Photo by Atomic Taco

One important usability enhancement for transit services is branding. Indeed, a difficult-to-quantify benefit of rail is that it immediately communicates to the average North American frequent, limited-stop, all-day service, and dedicated right of way*. Conversely, buses mean indeterminate service hours, frequency, and operation in traffic. For all the differentiation that one can achieve between buses, for people who aren’t paying attention, any sort of bus stop is a totem of service uncertainty.

That said, it’s worthwhile to help out people who are paying attention, and proper bus branding can tell people a lot without requiring encyclopedic knowledge of the bus system. Los Angeles County has a complex but clearly defined hierarchy. Here in King County, we have basically three bus brands**:

  • RapidRide: all-day frequent service, limited stops, fare inspection. Other once-promising aspects (off-board payment, especially) have been significantly diluted.
  • Sound Transit Express: Limited-stop, long-haul, freeway based, (generally) all day. For the most part, not particularly frequent.
  • Metro: Everything else. It might be more frequent than RapidRide or come by twice a day.

I think there are a lot of problems with the way this is set up. For one thing, ST and Metro seem more concerned with getting credit for what they’re paying for rather than establishing service levels with their brands. So, for instance, the peak-only, largely freeway-based 555/556 is an ST route while the peak-only, freeway based 212 is not.  The 255 and 550 have very similar character and yet are served by different agencies. I’m open to persuasion as to what service threshold should split the brands, but basing it entirely on the revenue source is nearly useless to the customer. It’s not totally useless due to different fare policies, but that’s a whole different rant (and off-topic for this thread).

At the same time, there are occasional proposals to add still more bus brands. There are quite a few routes in the Metro system that are just a fare inspector away from the RapidRide level of service. A few years ago, there was talk about separately branding the trolleybus network. There are mutterings that Seattle’s pending investments in priority bus corridors should spawn a new brand to highlight the new level of service. And the frequent transit network would be another good basis on which to highlight certain service.

What do you think? Have we reached a saturation point with bus brands? If not, what should be the service level definitions?

* The resurgence of streetcars may dilute some aspects of this brand; we’ll see.

** Leaving aside Community Transit, private lines, and other randomness.

106 Replies to “Bus Brands”

  1. While the trolleybus lines are not separately branded, they are easily identified, and the overhead wires give a sense of permanance and service level as with trains.

    It’s interesting that prior to Rapid Ride, Metro had three colors of buses, but as near as I can tell, this is a difference without a distinction.

    Route numbering gives some distinction between buses, without being branding. Within Seattle, if you see a three digit route number, you can figure out the general area where it’s going.

    1. The colors just indicate when the bus was bought or refurbished. Metro has one color scheme for a few years, then switches to another one.

      1. They must be keeping the existing schemes then. Before they introduced the green scheme, there was a public input period to see what people thought of the proposals, and they said all the buses would be gradually turning that color as they are repainted.

      2. Supposedly the purple, green, and teal all ended up being equally popular so Metro decided to use all three on their new bus orders. As best I can tell they’ve kept to that scheme with the exception of the rapid ride coaches. Though it does seem there are slightly more green coaches than either purple or teal.

        Personally the purple is my favorite followed by the green. I’m not a real fan of the teal and it starts looking old and shabby before the other colors.

        To be fair though any are better than the white/yellow/brown or the white/gray/yellow that preceded the current scheme.

      3. The issue of color-branding Metro buses is becoming more and more irrelevant as Metro (and other agencies) become more successful at selling bus wraps, which is a good thing, in my book.

        And then there is the issue of putting Metro-branded buses out on ST routes, and vice versa, which is rooted in reducing costs.

      4. In defense of the color coordinators, it could be far worse … rave green, sea blue, gray Xs that look like duct tape pealing off, “electricity” (federal) yellow, and shale. (shudder)

  2. Here in King County, even though we have only three distinct bus brands, I believe within those brands, we must simplify even further before it can be said that it doesn’t take an encyclopedic knowledge to understand our bus system.

    And remember with RapidRide, fare inspectors don’t work after 7 PM, and don’t work on Sundays. Does this mean RR switches to a regular Metro bus route in terms of fare collection, utilizing the board and pay through the front door only during those times?

      1. So then after 7PM and on Sundays, because there are no fare inspectors, do RapidRide drivers only open the front door to board passengers? The one and only time I took RR A, it was a Sunday, and the driver opened all the doors to board people. So I guess it’s sort of an everybody-rides-free day, unless you choose to pay. I’m not sure if this is the policy, but this is the kind of thing that confuses people.

      2. I thought off-board payment was in effect on Sunday. The signs say “7pm”. I didn’t see anything about Sunday.

      3. Even though the cost per passenger to have fare inspectors after 7 pm is higher, don’t most on-bus assaults tend to occur after 7 pm?

        Moreover, if Metro wants fare simplification, then don’t change the payment system from hour to hour. Doing that will undermine getting riders to use the back door during daytime hours, as we have already seen in practice.

      4. I was at the airport this morning so I rode RapidRide to Federal Way, spent some time at the mall, and took the 577 back. Off-board payment is in effect on Sundays. I don’t know if there are fare inspectors Sundays. I’ve never seen one, but I only ride RapidRide a few times a year.

        It’s a 15 minute walk from the TC to the mall, which is now called The Commons instead of Sea-Tac Mall. It’s not an interchange but you have to walk on a 6-lane boulevard and 4-lane boulevard. The sidewalk is wide but it’s still not very pleasant. There is a more direct street mid-block (21st) but I couldn’t tell if it went all the way through. Almost everything in Federal Way and on 99 is one-story. So if you love Bailoland you’d love The Commons.

