Via service area in the rainier valley

Express an interest in transit at just about any cocktail party in the Rainier Valley, and you’ll hear how what Sound Transit really needs to do is provide a shuttle to get people to the stations. Inevitably, people are proposing a solution to their specific problem without much awareness of scale or efficiency. Much like park-and-ride spaces, shuttles are probably more effective at allowing people to conceive a way to use light rail than actually providing that access at scale. On the other hand, Metro and ST seem to have worked their way into a contract that projects a pretty good yield from what some might call coverage service.

The Federal Transit Administration is willing to give shuttles a shot, possibly anticipating that autonomous vehicles will eventually transform the economics. Metro and Sound Transit won $350,000 from FTA in a research project combined with LA Metro. This sum, combined with $100,000 each from Metro and ST, would have funded a peak-only shuttle at a couple of Seattle stations and Tukwila International Blvd, according to Project Manager Casey Gifford of Metro.

Enter Seattle, with Transportation Benefit District funds that Metro doesn’t have the capacity to serve with more buses. Its $2.7m contribution dramatically expanded the concept to include four Seattle stations and service over the full span of Link operations. Tukwila, which didn’t top it up, is only available from 6-9am and 3:30-6:30pm.

For the next 12 months or so, riders traveling between a Link Station and the areas shown above can use an app or phone number to summon a minivan operated by Via. They can pay for the ride just like any Metro bus, except for cash: an ORCA that fully transfers to Link, or a Transit GO ticket that doesn’t. Although this payment scheme will shift some more ORCA revenue from ST to Metro, only the small amount of Transit GO tickets (and additional volume) would put more fare revenue into the system as a whole.

The $3.2m budget funds a year of Via vehicles, plus startup and marketing costs. The external vendor provides a few different benefits. The use of non-unionized “contractors” reduces labor costs. Less controversially, like many transportation network companies, Via claims that its data collection and algorithms will rightsize the vehicles operating at any given time, position them to optimize the waiting time for riders, and combine trips.

Metro and ST pay Via per vehicle hour. The current budget is based on some assumptions on how many vans (out of a fleet of 18) Via needs to deploy, for a total of 75,565 hours. If lower-than-projected ridership requires fewer vehicles, there would be money left over. If high demand requires more vehicles than planned, the agencies would need to either come up with more money or accept higher customer wait times. This comes out to about $42/hour including overhead, but the marginal rate is $40/hour, over three times cheaper than a Metro bus.

The contract has a number of Key Performance Indicators that will help both determine the number of active vehicles and whether the pilot should continue beyond the initial year. These include serving 80% of requested trips, a rider rating of 4.5 stars or higher, wait times of 10 minutes or less, and vehicles serving 2.5 riders per hour. More vehicles would reduce times and increase success rates while reducing efficiency, so there are difficult tradeoffs for the algorithm. The 2.5/hr figure means that the cost would be $16 per rider. For comparison, ST Express runs about $7/rider and Sounder runs about $11 for many more passenger miles.

Other press reports mentioned another metric of 1,000 rides per week overall. While this is indeed in the contract, Ms. Gifford characterized that as “an error,” copied over from an example LA Metro contract and not numerically consistent with the other estimates in the program. Indeed, these other metrics suggest over 3,600 rides per week. She emphasized that the agencies would “look holistically at performance,” including “who is being served and what gaps it is filling.”

Although it’s very early going, Ms. Gifford was able to share some promising early results. Over the first two weeks, each vehicle carried 3 passengers per hour (over the target of 2.5) and the average wait time was 7 minutes (vs. 10). If Via holds the 3 riders/hr metric, that would bring cost per rider to about $13. While not competitive with the most productive routes, this is competitive with other routes that might be viewed as “coverage” — providing service to underserved areas. If Via maintains this performance, the case for continuing will be relatively strong.

75 Replies to “Early Via shuttle results are decent”

  1. I use Via frequently in NYC and it works pretty well. Using it with an Orca transfer is a no-brainer, hopefully they can find a way to sustain this without bleeding money.

  2. I found an interesting article about a similar service in a suburb of Toronto. It proved to be too popular for its own good, and the agency was forced to hike fares and implement usage caps in order to keep the operating costs under control.

    I wonder if we’re going to be destined for something similar here. With the marginal fare (at least for everybody with Orca cards) effectively zero, will people overuse the shuttles (including for trips that could easily be accomplished on the 50, or just simply walking) to the point where the city is forced to implement rationing to keep costs under control?

    I’m imagining a world where the service becomes too popular for its own good, causing wait times to ballon (since the city can’t afford to run any more vehicles) until people don’t want to ride anymore, and an equilibrium is reached.

