RapidRide, notoriously, lacks a published schedule at all times at which the service operates at a frequency of every 15 minutes or better, which is from the start of service until 11 PM, every day. Moreover, OneBusAway has never worked reliably (if at all) for the C & D Lines (except for the late night publicly-scheduled trips). For myself, I know this lack of information makes me prefer the new Route 40 for most of the Ballard-Belltown trips I make, even though RapidRide serves the doorstep of my apartment building. While exchanging emails with Metro staff a few weeks ago, I inquired about these issues:
What is the rationale for not publishing a schedule for RapidRide in the periods where the bus runs less frequently than every 10 minutes? I’m aware of the given reason that it makes it easier to add buses, but it’s highly unlikely that Metro will ever need to add service in the off-peak on these routes, and 15 minutes is not, in fact, “so frequent you don’t need a schedule” (especially when the real-time arrival signs default to “refer to schedule” when one doesn’t exist). Moreover, it’s not possible to reliably plan a trip using the provided public data, as travel times vary so much throughout the day (particularly on the D Line), its not possible to know immediately how long your trip will take.
Alternatives already exist which provide peak-period operational flexibility to the agency while conveying to riders the off-peak timepoints required to plan reliable and fast connections; for example, Vancouver’s schedule layout, which is used for all of its bus routes:
Will Metro acknowledge the inadequacy of the current schedule information and commit to finding a format to better inform riders, for RapidRide and all frequent-service routes, as is done by other agencies across North America? Because no significant restructures will be happening next year, lots of staff time should be available to address this and other service-quality problems with RapidRide and the frequent transit network.
Since I wrote that email, Metro seems to have enabled real-time arrival signs at almost all the “station” stops outside of Downtown and Belltown (I mentioned why those stops were delayed previously), so many riders will know, once they get to a stop, how long they will wait. That is an improvement, but much of the point of a bus schedule, or OneBusAway realtime information, is to minimize time spent sitting in bus shelters, and it’s too late by the time you get there.
Metro’s response, and a discussion, after the jump.
When developing RapidRide customer information we evaluated various methods of providing schedule information. We saw, similar to the example you provided for Vancouver, that when service runs every 15 minutes or less then it is frequent enough that exact schedule times are not necessary. The Vancouver information often gives a range of the headway (e.g. every 7 – 8 minutes) and not the exact times. This is similar information to what we provide, but in a different format. We have provided our riders information in the current format for two years now and we have seen riders on the A and B lines adjust to the change from our standard timetable format.
As we move toward implementation of the next two RapidRide lines, E and F lines, we will be reviewing how we provide line and schedule information for the full RapidRide network. We will likely make adjustments based on this review and input we receive from riders.
To specifically address transfer connections, if riders are making a transfer to other buses, then they can go into trip planner and put in an origin and destination and they will be given scheduled trip times.
A few reactions to this. First, I’m glad Metro has expressed an openness to making improvements to the current method of providing schedule information, based on feedback. As I’ve noted before, complaining en masse is a great way to effect minor service quality improvements at Metro, so next time you miss a connection thanks to RapidRide’s lack of schedule, don’t hesitate to complain to that effect: if enough people do it, something might happen. There are, however, a couple of respects in which this answer seems obviously flawed.
There’s a world of difference in the rider experience between eight versus 15 minutes of uncertainty in when your bus might show up. Saying the information presented is “similar” is perhaps true semantically, but the amount of usable information – when your bus should arrive, and how long your trip will take — in the Vancouver schedule is vastly more. It’s not clear how Metro’s evaluation “saw” that 15 minutes was an acceptable degree of uncertainty, but it flies in the face in the face of academic studies, Adam’s survey of similar transit routes worldwide, and the personal experience of everyone I know who has ever used a decent rapid transit or local bus system anywhere else in the developed world.
That Metro’s trip planner knows the unpublished schedule is good, I guess, but to the extent that information is accurate, it obviates any possible “operational flexibility” argument — even if that argument holds any water outside of the peak period (nobody outside of Metro seems to think so).
On the question of why OBA realtime information only works for late night “scheduled” trips, here’s what Metro has to say:
KCM’s project team is investigating this, and there may be multiple conditions causing these errors.
One element is a known issue with OBA. OBA has not correctly implemented software routines to properly handle headway based service. They’re working on this problem. As an interim measure KCM has provided a revised schedule to OBA which includes all scheduled RR trips. [...]
KCM’s project team is working with the AVL system contractor to understand how the activation and deactivation of Headway Control affects the operation of the system and the data output that goes to OneBusAway.
Additionally, KCM does not always run with Headway Control enabled, in which case,unscheduled trips will never appear in OBA.
I’ve never seen this “all scheduled trips” data ever make it to OneBusAway (anyone else?). I’m glad to hear they’re working on fixing the problem, but it’s been six weeks now since the service change, which strikes me as a crazily long time to be working on this problem with no fix.
I understand Metro is overstretched and underfunded. I don’t expect miracles, but I do expect Metro to deliver this service at a level of quality that befits a premium, flagship service. The status quo of no schedule and no OneBusAway on the C & D Lines — more than six weeks after the start of service — is an intolerable embarrassment to the agency and is corroding the RapidRide brand. Someone at Metro needs to take charge of these issues an get them fixed: something immediate to make the service usable today, and and expedited reevaluation of the no-schedule policy in time for the February service change.