Longtime reader (and Seattle City Council candidate) Michael Taylor-Judd forwards us this exchange:

I’m writing you today along with a number of Delridge corridor residents to request a study of the scheduling of the Metro Route 120 and 125 buses through our neighborhood. Anecdotally, many of us have been frustrated for some time at watching Downtown-bound buses pass by close together (some literally following right behind). While we have excellent 15-minute headways most of the time on 120 (thanks to Transit Now initiatives), it can still be incredibly frustrating to just miss a bus, and wait 10-15 minutes only to see both of these buses coming down the street…

There is a schedule time point at 16th Ave SW & Roxbury. A quick glance at the two schedules side-by-side shows that nearly ALL of the Route 125 stops scheduled at this time point arrive with[in] four minutes or less of the Route 120. In fact, of the 45 scheduled runs in-bound to Downtown Seattle, only seven buses are NOT scheduled that close to the 120. Both are even scheduled once at the same time – 4:33pm – and several times only one to two minutes apart.

I’d like to request that planners take a look at these two schedules prior to the June service change to investigate adjusting the two routes further apart. Route 120 has the highest ridership of any bus route in West Seattle , and the Delridge corridor also has some of the highest demand for transit service in the city…

If there is some mitigating factors that we are not aware of as citizens, we’d appreciate an opportunity to learn more about them at the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council meeting or another regularly scheduled meeting in our neighborhood.

and the response from Metro GM Kevin Desmond, below the jump…

In reviewing your concerns with the schedules on the routes 120 and 125, we concur that changes can be made to improve the spacing of service in the common corridor served by both routes. In addition, Metro plans to make some reliability investments in Route 120 to benefit our customers and drivers and help assure that what is scheduled can actually occur.

As an informed citizen, I am sure you can appreciate the complexity of Metro’s schedules as we operate about 12,000 trips each day. We find it helpful to have customers raise issues like this, so that we can investigate, verify, and make changes to improve the quality of our service. You and other riders of these routes should see positive changes in both the schedule spacing for these routes and in the reliability of Route 120 service in our June 2011 service change.

It’s true that Mr. Taylor-Judd isn’t exactly an “average citizen” in this case, but this is a pretty good example of intelligent comment on the system and robust response to that comment. Metro planners are obviously familiar with the principles of interlining, but the situation at 16th & Roxbury is entirely non-obvious if you aren’t familiar with the neighborhood context. It’s exactly the kind of feedback that’s most useful.

38 Replies to “Scheduling Routes 120 and 125”

  1. I get that the numbers make this look like the timetables are illogical but they share all of one stop. The 54 and 22 share stops in West Seattle, how come they aren’t interlined?

    As to the original letter, why are the author and others letting “Downtown-bound buses pass by” instead of getting on them? And what does it matter if there is a 120 and then a 125 right behind 4 minutes later? If you need a bus at a certain time, you show up when the schedule says. I don’t understand this thought process people have sometimes that says the bus schedule should cover for them if they are late for the bus.

    1. As a North Delridge resident, I tend to just walk to my stop and wait for the next arriving bus. One is usually arriving within 15-20 minutes, so I don’t really concern myself with the schedule.

      …but yes, it is kind of a let down when I find myself on the other side of this busy street waiting for a crosswalk signal and I see both the 120 & 125 zoom past. :)

      Doesn’t sound like an individual user whining to me, but someone who saw an easy win for North Delridge, though… shifting one or both of those routes by a few minutes will have a minor impact to the routes individually, but will in turn improve overall service in the North Delridge corridor (with its commercial buildings, community center, arts center, (future) skate park, gym, and food service locations.)

    2. 54 is through-routed with the 5, and the 21, 22 and 56 are through-routed with the 15 and the 18. By contrast the 125 is through-routed with the 11 but the 120 is not through-routed, thus it has a layover downtown. That layover gives them the flexibility to do timed interlining, if they put the necessary effort in.

      1. Yes but you can find instances of this all over the system. I’m not saying the suggestion is necessarily wrong but the reasons that were given aren’t relevant to the solution being asked for.

