Earlier today Kevin Desmond responded to my post last Friday about RapidRide C and D not having ORCA card readers downtown. In general, his point is RapidRide will be an improvement over existing service at a low cost, but there are a few parts yet to be fully deployed.

I want to clarify certain points about my previous post which I think were not as clear as possible.

First, the focus of my post was entirely on Downtown, and specifically on the one-two punch that the one-year absence of ORCA card readers and elimination of the RFA will have on degrading the speed and reliability RapidRide C and D  as well as other 3rd Ave service. While RapidRide and elimination of the RFA are different issues, their effect on riders downtown are interrelated. RapidRide will be faster outside of Downtown and more frequent in most locations, but those benefits will be damped by the added delay in Downtown. If there were any stops where ORCA card readers should have been prioritized it would have been these few stops.

Second, Transit Now passed 6 years ago and the first RapidRide line opened 2 years ago. Communication to devices in the field should not have been a surprise issue for Metro and Metro should have shown some ingenuity to temporarily work around this problem because of the importance of these few stops. A low tech solution Metro can still use are loaders, which Metro is using in the DSTT.

Third, my criticism of the County Council was entirely related to the hasty, and in my opinion inadequately mitigated, elimination of the RFA. It was a last minute, entirely political decision that has consequences that have yet to be addressed less than a month from implementation. The impetus for elimination of the RFA was an estimated lost of $2.2 million dollars a year in fare revenue. To put that in perspective Metro’s operating and capital budget for 2012 is $642 million dollars and ~$182 million dollars.

To gain this extra 0.34% increase in operating revenue Metro’s own study shows that 3rd Ave travel times in the PM peak will increase by at least 10% and Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) travel times will increase by 22% to 88% without mitigation. Metro calculated the monetary impacts of elimination on its own bottom line but didn’t do the same for riders. Rather than waiting for implementation of improvements to 3rd Ave, like the grant Metro won just a few weeks ago, the Council is having Metro plow ahead. This is bad policy, reduces the efficiency of Metro, and most importantly is bad for Metro’s riders.

The fourth and final point I want to make, is one I made in December of 2009:

“And this is the failure and promise that American BRT holds. It falls far short of its high-capacity South American predecessors and high-quality international peers, while for the first time giving transit agencies the ability to justify treating buses as, dare I say it, special. It doesn’t hurt that there is lots of federal money supporting it either.

To Americans BRT seems like something special only because we treat normal buses so horribly in the first place.”

As a transit advocate I obviously want faster, more frequent buses but to call RapidRide BRT is I think misleading. Using the Institute of Transportation & Development Policy BRT Standard v1.0 RapidRide scores between 12 and 32 on a scale of 0 to 100 depending on your interpretation. To receive a Bronze BRT score a system must score between 50 and 69. RapidRide is enhanced bus service but calling it BRT is a stretch.

42 Replies to “Clarifying Points: RapidRide and RFA”

  1. has metro ever referred to RapidRide as “BRT” publically? I don’t recall that is has, I think a lot of people have given it that categorization to differentiate it from ST Express and regular Metro.

    1. It was referred to as BRT in the text of the TransitNow initiative.
      Kevin Desmond referred to it as BRT this morning.

      And it has been called BRT for six years in between.

      1. Kevin Desmond referred to it as BRT this morning.

        Specifically, he referred to it as “our bus rapid transit program.”

        Meanwhile, RapidRide fails to be “Rapid” in every way possible.

    2. As others note above, yes, Metro has and continues to call it BRT. But it’s a moot point anyway.

      If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, calls itself DuckBird, and applies for taxpayer-funded grants specifically set aside for ducks, we should judge by its essential duckiness.

  2. The point about the RFA is shocking. Imagine if we found a way to speed up 10% of our downtown trips by 22% to 88% for the low price of 0.34% of our budget. What a bargain! But we threw away that bargain thanks to bad politics. Prepare for bus gridlock.

    1. The RFA was terrible policy in every other way, and had terrible effects on every other part of the system.

      Both you and Mr. Desmond have now inadvertently implied that the RFA should have been used to mitigate the lack of off-board BRT features downtown… presumably by subjecting RapidRide to pay-as-you-leave. I struggle to imagine anything less BRT than that.

