Focus on the Sexy Light Rail

Sound Transit recently released a revised Link schedule that will take effect January 8th “to better reflect actual trip times.” The main difference is that a Northgate-Angle Lake trip turns out to be 4 minutes slower, from 53 minutes to 57.

There are four spots where it loses one of those minutes: Roosevelt-Northgate, UW-U District, Westlake-Capitol Hill, and Mt. Baker-Beacon Hill. No doubt, to some extent these particular segments are not the only source of delay, but just where it rounds up to full minutes.

This is actually a good news story: Columbia City-Capitol Hill will still be 21 minutes, 1 minutes less than the time pre-pandemic. I’d speculate it to be a function of recovering ridership, and the resulting frictions adding 7% to overall times. But ST’s John Gallagher says that the Northgate segment is a bit slower than expected, and on the older segments two more minutes makes it easier to stay on schedule and respect timed transfers.

26 Replies to “Link a little slower than expected”

  1. Wow, this is quite disappointing. The originally planned time Northgate -> Angle Lake was 51 minutes (see: https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/08/10/red-line-travel-times-in-2023/ ). So now being at 57 is a ~12% increase in travel times end-to-end, something that I would say is more than “a little” slower. Does ST have a root cause analysis and a plan to get back to the original schedule? Or have they just thrown up their hands and condemned thousands of riders to waste time every day?

    1. Maybe the expected schedule was optimistic? Maybe there are curves which must be run at a bit slower speed? Perhaps safety dictates that stations be entered a bit more slowly? Do you think that ST WANTS to run the trains more slowly? Or might it be that that old bugaboo “experience” has shown that they must?

      1. How many folks take Link from Northgate to Angle Lake? Or to Angle Lake anyway. I thought the point of Link was it was grade separated so travel times were consistent. Otherwise just use buses. Is four additional minutes for the few who ride from Northgate to Angle Lake really an issue?

      2. Well, it’s not just that grade separation adds consistency. It also adds speed, by avoiding traffic.

        A line that is 5-10% slower than expected isn’t horrible, but it is disappointing.

      3. Daniel, it looks like anyone taking Link to Northgate from Mt Baker and points south will experience the same 4 minute delay, as all the segments that are longer than expected are north of there. (Rounding errors notwithstanding)

        Interesting that all the segments listed are elevated or underground. I guess original estimates for speeds on grades separated segments were optimistic?

        I for one ride from Rainier Beach to Northgate and would appreciate the time back, but as long as it doesn’t impact my transfers, it doesn’t particularly matter to me.

  2. I wish ST would separate peak travel times from off-peak travel times on the 1 Line, something that should have happened years ago. Indeed, granularity of trip-time studies could help encourage people to travel more off-peak, when the trains would still be allowed to be faster.

    Timed transfers will be just as good as they are now off-peak (and some of them don’t work because of the * behaviors of individual bus drivers), but with the train forced to sit and wait longer than necessary at some stations.

    If the schedule is based on averaging real travel times, then peak runs will still not be able to keep up with the schedule, and a majority of riders will still be late to their timed transfers with peak bus routes that will also be randomly late.

    ST knows how to granularize travel times on ST Express routes, with much less data than they have on the 1 Line. Use that data. Show that the train does indeed take longer during peak, and even longer during peak-of-peak. Release off-peak passengers to enjoy the faster-than-average ride.

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    * There are bus drivers who will avoid crowds by such tactics as (a) pulling away when they see the throng exiting Northgate Station, headed their way; (b) ignoring the group that just got out of Beacon Hill Station and getting past that stop, leaving the crowd they could easily see waving at the driver and trying to get across the street (but held back by the new anti-safety traffic light installed at the behest of speeding car drivers) to have to wait for the next bus coming in 20-30 minutes; (c) waiting at a terminal stop for the next bus of the same route to pull out and pick up the amassed crowd, before pulling out right behind, and having a quiet run of not picking up passengers.

    (c) is the most egregious behavior, that also destroys headways on routes, but all three are seemingly willful efforts to avoid significant portions of the passengers for which the route was designed. ST has little control over these tactics. Whether Metro and CT will re-time their bus routes to adjust to the 1-Line schedules remains to be seen. They are under no compunction to do so.

    1. Brent, what an apt observation: “There are bus drivers who will avoid crowds by such tactics as (a) pulling away when they see the throng exiting Northgate Station”

      I work at CT (which oversees the 512) and always advocated having station agents at Northgate to hold buses when a train arrives (also at LTC between buses) There’s a similar setup at certain rail stations in the UK. Instead, First Transit supervisor just sit in their SUV all dang day.

    2. Timed transfers? That would be nice. We’ve had decades to implement them between buses, and never bothered.

  3. What sort of timed transfers are there to respect? I didn’t think there were any places along the line where buses bothered to do a timed transfer.

  4. Martin: the buses left the DSTT segment in March 2019, removing friction. ST may have taken a while for that to shake out, given Covid.

    asdf2: ST is attempting timed transfers at Roosevelt between Link and Route 522. A better approach would be to provide 10-minute headway on Route 522 at all times and reduce Link headways as well. Now is the time to spend on operations and make the network sing.

    the timing of transfers will be most difficult in the evening when bus and Link both have long headway. This may not be too bad at Northgate, but consider what East Link will be like with many local routes having hourly evening headway.

    1. The farther the Link platform is from the bus stop, the harder it is to time the transfers. Unfortunately, a lot of our stations are deep in the ground, or high in the air. You are better off just running the bus more often (like very 10 minutes) while the train runs often as well.

