Airport Transit Rankings – How Does Link Stack Up?

Link at SeaTac/Airport Station

Arriving at an unfamiliar airport, you see multitudes of signs directing you towards taxis, shuttles and public transit.  So many questions arise: Which should you take?  Do I have enough time to take transit?  The answers to these questions vary widely depending on the airport.  There is a lively and valuable debate over the priority, value and social equity of airport transit links.  However, this post is from the point of view of a traveler, ranking the transport options between the world’s 50 largest airports and their central city by comparing the best transit alternative to a taxi.  After traveling a fair amount in the past few years, I wanted to compare transit outcomes for travelers and identify the best practices.

Airport Transit Graph

Transit Service Type Transit Time Penalty* (Minutes) Average Frequency (Minutes)
Airport Express Rail 3 17
Subway/Metro 15 8
Light Rail 16 11
Regional Rail 18 24
Seattle (Link) 21 10
Express Bus 25 32
Bus 50 32
Multi-modal 53 17

(*) Time penalty over taxi.  Transit time accounts for waiting and transferring time.

The total travel time required to use airport transit is compared to the uncongested midday travel time of a taxi.  Congested taxi travel times were used for some notoriously clogged cities, such as Jakarta and New York.   The transit time is based on a traveler arriving at the airport (the largest international terminal, to be precise) in midday, and waiting one-half the vehicle frequency for the next ride.  The same method is used to estimate time for any transfers, including any shuttles required to access the transit station.

Seattle offers Sound Transit Link light rail service between Sea-Tac Airport and downtown Seattle.  It performs in the middle of the pack (31st out of 50) on the transit time penalty, but much better on frequency (tied for 10th out of 50).  Link is in the ball park for light rail airport service, although a bit on the slow side compared to the taxi alternative.   Light rail and subway systems can offer much better frequencies than the other types of airport transit because they pool demand from a variety of high-demand, all-day sources.  As an extra bonus, although not accounted for in the rankings, a variety of destinations in the metro area can be reached as frequently from the airport as downtown.  Dedicated airport transit services, even at the largest airports, don’t generate sufficient ridership for sub-10 minute frequencies.  In that aspect, Seattle is blessed that its airport is along a natural corridor of transit demand.

[Read more...]

Torchlight Parade Re-routes and Shuttle from Queen Anne

Members of the 1000+ Chinese drill team, the only one of its kind in the US

Members of the 1000+ Chinese drill team, the only one of its kind in the US

Just when you thought it was safe to travel again, the Seafair Torchlight Parade has arrived. Yes, 4th Ave will be closed all evening from 3:30 pm to 10 pm, and 38 34 bus routes will be re-routed. These include routes C, D, E, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 21, 24, 26, 28, 33, 36, 40, 43, 47, 49, 66, 70, 99, 120, 125, 131, 132, and ST Express routes 512, 522, 545, and 554, 577, 578, and 594.

Metro will also be operating a shuttle every 20 minutes between Nob Hill on Queen Anne, and Queen Anne Ave and Mercer St, by the Seattle Center, from 3:30 pm to midnight, with frequent stops between the termini.

For those wishing to get across the parade route, use this nifty little map of all the accessible tunnel corridors throughout downtown. Westlake Station is my favorite shortcut under 4th Ave street closures. You can grab the fold-out version of this map at Westlake Station.

For the unaware, the Torchlight Parade is a big deal. Thousands of spectators claim spots along the street with fold-up chairs hours before the parade. Over 150,000 apectators are expected to show up. Sounders fans, whose game against the LA Galaxy got moved to Monday night, will be showing up in force as World Cup heroes Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin serve as Grand Marshalls. Mariners fans will also get to show up this time, as their game today is at 1 pm, instead of the usual 7 pm.

Downtown Seattle isn’t the only location where Seafair will be stressing the public transit system. Renton River Days will impact 10 bus routes serving downtown Renton, including routes F, 101, 105, 106, 107, 148, 169, 240, 908, and 909.

Metro and Sound Transit each have alert services to which you can subscribe.

Addendum: Sound Transit Express routes 512, 577, 578, and 594 are also on re-route until 10:00 pm downtown.

The Case for Express Cascades Trains

Cascades at Kelso (WSDOT Photo)

Cascades at Kelso (WSDOT Photo)

Until its peak year in 2011, Amtrak Cascades had been an unqualified success story, with strong and growing ridership and ever-higher farebox recovery ratios. It seemed like exceeding 1 million annual passengers and achieving near-profitability was right around the corner.  Well, new challenges have arisen and Cascades has begun to struggle modestly, resulting in a small but growing funding problem.

Despite being showered with nearly $800m in capital money by the 2009 stimulus package, the federal contribution to operational funding was cut in 2013 as mandated by the Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act of 2008 (PRIIA). In a feat of brilliantly backwards federal thinking, PRIIA committed the feds to divest from the most successful Amtrak lines (corridors under 750 miles) while continuing to fund the least successful (those over 750 miles). Such a mandate placed operational funding primarily in the hands of an even more recalcitrant body, the Washington State Legislature, which has shown little interest in achieving anything beyond what is mandated by the stimulus funding (two more Seattle-Portland trains), much less the Long Range Plan.

Cascades Farebox Recovery

Chart from WSDOT’s 2013 Amtrak Cascades Performance Report

Over the past two years, farebox recovery has fallen from 66% to 59%, with the squeeze coming both from stagnating revenue and operating costs that continue to rise by $1m per year despite no added service. Ridership has declined in each of the past 3 years, albeit modestly, from an all-time high of 848,000 in 2011 to 807,000 last year. The lost ridership can likely be attributed to competition from Bolt Bus in the Seattle, Portland, Bellingham, Vancouver, and Eugene markets, and also from worsened speed and reliability from construction that is intended to address both issues. [Read more...]

