People really hate waiting. Research suggests that many people misjudge the amount of time they spend waiting for the bus, overestimating by anywhere from 50-100%. This is a problem for transit ridership, since you don’t have to wait to drive your car.

The Atlantic Cities recently suggested that real-time arrival information might be the answer; a University of Washington study found that people who used OneBusAway (a real-time bus information service) were able to accurately measure the amount of time they spent waiting.

However, let’s say we assume that waiting is truly the root of all evil. Could we revamp an existing transit system to avoid waiting, or at least make it as pleasant as possible? What would it look like? Here are a few suggestions.

Note that I don’t think all of these suggestions should be implemented as is. Rather, they’re meant to provoke discussion about the goals of our current transit system, and whether those goals are the right ones.

Maximize frequency. If one bus runs every 30 minutes, and another bus runs every 15 minutes, the average wait time for the second bus will be half as long. Double frequency again, and wait time again goes down by half. The gold standard is a line like the NYC Lexington Ave subway, which comes so frequently that you’re liable to watch two trains go by as you make your way from the fare gates to the platform. More realistically, a bus that comes every 10 minutes or less has an average wait time of 5 minutes or less, which is a huge improvement over the status quo. But there’s no such thing as too much frequency.

Choose frequency over span and coverage. If a bus only runs once every hour, then for the amount people will have to wait, it might as well not be running at all. Better to use those service hours on improving frequency during a shorter window of service, or to improve frequency on a different bus that follows a similar route.

Choose frequency over speed. If a bus only runs once every 30 minutes, but it has a long non-stop segment, then it would be better to reroute it so that it has a timed connection to a nearby train or frequent bus. The resulting trip will be slower, but less time will be spent waiting.

Prefer bus routes along neighborhood-commercial streets. Don’t force people to walk from a vibrant commercial street to a quiet residential road, or a loud car-centered arterial or freeway. Use the streets that provide a better waiting experience, even if they’ll make the bus slower. As a litmus test, if a street is a great place to walk, it’s probably a great place to wait for the bus; if no one is out walking, then no one will want to wait there, either.

Prefer bus stops in front of good waiting places. If you’re at a coffee shop or restaurant that’s adjacent to your bus stop, then you almost don’t have to wait outside at all; you can stay inside until you know the bus is about to arrive. A bus stop in front of a bank or a parking lot offers no such advantage. Worst of all are freeway stops, where you’re exposed to both weather and noise, with nothing to distract you.

Prefer connections at great waiting places. The wait for the second bus is even worse than the wait for the first bus. You can’t avoid the wait by running out the door at the last minute. The best connection points are blocks with tons of interesting retail establishments and street life. The worst connection points are freeway exits or interchanges.

Don’t have too many stops. Sitting on a stopped bus isn’t as bad as waiting for the bus to come, but it’s not nearly as good as sitting on a bus that’s moving. A carefully chosen set of stops, where each stop provides a relatively pleasant waiting experience, will minimize the amount of time that riders spend waiting for the bus to resume moving.

Prefer stop amenities to on-vehicle amenities. For example, heated bus shelters would dramatically improve the waiting experience on cold winter days, while Wi-Fi would give people something to do. This is especially important for stops that must be placed in terrible locations, such as major freeway stations.

To reiterate, I don’t think that all of these changes are appropriate all the time. But I do think it’s interesting to think about the kind of transit network we’d have if we truly wanted to eliminate the unpleasantness of waiting. It might be better, and it might be worse, but it would undoubtedly be quite different from what we have today.

121 Replies to “Waiting for the Bus”

  1. Your last sentence pretty much represents my ‘Sum of All Fears’: “This is especially important for stops that must be placed in terrible locations, such as major freeway stations.”
    The number of HCT stations that we will end up with qualify under your definition of ‘terrible locations’. Even the non-freeway stops are hobbled with self inflicted wounds, such as the airport stop, UW, etc. About the only ones that qualify as good stops are in the DSTT, and we all know how much extra trudging around those require.
    Sometimes simpler and less grandiose stops, as found in Portland and Vancouver BC actually work better in driving ridership.

    1. I agree that span is as important as frequency. Even if during some of that span ridership is very low, knowing that the bus or train will be available is extremely important. I would give up coverage to increase frequency and span on what is served. Totally agree on stop spacing. Consolidating overlapping service to increase frequency is also important, and I’d rather see a single, local bus ever 10 minutes, than an overlapping local and an express each every 20 minutes. Has Metro fixed the nonsense where the 71/72/73 don’t work together properly to provide a consistent frequency on the common segment?

      Why is span so important? Because you cannot always know ahead of time when you will return. Here’s an example where the span stinks: Link to the airport. Sundays the first train reaches the airport at just before 7am. But planes leave as early at 5:15am and some workers and travelers need to be there at 4am. Even Mon-Fri, the first train doesn’t arrive until 5:15am. And the last train that goes past Mt. Baker leaves Sunday at 11:05pm, Mon-Sat at 12:10am. Yet your shift may end later or your flight may arrive later. Even if late night service ran only every 45 or 60 minutes (requiring just 2 trains in operation) it would increase options.

      1. Span matters more than just for the airport. If you go to a movie or out with friends, anything in the evening, you need to be able to get back. Or have an evening work shift. Example, had a friend who worked an evening shift at a restaurant at SLU. Wanted to give transit options but she couldn’t count on her shift ending before SLU streetcar stops service in the evening. I don’t recall why the bus wasn’t a good option, though I do know that the 70’s can be confusing

      2. If you go to a movie or out with friends…

        Frankly, movies are among the best examples of why span without frequency is nearly as bad as no span at all.

        Movies run precise lengths and end at precise times. No movie theater wants you dawdling for 28 minutes in the lobby as they’re trying to lock up and go home. Nor is such dawdling a particularly pleasing way to end your casual night out.

        That Seattle’s urban frequency dies so completely as to leave everyone (even RapidRiders!) with a laborious, low-frequency return trip — we’re not talking late-night drinking binges here, we’re talking about something as basic as an evening movie — demonstrates how deeply broken our system is.

        Anyone with the means will wind up doubling the cost of the evening with a car2go, or tripling it with a cab. Once that wears thin, they’ll think about buying a car, and they’ll start to gravitate towards destinations with parking. Evening transit failure = suburbs eternal.

        Imagine if we had a network of routes — ones that got you to and between all parts of the city with relative speed and directness — whose frequency remained usably high through the very end of the service span. Wouldn’t that be worth letting a bunch of lesser routes within walking distance of the main routes cease at an earlier hour (instead of petering into uselessness)?

        Most major cities with subway networks operate on the former principle. And guess what? They operate better. And people actually choose to use them.

      3. I can’t fathom why Link doesn’t run 24 hours a day, let alone not early enough to catch an early flight! Even the A-Line has a 24-hour service span (and in fact, you would have to take the A-line, then the 124, which also has night-owl hours, to get from the airport to downtown Seattle outside the span of service of Link).

      4. The 124 doesn’t start early enough to truly be useful. And the A line to 124 connections – well they don’t connect very well. The last time I checked on Sunday nights once Link stops, it is like a 20 minute wait at TIB station between A arrival and 124 departure.

      5. “I can’t fathom why Link doesn’t run 24 hours a day, let alone not early enough to catch an early flight!”

        ST does track maintenance during the 3-5 hours the electricity is turned off.

      6. To be honest, the lack of Link service between 1 and 5 AM doesn’t bother me all that much. Most people don’t fly more than a couple times a year, if that, and while some flights do depart at or before 6 AM, most flights don’t, and most people try to avoid flying at those hours anyway – Link or no Link – simply because they want a good night’s sleep.

        Even if Link were running at 4:30 in the morning, I doubt many people (including myself) would use it anyway – at that hour, people don’t like to mess around, you want to take as much sleep as you can possibly get without missing your flight, and get to the airport as quickly as you can. When you’re talking about a kind of trip that happens once every 3-5 years at most, even a $50 cab ride is not really worth worrying about.

