Among Metro’s routes that head downtown, we’re about to lose the worst performing bus, the #35. This will cut off Harbor Island, leaving an over 1 mile walk for the dock workers on the north end. If you care about system efficiency, it’s hard to argue that keeping a service with 1.4 passenger miles per platform miles is a good use of resources. Passenger miles per platform miles means when you count all of the time the #35 is running there’s an average of 1.4 people on board at any given point.
Although not a perfect case, the #35 does bring to mind an important point. Details matter. When you cut a bus service down below a frequent schedule, some people find it inconvenient to have to wait so they find other ways to travel. When that schedule drops to a few times per day other riders find there’s not enough of a backup plan in case they miss the last bus, so they start driving to be sure they can get home. And when these few buses arrive at strange hours of the day (the #35 arrives at 3:39 and 4:09 in the afternoon, and that’s it), it may drop almost all of its ridership since there are far stronger factors that affect work hours than just a bus schedule.
I’m not saying that ridership at Harbor Island would be amazing if it were served by more buses, or even with buses that travel at more reasonable hours (apparently those earlier hours are preferred for shipyard workers). Or even that the #35 should be saved (I don’t think it should). But it is a good lesson that cutting service to low levels is often a recipe for ending that service in the next round.
What would my solution be for the #35? Vanpools make sense for small ridership. Or the Port could pay for a little shuttle bus to run back and forth across the island. Another option would be the West Seattle Ferry – it really wouldn’t be much out of the way for a few routes per day, especially compared to all of the extra time a bus needs to spend to serve this stop. I won’t even mention the potential gondola stop on the way from West Seattle.