Metro picks New Flyer for big electric bus purchase

With the debate about full electrification timetables out of the way, Metro is moving ahead with its plans for ordering 120 battery buses this year:

In 2017, Constantine and Metro General Manager Rob Gannon called on the industry to invest more in battery-electric options, including the creation of coaches that could travel farther and handle the varying terrain requirements of the region.

New Flyer, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with four manufacturing plants in the U.S., stepped up to the challenge, producing both a 40-foot and 60-foot battery-electric bus that met Metro’s specifications and timeline needs. These long-range battery-electric buses can travel approximately 140 miles on a single charge. The 11 existing short-range battery-electric buses in Metro’s fleet are 40 feet long and can travel 23 miles before requiring a 10-minute charge.

Metro announced the vision of buying 120 electric buses back in 2017. At the time, Proterra seemed to be in the lead (Metro operates a few Proterra buses on the Eastside) but New Flyer – which provides 60′ articulated coaches for LA Metro – seems to have won the bake off.

Buses will be run out of a temporary base while Metro brings online a permanent electric base.

This is all good news, of course, but it still saddens me that we seem to have stalled out on running new trolley wire in this city. Trolleys have their quirks, for sure, but they don’t require heavy batteries strapped to them and can climb hills quite well.

Metro dishes up the peanut butter

Route 44 will see a frequency bump on Sundays (SounderBruce)

In recent years, with the Seattle area financially flush and demand for public transit rising by the week, there hasn’t been much mystery to Metro service changes. Each one has added just a few more service hours, devoted to some combination of improving the network and backfilling for construction-related headaches. And the next one, which starts this Saturday, September 21, is no exception.

Happily, after Seattle Squeeze impacts ate most of last March’s added hours, Metro had a bit more latitude this time to make improvements that riders can see. There are no major route changes, but a generous helping of “peanut butter”-style frequency and span improvements continue the trend toward a better frequent network. The Sunday improvements in Seattle are particularly welcome, and we hope they continue. It would be really nice to stop saying “It’s Sunday. Let’s not take the bus.”

Martin asked me to cover Sound Transit service changes as well, but there is almost nothing changing about Sound Transit service. The very few changes are mixed in below.

Continue reading “Metro dishes up the peanut butter”

West Seattle and Burien Metro routes need improved reliability, or a new routing

Buses waiting to turn onto South Dearborn Street (SounderBruce)

At 5 p.m. two Fridays ago I made the grave mistake a getting on a West Seattle bus at the 3rd & Pike Street stop.  See, I had to retrieve a child from summer camp by 6 p.m.  As the bus crawled along the Columbia Street and 1st Avenue South “temporary 2019” routing, the minutes ticked away rapidly, and at 5:52 p.m. the bus was reaching the 1st & Dearborn stop, still in downtown Seattle. 

To routinely spend one hour traversing downtown Seattle is not functional bus service, full stop; especially in a City where more downtown workers arrive by bus than any other mode.  The Seattle DOT needs to significantly improve the transit pathway, or King County Metro needs to change the routing for Burien and West Seattle Metro bus routes that use Highway 99.

Continue reading “West Seattle and Burien Metro routes need improved reliability, or a new routing”

A new network in North Seattle

[UPDATE: Sound Transit says Metro did not check with them when announcing new train headways. It will remain every 6 minutes peak and 10 otherwise, with no trains turning around at Stadium. In 2023, it will be every 4 minutes peak and 5 off peak through downtown, with the South King and East King branches each getting 8 and 10.]

The Northgate Link restructure has started. Metro is studying routes 26, 31, 32, 41, 45, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 71, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 301, 303, 304, 308, 309, 312, 316, 330, 345, 346, 347, 348, 355, 372, and 373 for possible changes. (Not the 44, 48, 49, 70, or any routes west of Aurora.) At this point Metro wants to know what people think about the current network, and recruit people for a “Mobility Board” to review the restructure proposals starting this fall.

According to Metro’s briefing on the project, Northgate Link will open in 2021 with U-District, Roosevelt, and Northgate stations. Frequency will be every 4-6 minutes peak hours, with 4-car trains. Some trains will run Northgate-Stadium, as MLK will not exceed 10 trains per hour. Travel time from Northgate to UW will be 7 minutes. That puts Northgate-Westlake at 13 minutes and Northgate-SeaTac at 47 minutes.

