stem-and-leaf schedule for Othello to Downtown
Mockup of stem-and-leaf schedule for Link platforms

The schedules at Link stations show the frequency of service and times for the first and last trains. Some people find that inadequate for planning a trip and want a detailed timetable. Here is my answer to your call, a stem-and-leaf format schedule showing all train departures from a station in a particular direction. I designed it for individual platforms. The size of this exactly matches the existing schedules found at Link stations and can function as a drop in replacement. It can accommodate 24 hour service and up to 10 trains per hour. The tradeoff is loss of first/last train times for the opposite direction and a more cluttered look with no summary of the frequencies. I would keep the existing schedules for mezzanine areas. Or why not have both detailed and summary schedules? That would require redesigning the information panels.

By the way, many schedules at Link stations have not been updated or are missing altogether. Some still list times for the first/last train to Tukwila International Boulevard! I don’t know what the people in charge of this at Sound Transit do all day but it took me about 2 hours to design the mockup from scratch. I could make one for every station, print them out, and go install them at stations in a single work day. Of course I’m bragging a bit; it’ll take more work to make such a major change. However, the missing and outdated schedules are simply inexcusable.

48 Replies to “Imagine a More Detailed Link Station Schedule”

    1. As always Oran, this is wonderful! You could run our entire transportation system here in the Puget Sound single handedly.

      1. Not that I’m bitter about getting rejected after applying for a graphic designer position at ST. Not surprising, I’m an engineer by training. It’s more fun doing it this way.

    2. I love Oran’s schedule. It is beautiful and it is exactly what should be posted at each station.

      Maybe even published in the ST schedule book – suitable to rip out and post on your fridge or lunchroom.

    1. Thanks! BTW the last iPhone update for OBA was fantastic! Adding a list view for all stops on a particular scheduled run has been really helpful for me. Any idea why PT-operated ST routes still aren’t giving any real-time data?

    2. I thought mentioned that I used the schedule from One Bus Away for my mockup but somehow it got lost. That’s what happens when I try to write something at 2 am.

  1. Another thing you can do in addition to this is emphasize that trains at this station and direction generally come on the 4 (ie 04,14,24,34 etc.) outside of peak periods. For a majority of the day users don’t even need to think about when the train comes. Of course this is requires consistent scheduling of service.

    1. Good point and I agree. I could reduce the clutter and do something like replacing the 10 am to 2 pm lines with “train arrives every 10 minutes at xx, xx, after the hour”.

    2. Nice job Oran. My only tweak is to arrange the arrival times in columns. So the relative arrival times would align and the resulting “holes” would indicate longer intervals graphically. This would highlight patterns in the schedule similar to Adam’s point.

  2. I think Oran is missing the point of why ST no longer gives scheduled arrival times for any stations — because Link trains are not able to keep to a schedule. Therefore, if you check how often Link trains are early or late for scheduled arrivals at each station, the reliability is very poor, somewhere in the 70’s percentage-wise.

    That is why ST no longer has a real schedule for Central Link trains.

    Oran’s schedule looks great. But ST won’t use anything like that, because it would expose how often Link trains are not on schedule.

    1. In Q2 Link had the same on-time performance as ST Express and they post schedules for ST Express.

      1. Proving that the $160 million-per-mile Link light rail is no better than buses. That does not quite fit the imgage ST wants the public to have of light rail.

    2. Actually, LINK trains stay much closer to their schedule than nearly every Metro bus I’ve taken in the last couple of weeks. Earlier this week I need to go from work to Renton, then to a store on Southcenter Parkway. The 140 I took from Renton to Southcenter was 6 minutes late, causing me to miss the 155 that goes down Southcenter Parkway. I was going to take the 150 down Andover W. but it was running 18 minutes late (and they come every 15 minutes!), so I took the 15 minute walk. On the way back, the 150 heading north was 13 minutes late, and the 156 to Seatac (alternate way back to Seattle) was 16 minutes late, so I waited for the 150.

      I realize this is all anecdotal, but to suggest that ST doesn’t publish schedules “because Link trains are not able to keep to a schedule” speaks to the commenter’s feelings about LINK, not *reality*. According to this logic, Metro shouldn’t publish bus schedules except first/last runs.

