As Zach wrote about earlier this week, King County Metro and Sound Transit will be running tests this morning to see how many buses Metro can squash into the tunnel during PM peak after Link trains move to 6-minute peak headway in 2016 (See page 106.).
Given the tunnel closure, the Highway 99 closure, and the SR 520 closure today, be sure to check to see if and where your bus is being re-routed. For those who have to transfer at SODO Station, catch route 21, 97, 101, 106, 131, 132, 150, or 594. Routes 21, 131, and 132 are over on 4th Ave S, so be sure to get off at the Lander stop.
Metro is right to try to get as much usage out of the tunnel as possible, without turning it into a worse crawl than now. Sound Transit is right to try to optimize wait+travel time for the state’s largest-ridership transit line (by orders of magnitude after 2016). Unless the two agencies work out a deal, neither may get what they want.
The problem is predominately during PM peak, when the vast majority of downtown riders are paying as they board, and roughly a third of them are still fumbling change. Both downtown street-level traffic and the transit tunnel slow to a crawl, and riders in the tunnel are treated to 2-8 minutes of being trapped on buses and trains waiting in between stations for the next platform to clear.
Allow me to offer a modest suggestion. Let’s call it the “6/10 Compromise“:
Two-car Link trains would run every 6 minutes during morning peak, as planned. ST would replace the 2-car trains with 4-car trains during PM peak, and run them at the all-day rate of 10-minute headway during PM peak.
During the morning rush to work, time is of the essence for commuters. Having the trains run every 6 minutes will make a difference in attracting choice riders. At the same time, the tunnel flows freely enough, with the vast majority of riders exiting at the nearest door, that the current number of buses being packed into a shorter window of platform use shouldn’t be a problem (but would need to be tested).
During PM peak, getting the buses and trains to flow better is a much larger problem. But if the current number of buses suddenly had an extra 2.5 more minutes of window in which to flow through, the delays would drop significantly.
Consider the wait+travel time for train riders: Riders waiting for 6-minute headway trains would be waiting an average of 3 minutes. Riders waiting for a 10-minute headway train would be waiting an average of 5 minutes. (It would actually be less than that, as riders would have an easier time learning the schedule.) If trains are delayed 2 minutes getting through the tunnel, then that wait-time savings is wiped out. Two minutes is the minimum delay getting through the tunnel during PM peak these days. If Metro pushes harder after the tests this Saturday, those delays could go up.
So, it would be great for riders if the heads of Metro and Sound Transit could sit down together and iron out a compromise that keeps the tunnel bus traffic at a level that avoids travel-time delays at least 90% of PM peak, but also allows the current number of buses to continue using the tunnel, until they all get kicked out in 2019.
As an added bonus to running 4-car trains every 10 minutes during peak, that is more seating than 2-car trains running every 6 minutes.
The 6/10 compromise could reduce commute time for train and bus riders alike, and improve the riding experience for everyone.
Update: The Northwest Urbanist got to participate in the tests, and has some video, along with a report here.