Every Independence Day, regional transit agencies run Sunday schedules to accommodate diminished ridership demand while still maintaining modest levels of service for people going out and about.  While operating a full weekday schedule wouldn’t have made any sense on the Fourth, there were still multiple large events wrapping up Monday evening, generating peak demand that even weekday schedules would struggle to accommodate.  Many revelers were left to wait lengthy periods of time for the next bus to show up.

Similarly, MTA in Los Angeles runs Sunday schedules on the Fourth, and one disgruntled rider there accurately summed things up as such:

I understand why there is less frequent service on Holidays, but what is never pointed out is that a good number of bus routes end earlier on Sundays. Holidays should have extended running hours. Some routes end at 7 on Sunday. The Sun will just be setting! Metro needs to re-look at how they handle holidays so people are encouraged to go out into the city (which will have fireworks) rather than stay home because the nearby bus ends before the sun even retires for the evening.

Because most of the ‘peak’ activity on the Fourth occurs in the late evening, the reduction in demand isn’t proportionally uniform across the span of the day, like it might be for a normal Sunday.  While absolute ridership totals on the Fourth of July may rival that of a typical Sunday, the distribution of demand is strongly skewed, with much heavier loads in the late evening.  What we’re usually left with is the peak demand occurring just as service levels are tailing off.

A great example of well-crafted Independence Day service plan is what Boston does.  Not unlike how things are done here and in LA, MBTA operates a Sunday schedule for the most of the day.  The difference, however, is in the evening when MBTA not only runs later and enhanced service on all modes when demand is greatest, but offers free rides after 10:30p.  Eliminating fare payment greatly speeds up crowds getting on buses and trains.

I’m not suggesting that transit agencies here go fare-free on Independence Day, but I would like to see more in the way of a special service plan, especially for routes that serve high-trafficked areas in the evening.  With high concentrations of people in certain places at once, transit holds a competitive advantage in this arena– a compelling reason to make riding more convenient on the Fourth, and not the time-wasting burden that it often is.

53 Replies to “Sunday Schedules Aren’t Cutting It on the Fourth”

  1. YES, thank you for writing this.

    Another thing: PUBLISH THE SPECIAL EVENT SHUTTLES! There were shuttles for the Fremont Solstice parade that I was completely unaware of until I gave up trying to get on the hopelessly-overloaded 26/28s and started walking home on Dexter.

    Another thing: all the routes that might have high demand on these special event days should be 60′ coaches. This should not be hard and doesn’t cost much. Very few routes are strictly limited to 40′ coaches, and on a non-weekday schedule, there a probably heaps of 60′ coaches sitting around at the bases.

    It’s insane that, during the Fremont parade, the 26/28 were running 40′ low floor coaches and the unpublished free shuttle was running half-empty 60′ high floor coaches.

    Going fare free with all-door boarding is another no-brainer. Even Valley Metro, Phoenix’s barely-useable transit agency gets this right (or did until this year, when they abandoned it due to financial dire straits).

    Things like this make me want to scream. This stuff is not hard and doesn’t cost much money. It just requires the people at the top to use the wet stuff between their ears.

    1. Or the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing, as looks to have been the case between planning and PR when it came to that Solstice shuttle.

    2. Bruce, actually Valley Metro did not have this policy. It was only for buses operating within the City of Tempe on 4 July and 31 December; and it was never advertised very well. Also, it was very confusing since many of the routes within Tempe also travel into the neighboring cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler. So some parts of the routes were free while others were not. While this policy has now been abandoned, Tempe continues to provide Sunday service on these holidays and increases service later in the day. This past 4 July, on select routes within Tempe city limits beginning around 5 PM, Tempe provided 15-minute headways toward Downtown Tempe until 10 PM. After 10 PM, service departing downtown was provided only when the bus filled up. This was provided until midnight and again, only provided service to the Tempe city limits.

      1. Ah, my mistake, I lived in Tempe, didn’t realize it was different elsewhere. Tempe was and still is light years ahead of the rest of the Valley in terms of transit and land use issues.

  2. Hmm, were you one of the many trying to get to the U-District from King Street Station that afternoon? Many of us had gotten off Amtrak 506 that arrived around 3:35. We ended up waiting at the Intl District station in the tunnel for at least half an hour, and finally arrived to NE Campus Pkwy a mere 55 mins after the train arrived.

