Is It Time for Systemwide All-Door Bus Boarding for Metro?

I believe that with the great surfacing of the buses, we have achieved the last of four required policy and network milestones necessary to implement all-door bus boarding systemwide for Metro and at all hours. This is meant to attempt to justify the capital expenditures required to install additional ORCA readers at rear doors, or more pragmatically, justify their inclusion in the next-generation ORCA implementation.

  1. We needed to streamline when fares are paid. This was affected when the Ride Free Area was eliminated, and now all fares are paid at boarding.
  2. We needed to eliminate fare zones based on destination. Two otherwise identical passengers no longer have two possible fares (one zone or two zone) to choose from upon boarding, and operators do not have to change the ORCA readers on an individual-passenger basis for this reason.
  3. We needed wide-scale ORCA adoption. The latest figure that I could find was in the 2016 Puget Sound Regional Council’s Transit Integration Report, which cites Metro’s agency-specific June 2016 ORCA adoption rate at 64% of fares. As Metro’s overall fortunes have risen since then, in conjunction with the simplification of fare policy and rollout of additional fare classes for youth and reduced-fare riders, I believe it is reasonable to hypothesize that the share of fares paid by ORCA card has also increased.
  4. Buses no longer operate in the tunnel, though this was less necessary than the others. The effect was a substantial loss of specialized right-of-way and an increase in the importance and visibility of reducing bus dwell times on city streets (with special emphasis on downtown peaks).

The cost-benefit analysis should be straight-forward:

  • Costs:
    • Capital expenditure for equipment and installation
    • Increased maintenance overhead
    • Predicted increase in potential for fare evasion leading to loss of farebox revenue
  • Benefits:
    • Reduced dwell time leading to service hour savings
    • Incentive to increase ORCA adoption rate
    • Reduce or eliminate need for peak-hour all-door card validator staff

To this point, it’s a math problem: If we can reduce systemwide dwell times by, say, 3%, what does that gain?

My institutional history is still somewhat limited, though, so feel free to note some other supporting or prohibiting factors I haven’t considered.

A New Streetcar Vision for 2017

It is tough to take the Seattle Streetcar network seriously these days. The reasons are well-known to the STB community and beyond, and are both obvious and many: right-of-way design choices that permanently handicap operations; outrageous cost overruns and design delays due to bizarre procurement decisions; service corridors that make little sense in larger plans; an inability to use political capital to design the system to truly work properly. Even our venerable leading advocacy groups don’t give much love to the streetcar.

Which is all very sad, because some of the world’s finest cities have expansive and useful networks, built for competitive sums of money that are highly effective and quite nice to use. We can, and should, do better. I want to see streetcars made a much more visible part of our transit future, and I believe that it’s possible.

Anecdotally, the existing lines — First Hill and South Lake Union — seem like solutions in search of a problem. How did we get here? And where do we go?

Continue reading “A New Streetcar Vision for 2017”

Call to Action: HALA Online Feedback Needs Your Input

West Seattle from the Air (Jeremy Reding – Flickr)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) initiative is advancing through the cycles of public comment and feedback. One of the major venues is an online tool hosted at http://hala.consider.it, where each neighborhood’s proposing zoning changes are detailed and commented on individually.

Unfortunately, a quick trip last weekend through the current opinion “levels” in some of the HALA pages was disappointing — a whole lot of neutral or negative opinions in many of the places where ST train lines are already coming, and sooner (Roosevelt, Northgate) rather than later (Ballard).

One in particular deserves special mention for its markedly negative responses: the West Seattle Junction proposal, which roughly covers the two denser areas of the Triangle and Alaska Junction. The future of this area is unambiguous, thanks to the passage of ST3; there will be Link stations in the not-quite-so-distant future that can be predictably ballparked to center around the busy intersections of 35th/Avalon and Alaska/California — the two densest parts of the neighborhood. But looking at the zoning proposal’s response pages you’d never know it — a whole lot of SFH ranting and raving about how density will ruin  neighborhood “character” and destroy their property values (?!). West Seattle has a chance to be truly prepared for the arrival of the train lines given the ST3 time horizon, and a lot of people aren’t seeing it.

My point is simple: Seattle needs HALA, and now, HALA needs us, the urbanist, density-supporting community. Those opinion pages won’t be ignored; online comments (especially negative ones) tend to be taken pretty seriously by agencies around here. I want to call on the STB community to act, to take a few minutes and write comments in support of HALA’s proposals. The links below will take you directly to the response page for each neighborhood proposal.

