Adam on RapidRide, photo by Atomic Taco

Today marks the first day of service for RapidRide’s A Line.  Fares are free for this weekend until Monday when revenue service begins.  A small contingent of STB bloggers and readers were able to make it out this morning for a short roundtrip ride on the new line.  Though there were only roughly 10-15 of us, our coach had already reached seated capacity on its way out of SeaTac, indicating a fairly smooth transition for 174 riders.  Nonetheless, there were still a few passengers who tried to request old 174 stops that have been eliminated by the service change.

Our southbound trip took roughly 47 minutes, considerably longer than the 37 minute long return trip northbound.  A number of RapidRide’s special features have not yet been fully activated, particularly the TSP (transit signal priority).  Several stations are also not finished, with some lacking ORCA readers, maps, and the real-time variable signs.  Inaugural day was not free from operational kinks as well, as there were some instances of bunching and late departures this morning.

One very refreshing feature, however, is RapidRide’s automated stop announcements, something Metro is planning to install in other coaches with its new GPS system.  Not all stops were announced, however, and those that mysteriously disappeared were manually overridden by the driver.

We’ll be adding opening day media to the Flickr pool soon.  Otherwise, you have until Monday to poach a fare-free ride.

66 Replies to “RapidRide A Line Opens”

  1. I’m going southbound on A Line right now. Threw first few stops weren’t announced, but after three or four, they’ve all worked. It’s been SRO since Tukwila.

  2. Just out of curiosity, what is the official classification of RapidRide? BRT-lite? Enhanced bus? Glorified limited? I was under the impression that it was actually BRT at one point, but am no longer sure.

    1. BRT, just like rail transit isn’t any one thing. Swift is on the high end of arterial based BRT, while RapidRide is one the low end of arterial based BRT. I personally hate the BRT moniker. I think it is more appropriate to call it high quality, trunk service, etc but the name most likely isn’t going away.

      1. Metro isn’t known for appropriately applying industry terms to their service. Apparently, the 358 is an “express” route because it doesn’t serve some of the stops north of Downtown and south of the Aurora Bridge. To me, that just means the route doesn’t stop there. Like how route 70 doesn’t stop in the middle of the University Bridge. Just different routing.

        I suppose if you wanted to you could call it “limited stop” service.

      2. Shame because it doesn’t do true BRT justice.

        BRT in my view using a bus for high speed, limited stop, express trips with buses sometimes having their own dedicated or limited use for cars lane/roadway.

        The SoundTransit 577/8 is more of a BRT than what I can tell from SloRide (even the colors…red and yellow suggest hazard speeds).

      3. Per Wiki:

        An ideal bus rapid transit service would be expected to include most of the following features:

        Bus only, grade-separated (or at-grade exclusive) right-of-way : A dedicated bus lane allows the bus to operate separately, without interference from other modes of traffic. Although buses have a long turning radius, busways can be engineered to tighter standards than an open roadway, reducing construction costs while still assuring safe operation.

  3. I did see a few people standing at now closed stops when i drove down Intl Blvd today. although i will say the BAT lane sucks. It goes fast, but there are spots were there are quite a few ppl who pull out infront of you to get into businesses, or do other stupid shit around buses…

    1. “…there are spots were there are quite a few ppl who pull out infront of you to get into businesses, or do other stupid shit around buses…”

      Frankly, any stretch with 2 or more lanes in one direction, frequent driveways, and speed limits above 30 it’s amazing what you will see people do to avoid waiting behind a bus for any reason.

      I don’t know if they trust our skills/training to predict and avoid creaming them or if they are just oblivious. Either way, it just leaves you scratching your head sometimes.

      1. I think its just oblivous. had some idiot back out into the bat lane from a business as i was approaching (i was actually a ways out, but they slowly backed into the lane…) them in a bus at about 30 or 40 mph. Gave them a couple of long toots of the horn and they dident seem to care one way or the other…

      1. And the diffrence is? Origonally they called them BAT lanes, now they seem to be calling them HOV lanes. Others in the region are building BAT lanes. Its all the same in the end.

      2. SR-99, HOV: Any vehicle carrying two or more people can travel as far as they wish. Any vehicle with one or fewer people can only use the lane for right turns.
        SR-522, BAT: Only buses can travel as far as they wish. Any vehicle may use the lane for right turns.

