Photo by Atomic Taco

Metro is converting the low-performing 149,  186, and 251 to DART (Dial-A-Ride-Transit) service in the February 2012 service change, as the first of 100,000 service hours to be eliminated and replaced with higher-performing trips.

These three routes alone will save $400,000 annually solely by switching to the vans. In general, a smaller bus is not much cheaper than a larger one because the main cost is the driver. However, DART service is contracted out, and spokeswoman Linda Thielke says that the savings arise because Metro doesn’t have to pay for deadhead time and because it doesn’t (directly) absorb vehicle acquisition and maintenance costs.

As DART routes, they will have somewhat flexible routing depending on phone calls and requests by passengers. Details of the changes below the jump.

  • Route 251 currently connects the University of Washington-Bothell and Cascadia Community College campuses with the Redmond Transit Center via Avondale Road and downtown Woodinville. While Metro is still developing which parts of the route are best suited to DART service, potential areas for flexible routing could include locations in downtown Bothell, English Hill, and downtown Redmond…
  • Route 149 travels from the Renton Transit Center to Enumclaw via State Route 169. DART areas are likely to include locations in the city of Enumclaw and other communities along the way.
  • Route 186 currently provides service throughout the day, six days a week, between the Auburn Sounder Station and Enumclaw via State Route 164. Peak service that connects commuters to the Sounder will continue as a regular bus route. Midday service would be shifted to DART operations. Possible DART areas in Auburn, Enumclaw, and the Muckleshoot Reservation are being considered.

61 Replies to “Metro Announces Some February Cuts”

      1. Call King County now! But don’t call the number on the banner. That goes to a voice mail system that requires an access code.

      2. Where are the 38 and 42 listed for elimination? That original long list of February cuts is off the table, from what I understand.

      3. I would be interested in any information on other February changes, of course.

        DART is generally used only in the outer suburban fringe, where it provides hourly door-to-transit-center service in areas that are too sparse for a regular bus route on the main road. It would be unlikely in Rainier Valley, although I could see a case for replacing the 39 local with a more frequent van on Othello – Seward Park – Genesee – Columbia City stn. (It could also be extended to Beacon Hill subsuming the 38.)

      4. @Bruce From the County Executive’s office “In a letter sent today to the Council, the Executive also took action to preserve Metro’s transit system by formally withdrawing the proposal to cut 100,000 service hours in the February service change.” The 100K proposal was sadly withdrawn…

      5. That specific proposal was formally withdrawn, but it does not mean cuts like that are off the table — quite the contrary. Metro’s planners and management are currently discussing the scope of the Feb ’12 service change. All or part of the cuts described in that sheet could take place alongside the Queen Anne-First Hill-Madrona restructure I outlined last week.

        The possible restructures fall into two categories: pointless, almost unused routes like the the 42 and 45 that can be deleted (nay, disemboweled!) out of hand, without any rearrangement of the rest of the network; and major restructures that require heaps of planner time to design and cost out, like the QA-FA-Madrona restructure. All of the cuts in the 100k documents are quick and easy cuts that fall into the former category, which Metro was able to produce on short notice as the public debate unfolded.

        Once the scope of this service change is established, the real work of rethinking whatever parts of the bus network it includes will begin, and this time around it will include the possibility of major restructures that fall into the latter category.

        It is not a coincidence that I am currently trying to enlighten the public about the possibilities for dramatic improvement offered by a service change with a broad scope.

      6. A corollary of this is we have to be patient, and not denounce Metro for not making the changes right now. The $20 fee was enacted just six weeks ago, and 40/40/20 was repealed just a month ago. Metro is busy with the RapidRide B rollout right now. Any reorganizations will have to go through a year’s worth of public hearings and council approval and planning. So we might get some good news around November re February’s service change, and more good news next June, September, and the following February. By that time (February 2013) the 2-year limit on the $20 fee will have only 10 months left, so they’ll have to be in the Legislature’s chambers telling them what great reorganizations they’ve done, in order to give the Legislature time to vote on a permanent funding scheme before the $20 fee runs out.

    1. I would laugh (and cheer) at the 38 and 42 becoming DART routes. We could keep the hill-climb service on Beacon Hill, while the variable-routing could serve residents of the completely unserved neighborhoods east of Rainier between McClellan and Genesee.

