Photo by Stephen Rees / Flickr

It’s fairly well-established at this point that bus driver shortages nationwide are hampering transit recovery efforts. The problem is particularly acute at Metro, which is currently short over 100 full-time operators. These impacts have bled downstream to affect a substantial number of riders, who often endure cancelled trips and gutted service with insufficient notice.

While I don’t have the inside scoop on how trips get canceled, the staffing deficit means that a slate of scheduled runs are left unpicked by drivers and that any additional call-outs have no extraboard (i.e., spare) operators to fill them. On the rider end, it basically appears that trips are getting indiscriminately canceled with no nod to headways. That’s why there are large gaping holes at some points in the day but not others. Unfortunately, planners and schedulers don’t have a real-time way to make service adjustments on the fly.

Even if not much can be done to fill service gaps, the lack of information is also a major point of irritation. Metro previously highlighted cancelled trips on their published web schedules but no longer does so. It’s possible that there was too much overhead to do this on a daily basis, although Sound Transit manages to continue this practice.

Not having readily available service information ultimately means that riders have to take an extra step of finding out about cancellations, whether through some GTFS-fed app, trip alerts, or the Trip Planner. In my own experience, however, even these sources sometimes conflict with each other.

On the hiring front, boosting pay and offering bonuses is a solution, albeit a partial one. However, significant compensation package changes often have to go to the King County Council, which is lined with its own bureaucracy. Even so, pay alone may not be sufficient incentive to draw in new operators. There are additional exogenous factors that further exacerbate driver morale, like substance abuse and homelessness, which impact perceptions of safety for both riders and operators.

Policies to tackle these issues head-on, like fare enforcement or driver intervention, are controversial and fraught with risk. Nonetheless, I’ve spoken to a number of former riders who no longer feel safe on transit so these points certainly warrant substantive discussion at the leadership level for both Metro and King County.

I’m cognizant of the fact that there are many complex issues at play here, but transit agencies are at serious risk of losing many long-time riders for good. Tackling these head on now will better help lay the foundation for recovery.

89 Replies to “Transit recovery will not be successful unless the operator deficit is fixed”

  1. There’s a more basic question – how much service should Metro be running in the face of current depressed demand?

    Metro is operating about 90% of pre-COVID service for 50% of pre-COVID ridership. The current biennium budget funds 95%. One might argue that this is a lot. If there are cheap ways to get more operators on board, maybe it’s worth making those outlays. But it’s probably not worth doing if it means adding substantially to Metro’s already heavy cost structure.

    1. But transit isn’t like other commodities. If you are making say, toasters, and people aren’t buying toasters like they used to, you make fewer toasters. But those toasters are still as good as ever.

      In contrast, if you reduce service, you make transit much worse. You reduce demand. That is a big reason why ridership is down. Of course there are other factors, but this is a really big one. That is the point of the article. Cuts to service make the service less attractive. Making those cuts permanent (or making additional cuts) would only make ridership much worse.

      Keep in mind, our system was never geared towards ridership. To a large extent, it is irrelevant. If we were focused on ridership, a lot of routes wouldn’t exist, and a lot of routes would run a lot more often. Buses like the 7 would run every five minutes, while there would be very few buses outside the city. But that isn’t the system people want. We try to balance coverage with ridership (regardless of what that ridership actually is).

      There is an exception to this idea. In the past, we used to run a lot of buses during rush hour, to deal with crowding. This meant buses running every couple minutes. This was not geared towards increasing ridership (it did increase ridership, but there were probably better ways to do so). It was an attempt to deal with crowding. For the most part, this is now gone. A lot of routes that used to come quite often, don’t any more. This aspect of the system has already adjusted. Basically the appropriate adjustments to the system given the reduction of crowding have already been made.

      1. No, Metro is not that nimble. It was hard to forecast demand given what was happening with work and Covid. It was hard to forecast operator hiring and training given what happened with Covid, drug use, fare collection, and homelessness. Per the Sherwin post, Metro is attempting to run a larger network than they have operators for. When senior operators bid to work on lower ridership one-way peak-only routes and no one bids on pieces of higher ridership trunk routes, missed important trips result. So, it depends on what parts of the network are cut. Today, important pieces of the network do not show up as the piece of work did not bid on. So, missed trips and poor reliability will reduce demand if riders cannot trust the network. Yes, networks have multiple objectives; ridership should always be an important one. Even in the suburbs, pre Covid, improved frequency and shorter headway has resulted in ridership and productivity gains (e.g., A, B, F lines, routes 245, 255, 271, 169->160).

      2. Nobody believes that a <10% reduction in service is driving a 50% decrease in demand. It can’t be helping, but it’s not close to being the major driver. Underlying travel demand is simply very different, and structurally lower.

        What evidence do we have that potential riders care so much about small changes in service levels? The Seattle TBD poured money into off-peak and weekend service. What happened? Ridership during those hours actually fell both in absolute terms and relative to peak travel.

      3. @RossB
        “f you reduce service, you make transit much worse. You reduce demand. That is a big reason why ridership is down. ”

        Yes, reduced frequency makes for a terrible system and turns people away. However, in today’s case of low ridership, it wasn’t the buses that went away but the riders. Pre-COVID, we were running frequent service that was crowded with riders. But the riders, understandably, went away while we maintained most service.

        I think it’s time to fact facts: many of those riders aren’t coming back and it’s a waste of time (and taxes) in trying to entice riders to return. Rather than run mostly empty buses on certain routes and cancel trips on busier routes (which is a chronic issue here at CT), lets make those hard choices in combining redundant service and outright axing anemic routes. And then focus on the riders who have been and are consistently using the system.

        We did it before COVID and today should be no different.

        Quick examples are routes 15 & 16 that can be cut and route 28 restricted to peak hours only. Those drivers can be used to boost the D-Line and route 5. At CT, most of the commuter routes have been less than half full – some with an average of 5 or less riders on a trip. Yet, trips elsewhere on busier corridors continue to be dropped (also partly due to the archaic bid-work schedule installed by the union)

        Sorry for the rant Ross and to anyone else reading. But this has been a frustrating issue I see everyday and believe can be greatly improved if it not were for antiquated union policies and unimaginative thinking by tenured management.

      4. Dan and Ryan, yes, there are multiple margins. The word “demand” is used different ways. Yes, with working from home, Covid, and security concerns, there seems to have been a downward shift in the demand for transit. How long will it last? The quantity demanded has also declined. This gets to the toaster analogy. We probably want to maintain a great frequent network of Link, trunk lines, and crosstown services. We may not need as many or any of the one-way peak-only routes oriented to downtown office employment; those routes provided capacity and a bit of speed relative to the all-day routes. They can be brought back if needed in the future. Consider Link. ST reduced service in response to a Covid decline in demand for transit. Capacity is a function of both headway and train length. A 10-minute headway with four-car trains will have the same capacity as a five-minute headway with two-car trains. The latter will attract more riders due to shorter waits.

