First-generation Double Tall on route 415 on a cold November night

2015 has come and flown past at the speed of a Sounder train and brought with it many great things for transit riders, especially for those of us north of the King-Snohomish county line. Community Transit has hit several milestones this year, including the successful restoration of Sunday service and victory in the November general election. Let’s take a look back at some highlights from 2015, which I had excitedly looked forward to last December.

February: New transit center for the north end

At the very north end of the northernmost all-day frequent bus route pair in the Seattle metro area lies a loosely-connected string of big-box stores, strip malls and suburban housing developments known as “Smokey Point”. A new transit center opened there on February 16, replacing an earlier and much smaller facility, and notably excludes public parking unlike many other similar facilities in the county. Buses from across the northern parts of the county, including the cities of Arlington, Darrington and Stanwood, feed into local routes 201 and 202 (running at 20-minute frequencies) at the new transit center, enabling a smoother and covered transfer to points southwards, such as Everett and Lynnwood. Community Transit sees the facility as the northern terminus of the Swift system in the not-too-distant future, which could encourage some kind of transit-oriented development in the hinterlands of northern Snohomish County.

March: Interim CEO Emmett Heath is handed the reins

Long-time Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanore announced her retirement in July of last year, leaving a vacancy in the job she held for the past 20 years. The search for a new CEO ended in March with the hiring of then-interim CEO Emmett Heath, who had previously served as the agency’s Administration Director for 10 years.

April and May: Real-time bus website launches and Google Maps integrated

Swift departures on BusFinder (left) and Lynnwood Transit Center on Google Maps (right)

In April, Community Transit unveiled their long-awaited real-time bus arrival information system, BusFinder, after years of only schedule data being accessible through services like OneBusAway. The following month, Google Maps integrated Community Transit schedules and bus stops with some help from Sound Transit, though it lacked real-time information that King County Metro had. Both are major improvements for passengers using Community Transit, allowing for easier on-the-go trip planning and on-the-fly headway counting.

June: Sunday service restored

In 2010, Community Transit cut all Sunday and holiday service to make up for lost sales tax revenues, prioritizing weekday frequencies and its commuter service. As economic prospects improved in Snohomish County, a surplus in sales tax revenue made the restoration of Sunday and holiday service possible in June 2015, though limited to hourly frequencies on most major local routes outside of Swift.

October: Double the Double Talls (and double the agencies)

Community Transit’s new fleet of Double Talls (left) and Sound Transit’s first double-decker (right).

The highly visible and very popular Double Talls used on Community Transit’s commuter routes to and from Downtown Seattle were joined by a new generation of Alexander Dennis Enviro500s in October, bringing the total number of double-deckers to 45, the second-largest such fleet in the country (behind Las Vegas). The newer model is a half-foot shorter and features a curvier front, a triple bike rack, and an interior screen in the stairwell to check for empty seats in the upper deck.

Sound Transit also debuted its first double-decker buses, to be used on routes 510, 511, and 512 from Snohomish County to Seattle, in November.

November 3: Proposition 1 passes

Proposition 1, a 0.3% sales tax increase to support an increase in Community Transit service, passed by a narrow margin of just over 2,200 votes (out of 100,000 cast) during the November 3 general election, allowing Community Transit to expand bus service using a tax increase for the first time in 25 years. While the fruits of the agency’s and volunteer’s labor will not be seen until September, when the bulk of new service is planned to go into service, a modest increase in March using existing funds in reserve has been announced.

What’s ahead in 2016

The southbound-only College (SW 200th Street) Swift station under construction in Lynnwood

While Community Transit won’t be re-configuring its bus routes for Link Light Rail anytime soon, even with it inching further north to the UW campus and Northgate, the September 2016 service change is expected to feature significant frequency improvements and possibly new routes added to the system, to be decided in springtime.

Other upcoming events in 2016 include the opening of the final Swift I station, located near Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, several new 40-foot buses entering the fleet, and the 40th anniversary of Community Transit service in October.

25 Replies to “Snohomish County Rounds out 2015 with a Healthier Transit System”

  1. Good news about Community Transit always makes me smile. Perhaps it’s the fond memories of their old RTA buses with those amazingly comfortable seats, but they always strike me as the suburban agency dreaming big. Watching CT grow and their network integration into Link is going to be incredibly interesting.

    Is there a timeline on CT’s real-time arrival info being integrated into OneBusAway?

  2. It would be nice to have the real-time info on One Bus Away. Not too many people use BusFinder, and I always see riders using OBA for the 512 and are upset when it comes late (which is often).

    But CT is a solid agency and a good model for the region in how to serve its riders well.

    1. Are there any volunteers willing to hack the OneBusAway codebase to pull in data from BusFinder for routes like the 512?

      1. I’m pretty sure that if CT made their raw data publically available, in *any* standardized and well documented format, you would see it integrated into OBA pronto. My understanding is that the OBA folks have always wanted to get their hands on the data, but were rebuffed because CT insisted on their own inferior web interface.

        Someone (with access to the raw data, not the predicted arrival times) should also look at improving the arrival projections. At least at my station (Mountlake Terrace), there is obvious low-hanging fruit. It’s almost as if they are using historical averages for their projected speed, instead of leveraging the actual GPS velocities of the buses that have traveled through those sections minutes or seconds earlier.

        Unfortunately, as long as transit agencies guard their data like some kind of trade secret, we’ll be stuck with the mediocre systems we currently have.