      1. I think a much more interesting DART route would be one that went from CCS, East on Alaska, north on Rainier, east on Genessee, north on 38th and then all the way up Lake Wash Blvd S, Lakeview, Lk Wash Blvd to the terminus of the 11. Run that route hourly, reduce the 27 to peak-only and bump the 14 to frequent service, cutting off the old tail on 38th. This route would maintain some mobility for the very small number people currently using the 27 off-peak, and enhance mobility on the rest of Lk Wash Blvd and the other underserved neighborhood you mention, while avoiding Metro’s concern about using full-size coaches on those roads.

      2. I like it. This is basically what I would support as an outright replacement for the 27, except I would include a detour to hit MBTC.

      3. One comment that I would make, though: Why hourly? A route of that length can be half-hourly with only one vehicle.

      4. Sure, if it can be done at no extra cost. Don’t DART drivers need breaks at the end of routes though?

      5. I have no idea. If so, 45 minutes might be a better target. In any case, it seems totally feasible, if the service hours could be freed up for it.

      6. What do you mean by “cutting off the old tail on 38th”? Simply running the 14 east-west on Jackson between 38th and Downtown? You’re not obviating the part east and south of MBTC, unless that’s the DART service area…

    2. It should be noted that ANY route deletions must go through a public process, and cannot be simply deleted by staff.

      1. I think you can do some cuts without a public hearing as long as its under 20% of your overall service or something. That could vary by agency as well

  1. Are these 100,000 service hours being eliminited and replaced solely for budgetry reasons, or are they moving these hours on to other routes?

    1. Sounds like the latter:

      as the first of 100,000 service hours to be eliminated and replaced with higher-performing trips.

      But it’s unclear whether they will be replaced in full.

      1. Does “replaced with higher performing trips” just mean moving these routes to DART service, or actually adding service hours to other routes? Does anyone know?

      2. The announcement doesn’t directly say that the hours from these three routes will be reinvested in other routes, but it says that this will happen in general. With the $20 fee passed, Metro does not have a mandate to reduce its bus budget, it has a mandate to shift hours to higher-performing routes in a revenue-neutral way.

    1. They have lifts. Only been on a few DART routes and have never seen them in use. They probably take forever to deploy.

    2. I suspect it does take a few. If all you need is an ADA accessible vehicle, DART has you covered.

      The only difference is really the fares and the booking. DART theoretically accepts same-day requests, (although the only time I ever tried to book one, over a week in advance, I was told they had no spaces available), where Access only takes reservations 1-3 days in advance. Access provides true door-to-door service, where DART will simply designate a pick-up/drop-off location nearby your location. DART has a fixed-route component, Access does not.

      The Access fare is $1.25, the DART fare is the standard Metro fare.

      With a little coordination, I think the two programs could be rolled into one very easily. Both the fixed route and variable-route components could be coordinated to prevent unnecessary duplication, I’m sure a significant number of current Access trips could be shifted onto DART-style service, as there are many customers for whom a DART route could provide the door-to-door paratransit service ADA requires.

      It’s not one-size-fits-all, but coordination between the two programs, and some trading of riders between the two, could yield some efficiencies.

  2. Has anyone here used a DART service? Do you make plans in advance, or do you call the number and someone actually drives out to get you? If so, I can only imagine the huge hit to travel times.

    1. They have a fixed route and schedule, but you can call them to get them to deviate off the route within a defined service area.

      1. Right, and there’s time built in to the schedule to go and pick up/drop off people. There are a finite number of deviations available per trip in order to make sure all time points are hit on time.

        You have to make the call at least a few hours in advance so they can plan the request and notify the driver.

    2. I tried to use DART 927 once back in the late 90’s. I don’t remember exactly why I needed it – I lived right on the 269, but at that time it was a peak-only route that made maybe a half-dozen trips a day, none of which were ever at the right time for me.

      I called the DART number a week or two in advance, basically as soon as I realized I’d be needing a ride. I was told that they were fully booked for some long period of time, and that I was basically SOL.

      I’ve never tried to use DART again, although I’ve ridden the fixed-route portions of a couple 9xx routes a couple times.

      1. So effectively the strategy is to use a county’s entire tax base to pay for trips for the lucky few that set their schedule up the soonest as their personal taxi service? Sweet deal, if you can get it.

      2. Based on my one experience over a decade ago, yes, that’s the strategy. I never thought anything of it at the time (other than vague guilt for trying to use a service I thought of as primarily for the disabled/elderly – I didn’t know about Access). Thinking back on it, though, it seems really fucked up.

