Bunched buses from the 71/72/73 trunk route, photo by Oran
Bunched buses from the 71/72/73 trunk route,
photo by Oran

Next year, in March, several bus routes may be restructured to serve UW Station and Capitol Hill Station, with more frequent all-day service. It is nice to know that there will be another bus for your route coming every 15 minutes. But for riders transferring from Link trains arriving every 10 minutes off-peak, 15-minute frequency may create problems.

With such a service pattern, every other bus may be crowded, and every other bus relatively empty. On long routes (like route 372), the emptier bus may slowly but surely catch up with the full bus, leading to a pattern where two buses pull up back-to-back, every half hour, at the other terminus. This commonplace phenomenon is known as “bus bunching“.

It may make more sense for minimizing wait time at stations, stabilizing headway, and enabling operators to get their scheduled rest breaks, to keep these routes on either 10-minute-headway or 20-minute-headway, depending on ridership demand for that time of day.

Practical reliability may trump theoretical legibility.

50 Replies to “Improving Train/Bus Transfer Timing”

  1. I’m not sure I buy your premise. There are a couple of points. First, riders will take more or less time to get between the train and the bus. Some people will do it more energetically, walking briskly and climbing the escalators. Others will walk more leisurely and stand on the escalator or take an elevator. That will spread out the arrival at the bus stop and some may catch the next scheduled bus and others the one after that. Some may have time to burn and grab a cup of coffee before taking the bus. The extent that happens will probably depend upon how the 10 and 15 minute schedules mesh together.

    Second, not everyone will be going to the same destination. Some will have a local destination and walk; others may want to go a different direction and take a different bus or the same route in the opposite direction.

    Next, there are both arriving and departing passengers. It may be that the bus that loads the bulk of departing riders would not have had a lot of alighting riders to slow down the boarding process. Likewise, the following bus might have a lot of riders to deboard. That will slow it down somewhat, but not as much as loading.

    During off-peak times, I would expect travel to be a lot less directional than in the peak. At UW station, there might be some busy times when there are shift changes at UWMC or around class times, but most of those folks will be arriving on foot.

    It probably makes most sense for Metro to do their best effort at planning, then adjust things if there are problems.

  2. The best way to avoid this sort of bunching is to reduce the time taken to board passengers. Now that the ill-advised low income fare is a reality, there is no excuse for raising the /cash/ fare to 5 dollars, eliminating paper transfers, and banning the use of coins on busses.

    Providing off board payment at Link stations might make sense.

    Operating the route as if it were a through routed pair of routes, with recovery time at the station is a possibility.

    1. Yes, now that ORCA Lift is a reality there is no reason that that paper transfers cannot be eliminated in favor of single ride or cash day pass.

      1. Thanks, Z. Hadn’t though about this. Current non- transfer policy between ST LINK trains and Metro buses has got to go before first NorthLINK train leaves the yard.

        If this means, really that passengers with inter-agency rides will need an ORCA card, give them one. And I don’t mean “sell”, or buy online and wait for delivery.

        And at dawn for a month, load up at McChord, which is in Pierce County and prime candidate for Sounder station, and have crewmen kick bales of the things out into the slipstream region wide.

        Very tired of telling new visitors riding in with me in the morning that the’ve got to pay another fare at fareboxes for buses, but tickets for LINK.

        And that neither can be used on the other DSTT vehicles. For a ten minute trip. Evolution takes eons- though have heard ten years will do it for dogs. But Metro and ST have both been here long enough to Grow a Brain!


      2. Your comment assumes that only extremely low-income people use cash instead of buying and loading ORCA cards. People forget sometimes that low-income cards are not a panacea. A two-person household can make no more than $31,000 a year, or $15,000 per person, to qualify for a low-income pass. I’m willing to bet that most people reading this make more than $15K. Higher-income people who are still on the economic fringes of Seattle use cash for lots of reasons, including not wanting to pay $5 for a card, not having a credit card to load up their card at a kiosk (or the time to go downtown during business hours to wait in line and pay by some other means), or simply living paycheck to paycheck, with little ability to put money on a card because something else may come up that they need to use that money for. I’m no fan of paper transfers, but they do serve a purpose that isn’t entirely met by creating a low-income card for the very, very poor.