      7. Regarding the Link service, there are thousands of airport employees who need to arrive at the airport every day before Link operates or leave after it stops. It doesn’t matter if you only use it a few times a year – there are tens of millions of passengers annually and tens of thousands of airport area employees who work at the airport, which is essentially a 24 hour business.

        As to the claim that Link does track maintenance nightly, that is untrue. Most nights nothing is gong on, and they need to do a sweep in the morning to restart service. And despite claiming the shutdown is 1-5, in effect it is closer to 12-6 and Sundays 11-7. There are many systems worldwide that operate 24 hours. And when Link does any real work, they start to restrict service around 8pm in the evening. That’s simply wrong. The bigger issue is the downtown transit tunnel and staffing stations. I don’t know if there is a lightweight staffing that could be put in place, or if the issue goes away once U-Link opens and then the span of service is increased.

      8. Carl,

        I want 24-hour Link service just as much as anyone else here. But I have no grounds not to believe ST’s claims about doing nightly maintenance. You may not see the crew nightly because they go section by section with their maintenance tasks. We’ve pondered some wacky and not-so-wacky ways to keep the trains running around them. ST has been thoroughly unimpressed so far. Horse was dead and beaten four years ago, I’m afraid.

        One ray of hope is that much of the system is under warrantee for a few years. The maintenance schedule could change after that.

      9. The least expensive flights are at 6am, because they don’t fill up as quickly as the ones at 10am

        Only a few of the largest cities have 24-hour trains. London doesn’t. New York has to shift trains to the express tracks or to other tunnels to do maintenance, neither of which are an option here.

      10. NY has plenty of 2-track lines with 24-hour service. And it often does maintenance as “Fasttracks” when it shuts down a line overnight for 4 nights.

        Routine daily maintenance doesn’t require overnight closures. It might a couple of nights a year.

      11. There are 33 departures from Sea-Tac prior to 7am, almost all of which are non-commuter sized jets. That’s nearly 5,000 passengers assuming 150 pax/flight, let alone the employees who need to arrive earlier. Many of them, like me, travel frequently enough to make the transit option worth considering IF you know there will be a train there and a train home. (There are 39 flights arriving between 10pm and 5am tonight, so you can add most of those pax as well.)

        I did the Owl+124+A jaunt just for the hell of it one morning for a 6:30 am flight and it was silly. A train 30 minutes earlier would have made it possible to actually take usable transit.

    2. There is no one size fits all solution to providing an effective transit service. its really custom tailored to each area that route serves. In an urban environment, You may need Span of service, Frequency of service (in the 10-15 min range, all through the service day). Whereas in an Suburban environment you may also need the Span of service, but the frequency of service can be less (30 min), however you may have other requirements. Park and ride lots, and generally a longer haul to a regional destination. If Sound Transit has the $$$, I think some revision of the 577/578 would be in order. The 577 could be extended Southward along the 402 route to 176th Street, providing “Express” service to Suburban Pierce County (which was suppose to get a Puyallup-Dupont route at one time) with new P&R lots installed on South Hill for the purpose (which could also be used by Sounder Feeder service). This could run every half hour providing that regional spine. Route 578 could have its “tail” swung from Puyallup to Bonney Lake, providing transit service to at least the BL P&R and of course Sumner. Bonney Lake of course has no other transit service except for limited Sound Transit feeder buses, and Sumner has the 578 service plus a very limited hybrid Paratransit service provided by Pierce County. At Federal Way they would come together to provide a 15 minute express service north to Seattle which is very much wanted.

  2. A couple of thoughts. I doubt if you polled all the car commuters and asked why they aren’t taking public transit to work, that the majority would mention waiting as the number one reason. It would probably be number 4 on the list, behind convenience, commute time, and freedom. So reducing waiting time isn’t a magic bullet to coax people into taking transit.

    Secondly, I think there’s be a generational change in our expectations of what’s an acceptable amount of time to wait. I think we’ve become more spoiled, impatient, unreasonable, petulant, whiny, and narcissistic. The instant gratification generation are now adults, and are demanding that everything they encounter in life, like the arrival of a bus or train, be as instant as a smart phone or video game command. This sentiment was on display to some degree in RossB’s comment a few posts ago, when he said, “No, a good system means you don’t have to carry a watch, or a smart phone, or any other fancy device to get where you need to go. You just walk out there, take a bus, wait a little while, take a train, etc.” I completely disagree with his assertion. We can have a good system and have to carry a watch, and we do. So I believe, as part of revamping the transit system, there needs to be a public awareness campaign to curb people’s transit expectations. They system isn’t broken, we are.

    1. Waiting is embedded with convenience and freedom. Once you are onboard the transit vehicle you are protected from weather, and can read and use your device or chill. But while you are waiting you are exposed to the elements and must keep an eye out for your bus so that it doesn’t pass you by.

      I will say it takes a lot of balls to call a transit rider “spoiled, impatient, unreasonable, petulant, whiny, and narcissistic” for wanting higher quality transit service when the action of driving an SOV is the epitome of selfish, self-absorbed, narcissistic behavior and always imposes external costs on others.

      1. “Higher quality transit service” is a euphemism the instant gratification generation hides behind to excuse and mask their impatience. And it’s not big balls, it’s called telling the truth. People who exclaim transit is broken if a train or bus doesn’t appear within a couple of minutes within them stepping foot onto a stop or station are narcissistic. In that scenario, it’s not transit that’s broken, it’s the person’s thinking.

      2. I won’t feed a troll who thinks a transit rider is going for instant gratification and who cannot acknowledge that operating an SOV is just about the greatest possible act of selfishness, narcissism and instant gratification.

    2. You should try riding a subway in a big city, Sam. You don’t carry a watch. You just go.

      On the other hand, our system is bad. It is bad because it is unreliable and it is bad because it is slow and infrequent. Want an example: OK, I live in the Pinehurst neighborhood, but the same example could work for Maple Leaf (a neighborhood closer to the center of the city). I used to work in Fremont. The logical connection point is the U-District (itself a major destination rivaled in this state only by downtown Seattle). I gave up on taking a bus from Fremont to the U-District — too infrequent and too unreliable. I lucked out, though, because my wife works for the UW, which means that she qualifies for a bike locker (because this city is too cheap to allow regular people to have bike lockers). So, I would take the bus to the U-District, then ride a bike from there to Fremont. This worked great for getting from home to work. I could time it just right, walk out to the bus stop, and be at work only about twenty minutes later than if drove (during rush hour). Coming back I would do the same thing — I would time it right, get on my bike and arrive with enough cushion to allow for a painless ride home. Unless I didn’t. Once in a while, the bus would show up twenty minutes late. Or thirty minutes, or who knows how late, because I would give up. This didn’t happen much if I tried to catch a bus at 6:00, but happened all the time if I caught a bus at 7:00. So often that I gave up on that approach. I would simply leave work at the same time (to be at the U-District at 6:00) not half hour or an hour later (even though, if I believed the schedule, this would be fine). Now tell me, Sam, how exactly is the smartphone app supposed to help me? It takes me twenty minutes to get from Fremont to the U-District (by bike) and no one can tell me if my bus will be there ten minutes when I arrive, or ten minutes later or a half hour after that. I’m left guessing.

      Now imagine I don’t own a bike, but rely on bus transfers. Again, the smartphone app is useless. Oh, it can tell me when my first bus will arrive. This is handy technology which has been around for over ten years (it just developed for the PC before portable devices were common). But knowing when the first bus will arrive only gets me half way there. I suppose if I get to my transfer, and find out that my bus just left, I can take a different bus and walk about a mile. But really, how can you say that is a good system?

      Got that, Sam? I am willing to wait. I am willing to walk a mile or two. I am willing to ride a bike three miles. I am lucky enough to be able to get a precious bike locker. Now you say I should spend another grand or so a year on a smartphone because I can then download an app that will tell me how far I will need to walk because my bus is horrendously late? Screw that.

      Oh, and I’m one of the guys that loves transit. I can read on buses. I post on blogs like this. I grew up taking buses. But the fundamental truth of our bus system hasn’t changed in fifty years: If you are going downtown, it is great. If you are lucky and find a bus that is going from where you are to some other location, it is great. But for just about everything else, it sucks.

