Parsing Reliability Numbers Further

I thought I’d follow up on Martin’s post on Amtrak’s long-distance reliability numbers with some Cascades data that is highly relevant to the conversation.  Commenters expressed frustration with using mean performance as a single indicator of success, and many asked not only for Amtrak’s definition of ‘on-time’, but also to see median, mode, and ‘full-distribution’ data for Amtrak trains.  The problems with ‘mean performance’ have already been kicking around the transit blogosphere lately, and I see little reason to simply reiterate something others have already said well.  But I always find it useful to add data and visuals to a conversation.

By Amtrak’s on-time performance definitions, trains can be 10-30 minutes late (depending on route distance) and be considered ‘on-time’.  With such a wide scope, the concepts of ‘on-time’ and ‘reliability’ begin to drift apart in meaning.  Reliability should mean a consistent travel experience, both qualitatively (comfort and service) and quantitatively (speed and on-time performance).

Check out the chart above.  Using data from the invaluable Amtrak Train Status Archives, I charted the performance of two morning train segments (#510 Seattle to Vancouver BC, and #513 Vancouver BC to Seattle only) for January 1-June 30 2010.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Parsing Reliability Numbers Further”

Montlake Blvd and Pacific St Bus Volumes

Count and Combined Headway of Buses Currently on Montlake and Pacific

We have been pretty adamant on our concerns about bus connections between SR-520, Husky Stadium, the UW Triangle and the rest of the U-district over the last few weeks. This connection must be done right and that means uninterrupted and high quality bus lanes between SR-520 and the intersection of Pacific St and Pacific Pl at the very minimum. A few reason why this is so important:

  • Current bus service on Montlake/Pacific/15th currently has a combined headways as low as 1.5 minutes.
  • The SR-520 HCT plan calls for three BRT routes, one new route and two upgraded routes (271 and 540), all traveling on Montlake/Pacific/15th Ave
  • Routes 43, 44 and 48 also travel on 24th/Montlake/Pacific/15th and already exceed service levels for RapidRide
  • Even with best case scenarios Montlake/Pacific and Montlake/SR-520 will still have an LOS of E in the afternoon (pg 15, Note this is an old design, the newest design will have a worse LOS).
  • Community groups don’t want a second bascule bridge built, even though all new space will be allocated to transit, carpoolers, bicyclist and pedestrians.
  • WSDOT is removing the Montlake flyer stop without providing new operating funds to mitigate this change
  • WSDOT is removing the ramps to Lake Washington Blvd which will worsen traffic south of SR-520 on Montlake/24th Ave
  • Husky Stadium Link station neccesitates fast and reliable bus connections to the rest of the U-district and SR-520 especially if transfers to Link are to be “forced”.

Below the jump are two graphics showing which bus routes contribute most to this extremely low combined headways. Routes 43, 44, 48, 271 and 540 are the lions share of the trips.

Service on the 271 and 540 will need to increase by roughly by 4-8 buses trips per hour per direction to meet goals set in the SR-520 HCT plan and a new BRT route would add 6-10 trips per hour per direction during peaks. Additionally if ST/Metro wanted to end other routes like the 255 or 545 at Husky Stadium roughly an additional 10-16 buses per hour per direction need to be accommodated.

All of this additional service put together could add roughly 20-30 new buses per hour per direction to Montlake/Pacific/15th, roughly doubling bus service from current levels. While nothing is certain, decisions made now must be able to accommodate a scenario like this and details of transit operations must be worked not now, not later.

Graphics after jump Continue reading “Montlake Blvd and Pacific St Bus Volumes”

Sound Transit Welcomes New Deputy CEO

Celia Kupersmith, photo from Sound Transit

Back in June, Sound Transit announced that it was hiring Celia Kupersmith to replace retiring Deputy CEO, Ron Tober.  Kupersmith has now joined ST, bringing experience from her work in San Francisco where she was the GM of the Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District.  The district runs transit service between San Francisco and Marin/Sonoma counties.

From Sound Transit’s press release:

“Celia is a nationally respected transit leader who brings extensive engineering, capital project management and operations experience to Sound Transit,” said Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl. “She will play a pivotal role in delivering high quality transit projects and services to the people of our region. We couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome her aboard.”

