One of the best improvements in the recent Metro service change was the one that cost essentially nothing: re-timing route 60 and 107 schedules on evenings and weekends to create combined 15-minute headway on the 15th Ave S corridor between Beacon Hill Station and Georgetown.
There is more scheduling cleverness still to be milked out of scheduling inefficiency on this corridor.
The Georgetown diversion
The most obvious opportunity is to remove the Georgetown diversionary loop on route 107, which currently has the unfortunate effect of adding several minutes to the commutes of students going to and from school at Cleveland High School and Mercer Middle School. Even when Cleveland students get out at the stop before the Georgetown diversion and hike along the narrow sidewalk the last few blocks, it still adds a few minutes.
The Georgetown loop increases the total time it takes to drive each run by approximately 10%. In the process, it likely causes a non-trivial loss in ridership, for reasons similar to the old Veterans Administration Medical Center loop on route 60, but not quite as pronounced.
Weekday headway alignment
A less-obvious point of waste is the 15-minute all-day weekday headway on route 60, which doesn’t mesh well with Link’s 10-minute all-day headway, and meshes even worse with route 107’s 30-minute between-peak-periods weekday headway.
During peak, route 107 runs every 15 minutes, and route 60 runs even more frequently, but not on a clock-face schedule, based on ridership demand.
It may surprise some that route 107 now typically takes a few minutes less than route 60 to complete the length of its trip. If there were a politically-non-complicated way to move some platform hours from route 60 to route 107, like, say, one trip per hour per direction during the between-peak period on weekdays, then both routes would be running 20-minute headway all day on weekdays. Assuming the schedules were to be set to intersperse 60 and 107 trips evenly on the 15th Ave S corridor, that would mean a one-to-one match between train and 60/107 weekday bus trips in each direction, between the peak periods.
During peak, it is possible to have the schedules mesh to provide a 60 or 107 trip match each train trip, once south line Link peak headway rolls back to 7.5 minutes after East Link opens. In the meantime, it would take additional buses to match the trains’ 6-minute peak headway, which, due to limited base space and operator availability, is only doable by scavenging the service hours wasted on 107’s Georgetown loop. In practice, even the best scheduling runs into the problem that buses get stuck behind long lines of cars picking up and dropping off students at Cleveland. But the exercise would still be worth it to even out busloads better.
What to do with the savings
As mentioned above, the peak savings from route 107 not doing the Georgetown loop could be plugged directly into improved peak headway, using the same number of buses as are running today.
That still leaves the off-peak savings from not doing the Georgetown loop. Let’s assume plugging it into more peak service is not on the table.
The next priority would likely be all-day 20-minute headway on routes 60 and 107 on Saturdays (scheduled to provide combined 10-minute headway on the 15th Ave S corridor). If enough platform hours are left over, add Sunday to that list, and then increasing 20-minute span of service on each route into evenings.
The Seattle Transportation Benefit District and its politics
The more platform hours are moved back into 20-minute service on route 60, the less politically-complicated such a service change would get. This is because a chunk of route 60 service is funded by the Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District, a pot of money approved by Seattle voters in 2014 to add more bus service within Seattle. Along the way, the City Council updated the rules on which routes are eligible for such funding to include some routes that have a few stops outside of Seattle. This flexibility enabled city funding for high-ridership routes like the E Line and 120 (the future H Line).
Adding complexity to the politics is the fact that the Seattle TBD taxes are set to expire in 2021 unless re-approved by Seattle voters for an extended term, or replaced by a different set of taxes. Frank recently discussed the politics of the City waiting for the County to decide whether the County is going to attempt another countywide TBD measure.
The threat of Initiative 976
Looming over this opportunity to improve service on routes 60 and 107 is the possibility I-976 eventually gets implemented, either by a decision of the state supreme court, or by the legislature. Frank discussed the hit to Metro. Route 60 service (mostly weekday service) would also take a hit from losing its city funding.
Metro could still enact savings on route 107 by eliminating the Georgetown loop-de-loop, but that savings could simply be that corridor’s share of the austerity Metro and the City will have to impose. Even giving up those hour, the county could transfer hours from route 60, post-City-austerity, to route 107 to end up with each at 20-minute headway during the day, between peak periods, timed for roughly 10-minute headway on 15th Ave S. There just wouldn’t be leftover hours to improve weekend and evening service.
Or, Metro might cut routes 60 and 107 deeper than that, given how deep the cuts will have to be.