Summer is the season for big Seattle Center events, and that means serious road congestion in the vicinity, and high demand on transit routes that provide access to the Center. A few Sundays ago, a friend of mine was returning from Pride, and attempted to use Route 8 to go east towards Capitol Hill. On Sundays, the 8 runs every 30 minutes, and on weekends, Metro always seems to assign 40′ standard coaches to the 8, rather than the 60′ articulated coaches seen during the week. Unsurprisingly, the bus was completely swamped, and most people gave up and started walking.
On event days, Metro habitually substitutes 60′ coaches for 40′ coaches on other diesel routes (e.g. 24, 32) which serve Seattle Center, but not the 8. While the substitution of 60′ coaches will not save a route that is totally overwhelmed by a brief spike in demand, it does significantly improve capacity at a cost that is slight compared to alternative options, such as running event shuttles or overload trips. Naturally, I wanted to know why Metro wasn’t operating 60′ coaches on the 8 during Pride weekend, and earlier this week, I got the answer.
More after the jump.
The operating environment is challenging on Denny Way before you throw in special events and construction. But we are trying to keep service moving and using a standard 40-foot bus helps us do that in this situation.
Every adjustment made from what is planned and scheduled to be operated has a cost. Although these are marginal costs they are not inconsequential when considering the amount of service Metro operates and the day to day variation in operating conditions that occur in a major metropolitan area. In the many examples you provide Metro does make these adjustments for special events and construction known in advance.
In the case of the Route 8, a 60-foot-long coach trying to operate along Denny Way, primarily from Fairview Avenue to First Avenue North, has a tough time moving while not causing more traffic congestion. In the short blocks, along with merging traffic from Westlake Avenue North, Dexter Avenue North and Fourth/Fifth Avenues, operators find it difficult to impossible to inch forward across the intersection without blocking the intersection completely with the 60-foot-long bus. With the 40-foot-long bus, operators had an easier time moving up and not block the intersection, which ultimately did a better job of keeping service moving for customers. This year, the limited capacity of Mercer Street west of Aurora Avenue has also moved more traffic to Denny, resulting in added delay and unreliability for the Route 8.
It’s a tough balancing act when traffic is heavy and transit demand is extreme. We’ll keep working on ideas and ways to smooth things out for customers, with a goal of keeping buses and riders moving while avoiding pass-ups.
As I understand it, Metro’s argument here is essentially that the event congestion is worse than weekday congestion, and in particular it’s worse on the short blocks west of Fairview, rather than to the east around I-5, where weekday congestion originates. This seems like a fairly plausible argument, and if it’s borne out by experience, 40′ coaches are the right choice (although I’d be interested in what bus drivers think of it). So there you go.
This answer gives me a great excuse to ride one of my personal hobby horses, namely the utility of double-decker buses in cities like Seattle, which suffers a perennial shortage of curb space and similar abundance of chronically failing intersections. Community Transit operates a fleet of Enviro 500 double-deckers, each of which seats 80 people, and which (according to CT) is cheaper and more fuel-efficient to operate than a comparable articulated coach.
Despite seating more than twice as many people as an standard low-floor coach, and about 20 more than an articulated coach, CT’s Eviro 500s are only 2′ longer than a 40′ standard. They are, therefore, the perfect vehicles to be operating on streets like Denny and 3rd Ave. When the day comes that Metro is no longer broke, the agency should move aggressively to pilot them throughout the county, study the cost of upgrading some of Metro’s bases to handle them, and ideally set aside a chunk of the capital budget to perform the upgrade if the buses perform well during the pilot.