"Swift BRT at Airport Rd", by Dave Honan

Lots of juicy tidbits in this CT ridership press release:

Following local employment trends, Community Transit ridership decreased 4.6 percent in 2009. Total ridership on the agency’s buses, vanpools and DART paratransit vehicles was 11.4 million last year, down from an agency record 11.9 million passenger boardings in 2008…

Swift has established itself as the agency’s highest ridership route and helped contribute to an 11 percent increase in overall transit ridership on the Highway 99 corridor… In December, Swift had an average of 1,699 weekday boardings; in January Swift had an average of 2,367 weekday boardings; and in February Swift had an average of 2,660 weekday boardings

Route 101, the local bus route that runs from south Everett to Aurora Village along Highway 99 as a companion to Swift, Route 101 ridership remains healthy and is second highest in Community Transit’s system, with an average of 2,218 weekday boardings in February….

Swift and Route 101 carried 4,878 passengers each weekday on February, compared to the 4,376 combined weekday boardings of Route 101 and Route 100 (which Swift replaced) in February 2009. That 11 percent increase on the Highway 99 corridor came as other transit ridership dropped 8 percent February 2009 to February 2010.

As ever, a couple of months of ridership numbers is too little to start drawing conclusions about the value of the project, but it does validate that improved bus service can increase ridership to some degree.  In particular, if Swift is able to reverse some of the atrocious land use in the corridor, it will have been a massive bargain.

66 Replies to “Swift/SR99 Ridership Bucks the Trend”

  1. A lot of people on this blog like to pit BRT vs Rail. This just shows that they both have a place in the Seattle transit network.

    1. BRT has a temporary place until those areas can be converted to rail. I love how Vancouver put BRT on Granville and Broadway until the rail lines could be built. That’s starting to happen in Pugetopolis but we’re way behind. The 550 has always seemed like quasi-BRT (it eliminated several stops, replaced multiple routes, and now runs every 15 minutes except after 7pm and Sundays). The Bellevue RapidRide will serve areas East Link won’t. The Pacific Highway RapidRide looks like it will have a short lifespan before Link supercedes it. But it looks like Ballard and West Seattle are on a collision course: RapidRide and light rail are fixin’ to be built simultaneously.

      1. Of course, light rail to Ballard wouldn’t be operational until the early-mid 2020s at the earliest, while the Ballard and West Seattle RapidRide lines will (supposedly) be done in a couple years. I think the Bel-Red RapidRide will probably go away once East Link gets to Downtown Redmond, it’s too much of a duplication.

      2. No it’s not. East Link doesn’t go anywhere near Crossroads. I could see it changing though to turn south to Bellevue College rather than north to Overlake.

      3. My fear is that if, somehow, both the Ballard/Interbay/Lower Q.A. RapidRide (inadequate speed and capacity) and a Ballard/Fremont/Westlake streetcar (really, REALLY inadequate speed) get built, there won’t be enough political will for real mass transit to follow.

      4. I think RapidRide won’t really be visible enough for people to notice it, and I think people can differentiate between the streetcar and Link. Also, if a West Seattle-Ballard vote happens next year, that will be before RapidRide or the Ballard-Fremont streetcar would open, so it could get approved before people see RapidRide and that streetcar.

      5. Maybe after RapidRide is built, we can tell people to compare it with Swift, and maybe that will create demand to convert it to a Swift+local system.

  2. Any reason why we wouldn’t want to work towards expanding the Swift route all the way down 99 to Downtown Seattle?

    1. Given the jurisdictional issues the best you’ll do is RapidRide E in around 2013.

      1. Not ever going to happen, but if anything ever called for a CT/Metro partnership it would be this. One seamless line from Everett to Seattle would be really attractive. And as it is, Swift is already an Everett Transit/CT partnership, so what’s one more?

      2. To add on to this point, I was at a presentation of BRT with both Metro and CT reps. One of the differences between the two is that when Metro begins Rapid Ride, it will not duplicate service, unlike Swift and CT 101. So, in essence, MT 358 will become Rapid Ride E. So, for Rapid Ride, there will be more stops than a comparable Swift route.

        Additionally, Swift is just under 17 miles long. This is one of the longest (if not the longest) BRT systems in operation in the USA (again, per the presentation, I have not verified this). Extending this system down Aurora would definitely make it the longest.

        Combined with the stop issue, this would seem to impact reliability. But that last comment is just my two cents.