      2. Bruce,

        There are lots of places of where two routes share one more or more stops but does that mean they should be interlined? Morgan below stated this point clearer than I was trying to. One stop shouldn’t be the standard to decide that schedules should be aligned with each other. In fact, can anyone think of two routes that are interlined that at a certain part of their trips share a single stop?

      3. I don’t think you understood Morgan’s comment. The point is to interline the section in North Delridge between 22nd Ave SW and the bridge. The Roxbury time point merely happens to be the most relevant public schedule timepoint, so it’s the easiest way to illustrate the matter. Although presumably the travel times up Delridge and 16th Ave are similar, so synchronizing that timepoint will probably do the trick.

    3. As a South Delridge resident I can add some context to this issue. The 120 and 125 serve parallel corridors, between 4 to 7 blocks distant, and share stops in 3 portions: downtown, 3 stops on Delridge in the North Delridge area, and again at White Center. Despite the 120 being a high-volume route, the 125 is still necessary because in some sections steep topography separate it from Delridge, and it directly serves South Seattle Community College.

      In the common portions, and for those who live within walking distance of both lines, either route it essentially the same. The 120 runs every 15 (or less) during weekdays and Saturdays, and every 30 minutes evenings and Sundays. The 125 has a consistent 30 minute frequency throughout it’s span 7 days a week (aside from some extra peak hour trips). The 125 could be serving to lessen demand on the 120 between it’s runs, particulary on evenings and Sundays, but is typically scheduled for about the same time as the 120. This is the typical situation downtown on evenings: 120 departs, 5 minutes later the 125 departs, 25 minutes later the next 120 departs. During the 6 pm hour on weekends, both the 120 and 125 are running 15 minute frequencies, one 3 minutes later than the other. Spacing out the schedules for the 120 and 125 would give more frequent service to everyone that can access both routes.

      1. When I was reading it (and presumably M too) I was thinking, “Wait, why is he talking about White Center where the routes only intersect at the transfer point, as opposed to where they actually share the route near the West Seattle Bridge?” North Delridge seems to me like it would be more of a concern for Metro planners, since it’s where the 120 and 125 run the same route all the way to downtown.

        (Should Metro perform a review of *every* pair of routes that share some portion of a route as part of the RTTF?)

      2. If Metro had lots of spare time and money, that would be nice, but they don’t, and I suspect would cost quite a lot to do such a wide-ranging review; moreover I doubt there’s much low-hanging fruit like this. It’s harder to arrange interlining on through-routed busses like most of Metro’s downtown non-tunnel routes.

    4. I transfer buses downtown to get home to West Seattle, so it’s not just a matter of “arriving when the schedule says”. I’ve spent many cold half-hours in the rain after 9pm on a winter night, praying that a 120 or 125 will come soon!

    5. M opined:

      “If you need a bus at a certain time, you show up when the schedule says. I don’t understand this thought process people have sometimes that says the bus schedule should cover for them if they are late for the bus.”

      Spoken like someone who takes precisely 1 bus each way, per day, 5 days a week. Can’t even imagine the need for service frequent enough to facilitate spontaneity or ease transfers.

      Anyone with that large a gap in comprehension has no business offering opinions on this or any transit matter.

      1. That was harsh, I know, but I’m sick of it.

        Today I discovered that the latest scheduling revision adds so much f-ing padding to some trips that my 17 bus — after stopping at nearly every single stop along its route, after missing half its lights, after taking 28 minutes to get from downtown Ballard to 7th and Bell — actually had to wait 1 minute because, according to the new schedules, it was “early.”

        Why is this trip now “scheduled” at 35 minutes from Ballard to Pine? Because people like Jeff Welch, who likely never uses Metro for any reason when he’s not behind the wheel, think it’s more important to be “on time” than to ever, ever be fast.

        And people on this blog wonder why the average Seattleite is skeptical of transit…

      2. p.s. The only reason I was on that 17 is that the previous 18 bus departed 9 minutes early for no apparent reason.

        I guess the driver had so much extra layover time that he got impatient and just left!

