Layover times and Redmond Loop

What is the average percentage of end of journey layovers to total time for King County Metro drivers? This question is prompted by the 269 Saturday schedules. This service was introduced in March 2018 between the park and rides at Bear Creek and Issaquah Highlands, perhaps about half the length of the weekday 269 between Overlake Park and Ride and Issaquah Transit Center.

The first Saturday bus departs Bear Creek at 8.35 am and arrives at Issaquah Highlands at 9.06 am, 31 minutes later. After a 9-minute layover the return journey commences at 9.15 am and reaches Bear Creek at 9.47 am (32 minutes) which allows a 19-minute layover before the next journey at 10.06 am. Thus, three vehicles are required for the approximately headway of 30 minutes between buses. This is just half of the midday six-bus allocation for the longer route of weekday service.

The 10.06 am journey takes 34 minutes to get to Issaquah at 10.40 am; the bus then immediately turns around, leaving at 10.40 am and arriving Bear Creek at 11.13 am (33 minutes) where a 28-minute layover is scheduled. So, after driving for 67 minutes the driver gets a 28-minute rest.

All this seems reasonable and not too onerous on the driver but look what happens after that! The 11.41 am from Bear Creek arrives Issaquah at 12.15 pm, 4 minutes after the 12.11 pm leaves for Bear Creek. The 12.15 pm arrival pauses for 26 minutes before the return to Bear Creek at 12.41 pm arriving at 1.14 pm where a further 27-minute rest is scheduled. So now four buses are required and there are 53 minutes of rest between 67 minutes of driving.

This pattern of about 44% of time resting continues until the 4.08 pm from Bear Creek which arrives Issaquah at 4.42 pm and then returns immediately, without any rest break, arriving back at Bear Creek at 5.15 pm before a 22-minute break. This allows a reversion to three buses only with rests of around 25% of total time.

Is there any good reason to bring on that fourth bus for about 4½ hours? The schedule would only require very minor tweaking to give drivers at least 20 minutes at Bear Creek all through the day, after 1 hour and a few minutes for the return trips. Or if the drivers do need a little more time, minimum rest times of perhaps 25-30 minutes might mean headways drop from around 30 to 35 minutes in the middle of the day.

When introduced in March 2018 the Saturday 269 attracted very few passengers. However, ridership is now marginally higher as people begin to realize that the service exists. In this respect King County Metro could do a bit better. The posted schedules at Bear Creek, Sammamish and Issaquah Park and Rides all state quite clearly, “Monday to Friday only”. The other point on the Saturday route with a posted schedule is at the 228th Ave NE and SE 10th Street stop. Here the northbound stop schedule also states, “Monday to Friday only”, but the southbound stop schedule shows the Saturday schedule in full. How is it that the personnel preparing and posting these at stop schedules don’t notice inconsistences between what is displayed at different stops?

The Redmond Loop is a shuttle service formed by a partnership between the city of Redmond and King County Metro; it is operated by Hopelink. The service was introduced during 2017. I have taken three rides on this service and observed it passing by on perhaps another 20 odd occasions. Other than my three rides only a couple of times have I noted a rider. Perhaps it is no great surprise that the on-line King Metro schedule for Redmond Loop states “Last day of operation is 12-28-18”.

There are probably several reasons for this very sparse ridership. The vehicle used is a four-passenger Dodge sedan car which just doesn’t look like a public transit vehicle even with “Redmond Loop” emblazoned on the side. The Redmond Loop stops are not standard King County with route and destination clearly displayed. Instead there is a tiny easily missed logo. At Bear Creek (and possibly at Redmond Transit Center) no schedule is posted, but all other services at that park and ride are posted.