      5. Nobody believes that a <10% reduction in service is driving a 50% decrease in demand. It can’t be helping, but it’s not close to being the major driver. Underlying travel demand is simply very different, and structurally lower.

        So what?

        That is my point. Ridership used to be X. Now it is half that. If all of that is due to structural changes outside of Metro’s control, why should Metro change anything? Nothing Metro ever did was based on a ridership level of X. Now that it is X/2, what difference does it make?

        What evidence do we have that potential riders care so much about small changes in service levels?

        Seriously? There have been numerous studies showing that frequency alters ridership. Jarrett Walker — a transit professional — cites it numerously, and you can see the references in his book. You might as well ask if there is evidence that smoking causes cancer.

        The Seattle TBD poured money into off-peak and weekend service. What happened?

        Ridership soared. We were one of the few cities — if not the only major city –where ridership increased. There were a number of reasons for this, but increased frequency was a very big one. We aren’t some special snowflake. We are just like everyone else. We don’t like waiting for a bus. The more often it comes, the more likely it is we will ride it.

        Keep in mind, what the author is writing about is service irregularity. It is just like the security issues. Are they important? Of course. Do we have a lot of evidence to suggest that they are responsible for a large portion of the downtown in ridership? Of course not. But we do have plenty of anecdotal evidence. I know lots of people who complained about buses that just don’t show up. Like the security concerns, if that happens enough times, people just give up. They just drive.

      6. Nothing Metro ever did was based on a ridership level of X. Now that it is X/2, what difference does it make?
        You’re just being rhetorical, right? Low ridership makes Metro irrelevant to the lives of most people around here, including half the people who used to ride. How many empty buses do you want to run before you admit to a policy implication beyond ‘just run more buses’?

        Ridership soared. We were one of the few cities — if not the only major city –where ridership increased.
        LOL, no. Metro ridership peaked before the STBD. Yeah, we beat the average city in the peak of the Amazon boom by adding a load of peak riders. Go look at the link in my previous comment. Per capita ridership was on a downward trend most of the last decade before COVID and WFH. It was down, per capita and in absolute terms, in exactly the places where the STBD was spending money. SDOT and the Council have recognized this by diverting much of the tax dollars away from service hours after about 2017.

      7. No, I’m not being rhetorical. Look, you want higher ridership, just focus on higher ridership. To quote Jarrett Walker:

        A transit agency pursuing only a ridership goal would focus service on the streets where there are large numbers of people, where walking to transit stops is easy, and where the straight routes feel direct and fast to customers. Because service is concentrated into fewer routes, frequency is high and a bus is always coming soon.

        But we don’t want that! No one wants that. We make compromises, and have always made compromises. We run buses where they pick up fewer riders, because we don’t want those riders to have nothing. We know these buses have low ridership — or, as you put it “Low ridership makes Metro irrelevant to the lives of most people around here” — yet we have always run those buses. Why? Because it really sucks if you have to walk a mile to catch a bus.

        More to the point, the system was never based on reaching certain ridership goals. If ridership was at this level for the last twenty years, would you be calling for a reduction in service (so that we can get it even lower)? Of course not. That would be ridiculous.

        Reducing service now would have the same result as reducing service when we had higher numbers, or reducing service when we had much lower numbers: Ridership would do down. It is just the way it works. It is baffling to me that you would dispute such a well known, well documented idea.

      8. There seems to be two different basic transit paradigms:

        1. Funding and cost are irrelevant. This theory believes ridership and farebox recovery are irrelevant. Spend whatever it takes to run frequent transit to every corner of East King Co. because transit is an inherent good above cars and car drivers and “choice” riders will switch to transit which will make society better.

        2. Transit funding is limited, and ridership should determine funding, routes and frequency because transit is so heavily subsidized because it is designed to serve the poor. Ridership is equity because it turns out those who don’t absolutely have to take transit don’t. They don’t see transit as some inherent good. It is just a tool. The loss of the normal middle class rider has made them less willing to ride transit.

        Based on lower ridership, farebox recovery, increased costs, and overall funding I think transit levels of service will have to decline, like the rest of the country, (or 2014)) but many transit advocates on this blog are unwilling to even consider cuts or prioritization because they see transit as some kind of ideological good, which is why they cannot understand why more people don’t use transit. It is too bad transit is a government run program. Look at Uber vs Metro-flex. Instead all posters on this blog talk about is more service.

        Those on this blog who argue the decline in transit ridership is not mainly due to safety probably are correct. But only for former riders. There is a huge demographic — especially women — who were never willing to use transit anyway.

        The main fundamental disadvantages of transit are first/last mile access, time of trip, weather, ability to carry things, reliability. Transit is always going to suffer in a tech area with a $115,000 AMI.

        It doesn’t help that Seattle and transit in Seattle are seen as unsafe and unpleasant, but in many ways that goes to why folks don’t want to go to Seattle itself, and really goes to those who were never willing to take transit. . It really is a two edged sword: folks don’t want to go to Seattle which is the one place with inadequate and expensive parking which hurts retail, the one reason they might want to go to an urban area, and they are told transit in that area is unsafe.

        Many people I know won’t go to a restaurant that has bad reviews. What are the odds they will ride transit that the same press reviewers tell them is dangerous? A bad meal is one thing although there are many good restaurants, but risking your safety is not something a lot of folks will risk wondering if the reviews are wrong. But at the same time these are the 90% who would never ride transit. For former transit riders the safety was in the other peak riders, the eyes on the street. Those are gone now.

        I always find it interesting that on this blog so few live on the Eastside but the biggest drop in transit ridership has been eastsiders. I just don’t think the urbanist/transit crowd get it. Probably because they think transit is inherently good or cars inherently evil, when 95% of the rest simply ask what is the best transportation tool, unless they have no option. Transit is for those who have no option, not some sword to change society.

        For a while this region was focused on Number 1. A transit grid to every corner even if the buses were empty. “Induced demand” would fill the buses with full fare paying riders or trains over time, and if that didn’t work then TOD. Then the pandemic and WFH hit and transit lost the middle class rider (transit never had the upper class demographic).

        Sam is probably correct. Even if transit were perceived as safe WFH would have reduced ridership. But if the only place a choice rider might have to take transit is downtown Seattle due to parking costs but downtown Seattle is perceived as unsafe by the demographic that buys everything in the U.S. so retail is dying transit takes the hit even though that is not transit’s fault. Seattle opted for transit when iced 90% of trips are by car. So Seattle lost retail

        The irony is that transit advocates are not angry at Seattle City Councils that pursued policies that reduced transit ridership. Unfortunately many transit advocates have the same political ideology as those council members, and are unwilling to consider their political beliefs may have helped reduce transit ridership. They want the decline to be about anything else, but if you have a downtown area like Seattle folks don’t want to go to by any transportation your problem is bigger than transit.

