I had a lot of free time on my hands today and made my rounds clear up to Everett to see the construction of Swift. From all the hype, I honestly believed this system would be rather promising but after driving the route, I have to ask…why here?

Community Transit’s Swift service will run between Everett Station and Aurora Transit Center via Aurora Avenue its entire way. The speed limit along the route is 45 to 50mph until Everett proper where the speed limit dropped to 35mph. I didn’t bother counting the lights but it took me 55 minutes to drive the length of the route at 2pm on a Saturday. This to me is pretty pathetic in itself. I passed 2 fairly full buses though so obliviously this service will see some sort of ridership..if they eliminate those other routes that duplicate its run.

The disappointment for me was the choice of the route. While I understand the concept of wanting to be unique and different, they definitely could have hit a much more populated corridor than this one. The biggest downfall of this route will be the 50+ car dealerships that starts from Aurora Ave and 200th clear up into Everett. There are a few nice apartment complexes (including 2 I looked at a few years ago), some RV parks but all I mostly saw were car dealerships. If I had any guess, it really seemed 80% of Aurora Avenue is just car dealerships. I hope on the side streets near these stations is some sort of strong residential living or the cities that this route runs through will rezone and start building up to encourage people to use the service. I saw one construction site near one station that seemed to be in “limbo”. What its status is was beyond me but I didn’t see anyone at the site when I drove by both ways.

The three stations I did see was currently one big slab of concrete, maybe 60-80 feet in length. If there is any bunching of buses, they’ll have to wait their turn for the station. It does appear that CT will separate normal CT bus service with Swift. The stops do vary, as I saw one station with the normal CT bus stop a good 40-50 feet ahead of it. There was one station with the normal bus stop behind it by 40-50 feet.

CT claims the service will run between Everett Station and Aurora Transit Center in 40 minutes compared to the current 50 to 65 minute service that is available now. If they can achieve this, I will be greatly pleased but the ridership will still remain questionable to me. Upzoning at this point is absolutely crucial to making this a successful BRT route.

There is still a great amount of work that needs to be done, I’ll check back later this Summer but to sum it up, they still need to stripe the BAT lanes the entire length of the route, they still needs to build the stations, setup signal priority on the signals, test out the buses and equipment, etc.

So far though, BRT is still just a very glorified bus. CT has a lot of work to prove to people like myself, a normal bus and rail rider, that this service will stand out from the rest. I truly do hope for the best for this service but my initial impressions of this line is very, very, disappointing. I rather have seen the money go to the Everett Streetcar or ordering new and improved buses.

17 Replies to “Community Transit’s Swift…Really?”

  1. I have my doubts RapidRide will be much better. Metro should pocket the money and build better connections between neighborhoods.

    Wait for ST3 to do it right.

    1. BRT covers such a range of things that I consider the term almost meaningless.

      That said there is a large amount of transit ridership between Seattle and Everett along SR-99. There are some things which I think might improve service:
      * Signal priority
      * Off-vehicle fare collection
      * All-door exit/boarding
      * Limited stops (no closer than 1/2 mile apart)
      * Transit lanes
      * Frequent service
      * “x min to next bus” signs at stops like the streetcar has
      * Increased and visible security

      Of course these “improvements” apply just as much to many exisiting express routes.

      I’m still having trouble figuring out what all the money for Swift and Rapid Ride will be spent on.

  2. Something tells me this post is a response to the first sentence in the below quote from Community Transit’s website. Nothing angers a rail enthusiast more than hearing a bus compared to a train. Anyway, I think it’s a great idea. It sounds like a Snohomish county version of Metro’s route 358.

    “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a popular new mode of transit that combines the efficiency and appeal of light rail with the flexibility and low cost of buses. This fast, frequent and unique style of bus service is coming to Snohomish County and will be called Swift.

    Community Transit is partnering with Everett Transit to bring Swift to the county’s busiest transit corridor, with more than 1.2 million passenger boardings a year between Shoreline and Everett.