Then, was any thought given to the possible market? Perhaps one anticipated use was to connect with Sound Transit and other services at Redmond and Bear Creek. But riders alighting from a 545 or Rapid Ride at Redmond may not always find a 45-minute headway a very convenient alternative to a more frequent 221 or a fairly short walk. Consider the individual boarding somewhere in Education Hill headed for one of the business areas en route; for example to the Target, Fred Meyer etc. complex near to Bear Creek or to Redmond Town Center (and the Redmond Loop is the only transit service serving the Town Center almost directly).  Could be quite convenient, but not for the return journey. The Loop is one way only (clockwise); so to return from Target or Town Centre a rider would have to board the Loop and disembark at Redmond Transit Center and then wait 15 minutes before reboarding the next trip.

Although the planners for this service did not successfully analyze the transit needs correctly, kudos to Redmond City for trying to encourage transit. Can the same be said for Sammamish City? The greatly improved 269 over the last couple of years does not seem to be the result of any interest by the City Council, but to the recognition by King County Metro that a city with a population of 65,000 ought to have rather more than just peak hour commuter services.

Update from Sammamish

Since the introduction of the present timetable in September, Sammamish transit users (residents and workers) have enjoyed an all-day bus service. This has not happened since 2014, when Metro discontinued the 927 Dart van service as part of the service cuts at that time. The 927 was a pretty awful service only transiting the main 228th Street artery north of Pine Lake plaza every 2 hours. On the other hand, the new all-day service extends the hours of the 269 from its previous peak only schedule and now runs to a frequency of 30 minutes during off peak hours. At present the all-day service only runs on weekdays, but a Saturday service is promised after the March timetable changes.

The equipment used on the 269 was also upgraded in September: previously most journeys were serviced by the 1990s era Gillig Phantoms; now the newer New Flyer Xcelsiors are used for five out of the six buses needed during daytime off peak. However, whether transit users appreciate this update is a moot point as the Phantoms definitely have more comfortable seats; although the 30 feet Phantoms (which used to predominate, but are now not usually used) can be uncomfortable on hot summer days as they have no air conditioning. Another point to note is that presumably most drivers are now full time rather than part time Metro employees. Whereas the part timers were usually very welcoming, the full timers tend to be functional rather than friendly (there are some notable exceptions).

In the past the 269 was often threatened with closure, rather than expansion. In 2008 Metro proposed to eliminate the route. The second phase of cuts planned in 2014 was going to cut the peak hour 269 service by over 50%. What has brought about this recent improvement may be a bit of a puzzle, but it may have something to do with an active Transit Committee of Sammamish City Council. In the not too distant past transit to the City Council seemed to mean paving roads which were not in poor condition and widening roads, which were not narrow, for the benefit of the city’s residents, most of whom never leave home except in their own vehicles.

It is not easy to determine what are the medium and long-term plans for transit in Sammamish. The City Council did not support ST3, as this did not seem to propose any decent transit for Sammamish. Metro is pretty good at drawing up plans for the future, but these seem to change long before they are implemented. A couple of years ago a futuristic Metro transit map included a spider’s web of bus routes in Sammamish. Now the latest map just shows an express service duplicating the present 269. Why this is needed is not clear; skipping stops on 228th will not save more than a couple of minutes for most journeys. In fact, the present late night and early morning journeys on the 554 are of little use for those who do not live or park their vehicles near to the few stops serviced. It should be noted that most drivers on the late-night service seem to recognize this and are usually prepared to drop any passengers off at non-express stops, saving long walks in the dark (and in winter cold and rain).

The Transit Committee is also not clear about future requirements. A statement from the Chair that “228th Street is not designed for fast, efficient transit within Sammamish” is very puzzling. 228th is a straight road passing three main commercial areas as well as City Hall and a number of parks and leisure facilities. In what seems to be a contradiction to the statement, the Transit Committee has suggested that the 269 stays on 228th south of South Sammamish Park and Ride to give a much faster trip to Issaquah Transit Center; this would mean a bypass of Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride. According to the Committee, among the benefits of this would be to facilitate Costco members, but this writer cannot imagine many Costco members buying bulk items and then struggling with their packages onto the 269. Another possible contradiction is the desire to reintroduce service to Klahanie, which used to be served by the 927, quite often the lengthy transit of Klahanie did not result in any boardings or alighting. Clearly if the 269 were to serve Klahanie, the journey times to Costco and Issaquah Transit Center would be increased, not reduced. It appears that the Transit Committee is thinking of financially supporting some sort of venture such as the Issaquah Route 200 or the Redmond Loop.