      3. It’s getting a little nuts out there for drivers. HOV, BAT, HOT, Good to Go, Reversible Nexus. What’s next? Inflatable doll lanes.

      4. Mike:

        Remember, Traffic Engineers like their acronyms. It makes them seem special and smart.

  4. “Our coach had already reached seated capacity on its way out of SeaTac…”

    …and yet still has the same seating arrangement, tiny aisles, and negligible standing room.

    [le sigh]

    1. It’s not perfect but it’s an improvement. I walked up and down the bus while it was moving, stepping between standees. That’s not something you could easily do on an ST 9600 coach. Most importantly, when people want to get off the bus, there are 3 doors so it’ll never be as bad as unloading a packed 550 at South Bellevue P&R which can take several minutes when it’s SRO.

      1. I’ll be curious to hear from a driver who’s been through the training.
        1. If headways are the key, how is that maintained? (Control Ctr intervention at some point, stay close to the estimated time points on the run card, digital display in real time, or some other)
        2. When TSP begins working, under what conditions does the bus get priority? (every signal with TSP, or under some protocol of being behind schedule, etc)
        3. Any special instructions for the POP system from the drivers perspective?
        4. Any instructions on running faster than the estimated time points?
        I can see the incentive to ‘fly down Pac Hwy’ to get a longer break, but if too many drivers do it, then the next run cut shaves a bunch of minutes off the schedule, and it’s back to no breaks when the traffic gets shitty.
        Thanks for the reply, or maybe from someone who bent the ear of a driver on the route.

      2. Metro should have chose more urban style seating with a 2+1 configuration in the central parts of the coach (W/C wells to rear door) to help with flow. The wide high back seats create a narrow isle in spots which do not help circulation through the vehicle.

      3. 1. Control center.
        2. I heard something along the lines of greens stay green longer, reds turn green quicker. No specifics.
        3. Open all doors at all stops. Do your best to convince cash paying customers that yes, they do need a transfer.
        4. See #1

      4. I heard that, at least southbound, the two required timepoints are Tukwila International Boulevard Station and S 176th. After S 176th, operators are supposed to go as fast as they legally and safely can. KCM is also planning to have two spare coaches near the line, but I don’t know if they’re for quickly replacing a disabled coach or also for putting into service when headways aren’t working right.

      5. Thanks Tim, for 1-4. One more, and I’ll shut up. If it’s the control center, have they added a separate coordinator and channel for Rapid Ride or just dumped it on one of the existing channels? A separate channel would work, but just one more thing for overworked coordinators is going to be the first duty ‘dumped’.

      6. “3. Open all doors at all stops. Do your best to convince cash paying customers that yes, they do need a transfer.”

        Really? I mean, really really? As in, “not just at ‘station’ stops?” And “not just if the operator’s in the mood?”


      7. @Mike Skehan not sure, but Metro is concerned about paying someone to space coaches out, specifically on whether or not this service is “worth it”. Meaning that there are no TVMs since they’re expensive to eliminate and generate (relatively) little revenue.

        @d.p. I can’t tell how much sarcasm is there, but yes, they open all doors at all stops–if someone is at the stop or if someone on board requested the stop. However between 7pm and 6am it’s front door only. And just like regular service, there are operators that open the rear door(s) at night.

      8. Wouldn’t it be cheaper simply to have time-since-previous-bus signs (for the operators to view and remotely zero out) at the light rail stations, going southbound, and at Federal Way TC, going northbound?

      9. “However between 7pm and 6am it’s front door only… [unless the operator’s in the mood].”

        So… The service lacks the expectation of consistency. And one can still expect to wait for passengers to amble up the skinny aisles from back to front at night if you get a “strict-adherence” operator.

        Yup, that’s the Metro we’re used to!

        And do you mean front-door-only after 7 on the whole line, including the much-ballyhooed “station” stops? That would be near-criminally stupid!

      10. Geeze d.p, chill out. Right or wrong the after 7pm rule is designed to improve operator safety. Those of us who drive in relatively safe areas and who’ve never been assaulted tend to open the rear doors to speed exiting – people want to get home. For operators who have been assaulted or who drive in the rougher parts of town, following the front door only rule allows them to monitor who is getting on and off the coach.

