Community Transit 16804 in U District
New buses, like this one, are coming to Community Transit (photo by author)

Community Transit announced Friday that the agency’s board of directors has approved the purchase of at least 57 buses to be delivered beginning next year. The buses ordered were part of three contracts awarded to three different manufacturers: Alexander Dennis for 17 double-decker (“Double Tall”) buses, Gillig for 26 40-foot buses to be used on expanded local service, and New Flyer for 14 60-foot articulated buses that will replace older commuter buses.

The order for double-deckers came as part of a joint procurement with Sound Transit and Kitsap Transit, which the former approved last month. The additional double-deckers would bring the fleet to 62 vehicles, cementing CT’s place as the operator of the second-largest double-decker fleet in the United States, after Las Vegas.

(Community Transit's 2016-2021 Transit Development Plan)
(Community Transit’s 2016-2021 Transit Development Plan)

These bus replacements and additions are in line with Community Transit’s 5-year plan, which lays out a need to continually replace articulated buses with new models and Double Talls through 2021. The 40-foot buses used for local service are estimated to need a large replacement order in 2019 and 2020. Community Transit will also need to hire at least 115 new coach operators for these new buses and trips, during a time where other agencies are facing shortages.

The choice of Gillig for this order of 40-foot buses comes as a surprise, as they beat out New Flyer, who has been building most of CT’s buses for the last 20 years. Community Transit does, however, operate a fleet of 30-foot Gillig buses for their rural and lower-frequency services that have been running for three years.

An additional order of 15 articulated buses for the Swift Green Line will also be considered in the next few months, as Community Transit nears the line’s 2019 launch date. Delivery of those buses, which will be inter-operable with the existing Blue Line, is expected in late 2018.

Routes 109 (purple) and 209 (orange) begin service September 11.
Routes 109 (purple) and 209 (orange) begin service September 11.

In addition to the fleet changes, the previously discussed service changes will take effect on Saturday, September 11. Two new routes, 109 and 209, will create a loop around Everett using Highway 9, serving Ash Way, Mill Creek, Snohomish, Lake Stevens and Marysville every 30 minutes during weekday peaks. To accommodate the new route 209, route 222 in Marysville will be given a new route that restores service to the city’s library and serves the Getchell High Schoool and city’s new Walmart. Additional trips on commuter routes to Downtown Seattle and UW will be used to boost schedule reliability and keep up with rising congestion on I-5. Route 417 from Mukilteo will no longer serve the Lynnwood Transit Center, shaving a few minutes off the commute through the area.

Next March, Community Transit is planning to adjust local routes with additional morning and evening trips and frequency boosts at midday. In total, the changes in September and next March will eat up about 38,000 new bus hours funded by Proposition 1 in 2015. Details of the March changes will come in the next few months.

17 Replies to “Community Transit to Purchase More Buses, Adding More Routes”

  1. Intro of CT’s Five Year Plan says: “On I-5 between Everett and Seattle, buses carry 25% of commuters but represent less than 1% of vehicle traffic”.
    That stat just jumps off the page and now I’m perplexed how CT can go along with adding 10+ minutes to everyones ST trip by diverting to Pain Field when Link starts. [end of rant]

    1. Well, for starters, it’s not everyone – it’s just Everett – Lynnwood->Seattle commuters would be unaffected.

      Even for Everett, it’s not quite as bad as it looks. The amount of time the 512 spends on surface streets getting into and out of Lynnwood TC, Ash Way P&R, and South Everett Freeway Station adds up to about 10 minutes, so a Paine Field Deviation would be no worse. Peak hours, today’s commuters have an I-5 bypass, but if traffic on I-5 continues to worsen, that bypass will have less and less value as time progresses.

      Looking at the map, the Paine Field Deviation adds about 5 miles at 55 mph, which is about 6 minutes, plus stops. There are three planned stops between Mariner and Everett Stations (one of which is provisional), which adds up to a penalty of about 9 minutes. But the 9 minute figure assumes that the I-5 alternative would go all the way from Mariner P&R to Everett Station without stopping at all, and if the I-5 route contained any stops at all along the way (say, Everett Mall), the actual impact of the deviation becomes less.

      Presumably, the Everett politicians and the ST board believe this deviation is worth it for the reverse commute potential of Boeing workers. I’m personally skeptical of this claim, as the necessary shuttle ride at the end will make the train option very unattractive. I also believe that Boeing cannot be trusted to keep its factory in Everett long enough to make the station pencil out, even if people were willing to ride it. That can and will jump ship to somewhere with lower labor costs whenever they feel like it, and if they decide to do this one year before the Paine Field Station opens, ST will have a lot of egg in its face.

