
  • Downtown Burbank
  • Downtown Glendale
  • Americana @ Brand
  • Eagle Rock
  • Pasadena Gold Line (Memorial Park Station)
  • Pasadena City College
If the line is an extension of the Metro Rapid line 750, it would also connect:
  • Studio City
  • Sherman Oaks
  • Sherman Oaks Galleria
  • Encino
  • Woodland Hills
  • Warner Center
  • Westfield Topanga
(as an extension, every other bus from Warner Center may be a short line to Glendale (780 provides connecting service to Pasadena)

Universal Studios would be at the heart of the 750 extension.  If Universal Studios aims to further its position as a regional entertainment destination, it should welcome the opportunity to better connect the district to its employees and patrons.  Additionally, Metro Rapid extension allows Evolution employees and residents access to many other places than West Hollywood and Downtown Burbank.

Interesting Statistics about Transit Oriented Development in Los Angeles

I've been using some Census and Local Employment Dynamics statistics to do some analysis of transit station areas in Los Angeles.  My research center at UCLA is working on an expanded project to look at changes in transit station areas over time.  In my preliminary work, I've found some interesting bits of information for areas within 1/2 a mile of a Metrorail or Orange Line station:

  • 21% of Los Angeles County jobs which pay over $3333/month are in these areas (for 2008)
  • In 2000, 23% of those living within 1/2 mile of a transit station took transit to work. An additional 5% walked. 
  • In 2000, 70% of Los Angeles County residents drove alone to work.  In the areas near transit stations, 51% drove alone to work.
  • Under 5% of the county's population lived within 1/2 of a mile of a transit station in 2000.  Now, it's well over 8% (new figures will be out in December).
  • Those living within 1/2 mile of a transit station in 2000 were 380% more likely to take transit to work than those not living near stations..
  • Those living within 1/2 mile of a transit station in 2000 were 193% more likely to walk to work than those not living near stations.
  • 17% of Los Angeles County Jobs (in 2008) were within 1/2 mile of a transit station.
And focused on the Westside Subway Extension
  • There are 52,000 jobs within 1/2 mile of the proposed Westwood Stop.  
  • There are 10,000 more jobs within 1/2 mile the Constellation/Avenue of the Stars stop than the Santa Monica/Avenue of the Stars stop
  • If only the Century City and Westwood stations were open today, about 19% of all jobs in the county and 25% of jobs which pay $3333/month or more would be within 1/2 of a mile of a transit station.  (This analysis does not include the other purple line stops at the VA, Rodeo, La Cienega, Fairfax, or LaBrea)
The point I've seen so far is that the larger the transit network becomes, the more valuable access to that network is.  In 1990, before the Blue line opened, there were 0 jobs within 1/2 a mile of Metrorail.  In 2010, about 17% of jobs are now within 1/2 mile of Metrorail.  With the projects in Metro's Long Range Transportation Plan this figure will continue to grow.

Los Angeles County Jobs Heatmap (Data exported from US Census Bureau's LED on the Map)