The Federal Transit Administration last week formally awarded Metro $37.5m for the RapidRide E and F lines. Transit buffs will no doubt appreciate the cash, but might snicker at FTA director Peter Rogoff’s description of the line:

“King County’s RapidRide bus lines are a great example of bus rapid transit done right,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “The RapidRide system is essentially rail on wheels and will help people keep more money in their wallets instead of paying it at the pump.”

Metro spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok told me that the federal contribution was already assumed in Metro’s budget, so this is more a lack of bad news than good new information. The Times reports that this money will cover more than half of the startup costs of the two lines, in line with earlier installments of RapidRide.

73 Replies to “More Money for RapidRide”

  1. well … RapidRide IS essentially rail on wheels … provided the “rail” one is referring to is Amtrak (Coast Starlate in particular)

    1. The Coast Starlate is actually more of a Coast Starearly these days. I haven’t taken it since February but I have seen it go past Starfire for the past two Sounders FC games down there and it trundled through on time. I have taken the Coast Starlight some 12 times in the past few years and for the most part, it has been fine both ways. Just remember that Amtrak pads the schedule so that a train can be really late for one station but then amazingly arrive early or on time for the next one up or down the line!

      It’s getting there….

  2. The FTA official didn’t say Seattle couldn’t provide the lane reservation and signal pre-empt necessary to make bus transit rapid.

    Mark Dublin

  3. Perhaps Mr. Rogoff was quoting from application documents.
    Maybe quiet on the commentary lest they take the money back.

  4. Why the need for new bus shelters along 15th with the Rapid Ride logo? Seems like overkill to me. Previous shelters in most locations seemed OK.

    Otherwise, hopefully this service does a good job for everyone!

    1. It’s all part of the brand. I’m sure that those shelters can be reused elsewhere.

    2. Personally I think well lit shelters should be the standard. I might feel comfortable waiting at some of those dingy unlit shelters, but do you think women feel comfortable waiting on a cold rainy night? Especially women that get off late at night. A city that’s safe for a guy my size might not be safe for a 5’3″ 105 lbs lady.

      1. I agree that the Rapid Ride shelters are well lit. However, most of them provide scant acutal shelter and almost no seating. Personally, I never understood why branding is so important. The buses are no faster because they’re red. The only reason Metro is spending so much money on the fancy buses and the shelters is because the feds are paying for a large chunk of it. I’m not against the concept of bus rapid transit but the branding thing does seem to be overkill to me.

      2. Distinct branding is a requirement to qualify as BRT for the federal funding.

        Rapidride is designed to be just BRT enough for federal funding, therefore it gets branding.

    3. The main problem with the RapidRide shelters is the tiny one-person seat. If RapidRide is supposed to increase ridership, the number of benches should be increasing rather than decreasing. I notice that some RapidRide stations have a real bench next to the shelter, in recognition that the one-person seat is inadequate. But that means you’re sitting on a bench in the rain!

      1. I understand Wes’s point, and wholeheartedly agree with that aspect. Yet, it doesn’t change the fact that a unsafe stop is a unsafe stop, no matter how many lights they install on it. Really what’s needed are more policing and patrols in certain corridors and certain stops. Plus, the BS policy of no smoking around the shelter has either to be enforced, or the city needs to get off its ass and enforce that as well. I wish they would…and soon.

        I forgot about the one seat, if it can be called that. So, if this was supposed to be an improvement, they went backwards in my opinion.

      2. Maybe it’s a modernistic mushroom sculpture that we’ve been mistaking for a seat.

      3. Regarding the fed requiring branding, that has to drive up operating costs a bit. Metro has to maintain an entirely different set of parts, paint, etc to maintain the Rapid Ride buses and shelters. So the feds shell out $$ to pay for some portion the cost of the buses, but I’m guessing the extra operating costs are not reimbursed.

      4. I suspect a lot of what’s going on is that Metro saw RapidRide as a way to the feds to pay for the replacement of aging buses that would soon need to be replaced anyway. Any actual improvements in speed is just icing on the cake.

      5. Rapid Ride was also perceived as a sop to areas like West Seattle whose commuters will not be getting Light Rail in their lifetimes.

