On August 6th Sound Transit’s Rider Experience Committee met to discuss its evolving “scorecard” for ride quality. It’s a promising set of metrics, but it would be great if the committee’s writ expanded beyond current service to the future.

The scorecard has metrics in five categories: dependable, safe, available, clean, and informed. The individual items seem reasonable enough:

Sound Transit

So how are they doing?

Ridership, obviously, is way off of 2019 levels. Public safety incidents and customer complaints are back to the 2019 baseline after shooting up in the spring, possibly because ST implemented a “recovery” fare to discourage some anti-social behaviors.

But oh, those escalators:

Sound Transit

It’s incredible we’re still at this point with the escalators, but at least they’re measuring the right thing.

Overall, it’s a good set of metrics: not too vague, but not so simplistic that there will be perverse outcomes. What really bothers me is where Sound Transit really botches rider experience — when it sites and designs stations.

The Rider Experience Committee doesn’t seem to have the early planning process in its domain, which is a shame. Nearly every station open to date could have benefited from a little more thought into how people will flow into and through the station. Someone expressly thinking about these issues could improve things while it’s cheap to do so.

17 Replies to “Rider Experience Committee tracks service quality”

  1. The DSTT stations are now over 30 years ago and were built before ADA. They are beautiful stations — but it’s time to revisit their circulation since their use is going to double or triple by 2025 and they’ve been open this long. When a lone escalator is out of service, it’s really bad.

    1. The DSTT stations are now over 30 years ago and were built before ADA.

      What is your point? I’m pretty sure every station has elevator access. You certainly can’t say that about the New York subway.

      When a lone escalator is out of service, it’s really bad.

      I’m pretty sure there are stairs to each platform. They might have been built thirty years ago, but they were built right.

      it’s time to revisit their circulation since their use is going to double or triple by 2025 and they’ve been open this long.

      They were built for way more people than double or triple current (pre-pandemic) ridership.

      1. ADA is much more than just having an elevator, Ross. It sets standards for many things.

        Also, some of the stairs are quite narrow, especially at Westlake. Just having stairs is not sufficient if they are too narrow for good two-way circulation (like when an escalator is out of service). Even when a second escalator is working, a rider often must go a block or two out of direction to use it.

        Trains unload differently than buses do. The surges from riders per train are much larger. Rather than have 5 or 10 people per bus head for an escalator, there may be 50 or 100 per train. It could be as high as 600 if a train must go out of service (which does happen).

        What’s so bad about reassessing and renovating something thirty years old? It’s done all the time for all sorts of buildings and spaces.

      2. Ross, I know you know better than to consider a stairway a satisfactory substitute for an elevator or an escalator in a transit station. Seems to be a constant that as our ridership gets older, their luggage gets heavier.

        And considering a certain familiar elevator’s service record over enough years to remove any excuse for its performance, and given its urgency as an intermodal connection between ST Express 574 and Link, soon as we get a Federal Government back the laws’s going to make somebody big get fired if one more luggage-laden senior misses a train.

        Also hope your’re not going to tell me they can transfer to the A-line to Tukwila International Station. What if the one there doesn’t work either? Fact anybody has to do it this often should get somebody terminated.

        But here’s the thing. As a conveyance, what’s the cash price of a brand new elevator as opposed to….what? A van? A train-set? Performance contracts don’t lift anybody’s luggage. So let’s just treat it like one more worn out bus and go from there. And since it’s part of our transit fleet….train our own shops to fix it.

        Mark Dublin

      3. You just don’t get it. Let’s pretend that both of these issues are a national priority. We need to make our transit system easier to use for those that are disabled. We need to make sure that each and every transit station across America has good circulation, and redundant systems to guarantee that. Now assume that before starting the work, they do a simple assessment. The assign two letter grades for each station across the country. One for ease of access, one for load handling. Now consider the grades.

        The downtown tunnel stations, at worse, would get a ‘B’. Other Link stations (built sooner) would be worse. Yet the New York subway system would be filled with stations that get ‘F’ on both counts.

        Simply put, you are setting a ridiculously high standard for something that is quite good, even by international standards, let alone national ones. Of course in an ideal world it would be even better. But the stations are very good, and we have much bigger things to worry about. For someone who is disabled, this ranks very low on their list. If we spent millions of dollars building more elevators, they would (rightly so) wonder why we are spending the money on that, when there are so many unmet needs across the city.

