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Rapid Ride: The runner’s route

December 1, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

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…

  1. Bubba Mike
    December 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    When the bus is every 10 to 15 minutes there is no need for a schedule and if you miss the bus you miss it. After it goes back to 30 then I can see waiting a second for someone. When I’m a passenger I don’t expect the bus to ever wait for me.

  2. December 1, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I watched a “kid” (possibly college-aged, I dunno) almost get run over as he ran across the street as the light just turned green. I was queued up at the intersection on my bicycle, so I heard his loud foot-falls, and was able to yell loud enough to get the motorists’ attentions (I assumed the kid wouldn’t stop either way).
    Scared for his life for a second, though…

  3. Carl
    December 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    I don’t understand Metro’s & ST’s “fetish” with not publishing a schedule for Link and for RapidRide. They publish schedules for bus routes that operate on congested freeways, even on routes with short headways like the 545 or 590 series or 41. Of course they are subject to fluctuation. For those riders who live or work at a distance from a stop the real-time information is not better than a schedule as they may need to leave 10-15 minutes before the bus gets to their stop – or if they are connecting to a 30 minute bus route, they need to know roughly which bus to take. Just publish the darn schedule. You can include the “estimated” footnote and even say that the schedule is subject to adjustment, but publish the schedule!

  4. Alex Francis Burchard
    December 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    As someone who rides busses every day and has not looked at a bus schedule except to determine start of service in a couple years, I don’t understand this obsession with having a legitimate schedule, mind, I do have CTA’s tracker apps (I live in Chicago) and I use them extensively, but only for peace of mind, as (with the exception of rapid ride) this is available for bus routes, why do people care about the 15-20 minute lines even? and link?
    Before Train Tracker came out on CTA, there were no real schedules available on the el network, and while people wanted real time data, I never heard of anyone wanting a schedule (Now maybe this is because everyone knows that there is no hope of CTA holding up their end to stay on schedule, but…) While living here, I’ve always just walked out the door to my 15-minute off-peak 1-3minute on-peak train lines, and 15-20 off peak 2-3 minute on-peak bus-lines.

  5. ryan
    December 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Having ridden the A line a few times, what they need most is fewer stops…the buses spends way too much time slowing down/regaining speed.

  6. Carl
    December 9, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Hey Alex, first of all, in Chicago many of your bus routes and your el routes come every 10 minutes or better, so you don’t need a schedule. Here in Seattle we have very, very few routes that come that often. The two Rapid Ride routes only run every 15 minutes most of the day, as does Link after 10pm. If the operators are operating the buses and trains to a schedule (and they are), why not let me leave my home or office so that I arrive at the stop/station 3-5 minutes before the bus or train will arrive, rather than at a random time where I may have to become a runner, or else have to wait for 15 minutes for the next one? Frankly even with 10-minute service, once you learn that the train comes “on the 9’s” and if it takes you about 5 minutes to get there, you might learn to start to leave “on the 2’s”.

    As I said, it’s a bigger deal when you are connecting to a bus that runs every 30 minutes or worse – then you want to to know roughly when your frequent bus gets to the connecting point, and given the penalty of missing it, you may want a minimum of 10 minute connecting time. If you know when your frequent route comes you can plan for that connecting time. Without a schedule you may allow yourself 15 minutes buffer and then burn most of it waiting for the first bus, not knowing that if you’d come 2 minutes earlier you would have had a full 10 minute buffer for the infrequent bus. Maybe you never need to make connections for infrequent buses, but 30 minutes is the typical headway for many Seattle area routes.

  7. ab
    December 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    “I’ve read somewhere that passengers stop using schedules when headways get below 10 minutes.” — I would claim that the relationship between headway and the need for a schedule also depends on schedule accuracy/punctuality. If the bus comes every 10 minutes, but I need to be there a few minutes before and wait up to 5 minutes after to have a reasonable chance of catching it, then sure, I probably won’t bother with the schedule. But if the bus comes every 10 minutes within 30 seconds of the scheduled time, then having a schedule is really handy.

    When I lived in Zurich (arguably one of the best public transport systems in the world), I knew that it took 3 minutes to walk from my apartment to the bus stop. The bus was rarely late and never early, so I could time leaving the apartment to avoid spending more than a minute or two waiting around in the cold. Oh, and the headway was 7 minutes during peak.

    Wistful recollections aside, the worst thing about RapidRide B today is that the headways don’t seem to be maintained. Many times during peak I’ve waited much longer than 10 minutes for a bus before seeing two arriving almost back to back. Once the bus I was in (which was already pretty late) stopped to wait for a “runner” who was actually just a guy going for a jog, so it was even more frustrating when after sitting there for almost a minute he jogged right past the bus and waved to the driver without getting in!

  8. keithn
    February 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Hi, thanks for the article about the runners and the obvious dangers. I have to admit that occasionally a runner but I do 3 transfers between 4 buses including the B route between Bellevue transit station, and the first stop on 116 & 8th. At least I’m upfront about it.

    But a related question (since these transfers cost a lot of commute time otherwise…) now that I write this in February. The B route particularly on Westbound between 5pm and 6pm is advertised at every 10 minutes until 6pm. I’m not going to go ahead and be expecting perfection, but my experience as a regular user as well as talking to many many other users of this bus route, is that unfortunately 20 minute waits are common. Sometimes more. It take me 8 minutes to walk the distance between the stops and hence I’ve started doing that 50% of the time since otherwise, worst case, it takes up to nearly 1/2 hour to go just one stop before catching a 550.

    Each time I politely mention this to the bus drivers, I do get the impression they would rather not discuss or respond to the question. And that’s understandable. I’ve messaged Metro directly and no response. Frankly there’s a lack of information and response to this question that everyone has.

    If you can help us get some followup to this issue it would be appreciated, or let us know who to reach out to. Fundamentally if the service is less than it’s advertised, it’s going to be frustrating for the drivers to have to respond to every member of the public that is trying to find out what is wrong with the service or why.

    Thanks for your help….sincerely.

    • February 2, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      I’d prefer to stick to blogging and commenting on my experiences as a driver and a passenger. I can come up with any number of reasons why service would be inconsistent in the afternoons but I’d just be speculating as I have yet to drive RapidRide in the evening. Sorry I don’t have more information for you.

  1. December 8, 2011 at 1:15 pm

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