The ongoing “North by Northwest” series by Joe Konzlar (AvGeekJoe) which frequently feature recent trials of Island Transit remind me of some of my transit adventures northwest Washington. I haven’t been able to visit that part of Washington for over a year, and so a lot of things have changed. Thus, I write this from a past tense perspective, since things have obviously changed quite a lot.
Unfortunately, my first effort at using Island Transit to get somewhere wasn’t a resounding success, but most of this was not due to Island Transit’s organization, as will be seen.
This trip happened as I was visiting Port Townsend, and wanted to leave there and return to Seattle around mid-day. Other than Island Transit, there really isn’t a whole lot connecting various points in northwest Washington during the middle of the day. At the time of this trip, the earliest afternoon series of connections between Jefferson Transit and Kitsap Transit was 4 in the afternoon, leaving Island Transit as the only option at that time of day.
The first part of that trip went very well: I walked to the Port Townsend – “Coupville” ferry to get to Fort Casey State Park. That part was simple.
However, getting from that end of the ferry to Island Transit route 1 going south was a terrible introduction to Island Transit. IT route 6 was out of synch with the ferry, so that a bus had just left about the time the ferry arrived. Furthermore, The #6 at its southern end was terribly out of synch for transferring to the #1 at Keystone. Today, this is a bit better as the Steilacoom II is no longer operating this route as a single boat, allowing for somewhat better time planning.
The result of this was it took a bit over an hour to travel the approximately two miles from Fort Casey State Park to Keystone, where the nearest bus stop for route #1 happened to be. I could probably have walked this faster, but the road connecting the two has fast traffic and not a wide enough shoulder for me to want to risk this.
Once the #1 showed up at the stop at Wanamaker Road and Highway 526, things were a much different story. The bus was reasonably crowded, and made very good time, with the driver doing everything possible to speed the trip up a bit, as we were slightly behind schedule.
It is a very good thing that it did move along well, as there was very little room for error once the bus approached Clinton. On this trip as well as a subsequent trip a few years later, the bus driver called someone at the ferry terminal when the bus was some distance away, to let them know where the bus was and how many passengers to expect. That way, they would load the autos first, and be prepared to board the bus passengers after the bus got there. In both cases the bus actually arrived slightly late, as the auto traffic was already being loaded. However, once auto traffic had finished loading, we bus passengers were then allowed to board rather than making us wait for the next boat. By us I do mean there were at least 20 or so passengers that boarded the ferry from IT# 1.
Sadly, upon arrival at Mukilteo, transit passengers were greeted with yet another example of how well transit agencies in the USA are when it comes to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I got to watch at least one bus vanish up the hill when the boat was less than a minute away – in contrast to Island Transit’s effort at making sure one of its primary backbone routes had good ferry connections, the connection at the other end was rather incidental.
I’m not sure exactly what happened to the rest of the Island Transit #1 passengers, but several of us got on the only bus that happened to be sitting there. Everyone else probably followed the instructions that Google Transit gave (and still gives) for Mukilteo-Seattle trips. It essentially says give up, go find a bar, and wait several hours for the first northbound Sounder train to Everett and try your luck there, since Mukilteo had (and still has) terrible bus connections.
As it turned out, this probably would have been the best thing to do.
Just after all of us boarded, the bus driver announced that it was time for him to take his end of route break and shut off the engine, and said he would be back in 20 minutes. Just then another bus went by going up the hill. What it was or where it was going I have no idea, but at least it was moving, which was more than what I was going to be doing for the next 20 minutes.
Since the next 20 minutes of the trip involved no actual transit movement in any direction, I will spare the details of how I occupied 15 or so minutes in Mukilteo, but eventually the bus did depart for the top of the hill, and somehow I managed to be on it.
I think the bus I was on was Community Transit #113, but in looking at the timetable it seems like they may have changed this route a bit from the year I did this trip. I remember taking an hour long tour of various neighborhoods between Puget Sound and Interstate 5, while today the schedule shows it doing this tour in a blistering 40 minutes. Maybe I was also counting the 20 minute annoyance at the ferry terminal? I don’t remember.
Naturally, upon arrival at Ash Way Park and Ride, I would be able to get an express bus to downtown Seattle.
In fact, I got a real good look at said express bus vanishing into the distance just as our local bus arrived.
I then got yet more great looks at express buses coming from downtown Seattle, all of which then turned into deadhead runs returning to downtown Seattle with no passengers. It would be another long frustrating wait for an actual in service express bus to arrive and take passengers going south.
Then came the icing on the cake:
How well do you remember September 20th, 2010? It so happens there was a fire south of Seattle in the afternoon that day, near enough to Interstate 5 that I-5 south was closed “briefly” (so said news articles) in the early afternoon. This caused an immediate backup so that by mid-afternoon southbound traffic was backed up so far north nobody could figure out where the backup even started. Maybe somewhere in the Yukon Territory? This mess continued deep into the evening rush hour – which I was told by some fellow riders that by that time was really no worse than normal.
