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RapidRide B – First day report

I have my first day of driving RapidRide B behind me and can report that it went pretty well.  My coach performed well with no radio or mechanical problems.  I spoke with two other drivers that were not as lucky.  That said, we had enough service on the road that I don’t think any passengers had to wait too long.  Nobody asked me where the last bus was, at least.  Surprisingly, most of my passengers seemed pretty comfortable with RapidRide.  I expected a lot more “where is the 253?” or “How do I get to <some place I have no idea existed>?” types of questions.  Nobody really stumped me which is unusual after such a radical service change.

Being a former software tester for a well-known mega-software giant located in the greater Seattle area, I expected there would be plenty of glitches with the technology associated with Rapid Ride.  I was not disappointed.  As of noon, when I stopped by Bellevue Transit Center, none of the curb-side ORCA readers were working so everybody had to file onto the front of the bus like the good old days.  Additionally, I could not detect any sort of signal priority working in either Bellevue or Redmond.  Out of 3 trips that I drove, I counted an average of 6-8 minutes of waiting at red lights.  I only counted red lights that I was within 10 seconds of catching, so these were the perfect signal priority scenarios – extend a green light by 10 seconds – save a bus full of people a minute or two of waiting.  On the plus side, almost all of the reader boards at RapidRide stations were working.  Either that or they were stuck saying, “Rapid Ride B  – Due”.  With a decreased number of stops, improved routing, and 3 doors, Rapid Ride was already noticeably faster than the old 253.  As the kinks are ironed out, things will improve even more.

One interesting item was that the Headway control display was enabled during a couple of my trips.  In theory, headway control allows Metro to add extra buses and dynamically change the headway of RapidRide service as demand increases – For example, Metro could add extra coaches during the Bellevue arts fair or the Strawberry Days festival.  Since the “schedule” isn’t published, it’s relatively easy to do using the Headway control.  In practice, I don’t believe RapidRide A has used Headway control yet.  I hope they leave it enabled but just tell us to ignore it.  I like knowing how far I am behind my leader, even if there is not much I can currently do with the information.

Let me know what burning questions you have about driving RapidRide and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

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  1. October 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Interesting report!

  2. October 4, 2011 at 9:10 am

    What’s the TSP signal system look like when calling from the bus?

    • October 4, 2011 at 2:22 pm

      We don’t “Call” the signal system like our light rail trains do. In theory, it will all be automatic. I think the idea is to extend a green light a few seconds longer when my bus comes along. I’ve counted 6-8 minutes of delay per trip caused by lights that I have “just missed”. If you could extend those lights by 5-10 seconds when the signal knows I’m coming, that would make a huge difference on a trip that takes just over 40 minutes total.

  3. RapidRide ITS
    October 5, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Velo, you won’t get priority every time. The cities put a limit on how often we can make a request, so a bus coming the other direction could “steal” your priority. In Redmond, we’re still testing on some intersections, so most of your priority will come in Bellevue for the next few days. Post here what your coach number is today (October 5th) and I’ll reply back with how many times you received priority.

    • October 5, 2011 at 10:31 am

      Understandable. I’ve never expected priority all the time but I must say I noticed a big difference today. I either had impeccable timing or the system is working now. I don’t recall my coach number for today but I’ll remember it for tomorrow. Now, if we can just convince Redmond to push their construction schedule back to 10am or so, we’d be set. 156th & 31st is a zoo on my last trip.

      Kudos, BTW, for the work on RapidRide. I’m sure you know what isn’t working but I can tell the systems are getting better each day. More curb-side ORCA readers are working and, as I mentioned above, I get the feeling the TSP is starting to show it’s value.

  4. Mike Skehan
    October 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks for the report Velo. I’ve been a retired trolley driver for several years now, so I’m wondering about the run card. Do you leave the terminal as the run card is posted, and try to make time points, or does the headway control trump that some of the time or all of the time?
    Did you get the run card break at the end?
    Thanks in advance

    • October 6, 2011 at 11:16 am

      We are not currently using headway control and as far as I know, they don’t use it on the A line either. We effectively have one time-point at our first stop. After that, they are all estimated. The service is still very rough due to glitches in the radio system as well as construction along the line. I’m sure it will get better but right now the “schedules” are completely bogus. I don’t even bother looking at my run card. Interestingly enough, I haven’t heard much (actually – any) grumbling from passengers. We all are running late but since we are relatively evenly spaced for time, the wait times don’t seem too long. There is a significant amount of bus bunching going on but I suspect the construction is causing that. The area around 152, NE 31st, and 156th is a disaster. Why anybody thought starting construction in that area before 10am was a good idea is beyond me. Microsoft’s rush hour is notoriously late. That said, I’m sure they have their reasons.

  5. Jim Moore
    October 11, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I tried riding Rapid Ride last week and was somewhat surprised when I got to Bellevue Transit Center at 9:10 a.m. and the sign said I had a 21 minute wait for the next bus. What surprised me is that it didn’t seem the control center was not making any effort to maintain headways. Shouldn’t they have kept buses from the morning peak out later to maintain the 10 to 15 minute service?

    • October 11, 2011 at 9:57 am

      I was asked to do an extra trip on one day when my leader was late due to a mechanical problem coupled with construction in Redmond, so it does happen. However, I can’t speak to how a decision is made to add more coaches to the route.

      There seems to be an unusually large amount of construction going on right in the middle of the line. I’ve noticed times getting better as operators become familiar with the route, signal priority starts working, and customers get accustomed to paying off the bus and using the rear doors. Feel free to comment on Metro’s web site – they track those comments carefully and they are the best way to get feedback into the system.

  6. Jim Moore
    October 11, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Thanks. It must be difficult since running a headway-based schedule there can be no guaranteed quit time.

    • October 11, 2011 at 10:44 am

      You could say that about driving in rush hour traffic in Seattle. For afternoon shifts I rarely schedule anything within a hour of my quit time because you really don’t know what will happen. My longest night involved over 7 hours of OT due to snow – I’m sure others have even longer stories.

      FYI: We still are not running actual headway based service. We do run on a schedule, for now. But since there is no published schedule, Metro can add more service if it’s needed. I don’t think it is right now, at least not in the morning, but at least the possibility is there.

  1. November 21, 2011 at 8:44 am

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