Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow Fun

Like so many adults, I used to love snow. As a kid, it’s great when school is canceled and you have nowhere to go but outside to make a snowman.
Now my perspective has changed. When it snows, someone from the Community Transit Agency Communications Team gets up at 4 a.m. (hours after Transportation and Maintenance staff have already been at work assessing road conditions and chaining buses). Communications staff post to our website and email Rider Alerts about any reroutes or major schedule changes. Then, we figure out how we’re going to get to the office.

Some people who aren’t regular bus riders turn to transit in snowy conditions. That explains why we had a run on Bus Plus books Thanksgiving week. Of course, as our planning supervisor pointed out, in such conditions the schedule pretty much goes out the window, so to speak.

Buses run late or trips are delayed or canceled during snow or icy conditions for many reasons. Articulated buses do not work well in snow, so when we need to take them off the road to avoid mishaps, that reduces our commuter fleet by 65 percent. That’s one reason we were only able to commit to limited service to Seattle on Thanksgiving week.

Chaining buses for snowy roads – and sometimes needing to take the chains off again a few miles away – can cause delays both due to the chain-up time and the reduced speeds required once chains are on. Reroutes around icy hills can also add time and delay.

Finally, bus drivers have trouble getting to work in bad conditions just like other people, so sometimes manpower is an issue.

That last issue definitely figures in when snow lasts for several days. Consider that the last commuter bus driver from the Monday, Nov. 22 commute returned to base from his Stanwood Route 422 run at 3:50 a.m. Tuesday morning. Safety, as well as contract rules, would not allow that driver to return to work again for at least 8 hours.

We know winter travel can be grueling for our customers as well, whether you’re waiting extra long in cold weather or sitting on a bus that’s moving the speed of traffic (not). Even people who leave the driving to us are wise to stay home in snowy conditions if they can. On Nov. 23, we had only 10 percent of usual ridership to Seattle.

People who do ride appreciate the skill and service of our bus drivers. Of the hundreds of trips we operated and miles we drove, we had only nine minor crashes during the snow, most of which were other people sliding into us. Here’s what one of our Facebook friends had to say on our discussion board about his “Snow Commute:"
"I'm not sure who she was, but she was AWESOME! The driver for Route 415 the night of Nov. 22nd did an absolutely amazing job in handling the situation. She deftly maneuvered the articulated bus through the maze of the jack-knived articulateds on I-5, without a scratch. She kept the bus warm enough and was courteous the entire evening.

I boarded the bus at 4th & Union at 7pm. It took over an hour just to get onto Olive Way and over another hour to get onto I-5. We arrived at Ash Way at 12:30am."
Trevor Vance
R. Bruce Soule is quoted in a North County Outlook story about the snow:
"Five hours on a bus for a one-hour trip is about as much fun as getting a root canal. My thanks to our Community Transit driver who opened up the 'drivers only' bathroom at the Lynnwood Park and Ride when we got there, four hours into our journey home. I hope he gets one heck of a Christmas present this year."
Maybe we could get a non-White Christmas?

Ah, heck. I still love snow. I guess we adults just need to go out and make a snowman sometimes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Madison Swift Station to Open Dec. 21




The first of the four new Swift stations in Everett is set to open next week, on Tuesday, Dec. 21. The Madison Street Station will serve northbound riders on Evergreen Way at Madison, adjacent to an Albertson’s supermarket.

These four new stations were in the original plan for Swift, but were deferred due to funding. Everett Transit, which is responsible for funding Swift stations in Everett, was able to secure a grant from the state Regional Mobility program to build the four stations this year.

These stations will have the same amenities as the other Swift stations, including ORCA card readers, ticket vending machines and a curb bumper right from the start! Those bumpers help protect the buses and the curb.

The Madison Street station and its southbound counterpart at Pecks Drive will fill in the largest gap on the Swift route. Buses now travel 2 miles between the Casino Road and 50th Street stations.

