Photo of Route 42 bus interior, completely empty.
Route 42 -- Photo by Oran

In a recent post, Martin made the case — based on his own experience, and the 2009 route-level data — for abolishing the underperforming and almost entirely redundant Route 42. I think that post and the subsequent discussion demolished any reasonable argument in favor of the 42 based on mobility (“mobility” meaning the idea that transit agencies should attempt to provide some service within walking distance of every urbanized part of their service area). In this post, I’ll discuss more recent stop- and route-level data.

Route 42 Stop Level Data
Route 42 Stop Level Data

As always, refer back to my Route 36 post for a discussion of the format of this chart. Note that I’ve omitted the usual colored lines that break out ridership by time of day, as the sample sizes are very small and that data is very choppy.

One thing is immediately obvious: we’re talking very small numbers here — the maximum average load is about four or five people. These buses are nearly empty. The second is that the ridership pattern is somewhat muddled — there’s not the constant churn seen on Jackson or 3rd Ave, or the steady loading/unloading pattern usually seen out in the neighborhoods. Other than “not much” it’s hard to qualify the way this bus is being used.

We can put some exact numbers to this. In 2010, the service cost about $319,261 to operate (almost unchanged from 2009), at about 7% (from 15%) farebox recovery or $9.60 per passenger (up from around $6). Ridership declined 30% from 2009, bucking the systemwide increase in ridership. Over the course of a whole day of service, about 17 people board or deboard at either MLK & Walden or MLK & Della, the stop nearest Asian Counseling and Referral Services, the group that loudly continues to oppose abolishing the 42.

It’s demonstrably unnecessary for mobility, it’s costing a fortune, and riders are choosing in droves not to ride it. At this point, Route 42 is indefensible.

42 Replies to “Ridership on Route 42”

    1. By submitting it to a Council member, all that will happen is that it will be referred back to staff for review and response. As I stated previously, you guys do a lot of detailed analysis and you support your positions with data. These recommendations that you make should be taken seriously by staff and the changes that you recommend should be implemented. Nothing gets implemented unless staff signs off on it. It also raises questions why staff is not looking at this in more detail. Seems like they should be doing this analysis.

      I also find in my experience as a service planner in other places that a vocal minority can keep a route around even if staff wants to cut it. This is especially true of the senior citizens who are used to certain routes and don’t want to change. From how you describe this route, I don’t think this is the case.

  1. Posts like this are important because they directly identify waste and opportunities for Metro to cut costs.

    Part of my opposition to the so-called congestion reduction charge was that it just gives Metro an easy out to continue operating empty routes, avoiding improvements, and putting-off politically difficult reform.

    The 42 is clearly a route that should be cut. If Metro wants longer-term sustainability as opposed to constant short-term crises, routes like this should be getting the axe. I fear that it will continue, in light of the recent stop-gap, but will be watching closely to see if Metro shows any signs of change. That will be my litmus test for whether to support additional Metro taxes in the future.

    1. As other people have mentioned, Metro planners wanted to cut the 42, and it was going to happen when Link opened.

      Then the ACRS initiated an onslaught of angry comments to the county council, and the council told Metro they could not cut the 42.

      This is a case of planners being overruled by politicians.

  2. I once took the 42 to the ID on a lark – it happened to come before the 7 and all the flyover buses were further waits. A rare circumstance! It turned out to be much faster than the 7 (obviously since it was nearly empty during commute hours, doesn’t continue on Rainier as long and runs down Dearborn which is nearly devoid of destinations between the Goodwill and the ID) and almost as fast as the tunnel buses (faster than the surface I-90 buses). I’ve kept an eye out for it since but that magical arrival order has just never occurred again. It was pretty obvious from that single (empty commute hour!) ride that unless it had a very important other end, it was probably a good candidate for re-purposing.

    Considering how few east-west routes there are through the neighborhoods that have Link stations, perhaps this route could be re-done as a neighborhood connector (give people transit options to the Light rail station). Maybe even route it past MLK & Della to maintain access that people are adamant is critical. It might remain an underused stop, but the route overall would hopefully get more use considering how many people supposedly don’t use Light Rail because there is no way to get to the stations. Though the schedule suggests there’s only one run per hour available.

    1. Also, I love these charts. They are a very effective way of presenting the data. How fine-grained is the source dataset? On/off data for each stop? Totals per hour?

      1. The source data is from Metro Automatic Passenger Counter system. A percentage of the fleet is equipped with these devices and randomly cycled through the system to sample ridership throughout the day, and then those raw numbers are scaled up to match the total number of coaches (APC and non-APC) that operated at those times. Metro has been increasing the percentage of the fleet with APC and plans to have 100% coverage at some point in the future, I forget when.