        That extra padding (and its inevitable consequences, frequency-fucking and overcrowding) seems to be work out like gangbusters, Jeff!

      3. Yes, exactly. Spacing them evenly gives many of the benefits of doubling the frequency at no extra cost. It will also likely increase ridership, because many people aren’t willing to ride a bus that comes every half hour but they will ride it if it comes every 15 minutes. Two half-hour buses spaced 15 minutes apart will attract more riders than the same buses coming 5 minutes after each other.

        Looking up the schedules is fine if you ride that route frequently or if you’re at home, but it’s inconvenient if you’re out somewhere and suddenly decide to take that bus and you don’t have a web-enabled phone. If you know it’s a 15-minute route you might go to the bus stop and wait for it, but if you know you might have to wait 25 or 30 minutes you might get a ride instead. You might wait for the bus anyway, but most people would just as likely drive, not make the trip, or go at another time when there is 15-minute service.

      4. Spoken like someone like that, perhaps, but not true at all. I am, in fact, a carless Seattleite who uses public transportation to get almost everywhere. But nice job assuming. I’m sure that assumption made you feel better about your own opinion.

      5. Whoops. I assumed, and an ass was made. Sorry, it had been a very frustrating Metro day, largely due to flaws in those lauded schedules themselves.

        Nevertheless, the “we can live by the schedules” attitude puts you squarely in the minority of carless urbanites.

        And it’s not just me and Mike. It’s the 90+% of in-city residents who think transit might be a-ok for work commutes — one vehicle, a schedule, places to wait indoors and be busy at both ends, and maybe even an express if they’re lucky — but live the rest of their lives in their cars.

        Schedule bound systems within urban areas < spontaneity-facilitating frequent systems. Period. And elective ridership reflects that.

        Mike, I won't lie: the OneBusAway smartphone apps make life a heck of a lot easier. But they still won't actually give you a faster trip, and they can't keep you warm and dry on a 28-minute layover. They alleviate some of the symptoms, but they can't cure the disease.

  2. I’m very glad to see this come up!
    I work late, and after 8pm or so both the 120 and 125 go to half-hour headways, often separated by only a few minutes. It always amazes me how many people are on these routes even late at night (I’ve been on a southbound 120 at 11pm with standing room only!). I heartily second the streamlining of these two schedules.
    Thanks for bringing it up!

  3. Would it be productive to offer the suggestion that all SR-520 routes from downtown should operate on Fourth Avenue, and all I-90 routes should operate in the tunnel, both so that there are common stops downtown for riders going to common destinations, and to leverage the great I-90 ramps and minimize use of the slow connections to I-5/SR-520 at the north end?

    1. I can’t speak to the wisdom of that particular suggestion, as I don’t ride cross-lake busses much. I will say that Metro seems to have mostly chosen the tunnel routes to be busses that fall into the following classes: those that will be replaced in whole or part by Link at some point (41, 7x, 550, 316, maybe 301), all but one of the seven-day-a-week SODO busway busses (101, 102, 106), most of the Sammamish commuter busses (21x, 22x), and then two Kirkland busses that I can’t really find any particular rationale for (maybe future transfers at Monlake? But I doubt it.)

      1. According to your criteria, the 554 should be in the tunnel. It will be replaced in part by East Link (Rainier and Mercer Island stops), and it serves Sammamish, at least on some runs. Of course, being an ST route probably works against it.

      2. It’s not a commuter bus. And I rather doubt the 554 will be replaced when Link goes in.

    2. +1 to that suggestion. The tunnel speeds up I-90 routes, and slows down the 255.

      Also, does anyone know why the 520 routes use 4th and 5th as a couplet, when most other routes use 2nd and 4th? Naively, that seems like it would either overcrowd 4th or underuse 2nd/5th, but I imagine there must be a good reason…

      1. How those routes got to be on 5th I can’t say, but moving them has been talked about:

        Other transit service on 5th would be moved to either the
        4th/2nd couplet or 3rd Avenue. The key is to preserve 5th as a
        place for vehicles to queue onto I-5, allowing other streets to
        move more freely.