The northbound Madison Street and southbound Pecks Drive stations are a split pair, nearly a quarter mile apart. This is due to the fact that a utility banks exists on the far-side Madison Street corner southbound; the near-side corner has a driveway that presents the only streetside entrance to a bank. Everett Transit Routes 7 and 9 serve the distance between, or you can walk by one of the last Der Weinerschnitzel’s in the area!

The Pecks Drive station will be the last of the new stations to open, as it was the last to get underway. Construction was held off until after Halloween to accommodate the adjacent Value Village store. That station, and the two stations at Evergreen and 112th Street should open in early 2011.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Future of Swift

By June DeVoll
Community Transit Swift Project Manager

One of the benefits of bus rapid transit is the ability to incrementally add to the service to improve it. While Swift is already performing extremely well, there are additional upgrades underway to help ensure speed and reliability.

Additional Everett Stations
In the original partnership agreement between Community Transit and Everett Transit, Everett Transit agreed to fund the construction of all stations within city limits. In 2008, four of the originally identified stations were deferred to a later date to manage the overall project cost for Everett Transit. Everett Transit was subsequently successful in obtaining a State Regional Mobility Grant to build the remaining stations.

The four stations are now underway at Madison (northbound) Pecks (southbound) and 112th Street. Two of the stations are substantially complete, but still need all electronic equipment activated and commissioned. Current projections will have all four stations opened within the first quarter of 2011.

Traffic Signal Priority
Currently, traffic signal priority (TSP) exists on the southern 10.5 miles of the 16.7 mile route. The City of Everett is continuing with their project to install TSP at all intersections within the city limits, but progress has been slow. The city controllers are over 30 years old and are incapable of prioritizing the signal. When activated in the current configuration, the Swift emitters allow signal pre-emption and hold the lights green for Swift coaches (more like the immediate priority given to emergency vehicles than the slightly extended green lights intended for transit).

The city has had many changes on this project, but the current timeline includes possible installation of new equipment by summer 2011. The additional TSP will give Swift coaches priority through the entire corridor and help reduce travel time even more.

Queue Jump at 148th Street
The Swift corridor includes 6.5 miles of "Business Access and Transit" lanes in the southern portion of the route on Highway 99, which give the coaches a priority in the curb lane. However, where the lane ends at 148th Avenue, the coaches must proceed north through the intersection and then merge into the general purpose traffic. Often, coaches get trapped waiting for a safe gap. A “queue jump” signal would give Swift a green light before the general purpose lanes, allowing buses to merge safely. A federal grant was obtained this summer and discussions are underway with the Washington State Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction on the traffic signal. It is estimated the queue jump could be in place by summer 2011.

Advanced Technology
When Community Transit's Advanced Public Transportation Systems (APTS) project comes to fruition, it will have many beneficial impacts on Swift.

With the Automatic Vehicle Locators (AVL), dispatchers will have a real time display of coaches to help manage the “headway performance,” keeping buses consistently 10 minutes apart on weekdays.

With the Automatic Passenger Counters (APC), accurate and reliable passenger counts will be available at all times. APC’s will give robust passenger data about where and when customers board Swift, usage by trip and by time of day, and deboarding locations also.

The Automatic Annunciation System will perhaps be one of the first items that passengers notice. The coaches will automatically announce all stops as they approach the station. Coach operators do this manually now, but the sound quality is not as good as we’d like because buses were design for the automated system.

The Real Time Passenger Information signs will be installed at each station and will show customers precisely when the next coach will arrive – thus reducing stress and worry about catching a bus.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Swift by the Numbers

6.3% of Swift passengers bring a bike on board, more than five times higher than our system average of 1.1% bike boardings. The Swift racks hold 50% more bikes than average, too (three bikes vs. two).

9-12% of Swift passengers are students at Edmonds Community College using their EdPass transit benefit.

12 seconds is how long buses spend at each station for passengers to board and deboard.

15 hybrid diesel vehicles are used to operate Swift.

20% less time than local buses to travel the 17 miles from Everett to Shoreline - about 50 minutes.

43 seats per bus – less than usual to leave room for three doors, wider aisles, interior bike racks and easier wheelchair boarding.