      1. Oh, and before you tell me that no one could deliver a system where carrying a smartphone (or watch) was unnecessary, keep in mind that David Lawson did just that (several times) on this very blog. Most of those proposals cost no more than our current system.

      2. RossB, when you said “our system is bad,” I stopped reading, because you have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t know if it’s a case of “everything that is not rail is bad,” or you haven’t traveled the US much, but if you honestly believe that King County has a bad transit system (including Metro bus service, ST light rail and express buses, and inter-county express buses), compared to other county systems, then you simply aren’t aware of the reality of transit in the US. I am one of the world’s leading experts on public transit systems in the US, and my analysis shows that our county ranks in the top 2% of county public transit systems.

      3. Note for those unwilling to unravel Mic’s ball of sarcasm: Picasso’s fame and ego grew in tandem over the course of his very long life. And Sam is already a legend in the crockpot of inaccuracy that is his mind.

      4. RossB,

        I don’t think I take a back seat to anyone on the board in terms of my scorn for Scam’s narcisstic troll emesis, but in this case I think he has a point. Metro’s system is seriously handicapped by geographical barriers which make a true grid system impossible and management doesn’t do enough to overcome the barriers, but Metro does have a reasonable ride-share for a system which serves a city as sprawling as Greater Seattle is.

        It also has pretty good voter support to achieve it.

        There are cities of a similar size — San Antonio, Fort Worth, Louisville, Columbus, and Oklahoma City and Indianapolis which have no rail whatsoever and none planned. They roll up service at 9:00 PM and have only the faintest skeleton of service on Sundays.

        So let’s no go overboard and say that Seattle’s system is “bad”. It has flaws, some of which are not of its own making, but more of which that are the result of institutional inertia. It can be improved, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater: celebrate that it brings nearly half the people who work in downtown Seattle there on weekdays and work to improve the other services.

      5. @Anandakos — Did you read the rest of my comment (I’ll admit it was long, so I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t)? I also said it is great. It has its strengths (which is what you would expect for a very left leaning town that loves the environment) but the system is flawed. As for our geographic limitations — I completely agree. But as I said, we have a solution which has been proposed by this very blog, in several variations:

        https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/08/19/your-bus-much-more-often-no-more-money-really/
        https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/09/04/your-bus-at-night-only-a-little-more-often/

        Those are revenue neutral plans. If we had more money:

        https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/12/17/what-should-santa-bring-seattles-bus-riders/

        That is my point. As I said, Metro works great if you are trying to get downtown. But if you are trying to get almost anywhere else it is a real pain. We can do better without spending any more money (as David showed).

      6. @Ross,

        Yes, I did read the entire comment, but in all honesty I think that until and unless the City of Seattle is willing to do the heavy lifting necessary to make rubber-tired transit rapid (signal priority, exclusive lanes where buses are sufficiently frequent and queue jumps where they aren’t), fiddling with the network won’t get very many more riders.

        While there are some tentative signs that SDOT is realizing that, the City Council is still just grandstanding for the rubes.

    3. If cars didn’t exist, we could expect people to wait for buses and suck it up. (Although that’s not how city transit worked in the pre-automobile era; it was frequent.) But transit is competing with cars. Would you tolerate freeway entrances opening every 15 minutes, or closing for eight hours at night? What if there was a gate at your driveway that would only let your car out every 30 minutes? Yet you want transit riders to do essentially the same thing and not ask for anything more.

      Infrequent buses are a defect. Our goal should be a well-functioning transit system with maximum ridership and user satisfaction. Saying that Metro is less bad than most of America is like, well… yesterday I walked past a 1920s apartment building that must have been nice in its Art Deco heyday, but the paint was worn off the window ledges. I thought, “Why don’t the owners paint the window frames?” but they hadn’t been repainted in decades. Now, you could say that this building is better than an abandoned drug house with its windows missing. But it would be more sensible to paint the windows, and that would help substantially in attracting tenants. Because if the windows are neglected, then what else is neglected too? We should aim better than a decaying transit system that’s bursting at the seams.

      1. Infrequent buses are not a defect. Infrequent buses during peak demand periods is a defect, but at other times, frequent, low capacity buses are a waste of a limited resource. It’s like saying QFC staffing one checker at 11PM is a defect. But keeping 10 check-out lines open throughout the day and night would be a waste of money and manpower. What you’re suggesting is that QFC should keep too many checker working at the store so a customers never haves to wait. Better to have checkers on hand and not busy, then to have customers wait in line. And then hopefully, more customers will be drawn to that store because service will be better. What you’re forgetting is in the real world there are limited budgets. Waiting 20 minutes for a bus is perfectly acceptable. It’s a first world problem, and some of you people remind me of the people in this video.

        http://screen.yahoo.com/best-of-2013/most-tragic-first-world-problems-010437703.html

      2. 2% modeshare after a certain hour, because nobody with a choice is going to wait 30+ minutes to even begin their slow crawl home, is a defect.

        Maybe the streets rolled up at 7pm when you were growing up in Small Hick Town Seattle, but that’s simply no longer the case.

        Low demand in an urban environment is a consequence of crap service, and not the other way around.

    4. d.p., you have it backwards. Running almost empty buses on a frequent basis is inefficient, wasteful, and unsustainable. Your fetish for frequency is running up agains the reality called economics. In a fairytale world, yes, impatient narcissists wouldn’t have to wait more than 1 minute for a bus to arrive. But we don’t live in that world. We live in a adult world of finite tax revenue and budgets. I’m curious, d.p., how old are you?

      1. Sam, you have to realize that d.p., to support his arguments, magically appropriates the populations and financial resources of the multiple transit nirvanas to which he/she is accustomed, allocates them to our own Metro, and then decries Metro’s inability to properly use them.
        I don’t think you are any more full of shit than everyone is at one time or another.

      2. FWIW, thank you. To be charitable, I suppose it’s not d.p.’s fault he’s uneducated. Hopefully, if he keeps coming here, he can learn something about public transit. For every 1 off-peak infrequent crowded bus, I can show you 5 that is at only 10% capacity or less. D.p. wants to take buses that run every 30 minutes or hourly, even when they only average a half dozen passengers per trip, and turn them into frequent routes, arriving every 10 to 15 minutes, saying that will encourage more people to take the bus. The only thing it will do is cut those 6 passengers on the 9PM bus down to 3 passengers. That idea is absurd and economically ignorant to the point of being childishly naive.

      3. Read the whole thread, FWIW, he is full of shit. I write a carefully crafted argument, and what is his rebuttal “I stopped reading”. Seriously. That was his counter argument. Not “we can’t afford that”, or “it works for most people, you are an exception”, but “I stopped reading”. He is an admitted troll, and we took his troll bait.

        As for money, read my other comment. Like I said, David Lawson proposed a system that would give us way more frequency, at (get ready now) …. NO EXTRA COST.

        Like I said, our current system works great for getting people to and from downtown. This was adequate forty years ago (when I first started riding it) but it isn’t now. Unfortunately, the attitude surrounding the design makes things worse. People are used to really long transfer times, and they only want one bus rides. This perpetuates silly routes, with only a handful of riders, while connecting routes occur so rarely as to become useless. The end result is that lots of people (like me) throw up their hands and decide it isn’t worth it, and drive to work (and to the movies, and out to dinner, and to their friends house …).

      4. “For every 1 off-peak infrequent crowded bus, I can show you 5 that is at only 10% capacity or less.”

        Sam is talking about the buses shut down for the night at the bus base, so he is technically only being deceptive, but at least his is more clever than the complaining about the lack of ridership on U-Link, North Link, Lynnwood Link, South Link, and East Link.

      5. Inasmuch as “FWIW” is almost certainly a Sam sock-puppet, he too can be deemed full of shit.

        Count the cars on our roads after dark, Sam. They contain people going places, at all hours, in statistically significant numbers.

        Meanwhile, in cities where transit doesn’t willfully suck in the evening, transit is widely used in the evening. Such a strain on your hick imagination, I’m sure!

