Select Bus Service from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Direct comparisons between Seattle and New York have a lot of problems, but I think here’s a case where the differences aren’t really relevant. New York is implementing bus service that is high-quality in nearly every respect, and doing it cheaply. It’s cheap because they’re simply taking existing right-of-way and repainting it for buses.

Importantly, my understanding of SBS is that off-board payment is universal. It’s totally understandable that Metro has a budget crisis going on. But as someone who prefers great service in a few places to lousy service everywhere, I’d much rather they go cut some unproductive routes to pay for a good RapidRide level of service than the status quo.

I’ll always prefer rail in high-density corridors as the gold standard of service quality, but many of my problems with BRT would fall away if I had any confidence that agencies (and governing boards) could avoid the temptation to water it down to enable a low-frequency spread of service over the entire area. Swift (no longer operating on Sunday) and RapidRide (minimal off-board payment) don’t give me that confidence. That’s usually the fault of the King County Council rather than the incompetence of agency planners, but it’s an institutional problem nonetheless.

For more information, the Wikipedia page on SBS is pretty good.

47 Replies to “StreetFilms: Select Bus Service”

  1. Well, that’s never going to work here. We have way too many cars for that :-)
    BTW, Strangers ECB, reports the final draft of the Task Force will probably scrap both the 40-40-20 adds, and 60-20-20 cuts formulas at the urging of Dow (Co. Exec and boss of Metro). It will be interesting to see how much pushback he gets from the council to adopt that part of the reccomendations.
    True bus lanes and corridors with some enforcement by photo would really get transit out of the sticky-mud. When 3rd Ave was used during the tunnel redo, I rarely saw cars being ticketed for abusing the transit only rules.

    1. Based on eyeballing traffic from the street and above, I sometimes question why the bus tunnel was ever built.

      It seems like the bus only lanes would be more than adequate.

      Another thought is to remove on-street parking entirely from all the avenues which would give down town one or two more lanes for buses/bikes/wider sidewalks.

      1. I believe the idea was to someday run rail in the tunnel. I love it when a plan comes together.

        3rd is actually quite crowded with buses even now when the tunnel is in use. You have to more than just eyeball the bus traffic – take a look at the actual bus stops like 3rd & Pine. Buses queue down the block and wait at the next block for a space to open up. This is far from efficient and slows everybody down. It would also go away if we put in high capacity transit serving major hubs (read: Seattle Center and Ballard).

      2. “3rd is actually quite crowded with buses even now when the tunnel is in use.”

        3rd can get really bad, especially during games and other events. Traffic turning right to head down to the viaduct backs up onto 3rd along with other issues.

        There also needs to be a serious crackdown on car drivers using 3rd illegally. I haven’t seen any enforcement for quite some time. Heck, a bike cop could stand at many of the “no left turn between 3-6pm” signs and rake in a dozen or so tickets in a single rush hour. That *has* to be cost effective – even at overtime rates.

      3. I believe the Metro would do better if they moved a few of these bus routes away from 3rd Ave and spread them a little more evenly across downtown. I get the idea of it being convenient for most people to just walk to 3rd Ave to catch a NB or SB bus, but as Matt mentioned, the buses bottleneck at certain junctions.

    2. Mike, during rush hour at least during the tunnel closure I saw tickets getting issued almost daily. Unfortunately, not anymore, and as a daily 3rd rider I see plenty of opportunities, for sure.

      1. Most of the time the motorcycle cops sat at either end to discourage drivers from entering 3rd. Yes, tickets were handed out in the hundreds, but violations were in the thousands. Plus, those cops were paid for by ST, as part of the deal to close the tunnel.
        Today, enforcement is pretty lite, and SPD has other priorities, like not getting shot at.

      2. “SPD has other priorities”

        I’ve seen Metro Transit Police issuing tickets on 3rd in the past both for cars and pedestrians who jaywalk in front of buses. Assuming there is an agreement between Seattle and KCM Police this seems like a legitimate use of Metro Police’s time.

        At $124 per ticket, it *seems* like a model of enforcement could be created where ticket revenue at least breaks even with costs.

  2. I think I can understand what the county was hoping for when it left many of the A Line stops as pay-at-the-front. They were probably hoping boardings at those stops would be small enough (no more than one or two people at once, and usually none), that the expense of installing a ticket machine could be saved, at essentially no cost to travel time.

    I hope that doesn’t become a reason for continued systemwide use of paper transfers.

    Rather, I hope no paper is issued, and the driver simply points out who the front-door payers were when the fare team hops on board.

