Tuesday I asked for your questions about Rapid Ride, King County Metro’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system being implemented as part of Transt Now! Well, here are the answers from Karen Rosenzweig of Metro:

STB How is BRT different than express bus?
KR Express bus service has limited origins and limited destinations – with the goal of generally moving people from one end of the route to the other end. RapidRide is designed to serve corridors with multiple origins and multiple destinations. We anticipate riders using RapidRide for a variety of their travel destinations along the corridor.

STB How much of a trip time reduction are you projecting?
KR We are projecting a trip reduction time of 25% or more.

STB Why is Metro duplicating the future LINK ROW along SR99?
KR One of advantages of RapidRide implementation is its relatively short implementation timeline, and future flexibility to modify the service. Whether light rail is implemented in this corridor in 10, 15 or 20 years, there is a long period of time where bus service can meet mobility needs in a corridor that has high demand and HOV/BAT facilities already in place. It integrates with the initial segment of Link to SeaTac Airport and spurs transit demand in what may become a future rail corridor. BRT is often used as a precursor to rail, creating the market for the larger, future investment.

STB How much is being spent on the rebranding?
KR Most of the costs of “branding” – customer information and signage, marketing materials, paint scheme of the bus, etc. are costs that would occur whether or not RapidRide had a special “brand.” Elements of the brand also include facility, fleet, service and service quality enhancements where a relatively small incremental investment is being made. Metro’s marketing of this service with its distinctive brand will highlight how RapidRide delivers service that is “frequent, easy to use, and the best of Metro” to current and potential riders.

STB Are existing bus routes that follow the course of RapidRide going to be abolished?
KR All RapidRide corridors are current high ridership corridors where we believe there is latent demand that can be attracted with an improved service concept and service delivery. Existing Metro routes on the five corridors will become part of the new RapidRide service in conjunction with a total new investment of 100,000 annual service hours funded by Transit Now. As with a new rail line, Metro will also examine the surrounding network of routes in each community to determine whether a reorganization of those routes can result in a better bus service network and more mobility for riders.

STB How were routes choosen?
KR These corridors were examined for potential BRT beginning in 2000 and have been identified in Metro’s Six-Year Transit Development Plan since 2002.
They have in common:
· Arterial corridor operation in more densely developed areas of King County where major residential and employment areas exist
· High current transit demand and latent transit demand as evidenced by ridership growth, development and travel trends
· Significant local as well as regional trip attractors and generators with all-day, two-way demand characteristics
· Support of the local jurisdictions to provide transit priority and the likelihood of success in providing additional speed and reliability over current conditions

STB What resources would it take to commit to more dedicated right-of-way for buses and to ensure off-bus fare purchases?

KR Intermediate capacity transit corridors with exclusive right-of-way typically have costs that vary widely in the tens of millions per mile (for example, the 1.3 mile downtown Seattle Transit tunnel cost over $400 million, while the new BRT line in Eugene, Oregon cost about $5 million per mile with mostly dedicated right of way). The SR 99 S./Pacific Highway S. corridor has been the focus of about $150 million in roadway investments over the last decade that provide near continuous HOV lanes; and the SR 99 N./Aurora Ave N. corridor is the focus of redevelopment plans by the cities of Seattle and Shoreline – Metro is supporting the pursuit of federal and other grant sources for the roadway improvements while planning to directly contribute to passenger facility and technology improvements.

Ensuring off-board fare payment at all stations and stops would require the installation of ticket vending machines (TVMs) and fare transaction processors. The cost would be significant given the number of stations and stops. For that reason, we are not currently planning for TVMs at the RapidRide stations but will provide fare transaction processors so riders with passes and smart cards can board and alight at the back two doors.

STB How can they enforce off-bus fare purchase?
KR Off-board fare enforcement will be managed using a Proof of Payment system. This system is currently used on the Sounder train service and the South Lake Union Streetcar. Riders will be expected to show proof of payment, either a transfer for cash payments or an activated smart card/ pass, to fare inspectors who randomly board the buses and/or position themselves at the bus doorways at stations or other transit facilities. Fare inspectors will be Metro Transit Police and will impose penalties for non-payment.