        I don’t really care. Some on this blog get angry when I or Westneat or Talton raise these issues. But we are men. We don’t buy anything. If my wife won’t go to Seattle for any reason, even in a car, you get bigger problems than transit, and Harrell is just beginning to understand removing the tents is a day late and a dollar short.

      9. TriMet dropped service on its 34 to 90 minute headways, and the ridership is much worse now, with the bus being empty most trips.

        After the 2008 mess, TriMet cut the 10, and the buses got emptier rather than more crowded per trip.

        Sure, you don’t want to run empty buses all day serving nowhere, but cutbacks in service result in a greater loss in ridership than the proportion of the cutbacks.

      10. “Spend whatever it takes to run frequent transit to every corner of East King Co.”

        Not every little corner, just the significant arterials.

        “Ridership is equity because it turns out those who don’t absolutely have to take transit don’t.”

        Metro has a lot of choice riders. The agencies where only the poor ride are those with only hourly service, no service evenings or weekends, and no service in entire cities or neighborhoods. Other people don’t ride it because it’s effectively unusable.

        “The loss of the normal middle class rider has made them less willing to ride transit.”

        You’re confusing middle-class riders with peak commuters. What’s down is peak commuters. That overlaps with but is not identical to middle-class rides.

    2. It’s a tough chicken/egg question. Metro canceled a lot of Express buses to/from Ballard, so I drive and park my one day a week at the office rather than take the D line slog, which takes twice as long.

      1. From the latitude of NW 85th Street, twice is a significant exaggeration. RR is the short wait bus. Route 15X is scheduled to take 27 minutes to Pine Street in the a.m. peak. When I see Route 15X trips in the p.m., they seem quite empty.

    3. @Dan Ryan

      I agree while what @Ross Bleakney regarding frequency correlates with higher ridership is true; the current drop in ridership won’t be fixed just by bringing frequency/routes back to normal.

      fixing the safety issues while helpful really isn’t resolving the heart of the problem, more importantly is restructuring the routes beyond just peak only and commuter focused routes. On the other hand I’m not exactly sure how king county busses can really change their routes meet this. it’s quite expensive to supply frequent bus routes beyond the existing ones.

    4. If we follow through with what you suggest then transit will just spiral downwards until we have nothing. The routes that are struggling are commuter routes because commuting patterns have changed. Some of those could be cut without a doubt as long as there’s a feasible alternative to those routes.

      I remember before the 120 existed there used to be one bus an hour on ambaum and one bus an hour on 4th ave sw in burien. Lovely huh? Well it’s one of the busier routes today because someone thought it wise to cut the 4th Avenue section and pile on the ambaum segment even if I had to walk half a mile to get my bus. Now that route is getting its own rapid ride line.

      1. Route 120 was formed in fall 2004. There was a consolidation of several routes. Delridge was served by Route 20. The south part had pairs of hourly routes with different orientations; it was weak spaghetti. There were several routes changed (e.g., new and old routes 11, 20, 130, 132, 135, 138, 125, 136, 137).

    5. I generally agree with the two Dans on this. Running a lot of nearly empty buses is hardly something to celebrate and expect environmental plaudits for so doing.

      That said, every part of Metro’s service district should have some level of service for the folks who are not “choice riders” but are also not tweakers or worse. However, maybe it doesn’t need to be provided by forty-foot coaches. At a hundred and fifty dollars an hour, a forty foot coach that’s carrying less than five people is a horrible use of public funds. Send Lyft or Uber and have government pay the tab to get the folks to a place that has enough riders to warrant service.

      That doesn’t solve the safety issue, though, and to do that the region needs to “criminalize poverty”. That is, make defecation on public property a major misdemeanor punishable by expulsion from the state and borrow some of Greg Abbot’s buses. Load the buses up and dump the loads in Dallas so Greg can crow about another thirty people who moved from a Blue State to his Red State Nirvana.

      1. Uber and Lyft are really expensive, at about $45 a trip. You only need several riders per hour before running a bus on a regular route becomes cheaper.

        Something like Uber pool, only something that actually works in actual service, would really be ideal for some of these locations.

      2. OK, that’s fine, too. Or some contracted van provider with the right to refuse service to the tweakers.

      3. Yes, Mike, that’s true. And three quarters of the emissions are dragging 20 tons of steel around.

      4. Routes aren’t as empty as some people think. Vans on some of them would get overcrowded sometimes. The bus has to go out for an entire shift, it can’t go back in the middle of the day to be switched for a van. Metro alternates between buses and vans at service changes for routes that are right at the margin. A regular bus gets 3 miles a gallon, so with 12 passengers it breaks even with 20 mpg cars. And the total number of buses on the road are only an infinitesimal fraction of the number of cars. And some buses are hybrid, electric, or trolleybuses, and the remaining ones are diesel, Metro plans to replace the entire fleet with electric buses in the next ten years or so. The county and state are prioritizing it, so your transit sales taxes are going to it and the state gave a grant for it.

    6. The question of how much service to run “in the face of depressed demand” is going to be very route dependent, because a lot of routes don’t have depressed demand anymore (anecdotally I can say the 44 is quite busy now that students and many staff are back at UW), and some never had much depressed demand to begin with (7, E, probably some routes in South King I haven’t ridden). I definitely agree with Ross’s broad point that we should be looking at ways of increasing— not cutting—service, but there are certainly routes that make very little sense with an operator shortage. The 20, for instance, seems to be nearly empty at least south of Northgate. Why are we running the 20 every 15 minutes during the week rather than the 44 every 6-8 minutes, when there probably is some pent-up demand for frequency on the 44? Why are we running all 60′ coaches on the 20 on weekends, when the 44 is running all 40′ and is often SRO, and generally not on wires anyways, and we could be running the 44 every 10 minutes Saturday/Sunday to boot?

      There’s also the question of how depressed demand really is. According to Metro’s monthly weekday boardings dashboard, the smallest year-over-year increase last year was 15% in November. December showed a drop in ridership, but that was almost certainly due to the ice storm, but still notched a 17% increase over the previous December. The rider “Dash”board is a bit harder to read but is more up-to-date, and is continuing to show huge year-over-year increases, with 23% from Feb 2022 to Feb 2023. Obviously that can’t be sustained forever, but is showing huge improvements, and even better for particular routes (my main route, 44, has a 33% improvement from a year ago).

      This notion that ridership isn’t coming back doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to universally true, and Metro absolutely should be running as much service as they can to make sure that it continues to come back as strongly as it has been to date.

      1. It is worth noting that the 20 as it exists now is certainly going away. Metro wants to replace the southern end with a bus that goes to Greenwood (connecting Lake City/Northgate/Greenwood in a fairly straightforward manner). I agree, and think it will be one of the better buses.

