3rd & Wall
3rd & Wall

This week, I assembled the answers to a handful of Metro- and SDOT-related questions that’ve been floating around in my head for a while. Perhaps others will find the answers interesting. First, I wanted to confirm that Metro’s new trolleybuses will have A/C. I understand there was some internal debate at Metro as to whether the traction power substations could handle the additional power drain of running the A/C in certain sections of the trolley network. Metro’s Rochelle Ogershok:

I’ve heard there was some doubt about whether the replacement trolleybuses will have A/C. Has this decision been made? Is there any more information you guys can share about the progress of the trolleybus replacement project?

All new buses, including the trolleys that will start arriving in 2014, will have air conditioning. The replacement project is on schedule. Metro has put out an RFP, and expects to award a contract next spring.

Much, much more after the jump.

Second, about the Bredas falling apart:

I’ve noticed a number of equipment changes on the trolleybus routes during the weekday. It seems like I’m seeing, on a daily basis, diesel coaches on routes that in the past were 100% trolleybus, or 40′ trolleys on routes that used to be 60′ trolleys. Is my assessment accurate, and if so, what’s the cause? I’m willing to bet the root cause is the unreliability of the Breda trolleys. Is there any specific information you can share about these problems?

You’re right about seeing more diesels on trolley routes and also swapping out 40-foot trolleys for 60-foot coaches. This is due to a maintenance backlog related to keeping the aging trolleys on the road. When they do need repairs, Metro mechanics salvage the parts from Bredas kept in storage. Those parts then need to be refurbished before they can be used to make repairs. That is adding time to the repair schedules.

Regarding Metro’s proposal for “Alternative Service Delivery” in rural areas. I hear Vashon service is particularly expensive to operate (among other things, Metro has to garage buses on Vashon for the early morning trips). Replacing the current Metro service with a contract service that operates as a shuttle to the Vashon ferry terminal at the north end of the island seems to me like it could save Metro tons of money and work pretty well, but as we all know from the Fall restructure process, nothing is guaranteed to elicit howls of protest from the current user base like taking away a one-seat-ride to downtown.

There are however, substantive issues with forcing a transfer, namely capacity issues with some of the peak trips on the Vashon Water Taxi, and that WSF does not provide transfer credit for passengers using ORCA, which would significantly increase makes the cost of commuting via the Vashon-Fauntleroy ferry versus the current express buses significantly more expensive than the water taxi.

I realized the comment period has now ended, but can you guys share any information about Metro’s ideas for alternative service delivery on Vashon Island? I understand the routes are very expensive to operate under the current arrangement, and that there’s a possibility of contracting with an entity residing on Vashon to provide that service more cost effectively.

Work is still underway but I can tell you Metro is considering Vashon Island and several other rural communities as candidates for future alternative services.

3rd Ave, between Wall St and Vine St is falling apart (see photo at the top), as anybody who regularly rides a bus on this street is probably well aware. It’s particularly treacherous if (as I do) you ride a bike on this street on a daily basis. The pothole rangers at SDOT have been busy trying to patch up the street, but the surface is so bad in places as to be unsalvageable. SDOT’s Rick Sheridan has good news:

As part of our spot paving program, SDOT will repave select portions of Third Avenue between Lenora and Cedar. This work, to be completed by SDOT paving crews, will allow us to improve small stretches of the road’s surface. As we have other locations scheduled before Third Avenue, such as several places along Rainier Avenue S, we tentatively expect to address that section of Third within the next several months.

Finally, this is a little esoteric, but I found out an interesting thing about Metro’s new On-Board System (the electronics that do the new GPS-based stop announcements, passenger counting and position reporting). For the next several months, I shall be unable to publish ridership charts in the format I’ve used previously, because for those charts I rely on a field called “Average Arriving Load” (i.e. the number of people on the bus as it approaches a given stop) in Metro’s data files that won’t be available. Metro’s Ruth Kinchen:

This is a temporary problem due to the fact that our legacy APC system provides the load on the bus at it arrives at the stop, while the new APC system measures the load as it leaves the stop.

I realize that one can easily derive one from the other by adding or subtracting the ons/offs at the stop, but it fact it’s been fairly difficult to combine data from the two systems. While we’re in the middle of transitioning we cannot easily summarize this particular data point because the two systems are measuring different things.

