Community Transit Swift

We’ve acquired a few new commenters who seem intent on replaying the rail vs. BRT battles that were exhausted quite some time ago.  Rather than continuing with scattershot comments here’s a post:

1. Getting dedicated right-of-way for buses on the freeway is cheap: you just repaint the thing and make new signs. Maybe you build some fancy stations. It is incredibly cost-effective. The cost is so low that it isn’t mutually exclusive with rail, but it is politically difficult because of SOV interests. Unfortunately, BRT “advocates” spend all their time arguing with rail advocates telling them how to do their project better instead of doing the actual, necessary work of building a coalition to make this lane conversion happen. I’ll take the liberty of speaking for the rail community to say that if there were a measure to turn any existing GP freeway or arterial lane into bus-only, HOV-6, or whatever, you would get overwhelming support from rail advocates. We are not the faction you have to win over.

2. It’s true you can avoid the political problem by building new dedicated right-of-way, but then you’ve forfeited most of the capital cost advantage that led you to the bus in the first place.

3. If capital costs are more or less equal, rail is the clear winner.  Ben has already posted on this and we link to it in the sidebar.  But briefly: more riders per operator, better ride quality, a stronger guarantee the ROW will not be seized for cars, a better brand identity (and therefore more riders), more intensive development, electric power vs. diesel fuel, etc.  As I said, capital costs are not equal, so given the presence of a cheap, high-quality BRT option there’s a legitimate but ultimately subjective discussion on whether the added benefits of rail are worth the added cost.  I would say “yes,” of course, but I’m happy to have your BRT system coexist with my rail system.  I think our enthusiasm about ST Express, Swift, and certain elements of RapidRide bears that out.

4. There are certain source-destination pairs where the benefits of rail are weak enough that they almost certainly don’t justify the cost.  As Jarrett points out in his blog, if you’re going from Downtown Seattle and fanning out into low-density neighborhoods that will never upzone or generate many riders, then yeah, use buses.  But for the really high-demand trips, buses aren’t enough because vehicle frequency is limited by bottlenecks at the stops, and each vehicle’s capacity is too low.

To return to #1 briefly, one reason rail advocates won’t ditch their plans in favor of BRT is that they are extremely skeptical the BRT coalition is a genuine one. Once you prove that your wonderfully inexpensive half-loaf is a viable political option, then we can have a conversation on whether the capital cost of the full loaf is worth it. Until then, the choice is Sound Transit Link Light Rail or status quo buses stuck in traffic. And again, nothing about Link prevents the BRT political movement from going forward.

Those interested in a fresh comment war on this can dive in.   You’re not going to convince anyone, on either side, but knock yourselves out.

296 Replies to “Bus vs. Rail, Again”

  1. …you would get overwhelming support from rail advocates. We are not the faction you have to win over.

    This is the most important bit for me. I’ve never heard a rail advocate say no to more buses, quite the opposite in fact. I believe rail advocates want to see a system of transit of which rail is a part. Why can’t we demand for an integrated, comprehensive system?

    If I were an lolcat, I’d say:

    I can haz moar?

    1. Yes, I support more RapidRide routes, improved feeders to rail stations, and the Rapid Trolley Network, among other things but not at the cost of important long term capital investments.

      Let’s focus on enhancing the system a majority of voters already approved and plan to have instead of trying to start from scratch because we’re already wasted too much time.

    2. The problem with a bus is that it’s a bus.

      That will always stunt ridership.

      I’m neither a bus hater nor a bus lover, but I understand the severe limitations of anything that travels shared roads, that “right of way” does not equal freedom from traffic, signals, etc. (I’ve been catching buses on 3rd Avenue’s “dedicated right of way” for too long to be fooled) and that 5-7 minutes of time savings from city limit to downtown isn’t going to even be a factor in swaying potential bus commuters.

      I think the main factor fanning any “comment war” is this blog’s sometimes defiantly militant stance in favor of BRT. A bit more of a pragmatic, critical-thought process, understanding the real-world limitations of BRT rather than just the really cool pluses might help matters all around.

      1. Hey, hows the saying go? If you’re taking flak from both sides you must be on the right course…. or something like that….

  2. Does anyone no the cost differences between putting in a Streetcar, and building a BRT system? That would be a interesting comparison….

  3. Driving the 550 has made me realize that at some point, you need to switch to rail as passenger loads increase. It takes a fair amount of skill and ruthlessness to keep a 550 on schedule during rush hour – with continued growth, it’s only going to get more difficult.

    That said, on medium density routes, BRT seems like a perfect fit. Has there ever been serious discussion about designing East Link so buses could share the ROW across the I-90 bridge? Allowing BRT to use I-90 dedicated ROW would allow for both systems to co-exist. You could use BRT features to enhance the 212, 216, 218, 225, 229, and 554 routes but leave the option of converting to rail in the future. This would seem to satisfy both camps for now. Rail for the already crowded 550 corridor and BRT for the medium density but growing Eastgate/Issaquah routes.

    1. And as a thrice-weekly commuter on the 550 with a 4-minute connection time to the 560, I thank you for that skill and ruthlessness! I usually only miss my transfer once a month, and even in off-peak hours the bus is usually packed.

    2. With eastlink joint use is only under consideration for the D2 roadway. There are plenty of issues with joint use, the biggest of them are some pretty significant safety questions for a limited access facility of over 4 miles with trains operating at high speeds (stopping distance). Would the buses stop at MI and Rainier stations? Can you regulate the speed and spacing of buses? What if a bus stalls or breaks down on the tracks? Is it doable? I would think so. Perhaps it is something that could be looked at as a retrofit idea of LRT to Eastgate/Issaquah stalls in the future.

    3. As a consultant that worked on the East Link project, I heard some things regarding the potential operation. Due to geometric constraints (express ramps) around Mercer Island among other factors, MOST routes using 90 from east of Bellevue will stop at Mercer Island station and unload passengers to the LRT platform. Personally, I think this could slightly hurt ridership because, as many know, transfers can make or break a bus route.

      1. If you get headways close enough and design the system so bus drivers can comfortably wait for transferring passengers that seems doable. Not sure how it works for Link though since holding a train is more problematic.

        Mount Baker TC is an example of how NOT to setup a train/bus transfer. For the 14, my bus zone is located in a spot that makes it difficult to see passengers across Rainier Ave intending to transfer from light rail. If I pull up to a location where I can see passengers, I’m no longer in the zone. The light also turns green for the buses leaving the TC at the same time the pedestrian sign turns to Walk so I’m leaving the TC just as people are running across the street to catch me. Giving pedestrians a Walk in all directions with a separate green only for buses leaving the TC would help but it’s pretty messy. It would take a traffic engineer some time to figure out the timing for all the lights in that area to make it really work.

      2. I hope the Mt Baker transit center is redesigned at some point, perhaps when Goodyear moves away or some money is found. However, there has been talk of a pedestrian bridge between the train station and the transit center.

      3. As a regular user of the 14 and the Mount Baker Link, I find I’m getting rides or pickups to Link because of that gap. I probably use the 14 one-third of the time, usually TO Link, because of the higher frequency of Link.

      4. Is there room for a layover area near Mercer Island P&R? It seems like South Bellevue P&R would also be a good place to truncate routes, and will be getting rebuilt if it gets a Link station.

      5. I believe the plan is to truncate routes at S. Bellevue P&R unless the B7 alignment is chosen in which case the routes would end at Mercer Island P&R.

        Two of the problems with truncating at Mercer Island P&R is a limited amount of layover space and out-of-direction travel for riders who are actually trying to get to another Eastside destination like Downtown Bellevue or Overlake.

      6. I can’t find the diagrams online but ST presented several South Bellevue P&R designs that included substantial layover space as well as a parking garage and better arranged bays. All of this fit within the footprint of the existing P&R. Sadly, this was at the Bellevue High School Open House so the B7/Kevin Wallace crowd was there putting all kinds of nasty comments on the designs, most of which didn’t really make sense. They were simply saying *anything* they could that would shoot the alignment down.

        I don’t see how layover space could be created at Mercer Island P&R without condemning adjoining properties or building another lid over I-90.

    4. So far the preferred alternative is to have buses share the D2 roadway between downtown Seattle and the Rainier Ave flyer stop, which, according to the drawings, will be preserved.

      Allowing buses to share the exclusive ROW would be a win-win. Perhaps by then, we’ve figured out how to safely and efficiently run buses and trains in the same corridor with experience from the transit tunnel.

      Of course, if that doesn’t happen, there’s always the new HOV lanes.

      1. With the 212 in the tunnel and the 218 moving down there next shakeup, converting these routes to RapidRide routes is doable. There are already TVMs in the tunnel for Link. Adding TVMs at Eastgate and Issaquah Highlands would be relatively easy. One issue would be rebranding the TVMs so it’s not confusing and making the two systems play nice.

        The ideal time to do this would be the next bus procurement cycle. Obviously, this couldn’t be done until it was determined that long-term joint operations were viable.

      2. Is the 218 really going to be a tunnel route? I prefer catching buses in the tunnel, but this will be a disaster for Issaquah bound riders. When the tunnel was closed and the Eastgate and Issaquah buses were running on 2nd Avenue the 218 would always fill up with Eastgate bound riders, leaving little room for people actually going to the Issaquah Highlands. I was relieved when the Eastgate buses went back to the tunnel and the 218 stayed a surface route. This separated Issaquah and Eastgate riders and alleviated a lot of crowding on the 218. I hope that when they move the 218 to the tunnel they change the route to skip the Eastgate freeway stop.

        Another reason I like having the 218 on the surface is if I miss the last 218 I can just catch a 554 from the same stop.

      3. The 212 and 218 are highly productive peak-only routes and deserve better treatment although I’m not sure whether they fit the RapidRide brand, which is arterial BRT.

      4. The 212 is great the way it is now. It’s timeliness is so good that back when I was commuting on it a couple summers ago, I was able to manage a 3-minute transfer upstairs to the streetcar on a daily basis. Also, the vast majority of riders have a pass, so TVMs for off-board payment wouldn’t make much of a difference.

      5. Yes, the 218, 216, 76, and 77 are going into the tunnel. I almost picked a 216/218 tripper since tunnel + 218 passengers = heaven, but it quit too late for me.

      6. Was surprised you didn’t pick something ending at least a bit later as you’ll save commute time. Since the only way for me to gain more than a few minutes would have been to go east (as I live in Ballard and actually like trolley driving, less practical there) and then it would only have been about 20 minutes – I wound up picking my same work, the 2/13, first run of the 13 in the morning. It’s dull as toast, but a reliable routine and with a bit of luck I’ll rise in seniority on the ATL as a couple of morning operators with more seniority than me went back to afternoons.

        Was surprised that many of the routes (5, etc.) that had come to Atlantic as part time work were gone this time, and now that the 76, 77 are moving out – I’m qualified on 100% of Atlantic routes.

        Some of that driver gossip that Sam doesn’t like, but ultimately I think it’s beneficial for others to get an insight into how route assignments work.

        More on-topic, I didn’t see much adjustment of the turnaround time – at least on the part-time work that I looked at – that is reportedly coming. At the ATU monthly we were told that the new HASTUS modules had been or were in the process of being purchased in line with the County audit recommendations, and the next work cut could be brutal.

      7. I keep an eye on trippers I’ve driven in the past and have noticed a steady erosion in recovery time, or what Sam would refer to as overpaid “breaks”. It’s a 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there kind of thing. For the most part they have made sense – although they’ve ruined some pretty good napping work! :) I just hope HASTUS doesn’t tighten things up so much that schedules become unreliable or that we don’t have time to get up, stretch, and use the facilities. Metro isn’t going to save any money if drivers are worked so hard that they end up filing disability claims.

        I stopped by East Base today and had a look at the memos from the planner RE next shakeup. There is a bunch of tweaking going on there to tighten up layovers and cancel trippers for budgetary reasons. I didn’t keep track of numbers so I can’t say how extensive the trimming is.

      8. Actually I get more concerned about things like bathroom breaks. During peak season when school is in – I’m lucky to get 5 minutes recovery time on the 13 – which is a problem as the nearest bathroom is in the SPU student union. Luckily there’s a comfort station at the end of the 2 line, but I only get down there once during my work. You’ve driven the 14, and some of those runs don’t have a lot of recovery time – kind of a bear when the nearest toilet is a church a good clip away, unless you can (now) sneak some time at Mt. Baker transit center and use the CS there.

        Members of the general public who tend to kvetch about seeing drivers reading newspapers at their layover locations tend to ignore the realities of MOST jobs – there’s always a certain amount of down time that bus drivers just don’t get. Having worked both white and blue collar jobs, I know how much time average employees have that’s spent chatting to coworkers (“water cooler” stuff), surfing the internet, and don’t even get me started on smokers and the amount of time they spend sucking on their coffin nails and shooting the bull. We’re lucky to get time to take a leak.

    5. This comment by Velo completely misses the point of what I consider to be most bus supporters’ main argument for buses INSTEAD of light rail — the incredibly expensive COST of light rail being built by Sound Transit. The main reason for using buses INSTEAD of light rail over the I-90 bridge, for example, is to save billions of dollars! By having both, don’t save any money, you still have the gigantic cost of putting light rail over the I-90 bridge. So, having both would certainly not “satisfy” me in any way, because it would do nothing to eliminate the astronomical cost of light rail to the East side.

      I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but by far and away the main argument against light rail, in my opinion, is the COST of the light rail Sound Transit is building, and plans to build, in our area. Many light rail supporters seem to take the attitude that “cost is no object.” After all, it is taxpayers who are paying for it.

      1. Norman,

        I think I addressed your argument in the post. I agree that if you’re willing to pay the political price of taking away the lane, it’s cheap. Very cheap and very cost-effective.

        So let’s work together on taking over general-purpose freeway lanes to dedicate them to transit. The internecine mode war is unproductive, since BRT as you describe is so cheap so as to not preclude also building rail.

      2. Well, the best and obvious place to do this is the I-90 bridge. Use the center span for buses, and van- and car-pools, instead of light rail. I’ll certainly work with you to make that happen. I suspect you are not interested in that, however.

      3. Norman,

        The center span is already HOV, leaving aside the Mercer Is. exemption. Take one of the outer GP lanes, turn it into HOV, and use the new HOV lane ST/WSDOT is putting in as bus-only, and we can talk.

      4. That makes sense if/when there are enough buses to make use of the capacity. An intermediate step would be “Lexus lanes” on one of the outer lanes (after the R8A configuration is complete) and the center lanes converted to 3+ (or more) depending on demand.