      3. This could be partially solved by having our transit cards also be usable at convenience stores, comme Taipei, where the stored-value (100 NTD to buy) EasyCard can be used at any 7-11 or FamilyMart, for any purchase.

        I’m not suggesting that low-income people shop more at convenience stores than other demographic — QFC / Safeway / Bartell’s could very well also take ORCA! –, but a measure like this increases fungibility just a little bit.

      4. Yes — that $5 fee for a card needs to be eliminated ASAP. Even for “not low income” people.

        If the ORCA card were free, or had a refundable $1 deposit (refunded when the card is turned in), then it would be much easier to get nearly everyone using it.

      5. Sorry, Erica, but at the 200% income thresholds, the “burden” of ORCA is far outweighed by the damage to mobility that results from slow cash payment, and the lost revenue from pervasive transfer abuse (especially by white 20-something hipsters who can absolutely afford their fares).

        This new program quite simply must go hand-in-hand with the adoption of the worldwide best-practice payment policies — elimination of paper, and higher cash prices as an explicit incentive for smartcard adoption — to which Metro has been infuriatingly resistant, to the detriment of the entire city.

      6. D.P., do you have stats showing that the harm to mobility from allowing cash “far outweighs” the harm of banning transfers to low-income bus riders, or just italics? Lots of factors slow down buses far more than people who have to put cash in the slot — why not ban people with strollers, while we’re at it, or elderly people with granny carts who need the lift, or anyone who has to fish for their ORCA card instead of wearing it on a lanyard around their neck?

      7. Oh, and re: “white 20-something hipsters who can absolutely afford their fares”: Stop, please, with this tired canard. You don’t know what anyone “can afford” any more than you know what someone’s handicap is that necessitates them using the lift. Don’t judge people when you don’t know what their circumstances are.

      8. Sorry, Erica, but there’s a reason that cash disincentives and no paper transfers are worldwide best practices, whereas Seattle transit grinds to a halt while evermore wheel reinventions languish in committee.

        Where smartcard adoption is pervasive, transit is simply faster and scales better. That is what turns a bunch of random vehicles into a genuine, usable “mass” transit network. And where there is no obvious paper-collecting route to “undetectable” fare evasion, incidence of evasion is lower.

        I use the bus a lot, especially at off-peak hours, and I am observant. White Stranger-demographic riders are the most pervasive methodical storers of 26 transfers and daily checkers of the fraud-enabling Facebook page. These riders are often seen on their way to a night of expensive drinking.

        I am literally at this very moment about to return a missing lost-and-found purse to its owner. I’m sure she is perfectly nice, but along with her ID and work badge (and other items used to identify her), there are 26 bunched-up transfers present in the bag.

        Such abuse is fucking pervasive, is not helping honest people in actual need, and has been eliminated in all rational peer cities for good reason!

      9. Personally, Overall availability of ORCA is something that has left a lot to be desired. It has come a long way, but more could still be done especially with newer technology. Regional Day pass is something that should have been done from the start, Universal availability is still lagging far behind (stores and machines that sell and service ORCA are STILL few and far between, Customer service telephone support and locations are few, and hours are bankers hours). Newer technology, like Cell Phone/e wallet/NFC Payment, and even fare boxes onboard the vehicles that could dispense pre printed/encoded day passes from their TRiM units (Like the new GFI “FastFare” fare boxes at PT) does not appear to be on any kind of radar. Adding other neighboring system, long talked about has never happened (due to cost from what I hear). Perhaps moving management of ORCA to a more neutral and regionally minded agency (Like a branch of the PSRC) would be better, and could allow more progress to be made, keeping up with technology and making access more universal.

      10. My apologies for harping, but ECB’s last comment is one of those gallingly pound-foolish “Seattle logic” knee-jerks that drives me nuts about this city.

