In October 2012 Metro implemented a number of techniques to speed up fare payment in the tunnel, as the Ride Free Area expired. I asked Metro how things are going, one year plus later:

Q: When exactly (and at what stations) are the loaders deployed? Has their deployment evolved in any way since the beginning?

A: Three ORCA Boarding Assistants are deployed at Westlake Station, two northbound and one south bound, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. on weekdays. There is one boarding assistant southbound at IDS but all boarding assistants can be reassigned as needed. When boarding assistants were first introduced in the tunnel, they were deployed at all the stations except Pioneer Square Station. Once we had some experience with boarding assistants, we adjusted their deployment to maximize their benefit, which is to reduce dwell time for buses in the tunnel. This was one of a number of measures we took to minimize the added tunnel travel time required with pay-on-entry. A comparison of PM peak travel times before and after the service change showed that by January, northbound travel times were about one minute longer than before the service change, while southbound travel times were nearly the same as before the service change. Boarding assistants were not expected to be a permanent cost of operation once the system settled down after the end of the RFA. We have adjusted the use of boarding assistants and will continue to evaluate where and how to most cost-effectively deploy them in the tunnel.

Q: Is there any firm plan to do something about cash payment in the tunnel?

A: Metro transit has no firm plan to do something about cash payment in the tunnel. Having said that however, Metro continues to take actions to expand ORCA use throughout the system and reduce cash payments. These include recent changes to allow retailers to sell ORCA cards, adding ORCA Vending Machines at additional locations, continued outreach with our ORCA To Go van to help customers get ORCA cards and learn how to use them, continuing to expand our employer partnerships to provide employees with passes on ORCA cards, and working with our regional transit partners to implement a regional ORCA day-pass demonstration beginning in April [more to come on this — Ed.]. We are also exploring fare structure options such as a low-income fare implemented through ORCA and ORCA fare incentives that would increase ORCA market share. Finally, we are also exploring other options such as new ticket vending machines and mobile apps that would allow customers to pay their fare with their smart phones. About the time Link service is extended to Northgate (2021) and operated at a much higher frequency, buses are unlikely to still be operating in the tunnel, hence major investments to make the platforms paid zones would not be cost effective. Given the volume of bus service, a universal proof of payment system is cost prohibitive.

Q: As a stopgap, why not have someone sell transfers in the tunnel stations during peak hours? Existing media presumably wouldn’t require much in the way of study.

A: Selling transfers or tickets and not allowing cash on the buses would require that we have a secure customer service location at each station, conveniently placed. We would need a secure facility to store cash, and we would need to have a point-of-sale system that provided an audit trail of sales and revenue. We currently don’t have budget or staff to provide this service. We are exploring concepts for a ticket vending machine and have federal funds to initiate a project. We are currently focused on deploying machines on Third Ave to help reduce dwell times on the surface.

Q: Is there any special way that Metro handles bus exits from the CPS bays into the tunnel? For example, are certain bays supposed to yield to other bays? 

A: Buses exiting from CPS bays into the tunnel during peak hour are supposed to exit going into the tunnel in a manner that maximizes the number of buses that can service the station platform. Ideally, a platoon of five buses would leave CPS such that 2 south end buses exit CPS first (rts 101, 102, 106, 150), followed by 1 bus that is dropping off customers only ( rt. 41, 316, 71,72, 73, 74, 76, 77, followed by 2 eastside coaches (rts. 216,218,550, 255). Service supervisors when available oversee the platooning of coaches at CPS. Otherwise, the drivers take it upon themselves to determine who should go first when exiting from the bays at CPS. Except for brand new tunnel drivers, drivers know what order they should leave in so as to expedite loading in the stations. Metro operations is aware that scheduled coaches can be late and the ideal platoon might not materialize, but more often than not, buses in the tunnel leave in the correct order and operations run fairly smoothly.

103 Replies to “Tunnel Operations, One Year On”

  1. What law or regulation governs how much yielding is supposed to be done to the trains by the buses? Is there any way to get this modified? Sometimes the delays are obnoxious, causing 4-5 buses to stack up in the PM rush hour.

    1. Another way of saying joint operations isn’t working that well, and that the buses should really go out of the tunnel.

      Buses waiting for runners (or beckoners) are a steady slowdown.
      Bus crush loads are throughput killers.

      Bus wheelchair loads can’t really be sped up.

      Thanks for the writeup, however.

      1. I agree with the bus runners. I’m one of them, but I also despise the fact that the bus driver makes it a constant point of “I’m not supposed to do this, but I’m being nice today.” Well, if you were supposed to do it, then get your bus moving!

        Until bus drivers actually stop picking up bus runners, there will always be someone (me) running for a bus trying to hail it down like a cab.

      2. There is a difference between waiting for a runner on the street and waiting for a runner in the tunnel. In the tunnel (and perhaps on 3rd Ave during peak), thousands of riders are being delayed because the runner thinks his time is more valuable than all of theirs. On the street, at least where buses aren’t queueing up, only that busload is being delayed, and the operator is more likely to get several complaints called in if she/he ignores the runner than is she/he waits a few moments.

        Furthermore, it is safer for the operator to acknowledge you are trying to cross the street, and wait at the stop, than to risk you running in front of the bus (a problem that is moot in the tunnel).

  2. “…working with our regional transit partners to implement a regional ORCA day-pass demonstration beginning in April. ”

    Woah, hey-is this old news? Because otherwise that line should be bolded, with balloons and confetti. Finally. Hopefully the day pass pilot includes a 7-day pass, because that is sorely needed as well.

      1. This is great news. Finally getting what most other cities have. Makes visitors feel welcome.

      1. No, not that! That’ll encourage people to eat the cards instead of saving them, which is exactly what Metro’s afraid of now!