        Obviously, it’s not perfect – The case of the operator who was knocked unconscious because she followed policy shows that. But getting a look at who is on your coach at night helps you keep an eye on suspicious passengers.

      11. It is unbelievable that Metro’s “BRT” would stick with the arcane “no back door after 7 p.m.” rule! When, oh when, will Metro stop letting the drivers (who I do greatly appreciate) and mechanics run the show?? What about the customers??

      12. Sorry, Velo. There is absolutely no way that letting people off the back — very far from the driver — is going to stoke a confrontation quite the way making a testy passenger confront you at the front will. And with the exception of RapidRide, nobody will/should be getting on the open back doors; you have a mirror and a switch to monitor and enforce that.

        RapidRide is supposed to be Metro’s foray into something that could be mistaken for “mass transit” if you squint at it hard enough. At some point, “mass transit” is going to involve boarding and deboarding at volumes that you can’t monitor each passenger individually — and won’t have to, because real “mass transit” attracts a healthy ratio of good-apple passengers to bad-apple ones, such that safety enforces itself.

        The perpetuation of the after-7 rule on RapidRide (which if I’m reading you correctly applies to all “stations”), combined with the sub-15-minute frequencies after 7 and sub-30-minute frequencies after 10 even on the future in-city routes suggest that Metro has no interest in operating a true, usable, core transit line anywhere beyond the daytime. “Keep your cars handy,” it implies.

        It’s sad, pathetic, and certainly not what we voted for when we hiked our own taxes. I’m normally a “fund it, fund it, fund it, fund it ’til it works” guy, but I’m frankly starting to regret my vote on that measure. If someone were to launch a lawsuit claiming misrepresentation of initiative intent and misappropriation of funds, I wouldn’t be particularly upset.

        I know many on here have their fingers crossed. “RapidRide will have ridership beyond all expectations; they’ll have to improve frequencies to keep up with demand!” they say, noting the experience of L.A.’s MetroRapid (which now boasts 3-minute headways at rush hour and 7-11 minutes most other times).

        But this is Metro we’re talking about. That will never happen.

      13. Another thing, Velo…

        Is their any empirical evidence that “one door after 7” has any effect on security, or is it one of those “service philosophies” in which Metro like to traffic that aren’t ever borne out by reality?

        Frankly, I’ve never ridden a major transit system anywhere with a greater percentage of sketchy characters aboard than Metro permits. This includes cities that are statistically much more dangerous than we are.

        I also can’t think of another “one door only” city off the top of my head. Not to suggest causation — it has more to due with lax fare/transfer enforcement, the city of Seattle’s insistence on subsidizing the bus as a rolling homeless shelter, and poor service driving away elective customers (i.e. the aforementioned lack of a critical mass of good-apple riders to set the behavioral tone).

        But as someone a little tired of drug deals in the seat next to me, please enlighten me as to how “one door only” has improved things at all!

      14. After riding buses at night in San Francisco, which has no such policy, I don’t know why Metro continues to do this. Metro doesn’t have passenger activated back doors which only open when someone wants to exit. SF Muni, Vancouver Translink, Pierce, and NYC Transit have them. The RapidRide buses I was riding after 7 pm also opened all doors. RapidRide is supposed to have more security officers patrolling the line and yet they keep that policy.

  5. Our southbound trip took roughly 47 minutes

    Yeah, the operator didn’t have a heavy enough foot and was too used to driving the way all routes are driven–get to the timepoints at or after the time listed on the run card. That’s why our SB coach was overloaded and the one behind was only 3 minutes behind.
    It helps to have a service planner on board to explain things to you.

    Or it could have been a problem with the coach–the coach we rode on left FWTC “Out of Service” which means that a mechanic–not an operator–drove it back to South Base.

    1. No, it could mean the operator chose to run Out Of Service instead of To Terminal.

      Some drivers are like that, even though they risk a write-up for doing it.

  6. I just took it down and back. Overall, when I was sitting there, I just couldn’t shake the impression that there’s very little difference between it and a regular bus… I do appreciate the good headways, Wi-Fi, BAT lanes, and nice-ish stations. They really skimped on the bike racks at the stations, though. There’s probably a picture on the Flickr pool where you can see what I mean. Also, they should have the same setup at Federal Way TC Bay 8 as they do at all the regular stations so that it’s easily appararent where to get on. Anyways, as i’ve said earlier, all bus routes should have these feqtures someday!