    4. It seems a pity that one stop where they didn’t add a shelter is the stop outside the Albert Lee Appliance store by the Magnolia bridge (or is it the Galer flyover?). Birds seem to traditonally perch above that corner and do their birdie business, despite the flashing spinners and such that have been attached to the overhead power lines. Any bench that’s located at that stop could really use a roof above it.

    5. Building transit that functionally works is only half the battle… the second half is getting people to actually use it.

  5. The off bus payment is nice (when it works and people bother to use it), 3 doors are very handy, the buses are great to drive, and the TSP is handy (again, when it is working). Yes, I love driving RapidRide but “Rail on wheels”? Please…

  6. If by “snicker” you mean “be outraged”. If that’s the FTA’s idea of “BRT done right”, that explains a lot. If the FTA had a sane standard of “BRT done right” we either wouldn’t have RapidRide at all, meaning Metro would have reinvested whatever money of their own that went to it into actually useful improvements, or we’d have a RapidRide worthy of the name. I bet they think Swift isn’t “BRT done right”, you know, because it’s actually useful and rapid as opposed to a bunch of useless gold-plating.

    1. Swift got plenty of state and federal grants for capital improvements (scroll down to “Background”).

      Swift is reasonably fast. It has the good fortune of a direct, fast-moving corridor for most of its route. And it has the luxury that local bus service along Route 99 still exists, so it can have stop spacing of over a mile in some places without deleting anyone’s bus stop. There’s some gold-plating in both projects’ capital budgets, but that’s gold-plating in the operational budget of an agency that really can’t afford it. If local service on Route 99 is eaten away by budget hawks people will call for more infill Swift stops. The result could look a lot like RR E (especially if they can’t get grant money for nice stations). RR, without this operational gold-plating, can be implemented many corridors and impact many people.

      Swift is pretty darn good for BRT through such a difficult area for transit (even if they did sort of rip off the name and logo concept from the Skokie Swift). KCM would have had to spend more operationally to run that kind of service. And it would have had to go far beyond what CT did in order to achieve Swift’s raw speed.

      Fortunately for KCM, RR doesn’t need to achieve Swift’s raw speed to be vastly more useful, because many of the RR lines run through areas denser in population, employment, retail, etc., so trips don’t need to be as long. This is KCM’s good fortune. The 358, for example, is a ridership workhorse despite its well-known flaws. Modest improvements in speed and reliability like offboard payment, signal priority, modest improvements in safety (based on what people have said on here about the A Line), and modest improvements in schedule regularity will add up to significant impact for a large number of people.

      Now if only we could do something about capacity…

      1. I agree on your operational comments. By most standards RR doesn’t qualify for even low end BRT because service frequency is too low. In anywhere but the US BRT at the very least has 10 minute frequency all day, dropping to 4-6 minutes during peak. 15-minute service is not frequent but Metro just doesn’t have the money to do better.

      2. Metro just doesn’t have the money to do better.

        That’s kind of a dodge. Of course they have the money to do better; they’re just choosing to spend it on their plain old bus service. If they cut more unproductive route or reorganized their network more, they’d have the hours to do better.

      3. “local bus service along Route 99 still exists, so it can have stop spacing of over a mile in some places without deleting anyone’s bus stop. ”

        Yes and no. The swift bus runs every 10-15 minutes, but the local bus runs just once an hour. In practice, biking, stateboarding, or even walking to the nearest swift stop is usually superior to waiting for the local bus.

      4. @asdf: The CT bus between Aurora Village and Mariner P&R runs every 30 minutes during the day, and used to be more frequent than that — I guess the local route attrition has already begun. Is it the ET route that’s less frequent? Anyway, I think my point remains: if the parallel local routes are cut (this could be more of a “when” than an “if”) there will be lots of pressure to add infill stops to Swift where its spacing is greatest. I’ll walk to frequency, but there are people that won’t because it’s physically difficult.

        @Martin: Sure, let’s cannibalize regular bus service for truly great RR service. But let’s do it after we improve our most important routes, corridors, neighborhoods. If you look at where we really need more frequency most (not to mention speed and reliability improvements), it’s certainly not where the A and B lines go, and even the C, D, and E lines aren’t at the absolute top of the list. They just happened to be low-hanging fruit for improvements.