  3. I will say, as someone who didn’t ride downtown all that much, eliminating the RFA has been a big win for sane operations outside the tunnel. Ever seen a 545 try to unload at OTC with only the front door open? Also, it makes the system way more understandable to out-of-towners.

  4. It isn’t as much an issue in the tunnel as it is elsewhere, but are there any plans to begin actual enforcement of the load-front-exit-back policy? There are signs, but I think I’ve seen exactly one driver say something to passengers about exiting at the front during a busy rush.

    1. I’m not sure whether enforcement will help. I’m all for efficiency, but the problem is that just often enough, drivers forget to open the back door. In this situation, there’s no good way for passengers standing at the back door to get the attention of the driver. Yelling “back door” can work, but a few times I’ve been in the situation of having to run up to the front after the driver failed to see or hear me and began pulling away. As long as that is a possibility, people will opt to exit at the front.

      1. Simple stuff can take care of a big portion of the problem:

        – Open the back door at every stop, no exceptions. Come on, this should be obvious.
        – Automated announcements. The on-board information systems seem to be able to handle this sort of thing already, it’s just a matter of recording and deploying a message to the network. Put the announcements in the tunnel reader boards too, with audio.

      2. +1

        I’m used to several passengers simultaneously yelling “back door”!

        I suspect some drivers are afraid of people sneaking in the back door without paying, which I also see happening frequently.

      3. I realize the negotiation process is confidential, but I would sure love to know if ATU has been open to allowing non-operators to be hired as boarding assistants, as part of the labor contract negotiations. Getting those boading assistants back behind the wheel, where we need them most during peak, and hiring a bunch more boarding assistants to help with all the bottlenecks all over downtown would help a lot.

      4. Is there a reason why, after the end of the free ride zone and pay-as-you-leave, we still order new buses where the driver has to manually operate the back door? I’ve ridden buses in other cities where riders open the back door themselves when they leave. There’s a light over the back door that turns on when the bus is stopped and the front door is open. When the light is on, the back door is unlocked and you can leave. It works great! Nobody has to yell “back door!” There’s also less reason to worry about people getting on through the back door since the door automatically closes behind people after they get off. Why can’t we have that here?

      5. “I suspect some drivers are afraid of people sneaking in the back door without paying…”

        Yup. Which is why I pick RapidRide and why I keep ranting about Universal PoP, San Francisco style, with back door and curb readers.

      6. @ Eric –
        “I’ve ridden buses in other cities where riders open the back door themselves when they leave. There’s a light over the back door that turns on when the bus is stopped and the front door is open. When the light is on, the back door is unlocked and you can leave. It works great! Nobody has to yell “back door!”

        This! A million times, this! The drivers should not have to wait to see if anyone yells “back door” or MIGHT be thinking of exiting from the back door. You’re in the back and want out? Light goes on, you push the handle and away you go. The drivers can watch after the coach has stopped to see if someone is making their way towards the back before they leave, but other than that, you just exit at the door nearest you without having to wonder/worry whether or not the bus will leave with you stranded at an un-opened back door. Buying coaches with this feature seems to be a no-brainer.

        (As an aside, sort of–when I used to ride the 75 it was always pay as you enter since it didn’t go downtown; like many stops mine was on the far side of the intersection so the rear door was always closer to where I was going. I always sat in the middle or rear, always debarked at the rear door, and gave the driver a quick wave when s/he opened the door. With PAYE there is no reason–save a safety hazard–to exit from the front door if you don’t wish to or are closer to the rear.)

    2. Exiting in back really only makes sense in some situations. It depends on how crowded the bus is, how many people are getting on, how many are getting off, whether the bus has a third door before the articulation, and whether there’s a handhold at the articulation. I seem to ride a lot of moderate-volume articulated buses with only one or two on/offs at my stop, no third door, and no handhold. So when I get out of my seat, (1) it’s a long walk to the back door and I don’t want to make people wait while I get there, (2) I can’t step across the articulation while the bus is moving without running into someone, especially if I have a full backpack and/or shopping bags; (3) if I have a seatmate s/he inevitably stands behind me rather than in front of me because “everybody exits front”. And if the bus is packed full, you have to use the nearest door because it would take five minutes to get to the other door.

      1. Mike, it makes sense in any situation that somebody may wish to exit at the rear, for whatever reason. Your points (1) and (2) are based on the fact that you happen to sit towards the front; not everyone can or will be doing so–it’s just as long a walk past the articulation to the front door if you’re in the back as vice-versa. Point (3) is a valid point; if we had more urban style buses with 2+1 or 1+1 seating this would not be quite the issue, but currently it does tend to force you to walk forward. I think the point should be that it it’s ALWAYS an option to exit from the nearest door; being able to activate the rear door(s) yourself as Eric describes above gives that flexibility.

    3. There is a prerecorded message. “Please exit in the rear so that other passengers may enter” or something like that. I’ve heard it a few times. Some drivers play it twice in a row.

      1. A couple weeks ago I was on a bus in the tunnel where the driver played this message twice, causing a dozen or so folks to crowd by the rear door. The problem was, the driver failed to open it. After a lot of ineffectual shouting of “back door”, the crowd walked single-file toward the front and exited there.

        Granted that that is in no way a normal occurrence, but even if it happens one in twenty or thirty times, people will become conditioned to ignore the “exit at the rear” message.

