Test Downtown Ticket Machines?

Is There Any Question about What Date THIS is Valid and When it Expires? by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

As part of yesterday’s discussion of the Proposed King County Metro Budget, Mark Dublin notes:

Possibly transit’s worst hemorrhage, in money and passenger goodwill, stems from anything that slows service by a single minute. Especially if it’s five minutes stuck aboard a packed and un-airconditioned bus northbound at Westlake the height of PM rush while the driver argued with a nut over a fare.

In a few past discussions of the problems faced by “quarter fumblers” in downtown Seattle, there have been a few suggestions that peak trip bus stops be equipped with ticket dispensing machines, so that those paying cash (or card since TVMs accept plastic) would be able to purchase a ticket beforehand.

Would ticket vending machines be worthwhile? Luckily, Metro might have the opportunity to run a test without actually buying the machines themselves.

TriMet’s contractors here in Portland are making great progress on the Orange Line, but most of the stations are still being outfitted with shelters, electrical conduit, and elevators. The current TriMet administration likes to open these lines early if at all possible, so there tend to be parts on hand before they are needed, just in case progress of some sort can be made on non-critical path projects should there be a lack of materials on critical path items.  Two cases: the rails were on hand and waiting for installation long before they were needed.  Public art at the Tacoma Street station was installed about two years ago, before anything else was on the site.

Therefore there is a good chance that the ticket machines for the line are still in a warehouse waiting for the proper time for installation. Operator training and other operational testing isn’t scheduled to being until June of 2015, and the line is supposed to open in September of 2015. With any luck, they might be able to push the opening a little early like they did with a couple of the other lines. However, the fact remains, these are some of the last pieces to put in, while many of the stations have much heavy work yet to finish.

The machines would require a bit of tweaking to get them to print a King County Metro ticket (TriMet no longer has fare zones, and there is no peak period surcharge here, so a few different screens would need to be reprogrammed). There is obviously the issue of how to get power and communications to a temporary location.

Due to the possibility of confusion among those that don’t use transit regularly (which of course will tend to be “cash fumblers”), if the experiment is attempted then the best place to try it would be at extremely busy bus stops only served by King County Metro. That reduces issues when a Community Transit or SoundTransit bus appears at the stop and someone attempts to claim their KCM printed ticket is valid.

Sure, there will still be cash fumblers entering the buses, but how many? If the ticket machines prove to be an unreliable way of reducing cash transactions on the buses, then no big deal. The TVMs were never intended for Seattle anyway. Turn the concrete pads they sat on into additional bus stop benches and soon everyone will forget they ever were there.

On the other hand, if the experiment works and cash transactions are reduced significantly, then maybe it will be worthwhile to purchase a permanent set of TVMs for popular bus stops.

Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is a native of Portland, Oregon and works as an engineer / technical writer / technician at a small company that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.

A First Experience on Island Transit

The ongoing “North by Northwest” series by Joe Konzlar (AvGeekJoe) which frequently feature recent trials of Island Transit remind me of some of my transit adventures northwest Washington.  I haven’t been able to visit that part of Washington for over a year, and so a lot of things have changed. Thus, I write this from a past tense perspective, since things have obviously changed quite a lot.

Unfortunately, my first effort at using Island Transit to get somewhere wasn’t a resounding success, but most of this was not due to Island Transit’s organization, as will be seen.

This trip happened as I was visiting Port Townsend, and wanted to leave there and return to Seattle around mid-day.  Other than Island Transit, there really isn’t a whole lot connecting various points in northwest Washington during the middle of the day. At the time of this trip, the earliest afternoon series of connections between Jefferson Transit and Kitsap Transit was 4 in the afternoon, leaving Island Transit as the only option at that time of day.

The first part of that trip went very well: I walked to the Port Townsend – “Coupville” ferry to get to Fort Casey State Park. That part was simple.

However, getting from that end of the ferry to Island Transit route 1 going south was a terrible introduction to Island Transit. IT route 6 was out of synch with the ferry, so that a bus had just left about the time the ferry arrived. Furthermore, The #6 at its southern end was terribly out of synch for transferring to the #1 at Keystone. Today, this is a bit better as the Steilacoom II is no longer operating this route as a single boat, allowing for somewhat better time planning.

The result of this was it took a bit over an hour to travel the approximately two miles from Fort Casey State Park to Keystone, where the nearest bus stop for route #1 happened to be. I could probably have walked this faster, but the road connecting the two has fast traffic and not a wide enough shoulder for me to want to risk this.

Once the #1 showed up at the stop at Wanamaker Road and Highway 526, things were a much different story. The bus was reasonably crowded, and made very good time, with the driver doing everything possible to speed the trip up a bit, as we were slightly behind schedule.

It is a very good thing that it did move along well, as there was very little room for error once the bus approached Clinton.  On this trip as well as a subsequent trip a few years later, the bus driver called someone at the ferry terminal when the bus was some distance away, to let them know where the bus was and how many passengers to expect. That way, they would load the autos first, and be prepared to board the bus passengers after the bus got there.  In both cases the bus actually arrived slightly late, as the auto traffic was already being loaded. However, once auto traffic had finished loading, we bus passengers were then allowed to board rather than making us wait for the next boat.  By us I do mean there were at least 20 or so passengers that boarded the ferry from IT# 1.

Sadly, upon arrival at Mukilteo, transit passengers were greeted with yet another example of how well transit agencies in the USA are when it comes to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I got to watch at least one bus vanish up the hill when the boat was less than a minute away – in contrast to Island Transit’s effort at making sure one of its primary backbone routes had good ferry connections, the connection at the other end was rather incidental.