Just how is the new all-day service doing? It was introduced almost as a secret. I did not see it on any Rider Alerts for the September timetable changes, although there was a vague mention on the Metro web site. It is difficult to see how the City Council could have given the change any meaningful publicity; apart from their website (perhaps visited regularly by only a tiny fraction of Sammamish residents and workers?) they don’t really have any outreach capability. The Sammamish Review newspaper, which used to be dumped in everybody’s front yard (and how many took it inside to read?) ceased publication earlier this year.

My observations are that the service is being used, but usually payload is very light. Most journeys through Sammamish have one or two riders, but more than three is quite a crowd. However, there is sometimes moderate ridership between 180th and 188th Ave in Redmond.

The 269 schedule leaflet used to state that the service was supported by Microsoft and the cities of Issaquah, Redmond and Sammamish. In recent years the leaflet has not stated this, but according to the Sammamish Transit Committee minutes there does still seem to be some support from that city at least. With a population of over 60,000 the Council obviously realizes that the city should have more transit than morning and evening peak commuter services to Seattle. Earlier posts on this blog as well as an article in the Issaquah Reporter have highlighted this problem. It is to be hoped that Metro gives its full support and that some way is found to inform potential users that the service does exist.

Cancelled Trips and Passenger Courtesy

On a recent Thursday I found myself on the wrong side of Leonora and 4th as the 2.29 pm 554 Sound Transit Express was loading for Issaquah. Not risking dashing across two red pedestrian red lights I watched the bus depart knowing that the next trip was due at 2.46 pm. When I did get across I encountered about four others who had also just missed the bus including a rather irate lady who claimed that the driver left about 1 minute early. I didn’t really worry; my watch suggested that the bus may have been a few seconds early and I still might not have got across the street if I did have 15-30 seconds more time.

However, 2.46 pm came and went and it was not until just after 3.00 pm when what was presumably the 2.58 pm journey pulled in. By this time around 20 people were waiting and we all boarded. The bus turned into 2nd Avenue and proceeded very slowly in heavy traffic. At each of the various stops along 2nd about 20-30 more passengers joined and the inside became crammed with standing passengers. The driver then announced that she had contacted the “authorities” and stated that she was “overloaded” and was not going to pick up anybody at 5th and Jackson and would those wishing to get off go to the rear door. At the stop the rear door was opened, but not the front door; one or two people got off, but about half a dozen of the crowd waiting to board did manage to surge through the back door. The rest were left standing for at least another 15 minutes (some of whom had probably already been waiting for around 30 minutes) in the 95-degree heat.

About 1 week later I travelled to Eastgate from Issaquah on the 555 hoping to make a very tight transfer to the 5.23 pm 240 heading towards Renton. The 555 was running perhaps a minute early and made a slow entry into the park and ride. I didn’t see any sign of the 240, so assumed that I was going to catch it. On leaving the 555 I went over to Bay 2 to wait for the 240 and arrived there almost exactly at 5.23 pm. There were a good number of riders waiting. Time went by and all the other routes served at Bay 2 pulled up and passengers boarded. I noticed that there were at least four or five people who did not board any of the other routes, but it became apparent that the 5.23 pm did not seem to be running. At close to 6.00 pm the 5.53 pm 240 arrived and, as I suspected, several others who were at the Bay before me were also waiting for the 240. So if the 5.23 pm did run it must have been very early.

As we drove through the Factoria commercial district many passengers boarded at the stops and soon it was another overloaded situation with standing passengers crammed against each other. So almost certainly the previous trip did not run.