        It doesn’t matter if I’ve correctly identified the “circumstances” of the transfer-hoarding fare evaders. (Which I have.) Because the fact remains that we have doubled the “regular” fare in the past 7 years, while adding entire percentage points for transit to our insanely regressive sales tax.

        Honest people get further squeezed by the dishonest behavior that paper transfers encourage. It really is that simple. Erica’s civic-good-defeating moral relativism is precisely what winds up making Seattle not work for the very people she claims to care about.

      11. @Erica,

        I have never seen d.p. call for banning cash. Putting a surcharge on cash payment is nowhere near the equivalent of banning cash.

        The problem isn’t people who need to pay with cash. The problem is that the system rewards a lot of people who can pay electronically for paying with cash instead. That is the much larger reason why the paper transfer program is such a menace to the transit system.

        Anywhere in the system that we’ve talked about “banning” cash payment, we mean at the front door of the bus while boarding. There always has to be a way to pay with cash off-board nearby if such a regulation is to be imposed.

      12. D.P. is completely correct about this: people who are poor but not LIFT poor often have places to be (they are, if anything, more likely to have jobs where showing up five minutes late matters than the upper middle class, because they’re more likely to be subject to a timeclock), and as much as the rest of us, shouldn’t be subjected to a slower than necessary bus system. That the slowdown’s primary function is to facilitate fraud only makes matters worse. Yes, ideally, ORCA cards should be easier and cheaper to get, but even absent those common sense reforms, it’ll benefit honest poor people to make the system work better, even if it forces them to go out of their way to disgorge $5 for a card. The defense of paper transfers also can’t make any sense at all unless you adopt the unfortunately pervasive attitude of “Seattle is different, what we can learn about what works elsewhere can’t possibly apply here attitude”.

      13. I’m one of the people who believes the benefits of eliminating paper transfers and discouraging cash payment far outweigh the current issues win the implementation of ORCA.

        While this doesn’t mean the cost and availability should not be addressed we shouldn’t let those problems deter us from improving transit service.

      14. d.p.: What cities exactly do you consider to have “best world practices” as you call them?

        Berlin? They have tickets that are valid on trains and buses, available by cash, and on buses you can pay cash at a farebox to get a ticket:

        In most of the places I know of, smartcards are used by a huge number of people because of their added convenience. However, increased balkanization of the fare structure isn’t something that I have ever heard considered anyone in the transit industry in any part of the world to be an “industry best practice”.

      15. Escape your small-town bubble for once, Glenn.

        That Berlin “ticket”, like in any of the (minority of) European cities that has not upgraded to a smartcard, is a magnetic-striped and timestamped item that handles all transfer logistics automatically (including the prohibition on round-tripping on one fare), and that cannot be abused. It is closer to a New York Metrocard than to a paper transfer as you know it.

        Furthermore, the nature of Berlin’s system is such that the overwhelming majority of ticket purchases will occur off-board, including at major stops served only by buses (like Tegel airport). The adoption rate of unlimited-ride fare media is extremely high, in part thanks to the usefulness and scalability of the transit system, and in part because the fare structure is designed to encourage such adoption through heavily-discounted passes of many durations. (Another best practice.)

        You might be surprised to know that Berlin is a relatively cheap city, and poorer than many European capitals. A base fare of 2.70 Euros is actually quite high, then, and designed to discourage multitudes of single-ride purchases with even the faintest potential of occurring on-board and slowing the system. Same principle, different fare medium.

        Anyway… In the plethora of major cities where full RFID-enabled smartcards have been introduced — need a list? — the efficiency benefits of very high adoption rates have been undebatable. Which is why, as far as I know, every single one of them has engaged in the aforementioned “best practices”: significant fare differentials; no transfers without it.

        In London, where base fares are already steep, the cash fare can be nearly double, and the Oyster is designed to cap your pay-per-ride costs at the daily-pass equivalent, you would have to be willfully stupid or wasteful to pay in any other way.

        This isn’t “balkanization” by any means. This is planning for the transport of large numbers efficiently and smoothly, while simultaneously unifying the payment medium across the metropolitan area.

        Efficiency is always a best practice.

