Where’s real time arrival?

Updated Capitol Hill Station signage

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve had real-time arrival for Link. ST’s John Gallagher says that it’s because Northgate testing doesn’t conform to the schedule, and the software isn’t flexible enough to accommodate that.

Next train times should be back on October 2nd — and more accurate, as the end-of-the-line problems move from Capitol Hill to Roosevelt.

East Link Connections: bus changes in the south subarea

Bus changes proposed for Renton, Newcastle, Factoria, and Eastgate

With the East Link Connections project underway, Sound Transit and Metro have presented their first service proposals as part of the East Link Connections survey. The opening of East Link will be a huge event, and will transform what transit service looks like not just crossing Lake Washington, but how neighboring regions are connected. The south subarea of the East Link Connections study area includes Renton, Newcastle, Factoria, and Eastgate. Though not as significant as in other areas, the changes in this area nonetheless improves transit access overall, with brand new all-day coverage, more direct service to Bellevue College, and consolidation of peak-hour service.

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Sound Transit begins new fare ambassador pilot

Sound Transit:

The Fare Ambassador Pilot Program grew out of passenger feedback and community engagement that expressed discomfort with fare enforcement officers who resemble law enforcement. In response, Fare Ambassadors wear bright yellow caps, and carry yellow messenger bags that make them easy to recognize. Their focus is on passenger education and customer service rather than enforcement, with particular emphasis on how to purchase ORCA cards and passes and how income-eligible passengers can obtain ORCA LIFT cards.

“We want all passengers to feel comfortable asking Fare Ambassadors for assistance, whether they need help getting to their destination, or they’re having trouble purchasing fare,” said Sound Transit Chief Passenger Experience and Innovation Officer Russ Arnold. “Fare Ambassadors are here to provide help.”

Riders can expect to see the yellow caps starting this week. Read our previous coverage of fare enforcement here.

News roundup: June highlights

An Everett Transit Bus at Everett Station in the Night

Some highlights from June that we never mentioned here:

This is an open thread.

About that heat dome


Many of us have tried to forget the historic heat of Late June. Sadly, even Link trains had to reduce speeds. Areas south of the DSTT ran as slow as 20mph and caused delays of 3-10 minutes. This surprised me: elsewhere, Light Rail often operates in temperatures well in excess of Late June’s. ST’s John Gallagher explains:

There are basically two things going on. One is that extreme heat can cause the rails to expand and change shape. The other is that the turnbuckles that keep the overheard catenary wires taut can expand, causing the wires to sag a bit. Out of caution, we operate Link at lower speeds when it’s very hot to ensure that neither of these problems interfere with service should they occur. 

Mr. Gallagher says that ST has already added air conditioning to substations to make them more resilient. New track extensions include a spring system on the overhead wires to replace the balance weights on the original track, which should improve heat resistance. He adds that ST will conduct a review to see if there are other changes necessary for a warming world.

Without overreacting to a single instance of record heat, all trends suggest that there are more and more extreme heat events coming, and ST should look to mimic systems like Phoenix that already deal with those conditions.

News Roundup: coming back

This is an open thread

Know any good writers?

As you may have noticed, August was extra quiet here at STB. This is the result of combination of factors hitting all at once, including some of our contributors moving on to other priorities.

But September is here, Northgate Link is less than 30 days away, and we’re back, or at least we aim to be. But we need your help. If you have ever thought “hey, it might be interesting to write something for STB,” now is the time! Drop us an email, contact@seattletransitblog.com.

PS: to clarify, we’re mostly interested right now in volunteer / unpaid submissions, although we are ramping up our ability to offer paid freelance assignments as well. More to say on that in the future!

Sound Transit could make Lakewood to Seattle bus service faster instead of slower

Sound Transit 2012 Gillig BRT 9123P
This bus is set to get slower in 2022 with added stops in Tacoma and SODO (photo: Zack Heistand)

As part of an overall improvement in ST Express service Sound Transit is planning to roll out in 2022, Sound Transit is expanding all-day service from Seattle to Tacoma, improving midday and weekend headways from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. But there are also plans to make changes to peak-only route 592, which runs from DuPont Station to Seattle, with intermediate stops in Lakewood. This route is the only peak-direction service other than Sounder to run from Lakewood to Seattle (route 594 only runs off-peak and in the reverse-peak direction). One important feature of route 592 is its non-stop service from Lakewood to Seattle. Off-peak, people riding to Seattle also need to ride through downtown Tacoma (as both Tacoma and Lakewood are served by route 594 off-peak), but express service to Seattle from SR 512 P&R is a big time saver when it is available. However, Sound Transit is proposing to add additional stops to this route in 2022, slowing it down and making it less of an express bus. And for route 594, Sound Transit is passing up an opportunity to speed up service, something which is made easier with the additional service hours that is likely coming to Tacoma in 2022.

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Sound Transit is considering sacrificing station access to reduce Stride costs

These two bridges connecting Stride stations to local neighborhoods may be cut from the project

Just a week after concluding realignment on a largely positive note, Sound Transit today is again tempted to water down station access for relatively little cost savings. At today’s System Expansion Committee meeting, they revealed that they are considering two changes to Stride stations (one at Tukwila Intl. Blvd. Station, and one at the Brickyard Station) that would permanently cut off local neighborhoods from their stations. If these changes were to be made, local residents would need to need to detour far out of the way toward the nearest street crossing of the freeway, and then come all the way back to the station on the other side. Especially after (rightly) deprioritizing parking in ST3, we need to put a strong emphasis on improving non-motorized station access, and it’s disturbing to see Sound Transit considering such a big step in the wrong direction.