      6. And in case “FWIW” is a real person, I would riddle him this:

        Metro continues to run literally dozens of Seattle city routes well into the evening — with essentially none of them running at what might reasonably be considered preferential-mode-choice-earning frequencies.

        What do “transit Nirvanas” of similar population and density to Seattle do at night? Not this. Those cities let their marginal daytime routes drop off, and instead they run a core network, balanced such that usably high frequency meet demand-justified levels of service, that gets you within walking distance of pretty much anywhere.

        This keeps transfers easy as well, so the resultant network is almost infinitely more usable than ours. Despite the reduction in total number of routes.

        So, yes, I feel well justified in criticizing Metro’s worst practice of peanut-buttering evening hours around so many routes that none of them are useful or desirable (not even RapidRide).

    5. Ross says, “Metro works great if you are trying to get downtown. But if you are trying to get almost anywhere else it is a real pain.” This statement is simply untrue. It’s Sound Transit that is great if you’re trying to get downtown. In fact, that’s 99% of what they do. There’s not a whole lot of ST routes or rail lines that don’t involve going to Seattle. Metro, on the other hand, has dozens and dozens and dozens of routes that don’t involve going to downtown.

  3. The resulting trip will be slower, but less time will be spent waiting.

    For me, this is very true. Years ago, I switched from a 2-bus commute that required a 15 minute wait downtown to a 3-bus commute that didn’t require more than 5 minutes for either transfer. The overall trip time was slightly longer, but most of my time was spent sitting on a moving bus instead of cooling my heels on a downtown street at 630am.

    Prefer bus stops in front of good waiting places.

    Do bus stops create good waiting places? Or do bus stops degrade a location with pollution, litter and loitering? Would you open a business in a location that would bring a large number of people to the sidewalk in front of your business? Some businesses might prosper, but many types of business would prefer another location.

    1. Whenever Metro suggests moving the Ave buses to 15th, the businesses complain that it would hurt business. People do go into those shops while they’re waiting for a bus, or they pop in for an errand while they’re transferring. Many of them don’t necessarily have to take the next bus; they know that whenever they leave the shop, a bus will come in seven minutes or less (15 minutes evening) — and that precisely illustrates Aleks’ point. People will flock to transit if it’s frequent, and transit will bring shoppers to businesses. Other passengers see the shops as they pass by, and that may give them the idea to go into one of them someday.

      1. I can attest to this. I will get a coffee at Trebant or a snack at Crisp Market if OBA says I have the time. And it’s comforting to know that if the 7X bus is early that another bus will be along soon.

  4. So, how are smartphone apps like “OneBusAway” any different than smartphone apps that show you the traffic, or for that matter “traffic on the nines” by the local radio station? It can make your life marginally better, but that is about it. Any driver will tell you that. You can spend a half hour on 520 instead of forty minutes on I-90 (Yippee!) or maybe you decide to spend an extra hour at work (“Sorry honey, traffic is terrible, go ahead and eat dinner without me — I’ll cook tomorrow night”). Wonderful.

  5. The main flaw in the reasoning here is the idea that if a bus runs every 30 minutes instead of 15 minutes that people are waiting twice as long. They’re not – they’re at home, work, or wherever until a few minutes before the bus is scheduled to leave.

    Frequency is great and something we should continue to prioritize – especially for core routes – but span, coverage, and time spent on the bus are all things that may be equally or more important to frequent riders.

    1. That may be true if you are getting a 1-bus ride on a bus not subject to significant delays before you board and you are traveling from home or work. But if you need to make a connection, or if you are coming from an appointment or event, or if the bus frequently gets delayed, then a higher frequency bus creates great value. I agree that span is very important. But I think frequency trumps speed within reason, and I’m willing to trade off coverage to get frequency.

      1. I think each of us places different values on speed, frequency, span, and coverage. I want a reliable one seat between home and work and I’m ok with lower frequency on those trips (and I don’t wind up waiting at the stop thanks to OBA) and I also don’t mind transferring for less frequent trips and I see the value of a very frequent core network.

      2. I want a reliable one seat between home and work

        That’s fine if you work downtown, or if you’ve carefully chosen your home and your job so that they’re on the same bus line. But if you work in the U-District, or Fremont, or the Eastside, it’s highly unlikely that your commute will ever involve only a single bus.

        As I mentioned in a comment on the last open thread, this creates a vicious cycle. Our current bus system does a relatively good job of serving trips to and from downtown, and a relatively poor job of serving other trips. This means that, out of the total number of trips taken by all modes, a greater share of people heading downtown use the bus, and a smaller share of people going elsewhere use the bus. And so Metro’s ridership numbers suggest that downtown is where everyone wants to go. Metro then reinvests in downtown-focused service, which makes the ridership disparity even worse.

        To bring things back on topic, my point is that Metro’s *current* ridership probably largely agrees with you, but Metro’s *potential* ridership almost certainly doesn’t. Our current network is optimized for one-seat rides to downtown, and so people who want to take one-seat rides to downtown — like you — find that Metro meets their needs. Other people need to make different trips. They may have ruled out Metro long ago, simply because they don’t feel like waiting 15+ minutes twice daily for a connecting bus. We need to consider the interests of those potential riders, and we need to remember that the current network *isn’t working for them* — or else they’d be riding already!

      3. By the way, this is also a perfect example of why it is frustrating that Metro & ST haven’t placed a far far greater emphasis on making sure that new road and transit infrastructure is well-thought-out for transfers. Three examples that are designed but not yet built:

        1) Eastern part of the 520 HOV/Transit Project. There should be either a middle HOV station or else eastbound ramps at 108th Ave to allow routes like ST542/545 to make a stop here and serve north-south connections as well as the new transit-oriented development.

        2) UW Husky Link station- the transfers to buses here are terribly designed, essentially as bad as Mount Baker. I believe there isn’t even an underground exit from the station on the triangle block, instead they expect riders to go airborne to cross Montlake Blvd

        3) Design for new 520 @ Montlake.. It should be a requirement for a Flyer station that functions as well as the current one, allowing buses headed to/from I-5 to stop without having any traffic lights or backups, and make good north-south connections. Instead, buses headed for I-5 will either skip the stop entirely (likely) or else will have about 3 traffic lights and congestion to serve the lid stop and re-enter. All westbound traffic that is exiting and headed south will cross the lid HOV lane at a traffic light. The new Montlake Blvd does not have good HOV/transit through lanes.

        Why in this day and age do we allow new billion dollar road projects to be built without making efficient transit function a design requirement? It seems like SOV performance and breakdown lanes are higher priority than transit function. And transit doesn’t seem to have any significant influence at the design table. Same story with the Alaskan Way tunnel project. Does the 405 widening include any center stations? Or a ramp improvement at 520?

      4. Aleks-

        Like many current Metro riders and as someone who is committed to minimizing my own miles driven in a single occupancy vehicle I did factor in bus service when I decided where to live (Wallingford) and work (Downtown). I think additional connections between neighborhood destinations are a great objective but I also think we need to do that as an enhancement to the system rather than making it harder for people going Downtown (where the transit share has been supported by years of land use and other policy decisions).

      5. Kevin, no disagreement there. It would be a huge mistake to dismantle our current network, with only the hope of attracting a completely different set of riders. It’s just that when I see Metro proposing changes like removing the 26 and 28 from Fremont, I get worried that Metro is making its network *worse* for riders who aren’t heading downtown, and that we’re heading into a downward spiral.

    2. Like I said, it’s a thought experiment. Span is very important, and so is coverage, and so is speed. It would be ridiculous to run a bus every 2 minutes for only 4 hours a day. But in some ways, our current network is at the other extreme; we prioritize coverage and speed at the expense of frequency and span. I’m purposely trying to illustrate an overcorrection, with the intent of getting people to think about whether smaller steps in that direction would make sense.

      1. Back in the day when I was in college, my university had a bus that was supposed to come every five minutes, circling the campus. It was very popular. The private provider who operated the service just had no ideas how to do headway control. So, during peak usage, it turned into a parade of buses one lined up behind the other. Thirty-minute waits for this bus scheduled to come every five minutes were not unheard of. The student government opted to reduce frequency and add an additional loop, going the other direction, serving the student housing neighborhood west of campus. That seemed to work much better.

