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First To Test Metro’s Reduced Fare Gateway Card

July 9, 2018 Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on First To Test Metro’s Reduced Fare Gateway Card

In February 2014, on a trip to Chicago, I used my first contactless transit card. It took a few times to get used to it but it was far easier than paying cash and deciding if I needed ro pay up front for a 2-hour transfer. If I bought a transfer, I had to keep track of it. With a contactless card there’s no problem paying the bus fare while wearing gloves. No fumbling with bills & coins. Just tap & go. My post from February 2014: Contactless Transit Smart Cards. I’d already contacted Metro St. Louis about being a reduced fare tester.

Metro was supposed to have such a system in place in St. Louis by then, but other cities, including Chicago, experienced huge problems when launching their contactless cards.  Other delays happened tooo, but Metro has been cautiously slow.

From April:

Metro has been working on the smart card system for more than eight years.

It’s part of a $31 million project that also included replacing fareboxes on all 400 of Metro’s buses, replacing or modifying ticket vending machines and validators and technical upgrades.

Metro in 2011 had said the card system would be launched by 2013. Later the targeted launch date was changed to 2015. That also wasn’t met.
Officials blamed the delays on the complexity of integrating disparate systems on moving buses and trains and with bus fareboxes. (Post-Dispatch)

I’ve been pretty patient as the months & years passed by. In November 2015 I applied for a reduced fare Ventra card for use in Chicago. It arrived in the mail the next month, prompt9ing me to write Reduced Fare Smart Card For Chicago, Still Waiting On St. Louis.

In late 2017 I saw Metro’s now-retired Executive Director, Ray Friem, at an event at North Hanley.  He explained the many pages of problems they’ve worked through and the few that remained. One issue was different vendors for bus fareboxes  and a different one for MetroLink fare gates.

Earlier this year testing was opened up from a limited number of riders to sort of a public beta test — but still only full fare. I was getting inpatient. In March Friem promised me I’d be the first reduced fare tester. He was right, 3 months later I got my card!

Standard fare cards are blue (top), reduced fare cards are red.
The back of my husband’s full fare card includes tow card number and where to call Metro. The back of my card includes my name & photo as well as card number — only the person assigned the card can use a reduced fare card, I’ve blurred both card numbers.

I’ve now used the card 7 times — on both MetroBus and MetroLink (Light rail). My very first time using the card was on a #10 bus as I headed to an appointment with an ophthalmologist. It didn’t work. I tapped again, still didn’t work. The 3rd time it didn’t work the bus driver indicated to just wheel back to my spot so she could get going. I emailed the time, bus route, and bus numbers to the person at Metro I’d been working with for months to get this card.

I managed to board the one bus, out of 400, that had a defective reader. Since then it has worked flawlessly, including a bus to MetroLink transfer last week!  As these cards are still in testing mode, all the bells & whistles aren’t yet up & running. I can’t open an app on my phone to check transactions, balance remaining, or add funds. Can’t logon from my home computer either. I can check the by calling the number on the back of the card; I can also check the balance or add funds by visiting the Metro Store at 8th & Pine, or at a Metro ticket machine.

The Metro Store in the Arcade Bldg, as seen from the SW corner of 8th & Pine
The machines at MetroBus centers & MetroLink stations have a reader you can tap your card to add funds, passes. or just check your balance.
This day I checked my balance, $10.75 matched my spreadsheet.

A Spreadsheet? Yes, I thought this was the best way to track my use and confirm the card is working.

Because no app is available, I created a spreadsheet on my phone using Apple’s Numbers app. This allows me to track the balance of my card.

This also helps me when I’m using Metro because the time will let me know the window in which I can use again at the transfer rate — exactly 2 hours.

The other way to check the balance is to call the number on the back of the card. At first I’d call and thought something wasn’t working. Unlike Chicago, the bus data isn’t sent in instantaneously. it’s downloaded from each bus when it returns each night. The call-in system may not know my card balance at any moment because of this, but the card itself knows. Don’t think you can exceed your balance because the bus hasn’t downloaded yet — it doesn’t work that way.