      2. Okay, I was pretty sure that I’d heard an announcement for it once before, and that it wasn’t just my imagination.

    4. This cultural issue will take years to unwind. Drivers have been trained in the past to use only the front door in many circumstances (after 7pm for security, pay as you enter, etc). Other than a few bulletins, we really haven’t been pushed to encourage people to use the back doors. I use the various PSAs a lot but earbud wearers are generally impervious to them and can create a lemming situation when they dart for the front door. (Solution: Issue drivers Nerf bats? Silly String? Fake vomit we can toss up front when a group of potential front door exiters start walking from the back of a 60′ coach with 3 doors? Let’s be creative)

      Passengers are likewise stuck in the front door cultural rut due to all of the above plus the ever constant fear that your driver won’t see you. (I’ve been just as guilty as any despite trying *really* hard since I’m passionate about keeping our buses moving. It’s just a reality that we get distracted or that sometimes there is a legitimate safety reason to not open the back doors) Some passengers also like the “Hello” and “Thank you” routine (Waves from the back work just as well. I can wave to two sets of passengers entering/exiting in back and say “Hello/Thank you” to those up front – Multitasking, baby…)

      In short, Metro training needs to ride all of us, passenger and driver, to get the message out: We all paid for two or three doors for our buses, let’s USE THEM!

      1. Yelling “back door please” followed by “thank you” has never failed for me (on the occasion drivers forgot/didn’t see me)

      2. The back door exit policy has been a hot topic on STB. I’ve never been to Seattle, but this blog paints a really good picture of Seattle’s transit culture. The use of the back door to exit the bus absolutely does speed up the bus. I have used many transit systems and they all have the ‘green light/push bar/touch here/press button’ mechanism to open the back doors. Even with those systems the ‘green light’ is controlled by the operator, so you still might have to yell ‘back door’. There’s also legit reasons why people will always exit at the front (kneeling, closer to corner etc.). But if your sitting in the middle or back of the bus, why not exit at the back door? That way people who need to make use of the fare box don’t have to wait for you. Really what metro needs is a ‘move to the rear’ campaign. Chicago’s CTA does this with signs posted and announcements. Encourage people to move back (where there is almost always more seats and space) and the wonders of the back door will naturally appeal to riders.

      3. I have experienced those green-light systems in San Francisco, Chcago, and elsewhere and they work well there. But there seems to be something different about those buses beyond the door wiring, because it’s easy to reach the back door on those buses compared to the obstacle course on Metro buses. When I think back, those city’s buses are usually non-articulated. Or if they are articulated, they must have a third door because I’ve never had to walk through the articulation to reach the door. They also usually have 2+1 seating so the aisle is wider. The passenger culture is universally exit-rear. Visitors often can’t figure out how to open the door, so instead of our shouts of “Back door!” there are shouts of “Step down!” (Which also means the visitor is the target of exasperated shouts rather than the driver.) Also, the rule is not absolute. When the bus is packed like sardines like the San Franscisco’s 30-Stockton route at rush hour (the closest I’ve seen to a Japanese bullet train), people exit through all doors.

        Tony B, I’m curious which transit systems you’ve experienced, and whether you’ve seen a transition in door policy there. Have these other cities always had back-door exiting? Or how long does it take to get passengers to universally adopt a new way of exiting?

      4. Mike-

        I have lived the past 6 years in Chicago. I’m from Upstate NY and have ridden most of the East Coast transit systems. Chicago and NYC have always had exit at rear door. Both cities have articulated buses, and NYC has received artics with three doors in recent years. I understand that Seattle is still getting over pay-as-you-leave, but as more people experience the wonders of exit at rear more people will adopt the change. Really, the back door is the middle of the bus. The majority of the bus is closer to the back door than the front door. Why funnel everyone through one door, when there’s two available? As more people become comfortable with using the back door, drivers will notice that back door exiting is wanted by passengers which lowers the frequencty of drivers forgetting to open back doors. It’ll take time for Seattle to adapt to rear door exit. Try this the next time you’re (all riders, actually) on KCM: make a concerted effort to exit at the rear no matter what. Fellow passengers will see the benefits and you’ve effectively trained a passenger on proper transit etiquette.

    5. “Exit at back door” policy makes little or no sense on the long articulated buses, it would slow down the deboarding procedure in most cases rather than speed it up.

      1. @Elbar: +1. This is especially true in the tunnel. For the most part, buses are eitheloading up at the beginning of their journey or disgorging their loads at journey’s end. In either case, passengers exiting in front is pretty close to a non-problem. It might, just barely, make sense to disallow intra tunnel bus journeys: Link is more than frequent enough to meet that demand.

  5. The $5 cost of an ORCA card continues to be an elephant in the living room. There are now seventeen other bus smart cards available to the general public in the US. The most expensive among them, after rebates, is Utah Transit Authority’s FarePay, which just came out, and is $3. However FarePay doesn’t handle passes, and those who already have contactless credit or debit cards can do anything FarePay can. FarePay, as the name subtly suggests, appears to be for the “unbanked”. But then, very few credit unions have invested in contactless infrastructure.

    Among the rest, $2 is tops, post-rebate, which includes Jacksonville’s new Star Card, San Diego’s Compass Card (which still isn’t set up to handle e-purse), Spokane’s GoSmart Card, Miami/Dade’s EASY Card, Tucson’s brand new SunGo Card, and DC’s SmarTrip (which would have been reduced to free if not for the politcal morass of how to deal with the $2 peak-of-peak surcharge that gets charged upon deboarding the subway, and that the card can go $2 into negative balance – which seems like a bad policy when riders are misled about the cost of the ride when they board).

    Atlanta’s Breeze Card and LA’s TAP are each $1 after subtracting the electronic fare product that is required to be bought with the card.

    Boston’s Charlie Card, Chicago’s Ventra Card, Houston’s Q Card, Maryland’s CharmCard, Minneapolis’ GoTo Card, Pittsburgh’s brand new ConnectCard, San Francisco’s Clipper Card, and Ventura County’s Go Ventura Card are all free after rebates and subtracting the value of loaded product.

    That puts the average cost of the other US bus smart cards at exactly $1.

    Compared to that, $5 is pretty elephantine. I can understand why Metro would want to avoid this topic until after the election, but afterward, I hope every aspect of the fare system can be on the table. Fares need to go up (if only to show SOV voters that riders are taking a larger hit than drivers), but the fare system also needs to become smarter.