      5. I thought the center span of the I-90 bridge was just express lanes, not HOV. I never use those lanes, so I don’t pay much attention to the signs, but it seems to me that the electronic sign which tells whether the center lanes are open or not says “express lanes”, not HOV lanes.

        There is no need to eliminate any gp lanes on the I-90 bridge in order to put a type of BRT on the center lanes. They are already going to add an HOV lane in each direction on the outer spans without eliminating any lanes — those outer spans will then be 4 lanes each, instead of the current 3. So you get an extra lane in each direction without pouring any concrete — just with restriping.

        Do that, then just make the center span one brt/HOV3 lane in each direction. This gives you a lot more capacity than putting light rail in the center span, and costs almost nothing, compared to billions for light rail.

        This gives you in each direction: 3 general traffic lanes; one HOV lane; and one brt/HOV3 lane (on the center span).

        This is what should be done, and it would cost a fraction of putting light rail over that bridge.

        I agree with Bernie. You need a lot of buses per hour on a highway lane to justify making it a bus-only lane. I think it would be far better to have a lane that buses share with van pools and car pools with at least 3 or 4 person minimum. You could adjust that per-car minimum to make sure traffic in that lane never gets too heavy. Just use the current HOV lanes, but put a higher per-car minimum, if needed, to keep traffic flowing well.

      6. Adam makes a good point. If they put a toll on the I-90 bridge, that may cause people to car- or van-pool enough that traffic falls significantly on that bridge. Or, some people may just stop using the bridge altogether. That may be enough to keep traffic moving well on that bridge at all times without any increase in buses, let alone putting light rail on the bridge.

        The ultimate solution to slow traffic is eliminating a significant number of vehicles from a highway. Tolling a bridge just might accomplish that.

      7. Norman, I don’t know if you are being intentionally obtuse, but if in the off chance you just aren’t getting it, the point is that the center lanes are already spoken for. The voters passed ST2, which dedicated them to Link. Not only that, the voters already agreed to pay for it with a tax increase. If you want BRT to go over 90 as well you are going to have to take away GP lanes to do so.

      8. I thought I made myself clear: if there is light rail over the I-90 bridge, why would you want brt also? I am suggesting brt INSTEAD OF light rail over the I-90 bridge, not in addition to.

        Putting light rail over the I-90 bridge is a terrible waste of money and capacity.

      9. Because light rail and BRT work TOGETHER to create a better transit system. This isn’t a deathmatch between rail and buses where for one to win, the other must lose.

      10. On the other hand I have seen arguments hereabouts against merging ST and Metro primarily due to fears that money would be used from the “big pot” for buses instead of rail.

        I’ve also seen comments like “buses are stupid” because they “meander through neighborhoods”.

        I can groove on the whole “we’re really a big tent fully of happy pro-transit folks who support all options” vibe, but in reality I’ve read some comments which I interpreted to be pretty indicative of favoring the starvation of bus transit in favor of rail – either to fund new projects or force people to use rail over bus by removing the bus option from their choice matrix.

        Not looking to toss a log on the fire here, but let’s acknowledge a dash of reality – some ardent rail advocates darn well DO believe there’s a deathmatch between rail and buses, and it’s clear whose side they’re on.

        Same for the other end of the spectrum as well, but I’m just saying.

      11. A couple points:

        First, the I-90 express lanes are HOV-only, unless you’re traveling between Seattle and Mercer Island.

        Second, adding HOV lanes and converting the center lanes to BRT won’t cost “nothing.” According to WSDOT, the I-90 two-way HOV project (adding HOV lanes between Bellevue Way and I-5) will cost $187.6 million. It’s a lot more than just restriping the roadway. Then, to convert the center lanes you would have to add ramps so that both directions of travel can access the center lanes at the same time (right now there is one ramp per exit, which switches direction based on the express lanes). Judging by the Eastgate and Lynnwood HOV ramp projects, building a highway on-offramp costs about $40 million. So overall, Norman’s plan should cost about $300-400 million total.

        According to the East Link DEIS, segment A (downtown to Bellevue Way) is estimated to cost $730-750 million, including Sound Transit’s contribution to the I-90 HOV lanes. This is more than BRT should cost, but certainly isn’t “billions.” Plus, for the additional money you gain all the benefits of rail: each train has a high passenger capacity, they’re electrically powered, and won’t get stuck in traffic once they leave I-90 to go to Bellevue and Redmond, among other things.

      12. Norman, see that is exactly what Martin was talking about in the OP. You and alot, maybe even most other anti-railers want BRT and/or other bus improvements INSTEAD of rail whereas 99% of the pro-rail crowd would be more than happy to support increased bus service if you were to put it on the ballot.

        Speaking of the ballot you seem to consistantly miss the point, RAIL OVER I90 IS A SHIP THAT HAS ALREADY SAILED. It’s a done deal. Put on the ballot, voted on, won, paid for, DONE. All your wailing and gnashing of teeth does is provide fodder for the anti-transit crowd.

        If you are serious about just wanting to improve transit, realize that ST2 is a battle already won, stop bitching about it, and instead focus on getting your ideas and passions on the next ballot.

      13. Norman,

        There is no need to eliminate any gp lanes on the I-90 bridge in order to put a type of BRT on the center lanes.

        And this is what drives me crazy. You’re talking about the status quo. We have something approaching BRT across I-90 already, and that’s more or less gotten whatever demand it’s going to get and is resourced accordingly.

        Perhaps more lane priority could improve things, perhaps not. But to get that priority, you could go after SOV capacity or you can go after the rail. As someone who apparently considers himself a transit advocate, it’s absolutely pathological that you would choose to go after the rail.

      14. Jeff,

        Not looking to toss a log on the fire here, but let’s acknowledge a dash of reality – some ardent rail advocates darn well DO believe there’s a deathmatch between rail and buses, and it’s clear whose side they’re on.

        Same for the other end of the spectrum as well

        I agree there some of that, and it’s unfortunate; this post is partly a call for peace. I think two causes leave bus and rail advocates at each other’s throats.

        1) The entirely cynical use of BRT by SOV forces (read: Kemper Freeman and cronies) to criticize rail, but with absolutely no interest in making BRT happen with adequate funding and priority over cars.

        2) The 18th amendment, which makes it hard to attack highway funding. This leaves bus and rail people fighting over the same pile of money, while the true enemy skates on along.

      15. What’s really needed on I-90 is to take a lane from the other bridges (not the HOV/express lanes) so there can be an HOV lane in the reverse-peak direction.

      16. That is what ST and WSDOT are doing right now. That is the problem with the current I-90 express lanes because they only go in the peak direction, which means that all those people that live in Seattle and take the bus to the eastside don’t get any benefits from the HOV lanes.

      17. The Eastside had more light rail supporters than I expected. Prop 1 passed with a large margin (55%-57%) on the Eastside.

        After all, it is the voters who approved to tax themselves for East Link after rejecting a combined roads & transit measure the year before.

      18. Oran, do you remember the name of this ballot measure? It was before my time, but it would seem to be pretty relevant to the discussion and I would like to read more on it.

      19. Anc they were both Prop 1. The first one that failed was in 2007 and the second one that passed was in 2008.

      20. The first ‘Prop 1’ was Roads and Transit.
        The second was Transit only (ST2)

        Too bad they don’t come back with a Roads-only version of Prop 1.

      21. I don’t think a roads only ballot measure would pass. The last times that happened (R-51) it failed.

      22. Yes, but having it presented to the public as a ballot measure would bring to light the elements of the analysis that’s done for any transportation system.

      23. Norman,

        I think you’re missing the *real* argument against light rail – one that concerns me more than cost. We seem to have a knack for sinking bridges in this state. By my count we’ve sunk 2 (I-90 and Hood canal), dropped one into the water (Tacoma Narrows), and darn near sunk another (520). With light rail, if I-90 goes under, that major artery is severed with no reserve force of buses. But with BRT we would have the flexibility to reroute buses in the event of a bridge sinking. Longer routes would cause delays and crowded buses for sure, but at least you would have the buses on hand.

        Many here are probably too young to remember commuting across I-90 while it was held in place by tug boats. The anchor cables on the new bridge, currently the northern span, had been cut by the old bridge to the south as it broke up and sank.

        I’m not saying this argument will work any better for you than your dubious cost/traffic flow numbers have in the past. But it’s one that I’ve wondered about and haven’t heard anybody address.

      24. Many here are probably too young to remember commuting across I-90 while it was held in place by tug boats

        Oh sweet Jesus – has it been that long? Guess so, that was 2 marriages, 6 jobs and one full-blown career ago for me.

        Shoot. At least you didn’t mention the ‘bulge’ on 520.

      25. Velo, I would say that falls under the “flexibility” advantage that buses have over rail, which is a major advantage for buses, I agree.

        My main concern, however, is cost, and that obviously is not a compelling argument for many people here.

        I have lived here long enough to remember paying a toll to cross the floating bridge.

      26. Yes, cost is an issue, that’s why the argument FOR a rail system.

        And then we’re into the Cost/Benefit analysis discussion.

      27. The cost-benefit discussion is the one to have. With the absurd amounts ST is spending to build and operate light rail in our area, the cost vastly out-weighs any benefit.

      28. “With the absurd amounts ST is spending to build and operate light rail in our area, the cost vastly out-weighs any benefit.”

        Citation please. Of course, you take ST’s numbers with a grain of salt. So why should I take yours?

      29. Use ST’s numbers for capital and operation cost of Link light rail. They are astronomical.

      30. What are the benefits from Central Link, so far?

        Nobody — not even ST — has tried to claim any reduction in traffic congestion on any roads in our area from Central Link.

        For some people, some trips are faster on Link than they were before on bus(es). But, for other people, some trips are slower on Link than the trips on bus were before.

        You have any measure of any benefits of Central Link, so far?

      31. No and it is pointless to discuss that.

        Benefits accrue over a long period of time, it is too soon to really judge whether Link is a worthwhile investment. Nobody does cost-benefit analysis with a horizon of less than a year for an investment with a life measured in the decades or even a century.

        You seem to be in the “instant-gratification” camp. It’s like buying a house and hoping for its value to double in six months. It’s unrealistic and unreasonable.

      32. Sinking bridges? Thats an argument against rail? I don’t remember how/why the Hood Canal bridge sank, but the I-90 bridge sank because it was old, which is what will happen with 520 soon. The Tacoma Narrows sank because of bad design. Your argument would be like saying don’t build any more high-rises because there’s the possibility of a plane being flown into them. So, if I-90 goes under, it will most likely be due to an earthquake, and you could say goodbye to 520, too. So, then it doesn’t matter if you’ve got light rail or busses, neither are crossing Lake Washington.

      33. On the contrary. Buses INSTEAD of light rail equate to:
        (1) No improvement of service.
        (2) Therefore, no increase in ridership.
        (3) Also, no economies of scale (many bus drivers vs. one train driver)

        ….Therefore, more costs EVERY SINGLE YEAR for bus service vs. the huge *money savings* of train service.

        I love how bus fanatics think that money is no object and we can afford to just pour money into diesel buses forever. Actually I suspect some of them don’t think this and just advocate buses for the purpose of killing buses and getting nothing but cars.

      34. Again, a rail fanatic wants to paint a picture where trains replace buses. Simply not true. The 8 follows the same route as Link along MLK and is in need of more service if riders are ever expected to transfer to the train. The recent arguments have been about how parking needs to be increased to support Link ridership. More cars, more buses and yes you finally have enough ridership during peak commute to justify the fixed cost of rail. The fact is though that rail is the least cost effective way to deal with peak ridership. A rail line really demands consistently high ridership throughout the day before it is built before any economy of scale can be realized. The cost of 800 people on a Link train is only a cost effective argument when you can show that level of ridership throughout the service day.

  4. I disagree that an overwhelming majority of rail advocates would support a BRT system in the middle of a highway. Sure, bus lanes would be good for regional express service, but BRT should be something that stops every mile or less and serves a long corridor, not just a point-to-point route. Light rail in dedicated ROW, especially underground, can get right into the middle of neighborhoods and urban centers, not on the freeway on the periphery. Also, I don’t think you played up enough the capacity advantage of rail. One light rail train can carry 800 people; one articulated bus can carry 80.
    I just don’t see the point of making a BRT system unless it actually has dedicated ROW. And if they do build dedicated ROW for it, then putting in tracks and an overhead wire cost marginally more but enable ten times the capacity to go on that right of way, and attract choice riders who really will never ride a bus.

    1. alexjonlin,

      I think you really have to ask yourself if you would really oppose taking a general purpose freeway lane, dedicating it to buses, and building some Swift-type stations along the way. This would cost next to nothing in capital, and although it’d cost a lot to run it’s a flyspeck compared to Metro, and might even help Metro’s problems by accelerating runs.

      As for the capacity argument, Ben makes it in the post I linked to, so I just went with that. We’ve had two endless comment threads that have descended into petty silliness, largely because there’s no actual BRT system to measure, just a bunch of unengineered conjecture of what’s theoretically possible. Meanwhile, that’s being compared to a Link line that’s actually been through the sausage machine with headways tailored to what likely demand is in 2030.

      1. And I don’t think there’s the political will in the Puget Sound region to take away SOV lanes for busses or rail.

    1. Comments like this show that Martin’s line that “We are not the faction you have to win over” is not entirely accurate.

      1. You can agree that buses are a critical part of our transit system and think that BRT is a unrealistic name, especially in the US. It doesn’t mean someone is necessarily anti-bus they might just think that BRT is misleading.

      2. I agree that BRT is often misleading. To do BRT right requires a lot of political will to turn general purpose lanes into transit lanes. To do rail right requires a lot of money. I am not sure which we have more of in Seattle right now.

      3. I’ve ridden SWIFT twice and thought it was a solid idea, but can’t imagine that there’s really a demand for a bus route that goes from Everett Transit to Aurora Village. Now, I am looking forward to seeing what happens when Metro’s #358 is turned into a BRT route(next year, is it?) and the busses will come as quick as every 7 minutes. Will Metro be taking out some of the current stops? For me, its nice to be able to take 358 from 46th and Aurora because its only about 7 minutes to downtown. Its just that it is usually late, sometimes two busses coming at the same time.

      4. Well, it is a contradiction in terms. Buses simply can’t go very rapidly.

        Of course, a lot of “rail rapid transit” doesn’t really qualify as rapid transit either. Mostly we’re talking about “mass transportation”, and not really “rapid transit”. Sure, the IRT in New York was “rapid” when it was built — by comparison with HORSES.