        I don’t know if it’s still that way, but I can’t imagine why it would have changed. The DART schedules and vehicles are virtually unchanged from when I had my experience, and the population of the service area has exploded.

        They have changed their reservation policy, though. Now you can only make reservations 30 days in advance.

      3. I attempted to use the Snohomish County equivalent from Mukilteo to Northgate and found the bus was faster end to end. We’d wait 30-40 minutes for the van to arrive, then 10 minutes to load and by the time we were headed down I-5 the 346 bus was arriving.

      4. Are all the DART routes really booked up that far in advance? I thought you could call 24 or 48 hours ahead.

      5. If they were really so popular when you tried it that it was basically “the lucky few that set their schedule up the soonest as their personal taxi service”, I suspect that explains any beefed-up frequencies on other routes and shrinkage of service areas since then.

        I also wouldn’t be surprised if the 927 turned out to be Metro’s most popular DART route, as well.

  3. Ah, here’s how Des Moines does it. You have to schedule in advance, and they’ll pick up and drop off anywhere for $3.50 (or $.75 for kids and the elderly!). You can even get a monthly pass for $48. It’s like a public taxi service, but much cheaper.

    It’s a bit amazing they can provide this service at that price. Must be heavily subsidized, poorly used, or overbooked.

    1. That’s pretty much the same method that’s used for Ben Franklin Transit’s “Trans+Plus Night Service” over here in the Tri-Cities. The cash fare is $3, regardless of age. The other option is to buy a Freedom Pass for $44, which gives the rider unlimited use of everything BFT has (Bus, para-transit, night service, special events, etc) for the month. Needless to say, most opt to buy the pass.

      Rather than run it themselves, BFT subcontracts out Night Service to a local company, Tri-City Taxi. Right now (as of 6/30/11) they’re running at a cost per boarding of $15.97, with farebox recovery at 8.7%.

      1. I have horrible memories of sitting at Colombia Center Mall waiting for an hour for that blasted van to arrive back when I lived there. Better than walking home but it wasn’t very reliable nor quick.

      2. I’ve had some particularly bad experiences with them as well (58 minutes late, arrived home 70 minutes after pick-up). For the most part though, things have gotten better. It also didn’t hurt that I started telling them that if I wasn’t off the property of my work within 10 minutes of clocking out, a security alarm would be tripped and the cops would be called. ;)

  4. I would seriously like come comments from both users and drivers on these DART routes regarding service quality. It’s an old rule in life that “You get what you pay for.” Lower costs look nice on balance sheets. But I’m not sure there’s a column for the cost of things that barely work.

    Right now, LINK has an elevator and at two escalators out of service for weeks. The escalators have signs saying contracts are out for bids.

    Might be a good time to consider whether transit agencies might be better off retaining the skills and resources to do their work in-house, rather than buying them from private contractors. Like the old saying goes: “If you want it done right…”

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’ve used DART routes a few times. Serivce is comparable to that provided by First Transit, Pierce Transit, Metro, or Community Transit. The biggest differences were: ORCA fares are paid on a PFTP, meaning the driver taps your card, not you; the farebox design is a bit different; the interior design is different compared to a bus; fewer people on board; and no Metro radio so the driver can’t hold other routes for you.

      1. Once I tried to set up an off-route stop to the VM in Federal Way. I was told that the front door of the building is “on route” even though another trip I was on drove up the hill to the geezer house next door. Other times I didn’t really need the off-route capabilities.

    2. Its a catch-22. Either the public agency looks over prepared and wasteful with a warehouse full of spare parts or they contract it out at the expense of time.

    3. Those of you who’ve read my rants about the Metro 219 will know that it frustrates me more than any other route I’ve driven. It overlaps with the DART 925 service which runs all day as opposed to the 219’s AM and PM only service. I’ve long felt Metro should cancel all but the “school-tripper” 219 and apply the saved funds to bolstering DART service – if needed.

      I’ve floated the idea to a couple of regular passengers on the 219 who universally shot it down since DART service has been “unreliable” for them. Given the dearth of passengers on the 219, the dataset isn’t large. I’ve also known at least one driver who was suspended from Metro for accidents but was still allowed to drive for DART. I’m not sure if DART has lower standards for drivers, didn’t know what the other “hand” was doing, or what. Either way, “You get what you pay for” seems to apply here.