  3. I can’t remember where I read it some years ago, but the FTA required that funding for BRT buses be ‘branded’ separately from regular service vehicles. That explains the Oscar Meyermobiles.
    Metro went from the cream/brown/white scheme to one of three colors to freshen up the service look, but not assigned to any particular scheme.
    ST took over mostly existing routes from others to form STEX, and wanted recognition they were providing service, so we got the waves.
    Seattle wanted recognition it too was a player, so we got the, one of three color, Barnie-mobilecars in SLU (not to be confused with the overhead monorail cars painted separately.
    Bus and rail car wraps totally confuse any service schema.
    I think the only unifying theory is “Seattle – The City of Transit Oddities”
    I can’t wait to see what color Matt wants to paint his trams.

    1. Now that Link is open, is ST Express branding really necessary? I could see, say, the 510 be a Community Transit/ST co-branded route, or the 550 be a Metro/ST co-branded route.

      1. I’m not sure how you co-brand a route, (front half, back half or left side, right side), but most everyone just waits at the curb and looks for the bus number they are familiar with.
        Paint jobs are something the owner really likes to do – customers? eh, not so much.

  4. “Indeed, a difficult-to-quantify benefit of rail is that it immediately communicates to the average North American frequent, limited-stop, all-day service, and dedicated right of way.”

    Nice image, but in reality, rail service often means “commuter rail”, which means a couple of trips during rush hour, but either nothing at all or atrocious headways at all other times. The Sounder is the most obvious example of this (rush hour only, random mudslide cancellations), but the Caltrain is another. While I admit, the Caltrain does have some service all day seven days a week, the headways are 30 minutes during rush hour and 60 minutes at all other times. Given the huge number of people traveling down the CalTrain corridor (a combined 8 lanes of freeway per direction on highways 101 and 280), 60 minute headways make public transit in the Bay Area outside of San Francisco look like a total joke. It would be like having just one commuter train per hour be the only service connecting Seattle to the eastside.

    The only parts of rail that are really, mostly universal is the exclusive right-of-way and limited stops. However, as Martin noted, even that isn’t the case with routes like the Portland streetcar (although it is, at least, frequent).

    1. People understand the difference between commuter rail and subways. They know that subways run all the time and are the primary form of transportation in the cities that have them (at least for a “true” stereotypical subway). Commuter rail means “it runs at commuter hours” (i.e., peak hours). Streercars aren’t really one or the other so they’re poorly understood. I think most people would say a streetcar or surface light rail is “like a local bus”, and “usually installed on high-demand streets”.

      People know about the famous intercity trains in Europe, but I’m not sure how aware they are that the suburban trains also run full time. That’s the biggest problem, that they think peak hour commuter rail is the norm and full-time commuter rail is the exception. If you point out that LIRR, PATH, Metra, Caltrain, and the Pacific Surfliner run all day, they’ll say “those are exceptions” and “those are huge metros with 7+ million people”. Whereas Glasgow and Edinburgh, and even tiny Belfast (city 270K, metro 640K) have hourly regional trains that double as commuter trains.

    2. Caltrain needs to be upgraded to every 10 minute local and express EMU service. At least between San Jose and San Francisco. Hopefully that emerges as part of CAHSR but if not it is probably a bigger bang for the buck than a bunch of other major planned transit projects in the Bay Area.

  5. In a customer’s mind, there’s more to a brand than a paint-scheme. Division has to mean something tangible. But it’s important that there be an underlying consistency in the scheme.

    Good example: Policy is, no interagency transfers without ORCA cards. LINK trains carry Sound Transit’s blue and white paint-scheme. So do Route 570 buses. How do you explain to a passenger why Sound Transit LINK tickets aren’t good on Sound Transit buses?

    If “branding” is important, those tickets should be good on everything blue and white. Any loss, chalk up to marketing. Or make tickets part of the ORCA system. Either way, realize that inconsistency costs you.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Using ST train tickets for transfers would result in a longer boarding time for each passenger using a train ticket on a bus, as the operator would have to inspect the ticket carefully.

      It would be far simpler administratively (though, unfortunately, not politically) to end *all* non-ORCA transfers, and put a warning on the ORCA VMs that in order to get transfer value from a train ride, the purchaser needs to buy an ORCA card.

      Or, perhaps, just do away with train tickets.

      1. I know you know this, but getting rid of paper transfers will make it politically much harder to consolidate service, because people will demand one-seat rides even more than they do today.

        I want to get rid of cash payment as much as you do, but getting rid of paper transfers just isn’t the right way to do it until we’ve fixed the routing and service levels.

  6. Yeah, I woul want to know the difference – for example – between all day/all week express (590 series, 545, 550, 554 for example) and rush hour weekday only express (542, 555/556)

    And I agree: what, from the layman’s perspective is the difference between catching the 255 vs the 545 in Downtown if you’re just going over the 520 Bridge, other than bus color and fare difference?

    And to the newcomer: the Metro map is still useless. Different style lines to differentiate between bus types too. Yes I know the Metro map has been discussed on this blog many times.

    1. (darn need edit button!)

      And the 590 Series does need to be simplified!!

      On weekdays I catch the 592 to Dad’s house. Oh, wait. That 592 isn’t going all the way to DuPont, only as far as Lakewood Station!!

      1. And that is why I’m opposed to turnbacks.

        “I’m never taking the 8 again. I took it once and I got stuck at Group Health on the way home”

        You can’t undo that kind of damage.

