photo by zargoman
photo by zargoman

After hearing from the County Council that there would be no “significant” reduction in service over the 2010-11 biennium, I was finally able to chat with Metro Manager of Service Development Victor Obeso to get more details.

A total of 200,000 service hours are to be cut over the next two years, about 5% of the total, of which 50,000 will be this February.  In terms of losses perceived by the user, about 2% of existing service will be cut over 2 years:

Scheduling efficiency Supplemental low-impact reductions
Feb 2010 25,000 25,000
Sep 2010 50,000 25,000
Jun 2011 50,000 25,000

The “Scheduling Efficiency” side amounts to changes in how routes are allocated to Metro’s operating bases, plus reductions in layovers at the end of routes.  There should be no impact on riders from these other than a possible slight decrease in reliability.  Obeso is hopeful that in the February round the efficiency savings will actually be as high as 30,000  hours, sparing some cuts.

The “low-impact reductions” will, as per County policy, be doled out to subareas in proportion to the resources they receive.  In conjunction with the budget, the council adopted an update to the Metro 10 year Strategic Plan which identified these reductions as “suspensions,” not “cuts.” This leaves open the possibility that restoration of the service would not be subject to 40/40/20, but doesn’t necessarily mean that restoration is first in line.

There will not be the proposed route-by-route blanket cuts, but cuts targeted at the least productive trips in each subarea.   Metro is first looking at opportunities to eliminate the last trip of the night, eliminating trips that allow them to pull an entire bus out of service while not increasing headways too much, and trips where other good, nearby options exist.  Obeso expects the number of riders inconvenienced to be small.

A 2% service cut targeted at unproductive trips, while not desirable, is clearly not a catastrophe for public transportation. Indeed, with Transit Now, WSDOT viaduct mitigation, and dedicated SR520-related revenue funding additional improvements, the net change is positive. However, Metro’s budget crisis is not solved, but merely deferred.  The numbers are sensitive to small changes in revenue projections, but past estimates indicate about 385,000 service hours could be at risk in 2012-2013 without new revenue sources.

32 Replies to “Followup On Metro Cuts”

  1. SO, if I read this right….the LAST bus in my area…which we were just given in last 18 months will go away, and once again my options for traveling out of downtown are going to be screwed???

    I call the area I live in a “big bus hole”, as we only really have one option – the 101/102 unless we have someone willing to drive us to the Tulwila station, which if as Mr. Obeso states last runs of the night will be eliminated will ALSO screw my options up for night time travel from Seattle to my home in Skyway.

    The great and mighty light rail is of NO USE to me, as I don”t have easy access to it from where I live.

    But hey I’m just poor white trailer trash, so I don’t deserve to be able to get to and from my jobs that I need to be able to pay for what service I do have.

    Ya know what, all I’ve seen since the local government took over transit is arbitrary decisions – such as making it impossible for me to take the 101 on sunday when a time shift of 10 minutes was made a about 3 years ago, which meant get a ride, now no longer and option, or being taken to the Tukwila P&R. The loss of 10 minutes is a HUGE difference, as it doesn’t allow me, or others who used to take the 1st run to Seattle to do so via the bus closest to our home. All King county has done in my ever so white trailer trash opinion is make a mess of things while supposedly making things better!

    “Low impact” – yeah right, whatta joke!!!

    1. I don’t know if this helps, Beth, but the 140 will be re-routed at the end of February to go by Tukwila-International Station on its way to Tukwila P&R. Frequency is supposed to be increased.

      I have the 101 and 102 on my wish list of routes to be LINKed, so that they hook up with light rail at Rainier Beach Station, instead of going all the way downtown on I-5, with the savings to be used to increase frequency and/or increase hours of service. Would any of these help?

      (I have an ulterior motive here of getting more buses out of the tunnel, so that LINK travel time can be reduced.)

    2. It doesn’t say all last runs will be eliminated. It says that they’re considering eliminating some of them, and that proximity to alternative routes would be a factor. Another factor would be whether evening ridership on the 101 is lower than on other routes. The 27 is pretty empty in the evening, for instance.

