The recent opening of the sixth and final RapidRide line was an occasion for Metro’s General Manager Kevin Desmond to take a victory lap in an email, highlighting high ridership numbers and customer satisfaction scores as well as federal grant contributions to the project’s success.

To things stand out: first, that RapidRide now accounts for 12% of Metro’s daily trips – 50,000 riders, with nearly half of those on the D&E lines alone. It shows that targeted investments in a few corridors can really move the needle for a large portion of bus riders.

Second, ridership has more than exceeded 5-year targets. Now, of course you can expect anyone whose performance is tied to a metric to set expectations low enough that they can safely knock them out of the park, but the serious hiccups that Metro faced when lines C&D launched make it clear that Metro genuinely had no idea how much pent up demand there was in this city for better transit experiences. Turns out they will ride, and you don’t even have to give them good coffee or good music.

As we’ve been saying on this blog for years, the gap between RapidRide and “real” BRT is fairly large. It stops too often, doesn’t run often enough, doesn’t have much exclusive right-of-way, and launched without crucial features like off-board payment.  It was basically just enough BRT to get Uncle Sam to help pick up the check.

Still, some of the kinks have been worked out, the downtown ORCA readers are here, and it’s now a crucial part of the region’s transit ecosystem. So what’s next? As the map at right suggests, the initial six corridors spread coverage across the county. With that task out of the way, there are several routes, mostly in Seattle, that would benefit from RapidRide treatment. Given that Sound Transit is now working closely with Metro and Metro is selling service to SDOT and we’re all one big happy family, there are a few things off the top of my head that these agencies could do to make RapidRide even better:

1. More exclusive right-of-way
2. Faster, more direct service on the D line
3. Bring more in-city routes to RapidRide standards.  Contenders might include the 7, 44, 48, 120 and Madison St. BRT
4. More frequent service! 19-minute peak headways are inexcusable

How else could RapidRide be improved? Let us know in the comments.

68 Replies to “Rapid Ride 2: Electric Boogaloo”

  1. I only ride the D occasionally, but I’m amazed it’s ridership numbers are so strong. I feel like the 40 is much more crowded when I ride it.

    1. Well, if you’re trying to go Downtown past Columbia street from Ballard, the 40 is it. Plus, the 40 is just as quick getting downtown as the D and runs through Amazonland, so a lot of people choose to ride it instead of the D.

  2. The real-time displays downtown have also been a signficant improvement. Not everyone has a smartphone or wants to dig it out of their pocket, press several buttons, and pay monopoly data rates to a cell carrier that doesn’t deserve it.

    More routes need some of the RapidRide improvements, particularly evening/Sunday frequency, real-time displays, off-board payment, and transit priority. But it’s not clear that they should necessarily go all the way to RapidRide. If hotdog red buses and other branding features are more expensive than regular buses, then it’s not clear we need those features. Plus the route-letter scheme destroys the geographical information conveyed by route numbers. I can’t tell by the letter whether the A is in north Seattle, south Seattle, or south King County, it’s just “somewhere”.

    1. FWIW, Consumer Cellular has decent data plan rates, as far as I am concerned. I don’t like having to use a cell phone to check transit status either. However, if I am short of data plan capacity I use the text message method to get arrival information.

    2. I agree re: the readers downtown. However, I think it’s somewhat baffling that such boards in the tunnel weren’t prioritized, since even if people had the wherewithal to look times up on their phones, there’s no service down there.

      1. Cell phone/data service is expected at some point, but I agree, there’s no excuse for the lack of real-time arrival signage. It’s also hard to find a bus map, cross reference the route numbers listed somewhere in the station with the routes on the map to see if they go anywhere useful to you, and then cross reference those results with the bus schedules listed somewhere else entirely. The system is totally archaic.

    3. “the route-letter scheme destroys the geographical information conveyed by route numbers.”

      do you have a good reference that explains what the numbers mean? I have generally picked up that a lot of the 70s go to the U District, the 30s go to Fremont (except that the 30 doesn’t anymore), and I don’t know any other rules of thumb.

      1. Here’s a good DQ on Metro’s part: The destination sign literally reads “F Burien” !!! That’s at least one way to remember it, and that’s one reason why the lettering needs to go.

    4. The existing RapidRide lines have very clear geographic names if you sound out the destinations:
      A = Federal WAY
      B = Bellevue
      C = West SEAattle
      D = Ballar
      E =
      F = Renton? That’s Far.

    5. Whatever happened to the Real-Time board at Northgate? That’s one place that can really use one.

  3. Does anyone else think it odd that there is a Rapidride E and Swift on the same corridor with no through routing? If Amtrak Cascades were operated this way, you would have to change trains at Vancouver, WA between trains funded by Oregon and Washington.

