With pay-as-you-leave disappearing later this year, Metro is gathering data about its operational impact on the tunnel:

Metro has been doing a series of travel-time tests both on surface streets and in the transit tunnel to determine what operational changes need to be made next fall once all passengers are required to pay fares upon entering the bus. Metro and Sound Transit are involving the bus riders in this latest test.

If you are riding a bus in the tunnel between 4-6 p.m. next Tuesday, please look for signage that directs you to:

  1. Exit the bus at the back door;
  2. Enter the bus from the front door;
  3. Board the southbound ST Express Route 550 at Bay C;
  4. Note that Bay D will be moved forward about 30-40 feet at each station to enable faster boarding on the other southbound bus routes; and
  5. Watch for buses in both directions to drop you off further forward on the platform than normal.

53 Replies to “Metro Tests New Tunnel Policy Today”

  1. As much as I hate that the magic carpet zone is going away, it’s nice to hear that KC Metro is putting effort into the transition.

    1. Much as I love that the magic carpet zone is going away, it’s painful to hear that Metro is doing such minimal mitigation to keep the buses from slowing down the trains.

      How about no cash on-board in the tunnel? It’s literally the least they could do (when any other reasonable agency would be phasing out cash entirely and making tunnel stations unequivocally fare-paid zones).

      If you insist on paying cash, you should have to pay it to a machine. The printed transfer would be precisely 2 hours and have the number of zones you paid for clearly marked. And if you’re worried about missing a bus while you’re doing this, then get a damned ORCA!

      1. You’re going soft on Metro, d.p!

        The paper transfers are already worth only 1.5 to 2 hours. When the RFA goes away, the paper transfers ought to be reduced to 1 to 1.5 hours.

      2. I have an idea about how to remove cash from the tunnel. PAYE on the way into downtown, and PAYL when heading out of downtown. Done. And everyone can use any door of the bus. Perfect.

        But wait! How will we collect payment from downtown residents? Maybe we just don’t charge them…

      3. We’ve had the RFA for decades, and Metro remains one of the slowest-moving and least reliable transit systems on earth, especially when on PAYL.

        RFA doesn’t work as advertised.


      4. Yes, so let’s force everyone through the front door waiting behind that one guy that’s searching for his ORCA card or transfer slip rather than just hopping on either door. That’ll speed up Metro.

      5. How is that any different from waiting for those people who can’t be bothered to get out their money/transfer/card until the bus has come to a complete stop and they’ve gradually made their way forward to the exit? Otherwise known as PAYL.

        But you make a good case for why we you can’t just make one change at a time. Elimination of paper transfers, surcharge/penalty for cash usage, total denial of cash-on-board in the tunnel, and all-hour encouragement to exit via the back should be happening simultaneously. If only Metro had the balls.

      6. It’s different because they’re not all doing it in the same massively expensive and valuable tunnel, slowing down all of the other buses and our multi-billion dollar rail system – they’re doing it out in the neighborhoods where there’s no other bus in sight.

      7. So would it not, then, be ideal to make things fast-and-smooth in “our massively expensive and valuable tunnel” without making passengers suffer at the far end of their trip instead?

      8. Sure. But I don’t see how shoving people heough one door does that – even with an orca card.

      9. I think you would be shocked how many people can board and how quickly they can do it through the front when everybody gets in the habit of exiting off the back.

        Of course, we’ll never find out without near-complete ORCA adoption. They’re going to need to grow a spine and get the ball rolling on that well before September.

      10. There’s just no way it’ll be close to as fast as the current system – using all doors. You still have to wait for everybody to pay.

      11. Even then, I’m not so sure.

        Our big-seated, skinny-aisled, 2-door buses are nothing like our open-floored, 4-door trains. People can’t all squeeze on off in seconds just because we have “all door use.”

        Thanks to decades of drumming into Seattleites’ brains that the front door is the “default” door (half the time during the day, all the time after 7), people gravitate towards it. As a result, boarding passengers are waiting 20-30 seconds for the aisle-waddlers today before a single passenger gets to boards.

