A pilot program from Visa allows subway riders to do more with their iPhones than just find schedules.

(H/T: Mike Fisher)

61 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Smart Phone = Smart Card”

  1. Still less convenient than orca and other similar RFID solutions. When in a rush, and who isn’t in New York, who wants to have to pull out their cell phone and open an app to pay.

    1. Well, mobile banking is quite common in other parts of the world…plus as a vistor, it would be great to just use a phone vs. tracking down a TVM in a city I don’t know and trying to figure out the zone structures , etc… especially if you’re in a city without a tourist pass *cough* Seattle *cough*

      1. It would be neat to have a nation-wide RFID card that worked on all transit systems that have RFID payment

        I agree with the comment that opening an app on a cell phone seems slow – and what if there’s no signal underground?

      2. I have a bunch of old Oyster cards lying around (I even have one with my name and picture on it, from my days as a student in London). It would be a nice convenience (although it’s not exactly a hardship now) to have a single card work across multiple systems worldwide, although fares for each system would have to be added individually (duh?).

      3. It would also solve the problem of extra money left on every regional card when you leave the region. I wonder how much the transit agencies gain from this.

  2. Using smart phones as pay points is in its infancy. It will not take off until there is a set of standards, but this will happen and soon. In less than a decade I expect we will see cell phone pay points be as common as debit cards are now.

  3. A Central Link Rider Alert from yesterday (Saturday) morning:

    “Central Link light rail is single tracking due to a mechanical issue. Expect long delays. Thank you for your patience.”

    There was no subsequent alert from ST saying the issue had been resolved.

    So, did anyone here ride Link yesterday, or hear anything about it?

    How long were the delays?

    How long did this single tracking last yesterday?

    Did ST operated 2-car trains because of the long headways, or did they use single-car trains yesterday?

    Most importantly: What are these “mechanical issues” that Link seems to be experiencing almost daily? Last Friday I rode Link and noticed workers working on the rails in more than one location. From my slow-moving Link car, it appeared that they were examining/working on the fasteners that hold the rails to the track bed. Is this correct? Are there “mechanical issues” with the rails themselves? If not, what exactly are these “mechanical issues”? ST should be making this information available to the public.

    1. They tweeted when they were back to 10-minute headways.

      This is one of the problems with transit (or even just governmental) agencies having 17 different ways of communicating with the public, with a different person in charge of each, and with no standards on how to use them. What gets tweeted vs an email alert vs a text message alert vs a press release vs a variable message at stations? Some things get tweeted, but not text messaged. Others get a message at the station, but nothing sent to phones. Or the beginning of a service disruption may be announced through multiple media, but the end of the disruption doesn’t get announced through all the same ones.

      To say nothing of the problems of using these sorts of media as your primary means of notifying the public when only a small percentage of the transit-dependent public have access to these media.

      1. “To say nothing of the problems of using these sorts of media as your primary means of notifying the public when only a small percentage of the transit-dependent public have access to these media.”

        Or want to bother with them. But shouldn’t text messages and rider alert tweets be gatewayed? I thought that was a primary reason why Twitter messages are limited in length; so they would be compatible with text messages.

      2. This is one of the problems with transit (or even just governmental) agencies having 17 different ways of communicating with the public, with a different person in charge of each, and with no standards on how to use them. What gets tweeted vs an email alert vs a text message alert vs a press release vs a variable message at stations?

        If you look, most of the “service is broken” tweets are tweeted via email.

      3. @Tim: from what I’m seeing, most of the service interruption and subsequent all-clear tweets are sent via “The Visitor Widget”. In the case that Norman’s talking about, however, while the original “mechanical issue” tweet was via the Visitor Widget, the all-clear tweet was sent via Blackberry. This may explain why the first one went to both Twitter and email, but the second one only went to Twitter.

        Again, this speaks to a lack of internal standards for the use of Twitter. It’s good to have different ways of updating Twitter, but if The Visitor Widget is gatewayed with the email alert system while Twitter for Blackberry or HootSuite aren’t, there needs to be an awareness of that.

        I also wondered why SoundTransit was tweeting about Guided by Voices last night. Was GBV playing an ST-sponsored show, or did the official “tweeter” just happen to be going to the concert and felt the need to share something that had nothing to do with Sound Transit? Perhaps access to the ST Twitter account needs to came with a “For Official Use Only” warning?

