With extensive restructures just completed and less happy cuts on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about the difference between serving commuters and all-day ridership. This is all a hypothesis based on my own thought process, not survey data, so let me know what you think.
For someone going to work, transit quality is mostly about speed and reliability. If itinerary A takes 5 minutes longer than itinerary B, no matter how simple or frequent A is, that’s 5 minutes every day of one’s life. Reliability is obviously crucially important, but even if it runs once an hour one can just be out there at 6:53am every morning. It’s part of the routine of work.*
In contrast, a mid-day trip is likely to have unknown start and end times, and will consist of a variety of destinations. Long headways and complicated itineraries are both major deterrents to choosing transit. As we know, single-seat rides are the enemy of high frequency, so systems can only avoid both with a comprehensible, transfer-oriented system of frequent routes, which is exactly what this space agitates for quite frequently.
I’m generally sympathetic to the all-day cause. My instinct is to support a general shift of resources to that market even if it makes the system less productive by most metrics. I suspect that overcoming the idea of transit as a last resort is crucial to changing the debate and doing some real open-field running on our issues. But even with no shift between categories, are there implications for network design?
One outcome of having freeways radiating out from our most important destinations is that during congestion-free times it’s nearly impossible to beat nonstop, single-seat rides operating on the freeway. Any sort of regional trunk line ought to stop pretty often. That’s the ultimate objection to inconvenient terminations at rail stations, such as South King buses at Rainier Beach.
However, these are very hard to run frequently, and the route map ends up looking like, well, Metro’s route map. Perhaps our all-day network should be fundamentally different, not just a stripped-down version of the peak network. Maybe it makes sense to run the 545 (after East Link) and the 150 and the 577 all the way downtown to handle peak loads, but at other times Metro and ST could more profitably increase frequencies on the 542, a truncated 150, and 574 to both reduce headways and simplify the system.** I think that most midday travelers would appreciate a little more frequency and legibility over the 5 or 10 minutes that direct routing might save.
On the other hand, a different set of routes adds to complexity. At a minimum, Metro would have to produce entirely different maps for its peak only and all-day services to make the latter at all legible.
* Granted, I have the good fortune of a workplace with flexible hours. Employees with firmer shifts will care more about frequency, as will those who have little control over when they leave work.
** It is likely that running buses to parallel North Link will never make sense due to congestion and superior running times, barring congestion pricing on this corridor.