Metro Route 31
Metro Route 31

One of the things I’ll appreciate about my bus service, after Prop 1’s purchases have taken effect, is that Reduced Weekday schedules, whereby Metro cancels an arbitrary-seeming selection of express routes, and peak period trips on the other downtown-oriented routes, will no longer exist in Seattle. Frank did a great job of covering the meltdown last Veterans Day, as stranded riders raged at Metro for the delays and overloads caused by those cancelled trips.

With the approval of the initial Prop 1 purchases, the vast majority of Prop 1’s revenue has been committed, but I want to point out a corner of the system, where, like with Reduced Weekday schedules, we are doing things that aren’t particularly rider friendly, and which could be improved by modest or incremental expenditures of Prop 1 money, should that become available.

On days when the University of Washington is not in session, Metro runs a “No UW” schedule, which affects about 15 routes countywide, six of them in Seattle (and eligible for Prop 1 money). Similar to Reduced Weekday, No UW schedules cancel a handful of trips in the peak periods of routes which serve UW. For the purposes of Metro scheduling, the UW is out of session for one large, contiguous block of time in the summer (June 15th-September 15th), a couple of short breaks (Christmas, Spring), and a smattering of minor weekday holidays.

Adjusting schedules over the summer break makes a great deal of sense. The UW is a huge ridership center, and the change in ridership with almost all the students gone for the summer will be significant.  Over three months, the remaining riders have plenty of time to adapt to the reduced schedule, and the savings will add up to something significant. The case for cancelling a few trips via footnotes on schedules on the few other days seems much more tenuous, when weighed against the complexity and irritation those cancellations create for riders.

Here’s how I see the No UW schedule breaking down by route, and here’s what I’d do if I had a little Prop 1 money to spend:

  • 31/32, 75: two trips cancelled each. The 31/32 together form a core, frequent crosstown, a service on which we should particularly strive for a good experience. The savings on these cancellations seem hardly worth the effort. Let’s just buy these trips back.
  • 48: 12 trips cancelled; 67: five trips cancelled. The 48 is among the highest-ridership routes in the county, and with the opening of University Link next year, the 67 corridor will become one of the utmost importance in NE Seattle. Other similarly-important routes which serve the U District (44, 70, 70-series) don’t observe the No UW reductions. I think it makes sense to buy these trips back: the extra buses will be no means be empty, and the additional frequency will encourage ridership on these key corridors.
  • 65, ten trips cancelled; 68, nine trips cancelled. Buying back these trips would be more of a stretch. These routes aren’t rock-star corridors in the way of the 48 or 67; they mostly serve residential areas that feed the UW, while downtown riders end up on expresses.

By my reckoning, there are 40 Prop 1-eligible trips on each No UW day, and about 15 No UW days (other than Summer) each year. This amounts to a fraction of the service Seattle purchased to fix the Reduced Weekday problem, which was 4,600 hours for 458 trips per day, 9 days per year. I estimate it would cost around 600 hours to buy back all the No UW service (other than Summer), or about 300 to buy back everything on the 31, 32, 48, 67 and 75.

While the intent of Reduced Weekday, to squeeze every last drop out of our Metro money, made sense in a context of austerity and cuts, in Seattle’s context of growing service levels and ridership, it had outlived its usefulness, and will not be missed. Likewise, I think it makes sense for Seattle to study the possibility of reducing the reductions of the No UW schedule. While No UW has not (to my knowledge) caused a meltdown a la Reduced Weekday, it adds complexity for minimal savings, which is something we should try to eliminate from our transit network.

9 Replies to “No UW: The Other Reduced Weekday”

  1. I’m not going to disagree with the awesomeness of removing the one-day route reductions that catch commuters off guard (albeit only on the Seattle-only routes).

    But I will bring up an operational issue: Staffing, and vacation days.

    Few businesses other than nonessential government and financial institutions seem to shut down on some of our federal holidays. But the number of bus operators who would like to get those days off is larger than other days.

    The summer downgrade on some routes gives more operators the chance to take week(s)-long summer vacations. If MLK Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day are regular service days, there will be some unhappy operators who wanted to spend that day honoring the purposes for which those holidays were created, and won’t be able to get the day off. Your proposal would probably impact only 1-2% if that, of operators for those days, but for those operators who get caught between the new shorter cutoff and the old longer cutoff, it is a bitter pill. I don’t have access to how many operators request the various holidays off, or how many get holidays off.

    OTOH, Metro may lean on senior operators to do overtime to cover the day-off requests, which means calculating the extra restored trips should be based on the assumption they will be done by overtime operators at the top of the pay scale.