    2. I suspect riders of the 212 and 218 would disagree with you. The only slow thing about those routes is fare payment and the occasional red light at 142nd Ave SE which are both solvable. Even with those issues, both of those routes are extremely competitive with SOV driving for their respective routes.

    3. I think it highly depends on which corridors you are talking about. Highway BRT models are very different than arterial BRT models and since no one specified which model we are talking about it is kind of hard to argue either way.

    1. So, how does SWIFT work, in your opinion? I have not had a chance to try it out yet. It is not exactly on a route that I ever travel, ordinarily.

      It looks like there was alomst nobody riding it when you were taking those pictures. I was hoping to find out from someone how the dwell times are working with 3 large doors, and off-board payment, but that’s impossible to determine if the bus only has 2 or 3 people on it.

      Can you give us your impressions of SWIFT?


      1. I rode it from Everett Station to Aurora Village TC and it took at least 30 minutes longer than scheduled despite the fact that there were very few riders. So my only end-to-end Swift experience was not very good.

      2. I’ve ridden SWIFT twice(two round trips actually). I was just exploring and wondering what it was like. I liked the busses and knowing that it wasn’t going to stop every few blocks or so. It did seem quick going from Everett to Aurora Village, but since I don’t know that region very well, I couldn’t tell for sure. But, I don’t know if there was a demand for this route, or if it was more of an experiment. I am looking forward to Metro’s #358 being converted–to me, that will be a real test of BRT to see if it can work. If I can get to downtown Seattle from Aurora Village rather quickly, and in a comfortable bus that isn’t always packed, then I will be convinced that BRT should be a part of the overall transit system.

    2. I think it is great.

      Right now the TSP isn’t working yet and a good number of people were still getting used to the new operations. Drivers did a good job of keeping in the fast lanes. It was a annoying when the stations weren’t right across the street from each other. We got lost and had to walk a 1/4 mile from at SB stop to an NB stop and in the process missed a NB bus. Luckily they come so often it doesn’t matter.

      That is the thing with Swift. It is a outlier when it comes to BRT systems in the US. Long station spacing, 10 minute service all day, off board fare payment, a good amount of exclusive ROW, etc.

      BRT is so easily watered down. For example CT is proposing to closing down Swift on the Sunday. Lets not even get into the proposed “BRT” service the Metro is proposing. It is a joke and simply a way for Metro to get federal and city money to improve it’s operations.

      1. I agree about the stops a little ways away from each other. It’s also weird that for the few named stations, the different directions have different names.

      2. Lane transit’s EmX is another example of the high end of BRT in the US. It has features similar to Swift.

  5. Yeah, I’ve never understood the anti-railers. Most rail proponents believe that buses have their own rather large place in the transit mix. However the anti-railers seem to see rail as some threat, that must be countered at every turn lest every bus vanish and there be rails on every side street! LOL

    1. No matter what the facts are, I think the final outcome says it all about their failure to convince the public that their alternative is the right choice, despite all those papers and technical analysis created to counter Sound Transit’s claims. They pretty much lost the political battle and now they’re resorting to counterproductive tactics to stall ST2.

      1. What would you say is the amount of money spent on convincing the public to fund light rail compared to the amount of money that has been spent on trying to convince the public to fund more buses? Even now, after the election has been decided, ST is running tv, radio, print and internet ads on a continuous basis, telling the public how great light rail is.

        What is also interesting is that, even with all this advertising, and the public vote for more light rail, last Thursday I rode a Link train from downtown to the airport, and it had only 8 people in my car at the peak load.

        It’s kind of interesting that the public has voted for light rail, yet ridership is less than overwhelming. In other words, not many people are actually using it.

        Also, when given the chance, voters passed the tax increase to expand the Metro bus fleet a couple of years ago, including those “rapidride” routes. So, when given the chance, the public did vote for a sort of brt in our area, also.

        The public was not given the choice between light rail and brt over the I-90 bridge, to the airport, or from downtown to the UW and Northgate.

      2. Sound Transit has been running ads for years to get people to ride their buses and trains. Metro is does a similar thing. BRT itself is a form of marketing. Transit marketing is encouraged. That is separate from political campaigns which raise money from donors. The campaign spending numbers are publicly available at the state PDC if you want to look it up.

        The voters recognized that the system needs to be expanded to in order for it to work better. They know that when the line extends to Northgate and Bellevue, more people will use it.

        Metro hit the sales tax limit with Transit Now. It can’t ask voters for more money even if it wanted to. It needs to be given more revenue sources like the property tax. Skyrocketing operating costs and falling sales tax revenues created the budget hole it is in now. And no, Sound Transit’s tax money can’t be taken and given to Metro.

        The public had influence on the choice of the mode and route over years of extensive public process. It doesn’t matter if the final question wasn’t rail or bus, because that kind of question shouldn’t be on the ballot anyway. The point is if most didn’t want it, they’d reject it. Look at what was wrong with the monorail project.

      3. I’m going to assume you’re cherry picking again, Norman. But just to be clear are you saying that Central Link had only 8 people in your car from the airport to International Blvd station or 8 people at the most for the entire length of the trip? Also, what time were you riding?

      4. That trip was obviously off-peak. I left Westlake at just a few minutes after noon. At this time, the south-bound trains are usually the least full. Four people boarded at Westlake; 3 at Pioneer Square; one on and one off at International; 1 boarded at Stadium; nothing at SODO or Beacon Hill; one on, two off Mt. Baker; 1 on, 3 off at Columbia City; 1 off at Othello; nothing at Rainier Beach; 2 off at Tukwila; 2 off at SeaTac.

        Eleven total boardings. Eight was the peak load, from Stadiium to Mt. Baker, after which it gradually emptied, as described above. This is just for the car I was on — not for the entire 2-car train. I can’t count boardings and exitings for 2 cars at the same time.

        Trip Time: 39:10

        Return trip, leaving SeaTac at 12:48: 30 boardings, indcluding 8 who boarded inside the downtown tunnel, and thus rode only within the tunnel. Peak load 18 from International, where 5 boarded, and 2 got off to Pioneer Square, where 5 got off.

        Trip time: 39:25

        I chose this trip time because I read that plane arrivals at SeaTac peak between 11 am and 1 pm, and then again in the evening. So, I wanted to see how many people were using Link from the airport to downtown during that early window where there are supposed to be a lot of planes arriving at SeaTac. Seven people boarded my Link car at SeaTac which left SeaTac at 12:48.

      5. (1) Ridership for *any* mass transportation line tends to start out low, until people get used to it. In particular, people arriving by plane (!) are likely to have made their travel plans before the rail line even existed.
        (2) Off-peak ridership is *always* low compared to peak ridership and is run for passenger convenience because the *incremental* cost of running extra trips is low compared to the benefits. Despite which, systems must be built to cater to peak loads in order to function. The same is true of buses, except that in big cities they often pretty much fail at peak times.
        (3) On multi-car trains, they rarely load evenly — I’ve seen trains where the front car was packed and the back car was empty. So your anecdote means, truly, absolutely nothing.

        Regarding cost, underground bus tunnels will easily cost more $$$ than underground rail (ventilation requirements). Almost all of the cost is in the civil engineering for any mass transportation system.

        So if you want to argue that surface-running buses using existing asphalt are better than light rail, great, but the voters of the Sound Transit area disagree with you. If you want to argue that comparably grade-separated buses are cheaper than light rail, *you are just wrong*.

      6. people arriving by plane (!) are likely to have made their travel plans before the rail line even existed.

        How far in advance do you make plane reservations?

        Regarding cost, underground bus tunnels will easily cost more $$$ than underground rail (ventilation requirements).

        Really? Rails (that weren’t buried), electrical substations, signaling, none of that would have made the original DSTT more expensive… oh wait, the buses were running on electricity.

        systems must be built to cater to peak loads in order to function.

        Thank you, this is exactly why a rail system built to meet peak demand is a folly. Buses scale far better to serve peak demand than rail ever can. You have to have consistent ridership at least 8-12 hours a day before rail starts to break even.

    2. I don’t see rail as a threat. I see it as a tragic waste of an enormous amount of tax dollars, in our area. If ST was building light rail for $20 million per mile, or something along those lines, you would not be seeing nearly as much opposition to it, in my opinion. But the $160 million per mile or so, for central link, and the $600 million per mile(!) for the segment between downtown and the UW are just mind-boggling numbers.

      What I don’t understand is people who support light rail no matter what the cost, as if light rail is just good, in and of itself, and cost is not even a consideration. As I wrote, I consider the vast amounts of money being spent by ST on trains as a tragic waste. The main advantage of buses is that they cost a fraction of what light rail being built by ST is costing.

      How much more would you be willing to pay to ride Link to the airport from downtown, instead of the bus? Would you pay $10 for Link instead of $2 for the bus? Would you pay $20 for a Link ride, instead of $2 for the bus? Is light rail worth 10, 20, or 30 times as much as a bus to you, if you had to pay that much more to ride a train?

      I understand that a lot of people here prefer riding trains to buses. How much more would you be willing to pay for a train ticket on the same trip as you would be willing to pay for a bus ticket?

      1. To answer your question, yes, I’d pay more to ride a train. It depends partly on how good the bus connections are and how bad the traffic is, but to get to the airport I’d probably pay $7-$10. But then, I’m in Columbia City and the bus to the airport for me would be terrible.

        What’s difficult about the “no cost limit” point is that we feel it’s a fundamental amenity, like parks, schools, and libraries, because it provides an alternative to sitting in traffic that doesn’t exist today. If the City sold off all the parkland in the City to developers, how much capital cost could we recover? Probably something similar to Link. Would that be worth it?

        As for the high cost per mile, it’s buying us faster travel times while providing mitigation to make sure that no traffic lanes are taken away. The MLK segment, for instance, would have been a lot cheaper had we not rebuilt the entire Blvd. That truth is true of any system that gets its own right-of-way.

      2. Link is like a park like a raceway is to a freeway. A motor sports park attracts people to it for enjoyment. So do city parks and libraries. Sure there are scenic roadways but 101 and North Cascades weren’t build primarily to attract tourists. Public transportation is supposed to provide transportation to such destinations; not be a museum or an amusement ride.

      3. Once again, Link is slower between downtown and the airport than the 194.

        If you would pay $7 to $10 for a trip on Link to the airport, then I think that is what ST should be charging. That still would not come close to paying the capital cost difference between light rail and SWIFT-style brt along that route.

        And very few people are riding it between Columbia City and the airport. What is ST’s figure for how many people take Link between downtown and the airport each day? What would you estimate? A couple hundred per day, at most? On many LInk trips I have taken, NObody gets on at Columbia City heading south to the airport.

      4. This is nitpicky but buses can’t actually follow LINK from beacon hill to the valley because the hill is to steep. They have to go to the south then to the north and then finally make their way down Rainier.

      5. “Once again, Link is slower between downtown and the airport than the 194.”

        No it’s not. The scheduled time for the 194 is 33 minutes. As everyone who uses the 194 knows, it rarely runs on schedule. The last time I took it for an evening flight it took over an hour to get to the airport, and if the arrivals road is backed up like it was during Christmas it can take 20 minutes just to get from SR 518 to the bus stop.

        Link, on the other hand, makes it in as little as 30 minutes and at most 36 minutes, rain or shine, day or night. With the higher frequencies of Link at rush hour you can be half way to the airport in the same amount of time you’d spend waiting for the 194. Link riders also benefit from connectivity in ways that the 194 doesn’t provide. People who live in Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, Mt. Baker, and the Central District no longer have to go downtown to catch the 194 to the airport. That alone can easily cut 30 minutes off an airport trip.

        And BTW, you sure spend a lot of time on Link for someone who hates it and thinks it’s a gigantic waste of money. Almost every one of your comments has some anecdotal evidence about how you were just on Link the other day at rush hour and there was only 2 people on the whole train. I’m really starting to doubt the veracity of your observations, especially since most of them seem to be in complete opposition to observations made by long-time commenters here who ride Link every day.

      6. I have ridden Link many times, mainly to count riders, and see how long travel times really are. I have to wonder if you have ever ridden it. It has never taken less than 36 minutes from Westlake to the airport station or back, when I have ridden it, and usually at least 40 minutes. I don’t see how the Link could possibly take as little as 30 minutes between Westlake and SeaTac. Is that the trip you are talking about?

        I have not taken many trips on the 194, but I plan to do that before it is eliminated. But the trips I have taken on the 194 were 30 minutes from Westlake to the airport stop. Of course, that was before the light rail trains started operating in the downtown tunnel. Buses often are forced to sit and wait for trains now, which sometimes causes delays for the buses.

      7. Norman, your last comment about buses being delayed by trains in the tunnel is flat out wrong. The trains aren’t allowed to enter a station until the buses have cleared, and vice-versa, but the dwell time of the buses is far longer than trains – passengers take longer to alight and board the buses than trains. The trains are getting delayed following buses.

        I’ve used the 194 to the airport many times. I can tell you that already I see more airport travelers using Link than I saw on the 194. It is easier to manipulate your roll-aboard, and there’s more room for it. But it’s not just travelers, it’s also airport employees, and I have seen riders boarding at multiple MLK stations and travel to the airport station.

      8. They often make buses sit and wait for trains to enter the bus tunnel, sometimes for a few minutes. I assume that is also true for some buses leaving the tunnel, but I can’t say for certain about that.

      9. Yes, I have experienced multiple times being aboard the first bus behind a train. After a stop or so, we don’t catch up the train anymore – unless a previous bus needs to load a wheelchair, holding up everything.

      10. The 194 is famously unreliable if there is any traffic at all. Furthermore loading and unloading at the Airport can take forever. While all door boarding would help some the main problem is people trying to get their luggage on and off the bus in tight quarters.

      11. Loading is not an issue with buses, especially if they had three doors. Link trains just sit at the SeaTac station for around 10 minutes before they depart, so, unless you get to that station just as the train is about to leave, you get on the Link train and then just sit there and wait for up to 10 minutes before it departs, anyway.

        Three doors and off-board payment would greatly speed up unloading of buses at SeaTac, and any other bus stop.

        At the times of day when most people would be traveling to SeaTac to catch a plane, there is not bad traffic on I-5 going to SeaTac from Seattle. The large majority of 194 trips to SeaTac are within a few minutes of being on schedule, just as Link trips are usually a few minutes longer than 36 minutes.

      12. Norman, Loading is not an issue with buses, especially if they had three doors.

        This premise is entirely false. Loading is one of the largest delays with speedy bus access.

        Three doors and off-board payment would greatly speed up unloading of buses at SeaTac, and any other bus stop.