      2. Turnbacks are essential to relieve overcrowding, and there’s always a full-distance bus within 15 minutes. Even in the lowest-frequency case, you’d be waiting longer if the turnback bus weren’t there. There’s no reason for the 73 to 65th to have a separate number, or the 7 to Columbia City, or the 41 to 125th. These are “extra” runs in the densest portion of the route.

        If the 8 were to be scheduled 15 minutes to Group Health and 30 minutes to Rainier Beach, that may be a dramatic enough difference to deserve a separate number. But a seperate number makes the frequency on the overlap portion less apparent, so it’s a deterrent to riders. How many people have to be told that the 71/72/73 run together work as one route? How many people get frustrated at having to look at each route at the bus stop separately and combine them in their mind? If turnbacks are evil, I’d rather make the frequent portion one route, and the infrequent portion a timed shuttle.

      3. There are very valid systemic reasons for turnbacks, that I understand. Overcrowded corridors with underperforming tails, it does make sense.

        But their implementation scares away so many new riders. It’s not transparent at all to someone who just wants to walk to a stop and catch a bus. The 8 hasn’t run turnbacks for around a year now (more?) yet I still run into people who refuse to set foot on it, because they got on a turnback without knowing it once, and got dumped off somewhere they didn’t want to be. Ditto for people who live on the 3’s tail. Ditto for my wife, who somehow manages to always get on one of the 48’s 2 daily turnback trips.

        There’s a million solutions. Giving turnbacks their own route number or a letter modifier (i.e. 3b) would basically solve the problem. But Metro’s implementation is terrible. A bus rolls up, looking the same as every other bus, except it doesn’t get you where you want to go.

      4. I though the head sign said the terminus for turn backs? I thought they did and my partner confirms (he frequently takes the 72 or73 and headed past 65th) but that the operators are not completely consistent about changing the sign. It’s not as obvious as an alternate route name but it seems as long as the head signs are set correctly most of the time it’s a mistake you’d only make once. An alternate route number would probably be just as prone to operator error as the head sign changes so are probably not worth the confusion.

      5. RachaelL, yes and when they do the headsigns say “NE 65TH ST”.

        With the new on-board system being installed on all buses by the end of next year, drivers will no longer have to worry about correctly setting the signs. The signs will change automatically based on the current trip and location. The bus will also audibly announce its destination at stops (plus next stop announcements).

      6. Oran: yes! I road one of the automated announcing ones (with audio and visual!) the other day. It was great. Though I’ll miss the long and funny stop announcements some operators make. One the other day announced every cross street on 5th before the Jackson stop (first off of I-90) in his litany that started with the usual suspects (transit tunnel, sounder, Amtrak, etc).

      7. Assuming they’re even set properly (how many times have I seen northbound buses running their southbound headsigns – the automation should fix these issues nicely), riders don’t read the headsigns beyond the number. The number is all they care about.

        Partly because they’ve been trained not to trust the headsigns, and partly because that’s just the way people are. Ask any retail employee about how the average customer reads signage (hint: they don’t). Making the situation worse, the part of the headsign message that is supposed to change for a turnback (but rarely does), is usually on the second page of a scrolling message.

        You’re also assuming the rider knows about and understands the turnback, to even be looking for a difference between two potential headsign messages. There’s already at least 2 destinations scrolling past on most headsigns. A customer that does read the headsign stops paying attention once they’ve recognized a destination on their route. The turnback destinations, by definition, are locations on their normal route, so there is nothing that would raise alarm bells to the rider.

        We could have a whole separate thread about headsigns, I’m sure.

      8. Another potential use of turnbacks is they can be a convienent way of putting deadhead runs into service. For example, if ST wanted to (they don’t do this today, but I wish they would), instead of having the 556’s deadhead back to East Base in the late morning, they could have these buses go to Bellevue TC under the 555 label and then deadhead one mile to the base from there, rather than deadhead 15 miles from Northgate. Unlike running the 555 all the way to Issaquah and then deadheading back to the base, this approach would have a much smaller marginal costs. If just 10 or so people ride it, it might even pay for itself with fare revenues.

      9. I want to echo Lack’s comment: For every route number, there should only be one destination sign wording. Getting on the 43 at Montlake, I must have heard over a hundred people ask “does this bus go to Ballard”, even though the destination sign said Ballard!

        If you want to do turnbacks, that’s fine. But mark it with the route number.

        Of course, it’s interesting to note that Metro *already* has letters for all of these routings… the ones currently used as suffixes on the printed schedules as bus stops! So why not just use those letters? You can have a 43 or a 43B (Ballard). Or a 7C, or D, or E, or G, or J, or K, or M, or N, or R, or X..

        And if all this sounds too complicated, that’s because it is! This kind of naming only exposes complexity that’s already in the system. Pretending it doesn’t exist (by not marking the route number) won’t make things any easier for riders.

      10. And while we’re at it, can get make the front headsign display the X for express routes, like the side and rear ones do?

    2. There is a more insidious difference between catching the 255 or 545 downtown. To know where to catch the next one (if you don’t care which) requires having access to the schedules. Heck, very little of the branding nullifies the need for having schedules, or overcomes ridiculous splitting of trunks with multiple route numbers.

      1. It is a best practice that when bus routes serve common destinations, that they serve the same stops on the shared segments. That should certainly be done with the 255 and 545, but the involves getting Metro and ST to agree on tunnel issues. ST promised it would provide “seamless integration” with Metro but the seams show through all over the place.

    3. Thick teal = Link, thick orange = SLUT, thick red = Rapidride, thick yellow = frequent, blue = >15 minute frequency, purple = >30 minute frequency, green = peak-only, thin black = Sounder.