      3. And that’s ultimately what’s going to make RapidRide E pointless, in my opinion. Riding the 358 is a chore…it just stops way to much whereas Swift moves pretty well. I live 5 min from Aurora Transit Center, so I’ve ridden both. I’m just not sure I can see RapidRide being successful unless they go as far towards the “optimal” BRT design as Swift has.

      4. Thinking rapid service straight down 99 that would get loads of cars off it. If we are stuck with our giant, ugly concrete speedway, maybe we can at least reduce the number of flying objects and as stated in the post improve the crappy property development we’ve got all the way down to seattle.

      5. The 510 doesn’t help you if you’re going from 85th in Seattle to 176th in Lynnwood.

        Aurora already had a stop-reduction-and-frequency-increase program when the 6 was turned into the 358. RapidRide E looks like the same thing again. It’s good that they’re incrementally improving Aurora, but what it really needs is a Swift-like bus. I don’t care whether you have to transfer at Aurora Village.

        I did wonder what happened to the 6 riders whose bus stops were removed. That’s about to happen on NE 8th Street in Bellevue when it converts to RapidRide. So my mom who can’t walk uphill to the RapidRide stop will have to drive or take Access. So you need a local bus as well as an express bus.

    2. As people have mentioned, it probably won’t happen. But if Metro ever found the resources for such a service, Swift will need to be an overlay of Rapid Ride making it more of a “Frequent Ride.” Potential stops could be N 185th, N 175th, N 160th, N 145th, N 130th, N 105th, N 85th, N 46th and Broad St. Not sure which avenues in downtown would be best.

    3. It’s not a jurisdictional issue. Sound Transit could run it. But if you have a 30-mile route with stoplights the whole way, a bottleneck anywhere will magnify across the whole line. Transfering at Aurora Village is a small price to pay for keeping half the line on time.

    1. I think they use both because it sounds weird to say that “route 101 and Swift carried X boarding”. I guess you could just re-phrase it as route 101 and Swift had X number of boardings”.

  3. If we’re willing to make the investment a lot of other corridors can have Swift-like service. I think it makes sense especially in corridors that either won’t see rail for a while or where the ridership isn’t likely to ever quite justify putting rail in.

    Of course I’d like to see all major routes for all of the area agencies be more like Swift. What I mean: transit lanes of some sort on every major transit street or road (either transit only, BAT, or HOV), queue jumping at every light, signal priority at every light, off-board payment at major stops, all-door loading/unloading at major stops, real time arrival information at major stops, automated stop announcements/displays, wide stop spacing on everything except local/neighborhood circulator routes (or at least pairings like Swift/101 for long/short trips), and frequent service (every 15 minutes or better). Combined with grid routing along arterials I suspect we’d see an increase in transit ridership. It also forms the perfect feeder network to the rail investments we make. The downside is both the capital and operating costs would be higher than current service levels.

    I know RapidRide is supposed to bring at least some of the Swift features to at least 6 corridors in King county over the next several years, but RapidRide is pretty weak tea and risks just being a bus route with a different paint job and some fancy bus shelters.

    1. You’ve hit what I think the big problem with RapidRide is going to be-just new paint, new shelters, but other than allowing off-board payment and the all-door loading, you’re not getting a whole lot of changes. CT did the right thing in having not only the Swift, but retaining some form of service on the 101. Take, for example, what will become the RapidRide E line, which is the current 358. The best thing for Metro to do would be to have the E line be like Swift and have only about a dozen stops, while keeping the 358 on half-hour to hourly service frequencies for the local service part. People who need to get from Aurora to Downtown (and are too late for a 301) will be able to get there a lot faster, but I also could still pop on down to the JoAnn Fabrics (155th/Aurora) or hit the Cash/Carry for Torani syrups.

      It’s not rapid with a good 40-50 something stops in each direction.

  4. I rode SWIFT a few weeks ago, and liked it. The seats are not much better than the seats on Link, however. Not as comfortable as the seats on most Metro buses. Why do they make the seats so hard these days?

    Dwell times at SWIFT stops were 20 seconds or less. Many were about 10 seconds. I did not get to see a wheelchair boarding, which I had hoped to see to find out how long that takes. I did see a bicycle board, and deboard, which had no impact on dwell times at all.

    The “queue-jump” bus-only lanes approaching several intersections allowed SWIFT to pass a lot of cars approaching red lights. I did not notice any signal priority for SWIFT at intersections.

    With off-board payment, limited stops and short dwell times, it seemed to me that the SWIFT bus travelled its route in almost exactly the time it would take to drive that route in a car.