  3. bringing the total number of double-deckers to 45, the second-largest such fleet in the country (behind Las Vegas).

    Curious, other than they are darn cool, why does Lost Wages have Double Down buses? They have miles and miles of pavement stretching to infinity and beyond and I’ve never really though of it as a transit oriented city. Of course, they built a monorail so maybe it’s a case of Seattle envy?

    1. Las Vegas originally bought their double decker coaches for a BRT-type service on the Strip, it replaced their 300-series routes. The coaches quickly gained popularity with tourists and locals alike and subsequently their fleet grew.

      1. I get that tourists would love the novel aspect. I’d expect that novelty to wear thin with locals unless there is a practical reason to have them. They make sense in a congested DT whose economy revolves around “9-5” jobs but in a 24 hr casino economy? I guess I’m just having a hard time seeing buses in Vegas being packed at any time of day. They are not cheap to buy and if they did need the capacity it seems artics would be the first choice. I mean they don’t get a lot of snow in Vegas so what’s the downside; except they are not as cool.

        Las Vegas Buses

        The great cities of the world haven’t got anything on Las Vegas. At least not when it comes to buses. We have double-decker buses — shiny gold ones and red ones with open tops. Plus, you’ll see traditional buses, trolley buses, bendy buses and even environmentally friendly hybrid buses on our streets.

        So we know there’s a stereotype about riding buses. Let’s address that head on. Riding a bus in Vegas doesn’t mean your wallet’s lean. It means you’re budget smart. The cheapest way to travel along the Las Vegas Strip and to downtown is to jump on a bus.

        Shows what I know… not much.

      2. I wouldn’t necessarily take as a ridership report… and I’ve never been to Vegas… but I can buy the idea that riding an open-top double-decker bus down the Strip is worth standard transit fare. I wonder how strict they are about open containers on board…

      3. 40,000 people ride transit on the Strip every day. The buses run 24/7 every 7.5-20 minutes. A 2-hour pass costs $6 and a day pass costs $8. The Deuce actually makes a profit, $4 million a year as of 2009.

        The Deuce buses are not open top; they’re just like our Double Talls. And just like our Double Talls, they are higher capacity (more seats) than articulated buses while taking up less road space. The Strip gets quite congested even with a dozen lanes.

      4. LAS is a good case study for mode choice. Both the Duece and the Monorail serve the strip. One is highly visible, runs down the center of the Strip, has many entry exit points, is frequent and cheap.
        The other (monorail) is visible (except where to board it), runs behind one set of casinos (behind parking garages), has few stations, less frequent and is more expensive than the buses.
        Any wonder why one is profitable and the other is a drain on the economy?

      5. I’ve consumed a novelty sized daiquiri on a Deuce … I think it’s totally legit to do so. The locals are resigned to an existence dependent upon loud drunks

    2. How about Air Conditioning … like when it’s 120 degrees in the shade in summer? (If you can find shade).

    3. The big point they made with the Mass Transit article a few years ago was that under the Las Vegas operating conditions the double deckers were quite a bit less expensive to operate per hour than the double deckers.

      1. So, if they are cheaper to operate than the artics would the same apply here? I can’t see why it wouldn’t. I would think our conditions, hills, lots of tight turns, occasional snow, etc. would make maintenance on the artics more expensive. And given that Seattle is ranking up high in list of most congested cities (#5 I read recently) the savings in road space and ability to maneuver in traffic (like the amazing bus jockeys in London) would make the case for metro shifting to Double Talls. Maybe since they are twice as cool Metro could see Vegas’ fare and raise it to $6.25 :=

      2. As curb space for both zones and layover get more and more congested, especially in 2019 when CPS closure drives many more coaches down city streets, the higher capacity and shorter length factors will really shine.
        I’m not sure why Metro is so slow in picking up on the double tall wagon concept.

      3. It would sure help at S. Kirkland where one artic really mucks things up (especially when they don’t pull all the way forward, grrr). You get buses loading/unloading before the turn into the P&R with people trying to swim upstream to transfer to other buses not knowing what number they are chasing or which way it’s going until they can see the reader board. It doesn’t help when drivers pull away from the curb and drive around without actually stopping at the actual boarding area. At least with the Double Talls you could see the reader boards for the 255 & 540 above the 234/235/249 buses.

        CT has tested the waters and made a 2nd (3rd?) buy . I can see Metro taking a wait and see stance but I think the results should be clear. They should know everyone in Seattle needs a Double Tall in the morning!

      4. Here’s the Mass Transit article:

        How applicable it is to Seattle is open to opinion. CT routes that run long distances wouldn’t have the turnover issues you might have on short routes, but then double deck streetcars were used on some fairly short routes.

        Over the New Years weekend I saw an awful lot of KCM articulated pass up passengers because they were too full. Stairs up might not be appealing but are better than that alternative.

  4. Re: February’s Smokey Point Transit Center
    The blog post’s comments have been closed. The agency, Community Transit, has taken down the “smokeypoint” (sic) page for some reason. Here’s the Wayback Machine’s copy –

    “Smokey Point Transit Center” (archive copy from 16 Mar. 2015 of page)

  5. Does anybody know if there’s a way for the community to have a say in what Community Transit bus routes get an increase this September? I just moved up north a month ago and am trying to get my bearings here. I will admit to having some opinions on the matter already…(cough more frequent Saturday service cough)

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