Next train sign at Tukwila station. Photo by Oran.
Next train sign at Tukwila station. Photo by Oran.

Yesterday marked the end of Link light rail’s first month in service. Congrats to Sound Transit for a relatively smooth roll-out. One of the more interesting parts of this first month is seeing the finish touches still being put on the line.

  • To the right is one of two “Next Train” signs installed at the Tukwila station after opening. One of the signs illuminates depending on which platform the northbound train will be arriving at. This crossover weirdness at the Tukwila stop will no longer be necessary when the Airport station opens later this year.
  • The buses connecting the Tukwila station to SeaTac Airport have finally been branded with Sound Transit logos and have “Link Light Rail – Airport Connector” signs painted on the sides. Hopefully this will make for clearer transfers to and from the airport. Thanks to Gordon Werner for the note.
  • The lights change color depending on elevator availability. Picture from litlnemo.
    The lights change color depending on elevator availability. Picture from litlnemo.

    The Beacon Hill Station continues to get even cooler. New colorful lights were installed on August 10 (see right). The lights change color depending on the availability of each elevator below.

  • We’ve heard of various ticket-vending machine improvements: Stability fixes in the software, shade guards so the machines don’t overheat, and the removal of a redundant confirmation screen.
  • Of course, not everything is peachy. We’ve heard of some tracks getting wobbly, though it’s unclear if the fault lies in the tracks, the vehicles themselves, or something else entirely.

What goodies will the second month of Link service bring us?

77 Replies to “Link’s Finishing Touches”

  1. Hopefully the ‘Next Train’ platform signs will be coming this month. That will be a biggie.

    1. One more thing: I want to see Link integrated into Google Transit! (Sounder too) I know they’re working on it. It’s mostly Google that’s being overwhelmed with all the transit agencies trying to integrate into the system.

      Speaking of which, 5 of Amtrak’s lines are on GTransit with more to come.

      1. I can hypothesize why they’re not there yet:
        1. Only Metro operated routes are in there. You’ll see the 177 and 577, but not the 592. BNSF operates the Sounder.
        2. The shakeup is in another month. Link data would probably get sent with all of that data.
        3. Link schedules (as well as all schedules) are subject to bi-weekly revisions. I don’t know if Metro submits their schedule data twice a week to Google. I doubt they do this, because if they did, Google would show service exceptions (i.e. when they cancel runs during quarter breaks at the UW).

    2. Is there a way ST can add an extra sentence to the “LAST STOP -Tukwila Station” announcement: “If you are going to the airport, proceed downstairs to the connecting shuttle bus.”
      Many people get on the train, thinking it goes all the way to the airport.

    3. It is a great thing to see the “Next Train” sign already.

      LA Metro only added these to the Red/Purple (Subway) Lines FIFTEEN years after those lines opened.

  2. The color of the lights above the elevator actually has a meaning?! Well, I didn’t know that. I just thought they were there to look pretty. So, uh, what does it mean, then? Which color means the elevator is on its way up, or whatever? I can’t tell from my photos.

    1. Supposedly the lights change from purple to blue when the elevator car reaches the top, then back to purple when it goes down to the bottom.

      1. I can see that being a problem from a colorblind aspect, but thankfully these are not meant to be the only means to tell which elevator has arrived. There’s still the lighted arrow above each cab, the chime when the cab arrives, and the recorded voice, “Going Down” in it’s quaint Austrailian accent.

        I think the purple & blue were chosen to go with the hues of the underwater scene on the platform.

      2. I know these were special order elevators, due to their necessary speed (which is why they took so long to receive and thus had become the critical path on finishing Beacon Hill Station). I figured the accent was a product of their country of manufacture. When I get out at Beacon Hill today on my way home, I will take a look and see if there’s a nameplate as to who made these.

      3. They’re by KONE of Finland who purchased Montgomery Elevators of Moline, IL in 1985:

        The DSTT elevators and esclators were all installed by Montgomery and I believe are maintained by KONE today. I think the southwest esclator in Pioneer Square is having steps replaced by KONE at this very moment!

        Also, I don’t believe that anything is operationally different with the Beacon Hill elevators than you would find in elevators that travel the same distance in an office building or other structure.

  3. RE: Orca ticket stations – I tried to get a card on Sunday, and the there was a processing error. Still charged my bank, but no card. No biggie, but still definitely not “fixed”.

    My not-so-scientific study (riding it 2-4 times a day) shows that rail is not faster when a transfer is involved. For door-to-door, hands down the best option. But a direct Metro route is still faster than transferring either to or from rail, even a long Metro route. It still baffles me that transit officials think people liars for stating this truth.