    1. i have at least 10 MARTA cards in my house. I hope they only cost a dollar, because at that price, I don’t have much incentive, as an occasional rider, to keep track of mine.

      1. Metro states the lack of incentive to hold onto ORCA as a primary reason for the $5 charge. But would anyone blithely throw them away if the card were just $1 or $2? or if you had to go through a time-consuming registration process (similar to MARTA’s and Muni’s) in order to get your $5 card fee turned into $5 e-purse?

    2. There’s an ad outside one of the buses that says, “Use ORCA, $5 fee (* fee waived with minimum purchase)”. I don’t know if you can get fee-waivered cards from the TVMs or what the minimum amount is, but it seems to me that if somebody is willing to put $30 on a card or buy a $90 pass, that should be enough big bucks to warrant a free card. But the only places I know that free cards are offered is sometimes with in-store discounts, or “try transit for a month” promotions, or at ORCA events for seniors.

    3. Interestingly, our neighbors to the north generally charge $6 for their transit fare cards. STM (Montreal) and Presto (Toronto) both charge a non-refundable fee for their cards, Vancouver considers the $6 to be a deposit, and allows the card to go into a negative balance. That feature, I believe, is patented by Cubic Systems, who run Vancouver’s system.

      So, our fee isn’t as insane if you look north. But, still, compared to US systems it is high. As I see it, the $5 should either be a deposit with the card being able to go into the red, or it should be free when you load at least $10 onto the card, either via Pass or e-purse.

      1. I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let orca have a slight negative balance ($1-2 maybe?) rather then lowering the price, which may cause backlash from people who bought in sooner, but I’m still trying to figure out how a company managed to patent negative numbers. I always thought that the patent on negative numbers expired thousands of years ago…

      2. Welcome to the world of Software Patents.

        Much like having a daily cap on e-purse payments that’s equivalent to the cost of a day pass, the idea of having the card go into the negative (so you don’t get stuck inside a set of turnstiles, or have a ‘guaranteed ride home’) is a function of software, and getting patents for such things in the US is stupidly easy.

    4. SmartCards in DC now cost $5. They used to cost $10, but after many years WAMATA lowered the price. Yes, it’s for the subway also, but paying on the bus with cash costs more, and transfers are not available without the card.

      1. I don’t see SmarTrip being sold for $5 either before or after deducting the product already loaded. The link in my comment above shows $10, with $8 loaded product.

  6. 7 years is a long time to continue dealing with bus cash payments slowing doing train operations. I still vote the platform become a paid zone.

    1. Why stop there? How about systemwide PoP? Metro already has fare enforcement, just hire a few more and let them loose on the entire system. If not the entire system then how about starting with the CBD?

      1. “If not the entire system then how about starting with the CBD?” On 2nd thought, that’s one of the dumber ideas I’ve had recently. It’s all or nothing for PoP.

      2. We can have PoP throughout the system without having all-door entry throughout the system. We can have all-door entry in the CBD, and have fare inspectors concentrated in the CBD, but the ne’er-do-wells ought to be kept on their guard on every route, every hour of the day, if not for smoother operations, then to cut down on the assault rate.

      3. Brent, sorry if I’m missing your point. It seems like all-door boarding and proof-of-payment have the following goals:

        – Free the driver from having to act as a security/enforcement officer.
        – Give bus riders a sense of freedom, by allowing them to use all doors at all time.
        – Encourage bus riders to be honest by stiffing them with high penalties if they’re not, in the same way that most people willingly pay for parking.
        – Fulfill all of the above without meaningfully impacting fare revenue.

        I’m not sure how these goals are fostered by only using all-door boarding downtown. Why would that be an improvement?

      4. At the periphery of the system (e.g. route 208 in North Bend), POP seems extremely expensive to implement. Do you have the fare inspectors take 2 hours to ride the bus all the way there and back? Do you have them drive to some stop along the route and have the bus sit there while they check everyone (if not, how do the fare inspectors get back to their car?)

      5. @Aleks,

        Having more security patrolling all the routes would have benefits unrelated to fare collection. Allowing all the security officers to check fares would give them an additional, and more objectively defined, tool to build a case against miscreants.

      6. With what money do you propose to implement POP, when Metro can’t even relieve overcrowded buses and is facing a large cut. Would you delete some routes to pay for inspectors?

  7. One slowdown is the standing passengers refusing to move back. The last time I was on an outbound 550, my yelling at my fellow passengers got the remaining four passengers on at ID Station, and five more on at Rainier, but at the cost of about 20 precious seconds of dwell time in ID Station.

    We need to keep the ORCA boarding assistants in ID Station not so much due to volume, but to enable the queue to bypass the standing passengers who don’t listen to the canned message.

  8. I looked on the ORCA website but i could not find an answer to this last night so I thought I would ask here: I have been using only e-purse because I haven’t been riding frequently enough to ever buy a pass. I’m looking at taking a job in Seattle here soon, and that would mean daily rides on a 59x bus. Does the pass that I load onto the card stay good for 30 days from purchase or is it only good for the remainder of the calendar month, regardless of when it was purchased, like the old physical PugetPass?

    1. Calendar month. A pass is only worth buying if you will take >36 one-way trips within that calendar month. If you buy mid-month and think you’ll take less than that, just load E-Purse until the next month rolls around. Oh, and ask your Seattle employer about ORCA Business Passport. If they’re a centrally-located employer, there’s a decent chance that they either already have Passport or would be amenable to it if you made them aware of it.

    2. The pass is good only for a calendar month, and the TVM lets you specify which month. However, you can’t buy the pass for next month until the 16th of this month, at least at the TVMs.

      But I would suggest asking your employer if they handle transit passes. Even if they don’t subsidize the pass, the amount that is deducted from your paycheck is pre-income-tax. That’s worth several or more dollars a month, depending on your income bracket. Even if you don’t get the pass, any e-purse loaded by your employer is pre-income-tax.