      How would you start introducing new brands from there?

      1. Sounds great on paper? But, which time of day/day of week does the route have to be running at < 15 minute frequency to be yellow? What about people riding outside those times. It gets more complicated when one considers that the span of frequent service can very from route the route and the route that is most frequent at one time might be less frequent during another time, if it even runs at all.

  7. The way to fix all of this is do what Portland, OR., dose. They have =one single transit company= that porvides transit service for 3 different counties. If Sound Transit takes over all service, alot of money would be saved every year, bus routes would streamed lined with no or very limtied overlapping service. Portland knows how provide reliable transit while everyone up here dosn’t have a clue how to provide streamed lined service.

    1. Of course, the downside with TriMet is that since it is a 3-county agency it tends to provide too much service to the suburbs and not enough to the city of Portland where most of the density is. Be careful what you wish for.

    2. Hahahaha iif you though 40/40/20 and subarea equity is bad, and the size of sound transits bard is huge and ungainly, and than somehow merging the systems and making one mega system taking what should otherwise be mineutia local problems to a regional level and expect it to work better aand cheaper?

      Yea right. If you could wrestle the local control away youd have metro times two. Twice the cost and half the productivity. A better option is to have a transit umbrella type group who sets the overall service goals and fare policy and breaking up metro into a city of seattle system and a county system with sound transit providing all express type service. Of course there would have to be some funding changes to allow this to happen and the usual cavets would apply as well.

    3. The problem isn’t one agency or several agencies. It’s that Americans don’t value transit enough or give the agencies enough money to make something really good. In a citywide scale it leads to 30-minute routes and anemic evenings/weekends. In a multi-county scale, it leads to emphasizing commuter routes over urban transit. But that doesn’t happen in Canada or Europe. In Vancouver and Germany for instance, the regional transit authority puts frequent transit in cities and appropriate transit across the metropolitan area. If the transit authority is also the highway authority, it doesn’t let highway projects crowd out transit. Because it has to show parliament it’s handling both in an energy-efficient way. Elected officials are expected to make decisions and govern, not submit every capital project to a referendum, so they can build transit where it’s needed and zone highrises around stations, without people saying “no taxes except for highways”.

      Given our broken political system, Seattle is being shortchanged by being part of Metro, and Everett probably has more transit than it would have without Everett Transit. Although I wouldn’t suggest breaking up Metro right now. Metro may reorient itself properly now that 40/40/20 is gone, and we don’t need structural distractions at this time.

      1. One thing that has been shown is there are plenty of service hours to concentrate decent service in the highest demand corridors. A lot of service hours are wasted providing one seat rides, peak commuter service, or infrequent service to some light ridership pocket here and there.

        Hopefully the restructuring Metro plans will result in a much more efficient system with really good service in the highest demand corridors.

      2. Yep. Transit modes that aren’t cars and trucks are just not prioritized here. I was chatting with a friend who lives in Zürich about the 8 problems along Denny and specifically our friendly gondola advocate’s suggestion. Despite living in Switzerland (quite friendly to strange modes of public transit!) he considered it daft – finicky equipment prone to failure and expensive while only handling a low volume of riders. I then emphasized the capacity issues – peak buses are packed – it would just be taking the short distance crush load off. He said well then run more frequent buses. I said that probably wouldn’t work well on Denny since the new runs would get just as stuck in traffic near the freeway and there are so few crossings that even the re-route might not work. His reply: well make one lane a bus only lane. He said it likely was so obvious and why wouldn’t you?

        It kind of drove home how much we don’t prioritize non-car transit here because I know that’s utterly politically unfeasible. If we somehow managed it, we’d probably put the lanes on the outside because we wouldn’t spend the money on building center road bus stops. Or we’d make the bus lane inner but leave the stops where they are. 

        I really begin to think our first priority as transit advocates should be on getting existing major trunk routes running in a way where car traffic rarely causes delays and lights change when the bus needs it to. Rapid Ride is obviously a step in that direction but it seems like some existing core routes deserve that level of service. But it will cost money, time and anger a lot of people.

      3. Be wary of generalizing policy throughout Canada and Europe. They’ve got their problems, trust me. TTC and GO Transit in Toronto are terrible, for example.

      4. Maybe it’s time to re-think how we provide suburban and rural transit in our metropolitan area? Maybe it’s time to embrace the automobile, and cut back our unproductive suburban services to the very core routes. Replacing the local service with adequate express service, that goes into downtown wherever from the local P&R/Transit Center. Than taking the savings if there are any and re-invest that in our productive urban services. The Argument is that we spend a lot of resources service a relatively small population. While they shouldn’t be cut off entirely, maybe a better investment would be a major restructuring, funding service in the urban areas vs. spreading it out in suburbia.

  8. I would really like to see Metro adopt a separate branding for its Frequent Service network. The first step would be to follow TriMet’s lead and create a separate Frequent Service Map and identify the buses with a logo on all bus stop signs. There is not really any need to brand the buses themselves, since the whole point is to communicate to people whether or not they will have to wait a long time for the bus to arrive. Once it’s there, the point is moot.

    1. This.

      Right now, a bus that comes every 7.5 minutes, and bus that comes 3 times a day have the exact same branding.

    2. *cough cough*

      One problem with identifying frequent routes with a logo on bus stop signs is that Metro has two different sign schemas now, and doesn’t seem particularly concerned about rolling out the new one consistently, even when routes change.

      1. That’s not an official metro map, that’s just something (something awesome) Oran whipped up.

        Metro still doesn’t have a frequent service map for the west subarea that I know of.