  4. Good God, Sherwin, would you please have an opinion on something? This is a blog! You are allowed to have an opinion. What’s the point of being a blogger if you’re afraid to share your opinion. You’re not a journalist.

    Stop being an opinionless conduit.

    1. Just because this is a blog doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t do straight-up reporting. We’ve had thousands of posts like these; I don’t see why you’re throwing a fit about it now. As you may have noticed, our Sunday open threads tend to contain media or references to transit-related news on a broader level.

    2. Huh, I think I’m fairly opinionated and Sherwin is invariably just as strongly at the opposite end of the spectrum :=

  5. Given that the needed discussion about all the transit riders whose commutes are going to be worse because of the plan to keep buses away from UW Station is kinda off-topic for the post about next year’s budget cuts (Sorry!), I’m attempting to move the thread here.

    North Capitol Hill riders get the short end of the stick from this plan. Any time they want to head north to the U and hop onto Link, they better plan for several minutes to cross Montlake (both coming and going). For those trying to get to jobs along Link, that is a really callous thing for Metro and ST to do.

    I’m so unconvinced that Metro has made a good-faith effort to consolidate and cut service smartly that I’m just going to oppose any sales tax increase that is used to fund 1-seat duplicative service. I’m sorry, but we’re spending billions of dollars on Link, and we need to make use of it, not make it a pain to use.

    1. So why can’t they hop on a 43/48/49 down to Cal Anderson? (48 is a bit of a stretch; I’m not too familiar with routes on Capitol Spill)

      1. The 43 would be the relevant route from the Montlake neighborhood to Capitol Hill Station, and it is a long crawl.

        For people trying to get to work in the morning using Link, the nonconnection at UW Station still makes no sense.

      2. 48 would get you to Mt. Baker, not the Broadway/John station. 49 is only helpful if you’re near 10th, not 23rd/24th.

    2. As a CD resident (and relatively regular 43/48 user) I agree with your concerns but I think it’s hard to throw all this on Metro. Who else is advocating for transit riders? What’s ST saying? What’s WSDOT saying? I’d want to have a source inside the conversation before pinning the blame.

      1. I don’t think anyone is trying to pin blame. Rather, I think we’re trying to solve the problem, which means figuring out who can pull the right strings. But first, we are trying to reach a better consensus of what the problem and the best solution is.

        If the right politicians direct the transit planners to solve the problem, it will get solved.

    1. “mimic the decisions made by a human driver”

      Would Johnny-cab start texting its buddies or swerve unexpectedly? Would the
      “TURNSIGNAL=OFF” flag be set for transit through neighborhoods such as Ballard?


  6. This stuff works.

    It was great just swiping a smart card or phone when I was in Tokyo. And when I forgot my wallet I could just buy dinner at one of the delis at the station using my train pass.

    The system’s a bit different in Japan, though. You prepay into an account, which the transit agency then earns interest on while you use it down. You can set it up to autofill from your bank account if it goes below a certain level.

    The smartcards started with JR East’s Suica system. Other JR splinters set up their own. The private rail companies in Tokyo teamed up for Pasmo, and the bus companies have signed on for that. And the cards are interchangeable. Not sure about today, but as of two years ago, the Disney monorail was about the only place you couldn’t use a smartcard. And you could get a good blooper reel standing outside the entrance, watching people trying to swipe their wallet or phone or pass case over the turnstile, wondering why it wouldn’t let them in.

    Ah, how quickly we adjust to change – and convenience.

    1. Love how that page ignores that Victoria has the same buses in service (where CT riders might have experienced them). But no, of course, Vancouver Island is IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY!!!

      1. Well, to be fair, they’re only making the comparison with US operators. But yes, I think it would’ve been worth mentioning that both Victoria and Kelowna have the Enviro500’s in their fleets now. GO Transit (Ontario) has been starting to build a fleet of them too.

      2. LOL! ISTM that American – excuse me, U.S. – consciousness of Canada as a “foreign” country is relatively new, since about 2000. Before that the public consciousness seemed to be that Canada was “not quite domestic, but not really foreign”. Postage to Canada wasn’t extra, Canadian subscription rates for magazines were a little extra but not the full “foreign” rate, etc. I still think of Canada as a “suburb” of the U.S. – a gated one, unfortunately, but still a suburb. A different legal jurisdiction but not really a foreign country…. P.S. Canadians, please don’t beat me up!