      1. It’s back down to $130/month pre-tax. So if you need a $3.75 (or more) pass [e.g. for CT commuter buses], some of your pass will be taxable. Where I work, only the first $130 comes out of your paycheck, and you have to provide the thrid party provider with a credit card for the rest. I’m told that this has been a major hassle.

      2. I don’t get why ST charges so much for train rides when the biggest thing it achieves is to push passengers onto lower-fare buses going the same distance, and with higher marginal cost (which is to say the number of buses is planned to match the ridership). Maybe the feds are trying to tell ST that $3.50 is a good maximum fare.

      3. Sounder’s fares reflect Sounder’s higher operating costs. ST’s attitude seems to be “Make Sounder available” (because the subareas voted for it) rather than “Push everybody onto Sounder”. Perhaps it should do that, but that would require a decision by the ST board.

        Link’s fares are already lower than Metro’s or ST Express’s until you reach the distance of Westlake-TIB, and then only Metro’s off-peak fare is lower.

  9. Second that motion, Ben. In spades. Proof of payment works fine for trains. Lack of it results in constant delays for both trains and buses. Question to keep in mind for this whole discussion: what is the cost of one minute’s delay in Tunnel operations, for both LINK trains and buses? Honest answer would likely result in immediate implementation of what you suggest.

    Removing buses from the Tunnel subject to same calculation. Joint operations were specifically designed to maximize efficiency for trains and buses alike until the regional rail system could provide service on three corridors. Buses delays due to street traffic waste money too. Putting Lynnwood and Everett Routes 510 thru 512 in the Tunnel could save ten minutes per bus between Westlake Station and I-5.

    Seven years? Tunnel service opened in September 1990. In twenty-three years, the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel has never once been run to make use of the signalling system and off-board fare collection the world’s top rail engineers designed into it.

    Possible upcoming vote gives passenger public an excellent opportunity to make clear the elected politicians responsible for this valuable facility that remedy of the above is absolute condition for a positive vote for more revenue. No less deserves one.

    BTW, Martin: who exactly at Metro did you talk to?

    Mark Dublin
    Former Metro Transit Operator 2495
    Charter member, joint union-management Employee Advisory Committee on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project

    1. I agree that more has to be done to smoothe tunnel and downtown operations. But I would approach it from saying we have to get the additional revenue, and then after that, we need to give attention span to making the system more efficient. The vote to put the increase on the ballot should be the beginning of the county council’s attention span, not the end of it.

      The inefficiencies due to downtown operations pale in comparison to the money Metro would lose if the ballot item goes down to defeat.

      1. Mindset that optimizing Tunnel operations is more trouble than it’s worth has persisted through more than one business cycle, Brent.

        I’m not about to help destroy something I gave decades of my life to.
        But the fareboxes-in-the-Tunnel decision bespeaks a mentality that puts intergovernmental accounting in the way of transit operations. Costing taxpayers a fortune in lost revenue, and passengers uncountable damage in wasted time.

        Both groups above are justified in demanding a change of approach. And ballot language will be a lot more convincing if it forcefully includes one.

        A change of managing agency should not be necessary. I’d be nicer about this whole thing if I didn’t firmly believe that King County Metro Transit has hundreds of people on its payroll who are capable of better. Including a county executive and council.

        Recent change of residence limits credible threat to any King County election on my part. But I still get to keep my ORCA card, and Intercity Transit only charges me fifty cents extra to get into the ST service area and pertinent political gatherings.

        Garlic, crucifixes, sunlight, subarea boundaries- all such defenses are useless! Like the German poet said: “Denn die Todten Reiten Schnell!


    2. Allowing the ballot measure to fail would do far more damage to the transit network than the inefficiencies in the DSTT. It’s essentially holding the network and the thousands of passengers hostage over an abstract ideal, one that has little chance of success (you can’t convince the politicians of it in three months), so the result would be a double loss (shrunken network and no POP). I agree with pressuring the leadership to take more steps toward off-board payment, but not in this shotgun “Do it now or the bus gets it” manner.

  10. I suppose that it would be too much to ask that the fare be made universal for buses and LINK? That way, LINK could just run at very high frequency through the tunnel and replace all or most of the buses, and nobody would have to pay the extra fare for a short light rail train trip.

    1. Most of the people on the buses are going beyond the tunnel. If you moved the buses out of the tunnel, the passengers would go with them, they wouldn’t take Link a short parallel distance and transfer to the bus. The reason the buses are in the tunnel is to avoid congestion on the surface. (Third Avenue is wall-to-wall buses peak hours, and that’s without the tunnel buses.) Link’s nearest turnbacks are at Stadium (one station outside the tunnel) and the stub tunnel (where they’re building University Link). The stub tunnel has room for only one or two trains, which it already has. Most of Link is not running yet: that’s where your “lots of trains” will be.

      1. During tunnel retrofit all the buses were on the surface and things worked just fine. There is no reason it can’t be done again, and at least theoretically it wouldn’t be as bad this time around because Link is replacing some of the routes that previously had to run on the surface.

        The day when all buses are surfaced out of the DSTT is fast approaching. It makes no sense to waste any more money trying to optimize Joint Ops. Kick the buses out just before U-Link opens, truncate/eliminate some of the duplicate bus routes, and get on with efficient DSTT and LR operations.

      2. The volume of Link traffic would actually underutilize the bus tunnel today. This would not only be an inefficient use of resources (and your opinion that things worked “just fine” when the tunnel was being retrofitted might not be universally shared) but it would make the tunnel stations, whose platforms are already too wide and too long to make people feel safe, into additional security risks.

      3. +1 to what Breadbaker said.

