News Roundup

Photo by Atomic Taco
Photo by Atomic Taco

Link Schedules Now Available

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

UPDATE: John Niles has created a .gif version of the schedule for those too lazy to load a pdf.  Thanks, Mr. Niles.

Commenters here complained, and now it’s been fixed.  The latest edition of Sound Transit’s schedule book (pdf) has schedules for Light Rail (pages 32-34), listed at Tukwila, Rainier Beach, Mt. Baker, Sodo, and Westlake. (H/T: Kyle).  People transferring to a bus can now easily check which train they should take.

There are also, effective Sep. 19, new trips on the 510, 511, 550, and 554.  Some early morning and late night trips on the 554 are being extended all the way through Sammamish along 238th Ave to almost Downtown Redmond (page 95).

One Bus Away iPhone App Coming Soon

According to a Twitter post, the uber-useful One Bus Away service will soon have its own native iPhone App. Even better, the app is entirely open source so programming geeks can add their own features. A follow-up tweet states that the app will have support for Maps and GPS — logical inclusions that’ll surely be useful for users of the bus tracking website.

How many times a day do you use One Bus Away?

ORCA Card Customer Service

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

Many people have bought an ORCA card, put it aside, and found that their account was deactivated because it wasn’t used for 30 days.  Delia Johnson was one of those people, but she “Got Jesse,” who got some answers.  In the report, there’s some of the typical TV-news faux outrage, but it’s true that customer service hasn’t been a strong point of the ORCA experience.

I’m told the reason for the problem is all those ORCA readers out on buses.  They can only update when they’re back at base, so there’s some delay before account information makes it to all the buses.  Furthermore, there are some memory limitations on the system.  That’s all understandable.

What’s not understandable is why the training for the call center people is so atrocious.  A friend of mine had a similar problem with a deactivated ORCA card; when they called last month, she was told they would cut her a check for the balance.  When no such check came, she called again and was told  they’d simply add the balance to the card.

Also, fishing around for about 15 minutes on the ORCA card website did not turn up an answer for how this kind of problem is addressed.  It may very well be on there somewhere, but such a frequent problem ought to be prominently answered.

Anecdotally, lots of our commenters have shared instances where the call center folks haven’t known what they’re talking about.

While I’m on the subject of ORCA and customer service, I’d like to give a special booby prize to the man who was working the northernmost service window at the Metro Jackson St. Service Center on September 2nd at noon.  He left his window in mid-transaction to take a half-hour lunch break, without telling anyone where he was going or for how long.  The customer was stuck there, unable to retrieve her ID, during the entire episode.  You weren’t wearing a name tag, sir, so I don’t know who you are, but you give public employees everywhere a bad name.  I hope your supervisor is reading this.

News Roundup: Stale News Edition

Clearing out my inbox of interesting tidbits:

Washington State Ferry News

Enjoying a summer trip on the Tacoma
Enjoying a summer trip on the Tacoma by the Author

Update by Brian Bundridge: M/V Wenatchee is now back in service as of the Friday afternoon commute. Thanks for Todd Shipyard for the quick turnaround!

We here at Seattle Transit Blog haven’t really covered a lot in terms of ferry news. The accident involving the M/V Wenatchee on Sunday has caught my attention with the heavy activity in the news regarding the ferry service. Like my Amtrak Cascades posts, I will post monthly or bi-monthly updates, along with news regarding ferries.

  • The accident involving the M/V Wenatchee is still yet to be determined. The heavy fog this time of year is quite uncommon. (At least according to the Farmers Almanac) WSF is hopeful that the Wenatchee will be back in service before Labor Day Weekend.
  • Victoria Express is providing two 149-passenger foot ferries which will shuttle passengers between Seattle and Bremerton. For schedule information, please check out WSF’s page regarding the shuttle service
  • The ferry shuffle once again dinged the Bremerton route. The 124-car Kitsap will provide the sole service on this route until further notice. The normal ferry, the Hyak, will serve the Edmonds/Kingston route until further notice. The 202-car Puyallup will serve the Seattle/Bainbridge route which will restore its service back to normal capacity.
  • WSF has moved forward with procuring two additional 64-car ferries and the bid going out this fall. Depending on the money saved, WSF may seek to procure a 144-car ferry instead of a 64-car ferry.
  • The first 64-car ferry is well under construction at Todd Shipyards! Its sea trials are expected Summer 2010 and service on the Port Townsend/Keystone route.
  • WSF is also pursuing one or two 144-car ferries which will be based on the Issaquah Class vessel. The 144-car vessels will be used on various routes throughout the ferry system.
  • Currently in drydock, the 87-car M/V Klahowya and 188-car M/V Walla Walla for scheduled maintenance (16kb PDF). There are no backup vessels available to fill in gaps in service.

In other news, Washington State Ferries released their long-range plan (2mb PDF) in June 2009. This plan goes over the future of the ferry system, capital funding issues, terminal upgrades and when vessels will be “up-sized” to support heavier traffic, etc. The worst part about the plan is the deferred new terminals at Edmonds (year 2029) and Mukilteo (year 2017). Both of these terminals were critical components to North Sounder and increasing ridership on the train. The City of Edmonds may proceed and build the new station with WSF’s assistance.