  3. I see that this is a demonstration service rather than a permanent one. I expect geographic equity concerns will emerge if a more permanent program is attempted. I’m not sure how financially viable this would be if expanded to West Seattle or Magnolia or far North Seattle.

    That said, it seems to provide a missing link in the transit system that results from route spacing combined with topography. As technology becomes more time-responsive, I can see how these services become more possible — especially for driverless vehicles.

    Regardless of how this gets judged after several months, it’s important to envision that last-mile needs exist and that a program’s possible termination doesn’t terminate the need.

  4. It seems like a sensible idea to use on demand shuttles in suburban areas. This is really the sort of thing that modern technology should make much more efficient than in the past.

    I also think this should be considered distinct from “uber” style services, which are point to point and use vehicles that can only carry 3 people max. These shuttles are all going to the same place, the train station, so I can see it would be pretty efficient to swing by a number of houses on the way and pick a number of people up on their morning commute.

    An even bigger benefit could be on the return route. An app based scheduling system could have the shuttle show up just as your train arrived. The big problem with taking transit from suburban areas, is that if you need to transfer on your return trip, often you end up waiting a half hour at the train station for an infrequent bus.

    If self driving technology ever takes off, I could see the cost of this plummeting, and the suburbs really opening up to transit access.

    1. “It seems like a sensible idea to use on demand shuttles in suburban areas.”

      Parts of Rainier Valley are suburban, as is Rainier View, Beacon Hill, the eastern CD, northeast Seattle, northwest Seattle, Magnolia, and West Seattle. They could all use shuttles like this. The key is to have small service areas, then there will always be a shuttle near any prospective passenger, and it will finish its in-progress trip within 10-minutes. The above service areas fit into this model. Fixed coverage routes may be more efficient, but we’d have to determine whether they could really serve these areas without leaving more than a few people out.

  5. A math question: how much money does ST save by not building a parking garage in the Rainier Valley? How much of Via would this “savings” buy?

    I see this as much of a trade-off to station parking than to local bus service. At $3.2 million each year (as opposed to just a $100 million garage upfront), funding the program for over 25 or 30 years would seem to be the financial trade-off.

    It really does cast a light on how many of the public view expensive parking structures without parking fees as efficient — but not subsidized feeder service.

    Food for thought, suburbia!

    1. like Via, commuter parking also does not scale and is not cost effective. the land next to frequent transit is better used for housing and not parking; the funds needed to build parking is better used for service frequency to reduce wait times. in addition, in Seattle, it is counter to their comprehensive plan. Seattle developed along streetcar lines and intending riders walked to transit.

    2. True, but there are no proposals for a P&R in Rainier Valley, because Seattle’s law says no new P&Rs. It’s a live tradeoff in the suburbs where ST is proposing and building large P&Rs. And it’s a live issue in the sense of highways: high-speed rail blunts the push to build another freeway or expand existing freeways and airports.So in that case it really is a more efficient project displacing a less-efficient one at the same capital cost. But in Rainier Valley since there are no official plans for P&Rs, only residents’ demands for one, the cost of Via and additional coverage routes is not displacing a P&R but is only additional.

  6. The use of non-unionized “contractors” reduces labor costs.

    Yeah, the robber barons have known this for at least 150 years. The use of non-unionized “contractors” also brings questions of skill and safety of these poorly paid contractors.

    Via claims that its data collection and algorithms…

    I sure hope that Via is not selling that data to third parties.

    Essentially taxpayers are subsidizing an even worse performing version of Lyft/Uber. We’ve taken a problem and thrown a bad solution at it.

    1. I sure hope that Via is not selling that data to third parties.

      I guarantee you they are. Welcome to late-stage capitalism, where we “rate” our drivers, policing ourselves on behalf of the anti-worker Silicon Valley behemoth that hoards data on our whereabouts.

  7. See Martins’s last paragraph on coverage. Via is serving areas with coverage. Nothing stops an intending rider who lives on a bus route from using Via. It is competing for walk trips. Routes 7 and 36 have 10-minute headway and attract almost 50 rides per hour; the network average in SE Seattle is more than 40. Routes 60 and 124 have 15-minute headway; Route 107 has that in the peaks. Via duplicates the existing network and may degrade its productivity. The Seattle TBD funds have opportunity cost, even with the coach constraint. They could improve off-peak headway on routes 14 or 50. They can be used on capital:add trolley overhead on South Henderson Street and connect Route 7 with Link a the Rainier Beach station; improve Route 7 flow. The TBD is throwing money away for little gain. Via cannot scale well, as the first riders on the van have to sit through deviations. Is three rides an hour victory or wasteful spending?

      1. Yes, opposed to shuttles, which the council took out of their legislation changing the authorized uses for STBD funds, capital projects are explicitly allowed now. They can spend $10 million per year.