        In the meantime, I think the best way to optimize tunnel operations is to focus on common corridors, and particularly services that will eventually be supplanted by Link. Kick the 255 out of the tunnel, so that it joins the other 520 routes on the surface. Kick out the 316, and put it on a common corridor with the 16, plus following the 522’s route to the I-5 express lanes. Kick out the Kent/Renton routes, since they’re ultimately not going to end up in the tunnel. Restructure service between the U-District and downtown, a la Metro’s proposed 73, and then kick out the peak-only buses that go to destinations that aren’t shared with the 73 (e.g. the 76). And move the 554 to the tunnel, since it belongs there until East Link opens.

        With these changes, we’ll have the following tunnel service at peak-of-peak:

        Bay A: 14 buses per hour
        – 73: 8 buses per hour
        – 74: 2 buses per hour
        – 77: 4 buses per hour

        Bay B: 12 buses per hour
        – 41: 12 buses per hour

        Bay C: 12 buses per hour
        – 550: 12 buses per hour

        Bay D: 10 buses per hour
        – 216/218/219: 8 buses per hour
        – 554: 2 buses per hour

        That strikes me as a much more manageable load than what we currently have, especially if Link will upgrade to 6-minute peak headways when U-Link opens. And it would dramatically simplify life for riders who are going between downtown and destinations along 520 or I-90.

      4. Aleks,
        You would need to kick out the 76 also. Since it serves the park-and-ride at Green Lake, it should have a similar path through downtown as the 316.

      5. Actually, 6 min LR headways in the DSTT would be great, and that is the way Central Link was supposed to open, but the best they have been able to do so far is 7.5 min headways, and even that sometimes is problematic. Getting beyond 7.5 mins is going to take much more efficient KCM operations, and they have showed no real progress in 4 years of Joint Ops.

        The solution? Reduce the number of buses in the DSTT to increase reliability. The question really becomes, “How many buses do you need to remove to achieve reliable performance?”, and “At what point do you stop pouring money down the rat hole of joint ops and just go with Link only?”

        Eventually it will happen. The DSTT is already slated to become rail-only. So whether it happens with U-Link or Northgate-Link is sort of immaterial. It’s just a matter of how much money you are willing to waste between now and then.

        And security on the platforms is not an issue – LR-only or otherwise.

      6. lazarus,

        At various points, ST has claimed that they may switch to 6-minute peak-of-peak headways when U-Link opens, depending on demand. I don’t know the latest, though…

      7. “Most of the people on the buses are going beyond the tunnel. If you moved the buses out of the tunnel, the passengers would go with them, they wouldn’t take Link a short parallel distance and transfer to the bus.”

        This depends on how it is done. Without buses in the tunnel, it should be possible to have very tight headways on LINK so that using the train to get to the ends of the tunnel doesn’t add much to the current travel time. In fact, without buses in the tunnel they should be able to operate at a faster speed than the current snail’s pace. The real goal would be to make the tunnel much faster than currently, not just to increase the reliability.

        2 minute headways as done on busy subway lines in the eastern USA and Canada, or even 80 to 90 second headways as done on the Moscow Metro, should be possible (hell in 1905 they were operating a few of Portland’s streetcar lines at 30 second headways and those were STREET RUNNING with traffic interference). At these frequencies the tunnel essentially becomes something like an airport circulator to connect the major transfer areas.

        From the sounds of it they would need some work with reversing areas. There is an awful lot of space at Ryerson Base and the shops complex east of 6th and north of Massachusetts. It seems like some of that could be rearranged to allow for a couple of staging tracks for circulator trains that travel in the tunnel only.

        How far is the Convention Place depressed surface station and staging area from the stub end tunnel? Close enough to allow the use of some of that for reversing the trains?

        The tunnel is only 1.5 miles long. If speeds of the trains can average in the 17 miles per hour range (and street running light rail lines in some cities do this as an average speed, so it is hardly outside the realm of possibility – and ideally they should be much faster if the buses are completely out of the tunnel) it should only take about 7 or 8 minutes for a train to get from one end of the tunnel to the other.

        It seems to me that would be a huge improvement over the current pace of operations there, and as long as it is easy to transfer from the trains to the buses at each end it shouldn’t be any less popular, and may actually save operating money in the end – several train * hours replacing the operation of dozens of buses * hours.

        What’s the current maximum headways of trains in the tunnel, if all the buses are removed from the tunnel and the limitation is only the turning facility at the stub end tunnel (something would have to be done at the south end of the tunnel, no matter what, to get this to work).

      8. Exactly. And given KCM’s inability to run Joint Ops efficiently, going to 6 min headways would probably entail moving most/all buses to the surface. I.e., the only way to eliminate the unreliability of bus operation in the DSTT is to remove the buses from the DSTT.

        Yes, you can attempt to increase the reliability of the bus component by adding more BRT type features (off-board payment, etc), but at their very core buses just can’t operate as reliably as rail. So why tie your high capacity, high reliability “blue chip” service to the least reliable component in your system?

        I’ve always thought that Seattle just doesn’t get what rail transit represents. We’ve been stuck with a bus only system for so long that we actually don’t seem to realize that it isn’t really that dependable or reliable. We’ve become tolerant of unreliable service.

      9. Portland was like that for a few years too, though. The first MAX line was built after a decade of “rail transit can’t work in a city this small” leadership, in the face of vociferous demands for better alternatives to the bus during the Great Arab Oil Embargo.

        I should have ended the previous post with a question mark: “What’s the capacity of the tunnel without buses and only light rail operation?”

        Here in Portland they never built us a tunnel under downtown. Instead, in the 1970s they build the Transit Mall, which is similar to the concept of the tunnel but on dedicated surface streets. It has to content with cross traffic.

        In all honesty, I thought the 2009 conversion of the transit mall to mixed light rail and bus service was going to be far more of a disaster than it was. They were already having congestion problems on the transit mall, so adding 220 foot long light rail trains to that mess didn’t seem like a good idea at all.