    1. RapidRide and Swift are relatively incompatible services. Even if there was an inter-agency agreement, the single combination of Swift and the E-line would stretch out as to be unreliable, especially when you get into and (more importantly) out of downtown Seattle. Also, since RapidRide has a hybrid on-board and off-board payment system, Swift is off-board payment only, so that would be something that Swift would have to give up. And Swift has much fewer stops, and stops at all stops regardless of whether a passenger needs to get off.

      1. Yes, they are incompatible as they are right now. However, if RapidRide were operated as it should be operated, it would look like Swift I think.

        I doubt very much that there are that many transfers between the two considering the inconvenient location of the transfer point. The one or two times I had to transfer there, it struck me as being a place that if it were located on a light rail line, the light rail line would have been built as a through line rather than making a major end point and transfer facility there.

        In my opinion the corridor should be treated as a corridor, and just because King County ends there doesn’t mean the transportation corridor ends there.

        So, maybe make RapidRide only go as far north as the Green Lake area, or some other location where there are a number of routes coming together that serve as a logical transfer point, and extend Swift south to that point, and pay Community Transit whatever would have been expended to operate RapidRide over that distance?

        Hey, it was a question about how to improve RapidRide. He didn’t ask how to make the political agreements work better.

      2. I believe the long-term plan is that Swift will eventually be extended south to 185, at which point, it will turn east towards I-5 and terminate at the 185th St. Link Station. This will be a major improvement over the current situation where connecting between the Swift corridor and Seattle is a major pain, a big reason why after all these years, I have still never ridden it.

    2. It is slightly odd, but makes sense because you are talking two separate transit agencies. The stranger part is Aurora Village Transit Center, which seems to be a transit center only for the convenience of the operating agencies, and perhaps a tax write-off for the owners of Aurora Village. Its on a residential arterial, at the backside of a strip/big box shopping complex, has no park and ride, and is a fairly small terminal. Not to mention slightly down the street is Shoreline P&R

      In further study, the E line seems to have too many stops, at least on the northern leg (every 5 blocks or so), and the “D” line comes very close to aurora and even Northgate at that point but does not proceed any further.

      1. I understand how it may seem odd to split the service. It’s done because Snohomish County tax payers would be paying for King County riders and vice versa. In a perfect world, there would be collaberation between the two counties and agencies to provide transfer-free service.

        I spoke to one of Community Transit’s planners a few months back. CT is looking into extending SWIFT to the planned 185th St Link Station when light rail comes to Shoreline. I’m not sure how that would work as far as funding and shared costs between the two counties.

        But there is one drawback in having a line extend from Everett to downtown Seattle via Hwy 99: reliability. Even a BRT line such as the Swift would probably have difficulty in keeping up with a schedule because it’s such a long ride. If there’s a blocking issue along the line, then it would affect so many other riders.

  4. Better transit signal priority. I took the A-Line from Kent-Des Moines Rd to SeaTac and of the 14 signalized intersections the bus went through it hit a red light at approximately 10 of them. On a corridor with fairly light cross traffic I find that ridiculous and generally avoidable. Metro and cities with RapidRide service need to sit down and work out the technical and timing issues because I believe this is a major failing of RapidRide that is avoidable.

    1. This, plus publishing TSP metrics for each intersection with measurable targets. Metro/SDOT have detailed logs. The public should be able to compare TSP priority vs GP traffic counts and ask why, in many cases, a far greater number of bus riders are being held to avoid messing with signal timing.

  5. I commuted via RapidRide A-Line for three years. I got used to gauging how full and how late a particular bus arrival was to determine if I should get on the next one. Usually what happens is during peak times when it comes every 10 minutes, a bus that is nearly to over 10 minutes late comes rolling in with people standing in the isle, and the next bus (usually late, but only by a few minutes) would come a few minutes later, and be almost empty, and would often pass the full bus at one of the stops.

    1. I do something similar on the 71/72/73X. Southbound I get on at 50th or 45th before the crowd. Northbound I live near Convention Place so the crowd is already on board. I take the one that normally arrives 10 minutes before my transfer. That way if (A) I can’t get on it or (B) it doesn’t come or (C) I miss it, there’s a 50% chance I can still make my transfer with the following bus. Or I take the 255 + 43/48 if it comes immediately after. In practice the 71/72/73X come at random times with unpredictable fullness, so my “10 minute window” usually allows me to make my transfer but not always.

