Comprehension! (TriMet)

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.

82 Replies to “Commuters and All-Day Riders”

  1. I guess one of the most interesting questions related to this is, what should happen to 520 and I-90 buses after East Link starts service, and what should happen to I-5 buses after Central Link is extended both north and south?

    Clearly some of the current routes make no sense in the face of the extensions. Case in point, the 555/556 once East Link starts service as far as South Bellevue. Another case is the CT commuter buses once North Link gets as far as Lynwood. It’s less clear if those CT buses should be truncated when North Link gets to Northgate.

    When Link takes over an increasing share of commuter traffic, hopefully the bus service hours that are freed up can be redeployed to make a better all day system that also serves commuter needs as well.

    1. Martin correctly states the value of time and predictability for M-F commuters. I’m guessing that:
      many routes will truncate to Link on I-5 North because of the time savings.
      few routes will change in the south, even with S.200th.
      only a few routes will truncate at S.Bellevue P&R because of increased times.
      some restructure of overlake 520 runs move to Link and none from Kirkland, or W. Bellevue.

      1. When I was thinking of southward extensions of Central Link I was envisioning beyond S. 200th. Does it then make sense for some service from Kent and Auburn to go west?

      2. It makes huge sense and hopefully Metro won’t bungle it. Auburn is easier because the 181 already exists, and the central segment is about as fast as it can be. Perhaps Metro can straighten it out in Auburn?

        Kent is more difficult. The 180 is already as fast as it can be, and even with an immediate transfer it’s no faster than the 150. KDM station is closer to Kent so that may do better as the future main route from Seattle to Kent, but it will still probably take at least 45-50 minutes. A frequent express or RapidRide on Kent-Des Moines Road would be the most effective here. But the current route (166) takes a circuitous detour to single-family houses on Reith Road, so it all depends on whether Metro is willing to add a new route while keeping the 166, or move the 166 to KDM Road and face the wrath of those homeowners.

        If Link is not extended past 240th, then I’m not sure that enhanced access from Auburn wouldn’t do better going via Kent rather than Federal Way. But it may be about one half dozen to the other.

      3. “many routes will truncate to Link on I-5 North because of the time savings”

        Not so much time savings as cost savings. Link will be about the same as ST Express for Seattle-Lynnwood. ST will not be able to justify running parallel buses alongside what was supposed to be an improvement, or taking money to run said buses. (The argument is different for Federal Way-Seattle and Redmond-Seattle, where Link will not be time-competitive.)

        For CT routes, it’s totally CT’s decision. CT kept the express routes in the last service cut because so many Snoho voters think they’re the main reason to pay CT taxes. But as budget pressures increase and Link is time-competitive with the buses, that could finally convince ST to reorganize and focus on local/feeder service. Which, I believe, ST has already decided judging from its public statements about Link.

      4. @Mike: As I understand it, CT has little choice right now but to run express buses to downtown Seattle. It can’t just shuttle people to the 511 because the 511 is full forward-peak. It can’t shuttle people to Northgate because Metro isn’t running any more peak-hour 41s than it has to, either. If Snohomish County wants more peak-hour 511 runs, well… the 511 is funded with Snohomish County money and operated (on weekdays) by CT drivers.

        CT never proposed ending direct Seattle service but it came up with an interesting proposal to maintain more geographic coverage by consolidating downtown runs and creating special feeders with protected connections to replace former one-seat rides. This turned out to be as unpopular as you’d expect a proposal to force transfers and increase load factors to be. Maybe they should have done it anyway. But if I recall correctly the total number of buses sent to Seattle wasn’t dramatically lower — indicating there may not be a lot of fat to cut there.

        CT may never be able to shuttle passengers to Northgate. I’ve heard Northgate TC’s bus bay space is tight today, and it isn’t getting any more in the rebuild; though some of those buses will be replaced by trains, King County Metro should be keener on filling the space they leave with additional connecting service from Lake City and Shoreline than Snohomish County. Maybe they’ll have an opportunity at the new stations in Shoreline, or maybe they won’t. But everything changes once Link hits the county line. The train will have enough capacity to cover as many riders as Snohomish County ever throws at it, so if there’s ever a peak capacity shortage it’s mostly King County’s problem. I’m not sure if that will ever happen, though if it does it will happen first between downtown and UW, the section where the train will really have an impact on travel times.

      5. Correction, I meant CT throughout: “But as budget pressures increase and Link is time-competitive with the buses, that could finally convince ST CT to reorganize and focus on local/feeder service. Which, I believe, ST CT has already decided judging from its public statements about Link.”

      6. Isn’t the real problem at Northgate instead of Lynnwood the time it takes to get from the I-5 exit to the transit center? In Lynnwood there’s a transit only exit. At Northgate, you’ve got bloody hell. You’d be halfway downtown on I-5 on the express lanes in the time it takes to get to Northgate transit center from I-5. And that’s assuming you hit the lights.