      1. The route 27 is pretty empty period. Outside of peak hours you could probably just not run the trips and not more than a handful of people would notice. Even at peak you could run a cutaway van and fit all of the riders.

      2. The post rush 14s, and a whole bunch of 60 foot diesel #36 buses (many of which operate in sighting distance of 40′ trolleys) could be eliminated without anyone noticing as well.

        I think some of the stepped up service created as “feeder” routes aren’t really doing any feeding.

      3. I live on the north side of the 14. :) I’ve always been pretty surprised it exists, but after moving here I see that Summit gets a surprising number of riders because there are so many apartment buildings around. Often a bus fills up in just the first three stops. And going north, there are still five or six people on after East Olive Way. And the part where it’s not shared with another route is only five or six blocks, so not much of a cost.

        One reason the 14 has fewer riders than it could is it’s scheduled immediately after the 43. That’s a 2 minute wait if the 14 is on time, or a 10-15 minute wait if it’s late as it usually is. So people think, “Do I take the 43 and walk a little more, but I’ll still be home earlier than if the 14 is late?” If the 14 were scheduled 15 minutes after the 43, it would get those riders.

        The 27 is a really small bus. It has like four rows of seats.

      4. The south end of the 14 is now configured to do a double loop to and from Mt. Baker transsit center to the neighborhood at Mt.Rainier and St. Helens. As a result, it goes across 31st (southbound), to Mt. Baker transit center, to St. Helens/Rainier, BACK to Mt. Baker Station, then back downtown.

        Aside from a few schoolkids around the early afternoon rush – the few times I’ve driven the 14 my bus has been dead empty back and forth between Mt. Baker station and Rainier/St Helens.

        IMO, having the 14 go down to Mt. Baker Station at all is a complete wash, particularly as there are stops for the 14 less than 2 blocks from Mt. Baker transit center anyway, and always have been. I believe it would have made more sense to extend the #4 down McLellan, providing a ready connection between the Link and the Central Area and First Hill/Broadway. I’m not getting the change to the 14 at all.

        The Summit end remains regularly used.

  2. Gads… Efficiency…

    If you want that, try this: I commute daily from North Seattle via one of 3 routes to downtown. There I wait… up to 20 minutes…or more to catch a bus that takes me to the base of Queen Anne on Elliott. This large office complex has more than 900 folks who commute by bus AND the vast majority meet ST coaches or Sounder for rides out of the downtown core. While waiting for the “Live” 24 or 33, Up to 30 of us have sat and counted up to 14 coaches “out of service” running by us empty. Once a month or so, if weather is really crappy, one will stop and pick up the group. The 24 and 33 are jammed inbound. I have missed at least a few over the years due to full loads, but the key point is the frequency at commute times is full. Rarely do less than 5 or so hope on to an almost full coach all trying to meet the outbound rail and ST coaches.

    Out of Service still pay the drivers, are still insured, are warm (or cool) as season needs, and are wizzing by. We are already paying our share. Perhaps a special policy during commute would all for stops at Virginia, Pike/Pine and KING STREET ONLY stops with pickups if more than 3 are waiting policy?

    Once past King Street Southbound, Out of Service would mean it… but this policy would create additional capacity at NO EXTRA COST.

    Reverse for in bound in the AM… the goal creates extra capacity in and out of the core and key transfer points. There has to be a way to make use of this wasted opportunity.

    just a thought.

    STATION dozen while watching the Out of Service coachesthe county or Sounder.

    1. I agree and hope that more efficiency can be found in the currently out of service/to terminal/deadheading buses.

      1. is what you do is you have the terminal point for all non through-routed coaches at a specific point, and than the operators have to sign up upon entering downtown 3rd and Stewart for example, than run through to that timepoint letting all know the coach is in service until it arrives at 3rd and stewart.

        Also creating effecting route pairs, and keeping equipment in service on that pair all day helps some, instead of having coaches deadhead around as much. Scheduling efficincies could be done there, also having more late night short turns, etc. where it makes sense as well (such as the 1 night and sunday route)

      2. The currently out of service/to terminal/deadheading coaches you see ARE a response to efficiency. In most cases, it’s more efficient to deadhead a coach than keep it in service. It burns less fuel, provides for less wear and tear on the coaches, concentrates ridership (keeps in-service buses more full) and saves money.