  3. it’s a nice idea, really, but don’t the people who work on the 4th want to get home for the evenings too?

    1. Yes. Everyone should just walk everywhere. All the time. You’re a genius, Will.

  4. Facts are that the deciders on matters like this are not regular transit riders, and even if they do commute by transit, they’d never go to/from a nighttime event on a transit bus; train, maybe. Best one can say is they have an incomplete view of the transit universe.

  5. This is by no means limited to Sunday schedules or the 4th of July – Metro is easily overwhelmed by virtually any event that draws meaningful numbers of transit-minded people. I’ve been similarly stranded after Mariners and Sounders games, before and after Folklife/Bite of Seattle/Bumbershoot, and other events.

    This isn’t all Metro’s fault – bus transit systems can’t handle sudden peaks in demand very well, certainly not like subways can.

    1. Well, not dropping service at times like that would be a start. It’s one thing to not have enough room on a bus for everyone, but another to not even provide a bus.

      1. These kinds of events are perfect “teaching opportunities” for transit agencies to win friends and influence voters. Especially, on Independence Day and New Years Eve, well planned fare-free service using 60 foot coaches, on special routings as appropriate, would be a wonderful way for people to learn how transit works. If we can work with police agencies to allow close-in transit access, all the better. Far better to serve these kinds of events with transit than to run 80% empty coaches in rural King County.

      2. The opposite’s true too. I took a large group of friends and family to find a bus after a city-wide run a few years back. We were all cold and wet and the event’s shuttle system failed us. So did the bus system. Everyone talked the whole time that we walked blocks and blocks to a more frequent bus stop about how we should have planned ahead and parked cars near the finish line. Lesson learned – everyone missed their cars.

  6. Other random 4th gripes: reroutes around Wallingford. Yeah, close off the neighborhood streets so they don’t become a Gas Works parking lot, but they’re letting neighborhood residents in and out, so why not let the buses through, too? It’s not like they’re coming so frequently (grumble) as to really tax the police running the blockade…

    Also, people on the 26 going to Gas Works were really clueless about where to get off, and how to quickly exit a bus. The stop after turning off Stone Way was ridiculous… the bus I was on must have sat at that stop for 3 minutes while people bumped into eachother, tried to exit out the front after boarding had already started… what a mess!

    1. This is kind of a pet peeve for me too. Would it be so hard to have a bike cop or something chaperon the half-hour headway bus through the closed streets? It would be better for everyone. Bus doesn’t sit in holiday traffic, riders don’t walk so far, pedestrian space is largely undisturbed.

      1. Actually, the traffic on the reroute wasn’t the problem — since non-resident cars were pretty much banned from Wallingford by police blockade, and the U-District was half-empty for the summer, traffic north of the ship canal was totally fine. The re-routes themselves just seemed like unnecessary confusion. The police could have easily allowed the #30 through on 40th just like they allowed residents in and out.

  7. But transit keeps telling us that it cannot make ends meet by more people riding. If you don’t have more fare paying riders how do you intend to make money?

    1. The object of fare-free event service wouldn’t be to make ends meet. It would be to provide a high enough quality of service to attract non-regular riders back to transit.

    2. As each ride is heavily subsidized, more riders don’t make more money for the system – they cost the system more money.

      1. That’s not completely true. The marginal net revenue of an extra rider is positive, so long as you don’t need to run any additional service to accommodate them.

        To put it another way, for a given level of service, each extra rider brings the system closer to profitability.

  8. Wait till the cuts that coming and you’ll see this kind of service 7 days a week.

    Extra service means more drivers which means more overtime, which means the Seattle Times will whine more about how much the drivers make. Also if Metro runs special shuttles then you get Starline whining about how Metro is undercutting it, just like it did with the Seahawk service. How did those $25 shuttles do? Were they popular vs Metro’s $6 service? Metro does provide shuttles and people complain that they didn’t know about it. Did they take the time to look on the web site?

    Can service be better, you bettcha. But it costs money and money is in short supply right now.

    1. Those of you who missed the first CRC hearing missed quite a laugh. Among the contentions of the bus haters was that Metro is inefficient because … it runs buses in the middle of the day, when “nobody rides them”!