  7. It will be interesting to see the customer response as they acclimate to higher frequency and longer stop spacing. I was impressed with how many people were waiting for the bus along the way given that most had no idea what RapidRide was and the 174 had been only 30 minute service. There are kinks to work out but it is great to see this up and running.

    It was nice meet the STB crew and followers today. Keep up the good work.


    Karl Otterstrom
    Spokane Transit

  8. Using estimated timepoints, and an occasional control center nudge to keep things evenly spaced out presents a huge problem for the riders who board at intermediate stops.
    Drivers can either fly down Pac Hwy, and gain up to 10 minutes on the schedule, or just follow the time points on the run card. Metro’s trip planner gives you the estimated time point for your bus, but the bus could be 5 minutes early.
    So it’s either play the game, and get there 5-7 early to catch the next one, or end up waiting awhile, especially if the following bus leaves the beginning terminal a couple of minutes late, knowing they can make it up en-route.
    I like fixed schedules. It keeps the system somewhat honest and accountable.

    1. With frequent enough headways, I think it all works out. In Chicago they even allow buses on frequent routes to leap frog each other if they’ve bunched up.

      1. It really depends on the agnecys policys regarding leap frogging, drop off only, and short turning equipment to get back on schedule. With newer communications technologys that have AVL capability its easier for a comm center employee to “micro manage” the operation of a line, and work to keep the schedule flowing nicely, even if that does mean short turning equipment or missing trips. Of course you also have to take into account that you need to plot out some short turn escape options as well as have dedicated and trained personnel to manage the line in this fashion.

      2. No, this ONLY works at stops with “Next bus in…” signs.

        My husband and I got passed up at a stop one morning last week. I could see that it was crowded, and I figured he was running late. I also knew from OneBusAway that the next bus was only about 3 minutes behind him.

        So I’m glad I had a seat, but without technology in hand and being a transit supporter, other folks at my stop got rather pissed at a bus running right past them and not stopping.

    2. During 10 minute operations they should try to even our headways, but when operating at 15 minute headways they should try to keep to a schedule that is in line when what the travel time will really be.

  9. Anybody know how often RapidRide A ridership stats will be reported and how accurate they will be? In other words, have they improved ridership counting abilities with RapidRide in some way or is it the standard random APC coach moving through the system approach?

    I’d love to see a monthly or quarterly look at ridership stats just as STB has been doing for Link.

    1. All vehicles that I have been on have had the same passenger counters that Link uses. RR had them above all doors too. And I did not see any coaches with the APC sticker.

      1. So, in short, we can expect more accurate numbers for RR, hopefully. Cool.

        I’m really hopeful for RR. I was kind of bummed that it isn’t really BRT. But it doesn’t sound like that was really ever the intention. If Rapid Ride technology works its way throughout the system and improves route performance and ridership, it will be a success. Only time will tell.

  10. I was too late to catch the run with the rest of the STBers. Anyway, I had an interesting idea:

    With the RapidRide C (West Seattle-CBD) and D (Ballard-CBD) lines coming (even though that is over a year away), I was wondering of it would be possible to interline the C and D lines, providing a one-seat ride between Ballard and West Seattle as the 15/18/21/22/56/57 do today. The D line would replace the 15 and 18, right?

    1. This would be a good idea…except that to interline the C and D lines would cut Ballard off from downtown south of Seneca and Columbia (depending on direction). Lots of Ballard riders would hate that – it would be a big step down in available destinations.

      1. Routing isn’t really decided in the greater Downtown area for either of those routes yet, so I think they should take this opportunity to stop having West Seattle routes get on the Viaduct in the middle of Downtown, it may save a little time but it seems to be more annoying than it’s worth, whether you’re going to or from Downtown. Have them get off the West Seattle Freeway at Fourth and go up dedicated bus lanes on Fourth into Downtown, then continue on to Ballard. It would reduce a lot of duplication.

      2. d.p., prepared to be shocked. There is no room in the current tunnel schedule to allow for as many trips as RapidRide C line is planning.

