Link Station Schedules Updated

The new design.

It’s a month late but it’s finally here. Sound Transit updated the design of the schedules posted at Central Link stations, both graphically and physically (example of old style). Many schedules were torn off by vandalism or left outdated. Some schedules date to before Airport Link opened. On October 7, Sound Transit via its Twitter account responded to a question regarding the missing and outdated schedules: “We’re working on a new signs. Old ones were too easily vandalized/ripped off. New ones up by Nov. Thanks for riding.”

The new schedules still show only headway and first/last train times but in a different format. The design is reminiscent of the style used in London. I made mockups of that style for the 70-series buses last year and recently for a headway-based timetable in One Bus Away. I’m not sure about the order they chose. It follows a natural sentence structure: the day, then “trains leave every”, followed by the headway, and then time periods. However, the way I typically read schedules is to look at the clock for current time, then find the time period on the schedule, and read the headway. Either way this is a minor issue. Another issue is the periods that span from a.m. to p.m. The weekend schedule shows trains leaving every 10 minutes from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., or is that from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m? Just add an “a.m.” behind the 8:00 to clarify.

The schedule is now printed on the same sheet as the fare table. The larger surface should make removal more difficult. Since the schedule is now integral with the fare table instead of a smaller add-on sticker, why not take advantage of the increased space? They don’t need to have a box any more. Perhaps in future iterations they will redesign the combined fare/schedule table. Overall, I see this as a small step forward.

November 2010 Link Ridership

Travelers buying Link tickets at SeaTac on snowy Monday

November’s Central Link ridership slightly declined from October, at 21,913 per weekday, 9,933 per Saturday, and 13,112 per Sunday/holiday, on average. Niles has the full ridership breakdown.

Ridership on the Monday before Thanksgiving is the second highest on record at 29,351 boardings. It is unclear what effect snow has on ridership, with the snow storm coinciding with one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Airport Link did not open until December 18, 2009. Ridership on Thanksgiving Day was low as expected, similar to last year since most are staying at home or out of town. Sunday likely had many returning home to and from the airport. Ridership returned to average the following Monday.

Ridership numbers for Thanksgiving week:

  1. Monday, Nov 22: 29,351 (big snow day, Metro on snow routes)
  2. Tuesday, Nov 23: 28,504 (Metro on snow routes)
  3. Wednesday, Nov 24: 27,352 (Metro on snow routes)
  4. Thanksgiving, Nov 25: 9,385 (Sunday schedule Metro and Link, Metro on snow routes)
  5. Black Friday, Nov 26: 20,283 (Downtown holiday parade and Westlake tree lighting, Metro resumes normal routes)
  6. Saturday, Nov 27: 7,359
  7. Sunday, Nov 28: 17,333

Tracking Down Link Maintenance

The leaky tunnel ring in Beacon Hill Station
Montage of the leaky station tunnel

I was curious with the maintenance Sound Transit was doing the week before the pre-Thanksgiving snow storm, so I went for a field check. The Rider Alert said southbound platforms at Mount Baker and Beacon Hill would be closed, telling me the general area of work. I arrived at MLK and Walden around midnight, where there is a crossover for trains to switch tracks, and saw the red STOP sign and flasher on the southbound track indicating “men at work”. I saw no visible activity outside, suggesting the work was being done in the Beacon Hill tunnel. Later, someone commented on the blog that the work was about fixing leaks on the southbound platform of Beacon Hill Station.

Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray confirmed to me that the work was indeed about fixing the leaky tunnel. The work is covered under warranty, which means the contractor, Obayashi, is responsible for the costs of fixing the defect. Beacon Hill Blog has photos and a report from September that quoted Gray saying such leakage is common in the first year for deep-mined projects. I visited Beacon Hill recently and saw the drainage system they installed in an attempt to collect the water and prevent it from dripping. It was still dripping though not as much as it used to. Fortunately, once this issue is resolved, Gray said “this should be the last of these maintenance delays during revenue hours for a long time.”

Past engineering and maintenance work on Central Link during revenue hours include noise reduction work with rail grinding in Rainier Valley and Tukwila, modifying crossovers on MLK to reduce noise, installation of track lubricators at Mount Baker and Tukwila; installing switch heaters by the Operations and Maintenance Facility to keep trains running during snow and ice conditions; and a weekend closure of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for upgrades and testing of the fire/life/safety systems.

Where Do I Pay My Link Fare?

