>Two years later, Metro trains keep failing in service

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In September 2008, I concluded that Metro’s reliability was terrible. Using their reported breakdowns and delays in May 2008, Metro appeared less reliable than even the worst line in New York City, breaking down about twice as much.

Taking new data from May 2010, Metro’s reliability appears to have deteriorated even more, with twice as many trains being taken out of service for mechanical problems, 30% more trains being removed from service for door problems, and more than three times as many trains that cannot be placed in service due to management failures such as not having railcars or operators available.

On the bright side, there were fewer trains delayed without being taken out of service.

Here’s the coded data and the spreadsheet. The analysis method is described here.

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>Metro signed Google agreement in July

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Google and Metro signed an agreement on July 22, 2010, to provide the Google Transit service, according to documents obtained via public information request.

Metro had previously stated that Google Transit was expected to go live in mid-January 2011, more than two years after Greater Greater Washington started a petition campaign to encourage Metro to allow Google to display transit routing and schedule information.

The agreement appears to be based on the typical Google boilerplate agreement

Metro was not able to get Google to pay for the use of the data, one of Metro’s early sticking points

The indemnification paragraph from the boilerplate agreement appears to be missing, which means that Metro would not be held liable for any mistakes caused by Google and did not agree to legally defend Google if they were sued.  This was one of Metro’s biggest objections to signing the boilerplate agreement.  We first reported that Chicago was able to remove this indemnification from their agreement.

Either party may terminate the Metro agreement, unlike the boilerplate agreement, which only gives that option to Google.  The Metro agreement provides rights to both Metro and Google where the boilerplate agreement only provides them to Google.

The agreement Metro got looks like the best they could hope for.  It’s balanced and removed the features Metro found most objectionable.  Metro’s status as one of the largest transit agencies in the country allowed them to negotiate from a better position than most agencies.

I haven’t been able to get an update on the actual Google Transit release date.

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>Why basic engineering knowledge is important

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From Gizmag:

“We have mile after mile of asphalt pavement around the country, and in the summer it absorbs a great deal of heat, warming the roads up to 140 degrees or more,” said Prof. K. Wayne Lee, leader of the URI project. “If we can harvest that heat, we can use it for our daily use, save on fossil fuels, and reduce global warming.”

The article discusses placing water tubes in the road, and then using the warm water to melt ice, heat homes or hot water, or generate steam in power plants.

If you have a hot road, you don’t usually have ice.  It’s going to take a huge system to move heat from a 140F road to heat hot water even to the lowest heated water temperature of 120F.  I don’t know any power plant that uses steam at Th of 140F.

More science and engineering literacy, please.  Just build a concentrated solar power plant in New Mexico and send electricity to people’s water heaters if you want hot water.

This reminds me of those plans to build speed bumps that harvest energy.  The only problem is that the energy you collect is worth less than the value of the speed bump you installed.

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>"Token Suckers", "Strip Cutters", and "Turnstile Jumpers" — Defrauding a transit system

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New York Subway recently announced a fare hike for their unlimited monthly pass, after debating whether to limit the pass to only 90 rides in a month. What’s behind this move? Are there really transit users that ride too much transit? Should Metro consider such a move?

No, there aren’t people riding so much that MTA wants to crack down on them. Instead, there’s a particular type of transit system fraud that is driving this change. According to a source familiar with MTA, 95% of passes are used less than the limit, but some transit passes are used almost 400 times per month to commit a fraud known as “selling swipes”. The fraudster obtains a series of transit passes and offers customers to let them through the faregate for only $1, which is a bargain compared to regular fare. Because each pass can only be swiped about 3 times per hour, you need to have a stack of passes to pull this off. Some people are able to collect about $900 per day using this scam, and the transit agency loses money.

Is Metro vulnerable to this kind of scam? Not really. Unlike the NYC subway, Metro faregates are supervised, and you need a farecard at the entrance and exit, so this wouldn’t work.

What are some other scams people use to get free rides or money from transit systems or their riders? Here are some of the more interesting ones:

The “strip split” is where someone buys a Metrorail farecard, cuts out the magnetic strip and splits it lengthwise up to four times. Then the pieces are glued to a regular demagnitized farecard and turned in. The crook adds a nickel or so to the farecard clone, and out pops a new genuine farecard worth the full amount. The new cards are then sold on the black market. Metro cracked down on this farecard fraud by limiting the value of a farecard turn-in, and by reemphasizing that you shouldn’t buy farecards on the black market.  They also reduced the width of the strip on the card so they can’t be split like this.

