One of the very first questions I expected when I published the Frequent Network Plan about two weeks ago was “How much frequency would we get at night?” And, indeed, reader lakecityrider brought the topic up in the second comment to my original post. I wrote at the time that I needed to crunch the numbers.
Now I’ve done that. And the results, summarized in this map, show just how badly Metro’s night network has suffered in recent years. Night service has borne the brunt of all the cuts and efficiencies in the last decade. As a result there are just not a lot of hours to put into core-route frequency. The existing all-day network in the area covered by the FNP uses about 324 buses; the existing night network uses only about 196 buses during early “night” hours (about 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.), with the number rapidly diminishing as the night wears on. Further, there are no peak trippers at night that may be made redundant by a superior all-day network, so there are no “extra” buses to add to the new night network, either to provide more frequency or to add recovery time. Night service does run faster than day service, but not by enough to make a huge difference; there is no alternative but to cut frequency substantially from daytime levels, and to cut a small amount of service entirely.
Speaking in broad terms, most 10-minute routes in the FNP would have to become 15-minute routes in the early part of the night, except for two that become 20-minute routes. Most 15-minute routes become 20-minute routes, although there are several that become 30-minute routes. The 30-minute routes stay at the 30-minute level, but several suffer truncations of varying severity. A couple of through-routes that would be impossible during the day would be used at night to save additional hours. Further details after the jump.
I haven’t calculated what would happen later in the night, but it’s safe to assume that frequencies would be roughly halved after 10:30 without new resources, and service would end around 1:00 depending on the route (with a few key routes running later, as they do today).
What’s more, even these reduced frequency levels rely on assumptions about recovery time that are a bit more aggressive than those I used for the daytime network. A few runs staying out past the early evening would require some relief in the form of longer recovery, not all of which is accounted for in these calculations. In order to provide it, frequencies might have to start dropping earlier than 10:00 or 10:30 on some routes. (The 31 and 120 in particular have recovery short enough to need extra relief in this proposal, but I would probably drop frequency earlier on another route to provide good frequency for longer on the busy and critical 120.)
The dispiriting conclusion: it’s just not possible to provide proper frequencies for a nighttime transfer network at the current level of resources without cutting a lot of night coverage entirely. The good news is that it is possible, even in this skeletal environment, to fix some glaring pain points in the current network, even if we can’t get to a truly effective transfer network. To name a few of the most satisfying outcomes:
- As with the daytime network, no routes within the area covered by the plan would run less often than every half hour, at least before roughly 10:30.
- Routes 8 (currently 8N), 58 (currently 358), and 120 would receive the bump to 15 minutes at night that they richly deserve.
- Routes 5 and 40, together providing downtown/Fremont core service, would both be able to run every 20 minutes at night, for combined service every 10 minutes between downtown and the Center of the Universe. Connecting buses at Fremont, including the 13, 28, and 31, would run every 20 minutes as well for predictable transfers.
- Route 16 would run every 20 minutes at night for improved service to Wallingford.
- Much of the new crosstown service would run every 20 minutes; this includes routes 52/55, 50, 31, and 71. Routes 44 and 48 would run every 15 minutes as they do today. Riders from the UW campus to Link would have a bus every 15 minutes on the 67/73 common corridor. I prioritized providing as much frequency as possible on crosstown service because it will have the highest proportion of transferring riders.
- Riders in the Central District would see night frequency improvements on all of their east-west service. Route 3 would improve to every 15 minutes, while routes 14 and 2 would improve to every 20 minutes.
- Several farther-out areas would see upgrades from hourly service to 30-minute service, most notably Magnolia, a number of areas in far north King County, and the multiple south Seattle communities along always-underserved routes 131 and 132.
This nighttime plan requires some aggressive and creative through-routing, which is much more practical at night than during the day. Route 1, and half of trips on route 7, would need to use hybrid equipment, because they would be through-routed with non-trolley routes (131 and 59, respectively). Routes 12 and 47 are through-routed, which will keep the 47 out of Pioneer Square during the party hours when 1st Ave S is impassable, but will take away the 12′s front-door service to Colman Dock. The current route 8 is recreated at night (when Denny Way is much more reliable) by through-routing the FNP 8 and 6, although only half of route 8 trips continue onto route 6.
Routes 59, 69, 78, and 81 would be truncated. Route 59 would not serve Upper Rainier Beach, Arbor Heights, Gatewood, or Genesee Hill at night (none of these areas currently have night service). Route 69 would be truncated in Lake City, with timed transfers to ST route 522 for continuing service. Route 78 would no longer serve East Green Lake, terminating at Roosevelt Station, and would no longer travel west of Jackson Park on its north end (an issue that would have to be fixed somehow or other before the Lynnwood Link opening). Route 81 would be truncated at Kenmore, again with timed transfers to ST route 522 for continuing service to Bothell.
Of course, at this already marginal level of service, there is not a lot of room to absorb further cuts. Cutting 17% of the hours in this night network would result in a network with frequencies similar to today’s, but requiring more transfers. That’s not a formula for building ridership or support for transit.