Metro Transit giveth and it taketh away, all in one weekend

Rapid Ride bus service launches this weekend (Oct. 2-3), but simultaneous service cuts will hit at the heart of Metro's regional system: densely populated Seattle.

Bus rapid transit benefits greatly from measures to allow reliable service and speeds.

Bus rapid transit benefits greatly from measures to allow reliable service and speeds. King County

Tomorrow is Saturday, Oct. 2, the day that Metro Transit will both giveth and taketh away.  We'll get good news and bad from one of the top ten largest transit systems in the country — and far and away the largest in the state. 

More than 100 million times a year, someone gets on a Metro trolley or bus.  Another 3.5 million trips are taken each year in Metro’s vanpools, the biggest — and universally recognized as the best — vanpool program in the country.   

Good news first. On Saturday, Metro fires up its long-awaited entry into a form of service that has proliferated, really, across the globe: bus rapid transit.  On Rapid Ride Line A, 16 new buses will run almost a hundred times a day in each direction on Pacific Avenue South between Federal Way and Tukwila, connecting a string of big transit destinations, including, for example, Highline Community College and Sea-Tac Airport.   

There are five more Rapid Ride lines to follow Line A: In 2011, Bellevue to Redmond on Bel-Red Road; in 2012, West Seattle to downtown and Ballard to downtown; and in 2013, Shoreline to downtown (upgrading the storied Route 358), and a route connecting the Burien and Renton Transit Centers.

Line A should soon build a ridership of 2.5 million a year, attracted by curbside bus arrival information, signal prioritization to clear buses through intersections, on-board Wi-Fi, and more convenient fare paying. Travel times will be 30 percent faster than on the workhorse Route 174 that Line A will replace.   

Bus rapid transit is a big part of the service improvements promised in the successful 2007 Transit Now vote, which added a tenth of a cent (a dime on a hundred-dollar purchase) to Metro Transit’s share of sales tax revenue. And Rapid Ride is very cost effective: just $17 million in Metro capital outlay, and a smart use of the HOV lanes that the state and cities have been putting in place on Pacific Avenue South.

Rapid Ride Line A is something Metro deserves to crow about.  Rides Saturday and Sunday on the new buses will be free. 

Now the bad news.   

Saturday also is the day for regular fall-season schedule revisions, and those are resulting in service cuts elsewhere in the system. On the very launch day for Rapid Ride Line A, cuts on other routes will complete the shaving in 2010 of 50,000 bus service hours, about 1.5 percent of the 2009 total.  

The service cuts come from the recession’s battering of Metro’s sales tax revenues.  The trouble really began in 2008.  New projections issued two weeks ago show revenues sliding still further into the tank than anticipated even earlier this year.  It’s the same kind of crisis for Metro as for virtually every other public enterprise.  With red ink running into hundreds of millions of dollars, Metro services are more extensive and expensive than its new-reality budget can sustain.   

Transit systems across the country are largely in the same fix. Tri-Met, the big bus and light rail-system in Portland, for example, made cuts to 50 lines on Sept. 5, including outright discontinuation of under-used bus lines and longer waits between trains on its light-rail system.

Closer to home, Sound Transit’s board of directors last week heard staff proposals to delay many projects and scale back the expansion of Regional Express bus services from those promised in the Sound Transit plan approved by voters in 2008.  Sound Transit buses serving commuters from the suburbs carried about 6.3 million passengers in the first six months of 2010 (more than last year, but below target).  Community Transit in Snohomish County earlier this year axed Sunday service.   

The big problem at Metro is not the scale of this year’s cuts.  Fifty thousand hours are only a small harbinger of what’s predicted eventually to disappear, and these first cuts were directed to relatively low patronage services before more highly-used services will have to go on the block.    


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Oct 1, 5:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Doug, I usually agree with most of your articles, but have to reign you in on this one. Transit should be about moving the most number of people at the lowest unit cost. Transit is heavily subsidized by by everyone, and fewer than 1 in 10 use it to get from A to B.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not such a great deal, as you propose. Cutting service by 50,000 hours, to riders that currently use the system leaves them out in the cold looking for other ways to travel.
Meanwhile, Metro is rolling out a new service - RapidRide from Tukwila to Federal Way, down Pac Hwy. As it turns out, the new service is just as slow as the current service. Maybe it will get faster, but for now, none of the signal priority systems will be operational for some months to come.
Service is being doubled along that line, yet the same number of riders will use the system, with 'hopefully' a 50% gain in maybe 5 years. That's starting to sound like Sound Transit ridership projections.
If doubling the number of hours on this one line, carries nearly the same number of riders, then your unit cost per rider has just doubled! At the very time they are cutting hours from existing routes. That's not a good trade, in my opinion.
You say "Rapid Ride Line A is something Metro deserves to crow about."
Maybe some crow will have to be eaten after all the hype wears off, and the new buses and shelters, costing 215 million dollars, is factored into the cost of doing business. That would have bought a lot of service at todays rates.

007

Posted Fri, Oct 1, 6:35 a.m. Inappropriate

So Doug, since West Seattle to downtown is going to be a rapid ride line, can we finally get the County out of the Foot Ferry Business?