    2. If I can squeeze on a bus, I don’t wait for an unseen following bus (because it may not come), but if I do see the following bus in the horizon I’ll wait for it because it’s usually half-full or less. Or sometimes when I get fed up with the 71/72/73X southbound, I take the 43 or 49 because they’re less stressful.

    3. Standard practice waiting for the 41 in the tunnel. Also standard practice while waiting for the 522/312/306 combo on 125th.

    4. I used to something similar with the 545 between Seattle and Redmond – an on-time bus following a very late bus was the best chance of getting a seat. Now, on most days, I just grab the 542. OneBusAway has been reliable enough that, even if the 545 comes first, I will often still wait for it. It is well worth an extra 3 minutes of waiting at the bus stop if it means getting a seat for the next 30 minutes that the bus will be crawling in traffic.

  6. I would not mind a D express during peak hours– using the 15X routes (and therefore no Queen Anne detour) to supplement the 15x buses so there 7.5 minute headways of express buses instead of 15 minute express headways. If necessary, they could charge 25 cents extra than the D to pay for it.

    1. How big of a farce is “Rapid”Ride when customers clamor for an express version?

    2. Well, we already have that – it’s just branded the 15X. Perhaps what you are asking for is for the 15X to run in the reverse direction.

      Or better yet, for the D-line to follow the 15X routing all-day, with the 15-local being a peak-only route.

    3. In my opinion, if they had a D-Limited route (basically the 15 as is), all day, both directions between 7 and 7 (with all day bus lanes on 15th/Elliot), it would be a well utilized route and the D-Regular would be underutilized.

  7. More signal prioritization, please. There are really only three reasons a bus should have to wait for a signal at all: emergency vehicles, and other buses. We should really be thinking of buses like we do trains: at a rail crossing, cars have to wait for the train to pass, and not the other way around. The sooner the city traffic bureaucrats understand this, the better.

    1. There’s a city in New Zealand or Australia that gives buses the same priority as emergency vehicles. We should start thinking that way too. A bus might have 75 people on it, while three cars taking the same space have only 3 people in them. (Or maybe 4 or 6. Or very unlikely 15. But still only a fraction of the number of people the bus has.)

    2. This. A bus should never wait at an intersection that has no transit or bike/ped traffic going in the perpendicular direction.

      And police need to be ticketing intersection blockers aggressively at the intersection we do have TSP, especially downtown at rush hour. Even better would be for some of the fine proceeds to go into transit. In Skylar’s Paradise World, the fine would be scaled based on the number of transit riders delayed, and the length of the delay.

  8. I loathe the D. I only ride it occasionally, and apparently other people have good experiences, but whenever I ride it southbound (particularly in the evening), my bus gets hosed up in Lower Queen Anne. More than once I’ve abandoned the bus and walked to save time. The LQA bottleneck combined with occasional Ballard Bridge delays and a silly and avoidable lack of signal priority at the left turn to Mercer just make it infuriating to me. End rant.

    The signal priority issue seems like an easy fix, but I’m not sure what can be done to fix the other issues on this particular route.

  9. I think our RapidRide routes should be more like the 38-Geary service in San Francisco, which has local, limited, and peak express variants in a mostly legible pattern. OTOH, an AX could stop only at 272nd, Highline, S. 200th, SeaTac, and TIBS. The C-line is already pretty good, but maybe a peak-only CX could run nonstop from the Westwood to the Junction and nonstop from the Junction to Downtown, skipping Avalon. The DX could skip the Uptown deviation. The EX could skip half the stops north of 85th and also skip the Lynn and Galer stops.

    1. How would you route the C to get to the Junction? Or would you just have it go along the current route but make no stops? You’d at least need to hit the ferry terminal.

      1. For starters, when the C-line gets to the junction, it could turn left directly from Alaska onto California, just like the cars do, rather than doing an around-the-block detour just because that’s what the pre-RapidRide buses used to do.

        The small number of parking spaces that would have to be sacrificed to make room for a bus stop on California could be made up by converting the C-line’s current stop at the junction back into parking.

  10. The F-line routing is concerning. I work in Renton; anecdotally, I feel like there are far too many stops in the congested Grady Way/Rainier Avenue corridors (despite the route’s efforts to avoid them).

    Once Strander Boulevard opens, a major efficiency opportunity comes about.

  11. I wonder how much the D’s numbers would improve if they skipped Mercer and LQA? I avoid it like the plague for this reason when going to/from Ballard.

    1. Metro planners, of course, will tell you that LQA ridership is high enough as a percentage of total ridership to meet the agency’s “deviation criteria”.

      They seem to have no conception of the ridership they forgo, of how many people — you, me, the overwhelming majority of car owners in all parts of Ballard — who “avoid it like the plague” because the route is so absurd and the reliability so unbearable.