        So send everyone off the back. Automated messages as a constant presence, starting before the change: “Please exit off the back.” “Exit off the back unless you need assistance.” “Please help us speed up your ride by exiting off the back, dumbass.”

        You’ll have passengers boarding well before they get to under present conditions.

      12. No. You’re still thinking of PAYE, not PAYL. Nobody really waits for a long line of people to exit at the narrow front door before they get on – I almost always enter at the wide double doors at the back, unless I happen to be at the front door. And even then if there’s a line of people leaving I’ll head for the back door.

        People exit whatever door is closest to them, and at the back doors that’s an easy and quick exit. Waiting for a long line of people to pay will always be slower than all door on/off.

      13. In an ideal world, the math would probably work as you suggest.

        But bus riders in Seattle are a bit slower than in many public-transit cities. Slower to rise, slower to get up the aisle, slower to negotiate passing one another at the door.

        They’re seemingly also “slower” in the other sense, to be honest. If someone in the articulating section decides, for no apparent reason, that they want to exit at the front, then out comes the driver’s “wait” hand. This is an absolutely standard experience, even during RFA hours, and even in the tunnel.

        It costs a minimum of 10 seconds every time it happens. Then people start filing in (more front than back, invariably), to the tune of 30-40 seconds for a crowded 70-series or 41.

        With “please exit through the back,” that’s over. An automated system should state the policy at every stop, and on a busy run, a driver should use the intercom to tell someone heading forward for no good reason to “please use the back.” Meanwhile, new passengers are already boarding.

        If none of them use cash, they’re on just as fast as if they’d had to wait for disembarkers.

      14. During the test the drivers (at least the four trips I rode) were doing just that, announcing at every stop for “people getting off at the next stop to use the back door only”.

      15. It’s not math, it’s observation. People in Seattle might be especially slow, but they’re not stupid. They don’t wait around at the front door like suckers if there’s a slow line of exiters, they walk to the open back doors. They want to get in and find a seat, not be stuck standing.

        “If none of them use cash, they’re on just as fast as if they’d had to wait for disembarkers.” That’s your dream. And I sure hope you’re right. But then down below you describe how amazingly slow front-boarding is after a Sounders game. Sure – it might all be from people hunting for change. But ORCA isn’t that much faster than cash , and front door loading is a very slow process.

      16. When I’m riding the 43 toward downtown (PAYE) there is almost invariably someone in the back who will exit by waiting for the bus to stop completely, and then walking past the two sets of OPEN doors (back and middle) in order to exit at the front. It boggles my mind every time.

        Those announcements to exit at the back can’t come soon enough.

      17. They don’t wait around at the front door like suckers if there’s a slow line of exiters, they walk to the open back doors.

        That conflicts entirely with my experience and observation. Maybe they’re dumb, maybe they’re lazy, maybe they’re worried the bus will drive off if they switch doors, maybe they just haven’t been trained that transit can be fast if you do your own small part to help speed it up, or maybe they just don’t care. Either way, it’s past time to correct this with consistent policy.

        But then down below you describe how amazingly slow front-boarding is after a Sounders game.

        It’s all about the cash. So many sporting-event riders are irregular transit users. At 2 seconds per entry, you would still fill the bus and drive off quickly — tunnel entry comes in waves when attendees crossing the King Street Station overpass get the walk light to cross 4th.

        But with people paying cash — a minimum of 6 seconds each, and sometimes more like 20 or 25 — the next wave comes before the first wave finishes boarding, and the line at the door just grows and grows.

        The irony is that about half of them get off at Westlake station anyway. Either they’re parked in the event-discounted Pacific Place garage, or they’re switching to buses at that end of downtown. If the former, it’s infuriating that they didn’t just take the train. If the latter, they might have done so to get the transfer and to avoid paying twice.