      5. If the 358 were replaced by a Swift style BRT it might have a chance of being reliable. Off bus payment (and not accepting on bus payment), quick load handicap spots, on bus bike racks and stops further apart would make it actually work. As of now the 358 schedule says 40 minutes and you’ll be there an hour because the drivers stop for passengers even if there’s another 358 right behind them and the bus is absolutely packed. The more packed it gets the long it dwells at each stop and the worse it gets.

      6. Case in point: the 545. It’s an incredibly popular service, so ST spends the money to give it 10-minute frequency (actually 9-minute) during peak.

        If Metro ran the 545, the “reverse” (aka Microsoft commute) direction would probably have 15-minute base service, and 20-minute peak service, because all the buses would be deadheading in the wrong direction.

      7. @Al: The A line is a much busier corridor than you might think. (The B line is political BS, though.) But the C, D, and E are replacing three of Metro’s absolute most popular routes that aren’t already being replaced by rail. Ballard and Aurora and the Junction absolutely do need more frequency — which is why it’s maddening that RapidRide is actually *reducing* freuqency on those corridors (at least C and D) by quite a bit.

  7. Rail on wheels… ha! That’s a good one. Hey, all day express buses are great, but let’s not pretend this is some sort of revolution because now the buses and stops are painted red and yellow.

  8. I have to confess to a certain sense of cynicism about “Rapid Ride”. Maybe they ought to refer to the brand as “Nice Ride” as there hasn’t seemed to be anything rapid about either the ‘A’ or ‘B’ lines that I have used. The buses would need their own lanes to claim that moniker.

    Still they do look nice and roomy but folks can still hold up the bus by not having their cash in hand ready.

    1. I’ve referred to it as “RapiderRide” since day one. Rapid would require dedicated lanes and/or much more aggressive, and fully functional, signal priority.

      Just to give you a taste of what’s *possible*, in the AM I’ve randomly timed the amount of time I spend stopped at red lights. It averages 9-14 minutes out of about 45 minutes of running time. (That doesn’t include deceleration, acceleration, or time spent at stops).

      I can’t speak to afternoons as I have only driven it once. I’m sure the buses spend far more time stuck at lights in the PM.

      1. Do you have any sense of how much time could be saved by doing away with the current payment system, and adopting an all ORCA or other “not paying the driver” method? It seems like Rapid(er)Ride would be well suited for a POP system.

      2. That’s a pure guess on my part. It might look a little funny if I were to start and stop the stopwatch on my watch while people were paying. I’m willing to do data gathering when nobody is paying attention but not while people are paying.

    2. In response to VBD, it’s just as bad in the afternoon peak and even midday.
      But I commute every day from the University District to Redmond. Late at night, when only the 271 is running to the Eastside and the 545 is every 30 minutes, I choose to increase commute time by half an hour and transfer 271 > B at Bellevue. The ride feels much shorter, as few people get on/off except at a few stops on 8th and at the Microsoft stops, and the time spent waiting at lights is minimal. It means I can have an extra 30 minutes of wireless Internet, so I can do the same work on the bus, not at home.

      When I’m going to the Overlake area (148th and Bel-Red, to be precise, served by many, many routes), RR is terrible. More time is spent at lights and stops on 8th than actually moving. Lots of kids get on and are very loud, completely negating all the benefits of the WiFi and usually giving me a headache by the time I get off. The 226, though it runs every 30 minutes, is a better choice between 2 and 7 PM.

      Also, the last time I saw a FEO on RR was three months ago, though I ride it twice a week. And every single time I’ve seen a FEO, someone got a citation / was arrested. This suggests that there could be significant fare evasion. I admit it, a couple times I’ve just forgotten to scan my U-PASS at Bellevue, but this appears to be much more widespread.

      1. What would scare me the most about going B->271 late at night is how long you get stuck at Bellevue Transit Center waiting for the 271. Even if they timed the schedule so the wait is only 5 minutes on paper, it could easily turn into an hour if the B us pulls into Bellevue TC just 5 minutes late. I suppose it could work if you’re willing to pay for a cab should the 271 take off without you, but overall it seems hardly worth it when the 545 exists as an alternative.

      2. I should have made this clear: 271-B, not B-271. It’s actually quite reliable at the start of its route in the U District.

