ST Express 9641K waiting for Link under Airport Way & 5th

Our transit system, like any other, has many problems. Many will cost a lot of money to fix, or will require the political will to basically ignore the perceived interests of drivers. But a few of them are the result of nearly inexplicable agency policies. The delays and inconvenience are small in the scheme of things but they communicate to riders that their time isn’t valuable. As with any internet listicle, I wouldn’t get too excited about the precise rankings below:

5. Missing or inaccurate real-time data. Brian Ferris and Caitlin Bonnar detailed the technical problems with Metro’s data in January. Real time information is absolutely critical to a decent experience when riding unreliable transit, even at moderate frequencies, and quite useful even with frequent and reliable modes. Data problems degrade it considerably.

At least Metro exports their data; Community Transit still isn’t sharing it with onebusaway (OBA). And as for Sound Transit…

4. Misused electronic signs. The wonder of electronic signs is that they can change dynamically to reflect real-time conditions, but the ones in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) are almost entirely wedded to canned policy announcements. OBA data, or even Sound Transit’s Twitter feed, would provide much more useful information to users.

Elsewhere, the offense is too much “information” rather than too little, which obstructs attempts to gather critical knowledge with a glance. On a train, it’s “Next Stop: Pioneer Square Station”, as if just scrolling “Next Stop: Pioneer Square” would confuse anyone. The real-time arrival signs at Rainier and MLK, which support two lines of text, (slowly) show the next 5 or 6 arrivals of Route 7, meaning you often find out about the one coming in 55 minutes well before the one coming in three. And of course, last football season, riders that might run for it if it was indeed, say, Route 28 coming down 3rd Avenue got to read “Go Seahawks” instead.

3. Tunnel Clutter. Complain as I might, it’s hard to blame Metro for wanting to get as many buses as possible off 3rd Avenue and into the DSTT . What’s harder to defend is running peak routes through it, adding stress at the time of maximum congestion.*

Moreover, although it’s Metro policy to sequence buses at tunnel entry points to align them with the bays, anecdotal experience suggests that the policy isn’t very successful. Southbound, for instance, I-90 buses often force the South County buses to loiter before a station, meaning that we need two cycles to service buses that could easily serve the whole platform in one cycle.

Last but not least, security clears each train at Westlake while it sits at the platform, rather than at the turnaround point. It’s yet another frittering away of the one of the system’s most precious resources: tunnel platform time.

2. Exiting at the front. This one isn’t as much on the agencies as the riders, although official attempts to encourage compliance have been halfhearted. Some people legitimately must exit at the front door, and at quiet stops it doesn’t matter. But at busy downtown stops with lots of people exiting and boarding, the failure to circulate properly congests operations.

1. Operator Changes in the Peak. A quick staff poll revealed that nearly everyone has their own story of this happening. Metro often switches out drivers at central locations during rush hours , so that as many people as possible get to watch the drivers exchange pleasantries, switch our their bags, and prepare for a long shift.

The apex of this annoyance, however, is the Link operator change, which not only often occurs during the peak, but also at a special stop. The train decelerates to a stop on an elevated segment where it out to be going at full speed. The alternative would be driving, biking, or walking the half mile to Sodo Station where the train will have a scheduled deceleration and stop anyway.

* A problem that is, thankfully, going away as part of the U-Link restructure.

133 Replies to “Top 5 Irritating Agency Operations Habits”

  1. Straight from Sound Transit 2:

    “Sound Transit is installing vehicle location systems at its Link light rail and Sounder
    commuter rail stations and at some ST Express transit centers. These real-time electronic messages
    tell customers when the next train or bus will arrive. These electronic message signs will be in
    place in 2009 when the Link light rail system opens.”


    1. Well there is the two minute warning, which they claim meets the requirement. They’re working on a better solution but the pace is glacial.

      1. I really wonder why it’s taking so long…I mean if anything, display the timetable on the signs (so we know that it’s late). Okay maybe that’s asking a bit much, seeing as how we didn’t actually get a published timetable until a few months ago.

        It’s nearly six years into operations and we’re still discussing the same issues that we’ve been talking about since it opened (1, 3, 4 and 5)

      2. The only reason for it to take this long is that the agency assigns this problem a really really really low priority.

        It’ll probably take the political people in agency leadership to push the operations people; if they want ST3 to pass, they should want their existing have a good experience with the product.

      3. @JesseMT:

        Or maybe it’s operations people who say they want it, but there is no political will to invest the resources for it…I think this may be an equally likely reason.

      4. TriMet says it costs about $8,000 to purchase and install their signs, but they require a cell phone signal as it would cost a lot to get a data connection to a stop.

        Maybe once the cell phone service works in the tunnel they will be able to make better progress.

      5. The two minute warning usually doesn’t happen until the train is actually far closer than that. In the tunnel, the two-minute warning usually appears about the same time the train pops into view just a couple hundred feet back of the station.

      6. Oddly enough, at Mount Baker they use a 1 minute warning. It’s just about useless because you see the train already.

      7. I actually heard a rare 3 minute warning the other week (I think at Othello). It was almost mind-blowing, but not quite.

  2. Having signs at Sounder stations and restrooms would also be appreciated.

      1. Thank you very much. A porta-potty for all Sounder Stations and major park & rides would be a step in the right direction.