Cameron

Posted Fri, Oct 1, 7:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Buses will always have high labor costs, and there's a reason for that. The driver is in charge of a half-million dollar piece of equipment, with the potential of millions in liability if they make a mistake, and, additionally, is the public face of the transit agency. If you won't pay the driver for those skills, they'll look elsewhere for employment.

The same thing will happen with fuel. Every world oil price shock will echo in higher fuel costs and lower tax revenues for the transit agency.

The buses, in short, will always be a financial headache.

Posted Fri, Oct 1, 7:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Why not just increase fare revenue by eliminating the ride free area in downtown Seattle?

sean98125

Posted Fri, Oct 1, 8:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Since the 80/20 rule isn't going away, Seattle needs its own bus levy. Let's fund buses in the same way the State funds Amtrak. An amount of, say, half the size of the SPS levy would fund a massive improvement in in-city bus service.

mhays

Posted Fri, Oct 1, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Metro needs to get rid of the ride free area which is nothing but an enabler for fare dodgers. King County and Metro also need to stop giving the shaft to Seattle and Capital Hill!

Posted Fri, Oct 1, 10:38 a.m. Inappropriate

When you look at the reports of the "independent" committee studying Metro--the bad news continues for at least the next half dozen years with more cuts in hours. So let's tear down the viaduct and stop the tunnel and see what happens.
richdoug

richdoug

Posted Fri, Oct 1, 1:41 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree the 80/20 rule seems outdated and irrational.

To partially solve the funding gap, the sales tax exemption on motor fuels could be removed.

Also, the government is currently subsidizing auto travel at the rate of about $1 per gallon of gas (this figure does not include the government subsidies for auto parking). Most reasonable people would agree we should not be subsidizing SOV auto travel at all. If we remove these subsidies, more people would opt to use mass transit.

andy

Posted Sat, Oct 2, 1:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Another bait and switch by K C Metro. Two service changes ago, Metro recieved big money from the State of Wa. to increase service in the Admiral/Alki corridor of West Seattle to mitigate the construction activity during the South end of the Viaduct replacement project. They pocketed the money and now, pleading poverty, they are reducing service on the route 57, 37 and 53 in the Admiral and Alki area. Another reason not to trust our leaders and representitives.

Rapid Ride is being touted as transit salvation (2013 - a 1 year delay) for West Seattle; however, it only serves the Southeastern portion of the peninsula and not the North and West that includes the Admiral/Alki corridor. How can it be rapid if it has to negotiate traffic on the West Seattle bridge (now 120% capacity),

Thank you for pointing out the inconsistencies of K C Metro.

dwar

Posted Sun, Oct 3, 8 a.m. Inappropriate

This region needs cheaper and more pervasive taxi service. It's the only "transit system" that really fits where people want to go.

I recommend looking at Weeels, a social network for cab sharing:

http://www.weeels.org/

"Weeels offers people with mobile phones a fast, easy and affordable way to order taxis and share rides. As the world’s first social transit application, it is the first step in a mass transit movement aimed at giving individuals increased agency in their metropolitan transit experience — and at transforming the way we move around and between cities.

We’re committed to offering urban citizens a middle-ground in their mass transit options between the bus and subway, which for most New Yorkers are affordable but not always 100% reliable, and conventional cabs, which may be unaffordable or unavailable in their neighborhoods."

jabailo

Posted Mon, Oct 4, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

I tried out the Rapidride service on Sunday evening. Metro has done a good job with it. It will be interesting to see if it results in additional ridership above the level of the previous routes.

The best view is south of 272nd, looking to the west over Puget Sound. At sunset, you have a great view of the sun shining on the water.

It is hard to compare being a rider on a Rapidride bus to riding on a regular bus. The context along International Bouldevard and Pacific Highway makes it a lot easier for the buses to accelerate and decelerate at an even pace. The bus did do quite well though when a car suddenly slowed down to turn in front of the bus. The bus also easily loaded and unloaded a wheelchair. The back of the bus definitely seems steadier than on the back of the Metro articulated buses.

sjenner

Posted Mon, Oct 4, 6:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I too tried out the Rapid Ride and think it is overrated. It appears to have fewer seats due to all the doors, leaving more room for strap hangers. Senior seating is clustered around the double doors where they will freeze in the winter cold. Standees tended to stand in the doorways where there is the most room slowing boarding and deboarding. Fare collection is no longer the responsibility of the driver, but will fare dodgers increase? This makes boarding and deboarding quicker, but could result in less fare revinue. It is faster primarily due to many fewer stops. Is it faster for the riders who lost their stops? All in all Metro is spending loads of money on something that could be accomplished by improving existing operations. The route they chose to start with is basicly a shuttle route between two park and rides and two transfer points. They should have started with a real origion to destination -- point A to point B route.

I was not impressed.

dwar

Posted Wed, Oct 27, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

The article looks at just part of the "route adjustment" issue. While it may be true that cuts on the Eastside were made to routes that are less used than those in Seattle that were, keep in mind that there's also the issue of supplying and/or cutting the busses themselves, driver hours, maintanence resources at the bases, and the issue of greater "dead heading" time in positioning bus and crew before and after a route is run.

It's not as simple as simply cutting a route based on ridership.

Goforride

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