As soon as we’ve completed the transition to the new system, we will change our summary files so that we’ll provide the average departing load/trip, rather than arriving load. I believe we should be done with the transition by the end of this year.

The total number of ons and offs at a given stop is, however, still valid, and next week I’ll have a discussion of RapidRide’s Uptown deviation using that data.

This is an open thread for anything Metro-related.

67 Replies to “Metro Shorts”

  1. They should put better paving material down where there are a lot of buses. The buses stopping really tear up the streets.

    1. And they have in many places, like Stewart Street.

      Also, the bus pads on 1st that are now metered parking.

    2. There has been a tremendous amount of progress in this area, something that the city should be proud of. But there is a lot more work to do. Keep an eye on the projects found here.

      When I was driving out of Central and Atlantic bases last year, it seemed like every road was under construction. Now there is a lot of really smooth new concrete out there. (And I hear Ravenna was just paved. That was HORRIBLE)

      1. Agree entirely. Note that the BTG map is only major projects, so spot paving like SDOT is going to do on 3rd won’t show there.

  2. So yesterday I took a 30 or a 31 (where I live and am going they’re interchangeable0 to Fremont, to transfer to a 26 or 28 downtown). The bridge was up and apparently having trouble. I saw a 28 at the Fremont/34th stop and it pulled away to get on the approach to the bridge, which was still up. Total gridlock for about 20 minutes. The driver let anyone off who wanted off. I walked down to the bridge approach and the 28 driver would not let me on, instead signalling toward the stop at Dexter beyond Nickerson, which of course I couldn’t get to, when the bridge finally went up ten minutes later, before he had long gotten past it. The safety issue for a completely stopped bus on the bridge approach was exactly zero.

    1. Yeah, some bus drivers are by-the-book no matter what. I’d love a system that allows some humanity, but I’m sure the lawyers disagree.

      I sometimes gamble on driver’s humanity on Jackson. 14th is an awful intersection, and the #7 is sure to be stuck there for minutes every time waiting to turn right. But I need to get up to 20th (what, wait for the 14? that’s a 30 minute frequency bus). So I either hop off at 12th and walk further, or hope that the driver will let me off at the intersection at 14th. If they do, it’s a shorter trip for me. If not, I have to wait for the light, then ride in slow traffic all the way down to the next stop, blocks away down a hill. They usually let me off.

    2. There is a story that circulates among drivers that explains this behavior. It involves evil lawyers and a customer who sues after injuring themselves exiting or entering a bus outside of a designated stop. Regardless of whether it’s fact or fiction, it *sounds* plausible so many drivers don’t stray from official policy.

      1. I will generally allow folks a “courtesy stop” to deboard wherever it is safe to do so, but shy away from encouraging folks to approach my bus to board outside designated zones (Vashon excepted). Too many people approach the bus at intersections, even in the middle of the street just because the bus isn’t moving. This isn’t a natural place (or safe) to board passengers if only because these aren’t locations where the driver is looking for passengers – rather where the attention is turned to traffic conditions in anticipation of moving the bus forward.

        Not sure that requiring someone to walk 2 whole blocks to make a transfer constitutes a lack of humanity though.

  3. Could OneBusAway show you how full each bus is? I ride the 71/72/73 and that would help me out a lot.

    1. Not really, the APC data isn’t reported in real time, it’s downloaded at the end of the day. Even if it could be, APC is intrinsically an inexact sampling technology that provides reliable results only when data from many trips is averaged together.

      1. Man would that be useful. Not just for riders. Imagine bus managers being able to re-route buses based on this data. There are three 8’s bunching up with the back two empty. Second bus, you pass the first. Third bus, you’re now a 2X – head downtown. (yes, I know it would never work like this, but a guy can dream)

      2. GPS position reporting (which is fairly exact, unlike APC) actually could work like that. Some really long high-frequency routes with chronic reliability problems (e.g. 7, 36) would really benefit from it. The leader and follow could be instructed to meet at a stop, then the follower deadhead to switchback and become an inbound trip.

    2. When I was helping with feedback for new features on OneBusAway the “bus crushed” status was popular. As was the “bike rack full” status. There are probably ways other than APC data or driver input to automatically determine these conditions (the bike rack one is pretty easy), but you’d want to ensure they were pretty robust. As we’ve found out with all the real-time arrival problems, bad data is worse than no data.

