Link Freight

In what is becoming a remarkable year of operational failures, beginning Monday Link peak frequency will drop to 12 minute intervals (from 8 minutes) because they’re running out of operators due to Covid-19. Things will remain the same at off-peak times.

Link operators are provided by Metro. While Link is obviously more critical than most (if not all) bus routes, Metro’s Jeff Switzer explains that “Transit operators in bus operations aren’t directly interchangeable with Link light rail operators, so it’s not as simple as taking a bus driver off the street and putting them in a light rail vehicle.”

Tacoma Link, directly operated by Sound Transit, will run a Sunday schedule both today and December 12th, for similar reasons.

The various online schedule and real-time tools are likely to be inaccurate during this period.

There is no word on when the previous week’s level of service will be restored, which in itself is reduced from what we enjoyed in the before times.

47 Replies to “Link frequency dropping again”

  1. Martin, things remarkable merit some identification. Can you describe the operational failure that put so many operators on sick-call?

    Maybe Pfizer can invent a pharmaceutical means to send a driver’s immune system to see their Base Chief and be reprimanded for lateness or unauthorized absence.

    Problem being, though, that since this area of heredity has rules that vary with the individual, not State or County, the whole immunity community is held to as many different sets of rules as there are drivers.

    So keep wearing your mask when you board, Martin, and if you can, sit or stand as far back from the driver as possible. If there’s such a thing as “Immunion Union Local 587”, a lot of desperate overworked little creatures will be very grateful.

    Mark Dublin

      1. No, not really. At least not in the (maybe) near future.

        If you can have a self driving car or bus, you can absolutely have a self driving rail vehicle. In fact, the technical challenge of designing a self driving rail vehicle is orders of magnitude simpler than making a self driving car/bus.

        Link vehicles are already centrally controlled, and their lateral position on the track is known within a fraction of an inch. Making them self driving is only an issue of speed management and intrusion control/response.

      2. If you can have a self-driving car and bus. There’s only a small-scale pilot for a fully driverless car now in San Francisco. It may be many years before they can be rolled out everywhere. There are still a lot of safety issues and adverse-terrain issues, and Seattle is prone to black ice and snow in winter. The regulators still need to decide who has liability for driverless cars, and appropriate insurance products created. Public transit agencies will be slow to switch because they’re scrutinized more heavily on safety and paperwork issues and more vulnerable to lawsuits than private companies. Then there’s the issue of getting the technology and educating the train about the MLK environment. That’s not in the ST3 budget, and the ST3 budget is already packed full of things it may have difficulty delivering at that price.

      3. It’s a nice idea, but it won’t solve the current problem.

        I could see a hybrid system that I’ll call remote driving. It would seem possible to operate a train remotely — like a drone. Segments that have grade crossings can be driven remotely, and can be put in driverless mode for the “safe” segments.

      4. Correction to Lazarus, link vehicles are not centrally controller in any way. I’m not sure where you are getting this information.. also, vehicle location is not accurate to portions of an inch, it’s closer to several feet to 10ths of a mile. Where do you get your info?

      5. @sea….,

        You need to read closer. I said lateral position. That is constrained by the flange/rail interface and is always the same with in very small variations.

        Ya, longitudinal position is not known as well, but it doesn’t have to be. Longitudinally the problem is more of a speed and TOA management issue, along with intrusion detection and response. It’s really a lot simpler problem.

      6. Technologically speaking, driverless trains through MLK should be easier than driverless cars and trucks on general roads. Only needing to support travel along a fixed track makes things much simpler, and the technology to recognize jaywalkers crossing the track already exists in self-driving cars today.

        Even if there’s a few circumstances where automated driving is deemed too risky (e.g. black ice), you can still hire human drivers for days when those special situations are possible and run the system automated the rest of the time.

        Nor is the argument amount the capital cost of automation very convincing. Over time, the labor savings would be enormous, and it would certainly pay for itself.