      2. This is also something that goes hand-in-hand with a system that encourages transfers. A transfer is not nearly as bad if you can take a leak than if you are expected to just stand there with a bursting bladder. (Even if a nearby business with a restroom exists, just a few minutes to walk over there and back is often enough to make you miss the bus – especially if you have to wait in line to buy something).

      3. Your are so right about transfers and bursting bladders. It’s real easy to tell others you can’t have a one seat ride and that you must transfer one or more times to ride a bus in Seattle!

      4. Well let’s at least get something out there so we don’t have public urination & public defecation like what I experience up in the Northwest by Northwest area…. it’s unsanitary & unsafe. Bad enough we got a lot of people in a closed space at one time – no need to ease any further the transmission of germs.

      5. Depends might be the suggested attire for those that Metro forces to transfer between buses and/or Light Rail.

      6. Incidentally, when you’re talking about families with small children, the bladder issue can shift from being a mere annoyance to a dealbreaker, as three-year-olds just don’t have the patience for these kinds of things that adults do. This is one more reason why so many people will ride the bus when they are single, but feel compelled to buy a car the moment they have kids.

      7. I’ve posted this before, but my experience driving the old MT194 to SeaTac brought this home in spades one day. Pay as you leave, a loaded bus, warm summer day, and a man fumbling for the correct change at the farebox. He couldn’t hold it a second longer, and yes, let go right there. His trip is spoiled, my bus is out of service, the rear door opens, and PA asks everyone to exit the rear door, and enjoy their flight with no explanation as to why.

      1. Indeed. :-)

        Why is it that Europe has public restrooms and not the Europe of the Pacific Northwest known as the Puget Sound?

      2. I’ve used pay restrooms in Europe a couple times. They’re actually a lot more sanitary than the free ones here, for an extremely trivial cost (about 50 cents). Ironically, my only complaint about pay restrooms is not the actual cost per say, but the fact that if you don’t happen to have change with you, you can’t go. (And, of course, there is no place to get change on-site, and nearby businesses enforce a strict no-change-without-purchase policy).

        If we had restrooms at transit centers that took E-purse, however, all of those objections would go away.

  3. Why don’t they have any OBA screens in the tunnel? It’s especially annoying because there’s no cell reception down there.

  4. I get frustrated with HOW SLOW Link is between International District and SODO stations. I know that there are Reasons – the security gate, that hard zig-zag at IDS, potential (although I’ve never seen it) foot or vehicle traffic in the weird staging area as you enter the tunnel.

    But going ten miles an hour when there’s a cautious operator just seems so silly. There are times I feel like I could jog faster.

    1. You know that line cost like $5 billion to build and that’s what we got for it.

    2. It’s probably not all about what’s around the vehicle, but part of the vehicle itself. Light rail vehicles like Link have some design limitations, according to FTA:

      “LFLRVs that use unpowered wheels on stub axles on the articulated center section experience problems with excessive wheel wear and derailments.”

      As a result:

      “Procedures should be in place in order to recognize and deal with the early symptoms of performance issues, (e.g., wheel and rail wear and noise), and to allow management to take early corrective action while minimizing disruption.”

      “Operators should avoid vehicle jerking and maintain constant speed on curves, only accelerating when the curve has passed. This is particularly important as a means of achieving ride comfort on LFLRVs.”

    3. I’d really like to know how fast Link could go under ideal conditions: a Link-only tunnel, a 10-15 second station dwell time, a closed Royal Brougham, no Sodo operator changes, and >35mph on MLK. Could Westlake-Airport be done in 33 minutes? 32?

      1. Back of the napkin math (very, very rough), I can get it down to under 30 minutes:
        Flat travel time without stopping
        6.7 miles from SeaTac-MLK @ 55mph = 7 minutes
        5.1 miles from MLK-MBS @ 45mph (if allowed) = 6.8 minutes
        3.8 miles from MBS – Westlake @ 40mph (slower than MLK to allow for a few tight turns here) = 5.7 minutes

        Deceleration and acceleration (using 3mphps or 1.3m/s^2) would be 18.3s each at 55mph (1 station in this section), 15s at 45mph (4 stations) and 13.3s at 40mph (7 stations) Add your 15s dwell time, and we add 8.71 minutes to the travel time for station stops.

        Total time 28.12 minutes

        My speed assumptions are high though. I doubt we could ever get those numbers due to political push back.

      2. I don’t think MBS-Westlake at 40 mph is possible. You could reach it between Sodo and Stadium, and maybe briefly downhill between Mt. Baker and Sodo. Everywhere else you couldn’t get there.

        You would also face very loud neighborhood complaints if you tried to raise the MLK segment to 45 mph. I don’t know whether the TSP system could react in time, either.

      3. Sounder goes 79mph through some pretty dense areas with streets close to the track.

        I suppose doing that on ML King would result In a few neighborhood complaints.

      4. How long does it take a Link train to deadhead from the SODO maintenance facility to Westlake and SeaTac respectively? That could be used as a good proxy for what time travel time could be without station stops.

    4. There are tire spikes on the rail path here. You would think that would do the job and the train wouldn’t have to wait for a barrier to lower.

    5. The security gate should go up when a bus is approaching so it doesn’t need to slow down, especially when it’s going out of the tunnel. They know it’s a bus. What can they possibly tell from the 5 seconds the bus is stopped that they didn’t already know?