        But we don’t have that. We don’t have the buses that do that, we don’t have the off-board payment systems, and we don’t have the fare inspectors. Are you proposing a coherent plan to address these faults or are you merely speculating on what is possible?

        Our light rail system already has more than three doors and already has off-board payment. Unlike you, I do not need to speculate what is possible but merely point out what is already constructed. While rail already provides quality service to the airport, you say that perhaps the 194 could too if only things were entirely different.

        At the times of day when most people would be traveling to SeaTac to catch a plane

        …from Westlake Center? Is that where our plane-riding population is from 11am to 1pm? Kicking it in downtown? You cannot compare the 194 to Link apples-to-apples because they serve entirely different markets. Link serves a much larger market, yet still manages to be more frequent, more reliable, and more comfortable.

        As someone who’s ridden both the 194 and Link to the airport with luggage, it’s a complete no-brainer which is better. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a different conclusion who isn’t constraining their field research to looking at a printed schedule under a rosy set of preconditions.

      13. Norman has been making the 194 vs. Link comparison a lot, and yet he hasn’t ridden it.

        I hate the 194.

      14. I have ridden the 194 between SeaTac and Westlake several times, but that was before they started running trains in the downtown tunnel. I’ll make a point to ride it several more times before it is discontinued.

        The discussion is between light rail and SWIFT-type brt, which could be instituted between Westlake and the airport for about the $29 million SWIFT cost. So, the 194 could have new buses with three doors, off-board payment, etc. Are you saying the 194 could not have been turned into a SWIFT-type brt route? Why not?

        Boarding time at the airport is irrelevant for either Link or the 194, because they both sit at the airport for a few minutes before leaving for downtown. What difference does it make how fast people can board Link, when it sits at the SeaTac station for 10 minutes before leaving? You have about 10 minutes to get on the train. The bus is at the SeaTac stop for a few minutes before departing, also.

        Most people from Seattle catching planes at SeaTac are not driving to the airport in the afternoon rush hour, when traffic on I-5 southbound is the worst, right? When do you think most people travel from downtown to SeaTac airport to catch a flight?

        Of course Link is more frequent. Are you saying there is something that prevents running the 194 every 7.5 minutes, other than money? If they spent the amount of money they spent on Central Link on buses, instead, don’t you think there would be enough money to operate the 194 every 7.5 minutes, just like Link?

      15. What makes you say it’ll cost $29 million?

        The 194 used to have 3-doors, on the Bredas, before they were replaced with 2-door New Flyer hybrids. Why didn’t Metro replace them with 3-door buses?

        Boarding time at the airport is relevant for the 194. The airport is an intermediate stop for people going to Federal Way and points between. Delays at the airport affect everyone else who’s not going to the airport. Link on the other hand terminates at the airport. Notice how it only makes a brief stop at the old terminus at Tukwila Intl Blvd instead of sitting for minutes.

      16. More important than what people would pay to ride a train over a bus is how many people will ride a train that would rather drive than take a bus? One of the biggest draws of rail in my mind is not just that it can move more people faster, but that it attracts people to public transit that would not otherwise use it. This is where rail expansion needs to go hand in hand with bus service improvements as once you get them out of their car and on the train you have a much better chance of convincing them to get them on a bus… if it is fast, clean, and dependable.

      17. Where BRT has been instituted, it has increased ridership on those routes by significant percentages. There is a great likelihood that improved bus service, even if not full BRT on dedicated bus lanes, will improve ridership significantly over what it is currently on high-ridership bus routes. Between Ballard and downtown, for example, I think ridership would be increased significantly just by adding more buses, which would mean more capacity and greater frequency. Unfortunately, it is going to be a few years before the Ballard rapidride is operating.

        You don’t need trains to increase transit use. More and better bus service will do the same thing.

      18. When Sound Transit did an on-board survey after starting the south end Sounder service, they found out that 40% were new riders that came directly from their cars.

        I don’t have the breakdown of the rest, but another big portion was from the Express buses from Tacoma. That portion is interesting because the fare for Sounder was higher, and a number of people chose rail over bus.

        That survey was done in the early days, so I don’t know if they’ve done another since then, or one for the north end.


      19. These same sorts of numbers have been reported for brt routes — many brt riders are people who previously drove their cars.

        I would say that most bus riders are people who would drive their car if they didn’t take the bus. What other option would they have? Most people are not going to walk or ride their bike if they can’t take a bus. For example, between Ballard and downtown. All those people on the #15 and #18 buses would not be walking or bike riding between downtown and Ballard if there were no buses — they would be driving cars.

      20. Transit dependents, anyone?

        Not everyone can use or afford a car and without buses, they’d be left without any transportation.

        I’d argue that if safe and comfortable bicycle paths were created between Ballard and downtown, more people would bike. It’s mostly flat between the two area.

      21. I stand by my opinion that the vast majority of people who commute between Ballard and downtown on buses would be commuting by car if there were no buses.

      22. The problem with relying solely on buses is that at a certain point, adding more buses to a route ceases to improve service due to bus bunching. Take, for example, the 71/72/73 express between downtown and the U District. It runs as frequently as any bus in this town, every 6-8 minutes during the day yet is still standing room only most of that time. Unfortunately, what you can observe right now is that one bus will be slightly late, and the bus behind it will catch up to it—the front bus will be full, and the back one nearly empty. Adding more buses to this route wouldn’t change anything; it would just make bunching more frequent.

        There’s no room for dedicated bus lanes on the streets in the U District, so the only way to make service more timely along this route would be to create a grade-separated path. Fortunately, this is what University Link is doing. Replicating this level of service with a grade-separated busway would likely be comparably expensive to University Link, not all that much cheaper.

      23. “One bus will be late, and the bus behind it will catch up to it.” Sounds sort of like a 2-car train, no?

        If you see the first bus is full, and the second bus is literally right behind it, why not just get on the second bus? Sort of like getting on the second car of a Link train? I don’t get how “bunching up” of buses is a problem. In fact, on some BRT systems, I believe they purposely run groups of buses in sort of “trains.”

        You might need bus stops long enough for two buses at the same time, but that is the case all over downtown, and even in places on Lower Queen Anne.

        What street in the U. District in particular are you talking about with “no room” for dedicated bus lanes? I might take a trip over there this and see what you are talking about. My memory of “The Ave.”, for example, is that is has parking on both sides of the street. If you are talking about 45th or 50th, I think you might be right. But, on any street, they should be able to run buese more often than every 6 to 8 minutes.

      24. No, because that bus isn’t supposed to be there, it’s supposed to arrive 5 minutes later.

        Bus bunching is a problem because it means the service is unreliable and can’t maintain even headways. If buses run every 5 minutes and 2 buses arrive at the same time that means the next bus won’t be there for another 10. The front bus is overloaded and late while the trailing bus is empty, meaning wasted capacity.

        You speak as if it’s easy to remove parking from a business district. The opposition will be huge. Just the idea of even charging for parking can get negative reactions from people.

      25. If buses run every 5 minutes and 2 buses arrive at the same time that means the next bus won’t be there for another 10.

        Huh? Why?

        This happens fairly often, particularly on trolleys, particularly during the summer. If bus “A” runs late, it’s entirely possible that bus “B” will catch up to it. The solution is for bus “A”, on seeing bus “B” in the driver’s rearview mirror, to bypass stops with waiting passengers (they’ll be picked up on-time by the trailing ‘follower’) and drop-off only until either catching up with the schedule or reaching the layover. Result: bus “A” (the full bus) gradually empties as it catches up to schedule, bus “B” fills as it stops to pick up passengers that bus “A” is passing, and bus “C” likely isn’t affectd at all.

        There’s no reason that any of this would cause bus “C” to be late. Not sure what your logic is there.

      26. Jeff, you can ask Oran for various permutations of the problem, but the evidence is pretty apparently on its face: If you have bus bunching, there is obviously going to be uneven frequency for most stops along the route. At the very least, A handling so much traffic such that B catches up to it means that A is getting pretty far delayed or B is running pretty far ahead of schedule. That either means that C comes at an unexpected amount of time after B or that the time before A was too great. And when you have an unexpectedly large amount of frequency, you create the same situation that led to bus bunching in the first place: a large load of passengers on one bus.

        Often, bus B will never actually catch up to bus A because of random stoplight timing and other issues. Or passengers wanting to leave bus A will force it to stop even when the operator knows the most efficient operation would be to have no stops. So your solution will frequently never take place, meaning that in actuality we have not solved the problem of bus bunching.

      27. In the case of buses, “B” isn’t allowed to run ahead of schedule. Your conclusion about “C” is false as it assumes that these buses aren’t attempting to hit scheduled time points but running as time allows. It doesn’t work that way.

        As I said before – the way having a large load of passengers on the front bus is dealt with is by that bus discharging passengers only and allowing teh following bus to pick up passengers instead.

        While you say “my solution will frequently never take place”, I’ve personally observed it taking place a lot, particularly during summer peak hours on trolley routes that run at closely scheduled intervals. Not only will it frequently take place, it can and does. You’re just flat wrong.

      28. I’ve seen your solution both taking place and not, but it’s wrong to think that bus bunching isn’t a big problem. For example, take a look at the bus tracker for the 48 at nearly any peak hour and you will see two buses bunched together. Here’s a post by Bus Chick and associated comment thread with plenty of anecdotal evidence for this.

        Also, in my personal experience this is what happens on the 71/72/73 too. The 73 that gets to 45th and University Way at 4:31 is almost always a bit late and has a 71 right behind it, yet both buses stop to drop off and pick up passengers. Sometimes the 73 driver will tell people to go to the back bus, but not always.

        Is this a driver training issue? Probably. But it’s also frustrating when you’ve been waiting for a while and the first bus you see goes right past.

      29. As Jeff says, this is not an problem at all. He described it perfectly.

        Are buses sometimes late? Yes.

        By the way, I have seen Link trains “bunch” also. They do not always keep “even spacing.” In fact, it is not at all uncommon for a Link train to sit at a station for a couple of minutes or more to create more space between it and the train ahead of it. “This train is being delayed due to traffic ahead.”

        I have seen Link trains with a gap of only 3 or 4 minutes between 2 of them, and then the next one comes 15 minuutes later.

        In the case of both buses, and Link, I say, “so what”?

        However, with brt, buses come so often that it really is no big deal to wait for the next bus.

      30. If bus bunching isn’t a problem, why bother spending money on transit signal priority or any solution to make transit more reliable?

        You seem to be arguing against one of the main components of BRT.

      31. ericn,

        Is this a driver training issue? Probably. But it’s also frustrating when you’ve been waiting for a while and the first bus you see goes right past.

        Not sure how it would be a ‘driver training issue’. Part of it is simply the way that traffic works, part of it can be procedural, and part of it (that last part of your sentence) passenger ignorance.

        Why should it be “frustrating” when you see a bus go right past – when there’s another bus right behind that you can get on?

        From the driver’s standpoint – there are some procedural issues, as well as issues with passengers complain that you’ve passed them by. We’re supposed to ask permisssion from the coordinator to skip stops, even if fully loaded, even if our follower (the next scheduled bus) is right behind us – I mean like on our rear bumper. Often during rush hour, radio call requests go unanswered for 20 minutes or more, so permission is a long time coming or coordinators, not having your eyes in the field for the situation on the road, will simply deny it.

        As a result, often drivers will take things into their own hands (your welcome) and blank our signs and pass stops with waiting passengers, stopping only to let people off, to get “un-bunched” and allow our follower to pick up passengers while we get back on schedule and aovid making the second bus back late as well. Many drivers, fearing discipline, reprisal from lurking supervisors, or passengers with itchy cell phone triggers will simply stop at every stop as usual to pick up passengers even if they’re running late and the next bus is right behind them.

        The simple solution to bunching is to allow drivers officially what experienced drivers do unofficially – which is change their sign to “out of service” and drop off passengers only until they’ve either caught up to their schedule or reached their layover/turnaround location.

      32. Passing is allowed but often counterproductive, asthe passed bus needs to re-pass at some point up the line – a particularly clunky and time consuming process with trolleys.

      33. If we can see our follower and we’re running late we are allowed to skip a stop. This is why I tell passengers to ALWAYS take the 2nd bus when 2 buses pull up to a stop. The first bus gets packed with everybody crowding on while the 2nd bus stays largely empty. Because the 2nd bus is relatively empty it will most likely pass it’s leader. Heck, I pass my leader specifically to take some of his load if the opportunity presents itself. If my bus is empty I might as well fill it with passengers, right?

      34. The Book says every other stop only and agian – passing tends to be less practical (although not impossible) in trolleys.

        The best example of functional leap-frogging I’ve done in cooperation with other drivers though was driving the 26 down Dexter mornings going back and forth with the 28. Since all passengers were headed downtown, people didn’t care which bus they got on, and leap-frogging helped keep both buses on time.

        Just for kicks – can’t do that on trains or streetcars.

      35. It is absurd for anyone to argue that bus bunching isn’t a problem. Even if one bus is dramatically delayed — which is not fixed by waiting at timepoints — then there is a gap in frequency.

        I also want to point out something: While you say “my solution will frequently never take place”, I’ve personally observed it taking place a lot, particularly during summer peak hours on trolley routes that run at closely scheduled intervals. Not only will it frequently take place, it can and does. You’re just flat wrong.

        Your last sentence is a funny thing, since nothing you’ve said contradicted the statement you quoted in your first sentence. Yes, your solution will frequently never occur and yes it can also frequently occur. Just like any real problem that isn’t completely mitigated, in fact.

        The meat of the matter is that bus bunching doesn’t happen too much unless either: a) a bus is reaching 7-minute frequency intervals, or b) something went pretty terrible wrong. However, assuming the type of expansion on the type of routes that some here are considering giving to buses over rail, bunching would be a difficult problem to solve. TSP and off-fare payment are fundamental solutions to this problem, not ad hoc approaches about asking some passenger to wait for a bus that is coming within the next five minutes. “Don’t worry, passenger, you’ll get to your destination slower because the bus behind me won’t/can’t pass, but my riders will get to their destination faster!” And if the passenger has to wait zero time at all — that is, the bus is actually bunched right behind you — then no solution at all has occurred, has it?

        I submit that most frequently when two buses are bunched from the perspective a single stop, neither operator has any clue because each bus is out of the line-of-sight of the other. If a passenger were to ask, “how many minutes behind you is the next trolley?” an operator wouldn’t have the slightest idea, right?

      36. Just for kicks – can’t do that on trains or streetcars.

        Certainly, since the same capacity and alighting problems don’t typically present themselves on those modes.

        And of course, many rail systems around the world have express trains that basically do what you describe.