There is a not a lot of meat on the project website. However, a glance at the Seattle Transit Map can provide insights on the current network. Some parts work pretty well:

  • Above Northgate Way, the system conveniently already funnels people into the Transit Center.
  • The 67, 45, and fellow travelers provide good connectivity to Roosevelt, U-District Station, and places in between.
  • The 62 provides a straighforward connection to Link on 65th Street.

But it’s not all roses. Lake City Way buses like the 522 whiz right by Link stations without really connecting to them. With 145th St BRT coming and Northgate an attractive terminus as well, it’s not clear what happens to lower Lake City Way.

Moreover, much like mighty route 7 further south, the main north-south routes east of the 67 parallel Link for a long time before winding up in a difficult transfer environment. Any bus route that funnels into UW faces a dilemma between a direct-but-congested route on that doesn’t really serve the campus, and a slower one that goes through campus but skirts the fringes of UW station and takes a while to wind up in the U-District.

Continue reading “A new network in North Seattle”

West Seattle and Burien Routes Add Stops in Pioneer Square

1st & King SB With the Spring 2019 service change, routes 21X, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, and C Line began serving two stops on 1st Ave. This will be the first time this century that [ed: some of these] southwest Seattle routes will connect directly to Pioneer Square. Both stops are centered on King Street, albeit at the furthest end of the intersection, with the northbound stop closer to Jackson and the southbound stop nearly at Dearborn.

The two stops add an important connection to routes that previously used the viaduct’s Columbia and Seneca ramps, making them an anomaly amongst the rest of the downtown routes as they did not serve any stops in or near Pioneer Square or the International District. With the viaduct out of commission, routes have been traveling along 1st Avenue South making a quick jog on Dearborn to access the new ramps to SR-99. Continue reading “West Seattle and Burien Routes Add Stops in Pioneer Square”

Private operators for some 520 routes?

92nd/Yarrow Point Freeway Station Platform

Great scoop from Mike Lindblom and Daniel Beekman in the Times:

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff is considering hiring private contractors to drive four Sound Transit Express routes between the Eastside and Seattle, prompting quick outrage from labor leaders who called the move a threat to existing union jobs.

A few quick thoughts. First, it’s amazing that once-beleaguered Metro is now the belle of the ball: everyone wants to buy bus service these days. Unfortunately for the agency their base capacity planning has not kept up. The proposal to haul coaches up to Kirkland every morning from a far-flung base doesn’t seem like a great idea, but Metro has limited supply and two customers (Sound Transit and SDOT) showing up with bags of cash so it’s not surprising they’re setting the terms and charging full price.

Second, I’ve seen people conflate this at times, but “private” does not automatically equal “nonunion.” As the Times article notes, Sound Transit contracts to Community Transit for some service, and CT in turn subcontracts to First Transit (using union drivers) for some routes.  The City of Seattle proposed using private shuttles recently, but the city council shot down the idea. 

Third, it would be a surprise if the winning bid ended up being a nonunion private company, as the ST board is full of elected officials who need union support. That said, the agency is always under the gun to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, so a little due diligence, even if it comes to nothing, might help on the political front. 

Finally, if Sound Transit does indeed have cash to throw around at buses, how about increasing the frequency of the 550, which currently goes to a sad 30 minutes after 7:30pm every day (and all day Sunday).  Trains with 10-minute (or better) headways will start running that route in just a couple of years, doesn’t it warrant more than half-hourly service today? Or consider the 512, which will (eventually) become a train as well? Is half-hourly on Sundays really the best we can do?

The Incremental Approach to Free Transit

Photo by Oran

Kamaria Hightower, on Mayor Durkan’s blog:

At the Mayor’s direction, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will partner with the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) and King County Metro to provide unlimited ORCA cards to 1,500 low-income Seattle residents. This partnership will leverage Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) investments to create more affordable transportation choices for our communities.

The mayor’s program is yet another expansion for the ORCA Opportunity program. The initial pilot, focused on high school students, was augmented by STBD dollars last summer when Council amended the levy to allow for additional programming. 

Continue reading “The Incremental Approach to Free Transit”

Metro wants to know how the Emergency Snow Network performed

The Route 90 snow shuttle on Pine Street (Bruce Englehardt)

Metro GM Rob Gannon:

Now that we are getting back to full-strength operations, we know that our snow response is on everyone’s mind. We are reviewing how we can improve our service during snow – and we want to hear from you about your own experience with Metro during this period. Your suggestions and feedback during the storm helped guide our response and communications, but we know we have more to learn from you.