      The tea partiers outnumbered the transit supporters at the first hearing. Please, a lot more of you need to show up for the last two hearings.

    1. … except for ST 512. You should consider yourself lucky that ST runs the Sunday schedule rather than the Saturday schedule for holidays, since the 512 with half-hour headway and longer span of service is clearly superior to two routes with hour headway.

      1. I like the experiment of the 512 on Sunday. I’d like to see it on other days too. The current 510/511 service hours would be enough to run the 512 every 15-20 minutes Saturdays and every 10 minutes weekdays. This would be a vast improvement over the current system for anyone not going to Everett and, even for those that are going to Everett, it would be, at worst, a wash – less wait time, in exchange for a little extra travel time. A 512 every 15 minutes would also be far more useful for U-district->downtown trips than a 510/511 back-to-back every 30 minutes, like the Saturday schedule today does.

        The only time I think separate 510/511 routes are really justified is the weekday peak period in the peak direction.

      2. One interesting thing I noticed in the current ST schedule. Link is predicted to take 28 minutes from Westlake to Lynnwood. I thought that was slightly longer than the 511. But the 511 is actually 30 minutes northbound (3pm weekdays), or 27 minutes (8am Saturday), and the 512 is 27 minutes (8am Sunday), or 30 minutes (3pm Sunday). So it’s the same, which means Link should be popular in Snohomish County, and that it could make decent time to Everett.

      3. The problem with the 512 for Everett riders is how much time it takes to get through Lynnwood TC and Ash Way P&R. Each one is at least a couple minutes, more if there are many riders or much traffic. On a Sunday schedule it’s a great tradeoff for more frequency.

        On the weekdays it seems more complicated. During the forward peak 510 riders get 15-minute frequencies, so it’s probably not worth stopping at Lynnwood and Ash Way to get more. And during the rest of the day, is it worth the cost to extend buses at 15-minute headways all the way to Everett (it’s a bit of a hike) that don’t get much ridership up there? They couldn’t really consolidate CT routes between Lynnwood and Everett because those are local-stop routes that presumably have lots of other uses (they aren’t horribly slow, but they aren’t nearly as fast as the 512).

      4. There’s no rule that says the 512 has to go to Everett at all times. Half of them could stop at Ash Way, and the other half could continue up to Everett.

      5. Without the 512, the options for getting between Everett and Lynnwood are more limited. That includes during peak. For many riders, Sounder remains an option if they don’t want to stop in Lynnwood and Alderwood.

        The mid-day ridership between Everett and Lynnwood is low for a good reason: the lack of a direct bus route. Provide that route, and you might be surprised by the ridership.

        The real bottleneck during peak is traffic. Taking an unclogged express lane vs. a slow-moving parking-lot to the 145 and 45 St stops can make a difference of 20-30 minutes, and it will only get worse.

        The only viable solutions are congestion pricing, transit lanes both ways, and/or wait for light rail.

      6. There’s no lack of a direct bus route from Lynnwood to Everett. The 201 and 202 make the trip pretty directly and with decent frequency for Snohomish, but with more local stops. Still, it’s a 32-minute trip (scheduled time southbound during morning rush), compared to a 26-minute trip for the 512, so it’s not bad at all. If you need to get somewhere closer to Aurora than I-5, it doesn’t get any more direct than Swift, which is pretty frequent and makes the run from Everett Station down to 196th in 32 minutes (also using scheduled time southbound during morning rush) without any freeway running.

  9. Holidays come in two main flavors: Stay at Home (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and Go Out and Do Stuff (Memorial Day and July 4th). Saturday service might make more sense for the latter two.

    1. I wonder how much money would be saved if, for one day a year, all bus service completely shut down on December 25 and how much service the other days the savings would buy. Not sure if it would be worth it or not, but I think it’s a least a question worth asking.

      1. Some people still need to get around on Christmas. That said, maybe there should be special schedules for the three holidays when most retail closes: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Each of these days would have 1/2 to 2/3 as much service as a normal Sunday. The 4th of July would have Saturday service.

  10. For me, the problem is not lack of service. It’s that everyone else is driving, meaning that the roads are parking lots, and the buses that ARE running aren’t going anywhere. Just another argument for dedicated ROW for transit.