  4. One question–once the (pure-trolley) Bredas are all withdrawn, should Metro keep some buses for repair parts on MEHVA’s preserved Breda #5034, the only operable dual-mode Breda still in existence?

    1. well the MEHVA’s Breda can’t use the wires anymore since the tunnel used a different voltage than the rest of the network (unless they changed that one too) …

      I am sure they will keep some parts but it’s not like that bus will be used much

      1. Huh? Part of Breda ‘Tunnel Training’ was to put up the poles on a trolley segment and get familiar with switches, high(er) speed wire, and just doing something different for part of the day.
        Same Voltage.

      2. Mic … just was repeating what I had been told … that the OCS voltage was different which was why the surface ETB routes didn’t use the tunnel and vice versa.

        I even remember asking once when I saw a Breda using the surface wires and Metro said it was still using its diesel engine while the driver was practicing with the surface OCS system

      3. Oran: actually, the 1996 plan and budget would have run routes 43 and 70 through the DSTT. Route 49 was implemented in 2005. The county budget was revised after the Novemeber 1996 vote.

  5. I find the Bredas really comfortable to ride in. Is it just me?

    They also seem faster than the Gillig trollies, but that might be due to other factors.

    1. They’re really long, and the seats are spaced widely (albeit somewhat unevenly). Bredas are the only buses where I can sit facing forward in the majority of the seats.

      1. Metro took out seats to increase leg room when the Bredas were converted to electric-only. What about the new Orions? They seem to have a lot of leg room.

      2. I can almost sit straight in the Orions, just because the seats are thinner. More usefully, the concave seat means that I don’t slide sideways in the inward-facing seats.

      3. I concur. I don’t know if it is accidental or if Metro is actually working on improving leg clearance. Either way it is appreciated. The new thinner profile seats help though so maybe that is it.

        That said, the driver’s compartment is probably the *least* comfortable and adjustable in our fleet. The steering column lacks the forward and back adjustment available on every other model of coach we drive. In my case this would translate into massage therapy bills to counteract the inadequate ergonomics, if I were to pick an Orion equipped route. That said, I’m at the tall end of the driver range so I may be an outlier.

    2. “They also seem faster than the Gillig trollies, but that might be due to other factors.”

      Yes, they are. You don’t really need to worry about speeding in a Gillig trolly – you rarely can reach the speed limit. The Bredas, however, need to be watched. They’re not crazy fast, you just need to be watchful of your speed like any of the diesels.

      1. Land Speed Record in a Breda: 81 mph.
        You had to put it in neutral to defeat the governor (preset at 54mph), and be at the top of the Southcenter hill. A little tail wind helped.

    3. I think the Bredas are sorely lacking when it comes to comfort. Ever felt the lurching (wheel hop?) when they try to start up a steep incline (such as south on 10th from Harvard on the 49)? How about traveling the road surface near St. Mark’s? I’d prefer my commute without a side of whiplash. They also have the air compressors that always seem to be running loudly. The Gillig trollies are a much more pleasant ride.

  6. Bredas are cool ‘cuz they are designed in Italy.

    Air conditioning. Crapola. I lived riding buses in Yakima before air conditioning was even a ‘twinkle’ in Frigidaires’ eye. Oooohhh, it is so hot in Seattle. Ooooohhhhh!

    Use “Old Spice” or “Ban”. Or, bathe with “Dial Soap”. Aren’t you glad you use Dial. Don’t you wish everybody did? ROFLAO at the hipsters…..

  7. That’s awesomely timely that you get an answer about providing expensive bus service on Vashon because of … the fare structure on the ferries! (moan)

    So, the secret is to wait for the bus at the stop closest to the dock, get on there, and pay for a bus fare instead of a ferry fare.

    1. Bus passengers have to pay the ferry fare even if they stay on the bus when it boards the ferry. Dock workers come on the bus and scan ferry tickets/ORCA passes prior to the bus boarding the ferry. At one time they used to make everyone (except for elderly/disabled passengers) get off and go through the turnstiles in the terminal building, but they don’t anymore.

