Service Productivity by Type and Subarea

Martin’s scoop a few weeks ago about Metro’s Draft Service Reduction Plan, which really should be called a “thought exercise” or “illustration”, got a fair deal of attention but after attending the July 1st meeting later that day I realized that the most important story was about the policies that the scenario were more or less based on. While any new policy will certainly need to balance competing objectives, the emerging consensus of the task force is that productivity (some measure TBD) should be the predominant driver of service allocation and service reductions. In other words transit service should be allocated in a way that is cognizant of demand and context, not by ideologically (i.e. subarea equity) driven policy choices. More after the jump.

The Regional Transit Task Force has been tasked with:

(1) considering whether there should be changes to the vision and mission of the King County transit system; (2) developing criteria for systematically growing the transit system; (3) developing criteria for systematically reducing the transit system; (4) strategies for increasing efficiency; and (5) a state and federal legislative agenda to achieve the vision.

A similar attempt to reevaluate Metro’s system was undertaken last year but simply got mangled in politics, and when extra money was found the discussion died. For this reason many people, myself included, had a healthy skepticism that anything significant would happen. However this time around several things are different.

The members of the task force, while geographically balanced, have a range of professional backgrounds with elected officials making up only 6 of the 28 members. Additionally it seems fairly safe to assume that Metro will have a hard time filling the next biennial budge gap. These two things make it more likely that Metro, and more importantly the County Council, will be forced to make tough choices that were politically unattractive or impossible before.

So what kind of system do performance measures favor? It depends on the specific measure but in general it favors frequent arterial based routes or commuter routes. As shown in the graphic above “Local” and “Hourly” routes, which are circuitous and have headways of 30-60 minutes, almost always perform worst. So while riders per platform hour will favor frequent arterial service and passenger miles per platform hour will favor commuter service, few if any performance measures  favor local and hourly routes.

More fundamentally the task force’s discussion is about two competing objectives and which one to prioritize or how to balance the two. On one hand you have current Metro policy which more than not favors social equity and geographic equity. On the other hand you have productivity which favors dense land use, congestion relief, and a efficiency based allocation of limited resources. As they say, the devil is in the detail, so stay tuned.

The next meeting of the Regional Transit Task Force is tonight, 5:30-8:30 at the Mercer Island Community Center.

34 Replies to “Regional Transit Task Force: Productivity”

  1. ” …the emerging consensus of the task force is that productivity (some measure TBD) should be the predominant driver of service allocation and service reductions.”

    This is good news, if, indeed, it is implemented. Hopefully, “productivity” includes “cost-effectiveness.”

    This runs absolutelyl counter to our mayor’s recent idea to have buses run later at night to ferry home drunk frat boys after bars are allowed to serve drinks past 2 am (or even 24 hours per day, perhaps). Can anyone argue that operating buses in the middle of the night would be “productive”? All that would do is enable irresponsible twits to get drunk out of their minds all night long and force taxpayers to pay for their trips home (or wherever they go after getting smashed).

    I would say the exact opposite should occur, if productivity is truly the goal: buses should stop running earlier than they do now. Perhaps the last runs of each day should be at midnight, or even 11 pm or 10 pm. What is the average number of people on each bus after 10 pm, anyway? Is it productive to have buses running around late at night mostly empty?

    1. You might be surprised how many late night riders there are the U-District and Capitol Hill routes. When I was a drunk student elsewhere wanting to get home at 3am we’d split a cab.

      1. Okay this really is off topic. There is a news roundup in a few hours so save this debate for that. I rather have any discussion focus on the topic at hand.

      2. In fairness, Adam, this IS on-topic… Norman — who we all know seems to hate most everything to do with buses — incorrectly suggests that productivity is not possible late at night.

        On the other hand, it’s entirely conceivable to a number of us that some routes around Capitol Hill, the U District, Downtown, and Ballard could easily have pretty decent ridership late at night. I think this would be especially true if it was special service running only on Friday and Saturday nights.

    2. As Josh said I think you will be surprised how productive some of these late night routes are, especially if they only run on Friday and Saturday. Also you need to keep in mind that these late night runs are part of the *most* productive service metro offers. Late night buses allow people to ride the buses earlier in the day.

      1. They can still take a bus earlier in the day, then take a taxi late at night. One passenger in a taxi is more cost-effective for the public than couple of people on a bus.

        Productive routes should be kept. If there are late-night buses that get high ridership, then I have no problem with those. The few times I have seen buses late at night, they have been basically empty.

      2. I have seen buses during that day that are basically empty as well. My point being if there is demand for the service (again maybe this is only on Friday and Saturday night) it could be a fairly normal performing service.