44% of Swift riders use an ORCA card for faster boarding and transfer credit.

62-feet long articulated buses, the longest in our fleet

90% of Swift operating costs for its first three years are paid for by grants, fares and our partnership with Everett Transit.

200 or more boardings an hour from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.. on weekdays. That’s a long peak period.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

May I See Your Swift Ticket Please?

By Mario Rojas
Community Transit Swift Ambassador

Neither cold winter nights nor hot summer afternoons nor rainy spring days nor freezing fall mornings prevented us from performing our daily endeavors as proud members of the Community Transit family during this past year. However, you may ask yourselves, what exactly does a Swift Ambassador do?

As Swift Ambassadors we boarded more than 8,100 Swift coaches this past year and we conducted over 75,700 individual fare inspections. Each fare inspection began with a warm greeting to each Swift passenger followed by a request that each rider present to us their individual valid Swift tickets, tapped ORCA cards, acceptable coupons or current passes.

Approximately 70,100 riders presented a valid form of bus fare during our fare inspections. We issued and documented 890 verbal or written warnings to invalid fare holders; however, each and every individual Swift passenger was treated with the utmost respect and courtesy. For our many passengers, the role of the Swift Ambassador in assisting with and verifying fare payment is much appreciated. We have answered many questions concerning ticket purchases, fare price variations, ORCA card purchases and “tap” process and ticket vending machine procedures.

We have also assisted the members of the Community Transit Police/Snohomish County Sheriff‘s Office during our shared ambassador and police fare inspections. Also, we created and updated daily a shared database that has been a successful source of information for both agencies.

Each of our passengers is unique and their travel experiences while on-board Swift are equally unique as well.

For example, for students, the Swift service represented a quick and affordable form of transportation while maintaining a balance with educational expenses. For parents, Swift meant a savings in transportation needs that in turn can be used for groceries and other family-related expenses. For the “green” minded commuter, this mode of hybrid transportation is a way to sustain and contribute to a positive ecological environment that will no doubt benefit future generations. For the disabled and senior passenger, Swift was symbolic of self-reliance, freedom and mobility.

Many of our passengers relied on the members of the Swift Ambassador team for directions to correct rider destinations; accurate information regarding Swift station stops; transferring or connector points for inner and outer bus agency routes; Spanish information assistance; directions to popular landmarks such as major department stores, government agencies and eating establishments; and we also conducted on-the-spot trip planning via the Community Transit “Bus Plus” schedule and map book.

This was a very successful year for all members of the overall Swift service team and it was a most valuable hands-on education and experience for the Swift Ambassadors as well; thus, we look forward to the ever-present challenges and opportunities of the next forthcoming year and remember… as Swift Ambassadors, we are here to insure that your ride on-board Swift is your best bus rapid transit experience ever!!!

Many thanks for reading and for riding.

The Swift Ambassador Team

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Swift Ridership Exceeds Expectations

By Martin Munguia
Community Transit

Transit ridership is always a sticky subject. You can look at hard numbers, but mode-to-mode comparisons, and sometimes even year-to-year or month-to-month snapshots on the same system can be apples to oranges.

But as we close in on a year of data, we can unequivocably say that Swift has met or exceeded all ridership expectations.

We had forecast that Swift corridor ridership would increase 25 percent in its first year. Considering that ridership on our buses overall has dropped this year, it is impressive that we’ve met this goal. The corridor statistic is important because when we started Swift we eliminated the one-way, peak-hour Route 100. Six months later we reduced frequencies on Route 101. While we knew we’d have people already riding buses on the corridor switch to Swift, we also expected overall ridership to increase.

It certainly did!

Corridor ridership is up about 24 percent since December 2009. If you take the Community Transit routes that run primarily on Highway 99/Evergreen Way/Rucker Avenue, you see that the corridor had about 6,600 passengers per weekday last December. In October 2010 those routes had about 8,200 boardings each weekday.