        What makes you think that deadheading coaches is inefficient?

      3. Here’s a pretty simplistic answer I found elsewhere:

        (from Southwest Ohio Metro: )
        Why do I sometimes see empty Metro buses?
        Metro’s system is designed to meet peak demand, just like other transportation systems including highways and roads. For example, the vehicle traffic on I-75 during rush hour is much heavier than it is at 2 a.m.

        Yet, the highway has to be built to accommodate the rush-hour requirement. It’s the same for Metro. Metro adjusts the number of buses on the road depending on capacity needed. This means that there are a lot more buses operating during weekday rush hours than in the evenings or on weekends. In fact, on Sundays Metro operates less than 25% of the buses used during rush hour on a weekday.

        Sometimes buses are empty because they are coming from the garage to begin their work. Other times buses may be empty after passengers have exited at the primary destination such as downtown and the bus is just beginning the other leg of its trip.

        I kind of like the comparison to roads – sometimes roads are empty, or nearly so.

        Does that mean we should elimiate the roads?

    2. Greg and Matt. Metro’s Operating Handbook says:
      (Section 8,33) “When operating regular service or enroute to or from a base, customers in bus zones must not be passed ecept under the following circumstances,”

      A through G

      none of which apply to your situation. It’s a tough call for the driver though, because very few people waiting in the zone want to go to the Metro Base. When you pull into the zone, you have to explain where you’re going, by what route, then usually people say no thanks, … so very few drivers follow the rule.
      You could help your case by ‘flagging down’ a bus you know is going where you want to go, maybe even have a foldable sigh saying where your going.

      1. It’s a tough call for the driver though, because very few people waiting in the zone want to go to the Metro Base.

        “Out of service” can also mean the bus is headed to its terminal, in which case stopping for passengers doesn’t make sense at all. It can also be a coach being pulled out of service due to mechanical issues, etc.

        I’m sure that the County (and drivers) would be very interested in keeping those empty buses “in-service” all along all routes, including to and from base. Unfortunately, it’s neither affordable nor efficient to do so. It’s much more efficient to spend 15 minutes returning an empty coach to the base to be parked and the driver pulled off duty and off the clock, than spend 45 minutes having that bus stop all along the way to transport a handful of passengers who could more efficiently be transported in the next in-service coach.

        This repeated canard about “I saw a bus going by empty – and therefore that means it’s wasteful” kind of bugs me, because it demonstrates a lack of understanding or thought about what it is to schedule buses to transport folks all over in the most efficient mannger.

        The Human Transit Blog has a good article about this “empty coach” thing, which borders in my view on Urban Legend when it comes to folks getting hot and bothered about seeing empty buses go by. Similar arguments can (and should) be adopted by rail advocates responding to similar arguments about “empty trains”:

        the “transit isn’t green because it runs empty” line
        From the Human Transit Blog:

    3. Up to 30 of us have sat and counted up to 14 coaches “out of service” running by us empty.

      Do you know WHY those buses are “out of service”?

      What do you think they should be doing?

      1. Just to be clear, I don’t even know the sign code for “Out of Service”. That is typically used by mechanics taking a bus out for a spin to diagnose a problem or doing an inspection (at least at East Base).

        To my knowledge, we [drivers] aren’t supposed to use “Out of Service”. If the coordinator wants us to move somewhere and not pick up passengers they typically have us blank our signs – not place it “Out of Service”.

      2. It’s 036.

        I’ve used it a few times – once when I was taking a bus back to base that had a major hydraulic fluid leak in its wheelchair lift, and a couple of other times when my bus was backed up and I had my follower, and even 2nd follower right behind me. Rather than simply “blanking” my signs (when I’ve done this in similar circumstances I had customers flagging me down to tell me my sign was broken, or waiting customers as “which route are you?”), I have set it to “out of service” so that I could drop off passengers I had on board while not confusing passengers I was passing up (who were picked up by the same route bus right behind me).

