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This is an open thread.

29 Replies to “News Roundup: Mainly PubliCola”

  1. Yesterday it took me 30 minutes to get from ID Station to Westlake. Buses were lined up in the tunnel and at one point we sat waiting for 10 whole minutes between Pioneer Square and University Street. I could have walked faster.

    Obviously running trains and buses in the same tunnel is not working in its current form. That was completely unacceptable.

    Meanwhile, when I finally got out of the tunnel I checked Metro’s “Eye on your Commute” site. They said there were no major delays to report. ST’s site: nothing. How can anyone take these things seriously? It’s like amateur hour.

      1. What difference does it make if he was on a train or a bus? If buses are delayed in the tunnel, so are trains, since trains can not pass buses in the tunnel, and buses can not pass trains. If one is stuck in the donwtown tunnel, so is the other.

        It would be interesting to find out what time of day this happened, and what caused it, though.

    1. It was right in the middle of evening rush hour. I think I got in ID station around 5:15 and got out of Westlake at 5:55. No one knew the exact cause, but my guess is simply congestion. There were heavy delays in every segment of the tunnel.

      My biggest concern was the complete lack of communication from metro. I would have taken a bus down third – and I know many others would have too – if I’d have known about the delay. But the one site that’s supposed to report delays didn’t mention a thing.

      Running trains and buses in the tunnel during rush hour is simply not working. Everything is being delayed.

      1. Was that the extent of your planned trip, just from ID to Westlake? Or was this just the last segment of a longer trip, such as riding Link from the Rainier Valley, or the airport?

        Delays in the downtown tunnel are very common in peak hours. Not delays of the length you report, but usually at least a couple of minutes inside the tunnel. That is one reason why the actual average Link trip between SeaTac and Westlake is about 40 minutes, and not the 37 minutes it says on the schedule.

      2. Let’s be clear, Norman, you have no idea how long the “actual average” Link trip takes. You know what you’ve experienced, which is a statistically irrelevant sliver of total Link trips. I took Link from Westlake to the airport twice last week, and my four one-way trips averaged under 35 minutes. Does that mean the “actual average” trip time is under 35 minutes? Of course not.

      3. No. The average trip time between Westlake and SeaTac is 40 minutes.

        The number of trips this is based on is relevant. And, just to be clear, none of the trips it is based on were during this 25-minute delay described here, or during the one-hour delay described during the train-car collision last week, or during the very long delays caused by the derailment several months ago. As a matter of fact, I think every Link trip after 10 pm for about 3 months is going to be significantly delayed due to track maintenance, and only once did I take a trip during that period.

        You can deny it all you want, but the fact is that the average travel time on Link between SeaTac and Westlake is 40 minutes.

      4. Saying it over and over doesn’t magically make it true, Norman. The fact of the matter is you can only speak to what you’ve personally experienced, because you have no other data, and what you’ve personally experienced is a meaningless fraction of total Link trips.

      5. If there was no explanation given for the delay, how do you know that it was a bus/train conflict? (Or were you on the train that was causing the delays? for buses behind it?)

      6. I said I wasn’t sure. But the fact that we were going and stopping at every segment of the tunnel makes me think it was congestion. What is at fault, I’m not sure. But I know congestion was never that big of a problem before trains were in the tunnel.

      7. FWIW, today I was at Westlake and for about three minutes after a train pulled away, a 106 just waited in the tunnel as if it was waiting for clearance to go forward. It does seem as though whoever (or whatever software) is managing the timing could be doing a better job.

    2. I got this twice on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday on a southbound train around 5:30pm, Wednesday on a northbound bus (550) at 7:40pm. Thankfully they were the 10-minute variety rather than 30 minutes.

      The southbound train stopped twice south of University Street. The announcement said “The train is being held due to congestion ahead” or something like that. I wondered whether there was another accident and the train would be stopped for half an hour. That’s the problem with these generic messages.

      The northbound bus stopped at the tunnel entrance to wait for two trains. Then it stopped twice inside the tunnel, persumably because the train ahead couldn’t clear the next station in time?

  2. I’ve noticed recently that about half of the ORCA readers at stations that I’ve tried to use aren’t working. No beep, no nothing. Any one else noticed this?

    1. Laggy ORCA readers at Westlake and Mt Baker.

      It takes a minute or two of holding the card in front of the reader for it to read. Very strange.

      It read instantly on the bus.

  3. Last week, the ORCA reader at the west end of the southbound platform of the Westlake station was not working for at least the two days when I tried it. Those of us who tried it just boarded the Link train without tagging our cards, since that reader did not work and we did not want to wait for the next train.

  4. I also noticed that several ORCA readers at both Westkale and Sea-Tac/Airport station weren’t working. Hopefully that’s been fixed now…

    Publicoa corrected their article complaining about ORCA cards expiring. This isn’t the first time they’ve complained about non-issues with the system…

  5. On Monday, around 8am, southbound train pulled into Sea-Tac station, discharged its passengers, and then left northbound with an Out Of Service sign. No passengers on board.