I’m told in a few months myself and others can begin testing the online portion. This will allow the autoload of passes or funds. I don’t use passes, but I love the idea of having it automatically charge a credit card I have on file whenever my balance reaches a minimum threshold.

Aside from the one faulty bus reader, everything has worked fine. I’m looking forward to helping test online functions. I’m really glad I no longer need to carry a coin purse with $1 bill & quarters! As a result of the new convenience I find myself using transit more than I would have if I still had ro use cash or 2-hour passes.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Which Northside Light Rail Alternative Alignment Is Your Favorite?

July 8, 2018 Featured, Public Transit, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Which Northside Light Rail Alternative Alignment Is Your Favorite?
Please vote below

Today’sSunday Poll is a little different than most, instead of agreeing or disagreeing with a statement you’ll be asked your favorite of two alternative routes for the Northside alignment of  proposed new light rail line.

Below is the email I received last week: about the Northside-Southside light rail project:

After a year and a half of data analysis, study and public feedback from over 60 presentations, meetings and open houses, the Northside-Southside Study team is releasing our recommended first phase project alignment for the City of St. Louis. We knew the best route for Northside-Southside should align with community investment strategies, serve area neighborhoods and residents, and provide pedestrian access to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) West campus.

Thus, the study team is recommending to the Board of East-West Gateway Council of Governments, our metropolitan planning organization, a $667 million street-running light rail investment that would run from Chippewa Boulevard in the South through downtown to Grand Boulevard in the North via one of the two North St. Louis alignment options. See map below.

  • The first phase would:Serve approximately47,000 people;
  • Carry an estimated 9,200 transit riders per day(4,200 of which are transit-dependent riders);
  • Access 65,000 jobs within a half-mile of the route; and
  • Spur possibly millions of dollars in economic development throughout our neighborhoods.

The North St. Louis Alignment
From public feedback gathered during the study, we knew any Northside-Southside route should align with community investment strategies and serve area neighborhoods and residents. Additionally on the Northside, the route should provide pedestrian access to the NGA West campus.

Both the Florissant Avenue and the newly proposed Cass Avenue routes align with community investment strategies, including the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. These options also serve the pedestrian entrances to the new NGA West campus, Carr Square and Old North neighborhoods. Although both options fulfill project needs and provide access to jobs, redevelopment and neighborhoods, the final north St. Louis route will be chosen during the next project phase, following additional technical work and community input. The map below shows the two Northside alignment options.

East-West Gateway Council of Governments Board to Receive Final Project Recommendation Later This Summer
The study team will submit its final project recommendation to the East-West Gateway Board at its August 29th board meeting. The next step is to secure funding for an environmental study and project development, expected to take place during the environmental review process. At this time, a preferred alignment through North St. Louis will be chosen.

Overall, we have seen and heard great community support for this project. We know it will transform the City of St. Louis and St. Louis’ regional public transit system.

So the study team is recommending two a;ltermatoves North of downtown. Lots of pros & cons to each. The number of stations is the same for each. Either way Carr Square and what’s left of St. Louis Place neighborhood are served by either. So think about it and vote in the poll below.

This poll will close at 8pm tonight..

Wednesday I’ll share the results, what I see as the pros & cons of each, and if I’ve made up my mind — my preferred alternative.

— Steve Patterson

 

Inching Toward Autonomous Vehicles, Learning to Use & Trust New Technology

June 4, 2018 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Inching Toward Autonomous Vehicles, Learning to Use & Trust New Technology

Back in April I told you we got a high-tech newer car, a 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited.  At that point I hadn’t driven it much, had only used the adaptive/smart cruise control once. I have more miles behind the wheel now, including a trip to Springfield IL and a visit to the dealer in Wentzville MO. Yesterday we drove  out to Chesterfield for the 31st annual St. Louis European Car Show.

