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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.

environment, sustainability
Comments Off on Preparation for Oracle Webinar on Environmental Accounting

This week I was fortunate to be invited to work with Jon Chorley and Rich Kroes from Oracle on a webinar discussing their new Environmental Accounting and Reporting modules for Oracle and JD Edwards. We selected this tool as the foundation of our internal emissions, waste generation, power generation, and water usage accounting processes. We discovered in filing our first Climate Registry baseline year assessment and our first American Pubic Transportation Association sustainability report that manually gathering this data is an intense and expensive process.

 

Thought I would share the slides I compiled for the webinar. We’ll be broadcasting next week, so I’ll post a link to that afterward.

 

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

infrastructure
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This is a little off topic, but I thought I would share a presentation I did about my NCTD IT Team for a Leadership program I am in through the American Public Transportation Association.  This shows I am perhaps a little overly-proud of my team, but they do earn that respect.

 

data center, green computing, hardware, infrastructure
Comments Off on Data Center Project Pays Off

Today the data center project paid off big time. Yes, for those in Southern California it was a near disaster- we had an extensive power outage that reached from Mexico to Los Angeles, and from San Diego to Arizona.

 

The good news for my team- the data center stayed up 100% of the time. In fact, we lost only 1 rail communications cabinet during 10 hours of an outage.

 

This means that our phones were up, even when cell phones were not. Our Internet was online and we could communicate with our customers. Our emergency operations center (EOC) was live and effective. I was proud to see NCTD keep bus and rail service in play hours into an outage that was so significant for the region.

 

More than anything, I know that without the data center project, we would not have achieved this success.

 

Not everything was smooth and I don’t want to overstate the positives… but I am confident without our green data center, our EOC team would have struggled that much more. So here is to investment in technology and the ability to see a ROI.

alternative energy, environment, sustainability
Comments Off on Sustainability Case Study for Small-to-Medium Business

This week I was lucky to be able to participate in the American Public Transportation Association’s 2011 Sustainability Workshop.  This time the workshop really seemed to get its focus around sustainability initiatives that could work for every agency and business partner – not just the really large agencies.  It is always impressive to see what entities like New York MTA and San Francisco Muni can accomplish.  But this does not always translate well to the smaller guys.  And sustainability by its very nature will make greater progress if it is permeated through smaller agencies as well.

 

I started participating in this workshop just three short years ago.  In that time, the North County Transit District has gone from no sustainability initiatives, to a comprehensive portfolio of work – most of which has driven significant operating cost savings for the agency and lead to smarter decisions and business plans.

 

To me, sustainability is not a political movement.  It is not a badge of honor.  It is not a marketing campaign.  It is a means to ensure we can continue to deliver on our primary mandate as a company – to provide safe access for our community to their education, jobs, doctors, grocery stores…  It is a means to ensure that over the long run, NCTD can exist.  Good for the environment, good for our employees, and good for our community.

environmental accounting, sustainability
Comments Off on First Experience with The Climate Registry

I am very excited to say that working with our consultant TrustElement, we were able to join the Climate Registry this week.  I struggled with this concept initially for NCTD: what taxapayer or ridership value would we bring to the table for making the investment in measuring and reporting emissions, waste, and water usage data to this nonprofit organization?

 

At the end of the day, the concepts of auditing, data quality, and transparency seemed important to our community.  It has become too easy to say one is engaging in projects that are “green” or “sustainable” without some independent validation of these statements.  The Climate Registry requires that all reporting entities be validated by an independent and certified third party.  This means that our communities and riders could have confidence that the data the NCTD is reporting is in fact accurate.  This to me seemed worth the investment.

 

There is a downside to all of this work; however.  I am afraid to say that our initial baseline year does not measure up well to other industry entities.  In transit, one important metric is the amount of carbon public transit offsets.  So for every ton of carbon generated by our agency in conducting operations, we in theory offset an amount by having our riders avoid independent emissions from their choice to ride our more efficient service rather than driving their own car.  In New York, the MTA is able to achieve an emissions factor of 12 – for every 1 ton of carbon, they offset 12 tons.  Chicago achieved 5 this year.  Philadelphia 3.  The industry average is 1.9.  Unfortunately, NCTD is 1.6 for calendar year 2009.

 

The good news is that this gives us a new set of targets and goals to achieve to improve this number.  As part of our plan, in 2010 we turned on the green data center, we started deploying solar installations, we installed emissions controls on a segment of the Breeze bus fleet, and in September 2010 we installed a driver feedback system on the buses called GreenRoads to try to improve gas mileage.

 

Regardless of the numbers we achieved in our baseline year, by measuring ourselves and by having that number audited and verified, our community can now see the progress we make and trust that the numbers are real.

energy consumption, environment, solar, sustainability
Comments Off on SPRINTER Solar Goes Live

I am happy to say that after many challenges, we were able to turn on the SPRINTER solar system today.This system was funded by the ARRA Transit Investments in Greenhouse Gas Reductions (TIGGER) grant.  It is approximately 225 kw, and should offset almost 30% of the power needs for the facility – which is a good thing as the SPRINTER Maintenance facility draws more power than any other site at NCTD.

 

This project ran into many complications, not the least of which was the need to repair the facility roof.  We could have made the decision to compromise on the quantity of panels at the facility, but I think we made the right choice to go ahead and fix a facility that is a mission-critical site for the agency.

 

We also faced the significant challenge of putting panels in an area that is designated as a bioswale for retention of water and prevention of nonpoint source pollution runoff.  In order to protect that purpose, we  had to replace the irrigation system and all of the vegetation with something more suitable to the new environmental conditions.  The added benefit is that is allows us to cut our water consumption by over 25% at the site.

 

I want to say a big thank you to Dan Harding and Seth Worden at Transit America, and to Josh Beeson at Martifer Solar.