        They wound up taking a number of the buses off the mall completely, including the 14 (really busy bus to SE Portland and Hawthorne Blvd) and 15 (similar, on SE Belmont). These now run cross-wise to the mall. Traffic sorting was kept similar to previous patterns except now light rail tends to have the right of way over the buses (normally, previously, all curb lane traffic had the right of way, so that buses in the middle lane would block traffic for any buses pulling away from the curb, and then the middle lane buses would be clear to get to the curb at the stop in the next block).

        Freeing up the traffic flow by eliminating some of the frequent routes on the transit mall made things a little annoying (when I arrive at Union Station from Seattle I can’t just get on bus route 14 or 10 to get to work now), but at the same time, a trip from one end of the transit mall which once could take up to 45 minutes to an hour (especially during peak periods) now takes about 10 minutes on MAX, or slightly longer on the remaining bus routes that use the transit mall.

        Since Portland has a single fare system (a bus transfer is good on light rail, and light rail tickets are good on TriMet’s buses) it isn’t too big a deal to transfer. There are things I like about the ORCA card, but even just tapping the card seems to cause slower bus loading at major stops than having a valid paper transfer or ticket or pass you can show the driver.

        So, I may grouse about losing my one seat ride from Union Station, but in the end things probably go a bit faster overall. It could have been done better (put MAX on 3rd and 4th, for example, so there isn’t any conflicting traffic at all – but a city master plan made in the 1970s says transit service must be on 5th and 6th and nobody wants to go through the effort of actually updating this plan to suit the Portland that actually exists today), but in the end it was an improvement for a lot of people. This is especially true with the tangle that used to be there during peak periods.

        Seattle has a chance to really make a vast improvement over Portland, if that tunnel were used to its best capacity. After all, it is completely separated from road traffic, unlike our surface street transit mall. Done right it could be more like waiting briefly for an elevator to get sent to your transit transfer point of choice. If it is fast and frequent the lack of a one seat ride isn’t such a big deal – especially if the result is faster service.

      10. There’s just not enough intra-downtown trips in the tunnel to fill a train every few minutes. The reason has to do with the the tunnel’s geography, station locations, and how much of downtown it covers. If it went from Spokane Street to Mercer Street, then it would have a lot more short-distance volume and would be more akin to MAX’s Yellow/Green lines between Union Station and PSU. But the DSTT is only five stations, and Convention Place has no train tracks (the road splits halfway between Westlake and CP). Most of it is on a steep hill going down to the water, so people won’t walk from 5th Avenue or 1st Avenue to the tunnel for a couple stations and then walk back — it’s too much out of the way and steep.

        For instance, I often go from CP to the library or Westlake to the library, either busing or walking from southwest Capitol Hill. In either case I have to walk out-of-direction down to the platform, go to University Street Station, walk up a steep block to 4th Avenue, and two more blocks to the library. But I have other alternatives. I can walk from Westlake to the library (six long flat blocks, and more direct). Or I can take a bus from the hill to 3rd & Pine and transfer to another bus to 3rd & Madison, which is one block from the library. Or I can walk through the Convention Center and then Freeway Park to the 5th & Madison entrance. Or I can walk through First Hill and down Madison Street to the library. None of these are ideal, and none are substantially better than the others. The tunnel is marginally useful for going 2-3 stations, and more so for 4-5 stations. (But 5 stations isn’t available with the train.)

        So the majority of passengers in the tunnel are taking longer-distance train or bus trips beyond the tunnel. If the buses move out, most of their passengers will move with them. The remaining number of intra-downtown riders would fit in the existing trains off-peak, or maybe one more train peak hours. That’s except for ballgames when the trains get packed with short-distance riders. But accommodating that crowd would just require an occasional extra service, which Link already does on game days.

      11. Most of it is on a steep hill going down to the water, so people won’t walk from 5th Avenue or 1st Avenue to the tunnel for a couple stations and then walk back — it’s too much out of the way and steep.

        That’s not what I am talking about though. If the buses get taken out of the tunnel they would absolutely have to be moved to a location that hits the light rail line at a very convenient transfer spot – preferably something that is a true cross-platform transfer. This eliminates the walking back up the hill part of it to get the bus. The bus routes currently leave the tunnel obviously any bus route in the tunnel must exit the tunnel at one of two locations.

        At the south end of the tunnel at least, that whole tangle of roads and track where the bus lines are staged to enter the tunnel could be vastly reduced in size if buses were eliminated from the tunnel completely. So maybe this could be a good place to put the transfer station between the buses and the light rail trains. Buses exit Ryerson Base, stop immediately at this transfer platform, and continue their route as they currently do. Total added walking distance: maybe 200 feet, and on a level platform separated from road traffic.

        Northbound at this location would be easier to rearrange due to the LINK platform and existing bus stop location. It’s already a very easy transfer between northbound bus and northbound LINK at Royal Brougham.

        The north end of the tunnel would be much harder to work with, if there is no logical location for an easy bus to light rail transfer point. However, at some point it must happen, since at some point buses will be gone from the tunnel anyway.

      12. When the tunnel has been closed for renovations a couple of times, most of the buses moved to 3rd Avenue and Olive Way/Stewart Street, with stops vaguely near the tunnel stations. One or two of them may have been on 2nd/4th Avenues for historical reasons. So when the buses get kicked out of the tunnel permanently they’ll doubtless go back to there. Passengers will complain that their trips take 10-15 minutes longer. If they’re transferring between bus and train (which they won’t do if their destination is downtown, but they would do if they’re going from south Seattle to north Seattle), then their situation will be like the other bus-to-train transferers, and better than some, since at least some of their stops will be next to stations.