  5. Link Platforms: “Welcome to …..” signs are really silly at stations, given that the station names are already plastered all over the walls. Unless there is an event at a station, there is no need to be “welcomed”. If ST wants to “welcome” me, offer me coffee or a glass of wine and have an actual person greet me!

    Meanwhile, signs about the direction in which the trains are going are really hard to find once a rider is waiting on the platform — and that’s the most important thing a rider wants to know! This is especially true in a tunnel station, where riders easily get disoriented. I helped an upset woman last week because she was waiting for her husband at a DSTT station platform but didn’t know which platform to be on, and often I’m having to tell people where to be because directional signage is missing.

    Prominent directional signage is primary in almost all rail systems. ST probably is the most negligent rail operator in the world when it comes to Link platform directional signage.

    1. Some people at ST have actually told me that they are working on new signage guidelines with a contractor. To what extent the changes will be, I have no idea, but something is being worked on.

      But I believe DSTT signage right now is Metro’s responsibility, not Sound Transit ;)

      1. I was talking about static signage.

        Regarding CMS (or VMS for Variable), no idea. It depends on their software and communications, and whether it was designed to be changed quickly in real-time.

        For WSDOT’s VMS over the road, they are very easy to change. Select the sign in the software, type the message and hit “display”. It happens between instantly and a few seconds.

        Some other communications/software systems make it more difficult. A few DOTs have signs that can take up to 2 minutes from the time you hit “display” to actually show up on the sign…

      2. Good signage for the ear is just as important as for the eyes, i.e., giving the wrong canned infornation for a popular stop. An example is stop the Burke Museum at UW. Canned announcement tells riders to get off at 15th and 43rd, which means they must walk uphill a couple of blocks, instead of listing the stop at 15th and 45th, a flat short walk directly to the museum. And for some reason canned announcement does not even mention the U.S. Post Office at the 43rd Street Stop.

      3. Elbar-

        I have sent several emails to sound transit about the lack of aural information. How nice would it be for tourists to hear something that says “now entering Pioneer Square station: alight for Smith Tower, Waterfall Garden Park, City Hall, West Seattle Water Taxi, and the Seattle Ferry Terminal.” As a local I might even go “hey I do want to take the water taxi to Alki for lunch, that sounds like a good idea!”

        University Street, “now entering University Street Station: alight for Benaroya Hall, Seattle Art Museum, the Harbor Steps, Seattle waterfront, 5th Avenue Theater, and Freeway Park.”

        Westlake Station: “now entering Westlake Station, alight for Westlake Center, monorail to Seattle Center, Lake Union Street Car to Museum of History and Industry, Pike Place Market, Washington State Convention Center, and Paramount theater.”

        The subways of London do this and if memory serves and my bad French skills are correct so does Paris. Giving information on where you are is a nice addition to public transit.

        As you said, though, that information is hopefully accurate.

      4. Derek, I like the idea of announcing destinations but that’s way too many destinations. Not even London crams that many destinations into a single station announcement and on some lines they actually disable them during rush hour.

        There’s too little aural information and then there’s too much.

    2. And the constant barrage of noise announcements is one of Londoners’ biggest complaints about the Underground.

  6. I live in Madison Park and the info that OBA display here is totally incorrect for the 11 E Madison. If I check OBA before leaving my home, it tells me that the bus is 20 to 30 minutes late and it only is correct once the bus is one bus stop away from the one I use.

    This plus unreliable buses, last Friday two buses didn’t show after 5 PM (supposed to be every 15 min) forces us to catch 1 to 2 buses earlier to make appointments. Those lucky enough to drive do, since who wants to go through the stress of riding Metro with an unreliable OBA and buses. I sure wish I had another transportation option, but I don’t.

    And I must ask the big question, will the Prop One funds fix this, will the LR changes for next March 29016 fix this or will BRT fix this. I think NOT!

    1. “If I check OBA before leaving my home, it tells me that the bus is 20 to 30 minutes late and it only is correct once the bus is one bus stop away from the one I use.”

      That’s sounding like a ubiquitous problem where OBA doesn’t know how to handle layovers. Until the bus actually starts moving again, it’ll treat it like it’s just arrived at the layover and will wait for all the scheduled time – leading to a supposedly-20-minute-late bus that is actually right on time and about to start moving. I hope that’s going to be fixed, but it won’t be Prop One that fixes it.

      1. William C.,

        So do you know how to get this fixed or does someone on this blog like you able to help the OBA fix it. You are the first one to give a reason for the problem and I think you can understand the frustration.

        Can you imagine what OBA will do with more frequent buses in Madison Park and what are the OBA users to do when they can’t rely on what their cell phones say!

      2. Can we get metro to open their feed so the software development community can have a crack at fixing this?

    2. If only we had a #8 that went from Madison Park to CHS station every 7 minutes at peak, maybe that wouldn’t be a problem.

      1. That would still be a problem getting to where I want to go and let’s not got through that again. Frequency doesn’t solve reliability and the 8 your offering is currently as I type this stuck on Denny way which is a parking lot.

        Thank, but no thanks, do you really think we are that stupid to exchange the current unreliable 11 for a less reliable *, dream on!

      2. If you get enough frequency, it does fix unreliability. What it doesn’t fix is speed.

        If you doubt me, go ride the Green Line in Boston. It’s anyone’s guess how long your trip will take, but trains do still come very often.

      3. There is no way you can put enough buses to solve the Denny parking lot! Just ask my friend who drives it twice each day!