I’m not sure exactly what happened to the rest of the Island Transit #1 passengers, but several of us got on the only bus that happened to be sitting there.  Everyone else probably followed the instructions that Google Transit gave (and still gives) for Mukilteo-Seattle trips.  It essentially says give up, go find a bar, and wait several hours for the first northbound Sounder train to Everett and try your luck there, since Mukilteo had (and still has) terrible bus connections.

As it turned out, this probably would have been the best thing to do.

Just after all of us boarded, the bus driver announced that it was time for him to take his end of route break and shut off the engine, and said he would be back in 20 minutes. Just then another bus went by going up the hill.  What it was or where it was going I have no idea, but at least it was moving, which was more than what I was going to be doing for the next 20 minutes.

Since the next 20 minutes of the trip involved no actual transit movement in any direction, I will spare the details of how I occupied 15 or so minutes in Mukilteo, but eventually the bus did depart for the top of the hill, and somehow I managed to be on it.

I think the bus I was on was Community Transit #113, but in looking at the timetable it seems like they may have changed this route a bit from the year I did this trip. I remember taking an hour long tour of various neighborhoods between Puget Sound and Interstate 5, while today the schedule shows it doing this tour in a blistering 40 minutes.  Maybe I was also counting the 20 minute annoyance at the ferry terminal?  I don’t remember.

Naturally, upon arrival at Ash Way Park and Ride, I would be able to get an express bus to downtown Seattle.

In fact, I got a real good look at said express bus vanishing into the distance just as our local bus arrived.

I then got yet more great looks at express buses coming from downtown Seattle, all of which then turned into deadhead runs returning to downtown Seattle with no passengers.  It would be another long frustrating wait for an actual in service express bus to arrive and take passengers going south.

Then came the icing on the cake:

How well do you remember September 20th, 2010? It so happens there was a fire south of Seattle in the afternoon that day, near enough to Interstate 5 that I-5 south was closed “briefly” (so said news articles) in the early afternoon. This caused an immediate backup so that by mid-afternoon southbound traffic was backed up so far north nobody could figure out where the backup even started. Maybe somewhere in the Yukon Territory?  This mess continued deep into the evening rush hour – which I was told by some fellow riders that by that time was really no worse than normal.

Compounding that problem was that at this time the HOV lanes on Interstate 5 were single direction only, outbound afternoon. So, northbound peak traffic was flying along just fine, while the express bus I was on moved at walking speed for the next two hours – in traffic that apparently didn’t exist since obviously if the traffic we were stuck in existed, they would have operated reverse direction HOV lanes there, and perhaps even a southbound Sounder trip or two.

My eventual arrival in Seattle was somewhere around 20 minutes or so earlier than had I departed Port Townsend on that 4 pm series of connections starting with Jefferson Transit.

So what should you take away from this experience of mine?

Somehow even working between agencies and services as different as Island Transit and Washington State Ferries, the 1 was able to connect with the ferry at Clinton and do so in a way where people at the ferry terminal knew exactly where the bus was and how long it would be before it arrived so they could do everything in their power to make the connection between the 1 and the ferry work well.

Despite all their other troubles, somewhere, at some point in time in the past someone at Island Transit knew that one of their backbone routes would depend on a true timed connection at the ferry, and made every effort to make sure that connection worked as well as possible.  It was a cross-platform cross-mode transfer that required all of 30 seconds of walking to perform, between two transportation routes operating at relatively infrequent intervals. No other connections over the course of this trip worked well at all.

Now if only the connections on the Mukilteo end could be executed just as well, Island Transit would probably have far more passengers on route 1 than it does now – and the bus was nearly full by the time it arrived in Clinton.

Of course, I know all too well that I am preaching to the choir here, but the effort put into making this is how transit integration and cooperation really should work. It is a shame that an agency that at one time had this type of effort put into its efficient operation has experienced such an apparent management lapse.

Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed as an engineer / technical writer / technician at a small company in Portland that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars. It may be a small company, but he has only once been assigned the task of washing bottles, and therefore can NOT be described as being the chief bottle washer. Primary commute: TriMet #10, but sometimes seen on MAX Green Line, #14, #17 and #75.

Amtrak Cascades – in 1971?

When Amtrak started operation in 1971, there was actually some optimism about investment in passenger train travel. In those days before it became the political football it is today, plans were being made to do some great things for passenger trains.

Among them, Amtrak had identified what we now know as the Cascades Corridor as a key place where improved passenger service could likely make a huge impact quickly.

Little time was left for the dust to settle after Amtrak started service. In late August of 1971 the Department of Transportation and United Aircraft brought to the northwest one of the new Department of Transportation TurboTrains to give a demonstration run between Portland and Seattle. It was part of a national tour to get people thinking about what a future with better passenger trains could be.

One of the people invited to ride on the demonstration train was a member of the Pacific Northwest Chapter (the Portland, Oregon Chapter) of the National Railway Historical Society. His report was featured in the organization’s newsletter of September of 1971.

Over the last year or two, this organization has made a huge effort at placing historic copies of its newsletter on its website.

Those interested in reading up on the events of August of 43 years ago may now go to the September of 1971 issue of the group’s newsletter and read it, starting on page 3. Sadly, Amtrak would be stuck running outdated coaches on the corridor into the early 1980s, and light weight trains with a comfort enhancing suspension described in the article would not arrive in regular service here until 25 years after the article was published.

Perhaps even worse, the speeds described in the article reached by the demonstration train can not be reached on the line today.

Glenn Laubaugh (Glenn in Portland) has a diverse set of responsibilities at a small company in Portland that builds electrical equipment for railroad cars. Any opinions expressed here are most certainly not approved by or the opinion of his employer or any of its customers.