Sound Transit Selects BNSF site in Bellevue as Preferred Alternative for Rail Yard

The Sound Transit Board voted yesterday to recommend building a 25-acre rail yard in Bellevue near the Spring District real estate development in the Bel-Red Corridor.

Sound Transit looks to triple their current light rail fleet from 62 to 180, as well as expanding their light-rail system from 16 to 50 miles. Because of the projected growth, a new maintenance facility is needed to go along with the current facility in the Sodo neighborhood, as the latter is expected to reach its full capacity by 2020.

The BNSF site in Bellevue’s Bel-Red corridor west of 120th Avenue NE was among the four sites that Sound Transit narrowed down in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) completed in May. The other sites considered were in Lynnwood and two other Bellevue locations, with one being adjacent to the SR-520 and the other being a modified version of the BNSF site. Detailed version of the site map for the original BNSF site can be found here.


Courtesy of Sound Transit

Courtesy of Sound Transit

The EIS considered a number of factors to measure the impact that would be left by the new light rail operations base including: noise and vibration; land use; visual and economic impacts; social, neighborhood, and social service impacts; and, impacts to parklands, open spaces, and other natural resources.

[Read more...]

News Roundup: To Blame


This is an open thread.

In Summary: The Long Range Plan

This is a guest post.

The Vision

The Vision

Seattle Subway’s Comments on the Sound Transit Long Range Plan Update Draft Supplemental EIS

This is the final post in a series we’ve been doing related to Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“DSEIS”). The comment period is over on Monday, so be sure to get your comments in to before the deadline comes. This post calls out conflicts between the goals of the LRP and its content.  If you want to skip the wonkiness but agree that we should push for the best quality rail system possible for future lines in the region, you can copy our comments and send them to Sound Transit in support.

Sound Transit uses its Long-Range Plan to identify and select corridors and technologies for future transit packages. We are currently in the comment period for the Long-Range Plan Update, which means there is an opportunity to give feedback to Sound Transit in regards to the big picture. Sound Transit last updated this document in 2005, four years prior to Central Link opening, and it shows. Sound Transit must review decisions that were made in its early days and are still affecting its direction now, as Seattle and the region have changed a lot in the 15 years since Sound Transit’s inception. We will frame our comments in the context of  Sound Transit’s DSEIS’s Goals and Objectives for their Long-Range Plan (page 1-5).

Section 1: “Provide a public high-capacity transportation system that helps ensure long-term mobility, connectivity, and convenience for residents of the central Puget Sound region for generations to come”

  • “Increase the percentage of people using transit for all trips”
  • “Provide effective and efficient alternatives to travel on congested roadways”

Grade separation provides the most efficient and effective way to move people. It eliminates interference from other traffic and maximizes transit’s speed. Grade separation is a true alternative to congested roadways. The higher speed and frequency that a grade separated system enables creates the greatest increase in ridership as well. This, combined with the fact that nearly all of the 55 miles of lines Sound Transit is currently building are grade separated, make the following section of the LRP DSEIS out of place:

[Read more...]

Better Eastside Rail

This is a guest post.

As the Puget Sound region continues to grow, excellent transit connections between Eastside communities will be crucial.  The quality of transit options available to those communities will shape the safety, convenience and environmental quality possible for their residents and workers. Our vision for rail service to Issaquah would create new connections from Issaquah through Bellevue to Kirkland, would improve trips bound for Downtown Seattle, and would dramatically improve access between the I-90 corridor and North Seattle.

Issaquah Rail Map [Read more...]

County Council Passes September Service Cuts


On Monday, the King County Council unanimously passed an ordinance enacting Metro bus service cuts for September 2014. There are press releases from Transportation, Economy, and Environment (TrEE) Committee Chair Rod Dembowski, the four other Democrats on the county council, and King County Executive Dow Constantine:

“This agreement adheres to the principles I insisted on many weeks ago: Don’t rely on money we don’t have; don’t spend one-time money for on-going service; and use objective criteria to make decisions on saving or cutting service,” said Executive Constantine. “I want to thank members for arriving at legislation that balances Metro’s budget, and that is sustainable.” 

The TrEE Committee passed the ordinance unanimously last Tuesday. In a sign of continued tension, Councilmember Dave Upthegrove had some interesting things to say about the process:

“I want to thank the Executive and Chair Phillips for working on a proposal that I could at least hold my nose and vote for,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove. “It took a little longer than everyone hoped, but I am pleased that the current ‘Majority Coalition’ decided to vote for the same proposal today that they rejected yesterday. I’m not sure what caused them to change their minds, but I am grateful that the Executive and Council Chair brought this proposal to us yesterday and that it is finally moving forward.”

The just-approved ordinance allows Metro to move forward with 161,000 hours of specified cuts in annual bus service hours in September. The council also approved, in principle, allowing Metro to cut another 188,000 annual hours in February of 2015. However, those cuts, including the specific routes, will need further council action.

The prior dispute involved several issues, including using one-time funding sources to temporarily shore up the operating budget and various deviations from Metro’s service guidelines. A main argument was whether to approve the February cuts now or wait for the next budget forecast. The compromise is that the Council agreed to the overall level of February cuts, but not the specific route adjustments, at this time.

Metro is still planning for another 200,000 hours of cuts in June and September of 2015, based on current revenue projections, but the Council will handle that in a later budget process.

Other than the 161,000 hours of cuts in September, these numbers do not take into account the impact if Seattle voters pass the proposal for a Seattle-only revenue package to avoid bus service cuts in Seattle.