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!
The demise of the Ride Free Area and surging demand for public transportation have combined forces to virtually guarantee packed standing loads on my final trip. When I get stuck behind a train, which happens almost every evening, I usually start denying rides at University Street or Pioneer Square stations where frustrated passengers longingly eye the space in front of the yellow line. I’ve heard stories of harried passengers, after being passed by multiple overflowing buses, being pushed to the brink of violence and DEMANDING to be allowed to ride forward of the yellow line. Some drivers may demur and allow it, but as the bulletin to the left shows, management appears to be quite serious about enforcing this rule.
But perhaps management pressure on drivers doesn’t motivate you. Frankly, why should it? How about enlightened self interest? When you are on a 30-ton vehicle you may think it’s very safe, and it is. A combination of the heavy frame, professional drivers, and stringent safety regulation makes them so. But there are times where the safety bubble of a bus can be pierced. The picture to the right illustrates why being in front of the yellow line can be such a bad idea during a crash. So please stay back and, ideally, move as far to the back of the bus as you can to make room for more people. We’ll get you there, even if you have to wait for one of the next couple of buses.
[ UPDATE – 2/2/2012: Apparently there are indeed holes in the wireless network that are being addressed. Several new access points are in the permit process and due to be completed within the next couple of months. This should fix these issues as well as several signal priority issues I have yet to blog about but encounter on a regular basis – In short, they’re working on it. ]
It’s been almost 4 month since the RapidRide B-Line started operating. There have been many hiccups along the way but in general, the line is working well. I’m pleased with it as an operator and also as an occasional rider. I rarely ever took the 253 but often take the B-Line since it provides frequent service to my favorite food court at Crossroads mall. (Although figuring out how to schedule transfers back home is still difficult) For the last days of this shakeup, I’ll be writing up all of the remaining loose ends I know about here and tagging them as “B Line Loose Ends” – I’ll be working the B-Line next shakeup as well and will keep all of these posts up to date with any changes.
First up are two B-Line stations that have never been fully functional. Stop #73240 (148th Ave NE & NE 51st Street) and Stop #73108 (148th Ave NE & NE 87th Street). Both of these southbound stops have deactivated ORCA readers that are hooded and Real-Time Information System signs that are always blank. I believe these stops are located within gaps in the wireless network that the B-Line operates on. I was told by a Twitter follower that a fix was in the works but that was months ago and I’ve heard no updates since. If anybody has more detail on this issue feel free to comment here. Neither of these stops are terribly busy, at least during the morning rush hour when I’m driving, so I’d understand if they have been pushed down on the priority list.