      1. I certainly haven’t implied that. BRT should be POP. If you want my full opinion, BRT should be POP, tap-on/tap-off (readers at both doors), and have variable pricing based on distance. But that’s wandering off point.

        The RFA was great policy. It speeds up transit, makes travel downtown easy, removes the short-distance penalty downtown, and introduces downtown workers to transit.

        Yes, it lets scary poor people on the bus and creates the feeling that people are cheating of fares. Neither of these affects most rides in the slightest.

      2. It speeds up transit,

        This is only true for routes that collect all their passengers downtown and distribute them all sparsely outside the CBD. Otherwise, by forcing entry and exit through the front door, it can slow down trips.

        makes travel downtown easy

        Hardly. “Do I pay as I get on or as I get off?”

        removes the short-distance penalty downtown

        Tough. Metro is a zone-based system, with extremely large zones. Downtown riders aren’t being penalized; they’re just no longer being rewarded. This is why we should be pushing for day passes.

        and introduces downtown workers to transit.

        The vast majority of downtown workers who are riding the bus have passes paid for by their employer, and are already riding the bus into and out of downtown because they don’t live within the RFA.

      3. “by forcing entry and exit through the front door, it can slow down trips.” There’s the same amount of entry and exit through the front door with or without the RFA (actually more without, if you count travel just in the RFA). You’re just making people do this in the most crowded stops in the system.

        “makes travel downtown easy” By this I meant it eases travel within the RFA. Hop on and off without hunting for change, through any door. Run to lunch and not having to pay an extra $5. Etc.

        “Downtown riders aren’t being penalized” Sure they are. They’re paying the same price for a 2-minute trip as others are for a 1-hour trip. They represent the cheapest additional riders in the system, since buses are travelling through downtown anyway.

        “The vast majority of downtown workers who are riding the bus have passes paid for by their employer, and are already riding the bus into and out of downtown because they don’t live within the RFA.” 1. Do you have data on that vast majority bit? I somehow missed out on that deal with my previous employer. 2. It’s the people that drive in that I care about. Get them on a free bus ride to a meeting, show them that it’s not as stinky and inconvenient as they imagine, and soon they consider leaving their car at home and taking the bus to work.

      4. “It … removes the short-distance penalty downtown”

        Without the RFA, there will be more room for longer-distance riders.

      5. Think about travel patterns – buses coming in start emptying out from the very first downtown stop, leaving room for RFA riders. It’s really a good fit, demand-wise.

      6. Matt, I think you are severely over-estimating non-peak RFA-generated demand.

        And you seriously think that putting a bunch of people on one of a dozen buses on 3rd Ave is going to convince them that their half-hourly milk run is more convenient than driving?

      7. There’s the same amount of entry and exit through the front door with or without the RFA.

        Incorrect. With best-practice boarding and exiting, all riders get on through the front and as many riders as possible get off through the back (particularly at busy stops).

        With pay-as-you-shove-to-the exit, every single rider who boards after the RFA is required to pass through the front door twice, usually delaying others in the process.

        Single-door usage is terrible for consistent-corridor transit, which is why you see it in so few places in the universe.

      8. In my previous employment, I saw this happen directly several times. We would run across town for meetings with architects constantly, and the bus was almost always the best option. This prompted many conversations about the bus, and resulted in almost nobody in my office driving to work (despite the lack of free transit passes). We took one architect out to lunch after a meeting, and he was surprised and impressed that Seattle had a bus tunnel. His office was three blocks from Pioneer Square Station, and he’d worked there for years.

        This is all anecdotal. But there is no data on this stuff, and I don’t think anyone’s studied this effect.

      9. “With best-practice boarding and exiting” Is that the current plan? Are you sure Metro isn’t afraid of all those fare cheats entering the back door?

        Metro policy ≠ best practice

      10. To piggy-back on what d.p. said, there’s one particular line that suffers catastrophically from the “everyone must enter and exit through the front door” policy that the RFA demands: the 44, when it begins life as a 43 from downtown.