    Are northbound trains now deadheading back to the maintenance facility instead of running to Mt. Baker / Beacon Hill?

    1. I could be wrong, but I think that in some situations you may see a train deadheading back, but I don’t think it’s normal. But I don’t know for sure. I just know that I have heard on the tunnel radios, on a tunnel bus, the Link Control will sometimes instruct a train to go out of service and deadhead back.

  6. The update on the Publicola link notes that a Sound Transit spokesman reports that there is no policy to have auto-load expire after 6 months, and that he speculates that the person in the story (the one person it’s apparently based on) probably had his credit card expire.

    Maybe – maybe not.

    At any rate – the main problem with auto-load (or even manual load) is the 24-48 hour lag between the time the customer’s card is charged and the amount credited to the ORCA system. The auto-load isn’t triggered until the customer’s balance gets unacceptably low by default; the databases on the buses aren’t updated until the bus returns to base (sometimes 8 hours or more); and drivers have been told to accept any ORCA card as a flash pass that scans as “insufficient funds” for this reason. Not sure how ST is dealing with this on the trains or ST buses operated by Pierce, CT or First Transit Operators.

    This is pretty much a “given” at the beginning of the month as well, as customers who have set their pass to automatically renew into a monthly pass can also be delayed by a day or two.

    1. I’m not sure if this is what I’ve seen. With my card, the minute I run out of funds the reader on the bus immediately credits my Orca with the Autoload amount, and then that amount is available on any other bus or train I’ve boarded. So, in effect, Orca seems to advance you your autoload amount (“Post Bill”) and I’ve never been short.

      What does drive me nuts is the procedure you have to go to if there is a problem with that Autoload “Post Bill” process. In my case, my address changed and I forgot to update the address on file with Orca. I still got the autoload credit to my card, but you have to resolve the difference via cash or money order(in person at customer service or mail) or your autoload gets disabled. It is absolutely crazy to me there is not an online or phone option to just try charging your card again once you update your expiration date or address. But I guess it’s something to keep the customer service folks busy.

      1. I had a weird ORCA problem when I moved and got a lot of good info from Kathy Kelly and Theresa Huey at KC Metro. The bus autoload actually sort of “loans” you the money and just counts on the transaction going through later (and sends you a notice if it doesn’t). Unfortunately there are continuing issues with autoload which is apparently due to a vendor (not sure if they mean ERG or a CC billing vendor). I’ve actually got my autoload on $5 right now so that they can watch stuff happen as often as possible. As a computer guy myself I know how difficult these little bugs can be to track down.

    2. I just don’t use autoload. I tried to set it up but the transaction didn’t go through, and then I just decided it wasn’t worth it. I visit a TVM once a month to get a pass, and add $5 every few months for extra charges. Of course, it’s harder if you live far from the TVMs.

  7. Tom,

    It’s unlikely that your card is being credited with funds immediately – in fact, I’m not even sure that’s possible. Buses in the field have no active contact with the main ORCA database, hence when you update your card by phone or on the web, the database that you interacted with has had no contact with the on-board databases on the buses. Even if your transaction from credit card to ORCA card were instantaneous (unless you pay cash, it isn’t), the buses out there wouldn’t be aware you added any money.

  8. Looks as though going to the Twins games on Northstar is a better deal than using Sounder to get to Mariners games.In addition to “fixing” the countdown clocks, we still have a lot to learn in terms of marketing transit to those who might otherwise be inclined to drive.

    From a Northstar email received Thursday morning:
    Greetings!
    The Minnesota Twins’ inaugural season at Target Field is finally here, and the Northstar Line provides a great way to get to the game. You’ll arrive at Target Field Station in 50 minutes or less and it’ll be without the hassle of freeway traffic or parking costs. Traveling on the Northstar Line will make going to games easy, cost effective, and convenient for you, your family and friends.
    Northstar will serve 53 of the Twins’ 81 home games this season, including the opening series next week against the Red Sox. Some games will be served by regularly scheduled service, while other games will be served by additional trains. Visit Metro Transit’s website for a list of games and Northstar schedules.
    Northstar Roundtrip Family Pass:
    Metro Transit also has added the Northstar Roundtrip Family Pass so you can save even more when traveling to a Twins game or elsewhere on the Northstar Line. Family passes are available for purchase after 9 a.m. daily. Pay one low price for roundtrip Northstar rides for two adults and up to three kids ages 6 – 12. Kids under five will ride for free.
    Prices for the family pass will vary depending on the suburban departure station. For example, $8 and a brief 18 minutes will get two adults and three children from the Fridley station to the Twins’ front door. No matter which suburban station you travel from, the Northstar Roundtrip Family Pass is a quick and very cost effective way to travel.

    We hope to see you on board!

    Sincerely,

    Dan Erhart
    NCDA Board Chair

  9. Having lived in both Seattle and Chicago, I have no idea how Seattle is ahead of the Windy City in a list of bike-friendly cities. Having a largely unfunded bicycle master plan does nothing for me on the street today.

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