        It is also worth noting that the 20 was supposed to run every half hour, but the group that hands out extra service for Seattle decided to give it to that route. This was a mistake, in my opinion.

        In any event, there are definitely things Metro can do to make the network better. I agree, the 44 should run more often.

    7. A primary reason to keep hiring more drivers (and put them behind the wheel) is the substantial growth in drivers who will be needed for the rollout of the 2 Line, and extensions to Lynnwood and Federal Way, all occurring in relative rapid-fire. Metro needs to double its hiring rate to meet the goals for covering the planned train service without reducing the service planned in the bus route reorganizations.

      So, bus service cuts that come with these openings will probably be deeper than has been planned for, even while hiring and training at full speed. I suspect Metro is getting more applicants than they have the capacity to train, just by outbidding the market (all the other transit agencies, plus cab driving, truck driving, school bus driving, and app driving).

      I happen to be riding transit mostly just for essential trips now. Riding the bus is uncomfortable, as I end up having to stand most of each trip to use gravity as my primary PPE to make up for the maskless riders manspreading the whole bus, at least at the sitting level. It’s pretty safe to ride that way, but uncomfortable and frequently nauseating.

      The 1 Line is a whole ‘nother level of scary. Yeah, there the riders visibly experiencing homelessness are lying down and taking up more seats, mostly because the seats are empty, but they’ve always been there. I rarely see anyone who might be smoking fentanyl. But the maskless are ubiquitous, and lots of them are standing. There is no safe space on the train, not even standing. My only hope is to grab a seat at the very back, but those are usually taken. I also check sportsball schedules as the 1 Line is wholly unsafe to be on before and after such events. Very few sports fans give a darn about the health and safety of the people around them, whether it be in the events or on transit. Well maybe they do care and are just clueless.

  2. Excellent post.
    Ryan question is solid; Metro leadership is attempting to operate a larger network than they have operators for.
    An ATU 587 panel spoke to Council committee last year on the security issues.

  3. If anyone from Metro’s ad agency is reading this, get a pen …

    I think Metro could do a better job of advertising. The ads I’ve seen are pretty generic. “Now hiring. Pays up to blank. Great benefits.” Yawn. I’d emphasize some of the more unique aspects of the job. For example, I knew someone who had a 9-5 job in another field, but drove for Metro for 2 1/2 hours in the morning, before his regular job, for extra income and a free bus pass. So it’s a great side-hustle.

    It’s also probably one of the most flexible jobs out there. With enough seniority, you can probably choose what time of day or night you work, what part of the county you work, and which day of the week you have off. If I were doing the ads, I’d profile different drivers. “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m an artist, and driving part-time for Metro is the perfect job for me because selling art has it’s ups and downs, but Metro is a steady paycheck I can rely on. Plus, I’m not a morning person, so working from 3 PM to 7 PM works great for me.” Or, profile someone in management, who started at a driver, showing it’s a great springboard into other county jobs. Or profile streetcar and light rail operators who started out as bus drivers, but always wanted to work in rail, and working for Metro is the best way to do that. Anyway, that’d be my ad campaign. Profiling a variety of pt and ft drivers with a variety of reasons why they like driving for Metro.

    – Sam Draper

  4. …to say nothing of the many KCM operators that will need to be poached to open East Link. (unless I’m totally wrong on how train operator hiring works)

    1. This is an argument for automating future Link lines, like the automated line we ought to be building from Westlake (or First Hill, or West Seattle) to Ballard. But ST just continues to ignore this perfectly reasonable, feasible approach when building new, grade-separated lines.

      If ST considers driverless operation a public safety risk, I might facetiously suggest we switch to manual elevator operators for vertical conveyance at the stations. Higher operational expenses for sure, but it would certainly mitigate the security issues. I think it’s more likely ST just hasn’t given serious consideration to driverless operation. They are too focused on trying to solve the problems they’re creating.

      Certainly East Link and the extensions to Lynnwood and Federal Way will require a lot more operators. Anyone know how many? How long does it take to train, as it were, a bus driver, or a Link operator?

      1. I see driverless buses in a grayer perspective. It doesn’t seem to be a yes/no technology but one with limits on speed. There are driverless shuttles carrying 12 people at low speeds under 20 mph in use today.

        With that in mind, having a frequent driverless rail service at a decent speed with limited stops feeding hubs of these slow moving driverless circulators seems attainable. Although the spacing of Link stations seems arbitrary, the ways in which that spacing could feed driverless shuttle hubs seems pretty fortunate for a driverless transit future.

      2. Driverless vehicles are most feasible in a few limited corridors, where a lot of resources can go into limiting potential conflicts and monitoring the corridor, rather than just any cars on any random block. So it would be best on a grade-separated street, or a street with few and well-defined conflicts, and a trip that’s repeated identically many times. That suggests BRT routes on more-protected streets, and fleets on private industrial campuses.

      3. Driverless feeder shuttles may happen, several companies are working on this (Amazon Zoox, Beep, Milo, Waymo…). Metro just consolidated their Via etc service into Metro Flex which may become driverless in the future. Mike, I agree that they require strict route limits though. In Germany they are working on remote operation where a remote operator can take over if there is an unexpected situation (accident, complicated construction, emergency vehicle …). This may help in complex situations.
        Autonomous operation on separate right-of-way however is far easier and safer, I don’t understand why Sound Transit has not evaluated such for Ballard to Westlake.
        At airports people movers have been successful for a long time. Miami uses them in the city and Oakland to their airport. Pittsburgh uses funiculars. The Portland aerial tram is another one and Los Angeles and Vancouver are looking at urban gondolas. These systems provide a safe and lower entry point into automated systems than automated metro lines, can be built more quickly, too, and provide a nice option for high-frequency transit services without having to hire many drivers.

    2. Link requires a fraction of the operations of equivalent buses, so ST only needs to find a handful of operators. One Link line will replace two bus routes (550 and 545), and truncate another (554), and the 556 is also to be deleted. When a 550 and a 545 run simultaneously, that’s two drivers, but a 4-car Link train requires only one driver. And that’s nothing compared to the hundreds of Metro bus routes and thousands of drivers.

      1. Metro operates ST Link. Yes, Link will require relatively few operators; I also expect their security concerns are lower. But it is a network issue. To be successful, Link will need a robust and frequent bus network with a pool of operators as large as today and larger if the network is improved. Most Link riders will use buses. ST put many alignments and stations in freeway envelopes rather than in pedestrian centers. Per Sherwin post, there is a major issue.

      2. Yes, a big train saves service hours. But there are limits to that. Basically, it only saves service hours if you were running too many buses along that corridor. For example, once the train gets to Federal Way, I expect buses to be truncated at Federal Way. But I would not expect buses from the Tacoma Dome to Federal Way to run any more often than the train, which means that extending the train doesn’t save anything in the way of service hours.