        Like on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

      11. Even worse on a weekday afternoon, when the 44 is pay-as-you-seethe even though 95% of them begin in the U-District.

      12. A) In the name of “uniform expectations”; or
        B) Because some drivers are fucking idiots; or
        C) Both of the above

      13. I don’t know exactly how RFA elmination will work out in practice, but in theory I am quite looking forward to it as a frequent rider of the Sound Transit’s 545 REGIONAL EXPRESS bus service. Somehow when this REGIONAL EXPRESS bus service arrives downtown and enters the RFA zone, it suddently turns into local service for those looking for a couple of block lift that most could well simply walk. The result is that while the REGIONAL EXPRESS service covers the distance across the 520 in good time using HOV lanes, it’s slow crawl through the downtown core is further exacerbated by the on/off of couple-of-block-trip riders who don’t contribute any operating revenue. So, in theory, I quite love the concept of no RFA.

        Did I mention the purpose and meaning of life of the particular bus service I ride is to be a regional express, and not an in-central core circulator?

      14. Only a fucking idiot would suggest that the driver sets policy regarding PAYL on the 44 that originates at Pacific and Montlake. Its consistency, as other outbound (from the CBD) like the 43 are PAYL.

      15. d.p., if “The RFA was terrible policy in every other way, and had terrible effects on every other part of the system”, do you think it was mistake to replace the “Dime Shuttle” when the RFA started 40 nyears ago?

        If that’s the case, now that the RFA mistake is being corrected, it would probably make a lot of sense to restore a “Dime Shuttle” equivalent for short downtown-only bus trips.

      16. One way or another, until everyone uses Orca, you are always going to have change fumblers holding up the bus, whether it happens downtown or elsewhere. However, if the change fumbler delays are concentrated at a few stops downtown, it is possible to make investments at those stops to mitigate it, for example, hire loaders at high demand times, or get off-board Orca readers and TVM’s and move some routes to POP. If the change fumbler delays are more disbursed, it’s a lot more expensive to improve a bunch of stops outside of downtown than a few stops within downtown.

        Furthermore, pay as you leave sometimes, pay as you enter othertimes is very confusing. In spite of being a very experienced bus rider, I still catch myself instinctively tapping my card when I enter a bus, even though it’s in pay as you leave mode. When change fumblers start to pay as the enter, then have to be told to move on and then fumble their change again as they exit, they are actually delaying the bus twice, rather than just once if there was no RFA.

      17. d.p.,

        You’re usually a reasonable guy, but on the Ride Free Area you have drunk the ideological Kool-Aid. The King County Council is about to have the sort of practical lesson that generals describe as “strategy running up against the reality of a battlefield”.

        Portland was able to get away with it because a significant portion of the CBD-oriented transit trips down here are on Max, which has off-board payment exclusively. Even still, the city did it in two steps; the buses about a year and a half ago and the trains this month.

        But in Seattle, where the bus load is massively greater than in Portland and the bus priority is much weaker, RFA elimination will be a bloody fiasco.

        Of course a small but effective majority of the King County Council doesn’t give a flying f*$# about how well downtown Seattle functions.

      18. It’s pretty funny that almost every transit supporter on this blog was berating Metro for the RFA and now that it’s going away they all seem to have suddenly shifted allegiance to wanting it to continue. Amazing!

      19. No Kool-Aid at all, Anandakos! On every reasonably efficient non-POP bus I’ve ever been on in my life, people pay (ideally swipe) when they get on, and leave through the back.

        There’s a reason that 5,000 cities do it that way, and 1 or 2 other cities do it our way.

        It’s how buses function as corridors. Seattle’s policy presumes everything should be a downtown-P&R shuttle.

        Heck, even when Portland applied its Fareless Square to buses, they chose to basically run it on an honor system. There was never PAYL in Portland, because they knew single-door use is incredibly slow and wasteful.

        I’ve probably missed 50,000 lights thanks to PAYL. All it takes is for one slow-ass person to wait until the bus stops to start shuffling forward. Out comes the driver hand, and no one crosses the threshold in either direction for 20 more seconds. Finally the inconsiderate passenger pays, and only then are new riders allowed on.