STB What kind of IT investments are being made? Will there be GPS tracking? Real time arrival displays at stops? What % of signalized intersections will have Signal Priority?
KR Technology investments vary by corridor. An upgrade to our bus on-board systems on the entire transit system, along with new fiber optic connections, is providing the capacity to add real time arrival information. This information will be displayed at the RapidRide stations. We are also currently working with local jurisdictions to identify key locations for signal priority treatment such as extended green lights and queue jumps.

STB I heard the rapid ride buses will have more doors, does that mean lower capacity?
KR RapidRide buses will have three doors. The additional door, plus a low floor and modified interior configuration, does result in fewer seats per bus. However, increased service frequencies will overall add more seats to the corridor. We expect to achieve service improvements with this bus by having all-door boarding which will decrease the time needed for boarding/alighting, and when there are standing loads, provide more space for people to stand that does not interfere with movement within or on/off the bus. This design is typical of BRT vehicles in other metropolitan markets.

STB How quiet/noisy will the bus engines be compared to the existing (too noisy, but better than ordinary buses) hybrids? Has any effort been made to get quieter hybrids?
KR RapidRide buses will be the next generation of New Flyer hybrid bus.

STB why is this taking so long if there are no real capital improvements planned? isn’t this just an express bus?
KR The first RapidRide line will be implemented in early 2010. Project development began in late 2006. While the capital improvements for RapidRide are limited, there are a number of elements that need to be implemented before starting service. The technology elements ( see question 9 ) , take time to evaluate, design and implement. Other improvements, such as stations, bus bulbs and other roadway improvements also take time to design and build. The implementation schedule is also affected by the resources that are available, and when they are available, through the Transit Now program.

STB How do you fight the idea that BRT is inferior service to rail? A lot of this sentiment comes from the fact that BRT is used in many third-world nations while most advanced nations have rail.
KR We are not trying to achieve a rail-type of BRT service with RapidRide. There are various types of BRT. RapidRide is an arterial BRT service where the improvements we are adding create more frequent, reliable and faster service along the corridor as compared to conventional bus service. The corridors where RapidRide is being implemented already have strong ridership growth trends.

STB Have you studied examples of increased ridership and/or transit-oriented development occuring around BRT stations? What were the main factors contributing to these successes?
KR The American experience with BRT is still relatively new. The Federal Transit Administration reports in recent studies that significant development has occurred along BRT lines and in some places as part of station development. However, as with all public investments, BRT proximity is not always the primary reason for new development. Where success has been made, it is usually through a combination of upzones and zoning bonuses, supporting investments to public infrastructure (pedestrian amenities, public facilities), and public/private partnerships. North American examples of BRT-oriented development includes the South Boston waterfront (near the Silver Line BRT), the $2.4 billion mixed used development taking place or planned adjacent to Cleveland’s Eugene Corridor BRT and new transit-oriented development in the York Region, Ontario, in response to York VIVA BRT.

STB How does the success of the third street dedicated bus way during rush hour inform Metro’s design of rapid ride?

KR There are definitely lessons learned from 3rd Avenue peak-period bus operations. Unseen strategies can make a difference (example: changes in signal timing). Stopping less often improves speed (RapidRide will stop half as often as the routes it replaces). Improved signage is important for motorists and transit customers. Priority for transit means putting people throughput before vehicle throughput: it takes local jurisdictions willing to make that jump.
RapidRide service operating into downtown Seattle will use Third Avenue.

STB Thanks a ton for the answers!

17 Replies to “Rapid Ride Answers!”

  1. “Are existing bus routes that follow the course of RapidRide going to be abolished?”
    i.e. we decline to answer.
    I heard lately that due to overwhelming community input that the route #54 that WAS designated to be replaced by the RR route, is now back in place for the time being. Metro is supposedly looking at other route options for RR currently.

    Good! It is a terrible misjudgement to get rid of the regular 54, it’s such a huge link to the California corridor heading south.

  2. That answers a good number of my questions. I can tell that they are starting to iron out all of the details. Before when I talked to them everything was just an idea, now they actually have plans. I wish they were implementing service faster but I realize that there are a lot of things that have to fall into place before it can start running.