      Yes, Metro, substandard transit has opportunity costs.

    2. And lower of the LQA ridership it does get is people headed between LQA and downtown, who could catch any number of frequent buses (1, 2, 3, 4, 13), when the D-bus happens to come by first.

      For those going between LQA and Ballard, walking to Elliot or Denny to catch the bus really shouldn’t be that big a deal.

      1. That’s exactly what many D-line Sounding Board members suggested in 2008, when Metro was planning this new Seattle-Ballard service.

  12. I usually ride the 44 to the 30 (i.e. there’s no RapidRide where I usually go) but the one time I did ride the E line (during peak hours when it’s supposed to come every 5 min) they were bunched up so that I waited 15 min. It didn’t seem any different from any other Seattle bus to me, except boarding was faster because nobody paid (waiting 15 min I did not see anyone who got to the stop after me tap their card on the outside reader— I’m not 100% sure of the rules, but I thought that was how you’re supposed to pay).

  13. Charting on-time performance by route:stop pair (for RapidRide and for other routes).

    AlexKvet states the problem really well: 20 minutes will pass without a bus, then 2 will arrive in 2 minutes. Aside from the delay, this also means the first one is packed and the second empty.

    My ideal chart would be per route and stop, with a chart of minutes delayed at the time it arrived. Best case is a flat line at 0. Second best for frequent routes is a nearly-flat line at something a bit higher than 0: if all buses are 5-7 minutes behind, passengers are unlikely to notice.

    Worst is a line that spikes between ~0 minutes and 2*boarding interval minutes.

    If you use OneBusAway, these charts are basically measuring the same thing you are.

    All of these cases are going to happen from time to time. They’re unavoidable. Without passenger-accessible public charts, there’s no way to spot problem neighborhood: route pairs or see the impact of service changes, though.

    Metro probably has this data, maybe even in this “minutes delayed by route:stop” chart form. It should be public as This is Metro Analytics.

    1. Do they ever switch late buses to “Deboarding Passengers Only” or some similar status, so that the late bus can run ahead a little bit and catch up to where it should be? On a route with frequent service this would make sense to help preserve spacing.

      This would be particularly helpful on the D, I think, when the Ballard Bridge opens.

      1. That has its own set of problems, in that it would cause people who have already been waiting far long than they were supposed to to get passed and have to wait even more. Then there’s the fact that if the bus is packed, it’s probably going to have to stop at pretty much every stop anyway, even just for passengers exiting.

      2. I’ve only seen buses bypass waiting passengers because they’re truly full, not due to timing.

        Otherwise, what asdf said. The idea has some merit, but risks penalizing passengers at stops which are later in a route.

        Bonus of measuring and charting it: trip planner apps would have a data source for average delay and % of trips delayed for specific boardings (stop+route+time).

      3. I would certainly not want to see it done as often as TriMet used to do it. However, if one is right behind the other there, as happens with the bridge openings, allowing the first to get a head start would eliminate some of the problems with two buses trying to access the same stop where there isn’t space for them.

  14. In reading through the comments above, it appears the consensus is for improvements rather than expansion of Rapid Ride. It would be interesting to see if the attitude is any different among the casual transit user. If I lived in King County, I would probably also be pushing more true BRT features instead of new lines, too. I realize that in a perfect world we would have enough money for both.

    In Snohomish County, the opposite is the prevailing thought process. The focus is more on expansion and additional Swift lines rather than improving what we have. I know the consensus is that Swift has more BRT elements than Rapid Ride, but it still does have some improvements that could be made. Yet no one is advocating for these, instead pushing for more lines.

    1. It would be politically painful, but I think the E-line could benefit from this immensely.

  15. Metro has done a very poor job educating customers that they can board any door. Too many people still line up at the front door to show the driver their transfer ticket, slowing the routes down. Metro believed people will eventually figure it out. Well, a few smart people figured out, and a whole out of people who are perpetually out of it haven’t. Metro needs to really educated people on how to ride RR. When I recognize the same regulars, still holding up their transfers to the driver, year after year, it’s not the passenger’s fault. It’s a sign Metro has done a poor job educating people.

      1. The boarding logic for people with transfer tickets is very simple. People never have to show the transfers to the RR driver, and they can enter through any door. But, since Metro has done a poor job of educating people about this fact, people with transfers still think a RR bus is like a regular Metro bus, where they have to show the driver their transfers. Sit back, sometime, when you are sitting on a RR bus, and watch as people line up at the front door (when the middle and back door are open), and watch all the people show their transfers to the driver. This is slowing down the route. And this is Metro’s fault.