    Reasons for longer times:
    1. No printed schedule of departure times
    2. Inconsistent departure times. (I’ve waited 20 minutes during the 7.5 minute frequency.) Yesterday while waiting for my daughter during “peak” travel, and the times were: 2.5 minutes, 8 minutes, 10 minutes.
    3. Metro schedules not aligning with light rail. (Hopefully tweaked to correct for that with the September schedules?)

    I’m taking advantage of the 48 while I still have it. It continues to frustrate me that they cut this route so significantly when it is so well used.

    Bigger rant deserves its own comment.

    1. My not-so-scientific study (riding it 2-4 times a day) shows that rail is not faster when a transfer is involved. For door-to-door, hands down the best option. But a direct Metro route is still faster than transferring either to or from rail, even a long Metro route. It still baffles me that transit officials think people liars for stating this truth.

      I really think this depends a lot on where you are. I’ve had a number of people tell me transfering from the 36 to Link at Beacon Hill is much faster as is riding the 48 from the CD to Link at Mt. Baker rather than dealing with the buses running over First or Capitol Hills.

      Still the lack of consistency in train arrival times is frustrating as is the lack of a schedule. At the very least ST needs to publish travel times between stations so people needing to make connections can have some idea of when they need to leave.

      True if there is a train more frequently than once every 10 minutes you probably don’t need a schedule, but you still need to know how long the station to station times are.

      1. I cannot emphasize enough the need for a printed schedule, especially when connecting FROM Link to a bus, and especially in the evenings. It is shortsighted and inconvenient that ST have chosen not to publish a printed timetable.

      2. there should be no timetable. if there was everytime link was stuck behind a bus or in traffic it would be off. unless the system is fully grade separated and does not share the tunnel with buses then it will always be variable.

      3. It’s especially important for those who have transfers to know when trains are leaving because buses in Seattle do not run frequently enough to just show up and hope. Those who transfer always take into account that there will be delays, but the ability to plan is crucial, especially when connections are greater than five minutes.

      4. Or when my Dad was trying to figure out when to arrive at Tukwila so he can get to work on time. Sure, trains start running at 05:00 and come every 15 minutes, but does that first train get to Tukwila at 05:00? 5 minutes after, 10 minutes after…?

      5. At each station there is an info area that says when the first train leaves that station.

      6. Given that Metro hasn’t made their service change yet since Link started (ye gods people), I think you will see some changes in September. One such example I can think of is that the Metro timetables could show the best train to catch from downtown or the airport to make a transfer.

      7. Riding the 71/72/73 from the U District to Downtown then transferring to Link is a lot faster than the 48 for getting to the Rainier Valley.

      8. Riding the 71/72/73 from the U District to Downtown then transferring to Link is a lot faster than the 48

        Not always. It depends heavily on time of day, how far down the Valley you are, and whether you can walk to the station.

        Also, if you’re heading to the Hospital end of campus, you’re probably better off on the 48.

        All that said, there should be a fairly seamless transfer at Mt. Baker if you’re dead set on the bus.

    2. Today: Left my house 10 minutes earlier than if I were to catch the 48. Missed first train by 30 seconds because I was waiting to cross MLK. Arrived to final destination 13 minutes later than normal. Wait in the tunnel for a 70-something, 6 minutes. Total wait time: 14 minutes.

      1. The waits in the tunnel are frustrating. Is there any way to get the buses out of there before 2016?

        Right now, these are the two major things that I would like to see improved on Link:

        1. Signal priority issues on MLK — Link is having to stop far too often between stations
        2. Delays in the tunnel, sometimes for crazy amounts of time.

        We are still sort of in the “honeymoon” period for Link, but both of those things need to be fixed sooner rather than later, I think. They make the line less reliable and that is a problem.

    3. ‘RE: Orca ticket stations – I tried to get a card on Sunday, and the there was a processing error. Still charged my bank, but no card. No biggie, but still definitely not “fixed”.’

      I’m still afraid to use the TVMs for that reason. I got my ORCA card in person, and that’s how I’ll get any extra cards. The website has been fine for adding passes.

      “My not-so-scientific study (riding it 2-4 times a day) shows that rail is not faster when a transfer is involved.”

      It depends on whether the bus is frequent, or happens to be scheduled right when you arrive. This is the Achilles’ heel of US transit systems, which don’t have enough buses to match the frequency of the trains. But in Metro/ST’s defense, the situation will improve in September and February, and Metro had planned to increase service in southeast Seattle before the money was diverted to the SLUT.

      In Russia where not many people have cars, the buses/streetcars come every five or ten minutes. This extends the metro’s effective reach. This is what American cities need to do if they’re serious about effective public transit.

