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.

39 Replies to “Third Ave to Get Loaders for Up to Two Weeks, Tests Afterwards”

  1. Hopefully Metro will add rain gear to the driver’s uniform list. We currently have no approved rain gear that we can order. That’ll be fine for loaders in the Tunnel, but won’t be acceptable for drivers on 3rd exposed to the elements if the concept of loaders lasts much into the Winter.

    I would also recommend adding a loader or two at the Northbound platform at CPS during times that Sounder trains are in service. Every time a train lets its passengers loose at King St. Station, they overwhelm buses loading in the RFA with two doors. Loading with front door only, pay as you enter, even with ORCA cards, will cause backups that will result in trains backing up. When the trains back up, they take precedence over buses entering the tunnel from WB I90, so that means the 550 will get stacked up too.

      1. So who picked the loader positions? Low senority or high, and where do the other loaders come from? Extra Board at the three downtown bases?
        I hope they’re not paying OT on a bunch of senior drivers.

      2. “They are illegally using part time drivers”

        The “LoaderT” work is part of Full time combos at Central so they are Full time drivers who have a 5+ hour driving assignment in the morning and the Loader assignment in the afternoon. I’m not sure where Beavis is getting his info – I’m just reading from the FT pick sheets. (Beavis: If you have an accusation of contract violations, I suggest you bring it up with the Union, not here)

      3. So some of our most expensive employees are doing work that a checkout clerk would find a waste of their talents?

        This totally makes me want to vote for more money for Metro.

      4. You would rather pay a new part time employee 50% FT benefits to work 10 hours a week in 2 hr shifts? Or subcontract the position through a non-union staffing company that would fill the position with high-turnover cheap labor, but then charge Metro double to cover their overhead/profit margin?

        Besides, it all washes out; assignments are kind of a zero-sum game. For every FT operator working as a loader, there’s a PT operator driving the bus that FT would have otherwise been assigned to.

      5. You would rather pay a new part time employee 50% FT benefits to work 10 hours a week in 2 hr shifts?

        I’d prefer to pay Yellow Vests to do actual work instead of standing around watching movies on their phones.

      6. It seems like working as loaders would be a perfect job for supervisors. It would put them right in the middle of the action to spot and solve problems as well as give them something useful to do.

    1. Also IDS needs loaders any time there is a Sounders, Mariners, or Seahawks game (Huskies too until they move back to Montlake).

  2. It blows my mind that we will be paying drivers to essentially just stand there and hold a scanner.

    1. Come work in retail management for a while, then you’ll begin to understand. What’s our target for people-per-minute the loaders will have to process? While interacting with the general public in a customer-service capacity?

      What you’re asking for is beyond the productivity of the typical part-time entry-level unskilled new hire. None of my employees at any of my jobs, past and present, could do this task at an acceptable speed without pissing off the riders. Especially my 10 hr/wk rush shift workers. You need to go higher up the worker food chain for this, someone like a long-time senior cashier or floor manager. And even then it’s 50/50.

      Go with the employees you KNOW can deliver the productivity. Don’t skimp here.

      1. Are you honestly trying to excuse the use of our most expensive employees to do a job that honest to god A STEEL POLE can do, and WILL DO in the near future?!?!!

      2. The steel pole won’t have to answer customer questions or fumble buttons on an unfamiliar handheld device (while being interrupted by other customers).

        Do you really want to wait 30 seconds every time someone has to change the reader from 1 zone to 2 zone? Because that is what you will get with part-time vests.

      3. I can’t believe you are honestly trying to defend this!?!?!

        How will the permanent machines switch between 1 and 2 zones?

        Oh they won’t?

        Then neither do the temporary ones need to.

        What kind of directions will the permanent readers give?


        Then neither do the temporary ones.

        As a transit proponent I find this COMPLETE AND UTTER WASTE of precious transit dollars sickening. Yet another reason I am thinking Metro doesn’t deserve a replacement to the CRC.