      37. John Jensen,

        then there is a gap in frequency.

        Um – no. Say the #12 runs every 15 minutes. Bus “A” gets delayed, bus “B” catches up to it, and bus “C” isn’t affected at all.

        In 30 minutes, you’ll still see 3 buses servicing a stop.

      38. Jeff, but the time between B and C is greater than 15 minutes, perhaps. And almost certainly the time between bus A and the bus before it is greater than 15 minutes. If you moved the 30 minute window you gave forward or backward, you could end up seeing less than three buses and perhaps even just one.

        Perhaps this is getting too academic though.

      39. However bunching happens, and however it can be worked out, I think operators and passengers alike can agree that it’s annoying. The 70 often gets bunched and will skip stops on Eastlake. To the people waiting for it it’s not always apparent if the bus that just passed you is on time and accidentally skipped you, or is behind and there’ll be another bus just behind it. I try not to get mad, because I know the latter is usually the case, but not everyone is that patient or experienced in the ways of the bus. I know the operators don’t like to skip stops and I’m sure often get an earful from passengers the next day. Having real-time info at the stops would help a lot to alleviate the anxiety that bunching can cause.

      40. John and Jeff,
        Actually if bus “A” is late, it’s the time between the bus before “A” (would that be “-A”?) and “A” that has a gap of greater than 15-minutes in your scenario.

      41. The solution is for bus “A”, on seeing bus “B” in the driver’s rearview mirror, to bypass stops with waiting passengers (they’ll be picked up on-time by the trailing ‘follower’) and drop-off only

        This isn’t a solution. With a typical decently-designed busy not-just-commuter bus line, bus “A” will stop at every single stop to discharge passengers. As such it will remain behind schedule. Sure, the passengers will be spread out among two buses eventually, but the fact is that the headways will remain busted — the time between bus Z and bus A is permanently doubled.

        Yes, this can happen with trains. Rarely, because there’s little or no SOV interference.

        I suppose if you’re running a pure commuter line with one-way traffic you can get a chance to skip stops; but if you’re running a line with *any* significant traffic in the contra-peak direction, you don’t. Surprise surprise, the most popular routes to put mass transit on rail on *do* have reverse-peak traffic.

      42. The one problem with charging $7 to $10 to go to the airport is how do you tell the difference between someone who is going to the airport, or going home to their apartment on 176th Street a few blocks off International Blvd?

      43. Also largely unlikely to be competitive with the Grayline Airporter, which charges $11.00, stops at more places, puts you closer to the terminal and they handle your luggage on and off the bus. All that, and you get your own seat and if you’re lucky (or not) a driver who tells jokes.

      44. “If ST was building light rail for $20 million per mile, or something along those lines, you would not be seeing nearly as much opposition to it, in my opinion.”

        If ST was building light rail for $20 million, we’d have one of those practically useless surface things like eastside MAX, San Jose light rail, or the SLUT. People who think that’s adequate don’t ride transit every day. Fortunately we have something that’s more like a subway, that can function more like a transit freeway than those $20 million systems. That’s what NYC and DC have that those cities don’t, which is why NYC and DC have such a high percentage of transit riders.

        As for Link vs the 194, the end-to-end time may be four minutes faster on the 194 under ideal conditions, but Link makes four more stops along the way (add Mt Baker – TIB, subtract Holgate and Spokane Streets). That’s pretty impressive considering that if the 194 made four more stops, it would be slower. And if the 194 went through the Rainier Valley and served neighborhood centers, it would be much slower. Link serves neighborhood centers and gets to the airport in 37 minutes.

  6. Assorted perspectives on the topic in this thread:

    One reason rail vs. bus will rear up again is Seattle Mayor McGinn’s interest in expanding light rail beyond the Sound Transit phase 2 plan.

    Sound Transit light rail as voted in Prop 1 is a funded, done deal with the possible exception of cross-Lake East Link, which is facing legal and engineering challenges. There is not yet a Federal Record of Decision for East Link, an important future milestone if that line were to be eventually built. East Link is so bad a rail project it wouldn’t qualify for Federal New Starts funding. Costs too much, does too little. But lack of money is not a problem for East Link, because of Sound Transit’s permanent taxing authority approved in November 2008.

    A thrust in my professional work is to create a new focus on the performance-enhancing elements of bus service generally, to supplement the transit industry’s focus over the last ten years on BRT as a light rail imitation or substitution. I have a paper coming out on this additional point of view in 2010. By performance-enhancing characteristics I mean a long list that includes transit signal priority, optimized stop spacing, and all-doors boarding, as well as selective guideway improvements.

    The opportunity for incremental improvement of bus service — Orca cards provide an example, to speed up boarding delays and decrease transfer abuse — are why CETA doesn’t buy into the “show us your BRT plan” taunt.

    On incrementalism, does anybody beyond me think that the peak hour bus lanes along 15th West in the Seattle Interbay work pretty well for transit priority movement? The pedestrian signals should be coordinated to not block buses. At present these lights do turn red and block buses unnecessarily. A drawbridge opening is certainly an ugly interruption in speed of vehicle passage along that corridor, but I think that type of delay could be further mitigated in the long run with coordination in time facilitated by likely wireless networking of all road vehicles and marine vessels.

    Generalizing on the last sentence, my own sense of incremental technological evolution is that highway and vehicle automation — bearing on “buses stuck in traffic” and what my critic Gabe and others like to term “robocars” — is going to make light rail as a 100 year investment seem foolish within the lifetime of many of this blog’s readers, though perhaps not my lifetime.

    Light rail [generally, but not always, and specifically in the case of Sound Transit] is a wastefully expensive, simple-minded, non-productive, ecologically destructive approach to a complex problem. The next version of the region’s PSRC Metropolitan Transportation Plan coming out within days is going to demonstrate this point!

    ST is causing our community to put too much transit resource toward a very limited number of destinations. [The O&M requirements of the total rail system overwhelm the benefits of rail having “more riders per operator,” not to mention all the Link trips I’ve been on with fewer passengers than an average bus.] Allocating and coordinating public right of way use by pedestrians, bikes, cars, Segways, buses, emergency vehicles, and trucks is an interesting problem worth solving, and building railroads on additional right of way — or worse, existing right of way — diverts attention and resources.

    1. Without even bothering with the technical details, this post exemplifies a problem I’ve seen more than once by the anti-railers. They look at all the (voter approved) money spent on rail and say ‘imagine what we could do to our bus system with this money’ without realizing that said money wouldn’t exist if not for rail being on the ballot.

      1. And we’re off… Cue John’s rebuttal and the beginning of another long comment stream.

        Seriously though, I voted for ST2 but would have been equally inclined to vote for a well planned and well thought out county-wide BRT system. Many people don’t care about the whole rail vs bus thing – they just want to get where they are going without being forced to use, and pay for, a single occupant vehicle. Heck, tell them you’ve invented transporter technology and that everybody will be routed over fiber optics and many would sign on the dotted line. Rail is nicer, cooler, and more comfortable. But ST’s express bus system is popular and has been growing since day one, thanks to voter approved funds.

      2. Hey I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong in the least. As I said earlier, I see buses as complementary to rail.

        Put such a thing on the ballot and see how it does. I’m not talking about a line here or a line there either, but a massive system on the cost (read increased taxes) level of ST2 with BRT as it’s cornerstone and see how it fares.

      3. Anc,

        The whole advantage of BRT is that it can be done very cheaply using existing right of way (see pt #1). If you’re going to take money on the scale of ST2 it implies you’re not doing that, in which case you might as well build rail to get its other advantages.

      4. Oh I agree, while I think BRT can complement a solid core of rail, I don’t think it a replacement. I must not have been clear in my post.

      5. I think BRT is great to create core routes. For example the 44 and 48 are perfect examples of routes that need better priority and speed.

      6. Good luck getting rid of parking on 45th, especially in Walligford without a big fight. You might be able to get the neighborhood to buy off on it if you are proposing a streetcar or light rail, but forget it if you just want some BAT lanes.

      7. And why would yo have been “equally inclined” to vote for BRT? We haven’t even entered a period of emergency, and every transit agency in western Washington is cutting services. What is it about this picture you like?

        Buses are a source of expense. Add more riders, lose more money. And if you hit the ridership jackpot, you’re totally screwed, because the buses have limited capacity.

        But wait, there’s more! We’re talking about ‘BRT Lite’, with no huge investment in ROW- and nothing to show for it but fast buses. Which, in fact, simply serve sprawl as they branch out at the outer ends.

        How do you cure sprawl? Put development in transportation corridors- and make it stick. Put the public investment into the transit. This sends a ‘signal’ to investors who see the rails and the stations- and to politicians, who now have some skin in the game. You don’t end sprawl by telling people “Well, one place is about as good as another- go ahead and build it and we’ll run a bus over there”.

        And any amount of planning based on the thought that the bus line really is the corridor runs into the same problem- if it really is the corridor, you’re planning for more riders than the buses can handle.

        As a county-wide stopgap measure, sure, go for the fast buses. Just don’t confuse that with a plan.

      8. Buses are a source of expense. Add more riders, lose more money. And if you hit the ridership jackpot, you’re totally screwed…

        I LOVE this quote and couldn’t agree with you more. That said BRT “Heavy” with dedicated ROW and all the bells and whistles would be far more cost effective than our existing bus system. Off-bus payment alone would dramatically improve things. As would a long list of other BRT features: Dedicated lanes, self-service securing systems for wheelchairs, Swift-like bike racks, 3 door buses with more room for passengers to get on and off, etc…

        Even as expensive as BRT would be, it would be FAR cheaper than driving a car on a per trip basis if people really understood how much their car costs them. If you had “pay as you drive” insurance, auto maintenance, environmental impacts, gas, and societal impacts, folks would be shocked at the cost of driving an automobile.

        Once that dedicated ROW is secured, it could be upgraded to Rail in the future – although at a much higher overall cost. That seems to be the reason the Eastside decided to go with light rail. Yes, BRT would have been cheaper to build today but leaders looked at the long-term costs of upgrading to rail down the line and decided to bite the bullet today. Bravo!

      9. Maybe we all are willing (and, being transit nerds, perhaps eager) to ride buses, but the vast majority of the general public is not, under any circumstances. They are, however, more than willing to ride a fast, clean light rail system. So if a BRT system to the scale of Link (aka with dedicated ROW) would have been on the ballot, I don’t think it would have won. Unless it was more just a bunch of RapidRide lines, in which case it would’ve cost next to nothing but also brought very little benefit.

      10. You think getting thousands of people out of their cars is “very little benefit”?

        Just by running more buses more frequently, you are going to get a lot more riders. Which means fewer cars on the roads.

        New buses are “clean.” This is a very curious thing to me — that light rail cars are assumed to be “cleaner” than buses. I have heard that Bart trains, for example, can be filthy. Why would anyone assume that trains would be any cleaner than buses? When the trains are new, as Link trains are, of course. But when they are 10 years old, you expect them to look as clean as they do now?

      11. My understanding is that the word “clean” tends to apply more to the syste of propulsion (i.e. electric vs. internal combustion). Obviously the more superficial definition is at best relative and most certainly temporary in any case.

      12. Ah. ok. If that is what was meant, then it is my misunderstanding. However, I do think sometimes that is what is meant — the “cleanliness” of the inside of trains vs buses.

      13. Thousands of people will not leave their cars for RapidRide. It will increase service on most of the routes, but it really doesn’t make those routes more rapid. And I was referring to them being more clean on the inside; in my experience, trains have been almost universally cleaner than buses, but maybe that’s just because trains have higher maintenance priority. And yes, also, trains are more environmentally friendly.

      14. I believe thousands of people will leave their cars for RapidRide, if they add enough capacity to carry thousands of additional riders. Too bad it will be so long before the RapidRides to Ballard and W. Seattle start, which I expect to be very successful routes.

        Virtually every trip I make on Link there are people eating, which is where most of the “dirtiness” comes from, I expect. People walk onto Link trains with dirty shoes just as they do on buses. So why would trains be any cleaner inside than buses? If this is true, and it’s because they clean trains more often, then they could just clean buses more often to get the same results.

        But I don’t see Link cars as being any cleaner inside than buses, other than the fact that the Link trains are almost new, so the seats, floors, etc. don’t have as many stains on them as older buses. Yet.

    2. As an software engineer, you’re even with automated cars rail would still work better.

      Any automation that works well enough to automate cars or busses will be eaiser to implement on rail.

      With automation on both system you can still move more people by rail per lane.

      1. No and while automobile automation is ‘just around the corner’ it has been ‘just around the corner’ for decades.

        It’s a red herring thrown out to try and sidetrack legit reality based discussions on transit.

      2. I just don’t see it ever actually happening – you think the Acela’s overweight due to crazy FRA safety requirements? Wait until the first automated bus rear ends a car with a cute kid in it.

      3. They’re not fully automated but guided buses exist and work in several cities around the world.

        There are several ways they can be guided: magnetic (using buried beacons placed at even intervals in the lane), optical (using painted markings), and physical (guide wheels). The driver doesn’t need to keep his/her hands on the wheel.

      4. Every guided bus system has had major problems and been a disappointment. It’s in the category of the Gadgetbahns. Cool technology idea. Doesn’t work very well or give sufficient benefit. If the driver is sitting, it’s more reliabile to have her/him drive.

      5. In fact, automation actually *exists* on rail (Vancouver SkyTrain, London’s Docklands Light Railway). Automation without tracks, or with pedestrian crossings? Totally impossible for the next 50 years at least.

    3. “Costs too much, does too little.” Is an important catch phrase when it comes to rail. John is right that the train puts too much money in one place serving a limited number of stops when we could have cheaper buses serving a larger portion of people on existing streets. In fact I have been on buses that have not been filled to capacity and believe that “Costs too much, does too little” can be applied to our current metro bus system. We could double or even triple our coverage by replacing many of the buses with a size able fleet of transit vans all running on automated technology. That way people that currently live areas with poor transit access can have excellent transit access that will nearly compete with the single occupancy vehicle. Bring the transit to the people, not the other way around.

      For some good reading

      1. I have to disagree completely. Yes it is good to serve people, but sprawl in and of itself is a horrible thing. Loss of habitat, climate fluctuations (not even talking about AGW, just the ‘city effect’ of paving everything over), excess runoff and pollution in our ground and surface water, increased distribution cost of goods and services and a host of other effects all combine to make density much more preferable.

        We should be doing everything we can to encourage dense interconnected livable communities. Not disparate slightly connected exurbs and suburbs. Its good for the economy, the environment and society.