    1. Not so simple Brent. I don’t know a lot of drivers that would rely on perfect recall as to who paid with cash, and if your could, would want to stand up and point down the isle at them. The cops do their thing, and the driver gets shit the rest of the shake up for being a RAT, maybe even assaulted.
      I’d probably have amnesia if you asked me.

    2. There are no ticket machines anywhere on RapidRide. Even at the “stations” the only off-board payment is with ORCA. They moved the fast payment method off-board and let people continue to hold up the buses fumbling for change at the farebox. It’s the kind of stupidity I’ve unfortunately come to expect from Metro.

    3. “…at essentially no cost to travel time.”

      You’ve obviously never watched carefully as people fish for and feed dollars and coins into the farebox. The time adds up over the length of a route. Some individuals can easily add a minute or two to travel time as they feed pennies into the farebox.

      “Rather, I hope no paper is issued, and the driver simply points out who the front-door payers were when the fare team hops on board.”

      Good luck with that. You may have time to do that as an observer, but I’m going to concentrate on driving. Who paid what exits my brain immediately once the passenger gets past that yellow line.

      1. Picture this: Arrived on time at Seatac Arpt driving the 194. 2nd passenger to deboard, (homeless?), and while fumbling for coins in one of those cute little rubber-squeezy things, had time to urinate down his pant leg, and create a huge puddle at the fare box.
        I don’t know how long that takes, but it hadda be a least a minute.
        Thank god for back doors.

  3. I’m a bit out of the loop on this one, but is the First/Second Ave SBS line intended to act as a stopgap until the Second Ave Subway comes online?

    1. Yeah, Second Ave Subway doesn’t open until 2016 or 2017 right now, and even when it does, that’s only the segment between 63rd and 96th. It’ll probably be a very long time before the Second Ave Subway is extended far enough to completely replace this SBS.

  4. It seems functionally equivalent to Swift, though Swift’s payment setup is simpler and the station-stops add a lot to the experience. I like the painted lanes a lot, though.

  5. I have an objection to the concept of “productivity” as applied to transit. Despite the fact that some routes carry fewer passengers than others, people are not products. For those who depend on transit who may live along these “unproductive” routes, that ride is 100% productive and plays no less a vital role in their ability to get to work, home and to the community than a packed #7.

    1. Removing unproductive routes doesn’t mean eliminating service from a community. The more likely result is that some users will have to walk a longer distance to their bus stop, and some may lose a one-seat ride to their destination and have to transfer.

      In other words, we’re asking these users to give up the bus that stops at their doorstep once an hour, and asking them to walk 1/2 a mile to catch a bus that runs with much higher frequency.

      1. The single seat ride needs to be killed. It’s far more efficient to have frequent corridors and transfers. Take as a case study my commute. They’ve designed a one-seat ride going right from my house to my work, and it’s still far quicker for me to transfer up to 3 times (meaning 4 buses) each way than to take this one-seat ride. If we built for frequent corridors my commute would be faster.

      2. In the suburbs it can mean walking thirty minutes or an hour to the nearest bus line, which may itself run once an hour. I have done that to visit somebody in Auburn, and from lower West Lake Sammamish Parkway it would be the same. As for Black Diamond, don’t even bother trying to go there in the weekends or off hours, because bus service is there one year and gone the next.

        The tradeoff is there’s a limited amount of money, and as Martin says we can either have good service on a few streets or hourly service on a lot of streets, but neither case covers all communities. “Productivity” may be a harsh technocratic term for preserving higher-ridership routes, but it’s necessary in order to have a useful bus service at all. Nobody rides the bus where the routes are hourly except those that really don’t have any other choice, but more frequent routes can attract people from cars.

      3. Can we direct the wonderful eastside planner who developed this proposal to look at the 101? Instead of slowly but surely reducing the hours on the 101, Metro ought to wrap the duplicate-head between the freeway entrance and downtown back into neighborhood service (more frequency) with its north terminus at Rainier Beach Station. With more places to get to by bus and train and better headway, ridership ought to go up. And there would still be plenty of hours saved in operating costs.

        For those insisting on a 1-seat ride to work in the morning, they’ve still got the 102.

        (And if Metro gets too much blowback about turning a route into a 2-seat ride on the eastside, then just keep the morning route and split the afternoon return routes.)

  6. I like that they call it Select Bus Service. Apparently they refer to it as a type of BRT, but it’s not real BRT. It is, however, enhanced bus service, like RapidRide. It’s good to have better bus service like this, and we should be putting these features on all bus routes.