Swift bus rapid transit service is the reason for that increase. December 2009, the first full month of Swift, saw an average daily ridership of 1,699 passengers. Word was just getting out and we’re sure people still hadn’t figured out the differences between Swift and Route 101 or Everett Transit Route 9.

That changed right away, as January 2010 saw average weekday boardings climb to 2,367 passengers, a 39 percent increase!

Ridership continued to build all year and by October the average daily boardings were about 3,500 passengers. We had hoped to hit 2,500 boardings after the first year, but instead are closer to our four-year goal of 4,000 daily passengers on Swift.

Of course, one would expect the route on which we run the most service to have the greatest ridership, but Swift is also one of our most productive local routes. Our local routes carry about 20 people per bus per hour. In October, Swift carried nearly 25 people per bus per hour, even with more buses running from 5 a.m. to midnight.

Where do people board Swift? While every station has seen good activity, solidly a quarter of all boardings in either direction originate at the terminals of Everett Station and Aurora Village in Shoreline. Northbound, 216th Street by Stevens Hospital, 200th Street near Edmonds Community College and 148th Street are the next most popular boarding stations. Southbound, Casino Road, Pacific Avenue near the county campus and Airport Road are the next highest boarding stations.

What are your Swift impressions? Has Swift changed your travel habits?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Celebrating Swift: One Year Later

Cold, clear mornings marked Swift's first week.
We’ll be posting special blogs in honor of Swift's one-year anniversary this week:
Community Transit launched Swift one year ago today. We were very serious about making Washington State’s first bus rapid transit line work for our customers, but we also wanted to celebrate the culmination of an intense year of station construction and service preparations.

Swift started with a party and a dance on Nov. 29. About 800 people attended the event at the corner of Highway 99 and 196th Street in Lynnwood. Many took their first ride on Swift (Seattle Transit Blog) that evening.

  
The official first day of Swift service was Monday, Nov. 30, 2009. Dozens of Community Transit employees were out at Swift stations before 5 that morning ready to help passengers. We wanted to make sure people understood how to ride this new service, and we wanted to be there to help with the inevitable bugs of a new system.
  • New ticket machines (that don’t take $1 bills as eagerly as vending machines)
  • New bus dispatch process to keep buses evenly spaced 10 minutes apart over a 17-mile route
  • New Swift drivers pulling up close to the curb at exacting boarding locations (I watched a bus get hung up on a corner at Everett Station {which was so new, we hadn't had time to practice}, but managers patiently helped get the driver unstuck)
  • New interior bike racks (my bike did keel over one morning, and the Swift driver and I both went over to study what had gone wrong. Conclusion: make sure your front tire is centered under the wheel of the rack.)
  • New reasons to use an ORCA regional fare card for faster boarding and transfer credit
After a few days, riders, drivers and staff all knew what they were doing. Workers still hung out at the stations in our Swift scarves, but the biggest question became “where can I buy one of those?”

Sorry, they are still not for sale.

But rides on this great service are just $1.75 for adults. If you haven't tried it yet, what are you waiting for?

Swift Outreach: A Look Back

By Sue Masel
Community Transit Outreach

Were you one of those people who rode Swift during our first week of service one year ago? If so, you probably met members of our Swift street team in person. If you didn’t get to ride that week, maybe you saw all those people bundled up in their blue and green scarves at the new Swift stations on one of the coldest weeks in years. Swift Street Team members were there to introduce the new system and help make sure everyone’s first ride was as easy and fun as possible.

Two months prior to the launch of Washington’s first bus rapid transit system, we began planning the largest on-the-street effort in Community Transit history. Coordinating 170 people at 26 different stations and onboard buses over a 17 mile corridor from 5 a.m. to midnight was a daunting task. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we wanted it to be a great success…and it was.

Swift Station outreach staff.
Over 100 Community Transit employees, including a few of our Board of Directors and Citizens Advisory Committee members, took shifts at Swift stations, along with 26 people from the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce and two from Senior Services of Snohomish County. Despite the great support from Community Transit staff, we were still short on people so we enlisted help from 28 temporary employees to join us in our street team effort. These temps quickly integrated themselves into the Community Transit family and became some of our finest ambassadors, with many of them even riding Swift to work for their shifts.