      Peak hours, both Marysville and Lake Stevens today have buses that bypass Everett and stop at Lynnwood TC on the way to downtown Seattle. The decision to stop at Lynnwood, instead of Everett, is no doubt related to the fact that Everett Station is very cumbersome to access from I-5, requiring a large number of 90-degree turns, traffic, and stoplights. With ST 3, this won’t change, and I would not at all be surprised if Marysville and Lake Stevens continue to demand and receive buses that bypass Everett and go straight to Lynnwood, even if the bus no longer continues all the way to Seattle. So, they wouldn’t need to pay the Paine Field Deviation cost either.

      1. Good analysis – Thank You.
        With Lynnwood playing such a large role for both ST2 and then ST3 riders you mention, do you think it is sized to handle both layover and bus bay for the frequency of buses expected to carry transfer Link riders onto buses every few minutes during the peak hour rush. That’s on top of all those ‘mega-garage’ riders trying to get the model T fired up, and nursed out onto the freeway.

      2. I think so – Lynnwood TC is already huge in both number of bays and layover space, and most of the existing CT commuter routes already stop at Lynnwood TC on the way downtown,
        anyway. It also has a direct ramp to/from the I-5 HOV lane, which is good for buses approaching for further north on I-5. By avoiding the stoplights and the time driving up and down the levels of the parking garage, plus using the I-5 HOV lane, it is possible that a rush hour Marsyville commuter might find riding the bus to Lynnwood a good 15 minutes faster than driving to Lynnwood to catch the train to Seattle.

      3. The Lynnwood and South Everett deviations aren’t all that time-consuming when you compare it to Ash Way, which alone can take 10+ minutes (and would be easily fixed by a completed ramp).

        I think that CT will continue to run Marysville services down to Lynnwood at peak and leave Link connections off-peak to Swift.

      4. Lynnwood Link is projecting up to 74,000 daily riders per weekday, with 4 car trains arriving in the peak every 4 minutes. IIRC, Lynnwood is good for 25,000 of those, each way, with most arrivals in the PM peak hours (roughly 4,000 per hour, most of who transfer to buses. While that’s fine for Link (less than 1.0 service factor), that’s a ton of bus boardings for the 20 bus bays considering they have to arrive before their next run north, and hopefully the driver gets a potty break in their between runs.

  2. The biggest problem with community transit is that all of these bus routes that run every 30 minutes make poor transfers with 512 running up I-5. Also, the hours are poor.

    I’m currently staying in the Mill Creek area and commute to Seattle. The main reason I don’t take the bus is the return trip.

    On my way back, I would need to take the 512 north along i-5 to the local park and ride. Then take a community transit bus 20 minutes back to my place. The last time I did this, I spend 40 minutes waiting for the community transit bus.

    So my commute was: 35 minutes on 512. 40 minutes waiting for the community transit bus. Then 20 on the bus. So 1 hour and 35 minutes.

    Also, the community transit bus stops running at 10pm, which precludes me from hanging out with friends in Seattle after work.

    On the other hand, if I have dinner in the city and wait until 8:00pm to drive back, my drive time is 40 minutes TOTAL. Obviously it would be longer if I left in the middle of rush hour, but I never do that.

    I think when light rail goes in, they had better make these feeder buses more frequent. They are the last piece of the puzzle that keeps transit from being useful to people living in the suburbs.

    1. I find that the one directional nature of their trips is a bit of a pain too. They run a pile of buses to Mukilteo one way, but none of those go back the other way as an in service trip. You’re stuck with the 113.

      1. The one-directional nature of the peak runs are normal for any Transit Agency. It would not make much sense to run Express buses to downtown Mukilteo or Stanwood or downtown Edmonds. One of the issues with the 113 s that it no longer serves Ashaway, which makes a long ride for commuters connecting with the ST services. Community Transit will be looking at a moderate restructure in the next two years. I hope the 113 will be among the routes revamped.

      2. This assumes that only day Seattle commuters need to be served. Isksnd Transit #1 can arrive at Clinton pretty full on some afternoon runs.

        There could be a lot more if there was a connection on the other end of the ferry.

        For many reasons it makes sense to run a few return buses in service. Among other things, the FTA grants do not pay for deadhead moves.