      2. Kind of. Yes, there is $9MM a year. However, SDOT has limited capacity to actually spend those funds (competing for staff time with other SDOT capital projects, and the project must be complete by the end of 2020, which narrows the list of candidate projects.) They don’t anticipate spending the entire capital account by the end of the levy.

      3. The legislation doesn’t say it must be complete by then, just that the intent is to complete it by then.

      4. That’s right, I keep forgetting that part of the levy amendment.

    1. RE: competing with walking. The Ride2 service in Eastgate included a minimum distance, so that if you were a 5 minute walk to the bus station the app would decline to pick you up and tell you to walk instead. Does Via have a similar limit?

      1. Eastgate also has routes 221, 226, 240, 245, 246, and 271, so pretty good service north of I-90.

      2. No it doesn’t have a limit. They said they would prioritize pickups away from stations, though.

    2. “It is competing for walk trips.”

      You’re ignoring people who live more than a 10-minutes walk away from a frequent route, which includes several parts of Rainier Valley and is the reason for this pilot. If you cancel Via, what do you replace it with to serve those underserved areas? Canceling Via is like the right-wing rhetoric to cancel food stamps and social programs because a few people abuse them (or the pundits falsely claim a few people abuse them). That leaves out the many more people who really need the programs.

      1. the vast majority of intending SE Seattle riders are within a 15-minute walk of frequent transit service. if the average walk speed is three miles per hour, that covers three-quarters of a mile in 15 minutes. routes 7, 14, 36, 60, 106, 107, and 124 each has 15-minute headway in the peaks; is Route 50 at 20-minutes? Via picks up intending riders who are both close to and distant from transit service. Perhaps it is for auto-access riders. The risk will be the loss aversion; how will the agencies cut the program when it attracts some riders, but not enough to make it competitive with alternative uses of the operating subsidy?

    3. eddiew,

      Hasn’t Metro more or less said no to more buses due to capacity constraints?

      It is true that Metro has lots of buses in the area, though East/West connectivity is awful and many people on Rainier are facing a looong ride on the 7 to get to a Link station, sometimes out of direction. Our bus system *could* be doing a good job of getting people to Link, but Metro has whiffed on two opportunities to do that. Part of that is catering to one-seat ride reactionaries, and some of that is shifting bus hours out of the Rainier Valley to the CD and West Seattle.

      1. Martin, the bus constraint is in the peak only. it may be relaxed with base and fleet growth. in 2009, Mayor Nickels asked the some hours from the Link restructure be shifted to the dumb SLU streetcar; those hours are still there. what other hours left SE Seattle? in 2016, Route 106 was revised to duplicate Link and routes 7, 14, and 36 between Mt. Baker and IDS to placate transfer adverse community leaders. the Seattle TBD has since improved Sunday headway. Despite those missteps bus-Link connectivity is still pretty good. it is not a whiff. Route 36 serves Othello and Beacon with 10-minute headway. Route 7 serves IDS an Mt. Baker with 10-minute headway. Route 14 serves IDS and Mt. Baker with 15 minute peak headway (here is a potential off-peak improvement). routes 106 and 107 connect South Hill with the Rainier Beach station. Routes 60 and 107 serve Beacon; both have 15-minute peak period headway. Route 106 serves the MLK stations. Route 50 serves SODO, Edmunds, and Othello; does it have issues? are they fixable? these routes attract more than 40 rides per hour; that is many times more than Via will achieve. they could be improved; that would be a better investment. Link itself provides some east-west connectivity: SODO to Mt.Baker via Beacon; it is very fast. Feed Link!

      2. >what other hours left SE Seattle?

        Many hours were, in effect, shifted from the 48 along MLK to the running the 8 through the CD; creating the 50 moved many service hours to West Seattle. These might be reasonable changes, and in some sense help Rainier Valley riders, but what they’re not doing is improving local connectivity to Link.

      3. I agree that a peak-only Via + better off-peak bus frequency would be a better deployment of resources. However, I think you’re overly sanguine about the existing bus network, and adding buses to those routes, as a means of accessing Link.

      4. Ah, Route 8 in the Central Area. That is awkward; it got adds in June 1997 and September 2009. Before Link, it had 15/30 headway and extended to South Walden Street on weekdays. Route 48 used the South Walden Street headway nights and Sundays.

        I hope the agencies add trolley overhead on South Henderson Street between Rainier Avenue South and MLK Jr. Way so the south part of Rainier Avenue South can have a direct connection with Link.