    SWIFT: capital cost $29 Million; 2,660 boardings per weekday

    [deleted, hijacking]

      1. Buses get people out of their cars and onto buses. Therefore, buses reduce traffic congestion.

    1. Wheelchair boarding takes about 30-45 seconds, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen one.

      1. Is that for the non-tied-down wheelchair system?

        I am under the impression that wheelchair users can demand that their wheelchairs be secured by straps, as on Metro buses, if they choose. Or, they can face backwards without straps securing their wheelchairs. Is this correct? If so, which way takes 30-45 seconds?

      2. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen tie-down on Swift. The dwell time increase is mostly due to lowering and raising the ramp – I’ve never seen a driver need to assist a wheelchair user.

      3. Surprised it’s not law that wheelchair users use tie down systems. Not so much for the sway, because you don’t have that issue on larger vehicles, but in case of a collision. Still shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes.

    2. Sorry, Norman, the seats on Metro (like many surfaces on Metro) are DISGUSTING. I barely want to touch them, never mind let them into contact with my clean clothing.

      But that’s only the 2nd worst thing about them. The worst is that they leave practically no “passing room” in the aisles. You’d be shocked how much of Metro’s lethargy is attributable to this flaw.

      Worst seats on any public transit I’ve ever encountered!! (Okay, maybe the seats on BART are grosser, but at least BART has plenty of room to stand and to move around.)

  5. How are boardings counted on SWIFT? Do SWIFT buses have automatic counters at each door? Or are they counting paid fares to get boardings for SWIFT?

    1. I believe it’s the latter, though CT is working on implementing automated counters as part of their larger technology platform.

      1. In general, I would think that paid fares significantly undercount boardings, while automatic counters significantly overcount boardings.

        I was told by a Metro driver a few months ago, that he is not aware of any Metro buses which use automatic counters to count boardings. I did not see anything that looked like an automatic counter on the two SWIFT buses I rode last month.

      2. Then ridership on SWIFT is probably significantly greater than what is being reported. When I rode SWIFT, I used my ORCA card, and only tagged in for the first trip. When I boarded the bus to return to Aurora Village I did not bother to tag my ORCA again, because it was within the 2-hour transfer period. I would imagine quite a few other people are doing something similar. Or, just riding without bothering to pay at all.

        I would not be surprised if there are over 3,000 boardings per weekday on SWIFT, and maybe a whole lot more than 3,000.

      3. No, “deadbeats” are counted using driver input. It’s probably more accurate than the fares paid data coming out of the farebox since there are legacy tickets out there that register incorrect amounts. (Once the fare increases slow down and the old tickets are used up, this problem will fix itself). ORCA is helping here – the system is getting used pretty well by my passengers and has been very reliable lately.

        Many drivers don’t bother to input the proper fares for Youth, Seniors, 1 zone, 2 zone, etc… But when somebody walks by without paying, most of us will hit the “3” key. On the recent fare survey at East base, most drivers seemed pretty interested in inputting the detailed fare evasion data. Of course, that’s “most” and not “all” and anything relying on human input is going to probably be less accurate, especially when we have other things to worry about.

      4. I was talking about on Link, which counts anyone who enters and exits (plus some large luggage).

        SWIFT bus drivers would have no idea of who paid and who did not, since payment is off-board on SWIFT.

      5. How are you going to count deadbeats automatically? There are still a ton of flash passes out there. My county issued pass is valid on ST and CT service so I don’t need to interact with their fare payment system to ride SWIFT. Once I have an ORCA pass, that may change.

      6. Metro has about 10% of its fleet equipped with passenger counters. I would expect you to know that since you like buses so much.

      7. A percentage of Metro coaches (and Metro operated ST coaches) have an Automated Passenger Counter system in them. You can identify the coaches that have this system by looking for a sticker that says “APC”. They are circulated through the system to provide a sampling of passenger counts. I drive coaches with APC’s pretty regularly. I believe they use a sensor on the steps that enter the door, but I don’t know the details – it’s not an “electronic eye” system though as I’ve never seen any evidence of that kind of system.

  6. Early days, yes, but encouraging numbers nonetheless. Here’s hoping we start seeing some mixed-use development along that corridor.

    1. I’m working on contacts for an update on the state of Lynnwood’s Project 99. According to the plans (http://www.ci.lynnwood.wa.us/Content/CityHall.aspx?id=821), they’re taking Swift well into account for zoning/development purposes. That’s more than can be said of Everett from what I saw in their downtown plan, where transit seemed like an afterthought.

