Friday, July 30, 2010

Metro - System Capacity Improvements

One of the most efficient, effective and immediate things the Metro can do to improve capacity is to address Human Infrastructure, the attitudes and behavior of the Metro staff and passengers. For your consideration I offer these four opportunities.

1) Communication - If the public asks enough Metro employees, the variety of answers will be sure to include a yes, a no, a maybe, and a go away. But it will often result in the run-around. This wastes time and speaks to a systemic flaw that should trigger an examination of the larger issue and the opportunity for clarification.

Example: Recent discussions of the 761 which frequently heads over the hill well under capacity but with a full bike rack has generated complaints as cyclists wait multiple rounds in order to ride over the hill. Metro staff, from Jody Litvak to Lynne Goldsmith to the Bus Operators, are unable to agree on the Metro's policy for bikes on-board policy, offering up "No" and "Only on the last run" and "At the Operator's discretion" and "Only with Operator liability" and "It's not my department." Somehow an opportunity to address systemic confusion was missed and the question lingers. Why does the 761 head over the hill, under capacity but without allowing the cyclists who are left behind the opportunity to put their bikes inside at the back? Also, why does the 761 pass up folding bikes when its rack are full? Best of all, why hasn't this series of questions to staff and complaints to customer service triggered an examination of the triple rack opportunity to increase capacity by 50% for cyclists? They work in Long Beach. Any objections have been dismissed by the Long Beach experience and data. Is anyone paying attention to this opportunity to improve capacity?

2) Training - The public can hardly be expected to understand the Metro policies and then behave accordingly if they are so confusing and exist with so many interpretations. The Metro staff implement and enforce different versions of old and new policies with such creative enthusiasm that it simply drives contempt for the system and an "everyone for themselves" behavioral pattern among the passengers.

The Transit Court will be addressing "Bikes on Escalators," a prohibition that defies comprehension in light of the baby carriage and luggage accommodation, yet it seems to be getting revived. Bike on Trains are prohibited during certain hours but Metro staff explain "That prohibition isn't enforced, it's just there in case we need it." Bus Operators tie off their bike racks and call them "broken" so they can ride bike-free on the freeway. Bus Operators enforce prohibitions against bikes-on-board unless the passenger is able to speak clearly and articulate "Metro policy is to allow bikes-on-board at the Operator's discretion and this empty bus has room in the back for my bike so there is no reason to exclude me from this bus." Rail Operators produce old bike policy pamphlets from the early Red Line days, Bus Operators produce new bike policy pamphlets and find restrictions that don't exist, through it all the thing that is most unclear is "What are we going to do with all of these cyclists?"

3) Logic - Bus Operators frequently inform the public that bikes on-board are allowed at a Bus Operator's discretion but that the Bus Operator is responsible for any damages so they will not allow it. This type of information is simply an insult to the public's intelligence. Kerr's Catering Service v. Department of Industrial Relations (1962) established that an employee can not be held liable for damages that are part of the cost of doing business. Wear and tear, broken dishes in the cafeteria, etc. are not the responsibility of the employee and the Metro should be clear on California Labor Law. Most importantly, the Metro should nip this "liability mythology" because it simply frames the passenger as a liability, not as an integral element of a Comprehensive Transportation System.

A well designed environment will yield good behavior. People sit on the stairs because there is no place to sit. This interferes with the movement of passengers and cyclists are less likely to use the stairs but now the escalators are off limits? People congregate in the middle section of the platform because the Purple Line trains them to count on that section, but this behavior means the head and tail are less populated. Every exiting passenger heads to the center of the platform to exit. Design and communicate to spread passengers out. I always wait for the front car because I have a bike and it is the least populated car, but at Union Station, at NoHo and on the Purple Line, it's not clear where to wait for the front of the train.

Benches that draw passengers to the ends of the platform, clear messaging so passengers can behave accordingly, traffic flow so that boarding is more efficient, simple communication and guidance such as "stand to the right, walk to the left" would all go a long way to increasing capacity and enhancing the passenger experience.

