Podcast: New technology could make getting to BART stations easier


Podcast: New technology could make getting to BART stations easier

HOST: “Welcome to our latest edition of “Hidden Tracks: Stories from BART.”  I’m Chris Filippi and this time I’m speaking with Bob Franklin who’s the manager of customer access here at BART.  And Bob great to talk to you.”

FRANKLIN: “Great to be here.”

HOST: “I just have to start out.  Manager of customer access that sound like kind of a weird title I think for some folks.  What does that mean, what do you do?”

FRANKLIN: “It’s basically how people come and go to BART stations.  Either the parking programs, by bike, by transit and also the accessibility issues.  How people interact with the BART station.”

HOST: “Basically making it as easy as possible for someone to use BART, to get access to the stations.  And in that line you get to work with some really neat and innovative projects.  You actually have that right in front of us here.  I know you can’t see this but he’s basically got four items that look like rocks, like very fancy-painted rocks but they’re definitely not.  There’s some really powerful technology in there.  Describe what these things are and what you can use them for.”

FRANKLIN: “These are beacons and a beacon is a little computer and a very inexpensive one that emits a radio frequency.   And in this particular case the radio frequency is a webpage.   So we can place these in a BART station and set its range from anywhere from 7 feet to 70 yards and deliver to a passenger’s smartphone a webpage of the information they might be interested in.  We wouldn’t be pushing it to them but it would be available if they seek information at that particular location.”

HOST: “What kind of information could be available through that sort of a system?”

FRANKLIN: “So it could be anything we want to display and It could be any webpage that BART in its administrative office could easily reconfigure.  Right now at the Rockridge concourse level we have one of these that we’re just testing in the station environment that displays the real time departure train information at that location.  So if you go on the plaza or the concourse level and you swipe down on your smartphone for your day notification views it will come up automatically.  It will come up automatically if you have an Android phone and if you have an iPhone you will have to download Google Chrome or the physical web app.  So it’s a minor barrier but once you’re in there then you have a webpage.  The idea is to use these initially for people with disabilities.  So if you’re a blind of sight-impaired passenger and you don’t have access to the real time displays in our stations this can provide to you in a format with a voiceover feature on a smartphone the real time departure information.  We’re also thinking about elevator outages.  If you are a passenger that needs an elevator to access or exit a BART station and you come to the elevator and it’s out of service what do you do, what do you do if the station agent is not there?  So this will provide all the information about what to do.  A phone number to call to get a shuttle to the next station or real time information on elevator status when that elevator you’re hoping to use is back in service.  Things like that.”

HOST: “That sounds like a really big deal.  Making this information not only quickly but also in an easily accessible way.”

FRANKLIN: “So if you’re familiar with when your train departs at your station but go to a different station and then you have to go into the BART webpage and pull up a different station and that’s if you’re aware that this real time information exists.  This is us putting information out there exactly where people need it.  And then it’ll be our task to communicate that this information is available to query for it.”


HOST: “And you mention this is already in the testing phase.  Kind of give us a timeframe for when this program might be expanded, when can we see more of this in the BART system?”

FRANKLIN: “Well we’re going to be testing the use of this application for passengers using wheelchairs at the 19th Street Station.  So we have a little focus group meeting out there and we’re going to test how it is and how easy it is to access this information from a variety of smartphones.”

HOST: “Do you see this as something that you’re hopeful for.  Do you think this is something that is going to be expanded and has real application?”

FRANKLIN: “I think it’s a great, simple solution.  It’s not pushing information on people.  It’s BART saying this is where we want to display information in our system to particular riders.  So if you get to our, we’re going to be advertising it and if you get in a situation where you may be looking for information to look at your smartphone and it will delivered right there.  You can easily disable this feature on your phone or enable it.  You don’t need a special app, it’s us providing information to our passengers where they need it.”

HOST: “And you’re also using technology to better manager parking at BART stations.  Of course that’s a really big deal for folks, those parking lots will fill up at some of our stations, many of our stations. What are you doing on that front?”