      1. Very cool. Look forward to reading. Will you post here, or are you professional freelance?

  7. I’ve ridden SWIFT about half a dozen times since opening- have clients in Lynnwood and use CT quite a lot.

    I’m disappointed in SWIFT. Would like to talk to the bus designers. There’s not a comfortable seat on those buses- not a matter of structure or materials, but placement. For all the glass, it’s difficult to see out the windows at night for the glare.

    On winter nights, huge doors let in blasts of cold air at every stop, which heaters can’t defeat. When already tired from long day and long commute, would much rather ride the 101.

    Worst disappointment of all is what appears to be complete lack of signal pre-emption or priority- buses I’ve ridden seem to hit as many red lights as ordinary CT buss.

    Worst general thing about the system is confirmation of my belief about curb lanes: there’s a built-in conflict between business access and transit. A sixty-six foot bus with car traffic constantly and unpredictably slowing or accelerating in front of it can’t be “swift” in any sense. Or “rapid.”

    Nobody would dare do this with light rail- which also fits general theory that because buses “can” get around obstacles, there’s no problem making them do it frequently.

    If I were a Snohomish County resident facing loss of Sunday service, I’d tell CT to sell the SWIFT’s, or mothball them until they can redo 99 for reserved center running.

    Now: living in King County, I’ve got nothing to say about running CT. If anyone thinks I’m being too harsh with SWIFT, or knows reasons why I’m wrong about curb-lane mode of operations, please correct me.

    Living in Ballard, I do have the right and duty to tell my representatives not to use those red and gold buses like CT does SWIFT. So let me know why I shouldn’t tell them to make Tunnel buses out of them ’til they can give them a clear road to run.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I ride Swift every day and I can kinda agree about the seats – I’ve definitely sat in more comfortable ones. I haven’t noticed the window glare, but I don’t often ride at night.

      Letting the cold in from the doors is the tradeoff for having more doors. I’d personally rather have more doors…it really speeds up the boarding/disembarking. I’ve noticed the same thing on Link to some extent.

      I agree 100% on the signal premption. I’d love to get a good answer from CT on that, because I haven’t noticed a difference at all. Reminds me that I need to follow up on that.

      I don’t get the issue with the lanes. I mean, I do, but I don’t see an alternative at this stage in the game. The BAT lanes fall in the necessary evil category – I’m not sure what else you could implement along 99, since you can’t exactly prevent right turns. And at what, $1.5 million/mile (which I’ve seen enough complains about as-is), I don’t know what the better alternative is. The light rail comparison just isn’t fair at $200 million/mile (though don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be riding Link all the way to Everett).

      Even if you go center lane running, you still have the problem of left turns? A bus is still a bus. It’s why I don’t buy the BRT is as good as rail argument, assuming the rail part is done right and grade-separated to as great a degree as possible. You simply can’t get around the fact you’re in mixed traffic with a bus. So it seems odd to fault it for that. The real question is it better than typical bus service and is it likely to attract more riders. And I think I’m a perfect example of “yes”.

      In Swift’s case, since it was funded largely by BRT grants, it’s not adversely affecting the other CT services (it’s probably the other way around). That fact also prevents them from scrapping it and diverting the funds.

      I AM a commuter and hell would freeze over before I’d choose the 101 over Swift. That should pretty much say it all.

  8. Swift works well for me. I am an old guy on a bike and love the bike racks inside where I can secure the bike with a shove and do not have to drop the rack, lift the bike with 20# of groceries or other goods then reverse on departure. With 12 stops and both ends I get a multitude of connections with under a mile or two bike ride at most and if I am several stops away from where I am going in the corridor I will wait for the Swift and if a 101 goes by will still usually beat it to my departure

  9. Thanks for above comments. Doubt there’s any danger CT will remove SWIFT, whatever I think about it.

    The bike racks are something I wish I had the patent on- which, to its credit, I think CT does- manufactured at Monroe prison, they tell me. Great piece of local industrial design.

    Good point about doors, especially if ridership gets heavier as will probably happen. Heavier passenger load will also make bus warmer.

    Now about the main problem, a self-defeating lane configuration: to me, left turns at intersections are a manageable problem- based on experience other places, LINK should have fewer related collisions as time goes by. But with “BAT” lanes (what a perfect name) every driveway is a potential collision point.

    Considering long spacing between stops, what I would do is put the running-lanes in the center between stops, but add a short signal cycle to take a bus diagonally across an intersection to a curb stop.

    At worst, let bus run curb lane to the next intersection to diagonal back to center. At best, put diagonal departure signal at the head of the express stop, and hold traffic at the light behind it until bus has regained the center lanes.