Our successful Street Team effort was a great way to introduce Swift to Snohomish County.

Street Teams by the Numbers

9 separate 2-hour training classes for station outreach staff
12 station managers
170 street team members worked 317 shifts
10 degrees and below – the temperature during our three to four hour shifts

Thank you to everyone for helping to make our Swift Street Team effort a huge success.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bus Plus Survey: Seattle and Real-Time Schedules

At the beginning of November, Community Transit received more than 1,000 responses to our survey about bus route information. This information will be used to help improve our rider materials and the way we communicate with our customers. Many people added additional questions or comments. I responded to some in an earlier post.

Bus stop posters in Seattle: One person asked why we took the schedule information off the bus stop at Terrace & 5th. King County Metro Transit prints and posts our information at stops in King County, and we weren’t aware that several of the Community Transit route schedules no longer appear at that stop. So, thanks for mentioning that (we’re working with Metro to get it fixed). If you ever notice a missing schedule poster or other problem at a bus stop, please notify our Customer Information staff and provide the location and stop ID number (on the pole and schedule).

Another person asked why some of the Seattle stop posters list times from stops several blocks earlier in the trip. Again, we send Metro our schedule information and they post it. Community Transit has a practice of posting the estimated arrival times at stops in between our designated timepoints. But Metro’s practice is to list only the official timepoints on stop posters - the same select stops listed in Bus Plus books and on bus driver schedule instructions. So that’s what you get in downtown Seattle.

You can use the “Find Next Bus” feature of our Trip Planner to find the next four estimated arrival times for any stop in King, Pierce or Snohomish counties. Just be aware that the times are estimates, and buses may arrive early.

Or late. Real-time bus information was the most requested feature in all the survey comments. As someone who experienced an afternoon commute home from Seattle last week (one of the days when we used our electronic alerts to warn “I-5 Accident Causing Delays”), I personally understand the demand for knowing when your bus is actually going to show up. The short answer is “We’re working on it.”

Planning and IT staff just returned from a week-long test of our real-time technology, and many issues remain to be resolved in the coming year.

When we’re done, we will feed real-time data to the public via the Web, mobile devices and by telephone (when you call in a stop number). We will have real-time signs at Ash Way Park & Ride, Lynnwood Transit Center, Mountlake Terrace Transit Center and at every Swift Station. Another part of the project is electronic signs on board every bus that will list the next stop as the bus approaches, and audio call-outs of stop names and important landmarks.

In the meantime, the information we have to convey to customers can be limited. Riders often know a bus is late before we do, and our Customer Information and Communications staff often won’t know precisely why or when it will arrive. We are committed to communicating with riders when there are system-wide delays or major reroutes. We also put in special effort when winter weather impacts our service – and I don’t mean rain!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Buy Local for Transit Kickoff


This morning at the Alderwood Mall, Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor was joined by Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and business owners to kickoff the Buy Local for Transit program.

Flanked by the Santa display in the back and Made in Washington store on the side, it was a great beginning to what will hopefully be a long-term effort to convince our riders and all county residents to keep their shopping dollars local. That alone can help our local economy, and help Community Transit.

Reardon made the point that this decade Snohomish County has been one of the fastest growing local economies in the nation. We have attracted new industries, and our housing market remains higher than the national average. It will be great if residents now respond to this call to action with their wallets!

To answer a question from the last post on this issue, in 2007 Community Transit collected about $76.5 million from sales taxes; in 2010 we're on track to collect about $62 million. Our forecast for 2011 is not much better as we expect to bring in just under $63 million.

Will Buy Local for Transit make a difference? We can't predict that, but we're hopeful. And if we didn't try we would not be doing the best for our customers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Buy Local for Transit

On Thursday, Community Transit will kick off its Buy Local for Transit program to educate riders and the public about how the local economy impacts transit funding, and to involve them in turning things around.