    4. Mr. Niles,

      This blog is 100% behind your efforts to improve the quality of bus service. In particular, Adam Parast has written extensively on this topic here.

      We look forward to you turning your intellect to this area, but unfortunately all those improvements, valuable as they are, still probably won’t amount to the same ride quality as rail.

      As transit advocates we should all work together to make transit better, rather than rip each other’s projects as too expensive and ally with the highway lobby in the process.

    5. Sound Transit light rail as voted in Prop 1 is a funded, done deal with the possible exception of cross-Lake East Link, which is facing legal and engineering challenges. There is not yet a Federal Record of Decision for East Link, an important future milestone if that line were to be eventually built. East Link is so bad a rail project it wouldn’t qualify for Federal New Starts funding. Costs too much, does too little. But lack of money is not a problem for East Link, because of Sound Transit’s permanent taxing authority approved in November 2008.

      I don’t think the lawsuits East Link will amount to much, at the end of the day Sound Transit is likely to prevail in court. As for the engineering challenges I’m inclined to believe the reports that say the issues are solvable.

      As for the Federal Record of Decision for East Link, that can’t happen until the EIS process is complete. The lack of one simply means the process for East Link isn’t to that point yet and is no reflection on the merit or lack thereof of the East Link project. Your claim about East Link not qualifying for Federal New Starts funding would be a surprise to the ST people I’ve talked to about the project. They seem fairly confident they’ll be able to get a Federal grant to build it, indeed the budget assumptions include a couple hundred million of Federal grant money.

      Generalizing on the last sentence, my own sense of incremental technological evolution is that highway and vehicle automation — bearing on “buses stuck in traffic” and what my critic Gabe and others like to term “robocars” — is going to make light rail as a 100 year investment seem foolish within the lifetime of many of this blog’s readers, though perhaps not my lifetime.

      Light rail [generally, but not always, and specifically in the case of Sound Transit] is a wastefully expensive, simple-minded, non-productive, ecologically destructive approach to a complex problem. The next version of the region’s PSRC Metropolitan Transportation Plan coming out within days is going to demonstrate this point!

      ST is causing our community to put too much transit resource toward a very limited number of destinations. [The O&M requirements of the total rail system overwhelm the benefits of rail having “more riders per operator,” not to mention all the Link trips I’ve been on with fewer passengers than an average bus.] Allocating and coordinating public right of way use by pedestrians, bikes, cars, Segways, buses, emergency vehicles, and trucks is an interesting problem worth solving, and building railroads on additional right of way — or worse, existing right of way — diverts attention and resources.

      Hmm, maybe, but for the most part cities have regretted closing the interurban and streetcar lines they did in the 1930-1970 time period. Many have been re-opened or had the ROW used for new lines. The cities with bus-based transit ways are looking at converting them to rail (Ottawa most notably). Somehow I doubt this region will be regretting it’s investment in rail in 50 or 100 years.

      In particular I don’t see the most expensive segment of Link (Westlake to Northgate) as likely to be regretted at all. The existing ROW is overloaded during peak periods, creating any new ROW is an expensive prospect no matter what. Furthermore the existing transit demand in the corridor overwhelms the current bus system even with very high service frequencies.

    6. Another anti-rail, anti-mass-transit fanatic.

      If you think a high-capacity, high-frequency route isn’t needed from downtown across the Lake, [ad-hominem]. If you think you can provide that without rail, you’re doubly [ad-hominem]. If you think the FTA’s Bush-era “cost-effectiveness” rating is actually a cost-effectiveness rating, you’re triply [ad-hominem].

      The fact that you believe in “robocars” renders you a special, industrial-grade [ad-hominem]. We can already build automated trains. We will not be able to build automated cars at reasonable prices for probably 100 years, or optimistically at least 50 more — they’ve been trying since the 1950s, and the technical problems are insurmountable. Too much hard-to-program pattern detection needed — which isn’t needed on rails….

  7. Simple question, although one that could be answered with a ballot measure,…

    What is the Definition of BRT?


      1. Based on what you define BRT as will determine its cost.

        The added amount for just the freeway only portion that we looked at on the I-405 Corridor Program was $1 Billion. This included the HOV-only access ramps and exclusive HOV-HOV ramps at the major interchanges.

        Since HOV lanes currently exist in most places, freeway expansion then becomes attributable to the desire to increase SOV capacity during rush hour.


      2. And Jim remember that in that way it is a very highway centric BRT system while most of the best BRT systems are more of arterial based systems.

      3. Hence, if the question is which is better, a defined BRT system should be put on the ballot.

        Whatever its incarnation is.


      4. A Ballot Measure, documented to show all the costs and benefits, is what should be out there for a valid comparison.

  8. Buses – whether BRT or not – will always be an important part of our transit system and most any transit system, whether to reach areas that don’t have rail yet or don’t have demand for rail.

    BRT on arterials, with stops near activity centers and with true priority, can be a quality solution.

    BRT on freeways doesn’t seem to be BRT. Few stops, not where people want to go. HOV lanes that are clogged. Inadequate ramps and merges across general traffic. Political pressure to open lanes to HOT traffic or general traffic. The argument for this BRT is that it is cheaper than rail, which becomes an argument for less investment in transit infrastructure, and it doesn’t work efficiently. See buses on I-405 for examples.

    Rail and bus are complementary in most every transit system. Quality bus service is desirable. When a corridor justifies an investment in high capacity, dedicated right of way, rail provides higher capacity, better ride quality, and lower operating cost. It doesn’t make sense to build a dedicated bus right of way for that – and inevitably that bus right of way then gets shared. So the political debate is over funding a dedicated transit right of way (rail) vs. doing it cheaper or not dedicating it (bus).

    I feel like I just restated Martin’s original post in my own words.

    1. Carl: You are talking about some generic light rail system, not the extremely expensive to build and operate light rail that Sound Transit is building.

      And Central and East Link will not have very high capacity, due partly to having to share the same tracks in the downtown tunnel.

      1. What evidence is there that Link is expensive to operate? I understand that 1 operator can run a 4-car train carrying 800 riders (today limited to 2-car trains by U-Link construction.)

        Given Seattle topology and bottlenecks, how could new capacity be built to the University without great expense? East Link makes good use of the I-90 infrastructure that was built with planned conversion to rail. When a second tunnel is needed in downtown Seattle, it will need to be built. In the meantime, 4-car trains will provide good capacity.

      2. Carl,

        The operator is the least expensive component in the Link system, and I think that’s part of what I see as a fallacy that often drives the “rail is cheaper” argument – folks think it’s cheaper just because fewer drivers can transport more people without looking at the hundreds of people behind that one driver that keep the rails, wiring, power, switches etc. all going. Take into account also that all of that rail is single use – only one type of vehicle that can use it, and opportunity costs skyrocket. That’s more theoretical, but it can’t be ignored.

        As to your second paragraph, therein lies (part of) the rub. You *can’t* create rail capacity in this area without MONUMENTAL expense, and along with the service on the debt that it takes to make that happen, it is arguably as or at times more expensive than looking at bus-based solutions.

        No, I’m not going to provide cites – this has been hashed and rehashed here before and I’ve had too nice a day with the sunshine and all to want to invite myself down that path again.

        If there are good arguments for adding rail capacity in this area (and they are), cost ‘savings’ isn’t one of them.

      3. Jeff,

        One can’t create any capacity in the Seattle region at anything less than MONUMENTAL expense because of the topography. That’s just the way it is.

        I do believe that with sufficient political cojones it would be possible to create some traditional LRT within the city using surface rights of way. But it would require taking traffic lanes for reserved right-of-way a la Link in the RV.

        There’s no way to avoid some significant construction costs bridging the two major waterways, but if the political will could be summoned there are sufficient level rights of way to do cost-effective Max Yellow-line like development. From what I can gather, that’s what Mayor McGinn wants.

        Most folks here want trains on stilts for a westside line, and I really don’t see that there will ever be the need for it. Yes, there will probably have to be a tunnel through downtown at some time in the future to allow adequate capacity, but the collection areas in West Seattle and Ballard are simply not far enough from downtown to require 60 mph service. If there were five stops between 35th and Avalon and the tunnel portal just north of the stadia, at Harbor Island, 1st and Spokane, Lander, Holgate and the stadia, 40 mph service with genuine signal pre-emption would be completely adequate.

        The same is true of the Ballard to downtown route. Between 15th and Leary there would be maybe seven stops, at Dravus, Garfield, a couple of places along Elliott, Queen Anne and Thomas and on 2nd at Cedar and Blanchard just north of the Tunnel portal. Again, 40 mph at grade service in dedicated lanes with timed but extended signal pre-emption would be enough.

        It would be a big waste of money to put such a service on stilts, because the cost of stations balloons and it requires so much concrete. Should the “regional Metro” part of Link be grade separated? Absolutely. But the in-city part should be more traditional heavy tram type LRT. The people in West Seattle and Ballard don’t want to become the Pearl District or First Hill. I expect they’re fine with six story condos within a couple of blocks of the stations, but they will not put up with the density envisioned along the NE 16th section of Link in Bellevue.

        West Seattle and Ballard are long-established nice urban neighborhoods with views of the Olympic Mountains and the Sound. It would be criminal to gentrify them to the degree necessary to support a heavy rail level of service.

      4. Jeff – I was responding to Norman’s claim about expensive operating costs. Most of the costs that you cite are fixed infrastructure costs that don’t vary with the number of riders. Once the infrastructure is paid, rail can carry far more riders with very low incremental costs. Most effective rail systems cover a much higher portion of their operating costs through fares than bus systems ever can, because with buses as ridership increases you have to run another bus, with not just the operator, but all the maintenance and fuel costs to support the bus.

        I agree with Anandakos’s response to your second point, both regarding the expenses that our topography and density creates, and that one of the beauties of light rail is the ability to mix surface with elevated and underground sections. I also agree that the Elliott/15th section may lend itself to a surface segment, as could 1st Ave S.

      5. Anandakos,

        One can’t create any capacity in the Seattle region at anything less than MONUMENTAL expense because of the topography. That’s just the way it is.

        Nonsense. It’s this kind of outrageous statement that dents the credibility of the ardent pro-rail advocate – which is a shame, as being a garden-variety rail advocate here, I hate it when this kind of “out there” claim damages credibility among skeptical voters.

        You can add capacity by adding a bus – even a smaller one like a 20 passenger van – at a fraction (and I mean a TEENY TINY fraction) of what it costs to install a rail line. The road is already there, and you don’t displace other surface traffic in doing so.

      6. You can add capacity by adding a bus – even a smaller one like a 20 passenger van – at a fraction (and I mean a TEENY TINY fraction) of what it costs to install a rail line. The road is already there, and you don’t displace other surface traffic in doing so.

        Jeff, two problems here. First there is an upper limit to the bus service a corridor can support with any sort of sanity. See how overloaded UW to Downtown is, bus service is about as frequent as can be reliably done already and buses have to leave people at stops during periods of peak loading. That leads to the second problem which is adding another bus to a corridor without increasing the corridor capacity in some fashion just means you have another bus stuck in traffic. To get the bus out of traffic you have to “displace other surface traffic” by creating bus lanes or by building new ROW. Furthermore you have to have space for the bus to make it’s stops and layover space at the ends of the run.

        While it is true transit agencies aren’t generally charged for road maintenance, buses and other heavy vehicles are incredibly hard on roadways. Ultimately the road maintenance costs are paid by taxpayers, just not through transit agency budgets.

        I’m kind of surprised someone who drives buses for a living would assert you can “just add buses” without considering the capacity of Downtown Seattle to handle more buses during peak periods without creating more of a mess than is already there. Ultimately either more lanes need to be made bus-only or another DSTT needs to be built, I suspect this is true even if the entire ST2 system is built as planned.

      7. There is plenty of capacity in downtown Seattle, and everywhere else in SEattle, to add buses.

        Just ask Cary Moon.

        You fail to account for the fact that buses take cars off the road. Are you saying that the streets to which you believe no buses can be added do not have any cars sharing those streets with buses now? If you removed just three of those cars, that would make room for one more bus. Don’t you think that one bus can carry more people than 3 cars?

      8. Buses don’t take cars off the road; they give people an alternative to driving. The space left by the missing cars is filled by other cars. I-5 did not get emptier when Sounder started running, even though thousands of people a day are riding the train.

        Congestion is what gets people to stop driving. That and high gas prices. If you eliminate a lane, a lot of people will find the road intolerable and will either take transit, not make the trip, or switch to another road. That’s why traffic “disappears” when the Viaduct is closed for a few days. Or as they said in Los Angeles during the Olympics, when the city predicted gridlock and encouraged everyone to telecommute or take transit because of the thousands of visitors: “Traffic was so light you could waltz across the Santa Monica Freeway.”

      9. “You can add capacity by adding a bus”

        No, not always. As a matter of fact, if you have a traffic jam, you literally cannot add capacity by adding a bus. You just add one more very-slow-moving vehicle to the

      10. Link currently costs around $370 per car per hour to operate. ST Express buses cost around $130 per hour to operate.

        If you estimate that a Link operator makes $60 per hour in wages and benefits (which I think is probably high), then of the $370 per hour cost of operating one Link light rail car, $30 of that would be for the driver.

        Therefore, if you had 4-car trains, the cost for the operator would be $15 per car ($60 per hour for the operator, divided by 4 cars). So, the operating cost per hour per car of a 4-car train would drop to about $355 per hour, instead of $370 per hour for a 2-car train.

        Not much of a savings.

        So, a 4-car Link train would cost about $1,420 per hour to operate.

        The six buses it would take to have the same capacity as a 4-car train would, in total, cost about $780 per hour ($130 per bus times 6 buses).

        So, for the same capacity, Link trains cost a lot more per hour to operate than ST Express buses.

      11. We cannot accept your numbers: the marginal cost of a four-car train versus a two-car train is certainly not the same as operating a two-car train. Also, please provide sources for your numbers since it’d be interesting to see where you got them.

        The marginal cost for an additional passenger on a Link train is perhaps a few cents in electricity, until another car or train is required. Buses require more vehicles, and more operators, sooner because their capacity is low.

        Finally, the metric you’ve decided upon is cost-per-vehicle which isn’t a very useful metric. One should be evaluating cost-per-passenger or even cost-per-passenger-mile.

      12. Link service cost for 2009 is $370 per revenue hour per train, not per car. This cost has already been reduced to $330 per hour per train for the 2010 budget.

        The cost you cite for ST Express bus service is per platform hour, not per revenue hour. ST’s cost per revenue hour for express bus service is $170, which currently works out to around $7.50 per boarding.

