Following up the news that RapidRide C and D Lines wouldn’t have off-board ORCA card readers downtown and my suggestion that Metro look to use loaders, two weeks ago Councilmember Larry Phillips asked King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond to look into this. While some news of this came to light via the Times, details weren’t clear until now. Yesterday I got a copy of Kevin Desmond’s response to Phillips with details of Metro’s plans.
We are working with the City of Seattle to successfully leverage use of a new communication network being built by the Seattle Police Department. Delaying the implementation of the permanent ORCA card readers in downtown Seattle is saving Metro the considerable cost of building our own network. We considered using boarding assistants with portable ORCA fare collection devices for the RapidRide program during the interim period and have a test planned for October. The test, to be conducted after the initial transition period from the elimination of the Ride Free Area, will provide data on the achievable speed and reliability benefits. Of course, a cadre of boarding assistants with handheld ORCA readers would be expensive, so we would want to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs. We will have 35 permanent ORCA readers in place along the other portions of the lines when we begin RapidRide service, consistent with the RapidRide brand that improves customer convenience.
We will be using boarding assistants while the system transitions from the Ride Free Area beginning October 1. Because the DSTT is such a fragile operating environment, we felt there would be a significant benefit to providing boarding assistants in that location at the start of the service change. We will also have boarding assistants at five of our busiest Third Avenue bus zones, three of which are RapidRide zones, for up to two weeks at the start of the service change.
In preparation for the operation of RapidRide through the busy CBD, we have created a position in the transit control center to actively manage RapidRide. In addition to communicating directly with operators, the coordinator will have two cover buses available to put into service as necessary. During the peak periods, the cover buses will be staged just north and south of the CBD to provide extra operating insurance for the C and D lines. Other transit agencies have demonstrated the effectiveness of active service management, and we think this will be an important means of maintaining our reliability through downtown.
This is good news but obviously a firm commitment to providing long-term and ongoing mitigation for the lack of ORCA card readers for the C and D Lines and RFA elimination is much preferable.
Unlike Metro’s previous cost-benefit analysis related to elimination of the RFA, I hope that all of Metro’s future speed and reliability studies, include the one Kevin mentions, attempt to quantify the monetary time-value equivalent cost of degraded speed and reliability on riders, not just the direct monetary impacts to Metro’s bottom line. A high-quality, fast and efficient transit system is in the interest of both Metro and its riders, but without looking at both sides of the ledger, Metro has been missing a key part of the picture.