    Swift will improve transportation on this route by providing even more convenient options for workers, students, shoppers and casual travelers. Among the system’s features are:

    Frequent service – Swift buses will run every 10 minutes for most of the day
    Fewer stops – Swift will stop at only 12 locations each way along the route
    Faster boarding – Swift riders will pay their fares at stations and can board through any of three doors
    No schedules – Real-time monitors will display next bus arrival times
    Less noise and pollution – Swift’s hybrid buses are quieter, use less fuel and emit almost no pollutants”

    http://www.commtrans.org/Projects/Swift.cfm

    1. Ok so this covers most of my list above. No mention of transit lanes or signal priority though.

      Even though Rapid Ride is still a ways off, does it strike anyone else as silly to have CT and Metro both operate separate rapid bus service along SR-99 and force people to transfer who want to cross the service boundary?

      1. Chris,

        Yeah that also bugs me. I can see it however as a way to keep time keeping and ensure that the buses remain on schedule in the worse of traffic but still, I rather have 1 full route than 2 separate routes.

        It makes me wonder how Sound Transit has their partnership with agencies that allow ST buses to operate to Pierce or Snohomish County.

        I am for one however wish that the Hwy 99 BRT service started all up at once. It’s really half-assed to have one service going while it’ll still be another 5 years before the next is even thought about.

      2. Well, Sound Transit is the regional transit authority; they could’ve done everything in-house but they chose to contract with the existing agencies to operate ST-owned buses.

        Eventually, Sound Transit might want to take over the route and combine the services like how they took over some existing routes when they began.

        Swift has TVMs at stations, while RapidRide will still take cash on-board.

        The Highway 99 corridor has BAT lanes (Business Access Transit lanes) which are basically bus lanes that allow people to use them to access driveways or make a right turn at the next intersection.

        Swift does have Transit Signal Priority and bus lanes, from the Swift page:

        The Swift route has 10 miles of transit signal priority (TSP) intersections, which can extend a green light a few seconds to keep late-running buses on schedule. Additional TSP will be coming to intersections in Everett. There are seven miles of transit-only lanes in the corridor, and plans include further traffic improvements.

      3. So Swift sounds pretty useful and may very well be a speed improvement over the current service.

        I’m not convinced Rapid Ride (once it finally happens) will be anything more than some fancy paint and bus stop signs for the 358. On the other hand were Metro to follow the same standards as Swift (as well as creating BAT lanes all the way down Aurora) it also would be a greatly needed improvement to current service. The same thing applies to all of the other planned Rapidride corridors.

        In the specific case of the 358 I wish King County would get really heavy handed with the security presence on this route.

  3. One thing Swift will help with is people who drive up and down this corridor with the intention of seeing what the corridor looks like. If they get on a Swift bus, it will not take them long, and they will feel good about helping the environment and putting some unspent gas money back in there pockets. On a more serious note, if you passed several full buses, why do you still doubt there will be ridership for Swift?

    1. To me, I don’t see the value of the service with a nearly full 40 foot bus. Swift will provide 60 foot buses but hybrid. The fuel mileage will equal out to nearly the same as the 40 foot bus. The idea of the service is to help people whom are “in the middle” but there isn’t any middle that I noticed, except for the 2 apartment complexes and rv park.

      If they wanted an express bus, which this is, they could have simply done that, without the fancy moniker for a lot cheaper.

      I shouldn’t have readily said that the ridership will be poor but rather, I doubt that it will improve things up there, which is the aim of the service.

      I need to be more patient and also keep in mind that a lot of the construction on Central Link on MLK Way didn’t start until early last year. Things picked up as more stuff was finished and installed. Still however, this BRT corridor isn’t any different than what we will see with RapidRide. The advantage over RR is Swift will have full BAT lanes for 98% of its route whereas RR will barely have any BAT lanes (except for the Ballard line which will use the lanes on Elliott/15th Ave

      1. “To me, I don’t see the value of the service with a nearly full 40 foot bus. Swift will provide 60 foot buses but hybrid. The fuel mileage will equal out to nearly the same as the 40 foot bus.”

        At first glance, I didn’t understand why this was relevant at all. After thinking about it a little bit, I realized this was in response to my gas dollars comment. Then I realized that I still don’t see the relevance, because I was talking about the gas money saved by an individual driver, not Community Transit.

        “The idea of the service is to help people whom are “in the middle” but there isn’t any middle that I noticed, except for the 2 apartment complexes and rv park.”

        To quote your actul post, “I hope on the side streets near these stations is some sort of strong residential living…” What this says to me is that you don’t actually know if there is a “middle.”

        “If they wanted an express bus, which this is, they could have simply done that, without the fancy moniker for a lot cheaper.”

