Sunday Open Thread: ST Weed Control

From photo of the week:

Sound Transit this week tested the use of goats as an efficient and environmentally sustainable approach to clearing vegetation near its rail lines. Rent-a-Ruminant, a woman-owned business from Vashon Island, provided 120 goats, a herder, and herding dog to clear blackberry bushes and other shrubs from a strip of Sound Transit property along Lakeview Avenue in Lakewood.

RapidRide A Line Opens

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.

Post Submission Guidelines

Recently there’s been an upswing in guest post submissions. We don’t have a very formal process for handling these, but we’ve accepted dozens of pieces over the years and I think they’ve added some useful perspectives to our conversations. Still other contributions have been appropriated as “comment of the week” and awarded their own post.

Anyway, the most painful situation is when someone obviously puts a lot of work into an essay, and for one reason or another, we don’t feel able to use it. To avoid that in the future, we’ve assembled these Guest Post Guidelines to offer tips for writing something that we can use.

Thanks to everyone who cares enough to write.

The Lewis-McChord Conundrum

photo from

Traffic has gone from bad to worse near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  Over the past five months 14,000 soldiers have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the base is set to expand by 50% more soldiers by 2016 (from 23,000 to 36,000), bringing the total number of soldiers, civilians, and dependents at JBLM to well over 50,000 people.  This Redmond-sized contingent of people mostly reside off-base along a narrowed stretch of I-5 (SR 512 to Nisqually)with no HOV lanes and only skeletal (at best) transit service.  Travel demand has increased markedly and tempers are short, prompting nervous press releases from WSDOT announcing “immediate actions” that amount to little more than signal timing improvements.  Everyone knew this storm was coming, but the scale of the backups seems to have caught base officials as well as WSDOT off-guard.  This may now be the single worst traffic area in Washington State.

Yet soldiers and civilians alike haven’t had many other options, and what is a ‘last mile’ problem elsewhere is a ‘last 5 miles’ problem on base, ringed by mandatory security checks.  In short, transit currently has little chance to compete for mode share. (Tacoma Tomorrow blogger Evan Siroky had an excellent post series earlier this year covering many of these same issues.)  Over the years, Pierce Transit has worked diligently with base officials to design useful routes with limited resources, yet results have been continually disappointing.  Three local routes currently enter the base, #206 (Lakewood-Tillicum-Madigan Hospital), #207 (Madigan Hospital-Ft. Lewis), and #300 (Tacoma Mall-SR512 P&R-McChord Commissary).  While #206 and #300 both exceed 1,000 riders per day and meet PT service standards, PT’s planners tell me that very few of those riders actually enter the base.  The only intra-base route (#207) is PT’s least-ridden route, averaging only 36 boardings daily for an hourly service.

Longer term, a series of infrastructure investments have been planned for some time, and WSDOT recently released a Transportation Alternatives Analysis that proposes spending over $1B on widening and new ramps for I-5.  Transit receives only a cursory mention, and the planners seem to assume that nothing cost-effective can be done to get JBLM to lower its SOV/VMT levels.  Given the dismal fiscal situation government faces at all levels, it is clear that capital-intensive projects will be difficult to fund and complete, however badly they are needed.  Yet the sheer scale of this problem — cultural, structural, fiscal — prohibits thinking small.  What should be done? What should transit advocates push for?  To get the conversation going, my initial suggestions are after the jump…  Continue reading “The Lewis-McChord Conundrum”

ORCA Suggestions

Photo by Oran

Jeff Welch at the Puget Sound Transit Operators blog has some interesting observations on how ORCA is being used, misused, and purchased. For example:

Technical Realities – Feel Like Bugs

Buses connect to the master database via wireless connection when they are at the base.  There is no ongoing connection to the database.  This means that when a passenger loads their card online before they leave for work – the bus that they are boarding most likely hasn’t received the database update that includes the information that their card now has a new pass or added cash amount.  As a result, Operators have been instructed (via memo anyway) to accept ORCA cards as “flash passes”, and to let the passenger know that it can take 24-48 hours for an added pass or balance to reflect.  The end result is that the passenger gets a free ride (if they pay by e-purse) or are just confused/annoyed by the error, the delay, and the ensuing (public) explanation at the bus door.

This is also becoming a growing new form of fare evasion, as unrepentant fare evaders catch on to the “I just loaded it this morning” meme.   An empty card can be used for unlimited rides – all over the system (except Link and Sounder) with that brief explanation.

There have also been reports from customers (and questions directed at drivers) about issues with autoload, as well as multiple problems with employers purchasing the wrong passes (off-peak vs. peak; one-zone vs. two-zone, etc.) for their employees.

I wonder it it’s time to add something to the ORCA website that puts in very noticeable type on the payment screen that your purchase will not take effect for 48 hours.

According to ST spokesman Geoff Patrick, the ORCA vendor, Vix-ERG, has not yet been granted Full System Acceptance (FSA) due to persistent bugs in some of the equipment. Nevertheless “the ORCA agencies are looking at options to improve the user-friendliness of the website, with the goal of making improvements by the end of the year.”