      4. Reg, yes, I do want to fight this battle. Why? Because it’s very important to me and lots of other people who just lost out because of people like you who don’t want anything to change no matter what the benefit is to everyone.
        To address your specific concerns:
        — Denny Way congestion won’t affect westbound buses. Since the 8 would have had a layover in Madison Park, it would always start on time.
        — If Denny Way congestion makes every eastbound bus the same amount of late, it doesn’t matter much because the headway is still consistent
        — Eastbound congestion is an issue for just three hours a day.
        — More frequent buses won’t make Denny Way faster, but more frequent buses do ensure that even if EB buses bunch up during peak, you will still get frequent service between CHS and Madison Park.

        But I’m sure this is way off topic, so I’ll stop. For now.

      5. RegN brought up the lack of one-seat rides as an irritating agency habit. Disagreeing is open game.

        I find having to go through downtown to get anywhere else to be irritating. That’s why I am so delighted Metro re-routed my 132 to run within a block of SODO Station. Thanks, Metro! This also removed a lot of the 132’s scoliosis. Scoliated milk runs are another pet peeve. Lack of a functional grid is, too, but, hey, we’ve got hill, valleys, and Newton’s First Law of Bus Routes, and even a handful of people who treat Newton’s First Law as having legal standing.

        If I were living in Madison Valley, I would definitely choose the corridor for the 11 that gets it to pass as close as possible to Capitol Hill Station, to serve the many who are going somewhere other than downtown, and have a bunch of transfer options in one location. From there, if the 11 were to continue downtown, I don’t care. I’d still jump on the train to head downtown.

      6. I also find Gabe’s arguments for the Alt 1 route 8 to be some of the best analysis I’ve seen on that route to date.

        While we are listing irritations, I will point to the preponderance of smart people in this town willing to disagree with each other without shooting each other up as the exact opposite of an irritation.

      7. Thank you. I don’t think my analysis is particularly smart. It’s just that when you ride the 8 daily, you get to know its issues well.

        Speaking to the topic of irritating agency operating habits, Metro has known the 8 was too long and unreliable for years, so why are we still talking about splitting it next year? Let’s split it this summer! Metro takes forever to propose really obvious service revisions, studying the changes to death before proposing to eventually implement them, maybe, if no one objects too much.

      8. Gabe,

        Right on, why wait till March 2016 to fix a problem that could be fixed now. Maybe they can use some of the Prop One money that is now going to beef up the suburb buses!

  7. When Link trains are overcrowded and people are standing in the doorway, it can be difficult for people to get off the train at their station. Operators usually do not announce instructions when a train is crowded, like “please step off the train momentarily to let other passengers off.” … This is especially needed when a bicyclists is blocking the doorway. As Link gets more and more crowded and goes to UW, this is going more and more important.

    1. At least on buses, people seem to be (slowly) catching on- compared to (say) 5 years ago, I see a lot of people stepping out the back door, allowing others to deboard, then stepping back on- many people riding the 71/72/73X northbound from downtown seem to have figured out to do this at the stops at 42nd and 8th, and Campus Parkway.

      There still seems to be some stupidity with Link boarding/deboarding. A few months ago, I had a crowd of football fans boarding Link get angry at me when I pushed my way through them as they tried to rush into the train as soon as the doors opened, without letting riders (including me) exit the train first.

      1. Unfortunately, since the last time I did this and was accused by a Metro employee of fare evasion, I absolutely refuse to do this again. Sorry, I’m not going to risk a >$100 fine.

      2. Since FOEs getting it wrong on fare enforcement (often because the policy gets it wrong) is one of the annoying operational habits, I really want to know how you got a warning for trying to depart

      3. Being in a hurry makes it look like you’re running away from fare enforcement rather than just deboarding?

      4. I think he was referring to the practice of stepping off the bus to allow others to alight, then reboarding through the rear door.

  8. Eliminating operator changes during peak hours would drive up operational costs.

    Most all-day service ends at times such that a standard 8-hour shift ending at the end of service begins during PM peak. Without operator changes at peak, late relief runs would need to be longer (requiring overtime pay) or shorter (resulting in operators being paid “bonus time” for hours not actually worked). Metro doesn’t allow part-timers to work late nights, and while I generally want to let part-timers work outside of peak hours, I think there is some justification for a security policy that new operators (which many part-timers are) shouldn’t work after 8 p.m. I certainly wouldn’t want to put part-timers on all late-night service just to avoid 5 p.m. road reliefs.

    The other alternative is to make operator changes happen at terminals, but that would also increase costs because operators would need to be paid for the time getting to and from the terminal. For instance, if you did the Link operator change in the stub tunnel, you’d need to pay both operators for the time getting from the Airport Way base to the stub tunnel and back. Obviously this would be even more dramatic for longer routes… imagine making two operators ride a 28 all the way from Royal Brougham to Carkeek Park and back.

    1. But the marginal labor costs to have an operator walk half a mile to Sodo Station are tiny. We can afford it, and even if it only saves 1 minute it goes a long way to showing that agencies respect people’s time.

      1. You’re still going to spend a few minutes at Sodo in that instance, as the new operator sets up the train so he/she can operate it safely. That’s exactly what’s happening at 5th/Jackson and 4th/James and all the other bus relief points people were mentioning in our internal conversation. To avoid the delay entirely, you have to eliminate the road relief.