        The numbers that I get from Metro are broken out by stop, and they are the number of ons and offs per trip, the number of trips during that time period, and the “load approaching” per trip, which is simply the number of people on the bus as it pulls in to the stop, obtained by subtracting the total of deboardings from the total of boardings since the trip started.

      2. Why doesn’t the average load start and end at zero on these charts? Is this route through-routed with another one?

        From the schedule, it looks like it just goes through the loop at the north end, and has an 18 minute layover scheduled at the south end. Does your outboud chart have the 2nd/Jackson and 3rd/Main stops in the wrong order? From the route map, 2nd should really be 2nd Ave Extension S.

      3. Yes, the route is live-looped in Pioneer Square. After serving the last NB stop at 4th & Jackson (island) it proceeds to the first SB stop at 3rd & Main and continues south with no layover until reaching Columbia City.

      4. Thanks Bruce! Do you generate these manually or do you have a program/script? This seems like something that if you put a snazzy front end on it (and they could be automatically generated with minimal human effort) they would be really helpful to Metro in communicating why they are changing a route. It’s one thing to put up endless tables of ridership and fare box recovery, etc. but a nice diagram that’s showing max load is never above 5 kind of drives home how underused a route is.

  3. Another great post, Bruce. I think it would be useful to include a map with these posts. Many of the routes you’ve looked at before have been familiar to me, but I had to look up the 42.

    So this line follows Link exactly, from Pioneer Square to the Columbia City Station, except it’s much slower. Then it does a little tail to the Columbia Public Health Center, which looks very walkable from the CC Station. I’m shocked nobody rides this (note: I’m not shocked nobody rides this).

    A few people do seem to use it as a last 1/4 mile ride from the Link stations (Ranier/Forest on the chart on the left, MLK/Columbian on the right), and a few use it to get downtown (but, strangely, fewer still use it to get back home from downtown).

    1. Matt said “So this line follows Link exactly, from Pioneer Square to the Columbia City Station, except it’s much slower. ”
      Is it?
      Looks like about 13 minutes from Jackson to Alaska either way you go in the mid-day (13 min). I would think Link would blast it out of the sky with exclusive ROW, faster speed limits, and 2/3 fewer stops than the 42 has.

    2. I caught up with the 42 (which was running 5 minutes late) after it passed me thinking I didn’t want it to Columbia City via Link + 7. Sometimes I think the 42 as a mid day 7 express because it passes dozens of people waiting for the 7 on Rainier towards Seattle.

  4. Can we please have a moratorium on or northenders and eastsiders who “know what’s best” for the rainier valley?

    1. Facts are funny, did you know that of the STB writers who live in Seattle, none of them live north of the Ship Canal? Let’s see, 1 is in the Rainier Valley, 1 lives downtown, 1 in Madrona, 2 in Capitol Hill. (The non-Seattle writers live in Kirkland and Bellevue) I have a feeling that they ride the routes they talk about, so relax with the elitist charges.

      1. Andrew’s actually up by Green Lake/Roosevelt, but the point stands. Bruce and I are the big 42-bashers. He’s downtown, and I not only live in the Valley, I take the 42 sometimes.

    2. Sam,

      It should be obvious to all that this route is underperforming and is an egregious waste of limited Metro resources. The route needs to be eliminated. The only remaining question is should the savings be banked as a cost reduction, or should the service be re-deployed.

      Facts are facts.

    3. @Sam, If this route should not be eliminated, please share one that is a better candidate (facts preferred).

    4. Transit routes aren’t just for neighborhood residents. People also work in the neighborhood, visit it occasionally, might move there someday, or might visit it someday. Everybody lives in a neighborhood but they need good transit to the entire metropolitan area, which means other neighborhoods. Obviously the foremost concern is whether the residents have access to good routes, because they’re the most impacted by them, and a bad route could hinder their access to the rest of the transit system. But that doesn’t mean that the residents of a neighborhood are the only stakeholders.

      1. It’s also worth mentioning that, as King County residents, we all pay for all of these routes. Every service hour spent on the 42, a route that I admittedly never use, is a service hour that can’t be spent on a more useful route — either in the subarea or elsewhere. I regularly ride crush-loaded buses throughout Seattle. The fact that we’re running empty buses just makes that even more agonizing.

  5. I’ll be honest Bruce, after reading your comments in previous posts lambasting the 42 I thought you were maybe exaggerating a little bit, but this is bad.