Paper sign on TVM pointing to 3 other TVMs at SeaTac/Airport
Paper sign on Link TVM

I find the signage pointing people to Link’s ticket vending machines to be non-existant or poor, especially in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Over the last few weeks I met a few people at Link stations who did not know where to purchase a ticket to ride Link, notably at Westlake and International District, or were confused between ORCA and paper tickets. I also saw people at the Airport station lining up for ticket machines although there were three open ones on the north side. My guess is that most people who buy paper tickets are likely infrequent riders and visitors, who are not familiar with the system on a daily basis. Obviously, many people have no trouble finding and figuring out how and where to pay their fare but the issues below make the system less user-friendly and accessible for all.

Details after the jump.

Continue reading “Where Do I Pay My Link Fare?”

Metro Evaluates a Modern Trolleybus

Trolleybus going up Main St without wires

Last Wednesday in Pioneer Square, officials from King County Metro took a test ride in one of Vancouver’s modern low-floor electric trolleybuses to see how it works on the wire and off the wire. Vancouver’s TransLink loaned the bus to Metro for examination as part of the Trolley Bus System Evaluation. Representatives from the bus and propulsion system manufacturer and Vancouver bus operator Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) mingled with Metro staff to discuss operation and maintenance of the bus. Among the key people from Metro are their chief vehicle maintenance supervisor, trolley bus maintenance supervisor, and General Manager Kevin Desmond. They liked a lot of the amenities found on the bus. County Councilmember Larry Phillips, who sponsored the transit audit which led to this evaluation, was also present. Phillips is in favor of retaining the electric trolley system and modernizing the fleet.

Much more after the jump
Continue reading “Metro Evaluates a Modern Trolleybus”

Universal and ORCA Powered U-PASS Delayed

Back of a Husky Card affixed with a purple U-PASS sticker good for Autumn Quarter
The current U-PASS

The Daily of the UW reports that implementation of a universal U-PASS program will be a quarter behind its original Winter 2010 target (January 2010). A survey completed last spring showed 79% of students, staff, and faculty supporting a universal U-PASS. The pass would be a mandatory fee priced around $60 to $80 with a target of $75. The current pass costs $99 per quarter, almost a twofold increase over 2008 prices. Participation dropped from 85% to 72% in 2009 as a result. The U-PASS needs a new funding model as the existing model, in which students can opt-out by returning the pass, is unsustainable with budget shortfalls and increasing costs from the transit agencies.

Meanwhile, the process of converting U-PASS stickers over to ORCA-embedded Husky Cards is now anticipated to begin sometime in the middle of 2011. The University’s Transportation Services originally had a target of June 2010 and later pushed it back towards late 2010. The delay in implementation comes from the “transit side”, in other words, the agencies implementing ORCA and the system vendor. The process, called “re-carding”, involves replacing every student’s, staff’s, and faculty’s identification card (known as Husky Card) with a new card embedded with an ORCA chip. The new cards will feature a new design and would retain the magnetic strip for its existing functions. Dubs, the Husky mascot, will lead the transition.

According to the University Transportation Committee’s (UTC advises the UW administration on transportation issues) meeting minutes, the e-purse function will be disabled on the ORCA powered U-PASS. The University did not want to deal with customer service issues like refunding e-purse value. Privacy concerns were also raised in a UTC meeting where a loophole in the law allowed media to file a public information request for card user’s personally identifiable information. However, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 5295 into law earlier this year, closing the loophole. With U-PASS moving to a universal model, a system for students to opt-out of the ORCA powered U-PASS would be unnecessary.

Bellevue TC Gets an ORCA Vending Machine

The vending machine is located by the Rider Services Building
The new card vending machine.

Eastside transit riders no longer have to travel to Seattle to purchase an ORCA card in person. A new ORCA vending machine was installed at the Bellevue Transit Center recently last month. You can find the machine outside the rider services building on the north side of the transit center.

The machines are the same model found at Sounder and Link stations with limited functionality. What you can do is listed in 5 simple steps on the machine itself. You can add value to your e-purse, purchase a pass, check your card’s balance, or purchase a new Adult card. The machine accepts cash (coins and bills), credit cards, and e-purse for payment. You cannot purchase a paper ticket. Senior, disabled, and youth cards still need to be obtained at a customer service office or by mail.

While the list of ORCA retailers is slowly growing, retail locations can only add value to existing cards; they do not sell ORCA cards. The new vending machine is a welcome addition that will make ORCA more convenient to use for many.