        Penalizing cash fixes both situations. With ORCAs, all those people would be better off taking the train (which you can usually see waiting outside the station forever while the bus loads). And the bus would load fast enough to get out of there!

      18. Looks like it comes down a difference in observation again. Where I see fast and smart Seattlites, you observe them as slow and dumb. I guess it’s good that Metro is running tests.

      19. There is objectively nothing fast about the way Seattleites do things. Not in their daily lives, not in their policy-making mechanisms.

        Smart versus dumb is, on the other hand, totally subjective.[ot]

        As he said, giving all public amenities over to the lowest common denominator makes them hostile and therefore anathema to everyone else. The same goes for transit: build your system for the Won’t-Walk-A-Blocks, and everyone else stays in their faster cars. Build your payment system around the Refuse-To-Get-An-ORCAs and the Okay-With-High-Volume-Routes-Retaining-Pay-As-You-Push-To-The-Front and only the clueless and the self-centered will share your ride.

      20. As for Metro’s tests, they really need to run them with on-board payment in place. And one of the tests needs to preclude cash-on-board, perhaps by stationing personnel by the stairs with fareboxes borrowed from the bus bases and transfer slips to hand out.

        Only then will they have a sense of whether cashless on-board collections can work, or if they need to develop an entirely POP system for tunnel stops/

        I’m in total agreement with you that just switching to PAYE, with no change in ORCA usage rates, is a recipe for disaster. Since yesterday’s test did not involve payment at all, its findings will be incomplete.

  2. Would it be possible for sound transit to reprogram the link TVMs to print bus tickets for cash payers? I bet this (along with greater orca usage) would help speed up boarding in the DSTT.

  3. Maybe this is a radical solution, but how about Metro stops using the transit tunnel now instead of waiting until University Link starts running? I mean, they’re going to have to make that transition eventually, why not just do it when the RFA goes away? Then they don’t need some interim plan to ensure Link isn’t slowed down in the tunnel, a plan that’ll only be in place for a few years anyway. I’m sure there’s a good reason they’re doing it this way, so someone please reply and tell me what it is.

    1. Metro and the downtown businesses are ill prepared to give all the street space over to buses. As Link grows, fewer buses should be going all the way downtown. Besides, the train riders are only 1/3 of the ridership in the tunnel.

      I would actually suggest the opposite: Complete tail track in the stub tunnels, and run 4-car trains every 15 minutes during peak, so as to maximize bus throughput, and therefore tunnel boardings. Drop down to shorter trains in the evening, but maintain the 15-minute headway and schedule.

      Train ridership might drop slightly, but ST cost efficiencies from the longer trains ought to far more than make up for lost revenue. It would save Metro a bundle, too.

      1. Or just stop the thing completely – think of how much we’d save!

        We paid far too much for the system to just stop using it – or drop it to bus-level frequencies.

      2. Oy, Brent. Let’s take the one thing that works and make it not work. Awesome.

        Train frequency isn’t the problem. A train running half as often is just as likely to get stuck behind a 71 taking 5 minutes to load.

        The problem is the buses, not the trains. And while starting months in advance to get customers in the habit of exiting through the back is admirable, it doesn’t keep a single cash-payer from holding up an entire fleet of vehicles.

        See: International District station after a Sounders game. The bus just sits there and sits there and sits there. More people arrive faster than the prior people can pay. The damned thing doesn’t leave the station until every inch of it is filled with human flesh. Invariably, there’s a train stuck behind it.

        That’s what we have in store for us all day long if we don’t eliminate cash.

      3. So Brent, you are going to cut direct bus service downtown while simultaneously cutting Link service? Brilliant!

        If train ridership is dropping as a result, what’s the point of running longer trains?

        Stick with improving bus fare collection and leave the train alone. Please.

      4. Reducing Metro’s presence in the tunnel would force ST to assume more of the tunnel’s debt burden, which it hasn’t agreed to. Likewise, increasing Metro’s presence would increase Metro’s debt burden while shrinking ST’s. Metro has no money to pay additional debt, but ST also can’t take on more debt without cutting into ST2.