WSF is also looking at ways to add a reservation system to certain ferry routes. Currently, the Port Townsend/Keystone route is on a trial reservation system. Because of the small size of the ferry, this boat is very hard to get on if you want to take a casual drive via Deception Pass, etc. Between now and 2030, WSF will be adding 10 boats and retiring 7 boats (The Evergreen State, Rhododendron Class boats, along with the Kaleetan and Yakima Super Ferry Class boats)

That is all the goodies I have for now! I will be sure to update as soon as I hear that the Wenatchee is back and also, feel free to chime in about ferry news! It is something I hope to cover along with the heavy rail end of things more frequently.

Metro’s Low-Income Programs

While interviewing Metro GM Kevin Desmond for last week’s Metro budget crisis series, I had an opportunity to ask him for details about the low-income fare assistance program that I’d always heard hints about.

For many years, Metro has sold ticketbooks to over 100 human services agencies for 20% of their face value.  Metro depends on these agencies to get them in the hands of the needy.

The other 80% is budgeted as “lost revenue” for Metro, though of course there’s no telling how many of those would have turned into fare-paying rides.  In 2008 this “subsidy” amounted to $1.3m, or $1.6m in total ticket value.  According to Desmond, this funded 79,000 ticket books containing 1.2m tickets of mixed denominations.

A full list of those receiving human services agencies is below the jump, copied directly from a Metro-provided spreadsheet.
Continue reading “Metro’s Low-Income Programs”

Metro Audit Results

New Flyer D60HF Drivers Area, by Atomic Taco
"New Flyer D60HF Driver's Area", by Atomic Taco

[Note: An earlier version of this post was online for the first few minutes, and the first two comments refer to the earlier version.]

It’s being widely reported that the first part of the long-awaited Metro audit report is out.  The slideshow is here.

The main finding is that the use of scheduling software could avoid deadhead runs, shorten layovers, and thus save between $12m and $19m a year.  The Triplett plan envisions about $90m in service suspensions over four years, so in the long run it could cover a large part of the gap.  Unfortunately, it is likely to take as much as three years to realize the full savings from this exercise, and so will not substantially reduce the need for immediate cuts.

Importantly, the County auditor claims this does not violate the labor agreement.  Metro layover times are about 29% of the round trip time, compared with a national average of 21%, which presumably results in somewhat higher route reliability than otherwise.

On top of that, an additional $3.75m a year could be saved by using scheduling software Metro already owns, rather than using manual methods for bus and operator assignment.

There are some other findings that are somewhat less likely to be implemented:

  • When trolley buses are to be replaced in 2014, do so with diesel hybrids, saving $8.7m a year in life-cycle costs.
  • Raise senior, disabled, and youth fares to be in line with peer agencies.  Peg them to a fixed percentage of full fare so that they grow in line with it.  The details in the slideshow are lacking, but $51m a year suggests that they’re looking at about $1.00 in increases plus some policy changes, like reducing discounts and abolishing the off-peak fare.

There was also a rehash of the $105m one-time fleet replacement surplus.  The final installment of the audit report, to include more details on the Auditor’s fare proposal, is due September 15, with the County Executive’s proposed budget hitting the street on September 28.  The Council is likely to act in November.

Thanks are due to Larry Phillips for requesting this audit in the first place last year.  Metro riders will benefit from his initiative.

King Street Station clocks to start today

King Street Station at night by the Author
King Street Station at night by the Author

Mayor Greg Nickels, via Facebook, said that the renovated King Street Station clocks will be restarted today. He was pondering to what music would be most fitting. I’d have to say Pink Floyd – Time but his suggestion of “Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower” would be just as fitting.

Any suggestions I can forward to him?

Check out the press release – and yes, I am going to be there!

Ideas for Seattle

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Associated with the McGinn Campaign but useful to anyone, there’s a great Obamaesque idea website for voting on Seattle’s priorities. It’s called Ideas for Seattle, and is worth a few minutes spent voting or even creating your own ideas. Note that there are several great transit ideas including one to create more bus lanes (posted by yours truly) and the poorly named “Build the Green Line” which is actually about adding trolley buses.

Hat tip to [joshuadf] who pointed to the Ideas site in the comments.

Real-Time Arrival Information: It Really Pays Off

While services like OneBusAway might seam to be a nicety a 2006 study commissioned by the Federal Transit Administration shows that real-time arrival information systems produce significant and quantifiable benefits that exceed project costs. The paper, Real-time Bus Arrival Information Systems Return-on-Investment Study (I highlighted and added notes to the interesting parts), documents how a comprehensive Return on Investment (ROI) study should analyzes the costs and benefits of real-time information systems. For demonstration purposes part of the ROI study was applied to Portland’s Transit Tracker system. Not all benefits were quantified and extremely conservative user rates were assumed (ex. Transit Tracker usage for MAX trips were not included).

Less Wait TIme
ROI assuming shorter wait times only

To summarize the results of the paper see the graph above. The white area show when the annualized cost of the system exceeds the annualized user benefits of the system. In contrast, all non-white areas indicate where the system pays off. The horizontal axis shows the average reduction in wait times and the vertical axis shows the annual number of trips that Transit Trackers is used for. The darker the shading the large the ROI. By finding the intersection point of reduced wait time and annual transit tracker usage you can see when it yields benefits. As you can see the report conservatively estimates that as long as users of the system on average save 30 seconds a trip this system pays off.

Continue reading “Real-Time Arrival Information: It Really Pays Off”