As the academic school year progresses, one thing that is a common problem aboard UW-Downtown 70 series express service is what I like to call recurring peak demand— that is, constant spikes in demand that occur regularly throughout the day as riders come and go from the campus. This happens right around the middle of the hour when many classes are turning over with floods of students and faculty.
Unlike the very typical model of peak demand where the highest ridership loads occur in the morning and afternoon peak, recurring peak demand generates high loads at regularly occurring intervals all day. Traditional planning strategies like peak trip adds, or overlay service, are inapplicable since the true peak periods are spread throughout the day.
There are three ways I think you can try to attack this dilemma:
- Recurring peak overlay service – There are a few examples where Metro currently implements a peak overlay on top of regular service when demand is highest, AM and PM-only 212/218 Eastgate service being one. A recurring peak overlay is the same idea in principle; additional service when the demand occurs regularly. This could mean an hourly UW-Downtown only route leaving the U-District on the half-hour. The downside to this is an additional cost in service hours.
- Schedule restructure – The 70 series are currently a scheduling nightmare. Four different routes with different terminals are combined for roughly even headways of 7-10 minutes during the mid-day. A cost-neutral strategy could entail lengthening the headways (slightly) for the base (non-peak) periods and redistributing the savings to add trips in the recurring peak periods. This would be no picnic for schedulers, however; you’d have to adjust schedules and headways accordingly for each individual route without compromising service.
- Emphasize alternatives – The last solution is more of a marketing exercise than it is a planning one. Though veteran transit riders know that there are other ways to get between Downtown and the U-District, the 70 series remains the prevailing choice for most the University community’s transit-riding populace. There are terrific alternatives with much more capacity, however– the 66 on Roosevelt and frequent services at Montlake (255/545) as well as at I-5/45th (510/511). While these don’t exactly share the common express corridors with the 70 series, they remain viable options for riders coming from other points in the U-District.
Since riders usually never have to wait for more than two buses anyway, I can’t imagine any of these strategies would be very high up on the priority list. However, I think it reflects a unique pattern in travel demand for a major urban center like the U-District. The problem, of course, will eventually be solved with U-Link, but until then, creative ideas to manage the corridor’s dynamic ridership demand are all fair game in this arena.