        In it’s first full year of service, 2010, Link will cost about 50% less per boarding to operate then ST Express will.

      13. Zed is simply wrong. I got those numbers from Oran. Ask Oran for the link. It is about $370 per hour per CAR for Link. That is what Oran posted a week or so ago.

        I also believe Zed is wrong about the operating cost of ST Express bus. Perhaps Zed would like to provide a link to his numbers.

        It is also over $400 per hour to operate one Tacoma trolley car.

      14. Still, you miss the point. Operating costs don’t scale linearly. John Jensen already said “the marginal cost of a four-car train versus a two-car train is certainly not the same as operating a two-car train.” There’s no compelling reason why hooking up 2 extra cars will double the operating cost.

        ST Express bus costs are highly subject to fuel costs which can rise at anytime. Many transit agencies around the nation were suffering even as ridership significantly increased because fuel costs skyrocketed. Link operating cost is not dependant on fuel cost.

      15. So, what will be the operating cost per car of a 4-car train? You have to admit that the operators’ salary is a very small part of Link’s operating cost, right?

        You want to let us know what the operating cost per hour of a 4-car train will be? Or not? I used your figures for the 2009 cost per hour of operating Link cars, from memory — I could have been off a few dollars one way or the other.

        Over the long term, gasoline prices have been remarkably stable in inflation-adjusted dollars. There have been a few price spikes since the early ’70’s but they were all temporary, and usually followed by a period of very low prices in real dollars, just as happened over the last few years. When you level out the spikes and dips, the real price of gasoline has been very constant for the past few decades. And buses, along with all motor vehicles, will get more and more fuel-efficient over the years.

      16. That’s not my job to figure out and I’m not admitting anything. If you want to know ask Sound Transit.

        Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources. They don’t last forever. Even with gains in per unit efficiency, the total amount of demand continues to increase.

      17. News flash! Every railroad on the continent has decided to close and go in to the trucking business because they suddenly realized that 100-car trains are 100 times as expensive to run as a 1-car train!

        My numbers are directly from the 2010 Sound Transit budget. $329 per revenue hour for Link and $170 per revenue hour for ST Express.

      18. Zed is right. The budget lists numbers based on the type of service being funded through Sound Move. If it says that it costs $329 per revenue hour for Link, it means for the type of service currently used, which is two-car couplets.

        Norman, sorry, but you’re very late to this debate. This blog is no stranger to bus vs. rail operating cost debates, and there is always conclusive evident that the latter requires smaller marginal costs. Just look at TriMet’s numbers.

      19. So trains cost twice as much to operate per hour. When you can average twice the capacity of a bus over the entire day you break even. On operating costs anyway. Capital costs are a different breakdown. Right now Link barely scraps up a one bus average load per train. When ridership doubles they’ll be breaking even on operating costs. U-link I expect will do far batter right out of the box. East Link, probably not. The other hidden cost of rail is that it doesn’t replace bus routes one for one but actually incurs more cost for bus service to feed the rail line. When there is already high demand (like UW to downtown) that’s not so much the case. But Central Link would have dismal ridership without feeder routes and or P&R lots. The service on the 8 needs to be doubled for it to make Link a winner for people between stations. Right now you might as well just stay on the bus. So we end up providing the bus and the train. Trains need a huge inherent demand before they can generate a cost savings.

      20. Having been an 8 rider since the route began service, it has been gratifying to see the improvements…seeing the bus on MLK on the weekends has been most welcome (I’m talking the stretch from Jackson to Madison here), and 15-minute mid-day headways will be wonderful as well.

      21. Glad to see that doubling the bus service on a parallel route is in the works. Long term it makes (hopefully) a lot more sense than adding stations to Link. But, this cost has to be cranked into an analysis of the cost effectiveness of light rail. It doesn’t have to break even as it’s obvious there is huge redevelopment potential along MLK provided by link which benefits the City. But it does need to be factored in when evaluating the cost effectiveness of light rail. Keep in mind also that the RV and the MLK route Link follows is highly transit dependent.

        To cut to the chase, if an area doesn’t need a redevelopment boost then such benefits should not be included in the cost analysis. Specifically Bell-Red does not need a boost to create a new east/west arterial (the 15/16th road that piggy backs on Link). Love him or hate him, as Conrad said, Bellevue is capable of funding what it needs with respect to development potential. And where North sub-area equity may come predominantly from Seattle that’s certainly not the case in on the eastside with regards to Bellevue.

      22. Norman:

        Carl: You are talking about some generic light rail system, not the extremely expensive to build and operate light rail that Sound Transit is building.

        And this is the other defect in the BRT over rail argument. You’re comparing a rail system that has already been through the sausage machine and made its political, fiscal, and engineering compromises to an idealized notion of what a bus system could do.

        If I’m freed of those constraints with rail, then I’m running fully grade-separated 10-car trains a la BART or DC Metro, with four tracks to allow express trains. And then buses are left in the dust in high-capacity corridor.

        Meanwhile, in the real world, no BRT system comes close to comparable system in most important metrics, at least in cities with high rates of car ownership.

      23. Yeah Martin this is the thing. Idealized and oversimplified ideas of about what BRT can be are being compared to real life systems. As ideas become closer to reality they ALWAYS become more expensive and complex and often slow.

        For example the idealized BRT station would have buses pulling in at full speed and quickly stopping with a small gap. But the reality of DSTT is they have a maximum of 10 mph in the station and often have a gap of at least a foot, especially in the back…. and they they get slowed by other buses and cant pass. Oh and don’t forget about wheelchair users that have to be fastened and people that need directions or instructions on where to go or which bus to take. Or what about the entrance at the convention station. There are 4 stop signs and those frustratingly slow security gates.

        To make good comparisons you have to demonstrate a healthy appreciation of reality, which BRT boosters more often than not sorely lack.

  9. Norman, I don’t think that counting people on off peak trips, on a system that is brand new, and then saying “No one rides the darn thing! What a waste of money! We should build BRT instead!” is very fair, it takes time to build ridership, same goes for a BRT line. (obviously I’m not directly quoting you, but this is what I got out of your comment) It also seems as if you are saying that a BRT system will have instant ridership numbers that blow rail away. That’s obviously not the case.

    1. “you are saying that a BRT system will have instant ridership numbers that blow rail away”

      It’s already the case. Check out the 150. Check out the 169. People in South King fill the long haul buses that take them to their jobs in Seattle, Renton, Covington, Tacoma and elsewhere.

      Instead of increasing and perfecting these already well worn routes, the morons in charge WASTED $20 BILLION DOLLARS on a 10 mile route that almost no one uses.

      If you had to have a better strategy to completely destroy public transit in Puget Sound, you couldn’t come up with a better plot than LINK light rail.

      1. The morons who approved this were a majority of voters.

        And the 15.6 mile, not 10, initial segment cost around $2 billion dollars, not $20 billion dollars. You can’t even get your numbers straight.

      2. Just for the record, Sound Transit has no jurisdiction over the 150 or 169. So they had no power to “increase and perfect” those routes.

      3. LINK light rail already has higher ridership than any Metro route in the system, and it is but a shadow of what will happen when U-Link and North Link open.

    2. I did not make any of those comments. I am saying SWIFT-style brt costs a fraction of what Link light rail costs. If you look at capital costs per passenger, I think you will find that ST light rail is vastly more expensive than SWIFT-style bus routes.

      For example, Central Link cost about $2.6 billion. SWIFT cost about $29 million. So Central Link cost about 90 times as much as SWIFT. Does Central Link carry 90 times as many passengers as SWIFT? Even if SWIFT carries only 1,500 people per day, that is about 10% of what Link is carrying. I expect ridership on both to increase this year.

      So Central Link carries 10 times as many riders as SWIFT (let’s say), but Link cost 90 times as much! That is 9 times as much capital cost per rider for Link as for SWIFT.

      1. If you can describe an economic benefit to a taxpayer funded service paying taxes to maintain another taxpayer funded service, I’d love to hear it.

      2. Oran,

        I’d have to say your comment here is one of the more bizarre questions I’ve seen. Metro is part of the King County Department of Transportation – they ALREADY fund road maintenance and repairs throughout King County. The other thing is the out of one pocket into another thing. Was this a serious question?

      3. Jeff,

        Public transit buses do pay tolls to cross the Tacoma Narrows bridge, a public facility, so it isn’t that strange a concept as you think.

        KCDOT only maintains roads in unincorporated King County, which is mostly rural. Most roads where most buses run are maintained by the cities or in case of freeways, the state.

      4. That is because the roads are already there. The $29 million for SWIFT includes all the road improvements which were needed, which was not much.

      5. Probably because Sound Transit built the lanes for SWIFT as a part of Sound Move. Does the $29 million include that?

      6. Norman,

        Swift costs only include the TSP upgrades and doesn’t include ANY costs for the BAT lanes or any other ROW costs. ROW costs were covered by WSDOT, cities or federal money from PSRC over the past decade or so.

      7. Norman, the state of the Hwy 99 corridor vs. Rainier Valley in twenty years will answer this question. In fact, you can go visit MLK Way now. See those new developments going up? Rail has a distinct advantage as a high-capacity mode in that bias for it spurs development in a way BRT cannot. The tangible economic benefits from Link will tremendously outweigh those for a comparable BRT corridor in a few decades. Your arguments about cost are understandable, but not when you think about the short term. The truth is, there are going to be a lot more people living in this area long after you die. In 2050, how many are going to be glad that a lengthy BRT system is in place in lieu of rail?

  10. Bus Rapid Ride: $200 million to cover all of Puget Sound.

    LINK: $20 Billion to cover 1/30th of the region.

    Bus costs less, works better and can be implemented instantly.

    1. Where is this $200 Million Bus Rapid Ride proposal?

      Put it out there on the Ballot.

      The public would jump on that for sure, if it fleshes out as you say.

      1. Blue Swan, we’ve talked about RapidRide here in the past, and a lot of the people who read this blog were responsible for getting the Transit Now ballot measure that pays for it passed.

        RapidRide is not a magic bullet that will blanket the region in high-capacity BRT. RapidRide is just bringing much needed improvement to a few medium-capacity corridors. The RapidRide projects are basically just bringing those bus routes up to the quality of service that major European cities have had for the last twenty years. The improvement in quality, speed and dependability are definitely welcome, but it’s still nowhere close to the quality and capacity that light rail provides for our most heavily used corridors.

    2. This is a concise summary of the argument to make minimal investment in transit and encourage everyone who can afford it to stay in their cars.

      Bus Rapid Ride is incremental improvements to five existing bus routes and it does not cover all of Puget Sound. Worth doing, but it won’t create any significant new capacity.

      Most of Puget Sound’s buses using HOV lanes on area freeways do not work well, nor do buses work well in downtown Seattle. Check out 4th Avenue or Stewart St during peak periods.

      1. I work in Downtown Seattle. The streets and Avenues there are virtual Ghost Roads.

        As far as I can see, I would go so far as to say that the “Bus Tunnel” was as much a gigantic waste of effort as the light rail. The surface level buses run just as fast and they leave riders without having to climb stories of stairs up and down!

      2. “I work in Downtown Seattle. The streets and Avenues there are virtual Ghost Roads.”

        This must be some alternate universe version of Seattle. This is not what I see when I am there.

      3. Not all. It doesn’t include the 522, 167, I-405, I-90 corridors. Bothell, Issaquah, Kent, Auburn are not served.

        If I drew lines for the all the Link extensions, they would overlap all the current RapidRide lines, except Aurora.

      4. Rapid Ride won’t create any significant new capacity? I can see about 25 new RapidRide buses parked in the big storage area that Metro uses near the Link line between Rainier Beach and Tukwila. That is for just one of the five rapidride routes, I believe. If each of the five rapidride routes has 25 new buses, that is 125 new buses. You don’t consider an addition of 125 new buses to Metro’s fleet to be “significant new capacity”?

        How many riders can one Metro bus carry in a 16-hour day?

        By comparison, Central Link operates only about 35 light rail cars, which is equivalent in capacity to 53 articluated buses.

        So the new capacity being added by those 5 rapidride routes is at least double what Central Link is providing.

      5. How is that unfair? With a fraction of the money, you can serve multiple routes with buses, instead of a single route with light rail.

        IT is “unfair” to make that point?

      6. You compared capacity, not cost, in the above comment.

        It’s like saying the capacity of the entire Seattle street network is much greater than the capacity of I-5.

      7. I am comparing the capacity you get with buses for the amount of money you spend, compared to light rail.

        He said rapid ride will not provide much new capacity. I said it will provide a lot more new capacity than Central Link. That is certainly a valid comparison.

        If he thinks 100-plus new buses is “not much capacity”, then how much capacity is 35 light rail cars?

      8. Those 100 buses are not all new capacity. As I said before, and you conveniently ignored, most RapidRide routes are just improvements to already existing routes in low to medium demand corridors. I’m glad to see the RapidRide improvements, and I’m sure they’ll lead to improved ridership and quality of service in the corridors they serve, but RapidRide isn’t the solution to every transportation problem in the city.

        We already have plenty of bus routes in the city that function better than a lot of BRT systems, like the University and Northgate express routes, but, because of peak-hour travel demands, have gotten to the point where it is impractical to keep operating with buses. Those routes have reached saturation and come to the point where it makes sense to invest the capitol to build light rail to replace them, because doing this will lead to decreased boarding costs, improved quality of service, and increased capacity. These benefits will continue for a long time after the capitol investment has been paid off.

        This is especially true in light of the fact that as a region we have decided to focus growth in urban centers like Northgate, Roosevelt and the U-District. As these areas continue to grow the demand for peak-hour travel between them will grow. Light rail can more easily accommodate this growth by running longer trains at peak periods. You can easily double the peak-hour capacity of a light rail line by running 4-car trains instead of 2-car trains. This increase in capacity comes without an increase in the manpower needed to operate the line. To do the same thing with buses would require a near quadrupling of the number of bus drivers employed at peak periods. Maintaining a legion of part-time bus drivers just to deal with peak-hour travel demand is not cheap, and is one of the main reasons Metro’s operating costs are so high. (No offense Jeff)

      9. RapidRide is mostly replacing already well used bus routes. There will be a slight increase in capacity, and a well needed increase in service quality, but RapidRide isn’t creating any new high-capacity corridors like Link is.

        Link is being built as a regional, high-capacity transportation corridor that will form the backbone of our transit system and increase the effectiveness of our local bus service by freeing up resources to implement more projects like RapidRide, Swift and improved local routes. Link will bear the burden of providing transit services on our most heavily used corridors, and allow agencies like Metro to redistribute bus hours to better serve local routes and create new routes for people who currently don’t have bus service. What’s not to like about that? The cost of Link is peanuts compared to what we pour into highway projects and it will benefit transit users in the entire region.