Of course a certain number of cancelled trips is inevitable; perhaps there are staff shortages and sometimes units develop mechanical problems. I notice that the King County Metro Twitter feed often announces a cancelled trip. I don’t follow Sound Transit tweets, so I don’t know whether they also announce cancelled trips via Twitter, but have noticed that King County Metro’s cancellations seem to cover only journeys to/from Seattle downtown. I haven’t noticed routes like the 240 having cancellation tweets. I do suggest that better customer relations are needed. Why can’t the bus operator be asked to apologize to passengers for the cancellation of the previous trip, especially if many passengers are forced to stand. In the case of the 554 above, the trip after mine should also have had an apology announced as passengers were left behind on the trip after the cancellation.

The Sound Transit driver on the 554 played several recorded announcements. One was to request those standing to move down allowing some room for those trying to join. These announcements do not always encourage everybody to try to move back, raising questions about lack of courtesy as it should be obvious that standing near to the front door is blocking access to standing room (and even sometimes empty seats) at the rear of the bus. Another announcement played at every stop from Mercer Island onwards was to request those who got on at the rear door to come to the front to pay. I didn’t see anybody do this and at the final stop, Issaquah Park and Ride, there was even the threat that Ticket Inspectors were awaiting our arrival. This turned out to be completely bogus as I didn’t see any sign of an inspection. Perhaps those who got on at the rear had passes or transfers.

A further example of passenger discourtesy is that it seems to be quite commonplace (especially on the bench seats at rear and middle of buses) to place a baggage item on the place next to where sitting and fail to remove it even when passengers are standing. This is also a common practice on Sounder commuter trains and seems to be a tactic to keep the seat next to you clear. Unfortunately, all too often this works as not everybody feels comfortable asking the offender if they would allow him/her to take a seat. Perhaps even worse when the bus is lightly loaded a few passengers put their feet up and rest their shoes on the seat, presumably not caring that someone will be sitting on that seat after they leave the bus. I hasten to add that these discourteous passengers (baggage and shoes on seat) are often respectable looking middle age commuters and not tear away teenagers. Perhaps these practices could be discouraged by King County Metro and Sound Transit by a note in leaflets such as “how to ride” and by occasional announcements e.g. “please remember to be courteous to other riders and do not place your bags or feet on a seat”.

Using transit in Sammamish

Sammamish is a city of 50,000 people in, what might be described by King County Metro, the “deep” Eastside of their service area. The city will soon gain an extra 15,000 or so inhabitants when Klahanie is annexed to the city on 1 January 2016.

There have been a few previous articles on this blog about transit in Sammamish. These have usually pointed out that this is hardly transit territory. Most homes have at least two car garages, the walkability index must be close to zero with most houses not even within 1 mile of a grocery, coffee shop, pharmacy or church. And, of course, a bus stop can be added to that list.

I visit Sammamish to stay with relatives frequently and have just completed my longest continuous stay to date, around 2 months. As a dedicated transit user these stays are always quite challenging unless accepting offers of car rides or to borrow a car. But in the area where I stay, I am not as isolated as many non-car users in other parts of Sammamish. The South Sammamish Park and Ride can be reached in 15-20 minutes walking and another 2-5 minutes (depending on the two controlled road crossings to be navigated) brings me to the Pine Lake Plaza and Starbucks, Rite Aid, QFC and restaurants.

During this recent stay, there was much anticipation of the upcoming Sammamish City Council elections with a forest of unsightly posters every few hundred feet on the major roadways. Reading the manifestos of these candidates all cite transport as a concern. However, none of these mention transit under the transport concern; the solution is always widening the few main roadways that are not already very wide.

This sort of city is a paradise to many, it ranks highly on the MSN “Best Suburbs of America”, on the CNN “Best Places to Live in the USA”, on the Forbes “Friendliest Towns in the United States” and possibly on some other similar lists; but certainly not on any walkability index, although there are ambitious plans to expand the trails and cycle lane systems in the city, not necessarily to get to the shops etc., but to encourage recreational activity.