Imagine a More Detailed Link Station Schedule

stem-and-leaf schedule for Othello to Downtown
Mockup of stem-and-leaf schedule for Link platforms

The schedules at Link stations show the frequency of service and times for the first and last trains. Some people find that inadequate for planning a trip and want a detailed timetable. Here is my answer to your call, a stem-and-leaf format schedule showing all train departures from a station in a particular direction. I designed it for individual platforms. The size of this exactly matches the existing schedules found at Link stations and can function as a drop in replacement. It can accommodate 24 hour service and up to 10 trains per hour. The tradeoff is loss of first/last train times for the opposite direction and a more cluttered look with no summary of the frequencies. I would keep the existing schedules for mezzanine areas. Or why not have both detailed and summary schedules? That would require redesigning the information panels.

By the way, many schedules at Link stations have not been updated or are missing altogether. Some still list times for the first/last train to Tukwila International Boulevard! I don’t know what the people in charge of this at Sound Transit do all day but it took me about 2 hours to design the mockup from scratch. I could make one for every station, print them out, and go install them at stations in a single work day. Of course I’m bragging a bit; it’ll take more work to make such a major change. However, the missing and outdated schedules are simply inexcusable.

Link Rider Alerts and Real-time Arrival Info

NB-Westlake Seattle xx min, SB-SeaTac/Airport 9 min, etc.
Mock up of Link variable message sign displaying next train times, by the author

Sound Transit recently hired an employee to deal with incident response and provide passengers with service status alerts from the Link Control Center. The rider alerts are better than nothing but sometimes you can have days like this or this when the number of rider alerts becomes overwhelming.

Scott Gutierrez at the PI reports on the recent proliferation of Link rider alerts notifying passengers of train delays. Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray explains in Gutierrez’s article:

The agency still is setting protocols on when mass alerts are necessary and when updating electronic signs at boarding platforms is enough to get the word out. A few times recently, alerts were issued about problems that were handled quickly and had minimal effect on service, he said.

On Monday morning, for example, an alert was issued about a mechanical problem that caused delays of six minutes to one train and three minutes to the other.

“That’s why we’re seeing a little more frequent rider alerts. We’re working out some of the kinks as to what rises to the level of needing a rider alert,” Gray said. “We probably don’t need an alert if it only means a five-minute delay.”

The problem is not Sound Transit providing too much information; it is Sound Transit providing the information in the wrong format. Having real-time train arrival information at stations (and elsewhere) solves the problem of issuing too many alerts for minor delays. Instead of posting an alert that trains are delayed 6 minutes, the delay is simply reflected in the predicted arrival times at each station for each affected train trip. If the delay gets severe, then broadcast an alert. While some might want to know why their train is being delayed, what everyone wants to know is how long the wait will be, which is useful information even under normal conditions.

WSDOT Taking Comments on 520 Westside Transit and Design

The Design Refinements and Transit Connections Draft Recommendations Report was released to the public on Monday along with the white papers explaining how the ESSB 6392 Workgroup’s Technical Coordination Team came to their conclusions on each aspect. The final version of the report along with public comments will be submitted to the Governor and the Legislature on October 1. The public comment period runs from September 13 through September 24.

You can view the report, white papers and submit your comments on the ESSB 6392 Workgroup’s home page.

Seattle’s Transit Tunnel Turns Twenty

Bus in the tunnel, 1990 (photo: Metro)

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. On September 15, 1990 at 5 am, Metro commenced bus service through the newly completed Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. The first routes to use the tunnel were the 71, 72, 73, 106 and 107. The 1.3-mile long tunnel with 5 unique stations was conceived in 1983 as an alternative to a 3rd Ave electric transit mall and cost $486 million. Construction began in 1987. 236 Breda dual-mode buses were purchased for the service. $1.5 million (1989) worth of public art was installed at stations.

In June of the same year: Trolleybuses returned to 3rd Ave after three years on 1st Ave during tunnel construction. The extension of the Waterfront Streetcar to the International District opened on June 23rd.

Not all routes served the tunnel from day one, it took almost two years for most of the routes that we know today to join the tunnel. In its first anniversary in 1991, the tunnel had 28,000 commuters a day and an estimated 6,200 additional people ride the buses during the day just to get around downtown. Ridership increased by 25% on Routes 71, 72 and 73, and by 22% on Route 150 between downtown and Auburn. The tunnel reduced travel times through downtown by more than half. A trip from Royal Brougham Way to Howell St used to take 20 minutes on the surface, now takes only 8 minutes through the tunnel. Later that year on December 8, the SODO busway opened, constructed for $4.5 million with federal funds from the I-90 project. On the February after, direct access ramps from the I-90 Express Lanes to the tunnel opened. These surface extensions to the tunnel allowed quicker and more reliable access from the south and east.

In September 2005, the tunnel closed for two years to prepare for light rail service as the original rails installed were not usable and with advances in light rail technology, namely low-floor cars. New signage, public address, and lighting systems were also installed.