    2. Actually the purpose of these tests is to answer that question. Signage indicated that the test is supposed to determine the feasability of having both trains and.buses in the tunnel. if the test fails, the buses will get the boot four years earlier than anticipated.

      1. Thanks for reporting back.

        Did the signage explicitly suggest that the end is nigh for tunnel buses? Or did it just suggest that a poor test result will send them back to the drawing board?

      2. The sign was for sound transit 550 but it pertains to all routes and explains the purpose behind the test ( preparing for the end of the ride free area in 241 days). As it stands now, the tunnel has to send inbound routes to the street on occasion due to congestion in the tunnel.

      3. This is the sign in question: http://flic.kr/p/bmQtTz

        I think you’re jumping to conclusions on what happens if the test fails. Some peak-period buses may get booted out, but not all buses. The problem is with tunnel capacity during peak-period, which is already at the limit. What’s to happen in October all-day already happens after 7 pm everyday now.

      4. Ya, I think eliminating peak only buses would be a good idea (metro often overloads the tunnel to the point where they have to send inbounds to the street). I think moving the 210’s to the street isn’t a bad idea, for example. when they reopened the tunnel in 2007, they did away with a lot of those express routes.

  4. 1. How about creating an incentive for cash riders to pay by ORCA? Whether that means a cash surcharge or an ORCA discount. Today cash + paper transfer are a better deal if you ride Metro.

    2. Implement a daypass that’s on ORCA only – either as a capped daily fare, or something you can load online. Easy to do.

    Monthly pass holders won’t be the problem – they have ORCAs. For people paying by the ride, there hasn’t been any real incentive to adopt ORCA, and paper transfers available only if you pay cash create a disincentive.

    1. Join the chorus.

      Now we just need to get Metro some hearing aids.

      (And get self-appointed “advocates for the poor” to realize that crappy transit hurts the poor much more than having to acquire a single piece of plastic once.)

    1. Money. We all know Metro’s broke.

      But yeah, I’d be for turnstiles. You’d have to change a lot – including how we pay for buses (how does the turnstile know how much to charge? how does it know if you’re riding the bus or the train? Or how far you’re riding the bus? etc.).

    2. How much would they save us from fare evasion?

      DC-style smart turnstiles (turnstile-in-turnstile-out) obviously won’t work when they don’t know if you’re on a bus or train. But even after we kick the buses out, where will you put turnstiles at BHS? Or better, the MLK surface stations?

      1. Fare inspection on the LINK can be though of as independent of fare inspection of buses because you need to have a ticket on you at all times, and as long as you are between the start or end destination you’re fine. So that issue can be set aside.

        The complicating factor are buses. If all buses and more specifically king county buses which have two or three fares (are their any 3 zone buses in the tunnel?). If you can consolidate all fares for buses then the entire tunnel can be turned into a proof of payment system. If Metro/ST really wanted to solve a problem they could make all DSTT buses proof of payment for their entire route.

      2. There is no longer any such thing as 3-zone buses. Metro has 2 zones. ST has in-county and 2-county. The only ST bus in the tunnel is the ST 550 which is in-county.

        The problem with POP is that many of the bus routes are infrequent. Route 255 is hourly after 9pm weekdays and 7pm weekends. The fare inspection costs would be high. I suppose the driver could inspect as you disembark (aka PAYL).

      3. Istanbul’s light rail has turnstiles on their surface sections. The station itself is fenced and has turnstiles. Of course you could easily circumvent them by coming in along tracks, which are often in the street. I think the stations are manned to discourage that. But you put a jeton in the turnstile when you enter and you don’t have any POP, so there’s no fare inspection.

        POP is more common on surface light rail.

      4. If you can consolidate all fares for buses then the entire tunnel can be turned into a proof of payment system. If Metro/ST really wanted to solve a problem they could make all DSTT buses proof of payment for their entire route.

