Previously, I’ve written about one of Metro’s success stories, the 1997 Aurora corridor restructure, a change to the bus network that traded several infrequent routes for the Routes 16 and 358 that we know today. As I described at length in that post, during the day Metro was previously operating three separate routes on (or primarily on) Aurora Ave, each with different stop patterns, and two closely-spaced local routes in Wallingford; night service followed a quite different pattern.
In essence, this was a tradeoff of geographic coverage (in the form of closely-spaced routes, closely-spaced stops, and different route variants on one road) for improved frequency and a simpler service pattern on the remaining services. After an initial dip, the two remaining routes have outshone their predecessors in both ridership and rides per platform hour: a win for riders, taxpayers, and the environment.
In this post I’ll discuss another success story, the 2003 Ambaum/Delridge restructure, an analogous change to the bus network, this time focused on Southwest Seattle and Burien, with similarly excellent results, including today’s Route 120. Even better, most of this post is written for me, as I was kindly given a 2005 staff report from Metro analyzing the results of this restructure in detail; I shall quote and paraphrase at length from this report throughout the post.
The Ambaum-Delridge corridor was the major focus for September 2004 service changes that restructured transit service in the Burien, Des Moines, White Center, Shorewood, Highland Park, and Delridge areas of Southwest Seattle and Southwest King County. Steady ridership growth along Ambaum Boulevard SW and Delridge Way SW coupled with stagnant or declining ridership in West Seattle and Burien outside the Ambaum- Delridge corridor provided the impetus for a major restructuring service in the area in the context of no new hours available for the project.
Specific objectives guiding the restructure were:
- Make the best use of existing resources in a zero-sum budget environment to increase transit ridership.
- Shift resources within the service area to respond to the ridership growth trend along Ambaum Boulevard and Delridge Way.
- Improve connections between bus routes through improvements to core frequencies.
- Enhance passenger facilities at bus stops in the area.
It’s not essential to have a map to get the gist of the next section, but for those who want to see the details, I’ve scanned the relevant portions of Metro’s maps from 2002 and 2005, which illustrate the change (although not very well, as Metro’s system maps make no distinction based on frequency, span of service, or express vs local and thus understate the gains in frequency). Pre-restructure is the left pane; post- the right.
The restructuring entailed reallocating service hours from services that carried less ridership, specifically midday SR-509 express trips as well as hourly local services with close coverage, to a consolidated core service along Ambaum and Delridge. Major aspects of the change were:
- New Route 120 replaced services generally operating every 30 to 60 minutes with a consolidated service operating ever 15 minutes or better on weekdays, and upgraded most evening and weekend service to every 30 minutes. King County Metro’s new air-conditioned, low-floor articulated buses were assigned to Route 120.
- New Route 125 provided replacement service to South Seattle Community College with expanded peak 15- minute service in both directions, more 30-minute service evenings and weekends, and later hours of operation. Trips on Route 125 also were through-routed with Route 11 to provide a no-transfer “college-to- college” connection between South Seattle Community College and Seattle Central Community College on Capitol Hill.
- Less productive midday express trips on SR-509 express services were reduced by 50%, and the three SR-509 routes were renumbered for better distinction between freeway and local arterial services.
- Local service between White Center, Highland Park, and downtown Seattle was consolidated into a single new route, Route 23, and 30-minute frequency was maintained.
- Local all-day transit service between Burien and Park Lake (adjacent to White Center) was consolidated from two routes to a single new route, Route 131.
- Limited directional service on weekdays was provided along 4th Avenue SW between Burien and Park Lake in the form of new Route 134 as a response to adverse public reaction to complete discontinuation of service along a portion of 4th. This street is three blocks from parallel local service in the 1st Avenue S corridor.
- Facility improvements were made along Delridge Way SW and Ambaum Boulevard SW.
Among other things, those facility improvements included consolidating 24 stops; adding or improving benches, shelters or lighting at numerous stops; and minor aesthetic improvements such as repainting and clearing graffiti. Meanwhile, the penultimate bullet provides another example of a pattern we’ve seen most recently with the 42: when the public complains over loss of coverage, Metro creates a token route with minimal service that withers over the years. Metro is finally going to put the 134 out of its misery in the Fall ’12 service change.
The results are broken out in detail by area in the report. Here’s the bottom line:
|Restructured routes overall||8.0%||N/A||N/A|
|South Seattle CC||2.3%||24.0%||72.4%|
In two years, the Ambaum/Delridge corridor posted gains of more than 40% overall, while the losses due to cuts elsewhere were relatively modest, for a net gain well above system growth levels. The positive effects of this restructure have been durable. From 2005 to 2011, Route 120 has grown faster (or, during the recession, lost ground slower) than the system overall without the input of major additional service subsidy, with weekday boardings up 15% in that time, versus about 10-11% for the system overall.
It’s evident from these results that with some very minor capital expenditures, a willingness to aggressively restructure based on where the riders are and to prioritize frequency over coverage, it’s possible to serve significantly more riders with the same amount of money. Metro knows how to build good bus routes: what’s sometimes lacking is the willingness to take flack from the riders of today in order to obtain the more numerous riders of tomorrow.