      4. If you put a human there (especially one in uniform), they will get asked questions. If the offical Metro rep on the site refuses, you will have angry resentful customers who will take even MORE time than actually answering the question.

        Give the general public a dumb machine without the ability to answer questions, they will be fine with it. Give them a human who refuses to answer questions, they will be mad as hell.

        COMPLETE AND UTTER WASTE of precious transit dollars

        We are talking about 2 hour shifts. The price difference between a skilled, senior Metro operator and a unskilled street-hire is literally on the scale of only dozens of dollars per hour.

        Service hours are expensive. Much more expensive than this labor. How much money does it cost Metro to have a bus delayed at a stop 60 seconds? And how many buses are we trying to pack at every stop, per hour?

        John Q. Operator really doesn’t have to be all that much more productive than Billy Bumblethumbs the part-time new hire to make up the cost difference by expediting those buses.

        Expensive labor is worth it here.

      5. Are you kidding me? No one has to say anything, just put them in an electric yellow vest and everyone will know they are worthless as shit and are paid to just stand there.

        Fuck man. Seriously. I don’t care how much of a supporter you are, are you honestly saying that putting our MOST EXPENSIVE EMPLOYEES on steel post duty is good stewardship of our transit dollars? Take off the ‘Metro Do No Wrong’ cap and just look at the situation objectively.

    2. It’s a testament to just how fracked the whole RR concept is that this ridiculous idea might be better than the alternatives.

      The Federal government really needs to revise their guidelines for funding here. They’re basically incentivizing cities to create corner-cutting fraudulent BRT lines to get a bunch of free nice new buses.

    3. It sounds bad but how much does it really cost? The loader gets charged a couple of minutes to every platform hour. So if a bus has a two hour cycle and there’s 10 minutes of loader time that’s an additional $8 at $50 an hour charged to $250 of operating costs for the route; or a 3% increase. If you go cut rate and hire minimum wage employees turn over and training are still going to cost you at least $20 an hour and you run the risk of making a really bad public impression. Figure at least at the outset the loaders are going to be “expected” to know the system inside and out and only the full time drivers with several years experience will be able to pull it off. Five years from now if it becomes a gravy train for OT like the WSF system seems to have perfected then it’s time to bitch.

      1. Picked work loaders (tunnel) will be less senior FTO’s, as its split shift (combo) work. Surfacebloaders will be part timers. Some loaders will be more senior board and report operators filling vacant work.

  3. Thanks for this posting, Adam. And thanks to Larry Phillips for his inquiry, and to the City of Seattle for any assistance it can provide.

    But special thanks to Kevin Desmond for his accurate definition of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel as “a fragile operating environment,” and therefore worthy of special consideration and protection from breakage.

    Of all consequences of Saturday’s changes in fare collection, the decision to use bus fare boxes to collect fares in the Tunnel has the most potential to do serious damage to service, with the least excuse. In 1983 or so, the DSTT was designed to run buses at the Proof-of-Payment efficiency of trains.

    Metro staff is to be commended on some long-overdue improvements in Tunnel dispatch procedures, and are certainly capable of the rest of the changes necessary to operate the system as designed. But regarding fare collectin, a simple posting of “Proof of Payment” signs should be all that’s necessary Saturday.

    Fortunately, the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel is the part of the system where it will be easiest to observe and measure the results of reducing express trains to the efficiency of farebox-dependent local buses.

    And thanks to the current revolution in cell-phone technology, it will also be possible for everyone affected to record events as they unfold. And with another “click” to relay findings to the elected officials in charge of transit policy. To the second- and therefore to the penny. The results will be good, and exemplary.

    I will personally do everything in my power to help Transit bring something precious to me to its full potential. As was always the case with the Downtown Seattle Transit Project, the world of transit and its affiliated politics will have reason to pay attention to Seattle.

    Mark Dublin

  4. Thanks, Adam for that last paragraph of your post. Continuing to exclude the “fumbling for change ” factor from measures of transit efficiency and productivity.

