Monday, June 22, 2009

Valley Metro Rail: A preview look from the front (part 1)

Prior to the grand opening of the Phoenix Valley Metro Rail system last December, I had been able to take two test train rides. During one of those rides, I shot video from the "railfan" window in the front. During the shuffle of a very busy video shop working on various roller derby related projects, I thought I had lost this video footage.

While starting another project, I discovered which computer I offloaded the video on. Therefore, this video was safe and sound. I have put together a very quick and dirty video of the footage shot going westbound from Van Buren & Central (VBCN) and Osborn and Central (OSCN) stations.

I have video all the way up to Montebello (MO19) and some video coming back east to Van Buren & 1st Avenue (VB1). I will release that later.

This video does not have any sound as there was a lot of in-car conversations taking place and is not necessarily relevant to the video at hand. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Friday, June 19, 2009

SEPTA: Pull down your pants and show me your bus pass...

One of my biggest pet peeves is bad policy. Bad policy is one that while the intention may be good, the overall policy is just downright the wrong way to address a situation. A recent story in the Philadelphia Weekly made aware of a great example of such bad policy.

Apparently, the South East Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) has a huge problem on their hands. The problem, people sharing their monthly passes with other people. Now, we are not talking about a situation where a 35 year old person who does not have disabilities is trying to ride the bus with a reduced fare disabled pass. We are talking about full fare customers sharing a pass.

To combat the problem, SEPTA had a brainstorm idea. Why not print the gender of the customer on the pass? That way, it reduces the chances that the pass would be shared because now 50% of the population can not use that pass. Great policy, right? Well, there is a problem...

What if you don't look like what some would stereotype as what is proper for your gender? In other words, you are a thin build man with some feminine traits who happens to wear brighter clothes? Perhaps you are a lesbian who looks more "butch"? I can definitely tackle about a dozen possibilities for those who are transgender (TS, TG, TV, CD, DQ, whatever...).

The problem with this policy is that it is discriminatory, exclusionary and turns every bus driver and train conductor in Philly into a health professional who now not just responsible for the safe operation of their vehicle but now has to analyze every boarding passenger to make a determination what their gender is.

What makes it worse that according to the information that I have read, that since 9/11 it is next to impossible for a pre-op to get their license changed to show their identified gender in PA. Therefore, let's say a pre-op MTF boards a bus with a female pass, the driver may have some doubts (in other words, the MTF may not be far enough along or is otherwise readable) and the driver asks for ID. The only ID the MTF is able to get has a "male" gender marker on it. Therefore, a scene could be caused putting the passenger in a very uncomfortable situation. In the case of an MTF, a "male" pass (that would match the driver's license) would again raise questions, especially if she is very passable and would pretty much "out" the passenger. Let's also not forget an overall prejudice by the SEPTA employee, especially those who may have intolerance or lack of education of the GLBT community.

With my involvement in both the public transportation and the transgender communities, a story like this hits me from two directions. So let's look at this from the public transit perspective. Other than specialty and entitlement passes (such as reduced fare, employer program, agency employee, etc.), do transit properties across the country experience this type of "pass sharing" problem that SEPTA seems to be facing? I personally don't see an issue with letting a friend borrow my bus pass. The pass only allows one person to board at one time. Who cares if it's me or someone else? I can see if it's an issue if we do the old trick of the passenger boards the bus, they sit down and then give their pass to a friend outside the window. Well, most buses don't have windows you can open (that a pass can be easily passed through) and many agency fareboxes can detect this (yes, even Phoenix).

Apparently, this is also a problem in Brighton, England where their multi-day passes have a gender marker.

Also as a side note, SEPTA's own Equal Empolyment Opportunity Policy states that they will not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity for their own employees. Why can't they extend these same protections to their passengers?

Myself, I think that both Brighton and SEPTA should abandon this concept. I don't think that pass sharing is such a huge problem that it has to be done at the expense of the civil rights of a considerable group of individuals who brush the gender lines in some way or another.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Michi's first LACMTA GTFS application: Where's the bus??