In November 2014 a blogger on this site suggested that Sammamish’s poor transit situation should be addressed by providing a gondola service to Cross Roads. As gondolas do not have as many stopping places as buses, this may not be any use at all to those without a car to reach a gondola station, and I can hardly imagine many of Lake Sammamish’s residents welcoming a gondola passing over their homes every few minutes. Perhaps other residents under the route between Sammamish and Cross Roads will also raise a few objections.

Having said all of the above, Sammamish does have a great commuter transit service to downtown Seattle by routes 216 and 219. At the middle of both the morning peak to Seattle and the evening peak from Seattle buses run every few minutes. At either end of the peaks, services are not so frequent. There are also some very early and late journeys on Sound Transit 554 and using these it is possible to leave Sammamish before 5.00 am and not arrive back until after midnight. These ST journeys may be provided mainly because the buses have to travel to/from East Base at the beginning and end of their scheduled journeys, but they are very useful for the handful of Sammamish residents who use them.

But during midday and weekends Sammamish and its 50,000 residents have no transit at all. There used to be a Dart van route 927 providing an hourly service from Monday to Saturday from fairly early to around 5.00 pm. This route was deleted in the September 2014 service cuts. Previous posts on this blog have suggested that this was hardly an attractive service with a circuitous routing, a by passing of Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride and poorly thought out connections at Issaquah Transit Center. Another problem was that every other journey, on arrival at Pine Lake Plaza, did not turn right towards and travel the 2 miles or so to downtown Sammamish and Sammamish Highlands Plaza, but turned left and travelled for perhaps just over half a mile (with no bus stops) before turning into the Providence Point, a gated community for wealthy retirees. This community has its own van service and Metro Access vans are also seen regularly entering. Perhaps I rode on that (Providence Point) 927, thirty or forty times and when I alighted or boarded at Pine Lake I might have seen a passenger to/from Providence Point two or three times. As this was a Dart service I don’t know why all journeys could not have been routed to downtown Sammamish with Providence Point in the Dart pick up area. During all my journeys on the 927 (downtown Sammamish and Providence Point trips), I only twice experienced a Dart off route journey. Once was to go into the car park at Pine Lake Plaza (perhaps 50 feet off route), the other time was when the driver was running early and made two circuits of Pickering Place in Issaquah as he knew that a mentally handicapped person caught that journey every day and was not waiting during the first circuit.

Besides Seattle commuter services, Sammamish does “enjoy” one other transit service. The 269 is a weekday peak service, in both directions between Issaquah and Overlake. Until a couple of years ago, the schedule leaflet for this route used to state that this service was partially funded by grants from Microsoft and the cities of Issaquah, Redmond and Sammamish. This is no longer stated in the schedule, but sometime last year (2014) I saw that the Sammamish City Council voted to continue subsidizing this service. Towards Overlake (and the Microsoft Campus) in the mornings and from Overlake in the evenings, this service has a headway of about 20 minutes for the first 2 hours or so of service and then about every 30 minutes for another hour or so. In the other direction service is not so frequent, about every 60 minutes in the am, and 30 minutes in the pm, but with a gap of 60 minutes before the last journey. Unfortunately these relatively good headways are often spoilt by time keeping issues which seem to thwart this service. Late running of over 10 minutes is quite common and occasionally trips are as much as 60 minutes late, resulting in bunching of journeys which are supposed to be 20 – 30 minutes apart.

The main traffic bottlenecks along the 269 route are in the Bear Creek area at the end of SR520 and between the Issaquah Transit Center and the junction of East Lake Sammamish Parkway and SE 56th Street. However, delays at these points rarely exceed 15-20 minutes, so why some journeys manage to run 30-60 minutes late is a bit of a mystery.

The 269 service was threatened by the 2015 service cuts which were not executed due to the improvements in the economy. All “reverse peak” journeys were to be deleted together with several of journeys to Overlake in the morning and from Overlake in the evening. When one studies the roster for this route, it will become apparent that it must be very costly to operate. As many as eight vehicles are needed for the morning peak, four of which only make a single one way trip. Three of the others make return trips and one vehicle makes a return trip and a further single trip. A similar pattern can be observed in the evening. I know that King County Metro is famous for the expenses needed for its many peak hour only services, but in the case of the 269, I suspect that the service would not need much tweaking to save at least two of these eight vehicles.