      3. But one train has one driver, while a 594, a 577, an ex-194, and a 106-limited have four drivers. And if the train is more than half full, you’d need a second bus on one or two of those routes to fit all the passengers, so that’s one or two more drivers.

    3. You are correct. ST started recruitment and then encountered their further delays. ST only directly employs heavy rail – Sounder trains. All light rail & coach operators are from King, Pierce & Snohomish county transit agencies

  5. The security issues are real. Not just on the vehicles but also at bus stops and stations. My wife will no longer wait to board a bus downtown alone. She has been accosted by people who are mentally not stable twice and doesn’t want to experience that again.

    1. Since there are problems only with 1-2% of the routes, as Mike Orr points out, she should be able to simply walk to another bus stop and be safe, statistically speaking.

      This is sarcasm, in case it wasn’t obvious. I’m sorry that your wife has had that experience, and it is perfectly understandable that she would not want to subject herself to it again. The problem is, that is not a transit problem – it’s a society problem which has long been in the making, and the more people choose to act as your wife does (which is perfectly reasonable in isolation), the worse the overall societal problem becomes. And that’s what makes it hard to solve, IMHO.

      1. Transit is part of society. If we want transit to be large part, we have to solve the issues. the issues are intertwined; it is like a mythical hydra: Covid, working from home, homelessness, drug use at the stops and on transit, operator and police shortages, fare enforcement, maintenance, escalators.
        Is the situation better elsewhere (e.g., Vancouver, Japan, Singapore, Europe). What are their policies?

      2. Why are homeless people hanging out in parks and libraries and on buses? Because they have no homes to hang out in. Why are people taking drugs on the street and at transit centers? Because they have no homes to do them in or to transact the deal in. Why are people dirty without showers and pissing and defacating on the street and in public elevators? Because they have no showers or public restrooms. Why are people yelling at others and assaulting them? A lot of it is because the situation of not having enough money or food or sleep is stressful, and chronic stress causes frustration and anger and addiction. So give them housing, and a lot of these problems disappear, or they’re behind closed doors and don’t affect the rest of the public as much.

    2. “Since there are problems only with 1-2% of the routes, as Mike Orr points out, she should be able to simply walk to another bus stop and be safe, statistically speaking.”

      What I meant was that 1-10% of the passengers on a run are homeless or have questionable behavior. So if 20 people are on a bus, maybe 1 or 2 of them are in that category. It’s also mainly on certain routes, but that number is probably above 2%. It’s not so much the routes as the neighborhoods they serve, so you can’t go to an adjacent stop and take another route to the same place. For instance, Metro used to have the most violence and gangs in Rainier Beach, so that affected both the 7 and the 106 and 107. Now one problematic area is Aurora, so that affects the E. But I assume that doesn’t spread to the 5, so the 5 is an alternative. And it’s less on Link and express routes than local routes because they get a more middle-class ridership, so that’s another alternative. The 106 and 107 were express at the time the Rainier Beach problems were most acute, but they weren’t express in Rainier Beach itself, only north of Myrtle/Beacon.

      1. If 10% of passengers have questionable behavior, then the probability of being affected by said questionable behavior quickly approaches 100%, as each seat is within arm’s reach of another 5-6 seats (this is assuming uniform distribution spatially, etc.) So if that’s the case, the whole transit idea is SOL.

        But even if it’s 1% the problem is still serious, as it means that up to 10% of transit riders will be potentially inconvenienced. If people like Carl’s wife drop out after two such incidents, then the percentage will quickly grow higher than 1-2%. This is exactly the sort of “downward spiral” that we want to avoid. Not taking it seriously is a big mistake, IMHO.

      2. “If 10% of passengers have questionable behavior, then the probability of being affected by said questionable behavior quickly approaches 100%”

        But 80% of the passengers are more than one row away from them, and 50% are in the other half of the bus. Or if there are empty seats, the other passengers may leave the rows around them empty.

      3. And if it happens more than a couple of times, passengers will leave empty seats by not riding, as Carl’s wife apparently is.

        Come on, Mike, it’s not that hard to accept that people don’t want to face problems like that on a regular basis, and won’t if they have options, is it? Yes, there are many things that they could do to avoid direct impact, but it’s still stressful. People will avoid stress. Some will respond to this specific problem more than others, but surely it’s not hard to imagine why the ones who do respond this way choose not to ride anymore.

        Here’s a personal anecdote: I was on the 271 once with someone who spewed homophobic remarks, very loudly, the whole time we were crossing 520 and riding through Medina into Bellevue. The bus never stops there, so we had 20 minutes of this, in a jam-packed bus. I was fortunately far enough away that I only had to listen; people two seats in front of me were directly assaulted verbally by someone in close enough proximity to inflict physical harm. In order for the person being addressed to get off the bus, they would have had to move _closer_ to the one inflicting damage, not farther away.

        If I had been them, I would have probably not ridden again. I am not the most physically imposing person out there, and am not trained to fight. I value my life higher than I value money, so I would have spent whatever expense I possibly could to avoid it. Move closer to work, find a different job, etc.

        You telling me that I shouldn’t worry about it is, frankly, pointless.

      4. My point is that people are hearing the problem is much more widespead than it actually is. So people without firsthand experience are being deterred from transit because of false impressions they hear.

        Obviously, if people do personally have a bad experience, they’ll have different thresholds of tolerance. You might see a homophobic person shouting on a 271 and not want to ride that route or any route again. I might see a homophobic person shouting and shrug it off as a one-time thing, because I’ve ridden the 271 hundreds of other times without a bad experience, and the shouting didn’t harm me even if it was annoying.

      5. Transit in Seattle is horrible. The homeless, the mentally unstable. It’s the most unpleasant experience ever.

      6. Or you might assume that I thought it was a one-time thing for me and got freaked out, whereas in fact I had seen that same person before, in the U District, but they’d never got on the bus before, just ranted out in the street where I could, likely, stand far enough away to not be a target, and duck into one of the UW buildings if I felt threatened.

        People learn from others’ experiences all the time. If you are suggesting that the only valid form of learning is direct experience, then I trust that you never use textbooks, never read academic papers, never listen to what anyone says on any topic of interest. Jarrett Walker quotes are out, too, incidentally. Or are you implying that Jarrett Walker is a trustworthy source because you agree with his position, but someone who offers their personal experience is not because you do not? (I don’t actually think you are doing that, by the way; but it’s worth thinking about how your take on this topic is coming across – please do so with an open mind).

      7. I respect your experience and how it affects you, and that many others would feel the same way, and it’s rational for a person to not take transit if they don’t feel safe or it’s too annoying. But I look at things from an overall perspective: what percent of times does it happen, how many people does it happen to, and how do I rate the severity of it? I’m sorry if my manner sounds callous or if I can’t articulate it very well. I’m not disrespecting you or dismissing your experience, I’m just putting it into perspective of my worldview. And I’m not so much responding to your particular experience, because I don’t know all the details or how bad it was, I only know similar experiences I have had, all the annoyances and problems that people talk about.