        So, even if CT were to have the return trip operate as an in service bus and carry 0 passengers, they would probably increase the total money coming in.

      3. @Glenn: The idea that they’d increase the money coming in is probably over-optimistic:

        – Depending on how they’re scheduled, they might not actually have buses dead-heading between Seattle and Edmonds/Mukilteo/Stanwood on any useful schedule. I don’t know where the CT bus bases are, but I’m willing to bet they aren’t near downtown Edmonds, Mukilteo, or Stanwood.
        – This requires extra layover/recovery time before the former deadhead trip — a reverse-peak service that’s extremely infrequent and unreliable is not going to attract riders, especially if the unreliability includes taking off several minutes early when traffic is good.
        – Going the opposite direction and making regular stops all the way through downtown Seattle for opposite-direction trips is going to cost a lot of time compared to getting straight on the freeway. Buses would have to make lots of stops even if they aren’t picking anyone up because many stops would be shared with other routes that attract more reverse-peak riders (especially the 545). Alternatively they could institute a schedule/routing pattern where dead-heading buses just get straight on the freeway and people catch them in the opposite direction during reverse-peak… which would inherently remove the layover time and make the service impossible to rely on.
        – IIRC the express routes are pretty direct through Snohomish County, so they wouldn’t lose much if any time by following them.
        – Reverse-peak trips still occur during peak hours, when the agency’s utilization of its bus fleet and drivers is at its peak.

        Getting to the ferry terminals by transit is frustratingly slow off-peak, and it would occasionally be nice for me if there was direct service from Seattle. I doubt CT would find it profitable to offer the service, however.

      4. @Reyes:

        I think yout statement only applies to American systems. I remember seeing a comparison (probably on this blog) of the percentage of time buses in Seattle spend deadheading to buses in Vancouver BC, and the Vancouver buses spent a fraction of the time deadheading.

        You can see this looking at the schedules. In Vancouver or Toronto buses will run at the same headways both directions during peak hours. In Seattle a route might run every 5 minutes one direction and only every 12 minutes the other direction during AM peak. That means more than 1 out of 2 buses are being taken out of service after they reach the terminal instead of heading back the other way in service. That’s a tremendous waste of resources.

      5. Ever looked at how badly traffic backs up on I-5 going south in the afternoon? They have to plan around a huge variable timetable anyway.

        If they’re not going back to Seattle then so much the better. Just have the timetable end at anywhere where people can transfer to something else.

      6. “That means more than 1 out of 2 buses are being taken out of service after they reach the terminal instead of heading back the other way in service.”

        There aren’t that many all-day routes (or even bi-directional peak-only routes) left in Seattle that run a peak-direction heavy service. In any case, schedulers have always tried to find opportunities to hook one-way peak trips to trips on other routes if there’s no reverse service.

    2. Some feeder routes will be converted into Swift BRT lines, which will come packaged with higher frequency and fewer stops.

      I have the same problem coming home from weekly events in Seattle, being forced onto a crowded 512 and frantically checking my phone to see if my 201/202 has left Lynnwood…and if I could catch it again in Everett. Some guaranteed transfers/holds would be nice, since some drivers unofficially hold for a 512 to pull into the stop.

    3. Totally agreed. It used to worse, when the 510 and 511 were separate routes with half the frequency, and CT didn’t bother to line up the schedules. There was period a few years ago where bus to Mukilteo left Ash Way P&R two minutes before a half-hourly northbound 511 was scheduled to pull in, so you had to arrive 28 minutes early to make the connection.

      Today, with the 512 every 15 minutes Monday-Saturday, it is at least somewhat better, but the 512 is still unpredictable enough getting through downtown that you still have to plan on arriving in Lynnwood 20 minutes early to be assured of a connection. Fortunately, Uber seems to have grown much more reliable in Snohomish County over the past couple of years, so the option to trade time for money always exists (and may still be cheaper than driving all the way to downtown Seattle and paying for parking).

      The feeder connection problem is one area where Link to Lynnwood will help immensely, even if the feeder buses themselves don’t improve. If you know exactly how long the train will take, and the train runs every 5 minutes, you can time the outbound connection to arrive at Lynnwood TC 5 minutes before the feeder bus leaves and make the connection 99% of the time. But, of course, with the commuter routes being truncated and revenue up, the frequency of the feeder routes should definitely improve.

  3. Still buying diesels? Bad move. They’ll be obsolete in less than 10 years. The TCO of electrics is already better….

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