      Then you have the fact that a lot bus routes are through-routing (as well they should). Likewise, most stops have people going both ways. It would be silly to try and time a bus like the 62.

      The only time I think it should be a big consideration is with feeder buses late at night (when the train and the buses aren’t running often). A bus like the 522 should probably be timed to arrive well in advance of the southbound departure time (to give riders plenty of time to get to the platform). Fast walkers will get there early (and wait) while slow walkers will get the train right on time. Similarly, a bus should allow plenty of time for riders to make the transfer when heading out.

      1. Exactly right, Ross. “Timed transfers” only make sense when headways are long and for one-direction shuttles. During frequent operation times traffic subverts them and through routes can normally only be co-ordinated in one direction.

        Sounds like Mr. Mayor is another pooiticiN who’s never taken the bus.

      2. “pooiticiN” was a type. “politician” was intended, though “pooitician” has some resonance, No?

  5. It’s not a surprise that the Link schedules are adjusted. With driver break rules, it’s almost mandatory to be just a tad conservative with scheduling too. It’s a fact about operations.

    The issue that I think needs more discussion is the time it takes to get in and out of a station. That’s more relevant at stations where elevators or escalators are out of service and there is no redundancy.

    I would even argue that having to spend two extra minutes getting in or out of a station impacts a rider’s transit experience much more than having to ride a train two more minutes. That’s because physical exertion is involved. Plus, many riders are not agile or not traveling lightly so station access time has significantly more impact to some more than a typical able-body young adult without luggage or a baby carriage.

    1. On the contrary, the time it takes to get out of the station is something you have some control over. You can walk up an escalator rather than stand, or move close to the train door before it opens. The time on the train, itself, however, there’s nothing you can do as an individual to speed it up.

      I also really dislike the idea of artificially slowing down every trip to match the slowest trip. Once a trip time increases, it can never go down again, ever. Nearly two years after the COVID crisis, buses are still running with 2019 travel times, expecting lots of downtown traffic congestion that isn’t there.

      1. “… the time it takes to get out of the station is something you have some control over.”

        That’s like saying that we don’t need to be concerned about crosswalks on city streets because we have some control over where and the speed of how we cross. That’s also kind of offensive to mobility-impaired people to imply that there is a “choice” on walking or wheelchair rolling speed so their travel time concerns aren’t important.

    2. The transfer between Link and buses at Montlake Triangle is especially time consuming.

  6. Let’s hope that this will eliminate the needs of sprinting from the link platform to the 512. I think I have to run like 8 out of 10 times.

    1. You’re not the only one.

      One of the downfalls of transferring between two frequent services is that we don’t plan out exact times of catching a bus/train. We just sorta “show up whenever” and factor in total travel time. So it seems there’s always a bus/train that’s on the verge of leaving and you end up making a run for it. I guess it’s a good problem to have.

      Also, I work at CT (which oversees the 512) and always advocated having station agents at Northgate to hold buses when a train arrives. There’s a similar setup at certain rail stations in the UK.

    2. Well, it won’t unless CT ooches the bus departure time back a minute or two to match the train schedule.

  7. Still not gonna affect my decision to pay $3.50 for a ride to the airport lol…

    I’ve noticed the train operates at a slow pace as it enters/exits the tunnel just south of Northgate. But for the novel rider who uses Link for airport trips, game days or the occasional night-out with friends (and then Uber;s home), these travel times aren’t noticeable.

    1. I noticed that too, especially northbound when the train is entering the station; sometimes it seems the train just sits at the tunnel portal for a minute before pulling in. Does anyone know what’s going on during the pause? My best guess is switches but it seems like those should be automated and in position by the time the train actually arrives.

  8. I’ve noticed that the MLK Link segment seems to be stopping and waiting quite awhile at an increasing number of signals. (I’ve also seen the train signal activate when there is no train.) I’ve seen Link drivers slam on brakes because a crosswalk signal on MLK was suddenly activated.

    MLK operations is an ongoing challenge for Link schedules. Seattle cannot sit on its laurels and assume that Link train signals will always work fine. If ST and SDOT aren’t more proactive about MLK operations, schedules on this segment may also have to change to allow more time on this segment.

  9. I think the bigger story here is the manner in which ST put this information out, i.e., through a one-paragrah bulletin* released between the recent holidays and during a snow event**:

    “On Jan. 8, 2022 we will be updating the 1 Line schedule to better reflect actual travel times. This will allow for improved connections between buses and trains. Please refer to the new PDF schedule when planning any trips on or after Jan. 8. Span of service and approximate frequencies will remain the same.”

    I guess no amount of the typical ST spin could shine this lump of coal in our proverbial stocking.

    Sure, very few riders will be riding the entire 1 line between the two current termini of Northgate and Angle Lake Stations. Nevertheless, this change from 51 minutes (yes, that was the original travel time estimate) to 57-58 minutes is concerning and probably warrants a much more detailed explanation from the agency. (I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that however.) Additionally, I can’t help but wonder about the accuracy of the expected travel times that ST has promoted for the other extensions set to go online in the next few years.

    Finally, just for comparison purposes and since the OP failed to include it in this post, here’s a link to the service schedule that has now been revised:

    https://www.scribd.com/document/523807588/Sound-Transit-Link-1-Line-Fall-2021-Schedule

    *Link to January 8, 2022 service change bulletin:

    https://www.soundtransit.org/ride-with-us/changes-affect-my-ride/service-changes?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

    **Link 1 Line schedule change – Jan. 8, 2022
    Sound Transit sent this bulletin at 12/27/2021 07:40 PM PST

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