FRANKLIN: “Well we know in our office when, exactly when parking lots fill up.   The problem is our passengers don’t know that.  The ones that come every day know that they better get to Rockridge at 7:25 or they’re not going to get a parking space.  Our job is to communicate that.  If you look at the parking data that we receive when people pay for their parking either through their Clipper card or with a cash payment we receive those transactions in a real time basis and they don’t vary much from day to day.  So Mondays through Thursdays look one way, Fridays a little different.  So we know pretty much exactly when a lot will fill up.  What we’re looking to do is taking that data that we receive when people pay for their parking and let people know where we are in terms of what percent of a lot is being utilized.   So it looks like we’re on pace to get Rockridge being full at 7:25 again were going to let people know its 25 percent full and scheduled fill time is 7:25.  And then when it actually is full we’ll push out another notification if you opt in for that service to let you know that it is indeed full.  The value of this is we will provide this with an open API, an open source of information that a third-party developer can use, where also people can sign up for another service advisory.  People sign up for service advisories for elevator status as well as train delays.  So this will be another category if you want to opt in and receive a text message when Rockridge is full you will be able to do that.  So it will be good to let people know that BART parking may be available if it hasn’t been full yet and BART is an option but also to save you some time if it is already full.  So you don’t have to waste your time driving around a lot looking for a space that isn’t there.”

HOST: “I’m speaking with Bob Franklin, he’s the manager of customer access at BART.  We were just talking about the parking situation, near and dear to many of our riders of course.  It would seem to me one of the challenges would be that many of our riders they’ll buy their parking permits in the advance.  There some obviously that use a credit card, pay cash that day.  But many of them pay for it in advance.  Talk about how you work around that challenge when it comes to tracking the status of our parking garages.”

FRANKLIN: “So the utilization rate is the daily fee first-come, first-serve rate.  We’ve sold out of the permit spaces on a daily basis just about at all of our stations.  We have the ability, the board authorization to sell up to 40 percent of our parking lot for reserved permits.  Either monthly permit, a single-day permit you know you’re going to an appointment three weeks from now or an airport long-term permit.  So those are pretty much sold out and it doesn’t go up to 40 percent at most stations but we have the ability to do that.  So we’re looking at the daily fee first-come, first-served spaces if you don’t have a permit which guarantees you a space until 10 a.m. but you’re just looking to take BART that morning.  So that’s what we’re focused on, not the spaces that are already reserved.”

HOST: “And of course the thing there is getting that information to the people.  I’m not supposed to be looking at my cellphone when I’m driving.  How do you get that information to the people who need it?”

FRANKLIN: “Well it would be a text.  So if you are driving and you receive a text at 7:30 in the morning every day you probably know without even checking your phone that that text is that your lot that you’re looking for is full.”

HOST: “Of course one of the big questions for our riders is if you’re using the parking garage you want this information now but it’s not necessarily available right now.  This is going to take time to test, to further develop.  Give us a sense for the timeframe on that, when can we see some of this technology implemented for our riders?”

FRANKLIN: “Well we built a model that displays all the information that we collect from the parking validation machines if you pay with your Clipper card or at the add fare machines when you pay by space with cash.  So we know what that looks like historically and in real time.    So now our task is to make a predictive model.  To take the information that I can interpret, I know how a curve looks and whether or not a particular lot is full, and to do it automatically.  So we’re going to have to as a check and balance go to each lot and calibrate a model.  So as we know that when spots 325 through 335 at Rockridge start to be validated that’s a good sign that this lot is full.  So we’re going to have to go out lot by lot and find those spaces that are last to fill up and to get this data to become a predictive model.  Once we have that it will be live on our service advisories.  Probably within several months in the short term and then in the longer term we’ll take that information to have a display so that if you don’t have a smartphone and you’re just driving hoping to take BART we’ll have a sign that conveys the same information at a garage entrance or hopefully a freeway on ramp or off ramp so at a decision point so before you enter a garage and drive around through six floors looking for that space that doesn’t exist we’ll intercept those people and save them some time.”

HOST: “Bob, thank you so much for your time I appreciate it.”

FRANKLIN: “Thank you very much.”

HOST: “That’s Bob Franklin and he’s the access manager for BART.  And thank you for listening to “Hidden Tracks: Stories from BART.”