I have designed a very simple application that is intended to show the next "timepoint" for every bus on a particular route.

It uses a pretty simple SQL statement:

SELECT gtfs_stops.stop_name, gtfs_stops.stop_lat, gtfs_stops.stop_lon,
gtfs_stop_times.departure_time, gtfs_stop_times.trip_id, gtfs_stop_times.stop_headsign,
gtfs_trips.route_id, gtfs_trips.block_id FROM gtfs_trips
LEFT JOIN gtfs_stop_times ON gtfs_trips.trip_id = gtfs_stop_times.trip_id
LEFT JOIN gtfs_stops on gtfs_stops.stop_id = gtfs_stop_times.stop_id
LEFT JOIN gtfs_calendar ON gtfs_trips.service_id = gtfs_calendar.service_id
WHERE route_id = '(route number)'
AND departure_time >= CURTIME()
AND departure_time <= ADDTIME(CURTIME(),'0:05:00') AND gtfs_calendar.(day of the week) = 1 AND start_date <= CURDATE() AND end_date >= CURDATE()
GROUP BY block_id;

This SQL statement will show the next timepoints for (route number) on the the specified (day of the week). Yes, I know it's pretty crude, but it works.

You can play with this toy at:

There is a pull down that shows all of the SFV sector routes (the descriptions were manually entered), an issue that I have with the routes.txt file. But you can send a value of rte and a valid route_id using a GET statement and it will return routes outside the SFV. It does not work for rail (801-805) because the Metro Rail trips are showin without a block_id. Rail will return just a single trip on the route.

I could use an SQL sort to rearrange the headsigns in order so you have an idea what direction the buses are going. I would have preferred if Metro was to include the direction_id in trips.txt which is a simple 0 or 1 value that would indicate a direction. In this case, I could just make two SQL calls and get each direction listed separately. Using direction_id would also make the data compatible with other tools including TriMet's Time Table Maker.

Without the direction_id data, I would have to manually build a table based on headsign readings what direction a bus is going and even with that, there may be a few possibilities that buses going in two different directions can have the same headsign (such as a mid-route terminal).

This little app does take into consideration that some trips only operate certain days of the week (school trippers) but I do not believe that the calendar.txt gives the ranges of the school year. Therefore, there's a possibility that it will display a trip that may not actually be running since it's a school holiday. MTA also has school holiday trips "H", which may be the school trip with some deviation on the schedule. These are very complex, but on some routes with infrequent service and school trippers (645 comes to mind) could cause confusion. Right now, I am not calling to the calendar_dates file to get the exceptions (holiday service). Therefore, transit holidays right now will show just like regular weekdays.

With that said, my wish list for Metro GTFS data improvements include:
  • Having the block_id be the known line-run numbers instead of a distinct number.
  • Include run numbers for the trains in block_id.
  • Use the direction_id field in trips.txt.
  • Move headsign data to trips.txt and only use stop_times.txt when there is a mid-line sign change. (such as the 242/243)
  • At the end of a trip at the last timepoint in stop_times.txt, set drop_off_type to 1. This will indicate the end of the route. It will also prevent apps from identifying that timepoint as a pick-up and showing two times at a particular stop (one for when the bus arrives from the previous trip and the time it departs for the next trip, hence, recovery time).
  • Better descriptions of the routes in routes.txt
As a fan of Metro scheduling (and someone who once got turned down for the Schedule Maker I position), I appreciate the publication of the GTFS data feed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Los Angeles MTA Google Transit: Some first thoughts about the GTFS feed

Just for a means of background, I have never worked for Metro but I have a great knowledge of how they schedule.

The way MTA schedules is very different than other transit properties that I have encountered.

I have been going through the GTFS data and I have noticed what some may consider bugs or disparities in the data but it's a part of the way MTA has been doing scheduling for decades. This is something, as transit developers, we need to get used to.

