For anyone undecided on Prop 1, I urge you to look at Seattle Transit Blog‘s coverage, especially if you’ve been reading the Seattle Times editorials on the subject which are weak, lazy, and simplistic. The writers at STB have done the digging and hard work to understand how to make our system more efficient. They’ve been doing this for years and have had a great number of successes. Improvement has been a continual process, which accelerated during the funding crunch that started in 2008 due to declining sales tax revenue.
The funding package is regressive and, frankly, terrible, but it’s the only funding tool currently available to Metro, short of further fare increases. (Which are also regressive, have been done several times, and is also part of this package). Even if the system doesn’t work for you, and it won’t for a great number of trips, please know that the vast majority of buses I drive typically become full, or often overloaded, at key chokepoints. The system really works to keep a lot of cars off of the roads, especially at key chokepoints. Even the (decreasing number of) “empty” buses that critics like to gripe about contribute to the cause, although that is a more complicated discussion (see below).
If anybody has questions about how Metro has been improving efficiency, what changes are coming, and the political roadblocks that are beyond Metro’s control, I am happy to sit down over coffee, beer, or hard liquor to explain what I’ve learned over these years at Metro. (Hard liquor is for the discussions of political shenanigans that arise every time Metro proposes changes to the system – Don’t worry, we don’t need to drive afterwards – I know how to get virtually anywhere in the area by transit )
Cash payment on Metro buses has been steadily declining for years. This is good news since it improves system efficiency, given amount of time required to accept cash on buses. (Anybody who has stood in line behind a group of passengers paying cash knows exactly what I mean) A relatively pain free way to encourage more ORCA adoption would be to shorten the cut for paper transfers by 30 minutes. Current Metro policy is to cut transfers between one hour and 30 minutes and one hour and 59 minutes after a trip’s arrival time at Pike, Pine, or Union streets for Inbound trips or the terminal for other trips. In addition to this generous amount of time, Metro also directs drivers examining transfers to allow for headway time between coaches which could add, in theory, up to two hours to a paper transfer. These generous terms make paper transfers more valuable to passengers in most cases, not to mention the possibility of hoarding them.
To figure out when a transfer should be cut, I look at a trip’s arrival time at Pike/Pine/Union/Terminal, add two hours, and then round down to the closest 30 minute cut. So a 4:57 arrival time at 3rd & Pike would have a transfer expiration cut of 6:30. If the passenger is transferring to a route with 30 minute headways, the expiration time would actually be 7:00.
Long term transfers should be discontinued and a cash surcharge imposed to keep cash payment as an option but drive it to the lowest level possible. London’s bus fare structure is a perfect example. In my most recent trips to London I traveled by bus extensively and honestly don’t recall seeing a single person pay cash.
It has been a while since I’ve driven Metro’s trolleys. (I love driving trolleys, but for a Part-Timer there isn’t much variety in the work available at Atlantic base so I tend to pick work elsewhere.) Our trolley system has been around a long time and functions well, especially when you consider how old it is. That said, there is one design choice I’ve always wanted to change – The pull-out wire in the busier bus zones.
In this picture, there are 3 trolleys. The 1st coach has just finished loading a wheelchair and has been blocking the other two from proceeding for several minutes. (I first noticed these coaches while walking Northbound on 3rd Ave a block from where I took this picture). This scenario occurs often because you don’t always know to use the pull out wire. If there is a passenger who needs the lift hidden in a crowd waiting at the zone or on your bus who doesn’t let you know they need the lift early enough, for example. In these instances, your poles track to the outside position, thus blocking all of the trolleys behind you. (And, in this case, any diesel coaches that need to service the zone because it is full of trolleys).
I’ve long felt that a better option would be to reverse the pull-out wires. If the default behavior is to be on the inside track, then coaches behind you still have the option of passing if you need to use the lift. (We communicate delays downtown by turning on our 4-way flashers. Drivers to the rear can also see the lift coming out and generally know whether they will be able to pass or not) This system would require training and wouldn’t be perfect but on balance, it would leave open the possibility for trolleys to the rear to pass the lead trolley – the current system only allows passing if the lead trolley driver knows in advance that they will be delayed.
Two zones come to mind as ideal candidates for a trial: Jackson & 5th/4th and 3rd & Pike. I’m sure there are many others but I recall these zones as having the most issues with coaches blocking.
Has this been tried before? Do other drivers/supervisors out there think this is a good idea?
While driving my bus, I often encounter passengers who are not ready to pay their fare, sometimes resulting in significant delays. We’ve all seen them: The person who puts down their bag and then fishes around in their pockets for change or the person who pulls out their wallet and thumbs through virtually every credit card and punch card they own looking for their ORCA card. I’ve heard from many passengers that they consider this behavior rude so I’ve developed a routine to try remind passengers to have their fare ready. In as upbeat, positive, and non-scolding tone of voice as I can muster I quietly say, “It really helps keep the bus moving if you can have your fare ready when you see me coming.” People don’t like to be scolded (Seriously, have you ever enjoyed it?) but I’ve found that most folks seem to get it and realize I’m just trying to keep the bus moving for everybody.
Yesterday’s trip north on the D Line was a perfect example. After a passenger boarded at Dravus Street and proceeded to execute the “fish through the pockets” routine, I gave my gentle reminder – The passenger finished paying, moved to the rear of the coach, and I started driving. One more quick stop right before the bridge for a few passengers to jump off and then, as luck would have it, the traffic lights switched to yellow and then red – and then the bridge went up. It would have been a perfect video for Metro to use as a reminder to have your fare ready. This example is extreme – usually the worst delay is missing a traffic light cycle – but payment delays are still very common and add up, costing passengers time and Metro a LOT of money to be sure. I’m sure most of the people reading this are among Metro’s fastest paying customers, but if you aren’t yet, can you do your fellow passengers a favor? Please have your fare ready before you board. Thanks!