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.