      1. Ah sorry, it looks like I got that wrong in the text.

        I guess a better way to put it is that it’s not easy to solve the Water Taxi capacity problem by simply making the excess passengers take the next Fauntleroy ferry, because a trip via Fauntleroy is a lot more expensive than a Water Taxi trip.

    2. Paying the labor costs for the driver to sit there every day while the bus is sitting on the ferry is an inexcusable waste of money and nothing but. Given that it is easy to have one bus drop people off at the ferry dock, and another pick people up at the other end (not to mention the direct boat from Vashon to downtown), there is no excuse for any bus to ever ride a ferry as part of a regular route.

      Furthermore, due to low demand, there shouldn’t even be a need to have full-sized buses operate on Vashon Island. Get a few Dodge Sprinters (aka. Microsoft shuttle buses) and have them operate all the Vashon Island bus service, ideally at a cost on par with what Microsoft pays its shuttle drivers, which I’m guessing is much less than what Metro bus drivers get paid. Hire drivers who live on the island (and if you can’t, the island probably doesn’t deserve to have bus service at all) and keep the buses on the island at all times. On evenings and weekends, they can sit in the P&R lot which would otherwise be empty anyway, so storage space is not an issue. The only time Metro should ever have to pay to take a bus on board a ferry is major repairs or swapping buses in and out of service. This should not happen more than a few times a year.

      1. I think the idea is to have a contract service run on Vashon, basically along the lines you’ve described.

        Are those Sprinters ADA accessible?

        One thing I wonder is about whether they’d require the contractor to use ORCA. ORCA readers are expensive, and there’s not that much demand on Vashon. Maybe it would, on balance, be cheaper to have such a shuttle be free.

      2. “Get a few Dodge Sprinters (aka. Microsoft shuttle buses)”

        Are these ADA compliant?

        Either way, I agree RE: riding the ferry. Those routes have never made sense to me. Death to the one seat ride!

      3. My memory is a bit vague, but I think the Sprinters have a back door, which is capable of loading and unloading a wheelchair. It might entail a longer delay than a regular bus, but I think it’s possible.

        I like your idea of just making the shuttle free, avoiding the overhead of fare collection. Island Transit already has a precedent for this, by making the fares free on Whidbey Island. And problems such as overcrowding and roving homeless shelter, I don’t think would be applicable to a place as remote as Vashon. Eliminating the fare may also help politically, as it might calm those who would otherwise scream at losing their one seat ride to downtown from their front door.

      4. The Dodge Sprinters may work fine for off-peak service, but they would definitely be way too small for peak service (anything smaller than a 30′ bus would be inadequate and even 30′ might not be adequate).

  8. WRT A/C on new buses. I hope these new buses have openable windows and that the default setting for the A/C is “OFF” or “blower only”.

    1. Yeah, I can’t imagine a worse climate for A/C. Yes, it’s nice for a few weeks out of the year. But I’d much rather have large operable windows.

      1. A/C is also handy for keeping the windows clear. Our newer buses don’t allow us to turn A/C on or off – we just set a temperature (ranging from 68-74). That said, I agree regarding operable windows. On weeks like this, I like to open one or two back windows and a roof hatch or two for fresh air. I’ve never had a complaint when I set up the bus like that in appropriate weather conditions.

      2. I think operable windows are a two-edged sword. Most of the time my experience with them has been negative.

        * When passing over SR-520 in a 545 (which btw has A/C) all I get out of the windows is gas fumes. I’d much prefer the air to pass through the filter when I at least can’t smell them.

        * The air coming in, especially at highway speeds causes a lot of drafts which are especially uncomfortable at the back. I’ve had to wear my hood to prevent neck-pain.

        * The air also causes noise. People complain about the compressors on the Breda’s – what about being in a wind tunnel when the windows are open? (ok, it’s not that bad :))

        * And the classic one – they open the windows on the 545 and the A/C is now useless – it is actually warmer in the bus, not colder, it is noisy, the air is dirty, etc.

        * I think there should be one operable window on the bus – for the driver. I think the hatches should sound an alarm so that they are open only in emergencies (that’s what they are for).