    2. Five of Metro’s eight SR 520 routes to downtown are on the list of 65 to be eliminated *before* U-Link opens.

      With UW Station close to complete and the tracks a few months from being finished, I pray to the Creatress that ST built in a couple years of padding on the construction plan, and can actually open U-Link before these cuts take effect.

      1. I think the best you can hope for is for U-Link to open around April 2016. There’s about six months of float in the schedule, but the way that construction is being sequenced, they won’t be able to open significantly before that.

    3. Not Northgate. Lynnwood is opening just two years after Northgate. It would be a major expense to expand the TC for those buses, let alone modifying the exit ramps and approach lanes. All those would be worth doing if the Lynnwood Extension weren’t being built, but it was such a relief when it was added to ST2 and obviated the need for that planning.

    4. I think it is almost a station by station thing. The stations in the south end suffer from the fact that the light rail runs along the street, keeping the speed slow. My guess is this is why there haven’t been that many buses re-routed to take advantage of link (I haven’t followed it very closely, so maybe I’m wrong with my guess).

      For the rest of the line:

      Capitol Hill — This is a congested area, so I’m not sure how well it will work as a feeder station. Then again, the area from there to downtown is also congested, so I’m sure a few lines will be chopped. The streetcars in the area will also reduce a few lines, I would imagine.

      Husky Stadium — I could see the number of buses traveling on 520 increasing. Riding link from downtown and then transferring at Husky Stadium may be just as good as riding a bus from downtown, so maybe they will eliminate (or transfer) a few of those runs. It’s not a slam dunk, though. As soon as the other stations (like Roosevelt) are complete, then those buses might be chopped a bit (starting and ending at Husky Stadium rather than 65th and Roosevelt).

      University District — The combination of this station and Husky Stadium could allow a lot of buses (7X) to be chopped. They could add a lot of frequency and reliability as a result. Buses traveling between the stations (or even a streetcar) might make sense, as there are a lot of people who live, work or study between those stops.

      Roosevelt Station — One of the more interesting and challenging stations. Seattle is pretty “wide” at this point of the city (streets go far to the east). The next station to the north is quite a ways away. Maple Leaf is a big hill with lots of streets that don’t go through. Lake City Way is a major thoroughfare. At a minimum, some of the buses that would go to the U District and on to downtown will simply stop at the Roosevelt station. Will buses coming from Bothell stop here, or cut over sooner? Will folks on Maple Leaf be served by buses going here or to Northgate? Tough calls.

      Northgate Station — Northgate is a strange station. Its main advantage as a transit center is that is sits right next to I-5. The 41, for example, can just get on the freeway after leaving the station. This advantage will disappear once link light rail is built. It will be faster (or very close if the traffic is light) to take the train instead of driving I-5. This means that the 41 will be chopped. It can simply shuttle people from Lake City to the station. As mentioned or implied, other buses in the area can do the same.

      Northgate Station with the bridge — Here is where things get even better. Buses that travel around from one side of I-5 to the other can be chopped. If the bus starts on the east side of I-5, it will serve the Northgate Station. If it starts to the west, then it can serve NSCC. This is one reason I really want the new bridge. The other reasons include better service for those going to NSCC (and similar spots) as well as more development in the area (the apartments in the area suddenly get a lot more appealing if they connect to jobs on the other side).

      130th Station — This is a huge station from a feeder standpoint. The 41 I mentioned earlier can essentially be chopped in half again. The Northgate station is hard to get to (except from express lanes on I-5). But a station on 130th is very easy. This means that the 41 could run four times as often from Lake City Way with no increase in costs. Basically, it could run every four minutes. Other areas to the east (like Bitter Lake, Ingraham High School) could be part of the new bus line as well. Instead of the bus simply turning around, it would continue on to 130th and Greenwood, thus connecting two neighborhoods with each other, link and (the BRT line on) Aurora.

      I’ll stop my guessing for this line at the city limits.

      1. The streetcar is almost custom-designed to maximize the detrimental effect that congestion has on it. (Seriously, look at the lane map and platform placement for the Pike and Pine stops. It’s practically guaranteed to take three light cycles to get through.)

        In addition, the streetcar terminus has been places south of the furthest possible exit from the subway platforms, and is 825 feet and two cross-streets from east-west connecting buses. Yet another example of ST’s inability to design a cross-modal interface of any worth.

        In short, I wouldn’t expect Capitol Hill station to have much impact on the travel habits of those who can’t easily walk to or from it.