        When I drove, I thought through every aspect of my road relief technique, trying to get the time down. It still took about 2 1/2 minutes from the second the other driver left the seat to the second I started moving the bus.

      2. But that “set-up time” could be partially (if not significantly) included in the dwell time. If it takes one minute to get prepared and receive a run-down, the fact that the train has to stop at the station anyway reduces the impacts of the preparation time.

        If the time spent getting to Sodo is important, maybe they should get a Prius like Metro does when they switch operators at Mercer Island.

      3. Under contract rules, having all the operators walk to and from Sodo would add about 10 minutes to each piece of relief work. (Operators would be paid for walking there, but not for walking back.) That’s not impossible, but it’s not chickenfeed either. ST would probably have to take out a trip or two. And to be honest I don’t think it would be worth it. What you’re really losing isn’t the time spent sitting at the operator relief stop; it’s just the time spent slowing down to, and speeding up from, that stop.

        On a train, particularly a crowded one, you also have to add the physical time walking between the door and the operator compartment. That alone probably equals the normal dwell time.

      4. Busses will drive themselves within a decade. I suggest we just wait this one out.

      5. Well I sure would like it if light rail could drive itself within a decade….

        Nothing against the current drivers, but with driverless light rail Sound Transit could turn a profit and free up drivers for buses.

      6. With the buses out of the tunnel, light rail could be driverless from SODO north. Which makes an obvious place to put the driver onboard. :-)

      7. I don’t mind the changeover stops, so long as they happen at an actual bus stop, where I can get off and catch the next passing bus. Stopping a long way from the nearest bus stop, and further from the base, doesn’t make sense to me.

      8. Where will the operators get on and off the semi-driverless trains? ID Station, which will already be a congested transfer hub?

    2. Why can’t operators just commute directly from home to Westlake Station or SeaTac station and clock on there? Why do they have to go through the SODO base at all?

      1. Two issues:

        1) How will you get relief operators back to Westlake or Seatac, or wherever they’re parked, after they take their late-night train back to base?
        2) You won’t know that the operator hasn’t reported until too late to have a chance to fill in the trip.

    3. David,

      I agree that it’s probably not possible to not have shifts change somewhere in the peak, but the examples we collected internally were in the peak *direction* as well as during peak hours. There ought to be a way around that.

      As for Link, ST has a fleet of Priuses that could speed up the operation. Doing it at Sodo is one less deceleration and operator prep overlapping with regular boarding operations.

      1. Exactly Martin.

        Although Island Transit is no model to the world of transit ops, Island Transit runs a van out to the Coupeville Park & Ride to transfer drivers for a 2-4 minute stop for Route 1 at the middle of the day (when a few additional minutes won’t be truly noticed).

        I am no transit planner (but maybe I’d like to be one day) but shouldn’t these driver transfers occur at the beginning &/or end of a transit run?

      2. “There ought to be a way around that.”

        There’s no free lunch. Moving road reliefs, or trying to schedule around peak-direction reliefs, will result in significant inefficiencies somewhere along the line, whether from extra operator travel time, extra recovery time to get vehicles in the right place for the rest of the schedule, or overly long or short shifts. Maybe we need to decide collectively that it’s worth it, but it won’t be free. Schedulers would need to provide an analysis of how much it would cost, and weigh that cost against the travel time benefits and the opportunity cost of forgoing more frequency or span with the same hours.

      3. Martin’s point about having operators change at actual stops, rather than at special stops between the posted stops, works just as well for buses.

        Nor does moving operator changes to an actual stop necessarily cost more.

        The operator change on the northbound 132 between Stadium Station and SODO Station probably involves the operator walking farther to and from the transfer point than if they simply changed at Stadium Station, right around the corner from the bus bases. If they changed at Stadium Station, and took five minutes, passengers noticing the nonchalant pace could exit and catch another bus, or scurry over to the train.

        If there is not enough space for the mini-layover at the bus stop, just have the bus do the changing of the guard about three or four lengths away, enough for two buses to be at the actual stop.

  9. I’ve not been to Pittsburgh. Does the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel require such time consuming security measures at its entrances?

    1. From Google Earth and associated photos it does not appear so. Of course Mt. Washington is fairly low density residential and the tunnel appears much further from the surface…doing damage there would probably be limited to the transit infrastructure itself.

      1. Ok, so the fear is that someone will drive a truck bomb into the tunnel? Even though World Trade Center attempt one happened in a parking garage of which downtown Seattle has plenty that are far closer to actual buildings?

  10. It’s a simple fix to get people to exit through the back doors. Passengers need to be trained. But the problem is, the current training is only half-hearted, as Martin mentioned. Drivers do have a canned PSA they can use that tells people to get off the back door, but it’s played less often then the passing of Comet Hale-Bopp. The back door PSA needs to be taken out of the driver’s control and put on an automated loop. One announcement every 30 minutes. On every bus. Forever. Problem solved, eventually.

    I’d also through a couple of other PSA’s on that automated announcement loop. Have your pass or money ready when the bus comes. And, use any door to board a Rapid Ride bus if you have a transfer ticket. You don’t show the driver your ticket, you show the FEO’s.

  11. With #2, Does Metro make any ongoing effort to encourage/remind drivers to open the back door? There seems to be 4 kinds of drivers. Those who

    1) Open the back door at every stop (a tiny minority)
    2) Open the back door if they saw someone standing near it
    3) Only open the back door when they hear people yell “Backdoor!”
    4) Leave the stop without opening the backdoor, even when people are yelling “backdoor!” (thankfully a tiny minority)

    There’s probably more of (2) than (3), but I still have to yell for the driver to open the back door at least once or twice a month, which is sad, given that the exit policy changed more than 2 years ago.