      It sounds like Tim’s experience has been different.

      1. You don’t “drive for DART”. You drive for Hopelink.

        Not really sure what Linda Thielke meant when she said that Metro “doesn’t (directly) absorb vehicle acquisition” because they directly reimbursed Hopelink for buying them. Source

      2. Is there any cases where DART style vans are used just like a bus with scheduled routes etc? Usually late at night on CT buses there’s 6 people which would fit just fine on a van. Most of the van service I’ve used requires reservation instead of just standing at a bus stop. Perhaps running vans late at night would be cheaper to operate than a 40 ft bus.

      3. Yes to the first part, and not necessarily yes to the second. Metro had (has?) these and these, the latter of which pop in and out of service for a few months at a time due to design issues. They’re assigned to low-ridership routes.

        If you want to swap bus styles for routes that run 30-40′ coaches during the day for a van at night, remember that you have to pay the driver(s) for their time driving to and from the base to swap out vehicles. And you’re burning gas the entire way. Further, the fact that you’re going out of your way increases the probability that something could go wrong while the driver is going back and forth. While some of these risks may be negligible for routes that terminate near a base, the majority of the van routes are out in the boonies, meaning at least a 20 minute drive from the base during light traffic conditions, which means you’re looking at 45 minutes or more just to swap out the bus. Another benefit of keeping the big bus is that you can easily handle unexpected demand.

        While it’s true you could save some money operating smaller vehicles, there are added costs in swapping those vehicle mid-day. Which way the scale tips depends heavily on the route, and I can’t provide any finite numbers either way.

  5. I wonder how the cost of operating a DART route would compare with simply subsidizing taxi services for low income people directly. A cost per boarding of $15.97 is enough to get at least 4 miles or so on a taxi. 4 miles should be sufficient for nearly all local trips and, for long trips, 4 miles should be sufficient to get to the nearest transit center with regular bus service.

    For people that live in the really-outer fringes where 4 miles isn’t enough (e.g. Enumclaw), they need to either buy a car, find a carpool, or move closer to work. There has to be some limit as to how far we will run empty buses to exurban fringes.

      1. A portion of Yellow Cab’s fleet is made up of ADA-accessible minivans – they have a low-floor rear with a flip-down ramp – wheelchair access is through the back hatch. You can specifically request one when you call. Other cab companies operate a handful of them, too – there’s some sort of incentive worked into the taxi licensing system for operating vehicles.

        And Metro subsidizes cab fare for the disabled – if you qualify for a RRFP, you can purchase taxi scrip from the county for 50% of face value.

    1. True, but what percentage of the passengers really require lifts? For the few that do, you can still run paratransit.

      1. I don’t know about percentages, but plenty of wheelchair and other riders who can’t handle steps are not paratransit riders. The fact of them being in a wheelchair shouldn’t cause them to be denied DART service.

        There are also more liability issues having questionably-trained taxi drivers do the work of professionally-trained operators.

  6. Route 251 currently connects the University of Washington-Bothell and Cascadia Community College campuses with the Redmond Transit Center via Avondale Roa

    Yeah, I’d use Avondale to get from Redmond to Bothell… NOT! This route is truly bizarre. For example, it turns off Avondale and connects with the parallel SR202 (Wood/Red Rd.) to get to Redmond right at the point where Avondale turns from large acre plus lots into apartments and condos when there’s nothing on 202. If you turn off Avondale and go west on 124th your headed for Totem Lake which would be as good or better a transfer point as Redmond.

    1. I was in downtown Bothell once and decided to get to Overlake. I wound up taking a CT bus (!) to UW Bothell, then the 251 to Redmond, then some other bus to Overlake. This would have been substantially different at the least if these changes had taken hold.

      Making the areas on Avondale Road and Woodinville-Duvall Road a DART supplement to the 232 and 311 and keeping the 251 as an all-202 route (or at least 202-148th-140th Pl) would seem logical.

  7. Sic transit good old 251–not much left of the bus that was once a busy trans-lake route that went from Redmond to downtown with a meandering circuitous detour via Kirkland– the bus I used to ride to work (and downtown Seattle), when I first moved to this area, before U-Pass and the 275 and 276 in the early 90s.

  8. While we’re on the subject of cost savings. . .

    Why hasn’t anyone suggested running hybrid buses in “hush” mode in transit corridors (like 3rd Avenue; across the floating bridges) to save fuel?

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