      16. However, increased balkanization of the fare structure isn’t something that I have ever heard considered anyone in the transit industry in any part of the world to be an “industry best practice”.

        This seems deliberately obtuse about what “balkanization of fare structure” is generally meant to signify.

    2. Now that the ill-advised low income fare is a reality, there is no excuse for raising the /cash/ fare to 5 dollars, eliminating paper transfers, and banning the use of coins on busses.

      The second part of this sentence precisely identifies why even people who don’t care about social justice should applaud this policy: it eliminates a major political obstacle, since you’re stuck with a public full of people who do care about social justice, to a saner and more efficient fare structure and boarding policy.

  3. Timed transfers work in small cities without traffic, in the evenings and weekend mornings, on routes on small residential streets, and where there are transit or BAT lanes. They don’t work on general-purpose arterials that are prone to congestion, which most of our trunk routes operate in, because the buses can’t keep a schedule. The best way to guard against this is 10-minute frequency, so that even if it isn’t timed you’ll never wait more than 5-15 minutes on average days. That doesn’t help in pathalogical cases where you’ll wait 20-30 minutes, but nothing can help those except transit lanes.

    1. Mike and AW are correct. This piece advocates a worst practice: artificially reducing frequencies in a quixotic attempt to “coordinate”. Similar thinking is responsible for the ill-timed spaghetti soup that turns simple urban trips into 80-minute slogs today. This is simply not how good urban service works.

      Major routes, running cleanly and legibly by these new major transfer points as frequently as usage justifies and as funding allows, will win on “ease” every time.

  4. The Staten Island Ferry Terminal in NYC has buses & local/express trains that wait at the terminal until 5 minutes after the ferry has docked, so timed transfers can work in busy places…

    1. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate why this example might be relevant at the Lynnwood Transit Center, but have absolutely no bearing on a transfer within the three-dimensional urbanized area.

    2. I agree – that Staten Island example is not very relevant to the U-district (except, perhaps late at night). But it is very relevant to other parts of the Metro system, closer to the periphery.

      For instance, imagine how much more useful the #118 on Vashon Island would be if its schedule coordinated with the West Seattle ferry. Imagine how much more useful a route like the 221, 226, or 240 would be if it left Eastgate P&R a few minutes after the eastbound #554, rather than a few minutes before. Even in Seattle, imagine how much more useful the tail end of the 72 would be if it left Lake City a few minutes after the arrival of the southbound 522, rather than a few minutes before. The list goes on and on.

      Granted, none of the above routes would be exactly bursting at the seems, even with a reasonably coordinated schedule. But it would still be a modest improvement that would cost essentially nothing.

  5. Brent, remind me about completion schedule for all stations involved here. I’ve lost track. Hopefully, will last as short time as possible.

    Terminal at UW Stadium will be the worst. But coming in from the North, I think delays can be minimized by these measures, some long-overdue.

    1. Run 71-series down 15th from Ravenna south. Like permanent street fair.

    2. Make 71’s express south of Ravenna, stopping only at 45th and Pacific Place before reaching terminal. 7,44, 48, and 70 can take over other service on 15th.

    3. Rush hour bus-lane would be good. But if not, any chance we can get a mechanism for a bus at least to hold a traffic light a few seconds until it gets through? Any measure helps.

    4. Forget schedules south of 65th both ways at rush hour.

    5. At rush hour, have supervisors dispatch buses outbound buses according to load. Supervision at terminals and trolley turnbacks long overdue.

    6. At pm rush, just have buses “go when loaded.” If one driver needs bathroom break, just let another number leave first. With ten minute headways or less, wait above 65th won’t be any worse than now.

    Give drivers themselves radio or other mechanism to keep themselves on headway. Read once years ago that city Holland did this.

    7. “Zero Tolerance” for any fare policy causing delay anywhere- also long overdue.

    Make ORCA easy. Hell with the charge to buy it. All Day passes a no-brainer. Make loading platform “Proof of Payment” so both doors can load. As DSTT should have been since opening.