    2. For ORCA users, there already is no “extra fare” involved. Link uses a distance-based fare. All current trips that fall completely within the Seattle limits are either $2.00 or $2.25. Off-peak bus fare is also $2.25. The only Link trips that cost more than this go from Seattle to Tukwila or Sea-Tac Airport. Since ORCA charges you only for the most expensive trip within the two-hour transfer window, the bus fare is already what sets the final price for in-city bus-Link transfers.

      This situation could change when University Link opens up. It’s likely that some in-city trips (like UW to Rainier Beach) could cost more than off-peak bus fare. I’m not sure.

      1. Thanks for the correction. I have an ORCA card (got it when they were still being mailed out free of charge) that I use when in Seattle, and on the e-purse I have always seen something along the lines of a $0.50 transfer fee at a minimum when going from SoundTransit services to King County services. Since LINK has the SoundTransit name on the side of it, I figured it would be the same transfer price as SoundTransit bus services.

        I wish I had known about that fare policy before, as I would probably have made more use of LINK if I had known that.

        Even so, most operations that seem to be doing the best at attracting riders seem to be those where a bus transfer can be used as a train ticket, and a train ticket can be used as a bus transfer. When I purchased a King County Water Taxi ride, I was issued a bus transfer that I could use on any King County bus.

        I know LINK has a different agency name on the side, but does it really need to be any different than this in terms of transfers being acceptable payment?

    3. It the fares were the same, we could add pay turnstiles to all the tunnel stations. That would “make the platforms paid zones”, which Metro believes isn’t worth it, since it would only be in place for the next seven years. I disagree. Seven years is a lot of time for buses (and trains) to be late and inconsistent.

      1. I’m more bothered by the 5-year gap between when UW station opens and U-District station opens. But again it’s the same problem: Metro could do lots of temporary mitigation if it had extra money. But it doesn’t, and turnstyles or POP or extra bus service would cost millions of dollars. If Metro does get extra money, I’d rather it put it into alleviating overcrowding and setting up David L’s network first, before getting into turnstyles and POP and things.

      2. “It the fares were the same, we could add pay turnstiles to all the tunnel stations. That would “make the platforms paid zones””

        If paper tickets could be purchased from a vending machine stamped with a time and date on them, that would act just like a bus transfer, you could pretty much do that now. This would also increase the boarding speed on the buses as fewer people would be putting money into a farebox.

  11. Metro continues to take actions to expand ORCA use throughout the system and reduce cash payments.

    It’s so hard to take this seriously when a) they continue to charge much more for ORCA cards than they actually cost, and b) they continue a use a transfer system that effectively penalizes and disincentivizes ORCA use for many same-agency transfers.

  12. I disagree with the platooning sequence presented in the answer. Ideally, you lead with coaches dropping off – they tend to move quicker and also pick up passengers moving within the tunnel (or Stadium Station with the 41). You then send 2 south end coaches through followed by up to 2 eastside coaches. Thankfully, this is mostly how it works due to the yield to coaches on your left rule. From left to right: Bay I: Dropoff Only, Bay C: South, bay D: Eastside. The 255 is the one wildcard as inbound 255s are routed to Bay C instead of I, possibly due to crowding concerns. (You could fix this by routing to Bay I or optionally Bay C if I is full)

    1. I still don’t understand why the 255 hasn’t been evicted from the tunnel yet. It really seems like a no-brainer. The bus never uses the express lanes, always wastes time getting from CPS to I-5, and the split corridor hurts effective frequency for riders heading to Montlake and Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point. No renegotiation between Metro and ST would be required to make this change. What am I missing?

      1. In a perfect world, boot the 255 and move the 554 into the tunnel. Although the frequencies don’t match, you’d get better service to Mercer Island P&R and likely could shift some of the 550’s load to the 554 by leading with 554s to catch Mercer Island P&R peak hour traffic. This would get people used to taking either the 550 or 554 to get across the I-90 bridge and would setup reorganization/curtailment possibilities once Eastlink is complete.

        Bonus: Making this change would fix the confusing schedule for the 216/218/219/Partial 554 that shows departure times for the 554 at tunnel stations with a note telling you to catch that bus elsewhere.

        I doubt Metro/ST has enough Hybrid coaches to do this immediately…

  13. Would this possible smart phone payment option integrate with the near field communications (NFC) capability in many smart phones to make them compatible with existing ORCA card readers?

    1. That would be too forward thinking for Metro / ST. They prefer using expensive, proprietary technology with many bugs and little to no way of upgrading in the future.

      1. While I agree that there’s much to hate about the current Orca implementation, any payment method that isn’t limited to transit use only would make life much less convenient for people who pay for transit using an employer benefit.

    1. Progress is being made shifting passengers to ORCA. Here’s a graph that I saw at the base. In 2012, Cash was down to 22%. Assuming the Low Income ORCA pass happens, that will take a large chunk out of that 22%. Cut another 30 minutes off of paper transfers (or just ditch them) and you’d likely get the numbers down to a pretty low level at which point a surcharge would hopefully meet little resistance.

      1. Trade paper transfer elimination for Pete von Reichbauer’s and Reagan Dunn’s votes. Give them cover to support the ballot proposal.

    2. The disparity between that graph (showing cash usage going way down) and people’s experiences (that cash usage is as bad as ever) shows the wide differences between routes. Generally, commuter routes are mostly ORCA, local routes in poor or isolated neighborhoods are mostly cash, and other popular routes are around half-and-half. Most of the increase in ORCA usage is occurring on routes where it was already higher.

      I have ridden the 168 and 169 end-to-end multiple times to monitor ridership and how people pay, and sometimes I’m the ONLY person who uses ORCA. Or maybe one or two others do, but the few dozen other riders all use cash or paper transfers. I assume this is because they don’t know about ORCA, don’t see an advantage in it, or don’t realize there’s a TVM at Kent Station (since you can’t see it from the bus bays). Some of them are occasional riders or visitors, so that would explain why they don’t have ORCA, but many of them are regular riders.

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