  16. The C line should stop at Lincoln Park where there are stoplights/crosswalks and better accessibility to the waterfront, rather than just have the one stop in the middle that really appears to serve no one very well.

  17. Ways to Improve?

    E Line: Eliminate stops at 200th, 180th, either 165th or 160th, 152nd, and 90th. There is hardly a difference between the 358 and the E line today.

    F Line: Eliminate the Tukwila Sounder stop during midday and weekends. If the 140 did this, why not the F-Line? If the Sounder isn’t running, then there won’t be any riders at Tukwila Station at 2p or on a Saturday.

    Gradullay move to off-board payment, one line at a time.

      1. I sincerely doubt the 4 Cascades trains that stop at Tukwila each day justify all day F-line service to the station. Those Amtrak riders are few and most likely not taking Metro to/from the station.

        Let’s revert the F-line to the 140 routing: serve Tukwila when only needed.

      2. I took the F five times in the past week (round trips to the Landing re a computer purchase). They all stopped at the Sounder station when no trains were there. But as I magined myself a Rentonite coming to take Sounder or Amtrak, what most worried me was missing the train if the F was late. All those turns and traffic don’t inspire confidence in punctuality.

  18. I don’t think the 44 or the 7 would make good Rapid Rides. I just don’t think they can be sped up enough to not dilute the brand (which is not that great anyways). Improvements could help both a lot though, starting with more low-floor coaches. For some reason these lines always seem to get the antiques. I’m not sure about off-board fare payment on non-RR routes. It seems like people would get confused and still not use it.

    The 120 would make a great addition to RR and the Delridge community totally deserves it. Other than that, I think improvements to the current lines, especially dedicated ROW, signal priority, and off-board fare payment on any stops that don’t already have it.

    1. Both the 44 and 7 have been the subject of SDOT projects in the last few years. I’ve actually never been on the 7 (I know, “Hand in your STB commenter badge, Mr. Dimond”), but my observation of the 44 suggests the improvements in Wallingford have made a real difference, if only an incremental one. Both the 7 and 44 will see another incremental improvement when new trolleys arrive (the worst delays I’ve seen on the 44 were the result of malfunctioning lifts; the new coaches should be more reliable and quicker for boarding people with all kinds of mobility challenges and devices, especially wheelchairs). And the 7 is probably doing better now than it was when FHSC construction was really bad on Jackson (I did ride a other routes on Jackson during that construction, and regretted doing so). So there’s been visible progress, slow as it may be.

      Meanwhile there’s a Denny Way project along similar lines coming up shortly — these projects don’t always get a ton of attention, but this is one worth watching. I’m not sure how much of a difference they can make there.

      1. I mostly gave up on riding the 44 between upper Fremont and UW in favor of biking. I must say that when I do ride it I’m pleasently surprised, but that’s not saying much given the years of atrocious service Metro provided with it.

        That said, at peak times, I can easily walk faster than the bus. I can sometimes even include quick errands on my walk and still beat the bus.

  19. I would add a Kirkland/Bellevue line to the list. I’m not sure about the actual alignment or timing, but there is enough medium/high density in both cities to warrant a high frequency line connecting the two. Old Bellevue will be an underserved area once the 550 is gone and South Bellevue should have ample layover space.

    I’ve also advocated for extending the B Line to South Bellevue – again, not sure of the exact alignment/timing, but there is a lot of existing housing in a rough line along the corridor and multiple large projects are ongoing at the corner of Main St & Bellevue Way.

      1. Serving South Bellevue is purely for layover space that allows the line to service the stops that the 550 currently does on Bellevue Way. I wouldn’t recommend serving Factoria as the whole area is hopelessly clogged with traffic for large portions of the day. But if somebody can scrounge up the substantial funding required to serve Factoria and/or Eastgate, by all means go for it.

  20. Oh, and the single largest improvement: 24×7 fare enforcement and eliminating the “board at the front door after 7pm” rule. The confusion this causes is likely the reason many people still board at the front during the day.

    As for the Hybrid on/off bus payment issue: I’m more concerned about eventually eliminating paper transfers and encouraging payment with ORCA. Save the ORCA readers for the busiest stops where they make a difference in boarding times. You’ll save on maintenance costs while generally keeping the buses moving.

  21. G: Seattle-Delridge-Burien (120)
    H: Bothell-Kirkland-Bellevue
    I: Rainier Beach-Columbia City-Seattle (7)
    J: Rainier Beach-Renton-Kent East Hill
    K: Southcenter-Kent-Auburn
    L: Renton-Bellevue
    M: Roosevelt-Lake City-Bothell (522)
    N: Covington-Kent-Des Moines

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