  3. Interesting: two of these answers contradict those I was given at the Fauntleroy open house.

    One contradiction is the trip time reduction. At the open house they told me the RR would save 2-3 minutes over the 54 express–nowhere near “25% or more”.

    The other inconsistency is that at that open house the off-bus payment was implied to be a definite part of the plan.

  4. Great interview, Daimjin. Now, if we could just get the Seattle Times, PI, Stranger and Crosscut (ok, skip Crosscut…they are hopeless) to engage in “the journalism thing” every once in a while….

  5. Sims and anti-rail activists keep over-promising RR as a substitute for light rail. I’m glad Metro staff are more realistic.

    Sims’ big congestion pricing plan will flop if he expects people to embrace taking the bus as a substitute for heavily tolled driving.

    Congestion pricing can work in big cities with robust rail systems, as commuters can be assured their commute will be reliable, and won’t take any longer. Quality of ride is important, too.

    But when people are supposedly going to be forced out of their cars for a bus stuck in traffic…good luck!

    From what I can tell, Sims and his Sierra Club friends are taking their cues from this disingenuous group

    http://www.gobrt.org/TransportInnovator JanFeb2008.pdf

    Disingenuous because they refuse to even acknowlege the important role rail plays in the “model cities” they perpetually write about…GoBRT is funded by Toyota and the Fuel Cell industry. Rubber tires, pavement and internal combustion engines forever!

  6. I love me some rail, but BRT is actually pretty good.

    It helped Quito, Ecuador revitalize the historic Old Town section of that city. Pretty slick.

    If it works in a Third World country, it might actually have a shot at fixing Aurora.

  7. Those are hard-hitting, you didn’t hold back!

    It’s great to see the powers that be answering the questions openly and honestly.

  8. Is Sims’ point that BRT can do rail does or that BRT can do what Sound Transit is trying to make rail do? It seems that rail’s greatest benefits come from seving corridors where all-day ridership cannot be accommodated by buses (read high density) or making new connections or connections that can be made a lot simpler than with the road system (Ballard to Capitol Hill for instance).
    It seems that building a light rail line parallel with an existing, poorly managed freeway with low occupancy vehicles consuming way to much road capacity, seems like a huge waste of opportunity cost. You don’t have a few billion dollars to tinker with every day, choose wisely.

  9. wow, metro is not getting a lot of love on brt.

    actually, i’m left with two questions (the first’s probably rhetorical):

    -does anybody… anybody at all, seem to be excited about BRT? all i’ve ever heard is people grouse about it (myself included). isn’t this a bad sign? why are we investing in something that seems destined to be a useless waste of money?

    -2010, huh? wouldn’t it make more sense from a project planning perspective to roll out in stages starting with a small segment of each route in operation first, earlier than the rest of the line? the silver line in boston (BRT with some decent capital investment) did that – they had i think three or four segments and they used a small, street-running quick-n-dirty segment as the starter where they worked on the technology and built awareness among users. the silver line was and has been kind of a disaster, but it could have been much worse. while boston talked about the silver line for ages, once the commitment was made i think it was <18 months til the first riders boarded the small first segment. the rest of the line took awhile to build (i'm not sure if it's actually even done or if they're continuing to grow it) but they were able to make improvements (and, if it was anywhere other than boston, they could have saved costs) based on their experiences as they operated it. wouldn't this make more sense for the rapid ride system (get a little one going right away and build and refine?)

    a bit of a ramble but 2 kind of interesting things to think about…

    1. People aren’t excited about it because this is Seattle and Seattleites are afraid of change. It’s a new idea for us (not a new idea in general, it’s been successfully implemented around the world, Curitiba Brazil for example) and people don’t fully understand the concept. I think once the first line is implemented and people can see it in action, they will be excited about it. This really is a terrific transit option for Seattle. We developed in the age of the car, so now we are trying to retrofit our city with efficient transit options. Light trail is extremely expensive, and BRT accomplishes similar goals at a fraction of the cost.