      2. The importance of transfers at Cap Hill isn’t for trips that involve downtown. Nobody’s going to transfer to get downtown when they’re already that close! The importance is for trips from elsewhere along Link to parts of the Hill that aren’t near the station. And that’s why it’s such a shame the transfers will be so bad and the streetcar so useless. Where we should be making it much easier to get to all of Cap Hill and First Hill on transit, we’re really only making it easier to get to one corner of it.

  2. If Central LINK light rail were a proper Subway line (high capacity, direct, no grade crossings, frequent service), I would say it would make a lot of sense to force transfers. This is common in many other cities. However, its a Light rail line, and a rather slow one at that compared to the direct buses we have now. Not to mention the fact that additional capacity and frequency would have to be added to absorb the increased traffic, and that Sound Transit cannot seem to design a proper bus-rail interface station would cripple this plan.

    Where this can be used, is late nights. If say LINK ran 24/7, the 574 and 578 could terminate at Say TIB and transfers made there. Ridership is light, and its generally expected that late night service isn’t going to be direct.

    1. This is the biggest problem I have with trying to, say, use three routes to get to work. I work overnights and really don’t want to drive. When Northgate Link opens, I imagine the 41 and 522 routes will be truncated since Link will now carry people to downtown. This means, for me, 41/522 to Link, Link to downtown, and 545 or East Link to work. If all of those would line up, great. As it stands today, they usually don’t and it’s just one transfer. Often I miss 545 by a couple of minutes because the route I chose to get to downtown doesn’t make it on time. If Link is going to add a second transfer to that mix and does nothing to improve reliability of transfers or increase frequency, that’s going to be annoying.

      Sure, it’s all “me, me, me,” but I’m probably one of Metro’s best customers. I love public transit and want to use it all of the time, but 30 minute intervals on local routes (or an hour on the last three runs at night) and continual missed connections dishearten even me. I can’t imagine what it does to someone who lives on the outer edges of Seattle and looks at driving versus transit.

      (I really should have chosen a better name when I started posting here. I’m not “redmond” rider any more since I moved to Lake City.)

      1. Of course, by the time East Link opens, your truncated 41/522 would get you as far as Overlake TC with one transfer. Another thing you could hope (or lobby) for would be better service south from Lake City to connect to Link or SR-520 buses at Montlake.

      2. High frequency really helps with transfers. The change in this commute could be relatively painless if we have frequent evening trains by then.

      3. Truncating lines can lead to higher frequencies (at no additional cost). Higher frequencies can lead to much better service.

        The 41 is a great example of that. From Lake City, the bus spends half of its time getting to Northgate, and half of its time getting downtown. So, once the train goes to Northgate, you can chop the route off there, and run the bus twice as often. At that point, the bus would spend about half of its time getting from 125th (which turns into 130th) and half of its time getting from there to Northgate. So, if you add a train station at 130th (which a lot of people are pushing for) then you could run the bus in half the time again. This means that you could run the 41 from Lake City to 130th every four minutes at the same cost at it runs all the way to downtown today (every fifteen minutes). Actually, the savings is even greater, because there are additional 41 buses that don’t start at Lake City, but at 125th. If you added up all the 41 runs and ran them only to 130th, my guess is you could run them all in 3 minute intervals. But lets just say four minutes, to be conservative.

        So, overall this would mean the 41 would run a lot faster and run every four minutes. Even if you had horrible luck (just missing a 41, followed by just missing the train at the 130th station) I think you would get downtown pretty fast. With average luck, you would get downtown much faster, and have a lot more flexibility (you could probably throw away your schedule). This means LakeCityWayRider (formally known as RedmondRider) would be a happier rider.

      4. I would not just assume that the service hours saved by truncating half a route would necessarily result in doubled frequency on the remaining half. For example, if the 522 were to get truncated at a Link station, I would offer better than even odds that frequency on the 522 will remain the same, and that the saved service hours would get used to extend the route to Monroe instead. Why? Two reasons – growing need to serve growing sprawl, and the fact that the ridership simply won’t be there to fill up 522 buses at higher frequencies.

      5. So, overall this would mean the 41 would run a lot faster and run every four minutes. Even if you had horrible luck (just missing a 41, followed by just missing the train at the 130th station) I think you would get downtown pretty fast. With average luck, you would get downtown much faster, and have a lot more flexibility (you could probably throw away your schedule).

        You couldn’t possibly get to downtown much faster than the current 522. It’s a direct, non-stop from Lake City. Any transfer will significantly degrade the speed service, regardless of frequency. And I seriously doubt they will add much frequency in any case. If the transfer were at Roosevelt, it might be a bit closer call, but still almost certainly slower, unless the I-5 express lanes are stopped.

        Now if it improved night-time frequency and hours, that might be a decent trade off, but I doubt they will do that either.