    3. WTA did this in Bellingham and it’s been very effective. They have created color-coded “Go Lines” with service along certain corridors is available every 15 minutes (or even more frequent in some cases).

      The Blue Line serves WWU, the Red Line connects downtown and the Fairhaven (South Bellingham) area – as well as the Amtrak/Greyhound station and Alaska Ferry, the Green Line connects downtown with the Community College and Cordata Station (North Bellingham transit station), the Gold Line connects downtown with the Alabama Street area, one of Bellingham’s larger moderate/lower income neighborhoods where transit usage is high, and the Bellis Fair Mall.

      In some cases, the entire “Go Line” is one single numbered route (eg, Gold Line is Route 331). In other cases, the “Go Line” is a trunk line section of routes that branch out after traversing a common corridor (eg, the Blue Line has four different # buses).

      By branding the signage along the route, and posting simple-to-read schedules, WTA has maximized the ability of passengers to get to Bellingham’s most common transit destinations without significant infrastructure cost.

      I don’t know to what degree this model can be scaled up to a transit system the size of Metro/Sound Transit etc, but it’s been a winner for our small/medium system. Here’s the WTA website about the Go Lines

      1. That sounds like another way of saying “here is our frequent network”. But unlike Bellingham, we have more than four frequent lines… if just barely. ;) So I don’t think this would quite work. Cool idea, though! And I definitely agree that Seattle should emphasize its frequent network more.

  9. Firstly, it would make sense to integrate all services that are directly connecting to riders into sound transit (marketing, fares, branding, etc.)

    Second, we should get rid of the swift, and rapidride brands, and have all of our limited stop, proof of payment routes under the st express brand.

    Third, for all other routes, just add prefixes and suffixes to the route numbers (c for commuter, l for limited service, n for night service, and suffixes a and b for a route that breaks up in a small for of the route – like the 5, of the 582,593,594)

    1. I’ve thought in times past using a consistent route numbering scheme, like NYC across all the agencies would be a good thing. Sound Transit could have the “X”, Metro could use S (Seattle area) B (Bellevue/East Side, K (Auburn/Kent/South King), Community could use N (Snohomish county local) and C (Commuter Routes), Everett Transit “E”, Pierce Transit T (Tacoma), L (Lakewood), P (the rest of Pierce County). Such a scheme could be S2 (Route 2 Madrona), X78 (Sound Transit 578), T11 (Tacoma – 11 Pt. Defiance), L6 (PT 206 Bridgeport), P2 (PT 402 Meridian), etc. Finally, now that everyone uses OBA, a constant stop numbering scheme would be nice region wide, so you can type in the stop # and get that stop and not have to worry about what county you’re in.

      1. That sounds complicated. New York just has M, B, Q, and Bx, which are obvious when you first see them (although B is ambiguous until you see Bx). You could do it Metro-only with (no letter) Seattle, N (North = Shoreline), E (Eastside), S (South). But those letters would be confusing because E also means express, N means night, and S looks similar to a 5 when written.

        “now that everyone uses OBA”

        Are you talking about a theoretical five years from now? I don’t have a smartphone or the patience to go through the voice menus on a regular phone, and some people don’t have mobile phones at all.

      2. Mike, before I had a smart-phone, I had OneBusAway’s dumb-phone call-in down to a science.

        I had my 5 most frequently used stop numbers memorized, and another 9 regularly used stops bookmarked (OneBusAway recognizes your phone number and can therefore do this for you).

        Totally worth it, especially when the rain returns.

      3. It’s only complicated until you remember that most people use their own area’s buses most of the time. Arguably, if you’re in Seattle, it’s simpler. You look for the “S” buses and ignore everything else.

        Plus, no one says it has to be a single letter. You could have “Sno” and “Sea”, for example.

    1. Yeah, me too.

      Except I was expecting New Flyer vs Orion or a discussion of the different shuttle options (cutaway vans vs. purpose-built bodies)

      1. Two dollars says a fleet of 2000s could operate Rapidride A just as well if not better than the fleet of DE60As

  10. To add to the confusion, Metro often loans their coaches for ST service, and vice versa, and you often see a Metro-uniformed driver driving a ST bus. Will we now begin to see RR buses being loaned to ST and regular Metro routes, and regular Metro and ST buses being loaned to RR routes?

    1. Down here in Tacoma, ST diesels are running Pierece Transit local routes. Even more fun.

    2. Down here in Tacoma, ST diesels are running Pierece Transit local routes. Even more fun.

      I liked CTs move with the Swift buses. Make them 100% incompatible w/ other routes to protect the Swift brand. I wish Metro did the same w/ Rapidride.

      1. Operationally you want the fleet as consistent as possible. Having one off coaches with bridge plates instead of full ramps means you cannot substitute equipment to fill missing runs. Further, it looks pretty goofy to have the Swift stop and the Everett Transit local stop have two different platforms in line with each other (Especially when people are waiting at the ET stop vs. the SWIFT stop).

        A couple years ago I rode the EmX in Eugene. After a few years of service (maybe 3? at the time) they were already starting to look worn. Problem with their system is that you cannot substitute equipment on it should you be short of coaches one day, or add extra equipment beyond what you have available for service should you need to. Also, with the driver’s side doors it must make replacement costs that much higher when it comes time (which they will probably hit 500,000 before they hit 12 years with their constant shuttling back and forth)

    3. Yep, it’s pretty amusing to sit at Overlake TC and see a ST-branded 221 pass by a Metro-branded 545.

  11. Interesting discussion and something I think metro needs a huge amount of work on. Used to live in Ballard and when I first moved there I was confused what over what the 46 was even about. The 44 is high frequency and the 46 is only during the rush hour commute. At a minimum you could segregate numbering 1-100 = all day/all week service, 100-200 express/rush hour/weekday only routes, 200-300 = commuter routes, etc. Make Rapid Ride 1-10 or something. But this way people will know immediately when they walk up to a bus sign, see a number on a google map, etc. what to expect frequency wise from the the service.