        I don’t say this to disagree with the basic principles of your post, but just to offer a context-specific counterexample where geographic distribution of service happened to get better results than a single high-frequency bus route.

      2. Not to derail the discussion, but I agree that once buses become every 5 minutes or less, the bus bunching problem can become extreme, and there aren’t very many good solutions. Headway controls have their issues and aren’t easy to implement. You don’t really want to slow the journey for all the riders on later buses or make the whole route approach the speed of the slowest driver. Possibly the best solution is when a follower is within two minutes for the leader to start skipping stops where no one is alighting, though that hurts the waiting riders.

        Bus bunching is much much more common than rail bunching for so many reasons, including far less variance from operator to operator and much more consistent dwell times as stations. But with buses in mixed traffic, they are going to bunch.

        However, there are virtually no transit routes in Seattle that have 5 minute frequencies. We hardly have any at 10 minute frequencies today, except for an hour or two during peaks. It would be nice to get to 5-10 minute frequencies.

      3. Bus bunching may be more visible on short headways, but the individual variation in trip time is usually much less.

        Think of how often our 15-minute routes bunch up today. We even have 30 minute routes so prone to lateness that they can come within a couple minutes of passing one another.

        I’ve seen 3-bus bunching in Boston, New York, or L.A. — this is mercifully rare, even in places with far more variable traffic than ours — but even then, the latest of the three buses may be less tardy than our infrequent routes routinely become.

        Higher frequencies/service volumes help to better absorb demand spikes and the effects of brief traffic events (like bridge openings), while also statistically spreading around the cash payers or unusually slow boarders.

        In short, this would be a comparatively nice problem to have.

  6. One tradeoff not discussed here is current operations vs. capital investment. We can get improved frequency, improved trip time, and just a more enjoyable trip experience, if we make the up-front investment in right-of-way, signal priority, headway control, and, yes, real-time arrival signage (since many riders can’t afford a pricey phone and many who can are afraid of showing them at a sketchy bus stop). Biting the bullet to get political correctness (including personal moral judgements about what a “fair” fare system would be) out of the way of a slow fare payment system that is slow for no good reason would also help.

    Up-front political and capital investment creates the feedback loop that gets us the elements of a good transit system.

    1. +1 to capital investment. I don’t want to overstate my position, but I think it would be reasonable to trade some frequency right now for the opportunity to make capital investments that improve speed, reliability, and ease of use. And in turn these improvements would also reduce the cost of providing frequency in the long term. I’d also argue OneBusAway makes that trade-off more palatable.

      However, within the context of Seattle it seems that the funding for service and capital come from two different sources making that trade-off conversation relatively abstract. And many routes already lack reasonable frequency as is, which further problematizes the situation.

    2. I suggest the voters have made the decision on tradeoffs.
      Both Metro and ST are ‘transit’ in the minds of average citizens. They consistently voted to build expensive tunnels, grand stations, and buy high priced time slots from the BNSF, while starving Metro into 3rd world status for such amenities Brent describes that enhance the bus system. Metro can barely keep core service running at adequate levels. Transfers between the two agencies are going to be ‘douce baggish’.
      Saying they are two different agencies is splitting hairs as total transit for all trips has gone up a whopping 1% since this whole HCT experiment began. Fifteen billion hasn’t bought much. I hope the next 20 billion gets at least a couple of % points – maybe even catch up to peds and bikes in the race for mode share.
      Alexs is spot on about Seattle one seat service in the peak. It’s the one metric that stands out from all the rest. The circle of love just keeps ‘rolling along’.

      1. By two different funding sources I intended to allude to SDOT vs. Metro, in which the former doesn’t face a funding problem and should be doing a lot more to enhance transit then they are, while the later’s funding source is in desperate need of a boost. Moreover, the capital improvements I intended to refer to, like bus bulbs, signal priority and bus lanes, would be relatively cheap to implement compared to rail and could have close to immediate returns on investment.

        Speaking of Sound Transit, while building rail is not low hanging capital fruit the way some of other capital improvements (especially bus lanes) are, I think the problem there is that the particular design and routing decisions of Sound Transit have been poor at best, not that all capital and rail investment is bad. In ST’s case, station’s are inconvenient to access, running at grade slows down trips, and stations and routing didn’t follow density making the system relatively useless (emphasis on the word relatively). This lack of utility is then compounded by Metro’s decision not to modify bus routing’s to better utilize the service. However, indicting capital investment because of Central Link is like indicting all milk run service because of Route 42.

      2. Of course $15 billion hasn’t bought us much today, when nearly all the lines the $15 is paying for haven’t opened yet.

    1. Aleks, yes, thank you for your posts. BTW, is that you in that pic? Looks very 80’s glam poppy, Human League-esque.

      1. If you’re referring to my userpic, yes, that’s me, though with the help of a very talented photographer. :)

      2. Add me to the list of those who have enjoyed your posts–well thought out and detailed, making for good discussions. :-)

        (…and I could use a “very talented photographer” like that!)

  7. Frequency, Span, Speed, and Coverage? Oh, which to choose, and in what quantities?
    That’s pretty much how service changes are put together 3x a year by the planners and schedulers.
    Lately, without new money, it’s a zero sum game, minus rising costs of the system each shakeup.
    Coverage has it’s own peculiar criteria, being largely political as the maps are drawn, and the others just plain cost money to do.
    The process starts with looking at the places to save money using APC data (automatic passenger counts), and seeing if a run can be cut back to move hours into solving overload problems.
    Sometimes someone comes along with a grand scheme that shuffles a bunch of service, but that is the rarity, not the norm. Metro has been burned plenty by trying to be bold, to the point that timidity is the norm. That makes good proposals such as Bruce and others here pour a lot of sweat into difficult to push past the “Gee, that’s a great idea” stage.
    Sorry for the missive, but change must come from outside and be well articulated and fought for with a level of political support.

    1. Sorry for the missive, but change must come from outside and be well articulated and fought for with a level of political support.

      Exactly. I want to help build a coalition of people who will demand better transit service, and who will make it politically possible for Metro to propose (and pay for) the kinds of changes that are necessary to make that happen. So long as the most politically active people are the ones who don’t want anything to ever change, we’re fucked.

      1. A good place to start describing to people why change needs to be looked at: many of the current bus routes in the city are around 100 years old (former streetcar lines) — has the city changed at all since then? I don’t think many people are aware that so many of our current routes are ancient legacy lines that may or may not bear any resemblance to current needs. Routes created at that time were strictly to bring people into and out of downtown for work as their “outlying” neighborhoods had everything else within walking distance. Even those that still are reasonable routes may benefit from tweaks here and there. I think this is an understandable point to make when discussing why things may need to change from what people have grown so used to over the generations.

  8. Some points that are extremely important here when talking about waiting and connections:

    1) A change that doubles frequency in exchange for an added connection is pretty much a wash in total wait time, at least in theory. For instance, a one-seat ride every 30 minutes means an average wait of 15 minutes. A 2-seat ride every 15 minute means an average wait of 7.5 minutes, times 2 because you have to do it twice, which means, again, an average total wait of 15 minutes.

    However, theory is not always practice. OneBusAway/schedule planning may mean that the actual wait time for the one-seat ride is less than 15 minutes, whereas for the 2-seat ride, actual total wait times could be longer than 15 minutes because there are now 2 chances for buses to get heavily delayed.

    2) Many trips that, in theory, involve connections, can, in practice, often be finagled to avoid the connection by walking, biking, driving, or even riding a taxi or Uber, to eliminate the shorter connection. I do this all the time. I don’t own a car, but the number of times I actually make a bus->bus connection is vanishingly small (on the other of a couple times a month).

    3) Deviating buses into transit centers is almost always a bad idea. The theory, as you touched upon, is that it improves the quality of waiting for people making connections. However, it does nothing to improve the quantity of waiting, and in fact, may make it worse, in that the slower run times resulting from the deviation can force a reduction in frequency. Meanwhile, everyone that simply wants to pass through the area around the transit center in a straight line has to endure the delays of the detour. In some ways, it’s like forcing everybody who uses the bus to pay some of time cost of making a connection, whether they are actually making a connection or not. Furthermore, the capitol cost of building the transit center in the first place inevitably takes money away from the operation of buses, meaning further reductions in frequency or span.