As far as Sammamish transit users are concerned, the reverse peak deletions might not have been too disastrous as the Seattle commuter services, 216 and 219 can at least partially replace. It must be stated, however, that there is evidence that the 269 might attract some midday business in the Sammamish area. Arriving at Issaquah Highlands Park and Ride one afternoon over 25 minutes before the first afternoon peak 269 towards Overlake (scheduled at 3.42 pm, about 30 minutes before the first 216 commuter service from Seattle), I was surprised to see four people already waiting for the 269 and a further two joined us before the bus arrived. In fact, once or twice, I have noted standing passengers on this first 269 in the reverse peak direction, suggesting that the 30ft Gillig usually rostered maybe somewhat unsuitable. This may be the busiest trip of the day, yet the H in the schedule indicates that this is one of those trips that do not operate when “Reduced weekday service” is in operation. In fact these reduced weekday schedules are another amazing thing about this 269 service, as they seem to correspond with some of the more heavily used trips. Even stranger is that the H trips usually do not correspond with the single trip rosters. In fact none of the am peak H trips corresponds with a single trip roster on a normal weekday!

Similarly the last reverse peak journey in the mornings is often quite busy. This runs over 60 minutes later than the last 216 journey and I have noted passengers alighting at Issaquah Highlands and transferring to the 554 towards downtown Seattle. Perhaps all this suggests that the planners of transit do not pay a lot of attention to service usage in the deep Eastside.

I am aware of the Sound Transit long term plan to provide a better service along the Issaquah Highlands to Bear Creek corridor. It is better not to hold your breath waiting for this as it seems to have a fairly low priority behind several other future plans. Also Sammamish needs a local service stopping every couple of blocks and not an express bus not stopping more than once every mile.

Finally a few observations noted while waiting at Issaquah Highlands, perhaps also related to a casual attitude to these deep Eastside services. The information posted there indicates that Bay 1 is used for all KCM services, except the morning commuter runs of 216, 218 and 219 to Seattle. Bay 2 is for Microsoft Connector, Bay 3 is for the evening and late night 554 going on to Sammamish and Redmond, this bay is also used by Sound Transit buses that terminate here. Bay 4 is for Sound Transit 554, 555 and 556 and the KCM commuter services to Seattle.

However, the 554s bound for Sammamish and Redmond always seem to use Bay 4. This is quite baffling as the 99% of 554s from Seattle that terminate at Issaquah Highlands drop off at Bay 3. Perhaps this is not too much of a problem as most people waiting at Bay 3 for a Sammamish 554 will see the bus pull up at Bay 4 and be able to move across the 20 feet or so (perhaps not so easy for anybody with poor eyesight or otherwise challenged). What may be even more of a concern is that I have seen some 219s bound for Sammamish and Redmond also use Bay 4 and once saw an individual having to move quite quickly and smartly over from Bay 1 to catch the bus.

The 554 service from Issaquah to Seattle reduces its headway from 20 to 30 minutes after 3.00 pm. This causes some overcrowding after Eastgate as there is a lot of peak hour traffic from there to Seattle. Presumably the reason is that the service from Seattle is also reduced because of the KCM peak hour services beginning shortly after 3.00 pm. Holders of the Sound Transit schedule booklet and also those viewing the 554 schedule on line may notice that there is a 40 minute gap between 5.18 and 5.58 pm for departures from Issaquah Highlands. In fact this used to be the case, but amendments to the schedules from September 26 addressed this gap and the correct new timings can be found in the bus bay panes at Issaquah Highlands. Users of the ST Trip Planner also see the new times. Forget the KCM Trip Planner as this manages to find a schedule which was neither correct before or after September 26. Are the deep Eastside transit users really so marginal?