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public transit, software, software as a service
Comments Off on Real Time Arrival Information for Customers

This month we are going live with our Real Time Arrival systems, including electronic signage at some of the stations, smartphone applications on iOS and Android, mobile website functionality, web tools, and texting services to allow customers to finally track when their vehicles are going to arrive.

 

One of the most frustrating things as a public transit rider is to be standing at a bus stop for a route that has infrequent service without information on when the vehicle is really going to arrive.  Has it already passed the stop?  Is it 15 minutes late?  Now customers will have a variety of tools to help answer that question.

 

We acquired a system called “NextBus” and have been working to deploy it at the District.  This system integrates with the existing radio-system based automatic vehicle location (AVL) tools on the buses.  We installed global positioning system (GPS) tools on the COASTER commuter rail locomotives and the SPRINTER light rail vehicles to provide real time updates for the trains as well.

 

Many of the larger public transit systems like Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority already dependably use this system to serve their riders, so we have high hopes that this will work well for North County passengers.

 

hardware, infrastructure, public transit
Comments Off on Wi-Fi Service on Commuter Rail

I am very excited to say that we are finally implementing Wi-Fi service on our COASTER Commuter Rail.  This was a very difficult and plagued project.  We tried three different approaches to implementing this service over the last 5 years, two of which resulted in vendors walking away from the project.

 

T-Mobile is the solution provider.  Our original proposal was to implement Wi-Fi only on one car per train so that we could ensure that it provided dependable service.  We really do not have a business case to charge the customer for this service – instead it is viewed as a customer amenity, and I have to absorb the cost into our internal IT Budget.  I stand by this approach, but it was decided that we should try to cover as many cars as possible.

 

This is actually a difficult service to provide in our area because the train travels at more than 70 miles per hour through some isolated terrain.  All of the cellular vendors have black zones where they drop service, but T-Mobile’s solution seems the best.

 

One might wonder why we are going to this expense and trouble when so many people have data plans and smartphones already.  The reason is that this is the number 1 customer request from our highest dollar customers.  So we’re making it happen.

data center, green computing, hardware, infrastructure, public transit, security, software
Comments Off on NCTD IT Named ComputerWorld Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2012

We were very excited to hear today that the NCTD IT team was named as a Premier 100 IT Leader for 2012.  I say the team because while the award is for the CIO, clearly it is the work of the team that merits the recognition.  What is amazing is that our team is standing in the presence of so many other great company names:  Lenovo, Kraft, Mazda, GlaxoSmithKline, Target, Blue Cross, the State of Colorado, Waste Management, Kaiser Permanente, Vanguard, CapitalOne, Intel, Boeing… what?  NCTD is in this crowd??

 

Yes.  We.  Are.  That’s how we roll.

data center, energy consumption, green computing, public transit, solar, sustainability
Comments Off on Press Article on NCTD IT

nctimes-millerAs much as I am not happy with the photo, I am happy that the North County Times decided to feature my team in an article today.  The focus is on our sustainability and technology programs.  Thanks to Paul Sisson for the kind words.

 

In the background is our new solar installation at the Buena Creek SPRINTER station.  This is an exciting new technology by Uni-Solar called “photovoltaic laminate”.  Basically it is a flexible solar membrane-like material that can be glued down to the supporting structure.  It is highly durable – used by the military in harsh installation conditions.  It is not as efficient per square foot as other technologies, but we chose it to prove that solar can be installed in some pretty challenging environments.  You can read about the material here:  uni-solar_laminate.

Photo courtesy NCTimes.com taken by Hayne Palmour IV

alternative energy, energy consumption, public transit
Comments Off on NCTD wins Stimulus Green Transit Solar Grant

by Angela Miller
I am very excited to say that yesterday we heard through a press release that we were one of the Public Transit entities chosen by the US Department of Transportation to receive part of the funding from the green transit portion of the stimulus program.  One of the hats I am happy to wear at the District is that of leading the Sustainability program for the District.  I’ve previously blogged about attending some of the APTA Sustainability meetings, and on our desire to create a plan for the District.  But this is the largest sustainability project I’ve been able to facilitate since my arrival at the District.

This grant will allow the District to build on its basic commitment to the three elements of sustainability:  economic, social, and environmental.  We were awarded $2 million to build on our plan by investing in more innovative solar power installations at the District, and in to install plug-in vehicle charging stations at some of our rail parking facilities for our customers. 

