78 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Microsoft Connector”

    1. Before eliminating the RFA, every effort needs to be made to streamline fare collection as much as possible. I started writing a comment to that effect but it quickly became a blog post that collects my favorite ideas from STB with my spin.

      In short, do everything we can to incentivize ORCA use, make cash payment less desirable, and provide for off-bus payment. In other words, if it’s something that can create a delay provide every incentive possible to do it before you get on the bus (Load your ORCA card, determine youth/reduced fare eligibility, provide assistance to those who need help with transportation costs, etc…)

      1. Need to have an easy all-day pass available for ORCA if you abolish the RFA – ePurse riders should be able to ride into town in the morning, around town during the day and back home without having to pay 3-4 fares. Make the day pass 2-2.5x the base fare, perhaps have it work automatically as a fare cap on an ORCA – maximum in-county is $6/day, intra-county is $9/day, including Link & Sounder. Easy, understandable.

      2. Did you read VBD’s blog post?

        “•Tourist-friendly ORCA cards with day and multi-day passes should be readily available”

        BTW, I think you meant inter-county, not intra-couny.

      3. Yes I read his post but missed that bullet. And I did mean inter-county.

        If the agencies can figure out how to divide the monthly PugetPass money, why can’t they figure out how to divide a daypass?

      4. The 116, 118, & 119 all collect dates in the rfa. They are quite streamlined. The biggest hang up is the confusion of when to pay. This creates hang ups outside the rfa as well. If scribe pays as they enter, there will be much less confusion.

      5. “The 116, 118, & 119 all collect dates in the rfa. They are quite streamlined. The biggest hang up is the confusion of when to pay.”

        I absolutely love driving the 116 and explaining why this particular bus requires payment as you board as opposed to the rest of Metro’s buses. It’s a real joy. :) Trust me, it’s anything but streamlined. If you just open the doors and let folks do whatever, it’s not too bad but even then you’ll get the “do I have to pay now?” questions when you have the “pay as you enter” sign up.

        Exceptions to the rule cause confusion. Confusion = delays.

      6. Your absolutely correct. Simplify the code ALWAYS PAY AS ENTER. Btw, I drove those routes when they were on the “commuter” 2nd and 4th avenues- there weren’t any questions. However once they moved to “touristy” 3rd_ a whole different ball park. 3rd Avenue is where tourists and lunch hounds go from one end of the DBA to the other without ever paying. That is where the bulk of patronage that never pay any transit agency a dime flock to for transportation for their luxury needs. I am sorry, but our patrons flow out of and into the DBA. They are our concern. Not anyone else. It isn’t a public transit agencies responsibility to float particular downtown businesses or their patrons.

  1. At 5:05 you can see the bike shuttle we have too but they didn’t talk about it. It runs between Montlake and Overlake a couple times in the morning and again in the evening.

  2. With rising fuel costs, and urban gardening/farming starting to take hold in Seattle, perhaps we are overlooking a tried and true transportion alternative:

    (Warning, some foul language.)

      1. Why does Microsoft have a large campus? Don’t they know that “density” is the ideal? They should have all their offices in one very tall office tower (or a few office towers right next to each other). Then, they would not need any campus shuttles.


      2. Not all jobs can be done downtown. Look at Boeing and Paccar- manufacturing plants that make trucks and airplanes cannot be located downtown.

      3. Amazon has a fraction of the employees that MS does. My understanding is that their new SLU campus will house about 6,000 employees. The “huge” deal you linked to says that Amazon will be leasing half a million square feet.

        In contrast, MS has 15 million square feet of office space for 40,000 employees in the Puget Sound area. For Microsoft to move wholesale to downtown, they’d need to construct 30 buildings the size of 1918 Eighth Avenue, or 7 buildings the size of each of the Twin Towers.

        And don’t forget that most MS employees live on the Eastside, so a full relocation would probably increase VMT in the short-term and medium-term.

        Would it be possible for Microsoft to have a bigger presence in downtown than they do now? Definitely. But MS is simply too big for a wholesale move to be remotely reasonable.

    1. Gee, why not Boeing? :-) Why not Paccar? Why not the steel plant in West Seattle?

      There are 3.5+ million people in the greater Seattle area, they can’t all live and work in downtown Seattle. Our transportation system needs to get the notion that not everything revolves around the city of Seattle. Indeed, for how much I look forward to Eastlink, I can’t help but think of the missed opportunities of servicing the commute patterns between Bellevue/Redmond and places like Bothell, Everett, & Woodinville.