        By now, the light has changed. Every time.

        As ASDF says, when you concentrate fumbling at a handful of stops, there are fewer opportunities for this to happen. And maybe, just maybe, crowd behavior will encourage people to pay a little quicker.

        Beavis, PAYL is invariably a nightmare on the westbound 44. So some drivers — drivers who aren’t slaves to habit and are capable of observing that which doesn’t work and correcting it — decide not adhere to PAYL.

        They realize, because they have functioning brains, that the existence of 2 through-routed vehicles in the entire afternoon period is not a good reason to totally fuck up two dozen additional trips!

        All other drivers are wasting everyone’s time. It’s indefensible. [expl]

      20. D.P.,

        [expl] PAYL is official Book policy on the “outbound” 44. You want drivers making stuff up on the fly? No. You’ll hate us no matter what we do.

      21. > Hardly. “Do I pay as I get on or as I get off?”

        Luckily there is a SIGN directly in front of the fare box that tells you this. Sometimes the drivers even put the RFA sign IN the fareb ox slot.

        Of course, they all too often to switch the mode on the ORCA reader. I lost a buck yesterday to that. My own fault though, I didn’t check the sign first. Tapping upon board is routine for me now.

      22. > now that it’s going away they all seem to have suddenly shifted allegiance to wanting it to continue.

        Not me. I think the RFA was a fine idea, and I think they should replace it with something else, but I’m not going to miss it. Of course, I have a pass now, so it’s no skin off my nose. But it will also make getting on and off buses a hell of a lot confusing — and a hell of a lot frustrating on an express bus when everyone just wants to get off and go home.

        Seems like Metro is all about killing service (Waterfront Streetcar anyone?), and changing service for the worse — but making it LOOK nicer!

      23. Adam: obviously I agree with you and Velo.

        The most important change — the one with the most universal effect, and also the easiest to implement — would be the ubiquitous availability of ORCA, coupled with the elimination of paper transfers and the punitive cash surcharge. That could have and should have happened years ago, not just as a RFA mitigation.

        Get ORCA up to 95% and you’ll see a dramatic change, with or without a system of all-door boarding in the CBD. (The benefit of no all-door boarding: no POP slip. No more paper at all.)

        Beavis: You mean that Metro has policies on its books that are directly detrimental to a healthy functioning transit system? Stay right there while I alert the presses!

    2. I think we need to distinguish payment before boarding from cash payment at the farebox when boarding.

      First is survivable operations-wise- pretty much standard practice in the industry. Second is plain crawling death to service, and many times worse in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.

      Gothenburg has all-door boarding- and card readers at every door, bus and streetcar alike. Works just fine.

      Considering the extremely small percentage of the operating budget involved here, it seems to me best course of action is a political campaign to see to it that the RFA ends when the system is ready to handle the change.

      My guess is that the visible and doubtless well-covered consequences of a premature end to the RFA will create and excellent atmosphere for, as the Founding Fathers put it, some political Common Sense.

      Loaders, incidentally, can be extremely useful in the DSTT. Just call them “Station Agents” and train them to help with wheelchairs and also see to it that every passenger’s question is answered before it delays any service.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Mark, it should be said that universal smart-card adoption is, in its own way, a form of “payment before boarding”.

        It’s not the best version ever invented, but in places where essentially everyone has a farecard (on Chicago buses, for example), it works a heck of a lot better than our one-door policy, especially since a packed vehicle can still de-board very quickly at transfer points.

        That is something that will never be possible with PAYL, in any fare medium.

      2. Truly, I’ve never in my life seen a policy that scales moor poorly than Seattle’s PAYL system, which is why no other medium-big cities on earth use it*.

        *(except Pittsburgh, which is just as backward on transit as we are)

      3. “Moor” poorly?

        More poorly.

        I sincerely doubt that the Moorish peoples would ever implement such a flawed and unscalable system.

        And now I’m going outside.

  3. D.P.,

    Shouldn’t you be lurking under a bridge gobbling up gruff billy goats or something? Sheesh. PAYL is toast in 3 weeks for crying out loud.

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