Earlier, I linked to the first details Metro released about RapidRide Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on the Eastside and to West Seattle. I assumed all the details were the same as for the Pacific Highway segment, but after scrutinizing things more carefully I see I was wrong about that. Metro is promising almost nothing above what we see with a conventional express bus.
Let’s go through Metro’s promises one by one. I’ll use the text from the Eastside line:
After RapidRide service begins, Metro’s plan is for buses to arrive every 10 minutes during the busiest morning and evening travel hours. At other times between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., buses will come every 15 minutes. Between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., buses will come every 30 minutes.
We’re talking about less service than Metro route 7. Woo hoo!
RapidRide buses will have low floors and three doors, so people can get on and off quickly. Depending on the outcome of a pilot project, a new fare payment system might be used that would allow riders with passes to pay before they board the bus, and enter through any door.
So we “might” see off-bus payment. I assume they’re referring to ORCA, but doesn’t Metro want to implement that system-wide anyway?
RapidRide stations and stops will be placed where the most riders gather, at reasonable walking distances along the corridor. Bus stops will be farther apart than they are on typical routes, so RapidRide trips will be faster. Metro planners are working with the local communities to choose the best places for stations and stops.
In other words, an express bus. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?
Other features might be added to speed up RapidRide service. For example, as buses approach intersections, they could send signals to traffic lights, requesting that green lights stay green longer or red lights switch to green faster.
It’s nice that they “might” actually do something to actually make the buses run faster. I wonder if that’s contingent on getting more revenue from somewhere, because God forbid that Metro get anything done with a mere $50 million extra per year.
Note what’s not mentioned: any sort of transit-only (or even HOV) lane anywhere along the route. This bus is stuck in the same traffic as the old bus. But it might make a couple of green lights it didn’t before!
All RapidRide stops will be lighted so people can see around themselves and be seen. With buses arriving more often than they do today, people will spend less time waiting at bus stops. Metro Transit Police will be on buses and at bus zones more often for fare enforcement and other security monitoring.
Bus safety is one reason people don’t take transit, but is far behind speed and inconvenience, which this plan does nothing to solve.
At the busiest stops, where many people catch buses each day, Metro will build stations with more room for the expected number of riders. These stations-placed about every mile along the route-will have shelters, benches and trash receptacles. The shelters and signs will look different from those you see at regular Metro stops-they will have a special RapidRide style and color scheme. Waiting areas will be well-lit, increasing security. Electronic realtime signs will tell people the actual number of minutes before the next bus will arrive.
Incidentally, now that they’ve thoughtfully added a legend so that we can actually decode the route map, you can see that not all of the “stops” are actually “stations”. So half the time on this route, you still might be standing next to nothing but a pole in the ground with a route number of it, with no electronic signs, enhanced security, or anything else.
And you can see from the map there are tons of stops, many more than a light rail line would have had. Again, this bus will be anything but “Rapid.”
Between the major stations, RapidRide bus stops also will have signs and other features to give them the distinctive RapidRide look. In some cases shelters and benches may be added or improved. Stop-request signals, which people can use to alert the bus driver when they are waiting for a bus at night, may be provided at these stops.
The buses will be easily recognizable with the RapidRide design and color scheme. All buses will be high-capacity, low-emission hybrid vehicles designed especially for RapidRide.
It’s slow, but at least it’s rebranded! As for nice shelters and so on, what they’re really describing is just bringing up a lot of really crappy Metro stops to some kind of minimum standard. That’s nice and all, but it isn’t a replacement for Light Rail.
In fairness, the West Seattle page adds this:
Other features might be added to speed up West Seattle RapidRide service. Business Access & Transit (BAT) lanes would help buses move faster through the corridor. The City of Seattle is considering transit lanes for portions of work in conjunction with the transit-only lane on SW Spokane Street and the West Seattle Bridge.
It sounds like this depends on other funds from the city rather than the Transit Now package. But hey, it’s better than the Eastside situation.
This is really pathetic. Metro could very easily have hired a few transit cops, spruced up a couple of stops, bought a couple of extra buses, and run a “253 express”. They could have even posted instructions on how to get bus arrival information using the mybus.org SMS service, and gotten about 95% of the benefit for around $1 million. They would also have avoided the confusion that will arise from appearing to add another transit provider to join Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit buses operating in this area. And oh yeah, it’ll take till 2011 for this to get realized.
Compare with Community Transit, which was creative with Federal grants and was able to start planning for a superior BRT line without a tax or fare increase. Examples of shoddy projects like this make me wonder why anyone would want to disband Sound Transit and move its responsibilities to the county agencies.
The 0.1% Transit Now levy generates approximately $50 million per year. Collected for 12 years, it would have gotten us half the money required to get to Northgate by 2018! It’s ridiculous to suggest that incremental improvements like these would produce anything like half the effect of the Northgate line.
To argue that Bus Rapid Transit is viable alternative to Light Rail is to insult our intelligence. Won’t someone truly interested in alternatives to sitting in traffic please run against Ron Sims?