    3. All that would do is enable irresponsible twits to get drunk out of their minds all night long

      Puritan much?

      I didn’t realize drinking = “irresponsibility”, especially when seeking ways to not drive.

      Setting aside the moral content you’re infusing into this, night routes are generally less productive than peak and off-peak routes, even in the West subarea. But there are certain night routes, like the 43 and 49, where night trips are more productive than off-peak trips on other in-city routes (like the 25).

      1. It’s one thing to ask taxpayers to subsidize people’s trips to and from work. It’s another thing entirely to ask them to subsidize people’s bar-hopping.

        Getting drunk is always irresponsible. What good are you doing anyone, including yourself, by getting drunk?

      2. So long as we keep drinking legal, and rightfully make drunk driving illegal, we have to give people an option. Getting people who are buzzed or drunk off the streets, without getting them into a car, helps everybody.

        Also, night service makes it easier for people to really live without a car. They still need to use a car share or rent when going out of town, or on more obscure trips, but when they are in town they can depend on the bus system. Having less cars parked everywhere in a city is good for everyone in that city.

      3. So Norman you’d rather have people driving home drunk in their own cars?

        Face it prohibition isn’t coming back so people will drink. Might as well provide a safe way for them to get home.

        Besides one does not have to be “drunk” to be unsafe to drive, even one drink can impair driving ablity until the alcohol metabolizes.

      4. Your joy rides on Link and various buses are being subsidized, Norman. What good are those rides doing anyone? Stop being such a hypocrite.

  2. It will be hard for the King Co. Council to ignore the recommendations of the task force once in print, but the council is a 100% political body, and will make the final calls. I’m sure the council, their staffs, and the exec are twisting knobs and pulling levers on the big decision machine as we speak.
    That said, sub area equity is the 800 pound gorilla sitting at the head of the table.

    1. ST has separate accounts for each sub area. While Metro divides out service reports I’ve never seen any fiscal accounting of sub area equity. It seems more like a push for equal service hours which isn’t equitable at all.

      1. For a lesson in “Non-Transparency” of a governing body, go to Metro’s website, and try to figure out the budget. You’re directed to a $5 Bil. King Co budget that has no table of contents and little detail about where the money is coming from or going to. (Note: ST is to be complimented for how they do business)
        The KC budget reads like pleadings submitted to the courts (yeah, I know it’s an ordinance and has a specific format), but like insurance policies, where’s the ‘easy read’ version?
        Buried on page 130, of attachment K is the break down of Metro’s 1.2Bil budget, by less than 10 line items like:
        GM & Staff……$131mil
        Paratransit…..$132mil
        Cust. Service…$030mil
        Transit Link….$050mil (WTF is that? Fifty Million? Are they build a Link line?)
        Maybe the serfs aren’t supposed to be able to figure any of this out?

  3. The criteria for seperating “frequent arterial” vs. “local” vs. “hourly” seem to have a great deal of overlap – and it could even be that ridership statistics are used to make the final determination, which makes it difficult to find causality between the type of route and performance. As explained above, frequent arterial routes can run as infrequently as 30-minute service (which I wouldn’t call frequent at all) which is also included in local. Local service can be hourly as well.

    Perhaps there are more concrete criteria which aren’t shown, but I don’t have the feeling that the existing routes were created using these four categories, nor that the service headways or spans or route design follow any particular categorization.

    I fully agree that a redesign of the entire Metro route system should consider efficiency and effectiveness of the service hours (as well as integration with ST buse and reduction of overlap or redundancy where possible), and that categorizing service in some fashion may help in the process – but I’m not sure the criteria in the chart are the right ones. I’d suggest that “frequent service” require 15 minute or at most 20 minute headways. Everything that is only hourly or less (during weekday daytime) should be put into a community access bucket – they aren’t very useful or productive routes, and probably don’t run evenings and weekends. That leaves a more useful set of routes which are 30-minute headways and will have a greater span of service. Maybe it also encourages Metro to create more 15-minute routes and get rid of more hourly routes.

    1. So you think the local route section should be furtherer broken up? Could you give example of how this would lead to different results?

      1. Four buckets are still useful. I would define them differently, and it might lead to some different results. I don’t know that I would use the word “local” for anything.

        Frequent trunk routes – operate 15 minute (or better) headways weekday daytimes. Operate 7 days a week with full span of service (5am to 1am and night owl).

        Other core routes – generally operate 30 minute weekday daytime headways. Generally operate 7 days a week with 5am to 10pm span of service. Serve areas that are too far from the trunk routes but still have enough ridership to justify core service. (When possible combine routes to create frequent trunk routes.)