    Really wouldn’t sweat bus loads boarding trains- especially above two cars. Crush loads (ones in Seattle would be empty train in every other major city in the world.) How many “artics” would it take to fill a train, anyhow?

    But comment is right that one way or another, while it’s good to plan as much as possible ahead of opening, a lot will straighten out with practice- and get easier as opening moves north.


  6. What would really help is having cell signal in the tunnel so I can know whether it’s worth trying to make a particular connection. Of course, it seems like this is in the works.

    I think 10 min headways > 15 minute headways, but only because that means there are more buses, and if bunching occurs, it’s less severe.

    Also, you’d think that most people riding LINK aren’t going to pay cash twice to make the bus-rail trip, so even if you get two train-loads piling on a bus, it should be a relatively quick boarding.

    1. Exactly. As a general rule, more frequent core services better absorb demand spikes and external factors beyond the system’s control, and therefore “bunch” (i.e. see wild swings in individual-vehicle travel time) less than infrequent services, ceteris paribus.

      As the photo above (comprised of 30-minute routes pretending to be a frequent trunk) plainly shows.

      Moreover, core services done correctly serve myriad destinations and trip-permutations along the way. If your expected demand and theorized service pattern depends entirely on a single destination or transfer point, you’re doing transit wrong.

      1. You’re right about a whole list of problems caused by infrequent service, d.p.

        Re: Bunching…

        To me, best thing about five minute, as opposed to half hour service is that it’s not necessary to write schedules at all. Just communicate and supervise to keep service on headway.

        Also takes panic out of passengers. Like with LINK, absolutely no need – or excuse- to wait for “runners.” Also fewer of them.

        Would like to see calculations about added expense for short headways. I really think considering 71-series to be neighborhood locals, which they really are- would free up a lot of hours by eliminating sending any bus below the Ship Canal.

        Love “ceteris paribus,” Our Irish Setter was the precinct mascot for our Irish precinct police in Chicago. His name was Mike. People transferring from Laurelhurst probably do have dogs named Paribus.

        U-LINK or anywhere else, better keep on using yellow labs. An Irish setter’s nose is bigger than his brain.


  7. My many years of commuting this way taught me a few things. Any route less than 10-12 minutes does not need a timed transfer. If trains like Link at 7.5 to 10 minute frequencies run, the walk time between sitting on the bus and waiting at the platform takes care of any perceived wait. The same is true in the other direction.

    The only time when timed transfers make sense is when both routes are above 15-20 minutes. That’s not Link.

    I would add that it does make sense to hold buses for a few minutes at high-frequency rail stations where most riders are getting on or off, using the stop as a time point. Since exclusive ROW trains are usually within 1-2 minutes of schedule, riders can plan their trip to make a connection with a lower-frequency bus – if that bus departs the stop near rail with as much schedule accuracy as possible. Nothing is more frustrating than running from a platform to a low- frequency bus, only to watch that bus pull away across the street as one waits for the signal to change to get to the stop.

    1. Schedules should be high level coordinated for transfers, so that buses and trains generally do not arrive and depart at the exact same time, however meshing everything for every direction would be impossible.

  8. So Metro is planning to truncate the 71/72/73 at UW station, yes? I think having them run every 20 or 10 minutes depending on time of day is a good strategy. But maybe just running every 10 minutes would be good, especially since it would take fewer service hours to run these routes without going downtown.

    As for timing, I would really like (and I wish this was done a lot more with certain bus transfers) for northbound 71-73 buses to be scheduled to leave 1 minute later than the train and wait until the train gets there to leave.

    For the south direction, it’s not really feasible to make link wait for a late bus, so the bus should be scheduled to arrive at UW station 6 minutes before the train leaves. That way, when the bus finally shows up 15 minutes late, it’s right in time to catch the next train after the one that the schedule said it should have made.

    1. With Link running every 10 minutes, timing a bus like the 71/72/73 with 10-minute frequencies, to arrive at the station 6 minutes before the train leaves would be pointless. The natural variability of small, random, bus delays (or lack thereof) would still leave the average wait time for Link a random number between 0 and 10, regardless.