The application process was highly competitive, with only $100 million available for Green Transit initiatives across the entire United States.  My organization was one of 43 entities receiving the funding, and received one of the largest awards in acknowledgement of the business case and ROI analysis put forth.  The project includes:

  • Demonstrating the feasibility of deploying solar technology in the Rail right-of-way, thus leveraging space that cannot be utilized for other purposes.  Makes idle property more productive and possibly revenue-generating
  • We will also be installing solar at maintenance and administrative facilities to offset power needs at those locations.
  • Deploying parking spaces with charging units for plug-in vehicles as a value to our customers.
  • Installing solar carports at some parking lots to both provide power and provide better parking options to our customers. 

This grant award is part of an overall commitment to sustainability that includes other steps like an energy-efficient data center, replacing parking lot lights with more efficient options, the creation of a new Compressed Natural Gas fueling station, our approach to transit-oriented design for transit centers and stations, the use of solar along the COASTER right-of-way to power our wireless security system, the replacement of older buses with CNG-powered vehicles, paratransit, and our commitment to being a long-term sustainability partner with the communities we serve.

public transit
Comments Off on NCTD on Google Transit

by Angela Miller
googletransitWe haven’t formally announced it yet, but yesterday NCTD went live on Google Transit finally.  This was a nearly 9 month effort to get our schedules loaded into the Google Maps tools.  Now when people are looking for directions in San Diego County, they can also choose to find the optional public transit path with next departure times.

The thing that is really nice about this tool is that it consolidates information from NCTD, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, Amtrak, and other southern California transit entities so that it doesn’t matter who is providing the service you can still easily plan the trip.

Anything that makes public transit a more convenient option for the community is a good investment in my mind.  And unlike some of the other technology investments, this one cost the District almost nothing and should have a significant return.

My plan is to now jump off of this and leverage this tool to provide better information for the community through kiosks, and devices for our security and customer service teams that help all users better plan their trips.

Also thought I would mention that there is a SPRINTER application in the iPhone Applications Store.  I’m not endorsing it, but it is there.  This application was built by an independent third party developer using just our paper schedules.  My intent is to make our schedules available in the Google Transit Feed format on our website for any developer who might want to create applications.  Exciting stuff.


data center, public transit
Comments Off on Facing my new challenge…

by Angela Miller
Not every company gets to invest in the top-of-the-line data center to run their operations.  In fact, I would imagine that most IT people reading this would agree that we face serious constraints in our data centers.  Unless the company’s core business is technology, spending money on the rooms and spaces that house the technology infrastructure often ranks far lower in the executive mind than other operational concerns.

So as I walked into my new role as CIO for the NCTD, I knew that there were going to be issues with my core infrastructure and facilities.  On the one hand, NCTD has invested wisely in the basic facility infrastructure.  Unlike some SMB and governmental agencies, we do in fact have a true data center.  We have fire suppression, and a nice footprint, and standard data center design from the 1980s.  I was pleasantly surprised to have this as a foundation on which to build.

But we also face significant challenges in that space – we have a clash of the old and the new – with both a Prime mini-computer occupying a significant portion (almost 30% of the footprint) of the room, and racks full of rack-optimized computers.  There has been no investment in newer thinking about the data center – blades, virtualization, storage area networks, etc.  Of greatest concern for me are power and air handling.  My data center has two Carrier units that intake the air on floor-level and blow out the cooler air through a large set of blowers.  The torrent of air that whooshes through this small room is impressive.

We installed some environmental monitoring devices and discovered that in addition to the obvious problems with the air handling, we also now have a significant humidity issue.

So we have decisions to face at the company- do we invest in upgrading the data center?  Do we move instead to a co-location facility?  How are we going to handle disaster recovery?  These questions form an excellent backdrop for a question more pertinent to this blog – is it possible to employ greener approaches to the technology while still living within our means?  Will I have a business case for a more sustainable data center?

My intent is to focus over the next several months on my data center challenges in this blog to see whether I can make that business case.  It will be challenging, especially for a small team on a tight capital investment budget.   But I believe that making small, but greener, choices at NCTD will cumulatively lead to a more sustainable technology program for the District.

data center, public transit
Comments Off on New Postion in Public Transit

by Angela Miller 
I am pleased to announce that I have accepted a position as Chief Information Officer with the North County Transit District (www.gonctd.com).  I am excited about the opportunity to combine my technology and environmental skills in an industry in which I believe in the product.  Public transit will grow more important over time as our communities start to practice more sustainable development, and I am excited to become part of this movement.