Starting October 1st Metro will begin to actively platoon buses between 2:30-6:30pm, in addition to having fare inspectors at the rear doors, called “loaders”, at some bus bays from 4-6 pm in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT). These changes are an effort to mitigate the large delays which will be caused by the elimination of the Ride Free Area (RFA). We have written about that extensively here, here, here, and here. Metro has already implemented some obvious and low-cost changes, like adding a 2nd Link “sweeper” at Westlake Station and allowing inbound buses to pull as far forward as possible.
Platooning will occur when multiple buses entering the DSTT arrive at the same time. Buses that stop at the forward bays (A Northbound and C Southbound) will enter the tunnel first, decreasing the likelihood that they will need to stop twice at each station, thus reducing delay. This will add delay to SR-520 and I-90 buses at tunnel entrances but will reduce overall delay during travel through the tunnel. From my understanding this idea was part of the original plan for tunnel operations but has not been implemented until now.
The second change is for loaders to be located at the highest ridership stops in the tunnel, which include all bays at Westlake and University Street Station as well as two loaders at Bay C at International District Station. Loaders will stand at the rear door of buses and check the fares, allowing ORCA card users
or those with a transfer to enter at both doors. This will reduce loading time at these select stops but will still result in increased boarding time over current conditions at these bays. All other bays will be pay as you enter via the front door only, the slowest boarding system possible. Passengers paying with cash will still be required to pay as they enter at the front door as no mitigation for this has yet been identified.
While living in Stockholm loaders were deployed at all major bus-rail transfer points during peak periods. From my experience there, loaders need to be clearly identifiable even from existing Metro employees and security personnel and must actively manage passengers, especially when the rear door is further from where people are waiting. Passengers also need to know that if they walk towards the rear doors, that loaders will hold the bus for them, or else people will stay in line at the front of the bus.
All in all this is good to hear but really is the least Metro could do to mitigate the already poor speed and reliability of the tunnel, which will likely get worse following elimination of the RFA in September.