  7. Main obstacle to good bus transit is a hundred percent political: getting automobiles out of the way of it. Are curb lanes for parked cars or moving buses? That’s up to the city council. Are center lanes for general traffic or express buses? That’s up to the county council. Are freeway express lanes for carpools and motorcycles, or buses only? State legislature.

    One of our worst express bus problems has some serious civil engineering considerations: getting a southbound express lane on I-5 in the afternoon. But current one-way lane routinely wrecks schedules going both north and south late afternoon. Lynnwood and Everett buses are late northbound because they’re stuck southbound.

    “Pay as you leave” has always been counterintuitive, and therefore wrong for transit. I also doubt I’m the only one who has missed a connection at Lynnwood Transit Center due to people counting change.

    Easiest bus speedup right now involves fare collection in the Tunnel: after 7, dwell-times re: fares get ridiculous, especially after a game. Worse, drivers routinely order passengers off the front door, luggage and all, turning a two-door bus into a sixty-foot one-door bus. In addition, buses stopped to collect fares constantly delay LINK trains. Anybody besides me missed a connection while waiting stopped in the Tunnel while the 71 or the 41 collects fares?

    Those huge empty mezzanines were specifically designed for fare collection and information. Passengers of trains and buses alike were supposed to arrive on the platform possessed of proof-of-payment and with no need to slow service by asking drivers. Since that was twenty years ago this fall- time to call your councilmember and remind them.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I totally agree. Sometimes it seems like all people do on here is complain about how bad Metro is when its number one problem isn’t Metro itself but the politics that control it. I believe that if left to it’s own devices Metro Management would change things like the Ride Free area but it’s not up to Metro. Metro is attached to the whole political process in King County and we know how well works. Virtually every complaint on this blog about Metro should be taken to the appropriate government organization because in the end they pull the strings. Want no parking for bus lanes downtown? Better talk to the Seattle City Council because Metro can’t just do it. Want a better Rapid Ride? Better talk to the King County Council about getting rid of the Ride Free Area so we can have pay as you enter at all times. Most of the problems at Metro are just symptoms of the overall political process here.

      1. “I believe that if left to it’s own devices Metro Management would change things like the Ride Free area but it’s not up to Metro.”
        [Mark]’s largest complaint is directly caused by the RFA (I prefer “Magic Carpet Ride”) ending at 7. This doesn’t just happen in the tunnel – it happens everywhere downtown. Imagine the lines of commuters at 5pm waiting to get on a bus if there was no RFA and they had to pay first. The RFA benefits the entire system, which is why it’s still around despite constant complaints from people that hate freeloaders.

      2. Matt,

        If Metro was to go to a complete off board payment system the whole delay downtown problem would be moot. There would be no need for the Ride Free Area with off board payment. As long as we have the Ride Free Area I can’t see it being worthwhile to go to a off board payment system which would streamline things everywhere not just downtown. This is the main reason I think Metro would want to deep six the RFA not the freeloader problem.

      3. Buses will be out of the tunnel in a few years. Besides, most buses aren’t in the tunnel. How do you pay off board for those buses? (sorry if my question is answered in the video – I haven’t seen it yet)

      4. Put a couple TVMs at every bus stop Downtown and in the core of the U District and at all major transit centers. They can be the same as the SLUT TVMs, which are just like the parking sticker machines. Of course, it would take some money, but this seems like the kind of pilot project that the federal government would love to give a grant for.

      5. Matt the E,

        All I’ve heard about kicking all the buses upstairs is on this blog, and it has all pointed toward doing that no earlier than 2021.

        In 2016, the throughput of trains in the DSTT is not expected to increase. The number of traincars and number of passengers will increase, but not the number of trains, so there would be no reason to clear out the tunnel.

        (I’m not sure how much the number of passengers will increase, though, if Metro and ST don’t expect any substantial group of passengers to use UW Station, and therefore design the street network — as they are doing now — to render the station mostly unused, and instead keep providing duplicative bus service on the 71-74.)

      6. After seeing the systems in europe, its of my opinion that we switch ALL lines to POP. We can install ORCA equipment in the rear door, and upgrade the fareboxes to print the magnetic ones and print them with every full fare. (If you were short fare, you could still ride…. until you’re caught!) I also like the idea of restoring the cross agency cash fare transfers as well which this could take care of (and the accounting for the same). You’d have to hire some guards to do fare inspection, but if you get rid of the fare evasion crowd than i think the system will have an overall lower crime rate anyway.