Nearly every manufacturer is now offering similar cruise control, here’s an explanation:

Adaptive cruise control uses a small radar (or laser) unit under the front grill or bumper that measures the distance to the vehicle in front of you. Many automakers will actually use two radars—one for close range and a second for vehicles that are farther out. The system uses this information to calculate distance and speed of the vehicle ahead and react to any changes to maintain a safe driving gap.

In the event the vehicle ahead brakes suddenly, the system will either alert the driver or, in some cases, apply the brakes to prevent an accident.

If this all sounds a lot like a self-driving car, that’s because it is. Adaptive cruise control is one of the many features that enable self-driving cars to function safely. (Cartelligent

This short video explains in a visual manner.

For many people, I think, cruise control is mainly used for long highway trips. I find I’m using our adaptive cruise control on surface streets –especially stop & go traffic. If you’re used to regular cruise control you know as soon as you hit the brakes in stop & go traffic it turns itself off.

Our Sonata will bring itself to a complete stop — under the right circumstances. Our 2015 model was the first year of the current generation. Our Limited trim level has both optional packages. Hyundai, for some reason, decided not to include automatic emergency braking. They did for 2016 and newer models.  Instead of automatically braking our car just beeps at you to stop.

However, when the adaptive cruise control is in use and it detects a vehicle ahead it can come ro a complete stop on its own. Again, only under the right circumstances. If I’m following a vehicle that shows up on the cruise control graphic in the center of the gauge cluster and it begins to slow or stop our car will respond appropriately — including coming to a complete stop. It then tells me to hit the “resume” button to begin moving again.

On our car the radar is behind the black black area just above the from license plate. The same year model without adaptive cruise control the chrome horizontal grill lines continue uninterrupted.

At first I didn’t trust the system and I’d tap the brakes to disengage the cruise. Old habits. But with more experience I know now when to let it do its thing. Friday we came home from Overland MO in rush hour traffic. An Eastbound accident on I-64 was causing backups on to I-170. It was 5mph for a few miles, I had the cruise control on the entire time. Most of the time our car kept rolling in pace with the car ahead. A few times it had to stop so I’d hit resume once the cars moved again. Stop & go traffic is one thing I find highly frustrating, but adaptive cruise control makes it stress-free. Well, at least far less stressful.

The carols on the right side of the steering wheel.

There have been times we’ve been in the right lane and slow cars in the exit lane to our right makes ours think it needs to slow down. For the most part, however, it works as advertised. I must still stay alert because there are plenty of circumstances where our car won’t stop itself when the cruise its set.

I can defiantly see how technology will get is to improved safety and self-driving cars.

— Steve Patterson

 

Permanent Lane Shifts Can Be Problematic

May 7, 2018 Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation Comments Off on Permanent Lane Shifts Can Be Problematic

St. Louis has numerous places where, if you drive, you know the lanes shift left or right. The recent work to raise Forest Park Parkway/Ave up to be an at-grade intersection with Kingshighway added two more: WB Forest Park Ave at Euclid Ave and SB Kingshighway at Forest Park. The other day I photographed the former.

Looking East toward Forest Park & Euclid — All 3 lanes of Westbound traffic must shift top the right while crossing Euclid
Looking East from the pedestrian refuge.
The planter protecting pedestrians has been hit numerous times, the yellow markers have been added to make them more visible.

On numerous occasions I’ve been on the #10 MetroBus in the left-turn lane from SB Kingshighway onto EB Forest Park and I’ve seen cars in the center of the 3  SB Kingshighway lanes just continue straight — not shifting to the right. This puts them in the left most of 3 lanes. The problem occurs when a car is also in the left lane and shifts to the right to avoid hitting the pedestrian refuge planter — suddenly you have two vehicles wanting to occupy the same space. I’m rarely in either intersection as a motorist though I have driven both since the change was made.