      Where schedule coordination does start to become very important is during the late evening hours, when Link is running every 15 minutes and the connecting buses are likely to be 15-30 minute headways at best. Also, a time when traffic is minimal and buses, in general, operate more reliably. But, trying to schedule timed connections in the middle of the day is not likely to help much.

  9. “So Metro is planning to truncate the 71/72/73 at UW station, yes?”

    Why do people keep thinking this? Metro has not said whether it will change the 71/72/73, much less whether they’ll go to UW Station. One look at Pacific Street traffic will tell you they may not be able to fit on it, and they certainly won’t all fit in the single layover space available at the station. From leaks from the sounding board, Metro will announce two proposals this month, one with a lot of changes and one with hardly any. The plan is to be solidified by June for a county council vote. What we do know is that some routes will have to leave the tunnel to make room for more-frequent trains. We also know that they’ll be 100% express in June or September when the 70 goes full-time.

    I see several possible scenarios. (1) Keep the 71/72/73 as-is but with less daytime frequency. (2) Reroute them to UW Station. I think that’s the least likely. (3) Terminate them at Campus Parkway, and beef up a “48 shuttle” between Roosevelt and UW Station. (4) Just delete them, add the shuttle, expand the 372 and 373, and do something on 65th. (5) The 66/67/71/72/73 downtown – U-District – Northgate superroute, plus the 372 and 373 and 65th changes.

    1. I’m personally of the opinion that the 71/72/73 only offers a significant time-advantage over the Link transfer when the I-5 express lanes are running in the correct direction and that, at all other times, simply letting people choose between the 70 and a Link connection is sufficient, provided that both the 70 and the “shuttle” bus run frequently. Especially, considering that a significant chunk of the riders who ride the 71/72/73 downtown today, for lack of better options, would end up either walking directly to Link (from the UW campus) or connecting to Link on the 65 or 372 (from Ravenna or Wedgwood).

      To illustrate the situation, I propose this simple test. Imagine you’re at the corner of 45th St. and University Way and you want to go downtown. Let’s suppose that while you’re waiting for your 71/72/73, a 48 comes first. (Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the option exists to wait at one bus stop for either bus, even though it does not today). Ask yourself the question whether you would continue waiting for the 71/72/73 or hop on the 48 that’s here right now and switch over to Link at the UW station.

      If the express lanes are open, continuing to wait might make sense, but if they’re not, hopping on the 48 and switching over to Link is probably going to get you downtown faster – even after accounting for a 5-7 minute walk between the UW Med Center bus stop and the station platform.

      In other words, if the express lanes aren’t running, the resources spent running the 71/72/73 all the way downtown would be better spent on increasing frequency to and from the Link station.

      That said, this is just my personal opinion, and Metro has not made any decision yet on what to do.

    2. What about a 48/67 route? I.e., follow the 48 from UW Station to Roosevelt Station, and the 67 to Northgate. That would be a true Link shadow, and Metro needs service on Roosevelt anyway. If it goes every 15 minutes as the 66/67 do, it would nicely complement the 48 between 45th and 65th, and the 43/44/48/271 between UW Station and 45th.

  10. The obvious solution is to run the train so often that it really doesn’t matter how often the bus runs. There is no way you can possibly time it perfectly, so why worry about. Do you think Toronto worries about making a tight connection with the train when it runs every five minutes (outside of rush hour)? What about Vancouver BC, which has core service (Columbia to the Waterfront) from 5:00 a.m. to 1:30 a.m every five minutes or less (usually a lot less)? UW to downtown is “core service”. Anyone who has ever read a map, done a little research, or spent anytime in this city knows that. Shouldn’t we be running these trains a lot more often than “every ten minutes”?

    I really don’t get this. I think building “a spine” is silly, but if you believe in the idea, then you sure as hell want it to run so often and so fast, than it becomes a giant high speed walkway. Build “ribs” off of the spine (as former councilman Conlin called them). These ribs, of course, include 130th NE, and similar stations. Take a bus, ride the train, take a bus. This can be way faster than the current system (take a bus, wait forever, take a bus) but only if the train runs so often that the wait is meaningless.