      5. I have always been undecided about the 8 on MLK. Is it necessary? Is it useful? When it went to Columbia City I counted riders on it a couple times, and the largest number were already in in Columbia City and still on when I got off at Summit. A couple got on at Mt Baker, zero between Mt baker and Jackson, then a few between Jackson and Yesler, one between Yesler and Madison, one at MLK & Madison, zero until Broadway, and then the second-largest number of people at Broadway. So I wonder how worthwhile the MLK and Madison segments are. The 48 used to go to Rainier Beach, and that seems like a more productive corridor. The only part of MLK that’s not within a 4-block flat walk to 23rd is right around Madison where it gets very steep. This seems like a lot of route-miles for just those few blocks. Is the 8’s southern portion more useful than this in some ways? Metro’s LRP proposes spilling off the southern portion to a separate route (Madison to Mt Baker). I really wonder whether it will have hardly any riders at all.

      6. With Judkins Park Link’s new entrance on 23rd, a new transfer pattern will emerge. Routes that are primarily residential like Route 8 today will become less relevant unless they connect to Link there.

        Because route restructures affect other routes, a good systems refresh would seem to be in order for everything in the CD as well as SE Seattle.

        The last huge problem is the inability to turn buses around at Judkins Park Station. It’s going to be a hassle for routing buses to there for that simple reason.

        Ideally, I think that we would be better served with transit centers at either end of the Rainier Ave commercial strip (Judkins Park and Rainier Beach or further north) rather than one at Mt Baker!

  8. How is the TIB shuttle doing? It’s service area is huge and (mostly) 180 degrees out of direction from the station, unless the rider is headed to Sea-Tac or Angle Lake. Which very few are, of course. I have a hard time believing it is attracting much if any ridership.

    If the station at 112th and East Marginal (“Interurban Avenue”) were completed, running one of these shuttles from it might be a smashing success. But alas, a lack, a lack that is of the station. TIB is on the SOUTHERN edge of a large zone the vast majority of whose residents go north to work if they take transit at all. I guess this is Seattle’s way of helping out the ‘burbs?

    1. Oh, I see now. The TIB service is funded by Federal and Metro funds. So the City isn’t funding it. It’s still a pretty weak proposition; they should just have made the service area the part of Sea-Tac south of 136th or so.

    2. I guess this is Seattle’s way of helping out the ‘burbs?

      Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District funds are only benefiting the stations inside Seattle and to and from Seattle addresses. The Tukwila International Boulevard Station area is only serving pickups to and from Tukwila addresses (south of the station is in the City of Sea-Tac). TIBS shuttle service isn’t being funded by Seattle:

      [Seattle’s] $2.7m contribution dramatically expanded the concept to include four Seattle stations and service over the full span of Link operations. Tukwila, which didn’t top it [“it” being the grant from the Federal Transit Administration -me] up, is only available from 6-9am and 3:30-6:30pm.

  9. If the concern is for those people who live a 10+ minute walk beyond frequent transit, why does Via’s service area cover areas that are within a couple of minutes walk of Link stations?

    1. The concern is about people being diverted from bus feeders, not people who iive two blocks from the station. It takes two minutes just to summon a ride and wait one minute for it, and the likelyhood of the shuttle arriivinv in one minute is close to zero, so it would be faster and more convenient to walk to the station. However, there are disabled people who can’t walk more than a block or two but aren’t disabled enough to qualify for Access, so Via might provide a bona-fide service to them.

      1. It is also worth noting that the frequency of the 50 is not great (about one bus every half hour). The 50 is also unreliable, since the buses are coming all the way from West Seattle and SODO. In SODO, there’s an at-grade crossing of the BNSF tracks, and if there happens to be a long freight train coming, the bus is going to be delayed. Holgate is also close enough to the Mariners stadium to be delayed who-knows-how-long in post-game traffic.

        Put all these things together, it is not all crazy for someone to get off the train, pull out OneBusAway, observe that the #50 bus that would take them home isn’t coming for another 20 minutes, and order a Via shuttle instead.

        In theory, the money for the Via pilot could have gone to improving frequency on the 50, but it probably wouldn’t be enough to cover the full span of Link, but just rush hour and maybe the weekday midday period. The 50 also has fundamental flaws, which merely throwing more buses at it isn’t going to solve. Basically, the 50 is trying to do to many things and once, and, as a result, is doing all of them very poorly. The SODO slog ruins the reliability of the entire route, while adding no useful coverage, since it’s only stop in SODO is next to the Link Station. A bus from Columbia City to SODO station is completely pointless. If you want to get to SODO station from Columbia City, just ride Link. Similarly, one of the supposed purposes of the 50 is to allow east/west connectivity without having to detour downtown. It’s a good think to have, but, again, if the east/west connectivity is going to be so slow and so circuitous that it’s not actually any faster than detouring downtown, what’s the point? According to the official trip planner, the 50 saves 10 minutes over the Link->C-line connection (from Columbia City Station to West Seattle Junction), but factor in the 50’s unreliability, along with its 30-minute frequency, in actuality, the two options are going to take about the same amount of time. If you don’t have 50 minutes to go the 5.8 miles, you’re just going to have to suck it up and pay for either Lyft, Uber, or car sharing. Even West Seattle Junction->SODO, you can do on the 21 with a bit of walking, so the 50 is still not necessary.

