Community Transit conducted a dry run (simulated operations) of Swift BRT on Monday and STB was offered an opportunity to ride. CT is doing final testing and driver training before service begins on Sunday afternoon.
I boarded Swift with Community Transit representative Mike Allende at the Airport Road Northbound Station for Everett. The Swift bus pulled in really close to the curb and the doors lined up with markers on the platform called “welcome mats”. This process currently takes about 10 seconds but should be reduced as drivers get used to it. As to why no level boarding? CT considered it but decided to go with a slight step. One reason given was that roadway and vehicle conditions can vary, making it difficult to guarantee a level boarding every time. A fully loaded bus, tire pressure, ruts in the roadway, for example, creates a height difference. Combine that with the expectation of level boarding and people might trip when it isn’t truly level. The bus dwelled for 10 seconds and then we were on our way. Swift will make stops at every station like a light rail train. There are no bell cords but there’s a special request button for wheelchair users.
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The 62-foot articulated bus has seats for 43 passengers and can carry up to 100 passengers. The Swift bus felt more spacious than Metro’s RapidRide bus. This might have something to do with the seat choice and layout, on-board bike racks, and the color scheme. The New Flyer Advanced-style bus costs $820,000, with 25% of the cost due to the hybrid system. I wasn’t able to get details on the engine and hybrid drive. We arrived at Everett Station but not at the Swift terminal, which still has some work to be done. Mike explained that a shelter’s structural frame can be installed in 2.5 hours, down from an initial 2.5 days.
The bus had a brief two-minute break and departed Everett Station at 1:10 pm. Swift buses will depart the terminals on the 10s (:00, :10, :20), making it easy for riders to remember. Our return trip from Everett Station to Airport Road took 20 minutes compared to the estimated 23 minutes. I asked Mike if there are going to be operator reliefs mid-route like Link and he said there shouldn’t be but he didn’t have specifics on how operators are scheduled. If a bus breaks down, a replacement bus would be dispatched as soon as possible. The stops are placed on the far-side of the intersection with enough space for a single bus. This might be a problem if buses begin to bunch up.
With only 12 stops each way, speedy boarding and transit signal priority, Swift will save bus riders’ time compared to existing service. It can take about 75 minutes to travel the entire Swift corridor during off-peak hours, which requires a transfer between CT and Everett Transit buses. Swift simplifies that to a one-seat ride that takes 40–50 minutes. Buses still stop at lights occasionally. What would travel times be if they didn’t? CT figured out that it would take about 32-35 minutes to run end to end without any delays except for making stops at stations during the early and late hours of the day. The City of Everett will add stops at 2 more locations to fill in the wide gaps. The corridor currently carries 4,500 passengers each weekday.
There currently isn’t real-time passenger information or automated announcements at the stations or on board the buses. Those amenities are part of Community Transit’s Transit Technology Program which is planned to be operational in 2011. Drivers will announce stops. The sound quality wasn’t very clear and sounded scratchy. A special Swift coordinator will keep in touch with drivers via the radio to maintain even spacing between buses.
CT says over 18,000 people boarded Swift buses at public education events during the four months leading to launch.