        At a public policy level, what changes the transit agencies and governments should make, it depends a lot on whether homeless people and fentanyl users are 95% of riders or 1% of riders, whether 100% of bus runs throughout the county have significant incidents or it’s only 10% of runs on mostly a few routes, whether all of downtown Seattle is full of tents and fentanyl users and people selling hot goods or whether it’s limited to two or three blocks, whether nobody is paying a fare or only a fraction of people aren’t paying, etc. Most o the fentanyl smoking and homeless issues I see are at bus stops rather than inside buses or trains, so once you’re inside the vehicle, the likelyhood of problems is a not smaller. I’m not disrespecting anybody’s negative experience, or their feeling of unsafety that may be an overreaction, I’m just saying that we need to keep in perspective what is actually happening overall, and many times more people are completing many trips, often with no problems on their bus, and often with just minor annoyances, and only occasional major annoyances.

      8. Right, I get that :) As I said, I don’t believe that you’re trying to be callous, either, and I am enjoying the conversation in great part because our perspectives really are different yet valid.

        My point is that I fear that the way the perspective often comes across (not necessarily, or even specifically, by you – just in general) to those of us who are sensitive to the issue, whether due to personal experience, or just cultural bias, or what have you, really does seem callous, and thus counterproductive. So I am wondering whether there is a way to soften the viewpoint, or at least its expression of it, to better find common ground.

        To summarize: I don’t think that saying “it’s not a problem, people should suck it up” will help. People won’t suck it up, telling them to do it won’t help. Even pointing out statistics likely won’t, because of the… whatever that form of bias is, which causes people to retrench in firmly held positions. Acknowledging that it is a problem for many people might; pointing out ways that building community in shared spaces might help (e.g. – find people who ride the bus at the same time, make friends with them, offer to help them feel safe by not letting them wait alone or in isolation, etc.) might help. Or it might not, but I think it’s worth thinking about it in that way, rather than dismissing the problem with numbers.

        Hope this helps see what I am trying to get at. And thank you for engaging, I really do appreciate our discussions, most of the time :)

      9. “To summarize: I don’t think that saying “it’s not a problem, people should suck it up” will help. People won’t suck it up, telling them to do it won’t help. Even pointing out statistics likely won’t, because of the… whatever that form of bias is, which causes people to retrench in firmly held positions.”
        On some level i get why people say that. It is pointing out the “burying head in the sand” mentality some have to addressing the homelessness problem in the first place. Some of it is legitimate complaints about safety, some of it is complaining from a place of classism that is very rooted in a sense of people uncomfortable with poor people existing and rather want it pushed under the rug without attacking the root of the problem. Along with uncomfortable to admit that we often vote for policies that hinder more than help our welfare state. We view welfare through a lens of personal responsibility rather than “it takes a village to raise each other.”. If you want to address homelessness you need to address how welfare and taxes works at all levels in this country. But that’s a topic for another forum.

      10. One of the stops where my wife was accosted was at Olive and Eighth. I don’t think you can get any safer downtown. If you cannot board route 545 at Olive and Eighth without being accosted, we have a serious problem with delivering accessible transit to women in the region. By the way the person accosting her was a white woman. She doesn’t feel safe waiting for transit any more. You can call it a societal problem but it interferes with transit accessibility. And I think that is true for women of every demographic

      11. That’s the problem with societal problems: they happen everywhere. I’ve felt far more threatened in Bellingham and Everett than I ever have in Seattle, but that’s only my experience. Anywhere you go in the USA is pretty much at risk of a mass shooting too.

        Would you feel safer if every bus had a guard with a fully automatic rifle so that they could shoot everyone on board if something went wrong? I’ve ridden transit routes in South America that had such guards. And that still doesn’t solve the problem of getting to or from or waiting at bus stops.

  6. The Dubman answer is distant in time. Link projects tend to take 15 years (e.g., 1996-2009, 2008-2024, 2008-2016, 2008-2021, 20216-???).

    1. Correct. We’ve also seen with some of the expected restructures (for East Link and Lynnwood Link) that there is no huge expansion of service, the way it was with UW Link (and the express buses from the UW were truncated). We definitely save money, just that a huge amount.

      Another way to save service hours is to have the buses run faster. Driver availability tends to ebb and flow. We have a shortage now, we may have a surplus ten years from now. It makes sense to focus our efforts now on making the buses faster, so that we can do more with the drivers we have.

      Another approach is to move towards off-board payment. Again, this makes the buses faster, so you need fewer drivers. But it also increases security, which is one of the concerns of drivers. We should consider following San Fransisco’s lead, and go to off-board payment (in the city, if not the entire county).

      1. Yes, there are recent examples of buses running faster. The UPA imposed variable tolling on SR-520; transit was faster; some new hours improved routes 255 and 271; ridership grew. Shoreline, SDOT, WSDOT, and Metro improved transit flow on Aurora; Route 358 and the E Line were faster despite an increase in the general purpose traffic on the corridor. The Metro contribution was faster fare collection; this was also applied to lines A, B, C, D, and F; all were faster than their predecessor routes. SF Muni uses proof of payment fare collection network wide. In the 1990s, citizen groups lobbied the state to add HOV lanes to I-5 South; the first iteration was crude but effective; later capital was applied. The routes serving Pierce County and Federal Way were faster. (The routes designed to weave on and off I-5 have gotten slower; see routes 574, 193, 197). SR-522 services were sped by BAT lanes funded by several agencies. Over the decades, several routes had deviations deleted (e.g., Des Moines senior housing complex, Northgate P&R at NE 112th Street, Bon Marche at Northgate, Route 42 at Othello). Many Seattle routes have longer stop spacing; this speeds service; each low ridership stop is like a deviation.

  7. Things that may discourage someone from applying to drive for Metro:

    – Drug testing
    – Must have car
    – Can only work part-time to start
    – Possible long commute to work

    I’m there are other reasons, but I bet drug testing eliminates about 40% of all potential applicants.

    1. Pierce Transit offers full time to start. Its also closer to housing that a $25/hour job can afford, so you don’t need a long commute. On the other hand, transit is ironically so slow, unreliable, poorly routed, and infrequent in Pierce that a transit driver would be stupid to rely on transit to grt to their job. So yeah. Need a car.

      But we do need drivers more. ;)

      1. Metro requires bus drivers to have a car. It’s been said that if you show up to an interview without a car, it’s a negative that requires explaining how you’ll reliably get to the base when buses aren’t running and in bad weather. And North Base is accessible only from a freeway exit.

      2. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. If it were a 24 hour, reliable system it would be different.