        When a bus with blank signs, or your routed signage up passes by passengers, people think you’re passing them because you don’t see them, or because you’re incompetent, or that you’re just some kind of jerk. “Out of Service” lets people know that they shouldn’t expect the bus to stop and pick them up.

      3. I also suspect that the person reporting seeing buses signed “out of service” are actually signed “to terminal”, “to (base)” or “Downtown” (the generic signage for a bus nearing its terminal turnaround to let folks know they shouldn’t expect to be boarding a through-routed bus).

      4. 1) WHY: most likely deadheading to the base after taking a load of commuters to some point north of where those 30 southbound folks are waiting.
        2) WHAT: be more efficient and pick up passengers waiting, just as Seattle Greg suggests.

    4. Assuming you’re in/near the F5 building, if you walk via Harrison to 1st Avenue North or Queen Anne Avenue you’d get more options for routes to/from downtown. You could also walk north (to 1st & Denny) or south (to Elliott& Lee) to where the 15/18 join back up with the 24/33 routes.

      To me, your situation sounds perfect for a chartered shuttle or the like. Property developers shouldn’t be encouraged to build huge business parks in areas not served or underserved by transit and assume that Metro will start running service just for them. It would make more sense for the developer or the companies which occupy the business park to subsidize a Metro-operated route (a la the Boeing buses) or run private shuttles (a la the MS Connector) to shuttle workers from work to a transit hub.

  3. There may be savings to be found using dead head, and it may be a case-by-case basis. I assume Metro is looking at that.

    Regarding Sounder Rail, I’ve seen the possibility of a Broad Street Station discussed off and on for years.

  4. The 3/4 to QA after roughly 8PM are pretty desolate, unless there is a Sounders game. The Mariners don’t do a thing – I’ve had more opera/ballet/etc. patrons than M’s fans after a game – but Sounders fans seem somewhat more transit-oriented.

    The thing is, the City of Seattle is paying for those extra route 3 trips, so I don’t think cutting them is going to help Metro.

  5. Thanks to all for the responses. Yes, I work in the HAL bldg. At HAL alone, there are over 800 passes for Metro. The majority are attempting to get into town to connect with ST or Sounder. The coaches rolling by are titled “out of Service” or back to the various bases. None are mechanical. All are deadheading.

    With up to 30 waiting, I have personally counted 14 EMPTY coaches passing the group. Yes, we are ripe for private shuttle, (During I-5 construction, we actually did that) BUT with 3 routes traveling by, Why should we need to hire out to get what should be there anyway? Is is not Amgen.

    The 24 and 33 are often right on each other, which in turn creates long gaps in service. Inbound, it starts as another in the south end — One problem in the south end and all service is impacted.

    I understand Deadhead, but if you are heading back to the shop, why not have a sign that says base, stops ONLY at Westlake, Pike and King Street on Second. The added pick ups would encourge even more to bus. Right now, the transfer issue is the biggest hurdle — Riders are not sure they will make the train on time.

    As to the suggestion to hike up the hill 3 – 5 blocks at the end of your shift… yes, there is service there, but in poor weather in business attire and shoes is not the same as 3 blocks level in town… Many are older workers, and there is some ADA issues as well.

    In short… with 3 lines supposidly offering service right across the street, to not make more efficient use of the empty coaches remains an issue.

    1. Actually it sounds like the 3 bus routes across the street could use better service, especially during commute hours. Perhaps some sort of peak hour express service from Amgen down Elliot/Western connecting with either the Westlake or ID hubs?

      Longer term I think both the Broad Street Sounder station (with South Sounder trains originating/terminating there rather than King Street) and a revived waterfront line with an extension to pier 91 would help a lot too. –

    2. Greg,

      Having alternative signage is a good idea. I will say that coaches heading back to base are supposed to stop at zones inside the CBD/RFA that they would normally stop at on 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th unless they’re headed “To Terminal”. While coaches are still considered “in service” when signed to go back to base, convetion is to stop only when someone “flags you down”, i.e. indicates that they’re waiting for ANY bus headed a certain direction rather than a specific route.