      3. Wouldn’t it then make sense to pull some of the peak-only routes (that strain capacity for only an 3 or 4 hours a day) out of the tunnel, replacing them with a route that will hypothetically have off-board payment and therefore cause less tunnel strain at all times?

      4. (My point being that there are 2 separate capacity issues: total number of buses at rush hour; and slow cash-payers holding up single buses forever after 7. It makes more sense to replace the former routes, with only a few trips per day, with a route that’s useful all the time. And having more off-board payment buses in the tunnel after 7 is not much of a problem, especially with Metro’s skimpy 4-per-hour intent for after-7 Rapidride.)

  11. We need a park and ride in westseattle. There are several empty lots right in the middle of town. Heck there is the old hertz rental lot that could fit alot of cars. Just take down the old building, put down some asphalt, paint some lines, charge 2 bucks aday for security, put up a bus stop sign and tadah you have a park and ride. But wait that makes to much sense and it would cut into the bike lane money or the 500.000 dollar skate board park the mayor is building in deridge.

      1. I thought there was a city ordinance against having PnR lots in the city of seattle, with a few exceptions. There was a lot of to do about this after LINK opened as well.

      2. Yeah… City ordinance blocks it.

        On the other hand, there’s de facto park-and-ride under the Bridge, and a number of good street parking places, such as parts of Delridge by the community center and Youngstown.

    1. This is a bit off-topic, but no, West Seattle does not need a park-and-ride lot, just as it hasn’t needed one for the past 80 years. Most homes are within 1/4mile of a bus stop, all homes within 1/2mile. These distances can, should and always have been covered on foot or by bike.

  12. At night the unfinished stations were completely dark with no lighting save for external street lighting. There were 3 other people waiting at the stop so I didn’t feel too unsafe. I hope the stations are completed quickly. I stood for 10 minutes in the dark (no lighting and no information) waiting for RapidRide at a station.

    1. This is more than a bit alarming – all lighting should have been in place by last Friday – autumn is here, followed by winter…

  13. so i rode the rapid ride today, and was duely impressed. Its not true BRT but the streamlined stops are nice, the AVA worked OK (Although it was double annoucing some generic annoucments; and dident announicate every stop it showed on the screen) but was a little difficult to hear over the bus at times in the very back. Fare inspectors were already out on an education mission and they did manage to scare off some hooligans on the bus as well. The bus was about 3/4 full of seated capasity on the trip i was on and the equipment still clean and nice (wonder how long that will last). The stations are still needing some work by the looks of it but seemed suitable and fairly conservative compared to some lines. Since it does run in mixed traffic and HOV lanes for the entire line it isnt true BRT but its still a fairly fast ride considering.

  14. I completed a Rapid Ride round trip late this afternoon. A few thoughts:

    1. The “launch date” was completely a matter of co-inciding with the system-wide shakeup. The next stop information signs weren’t working yet, instead displaying the message “Refer to Schedule,” which would be good advice except that there is no posted schedule!! Orca readers weren’t installed at all station stops yet. TSP must not be in service or not be effectual since we sat at some verrry long lights.

    2. Despite the shortcomings, both trips were 40 mintues long, which beats the “scheduled” time of 47 minutes. Metro needs to consistently drop this to 30 minutes once all systems come on line, for the “Rapid” in Rapid Ride to be a success in my mind.

    3. A few miles in North Federal Way were minimally built out because Highway 99 is under construction. The City is finally adding sidewalks to this last-remaining sidewalkless section of 99. Metro wisely decided to wait until that project is complete, instead of installing Rapid Ride shelters now that could be damaged during construction and would have to be moved shortly.

    4. Despite the pedestrian-hostile environment, ridership was surprising high for a late Sunday afternoon.

    1. 1. a) Exactly. Kevin Desmond, Metro GM, said that had they not been tied to the service change (aka shakeup) the A Line wouldn’t have been launched this weekend.
      b) They’re not fully calibrated yet, or so I was told. Yes, there is a “schedule”, it says “every 15 minutes” which I’ll admit is pretty worthless.
      c) I know, and that’s just dumb.
      d) No, it’s not working yet since it has to go through three levels of bureaucracy.

      3. Good to hear. However, it’s going to take a bit for passengers to get used to the new system, so there will be some delays at first.

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