        The real problem is:
        1) Fear of liability makes every agency afraid to be first. So there’s a chicken and egg problem.
        2) Automation means loss of union jobs, which makes the union very angry. Crossing the union means not only a tougher re-election campaign for county council officials. It also might mean the bus drivers or mechanics going on strike out of solidarity, to the point where the entire transit system breaks down.

        Even though technologically, automating cars should be harder. Companies like Uber and Waymo have the advantage of not needing to deal with a unionized workforce or the risk aversion inherent in public agencies.

      7. “The freight railroads are already working towards incorporating driverless operation into ATC signals…. “

        I’m presuming there will be a trainmaster/track inspector/mortician in the populated areas to be sure things are copacetic for public viewing.

      8. @asdf2,

        Black ice? Ah, no, black ice is NOT a problem for rail. The steel wheel to rail contact pressures are too high to allow for black ice to persist. Don’t believe me? Review the phase diagram for water.

        Black ice is a problem for rubber tire on pavement. This is why our freeways are clogged with jackknifed artics and Cap Hill is awash with sliding buses after surprise snow events, while Link operates normally.

        That said, black ice and frost can cause OCS arcing on the first run of the day (also a problem for trolley buses), and heavy snow can clog flangeways and foul switches. But these are well understood issues with easy mitigation paths.

      9. Physically, all that’s needed is to have the traffic lights networked with the trains so any conflicting traffic sees RED as the trains approach. Existing train gates already do this! As far as liability–that’s where the issues really come up. There should probably be a failsafe where if LIDAR picks up an obstruction in the intersection, the train is stopped. My garage door from the late 1990s already has this technology;).

      10. The only roadblock is political courage, mostly unions but also funding. As a public entity, the liability issue shouldn’t be any different than it is currently when Link hits someone or something?

        Asdf2 is correct that if we are constrained by driver availability, it will be hard to argue converting the trains removes jobs.

  2. I’m befuddled to hear that Link is more important than all bus routes, at a time when downtown is a ghost town and the University is not meeting, but people in the south county have no alternative to busing to suburban warehouse jobs now that they’ve been gentrified out of Seattle. Probably Link will again be more important than most or all bus routes (when it goes to more places, for one) but right now I’m not sure it’s true.

    1. You can’t look at Link in isolation. Lots of buses connect with Link as a trunk route, so people depend on buses /and/ Link.

    2. Link’s service area would require multiple bus routes to serve, so it’s equivalent to multiple bus routes. The replacement shuttle when Link is down is one route, but that wouldn’t be sufficient for a permanent route because it would be too slow. Also, Link has more capacity, which is important in this period of social distancing. It can haul more people with one driver.

    3. Mike raises good issues about driverless technology.

      However liability insurance follows the car and is the primary insurance.

      Driverless technology at first will be like transit or fixed routes at Disneyland. Bellevue hopes to create a driverless shuttle loop up NE 8th to Bellevue Way down Mainstreet back to link, which is why Link runs on 112th. It many ways these shuttles replace walking for first/last mile access, which I think will make light rail more attractive.
      Since they need dedicated lanes but not rails they are relatively inexpensive.

      I agree with those who think driverless cars won’t replace driver cars or transit so much but driver Uber/Lyft. Companies will have fleets of driverless cars, and somehow the government will have to manage that traffic and dedicate lanes to driverless cars.

      Citizens will have accounts and use driverless shared cars for most local trips because the cost will be low enough, but still maintain a car for long trips or trips to less dense areas that are outside the managed driverless zone, although that zone will expand pretty quickly since the mapping already exists.

      An interesting debate is the capacity of driverless cars/transit. Shared rides cost less but too many stops and the convenience is compromised. Probably companies will offer solo and shared and charge different rates, and offer each at the time of booking.

      None of this will work however without some kind of government oversight of congestion and dedicated lanes. You can’t have 200 million private driverless cars zipping around all day because your car would be stuck in traffic all day. It will IMO need a central operator, and that is the perfect opportunity to convert the car fleet to electric.

      1. “liability insurance follows the car and is the primary insurance.”