    This seems to set up an unfortunate feedback loop where people don’t trust the driver to open the back door, so when they get off the bus, some people walk all the way from the back of the bus, past the back door, to the front door, delaying the people at the stop from boarding, and probably causing some drivers to ignore the backdoor even more.

    1. + 1 million

      One of my superpowers is that I can yell “backdoor” in a timbre that cuts through ambient noise. I have to do it about 1/month.

    2. #2 is the way to do it. #3 and #4 obviously result in a poor passenger experience while #1 slows down service unnecessarily.

      I would wager, though, that a fair number of failures to open the back door are accidental: didn’t push the button hard enough or move the lever far enough.

      1. But then, David, they need to always remember to look – and keep looking in case someone gets up from the rear seats after the bus stops and heads for the back door. One time the driver overlooks someone is one time too many.

        I still vote for #1.

      2. If the driver is paying attention, he or she will be looking that way anyway.

        If you opened the back door at every stop regardless of demand, you’d be adding 5 or so seconds to every stop. On a route with a lot of stops that could cost you a couple of minutes by itself, without regard to any signals you had to miss, over the course of a trip.

      3. I remember when a sign at the back door would read ‘Step Down To Open.’ No need for passengers to holler ‘Backdoor.’ At each stop the door would automatically open whenever a passenger stepped down on the stair.

      4. Yes, passenger-activated rear doors are pretty ubiquitous everywhere that’s not Seattle. It’s a solved problem.


        Pay-as-you-leave we have buried, but it still rules us from its grave.

      5. @Matt L

        Sure, Metro should buy buses with passenger-activated rear doors. And they should buy buses without 2+2 seating, so that it’s easier for passengers to reach the rear door on crowded buses. And they should probably buy buses with rear door Orca readers so that we can have all-doors boarding.

        Metro should be pressured to buy better buses, but I’m wondering what Metro can do to speed boarding/deboarding in the short-term and without major capital expenditures.

      6. Pierce Transit has push-to-open back doors on all of their buses. If PT can have it, why can’t Metro?

      7. Or perhaps we could put in passenger controls for the rear doors [like essentially every other transit agency on the planet] or eliminate them entirely [yes, I know, not really acceptable;e in today’s Nanny State)]

    3. In the older articulated buses, there’s nothing to hold on to in the articulated section and I’m too old to make my way to the back door while the bus is moving. If there were adequate hand-holds, I would be happy to use the back door every time.

      1. On my last trip to Vancouver, which uses some of the same models of articulated buses as Metro, I noticed that there are additional hand-holds in the articulated area, allowing that space to be less unpleasant and dangerous for passengers.

  12. I’m going to add another pet peeve of mine that, so far, as not drawn mention, and that is failure to coordinate schedules of infrequent routes at major transfer points where they intersect.

    The metro system is full of connections that involve 20-25 minute waits between two 30-minutes routes (or at least they do at times other than rush hour) which could be avoided simply by shifting the schedule of one of the two routes earlier or later by a few minutes.

    This is particularly a problem when connecting between a Metro-operated local route and a Sound Transit express route (ironically contracted to Metro anyway). And Metro wonders why the feeder routes they create have such poor ridership. Sometimes, it almost feels like they are doing this on purpose to justify killing the feeder route completely in an upcoming service change…

    1. Metro actually puts more thought than you would think into this. Usually if there is one bad transfer at a major transfer point it’s because otherwise you would have a bad transfer at another point with higher transfer volume. For instance, the entire Eastside network is designed around a “clock” at Bellevue Transit Center, the highest-volume transfer point on the Eastside.

      When this happens, it’s really a sign that 30-minute frequency is just unusable for transfer networks.

      1. The cases I’m talking about are mostly shuttle routes that really have only one important connection. For instance, the 221 and 240 at Eastgate, or the 245 at Overlake TC.

        A big reason why Metro’s route 927 was a complete and utter failure, which ultimately got cut, was that it was scheduled abysmally to require a 25-minute wait to connect with the 554 in both directions. The 208 and 209 to Snoqualmie and North Bend also never did and still don’t have schedules that line up with the 554 in Issaquah.

        And on Vashon Island, you would think Metro would at least coordinate the schedule the schedule of the 118 to connect to every other ferry, but they don’t even do that. Rather, most trips, the ferry pulls in, all the cars leave, and bus sits there in layover for 20 minutes before pulling out (this is the off-peak schedule. Maybe rush hour is better…but still).

        And yet more examples. Community Transit does not coordinate the schedules of local routes to line up with the 512, which is a big reason why getting from Seattle to Mukilteo takes nearly two hours (see other threads about taking transit to the Future of Flight museum). And on the south end, routes like the 187 do not coordinate with the 577, with long waits required to connect in either direction. Again, the obvious result that everyone drives to the P&R and nobody rides the 187.

        I recognize that with every route running every 30 minutes, it is not possible to time every connection, but you can at least aim to get the most important connections working – those between local routes and express routes. In some cases, this is worth doing, even if it means the local route has to operate slightly less frequently, in the name of making for a usable system. For instance, on Vashon Island, there is no excuse for having bus not leave the ferry terminal in response to a ferry arriving. Even if it means a slightly longer layover (and slightly longer headway as a result), it’s well worth it, since the ferry connection is the reason for the bus to be even worth considering as a mode of transport.