      You can’t roll out a “small segment of each route in operation first, earlier than the rest of the line” because it’s the full package that gives the benefits. The point is the BAT (Business Access Transit) lanes and the signal priority and the buses with 3 doors and the modified stop spacing and the ITS (Intelligent Transportation System). Only doing one or two of those things wouldn’t deliver the full time and convenience benefits and certainly wouldn’t get people on board literally and figuratively. You can’t do these things for only part of a line, it’s a corridor-wide change.
      The way they are rolling out BRT in stages is to do it line by line, starting with the A Line in 2010 and ending with the E Line in 2013.

      1. The problem I have with Rapid Ride is it isn’t full BRT in the sense that Swift or the Orange Line in LA are. The plans for some of the Rapid Ride lines look to me like nothing more than some fancy branding.

        Speaking of Swift and the Aurora Rapid Ride line, I can’t be the only one who thinks this should be an integrated line running from Downtown Seattle to Downtown Everett along SR99. I don’t really care if this becomes a Sound Transit Service or a joint project of Metro, CT, and Everett Transit, I just want seamless operation and payment with full Curitiba style BRT.

  10. I am ok with BRT if it actually accomplishes these things.

    However, I wish some of our politicians would stop parading it like it is a substitute for rail.

  11. “does anybody… anybody at all, seem to be excited about BRT? all i’ve ever heard is people grouse about it (myself included). isn’t this a bad sign? why are we investing in something that seems destined to be a useless waste of money?”

    I think that people that read this blog aren’t a good representative sample of the population in general. Tell most people that nice busses, that are faster and come more often are coming and generally most of them will be happy.

    Daimjin – I have a question for next time you talk to ST or Metro. I want to know how are they looking to restructure metro routes in the rainier valley? With LINK going north/south I think that getting east/west is going to me more of an issue now.

  12. Down in San Francisco, the transit advocates are very pro-BRT, especially along the Geary corridor. This appears to be a case where the buses are already massively overstressed (running every couple of minutes and crush loaded) and city politics makes rail impossible for the next 20 years (promises made to Chinatown politicos require the next investment to be a Chinatown subway). BRT is seen as the practical improvement.

    That said, I think the excitement is proportional to the expected improvement of service. In SF, they’re expecting a high-quality BRT implementation that can minimize crush-loading along a busy corridor. Here, I’d like to be excited about Ballard BRT. But since the 15/18 already combine to run every 10 minutes and there’s no indication the city is looking to dedicate a bus lane along 15th, build a median stop at Dravus so the bus doesn’t have to get off 15th and sit at a long light, etc. it doesn’t seem like much of a service upgrade. So there’s not much to be excited about.

    1. It’s true that the 15/18 run every 10 minutes, however unless you’re on an express it takes forever to get downtown or back to Ballard. The RapidRide route will provide an express level of service throughout the day, not just during those peak times.

      The RapidRide bus will not “sit at a long light” when it gets off 15th at Dravus because transit signal priority is part of the RapidRide design. That means the bus will trigger the light so that it can go through and not have to stop.

      If you want to learn more about RapidRide so that you can have an informed opinion, check out the Metro website on this


      1. You have a pretty optimistic view. Things like transit priority, bus-lanes, and other things necessary to have true BRT are options for Metro but not ones they seem to have the money to fund. I hope the best for RapidRide, most sincerely, but it is basically impossible to make the large investment in real and not get dedicated lanes, ticket vending machines, rail priority, etc. It’s very tempting, however, to dumb down BRT more and more such that RapidRide turns out to disappoint.

  13. RapidRide doesn’t improve on existing Metro Express buses, with the exception of frequency of service.

    Without capital improvements, Metro can’t provide a consistent travel time on routes, like the one in West Seattle. Two choke points already kill consistency for existing express buses: 1) The Delridge Way onramp to the West Seattle Bridge, with the crossover traffic blocking the dedicated bus lane on the bridge. 2) The Seneca Street exit on the Viaduct, a place where traffic gets bogged down quickly.

    If Metro can’t fund the full deal to make BRT effective, why bother? It seems like a boondoggle. Just increase bus hours on existing express bus routes and save the money on repainting buses and making cosmetic changes to certain shelters.

    It’s sort of like the changes Sound Transit made to other Metro Express routes, like the 150 or 263. The 545 is just a gussied up version of the 263 with more frequency of service. Why pay more to ride it? Same goes for the bus going between Seattle and Bellevue. Change without significant improvement.

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