        One of the issues is whether liability should be reassigned from the driver to the car manufacturer. That follows the car, yes, but it would require a new kind of insurance policy, and actuaries would have to decide a new kind of rate.

    4. Quasimodal, in a good tool-kit, which is more important: a screwdriver or a ratchet wrench?

      Mark Dublin

      1. Mark, there are times when each is most important – depending on the job you’re confronting. Right now that job is not getting people downtown.

  3. Is ST saying operators are out sick with Covid-19, or operators are refusing to work due to fears of contracting Covid-19? I would have liked more clarity on this issue in the release. If numerous link operators have contracted Covid-19 that is a serious health issue the public needs to know about. But if operators are skipping work that is a discipline issue, and I am surprised management hasn’t used this to argue for driverless trains.

    1. It could be non-sick employees were sent home and told to quarantine for 14 days because they came in contact with a sick employee. This may of come from management.

    2. Daniel Thompson, my no-contact clause has an exception for slander. Anybody levelling a duty-dereliction charge against anybody hands-on in my profession, I need to know a couple things:

      One, how much danger, including possible family contagion, has the accuser ever faced to make his or her own living? And two, a talk with their Base Chief about their own attitudinal work-ethic.

      But three, the reference wasn’t mine, but the question any leech would ask them: “How much salt do YOU have to crawl through in any given shift?”

      Mark Dublin

      1. Mark you missed the point of my question. If as you assert the absences are due to Covid-19 and not general absences I think that is the bigger issue.

        By the way, I don’t know if you know this, but my practice is representing longshore unions and injured longshoreman day in and out. Believe me I know unions, and know how important unions can be, but I think you should take off the rose colored glasses when it comes to unions, management, and labor, and you should also understand discipline is usually through a joint labor—management committee. Often it is the Union disciplining one of its members, and a union member is always allowed representation.

    3. A Metro bus driver friend told me last night that many more drivers are getting sick and some are dying — likely from exposure to passengers. There is a systemic problem in that drivers are unable to “police” the riders. They can’t tell riders not to board a crowded bus. They can’t tell obviously sick riders not to board. There is no way to keep a transit ride from becoming a super spreader event.

      Of course, a public admission that this is a huge problem has serious PR problems about transit. There is also no front-line solution without strict controls and extra staff to enforce them.

      We are experiencing a surge that makes the April surge look tiny. We should be encouraging everyone to stay as isolated as possible until January. I have fatigue from this precautionary time like everyone else and really want to get my life back to normal — but it’s going to take drastic actions to push the statistics down. Less frequent trains is the least that can happen.

      1. Al S. I’m Not going to argue this but still it’s a fair question. No chance at all that these exposures did not occur in a gathering or a sit-down restaurant?

        For enforcement, we’re in need of another unit of authority to maintain health-codes aboard transit. Group I’ve been advocating:

        Veteran Army or National Guard medics with combat experience. I think the term is “Presence.” Not police officers, but able to call them.

        Though their main approach will be to explain in detail to violators all the facts about the disease, from its contagious lethality- especially to seniors and children- and the law’s right to prosecute for the equivalent of assault.

        If no law in fact says that, wouldn’t Star Fleet Captain Picard do that gesture that means “Make It So?” Remember: the most pernicious strain of Helplessness is not either caused nor caught, but Learned.

        Mark Dublin

      2. All I know from my friend is that 5 drivers have apparently died from Covid in the past two weeks. With King County reporting 51 deaths in total (probably half over retirement age), that’s a notable situation that likely involves exposure while driving.

        Now I have no way of comparing these stats, but it certainly looks pretty risky to be a driver.

      3. IMHO, until we are willing to restrict traffic on major thoroughfares to essential workers and business logistics, there isn’t much we can do in terms of transportation policy to slow the overall community spread. I said this back in the Spring, and I’ll say it again: The vast majority of the virus transmissions in America involve driving at some point. Transit spread is TINY! That said, it is still appropriate to reduce exposure to the drivers as a *specific* vulnerable subgroup of essential workers. And unfortunately part of this will involve having fewer operators out there.

