On Sunday, the Seattle Times wrote up ($) SDOT’s Employer Shared Transit Stop Pilot program, which started a week prior. It’s a good writeup, although transit nerds probably won’t learn too much they didn’t already know. From SDOT’s page:
The City of Seattle and King County Metro are collaborating with Seattle Children’s Hospital and Microsoft to conduct a six-month pilot that will allow these participating organizations’ employer-provided shuttles to temporarily share a select set of public transit stops with King County Metro buses. This pilot was carefully developed over the last two years. The pilot project will test the feasibility of allowing employer-provided shuttles to use public transit stops while minimizing impacts to public transit operations.
As someone who both cares a lot about public transit, and the space given to public transit, and also someone who uses an employer shuttle occasionally (not one in this pilot), I have a few reactions.
First, I applaud SDOT and Metro for spotting a growing trend, and proactively experimenting with a pilot program to get real-world experience in managing it. Rule changes are generally easy to reverse if they don’t pan out, and I’ll take data over endless process and waffle any day.
Second, I think there will be mixed operational results from the stops chosen (you can see a full map on the SDOT page). Some, like SB 15th Ave E @ Mercer, seldom see more than a bus every ten minutes, and an additional shuttle using the stop is unlikely to cause delays for public transit riders. Others, like SB Queen Anne @ Harrison, are very heavily trafficked.
That traffic includes RapidRide D*, on which SDOT and Metro have spent a lot of money in the name of speed and reliability. A noticeable level of conflict between shuttles and transit in the peak period seems inevitable, and any resulting delays will undermine the effort and money spent on the RapidRide program.
Of course, this variety of stop profiles will yield more interesting data, and may have been an intentional part of the pilot’s stop choices, although SDOT doesn’t call it out as such.
Finally, I note the dead hand of America’s great cognitive bias in street space allocation: when a new actor arises and asks for street space, the first people whose interests are traded off are all those who don’t drive and park their own car in the public right of way. Particularly depressing is the suggestion quoted in the Times article, that “if more loading zones are freed up, officials eventually could change some of those loading zones to public parking.”
Curbside parking (as distinct from loading) is, in general, the least valuable use of space, on a busy thoroughfare in a dense neighborhood. If the primary motiviation for a permanent shared stop program is to eventually add a couple of dozen parking spaces to SDOT’s street parking inventory across the entire city, then that is a fatally worthless premise. If, on the other hand, the purpose is to make each street function better overall (e.g. can we please have a bike corral by the pilot stop at Ballard & Market?), and any negative feedback on transit conflicts is taken seriously, then this program may prove meritorious.
If you have your own scaldingly hot take on this pilot program, please share it with us in the comments, and then email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My email Q&A with SDOT, lightly edited, is after the jump.
* UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, the D Line skips this one stop in Uptown. Nevertheless, it’s a busy stop for all the routes coming southbound out of Queen Anne, and SDOT and Metro have spent a chunk of money on making those routes faster and better, so I think the point mostly stands.
1. How were these stops chosen?
This pilot is consistent with our efforts to make the best use of a valuable finite resource: our on-street curb space. We will continue to prioritize transit, and have established a monitoring program to ensure transit service and operations are not degraded at these locations. The pilot is intended to demonstrate that there are areas where we believe shared use by transit and employer shuttles can work for everyone. Having these compatible uses share the same space takes the pressure off nearby loading zones or the need to remove parking to install Shuttle Loading Zones.
Microsoft and Seattle Children’s identified locations where they believed shared use of public transit zones would help facilitate efficient shuttle operations and loading/unloading of passengers without significant impacts to public transit operations. SDOT and King County Metro approved the pilot locations.
2. Was the availability of nearby commercial loading zones, or the possibility of converting general curbside parking to loading zones, considered as an alternative?
Those are typical considerations in locating employer shuttle stops. Employer shuttles typically load and unload in passenger loading zones (which are otherwise open to the general public for loading and unloading) or seek to establish new Shuttle Loading Zones. Microsoft and Children’s have expressed challenges with loading zones in locations like these being consistently utilized by the general public, which makes safe and efficient loading by their shuttles challenging. In areas like this we are trying shared use rather than taking other parking or loading to designate a new Shuttle Loading Zone.
3. [What are] the “agreed upon performance metrics and evaluation criteria” mentioned on the page?
The project will conduct field data collection to observe how private employer shuttle use Metro stops and how they interact with Metro buses and other street users. In particular, we will look at:
- Feedback from Metro and private shuttle operators.
- Public comments received by Metro and SDOT customer service.
- Summary information regarding any traffic incidents and citations associated with private employer shuttles using pilot bus stops.
- An assessment of benefits and impacts generated by allowing employer shuttles to use Metro stops.
More specifically, the data collection effort will record the following events/metrics/observations at each stop location for a given sampling period:
- Shuttle identifying information (e.g. company name).
- Shuttle arrival and departure time.
- Number of shuttle passengers boarding/alighting (nice to have).
- Number of KC Metro vehicle stop-events at the location.
- Conflicts: whether each shuttle
- Delayed an arriving KC Metro bus from accessing stop.
- Was delayed in accessing the stop (i.e. another shuttle, KC Metro bus, or another vehicle temporarily blocked access).
- Blocked travel lane (including double parked).
- Blocked bike lane.
- Blocked right-turning cars from seeing crossing pedestrians (near-side stops).
- Blocked crosswalk (far-side stops).
At the conclusion of the pilot, we will do an evaluation to summarize the benefits and impacts of the pilot that will inform decisions about potential pilot project extension by time, expansion and/or development of a permanent program.
4. A couple of these stops, notably #29720 and #2180, are very busy in the peaks, which is presumably when the employer shuttles will run. How will SDOT and Metro ensure that shuttle loading does not impact transit speed and reliability?
Pilot participants will schedule their stops to avoid conflicts with Metro to the extent possible. We have also established operating guidelines for shuttle operators, including minimizing dwell times (no more than 60 seconds, and shorter whenever possible), not using these stops for any layover or staging, pulling forward to the front of the zone if the shuttle is the first vehicle to enter, and not entering the zone if it is occupied and cannot otherwise accommodate a shuttle vehicle until/unless the other vehicle(s) in the zone have left.
5. What’s the cost of the permits that employers must purchase?
$300 per vehicle