      1. Which is why I constantly wish that Sound Transit would buy the BNSF Woodinville Subdivision, rebuild the Wilburton Trestle and run lines from Everett/Snohomish to Tacoma and Monroe/Seattle.

      2. Also the only growth area is Tumwater-Oly. Let’s look at growing office space in that area, extending the Sounder down to Centralia and build a whole lot more East-West highways.

      3. the only growth area is Tumwater-Oly.

        That’s just ignorant, John. Thurston County may have had a larger percentage increase than King County, but the population change since 2000 in King County was over four times larger than that in Thurston County.

        Total Population King County Thurston County

        July 1, 2009 1,916,441 250,979
        April 1, 2000 1,737,034 207,355

        From US Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program

      4. I find John easier to conceptualize when you realize that one of his Facebook friends is Clint Didier.

      5. Small world, I actually sat next to John at a seminar the other week. He’s not the ogre in person compared to his online persona. :-) Next, I hope to see if Norman looks like the Emmett Watson style curmudgeon I imagine him to be.

    2. They are… Microsoft has offices all over Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, and possibly even Kirkland. Microsoft kept Visio’s offices down by Pike Place market for quite a while after they acquired them although I suspect they have pulled those functions back to corporate campus.

      1. Microsoft got rid of most of its Seattle offices recently, in favor of renting space in a bunch of towers in downtown Bellevue.

        The vast majority of MS employees live on the Eastside, so it wouldn’t ever make sense for MS to relocate wholesale. I definitely wish that Microsoft had offices in downtown Seattle, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s actually faster for me to get from Capitol Hill to Redmond in the morning (thanks to the 545 detour) than it would be to get to Fremont…

      2. There are a few smaller MS offices in Seattle:

        Westlake/Terry, Pioneer Square, Union Station.

        Those are the advertised ones.

    3. I hope they build a big tower Downtown sometime… A ton of their employees live in Seattle and have to go across the bridge every day. They can keep their sprawling campus out in Redmond but they should accommodate the large number of their employees (and prospective employees) who want to live in the city.

      1. Microsoft was going to lease the entire new tower at the southwest corner of Westlake and Denny, but later decided not to. (link)

      2. No need to build a big new tower just now – there are hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space in downtown.

  3. I think this is a great service that MSFT is offering. I was however, on the side against offering the connector program access to the DSTT which still makes sense to not allow third party vehicles in there. But, I’d like to see employer sponsored vehicles in other busways such as the SODO busway or I-90 busway and I’d like to see other large employers take on this kind of service.

    1. Microsoft only runs Connectors to areas that don’t currently have direct bus service from Redmond. They wouldn’t need to use the DSTT, since there’s already a bus (the 545) that goes directly from campus to the same general area.

  4. I hate this kind of service it takes away riders from the public transit agencies. Low ridership means service cuts and less federal grants.

    1. My understanding is that Microsoft works very closely with Metro and ST when planning this service. MS would always prefer it if a public agency provided the service, but the Connector routes are ones that ST just had no interest in. That’s why there isn’t a Connector from Microsoft to DT Seattle.

    2. On the otherhand, isn’t Metro already too commuter focused already? I’d rather service hours go to providing all day service in high ridership areas, than peak suburban commuter service, especially if Microsoft is more than willing to do that.

    3. Actually, I kind of doubt this service “takes away” riders. I haven’t looked at routes recently, but the vast majority are direct connections from one location to a Microsoft facility without requiring transfers. The routes are faster and all have Wi-Fi – in short, they are a premium service. The connector is most likely drawing passengers who would otherwise drive.

      1. All of the routes terminate (AM) or originate (PM) at the Overlake Transit Center, with a second stop on the west side of 520. For people going to west campus, which is pretty much unserved by Seattle buses, it’s way faster. For everyone else, it’s still faster once you take into account the transfer penalty (except for people who live within walking distance of a 545 stop).

        Also, everyone gets a seat — can’t forget that one. :)

      2. Velo –

        I ride the Laurelhurst connector almost every day (for about 2 years now), and I’d say the population is about 1/4 people who were taking transit anyway (like me), and 3/4 people who weren’t – so quite a few cars taken off the road.