      2. +1 to this suggestion also. Having to use OneBusAway on a Sunday afternoon to figure out whether the 550 or 554 is coming first to take you to Mercer Island is an annoyance that should not be necessary.

        The primary reason why 520 routes use 5th instead of 2nd, I believe, is that it speeds up service my making the buses wait at two fewer stoplights to get between 2nd and 4th. For buses going from downtown to Belltown/Queen Anne/SR-99, on the other hand, being closer to the water is better.

    3. I think this is the perfect time to gently press the idea of solidifying the I-90 routes into one trunk (in the tunnel) and the SR 520 routes into one trunk (on Fourth Ave), as Metro prepares to regrid the eastside routes for the opening of the B Line. They’d rather do a bunch of changes all at once than change a route multiple times in a short period.

      Metro may have a contractual right to keep more of its routes in the tunnel, but the County Council serves the same set of taxpayers (well, a big chunk of it) as ST. Certainly, they can come up with an arrangement, if they hear from enough riders of these routes who request the trunk consolidations to happen.

      Thanks for this post giving us hints how to work with the planners rather than be perpetually frustrated.

      In that regard, I’d like to thank Jack Latteman for the tremendous work he did coming up with a least-worst path to keep the #60 and #131/134 running through South Park when the bridge was close to its expiration date. I was kinda tough on Jack at the time, but he seems to know that neighborhood angst and rider frustration comes with the transit planner territory.

      1. Until 2016, Metro and ST share the tunnel under a joint arrangement that was described to me by someone on the ST side as the “most f***cked up deal imaginable.” After that, ST owns it outright. I gather that Metro basically calls the calls the shots until then; so there’s no obstacle to Metro swapping busses in the tunnel.

        That said, from an operational perspective, you can’t fit any more busses in the tunnel on-peak than you can now (I think it’s overcrowded and congested on-peak already), so you’ll have to start hoofing out other busses that arguably make even more sense, like the ones slated to be replaced by Link (41, 7x, 316, 550) and the ones that use the SODO busway (101, 102, 106, 150; there’s a slow left turn on Royal Brougham those busses have to make when they’re not in the tunnel.)

        If I ruled the world, I’d kick the the 255/6, 301 and 21x/22x to the surface and put the 554 and 355 in the tunnel. That would slightly reduce the off-peak load, drastically reduce on-peak load and in turn vastly improve Link’s on-time performance. All the northbound busses would then be routes guaranteed to be replaced or truncated by 2021.

      2. The 554 has fewer runs during peak than off-peak. Kicking the 255 and 256 upstairs creates more than enough room to put the 554 in the tunnel.

        Once that is accomplished, there wouldn’t need to be two northbound bays, so that should help reduce tunnel congestion.

        In order to put the remaining I-90 routes in the tunnel (202, 210, 214, and 215), some other routes for which most of their peak trips are northbound in the tunnel (101, 102, 106, and 150) would have to be kicked out.

        Yes, this would reduce off-peak trips through the tunnel, but it would interline all the I-90 routes, and create more easy connections to and from Link. The routes being kicked out, other than 255 and 256, are ones that have easy transfers to Link in the SODO, and which will have to have an at-grade path through downtown someday, anyway, unless they are truncated at a Link station further south.

      3. Now that I look at how few I-90 routes there are, that does look doable in principle. My biggest objection to this is that you’re basically prioritizing Eastside commuter routes with lower ridership over all-day South King routes with much higher ridership. That’s dubious transit planning and terrible politics; I suspect if Metro ever tried that, they’d wish they hadn’t. My proposal leaves the high-performing South King routes alone and subtracts riders from north Seattle and the Eastside.

      4. To quantify that:

        You’ve got 14k riders on the biggest three of those southbound routes (150, 101, 106.) The cutoff on that graph is 1k, and I can’t be bothered to total up all the I-90 routes right now, but you’re nowhere near that. You’ve got a very high bar to clear if you want to kick those high-ridership all-day routes out of the tunnel, either from a planning or political perspective, and I don’t think you can clear it.