“Few transit systems nationally are growing as fast as Sound Transit’s, and none offer the professional challenges and opportunities that exist here,” Kupersmith said. “Sound Transit’s success in the years ahead will come from working with a broad range of partners including local governments and local transit agencies to deliver projects and services with tremendous focus on efficiency. There is not another agency in the country that could have lured me from the Golden Gate Bridge.”

While Tober left big shoes to fill, we wish Kupersmith the best of luck in helping carry out ST2.

Another SR 520 Meeting

Photo by VeloBusDriver

The next in a series of workgroup meetings is happening tomorrow:

ESSB 6392 Workgroup meeting

Date: Thursday, Sept. 9

Location: Puget Sound Regional Council Board Room, 1011 Western Ave., Suite 500, Seattle

Time: 3-5 p.m. technical presentation to the workgroup (includes public comment)

Who: WSDOT, Seattle Department of Transportation, University of Washington, King County Metro, Sound Transit, Seattle City Council staff

Topics: Workgroup members will discuss draft recommendations including roadway operations, bus stop locations and connectivity, light rail accommodation, Montlake Bascule Bridge phasing and traffic management plans. The workgroup will accept public comments at the end of the meeting.

If you can articulate problems with the way bus service will work in the Montlake neighborhood (and you should), it would be good to show up. Then again, the presentation may very well reveal they fixed the problems. Meeting materials might be posted here in advance of the meeting, but at the moment they’re not.

Amtrak Reliability Numbers

Empire Builder Train, photo by Mike Bjork

Contributor Emeritus Brian Bundridge relays these numbers:


Northbound Into Seattle (Train #14)
June On Time Arrival = 73% (Average Arrival 19 Minutes Early)
July On Time Arrival = 74% (Average Arrival 8 Minutes Early)
August On Time Arrival= 74% (Average Arrival 8 Minutes Early)

Southbound into Los Angeles (Train #11)
June On Time Arrival  = 93% (Average Arrival 19 Minutes Early)
July On Time Arrival  = 87% (Average Arrival 3 Minutes Early)
August On Time Arrival  = 84% (Average Arrival 3 Minutes Late)


Westbound into Seattle (Train #8)
June On Time Arrival = 63% (Average Arrival 11 Minutes Late)
July On Time Arrival = 71% (Average Arrival 2 Minutes Late)
August On Time Arrival = 48% (Average Arrival 25 Minutes Late)

Eastbound into Chicago (Train #7)
June On Time Arrival = 13% (Average Arrival 54 Minutes Late)
July On Time Arrival = 42% (Average Arrival 69 Minutes Late)
August On Time Arrival = 23% (Average Arrival 83 Minutes Late)

News Roundup: Lives Quietly Saved

This is an open thread.

Seattle Waterfront Proposals Presented September 15th

WSDOT Image via HugeAssCity

With all the disagreement about how to replace (or not) the viaduct’s car capacity, there’s been very little discussion of what the waterfront will actually look like. The entire purpose of burying the freeway, after all, is to create a wonderful urban space.

Luckily, that’s about to change, as Seattle has chosen four architects (out of 30 applicants) to present their visions to the public:

The next step in the selection process will be public presentations on September 15 at Benaroya Hall’s S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium (200 University Street, Seattle) from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (please note the time change). This will be an opportunity for Seattleites to hear shortlisted designers explain their skills, experience and approach to the project, as well as ask questions. The lead designer will be selected in part based on the quality of their presentation and ability to engage the public.

See also Crosscut for a discussion of the candidates.

I’m actually very fearful for this process. I sense an uncritical sentiment for “green space” — which, if poorly designed, can be dead 300 days a year — and a certain segment of the population who wants to make sure that no one makes a profit on this. I, for one, would like to see some commerce and development mixed in with the parkland.

Obama Announces New Infrastructure Investments

Today Obama accounted a new plan to spend $50 billion dollars on our transportation infrastructure. From my perspective the news worthiness of this isn’t so much the money, after all $50 billion dollars won’t go too far, the big news is that it hints at what the surface transportation reauthorization might look like when congress gets around to it. This could include:

  • Use of an infrastructure bank, allowing for front loading of projects, which is good news for LA’s 30/10
  • Consolidated and possibly mode blind federal funding structure based around broad goals (preservation, mobility, air-quality, etc.) rather than todays structure with hundreds of mode specific and narrowly defined programs
  • Livable communities becomes an important federal funding priority among other “soft” goals of our transportation system
  • Integration of HSR efforts with the rest of the transportation funding structure

