Monthly Archives: August 2012

Google Maps Real-Time Taxi Data

Apps such as SideCar have set out to make it easy for people to hitchhike. People who have a car and are willing to give a ride broadcast it through the app. People who need a ride at that moment tell the app they need a ride, and the service tries to pair them up with active ride-givers in the area.

So why can’t we do that with taxis easily too? Taxis seem so inefficient. They roam around endlessly, taking people in all kinds of directions. Some cities allow you to hail down cabbies in the street. Elsewhere, you have to a call, text or use an app to reach some sort of dispatch service.

Even then, a cab might have the driver and one passenger in it. Yet, that one person headed for the airport is paying 100 percent of the fare. Imagine if the taxi driver — with the passenger’s permission — could broadcast his ability to pick up another passenger or two who are also headed for the airport along his route to the airport. An app could work that magic.

Even better for hail-down cities, those funky, often-lighted signs on the top of taxis could change colors from say green to yellow depending on if the taxi can pick up more passengers. Digitized signs could say where the taxi is headed to further simplify the process.

In that sense, taxis become more like shuttles but the environment is bound to benefit. Don’t forgot about the pocketbooks of the passengers either. Even if a taxi driver offered a slight discount, both passengers benefit from sharing the fare.

Twitter As A Public Service

So I first thought of this idea when my AC Transit bus stop was moved to a different location for a night to accommodate one of President Barack Obama’s recent campaign fund raising events in Oakland. Being Oakland and all, someone had tore up the signs meant to direct transit riders to the correct spot to wait for the bus.

I was slightly confused, but navigated to the AC Transit website and sorted things out. But imagine if I could have gone to Twitter to find a post on the top of my stream from AC Transit warning me about all the temporary changes. Saves typing, which studies smartphone users hate doing.

The same issue has come up the last two evening rush-hour periods when BART trains had to be taken out of service, causing a systemwide delay heading eastbound. The platforms in downtown ended up getting very crowded.

Google Now is aiming to fix situations like this by using its brain to be your personal assistant, but that’s not going to sit well with everyone just yet.

Instead, transit agencies and pretty much all other public agencies should be taking advantage of Twitter’s Promoted Tweets product during special events. Twitter should guarantee public agencies positioning above and over private companies during these special events. The well-known problem with Twitter is that it moves so fast, stuff gets easily lost downstream. Promoted Tweets protect against that inherent service problem.

The thorny question is whether or not Twitter to promote itself as a public service should allow public agencies to take advantage of the Promoted Tweets offering for free. While it would stand to lose some regular revenues, it could gain goodwill with the public and potentially some users who would now see a practical application for Twitter.


An Open Letter To ‘The Mentalist’

Dear Chris Long and David Nutter,

I was disappointed to see Special Agent Kimball Cho flush pain medication pills down the toilet on a recent episode of The Mentalist (Season 4, Episode 18).

Government agencies nationwide have been stepping up efforts to educate people that extra or unwanted pills should be disposed of properly. This keeps them out of the hands of drug abusers and protects the environment. The accumulation of pills in our wastewater system inject unnecessary chemicals into our water systems.

Government agencies, law enforcement, retailers and other partners have made it really easy for people to throw away pills at all kinds of locations. The fictional CBI office could have easily included a prescription medicine disposal bin. For a law enforcement officer to do something incorrectly is one thing, but for an agent as upstanding and by the book as Cho to not follow proper procedures is even more egregious. If this was an attempt to show the continuing degradation of his character which began with his relationship with his confidential informant, then I would say that subtlety is lost on most viewers.

I hope in future episodes you take into account what’s happening in this world and that you recognize the importance of characters such as Cho as role models.

Thanks for the terrific show.


Open Letters To City Of Alameda and BART

Dear Mayor Gilmore,

Last month, I freaked out when I realized I was biking straight into oncoming traffic near the Posey Tunnel one Saturday afternoon. Luckily, I was able to navigate to safety.

While the sharrows and “Bike Route” signage is great in the heart of Alameda, the directional cues for bikers seems to disappear on the edge of the city.

When money becomes available for the next round of bike program improvements, I hope the council puts a serious emphasis on signage to help direct riders in and around the Posey and Webster Street tunnels.

Google Maps tells me its safe to bike through the Posey Tunnel, but I’m still skeptical. Are the skinny raised pathways on the sides of the tunnel meant for bikers? I have no idea because there’s no information at that location that I could see. If they are, I hope an emphasis also is placed on smoothing out those pathways, widening them and/or bending parts of the fence.

Again, I ask that you pay more attention to bikers operating on the edges of the city.

Thanks for your service to the city.

Got a nice reply from city officials in response to that.


Dear BART,

In my month in San Francisco, it’s become a common sight to see tourists fumbling around with cash, tickets, cards and luggage at the ticket vending machines at Powell Street Station. The downtown station is obviously near many major hotels. These tourists just want to get to the airport. But the seem unable to easily comprehend the machines or fare schedule posted on them.

I would suggest creating a poster dedicated to explaining how to buy a ticket for the airport. Or even better, how about installing a new machine dedicated to only issuing SFO or Oakland Coliseum tickets. Such a booth could enhance the experience of tourists and speed up queues for existing machines.

You could even recoup costs through a small surcharge for using that machine. I’m sure airport-bound folks can spare a nickel or two.