  9. It may be worth mentioning that trains have wheels (some even have tyres).

    “Rail on wheels” actually makes no sense whatsoever. Maybe “Rail on roads” or something.

  10. Since we’re on the subject of RapidRide:

    Idea for a new RapidRide route:

    The G Line–Rainier Beach to U District via First Hill.

    This is a first–a RapidRide Trolley Bus line. The first RapidRide line to eschew internal-combustion propulsion.

    This restores revenue service to the trolley wire on Broadway, Boren Avenue and 12th Avenue South between East Pine and South Jackson Streets (this wire has not seen a revenue-service ETB since Route 9 was dieselized).

    Northbound (To U District): Makes all stops on Rainier Avenue South between Henderson and Graham Streets. No stops from Graham Street until NE Campus Parkway & Brooklyn Ave NE EXCEPT on Rainier Ave S at S Orcas St, S Edmunds St, S Genesee St, S Andover St, S Forest St (MBTC), S Walker St, I-90 and S Dearborn St; on 12th Ave S at S Jackson St; on Broadway at E Columbia St, E Pike St, E John St and E Mercer St; on 10th Ave E at E Galer St and E Miller St; and on Harvard Ave E at E Shelby St and Eastlake Ave E. Makes all stops from Campus Parkway & Brooklyn until 12th Ave NE and NE 47th St.

    Southbound (to Rainier Beach): Makes all stops from 12th AVe NE & NE 47th St until NE Campus Parkway & 12th Ave NE. No stops from Campus Parkway & 12th until Rainier Ave S & S Graham St EXCEPT on Harvard Ave E at Eastlake Ave E; on 10th Ave E at E Roanoke St, E Howe St and E Prospect St, on Broadway at E Roy St, E Denny Way, E Pine St and E Columbia St; on S Jackson St at 12th Ave S; and on Rainier Ave S at S Lane St, I-90, 23rd Ave S, S McClellan St (MBTC), S Andover St, S Genesee St, S Edmunds St and S Orcas St. Makes all stops On Rainier Ave S between Graham and Henderson Streets.

    1. i’d use it … of course I do ride the 43 to/from Broadway & Terrace St. quite often (so the wire from 12th Jackson is still used somewhat)

    2. also … why would you skip the stop at Broadway/Terrace … that’s Harborview … kinda busy stop

      1. It’s a WIP, so I’m still working that out.

        Thinking out loud:

        Northbound: …on Broadway at E Terrace St, E Madison St, E Pike St, E John St and E Mercer St…

        Southbound: …on Broadway at E Roy St, E Denny Way, E Pine St, E Union St, and E Terrace St…

        Hmmm… Maybe Madison and Union should be reversed. Or make ALL stops on Broadway between Terrace and Roy. Man, this is tough.

      2. the existing Broadway stops are:

        Broadway/Terrace = Harborview + connection to 3/4 (and some 43 runs)
        Broadway/Columbia = Swedish + Seattle U (and some 43 runs)
        Broadway/Madison = Seattle U + connections to 12/60 (and some 43 runs)
        Broadway/Union = Polyclinic + connections to 2/60 (and some 43 runs)
        Broadway/Pine-Pike = worthless stop that could be eliminated today
        Broadway/Pike = SCCC + connections to 49/10/11/60 (and some 43 runs)
        Broadway/Howell = worthless stop that could be eliminated today
        Broadway/John = Capital Hill link station + connection to 49/43/8/60
        Broadway/Harrison = busy 49 stop
        Broadway/Mercer = busy 49 stop

      3. oh yea … FHS will only stop on Broadway at:

        Broadway/Marion (Columbia)

    3. Converting the 48 and 44 to RapidRide should be higher priority than creating a new frequent route like this, I think.

      1. The 44 & 48 will never be anything approaching Rapid. The best we can hope for is to make them reliable.

  11. They should color code the lines too. At least on the all the lines aren’t just red!

      1. Color coding isn’t a big deal for RR as it is say in Bellingham because the routes don’t interconnect or overlap. If you take RR B to Crossroads do you really care what color the bus in Federal Way is? More colors means higher cost and makes it more difficult to move vehicles around. I do wish they’d choosen something other than red and yellow!