  5. So if volunteers offered to help would the headline read:
    Third Ave to get Free Loaders for up to two weeks.

  6. And on the topic of “loaders”, there has long been a need for platform staff to assist passengers with the exact kind of information whose discussion presently delays Tunnel buses at rush hour.

    And also to help with rush-hour wheelchair boardings. “Station agent” would be a good title.

    To be fair, many of the platform security guards go out of their way to help passengers on their own initiative. But I don’t think this is really in their job description. And if it is, I think the level of information they receive from the system needs improvement. Whoever does it, this is work critical for keeping Tunnel buses moving, which in turn is necessary for efficient rail service.

    The Tunnel’s ability to handle bus operations in addition to rail has always deserved to be treated as a long-term investment, rather than a temporary nuisance. Every time my northbound 511 takes ten minutes to get from Fifth and Olive to the freeway, I think that at least three all-day Snohomish County routes should replace the three rush-hour-only routes being removed.

    Wasted capacity is also a budget item.

    Mark Dublin

  7. Loaders only temporary, for a few weeks? I’m old enough to remember when the Seattle Transit System employed loaders all the time in the PM peak downtown.

    What happens when the loaders go away, and all those rear-door boarders have to move to the front door with everyone else? Metro should be looking to keep loaders in action wherever (and whenever) needed.

    1. Better yet, skip the use of loaders and give Seattle bus riders the opportunity to board and deboard as intended. By the way – Rapid Ride off board payment at southbound stations along 15th are hooded with “out of order” covers.

      1. Not sure where you’re getting your info from Butthead…..ooops, I mean Beavis!!

        The 10 loader positions in the DSTT were offered to FULL TIME operators as PM shifts to Day Combos and the temporary Loader positions during PEAK PM hours on the street level will be filled daily by FULL TIME extra board operators.

        Most if not all the RR Station Orca card readers and real time transit info were not operable on Saturday the first day of service. Yes, it would have been more than helpful to have this system up and running properly, but as with any new system, there will be bugs to fix and tweaks to be made.

  8. If I pay in an outlying area with my ORCA purse or cash, I don’t have to swipe again when I transfer downtown either in the tunnel or on the surface, right?. I got this information from the new Rapid Ride C&D brochure. There is a bubble on the back of the brochure that states “Board and exit at these [arrows to middle and rear] doors with your validated ORCA card or transfer”. This tells me that as long as I am within the 2 hour transfer period during 6am to 7pm, to board downtown I don’t have to swipe or show a transfer. This is what I plan to do for all transfers downtown, will I get in trouble? This is not made very clear on Metro’s web page addressing the elimination of the Ride Free Area. (I sent them a suggestion to be more clear about this). I think it is kind of dumb to require monthly pass holders to swipe. If they eliminated that requirement, it might alleviate a lot of congestion. Could they actually ticket you if you have a valid monthly pass and don’t swipe?

    1. “Could they actually ticket you if you have a valid monthly pass and don’t swipe?”


      If you don’t tap your card they don’t have the information they need to allocate the pass revenue to the different transit agencies.

    2. If you get on a different bus you need to tap your ORCA again. Even if you have a valid pass or transfer. New vehicle = new tap.

      Consider the scenario where your transfer expires (paid with E-purse) after you board the second bus. If you haven’t tapped again then the Fare Enforcement officers will see that you haven’t paid for the bus you’re on. If you tap when you board then they can see that your ride is legitimate.

      I’d be surprised if someone with a monthly pass got a ticket for this, but I suppose it’s theoretically possible if the Fare Enforcement officer is a stickler for the rules.

  9. Do what SF did. Back-door ORCA readers on every bus. SF gets lots of little stuff wrong (“GO NINERS” on the bus displays, too many signs that aren’t useful, not-so-nice stops) but they do better than us at the big stuff: getting people on and off their crowded buses.

    1. There’s the little issue of cost. Metro can’t even make the 50 half-hourly Sundays or fix the overcrowding on the 71/72/73 or make the 60 run on time. It would have to eliminate several routes to raise enough money for back-door ORCA readers.

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