      6. A rule of thumb with transit around here is that any route being more frequent than 15 minutes midday, 30 minutes evenings and weekends can only be justified by the need for shear capacity (e.g. people being left behind). Truncation of the 522 will do nothing to increase the need for the total passenger capacity of the route. Sure, a route truncation might buy a couple of extra peak trips, but off peak, there will no significant improvements.

      7. And that’s a problem. When I wait for a bus on Saturday – and since I work a normal schedule, that’s usually when I am waiting for one – I really don’t want to wait for a half-hour. I’m open to increasing everything to ten minutes weekdays, fifteen minutes evenings and weekends, on frequency concerns. (Of course, that’s assuming infinite funding.)

      8. 522 coming out of downtown at night is nearly always SRO right up to the last boat, and I’ve seen bikes being left behing due to Lack of capacity. but I missed the news about the increased frequency coming soon.

      9. That’s peak. Off peak, the 522 is not SRO unless a Sounders or Seahawks game just ended.

      10. “extend the route to Monroe instead”

        The Sound Transit service area ends at Woodinville, Bothell, and Mill Creek. Monroe is several miles beyond that. Monroe would have to make an interagency agreement with Sound Transit and pay for the extension.

      11. asdf, I ride the 522 home at night almost every night, almost always after peak (usually 8:00 or 8:30, but sometimes clear through to the last trip at 11:30). They are between full and SRO almost every trip, not just during peak but throughout the evening.

    2. “If Central LINK light rail were a proper Subway line (high capacity, direct, no grade crossings, frequent service), I would say it would make a lot of sense to force transfers. This is common in many other cities. However, its a Light rail line, and a rather slow one at that compared to the direct buses we have now.”

      That’s not true across the board. Some stop pairs are time-competitive on Link; others aren’t. (By time-competitive, I mean Link’s travel time is the same or at worst 10 minutes slower.) Link will be time-competitive between downtown, Lynnwood, and Bellevue. It will be time-competitive for Everett buses truncated at Lynnwood. It will not be time-competitive to Federal Way or Tacoma because the Rainier Valley Detour imposes a 10-minute overhead. It will not be time-competitive for Redmond-downtown, Redmond-UW, or Bellevue-UW because of the U-shaped routing.

      So I have long said what Martin said above. Let peak commuters keep their buses where Link is not time-competitive, and charge premium fares to recover more of the cost of the route. But off-peak, switch to feeders even if it adds 10 or 15 minutes to the trip. Because frequency makes up for speed, and full-time frequency is the biggest factor in making people willing to downsize their number of cars.

      1. I would add that Northgate-downtown as well as UW-downtown will also be faster for rail (for the reason you mentioned — no surface nonsense).

        You are right, rail will not always be the fastest way to get from the east side to Seattle (or vice versa).

        However, I think a lot of the existing buses should still be replaced. Instead of buses that go from a Park and Ride (or Eastside neighborhood) I think buses should go from there to a train station. To solve the U-Shaped problem you mention, we should add fast, frequent buses from station to station. Running a frequent, fast express bus from one of the Overlake/North Bellevue stations to the Husky Stadium makes a lot of sense. If we had the money for rail between those two points we would add it. But we don’t, so we can achieve a similar thing by having buses travel on the freeway (over the new bridge). This makes way more sense to me than trying to please the folks that want to take a bus directly from their park and ride to downtown. The only downside is more transfers. But as already mentioned, transfers don’t matter if the ride is fast and the wait time is minimal.

        But unfortunately, for south side commuters, it is a different story. The 10 to 15 minute hole you mentioned pretty much kills the line for long distances. It makes more sense to bypass it and charge accordingly. Or improve Sounder so that it is competitive.

      2. We can build a bypass after we get Link to Ballard, 45th, West Seattle, and Lake City. Sea-Tac and Des Moines are not so important that they should have two parallel lines when major parts of Seattle have nothing.

      3. There is one other factor: Reliability. The Link may be slower than some bus routes on average, but you know it will get you there in a fairly consistent amount of time. The consistency of most bus routes is terrible.

  3. I think the key question is what purpose we want our transit system to meet. Is it to operate as efficiently as possible, or is it to serve as many people as possible so as to provide residents with the option of never needing to drive? I’m in the latter camp for economic and environmental reasons, and so I don’t see a conflict here. We can have single seat rides for commuters (who will not tolerate having to transfer to get to work) and a grid for everyone else such as the all day riders. There is no inherent need to pit these against each other.

      1. Are you saying this is the $$$ quote, or that $$$ is the reason the two sets of riders are pitted against each other?

      2. I assume you’re saying that we can’t afford to provide that much service. I disagree. Most East Coast cities charge premium rates for their one-way peak express service, I know that Boston and New York charge at least double the normal local bus fare. So, in a way, these services can pay for themselves.