    Secondly, we need to separate branding and equipment ownership/service provider. We could do a much better job just making the region’s transit more standard. Label them under a single marketing umbrella, use a consistent color scheme across jurisdictions, combine websites, streamline ticketing agreements (think what the airlines have done with alliances). There are solutions to this. Soon the Airlines might start branding themselves by alliance rather than actual airline. In this scenario the funding issues like 40/40/20 and its variations could be avoided, but gains in branding and marketing could be improved.

    Lastly, I think we need to avoid the ever popular bureaucratic lingo so many gov’t agencies love. RapidRide is kind of cool to us transit nerds, but what does it mean? fast or frequeny? Express usually means it skips stuff. RapidRide gives me a similar impression, but is it skipping or just increasing frequency. Those are my thoughts.

  12. Rather than letting the myriad of agencies compete over mind share, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that consolidating branding, PR, customer service, marketing, etc into one group would save everyone money?

    Everyone complains about Metro’s ugly maps, but Metro made CT’s maps for them and they’re way better. WHY?? It took ST to finally give the bus tunnel some exterior signage. Why?!

    Is there a union of marketers and livery designers that hold more power than I’m aware of?

    1. It’s just the Seattle way. Consolidating transit agencies to reduce overhead and odd routing would just make too much sense. Because it’s worked in other cities, we have to do something different.

    2. Part of what makes CT’s maps better is the use of color and the use of a unified timetable book. Metro has vastly more routes than CT, making both unfeasible, from what I’ve heard.

      Weren’t those triangular pillars there before ST? I’m not sure ST’s signage is much better than what was there before…

      1. I think I remember those pillars from my high-school days, definitely predating Sound Transit.

      2. ST added the “T” thing I think, as well as the blue metal Link sculptures and the signs that say, “WESTLAKE STATION” overhead the entrances (I think).

      3. yes, the pillar things were there before at the tunnel stops. I am not a fan of the new ST sculpture “T” things – they’re not clear at all – but signage saying the name of the station sure makes it easier to direct tourists and confused suburbanites to the stations.

  13. Many things that can be done to provide improved bus service are independent of branding – and even independent of being labeled ‘BRT’.

    I believe that there will be automated stop announcements on all the new buses – good step.

    Similarly we should be doing a lot more to drive adoption of electronic fare payment. It should include a discount or bonus for cash users, and there can’t be a transfer penalty (paper transfer valid much longer than ORCA transfer – paper transfers should be eliminated.) A reasonably priced day pass (implemented only via ORCA) will make transfers largely irrelevant anyway. Improving fare payment will improve all bus service.

    Then, at congestion points we need to implement queue bypasses and reserved lanes. And frankly this should be done at any congestion points with frequent bus service, whether it benefits a route labeled as BRT or not. Better rider experience, lower operating costs.

    Next, proper stop spacing should be implemented system-wide.

    Some basic things that will improve all bus service.

    Then I do agree that branding should be more about the type of service provided than about the agency funding the service. And although fare policy is off-topic for the thread – the fare policy would need to follow the brand, or ideally, the fare policy should be consisent between any two locations regardless of the agency or brand.

  14. Whatever. Just because something is branded doesn’t lead to an improved response to the brand.

    United Airlines is a well-defined brand. Anyone who’s flown with any regularity has a horror story involving their lack of reliability, lack of accountability, and brazen customer mistreatment.

    The RapidRide brand seems to be tailor-designed to undermine speed and reliability maintenance, and its laughable definition of “frequent service” (never mind its pathetic definition of “all-day”) ensures that reliability will be near non-existent from the moment it leaves the terminal.

    (Or, in the case of the now-asininely-throughrouted C & D, before it even arrives at each line’s starting point.)

    Your “brand” is screwed from day one.

    1. p.s. L.A.’s MetroRapid, for all its faults, runs ridiculously high frequencies. Even with its mega-bus-bunching, you never wait more than 10 or 15 (though at the 15 mark, four might come at once).

      I look forward to my 25-30 minute waits — plus my added 10-minute walk on each end — for KC Metro’s expertly branded service.

      1. I know you think I’m a total crank, but I’m over the cheerleading of the indefensible.

        When Metro rolls this thing out, takes away half of Ballard’s one-seat ride, and accompanies it with great fanfare, it is saying “this is the best that we’re capable of.”

        And when it sucks unimaginably, the public will respond: “See you later, public transit, I’m going back to driving.”

        We’re setting ourselves back for a generation.

      2. I’m really at the point where I want to say “Fuck RapidRide.”

        It’s a failed experiment that died for a lack of political will.

      3. One suggestion I sent to city officials for use of the $400,000 is to purchase more frequency on the C/D and E lines, and make those the free buses in downtown, instead of clogging the streets with a free circulator bus. Of course $400,000 won’t even buy one bus.

      4. Add me to the list of cranks who thinks Rapid Ride is dumb. There is so much possibility for improving service on Aurora via the E Line by eliminating the stops every five blocks for most of the route…and instead it’s not going to make it any better at all. They haven’t even agreed not to run it on that stupid detour by Green Lake. They’d be better off spending the Rapid Ride money elsewhere and just leave the 358 as is, drug dealers and all. The damage done with all this “Look how great we are” advertising for a route that won’t be any better than what we have now makes me cringe.