    About the only time I consider off-street transit centers a good idea is when they are at the logical end of a route and the bus needs somewhere to layover and turn around. Even then, it’s important to realize that what’s the logical end of a route today might not be 30 years from now, as population and sprawl continue to expand.

    Similarly, routing buses on streets where they are likely to get stuck in traffic, over faster parallel streets, just to make the waiting more pleasant, is also usually bad policy. Besides all of the above, subjecting buses to random traffic delays creates bunching, which, in an of itself (especially if the route is frequent), drastically increases the amount of time people have to spend waiting.

    1. A change that doubles frequency in exchange for an added connection is pretty much a wash in total wait time, at least in theory.

      That’s only true for the very limited set of destinations that were served by the original routing.

      As far as I know, there has never been a bus that goes from Greenwood (85th/Greenwood) to Ravenna (65th/25th) in the history of transit operations in Seattle. So if you’re making that trip today, it’s a two-bus trip. If the network were changed so that each bus on that trip were straighter and more frequent, then it would strictly improve your trip.

      By focusing only on the trips that already have a one-seat ride, we’re painting grids in an unnecessarily bad light.

      The theory, as you touched upon, is that it improves the quality of waiting for people making connections.

      Frankly, I’m not sure that it even does that. If I’m sitting in a cafe, and I have to walk a half mile to the transit center rather than picking up a bus in front of the cafe, then the transit center has made the quality of my waiting experience meaningfully worse.

      1. And those two 15-minute routes might lead to a dozen other efficient trip possibilities that didn’t exist before. It’s the network effect. I don’t much care to transfer to a 30-minute route because there is too much that can go wrong. !5 minute buses are much more useful. So optimizing the system around high frequency routes and good connections creates are more travel opportunities, and I don’t mind a 10 minute walk to/from a 15-minute service.

        I also agree about not deviating into transit centers – unless the center is organized around a pulse. But do make the connections are easy/convenient as possible while eliminating the deviations. Eliminating deviations should make service faster and cheaper to operate – and I can cross a street or two to walk to the connecting point – make sure there is a map or signage to help.

      2. For some folks the potential benefit of additional connections would outweigh any additional time/inconvenience around their trip to their primary destination. For many folks in Seattle I think you’d need to convince them that they would be able to get to their primary destination easier via a revised system than in the current one.

        I recall at one time when Metro was planning changes I was talking to one of their planners who pointed out that even though I would now have a transfer to get Downtown under the new plan it would be easier for me to get to Magnolia. He didn’t seem to understand why I was more concerned about the trip I make over 250 times per year than the one I make every 3-4 years if that.

      3. Let me ask you (Kevin) something. If you exclude your work commute trips, where do you tend to travel on a day-to-day basis? How do you get to and from where you’re going? Do you walk, bike, drive, take the bus, take a taxi/Uber…?

        There are a lot of people — and this might include you, or it might not — who use the bus to get to and from work, but who use their car (or walk, or bike) for virtually all other trips. They do this because Metro is great at getting people to major employment centers during peak commute hours, and terrible at getting people to other destinations at other times of day.

        Magnolia might have been a silly example. But chances are, during an average week, you make a half-dozen or more trips to various different places in Seattle. And maybe you would make even more trips, if not for the difficulty of getting to the places that you want to go. The beauty of a connection-oriented network is that it makes *every single one* of those trips easy, not just your “primary” trip.

        What I love most about transit is how it can fundamentally change the way that people interact with the city. Transit that only serves one trip, out of dozens/hundreds, simply can’t do that.

      4. Aleks-

        I want to assume you have good intent here but as I read your post I’m getting the sense you’re thinking that “if I just go over this really slowly again I can show this person the value of a transfer-based system and he will rejoice in increased connectivity to glamorous destinations like Lake City.”

        I really do support increased connectivity but I, like a lot of current Metro riders, don’t want to see increased connections via a transfer-based system come at a cost of reduced speed, convenience, or reliability on my primary trips. A big reason for this is Metro – as a long-term rider I frankly don’t trust the agency to pull off a transfer-based system.

        My trips are primarily on foot outside of my commute. A lot of the time there is a bus available but I prefer to walk. I will use the bus for some longer trips from home (to Ballard from Wallingford or Capitol Hill from Downtown, etc). The car is saved for big shopping trips, visits to friends, and weekend evening trips to the treater or similar (that’s more of a convenience thing – there would be a bus available for most of those).

      5. You’re partly right. :P But I’m also trying to figure out precisely what your objections are, just to make sure that you’re not making an argument that I’m completely ignoring.

        At this point, I think we both understand each other. Your argument is that you don’t want to break something that already works, and that you care much more about your primary trip than about all your other trips combined, and that you don’t think Metro is capable of creating a network that improves all of your trips. My argument is that the current network works for riders like you, but it doesn’t work for the ~70% of people who don’t take the bus to work, and the ~97% of people who don’t take the bus to non-work destinations, and so it’s a stretch to say that the current network works.

        I think the ideal situation would be to increase the level of funding, so that Metro could continue perfectly meeting your needs, but also start to meet the needs of many more people. And I am pushing for funding increases, both the kind that will let us avoid cuts, and the kind that will let us improve service. But barring that, I do think that Metro could change its network in a way that would serve more customers — even if it would leave some people (like you) worse off.

      6. To restate my point slightly differently: I don’t expect you to rejoice in a transit system that makes your life worse. I wouldn’t expect Lower Queen Anne riders to rejoice if the D were rerouted to Elliott; I wouldn’t expect Fremont riders to rejoice if the 26/28 were rerouted to Aurora; etc. I’m just arguing that I don’t think we should rule out bus network changes because of the existence of somebody who will be worse off. If a change will benefit a lot more people than it will hurt, then it’s probably worthwhile — even if many of the people who will benefit aren’t currently bus riders!

      7. Aleks-

        The flaw in your argument from my perspective is that you are speculating that there are a substantial number of people who would shift from another transportation mode (walk/bike/car/Lyft/etc.) to the bus if the network was reconfigured and that the lack of a frequent gridded network (as opposed to, for example, increased frequency on existing routes or lower fares) is the thing that is keeping them from using it. I think that universe may be more limited than you think (especially given the abundance of parking available outside of places like Downtown) and would need to be balanced against the folks who would be less likely to use the system if they had additional transfers to deal with.

      8. Let’s say you wanted to build a transit network that would capture 80% of all motorized trips in Seattle. What would it look like? Or do you think this goal isn’t possible (or isn’t worth achieving)?

      9. I don’t think that goal is possible because of the range of reasons people don’t use transit that are beyond what the network looks like. Have you ever talked to folks about why they don’t take the bus? Why do you think 80% is possible?

        I also think to get anywhere close to that kind of number you’d have to be ok with what might appear like tons of excess capacity – buses that only have a few people on them but exist to ensure the network functions effectively. I don’t see us having the kind of political will around here to make that happen.

      10. Yes, I have talked to people about why they don’t take the bus. I’ve also talked to people about their experience living in or visiting different cities. What I’ve universally find is that if you look at the transit systems that achieve high non-commute mode share, people have the following to say:

        – You spend very little time waiting
        – The waiting experience is pleasant, or at least tolerable, especially at major connection points
        – It’s easy to get between almost any two non-residential points in the city, at almost any time of day

        Conversely, the systems with low mode share get described like this:

        – It takes forever to get anywhere
        – You can’t rely on the system — so many trips are so difficult that the only choice is another mode
        – There is a lot of unpleasant waiting

        In Boston, which is the antithesis of a gridded city like Chicago or Portland, there is a radial subway network and a large number of feeder and crosstown buses. I know plenty of people who purposely choose to take the bus for certain trips because it was faster than the train. Boston doesn’t bother running a bus unless it’s better than the train, and so all the buses are actually useful.