    2. I heard that over 10 double tall buses have already been done but not delivered yet. Also CT says both of them still will be in service on the schedule

  7. I know system expansion is not part of the trolley study, but think of this:

    The route 44 wire west of the U District is literally isolated with no emergency loops. If a power outage occurred on the route, buses would literally be stranded.

    On the first trolley bus meeting this summer, I pitched the idea of two emergency loops, at 45th & Stone and at 15th & Market, to correct this oversight.

    One of the infastructure people suggetsed, in addition, some “deadhead” wires that connect the 44 wire to the route 13 terminal at SPU, at the same locations as the loops. The wire from 45th & Stone would travel south on Stone, over the Fremont Bridge, and west on Nickerson to the 13 wire. The 15th & Market wire would travel south on 15th, across the Ballard bridge, and east on Nickerson to the 13 wire.

    I did the math myself and it is about 2 miles for both routes. Does anyone like the idea?

    1. More trolley-wire is always a good idea.

      The Queen Anne to U-District bus route (30/45) could use this wire too.

      Your plan would also give a push to electrifying 15/18 as it should have been many years ago nothanks to the NIMBYs!! (Yes, I know its about to go RapidRide)

      1. Route 44 should also go RapidRide. With 15-minute service until midnight 7 days a week, it’s easily more frequent than any of the proposed RapidRide routes.

      2. There will never be anything rapid about the 44. The traffic is the choke point, specifically through Wallingford. We absolutely need grade-separated transit along that corridor. My preference is for a Link spur from Brooklyn station.

      3. I dunno, it seems like it would be pretty easy to make the 44 rapid. Just get rid of street parking in Wallingford, and make the outside lanes BAT.

        By “easy”, I of course mean technically, not politically. ;)

      4. I am a huge transit nerd and everything and I am against more general purpose road space in almost any circumstances. However, street parking, especially in a neighborhood like Wallingford is important. In order to have a great pedestrian environment, you need strong retail, and street parking is important to keep retail strong. Also, street parking performs a valuable role as a buffer between the sidewalk and fast-moving traffic. So along busy commercial streets, parking shouldn’t be removed for bus lanes. There are things they can do to bring it up to RapidRide standards, though. They could remove stops, bringing it down to 1/4 mile spacing in most cases, put in bus bulbs at most stops, and install TSP at congested intersections. And, of course, start off-board fare payment.
        Plus, RapidRide-styled ETBs would be awesome.

      5. @Erik G.: The 30 could not be a ETB route because there is no wire on Westlake Ave. The 45 could work, but that only has 3 northbound trips and 4 southbound trips per day, which doesn’t make it worth the investment in the ETB infrastructure.

    2. SDOT’s Trolley Bus Fact Sheet says “King County will begin a detailed analysis of trolley alternatives in 2010, including system expansion which costs about $4-6M per mile“. I imagine costs for the suggested deadhead sections would be on the high end of the range, since adding support poles to the bridges is probably more expensive than sticking poles into the sidewalk, and the special work at the bridge opening itself is probably more expensive than normal. So probably at least $20M for the four total miles? What exactly would we be getting for that $20M?

      And you could probably find out how often 44s have gotten stranded by power outages in that section of the route. Unless it happens pretty frequently and lasts a long time, I doubt Metro or anyone else has any interest in adding loops. In 15 years I’ve never heard of folks being stranded on trolley buses by power outages. It no doubt happens now and again, but probably far less than, say, a vehicle accident blocking the path of a trolley. I’d much rather Metro invest in ETBs that can drive a little ways off the grid. They could deal with both power outages and blockages. If Metro’s going to bother to put up any new wire, it should be to electrify new routes, not to add redundancies or just-in-case loops.

    3. It would be great if the 13 could be extended north across the bridge to Fremont and beyond (up to 45th St. to connect with the 44?). There is currently no bus that goes between Queen Anne Hill and Fremont, or anywhere else north of the hill. Anyone on the hill wanting to go north has to first go south to transfer.

      1. Well, there is the 13 to the 31 (Fremont, UD) or the 17 (Ballard). Of course, the 31 only runs 12 hours a day, and there’s a good chance you could walk to your destination faster. But you don’t always have to go south to transfer.

  8. Watched the video now.

    Does it work with an iPad?

    And how the eff did they get to film in a PATH station without all the staff piling on top of their equipment, screaming about “Security” and “9/11”??