      5. Ballard RapidRide is silly because it would be a perfect place to have “Open BRT”, but they are going with a closed system. They should have buses running down 32nd, 24th, 15th, and 8th, just like they do now, then they all meet at the Ballard Bridge and become one BRT line. This is the appropriate thing to do when demand is dispersed at the end but concentrated farther down. Instead they got stuck on the Monorail routing instead of thinking more creatively.

      6. Ballard RapidRide is silly because it would be a perfect place to have “Open BRT”, but they are going with a closed system.


        Of course, even “open BRT” is kind of a misnomer, since there’s still no dedicated infrastructure associated with the bus line.

        I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The only BRT we have in Seattle are the tunnel and SODO busway routes. They are grade-separated for at least part of their trip. RapidRide is simply setting a standard that we should have for *all* local buses within city limits; there’s nothing BRT about it.

      7. Nah, “open BRT” is a horrible concept.

        It’s only ever useful if the shared segment winds up with the kind of super-ultra-über frequency where it doesn’t matter if your average headways get fouled because there’s always something coming. Australia has a few of these.

        American open BRT (Pittsburgh, Los Angeles) basically offers a faster one-seat ride for routes from the outskirts. The shared segments pass almost no destinations and therefore offer high frequency to no one in particular. They’re just highway bus lanes without the highway.

        That’s exactly what Zef just suggested. Low frequency and unreliability to anywhere useful. Medium frequency and unreliability along the less important corridor.

        The meeting point at 15th and Leary is a manure pit. I cannot stress that enough. You want “BRT” to be attractive? Then don’t tell them to wait 0-29 minutes by a manure pit.

      8. Plus, with the through-routing, we’re not even looking at remotely even headways from the downtown starting point. (Which doesn’t seem to help the 71/72/73 anyway.)

      9. Whoops! Looks like L.A. has replaced its two grossly dysfunctional “open BRT” corridors with a single closed BRT line that is somewhat less dysfunctional (except for its totally screwed downtown segments; what’s RapidRide doing about downtown, again?; oh, right, nothing!).

      10. For me, BRT means grade separation. I refuse to accept anything less. (I don’t think of RapidRide as BRT for that reason.) And open BRT means partial grade separation.

        The 71/72/73, when they use the express lanes, *are* open BRT. From the ID to Campus Parkway, they travel an almost fully grade-separated corridor, and stop in a number of highly-used locations. And, when Metro’s planners aren’t using broken software, they’re optimized for consistent routing.

        I’m not sure what your experiences have been, but when the express lanes are open, the 71/72/73 are (IMHO) one of the best buses in Seattle. They can get you from Westlake to the U-District in 15 minutes, making it one of the few in-city trips that’s almost competitive with driving.

        The same goes for the 41; it doesn’t have the branching, but it still provides a grade-separated corridor for the important segment. (In fact, the 41 at peak is the most frequent corridor in the city — 4-5 min service for hours.)

        Another example of open BRT (albeit without the bus part) is the Green Line in Boston. Again, there’s a grade-separated and heavily used common segment, connected to a number of street-running local branches.

        You know that I completely agree with you that what passes for “frequent service” here is a joke. I’m not trying to justify the current system. Nor am I saying that RapidRide would necessarily have been better if it branched at Leary (though if there were 5-minute service on each of the tails, then maybe…) I’m just saying that the general concept of a grade-separated segment for the high-demand part of a corridor, followed by a few local tails, is not *necessarily* a bad model.

        (And don’t forget that RapidRide will also be providing service to Belltown and LQA. 15th Ave NW might not have high demand, but Belltown and LQA sure do. If RRD had 5-minute service to 24th and to 15th, combining for 2.5-minute service through LQA, I think that would be just dandy. No transfers needed.)

      11. I’m not sure what your experiences have been, but when the express lanes are open, the 71/72/73 are (IMHO) one of the best buses in Seattle…and, when Metro’s planners aren’t using broken software, they’re optimized for consistent routing.

        FYI, my above response was intended as neutral shorthand about open BRT/interlining. It wasn’t meant as snark. I guess I’m in snark mode often enough around here that I could be taken as snarky even when I’m just making a citation.

        I actually do disagree with you, though (possibly for the first time ever). Yes, the 71-3 can move quickly along one part of its route. But it is not reliable, and the interlining does not work. Even scheduled “correctly,” it is absolutely common for southbound buses that are supposed to be 10, 15, of 20 minutes apart to come at the same time.

        Somehow, amazingly, this even happens northbound. This can be partially chalked up to tunnel backups and pay-as-you-leave delays, but I think the lack of route clarity plays a measurable role: people pepper the drivers with the “how far up University/15th to you go?” questions, interrupting the flow necessary to keep the interlined routes evenly spaced. Also, the buses get unevenly weighted, as the 71 takes on more total riders and unloads more slowly along the shared segment, whereas on a “closed” BRT ridership would be equally distributed between vehicles until it reaches the northern terminus or major transfer point.

        …the Green Line in Boston.

        Ah, but this, like most European streetcar central-subway segments, and like Australia’s best open BRTs, meets my above criterion for it to work: “the kind of super-ultra-über frequency where it doesn’t matter if your average headways get fouled because there’s always something coming.”

        When you’ve got three or four lines running every 6-10 minutes, there’s always something coming. Scheduling is moot, because you’re never waiting more than six minutes and you’re rarely waiting more than two. That has nothing to do with interlining; it’s just about having a ton of service.