      As a trolley driver, I regularly end my run somewhere where I wind up signing my bus “To Atlantic Base” or “To Atlantic Base via S. Jackson”. If I’m going through downtown, I generally have passengers on board who need off, so stop at all south bound yellow stops anyway, and if nobody is on board I stop and announce “International District via 3rd Avenue” or some such to see if there’s any takers.

      Outside the CBD – such as on Elliot where you are or up on Capital hill where the 10 and 12 often head home after rush hour signed “To Atlantic Base via Broadway”, I stop only for folks who flag me down – because must folks at stops are waiting for the in-service 10 or 12 wanting to go dowtown. Passengers “in the know” will stick their arm out and either ask if I’m headed to Little Saigon or somewhere up the way.

      The alternative – stopping at every stop that has passengers standing at it as they look confused at my “To (base)” sign means I would for the most part be stopping just to answer people’s questions, then moving on when my answer turned out to not be what they needed.

      Still and all – this is a good concern to raise to the Powers that Be, and I hope they’re paying attention.

  6. I didn’t know “To Terminal” drivers would stop if you flag them. I’ll remember that when I’m going northbound from Costco to the SODO station. Sometimes four of them will pass before the next 23/124.

    A lot of southbound 43/44/49 trips do serve lower Broadway at the end of their run in the evenings, which is convenient if you’re just going to Capitol Hill or live on First Hill. It partly makes up for the infrequency of the 9 and the 60.

    1. Mike,

      Actually “to terminal” buses are not in service – see what I wrote. Note that this is different than buses signed “to base” (not a terminal). Most buses signed “to terminal” or “to base” are at a point in their run where they have no “time points” – or scheduled stops – on their run, so any stops made add to the estimated time they’re given to get back to base. “To terminal” signed buses are usually either at the beginning of their run and have a limited amount of time to pull out of base and get to their starting point; or are buses whose followers have caught up to them who – as I do – prefer to provide waiting passengers with signage discouraging them from attempting to board so that they can discharge passengers and pass stops in order to catch up to their schedules (as there’s a nearly empty bus behind them of the same route to pick up waiting passengers).

  7. Non-Metro operated coaches (Community Transit or Pierce Transit or ST coaches operated by CT or PT) use the “Out Of Service” sign in similar ways to Metro using “To Terminal” so it is likely the the 14 “Out Of Service” coaches were NOT operated by Metro. And Jeff, talk to your training office, you are incorrect about when Metro coaches are in service, especially when operating in Seattle. Flagging down a coach will only work if the coach is going to be traveling somewhere where there are stops, often on deadheads buses are routed away from congested areas and there may not be a stop until it reaches its destination.

  8. Rolled over,

    Jeff, talk to your training office, you are incorrect about when Metro coaches are in service, especially when operating in Seattle. Flagging down a coach will only work if the coach is going to be traveling somewhere where there are stops, often on deadheads buses are routed away from congested areas and there may not be a stop until it reaches its destination.

    I disagree – and I don’t recall suggesting that buses should pull over where there are no bus zones, or traveliing to an area that has none. I was speaking only to buses travelling to or from bases – ALL of which have at least one zone before enterig base – unless I guess you get off just outside of base. I know of no bus that ends its run at a location that has ZERO stops between it’s end terminal and its base. From “The Book” (Metro’s driver ‘handbook’) and confirmed by the Training office:

    Passing up customers

    “When operating regular service or enroute to or from a base, customers in bus zones must not be passed except in the following circumstances:

    A. When you are operating late, can see your follower and are operating with the same stop options (local/express) as your follower, you may pass up every other stopping poit where persons are waiting to board (providing there are no requests to get off the coach).

    B. When a coach is overloaded and cannot be accomodated (driver must call coordinator to report overload)

    C. More regarding passenger transport during overloads

    D. When the coach is disabled

    E. When transferring coaches between bases

    F. When operating “limited stops” and express trips in areas where stops are not required

    G. When directed by a supervisor

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