Category Archives: an idea a day

I-110 ExpressLanes Recommendations

Should the ExpressLanes on the Interstate 110 and Interstate 10 in Los Angeles become a permanent fixture, here’s some recommendations L.A. County Metro could adopt for version 2.0.

  • An API that spits out the current price of the ExpressLanes, so that developers can integrate this into Metro’s official app, Google Maps and other applications. It would be super awesome if the API also interfaced with a predictive engine that, based off past data, showed what the price would be at various upcoming times.
  • Better signage near exits off the ExpressLanes. The left-hand exit for 39th Street/Coliseum in the northbound direction on the 110 is confusing because it comes up fast and there’s no sign saying where this exit will take you.
  • Looping in live video detection or Caltrans/CHP traffic engineers. When workers who monitor freeways via CCTV see an accident on the 110, they should immediately be able to lower the pricing for the ExpressLanes or be able to make them free. This would allow traffic to disperse over more lanes and steer further clear of the accident.
  • I think Metro should experiment with lower pricing. When I was coming on the 105 Eastbound toward the 110, I saw a price of $7 or $8 to get to the USC area and was quickly scared off. I’ve had several pleasant journeys where I saved time by paying about a $1 to use the ExpressLanes. This was the first time I was coming from the 105, and the extra money seemed pretty steep considering a long stretch of the ExpressLanes was moving at 65 mph+.
  • Decision engine. Metro may not want to get into the business of telling people what to do, but signs would be a lot smarter if they said, “$5.00 to Adams Blvd. GOOD DEAL” or “$5.00 Adams Blvd. SAVE 10 MINUTES.”
  • All Zipcars and similar “car-sharing” or “ride-sharing” vehicles should come with transponders pre-installed. Carshares should also get free ExpressLanes access even if it’s a solo driver. Zipcar could lobby for this.

Waze’s Free Marketing Strategy

Waze, the mapping application that Facebook is said to be close to buying, has put together a map of the world by harnessing the power of cell phones sitting in the pockets or center consoles of drivers worldwide.

The Israeli’s company’s first employee, Fej (Yuval) Shmuelevitz, visited USC recently to chat with a group of Jewish students interested in business. Fej, the vice president of community and operations, explained some of the unique ways Waze has been able to market itself for free.

–A homebuilder in the Midwest emailed Waze saying he loved the app. He wants to work with Waze to build maps of the new communities he’s building. Right now, clients and customers have trouble navigating to the sites. But he hopes to be able to tell people to download Waze. It would have maps of the newly built communities far before Google, Bing, Nokia or TomTom.

–Someone in Israel started a trend of putting what amounts to a QR code on wedding invitations. When scanned, it launches Waze and provides directions to the wedding locale. Fej estimated more than 50 percent of wedding invites have a Waze barcode.

-Waze has worked with local television stations to provide the traffic maps for newscasts. Neither Waze nor the news stations bears any costs. Waze benefits from the daily exposure.

–The company has also worked with other reporters to provide free reports about traffic crises or other interesting data related to stories.

–During Hurricane Sandy, Waze worked with government agencies to point people to the few gas stations that still had supplies.

Fej said Waze receives or internally produces 100 new ideas a week. Under Facebook’s umbrella, the number would only grow. One of the ideas that’s been talked about is a Google Latitude-like private group feature that would allow users to share their locations with groups of friends.

He also noted Google doesn’t want a monopoly in mapping because it would get more scrutiny more regulators. “They’re very happy that there’s competition,” he said.

Wisdom From Planet Money’s Adam Davidson

At an appearance at USC in March, the Planet Money host offered these three nuggets of wisdom:

On journalism: “Some of those stories are going to be sensible. Some of are going to be callously ridiculous. But they all share something in common — they’re wrong. There’s no set data of that explains one topic perfectly. It turns out to be a very optimistic fact for your lives.”

“The story I was going to live in was already written. You’re going to have to use critical thinking skills to see how the industries you’re interested in are changing and how your story has to change.”

“You will be judged more and more on what actual skills you have. The single most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills, which is rooted in curiosity and analytical training.”

Drive-Thrus, Cupcakes

Two things that would be nice:

Wait-time signs near drive-thrus for banks, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Sure, these people could end up losing business. But they might also anger customers less and, who knows, maybe the wait is actually shorter than it appears.

Pizza boxes have those nice backwards tripods in them to make sure the inside of the box top doesn’t smash into the pizza. Now that cupcakes are the craze, let’s bring something like that to cupcake boxes.

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.