    There are, of course, other regular service days on which day-off requests probably spike, including major non-Christian religious holidays and any time the US is playing in the World Cup. I don’t know if ridership demand drops on those days or not. But I have experienced the difficulties involved in staffing on the day of the Eid al Fitr. Once religious holiday recognition equality makes its way into state and federal laws, the Eid will become an ongoing puzzle to schedule for in cities (like greater Seattle) with a significant Muslim population.

    Regardless of the holiday issues, the whole notion of standardized weekday schedules may become antiquated, as we get used to ridership spikes at different times of day on different days of the week, such as Friday mosque, Friday rush hour to leave town, Friday nights out, fewer 4-10 shifters working Mondays, etc.

    Maybe that is what is really behind Metro’s suggestion of eliminating printed schedules. The print savings might be significantly smaller than the service savings, if different days can be right-sized to meet the known ridership demand patterns for those days.

      1. My understanding is that the labor agreement with ATU gives senior drivers preference for extra work, regardless of overtime implications.

  2. I agree with everything Bruce says, and would just add one more observation.

    Riding the 235 the week before Christmas, and listening to the lengthy announcement about which days would be reduced weekday, and which were holiday, and which were no-UW, I was struck by how complicated this stuff sounds to a lot of riders. Nobody expects regular weekday service on December 25, but there were a lot of permutations to parse through for the other days.

    For the marginal rider (somebody who might easily choose to just drive instead), that complexity of figuring all this stuff out is too much. This stuff needs to be as simple as possible.

    1. I agree. At a minimum, Metro should try and provide a basic, easy to understand system.

      But cutting down on routes like the 31/32 shows that Metro really has no idea how to build a transit network. Metro seems to be stuck in the 80s, and think that everyone wants to go downtown, or that buses like the 44 actually work. The UW is both a destination (for students and non-students alike) and a hub.

      1. Metro couldn’t win whatever schedule they provided on holidays such Presidents Day, Veterans Day or Martin Luther King Day.

        If they ran their reduced weekday schedule they are criticized and if they ran their normal weekday schedule then some people wonder why.

        The reason I say that is that I had to travel to the airport early at 615 am on this past Presidents Day when Metro had regular weekday schedule and Light Rail used their Saturday schedule.

        I traveled by the 41 to Westlake station and then had to wait about 10 minutes for the Light Rail. While doing so I saw a number of routes from the north going through the station almost empty. The routes included the 41, 73, 77, 255 and they had somewhere between 2 to 4 passengers. I also observed routes coming from the south coming into Westlake with maybe 1 or 2 passengers and in the case of the 102 it was empty. Yes those routes could have dropped off passengers along the way but I have travelled to the airport that early at other times on regular weekdays and those buses from both north and south were quite full when they went through Westlake station.

        So if you are Metro what do you do on these types of holidays. Run a reduced schedule and get criticized or run your normal schedule and have almost empty buses. It is kind of a no win situation.

      2. TriMet runs its normal schedule on these days, except ML King has somewhat reduced frequency on the frequent routes.

        President’s Day saw fewer people than normal on my usual commute (the far from crammed 10) but still headed towards standing room as I got off.

        So, I am not at all convinced there would be a plethora of empty buses on those days. Some of the most frequent stuff might be able to be cut back a bit. It seems like a reduced weekday and No UW schedule is a bit much. It seems like a reduced weekday would be able to handle both cases.

      3. There is a difference between a holiday schedule and a schedule based on when school is out. I know when it is a holiday; everyone does. But unless you are a student or faculty at the UW, you have no idea when school is in session. Even a student somewhere else has no idea (since the UW schedule doesn’t match any other schedule). Even people who are technically “faculty”, like those who work at UW hospital probably have no idea when the students have their break. Even if they do, it is crazy to shut down buses like the 31/32.

      4. Jeff,

        I think a lot of buses are largely empty that early on regular days because the 9-5ers around whom the system is designed aren’t riding yet. Those with early shifts are crazy to stake their careers on the first Metro bus of the day showing up on time. It probably will, but the unreliability is high enough that people whose jobs are on the line don’t take the chance.

        Metro can’t win on the question of having enough coverage in the early morning to entice early shifters to ride the bus, only to have these buses still be largely empty.

        The early morning operators have to drive to work because the buses don’t run early enough to get them to work, which ends up reducing afternoon ridership. As soon as Metro attempts to do hourly night-own service, efficiency enthusiasts with latte shifts start complaining about those buses being empty. But as soon as they need to travel at an unusual time, and their peak express is not available, they too will suffer from the span-of-service death spiral.

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