      3. Aleks, you’re exactly right; the problem is that we have rather few peak suburban expresses that really would pay for themselves. Off the top of my head the only ones that would be likely to are those to Federal Way (177/178), Eastgate/Issaquah (212/214/218 only), Shoreline (301), and Kenmore (312 turnback). Ridership is too weak and too fragile on the SR-520 expresses and on the secondary expresses to the other areas.

      4. To be clear, when I say that peak expresses should pay for themselves, I don’t mean that they need to turn a profit, but rather that they should have a subsidy level in line with other services.

        Right now, peak expresses are subsidized at a much higher level than other services, especially the long ones. A higher and distance-sensitive fare would address that problem. At that point, the productivity of these services can be judged on their own merits, and we can decide whether the benefits that we’re getting is worth the money we’re spending.

    1. I want the transit system to maximize local economic well-being (in a distributionally good way). It needs to do two things in order to do that:

      1) Provide alternative means for people to accomplish the peak commute, in order to maximize the job and economic growth that’s possible given current infrastructure.
      2) Provide all-day mobility to the most popular places, in order to allow more population density and job growth without the mind-boggling expense (in time, in building parking, and in the resulting higher prices for housing and commercial real estate) associated with growth in the number of cars.

  4. … and that Sound Transit cannot seem to design a proper bus-rail interface station… Isn’t this the crux of the problem? Othello Station isn’t bad, but Mt. Baker, Rainier Beach, SODO and Tukwila are horrible. I hope the future lines are designed to facilitate, rather than deter, transfers.

    Most of my transit trips are off-peak and for trips to downtown I prefer to walk over a mile to the LINK station. On the walk to the station I pass 2 Metro routes that head downtown and 3 routes that offer transfers to LINK, but none of the Metro options save time, offer superior reliability or provide a better quality of service, so I prefer the long walk to a one-seat LINK ride–even in bad weather.

    1. It seems like Northgate and Roosevelt stations will be set up pretty well for bus-train transfers, except for the part about getting the buses to where the station is.

      1. I was pretty disappointed with what I saw for the Bus area of NorthGate station. The wide expanse between the “rain shelters” and the bus stop is very disappointing and a sign that the designers were taking an aesthetic over function and re-creating failed concepts from urban design of the past.

      2. There are two things that could make transferring a lot better in the Northgate area:

        1) A station at 130th so that buses to the north don’t get stuck in traffic. The 41, for example, could go from Lake City to a station in less than five minutes.

        2) Build the bridge across the freeway. This means that buses on the east side of the freeway serve Northgate and buses on the west side serve NSCC. Walking across the bridge from NSCC is faster than waiting for the bus to make its way around the obstacles (especially as traffic will grows).

    2. As I understand it, the primary goal of Link station placement was to encourage density, not to achieve maximum ridership. It’s an issue of competing political goals. This is also why there’s only one, undersized park-and-ride lot for the entire line.

  5. Something I’ve always wondered is who rides mid-day? Most people are at school/work during the day, so who is riding a bus at 1:30 in the afternoon. I always thought ridership is poor after 7 PM not due to demand, but lack of frequency. Everyone who wants to do something after work is either stuck with piss-poor frequency or just drives.

    1. Who rides mid-day?

      1. Students on days off from school.
      2. Unemployed people.
      3. People who work other than traditional hours.
      4. People whose work involves local travel *as* work, not just to commute.
      5. People on lunch break.
      6. Senior citizens.
      7. People on vacation or having a day off.
      8. People going to medical or other appointments.
      9. Stay-at-home parents.
      10. Alcoholics. :)

      1. Well, and I’ve made this point many time, do we really know?

        It seems like we point our fingers in the air and speculate.

        Have there been comprehensive transit “market” surveys for who is riding and more importantly why (and even, who could ride, but doesn’t and why)?

        Can you tell me the distance of the average trip? How many are going to work? To school? To a social service?

        Where’s the Big Data?

      2. I am one of those riders who rides at 1:30pm. Well, more accurately, Noon. I am going to work and then return home at 11:30pm. On my days off, I will sometimes go downtown to walk around, eat lunch and just explore. Or, go downtown to catch a bus elsewhere, like maybe Lincoln Square to see a movie or I feel like going to Columbia City from Shoreline. For whatever reason, I use public transit a lot more during non-commute hours and wherever I go, the busses (or LINK) have quite a few people in them.

      3. I usually arrive at work at 10, which some people would say is midday. But me traveling around at 1:30 on a weekday afternoon usually requires something special. Like leaving work early to catch a plane. Or taking the day off to entertain out of town guests.

        On rare days when we go out to lunch during the day, we always drive. Even if the B-line goes right where are trying to go, it makes no difference. It’s just too much energy to try to convince people who are used to driving everywhere to give the bus a try. And, thanks to carpooling, once some people want to drive, there is no reason for everyone else not to ride with them.