      5. If ST owns the tunnel in 2016, then theoretically it could kick the 71-72-73-74X out of the tunnel, and that would give Metro an additional incentive to truncate them.

      6. If I were riding to Interurban north of SouthCenter, I would want the 150 and 161 using the same downtown stops, to consolidate the Interurban 150/161 trunk route. If I were riding to Kent, I would want the 158, 159, 162, and 150 using the same downtown stops, so I could catch whichever comes first to head to Kent. And if I were riding the 101, 102, 106, or 150, and trying to transfer to other tunnel routes, I would make that transfer at International District Station, or maybe even Stadium or SODO Station.

        Still, the 101/102 have the most peak-hour trips in the tunnel. Moving them upstairs would create enough room to put the 202, 210, 214 and 215 in the tunnel, consolidating the I-90 trunk.

  4. I made a similar suggestion to Metro, Sound Transit and Microsoft Commute about the schedules for the 233, 245, 540(?) and Microsoft City Center shuttle. They all leave downtown Bellevue at 20 minutes and 50 minutes after the hour and head to the Overlake/Microsoft area within a few blocks of each other. (To be fair, the 245 leaves at 18 and 48 minutes after the hour, and takes a far different route to Overlake.)

    My basic complaint is that there were 4 separate transit options each half hour, but the window to board any of these options was only a couple of minutes each half hour.

    The response was not encouraging. Metro ignored me, Sound Transit told me they weren’t Metro (and thus weren’t responsible) and Microsoft told me their shuttle wasn’t meant as a bus alternative.

    And you wonder why I have so little faith in Seattle transit :)

    1. The buses which go Downtown Bellevue to Overlake are:
      230 (20/50 through Tamo neighborhood)
      233 (20/50 through Bel-Red/campus)
      566 (express, 520)
      253 (05/35, but will only bring you to 148th/Commons)
      249 (25/55, way roundabout through W Lake Sammamish)

      However, this will all change with Rapid Ride B starting on October, 1. Service will run every 10-15 minutes and every 30 minutes in the evening. It will go down NE 8th to Crossroads, up to NE 40th on NE 156th, and stop at the Commons. The 230, 253, and 233 options will no longer exist. The platform will also be opposite the 566 so you can chose whichever bus comes first/different times of the day.

      The 540 runs from Kirkland to the U District, the 245 runs from Kirkland to Factoria through Overlake, Crossroads, and Eastgate.

      Hope this helps!

    2. I also want to add that, at least in my interactions with Metro staff, they have been very helpful. Some of the changes being implemented in the October service change were from the Sounding Board, not ideas of Metro staff. Staff are also very accessible and really care about the network.

  5. Kudos to Metro for actually listening to a customer complaint about the issue. For a bureaucracy of its size, my natural expectation would be for either no response or an automatic template response, with the request thrown in the garbage.

    A similar issue I’ve noticed is the 510/511 heading into downtown Seattle on a weekend. You get two buses almost right on top of each other, then nothing for 30 minutes.

    This is not entirely a bad thing, as, when I really need to get somewhere at a certain time, I have the knowledge that if one doesn’t come on time, the other hopefully will. This gives me greater confidence in the system when I have a tight schedule or a connection I need to make. Still, though, I think a 15 minute spacing between the two lines like they do for northbound trips is better.

    With the Mountlake Terrace freeway station opening, this is going to become a bigger (or it should, anyway, can someone explain the reasoning behind the 511 stopping there but not the 510 – is getting to Everett 20 seconds faster really worth doubling the Mountlake Terrece->downtown headway and converting the Mountlake Terrace->Everett trip from a fast straight shot down I-5 to very slow trip full of transfers that isn’t even possible at all on Sunday?.

    1. I recommend sending e-mail if you don’t receive a response from the customer service tool on the website. If you do so, send a copy to your King County Councilmember. Someone in his/her office will usually follow-up on it. In particular, Bob Ferguson and Larry Phillips have publicly asked constituents to include their office on complaints and suggestions.

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