I have experienced our car nearly being hit in a similar situation on EB Chippewa at Meramec. When traveling EB on Chippewa you have two EB lanes until just past Morganford Rd when only the left lane continues EB and the right lane goes off right to Meramec St. Again, on numerous occasions I’ve seen vehicles in the right lane just continue straight ahead — nearly hitting our car at least once. When I’m driving I’m aware this intersection is poorly designed — so I anticipate other drivers might not be aware of what is expected.

Back ar Forest Park and Kingshighway & Euclid the volume of cars is much higher. Both pedestrian refuge planters have been hit/damaged by vehicles. I suspect traffic accidents have been caused when a motorist doesn’t shift to the right — going straight ahead which means they’re changing lanes in the middle of an intersection.

Most drivers who regularly travel these routes will learn/remember to shift. It only takes one driver not paying attention or visitor to cause an accident or hit the planter and damage their vehicle.

How will future autonomous vehicles handle these shifts? We can and should do better in our street design!

— Steve Patterson

 

 

A Look At Bike Sharing Now That It Has (Finally) Arrived In St. Louis

April 30, 2018 Bicycling, Featured, Transportation Comments Off on A Look At Bike Sharing Now That It Has (Finally) Arrived In St. Louis

After many years of trying to get bike sharing in St. Louis — the first of two companies has started service:

A docking system could have cost the city more than $5 million a year, Venker said. With the dockless model, companies instead pay the city $500 a year for a permit and $10 per bike per year to maintain services.

Typically, bike share users must first download a smartphone app that is connected to a credit card. To gain a permit in St. Louis, companies must provide smartphone- and credit card-free options. Some companies allow riders to pay in cash or use a prepaid card, then unlock the bike by phone call instead of app. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Docked & dockless? Let’s start in chronological order with docked bike share.

Divvy bike share on Chicago’s tourist-heavy Michigan Ave. However, Divvy is all over Chicago with 580+ stations & 5,800 bikes. August 2014 photo
The nearest rider is on a Divvy bike at 18th & Peoria in Chicago’s South Side, May 2015 photo. Click image to view location on a map

When we visit Chicago a few times each year we see the bike stations everywhere — not just in the tourist hot spots. We also see the bikes getting used all over the city. Chicago has a large biking community so it’s natural to see lots of use.

What about other, smaller cities? I’ve photographed docked bike stare stations in Cincinnati & Oklahoma City.

Cincinnati’s Red Bike docks, November 2015 photo
Spokies bike share in Oklahoma City, July 2012 photo
The Spokies station where you use your credit card to release a bike

Bike sharing has happened largely after my stroke, so I’ve not been a user personally. When I was in Cincinnati in 2015 for a Streetsblog event many in our group of bloggers would use Red bikes when we switched locations. Interestingly, I would often arrive ahead of them or about the same time — using my power wheelchair. This is because only one person can use a station at a time.

These docked bike share systems have largely been a success. Seattle, however, was an exception:

Perhaps the biggest issue, though, is how far apart Seattle’s bike stations are from each other. The National Association of City Transportation Officials found that station density is one of the biggest factors in the success of bike-sharing programs. The group has recommended that stations be no more than a five-minute walk apart. Seattle’s bike-share stations are located in two clusters: 42 stations downtown and eight in the University District roughly three miles away. (Governing)

So a station might be near your bus stop, office, or hotel but if there’s no station near your destination then it isn’t of any good to you. With the blogger group in Cincinnati a lot of their time was spent walking to/from stations to destination — in addition to waiting for others at the station.

The solution was to ditch the docks — dockless:

The new “dockless” bike shares have arrived in places like Seattle, Dallas and Washington, D.C., since the summer. They’re run by private companies like LimeBike, MoBike and Spin. Riders locate and unlock the bikes using their mobile phones and they can leave them, well, almost anywhere. The bikes have kickstands and lock themselves, so most don’t even have to be next to a pole, rack or fence to attach them to.