      4. @John A. Bailo and lazarus:

        I admit my comment was speculative and by definition ill-informed. But offensive? I tried to be as inclusive as possible in my list of the types of people likely to ride a bus at 1:30 PM on a weekday. I suppose the last one, “Alcoholics”, could be considered offensive but that’s why the :) was placed after it. Besides, alcoholics ride buses like anyone else.

        I’m sorry if I offended anyone, that wasn’t my intent.

      5. I drove a lot of midday buses. The great bulk of my riders fit into these categories:

        1) College and university students
        2) Nontraditional schedule workers
        3) People heading to midday appointments away from work
        4) Senior citizens and retirees
        5) Unemployed people (mostly looking for work)

        That’s enough people to fill midday service. Weekday midday isn’t quite as busy as Saturday midday, but it’s plenty busy.

    2. Not every employee in this town has a 9-5 shift. Blue collar work in many fields involves round-the-clock shifts. This is certainly true in the transportation field.

      I would hypothesize that the blue-collar routes get good consistently large ridership outside of peak. I know the 132 does well at filling up in the afternoon and late runs, even after the frequency was doubled. The off-peak demand for space on the 120 still appears to be unsated. My recollection is that the 7 is similar.

      As a side point, I’ve noticed that afternoon ridership tends to be better than late morning ridership. I wonder if this is related to graveyard shifters not having a transit option to get to work.

      1. “I’ve noticed that afternoon ridership tends to be better than late morning ridership.”

        I think that’s because some people sleep in in the mornings if they can. So the morning-out, afternoon-home commuters overlap with the afternoon-out, evening-home sleepers-in. And when I’m working 9-5, I sometimes take afternoon peak expresses to an after-work activity, but I can’t take morning peak expresses because they’re going the wrong way.

      2. In general, the worst time for westbound 520 traffic is Friday afternoon. You’ve got a huge number of tech workers heading home after work, and an equally huge number of Eastsiders heading into the city for a night on the town.

        If I had to guess, I’d say that the afternoon peak is busier than the morning peak for exactly that reason. In the morning, the only people on the 545 are people going to work. In the afternoon, it’s also Eastsiders heading west.

      3. @Aleks: The exact same thing is true on inbound I-5 north of Seattle. As on 520, the HOV lanes fail to cover the most congested part of the road, because, you know, reasons.

    3. Who works “traditional hours”? No one in my circle of friends. Everyone I know is commuting at 6 AM, 11 AM, 3 PM, 11 PM, times like those.

      The retail/service industry labor force is often commuting in for closing shifts around 2-3, and catching “last buses” home after 11. Morning/lunch shift resturant workers are often commuting home around the same time the closing shifts are showing up.

    4. I’m one of those people. I have a regular M-F 9-5 job but due to the nature of my position, I often need to float around LQA/SLU/downtown/First Hill/Capitol Hill/Madison Valley running errands, meeting with clients, or providing support at my company’s several buildings around town. My employer provides me a monthly ORCA pass to do this. I most often need to ride the 3, 4, 8, and (the dreaded) 9X. I, for one, can’t wait for the FHS as it means I can expect better than half hour frequency down the busy Broadway corridor.

      1. The FHSC will infuriate you even more. What you really need is TMP Corridor 3… a sub-10-minute bus running all the way down the corridor, in a straight line.

  6. The West Seattle restructure and ridership patterns point to the supremacy of marketing. Call it “rail on wheels bias”, to borrow General Manager Kevin Desmond’s phrase. Riders chose the highly-marketed new RapidRide route over more direct routes (like the 15X, 17X, 18X, 21X, 40, 113, 116, 118, 119, and 120) in droves, at least until they figured out the difference between BRT-lite and express, and that there were more seats (and less standing room) on the other routes.

    Meanwhile, the 50 lost riders in droves due to lack of marketing of its increased frequency, the failure to provide printed maps to find the well-hidden and poorly-used bus stops involved in transferring to/from downtown, and not providing time-point information for some of the major transfer stops in the printed schedule. Now, Metro has concocted an inter-neighborhood ridership competition, for which we already know Alki Beach will be the winner by far, but the basic information of how to ride and transfer is still lacking, as is the frequency to reduce overcrowding on the Alki Beach leg (which will probably not get solved because the people stuffing the bus are not neighborhood activists).

    Transfers don’t just suffer because of inherent one-seat insistence by commuters (most of whom have never heard the perjorative phrase “one-seat riders”), but because it is hard to discover they exist.

    1. People up here in the northwest knew RR was a fraud from day one; it tends to be comparatively empty at any time of day when a superior route exists (the mid-day or counter-commute 40, the more reliable and gross-detour-free expresses at peak).

