King County officials, including Executive Dow Constantine, were cautiously optimistic on the first day of the Squeeze.
In a press conference yesterday afternoon at Metro’s Operations Center, Constantine and Metro officials said that Monday morning’s commute had gone as well as they’d hoped, but reiterated that commuters should pad their schedules by 30 to 60 minutes if possible.
“This morning was our first true test of these commute conditions,” said Metro’s deputy manager for operations, Terry White. “As we expected—or hoped—it went fairly smoothly.”
According to White, southbound Aurora Avenue was the most extreme bottleneck. Near Denny, Highway 99 now narrows to one lane, trapping high-ridership bus routes like the E Line and 5 in a long queue.
White said that the agency was prepared to adjust operations as needed—and quickly, if need be:
“The control center is adept at adjusting and calling the audibles that make the service actually work, and become as reliable as we expect.”
Metro has arranged to place 20 coaches on standby for the duration of the Highway 99 closure. According to White, Metro used those coaches for 23 trips, mainly on the E Line and 120, and carried about 350 riders.
White said that Metro can add or move stops “fairly quickly,” but added that “how we get that information out and communicated to customers is equally important. That’s the piece where we’ve got to make sure we’ve informed our customers of where we are. It doesn’t do us any good if we move a bus and nobody’s there.”
Constantine repeatedly encouraged West Seattle commuters to take advantage of expanded Water Taxi service. Constantine said that the Water Taxi carried more than 1,300 passengers this morning, three times more people than on January 13, 2018. Constantine also said that most taxi sailings were about half full; he spent the morning at the West Seattle dock.
“It was cold, and it was dark, but I’m here to report people were upbeat,” Constantine said. “They were eager after all the months and years of talk to get on with this. There’s no doubt that commute times will have lengthened today, and people’s patience will be stretched.”
Metro officials said that systemwide bus ridership figures for the morning were not available. In a separate conversation about ridership, Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer explained that a more detailed view of Carpocalpyse Metro ridership will only be available in retrospect. Switzer said that, given Metro’s already-strong ridership growth and the unusual circumstances of the Squeeze, making meaningful comparisons to past ridership was difficult.
White and Constantine seemed pleased with the morning’s results, but they were worried about backsliding.
“Monday, Tuesday, we anticipated that there would be a lot of folks who held back,” White said. “Going forward, we think that can flip. We’re gonna be here for some weeks. So we need to be diligent and careful that we don’t react too quickly to what we think is happening in the moment.”
Constantine was blunter.
“People plan, or they get up really early, or they work from home, and then after a couple days they don’t see things being too bad, and they all pile back in their cars,” Constantine said. “Please don’t do that.”