MTA (and the former SCRTD) uses what they call LINES. A "LINE" is a single schedule that may contain multiple "ROUTES". For example, Line 152 (Fallbrook/Roscoe) contains the schedule information for routes 152 (the main route), 153 (the alternate route via Sun Valley Station) and the 353 (the limited version of the 152). As mentioned already in the documentation, the limiteds (with the exception of 305) are not shown in the routes.txt because they mirror their parent local routes. But also, when a route has an alternate route under a different route number, it will appear under this line. For example, the 153 will appear with the 152. The route_id in the trips.txt will be 152 and the only way you will distinguish this trip as a 153 is by using the stop_headsign in stop_times.txt.

Another scheduling method that MTA uses is to create two different routes that are not branch or alternate routes but are "interlined" where most buses from one route continue via another route. A couple of good examples of this arrangement includes Line 230, which includes Route 230 (Laurel Canyon) and Route 239 (White Oak/Rinaldi) and Line 243 which includes routes 242 (Tampa) and 243 (Winnetka). In these cases, the trips for both streets show under one route_id. Like with the branch route example shown above, the only way you can distinguish the trips is through the use of the stop_headsign in stop_times.txt. Even worse, there is currently text in the stop_headsign field that says "change route to..." for these types of routes. This will drive confusion from both a developer and from a end-user point of view.

Now while this scheduling junkie does not mind the line level of scheduling, I think that for public facing applications, it would be better to put the route data in at the route level.

This is a new project for Metro. I am always available for consultation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

KRXQ: Rob, Arnie and Dawn broadcast on in response to trans youth comments

or download MP3 directly: krxq-20090611.mp3 (17MB, 16/22, mono)

This is an aircheck from KRXQ Sacramento on June 11, 2009. On this 2 hour 30 minute show, the personalities reflect on the events of the past week after a broadcast where those in the GLBT community stated that condoned child abuse and intolerance to the plight of transgender youth.

While the beginning of the show gave the appearance of backpeddling on the show host's part, I feel that overall, the show was very informative and included many guests who have experience with transgender youth.

For me personally, this show brought to closure some recent memories that I had of being abused myself as a child for expressing my femininity.

Just know this, organizations like GLAAD are not out to "change" people but they are out there to educate. Not just the general public but also the corporations who also proudly serve the GLBT community.

Normally, I do not use for making positions on GLBT issues, but since this one directly involved using the mass media to express intolerance towards a minority group, I felt it was appropriate to take action.

I am personally doing OK. I thank you for your thoughts.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Growing up transgender... my perspective on the KRXQ incident

First of all, let me qualify myself to discuss this topic. I am the founder of REC Networks, a 25 year old entity who, for the past 15 or so years has been advocating for the establishment of the Low Power FM (LPFM) radio service, assisted many LPFM applicants through free on-line tools, advocated for the citizen in access to the airwaves issues at the FCC, has come up to bat in situations where questionable applications were filed as well as the operator of one of the leading broadcast database reference tools for the United States and Candada used by broadcasters and hobbyists around the world. Our Canada broadcast suite is the default reference source on Wikipedia. With all of that, I could say that I am definitely a player in the broadcast community.

I am also transgender. You don't need to look any further than some of my old FCC filings to see that. I legally changed my name to Michelle Andrea Eyre in 2006. As a child, I was physically and psychologically abused by my parents for being transgender.

So with that out of the way, I feel highly qualified to speak on the KRXQ broadcast.

As a human being, as a transgender woman, as a godmother and as a fellow broadcaster, I am very appaled by the radio show on KRXQ which advocated abuse such as the throwing of shoes at male children who come out to say that they may be transgender.

I want to say up front that this is not a bash towards men in general, but unfortunately, we continue to live in a day where for some, the male pride of being a father to a boy is a desire by the father of the son to make sure his son grows up to be a man. This would include trying to get his son involved in typical "male" activities (sports, boy's toys, etc.).