        For those of us who were transit inclined (ie not insisting on driving our own cars), it’s our favorite benefit. Some of the buses at less popular times you can get away with walking-on, but during more popular times, you really need to make a reservation or you won’t get a seat.

        In addition, the ones that head out to the burbs get significantly lower utilization of the seats than the ones that go to Seattle neighborhoods. I’m anticipating that divide will get even wider when tolling on 520 starts. We’re hoping it will lead to more frequent service to the areas that use it, and the company is already making noise on cutting back on the routes that don’t get a lot of ridership.

      3. Part of the utilization gap is due to the fact that the Seattle buses are mostly 21-seaters (Cap Hill route is 28-seat), but the suburban buses are mostly 50-seat coach buses. A full bus to Fremont would be at less than 50% utilization if it were an Eastside coach bus.

        Still, it’s definitely clear that some Seattle routes could use more capacity, and some Eastside ones don’t need as much as they have. So I’m hoping that we’ll see some improvements soon.

  5. I was recently on the 10th floor of a downtown building looking down on the streets below and noticed a few buses did’t have numbers on their roofs. The first ones I noticed were CT coaches, but later I saw a couple of Metro coaches without them too. Two questions for the folks who might know: what exactly was the reason for putting the bus number on the roof of the coach in the first place? and why are agencies not doing it anymore?

  6. “Over 5500 people a day are shuttled between buildings to get to meetings.” Why can’t they use Microsoft video conferencing software, instead?

      1. Actually, plenty of meetings are done with Communicator/Lync/Live Meeting, however sometimes it is better to have everyone in the same room. Most employees don’t have cameras which means finding an AV conference room if you need to provide video.

  7. http://www.timesonline.com/bct_news/news_details/article/1373/2011/february/06/new-york-rail-system-suffers-through-brutal-winter.html

    Good article on NYC transit during this winter’s bad weather.

    “An onslaught of snowstorms has exposed the rail system’s weaknesses, shorting out electric motors and snapping electric lines. On Monday the Metro-North commuter line will cut service on its popular New Haven line because half of its trains are in the shop.”

    “In December, the MTA hiked fares between 9 percent and 17 percent, depending on a rider’s train or bus route. A monthly subway pass shot up from $89 to $104. The MTA had already eliminated the one-day and two-week passes, which were popular with tourists.”

    “Griffin says his 55-minute commute from Connecticut has turned into a three-hour ordeal in standing-room-only cars.

    “You never know what you’re going to face every morning,” he said. “You have people on the platform every morning waiting for a train that never comes.””

      1. In Seattle, articulated buses cost a fraction of what Link trains cost. Buses sometimes get stopped by bad weather, and so do trains. But, in our area, trains are insanely expensive.

        And, in Seattle, so far in 2011 we’ve had only about 2 inches of snow, which lasted about 8 hours, overnight, and did not affect travel much at all. There is not any more snow in the forecast for the next 10 days, after which snow is very uncommon in Seattle. That is pretty typical for our area.

        Even in 2010, there were only about 2 days when weather really impacted buses. Sounder trains, on the other hand, have been stopped by mudslides for several periods of 2 days each this past winter (both 2010 and 2011).

      2. I think Norman has forgotten the blizzard of 1916, which occurred in the last half of February.

  8. Is anyone else having trouble viewing this video in firefox (mac)? I can see it in Chrome and Safari…

    1. I couldn’t get it to load in IE or Firefox.

      This is what I could find on Youtube. Even if it’s not the vid, it’s still pretty interesting:

      1. My point is that, in our area, Sounder and Link trains are a really stupid waste of massive amounts of tax dollars.

      2. Your opinion is that they are a stupid waste of tax dollars. You know how much one person’s opinion counts in a democracy? No more than anyone else’s.

      3. Moreover, no sentient being could ride the busses between Downtown, Capitol Hill, the U-District and Northgate and think that busses — or any of the low-capital BRT projects that are supposedly just as good as rail — can meet that demand.

        Like most of the current crop of right-wingers, Norman seeks to advance an anti-urban agenda in the guise of fiscal responsibility by attempting to deny city neighborhoods the high-quality mass transit they need to continue being more livable than the suburbs as the city grows more dense.

        We just have to put up with a few more years of their roaring before they croak.