        Ultimately, I think the route 50 needs some major rework, and the Via shuttle is basically a workaround for route 50’s flaws, and the fact that it’s always politically easier to bolt some new service on top of what’s existing, rather than try to go in and change what’s existing. If I were designing it, I would lean towards truncating to the 50 be just a (more frequent) Rainier Valley shuttle, running the current route, only between the VA Hospital and Othello Station (if Metro is going to insist on running the bus through the hospital parking lot, may as well use it as a layover spot to turn around the bus). Then, shuffle the buses around within West Seattle so that some other route goes to Alki. Perhaps, a loop like this. I used the water taxi shuttle route #775 as a starting point, with added service to the West Seattle Junction. I also envision it running later into the evening and all year round.

      2. “the money for the Via pilot could have gone to improving frequency on the 50, but it probably wouldn’t be enough to cover the full span of Link, but just rush hour and maybe the weekday midday period.”

        The 50 is already 15-minute frequent peak hours.

      3. For all its flaws, the 50 picks up 19 riders an hour, or six times the number that got Via excited. This is off peak (when it runs every half hour). Even accounting for the union-busting tactics and limited scope of the run that enable Via to offer cheaper service, this is less than half as cost effective as a clearly flawed coverage bus.

      4. At the end of the day, I do believe the right solution is to fix the 50 and make it more frequent. Mostly for the reasons you state, that it’s the only way to make the cost per rider go down, when the number of riders goes up.

        But, at the same time, I can understand why people are frustrated with the current 50 and want alternatives. I can also understand people being lukewarm about just throwing more frequency at the current 50. With all the random delays in SODO, more frequency could very well just mean more bus bunching, rather than an actual reduction in wait times.

        Also, if you’re strictly interested in getting from your home in the Rainier Valley to Link, only 1/3 of the 50’s service hours is actually benefiting you.

      5. Asdf2 is right that rethinking Route 50 would help. Frequencies at 10 minutes or less almost eliminates the need for the Via program. I’m also so grateful to have OBA for using Route 50 or it would be a bigger waste!

        I think making Route 50 a community route would be great! Truncating at SODO (middle school and Route 60 transfer needs) is a little better than at the VA.

        Another need is rethinking Route 27 to serve the Route 14 tail and end at Mt Baker — or perhaps go down 38th to Genesee before terminating at Mt Baker or Columbia City Link. — or going to Mt Baker Link and the down Rainier to Orcas, then ending at Seward Park. Since Route 27 is off-wire (as well as Route 50), it is the most flexible to introduce service adjustments and it’s current dead end near Lake Washington is just plain wasteful (at the very least it should end at a Link station).

        Finally, it’s the less frequent buses that need on-street arrival time screens rather than the most frequent! Somewhere in all if this improvement, signs to announce when less frequent buses like Route 50 are arriving should be added at the nearest Link stop. I even wish that at each Link platform there was an information screen about connecting Metro lines and when they are arriving because that affects how quickly a rider can react in order to board a connecting bus.

      6. Also, if you’re strictly interested in getting from your home in the Rainier Valley to Link, only 1/3 of the 50’s service hours is actually benefiting you

        And if you are interested in getting from your home in the Rainier Valley to somewhere other than Link (like the V. A., Columbia City, Seward Park, West Seattle) than none of the far more wasteful hours spent on Via help you.

      7. “And if you are interested in getting from your home in the Rainier Valley to somewhere other than Link (like the V. A., Columbia City, Seward Park, West Seattle) than none of the far more wasteful hours spent on Via help you.”

        I hadn’t thought of this when I made my original post, but if you live within easy walking distance of a Link Station, you can use Via to reach any local destination that Link doesn’t serve.

        Unfortunately, those who are unable to afford the rent to live right next to a Link station don’t have that option. Not sure this was an intended use of the service, but it does exist.

  10. I’ve installed the app but I’m skeptical of any time savings and haven’t used it yet. I am happy to walk to the 7, 106, 9, 36, or 60 to get to Mt Baker or Beacon Hill. (Or just walk directly to the station.)

    However, my partner has been using it to get to Mt Baker, using the phone call service as he doesn’t have a smartphone. Yesterday when he tried to use it, he found that his account had been deactivated and the Via people wouldn’t tell him why.