Some men have a level of pride where they be embarrased if their son explores their feminine side and acts on that aspect that exists in all humans regardless of the gender. The father may fear that certain types of feminine traits will lead the son to grow up and be homosexual. Many experts have proven time and time again that there is no connection between homosexuality and gender identity. Some fathers may be afraid that they will be humiliated by their other male friends for having a "sissy for a son".

Right now, there are many young boys across this country who are being abused by their fathers (or sometimes even their mothers) for getting caught trying on their sister's clothes, playing with stereotypical female toys, having hobbies that are normally associated with girls or just outright coming out to their parents that they want to be a girl. The abuse could take place on grounds of embarrassment to the family and/or for religious reasons.

In my case, I was physically abused by my father for trying on female clothes as early as 8 years old and I have been verbally abused and intimidated by my mother my entire life. To this day, my parents do not accept my new identity and they deny the abuse that took place early in my life. I had to delay my transition for a long time as a result of this parental intimidation and I had to come to realize that they no longer controlled me. I finally went full time in 2006, 17 years later than I really wanted to.

When it comes to transgendered people, both adults and children, there is always this feel of disgust when the transition is from male to female (MTF), but there is hardly a problem when the transition is the other way. It is socially acceptable for a girl to be a "tomboy" when they are young and many are intrigued by the FTM, the female to male transsexual. FTMs are seen as revolutionaries while MTFs are seen as freaks. Why is that?

I guess what I am trying to say here is that I experienced the type of abuse that was being advocated by Rob and Arnie on the air. What they did is in my opinion, socially unacceptable in this day and age. I can more understand this type of abuse in the 1980's when I was going through my share but in this modern age of tolerance and diversity, it's a shame there are some who still don't get it and even worse, they are allowed to broadcast on a 50,000 watt FM radio station.

I have noticed that there are some who are encouraging members of the community to write the FCC to protest this action. Filing such complaints will not do much as hate speech such as that is technically protected under the First Amendment. Normally, the FCC will not act unless the speech results in a criminal action actually taking place (and we are talking within the Sacramento market here).

I encourage people to continue to contact KRXQ's advertisers as well as the advertisers of Entercom co-owned stations KSSJ, KSEG, KWOD, KDND and KCTC(AM). KRXQ will continue to benefit by revenues brought in by the sister stations in the Entercom Sacramento cluster. These advertisers should be encouraged to withold any advertising on the Entercom stations until significant disciplinary action are placed against Rob Williams and Arnie States for the statements made.

My headband is off to the gutsy national and statewide advertisers such as Snapple, Sonic, AT&T, CKE, and the others who stepped up to suspend their advertising contracts as a result of this broadcast.

If Rob and Arnie was encouraging violence to any specific racial group, I would think that stronger discipline would have taken place. Entercom I must remind you, in California, sexual orientation and gender identity is just as much as a protected group as any other minority group.

Apparently, there will be a show on Thursday morning on KRXQ to discuss this issue. I will be around and I know that I will be listening.

The memories of my years of physical and psychological abuse over my transsexuality will haunt me for the rest of my life. If we can save just one transgender child from this lifelong trauma of parental intolerance, then we are one step ahead.

My message to radio is simple, the plight of transgender children is a real issue and not a "Jerry Springer" freak-show topic. Please address this topic in a professional manner and not make it the butt-end joke of the Morning Zoo.

Michelle is the founder of REC Networks, an entity established in 1984 to "entertain, inform and support". Michelle is also known in amateur flat track roller derby as "Michi-chan" and has been producing video programs and writing articles on the sport as it is played in Arizona. Michelle operates Hardcore J, a 24 hour streaming radio station on which airs Japanese popular music.

WEB LINKS: ~ REC Networks ~ REAL Derby-The Arizona Derby Report ~ Hardcore J

MEDIA CONTACT: Michelle A. Eyre -