How late should “frequent service” operate for the purpose of defining a standard span for a frequent transit network? I have found that it varies for each city but I looked at our neighbor Portland for an answer. Before the budget shortfall forced cuts, Portland’s twelve Frequent Transit bus corridors plus MAX light rail offered service every 15 minutes or better until 10:30 pm, every day. TriMet chose that time since it “corresponds to end times for evening activities, based on a survey of evening college classes, movie theaters, shopping and event centers.” Compare this to King County Metro’s quasi-standard of frequent service until 6 pm Monday-Saturday and 5:30 pm on Sunday*. How many of Seattle’s main bus routes meet the Portland standard for Frequent Service?
As you can see from the thick lines in the diagram above, within Seattle itself, there are eight bus corridors plus Link light rail that meet the criteria. While the geographical extent is similar to routes within Portland, all but one go through downtown, limiting easy crosstown travel. Here’s the actual coverage of the Seattle routes on a map. Outside Seattle, there are the RapidRide A (Pacific Hwy) and B (Bel-Red) lines. That’s a total of ten bus corridors plus Link.
What is disappointing is the proposed night** headways for the upcoming RapidRide C (West Seattle) and D (Ballard) lines do not appear to be frequent at all. In conversation with a Metro planner at a recent open house, they were being conservative with the frequencies since they barely have the resources for it, which explains the “15-30” numbers for some routes. It means they want 15 minute headways but might not be able to fund it. Then there is the C Line has which has a night headway of “30-60” minutes. The planner told me those figures might include the late night trips they are adding to the C and D to replace the Night Owl routes.
RapidRide, in its role as a trunk line, should be a guarantee of service at least every 15 minutes until 10 pm every day. The way night frequencies are presented in Metro’s restructure proposal dilutes the RapidRide brand that Metro advertises as its “fastest and easiest way to travel, with service so frequent you don’t even need a schedule.” If that is what RapidRide is supposed to be, then what do you call routes like the 7 and 70-series that run more frequently than RapidRide both during the day and later into the night?
*the Frequent Transit Network in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan has a target service level of 15 minute or better frequency, 18-24 hours a day (6 am to midnight), every day.
** The “Night” time period is defined in Metro’s Service Guidelines as 7 pm to 5 am all days.