The 60 routes and shuttles that were in service left some areas of King County without transit service (South Park, Renton Highlands, Newcastle and Vashon to name a few). Some of this is unavoidable because of the topography, but, when we can, we will add whatever mobility options resources allow to connect riders to the Emergency Snow Network. We are committed to serving ALL of King County, so we will continue to look for ways to provide alternative transit options for residents in areas where we can’t provide our normal, fixed-route bus service.

This was the first deployment of the Emergency Snow Network and I look forward to a post-mortem from the agency. I’m sure it was a challenging and dynamic environment to provide bus service.

One thing I’d suggest is that the agency consider how reliant riders have become on One Bus Away as a source of information. OBA doesn’t do very well when service is irregular. Which is sort of understandable, but putting up a banner in the app that says “please check the Metro website” that doesn’t include a link to the website is less than ideal.

Leave suggestions at the link or via email. The weather seems to be warming up, but there’s no telling when the next storm will come.

For Snohomish commuters, Community Transit also has a survey email

Metro Starts Planning RapidRide I

King County Metro 180 at Burien TC
King County Metro 180 at Burien TC

Metro kicks off planning for RapidRide I this week with a presentation to the Renton City Council. The line (#1033 in the long-range plan) will be a hybrid of routes 169 and 180, connecting Auburn, Kent and Renton.  

Like other RapidRide lines, the route will travel on local arterials.  It will integrate with ST3’s 405 BRT project.  Metro estimates 6,000 daily riders, roughly in line with the Eastside’s RapidRide B. The agency will apply for federal funds to augment a substantial $120M capital investment. For perspective, that’s roughly the budget for RapidRide G, which is less than one fifth the length but projected to have at least double the ridership.

Metro appears determined to continue the letter scheme, even though “I” is so easily confused with “1” (although I guess it’s unlikely anyone will board an Auburn-Renton bus when they want to go between Downtown Seattle and Queen Anne).  LA Metro, by contrast, will reportedly skip over some letters for its rail lines to avoid similar confusion.  

Plans call for a much-needed re-evaluation of existing bus service in the area in conjunction with the new line.  Design and outreach will happen this year and next, and service will launch in 2023. 

Update 12:36pm: in the comments, a link from AlexKven to Brent’s 2017 argument for extending the 169 to Rainier Beach. I don’t think it’s essential that every RR line include a Link transfer, but if it can be done in a revenue-neutral way this makes sense.

Head of Metro security charged with rape, human trafficking

On Tuesday, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) arrested King County Metro’s head of security, Mark L. Norton, on human trafficking and rape charges. Norton has worked for Metro since July 2010.

In charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, KCSO Detective Luke Hillman alleged that Norton repeatedly raped a young woman in his employ when she was a minor, then coerced her into prostitution after she turned 18.

“The suspect’s grooming began when he was in his 30’s and the victim was a teenager and was babysitting for the suspect’s children,” KCSO Sergeant Ryan Abbott wrote in a separate, Wednesday release. “After persuading the victim to engage in sex acts with him, the suspect had the victim move in with him. Eventually the suspect operated as a pimp and pressured the victim to engage in prostitution on numerous occasions throughout Seattle, Lynnwood and Everett. The suspect arranged the prostitution online and kept the money brought by people wanting to have sex with the victim.”

According to Metro spokesperson Torie Rynning, Norton has been placed on unpaid leave and may be terminated.

“We are shocked and deeply disturbed to learn of the allegations and are cooperating with investigators,” Rynning wrote in a statement. “While in custody, this employee will be on unpaid leave, and we are exploring avenues to take immediate steps regarding this employee’s ongoing employment. Meanwhile, we are conducting our own administrative investigation to determine if any additional or unrelated code of conduct violations may have occurred.”

We asked Metro whether their background check picked up any prior malfeasance by Norton when he was hired.

“Metro currently conducts extensive background checks for sensitive personnel positions, including this position,” Rynning wrote. “We are reviewing our procedures to determine if additional screens are needed, however it is not clear that this activity would have been caught with additional screening.”

Balducci working on countywide transit funding package

King County Battery Bus Announcement
Claudia Balducci

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci has started work on a potential countywide, dedicated transit funding package to augment or replace the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD.) That tax package, which is comprised of a sales tax increase and car tab fee, is set to expire at the end of 2020.

Balducci says that the funding would be spent on implementing the ambitious Metro Connects program, the long-range plan that the agency and Council released in 2017.

“There’s a lot of stuff in Metro Connects that a lot of communities want, that will help with their transportation needs and their economic development and growth plans,” Balducci says. “But we haven’t identified the funding to serve all of that yet.”