      1. Most of the suggestions on this page — additional trips, 60′ coaches, fare-free — are so small in the context of Metro’s annual budget as to scarcely make a difference. Adequately announcing and promoting extra trips and shuttles, along with better-designed reroutes basically costs nothing.

        In fact, considering how long it takes for these event trippers to load up, I suspect going fareless would probably be close to wash due to the time saved.

      2. The suggestions may be small, but Metro can’t even afford to do the small stuff right now. You’ll notice there is a freeze on putting up new busstop signs.

    1. The shuttle bus service should be part of the operations budget for the event sponsors. Just like the city doesn’t pay for all of the police officers at the event (the sponsors do), the extra shuttle buses would be part of the production cost of the event. I would guess that the Fremont Fair shuttle bus was paid for by the event sponsor and promotion of the shuttle was the sponsor’s responsibility, not Metro’s.

  11. I’m sort of curious about people’s observations about traffic and bus congestion. I was traveling from eastern Wallingford to a party along Westlake Ave, halfway up the lake. Around 8pm traffic was significant but not awful the whole way but the buses headed through Wallingford were packed (a totally packed 40-ft. #30 passed us by before we caught a 60-ft #26 that eventually filled its seats). On the way home after the fireworks, Westlake Ave. was a parking lot and the #30 was pretty empty when I picked it up, but the traffic cleared up and the bus filled up on the north side of the ship canal. That suggests that the lack of parking near Gas Works forced people onto transit, while the abundance of parking along Westlake kept people in cars. But that’s a pretty small number of data points.

  12. Would like to see better large event support from Metro and Sound Transit. For example, the U2 concert at Qwest Field, attended by over 70,000 people, ended quite late, well after 11pm. It was impossible to get out of the stadium and over to the Int’l District station before the last bus of the evening passed by. There were many hundreds of people milling about the International District, Pioneer Square and downtown, attempting to hail taxi cabs (mostly in vain) as the buses were done for the night. If the buses had just run one more hour, it would have served a great many people.

    1. Yes, I would love to see better span of service, both in the early morning, when people who would like to take the bus to work are forced to move next to work or drive, and late at night, for essentially the same reasons.

      Indeed, I’d like to see Link stay in service later on Fridays and Saturdays, even if it means starting it up later Saturday and Sunday morning. Keeping four one-car trains at Airport Station overnight to start the higher-ridership inbound service as soon as the wires are turned on would enable more people living along the line to get to their early shifts.

      I understand that overnight shadow service is a fantasy for the foreseeable future, but it bears repeating that the airport never closes, work at the airport never stops, and an employee who has to drive one way has to drive both ways. (This point was a little too cerebral for the tea partiers at the CRC hearing, as they applauded calls to end midday service.)

      Decent regular late-night service would reduce the amount of extra buses needed for special-event service.

  13. Sure, I agree with Event Scheduling and I’m glad they restored the game service to Metro Buses.

    I would schedule Sounder runs for each and every Mariners and Sounders game, for example, coming and going…Seafair, Bumbershoot, Folk life as well.

    Heck, Sounder should be running at least hourly all day long…even once every two hours until 1am or 2am would be a phenomenal boost to inter-regional transit.

  14. Please call it “LA Metro”.

    Their PR department has worked overtime on that.

    1. And how about giving us all the morning after the fireworks off. Sure would aid in productivity!

  15. Why doesn’t Metro let us use ORCA for special event shuttles? If they don’t want monthly passes to cover these events, why not at least let us use our e-purses?

    I do recall that some events pay for free shuttles. SeaFair spilled out to cover the cost of the shuttles from Othello and Columbia City Station to the hydroplane races.

    1. There probably isn’t a way to tell the ORCA reader to only take e-purse… I’ll bet that is the source of no ORCA for special event shuttles…

  16. Long Beach Transit in California has always operated a Saturday schedule on the 4th of July because ridership amounts were more similar to Saturday than Sunday. Also, as the service planner for Long Beach Transit I implemented, as part of a 3% service reduction that went into effect September 2010, a reduced Sunday schedule on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day that was about 1/2 of the normal Sunday schedule. Have yet to receive any complaints from the passengers about it, and the drivers like it because more can have those important holidays off. I believe all transit systems should consider having a special schedule on those three days.

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