      10. What is your definition of “high capacity”? By 2030, I think ST expects about 5,000 boardings per DAY at SeaTac station. You consider that “high capacity”?

        Link is costing “peanuts”? $1.9 billion for 3 miles of double track between downtown and U.W. is “peanuts”?

      11. 35 rail cars at 200 riders per car is 7000 people. that’s 87.5 articulated buses at 80 riders per bus. And light rail track has the capacity for trains every 2 minutes or so, so with four-car trains carrying 800 people each you have a total capacity of 24,000 riders/direction/hour. You’d need to have articulated buses running every 12 seconds for that capacity. Link has a huge difference in capacity from RapidRide, and there’s really no denying it.

      12. And even that capacity isn’t absolute. 50 years from now who knows what type of trains they’ll be running. They could use an articulated train similar to what the Paris Metro uses instead of a train composed of coupled LRVs. A 400ft long articulated train could easily hold 1200 people.

        What I’m most excited about though is the amazingly fast travel times that North Link will offer. 6 minutes from downtown to the U-District! 3 minutes to Capitol Hill! You’d need a hover car to match that. I’ve spent countless hours on the bus between the U and downtown in the past 15 years and am looking forward to spending less time on Link!

    3. The 5 line RapidRide program approved in Transit Now will cost $190 million in infrastructure, plus another $34 million for the F line. 5 of the routes cover future Link light rail corridors (only Aurora that is not going to get any rail). So coverage is about the same.

      And it is not implemented instantly. We had to wait almost 4 years just for the first line to start up and then another 3 years on top of that get the final RapidRide line up. Supposedly we could just run more buses? It’s not that simple.

      1. You may now present the ridership figures from after they opened the new airport LINK station.

        These will be the “best possible” they could hope for any part of the line.

        If they fall short, the whole thing’s a wash.

    4. Oran has already challenged it in another thread, but I don’t think this number should be left unchallenged here, either. $20 billion? Please cite your source.

    5. Blue Swan, all of the Puget Sound? I wasn’t aware Mount Vernonites and Olympians were served by KC Metro.

    1. Wrong.

      I’m here to correct.

      Each and every day you people put out wrong thinking and polemic into the blogosphere and no one challenges it.

      Then I start speaking logic, and you fall over yourselves trying to name call instead of answering the arguments.

      Buses: Low cost, more flexible, fit the region

      LINK: Budget busting, forces taxation, inflexible, doesn’t do the job.

      1. Sorry, but when you say that providing public transit destroys private transportation and leads people to slavery you lose all of your credibility.

      2. Excuse me, who’s in a budget crisis with service cuts looming right now? Metro

        Who had to raise taxes to implement new service? Metro and Sound Transit

        Who had to raise fares significantly to cover high operating costs? Metro

        Who maxed out their taxing authority? Metro and Sound Transit

        For an equal amount of taxation (roughly) we’re expected to get a system that’ll carry 65% of regional transit riders by 2030 and the actual cost of operations & maintenance is only a fraction of the tax collected, allowing further expansion with voter approval, otherwise taxes are rolled back. Meanwhile, Metro is spending nearly all their money just to keep the system afloat.

        This feels like campaigning to get people to vote for Proposition 1 all over again. But this time, Prop 1 already won, the people made up their mind. And not surprisingly, the people in East Kent didn’t like it.

      3. I wasn’t name calling or trying to divert anything when I said this person is a troll. That is a simple fact. Go back and look at some of it’s posts. At various points it’s claimed:

        McGinn is anti-density/anti-transit.
        Seattle is shrinking in population.
        Public Transit is slavery.

        More importantly it refers to Puget Sound as the Salish Sea!!!! What more do you need?!!?!?

        Obviously reality is of little import to Blue Swan. Everyone needs to realize it is just here to troll and treat it accordingly.

      4. More importantly it refers to Puget Sound as the Salish Sea!!!! What more do you need?!!?!?

        The term Salish Sea is a geographic term for the Strait of Georgia-Puget Sound-Strait of Juan de Fuca region and environs in the Pacific Northwest of North America. It has been proposed as an official name for the complex of inland waterways stretching from Tumwater, Washington at the south end of Puget Sound to Desolation Sound at the northern end of the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, and also including the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The name is now official in the United States.

      5. Of all the points you rebut, this is it.

        Well, folks. Let’s pack it in, head out, go home– show’s over.

      6. Are you saying that ST’s operating costs per passenger are lower than Metro’s?

        Could you give us that link again to ST’s operating costs per hour for Tacoma Link; Central Link; Sounder; and Express buses?


      7. Conspiracy theories and alternate downtowns too, wow.

        I could say you’re the one being illogical, but that’ll just lead to “He-says-this,he-says-that.”

        I took the Salish Sea reference as a joke. Nothing wrong with that. I did hear another Indian name for Puget Sound once, what they actually called it supposedly, but I don’t remember it now. Something harder to pronounce than Salish Sea.

  11. Ok, well this is the “lose your credibility” argument.

    Yet you still never answer the argument.

    Once your own logic is shown to be fallacious — even inverted! — you resort to name calling!

  12. One of my complaints about BRT, is the fact that many of theses systems seem to be heavily customized. As we all know customization adds cost to the system. In Eugene’s case, they have center island platforms which require doors on the drivers side. Since they have several stops like that, this requires them to have a higher spare ratio of equipment just for that line, and makes it nearly impossible to substitute regular equipment. They also feature the higher platforms with bridge plates instead of full ramps. However, i think that you may be able to use standard lowfloor equipment, except you would just have a “gap” to cross with a wheelchair similar to how it’s done in the tunnel.

    The BRT system i was most impressed with was the former 99 B Line in vancouver, BC.

    Before No. 2 road (i think it was) was torn up for construction of the canada line, they had a busway down the middle of the street. The Stops featured standard curb and sidewalk platforms with Custom designed shelters, and were arranged so you could use standard buses, which they did (D60LFs). The buses had signal priority and at the end of the bus way returned to surface streets to complete their journey. This system was ideal because you dident have any equipment restraints and could mix local service and BRT service in the busway and they could share the same stops, etc.

    1. Why does a bus even need “platforms”?

      This is the most fallacious of arguments.

      Trains require platforms.
      You then criticize buses for their style of platforms.
      But, buses don’t necessarily need platforms!

      1. So we should allow for wheelchairs and strollers to delay your world-class alternative?

        Of course you need level boarding for any sort of BRT-style system.

      2. The thing is, you can’t have exactly level boarding for BRT, because it is impossible for a bus to pull up so close to the curb that a wheelchair can go across it. So no matter what, buses need ramps (or bridgeplates). That’s one of the best time advantages for rail; wheelchairs can roll right on and off while on buses, it can take up to five minutes for a wheelchair to get on and strapped in.
        For some reason the SLUT and the Portland Streetcar don’t have exactly level boarding, the platform is a little ways below the car floor so wheelchairs need to request a bridgeplate. Anyone know why?

      3. “For some reason the SLUT and the Portland Streetcar don’t have exactly level boarding, the platform is a little ways below the car floor so wheelchairs need to request a bridgeplate. Anyone know why?”

        I’m not positive, but I think it’s because the suspension on the Inekon streetcars is not self-leveling like on the Link LRV. I bet when the streetcar is fully loaded the floor is close to the platform level.

      4. He’s talking about the BRT systems that are mimicking light rail by having center platforms which means doors on the drivers side. Those specialized buses cost more (around $1 million/bus) than regular buses which cannot use those facilities.

        He’s criticizing the use of customized, non-standard buses, that do require platforms.

      5. Why does a bus need platforms?

        To design a bus system that provides the same quality of service that light rail does you have to build it with platforms to provide level boarding for wheelchairs, strollers, and people who can’t easily climb from the street up in to a bus. Providing level boarding for trains and buses speeds loading, thereby increasing capacity and schedule reliability.

        And BTW, he wasn’t criticizing bus platforms in general, or even making a comparison to light rail, he was criticizing a particular implementation of platforms that isn’t compatible with standard buses and requires a specialized, more expensive, type of bus.

      6. I’m not critizing bus platforms at all. In any brt system you need a good stop that has light, shelter, atleast schedule information or now real-time information as technolgy marches on. Is what i am critizing, is what i perceive to be extra fluff in these projects which drives the cost up, and makes implementation more difficult. Aside from a nice place to wait for a bus, and good bus to ride. most importaintly people want frequency! the rest of it is simply a marketing tool.

        *Higher Level platforms. I see the need for level boarding, but really does flipping a ramp out in the same position going to cost you *that* much more time than having a normal curb height platform? while the rider is manuvering into position on the bus, which IMO takes far more time than ramp operation itself the ramp could be stowed. This allows you to have normal buses serve the same stops; and substitue if nesssary. vice versa goes for the BRT coaches as well. Let me elaborate more on some subject areas i have issues with:

        *Center island platforms; reserved right of ways; etc. Reserved right of ways work really really nice. And once you have the property you can always install rail later but if you are going to go that far? Also center island platforms require special doors to be added, increasting the customization and cost of the vehicles. Also dosent allow for convential buses to serve the facilitys in any event.

        *ORCA. My favorite subject; like anything it’s not perfect. I really have to wonder though if the capital cost of installing stationary ORCA equipment on future projects will actually start hindering the ability of these projects to be built. What does it cost to install a yellow reader pylon, is not cheaper to have fare collection, atleast for ORCA on the bus and have readers at all doors? Again this gets into a cost thing. While the stations should be fairly perminate, you start adding TVMs or even the parking meter types, the orca pylons and all the supporting equipment/contracts to make it happen. Is it going to drag the project down?

        I’m not saying you should have a flag in the ground and call it good, but the more technology thats added like this the higher the project costs and ultimatly, costs the agency. The feds love to pay for capital, once its built its on the agencies dollar to make this work, and the big question is can the agency support everything they are buying now at the end of the day? in twelve years those million dollar buses will be 2 and the TVMs and other apparatus will be in line for replacement. The more bells and whistles you add now, the more it will cost you down the road and can you support that expense?

        Just food for thought.

  13. Good summary, Martin.

    I’ll just reiterate Ben’s point that as the cost of gas increases over the next decades, electric rail will be increasingly more economical compared to buses.

    One problem with buses is they usually have to exit the highway to reach a stop, and that takes time, while the train just stops on the tracks. It’s especially noticeable transfering between the 174 and the 124, where the bus has to make a couple turns and go a couple blocks to get to the stop, then the other bus has to do the opposite, while Link has already sailed away. It’s possible to put bus stops right in a BRT lane, but I haven’t seen it except in Curitiba.

  14. However, with brt, you can operate express buses, which skip stops, while all trains must stop at every stop. Over the I-90 bidge, for example, you could have buses which didn’t make any stops until they reached Redmond. Those trips would be quite fast. You could also have some buses which only went to Mercer Island, and did not go further, or only went to Bellevue, and no further.

    With light rail, every train over the I-90 bridge runs exactly the same route. With buses, you could have many different routes over the I-90 bridge, as there are now.

    Every time gas spikes upwards, it crashes back down within a few years. This will keep happening. Over the next decades, vehicles, including buses, will become more and more fuel-efficient, so the cost of gasoline (or natural gas, or whatever they will run on) will be less and less of a factor in operating cost.

    Over the next decades, the cost of electricity will get more and more expensive, as most of the new production will come from “clean” sources, like wind, which is a lot more expensive than hydro or coal, plus all the new transmission lines that will have to be built.

    1. 1. You keep looking at this as either/or instead of ‘with.’ It’s already been brought up THREE TIMES IN THIS THREAD and you have ignored it so I’m really not going to waste my breath.

      2. You… are pretty ignorant of the history of oil. It is a finite resource. Yes, more can be found, but it is harder to get to and more expensive to process. The good stuff (light sweet crude) is running out*. However demand from emerging economies like India and China are rising exponentially. Yes there is an ebb and flow, but like a rising tide, each wave crashes a little higher and pulls back a little less.

      [deleted, off-topic]

    2. Alright, Norman, what about intracity corridors with limited or no existing road right-of-way to convert to BRT lanes? What are you going to do? Pave more asphalt?

    3. “while all trains must stop at every stop.”
      Still not true. Heard of express trains? How about *skip-stop service*, used in Chicago for decades, on *two-track lines* with *no passing sidings*?

    4. Sigh….
      The price of ‘clean’ electricity is dropping, very fast. It may not hit parity with coal generation, but it doesn’t have to for this purpose, because nobody is proposing coal-burning steam trains. It *already* beats gasoline burning, and I think it’s close to beating diesel burning.

      The price of oil is, long-term, continuously increasing in real terms and has been since the 1980s, despite occasional spikes and drops.

      The most efficient oil-burning engines today are *ELECTRIC ENGINES* with diesel generators attached. This will continue — gasoline engines are a dying technology which is making no progress, diesel-mechanical engines are pretty much maxed out, and electric transmissions and motors are improving.

      But diesel-electric involves dragging around a big diesel generator and a bunch of fuel with the vehicle. After a certain vehicle frequency, it becomes more efficient to put up overhead wires. It’s not yet efficient for the 30 movements a day over thousands of miles which you see on long-distance freight lines. For a service running multiple times per hour over within-city distances, it is already more cost-effective.

      And Seattle *already has trolleybuses*, so you should know this! Unfortunately, trolleybuses are not currently easily available in mass production (therefore more expensive than they should be) — electric *rail* vehicles, however, are readily available in mass production.

      1. The price of ‘clean’ electricity is dropping, very fast. It may not hit parity with coal generationSeriously delusional. All of our excess demand is being met by coal. Even in “clean” Washington the percentage from coal is near 30%. Sure Seattle is “clean” because of excess hydroelectric capacity built a century ago but even if you isolate the Pacific Northwest the picture is clear; all excess demand is only met by burning coal until such time that the energy infrastructure is fundamentally changed. Seattle City Light can continue to sell less power (and raise rates) but that won’t stop more coal being burned in Centrailia.

  15. China, projected out to 2030:

    India, you’ll have to use your imagination:

    Yes, new technologies are allowing us to tap previously unusable stocks (oil sands in Canada, shale oil in Wyoming, etc) but these are very expensive. So much so that most projects are on hold for the moment b/c with prices so ‘low’ the costs of extracting and refining it’s a loser.

  16. All of this depends on whether you think building transportation infrastructure is done to solve a problem, OR to provide for future use.

    This all figures in the C/B analysis.

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