        Swift isn’t just an express bus, it will have BAT lanes for most of the route.

        “I shouldn’t have readily said that the ridership will be poor but rather, I doubt that it will improve things up there, which is the aim of the service.”

        The aim of the service is to “improve things up there?” What does this even mean?

        “I need to be more patient and also keep in mind that a lot of the construction on Central Link on MLK Way didn’t start until early last year. Things picked up as more stuff was finished and installed. Still however, this BRT corridor isn’t any different than what we will see with RapidRide. The advantage over RR is Swift will have full BAT lanes for 98% of its route whereas RR will barely have any BAT lanes (except for the Ballard line which will use the lanes on Elliott/15th Ave.”

      2. Pacific Highway already has BAT lanes for a large part of the corridor, which is probably one reason why it was chosen as the first Metro RapidRide line.

  4. It isn’t at all directed from the website or a comparison that BRT is like a light-rail train. This was a direct visual comparison of what I saw on the drive up there, nothing more, nothing less.

    I am looking forward to the service, I am curious to see just how much of an improvement will be done but I also question if Community Transit should have just spent the money to get standard Hybrid DE60LF’s instead of the BRT-DE60LF, which cost almost $200k more and used that money to enhance the current bus service.

    There isn’t much in the name of residential along Aurora Avenue except for the few apartments (less than 10). Will people be inclined to walk (there are no park and rides along the corridor except at Everett Station and Aurora Transit Center)

    How will the signal priority be? Will it be like EMx? EMx BRT uses LRT type signaling along its route which is excellent and keeps the system on time and on schedule.

    I am aware of all of the other perks that Swift will have, my biggest concern is ridership. Will this system pan out with the lack of residential? There are plenty of car dealerships that can go. I seriously haven’t seen this many car dealers in a single day than I have in all of last year when I attempted to go car shopping.

    I’m downloading Google Earth now and will take a look along the line but it really is disappointing. Like I also said though, it is still early in the construction process and many things can and probably will change but it doesn’t change that without nearby residential living that the service will be used or cherished as much as it should.

    1. “There isn’t much in the name of residential along Aurora Avenue except for the few apartments (less than 10). ”

      Maybe this would be a good opportunity for transit oriented development? If there’s one area that needs renewal* it’s Aurora. Build a good, fast, dependable line, and people will move there (though probably a block away – who wants to live on a major highway?). Or are buses too flexible for TOD and developers will be afraid to build for a fickle service?

      * Or a road diet. But that’s a different topic.

  5. There are a very large number of people living just off of Highway 99 in this corridor (my mom lives two blocks off of 168th and 99). The 101 does get huge ridership, in fact, it is the highest-ridership route (by a quite a margin if I’m not mistaken). You’re right that a 40 foot bus vs a 60 foot bus makes a difference in terms of capacity, but I believe the 100 (the commuter version of the 101 that runs all the way to Everett) does use artics, and it is my understanding that they are also consistently full. I don’t know much about the corridor in Everett, but I believe the ridership is also extremely high there. Whether this will bring a dramatic increase in new ridership remains to be seen. I really can’t answer that better than anyone else here, but at least they are making Swift visible, and creating a new perception of “those scary, dirty, slow buses” that so many people have can’t possibly be a bad thing.

    I don’t think they plan on cutting existing 100/101 service, which I don’t fully understand. I guess they want people that live in between stations (like my mom) to be able to get closer to home, but it seems a re-structuring of current routes would provide more local service along portions of the corridor without having to spend tons of money on precisely duplicating service. For example, the 118 already runs between 148th and just past the 176th station. If they increased 118 service and decreased or deleted the 101 they would not only serve those local stops, but also provide more frequent service between the corridor and the mall, downtown Lynnwood, etc.

  6. I think the best thing about RapidRide (and probably Swift) will be the frequency, assuming they can keep things moving on schedule. Even if the buses aren’t much faster, door-to-door travel times will likely be shorter for riders (especially mid-day) because you won’t have to spend as much of your trip standing at the bus stop.

  7. When I lived in south Everett I took ET busses to work everyday and occasionally took a 100/101 somewhere along SR99, and I can tell you, even mid-day, ridership is pretty solid. That’s a busy transit corridor, and SWIFT is probably a good move.

    Having said that–I sincerely hope CT or ET add connecting service to Boeing in rush periods. If not, it’s a huge waste of potential.

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