Initial reaction from the Transport Politic. Press release below the jump. Continue reading “Obama Announces New Infrastructure Investments”

11 Steps to Bus Ridership

Photo by VeloBusDriver

TransitSleuth tweets: “Hmm, what would increase bus ridership in Seattle? I want to create a top 10 list. :)”

I’ve thought about this a bit so I’ll give 11:

1. More density. Density begets ridership.

2. Bus lanes and signal priority. Slow buses are a frequent complaint.

3. Higher gas prices. Tackle the demand side. See 2008.

4. An end to socialized and/or regulated parking, possibly a higher commercial parking tax. Ditto.

5. A branded frequent-service network. RapidRide is a start.

6. More frequency, particularly East-West. Too many dense places in the city are too far apart by bus.

7. Payment reform. This is also part of speeding things up. More off-board payment would help. Popularizing ORCA through a small fare discount would speed adoption and boarding time. There are couple of ways to get rid of the pay-as-you-leave policy, but the important thing is to introduce the board in front/get off in the back and improve flow on the buses.

8. More presence by transit security.

9. Real-time arrival where possible. GPS is being installed over the next year and will improve the accuracy of onebusaway, but RapidRide is the only part of the system that is planning message boards at stops.

10. Stop consolidation.

11. More standing room on crowded routes.

Notably, only items 6 through 9 require serious outlays of cash. 1, 3, and 4 can actually generate more revenue for government. What’s lacking in most cases, is political will, generally on the part of the King County Council but also the City of Seattle.

STB Surpasses 2,000 Twitter Followers

[UPDATE: Please note also at right our links to Oran’s and Sherwin’s twitter feeds, which are distinct from STB’s but quite transit-intensive.]

A big shout out to all of our followers. Thanks for making STB and our twitter feed one of the source that you turn to for your daily transportation nerdom. All of the writers at STB do this because we want to help change the Seattle region for the better and your follows, @Seatransitblog, RTs and #FF all help us know we aren’t wasting our time. Thanks!

Gas Tax Doesn’t Cover the Streets

Vancouver Bike Lane, by Mike Bjork

Josh Cohen decisively debunks the idea that cyclists are freeloading on the contributions of drivers:

The Seattle Department of Transportation’s 2009 annual report breaks down the agency’s $340.8 million budget by funding source. The gas tax accounts for $13.4 million, or 4 percent of that total. The full budget breakdown (in millions):

Grants & Other: $96.9 (29 percent)
Debt: $77.4 (23 percent)
Bridging the Gap (a property-tax levy passed by voters in 2007): $60.9 (18 percent)
General Fund: $42.3 (12 percent)
Reimbursables: $42 (12 percent)
Gas Tax: $13.4 (4 percent)
Cumulative Reserve Fund: $7.6 (2 percent)

There’s no obvious problem with this funding distribution because we’re all supposed to use the streets. But the corollary is that we’re all supposed to (safely) use the streets — not just people in cars with a right not to be inconvenienced by slower vehicles.

Moreover, the width of many city streets is a function of the space that cars take up. You could get by with one-lane streets, two lanes on roads that carry bus routes, in the absence of cars.

It’s also always worthwhile to mention the enormous subsidy that driving gets in the sales tax exemption for gasoline.

Link to Run One-Car Trains

Photo by Oran

As a cost-saving measure, Sound Transit will begin running one-car trains on evenings and weekends when no event makes high ridership likely. The one-car runs will begin as early as 7:30pm on weekdays and in some cases all day on weekends.

Spokesman Geoff Patrick explained:

It is a cost-reduction measure in response to the recession’s significant impacts on agency revenues. Demand during those late-evening hours can be met with one-car trains, and the agency will save about $460,000 annually. We will operate two-car trains when there are sports events or other happenings that will increase rider demand.

The change does introduce some operational complexity in that in-service trains must be split in the O&M Facility or the Pine Street Stub Tunnel, but there is a net savings in doing things this way.

Washington’s 20-Year Transportation Plan

It can be tough to keep the various layers of transportation plans straight, but the Washington Transportation Commission is doing one to cover the next 20 years.

The usual organizational suspects are hosting a public meeting tomorrow at lunch to talk about the plan and receive comments. Details after the jump.