4) Oversight - Equipment malfunctions and breakdowns are to be expected but the most recent Union Station escalator incident bears witness to the systemic lack of oversight. When the escalator closest to HQ went out of service last week, the failure of an out-of-service sign with directions to the elevator in the parking lot to appear should be an indicator that Metro staff who use the escalator take a great deal for granted. The fact that the repairs took days to commence, all for a burned out wire, should have generated a sign indicating that repairs were on the way. This simple incident, so close to Metro HQ, should serve as a trigger that would cause Operations to examine the Metro's response to "out-of-service" incidents and generate a policy for communicating, or responding and for analyzing the data. It is my experience that the escalators at some stations are frequently out-of-service but the staff tell me that no data is collected nor reported. How does the Metro improve?

Complaints from the public are often about staff but the larger opportunity is to look for issues that indicate an opportunity to address communication, training, logic, and the larger Metro environment that allows ongoing conflict between passenger expectation and reality. The 761 issues with under capacity buses that could transport cyclists with their bikes on board is an example of complaints that should have generated an examination of the specific line and the more general policy.

5) Collaboration - I have participated in Cyclist/Metro brainstorm sessions, task forces, and roundtables over the last several years and each time I am hopeful that I am investing my time and energy in a process that will yield a meaningful progress in establishing cyclists as an integral element in LA County's Comprehensive Transportation System. In each case, I spend too much time listening to how hard is is for Metro employees to do their job. I've listened to Metro Bus Operators who need me to know how hard it is to control an articulated bus, Metro Trainers who need me to know how many people they are responsible for training and how difficult it is, HQ staff who need me to understand how difficult it is to work in a political environment, Communications staff who need me to understand how difficult it is to simply get color schemes approved, Operations staff who need me to listen to an explanation of their budget constraints, and enough internal drama to turn even the hardiest bicycle advocate away and yet I persist. Metro morale issues are not the cycling communities responsibility and they must be dealt with before we can move forward and collaborate. We understand the realities of the world we live in, no need to impress us with complexities and budgets, we get it.

Let's collaborate. Let's focus on active solutions to real opportunities that will enhance Metro capacity and the passenger's experience.

Real opportunities for real active solutions:

761 - this line often runs under capacity on a vital route for cyclists yet full racks and a "no-bikes-on-board" policy from the operators prevents cyclists from getting home. Communicate the "Bus Operator's discretion" policy, dispel the liability mythology and let's enhance capacity. Bikes on Board! (Locals have racks for two bikes. Larger buses have higher capacity but still only hold two bikes. Double capacity buses should hold four bikes. Why does the arbitrary limit of two cyclists keep coming up?)

Triple Racks - Long Beach uses them, examine the liability data, dispel the mythology and increase capacity for cyclists on buses by 50% in one swift move.

Bikes on Escalators - Remove the restriction or restrict all carriages, carts, luggage and "stuff" but be consistent and communicate clearly. To allow this to slide into Transit Court oversight is absolutely unacceptable.

Bikes on Rail - Remove the time-of-day restrictions from Metro materials and communicate clearly the policy. With 100 languages spoken in our community, many people simply follow the crowd. Communicate clearly and the crowd will move in the right direction.

Bikes on Buses - Communicate clearly, starting with Metro staff, and demonstrate that cyclists are gap connectors, transportation solutions, not simply a burden and a liability.

Collect the Data - Efforts to restrict cyclists (two per rail car, two per bus...) defy the reality of our world. The Red Line on a Saturday morning is full of workforce cyclists headed to their jobs in the Valley. The Orange Line at night is full of workforce cyclists headed home from their jobs in the West Valley. Metro staff must base their decisions on real data and real need, not on "Monday to Friday, 9 to 5" observations.

Integrate Cyclists as Partners - Cyclists are gap connectors and enhance systemic capacity. To simply look at the space a cyclist and a bike take up is a disservice to the impact that cyclists have on the capacity of the system. Many of my Metro trips would not work if I was unable to combine transit with the bike. Cyclists are Transportation Solutions and must be integrated as vital partners, not as an afterthought.

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