        With well-design A/C the bus can be a better place. Well =

        * good air in-flow, not just circulation

        * relatively quiet system, not as loud as if there was a space heater at every seat

        * automatic temperature sensing (which I hear is already there) – to ensure consistent conditions and efficiency

      3. Air conditioning is the biggest thing that drags down fuel mileage, both the power it consumes and the weight of the equipment. Plus you can’t get fresh air when the window is closed. I’d rather have fresh air and a breeze even if the temperature is a bit higher. We’re lucky to live in a climate that doesn’t need air conditioning except a few days a year, and yet people insist on having a climate-controlled life at one exact temperature anyway. There’s also the smell inside some buses, which is just as likely to be worse than the pollution outside.

    2. What do you mean “default setting”? More likely the new systems will be like the DE60LF’s which have climate control where you set a temperature and the coach attempts to maintain that temp. Climate controls are turned on or off with an old-school toggle switch, and temps set with a control pad.

      1. I’d hope like cars with climate control, they’ed have a manual setting where it just blows air or off completely. There are zero reasons a bus should be blowing ultra cold air on its passengers in any but 75+ degree outside temperatures.

      2. Off is a setting (that toggle switch). That “ultra cold air” that blows is only “ultra cold” for the first couple of feet leaving the blower, then it mixes with the ambient air. I’ve had customers ask me (apparently on behalf of the other 40 passengers on board) to turn the heat up or the A/C down because they don’t like the air blowing on them – I usually advise them to move to a different seat as the climate control is set at 70 degrees.

      3. I was on a crush loaded 41 bus to Northgate and was stuck by the back doors, right under the a/c vents and it was ultra cold. On top of that, it was about 53F outside. This design doesn’t work.

      4. Yeah, so the problem is not with the A/C system, but with where the vents are. I really really hope they make the vents blow onto the ceiling where there is more space to allow the cold air to mix with the hot air. Hot air goes up, cold air goes down so it will go down – not to worry about that.

  9. I know complaints about Metro’s late-night service are old-hat, but…

    I had to get from around 85th and Greenwood to around 43rd and Fremont at about 1AM last night. It turns out that southbound bus service in Greenwood has a gap of over 2 hours around this time. The last 5 leaves 85th/Greenwood at 12:33; the last 358 leaves 85th/Aurora at 12:37; the first night bus doesn’t get to the area until almost 3AM. The second night bus comes through about 70 minutes later (somewhat after 4AM), and the first run of the next day’s 5 arrives at 5AM (and the first 358 at 4:48), less than an hour later, and from then on headways are sub-30 minutes until 12:30PM and the giant, 145-minute gap.

    This is a 145-minute gap between two transit corridors, Aurora and Greenwood, that each warrant all-day frequent service. And it’s not at 3AM, it’s at 12:37, just after 30-minute headways end. Certainly ridership and service levels drop off at night, but they ought to drop off more smoothly than this.

    RR A has a much more coherent late-night schedule, with no irregularly large gaps; headways get to the 75-minute range, but there isn’t an unfilled gap in either direction between the end of regular service and the beginning of night-owl service, just a natural headway increase. If RR E’s schedule ends up looking like A’s it will be a real improvement in late-night transit regularity (I hope that’s the case, and the same for the C and D lines). One thing that’s weird, though: RR A, despite having as good a late-night schedule as any route in the county, isn’t even mentioned on Metro’s “night owl” map.

    1. If you find yourself caught in this gap, remember there’s always taxi service. Based on my quick Google Maps calculations, your trip from 85th and Greenwood to 43rd and Fremont could be had for under $10.

      1. Yeah, there are many ways to get around the city, and I don’t necessarily think running tons of heavily-subsidized late-night buses should be Metro’s first priority. I’m commenting on a pattern that occurs throughout the city where there’s a gap in service and headway patterns that weren’t designed intentionally (compare, for example, the prospective loss of the 3:30 night owls that Mike mentions — that would be an intentional decision to cut little-used late night service, where this is an unintentional gap of over two hours occurring identically on two major adjacent transit corridors with half-hourly service as early as 5 and as late as 12:30, one of which has almost-hourly night-owl service).

        The night-owls appear to be designed to get people home to residential neighborhoods, mostly from downtown, late at night; to be fair, it may be better at serving this single purpose and maximizing geographic coverage for little money than regular (or even truncated) routes are. I’m not sure it’s the best way for night service to work overall, though — I bet more people would ride night-owl runs of the 358 than just about anything you could design (on the other hand, you’d likely prefer getting off the bus any place other than Aurora at 3AM).