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Via to Transit is expanding

Via to Transit service areas (source: King County Metro)

Via to Transit, which debuted in 2019 as an on-demand Link shuttle to better connect to Link areas where bus service is limited or not available, is getting a major expansion on Tuesday, August 10th, 2021. From 2020 to now, Via to Transit only had three service areas, one for Othello, Rainier Beach, and Tukwila Intl Blvd Link stations (while pervious iterations also had service areas for Mount Baker and Columbia City stations). Passengers from within each service area could request a pickup using the Via to Transit app, and they would be assigned a street corner to wait at. By having passengers wait at areas a few blocks from where they requested a pickup, the software used by drivers could optimally route vans to pick up every waiting passenger efficiently, bringing wait times to 10-15 minutes. Service times ran from the morning to at least midnight daily, except Tukwila, where service was available weekdays only during commute hours. But Tuesday’s expansion will expand service to Renton, introduce multiple destinations in most service areas, and bring all-day, 7 days per week service to Tukwila.

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Sound Transit wraps up realignment

Sound Transit finalized and voted to move forward with the realignment of the Sound Transit 3 program on Thursday. This day marks the end of an almost year-and-a-half long process of planning just how to delay projects so that the program remains affordable, and projects can be delivered.

The realignment hybrid plan, with changes added from today’s amendments. Further delays are in red, and accelerations are in green. Column changes mean changes in tier, except for tier 4 parking delays.
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Metro and Sound Transit propose service increases in 2022

Tacoma passengers heading to Seattle (image: Sound Transit)

With the October 2021 Northgate shakeup of transit service still ahead, agencies are already looking at what changes will be made to service in spring and fall of 2022. King County Metro and Sound Transit both have service increase proposals for 2022, and both take decidedly different approaches.

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Most fully-suspended routes to come back in October

King County Metro has some stickers to peel

The last time Metro has ran a “normal” level of service was March 22, 2020. Beginning March 23rd, King County Metro started operating reduced levels of service (not to be confused with reduced capacity, which Metro recently ended). These initial reductions, made with little process and planning, were adjusted over the next several months to match ridership and service needs. While the presence of financial trouble for Metro was foreseeable from the beginning, it was the service change of September 2020 (which we called Metro’s darkest day) when the focus of the reductions really shifted from lower ridership to lower revenues, and that is what drives the level of service to this day.

At the middle of 2020, Metro was pessimistic about the future, and was convinced that yet more service reductions would need to happen in 2021 and 2022, making an already bleak future for transit in the region even worse. Fortunately however, revenues have picked back up faster than expected, with additional resources provided by the American Rescue Plan. As a result, Metro has been slowly increasing service levels in 2021, and will provide a larger increase in service levels starting with the October 2nd, 2021 service change. These were covered in a recent King County Council Regional Transit Committee meeting, in which there was a presentation with an overview of the restored service (with a follow-up meeting planned for July 21st, to discuss further restorations in 2022). And in good news for those who have been patiently waiting for fully suspended service to return, this includes bringing back 22 of the 40 fully suspend routes (not including custom and school routes).

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Seattle Subway August 2021 Primary Endorsements

Our August 2021 Primary endorsements are finally ready! Just in time, with ballots dropping today. We tried to gather as much information as we could by hosting forums (Position 9 & Mayoral), sending out questionnaires (City & County), and keeping in mind track records and our prior meetings with candidates during our constant advocacy work. We endorsed the following candidates who will appear on your August 3rd Primary ballot because we felt they rose above the rest when we simplified things and asked ourselves: who are the one or two very best candidates for transit in each race? Endorsements here don’t necessarily mean other candidates aren’t strong in their own right, but we felt they had further to go to become our best transit champions. Don’t forget to mail your ballot before August 3rd or drop your ballot in a dropbox before 8:00pm on August 3rd. We will also update these endorsements for the General Election in November.

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Next Generation ORCA Begins Next Year

Customer-facing launch phases for next generation ORCA
Current ORCA, today
New website and mobile app, early 2022, new app and website
More payment options, Late 2022, new card, tap to pay with phone, new vending machines, readers, and retailers
Retire current card, 2023 or later
Sound Transit Rider Experience & Operations Committee, 5/9/21

Sound Transit announced that the long awaited upgrade to ORCA, the Puget Sound’s regional fare collection system, will launch in phases beginning in early 2022.

The next generation system will introduce many new conveniences. Card reloads will be instantaneous. There will be more than double the retail locations to buy and reload cards, a much improved website with better account management, and a new mobile app that will allow tap-to-pay using a phone.

The first phase is the launch of a new website, myORCA.com, and a new myORCA mobile app for managing accounts in early 2022. Existing cards and equipment will continue to function as normal.

Accounts on the old site will not transfer over to the new site so registered cardholders will have to create a new account. The launch of the new website marks the switchover to the next generation backend system, which means new or replacement adult cards will drop in price from $5 to $3.

By late 2022, the next generation ORCA card will be available through the usual channel, including an expanded retail network, and mobile app users can skip the physical card and tap their smartphone to pay.

Next generation ORCA card being tapped on a reader with new logo
Dennis Budell/Sound Transit

Next generation ORCA also introduces a fresh new look for the brand, designed in house at Sound Transit by Dennis Budell. The colors selected “represent the natural colors of an orca as well as the vibe of Puget Sound”. The new card design is orca black with splashes of seafoam green, misty blue, yellow, and orange, replacing the blue with rainbow ribbons of the old card. The ORCA logo itself is streamlined with rounder text and a more stylized fin that looks like a curved arrow tracing the path of a leaping orca.

Installation of new card readers is underway, with mounts for the new readers appearing on buses, some even at the back door of RapidRide coaches. New ticket machines are also being delivered. Old cards and equipment will be retired after 2023 as they reach the end of their life.