    1. That’s a difference between Via and Metro’s DART routes. I don’t think Metro requires an account; you just phone them up and tell them your address and when you want it. So that’s something to think about: whether we’re forcing another account on people.

      Since a registered ORCA card is a kind of account, it could be the basis for Via. Although that wouldn’t guarantee it won’t be deactivated for Via for mysterious reasons.

    2. He’s followed up with Via. Seems his account was deactivated due to billing issues or something and they want a copy of his ID and the credit card info? As he’s a UW employee and his Passport is funded thru an payroll deduction, it’s not clear how he’s gonna supply the requested information to reactivate his account. Passport users beware.

  11. Most of the funds are from the Seattle TBD. They could be used on transit capital or off-peak service. There are much better uses.

  12. I figured I would add some a rider perspective. I’ve been using this almost since it launched as I just starting a job downtown and I live in the service area. A few things I noticed:
    – The drivers seemed not happy. They were promised what seems like a high hourly rate but several of them seemed to not initially understand the rental fee for the vans that they are being charged, so their effective hourly rate is close to minimum wage. All of the drivers are immigrants,mostly Somali. Most can probably do better if they are active on Uber/Lyft and they can drive their own cars. This service is essentially a guaranteed minimum wage job rather than Uber/Lyft which will have a higher amount of cash but is more variable and puts miles on your car. I wonder if they are going to churn through some drivers.
    – Some of the drivers seem a bit lost. The first day I did it the driver turned into oncoming traffic on MLK. This morning he turned on the wrong road to find a passenger despite what the app was telling him. This will get better over time, as they get used to the area.
    – Many trips, even during rush hour, are single person trips. Of the almost 15 times I have taken it, the majority have been single person trips, though a few have been 2 passengers and this morning was 5!
    – Wait times are relatively good. They range from 4 to 15 minutes, in my experience. One way to help is to check the app 10 minutes before you need the ride and reserve it before you get to the location (I check a stop or two before I get to the station). Though, today the driver came earlier than I expected and I almost missed the van.
    – Most riders are already transit riders. Most were walking or taking the local routes such as the 7 and 50 to get to the stations. I don’t think the average non-train rider knows about the service. Plastering signs all over the stations, hiring someone to hand out flyers at the stations and putting signs in the trains won’t inform carpools or those that drive alone downtown. This will really be a benefit if they get more riders onto the train and I think the marketing efforts aren’t reaching the right people.

    1. Mail a postcard to everybody’s home in the area. We’re trying to get people don’t take transit because there’s no good feeder for them.

  13. Yikes! Only 2.5 boardings per revenue hour? That’s a horribly small number, and it means most vans will be empty most of the time.

      1. “Coverage”? As opposed to actually carrying passengers — you know, getting people from Point A to Point B?

      2. Right, and as far as coverage is concerned, three riders an hour is terrible. The 24 is a coverage route. It winds its way through the low density neighborhoods of Magnolia, yet off peak, it carries 25 riders an hour. The 107 is also coverage in nature. It doesn’t connect to a major destination, but like this service, seems designed to get people to Link. Like the 24, it goes this way and that, trying to ensure that no one has to walk very far. Yet it carries 21 riders an hour off peak. The 50 carries 19 people per hour off peak. Not only does this service perform poorly, it performs poorly compared to coverage routes in the same neighborhood.

        You also have no advantage to the system if this becomes more popular. Let’s assume we consider this a wonderful success. Then what? Will it become more frequent? Of course not. Will new routes be added, which enable a better network? No, because there are no routes. There is no network effect here, because this is not really part of the network.

        In contrast, it is pretty easy to see how buses like the 24, 50 or 107 could increase frequency, and provide much better service for their riders. This, in turn, could lead to new routes, or increased frequency on other routes (as ridership in general increases). Since this is geared only towards riders of Link, it is merely a drop in the bucket. Does anyone think that Link will increase midday headways because of this service? Of course not. This is a luxury service for a handful of riders, while there are plenty of riders who suffer from abysmal midday service. This is all as expected (

      3. I mean the sheer fact that this article started off with talking about cocktail parties is indicative of this being a luxury service. I highly doubt most transit riders in the Rainier Valley (and hell, systemwide) ever go to cocktail parties. Cocktail parties! How out of touch can you get?

      4. “Since this is geared only towards riders of Link, it is merely a drop in the bucket.”

        That is one problem with it. People don’t just go to Link; they also go to the supermarket and other commercial districts that aren’t on Link, and to other people’s houses. What we need is a complete transit solution for everyone in this part of Seattle, and a shuttle to Link from places the buses don’t reach well is only a partial solution.

      5. “The 107 is also coverage in nature. It doesn’t connect to a major destination, but like this service, seems designed to get people to Link.”

