L.A. Metro

Mission: Listen to the Client

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority — or the Metro, as it’s commonly known — designs, builds and operates public transportation for nearly 10 million people in L.A. County.

Until recently, L.A. Metro had relied on outdated AV technology to conduct and record the board hearings at its headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

The old system, which was analog and dated to the early 1990s, was long overdue for an upgrade. To give one example, turning up the volume to support the whole room would result in feedback and other audio issues.

“The technology was older and the only place we could find replacements was on eBay,” says Arlen Sanders, project manager in the Information Technology Services department with L.A. Metro. “It was becoming a nightmare to administrate. The technicians were getting blamed when they didn’t have a lot of control over the whole thing. It was an embarrassment for them to have to deal with that.”

Sanders, who has over 30 years of communication experience, had retired in June 2010, but was asked to come back for the project in 2012.

“The most important thing was that they listened. It was sort of a perfect relationship of mutual respect and good working relations” – Arlen Sanders, project manager, Information Technology Services, L.A. Metro

“AVI-SPL’s response to the RFP [request for proposals] was the best of the group,” says Sanders.  “We weren’t looking for the lowest price, but for value and quality at a good price. I had other vendors who told me what I needed and didn’t listen to me telling them what I needed. AVI-SPL listened.”

Action: Four Areas of Focus

In designing for the project, AVI-SPL engineer Jon Chang made sure the technology implemented would meet four areas of focus: flexibility, expansion, longevity and functionality.

“Jon is one of the top engineers in the country,” says Ali Shah, AVI-SPL sales engineer. “He put the client and their vision and the integrity of the design first.”

The most notable of the spaces worked on was the public boardroom, which consists of a large dais for the board members, and the audience area, which accommodates around 300.

To facilitate the flow of committee meetings, the dais includes gooseneck microphones and features VoteView software, which Chang developed and which allows committee members to view the voting system and presentation content on the same displays. Members vote using AMX Enova touch panels. Presenters can connect their laptops at two locations — a staff area and the presenter podium.

The audience area in front of the dais features loudspeakers, wireless mics, an assisted listening system, and a PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) camera that points to the board members sitting at the dais. A second camera is dedicated to the speaking audience member. The camera views and presentation content can be routed to overflow conference rooms on the third floor, training rooms and the cafeteria.  Pre-recorded materials can also be sent to these areas.

Because the auditorium-style seating area is wide, AVI-SPL used Meyer Sound digitally steerable line-array speakers. This ensures that anyone sitting and/or standing anywhere in the space hears quality audio.

“The audio was a critical piece,” says Shah. “L.A. Metro wanted it to look aesthetically pleasing and utilize today’s latest and best technology. We were also trying to eliminate a ‘best’ seat.”

From the control room, Biamp Tesira digital signal processing handles the audio processing and distribution for all areas. Two projectors (the second provided for backup) work with the projection screen that is mounted behind the dais.  Two AMX Modero touch panels control the video displays and the distribution and volume of the audio in the public hearing space.

“The dedication and commitment of our team and L.A. Metro on every aspect of the project were the key factors to its overall success,” says Shah. “You wish all clients would bring this kind of commitment and synergy to the table.”

Shah had much praise for L.A. Metro’s Sanders, who dealt with design, logistics, planning and project management.

“He wasn’t just on top of it; his manner was positive,” says Shah. “That’s important for the technicians on-site and the project managers. He was as instrumental as we were in keeping this project on track.”

Shah also credits Joe Giba, the executive sponsor and deputy CIO overseeing the project, with exhibiting great leadership on behalf of Metro. Much of that leadership came in the form of asking higher-level questions about the project relating to the user experience.

Although not a sound engineer, Giba has a keen appreciation for the requirements of a state-of-the-art AV system. He was instrumental in contributing to the system specifications pertaining to quality assurance and user experience.

Since the completion of the integration, AVI-SPL has supported L.A. Metro through a customer service contract that provides expert assistance from its help desk.

Impact: The Good Kind of Feedback

Sanders says board members and audience members alike have noted the improved audio. “They’ll say, ‘Wow, I can just hear everything,’” notes Sanders. “The system makes it seem like you’re just hearing people talk, even though they may be a hundred feet away from you.”

With the old system, some of the board members could forget about the microphones’ limitations by not turning on the switch or by not speaking directly into them. “With this system, the audience and the other board members are self-policing now,” says Sanders. “They can see the red light when somebody’s mic isn’t on and let the speaker know. It’s a lot more efficient and organized.”

Where technicians used to have trouble figuring out which microphone was causing problems, they can now use Biamp Tesira to reference a virtual console that has indicators for each mic.

“If we were to get feedback, we can tell where it’s coming from,” says Sanders. “The technicians can feel more at ease, and they can control the volume very easily.”

They can also record meetings using a Blu-ray disc recorder and an HDD recorder. In the conference rooms, staff can give presentations from the room’s PC, which connects to the large-screen display and takes a variety of inputs.

Prior to the integration, translators, technicians and the rear projector shared the same control area, a scenario where they could get in each other’s way. Now, they have their own separate control room spaces.

The project was such a success that L.A. Metro and Sanders were gracious enough to permit another AVI-SPL client to tour the facility.

“We’re proud of our boardroom and proud of the job AVI-SPL did,” Sanders says. “The most important thing was that they listened. It was sort of a perfect relationship of mutual respect and good working relations.”