      As much as I fall in the camp that favors high-quality all-day services over expresses and one-seats, no amount of marketing will bestow appeal upon a service that is fundamentally flawed and infuriating to use. Thus the failure of the northwest restructure.

      1. Er, 39, not 36. I shouldn’t let cowardly kindergarten pseudonyms provoke me to hit Enter too quickly.

      1. It did on the former 39 side. Anecdotally, I think it’s picked them up on the former 56 side. Outside of peak, people find the Alki-Junction connection more useful than they did the Alki-downtown connection that skipped the Junction.

      2. @David: The 39 pretty much ran the length of Admiral then straight downtown, right? Where did the 56 go? Going to the Junction on the way downtown from Alki is pretty far out of the way.

      3. The 39 was on the east side of the current 50 route. It paralleled the current 50 between Othello and Sodo Station, but then it went downtown along E-3 where the 50 turns left and continues to West Seattle. People were very, very upset about losing their one-seat rides, and then Metro didn’t help by making the transfer from Link to the 50 at Columbia City a crappy one.

        The 56 went from Alki straight up and down Admiral onto the West Seattle Bridge, and then to downtown along the current 21 route. But there was no one-seat ride (except the unpredictable water taxi shuttles) between Alki and the Junction. My sense based on about 10 rides is that people are using that Alki/Junction connection a lot. I’ve been on several 50 buses that were SRO along California, whereas off-peak 56 buses typically only had a few people.

  7. I definitely think it makes sense to treat the all-day network and the peak-express network as two completely different networks.

    Peak express buses are generally competing with single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) driving during rush hour. That means that it’s competing with a service that is direct, but gets stuck in traffic, and is also expensive. Tolls are at their highest; parking is at its most expensive; and there are no “bulk discounts” from having multiple people in one vehicle to share those costs. A monthly parking pass in downtown Seattle would cost at least $10 per workday; therefore, a peak commuter could pay $5 per trip ($10 roundtrip) and still come out ahead (no gas, no tolls, no maintenance, cheaper insurance). The amount they could afford to pay increases as the distance from the city grows larger.

    The all-day network is generally competing with virtually everything else, including walking, biking, casual carpools, SOVs on uncongested roads, etc. These trips have a few things in common. While peak commute trips generally go to and from a select number of job centers (like downtown), all-day trips are much more distributed. Parking is generally cheap or free at either end. It’s common for people to travel together, and so the variable costs of driving are shared between multiple people. And trips can start and end at virtually any time. Therefore, the all-day network needs to be optimized for getting between any two points in the city, and it needs to be significantly cheaper than the peak network (because the alternatives are cheaper, too).

    I definitely think it would be great to separate these services as much as possible. I think that removing peak services from the all-day map is a great idea in general; the all-day map is much clearer and simpler without the peak express spaghetti covering it up. Conversely, I don’t think it’s actually necessary to have a system map of peak express services (or at least, I don’t think it needs to be widely distributed); again, most peak express riders care about their individual route, not the system as a whole. In practice, I think the simplicity of the resulting all-day network would far outweigh the complexity of treating them as separate.

    1. I completely agree that the commuter routes should be more expensive. I don’t understand why Metro hasn’t done this. Are there studies someplace showing people won’t take the commuter routes if we charge more? Because if there aren’t such studies, this seems like a no-brainer to me.

      1. Don’t they already charge more for most commuter express buses, where the definition of commuter express is 2-zone peak fare? I seem to recall spending fifty cents extra recently just to step on a Metro bus instead of the ST bus I had intended to take.

      2. aw,

        There are a lot of reasons why we can do better:

        – 50 cents is peanuts. Double the base fare should be our starting point.
        – Anyone can set their ORCA card to a 1-zone default and bypass the fare.
        – The 2-zone system also affects people who take buses like the 358, even for very short distances across zone boundaries.
        – As you say, the inconsistency between Metro and ST services can lead to perverse incentives. Some ST Express buses are part of the all-day frequent network (like the 545, 550, and 522), and should have a zoneless base fare, the same as a Metro bus. Other buses are peak expresses (like the 586 and most Tacoma routes), and should have a double express fare.

      3. I’ve suggested these before, but I will again here…

        4 criteria for applying peak express pricing:
        All must apply.

        1) Long route length in miles (>7.5 is a good starting point)
        2) Most passengers riding the majority of the route length
        3) High cost to operate (usually because the route is unidirectional)
        4) Local alternative available

  8. The only way people can go carless is if the all-day network is strong. And the only way families with cars will sell one of them is if the all-day network is frequent into the late evening. The peak-hour network is already better than the all-day network so we don’t have to worry about it.