UPDATE 6:05 PM (Adam here) – As a few of our commenters have already pointed out this is a public involvement travisty, with WSTC not even hosting a single real meeting in the Seattle area, home to over half the state’s population. I contacted the WSTC on August 18th saying as much, and they still did not add real meeting in the Seattle area. Below is a response to my e-mail questioning why there wasn’t a meeting in Seattle and below that is my response.

Thanks for your question about WTP 2030 listening sessions.

The five listening sessions have been scheduled to provide broad statewide input. The listening sessions are part of a broader public input plan aimed at gathering input from a diverse range of people and groups across the state – east and west, urban and rural. The public can view WTP 2030 on the Commission’s website: and provide comments via a public input tool submit comments via email or in writing. The plan also includes outreach to bloggers like you. We’re hoping that coverage in your blog will help us disseminate the draft plan and gather public input.

Specifically regarding the location of the listening sessions  – the Everett and Kitsap sessions will provide opportunities for outreach to the broader Puget Sound region including urban and rural areas north to the Canadian border.  The other three listening sessions provide outreach to Southwest Washington in the Vancouver metropolitan area and to Yakima and Spokane in Eastern Washington.

Finally, the Transportation Commission also regularly meets in communities throughout the state. (The Commission’s July meeting was in Seattle and the November meeting will be in Bellevue.)  These meetings are open to the public and they usually take public comments on transportation issues.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions about WTP 2030 or the public input process. We really appreciate your interest in WTP 2030.

… and my response…

I have to say though this is a major oversight. Everett is not Seattle and to not have a listening session in the largest city of the state is ridiculous and begs the question of whether or not the commission is trying to skew results. I doubt that is the case but I wanted to tell you that is how it looks from an outsiders perspective and certainly is a juicy headline. If they wanted to cover the north they should of had an event in Bellingham, but don’t shortchange the largest city in the state.

Continue reading “Washington’s 20-Year Transportation Plan”

News Roundup: Petitions

"Link, SB SODO Station, 4:39pm, Monday", by Oran

This is an open thread.

Pierce Transit Cuts Spending

Photo by Atomic Taco

Facing a steep cut in service in 2012 and planning a February ballot measure to stop the bleeding, Pierce Transit is making some non-service cuts, mainly by hitting their non-union employees.

On August 26th PT announced the elimination of management positions. Nonunion employees will also not get wage increases in 2011, and will have to pay more for their health care. The savings will amount to $1.2m through 2012, a fraction of their $50m annual long-term deficit. That’s in addition to $72m in savings through 2012 achieved with previous staff cuts, fare increases, and deferred capital projects. And of course another fare increase is coming down the pike.

The TNT has more about PT’s main labor cost:

Those cuts, however, will not apply to the bulk of Pierce Transit’s work force. Some 845 transit union members won a contract that calls for a 4 percent hike this summer. Agency officials wanted to renegotiate; union leaders refused, saying their members earned their wages and benefits – and suggested there are other places to cut.

“We’ve asked (to renegotiate) twice, and they’ve said no twice,” said agency spokeswoman Treva Percival. “Their contract is up again next year. Negotiations will probably start in the spring.”

Triangle Walk and Talk

Tour Group at YMCA

Last night Feet First (great pedestrian advocacy group) hosted their second Walk & Talk tour guided by Tom Rasmussen. The tour started in the Triangle of West Seattle (bounded by 35th, Alaska, and Fauntleroy) and headed east stopping at destinations along the way, ending at a casual reception.

The first stop was the YMCA followed by the new “Link” development. The Triangle is an interesting area. Up until just a year or two ago the whole area consisted mostly of light manufacturing and auto dealership, a large number of which are out of business now. The area is prime for redevelopment, due to its location and underlying zoning. As a casual observer of developments in this area over the last few years it’s interesting how omnipresent the themes of transition and parking are.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Triangle Walk and Talk”

Ridership Modeling and Fallibility


Critics of transit investment – especially rail investment – frequently cite a failure to achieve a budgeted ridership estimate as evidence of the ineptitude or corruption of the agencies planning the lines in question.  While I never wish to discourage due criticism, ridership estimates are constructed via theoretical models, and critiquing a model for being wrong is tautological, akin to critiquing a human for being mortal. Frustrated at popular confusion over the nature of modeling, I thought I’d write a post on the limitations and capabilities of models.  To my mind there are four main points:

More after the jump…

Continue reading “Ridership Modeling and Fallibility”