According to Rochelle Ogershok with Metro, the tunnel now has 1,193 weekday bus trips, 725 Saturday bus trips, and 497 Sunday bus trips. Because of extended tunnel hours, there are now more riders and trips through the tunnel than before Link light rail opened. For most of its life, tunnel hours were 5 am to 7 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday. After 2007, it was open weekdays only to 7 pm.

Metro doesn’t have any special event planned for this occasion but you can reminisce about the early days of the tunnel right here.

Yesterday’s SR 520 Meeting

Plan of bus stops on Montlake Lid
Location of bus stops on the Montlake Lid (WSDOT)

Yesterday, the SR 520 ESSB 6392 Workgroup held a meeting to discuss draft recommendations on various aspects of the SR 520 replacement project. Transit supporters will be disappointed to learn that very little has changed from the last meeting regarding bus stop locations and transit flow from Montlake Blvd to the UW Triangle. The second Montlake bascule bridge is thrown further in doubt with the Seattle City Council representative expressing concern with its construction timing and the need for a second bridge, while WSDOT staff are developing transit travel time and pedestrian/bicycle level-of-service measures that would trigger construction of the bridge. The bridge is expected to be the last piece of the project to be constructed, sometime around 2016-2018.  If you haven’t already, read Martin’s writeup on the changes coming to Montlake Blvd and the presentation from the meeting.

Analysis of the transit proposal and its impact on transit operations will be detailed in a technical report to be released on Monday, September 13. That same day at 2:30 pm, the Seattle City Council will convene a special committee meeting on SR 520. The public will be able to comment on the report and technical white papers until September 24. The next and final workgroup meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 18, 2010.

In attendance were representatives from WSDOT, SDOT, the University of Washington, Sound Transit, King County Metro and the Seattle City Council.

More details after the jump. Continue reading “Yesterday’s SR 520 Meeting”

Where In Bellevue Did They Vote for ST2?

The answer is mostly everywhere. To further nail the point Sherwin and John made yesterday, that the majority of Bellevue citizens support Sound Transit 2 and East Link, I made a map specifically showing only Bellevue precinct level results. The current East Link Preferred Alignment is also shown with both C9T and C11A options.

Click on map to download PDF version and enlarge.

While support and opposition is spread throughout the city, the map makes it easy to see what each neighborhood was thinking. 57% of votes from the two Surrey Downs precincts rejected ST2. Compare that to the majority of their neighbors in nearby Enatai, Bellecrest and Downtown who voted to approve ST2 and also the 56% citywide. Residents in precincts along the BNSF and Bel-Red corridor also had high approval.

Note that one precinct downtown is white. There was no data for that precinct. For those who want to dig in further, get the data extract and Bellevue precincts map.

This Train to Seattle

Next train sign at SeaTac/Airport Station
Next train sign at SeaTac/Airport Station

Sound Transit finally began using the variable message signs (VMS) at SeaTac/Airport Station to tell passengers which train is next to depart for Downtown Seattle. The message, “THIS TRAIN TO SEATTLE”, is put up on the signs next to the train to depart. The other set of signs continue to say “Welcome to SeaTac Airport”. There was one case when they were wrong. Signs were pointing to a train going out of service and returning to the yard. Another train arrived shortly and when the out-of-service train left the station the signs switched to the correct train. That suggests the signs are operated automatically though I do not know for sure.

This is a good development in informing passengers and hopefully leads to some kind of next train countdown display, which we all are hoping for without any indication it’s going to happen. Past solutions that Sound Transit used include sandwich board signs and manually switched lighted signs at Tukwila International Boulevard Station before Airport Link opened.

Othello Station Bazaar on Thursdays

Antiques dealer tent
An antiques dealer at the bazaar

Othello Partners, developer of two TOD projects across from Othello Station, is organizing a bazaar in the Citadel’s parking lot for the next two Thursdays (7/29, 8/5) from 11 am to 6 pm. Last Thursday was the second time it was hosted and featured antiques dealers, a coffee stand, and a cherry stand. More vendors are expected to participate in this week’s bazaar, possibly a vegetable stand and other crafts. Vendors are still wanted and the first time is free, then $25 per space. Details and contact information are in the Craigslist posting. Although the bazaar is scheduled to be held for only the next two Thursdays, the bazaar may be continued if successful, which would be a way of activating currently underused space and attracting people to the neighborhood.

As for other uses of the lot, parking is available at $5 per day or $50 per month. Othello Partners is looking for an investor to fund the construction a mixed use development of similar size to The Station at Othello Park.