      3. The staff hiring at Metro should be reminded and honestly shamed for how abelist and backwards such a policy is and how it spits in rhe face in potential employees. I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t treat your possible drivers like that as if they’re a hindrance for not owing a car. You literally work to accommodate them and their needs as a potential employee, that’s showing respect for the time they took out of their day to come interview for your organization.

      4. A bus driver with a some seniority can pick which base they work at, and what time of day they work. So they might be able to be car-free, depending on where they live. A new-hire has obviously has much less seniority, so they might not be able to pick where and when they work. That’s why a car is necessary for them. Example. You’re fresh out of Metro training class. You live in Auburn. Your first assignment is North Base, with a start time of 6 AM. How are you getting to work without a car? Even if Metro accommodates that new driver, and allows them to work at South Base, the base closes to them, and says they can start at 3 PM, again, how is that person getting to work without a car? Yes, they can probably cobble-together a two hour long, three-seat ride to get somewhat close to the base, but remember, the same cancelled trips that happen to all of us, will also happen to him. That’s why Metro doesn’t want its employees to rely on Metro.

      5. Again, that is basically spitting in the face of a potential new hire. I’m sorry but senority shouldn’t be a factor in the ability to get to work and honestly we should work to make it easier for drivers to get to their job. Metro really needs to wake up to that fact or risk more problems finding people in the future. I’m sorry if I come off as angry, but I am because that is abelism and I don’t tolerate that as someone who has a disability and has faced similar discrimination in finding work for myself even as someone who’s able bodied but doesn’t have a car.

      6. Another way to think about it is from the perspective of systemwide reliability. If a not trivial number of bus drivers rely on Metro to get to work, anytime a service disruption does happen, drivers that depend on that route arrive late to work, so the trips that they drive are heavily delayed, causing other bus drivers to be late, and so on. As long as everything is running smoothly, it’s not a problem, but when things go wrong, minor disruptions can quickly turn into major disruptions, and it’s something that the transit riding public should not be exposed to.

        Those looking for an example of what can go wrong when a transportation company’s employees rely on their employer’s service to get to work need look no further than the Southwest Airlines debacle. Cancelled flights strand flight crews, leading to more cancelled flights, which strand more flight crews, and before you know it, more than 1/3 of all flights are cancelled.

        Requiring bus drivers have a car is about avoiding this snowball effect and making sure that King County Metro customers never suffer a situation like Southwest Airlines. And it does not make sense to compromise on service reliability for the sake of virtue signaling.

      7. Or just promise to pay for a taxi the twice a year transit snafus threaten to make them late.

        People have car trouble too.

      8. People do occasionally have car trouble. But it’s rare, and when it does happen, it doesn’t impact any other bus drivers’ ability to get to their jobs, so the service impact is contained to just one route.

        The problem with the taxi idea is that you never really know that a bus is not going to show up until you wait and wait and eventually give up. By the time you give up and *then* call for the cab, it might be too late. Then, you have to deal with accounting safeguards to prevent abuse, which I’m sure Metro would rather not deal with, and in a world where over 90% of people do have their own car, they don’t have to.

        That said, if Metro does want to provide an alternative commute option for drivers, there is the bike option (at least at bases that are accessible without driving on I-5). Providing bike racks for those that want to use them seems like something with little downside. Of course, bus drivers would still need access to a car as backup, as you don’t want to be biking on snow and ice, but you still want buses to be able to run on these days.

      9. “Requiring bus drivers have a car is about avoiding this snowball effect and making sure that King County Metro customers never suffer a situation like Southwest Airlines. And it does not make sense to compromise on service reliability for the sake of virtue signaling.”
        The thing about Southwest Airlines is that it is a technology issue than people not having a car or plane to get where they’re going You’re comparing apples to oranges on some level. Can metro delays cause problems, maybe. But we shouldn’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater in denying an employment application because they don’t have a car. Again as someone who’s disabled, it reminds me of the abelism I have experienced in trying to find work. Because a lot of employers don’t value or understand of building a schedule around others even if they’re a good fit for the company. No one should be denied a work opportunity because of a transportation issues. It basically treats said potential employee as a second class citizens, which is honestly how a lot of disabled people feel when fighting to be employed and feel like productive citizens of society. If we aren’t willing to help potential employees to find solutions and means to get to their jobs, then that basically defeats the purpose of having a transit system in the first place, people who move people. And just reinforces the fact that we are still not doing enough to end our car dependency focused transit for both riders and employees.

      10. RossB,

        The trouble is Metro, PT and CT don’t really value their drivers. Many who read and post on this board don’t either. This is why we have a bus driver shortage. It’s a lot deeper than not owning a car. The solution has never been hard, it’s the transit outfits just don’t want to pay it.

        Step #1 is more money and better scheduling for drivers.

        Step #2 is absolutely no drugs or uncivil behavior on buses. Nobody wants to work around people actively using drugs, loud screaming or violence of any kind.

        From the link above……………………………………..

        “It’s important to note when you see fentanyl reporting that you take a really take a critical eye because there is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Thea Oliphant-Wells, a social worker for Seattle & King County Public Health. “We’re not seeing folks developing second hand exposure, this is just not happening. Not to say that it could never happen, but we’re not seeing it.”

        Oliphant-Wells told Metro workers and riders that it is not a bad thing for drug users to do drugs in public.

        “We don’t want people to be using in private spaces alone, we want people to be using in a place where if they overdose they can be discovered and helped through that overdose,” she said.

        This is just beyond stupid.

      11. “Or just promise to pay for a taxi the twice a year transit snafus threaten to make them late.”

        Morning workers would need if every day. If they work five days a week, that’s 250 trips, or at $20 per trip, $1000. If somebody lives in Alki and works out of the SODO base, the only buses at that time are night owls, and the only ones in West Seattle are the C and 120. So they’d have to spend an hour walking to a C stop just to get to a bus.

  8. Safety is a deal breaker. Most folks I know — especially women — are not going to wait for an unpleasant or frightening experience on transit to not use it. There are so many other options.

    Transit has two issues: the atmosphere on the bus and train, and the atmosphere around the stations and bus stops. One folks driving by can see on the streets and fairly assume the transit will be similar.

    The press has been pretty tough on downtown Seattle, and transit, recently, and folks tend to believe mainstream press like The Seattle Times. Very few read this blog. Trying to tell folks the Times or even Nextdoor are exaggerating things is a waste of time because potential riders don’t know anyone on this blog, or are willing to trust them with their safety.

    If the goal is to have grizzled male urbanists ride transit great, but the revenue drop from such a small group is going to hit levels of service. If the goal is to get non—-grizzled non-urbanists to ride transit then some folks on this blog better understand how those folks think and feel, especially when they have a car in the garage and now WFH.

    1. My anecdotal experience is that, over the past year or so, the number of “bad behavior” incidents I’ve witnessed on buses has gone down a lot, while ridership has gone up. Of course, people who gave up on transit two years ago for safety reasons are not going to take the chance on finding out if I’m right or not, and I understand that. But, nevertheless, things do seem to be trending in the right direction.