        Sorry, what do you mean by this? Suppose I’m boarding a 72 in the U-District and I’m going to tranfer to Link in the tunnel. When do I pay? When do I get a ticket?

      5. The tunnel buses don’t need to be POP for their entire route, just for the length of the tunnel.

        Passengers on board incoming buses will have already paid, so POP would just be used to incentivize those boarding for an intra-tunnel trip to not risk not paying.

        Passengers boarding outbound could be fare-checked in the tunnel, or on the way to the next stop. There is a small number of next stops for tunnel buses.

  5. They tested an “enter front, exit rear” policy so it’s clearly something Metro is considering. In my southbound 73, the driver was only halfheartedly communicating “exit rear”, but the platform staff and signs were insisting on “enter front”. If Metro does end up implementing it in the DSTT, I can’t imagine they won’t implement it countywide. They know they have to simplify Metro’s complex system, not make it more complex.

    They also tested moving the 550 stop, and having buses stop anywhere on the platform. I didn’t directly see any examples of buses doing this, but the signs and announcements said it was a possibility.

    They weren’t testing whether buses can stay in the tunnel at all; they were testing what whould happen with the current volume of buses under a new policy. The results might make them change bay assignments, move bays, or go to a dynamic stop system (where an electronic sign tells where the next 72 will stop at): these were all raised as possibilities. The results could cause them to kick a couple routes out of the tunnel. The idea of replacing the peak-only routes with different all-day routes has not been mentioned by Metro that I’ve heard.

    I’m pretty sure PAYL will go away with the RFA. The test would not have been necessary if PAYL were staying, and having everybody leave by the rear door is incompatible with PAYL. Without PAYL there will probably be an increase of fare underpayment, but that’s probably less significant than simplifying the system. When the RFA was 24 hours, it was easier because you always paid on the non-downtown side, and I could remember that because it was spatial so I could visualize it. Now it changes depending on the time of day, and I still forget or get confused several years later. But anyway, when the RFA was 24 hours, residents got used to it better than the current system, but visitors were still surprised/confused/frustrated/unimpressed.

    The real reason that PAYE with Metro’s zones is more of a dilemma than on most transit systems, is that Metro has more hybrid city/county routes and through-routing than most systems. In SF, NY, and Chicago, the city buses only go to the edge of the city, with a flat fare. To go further you have to transfer to a different agency. When county buses do enter the city, they’re a different agency so it’s easier to grok that “agency B routes” have a different fare than regular routes. Usually these are special express routes, although I think SamTrans has a local route from downtown SF to SFO and Palo Alto unless it was eliminated with the BART extension.

    But Metro has several routes that cross the city boundary and are the main local route in that area, like the 5, 358, 120, etc. And sometimes these are through-routed to the other end of the city, like the 11/125 and 26/124, so that even if you’re nominal route doesn’t span zones your effective route does. That’s what makes PAYE with multiple zones such a dilemma for Metro. (PAYE avoids the dilemma only because most of those routes go downtown, and most riders get on/off downtown.)

  6. Back in the day, Seattle Transit System employed “loaders” at busy downtown bus stops during the PM peak. They took fares at the back door on busy routes, thus allowing boarding at both doors. Update the loader with a portable ORCA scanner and, presto, loading at both doors as needed: at busy zones during busy hours.

    As for FORCING everyone to exit through the back door, that just won’t work for riders in the forward seats who would have to fight their way through an aisle full of standees to get to the back door; better to have them get off in front before new riders board.

    1. Yep – I remember these well as a kid around Pike and Pine from First to 4th Avenues. Worked great than, and will now and can be paid for with the gains from reduced fare evasion. No turnstiles, please – very costly and easily evadable. Watch LA Metro’s experience in the coming months – this’ll be a disaster for them without doubt and a huge benefit to the contractor that sold them the turnstile farm.

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