    Oh, I understand the history of Link. After several failed votes, they just wanted to get their foot in the door. I get it. I don’t blame them too much for building less important parts of the system (e. g. a fast trip to Tukwila) before the vital parts of the system (UW to downtown). But we’ve done that. We still need to spend the money now to make sure this thing works. You just bought, and paid for a Ferrari — maybe high quality tires are a good idea. I’m sure the thing will run just fine on retreads, but if you want to get that baby out on the track, or see if that speedometer is accurate by taking a road trip to Montana, you better get yourself some decent tires. Compared to the cost of the car you just bought, it is peanuts.

    We literally spent billions (with a ‘b”) on this thing. That is a huge amount of money. Running the trains frequently is peanuts compared to that. Adding a station at 130th is peanuts compared to that. Let’s stop being penny wise and pound foolish and actually make use of this incredibly expensive train before voters wonder if the whole thing is a big waste of money.

    1. “The obvious solution is to run the train so often that it really doesn’t matter how often the bus runs.”

      The train will be 10 minutes minimum, and 5 minutes between Intl Dist and Lynnwood, except after 10pm. There’s your Vancouver frequency right there. The problem — as anybody who has contemplated transferring between Link and the 106 knows — is the frequency of the bus. If you’re going to Renton, do you take Link to Rainier Beach and and risk missing the 106 or not finding the stop in time, or do you just take the 101 because there’s no risk of a 25-minute wait in the middle? Going the other way the problem doesn’t exist because you’ll never wait more than 5-10 minutes for the train.

      1. The whole system for getting from Renton TC to downtown Seattle is crazy. There are lots of ways to go – 101, 106, 106->Link, F->150, they’re all slow, and they all require careful planning to schedules.

        For instance:
        – The 101 tries to save time by taking I-5 and bypassing the Ranier Valley, but it manages to squander most of the time savings by taking a grand tour of Renton before getting on the freeway. It also only runs only once every half hour, so if another option is coming first, taking it vs. waiting for the 101 is usually a wash.
        – The 106 takes the direct route to Ranier Beach, but between running surface all the way and the Link transfer, it’s a bit slower than the 101, and it’s still only once a half hour, so no frequency to make up for slower speed. The silver lining is that if you just missed a Link train, you can save a wonderful two minutes by staying on the bus all the way downtown, rather than waiting for the next one. Except you can’t because for some strange reason, real-time arrival info is not available for Link.
        – Unlike the 101 and 106, the F->150 option at least has the advantage of being a (sort-of) frequent route that connects to another (sort-of) frequent route, and the 150 down I-5 is pretty fast. Unfortunately, between the F-line’s circuitous routing to connect to imaginary Sounder trains and the overhead of the transfer, the F offers no clear advantage over other alternatives.

        Overall, the conclusion is that if you’re waiting at Renton TC and a 106 or F-line bus comes along, taking it or waiting for the 101 is about a wash. Despite a bunch of route to choose from headed in the general direction of Seattle, there is still effectively only one possible arrival in Seattle every half hour.

      2. Even more strange, if you start at The Landing, the 10-minute overhead wipes out the advantage of the 101 over the F+150 or F+Link. They all take the same time, and you’re better off staying on the F if you don’t know that the 101 is coming in a couple minutes.

      3. Thanks, Mike, I stand corrected. I assumed “Link trains arriving every 10 minutes off-peak” meant for the entire system. It only means for the south end. Fair enough.

        I don’t pretend to know the answer to the south end problems, but I know they are worse. We are limited in the headways (the city doesn’t want to have trains running that often on the surface street) so five minute frequency there won’t happen. To make matters worse, the route is a bit of a zig-zag, making it not especially fast. Meanwhile, the freeway is right there, so alternatives have the potential for better overall speed. This is different than the north end. For example, getting from the from 45th and Brooklyn to downtown on a bus is no faster than light rail (when it gets there). In other words, trying to funnel everyone onto Link might not be the answer. But as asdf2 points out, there has to be a better way of handling the situation.