  4. Just 2% of county residents have the virus. If 2% of Link operators have the virus, that isn’t enough to cause a reduction in service. More than 2% of operators have to be out sick.

    1. It’s a little bit more complicated than that: as Sam mentioned, it might be otherwise-well operators needing to quarantine, or it might be operators needing to care for sick family members. Including all of those categories, combined with already-scheduled vacations, definitely could reduce the pool of available operators.

      My general feeling on transit frequency is that all-day frequency is more important than peak frequency, and it sounds like that is still being preserved. I’m not as worried about the effects of this as the blanket cuts to 30 minutes headways earlier in the year, especially since there is a well-defined problem which presumably won’t be indefinite, compared with the earlier capricious cuts.

  5. So if he operators are supplied by Metro, is it really Metro that has dropped the ball here?

    Is Metro ultimately responsible for the Link operator CV-19 protocols? Because Link operators are much better isolated from exposure while actually operating their LRV. So one can assume that exposure is occurring outside the cab.

    If Metro CV-19 protocols are failing, then Metro needs to step up and get better.

    1. Link doesn’t have that many operators, so a few people could be 20% of the operator pool. The upshot to me is that Metro may need to train more standby Link operators so they can fill in when somebody has covid or is in quarantine. The requirement to quarantine even non-sick people is what makes this disease especially disruptive, and would logically suggest having more people than usual ready to fill in if necessary.

    2. The cab is isolated from passengers, but it’s not isolated from the operator you just relieved.

  6. At least ST gave us a straightforward reason for this reduction. That’s what it hasn’t been doing recently. It said the April reduction was do to increased security costs due to more vandalism while fares weren’t being charged, but then it just kept the reduction after fares were restored without explanation. Only after major public pleas did it finally agree in October to restore off-peak frequency in March, five months away, and missing the September service change by one month.

    I thought I read an article this morning that the reduction would be for three weeks, and that a new operation team is in training but isn’t ready to go into operation yet. But I can’t find it now on the Seattle Times website or in my email, so maybe I dreamed it? The Times has a short summary paragraph on its Coronavirus Daily Update page, but it doesn’t say more than this article. it has a direct link to the Link schedule, but it seems unchanged since September.

    1. They may have given us a straightforward reason, but I don’t really buy it. They timed the resumption of frequent service right when cases started rising again, and a return to regular peak/off-peak service patterns makes even less sense now than it did then. I read this as an acknowledgment of that error with typical big-organization pandemic obfuscation, which I’ve come to expect and don’t really begrudge. It’s a pandemic after all.
      As usual, the unconscionable failure, if it happens again, is not updating the real time arrival information. For the love of god what is the purpose of using digital media if you aren’t able to update it?

      1. Dardenelles, if Sound Transit is deliberately dissembling, can you tell us a motive? Can you describe again the failure that you think was so unconscionable?

        Could it be that the combination of surging public infection, a collapsing economy, and an absent Federal Government make every assessment a day-to-day guess?

        But for me, whatever the reasons why a north-bound train rolls out of Westlake headed, in info’s own mind, for Angle Lake are not the issue.

        In this discussion, the issue’s what we, in our job as voting advocates, are going to persuade and help our elected reps to do ABOUT it.

        Including resigning, retiring, or otherwise clearing their work-at-home desks for those who can. With the question in all our own individual minds:

        “How much would it cost Transit to persuade ME to take their job?”

        Mark Dublin

  7. The number of virus infections have increase tenfold in the past several weeks and Metro certainly is not immune from that increase and that will affect their ability to provide enough operators for Link. Yet the complaints and anguish expressed because service will go from 8 minutes to 12 minutes during peak hours is hard to believe. More people are getting sick and more are dying from the virus yet the fact that Link service is being affected by the virus is a major crisis for some of you.

    12 minute service is still a lot better then the 30 minute service that Link had for months. Some of you people need to get grip on reality and that the virus is affecting every part of our lives and not just Link.