Compounding that problem was that at this time the HOV lanes on Interstate 5 were single direction only, outbound afternoon. So, northbound peak traffic was flying along just fine, while the express bus I was on moved at walking speed for the next two hours – in traffic that apparently didn’t exist since obviously if the traffic we were stuck in existed, they would have operated reverse direction HOV lanes there, and perhaps even a southbound Sounder trip or two.
My eventual arrival in Seattle was somewhere around 20 minutes or so earlier than had I departed Port Townsend on that 4 pm series of connections starting with Jefferson Transit.
So what should you take away from this experience of mine?
Somehow even working between agencies and services as different as Island Transit and Washington State Ferries, the 1 was able to connect with the ferry at Clinton and do so in a way where people at the ferry terminal knew exactly where the bus was and how long it would be before it arrived so they could do everything in their power to make the connection between the 1 and the ferry work well.
Despite all their other troubles, somewhere, at some point in time in the past someone at Island Transit knew that one of their backbone routes would depend on a true timed connection at the ferry, and made every effort to make sure that connection worked as well as possible. It was a cross-platform cross-mode transfer that required all of 30 seconds of walking to perform, between two transportation routes operating at relatively infrequent intervals. No other connections over the course of this trip worked well at all.
Now if only the connections on the Mukilteo end could be executed just as well, Island Transit would probably have far more passengers on route 1 than it does now – and the bus was nearly full by the time it arrived in Clinton.
Of course, I know all too well that I am preaching to the choir here, but the effort put into making this is how transit integration and cooperation really should work. It is a shame that an agency that at one time had this type of effort put into its efficient operation has experienced such an apparent management lapse.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed as an engineer / technical writer / technician at a small company in Portland that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars. It may be a small company, but he has only once been assigned the task of washing bottles, and therefore can NOT be described as being the chief bottle washer. Primary commute: TriMet #10, but sometimes seen on MAX Green Line, #14, #17 and #75.
15 Replies to “A First Experience on Island Transit”
Alternate title for your post: This Is Why I Still Own a Car. How did you get to Pt. Townsend? I hope that journey was less eventful. I’ve ridden my bike between Seattle and Pt. Townsend several times. A flat tire is the worst that can happen and if I tire out on the way back I know that I have the option of catching a MT, PT or ST bus for the final leg.
I like your use of the word “vanishing” to describe watching the rear end of the bus you need to catch disappearing over the horizon as you begin to contemplate the consequences of the missed connection. I recently watched a MT 50 “vanish” at 5:12pm from the West Seattle Junction when it was scheduled to “vanish” at 5:15pm. Forty minutes later, the next 50 shows up–packed like a sardine can with a cranky driver and an SRO load of irritated riders. Away we go on the slowest imaginable trip to Beacon Hill. By the time we got to SODO and waited 2x for crossing train traffic, the next 50 had caught up to us and we completed the trip with 2 buses running together. Who has ever seen the 50s bunched before?
Unfortunately, my most entertaining “this is why I still own a car” type stories have to do with TriMet post timed transfer plan era, and thus are off topic for STB.
Getting to Port Townsend will be covered in another post. This one already was some 3 times the recommended word length so I had to chop a few things.
Google tells people to wait for Sounder because Community Transit doesn’t provide schedule data in the format Google Maps needs, or something like that. Whatever the exact cause or series of causes, even the CT routes that work well aren’t represented.
Somewhere, CT said that they would look into working with Google Transit after they release their own Bus Finder app. What a waste, really.
On islands the ferry is the most important thing, and all other transportation revolves around it. I saw that on Vashon where I lived part time as a kid. On the mainland the values are different. The ferries play a tiny role or no role for most of the population. Almost nobody commutes to the island, while many islanders commute to Boeing or Everett or Lynnwood or Seattle. So if any transit does sync with the ferries somewhat, it’s at peak hours.
The 113 used to go to the Lynnwood TC, but was rerouted to Ash Way five or so years ago to save money. St first I thought your hour-long trip was to Lynnwood but you said Ash Way. Still, I’ve taken that bus twice from Ash Way, and I remember the first time taking an hour and the second time taking thirty or forty minutes, so you may be right about them optimizing the route at some point. Yes, it’s a shame the buses don’t synchronize with the ferries and are hourly, but at the same time Community Transit may be right that there’s not enough ridership from Mukilteo or the ferries to make it worth prioritizing (which would mean taking service hours from elsewhere).
You very well could be right that it was Lynnwood. It was after all 4 years ago.
Hmmm……Island Transit #1 connects pretty well with the ferry, and runs hourly. Community Transit #113 also runs hourly, didn’t connect that well with the ferry, and didn’t seem to connect that well with the express routes either. Island Transit #1 had a very full load in the middle of the day through a sparsely populated area. Community Transit #113 had almost nobody on it until it got close to Highway 99.