      2. Some of your examples actually prove my point.

        The 221 is through-routed with the 241 (and, actually, also in Bellevue with the 226). It has transfer points at least as important as Eastgate at Redmond and Bellevue, and additional transfer points at Overlake TC and S Bellevue P&R. The schedule is set according to the Bellevue transfer point, which results in good transfers in Bellevue and Redmond but crappy ones in Eastgate.

        The 240 is the furthest thing from a shuttle — it’s the core local service between Renton and Bellevue. It has major transfer points at Renton, Renton Highlands, Factoria, Eastgate, and Bellevue, and is (again) timed to the Bellevue one.

      3. If the transfer point of emphasis on the 240 was deemed to be Bellevue, then why route the 240 through Eastgate at all? The old routing got to Bellevue faster, plus had a connection at South Bellevue P&R to the 550, which is more frequent than the 554 most hours of the day.

        Essentially, Metro chose to slow down the route to add additional connections, but when you read the fine print, it’s connections that require so much waiting as to be nearly useless.

        Even at Bellevue, the routes you can connect to off the 240 are nothing to rave about. The B-line is out-direction travel – if you’re going to take it, you may as well have gotten the 245 or 271 at Eastgate. The 550 to Seattle is even more out of direction – with any kind of reasonable schedule, switching to the 554 at Eastgate would be much faster. The timing to the 234/235 to Kirkland is not great (~13 minute wait on a Saturday afternoon), and the 240->271 connection is similar (and you could have gotten on the same #271 bus back at Eastgate). I don’t see any great connections at Bellevue TC that are more important than the local->express connection at Eastgate to reach Seattle.

      4. Honestly, 240 riders south of Factoria were the biggest losers in the B-Line restructure. I drove the 240 and very few of the passengers were headed to Eastgate or BCC. On the other hand, many of them did transfer to the 550 at S Bellevue P&R, and many others rode into Bellevue.

        The transfer is actually not horrible to go 240 -> 241 -> 550 but I’m sure no one is doing that.

  13. Having just journeyed around Europe for a month using public transit, I can say reader information is considered just as basic to operations as is making sure all the tires have air or the centenary has power.
    With so many tight headways (2min even on HSR trains), multiple departure tracks being common at stations, or many city buses serving busy street stops, it would be chaos to operate without accurate rider information to direct people Airports learned that posting arrival/departure and gate information keeps the pedestrian flow moving decades ago. Our bright and shiny NEW system should be state of the art, not something slap-jacked together as an after thought, or worse yet, 99% useless, therefore ignored.

  14. Time for me to say it again — the executives and policy-makers ultimately responsible for these decisions, they are not regular transit riders! They may know their home-to-work trip, but that’s it. They don’t use transit as a system, so they have no personal experience with what regular riders put up with.

  15. Can we please get Link exterior destnation signs to a) quit scrolling and use a static or flashing/cycled destination message, and b) leave off the superfluous word “station”?! Have the signs just say “SEATAC/AIRPORT” (static) or “WESTLAKE (flash) DOWNTOWN SEATTLE” for Pete’s sake!

    1. Or next year: either the one-screen SEATTLE / U OF WA and AIRPORT / ANGLE LK , or the two-screen DOWNTOWN SEATTLE / (flash) / UNIV OF WA and SEATAC AIRPORT / (flash) / ANGLE LAKE

    2. +1 it’s like they didn’t think how hard it could be for people to read scrolling text on a fast moving vehicle. I hate that. Bus destination signs are easier to read than Link’s headsigns.

    3. I’ve even taken a video of this from the upstream edge of the IDS platform and sent it to Sound Transit. It basically shows that as the train approaches the platform, those standing at the beginning of the platform get to see one (maybe 1.5) words.

      One way to solve this is to use text-phasing instead of scrolling.

      Another way is to use the station VMS (yes, the ones that say “Welcome to Beacon Hill”). As the train approaches, they should display the route number and destination. Those should be kept up until the train leaves the station. Munich’s U-Bahn system does this and they are able to eliminate (save money) the signs mounted on the side of the vehicles.

      1. +1

        Munich’s S-Bahn signs do more – they tell you which car(s) to board for your destination and where to stand on the platform for those cars. This is necessary because their solution to the branching frequency problem is to split trains in half.

        One wonders why Sound Transit spent money installing those signs when they seem utterly incapable of doing anything useful with them.

  16. Showing buses on arrival boards even though they’ve been temporarily rerouted.

    One Friday night I was trying to catch an SR99 bus at 3rd and Bell. I watched the arrival times for the 5 and E approach and vanish without a bus showing up. It was at that point I noticed the sign saying those buses wouldn’t be serving that stop because 99 was closed. That was a single weekend issue and may be excusable, but even worse is that 3rd and Virginia northbound still lists arrival times for the 40 even though it is skipping that stop for 3 months.

  17. My big gripe of late is when a bus leaves early. For whatever reason, this has become a chronic problem on the mid-morning NB 43s at the 23rd and E. John stops. It’s never more than 2-3 minutes, but unlike many other scheduling issues, this is within Metro’s control to be error free. There is nothing more frustrating than walking up the steep hill on E. John, and seeing that scheduled 10:02am 43 to UW making the left turn onto 23rd 3 minutes early. Some drivers (I’ve noticed) wait at the timed stops for things to catch up, so props to them.