    If I had to pick, I’d rather use standard three-door low-floor artics, and spend the extra money on the right of way and signals- bet I could out-haul SWIFT. It’s a matter of emphasis. To me, SWIFT represents the philosophy that appearances matter more than performance. I take the exact opposite view.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I hope they can license the heck out of the bike racks, they’re ingenious.

      I’ll meet you half-way on performance vs appearance. I think it’s a little less at play than you think – I can’t remember how much more the stylized New Flyer BRTs are, but I don’t believe the difference was all that significant across a fleet of 15. All that aside, though, the BRT research shows that distinctive, branded service does a lot to attract choice riders, so by using standard looking service, you’d never even have a chance with those who might otherwise ride.

      Now it’s useless if performance doesn’t back it up, but my take would be that given the relatively small capital investment, Swift succeeds to a large extent. Could it be better, sure, but like I said, I’m a choice rider who uses it. The style caught my attention, but it’s the level of service that keeps me riding.

      I like your lane scheme, assuming the TSP was a lot more successful than it’s been so far. But in no way did they have capital even close to what was necessary, certainly not in whatever premium they paid for style.

  10. The TSP has not been used bec. of some problems with Everett, during trial period in November it really sped things up.

    1. That was what I heard from a couple of the drivers, but when I emailed CT, the response I got back was it was in place. :-/

      1. Have you heard anything officially/unofficially about when you might get to start using TSP? My unscientific impression based on sitting at lights is that it might shave a few (5 mabye?) minutes off the end-to-end time.

  11. I was told that they looked into a patent for the bike rack but the search, and budget required to try would be a problem given the expected market but that CT would provide help to other transit agencies that want to use the system.

  12. Various comments here. Be careful about ridership statistics: the agencies will put their best face forward. Look at how many buses it takes to get those riders, i.e. riders per bus. That makes this service very expensive relative to other routes on that measure. On the other hand, the deadhead time (in general, the time going from the base to and from the start and end of the route, but also to go from one route that ends in one place to another that starts somewhere else) is probably less than many other routes. It’s safe to say that there will never be a single BRT going from Everett to Seattle, as each agency will protect their own turf no matter how efficient or convenient-to-the-rider it might be to join forces. That’s why they have separate and distinct fare policies. However, one has some options to do something equivalent to a BRT from Everett to Seattle by transferring to a #301 or #303 at Aurora Village during peak times or taking the #346/41 combination or even the #358. I agree, the old #6 was ridiculous…I used to joke that if you wanted to stop 1,000 times between downtown and Aurora Village, take the #358; if you wanted to stop 10,000 times, take the #6. There used to be a limited stop #360 back then, too, but due to a lack of BAT lanes, it was virtually as slow as the #358/9! With Rapid Ride, in so far as I know, they haven’t decided on off-board payment yet, but they are going to have next bus information on Metro in general possibly as soon as this fall, probably on some but not all to start with. I agree, having an underlying route was smart on CT’s part, foolish on Metro’s not to, as it will take some of the “rapid” out of their rides. Swift uses signal priority, but won’t engage it unless the bus is a certain amount behind schedule, and even then takes second priority to emergency vehicles. I’ve found that takes about the same amount of time as a car, and the predictable stops are much better than random from a rider’s “feel” of the route, and the policy is 10 seconds at each station. Wheelchair riders can choose whether to be secured by straps or to use the self-engaging option; once faces backwards, the other forwards. I agree, the seats aren’t the most comfortable, ST buses are still the best, and BART’s are the least, but then the latter are 1970s vintage. It is my understanding that automatic counters on Swift and 100% of CT’s fleet (they chose to do this) are probably a year or two away, while Metro has 30% of their fleet with this technology. The counters should pick up fare evaders as well as people who didn’t tag their ORCA card on their return trip, who at most would today probably get a reminder to do so from the fare inspector but are both reasons for undercounting.

    1. “Be careful about ridership statistics: the agencies will put their best face forward. Look at how many buses it takes to get those riders, i.e. riders per bus. That makes this service very expensive relative to other routes on that measure.”

      That’s not true. If you look at the numbers put out by CT, one of the stats is average boardings/bus/service hour. Swift has 18.1/bus/hour whereas the local average is 19.8/bus/hour. Those numbers take into account the fact that there are more Swift buses running at a given time than there are on any other route.

      So each Swift bus is just about as productive as any other CT bus, thus it’s not very much more expensive by comparison.

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