There’s always simpler frauds, like counterfeit transit tokens. A man was recently arrested for smuggling in counterfeit tokens for use on the Toronto transit system. For years, the Connecticut Turnpike and NYC Subway used similar enough tokens, causing many to import tokens from the turnpike to the subway.

People who receive the transit subsidy and don’t end up using it all can illegally sell their surplus subsidy on the black market. Metro and the Federal government periodically crack down on this practice, which has waned recently due to many people signing up for electronic transfer of their subsidy using SmartBenefits.

One of the stranger frauds I found was “token sucking“. The cheat would find a way to jam the turnstile slot, then wait for someone to try to deposit a token. Usually, the token would get caught and the customer would have to use another token in a different turnstile. Then, the sucker would use his mouth to suck the token out of the jammed slot for sale on the black market. Sometimes, station attendants would use grease or soap to make this practice less palatable, but frankly the thought of putting your mouth on anything related to the NYC subway was probably enough deterrent for most. Perhaps injecting pure capsaicin or a bitter agent into the slot would have been a better deterrent?

One of my favorites is a vulnerability of any transit system that has distance-based fares. You arrange with another person to meet them en-route and swap farecards. Then, you leave from their original faregate or close by. This is one of those frauds that I have only heard of in rumors, because I think it is too much of a pain to pull off for so little benefit. The only evidence I have is that BART has adjusted their fare structure to prevent it, by charging a very high amount for leaving from the same station you entered, and that WMATA mentioned it when replying to a question about leaving from the same faregate.

Sometimes, tourists in the NYC subway system will fall prey to a sleight of hand trick by someone pretending to “help” them with their farecard. The thief usually helps the tourist through a turnstile or cage and then swipes their card for them, and hands back a worthless card in exchange. It’s not until the next trip that the victim realizes they’ve been had.

Then there are the ones that simply involve using service you haven’t paid for. For transit systems using the proof of payment or “honor system”, you just ride without paying and hope you don’t get caught, or you can make a break for it when you see a fare checker coming. For stations with unattended turnstiles, you could just jump over or crawl under them. You can sneak in behind someone as the faregates are closing.

So what are your favorite transit system frauds? What’s the strangest, most creative thing you’ve seen people do to make a buck or save a buck at our expense?

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>Sell Bike Racks inside East Falls Church

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The East Falls Church metro station is popular among bicyclists. Next to the W&OD trail as well as a network of on-street bike routes and bike lanes, its 126 bicycle racks (PDF) fill quickly in the morning, and the station’s bicycle lockers are among the busiest among any metro station. According to the bicycle and pedestrian improvements study materials produced by consulting firm Toole Design, East Falls Church has one of the highest rates of bicycle access (about in the system. It’s overcrowded parking lot also fills up quickly, and according to the study, a high fraction of drivers travel less than 1 mile (about 22%) or less than two miles (about half) to access the station, compared to other park and rides.

If Metro provides more bicycle lockers or racks at East Falls Church, it’s possible that some of these drivers might switch to bicycling. It’s possible that some more people might decide to bike to Metro instead of driving all the way. Metro said that there isn’t a good place to put additional racks or lockers outside the station, and I agree. However, the inside of the station is relatively empty, and the rear corners of the mezzanine (ground) level have ample space to place inexpensive bike racks to test whether more bike racks could attract more cyclists.

Eastern Market bike rack

A good example of bike racks attracting more cyclists is at the Eastern Market metro station. There was a large empty brick area next to the bike lockers for a long time. When Metro installed two 20–place bike racks at the station, they immediately started filling up daily. As far as I can tell, there weren’t this many bikes locked to poles, streetlights and trees before the new racks went in, so these are all new users riding to the Metro station.

There are spaces next to the northern bus stops that are under cover and are marked as bicycle parking, but the racks have been removed. Metro should install more bicycle racks there.

East Falls Church could also increase its bike capacity by adding racks at the rear corners of the mezzanine. Metro or Arlington could purchase racks similar to the ones placed at Eastern Market for little cost and no permanent change to the station would be required.

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>DSC_8451

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DSC_8451
Originally uploaded by infosnackhq

Hey Metro, can you fix this already? It’s been like this for a long time. It’s the shelter at the East Falls Church kiss and ride.

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>IMAG0082

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IMAG0082
Originally uploaded by infosnackhq

Bike racks at Eastern Market are always full. These bikes weren’t locked to trees or poles before the rack got here. This is a good example of induced demand for cycling.

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