      I notice that the people who say “The buses are adequate” or “We just need to add a few more buses” have never tried to spend a week without a car. If they did they’d understand how anemic the system is, and how much that prevents transit from achieving its ridership potential. Or they could just visit NYC or DC, where most people do not use cars for their daily errands.

      1. I notice that the people who say “The buses are adequate” or “We just need to add a few more buses” have never tried to spend a week without a car. If they did they’d understand how anemic the system is, and how much that prevents transit from achieving its ridership potential. Or they could just visit NYC or DC, where most people do not use cars for their daily errands.

        Ab-so-lutely! No car here, and it is really shameful how long everything takes (and I live on a main corridor within city limits). I would say we have an adequate commuter system, but that is not the same as a comprehensive transportation network.

    4. I agree, the wild unreliability of the published service headways is not acceptable.

  4. My biggest frustration with mass transit is the lack of consideration for youth.

    The cost difference between light rail and a metro transfer is .75 per trip. Why can’t be the same or at least closer? If Metro and Sound Transit want people to use the two systems as one, then they need to be seamless for users. Period.

    On the one hand, Metro cuts routes to force people to use light rail. That works for exactly one population – adults who live within walking distance of a station. Everyone else will have longer commutes or, as in the case with teens, have to pay double to ride light rail.

    If Metro is cutting routes to send people to light rail, then light rail needs to be accessible. It won’t be to south-end teens. Is that done purposely to keep rowdy teens from getting on the train and forcing them to the 7 or (come September) the 8?

    And a mild pet peeve: If a teen wants to buy an Orca card with you fare, they must buy it at a Metro station or online; can’t just walk up to the machines on the platforms to pay for it. I think this has to do with programming in a birthdate, but why can’t they type that into the machine while buying it at the platform?

    I consider myself fairly transit literate, and I had no idea youth cards could be bought, or that it’d be such a pain to get one.

    1. that reminds me of my former coworker who was 45 years old (Korean) that always paid for a youth ticket.. good times… :)

    2. I agree it’s ridiculous the hoops kids have to jump through to get a youth card. Same goes for seniors (except that they probably have it even worse).

      But according to Sound Transit, “a valid bus transfer is valid for full fare on Link (no upgrade required).” A transfer gotten for 75¢ on Metro is perfectly valid as full fare on Link.

      If you have a youth pass, you do indeed have to pay an upgrade. But this isn’t some new way of screwing over youths—it perfectly matches the system that already exists on buses. Link’s base fare is 25¢ more than a ST bus fare for all users, including seniors and youths. Since ST’s youth bus fare is $1, the youth Link fare starts at $1.25 (going up $2 if you’re going all the way to Tukwila). If a kid with a Metro pass got on an ST bus, he’d have to pay an upgrade. Why should it be any different to ride an ST light rail train?

      1. True. But around the same time (Jan ’10) there’ll be a 25¢ fare hike on Metro. If the youth fare is included in that, the ST & Metro youth fare will then be the same. Youths will still have to pay the difference when transferring from bus to light rail, but all users will have to do that.

        Of course, I can’t find anything about whether or not the youth fare is included in the next fare hike, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t. But the youth fare hasn’t increased in over a decade(!), while adult fares have gone up 75¢ and the senior rate has doubled. And in the end the vast majority of youth fares are paid by adults anyway (I imagine parents generally buy the passes and give their kids bus money). So the argument that youths are getting a raw deal just rings a bit hollow to me.

      2. I heard that the fare hike will not apply to youth. And that’s completely not true, many youth pay their own fare. Quite a few of us high school students are given 75c Metro passes by the school, but they’re not going to give us any more than that so youth still have to pay. And youth fare was just increased from 50c to 75c last year.

      3. Ah, thanks for correcting me on the fare increase. I’d found a 2001 Times article that said Metro was considering raising the youth fare for the first time in 3 years from 75¢ to $1, so I figured that it had been stuck at 75¢ since 1998. But now that you mention it, I do recall the youth fare being lowered a few years back, at the same time that the adult fare saw a 25¢ hike. Then, as know, my reaction was pretty much WTF? I doubt Metro has ever reduced any other fare category in its history, and I’ve yet to hear any convincing arguments as to why youths deserve a break more than any other category of rider.

      4. It just seems counterintuitive to me to encourage youth ridership whilst simultaneously discouraging adult ridership. I always thought the (main) point of increasing transit use was to get cars off the streets, but as most youths can’t drive or already carpool (e.g. if only one of the group has a car or a license), increasing youth ridership does little to reduce congestion & pollution. Raising adult fares, on the other hand, would seem to pretty clearly discourage drivers from switching to transit. Perhaps the idea was to get kids to take transit so that they’d be more apt to take transit as adults. But I wonder if Metro collected any data to see if it worked.