      1. RapidRide is copying Link by not publishing a full timetable and instead only the scheduled headways. I think the point is to get people thinking in terms of headways, not specific departure times. However, the lack of real-time arrival info on Link and RapidRide hurts that argument.

      2. …which would be perfectly acceptable if the headways — either intended or actual — were all that good on RapidRide. Which they just aren’t.

      3. High-horse corollary: Does Metro really not get that calling 15-minute headways “so frequent you won’t need a schedule” grossly insults the value of their customers’ time?

    3. You’re not the first one to say that. In fact, I brought that up when Link first opened as a reason to why ST won’t post their schedules. Instead, I argued that maintaining headways was more important and a posted schedule doesn’t matter and indeed, Central Link maintains its headways over 90% of the time year-to-date, despite the delays. The only thing lacking is a real-time arrival information system. Perhaps nobody reads those “schedules”. That’s why nobody ever bothered to call in and complain about them.

      The point of this article is to illustrate the simple things that ST can do and should be doing, not to debate whether Link is justified or not.

      1. Since when have opportunities to criticize LINK and rail transit in general been put on the back burner in order to keep the discussion on topic? Trolls will be trolls and don’t have time to wait for posts regarding the justifiability of rail transit projects.

    1. Oh how I wish Seattle would adopt the same software system BVG uses so riders can customize and get trip planning info in a format that suits them. That system also extends to the timetables they produce for bus stops and rail stations. I couldn’t do the entire Metro bus system by hand!

  3. Oran
    this is Wonderful
    I invision a Link book with 4 pages for each station
    Page 1 is a station area map
    Page 2 has a list of all Bus (street car, ferry, etc) connections near the sstation
    Page 3 and 4 have the schedules for link at the station.

    that puts us at a 54 page book under current asbuilt

    if we extended this to all rail sevice (link, Sounder, Slut) we would be over 100 pages.

    On the example above, how would you indicate which link sets were transitioning to/from eastlink, and which werre going towards Seatac once Eastlink is running (from north of he split anyway)?

    Lor Scara

    1. Take a look at this Japanese train timetable which was an inspiration for me.

      I might have to add a little symbol by each time, like a circle or triangle. During peak periods I won’t have enough space to list all the times. The problem is the space available. I think eventually they’ll have to redesign the panel to accommodate a larger timetable even if they don’t choose this approach. There’s not enough space to list both Central and East last/first train times and their frequencies.

      1. The Chicago L also has posted schedules at every stop that are much like yours. I think Philadelphia does too.

        My preference is still for countdown clocks and service so frequent that posting schedules really becomes superfluous.

      2. Where are these schedules on the “L” I’d LOVE to see them!
        I’ve only ever seen headway tables (at least between the hours of like 5 AM and 11 PM)
        My phone has a schedule, that is only accurate half the time, but no posted ones that I’ve seen in the last 1.5 years.

      3. My reply is having trouble posting for some reason.

        The El had schedules almost identical to Oran’s mock-up on every platform for years and years and years.

        Now I see that headway-based schedules have apparently replaced them:
        [not posting with the link; trying without]

        This must have happened in just the last couple of years.

      4. [Not sure why the link won’t post. The CTA’s website still contains station-by-station timetables, but all the daytime and early-evening trips have been replaced with headways. A relatively recent change, which I think the El has the frequencies to justify.]

  4. How many times did we hear that Link will be so frequent, “there won’t be any need for schedules.” Now some of those same people are saying we need schedules.

    1. I don’t know, how many times did we hear that? Which strawmen are you “quoting”?

      For what it’s worth, I disagree with putting up posted scheduled except when headways are >= 15 minutes.

      1. Some of us who asked for actual timetables do so because of connections from Link to other services, primarily buses. If I’m in Columbia City at 9:00 PM and know that my #11 leaves 4th and Pike only at 9:50 PM, 10:50 PM and 11:50 PM and 1:15 AM, I NEED to know when the train will arrive at Westlake to give me enough time to get to 4th and Pike. When all Metro and ST routes are at >= 10 minute headways from 0600-2330, I’ll happily abandon my call for printed timetables for all services.