That means hundreds of new bicycles have hit the streets in these cities in recent weeks. With no set parking spaces or docking stations, many residents worry that the bicycles are further cluttering already crowded sidewalks. But others are excited for a new transportation option, especially because the new services tend to be cheaper and more flexible than the dock-based systems that have proliferated throughout the country over the last seven years. (Governing)

Dockless bike sharing has also frustrated many as bikes are left anywhere and everywhere.

San Diego’s dockless bike experience has been more of a free-for-all than in most cities, because San Diego couldn’t make an exclusive deal with one operator without violating a previous exclusive deal with a rental company that requires bikes to be returned to docking stations.
 
Supporters of the dockless bikes say regardless of how the battle over potential regulations turns out, the bikes have been a tremendous success with the potential to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Even bike-friendly Amsterdam temporarily banned them — due to high demand for bike parking!

“We have invested to create more bicycle parking spaces, and we do not want these to be taken by the many commercial bike-sharing systems.”

The posting added: “Of course, you are allowed to park a bike in the public space, even a rented or shared bike. What is not allowed however, is using the public space as a place of issuance, which is exactly what a number of shared bike companies is doing now, while occupying scarce parking places badly needed by Amsterdam residents and visitors.”

The municipality has stated that all dockless share bikes will be temporarily banned. Talks have been initiated with the dockless companies, including oBike from Singapore, Donkey Republic from Denmark, Dropbyke and FlickBike from Lithuania and Urbee and Hello-Bike from the Netherlands. (Bike Biz)

Which brings us back to St. Louis and the introduction of dockless bike sharing from Lime Bike — one of the two private companies to get a permit from the city.

LimeBike aims to provide a sustainable solution to the first and last mile transportation problem by helping people move around their cities in an affordable and convenient way while eliminating their carbon footprint. We are here to empower future generations to change their behavior so we can save this planet together.

With that vision, we launched LimeBike in June 2017.

LimeBike is not just a tech mobility company. We are a people and relationships company first and foremost. And we?re committed to building with you. (LimeBike)

Here’s a video from LimeBike:

I’ve downloaded their app to see where bikes are located, they’ve been all over the city since day one. I’ve seen & photographed many:

The bikes are very colorful. All are single speed with hand brakes, a bell, and a basket. A phone clamp is on the handlebar.
The first day I spotted a couple of groups that had blown over in the wind
This was the closest to being in my way, but I still had room to get by.
Often I see them at bike racks, though they have built-in locks.
Three at the same rack on Locust on another day.
At a rack at the main library
At a rack attached to a parking meter pole on Olive
At the racks in front of Culinary on 9th
Once you’ve used the app on your smartphone this high-tech lock will retract the pin that goes through the wheel’s spokes.

Docked vs dockless, is that it? No, there are now hybrid business models:

Zagster’s hybrid Pace system, which it’s rolling out in places like Rochester, N.Y., and Tallahassee, Fla., lets riders use docks or park elsewhere. (Depending on the city, users may get charged more for parking without a dock.) But the bikes can’t be left free-standing; they have to be locked to something in order to end a trip.

“We believe that bikes should be locked to things,” Ericson says. “That whole dockless evolution of dumping your bike anywhere in the street is not good for cities and not good for riders in the long term.” (Governing)

I’ve seen lots of people riding these new LimeBikes. those I spoke to were all quite pleased. The true test will come once the initial newness (and $3 credit) have worn off. I don’t doubt someone will leave a bike in my way, but I’ve been dealing with business signs, cafe tables, and dog poop as a wheelchair user for a decade now — it was 10 years ago today that I came home from 3 months of hospital/therapy following my stroke.

While I can’t ride one of these bikes, I love seeing others riding them! It’ll be interesting to see how both do once the 2nd permitted company begins offering bikes in St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

 

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