        Note, though, that after about 8:30 PM, the T does this asinine thing where they intentionally bunch their trains to keep the lower (13-14 minute) headways on each line stable — eastbound they all hold at Kenmore before leaving together, westbound they all hold at Government Center. Then the first train gets sardine-squeezed while the others follow along empty. And people who are used to zipping through the central subway in no time get annoyed about the wait.

        This is instructive about what can happen when the interlining supersedes the attention to the shared corridor. If the shared corridor demands the total level of service that only the cumulative vehicles can provide, then the bunching inherent in interlined service can only harm that intended high-value corridor.

        (Side note: it’s totally amazing to me that I used to consider 13 minutes an intolerably long wait before I lived in Seattle.)

        I’m just saying that the general concept of a grade-separated segment for the high-demand part of a corridor, followed by a few local tails, is not *necessarily* a bad model… if there were 5-minute service on each of the tails, then maybe…

        You’re right, of course. But again, only because that level of service would meet the “it doesn’t matter if your average headways get fouled because there’s always something coming” criterion. Heck, 5-minute service on each tail would be four times better than what either Ballard tail has now, and six times better at night. So of course that would be an improvement regardless of how the interlining was scheduled. But that’s not really the discussion we’re having.

        I presume you’ve read or heard Jarrett Walker’s extended riff on BART and branching: (for one of many posts on the subject). The basic problem is that the two destinations at the end of each branch — SFO and the Millbrae CalTrain transfer point — each has higher demand than any points along the shared corridor. But given the way the track was laid out, those points will inevitable receive half and/or crappier (indirect) service than any of the less important but better served points.

        That would be the problem with Ballard branching, at anything less than the highest frequencies. Ballard, and Ballard-Between-15th-And-24-And-Within-A-Couple-Blocks-Of-Market in particular, simply has higher demand than Interbay. But if you split the routes at the foot of the Ballard bridge, then we effectively get half the service and half the reliability/predictability. The two corridors are close, but you can’t instantaneously teleport from one to the other. It’s exactly the problem we have today: the 18 is late, but you can’t walk to the 15 quite fast enough to catch it, and if you try and just miss it, you might not make it back in time for the next 18.

        And don’t forget that RapidRide will also be providing service to Belltown and LQA.

        Ah, but LQA and Belltown are currently the brightest examples of the shortcomings of interlining in the city! Five routes, offering a scheduled wait time of no more than 5-7 minutes in the daytime or 10-12 minutes at night. And yet, somehow, you can wait so long and crawl so slowly that it would have been faster to walk downtown! It happens literally all the time. If five lines can’t cut it, why would an arrhythmically interlined BRT be expected to do better?

      12. The 71/72/73 are great if your destination is the U-District, but north of there during peak is a nightmare. I was taking a class at a community center in Wedgwood, and going there from work on the Eastside. 542 to 50th & the Ave, catch the 72. Easy peasy, right?

        I missed several classes after giving up when OBA would tell me the 72 was coming Real Soon Now for 25 minutes.

      1. But branding in this sense isn’t necessarily about improving opinions; it’s about providing simple, easy to understand expectations to low information riders. If it can convey freeway suck vs. 3 stops a block local suck to an infrequent rider who doesnt refresh transit blog five times a day the job is done.

  15. Only 3 brands? Most marketeers would be arguing for even finer gradations of service…to get people to align with “their buses” and even root(route) for them!

    Why do the buses all have to be the same color…I mean, you know it’s a bus…the color doesn’t have to be same. How about all kinds of stripes, badges, labels, just like detergent (the new Metro 150 — Now With Extra Local Stops!)

    1. i honestly think the majority of people dont care about branding of the bus. they see a bus they they assume its theirs. they dont care what color it is, or if it wears any livery at all they see it coming and they think its theirs. The fact that so many buses are in wraps; or that equipment is substituted or loaned out doesent help either.

      1. Branding does matter. Maybe not for those of us on this blog but for everyone else. Explaining to my ex who just moved here that riding from my mothers house to my house takes 5 buses on 5 different transit systems then proceeding to explain to her that not all payment/transfers are accepted on all buses is a pain.

      1. From Morgan Wick’s blog,

        …after years of my struggling to find an Internet connection, my mom finally got talked (not by me) into adding an internet connection for our house.


        Living in your mother’s basement, doing nerd stuff, and you’re criticizing me? Get out of the house once in a while…get a date…take up a sport…anything…

  16. Before I ask for the buses to be clearer, I say let’s get a *USABLE* map for tourists to use.

  17. Off-board ORCA readers are themselves a form of “branding”. The presence of such readers, with a list of the routes to which that reader applies, indicates to the rider that they can board at any door when that bus pulls up (as long as they have tapped).

    The lack of such readers would generally indicate a requirement to board at the front. This seems pretty cut-and-dried to me.

    1. A color scheme for distinguishing the various ORCA readers would be nice, for example, white for Link or Sounder, blue for ST Express, yellow for regular Metro, light blue for CT, and red for RapidRide.

      That assumes nobody wants to purchase pole wraps on standing ORCA readers.

  18. If we have three different colors of buses in Metro’s fleet, and they continue to buy them in three different colors, why aren’t they deployed in such a manner as to indicate more clearly the type of route that bus is running? Such as, put green on “express” routes and purple on “locals” and teal on commuter routes? Seems like it wouldn’t require a major capital outlay to make that happen.

  19. An overall branding strategy would make a lot of sense. Leave it to the pros of an expert branding firm to point the way. There’s nothing worse than “design by committee with everyone’s personal preferences” approach!

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