    1. Note the bus number (not the route) and the stop and time and tell Metro Customer Service. They take early trips very seriously and work with drivers.

    2. Of course the flip side is that waiting at every timepoint guarantees that every trip will be guaranteed slow – even if there’s no traffic on the road.

      Try riding the bus on Christmas an it’s almost comical. The 44 insists on moving at its usual snail’s pace despite a completely empty road and bus. Since the route is frequent, even on the Sunday schedule, if every driver would just ignore the timetable, nobody would be waiting that long and everybody would get where they are going faster.

      1. Yeah, but that’s maybe three days out of the entire year that traffic is markedly reduced (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter; and Thanksgiving less so now that more stores are open that day). If you go to headway scheduling without proper management, you have bus bunching and gapping because slower drivers will end up picking up more people.

      2. Route 132 northbound frequently stops for a couple minutes somewhere between Burien and downtown off-peak. Speed up the schedules, and add a couple minutes of recovery time to the break.

        I wonder how many other routes out there are padded instead of padding the recovery time.

    3. Last time I called to complain about an early departure I was informed that Metro allowed its drivers to leave any stop up to 3 minutes early but not any earlier than that. Not sure if that is still policy.

      It’s a tough feedback loop, because who wants to get to their stop 4 minutes early and wait for a bus that’s invariably 6 minutes late, except for the one day it’s not? But the ability to leave a stop slightly early is a huge aid in keeping a route from falling behind.

      1. Since the 3-minute rule (I could have sworn it was 5 minutes!) is not common knowledge, I would much rather suffer those waits for the schedule to catch up than have people getting to the stop on time, and see their bus already pulled away in the distance. This goes especially so for routes with 30-minute headway or worse.

        But I very much appreciate how routes with worse headway than 30 minutes are becoming an increasingly tiny portion of the service.

  18. I’m driving one of the VT’s (Variable Trippers) referenced in #1. I regularly have a D Line coach packed with passengers who get to watch me sprint off the bus and hand it off to another driver. Most of my relief drivers are pretty quick about it and are pulling away from the stop before I have even walked past the back door. As for the rest, I’m unsure how Metro can encourage drivers to quickly make the transition without pressuring some to compromise safety in some way.

    When I’ve been the relief driver in this situation, I come prepared to throw my stuff behind the seat, get the mirrors and seat adjusted roughly to my height, and then get moving. I fine tune everything as I come to stops or stoplights where I know I have time to set the emergency brake for at least a minute.

    Safety is always the first consideration; I have to adjust the mirrors to the point where I can see, of course. But I’m willing to put up with minor discomfort until the end of the trip. That said, other drivers may have physical limitations that require them take more time getting the seat, steering column, and mirrors adjusted.

    Metro could probably work with the Union to come up with ways to encourage drivers to be prompt but, of course, not scheduling road reliefs in the middle of the peak would be better.

    1. How much time does it take to log into the DDU and farebox these days? Logging into the radio and farebox was about 30 seconds (plus) of my relief process when I drove, but the equipment was different then. I got yelled at enough for not logging into the radio immediately that I wouldn’t move the bus until it was done.

  19. Martin, I gotta disagree on exiting at the rear in some instances. When the bus is crowded, it makes no sense to force people at the front to wind their ways through a dozen or more standees to get to the back. This can delay a bus far more than a lot of people getting on.

    1. That’s not the issue, though. The issue is people sitting literally across the aisle from the rear door, with no bike and no use of the ramp or kneeler waiting until the bus is stopped and then walking all the way to the front.

      Or sitting in the interior seat, and the person sitting on the aisle blocks the path to the rear door instead of to the front door when they let you off.

      Both of those things contribute a non-insubstantial time penalty and can be easily witnessed by any regular bus commuter dozens of times a week.

  20. It is pretty amazing to me the things people would propose so they can shave a few minutes off a train to the airport. Who cares about drivers, the elderly, the disabled, etc. I need to get to the airport five minutes faster because I am very self important.

    1. Your observation is overly simplistic, and seems to paint anyone who would like to see the average riders experience improve as a sociopath. This whole complicated system is a giant web of compromises, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to make suggestions where there are potential low hanging efficiency gains. I hate to get all Spock, but usually the needs of the many do matter, especially if it can be done with minimal pain (which some of these ideas most definitely represent). Metro’s raison d’être should be how to most quickly move lots of average people around a sensible network.

  21. Here’s another one that grinds my gears–drivers of two buses chit-chatting with each other when their coaches are stopped alongside each other at a red light (or at other times during their trip). It is distracting–takes their attention away from the road, which can lead to delays of mere seconds (in my case, when you often are forced to take chances with near-miss transfers, a few seconds is a big deal!). Drivers should have 100% of their vigilance on the road and traffic ahead–in other words, they should NOT have a social life except during layovers between trips or at the base. (I know this sounds harsh, but some people cannot be delayed by even a fraction of a second!)

  22. I would also (somewhat facetiously) be okay with a transit-wide ban on noise-cancelling headphones, unless you have a special ORCA card which verifies you have the ability to spend half-a-second looking up from your smartphone at a stop to see if you need to move out of the way or continue to move to the rear of the bus.

    At least without the headphones you can say something before giving up and shouldering through a dozen brogrammers.

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