        The 75¢ youth fare was apparently introduced in 1993; it was 8 years before it dropped to 50¢, and another 8 years before it was raised back. That seems like enough time to collect data if Metro bothered to do so. If the fare drop actually decreased car travel and encouraged long-term transit usage, I’d say it’s worth keeping. But if it did neither, it seems like a complete waste of money which Metro can’t afford to lose right now.

      5. The point of having a youth fare is to not discourage families from taking the bus. Raising the youth fare would unnecessarily penalize families whose only mode of transportation is the bus. Most youth under 15 don’t ride the bus by themselves, they go with their parents. Not everyone who rides the bus is a suburban commuter whose choosing the bus over their car. There are a lot of families in the city who rely on the bus for all of their travel needs and wouldn’t be able to afford the youth fare doubling. It’s not like youths are a huge percentage of Metro’s riders anyways, they’re probably not losing a huge amount of money on the youth fare.

        “I always thought the (main) point of increasing transit use was to get cars off the streets”

        The main point of transit is to provide an alternative to driving and to provide social equity for people who can’t afford to, or are unable to drive.

      6. FWIW, I don’t think I’m neglecting the plight of families who can’t afford to or are unable to drive. I was raised by a single mom with two kids, and a car was never even a possibility for us. To this day (I’m 27), I don’t know how to drive and continue to get around by bike, foot, carpool or public transit.

        Interestingly, back in 2001 apparently one reason the Council was considering a fare hike (including upping the youth fare to $1) was to pay for the introduction of a 50¢ low-income fare. But

        Metro Transit officials expressed concern that the bus system would end up losing money – even with the higher fares – if reduced fares for low-income passengers were approved. So yesterday Councilman Greg Nickels, D-Seattle, offered an amendment to drop the proposed 50-cent low-income fare…

        In the end, I agree with you and alexjonlin: it’s unfortunate that the funding for public transit is such that we have to weigh which needy segment of society to charge more in order to spare another needy segment. Transit should be an attractive and affordable option for all folks, regardless of what other options they may or may not have.

      7. Well it doesn’t work if the youth is using an orca card. My daughter caught the bus (with her orca card) and transferred to link. She was dinged another .75

    3. pds,

      Don’t worry, by the time Metro’s done with their crisis there won’t be such a large difference in youth fares.

    4. On the one hand, Metro cuts routes to force people to use light rail.

      So pds, you disagree with the people who say that Metro should be doing a better job of connecting people to the stations? Because there aren’t enough resources to realign everything East/West and also keep all the one-seat rides downtown.

  5. along with the rebranded Orion busses … they are also using a couple of normal high-floor ST Gilligs on the route … and the Orion busses look quite odd with the ST branding but without the wave designs

  6. The other day I saw a guy try to have his ticket be scanned by the Orca tapping machine at Westlake.

  7. One thing I’ve noticed totally lacking is signage for pedestrians within a reasonable radius of the stations directing you to the station. I had a heck of a time walking to Stadium station the other day from a location south of Safeco Field. Some signs pointing the quickest way to the station would have saved me a good 20 minutes (although I can always use the exercise).

    1. That’s a good idea. I was just on the east coast and in DC there were signs all over the place showing the way to stations.

    2. I wonder how fast the City should can do this? I’ve seen new directional signs downtown. I suppose it will take some time…

  8. People with adult peak Metro passes don’t have to pay anything extra while people with youth Metro passes have to pay 50c to $1. If this were changed, I believe that Link’s ridership would go up, as right now it’s too expensive for many youth to ride, so they ride the 7 instead. But as Martin says below, Metro fares will probably keep increasing until it’s more equal…

    1. Most youths can’t afford to take cabs either. Why’s it so bad that kids are “stuck” taking the 7?

      1. Because Link is a lot faster and a much better ride, so everyone should be able to take it.

      2. Because Link is a lot faster and a much better ride, so it would be really freakin’ neat if everyone could take it. I fixed that for you.

        Link costs more (and people are willing to pay more) precisely because it is faster and more comfortable. This is also why planes usually cost more than trains, why trains cost more than Greyhounds, and why Greyhounds cost more than hoofing it. You can get to Vancouver on public transit for just $12, but it’ll take you seven hours. If you want to get there fast, you have to pay for it.

        So long as affordable and time-reasonable non-car alternatives exist (e.g. the 7), I don’t see the problem with Link not being the cheapest option on the table.