    1. Half the shots weren’t even taken a PATH station, but at the 96th St station on the Lex. But there was no indication that NYCTA is participating in this program in any way, even though the PATH turnstiles are deceptively similar.

  9. I thought technology gains meant higher efficiency, but that doesn’t hold true for transit.
    (from Metro/ST combined bus/trolley bus statistics available on-line)
    In 2000 bus service cost $2.91 per boarding, and $88.38 per hour.
    In 2008 bus service cost $3.67 per boarding, and $123.45 per hr.
    Thats a 40% increase. The total operating budget went up 52% (from 287m to 438m)
    More riders you say? That went up 30% (from 99m to 127m riders)
    Inflation you cry? Well, the CPI-U for Seattle Metro area only rose 20%.
    Have the fancy bells and whistles transit has been buying these last 8 years really been paying off, or just driving the cost to move a body from A to B through the roof?

    1. When you add service, the average productivity of each bus goes down because at the margin you’re adding less popular service.

      1. Hours went up only 19%(3.2m to 3.8m) and miles driven even less at 16% (42m to 49m). So that doesn’t account for a 52% jump in expenses.
        Actually, one could make the case that a 30% increase in riders cost very little to add(at the marginal rate), as most of them just filled up buses already running.
        I suspect most of the bells and whistles are payroll related, G&A, and transfers to other King Co. budget holes, as admin costs.

  10. Via Portland Transport:
    “Tonight the first 15 minutes of All Things Considered was about our crumbling infrastructure, our unwillingness to pay for fixing/expanding it and the economic absurdity of this choice.”


    And I’m sure a lot of you are already reading Mike Lindblom’s “Tunnel would mean more traffic on waterfront”

  11. Actually that article re-iterates a lot of what I have been reading about the new street configuration and traffic levels and from what has been presented by SDOT and WADOT at the Seattle Bicycle Board meetings. Traffic is expected to increase, the roadways and intersections will be huge, there is no good access planned East/West bound and there’s no bus service figured out for the new waterfront and the bike plans are virtually non-existent as well. They are figuring cyclists will mostly be using the new street north/south bound and not realizing that many cyclists who use the area will be needing an east/west route into the city. Also, shipping will be using the street system for the most part rather than the tunnel. This has also been discussed at meetings extensively.

  12. Surprised I hadn’t seen this posted earlier but:

    SDOT released the Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance for the First Hill Streetcar. A couple of interesting nuggets in there revealed that they will look at street cars that run off the same voltage as the trolley buses to minimize the need for extensive overhead work. Also, (something I didn’t know) was that one of the proposed sites for the maintenance facility is on Seattle’s property south of Dearborn.

    And in further news, SDOT has a bid out for GM/GC work which indicates in the proposal that they may extend the streetcar 0.5 miles north on Broadway (not too unexpected) but also that they may extend it 1 mile through downtown to connect to the SLU Streetcar. It was that note that got me thinking where they’d route it. Can’t be 1st Ave as that would be 6600 feet of improvement. Maybe up 5th Ave, which is about 5600 feet or so.

    1. Sally Clark mentioned 5th in a Seattle Channel show about SLU. Seems like a good idea to me since there’s quite a bit on 5th from the retail core, SPL Central Library, and City Hall and Municipal Tower, plus the SLU line already terminates at 5th (and Olive). 5th is also a bit steeper than 4th which could be made two-way with bike lanes. I bet they’re putting the bids out for hope of grants.

      1. One thing to note on 5th is that there is a contraflow bus lane pretty much continuously from Jackson St to Cherry as well.

    2. “street cars that run off the same voltage as the trolley buses”

      That could help save the trolleybuses too, if they have to maintain some of the wire for streetcars anyway.

      Is there any disadvantage to this voltage? Link has expansion problems with Central Link and Tacoma Link being different voltages. (Is Tacoma Link’s the same as the trolleybuses and SLU streetcar?)

      1. Higher voltage on Central Link allowed fewer substations farther apart – reducing construction costs and neghborhood impacts.

  13. I have to admit, I’m not such a huge fan of this new shallow threading. For very long threads, it’s annoying to have to keep scrolling way up to type my comment, and way down to refer to the one that I’m replying to.

    Would it be possible to add reply buttons to all comments? Even if they were just identical to the parent reply link (except for opening the reply box in the appropriate place)?

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