        Community access service – operates 60 minute headways (or less). Generally only operate weekdays daytime. Generally poor performers and should consider for elimination unless accessibility requirements justify the service even if poor performer.

        Peak Commuter – self explanatory. Operate peak commute hours only, often with express characteristics. Could consider a premium fare. Consider eliminating if they overlap with frequent trunk routes and don’t justify a peak fare.

      2. So most cuts in the draft reduction service plan would have come from the “other core routes” category. I have a post coming up later today but what you will see is the 60 minute headway service is really rather small, just about 3% of metro service.

      3. Maybe more should come from peak commuter, esp. if there is alternative service, or if peak commuter can get a premium fare, less reductions are necessary.

        Some questions/comments about the 60-minute headway category. If a bunch of current 30-minute (“other core”) get reduced to 60-minute, that increases the size of that bucket, and rather than reducing to 60-minute which just isn’t very useful, maybe those routes should be eliminated instead or the area served by paratransit.

        What about the overlap between 60-minute service and paratransit. I know that paratransit is not cheap, but the 60-minute service isn’t very productive either. Can the accessibility function be covered by paratransit? Or vice-versa, and paratransit be scaled back if 60-minute service is retained? An earlier post said that the budget for paratransit is $124 million. Isn’t that far more than the budget deficit? If paratransit is cut, perhaps more mainstream service can be retained? It seems appropriate to consider paratransit in this mix – or else paratransit should be funded differently and not from mainstream transit revenue sources.

      4. Part of the Pierce Transit plan is to cut the least productive hourly routes AND paratransit. Apparently they are only required to provide paratransit in areas that are within some distance of a bus route. I don’t know if this applies to King county though.

      5. I think Carl means DART service. I certainly think that DART needs to be part of the solution in areas where 60 minute headway service currently is.

      6. Joshua is right, the ADA requires paratransit service in areas where there is regular bus service. So cutting a route entirely theoretically allows a cut in expensive paratransit as well.

        However, the County Council has elected to exceed ADA requirements. That’s something that the audit pointed out as a potential savings.

      7. If all paratransit is named DART, that is what I meant. So a decision to retain a 60-minute route is more expensive than just the 60-minute route as it establishes an ADA requirement. If DART can provide sufficient service, then there is no need for a 60-minute bus. A secondary question then becomes where does King County provide service at all. I don’t believe we provide any service in places like Baring and Skykomish, so it isn’t automatically everywhere. Maybe within the urban growth boundary is a starting point.

      8. It’s not just the presence of service, it’s the span. So if a place just has peak service, Metro isn’t required to provide paratransit service in off-peak hours.

      9. Why can’t the same vehicles and operators provide both functions? Is that a legal requirement or an operating practice? My understanding is that both are a shared-ride service, not a single-passenger taxi service, and both are ADA accessible.

        Seems like there might be some operating efficiencies possible.

      10. I’m sure it could. The core of their service delivery model is that they are based on demand responsive services.

    2. Per the link in Martin’s original post, the distinction between frequent arterial and local service is that frequent arterial service runs at least every 20 minutes during peak periods, even if they run every 30 minutes other times. (Frequent arterial routes also run at least 16-18 hours a day, which basically means into the evening hours.) Local service NEVER runs any more frequently than every 30 minutes. So for instance, the 11 runs 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day and 30 minutes in the evening, but 12-20 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes during late rush hour, so it’s a frequent arterial route. Same for the 26: 30 minutes in the midday and evening, 115-20 minutes during rush hour, frequent arterial. On the other hand, the 21 runs every 30 minutes in the midday and evening, but maintains that pace during rush hour, so it’s a local route.

      I agree that hourly seems to be a subset of local, but I suspect Metro can’t set a practical upper bound, though it could say “never more frequent than 30 mins, but at some point, at least as frequent as 60 mins”. The 25 runs hourly in the middle of the day but 30 minutes or less in peak periods. The 186 runs every 90 minutes in the middle of the day (and Saturdays) but every 30-60 minutes during peak periods. The 149 actually blurs the line between Local and Peak Commuter: it runs just two midday trips in each direction for two-hour headways but runs every 30 minutes during peak periods.

      (These numbers are from Metro’s service frequency chart – I know it’s from the February service change, but they don’t seem to be putting a June one up, probably because frequencies weren’t appreciably changed even though some route numbers were – the 186 was the 915 then, for instance. Incidentially, the 57 is an interesting case: it only runs during peak periods, but that appears to be so it can pick up the local-service slack since the 56 runs nothing but express runs during those times, so is it Peak Commuter because of when it runs, or Local because of everything else about it? Most people would rather take the 54/55 to get to the Junction from downtown…)

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