        In Boston, I’ve never met anyone who plans their entire lifestyle based on avoiding connections. It’s just not something people talk about. Only in cities with transit systems like Seattle’s do people talk about avoiding connections like they’re the black plague.

        I think 80% is possible because New York City has achieved it, and so have plenty of cities in Europe and Asia, including cities that are much closer to our size. And I don’t give up easily. :)

      11. There are people who will always drive, people who will never drive, and people who will drive if transit reaches a certain inconvenience threshold. A frequent grid network would give non-drivers and sometimes-drivers more choices in where to live without having to drive all the time. You said you chose to live in Fremont and work downtown because of the current bus network. Likewise, I’ve chosen not to live in Ballard, 8th NW, 130th & Greenwood, Lake City, etc, because of the significant inconvenience in living there car-free. But if all those places had been convenient on transit, it would have given you more viable choices, and different people would have chosen different things. Instead we have people concentrating in a few neighborhoods and driving up the rents there. If we had had this network over the past forty years, I suspect that there would be more walkable centers and a wider variety of businesses at the grid intersections. So there would be more of a reason to take a bus from Fremont or Broadview to Lake City rather than making a longer north-south journey.

      12. I think you’re missing some really basic reasons why people don’t take the bus even when there is a bus available – having packages to haul around, needing to make multiple stops (daycare, etc.), managing kids, and security concerns to name a few. Is your sample primarily younger and male?

        In Boston you’re typically not making a bus to bus connection – most folks are going from bus to subway or between subway lines. I don’t think that’s comparable to what some of the network proposals here would look like. I’m also from there and know plenty of people who avoid certain lines, connections, etc., when looking for housing and employment. I can name five folks off the top of my head who avoid the Green Line.

        If New York level density is your way to get to 80% best wishes on that. It’s good to have dreamers around.

      13. Last one was @Aleks

        Mike – I live in Wallingford if that was directed at me. Once again, I’m not opposed to increasing the kind of network people are proposing, I am opposed to making the system shittier for a substantial number of current users in order to do it.

        I have lived car free in Ballard in the past and never had a problem getting around. Of course that was before the RRD…..

      14. Going from Ballard to adjacent neighborhoods is easy, but if you often go to places like Capitol Hill, Bellevue, or northeast Seattle you’ll find it takes an hour or more each way. I did live in Ballard for nine months at 15th & 65th NW. I like the neighborhood and I didn’t mind the trip downtown, but if you go anywhere further it takes a long time.

  9. Why is it not ok for Greenwood to Ravenna to be a two bus trip (or more likely for most of us a one bus trip with a 10 block walk)? Who would need to transfer to make it more direct – would you have folks going between Greenwood and the UW transfer at 65th to make that possible?

    1. Yes, he would. But they’d not be transferring to another bus, they’d be transferring to Link. Look at any of the proposals for a “grid” in North Seattle anchored by Link and you’ll see an 85th/65th through route from Golden Gardens to somewhere in Wedgewood. If Princeton Way were transit friendly, it would probably go to Magnuson Park.

      How they make the transition between 85th and 65th varies; some would go up the hill to the freeway and use Banner Way while others would go through East Green Lake. Maybe the Green Lake route would be “base service” and there’d be express service using Banner Way. The point is that 85th/65th are logically linked as the two main east-west arterials between Market/45th and 105th/Lake City Way and with a reliable north-south HCT line in Roosevelt it makes sense to force a transfer to get to the UW.

      1. There IS no 105th/Lake City Way! Literally; they don’t connect let alone intersect. ;-) But 115th/110th might work…there is no other reasonable E-W crossing of LCW until 80th.

        (just picking nits; your point is quite valid)

    2. Ravenna to Greenwood is actually a one-seat bus ride today – it’s a fairly straight shot on the 48 (once, of course, it actually shows up). You might have to walk 10 minutes to get to the 48 from certain parts of Ravenna, but that really isn’t a dealbreaker.

      That said, I live in Ravenna. While I don’t visit Greenwood all that often, when I do go, my preferred mode of transportation (if I have the time) is to walk all the way there and take the 48 back. If I don’t have time for that, I will bike both ways. Even with the 48 running at 15 minute headways, it is simply not fast and reliable enough to be time-competitive with a bike.

    3. I’m not even talking about the 48/71 combination. I also could have said Fremont to Lake City, or Ravenna to the Central District.

      If you start with the assumption that most trips will involve 2 buses, then you can create a network of highly frequent (<= 10 min) buses, where the expected *total* wait time for any given trip is 10 minutes or less. But if you start with the assumption that the best trips will only involve 1 bus, then all of the 2-bus trips get shafted.

      During commute hours, this isn't a completely ridiculous assumption — a lot of people really are going downtown. But if you exclude work commutes, then the vast majority of trips in any given neighborhood are to other neighborhoods that are nearby, not necessarily to the regional hubs like downtown and the U-District.

      All I want is a bus network that makes *every* trip easy, rather than a bus network that only makes a few carefully-chosen 1-bus trips easy.

    4. Not only can you make a frequent and highly popular grid, but San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver, and Chicago have done it for years. (Although Portland later succumbed to budget cuts making the grid infrequent.) North Seattle is clearly like those places and would benefit significantly from a grid. South Seattle is more difficult because it’s like three narrow islands, and central Seattle is somewhere in between.

      1. @Mike,

        North Seattle is NOT like the other cities. There are no through east-west arterials to create a true grid. EVERY east west trip involves a diagonal at the best (Leary, Market, Holman and Green Lake Way) or going around the legs rather than the hypotenuse of a right triangle (Fremont to the U District, Roosevelt to 65th and 15th NW (two right angles AND a diagonal) and so on.

        If Green Lake and Phinney Ridge weren’t there, yes a grid would work, but they are, so it doesn’t. The south end of the city is even worse.

        A true grid requires parallel service every half mile, and barriers prevent it here.

      2. The point of a grid is general north-south and east-west opportunities, not rigid adherence to geometry. The 44 goes diagonally on N Market Street, and nobody thinks that’s bad or grid-incorrect. Also, the lack of a grid system is what created that arbitrary soup of centers. Because it was difficult to go crosstown on the bus at various places, people didn’t, so the commercial districts at the intermediate intersections decayed or never developed. That raises a dilemma of what to do now, because the ideals of a grid contradict most people’s desire to go “to the U-District” or “to Northgate” from wherever they are, and they don’t want to hear about transferring at a dead, residential intersection. So we have to reach a compromise between the two. David L’s proposals are a step in that direction.

        Some particular grid routes may be weak, such as NW 85th-Banner Way-NE 65th, or NW 65th-south Green Lake -NE 65th, or 15th NE from the U-District to Mountlake Terrace. That’s where Metro has to evaluate the potential ridership of such routes compared to the proven ridership of the 48 and 73/347/348. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of those issues. But in general a more grid-friendly network would be better.

  10. Aleks, thank you so much for your excellent contributions to this blog! I always appreciate your writings.

  11. Great post! In particular, I think the points about having pleasant stop locations, in dynamic urban environments, especially for transfers, is a point that deserves more attention. At it’s best, transit has a marked advantage over driving in that the time spent getting from point A to point B is more enjoyable then driving. Not only can you read a book, or enjoy some other activity while on the bus, but the walk from the bus stop to your final destination can be pleasure in and of itself, providing an opportunity to soak up some of the best the city has to offer. The concept of walkability and making the trip enjoyable in and of itself definitely extends to the environment at the bus stop, and even getting close to the bus as the “Prefer bus routes along neighborhood-commercial streets” point illustrates.

    Now I don’t think this kind of attention to detail can save a broken system that lacks frequency, reliability or the other basic components of decent transit service. And I definitely don’t think having nice art can patch over a station design that makes accessing the platform tedious (see DSTT). But I do think pleasant stops can substantially enhance a service that is already pretty good and is something worth thinking about more thoroughly along frequent corridors, both at the stops themselves as well as in terms of the land use near bus stops.

  12. Choose frequency over speed.

    This is a bit of an aside, but I think the “rather be moving than stationary” rule is true only up to a point. And though that point can be hard to precisely place, it is real and finite and the effect of violating it can be psychologically disastrous for the user experience.

