Of all the routes I’ve driven for Metro, RapidRide B seems by far to have the largest number of runners. On almost every single trip I drive, I inevitably see somebody running for my bus. For those who’ve followed my Tweets, you’ll probably remember that I tend to be a bit ruthless on the subject. Runners slow service since they typically don’t have their fare ready. They also tend to do really dangerous things while running for the bus. I still won’t wait for people jaywalking in ways that risk their lives near my bus but I have softened my stance and lately have been waiting more often than not. Here are some reasons: First, while my trips tend to be well utilized, my bus usually isn’t packed so I almost always have room for them. Additionally, 3 doors allow folks to get on and off a crowded bus more easily. Second, Metro doesn’t publish a schedule for RapidRide so there isn’t an easy way for passengers to know when the bus will be arriving. Third, I know my follower is pretty punctual and likely will be no more than 10 minutes behind. Lastly, real-time arrival information still isn’t available on OneBusAway or other tracking apps so there really isn’t any way a passenger can control whether they are “on time” or not.
Here are some ideas to make passengers more comfortable with RapidRide’s schedule and hopefully cut down on some of the rushing for the bus:
Real-time arrival data: First, get arrival information on OneBusAway, Tracker, and other apps working – ASAP. I find this omission the most frustrating as a passenger, mostly because I have a knack for arriving at a RapidRide stop about 30 seconds to 1 minute after the bus has passed by. Sure, the RTIS signs on the route are nice, but they aren’t at every stop, are still not all functional, and aren’t useful for trying to figure out how to transfer from RapidRide to a lower frequency service route like the 249. Real-time data on the go is what I really want.
“Soft” schedule: An easy way to give passengers more confidence is to publish a “soft” schedule on Metro’s web site. This “soft” schedule would look like any other timetable except that all time-points would be estimated. It would also need a disclaimer explaining that RapidRide schedules are subject to change at any time and would urge riders to check the web site often. Trip planner sort of does this since it gives actual times for trips with a leg on RapidRide. (As of 12/1/2011, the times in trip planner are still based on the original run cards we received at the beginning of the shakeup, not the revised run cards we received recently. I have reported this to Metro so hopefully that will be corrected soon.)
Expanded Scheduled service: I’ve read somewhere that passengers stop using schedules when headways get below 10 minutes. I don’t recall if this was a formal study or just somebody’s opinion but it matches with my personal experience as a passenger on the Sound Transit 550. During the middle of the day, when headways are every 15 minutes, I check the schedule and head out to meet a specific bus. During the rush hours, with headways of 6-10 minutes, I usually just ride my bike to the park & ride and catch the next 550 that comes along. Expanding the “Scheduled Serivce” section of the RapidRide schedule to include all times when headways are 15 minutes or greater would help. Again, a disclaimer could be added that the schedule is subject to change if more service is needed. (Perhaps if Microsoft funds added RapidRide service during a company event at the Meydenbauer center? That’s a whole separate blog post idea in itself…)
These ideas are probably just skimming the surface but should be relatively easy to implement. If anybody has other ideas to help make riders more comfortable with the schedules, I’m all ears – comment away…
I’ve been using RapidRide B, in conjunction with the 249, to travel to several locations I would normally drive to. Each time I travel, I plan my trip using various transit planning services including Google maps, Bing, and Metro’s trip planner. So far, all services have worked well with each giving a simple trip recommendation involving a single transfer. My 249 shows up at Bellevue Transit Center where I walk over to a waiting RapidRide B coach which usually leaves within a few minutes. Total travel time from my front door to my favorite food court at Crossroads Shopping Center is usually about 30 minutes.
Getting home, however, has been more difficult to plan. When using Google or Bing maps, I cannot get a trip recommendation that involves RapidRide. All recommendations involve long walks or transfers to other numbered routes with fixed schedules and typically travel a much longer, and sometimes more complicated route. On some trips Metro’s trip planner gives the same results but on others I can get a route recommendation with RapidRide, if I tweak the travel times a bit.
An example will illustrate. Use your favorite transit planning service to get a trip recommendation for the following locations and times:
Start point: 2000 104th Ave SE (Add Bellevue, WA if you need to – Trip planner doesn’t need / want this)
End point: 15600 NE 8th
The result should be a trip on the 249 transferring to RapidRide B. However, if you plan the reverse trip you’ll get many different route recommendations, most of which do not include RapidRide B. On Metro’s trip planner I get a trip on the 245 transferring to the 249 in Overlake. However, if I switch the departure time to 5:20pm I get trip on RapidRide B transferring to the same 249 recommended above but closer to my destination.
I’ve also seen this problem occur with other trips that involve a transfer at Bellevue Transit Center so I’m guessing there is something wrong with the GTFS data for RapidRide B at that point. I’m going to stop digging here, lest I “go down the rabbit hole” as my wife likes to say. Besides, it’s time for bed – I’ve got to get up tomorrow to actually drive RapidRide.
If you are in the know, feel free to add comments or contact me on Twitter and I can work with you to investigate further.