West Seattle: https://hala.consider.it/west_seattle_junction–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-west-seattle-junction-accur

Roosevelt: https://hala.consider.it/northgate–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-northgate-accurately-reflects-the-princ

Northgate: https://hala.consider.it/northgate–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-northgate-accurately-reflects-the-princ

Ballard: https://hala.consider.it/ballard–in-general-the-draft-zoning-changes-for-ballard-accurately-reflects-the-principle

Transit Field Report: Amsterdam

I was on vacation last week in northern Europe, and this included a trip to Amsterdam and its impressive-if-slightly-mystifying transit system. (I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures — Google Images stands ready for you.)

Arrival: Thalys High-Speed Train via Brussels

The high-speed train ride from Brussels was just over an hour and a half, with only two intermediate stops in Antwerp and Rotterdam before arriving at Amsterdam-Centraal. (The train originated at Gare du Nord in Paris.) The line is well-taken care of, and moves quickly and on-schedule, but has some strange issues I’d think they would have worked out.

Platform operations were disorganized — not enough staff unloading, then ticket-checking and re-loading. There is also not nearly enough luggage storage — bags were spilling into the vestibule walking paths in every single car. As a result, each stop took longer than it needed to.

In the city: Amsterdam (GVB) Tram

Amsterdam’s tram (streetcar) network is extensive and mostly simple to use. There are 15 lines, run 7 days a week, with high-frequency (I never waited more than 7 or 8 minutes anywhere) and quasi-late (last trains around 12:45am) operations. They go almost everywhere, and most lines have a terminus at Centraal station, giving you a simple if not entirely convenient transfer point for many trips. All trains had automatic stop announcements (occasionally in English too, at attractions and major transfer points), and all had dynamic signage of some kind. (The newer models had LCD screens showing additional information; older ones had LED matrix displays only showing direction of travel and next stop.) One thing I noted is that the forward-facing sign boards not only had the route number and destination, but a semaphore-like color symbol unique to each route. I’m not entirely sure what they’re for, but it seems like a good idea.

Payment is via RFID card (“OV-chipkaart”, tap on and tap off) and cash on-board. Many (not all) trams had a fare agent on board, sitting in the middle of the carriage selling single cash rides, 24- and 48- hour passes. The day and two-day passes were disposible RFID cards — what a concept! Ticket vending machines, of which the Centraal station has exactly one (and to make it worse, it’s inside the station, away from the boarding area), aren’t in too many places and were not user-friendly. Given you can buy fares on-board from someone other than the driver, it wasn’t a big deal, except that the machines can sell tourist-friendly 72- and 96- hour passes as well, where the on-board fare agents do not.

My experience was mostly good. The system is highly functional during the day, but it has a few things I didn’t care for. Like many European transit systems, carriage doors open only on-demand, and the driver will only dwell for a hot second if no one on the train opens the doors to get off, or if no one on the ground responds fast enough. This left about 10 people rushing for the last train of the night…right as it pulled out of the station.

My biggest problem by far, however, was wayfinding. Maps were not easy to find or understand, and while basic efforts were made at each platform for local-area wayfinding, the only really good system map was the one seemingly posted only inside the trams themselves. This is an issue in Amsterdam, because much of the city is organized in a series of concentric circles thanks to their canal system where cardinal directions have little relevance.

Amsterdam has some rapid transit lines as well, but those mostly serve the outer neighborhoods of the city, with almost no stations in the center. As a result, I never had an opportunity or need to use it.

Getting out: Bus 179 and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Our next destination was Munich, which required a plane ride. Our 8:30am flight, however, required a bus ride at 6:00am. The 179 bus runs from the center of the city to the miniature city known as Schiphol Airport. 5 euros per person, every 15 minutes (including overnight) from the city center, the ride took about 35 minutes and drops you at the main Schiphol Plaza, where the entire airport converges. A bus ride, nothing special.

Amsterdam’s airport is one of Europe’s very largest and busiest, but nothing about it makes it a particularly unpleasant place. It’s mostly modern, signage is top-class, and amenities abound. Arts and culture have a notable place, too: the airport has its own public lending library and an annex of the Rijksmuseum. Both are, unfortunately, closed through the end of the year for modernization. Some of the concourses even have open-air rooftop viewing decks.

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This was my first visit to Amsterdam, and for many reasons other than just a great transport network, I’m totally sold on the place. It’s a truly beautiful city that in many ways reminded me of Seattle. It’s a haul to get there (10 hours flight time nonstop from SeaTac), but well worth your time if you decide to make the trip.