      7. “I’m not sure how much the number of passengers will increase, though, if Metro and ST don’t expect any substantial group of passengers to use UW Station,”

        The actual students will likely shift to the train, while those going to the U-district or transferring in the U-district will take the 71/72/73.

        “and therefore design the street network — as they are doing now — to render the station mostly unused, and instead keep providing duplicative bus service on the 71-74.”

        How can you fit a large number of additional buses on Pacific Street?

      8. “Imagine the lines of commuters at 5pm waiting to get on a bus if there was no RFA and they had to pay first.”

        99% of bus agencies are pay-as-you enter, so why is Metro the only one with this problem?

      9. [Mike] I propose that Metro has the best solution*.

        * if comparing apples-to-apples and excluding BRT-style solutions, which would be great if we had the political will but just isn’t going to happen yet

      1. I do write to our county executive and my county councilmember. They just pass it along to the planner to answer. My opinion of the planners’ abilities is based on their own words.

  8. My impression is that SBS is really about saving the MTA money — they can get more riders at lower cost when the buses are faster. I think the Bx12 line turns an operating profit, though I’m not 100% sure about that. In terms of speed, SBS doesn’t hold a candle to the subway — the 1st and 2nd Ave SBS is scheduled to average about 10 mph, which I believe is slower than most Seattle routes. And the 1st and 2nd SBS lines haven’t been keeping up with the schedule so far.

    SBS is a good idea, but it’s fundamentally just improved buses, not a replacement for grade-separated rail transit.

  9. this makes a lot of sense especially in the current era where there is additional money for capital but not for operations. speed up the bus to cut operating costs (fewer buses to keep the same headways… more productive buses). and the faster the bus is the more riders it attracts.

  10. According to this blog the buses are operating slower than expected and the police need to do more to enforce the bus lane.

    I travel to NYC regularly. They have painted dedicated bus lanes on 42nd St and 34th St. These lanes are regularly blocked by stopped vehicles. The biggest culprit: NYPD police vehicles. second biggest: delivery vehicles. If the police don’t respect them and enforce them, they can’t work.

    I have also heard that one method of enforcement of the fare policy is that the police/inspectors stop the bus and check everyone before it continues. It can take 5 minutes, which obviously negates the time savings. Fare evasion rates are estimated around 10%.

    In any event, for areas that are not reached by the subway, SBS is an improvement, but it’s not a substitute for the subway, and NY would do better to consider installing streetcar/light rail on some of these corridors, especially if they can reserve the right of way more effectively.

  11. 1. Put TVMs at every stop which is a timepoint. NO on-board payment at such stops.

    2. Encourage ORCA usage by rounding up to the next higher dollar on cash fares. ($2.00 off-peak, $3.00 one- or two- zone peak for adults, $1.00 all rides for youth/seniors/disabled).

    3. Only accept quarters, half dollars, golden dollars, $1 and $2 bills for cash fares. No pennies, nickels, dimes that slow up things and often gum up the farebox.

    4. Go to POP with a minimum 2% inspection rate, preferably 5%.

    5. NO RFA but have a reduced-fare (50 cents or so) circulator route between the Pioneer Square and Westlake Centre areas.

    6. Consider harmonising peak and off-peak fares but increasing the number of zones.

    1. “NO on-board payment at such stops”

      Good idea but in practice I doubt it would work. Idea #2 coupled with 5% on #4 would most likely deal with the majority of the issue.

      For the random clueless tourist that gets on my bus, I frequently tell them the fare and have them sit up front while they fish for change and bills and then pay at my next stop. It doesn’t work when you have 5 people paying cash, but the incentives you outline would likely reduce cash payment to a level where the pay at the next stop method would work. Having fare enforcement officers on board would probably speed the process a bit :)

    2. as for $5 thats not a new idea, Seattle Transit System had the Dime Shuttle which for a dime ran on a route through downtown.

      Of course i still beilieve that ORCA and CASH fares and benefits should be idential, with the exception of multi-ride discounts.

      I agree with #6 as well, to an extent. LA has an surcharge for routes that go on the freeway. Route 439 is a local line, but serves the freeway. For that short stretch of I-10, they charge you an extra .70 surcharge. Metro could do the same thing, with a $2.00 base fare, a .50 surchare for express routes (like the 177 or 179) would work out fine. This would make the price comparable to the Sound Transit service, and make sure theres no competition because of price on the two routes (the next logical step would be for the two routes to share the same route number and aside from whoevers coach showing up appear seamless to the rider).

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