      4. The data on DSTT escalators presented above is not a “B”. It’s an “F” as in fail. Westlake is the busiest Link station too.

    2. Yeah, an ST4 is probably going to need a project to improve access at the core stations. As I’ve said before, many of the Downtown stations are adjacent to a spot that accommodate more entrances.

    3. The bus tunnel opened in 1990, the same year the ADA became law. So it was designed with compliance in mind.

      1. Wouldn’t the DSTT station design have been done in the early to mid 1980’s? The ADA design standards didn’t begin to be rolled out until 1991 or after.

      2. No, any civil/architectural firm would have been up on what the new requirements are and design for a major public work project would require it. You always try to future proof to the extent possible. You don’t want to be out of compliance at the ribbon cutting.

      3. Besides, everything would have been required to be brought up to current code when they retrofitted for rail just like all the intersections in RV were when Link was put in.

  2. What the heck is “trip capacity utilization”? It’s three vague buzzwords tied together. I’m not sure if the measure is for productivity (too few riders) or overcrowding (too many riders). I’m not sure if it’s for stations or for trains.

    Most other measures are clear but this really needs to be explained better.

  3. The fact of the pandemic really renders any comparison with anything preceding it pretty much useless. And this whole little assemblage of “metrics”….

    Like with multiple choice tests- end of “Scholastic Aptitude” probably one of History’s greatest educational accomplishments- life and the world just don’t work that way.

    It would be better if the committee-members just kept diaries or note-books, hand-written being a good mental exercise whose results might surprise people. Sketches are also excellent reality-practice.

    But underneath it all, what I’m seeing is an entire generation of decision-makers, which is also both my generation and something I also don’t do very well, who think they deserve to be able to not fix escalators and not get fired. Sheesh, you’d think we’re still talking Tunnel Buses.

    How many actual escalators are we talking about? JUST BUY NEW ONES. What would we have to give up for the money? A single train-set? And if we have to build and maintain them ourselves, bet me Lake Washington Technical Institute and its fellow schools COULDN’T do it!

    Also not kidding at all about permanently renting a construction elevator for the one where the 574 stops, across the bridge from Sea-Tac Link. If it needs an operator, we’ve now got Ambassadors, don’t we?

    Because I like Ken Cummins and his inspectors, and I love to hold my original ORCA card up to signal approaching fare-free IT buses, thank God the flash of a pass is finally good enough. Talk about “Original Intent!”

    As for mask “enforcement”- tempting, but I’m not going to link that ghastly Route 3 video again, with the disabled passenger and the lady driver yelling at each other. “Just drive away?” Any volunteers to be the medic who has to retrieve the remains out from under the duals?

    Not to risk policy-contagion from The Other Washington, but remembering JBLM’s rescue-help at Dupont, I think it’s much [ON TOPIC] and [IN ORDER] to get with Jay Inslee about enlisting present or retired combat medics for the required exercise of on-board authority. No Ambassador could have better trainers.

    Blanket slogan? “What We Can DO, Let’s just DO IT!”

    Mark Dublin

  4. perhaps more metrics could be added: headway or wait time at both peak and off-peak times for all modes; walk distance for transfers; span of service. The bus and Link network has too little service.

  5. What I don’t “get”, Ross, is why we don’t treat an elevator that for the whole life-span of Link has never reliably worked any different than we’d treat any other transit vehicle in same condition for same length of time.

    Pull it from service and get another one. And if nobody will build us what we need at a price we can afford, build it ourselves. Have been told that, each individual one being a custom job for its exact location, escalators might be a little harder.

    But that one I get off ST 574 to ride, it’s out there in the open with plenty of room to dismantle and replace what we can’t get fixed. Where a standard temporary construction elevator will fit like a glove.

    The real problem with this whole discussion is the galactic-span of difference between discussion, decision, and actually getting a single real-world thing done. Whether it’s one (1) single two-storey elevator or a wrong PA or reader-board message.

    This is what happens when a country, or a region, decides it’d rather base its economy on real-estate bets and computer algorithms than, say, building airplanes. Too bad masks aren’t all we’ve forgotten how to make.

    But a post-COVID streetcar plant with a spur to the Waterfront would be a good start for a remedy. Which will provide employment in addition to rides to work. And maybe make elevescalators too.

    Mark Dublin

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