by KEVIN DESMOND, King County Metro General Manager
Adam’s Aug. 31 post about the C and D line and RapidRide program expressed disappointment that our launch at the end of the month will not include ORCA readers and the real time signs that are standard at major RapidRide stops. Both of these features require communications backbones and downtown Seattle is a complex environment to lay fiber. We are taking advantage of a planned, Seattle funded project to install the fiber next year, and by doing so we are stretching very limited public dollars as far as we can.
We have a vision for our transit service downtown which includes RapidRide. We applied for and received two federal grants, in partnership with Seattle, to enhance the transit environment downtown, especially on Third Avenue. The grants, along with existing RapidRide funding, will allow Metro to install ORCA readers, real time signs and develop other off-board payment/ticketing devices.
Staff from both Metro and the city of Seattle worked shoulder to shoulder for many months in order to deliver the C and D lines to downtown Seattle – on time and on budget. They’ve problem-solved literally thousands of details as we count down to the Sept. 29 launch. We admit not every feature will be fully operational – but at launch what people will get is better connections, service that’s more reliable, less wait time to catch a bus, transit signal priority at many intersections, real-time arrival information at stations, well-lit shelters and great new Wi-Fi coaches.
Come Sept. 29, we will have readers at 16 stations on the C Line and 21 at stations on the D Line. So there will be a clear benefit at many heavy boarding locations.
Contrary to Adam’s transportation vision, we will never be able to mimic the exclusive, separated right-of-way rail enjoys. RapidRide is designed to operate on compact urban streets – and that’s the beauty of our bus rapid transit program.
We don’t have to guess if these new lines will meet the need of more riders. We already know. Since the A Line between Federal Way and Tukwila was launched in 2010, ridership has increased nearly 50 percent, meeting our five year goal after just two years. It’s the same story on the B Line serving Redmond and Bellevue – ridership up 15 percent since launching last year. On these already high ridership corridors in Seattle, we know RapidRide and Metro’s complementary routes will need to evolve over time to manage and respond to peak demand.
We expect similar success from the C and D lines – we project they’ll grow 50 percent over the next five years compared to ridership on the routes they are replacing. That’s more than 1.6 million riders each year on the C line, and 3 million riders on the D Line.
Without a doubt, RapidRide represents a major upgrade of local arterial bus service – to suggest otherwise is just plain wrong. And let’s not forget cost. Metro is adding 120 lane miles of RapidRide at the cost of less than $80 million local dollars leveraged with $120 million in federal and state grants, at a time when Metro is facing a serious long-term revenue shortfall. That means we are being smart with our money by serving more riders at a very low cost per lane mile so we can provide good transit choices in places with high ridership demand.
RapidRide has been delivered at a fraction of the cost and time of light rail, and during a time of unprecedented financial stress. To their credit, both the County Executive and County Council made continuing without delay of the RapidRide program their priority even as we slashed capital spending elsewhere. Your criticism of the Council in this case is utterly misplaced.
The end of the ride free area was not contemplated when the RapidRide C/D line planning was being completed. But, remember as well that the end of the RFA was explicitly intended by the council to help preserve transit service. This was a tough, but necessary trade-off brought on by the steep decline in Metro’s revenues.
RapidRide has been a cost effective, successful program to date and represents our vision of future Metro services working in balance with the Link program development.
As we all know, there are many difficult and complex dynamics at play in the heart of downtown Seattle as evidenced by the 40 year timeline to correct challenges like the Mercer Mess, the lack of basic fiber optic networks throughout downtown, improvements in the Third Avenue environment and the like. These elements have not been left out of our RapidRide vision – in some cases, they are taking just a bit more time, funding and coordination to achieve.
So we’re excited to launch the next of our six new lines in a few weeks. Will there be some remaining work still to be done? Yes. But we expect RapidRide will remain as popular as ever with our riders.