        @Velo, do you still have to stop at the BNSF tracks that cross NE 8th? I noticed when out for a walk the other day that Kirkland has posted all crossings with a notice of abandonment which I assume means buses no longer have to stop and open their door.

    1. @Bernie
      It will make the map less confusing. With so many red lines going every which way (regardless if they connect or not), it’ll be a lot easier to see your route at first glance (follow the blue line…the green line…red line…etc). Instead of just looking for your letter. I’m also not suggesting we paint the buses or stations to represent the line, just on the maps!

      1. Yeah, I guess I’d have to see the map. County or tri-county maps are going to be confusing verging on worthless. The Little Big Map fold-out I got RR B opening weekend is great. It’s the eastside and RR B is the only RR route so color coding it something other than red would be confusing. It you do look at a full area map then again being able to pick out the regionally separated RR routes seems to me to make life easier than having a rainbow of different colors. But then I get confused looking at the maps where they’ve got colors and dots and whatnot to show snow routes, peak routes, just because routes, etc.

      2. @Bernie
        You are right, RR B won’t confuse anyone because it’s all by itself on the Eastside. But you should look at the map. A & F look like they meet in Tukwila. But since the lines are both red…does A continue to Burien or Renton? C, D, and E all look like they interline in downtown Seattle, But does C turn into D or E or vice versa? All the lines are red..where does one line start or end? Different color breakdowns so you can trace where your line actually goes should help.

  12. If we all agree that the idea of RapidRide being rail on wheels is laughable, can we also agree that East Link will essentially be bad bus route on rails?

    1. No…because East Link trains won’t get stuck on Bellevue Way or on I-90 during rush hour like the current bus routes. It’ll be a lot more reliable because it will be grade-separated.

      1. East Link will essentially be bad bus route on rails

        I’d say no because the 550 isn’t a bad bus route. @Joel; it would be a lot cheaper to lay down asphalt and turn over exclusive use of the center roadway to the 550 than build East Link and even with ST’s grandest ridership projections we’re nowhere close to exceeding demand that can be met with buses and still allow the center roadway to carry a significant percentage of the trips across the lake. East Link would be a bad bus route on rails as a replacement for the 545, 540, 542 and 560. Sadly, that’s what it may become as the expense suck operating dollars from the budget.

      2. @Bernie
        The center roadway can’t have buses going two directions at once. Whichever bus can’t use the reversible lanes will get the shaft and that’s not reliable during peak hours. Operating costs are lower on light rail than on express bus routes.

      3. Operating costs are lower on light rail than on express bus routes.

        Not even close! Link cost per boarding has come down to where it’s about equal with ST Express but cost per hour is what matters. Right now Link only serves 13 miles and the average trip is less; maybe 20 minutes. Average ST Express rides are at least double that. Bus routes can easily be tailored to demand. Light rail runs at far less than capacity most of the day. Rail scales up really well but is almost impossible to scale back. The high capital cost and ROW requirements means light rail has inherently less coverage area. This further exacerbates the peak demand conundrum where to gain ridership structured parking becomes required.

  13. I, for one, want Metro to keep adding RapidRide lines, as long as federal money keeps flowing to subsidize them. Even if all we are getting is better fleet replacement, it is worth it. I love having three doors and the restraint-free mobility-device slots. I wish this were the standard for all articulated fleet replacement.

    Yes, I want bus lanes, POP, signal priority, and stop consolidation, too, but if they are the icing on the cake, I’m thankful for the cake. Thank you, Federal Transit Administration!

    For future lines, I’d like to see more of them in downtown. It’ll be one more tactic to restore some semblance of downtown mobility even as Metro is cowed out of fully rolling out ORCA. The 120 remains a very worthy line for RR conversion.

  14. I know ST will at least formally contemplate elimination of portions of the 560 in 2013, but it seems silly to keep running it in 2012 roughly duplicating the path of the C Line, when most of the advocates for keeping the 560-west are from points along the 35th or California Ave corridors.

    If north subarea money is being used to pay for 560-west service, I think that money could be better spent as a downpayment on the Northgate/NSCC pedestrian bridge. If it is south subarea money, that money could be spent far better on accelerating Link construction to 200th St and eventually Federal Way.

    The best time to end the 560 west is when new service is taking its place — the C Line, the extended 180 (that is, extended all the way in the evening), and the streamlined 120.

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