    Separate maps for all-day and peak-hour are necessary in any case. If I’m trying to find the general way to get to a neighborhood at different times, or my trip is off-peak, the peak-only routes are confusing because they overwhelm the map. Even if my trip is peak hours, if I’m going to an unfamiliar neighborhood I’ll likely take the most frequent all-day route because it’s easier to understand and it’s what I’ll use for other trips. If I really want to take a peak-only route, it most likely means I’ll be taking the same route several times a week, so I’ll take the time to study that part of the peak-only network. If peak-hour routes are shown at all on an all-day map, they should be in a very faint color.

    1. Separate maps can be kind of tricky when the boundary between peak and off peak varies significantly route by route. What do you do for a peak only route with an extended span, like route 542? Or Sounder? In a few years, it’s supposed to get a single midday trip. Is that enough to add it to the all day network? Or a route that runs midday weekdays, but doesn’t run evenings and weekends. If you work regular hours, evenings and weekends matter a lot more than midday weekdays if you are contemplating living without a car. I do wish that things didn’t have to be this complicated…

      1. I don’t think the boundary is as fuzzy as you claim. There’s the frequent service network; there are peak expresses, which have limited stops and a limited span; and there are local feeders, which have limited frequency. I can think of several routes which should have more trips than they actually do, but I can’t think of one which I’d actually have trouble classifying given its present state.

        The 542 is a commuter service, albeit one that’s designed for bi-directional demand and the odd hours of the tech crowd. You can’t depend on the 542 for spontaneous all-day travel. Arguably, it should be an all-day route, but it’s not.

        There are many problems with RapidRide, but one way that it’s completely succeeded is in making the network more legible. As you can see from Metro’s frequency chart, all the RapidRide routes meet Metro’s strictest standard of “frequent service” — 15 minutes or better from the start of regular service until 9:30 pm, 7 days a week. Eventually, ideally, I hope all of Metro’s frequent routes will meet that standard.

        And yes, 15 minutes for ~16 hours is a very low bar, but consider that there are only 6 routes in the entire system which meet that standard for the whole length of the route… so this seems like a reasonable place to start.

      2. Instead of different maps, market them differently. All commuter routes could have an X in them for instance, or some other identifier. Then you can still have one map but it will be clear which are just peak routes. I think a graphic design/marketing team could solves this quite easily. Think outside of the box…

      3. I agree with Aleks. I think it’s quite possible to separate routes into those that should be on a commuter map and those that should be on the all-day map. Furthermore, the commuter routes serve few enough employment nodes that it’s easy enough to separate them out by which node they serve.

        The minimum standard for being included on the all-day map as a tiny line is the standard of service on the 25. The minimum service for being included as a thick line is the standard of service on the 40. Both of these are relatively sucky compared with what they should be, but that’s going to be life — even with a good reorganization — until we have a bigger budget. (You all will be hearing much more from me in support of that statement in due time.)

      4. There are hundreds of routes. It’s not possible to put so many routes on a map and trace where a single route goes, especially when there are five routes around it that are peak-only so useless to many people.

      5. Mike,

        David’s point is that you don’t really need to see where the commuter routes go, because there are so few unique urban terminals. All most people want to do is find the unique route that goes to the suburban terminal that they care about. At that point, they can look at a list or a schedule to find out where that route will take them (or where they take it from).

        Heck, you could color them blue if they go to/from Downtown Seattle, red if they go to/from First Hill, and yellow or purple if they go to/from the U-District. That would cover 99% of the peak expresses. The few remaining routes (such as routes that go to suburban P&Rs) would be easy to trace on the map.

  9. One of the ways of justifying transit to the crowd who drives everywhere and never rises it (yet still pays taxes to help fund it) is congestion mitigation. This justification becomes much more difficult for off peak services than operate when the roads aren’t congested.

    Of course, in reality, peak service in isolation suffers from the we-can-get-you-there-but-we-can’t-get-you-back phenomenon, which directly relates to westbound 520 congestion in the afternoon. If you live in Redmond and want to spend an evening in Seattle and don’t want to deal the skeletal service available for the return trip, you have no choice but to drive both ways, even if the first trip is at 5:30 in the afternoon, when traffic is at is worst, and bus service at it’s best.

  10. @Al On page 23 of their long-range plan: “The extension of Sound Transit‟s Link Light Rail to Lynnwood, which is now planned for completion in 2023, will fundamentally alter the nature of services operating along Interstate 5. To adapt, Community Transit services will be adjusted to feed Link services at the proposed Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace stations, likely eliminating most express services into the Seattle area. These stations will become the destination for feeder routes transporting commuters from surrounding communities.
    At the same time, services that originate in other parts of the county – Stanwood, Arlington, Everett, Snohomish, Lake Stevens, etc. – will be connected to Link via a network of in-county express routes.”

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