        I would love to hear some ideas (both long term and short). I know the north end fairly well, and I’m convinced that compared to the south end, it is a piece of cake. Add the station at NE 130th, run the trains often, and you really can’t go very wrong. I wish I could say the same thing about the south end.

        If I had to choose, I would favor the transfer over the freeway, (106 over 101) at least until another tunnel is built (and HOV 2 is changed to HOV 3 and an HOV ramp from I-5 HOV to the SoDo busway is built). Buses going through downtown will only get slower (as they get kicked out of the tunnel and traffic increases) while the advantages to being on Link will only increase (e. g. folks headed from Renton to the UW will have to make the transfer to the train anyway). Not all buses will be kicked out right away, but their fast route through downtown is fleeting. I would also split the 106, as David Lawson suggested (http://a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/david-l.FNP-Type/page.html#13/47.5311/-122.3060). With Link running every ten minutes, I would run the 106 every ten minutes. With a short route like that it would be fairly easy to time it when heading to Renton. Going the other direction is problematic, but you wouldn’t have bus bunching. If you truncated the 101, so that it only went to Rainier Beach (outside of rush hour) it might help. That would give you an “express” to Link, which would be fairly reliable. There might be enough service hours saved with truncating the 101 to deliver both the added minutes for the 106 as well as the added frequency.

        Like I said, I haven’t done the math (e. g. calculated exactly how much of a time penalty a transfer would take) but personally, I prefer frequency over speed, especially outside of rush hour. Folks getting to work tend to dial in their commute, and know exactly which bus to take. Those who travel outside those hours just want to avoid waiting forever on a bus. As folks who ride the 44 will tell you, it is better to sit on a slow bus, then wait for it.

      4. Bringing Frequent Service to South King County

        Truncating the 101 and 150 at Rainier Beach would probably add 8-12 minutes to the travel time. But as Aleks points out in the article and my The Landing experience shows, most people aren’t starting exactly at Renton TC or Kent Station; they’re transferring from another bus. So if we delete the 101 and 150 and extend the 164, 169, and 180 to Rainier Beach, then what they lose transferring at Rainier Beach they gain back by not transferring at Renton TC or Renton P&R or Kent Station. The peak expresses remain to avoid howls of protests. And there’s no off-peak service to Renton P&R; the 169 goes past it two blocks away for those who have a car there.

        However, Metro has not shown any interest in either this or truncating the 101 and 150, so I’m not going to spend much energy on it until they’re ready to consider it.

        The 106 has been downgraded to a milk run, so it’s essentially two routes interlined at Rainier Beach. It also takes an hour from Renton TC to downtown.

      5. It’s not all or nothing. The case to truncate the 101 is quiet a bit stronger than with the 150. The 101, today, runs only every 30 minutes, so the frequent benefits that a truncation would enable would matter a lot more than with the 150, which is already running every 15 minutes, even without a truncation.

        Realistically, I don’t think a truncation of the 150 can be justified without something being done to improve non-rush-hour travel times between Kent and Seattle, which is already abysmal (e.g. an all-day express route between Kent and Seattle via I-5 all the way).

      6. But does LINK have enough latent capacity to handle the truncation of any major routes into it? And where would you make the transfers, IIRC any of the stations on MLK make for poor bus transfers, and there’s no Boeing Access Rd Station.

      7. I don’t go to Renton often but I do go to Kent and Tukwila just often enough to feel the extreme pain and frustration that is the 150.

        The route itself is reasonably fast between downtown and Interurban. Unfortunately the route is extremely slow through Tukwila due to all of the twists and turns along with the mall traffic.

        It is pretty sad when you can almost walk between the first/last stop on Interurban and where it turns on/off the West Valley highway faster than the bus takes midday.

  11. All the scheduling fixes in the world will still not stop the occasional bad-egg driver from doing things like pulling out 16 minutes late, right behind another bus on that route, and then trailing that other bus empty for the entire run. I saw someone do this a couple months ago at Federal Way Transit Center. I then saw a couple buses back-to-back on that route a couple weeks later.

    Yes, managing headway requires a little supervision sometimes.

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