Remind me again which of these is supposed to be an island?
To be fair, today the CT113 to ST/CT express at Ash Way is scheduled for only 15 minutes or so transfer time, which is quite a bit better than the half hour that I experienced. With the two boat schedule at Port Townsend and the new arrangement of the HOV lanes on I-5, today this trip is probably a bit better now than it was.
The island is the one that has water on all sides.
Still, why is ridership in north Lynnwood so sparse a lot of the day?
The 113-to-512 transfer time may be better at certain times now, but I bet at other times and directions you’re still waiting 45 minutes. Or maybe not, since the 512 consolidation made it more frequent so it’s easier to take a trip closer to your transfer time.
Did you notice that the 113 also has a pretty good transfer to Swift? That’s a good thing.
This was 2010, so pre-Swift. That has probably changed a lot of things. It makes CT#113 a lot less island-like, and probably a few of their other routes as well as some ET routes.
Oh, you’re right. Swift started in 2009. It did seem like there was a fair amount of traffic getting off at the transit center on highway 99, but I rode over to I-5 so I’m not sure how many 113 riders were going to Swift or anything else along 99.
Compared to IT#1 the 113 seemed very sparse. Granted, the 1 is the only transit option through that part of the island, but then the 113 has a fair amount of activity around it, other than just the suburban houses, plus the ferry terminal.
The other thing would be to make the 417 and 880 more than just single-direction buses. Sure, there aren’t that many people arriving from Whidbey Island, but there was a bus loaded with them that got off the 1 and onto the ferry. Of the 10 buses that arrive in Mukilteo every afternoon and then deadhead somewhere else, it seems to me at least one or two of those could afford to be made into useful trips of some sort.
Sure, not very many people commute to Whidbey Island, but there is a near bus load of people arriving every hour on the Clinton end of the ferry. Who knows where their actual destination was. It’s hard to know how much actual regional demand there is with a set of terrible connection like this. Sure, there’s no demand for a tour of suburban housing and strip malls in Mukilteo. I could have told you that! Actual demand for 417 and 880 to do more than deadhead back? The only way to know how many people want that would be to present it as an option.
Failure to understand lessons like this is one reason why ridership on the Vashon Island #118 bus is so terrible. If it offered timed connections between town and the Lincoln Park Ferry, with RapidRide C right there on the other side, people might actually ride it it. Instead, the schedules are set with no regard to ferry connections whatsoever. Simply by luck, there are a couple trips a day where the connection happens to work out. The rest of the time, you have a ridiculous experience where the ferry lets people off, and the bus sits there for 20-30 minutes before finally departing.
Mukilteo, the 113 has awful connections in both directions, although thanks to the recent 510/511/512 reshuffling, it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. It is situations like this that draw me to services like Uber, although, even they don’t have drivers near Mukilteo more than once in a blue moon, so it’s pretty much either put up with the bus or walk.
The sad thing about this is that the Mukilteo to Clinton ferry schedule is about the easiest thing out there to plan a transit connection around. It is half-hourly on the half-hour for most of the day. Island Transit has figured out that they can have an hourly bus hit that pretty well.
The current 113 timetable seems to have the bus going through the ferry terminal at 8 minutes before the hour and half hour (example: the 113 arrives at and departs from the ferry terminal at 1:22pm, while the ferry departs at 1:30 pm). Northbound, that might give you enough time to make the ferry before it departs if you hit the ground running. Southbound, from the ferry arrival to the bus departure I don’t think you can do it in the available time, as if I remember right the ferry hits the terminal about 20 minutes after the hour, so you have two minutes at best to sprint over to the bus stop.
Most likely, you wind up watching the bus disappear up the hill from the ferry deck and wait another half hour for the next bus, like I probably did (I couldn’t see what it was that was going up the hill just as the ferry got there, so I don’t know for certain).
The other local bus route serving Mukilteo (Everett Transit 18) seems to have better connections to the ferry: there is a 10 minute wait from the ferry, and a 5-9 minute wait to the ferry (which still seems rather tight). http://www.everettwa.org/Get_PDF.aspx?pdfID=6472
Honestly I don’t understand why Community Transit’s 113 is so mis-timed for the ferry–the other services it connects to (Swift and 512) are frequent so they have more flexibility. Both CT and Metro seem to have a hard time implementing timed connections properly, resulting in riders favoring duplicative commuter routes to Seattle.
Very well written. The need for a solid transit net cannot be stressed.
When I worked in Poulsbo the ferry connections both ways on Kitsap Transit worked pretty well.
Oops, hit the “post” button too quick.
While I didn’t ride them apparently the timed connection to Jefferson Transit worked pretty well to. There were a fair number of people using it, and some actually traveling to/from points in Clallam County, using the Transit agency there.
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