by KEVIN DESMOND
I’d like to respond to the Seattle Transit Blog post from May 29th: “How and When Link Reliability Will Improve.”
The article seems to point the finger at joint operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for negatively affecting Link service reliability over the past 11 months.
Joint operation of buses and light rail in the tunnel is a one-of-a-kind system, and we are less than one year into it. Metro Transit and Sound Transit work in very close collaboration to identify and examine the types of operating problems that have resulted in any Link or bus service delays.
Since we opened for operation last summer, there have unfortunately been occasional service delays caused by operating issues in the tunnel. For example, during the month of May, there were approximately 15 instances of a disabled bus blocking light rail trains. Then again, I also hear from bus riders – particularly those on Eastside routes – that have significant waits to enter the tunnel while trains clear the track.
But, any vehicle delay in the tunnel – whether it is a bus or a light rail train – almost always blocks all other vehicles. It’s not just a bus vs. train issue.
Sure, there is a trade-off. A rail-only tunnel would improve Link reliability, but then again the tunnel would be very under-utilized. Joint operations helps both Metro and Sound Transit move thousands of people each day through downtown Seattle without adding additional congestion to the surface streets. Buses alone have 50,000 tunnel boardings each weekday, compared to a total system ridership of 21,000 for light rail. So while Link service would be more reliable if it was exclusively for trains, we would see increased travel time for thousands of Metro and ST bus riders, and increased operating costs for both KCM and ST due to lengthier bus travel times through downtown.
Seattle Transit Blog readers should know that we are committed to operating service in the tunnel as reliably as possible, and KCM and ST continue to commit significant resources to support tunnel operations. I know that we here at Metro are very proud that Seattle has this one-of-a-kind bus/rail operation. I expect in partnership with ST we will continue to troubleshoot and make improvements.
Finally, I must take strong exception to the statement that Metro employees who operate the Link trains have no incentive to operate on time. There have been a number of challenges for Link during this first year of operation – perfecting joint operations, traffic signals on the at-grade portion of the line, ongoing alignment construction, and various behind-the-scenes technical issues – but, be assured Metro’s Rail Division is highly focused on and committed to service reliability. The people who operate the trains select in from bus operations, and I think they are all proud to be the first light rail operators in the region.
Mr. Desmond is General Manager for King County Metro Transit.