        The 107 replaced the 42 between Henderson Street and the city limits. It inherited the previous 107 between Renton and West Hill. (The 1990-2009 107 was DSTT, I-5, Swift, Othello, Rainier, the south shore of Lake Washington, West Hill, Renton, with maybe some later nodifications). The new 107 connected these segments together to serve as a Link feeder. The south shore of Lake Washington now has no bus service.

        Later the 107 was extended to Beacon Hill station to improve service on lower 15th and Cleveland High School. There may have been an intermediate period where it detoured to Georgetown; I know something did at some point but it failed.

  14. I just wonder why we never bothered to invest in a high speed subway system like every smart city outside of most of the US. Stupidity is what our transportation folks sell. Its still using the same congested routes. Light rail is too slow, monorail was just stupid from the start and buses are so fuel inefficient that if people found out they get 3-5 mpg on average they would be furious. Hybrid is still under 10 mpg. Yup. You got sold a scam.

    1. A more helpful metric is miles per gallon per passenger. Even 3mpg is amazing when there are 15 passengers, compared with a single occupancy vehicle if any efficiency.

      1. Depends on what type of car the single occupancy vehicle is. If you do the math, a 3 mpg bus carrying 15 passengers is just barely more fuel efficient than each person driving a separate Prius. Including deadheading, it can be less efficient.

        But, fuel efficiency isn’t really the main point here. It’s about allowing more people to move without large enough roads and parking lots to accommodate every single person driving to every destination in a separate car. If we were strictly interested in fuel efficiency, we wouldn’t be running short-haul bus routes at all, since it would be far more efficient if everybody could just walk or bike instead.

      2. The comparison was established before Priuses existed. Still, until the price of a Prius comes down to the point that lower middle-class and working-class people can afford them, or cheap used Priuses become commonly available, they’ll remain a small niche and not reflect the average car. I take 20 mpg as the comparison, because the most-selling cars are SUVs. 20 / 3 = 6.67, so once you get eight passengers the bus becomes more efficient. (I thought the number was 12 so there may be a missing factor.)

    2. There were subway proposals in 1912, 1968, and 1970. They all failed at the ballot. Seattlites thought we wouldn’t grow enough to need a big-city subway, the new freeways were better, and the Boeing Bust was occurring.

      1. We stupidly didn’t get cracking in the 90’s when the growth was happening. Reactionary political elites and far too many locals still couldn’t see fit to start investing in light rail or a subway system–too expensive, the buses are fine, “I’ll ruin the character of the city”, etc.

      2. Link phase 1 was approved in 1996. The monorail to Ballard and West Seattle was approved in 1997 and canceled in 2005 before construction started, due to a faulty financial plan and a tax-slashing initiative that took most of its funding out from under it. It also wouldn’t have accepted ORCA transfers so people like me would have to choose between the monorail and not paying a double fare. And it was limited to 35 mph.

      3. The monorail project never got to the point of deciding a fare policy, so we can’t assume they would’ve not been on ORCA. And no, their trains were not limited to 35mph. A modern rubber-tired monorail as envisioned by Seattle Monorail could have a speed profile similar to light rail.

      4. The 1912 Bogue Plan failed in large part due to the entrenched business interests in what was then the city center (Pioneer Square) opposing the city shifting the business district to the north – which happened anyway. They threw a ton of money at defeating the plan (sound familiar?). It should also be noted that the vote covered all elements of the plan and not just the rapid transit portion, unlike Forward Thrust where various elements of the plan were separated out into separate measures and some passed, and had uncertain costs due to the plan being intended to be realized “as needed.” Most people at the time believed the city would grow to the million envisioned and the plan’s report itself charts Seattle’s recent and projected future growth in comparison to cities that had just gone through such growth – but of course the auto boom and concurrent creation of the suburbs was not envisioned. Rapid transit and streetcars would have been the only foreseeable way to deal with such growth then, and even for a city the size of Seattle at the time (which in the preceding 20 years had grown 450%) it was considered a reasonable solution moving forward.

        1968’s Forward Thrust was held under the unfortunate circumstances of having chosen a funding mechanism that required an undemocratic 60% pass rate – the rapid transit portion actually “won” a plurality but did not come near meeting the 60% threshold for bonding – as well as being held in February rather than in that year’s general election. It did not come close to passing during the 1970 Boeing Bust. My parents, for two, were pissed off about the 1968 failure for the remainder of their days.

      5. “The monorail project never got to the point of deciding a fare policy, so we can’t assume they would’ve not been on ORCA.”

        You would have been able to use an ORCA card but no transfer credit. The reason for that was that was that the tax funding wasn’t enough to cover transfers. That’s not something that an ORCA use policy can fix.