    Last night, I caught the 8:40-ish 40 bus back to Ballard. There was a fairly heavy rider load and high turnover, but not extraordinarily so for that time on Friday evening. Nevertheless, the driver managed to leave Pine on-time and reach Market twelve full minutes late.

    How did he do that? By driving at 10-15 mph the entire way! Down the ill-synched Blanchard. Along empty Westlake. And all the way up Leary.

    I haven’t a clue why he drove that way, but he missed many more lights as a result of his featherweight gas-pedal touch than as a result of passenger stops. (My desperate need to pee at the time made this all the more excruciating.)

    39 minutes to go 5.5 miles is always too slow.* It didn’t matter that I was able to use OBA from my downtown starting point, or that I wasn’t relying on him to catch a transfer. And it certainly didn’t matter that we were “moving” much of that time, because we… were… moving… so… very… very… slowly.

    Very slow transit can be a timesuck that you feel in your bones, gut, and soul. It is simultaneously infuriating and depleting, and it is repellent. Taking a slight hit to travel speed may be wise if it serves better streets or more central destinations, but such compromises have their limits.

    *(Frankly, the scheduled 26 minutes is way too slow. 22 minutes should be considered way too slow.)

    1. “(My desperate need to pee at the time made this all the more excruciating.)”

      Publicly-accessible restrooms would do more for the comfort of a stop than just about any other feature I could think of. If you have a security station at a transfer center, make a quick clean of the restroom part of the patrol circle. No-loitering signs should keep the restroom from becoming a shelter. If some drunkard really messes things up, police can esort him to detox, and a life may have just been saved.

      1. Or… the bus driver could have driven like a normal person, and I would have reached an off-board bathroom ten minutes sooner.

      2. Public restrooms at transit centers really should be a no-brainer, but it’s something that, at least in the U.S., transit agencies seem to universally don’t get.

        And to add insult to injury, many transit centers actually do have restrooms, but they’re under lock and key so that only the bus drivers can use them.

      3. Amen to that! I really can’t understand why at least heavily used transit stops such as those in the downtown tunnel station don’t have toilet facilities. They do ‘t have to be free.

    2. d.p.

      After stating “choose frequency of speed” how can your point lamenting a trip where speed was abysmal be considered an aside? Indeed it seems to be central to the issue of frequency vs. speed. If that bus had been driven or routed differently or there were other reliability improvements on the corridor, such as better signaling on Blanchard, the trip would have been substantially better. It’s also worth noting that improving speed through better routing, capital improvements, off board payment or stop diets improves frequency by requiring fewer buses on the route at any particular frequency. These are the types of speed improvements that I believe are very valuable and slightly more so with OBA.

      That point shouldn’t be conflated with valuing speed over frequency in such manner as to prioritize a direct route over one that forces a transfer. For example, I strongly believe that the south east Seattle routes such as the 101, 106, 107, 7, and 36 should be revised to serve downtown via transferring to Link with the remaining resources going to improve frequencies on these truncated routes (and other routes that need them) or in the case of the 7 and 36 to enhance frequencies in First Hill and Capitol Hill. Doing that would rightly emphasize the substantial benefits of being able to leave NOW, among other benefits, over the slight cost of the actual trip being slightly longer.

      Within the context of the Seattle network, frequency is definitely extremely undervalued. But I think more direct routing and capital improvements for bus service that would improve speed are also undervalued and arguably more so.

      1. The tradeoff between frequency and speed is tricky. Obviously there is a balance here, and it all comes down to just how much frequency you are getting and how much speed you are losing.

        A good example of trade of speed for frequency was the recent restructuring of the 510/511/512. Combining the 510 and 511 into the 512 meant greater frequency, at the expense of speed. In this case, the tradeoff was clearly beneficial, but the calculations basically involved the following:
        – Former 510 riders traded speed for frequency. In exchange for an extra 8 minutes of travel time, they got 15-minute headways instead of 30-minute headways during the day, and 30-minute headways instead of 60-minute headways in the evening. For the most part, the frequency gains were sufficient to compensate for the reduced speeds.
        Furthermore:
        – Former 511 riders got greater frequency and gave up nothing in speed
        – There are more former 511 riders than former 510 riders (Lynnwood is a bigger market than Everett)
        – The 512 enabled some trips within Snohomish County (e.g. Mountlake Terrace to Everett) that used to require an insane backtrack all the way to Seattle.

        On the contrary, an example of where sacrificing speed for frequency isn’t so good is combining the 66 with the 71/72/73, forcing everybody in Roosevelt or Maple Leaf to endure the slog down the Ave to get downtown. As I have argued in previous comments, what Roosevelt and Northeast really need is not a slow slog through the U-district to get anywhere, but all-day service on the 76.

      2. The 107 is already a shuttle. The 106 is supposedly serving Georgetown and trying to build a new transit market there, so it’s really two interlined routes.

      3. I absolutely agree on route straightening and other speed treatments, Alex. Fix a few key bottlenecks and alter a few key segments, and our high-ridership core services could be running 25% faster in very short order.

        I called my anecdote “an aside” because for the most part, Aleks’ axiom holds true: it is far better to wait a shorter time for a somewhat slower service than to wait around forever for a somewhat faster service.

        But a service slow enough to feel a visceral drag — and a simmering fury — is unacceptable on even the most frequent route, or when one hasn’t had to wait at all. You can’t accept a trade-off that slows the vehicle too much, without turning riders off your service.

    3. I’ve experienced this as well where the driver can’t seem to find the gas pedal. There are also some of the that will stop the bus before the light even turns yellow. Super annoying and a clear training issue.

      1. I forgot to mention that he also pulled into each and every stop at about 0.75 mph. I have no idea why. That caused its share of missed signals as well.

    4. D.P. Might that driver have been an “older” gentleman? I seem to get that one more often than not (on the 40), but during midday. Drives slow as molasses. And won’t get back into traffic until there is no vehicle in sight, which itself adds minutes to the run.

      1. I, too, have become familiar enough with the habits and comparative capabilities of regular 40 drivers to feel relieved when a bus pulls up with a stellar driver behind the wheel, or to curse my luck when a habitual slowpoke rounds the corner.

        The most conflicted feeling regards that middle-aged woman who is literally the nicest human being on the planet, and who is also a pretty darn good driver… if only she can resist the urge to be overly chatty! Sometimes a single clueless rider’s question will bog her down for minutes. :-(

        Anyway, in the example above, the odd driving behavior was from a younger male driver who I had never seen before. Being new to a route is one thing, but driving 12 mph on an open straightaway and pulling up to curbs at sub-snail speeds cannot be blamed on unfamiliarity.

  13. Wait, so Seattle still doesn’t have a real-time bus information system that you can call, text, check google maps, the transit website, or the transit reader boards to see when the next bus is arriving?

    Really?

    1. We have real-time. It mostly works. It makes Metro tolerable-ish to use, most of the time.

      It does not, however, fix any of Metro’s glaring structural flaws, nor even mask them. It is a workaround, not an actual transit solution.

      Thus the entire purpose of Aleks’ post.

  14. This article reminded me of Aleks’ post. Tallinn, Estonia made public transit 100% free, which only increased ridership by 1.2%.

    http://www.fastcodesign.com/3025761/why-the-worlds-largest-experiment-in-free-public-transportation-failed

    “Turns out, it can be difficult convincing people to dump their convenient car ride for a cold wait at a bus stop. The highest increase in passenger demand (10%) came from the district of Lasnamäe, a dense, populous neighborhood with higher unemployment rates than the rest of the city, but the overall data suggests that instead of people switching from cars to public transit, the fare-less system mostly encouraged people to walk less.”

    During my years in DC, Chicago, Boston and Taipei, I never owned a car. Now that I’m in Seattle, I rarely take the bus, mostly because of the cold (and dark, and possibly unsafe) wait. It’s not a good feeling, standing alone at a poorly lit bus stop with zero pedestrian activity around. So I really agree with your points about stop amenities and transfers at good waiting places.

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