    2. Somebody will always want a schedule, especially if they want to plan a complete itinerary in advance. The “no need for schedules” argument addresses a different issue: spontaneous trips. If you suddenly decide to make a trip, or you’re at a party and decide now is the time to leave, or you like to transfer adventurously without reading the schedules beforehand, Link guarantees you won’t have to wait more than 10 minutes (15 minutes after 10pm) [1]. That’s easy to remember, and most people don’t mind waiting ten minutes or fifteen at the most.

      The problem is these buses with 30-minute or 60-minute frequency, that’s what makes people feel like they have to plan their departure time or drive or not make the trip.

      Of course Link has its stoppages and track maintenance, as we all know. But the important point is it has a 10-15 minute target and is gradually getting better at meeting it. If it had a 30-minute target, there would be no hope of it being better than the existing buses.

      1. Well stated. I agree completely. “no schedules needed” makes planning for transfers a complete pain.

  5. It looks similar to schedules I’ve seen for BART and the London Tube, and maybe Chicago. The minutes-after-the-hour are certainly clear. I’m not so sure about the multiple colors for partial service. One special case would be fine; e.g., the Mt Baker shading. But having to keep track of three color-coded special cases makes the schedule complicated to read. I’d rather have letters (“Sa” and “Su”) next to the Saturday- and Sunday-only runs.

    1. I ran it through a color blindness simulator and do admit the Sat/Sun is a bit hard to tell apart but not impossible for some types of color blindness. I’m hesitant at adding letters next to the times because they are already small enough.

  6. If Seattle’s transit agencies adopted Oran’s maps and schedules, i guarantee you ridership would go up substantially.

      1. Sadly, our transit agencies seem organically unable to look at how other systems do things better than we do.

  7. I love this format! I would caution against use of multiple colors because (1) it raises printing costs; and (2) it produces random effects for colorblind readers.

    I wish Metro or ST would let Oran do a little volunteer work for them until they can hire him as their graphic artiste.

    That said, I have some hesitance toward having time-set schedules for Link or RapidRide at this point. As the lines mature, kinks get worked out, and travel time gets more consistent, the lines may be able to reduce their official travel time a little bit. I hate to see a whole bunch of trains or buses dragging their feet to keep from blowing a schedule.

    The happy medium may be to go scheduleless one part of the day (peak?) and go on a schedule the rest of the day (off-peak?).

    15 minutes is *not* too frequent to need a schedule. Whoever said that gets to start standing around at a bus stop for 15 minutes to a half hour (when their bus doesn’t come) in the dark and cold, with no security in sight, waiting to go home or panicking about whether they will make their connection to get to work.

    1. Actually, ST was hiring a graphic designer. I applied and got rejected for “not meeting requirements”. As I said above, I’m an engineer, not a graphic artist by training.

      I’m more on the pro-headway-based-schedule+real-time arrival information side than a fixed timepoint based schedule. I don’t want to think about schedules. I like RapidRide’s hybrid approach that shows times for late night/early morning and headways during the day.

      Color-blindness is not considered a disability under the ADA. That said, I don’t like using colors as names of lines like Portland and DC for that very reason (I prefer proper names or letters/numbers). Next time, I’ll try to use shapes and symbols instead of multiple colored text.

      1. What were the requirements they were asking for? I imagine your portfolio would be reasonably good, with all the redesigns you’ve done, but maybe they want a design degree or something.

  8. Almost on topic, but I wanted to relay some information from the SIP open house. The lack of overnight service on Link isn’t just a budgetary issue. They really do need that three hours to do nightly inspections and maintenance. It takes a half hour do de-electrify the system, and another half hour to power it back up.

    This makes sense given that New York City has alternate subway lines that only provide late-night service.

    So, don’t expect overnight rail service when future Link segments open.

    How would Oran’s graphic look if it included night owl shadow bus service, and directions on how to get to the shadow bus stops?

  9. Nicely done. However, using various colors won’t get approved because some people are color blind. It is more accessible if you use asterisks and such instead of colors.

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