  6. I can’t belive that the county is letting the Asian Counseling and Referral Services dictate that route 42 is to be kept so a =very small= handful of riders can ride each trip. It’s like the tail wagging the dog. This is a waste of money. Route 8 that also stops at this location runs every 15 minutes during the day. If the clients of the Asian Counseling and Referral Services really need a “one seat ride” to/from downtown Seattle, route 7 is 2 blocks away and that route runs every 10 minutes during the day.

    1. I don’t think it can be determined from the data presented if the 17 people per day that board/deboard near the ACRS are actually clients, or if they are staff or support personnel. In fact, the bulk of the 17 might be completely unrelated to the ACRS, we just don’t know.

      What we do know is that, if any route needs to be cut, this is the one.

  7. Tee hee. I wonder if I’m the entire data set for disembarking at MLK & Dakota.

  8. From Oran’s photo, it looks like they’re running a 30′ Gillig on this route.

    But judging from the ridership numbers, that’s massive overkill. Could this route be switched to a Champion shuttle-van? It would then at least only have 2/3 empty seats instead of 4/5, and would save us some diesel.

    Or do we just not have enough Champions anymore? I know that the Workhorses, which were supposed to be replace them, got pulled from service.

    1. For the record, this isn’t just a cost-saving concern for me.

      Running a Champion van on a route really drives the point home to the public that is it a low-demand route. It’s a big, blatant, public advertisement of low ridership.

      Running a Gillig, even a 30′ one, just legitimizes the route.

      1. I’m not sure what the coach was on this trip, but my anecdotal experience seeing it in Pioneer Square is that it’s usually a 40′ Gillig or D40LF.

      2. Now that I look closer at the photo, I can see the rear door mechanism, which means it is a full size coach. You’re right.

        My god, we’re using a 15 ton vehicle to transport 6 passengers.

        Might as well just give each passenger their own Suburban.

  9. Suggestion: Somebody who lives in the neighborhood served by the 42, please forward this posting your King County Councilman, and request a reply and an explanation. Statistics are valuable. But to get something changed, it’s important to understand the people whom those statistics represent.

    Who exactly is finding LINK, the Route 7, and the rest of the service through that area unusable, and why? It would be good if someone who either uses or advocates for the 42, or both, to get into this discussion.

    Mark Dublin

    1. You don’t have to look far to find complaints about the 7, they’re already part of the public record. Search the archives of the local newspapers, and you’ll find that any time it’s mentioned it’s referred to as a “mobile urinal”, “rolling homeless shelter”, and worse.

      1. In that case, question would be, if bad conditions on the Route 7 are reason for the 42…why is ridership so low?

        Mark Dublin

      2. The 42 only runs once an hour each direction. That’s essentially a useless frequency aside from low demand commuter runs or late night. I sincerely doubt there are many people who claim the 42 should stay around because the 7 is so bad and unfixable. You could probably put a cop on the 7 full time for less than the cost of the 42.

  10. I love the idea of reworking it as an east-west neighborhood connector. Right now, it’s a total waste and it’s downright painful to see it drive by completely empty.

    @Sam – I have lived / worked in the south end for nearly 20 years. I live close enough to the 42 to catch it but never do. Since it is so infrequent and ends in Columbia City, it is redundant. From downtown, people can catch the 7 to Rainier and MLK (which comes so much more frequently) and the 8 up MLK (which comes twice as often as the 42).

    ACRS is being ridiculous.

    1. What would be cool would be something like the proposed route 50 between West Seattle Junction, Spokane St., Columbian Way, Columbia City Link station, Alaska, Genesee, Seward Park, and Othello Station.

  11. Metro itself wanted to eliminate the 42, and the only reason it’s running now is that Metro was vetoed by the county council. Also, the council itself has had a change of mind on minimally productive routes. And Metro planners are preoccupied with the RapidRide rollout. And Metro only makes changes three times a year, focusing on one sector of town at a time. So don’t assume that just because the 42 is still running now doesn’t mean it won’t be axed over the next year.

  12. Looking at the picture I can see why Metro hasn’t axed that route. Why upset all the ninjas that take the 42 to work?

  13. Has anyone approached ACRS to offer them the opportunity to present their arguments to us?

  14. BTW, that 30% drop in ridership from 2009 to 2010 is surprising only because it wasn’t even more, given that frequency was dropped to one hour in October of 2009 or February of 2010.

    1. The route-level data for each year are annualized based on the Fall service change of each year. I also note that the cost of delivering the service would not have remained nearly the same had service frequency been cut in half. So no, this is a fair comparison.

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