    2. My anecdotal experience has been far less frequent uncomfortable incidents in downtown Seattle in the past 2 years than 2012-2019. Part of this is I can now completely avoid the huge homeless camp that used to be at City Hall Park by taking Link instead of the E to get to Shoreline, so it doesn’t count for much.

      Even so, I’ve poked about in downtown Seattle a fair amount in the past two years. Maybe my experiences in “the before time” were just unlucky or something.

  9. It is interesting that in the Metro service change effective on March 18th they are adding trips on a number of routes which is paid for by the City of Seattle yet Metro has been unable to operate all of the trips they have today for the past several months. So the question has to be asked how they are going operate these new trips if they don’t have enough operators to operate the current trips.

    1. By utilizing the part time workforce and giving them more trips. Instead of doing one or two trips they may instead do three or four. This doesn’t require any more workers than they already have. Also, this service change will reflect the shortened travel time on the west Seattle bridge which will affect assignments as well.

      Also weekend service recently has been acceptable in most cases so it’s worth seeing if we can expand that slightly.

    2. Where’s the list of changes? I don’t see it on Metro’s home page, and I haven’t gotten an email announcement or seen it on a bus.

      1. Each week on Friday Metro sends an email with changes to weekend service due to construction and events.

        This week at the bottom of the email there an announcement about the launch of the H line and a link to the other changes effective on March 18th. Most of the changes are trips being added to a number of routes and a change in the routing of the 11 and 49 moving them to Pike Street from Pine street between 8th and Bellevue Avenue.

        But you are correct I didn’t see anything on the Metro website.

  10. This article reminds of a time a couple months ago when I needed to be downtown at 6:30 on a Friday evening, and I really need to arrive on time.

    At 5:40, I was all set to start walking to the bus stop, I pulled out OneBusAway, which claimed the #255 trip I needed was abruptly cancelled, and waiting 20 minutes for the next one would be too late. Fortunately, being a local transit expert, I thought on my feet, saw two #545’s due at Evergreen Point in 20 and 25 minutes, so I immediately jumped in the car, drove to Evergreen Point, and at 6:00, was on board a 545 headed downtown. (The bus then proceeded to get stuck in traffic and I ended up arriving at my destination right at 6:30).

    I my case, by at least riding the 545, I was able to save considerable money on parking and bridge tolls, and including the time it would have taken to park downtown, I don’t think switching to the bus ended up adding any travel time (the wait time at Evergreen Point for the 545 was all of two minutes). But, a normal person would have simply driven all the way because they would not have been able to quickly plan a transit alternative fast enough to make it to the #545 trip that I was on. They would have also likely left more skeptical of transit for the next time.

    This is precisely what this article is getting at, how we need enough drivers for the posted schedules to be something people can depend on.

  11. Speaking for myself, my normal bus route is randomly cancelled almost every day. The result? I’ve switched work locations and now walk to work or take a different bus to a more reliable location. I’m sure they think my normal bus isn’t getting any riders, but cancelling 3-12 buses a day randomly on it means I cannot rely on it to get to work or even get home. This means I don’t ride it. I don’t want them to cut service to that route, I want them to get their shit together so I can use it to get to work. But I can’t use it until I can count on it.

    1. This is a very reasonable response. It would be nice to get some data on this. For example:

      1) How many buses get cancelled because of the driver shortage. I thought this was being fixed, but now I have my doubts.
      2) Has there been any polling on why people aren’t riding transit as much? Obviously working from home is a big one, but there are others (like this).
      3) I seem to remember an annual study of commuting to downtown Seattle (before the pandemic). They looked at mode (walking, biking, transit, driving) and I think it included working from home. Has there been a recent study about this?
      4) Followup — what percentage of transit trips in the Seattle area are (or were) commute based? Anecdotally, we’ve seen commute trips get hammered (Sounder is way down) while more all-day trips aren’t so bad (Link is doing OK).

    2. That’s similar to my experience. I (used to) use a commuter route that arrived every 6 minutes at peak time pre-Covid. It is now scheduled for every 20 minutes, but some runs are cancelled virtually every day and other runs just never appear. I tried using Metro when we started going back to the office and was probably left waiting 1/3 of the time for buses that never showed.

      A 20 minute headway is bad enough, but when layered upon cancelled runs, it becomes unusable service. I now either drive to a park&ride closer to Seattle or just drive all the way to the office.

  12. Metro has an advantage over other transit agencies: they have been long determined to keep a large portion of their operator workforce working part time. Now that downtown is coming back only slowly and the traditional two-peak ridership pattern is diminished, it’s harder to justify all the one-way express routes and peak-only services that require the short (“tripper”) shifts that part timers work. When I was driving, a long time ago, roughly half of part timers wanted to promote to full time, and now is the opportunity to do just that. A good solution could be to increase the ratio of all-day to peak services and promote the ready supply of part timers quickly to full-time work.

    One other observation: when I arrived in Seattle it was normal to talk with drivers on the way in and out of the bus, and drivers were generally friendly. I liked the passenger interaction part of driving. Now when I get on a bus I get the strong sense that drivers feel unhappy, vulnerable and keep to themselves, like they’re trapped in their driver enclosures – and that perception is reinforced with the bar that pops out to keep riders from entering from the front. The lighting in the bus is dismal and greenish. This is just my sense, but it doesn’t look like any of the drivers I encounter are having any fun. Obviously behavior, covid exposure and safety is a big part of that, but it’s worth some investigation into the whole driver experience.

    1. Metro has been suspending peak runs and shifting service hours to all-day service ever since the pandemic started and peak ridership fell off a cliff but all-day ridership either didn’t fall (in southeast Seattle and south King County) or recovered (in the rest of Seattle and the Eastside). It’s prepared to do more of it. The Lynnwood Link restructure will redirect one peak express route to First Hill but delete the others. Some commentators think the remaining route should be deleted too, and maybe Metro will someday.

      1. I’ve seen that. But have they been willing to promote more part timers to full time now that they no longer have as peaked a system? I actually don’t know the answer and am curious. When I was driving Metro’s goal was 50% part time. Back then part-timers were cheaper, but over time that’s become less and less true. If they’re desperate for drivers and there’s a stock of part timers wanting more hours, that should be an easy decision.

  13. Since the beginning of the epidemic, Metro has been stopping peak runs and adjusting service hours to all-day service, as peak traffic went off a cliff. However, all-day attendance either didn’t dip (in southeast Seattle and south King County) or recovered (in the rest of Seattle and the Eastside). It’s ready to increase its output. Because of the overhaul of Lynnwood Link, one of the peak express routes will be redirected to First Hill, while the other routes will be eliminated. There are many who think the remaining route should be eliminated as well, and perhaps Metro will.

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