      3. Perhaps ORCA can come to the rescue. Instead of passes, the students can be given ORCA cards which the school district would pay for the use of going to and from school (including being valid for fare on Link). Beyond school activities, the family could keep a cash balance on the card for trips that are not school related.

      4. @alexjonlin: If Orca is indeed overcharging youths, that’s something to take up with Orca, and I sincerely hope you have complained and demanded refunds. But those overcharges are separate from the fare, and as far as fares go, Link does not cost more for youths than adults. For adults, just as for youths, “If the value of the pass is less than the cost of the one-way fare, you must purchase a pass upgrade at the ticket vending machine (TVM) located on the station platform.”

        It’s only because Metro peak adult fares are as high as Link fares that adults generally don’t have to pay extra. But if, for example, you have a $1.75 off-peak pass and take a $2 Link trip, you’re still supposed to pay a 25¢ upgrade. Even with a one-zone peak pass ($2), if you rode the length of Link you’d owe an extra 50¢. Only the two-zone peak PugetPass ($2.50) will get you a fully-paid, full-length ride on Link.

  9. Ah, yes, the transience of life: the “crossover weirdness” will be gone from Tukwila in December. But it will be at the Airport station until ST2 pushes the tracks on down to 200th.

    1. The Airport station has a single platform in the center. Passengers won’t have to guess which track the train will arrive on, unlike at Tukwila.

      1. an ST employee said that the Airport station will have next train signs when it goes live in December …

  10. One thing that I see that needs attention are the signs in the Westlake tunnel. Where you see “Monorail”, they need to add “Streetcar” as well. Far too many times, I am giving directions to people to where the Streetcar is. And I also agree with everyone. When will the reader boards at all the stations diplay “next train in 5 minutes”. Even the streetcar has this!

    Another things is one website where you can capture schedule times and plan a trip for ALL modes or transporation and ALL agencies in one. I realize that there’s the Metro trip planner, but we need one stop shopping that will include icons for:

    1) Passenger rail – Amtrak
    2) Commuter rail – Sounder
    3) Light rail – Link
    4) Streetcar – SLU, Tacoma (even Issaquah when that comes back)
    5) Monorail
    6) Ferries
    7) Passenger bus – Greyhound and Trailways
    8) Commuter bus
    9) All local buses

    An icon at the top of the page so you can click on each of these modes of transportation for routes and schedules. And then a “trip planner” that is all inclusive of these modes.

    I have work colleagues who would like to take a train from Tacoma to Everett in the morning and you have to go to the ST website for Sounder timetables and then Amtrak website for the Cascade timetables. We’re not user friendly here in the Seattle area!

    1. I was just thinking about this today. If we can’t merge agencies into an RTA after ST2 is done, then the agencies should form an online partnership. PR is pretty poor with ST and Metro. I would like to see a website for travelers and commuters that gives passenger info for all transit modes and agencies.

    2. I think it would be cool if there is any future new development on the triangle block where the Westlake streetcar stop is to put in another tunnel entrance with a little walkway to the station.

  11. Is ST going to continue with this fare structure even when East Link opens? By that point, wouldn’t zone-based fares be more practical?

    1. Why? The TVMs and Orca are already set up for distance-based fares.

      In fact, it would probably make sense to not charge a lot for the lake crossing to give people a financial incentive to take Link instead of buses.

    2. I think a zone based system could definitely simplify things. Somewhere I saw an idea for having a couple stations that are on the edge of two zones just be part of two different zones at the same time so that it’s a one-zone fare from either zone so you don’t have the paying twice as much to go just a mile or so problem.

      1. I think Seattle is the only place that charges distance-based fares on light rail? The comparison is with BART, which is a much bigger system. Most light rail systems have the same fares as their buses. That makes Link a bit self-aggrandizing, and it remains to be seen whether its distance-based fares last forever. But with the bus fares in wild flux, the rail system not finished, and the middle of a recession, it’s probably best not to mess with the fare structures for a few years.

      2. Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC both use daistance-based fares for their Light Rail (SkyTrain is “Advanced LRT” after all)

        So did San Diego until recently.

      3. For what it’s worth, Taipei’s awesome MRT system uses distance based fares. And their TVM’s are probably the simplest, most straight forward I’ve seen anywhere

  12. Vancouver’s fares are based on 3 zones with distinct boundaries. Problem is if you get on a Skytrain just inside one boundary and take the train one or two stops across the boundary line you have to pay the 2 zone fare even for a short 5 min. ride. This only applies daytime, after 6 pm all fares revert to the same 2.50 To charge fares by distance would be good for transit pass users once they put turnstiles on the stations that can read your boarding-departing distance like BART.

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