        “And no, their trains were not limited to 35mph.”

        I read at the time that the monoral spec Seattle was planning was limited to 35 mph.

      6. I first heard about the 35 mph limit near the end of the monorail program before the last vote. So it may have had a higher design speed earlier but was downgraded to save money. They did some other things like that then like converting one segment to single-track. I thought all that was bonkers because we should assume we’ll eventually need all the capacity. if there’s a significant shift away from cars in the future, we will need it, and its presence is of the factors that makes such a shift more likely.

        “the rapid transit portion actually “won” a plurality but did not come near meeting the 60% threshold for bonding”

        I forgot about that.

  15. I think the information not released is as interesting as the 3 riders per hour number. For example:

    1) How many ORCA card users were low income (Orca Lift) users?

    2) How far away are people from existing bus routes? As mentioned above, this very well may simply be poaching 50 riders, and not actually covering areas that are difficult to reach with regular bus service.

  16. I have also noticed that people who live in waterfront homes are eligible for Via. And I have also noticed that Safeway is right next to Othello station. What’s to prevent a millionaire from using his child’s free student ORCA pass to use Via as a free taxi service to go to and from grocery shopping?

    1. Sorry, just how many millionaires do you think both 1) shop at Safeway and 2) have children in public school?

    2. Their maids shop at Safeway. And no, they can’t go in their employer’s limo.

  17. I don’t get why ST is doing this when trains are already packed beyond capacity during commuting times. Why feed more people onto Link when it is already beyond capacity? We need more, longer, and better-designed trains first. Also, why just these stations? What is the justification?

    Speaking of train capacity, ST needs to launch a major educational campaign about how to ride a train, which apparently people in Seattle need. Everyone at the station crowds the doors right when they open, making it difficult for people to exit, and people rarely move to the middle of the train away from the doors, meaning that often there is room for several more people on the train, but no one can get on. Transit security and fare enforcement officers should make educating (and directing) people a priority when they are on trains. The design of the trains is horrible, so people don’t deserve all the blame.

    Finally, the interior design of our trains is horrible and low capacity, so I hope new trains are designed more efficiently. Serious transit systems typically only have seats around the perimeter facing inward, rather than rows of two seats facing forward and back. This allows for many, many more people to fit on the train. Our design with single-person wide aisles also makes load and unloading cumbersome and much more time consuming. If someone in the back wants to get out, often the entire aisle has to get off the train and then back on. Totally crazy.

    1. For a while they put markings on the platform showing where you stand out of the way to the side so that people getting off the train can do so without hindrance, but for some reason they removed them. I’ve seen these in new-ish systems in other cities throughout the world so I’m not sure why once again ST thinks we don’t need them here. Clearly as you say it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes watching to determine that this issue could use some fixing.

      The car designs are horrible, and the new ones look to barely be an improvement. I literally think the Kinkisharyos are the worst car design I have ever ridden in any city I’ve visited (and that’s a large sample size). Along with the 2×2 seat configurations, you have the chokepoint in the middle of the cars where the seats face inward but due to the car’s requirements are so close to one another that nobody wants to go in there and stand. Add that to the unavoidable (at the time) steps up at the car ends to more 2×2 seating – a psychological barrier to people going up and standing – and the sheer idiocy of allowing bicycles on the train during rush hours (they take up 3 to 4x the room of standing passengers, on our trains by definition they block the doorways as there is no place else for them to go if the hook is already used, and are rarely if ever allowed on rush hour trains in actual cycling cities as Amsterdam or Copenhagen) and you reach capacity at a far lower number than you should.

      The 2×2 seating arrangement was a sop to suburbanites who will have to travel farther and don’t want to stand, but as they get on the trains inbound earlier they’ll get seats as often as not anyway, and they’ll still be on the train outbound when people get off and seats open up, that’s not an excuse for poor design. ST tries to be all things to all people, and in the case of Link they try to both be a suburban commuter rail line and an urban mass transit system. These aren’t always compatible – although again, there are many, many cities whose lines extend into the suburbs and still use city-style inward facing seating. The worst thing about their selection of the current seating arrangement is that they barely add a handful of seats by so doing – so we have bad design for the many so that 5 or 6 extra people get seats.

      ST could have made some amends for this when they ordered their new cars as they could have selected inward-facing perimeter seating and open gangways that provide more standing room as well as the ability to move throughout the train and even out crowding, but they came up with some cockamamie excuse about maybe having to run three car trains once in awhile, and used that for their reasoning to not select well-designed, level boarding, open gangway cars. I mean, they could use the older cars if they needed a three-car consist just as they do now, but nooooooo… this is why we can’t have nice things. We re-invent the wheel far too often here.

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