Continue reading “Balducci working on countywide transit funding package”

More Bus Cancellations, Fewer Bus Lanes, Because Presidents’ Day

Credit: George H. W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum

Just when you thought it was safe to depend on apps that use the regular schedule to tell you when your bus is scheduled to come, a holiday that many don’t pay attention to is upon us. Yes, it is … (checks calendar) … Presidents’ Day!

Most King County Metro routes will be running on their regular weekday schedule. A bunch will have specified runs cancelled: 102, 111, 114, 121, 122, 123, 125, 143, 157, 167, 168, 169, 177, 179, 186, 187, 192, 197, 212, 214, 218, 219, 232, 243, 244, 249, 252, 255, 257, 269, 271, 277, 303, 311, 312, 342, 907, and 931. Cancelled trips show with an “H” or “D” in the timetables.

A few Metro routes will not be running at all today: 201, 237, 304, 308, 316, 330, 355, 661, and 930.

Sounder and all ST Express routes will operate on their normal weekday schedules, while Link Light Rail will operate every 10 minutes all day until late in the evening, but with 3-car trains, and Tacoma Link operates on its Sunday schedule, running every 24 minutes from 9:48 am to 5:48 pm (which you have to go to the printed schedule to figure out).

More agencies after the jump…

Continue reading “More Bus Cancellations, Fewer Bus Lanes, Because Presidents’ Day”

Incentivizing Access Riders to Ride Fixed Routes

Metro Access van
Metro Access van

This past summer, King County Metro Transit underwent a peer review by a panel of transit agency leaders from around the country.

The review had a rather intriguing suggestion in regard to paratransit passengers:

The panel notes that there are now many transit agencies across the country that are currently offering free fixed route services to qualified ADA individuals and their companions. (p.7)

“Fixed route services” is the industry lingo for regular bus and train routes.

Cities whose main transit agency allows paratransit-qualified riders to ride the fixed routes for free include Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, El Paso, and Las Vegas. Numerous smaller agencies offer the same deal, including Whatcom Transit Authority (Bellingham).

In some cases, like Atlanta, the rider has to go through a separate qualification process to determine whether it is safe for her/him to ride the fixed routes at all.

A little discussion about personal care attendants is in order, since paratransit riders are paratransit riders because they are unable to ride the fixed routes (or at least some of the fixed routes, some of the time) independently. Personal care attendants ride paratransit for free when accompanying a paratransit-qualified rider, but can be charged a fare on fixed routes, even when accompanying that same passenger. Companions other than a PCA can be charged fare on either service. The Federal Transit Administration has FAQ pages that cover these topics.

The Transit Cooperative Research Program produced a report on some of the challenges involved in, and potential savings from, diverting paratransit rides to fixed routes. The report gives a clear reason to encourage paratransit-qualified riders to travel on fixed routes whenever possible:

According to the 2011 National Transit Database, the average operating cost per unlinked bus trip was $3.60 ($1.80 and $3.20, respectively, for heavy and light rail trips). In contrast, the average operating cost per demand responsive trip—of which ADA paratransit comprises the greatest portion—was $32.70. As a result, transit systems have a great financial incentive to have persons with disabilities use fixed-route transit rather than ADA paratransit when they can. (p.1)

Access riders pay $1.25 per Access ride, or the regular Regional Reduced Fare Permit fare (75 cents) on fixed routes. A PCA can ride free on all Metro and ST services when accompanying a rider with a PCA RRFP. Access riders who buy a monthly RRFP pass get $0.75 cents credit toward their $1.25 Access fare, but also ride free on all Metro buses, as well as Link and 1-county ST Express. A couple years ago, Sound Transit started letting Access riders who buy Metro’s $45 monthly Access pass ride *all* Sound Transit services for free. (p. 11)

Additional Information (added after originally posted): Metro’s 2012 Annual Management Report gives figures for the cost of operating Access relative to the overall Metro budget:

Capital Sub-Fund Paratransit Expenditures: $4,872,185
Operating Sub-Fund Paratransit Expenditues: $58,094,753
Total Paratransit Expenditures: $62,966,938

Capital Sub-Fund Total Expenditures: $182,800,221
Operating Sub-Fund Total Expenditures: $629,768,659
Total Transit Expenditures: $812,568,880

Paratransit Share of Total Transit Expenditures: 7.75%

Comments about paratransit and fare structure are encouraged, but comments about the government giving out free stuff or discounts in general will be deemed off-topic.