    1. Ya, the title of this post is a little bit of alarmist journalism. Link frequency is only dropping temporarily, is only dropping because Metro can’t supply the operators, and Link is still going to be operating at a higher frequency that it has been just recently.

      The sky is not falling and Hugo Chavez has not come back from the grave to destroy Link.

      Everything will be OK. Time to move on.

      1. I for one would welcome an undead Chávez returned to help bring down the American Empire. He had no problems with promoting use of transit either.

      2. There is a tendency for temporary measures to become permanent especially cuts so it’s not that alarmist

    1. Well, Sam, I know you’re giving it your best, at the job you do best. But in work like transit-driving, just like with species-immunity, operators and supervisors have their stomach-linings start to toughen.

      Hidden genetic trigger from all the times in World History when there was so much more of you. But don’t be afraid.
      You’re obviously vaccine-resistant!

      Mark Dublin

  8. Daniel, it’s worth today’s whole exchange for you to tell me this. From here on, say whatever you want about whoever. It’s my own preferred delivery too. If I wince, I’ll chalk it up to feelings identical to my own when faced with somebody on my side really screwing up.

    Today, I found some period pre-digital photographs of our Breda fleet in service. Truth was, I really loved those buses- though much more with my hands on the wheel than with the rest of me in a passenger seat. Knee-joint re: linkage? Quit in time.

    Know I mentioned a young Italian technician, with epaulets out of an opera, heartbroken at what politics, process and pestiferousness had passed down on his machine, his company, and his country. “This is NOT a Breda”

    Make “Breda” read “ST” and him and me AGREE. And then there was being called a Boss-loving SCAB on-Base because I was in favor of, well….THE TUNNEL! Didn’t I know that “Stuck” meant OVERTIME? When the Tunnel came anyway? She drove it hard and well.

    Though topping all was that union grievance hearing that ground a year’s wear into my teeth, thinking what I’D do to a maintenance man of mine who’d driven a bus away from the pump with the nozzle still in the tank four times.

    We’re humans. And being former monkeys born to live and act in groups, the ones we find ourselves in, need our constant attentions round the clock. The more loyal we are to our cause, the less we’d best put up with out of each other.

    What’s lifetime-confirmed since the day in my college student lounge, when I watched Lyndon Johnson lie us into the Viet Nam War to appease Barry Goldwater? The only thing more dangerous to our country than a right-winger is a liberal candidate who’s afraid of being called too Progressive.

    My eye-wear? In the right light, in addition to just being uncomfortable, you can see the fingerprints in the sticky strawberry soda pop my glasses-cleaner won’t remove. But read my stuff and see what I am really trying to advocate:

    Blanket Nationwide Affordability by means of hiring and seriously training people to do long-overdue repairs and improvements, Nationwide at every level. At a wage that’ll EARN them homes, schools, food, and medicine for life.

    Debt (friggin’)FREE! My Dad was not a socialist. He was a founding employee of Franklin Roosevelt’s US Federal Bureau of Credit Unions. I’ve got his 1936 train ticket to DC in a drawer.

    So check me out on my Pet Pledge of Allegiance. Carl Schurz, German revolutionary, Union General, Interior Secretary, US Senator, friend of Lincoln. Radical Republican (they really called themselves that!) Right to Bear the Arms sticking out of anti-slavery Naval gun-turrets:

    “Our Country! When she’s right to be KEPT right, when she’s wrong to be SET right!” Please do your best to hold me to it vis a vis Regional Transit. Espresso’s great at Island Crust. Ballard Link Station branch? Coffee’s on me.

    But one more clarification. Check out that link and look at all the muscles on the little guy. LEECHES WORK!!!!!!!!!

    Mark Dublin

    Mark Dublin

  9. I completely understand why this is necessary, but I’m infuriated they couldn’t swap out where the COVID19 LINK schedule points to. With reader boards completely off and now the COVID19 LINK schedule still pointing to the previous schedule, it’s useless to plan any quick “get to work” trips on LINK and the awful Metro 7 has become my reliable transportation.

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