SR 520 Transit Service Increasing Soon

All-electronic tolling begins Spring 2011 on the 520 Bridge
In Spring 2011, some may avoid paying tolls by taking transit.

This October and next February, Metro will add service to Routes 255, 265, 271, and 311 as part of the Lake Washington Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA). Sound Transit is also adding service in October by introducing Route 542 between Redmond and the University District. The increased service will provide an alternative to paying a toll to cross the 520 bridge or driving other congested routes. Variable tolling on the SR 520 bridge will begin in Spring 2011.

According to the SR 520 and SR 522 Service Implementation Plan, tolls are expected to increase transit demand by 15-35%. A recent poll suggests that tolls will encourage transit use, with 16% of respondents choosing transit as one of many alternatives to tolls. That figure increases to 22% if both 520 and I-90 were tolled. Currently, 15,000 riders cross the 520 bridge every day. Routes 255 and 271 together provide 4,300 crosslake trips each weekday.

Funding for the 28,000 additional annual service hours will come from the property tax for transit, a part of which is dedicated to SR 520 service. On the transit capital side, the UPA grant provides $41 million, including $31 million for 41 new hybrid buses—28 for Metro and 13 for Sound Transit. Other investments include the recently completed Redmond P&R garage, a South Kirkland P&R garage (by 2014), new bus shelters, and real-time information displays.

Details of service additions and changes after the jump.

Continue reading “SR 520 Transit Service Increasing Soon”

RapidRide A Line Launch Outreach Begins

Rear driver side exterior view
RapidRide bus at Westlake

Metro first put its RapidRide bus on display at Westlake during Earth Day and announced October 2 as the launch date for the A Line. Last month, the King County Council approved the final station locations and service levels. Today, with 100 days left before launch, Metro has announced the dates when staff will be available for information on the new service, along with a RapidRide bus on display for people to check out. Metro will be at these public events, beginning this weekend:

  • June 26—Safety Fair (Federal Way Commons), 12-3 p.m.
  • June 27—Pride Parade (Seattle)
  • July 4—Fourth of July Parade (Burien), 3-4 p.m.
  • July 14—Tukwila International Blvd. Station, 7-9 a.m.
  • July 21—Federal Way Transit Center, 7-9 a.m.
  • July 31—Seafair Parade (Seattle)
  • August 11—Federal Way Park-and-Ride, 7-9 a.m.

According to Metro, the process of installing new station shelters has begun and they are finishing work on the fiber optic communications system along Pacific Highway. The system, dubbed IntelliDrive, enables transit signal priority and real-time bus information. RapidRide A is expected to be 30% faster than the 174 and attract 2.5 million riders annually within the next 5 years, a 50% increase over the 174’s ridership. We also learn that RapidRide buses will have onboard Wi-Fi service.

Clock for Trains Spotted at Mount Baker and Rainier Beach

The count up clock

Reader Michael Arnold tipped us off to new clocks at Rainier Beach and Mount Baker stations that count the time since the last train left the station. At Rainier Beach, the clock is installed on a pole by the northbound track before the crosswalk near existing train signals. At Mount Baker, it is installed on the overhead catenary support just south of the platform for southbound trains. “They’re designed to help keep the trains from bunching up on MLK,” according to Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray. He says the “shorthand for operators is this – if flashing, hold. If solid, make your signal call to proceed.”

Every time a train passes by those points and leaves a station, the clock resets to 0:00 and begins counting up. The elapsed time flashes until 4.5 minutes have passed at Rainier Beach or 5 minutes at Mount Baker, then stays solid. Although trains are nominally 10 minutes apart during the day, I observed that trains depart as soon as possible which can be a minute or two under ten.

Watch the clock in action in this video.

Changes in the Priority Seating Area

2+1 flip-up seats and a barrier
The new priority seating area

You may have noticed a change in the priority seating area on some of Metro’s buses lately. Metro is retrofitting its 60-foot low-floor articulated bus fleet with a new configuration for the priority seating area that matches the one found on the newest hybrid buses in service (6800 series). The new configuration features a split 1+2 flip-up seat and a barrier in front of the first row of front-facing seats. The barrier replaces the flip-up front-facing 2-person seat. Metro fleet procurement says this arrangement will “enhance passenger safety.” In addition to enhanced safety, the new arrangement adds an extra seat while a wheelchair user is occupying the space, even if it means a net loss of 2 seats per bus.

In related news, Metro is currently evaluating rear-facing ADA seating positions for passengers with mobility devices and a passive restraint system. The rear-facing position and passive restraint system is widely used on European and Canadian transit buses and can be seen locally on Swift BRT buses. No decision has been made to proceed with their installation, which could be on all new buses or specific buses like RapidRide.