      2. I came back from Redmond last night about 11:30 and after I was dropped off on Rainier, I was expecting to board a southbound 7 bus but OBA indicated a delay of about 40 minutes. I called a taxi but low and behold after about a 20 minute wait, a 7 that was not previously showing in OBA appeared and I got on that. There are definitely gaps on late night service and it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    2. That’s a significant advantage of RapidRide, which the naysayers ignore.

      The 3:30am night owls are going to be eliminated it looks like, so RR A might lose a trip.

    3. One Saturday night I took the 280 from Bellevue to Seattle. 3-5 passengers on 40-foot bus, and we go to Seattle via Renton. So I thought that Eastsiders going out for drinks in Seattle use it on the other segment which is why I saw no one on the bus. I asked the driver but he told me the bus was equally empty when coming from Seattle.

      Why doesn’t anyone take the night service? Here’s my experience from Vancouver BC – the nightbuses run every 30 minutes from 1:30am to 3:30am and are often packed. Most people are drunk in various stages and practically everyone is talking. I even saw one night bus once (passing by) where half of the bus was SINGING!

      Maybe it’s just the 280 that’s unpopular.

      1. In the case of the 280, it stays mostly on the freeway, which is nowhere near where most people live and there isn’t any Eastside local owl service.

      2. “the nightbuses run every 30 minutes from 1:30am to 3:30am and are often packed”

        There’s your answer. The buses are packed because they run every 30 minutes. People take transit because they know it will be there with a maximum 25 minute wait. Otherwise they drive or don’t make the trip. American bar-hopping has long been completely divorced from transit because the transit isn’t there — unlike Vancouver or European cities.

        Taxis are not a solution. At $10 or more a trip, people can justify taking them only once or twice a year.

  10. A/V is nice, but I hope Metro doesn’t run coolers/freezers. Air conditioning is often overused to the point no one can enjoy the few days that we can actually enjoy more summery wear. I have a big issue with the amount of energy that is devoted to air conditioning overuse with no complaints and at cheaper rates than the energy for heating and staying warm. Big hotels are the worst.

    As for diesels recently running on trolley routes, recently there are almost always alerts for the weekend, announcing motorization of trolley routes due to construction over the weekend.

    1. Are they really doing construction on weekends or are they not wanting to pay the support personnel for weekend work?

      1. umm, why? And, what construction is going on that requires some lines to be powered down?

      2. which “they”? Metro doesn’t necessarily do construction, but they have to get through streets on which construction may be being done. And I have seen plenty of cases where SDOT gave street use permits for weekend work to minimize impact, on streets with trolley wire, where it was probably much easier to run diesels than have the trolleys contend with the construction. I hope that the new battery-equipped trolleys will be less prone to these issues.

  11. What is more preferable? Long one-seat routes with low reliability or a forced transfer for half the customers with only one low-reliability route?

    It seems that the people transferring will get even worse service for the sake of the people who only need the high reliability route which will get better service. Yes, but NO – the low-reliability transfer might be delayed, but the headway between the buses might not change too significantly as they will all be delayed. So if you transfer from high- to low- reliability you may take the next/previous bus to the one you planned but the time to wait for it on average may be the same.

    Wouldn’t it be great if the #8 was actually two routes? I understand there was a 42 that it merged with – what was the reasoning?

    1. The 42 was a longstanding route from downtown – Dearborn – Rainier – MLK – Horizon View (the residential area south of Henderson Street). It ran for decades at 30-minute intervals, parallel to the 7. At the time the 48 went south to about Columbia City and the 8 didn’t exist. Then the 48 was extended to Rainier Beach. The 8 was created from Seattle Center to 15th, first weekday only but later full-time, and it was exended to the Mt Baker area.

      When Link opened in 2008, there was a need for a frequent “Link shadow” on MLK for the in-between bus stops. Metro chose to make the 8 that route, thus switching the Mt Baker-Rainier Beach segment from the 48 to the 8. The 42 was killed because it was a milk run to downtown, paralleling better service on Link and the 7. So you can say “the 8 replaced the 42” but I never thought of it that way.

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