      4. Indeed Norman what is your plan to increase capacity and reduce travel times between Downtown, Capitol Hill, The University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate? What ROW would they use?

        In any case I fail to see the point of all of your whining about Link. Central Link is in revenue service and not going away any time soon. U Link and North Link are bothf ar enough along that they are likely to be completed.

      5. I suspect Norman’s plan involves dubious estimates of bus capacity, following distance, and average bus speed. If you want to picture Norman’s fantasy world, imagine 90 people on an articulated bus. Ever been on an articulated bus with 90 people? It’s possible but not comfortable or efficient.

      6. I suspect I have been on DE60LF with 90 people, but I can’t be certain as we were packed so tight it was impossible to count heads.

      7. Even closing down Olive way/East John to all but bus traffic, it would not even come close to the frequent 3 minute service from downtown to Capitol Hill that Link will provide.

  9. In other news, I can report that route 99’s ridership has multiplied from 1 to 3 on its new alignment.

    1. That makes me wonder (although I still advocate reviving the old streetcar) how much ridership will increase when SOUTHBOUND service gets rerouted to First (for the central viaduct construction)…

    2. I was wondering if route 99 could be ridden from somewhere on First to the waterfront without a big layover before the bus turns around. I’d ride it just to avoid the hills / stairs / general difficulty of access.

    3. The best thing to do to drive ridership on the 99 would be to run it on the current route in both directions (allowing for one-ways down in the I.D.) with only the minimum layovers in the I.D. for driver changes, and ~15 minute headways. Unfortunately this would triple the cost of running it, and at that level of service it would start to steal ridership from revenue routes, although that doesn’t matter until the RFA is abolished.

      1. That would be a good replacement for the RFA, but you might want to add another circulator around central downtown; south on 1st or 2nd, east somewhere around James, north on 4th or 5th, and back west somewhere around the north edge of the current RFA.

  10. To this casual observer, MT 177 looks like an inefficient and pointless route. It’s a peak-only express bus between downtown Seattle and Federal Way/S 320th St P&R. How hard would it be (not politically, but in mere planning) to consolidate the 177 and 179? The southbound 179 could exit I-5 at the HOV ramps to FWTC, then stop at Fed Way P&R before continuing to Twin Lakes. It seems wasteful to have two separate express routes travel that far on I-5 just to serve two destinations that are literally less than one-half mile apart on foot.

    1. 1) Interlining creates extra capacity between high ridership points. In these routes, it’s the Federal Way Transit Center. Route 577 also provides direct service between these two points, although with different routing. Compare travel times.

      2) If you merged all of 177’s trips into 179, there would be nothing serving the 320th P&R (unless you count the five routes that skirt the edge of it). Its location is so poor you’d have a hard time selling it to anyone.

      3) Metro used to pair* outbound 177s up with inbound 194s, essentially making it all-day service. Now that the 194 is gone, I don’t know what they’re paired with. A deadhead probably.
      *Pairing for operators. Operator drives from South Base to downtown, then from downtown to Federal Way as a 177, then back to downtown as a 194. Depending on the length of the run, the operator would then either head back to base or do some more runs.

    2. Actually, I didn’t see your point about re-routing them. But it still stands that all three routes have high ridership. The FWTC to Downtown segment is the most popular, but not everyone can or does begin their trip at the TC. Some choose the P&R, and others their homes west of the TC.

  11. I had posted this on the tail end of a previous thread, so I’m posting it again as I am unsure why what works (and is being expanded) elsewhere was a failure here:

    I notice more and more transit agencies are adopting a ‘quiet car’ option to their rail operations. Sounder had one (must have been one of the first to try it), yet dropped it some time ago, I believe. Why would the concept succeed elsewhere but fail here? Or should it be considered again?

    1. Ridership increased beyond the demand for a quiet car. So you got people that didn’t want to be shushed looking for a place to sit, so ST got rid of it.

    2. I think the Sounder is generally pretty quiet anyway, esp the North line. Besides, it’s only an hour long train ride (or less)…

  12. Why is Amtrak advertising for the Superbowl on AM radio? You’d think the demographics would be much more favorable on almost any other media. Maybe they can’t afford anything else?

    1. Maybe not. Ads are supposed to be costing about $3 million for a thirty second commercial on TV, and that is a lot of money.

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