A news conference will take place at 10 a.m. at Alderwood Mall to announce the program. Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor will be joined by Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and local business owners to tout the benefits of the program. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

The concept is simple. Encouraging transit users and everyone else to do their shopping in Community Transit’s service district can bring more money to the agency. Community Transit’s primary source of funding is a 0.9 percent share of sales tax generated in the communities it serves (9 cents on a $10 purchase). It was the decline in sales tax revenue during the recession that led to the agency's service cut this past June.

Local businesses also benefit as this program drives more customers into their stores. Cities and the county will benefit from the increased taxes and activity this business creates in their jurisdictions.

Community Transit’s service district includes 19 cities and towns as well as much of unincorporated Snohomish County. Notably, it does not include Everett, which has its own transit agency.

While shopping at any store or restaurant in the service district will help Community Transit, a number of businesses will partner with the agency by offering special discounts to Buy Local for Transit customers. A list of those businesses and their offers will be available online. To get the discount, shoppers will need to show either an ORCA regional fare card or an “I Buy Local for Transit” card that can be downloaded at www.communitytransit.org/BuyLocal.

At the news conference on Thursday, 100 I Buy Local for Transit cards will be handed out. The more people who get these cards, the more likely they will be to seek out BLT discounts and shop locally.

Also, Buy Local for Transit offers one of the first non-transit benefits for ORCA card users. Just show your ORCA card at a participating business and you can get a discount that others can’t. If you ride transit and don’t yet have an ORCA card (which saves you money on transfers), here’s one more reason to get your card now!

If you know of a business that would be interested in participating, refer them to www.communitytransit.org/BuyLocal to sign up.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bus Plus Survey: The Good News

Community Transit has a robust list of bus riders and others who subscribe to our electronic alerts system. A week ago Wednesday we sent an email to 5,000 bus route subscribers asking them to take a survey on our schedule and route information. Many thanks to the more than 1,000 people who took the survey. I will try to respond to some of the comments and questions about bus information in a series of posts here.

The comments about route connections and schedule timing will go to our Planning Department, though anyone who asked for additional service might do well to read about our budget challenges. For those concerned about crowded buses, please read my blog post – and contact riders@commtrans.org if it’s a recurring problem. We are looking forward to putting our Double Tall buses into service next year, since they have more seats than articulated buses, thus increasing passenger capacity without increasing operating costs.

This post is going to focus on the good news – things people asked for that we already provide in some way.

List all bus stops: Community Transit buses serve about 1,800 stops in Snohomish and King counties. We list every bus stop by route on our website, and it’s among our most popular pages. We show all the stops in order in one direction, then the other. There’s a link to this page from each individual route schedule on the website as well. From the stop list you can pull up the actual schedule poster that is posted at that stop (provided it is a Community Transit stop vs. King County or Everett). That is a very cool feature if you use the same stop every day and want to know the estimated departures of all the buses that stop there.

When we upgraded our Bus Plus maps a few years ago we considered whether we could show every bus stop on the route maps. We realized that the maps just weren’t detailed enough, and the stops too many, to show effectively. We do have detail maps in Bus Plus (and on the web) of downtown Seattle, University of Washington and the Everett Boeing plant where we show all stops.

Individual Schedules: Rather than print these ourselves, we make a PDF of every route schedule and map available on our website. Just go to the "Schedules" page and sort by route, or go to an individual route’s schedule page. Printing individual schedules for our buses or outlets would require an entirely new display and distribution system for Community Transit. Our buses operate on a variety of routes each day, so it would be hard to have the right schedule on the right bus. Plus, we know that many people use multiple routes and appreciate having our comprehensive book.

A final note: We are very aware that we conducted this survey primarily online, though we did also get more than 130 paper surveys completed in-person by local bus riders this past week. We are NOT considering the end of printing Bus Plus – even our online audience uses Bus Plus at least as often as our website. Both sources are important to different customers, at different times and for different types of information.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Swift Stations Coming Soon



Riders of the Swift bus rapid transit line, as well as drivers on Highway 99 in Snohomish County, are aware that four new Swift stations are under construction.

The four stations in Everett were in the original route plan but were not built because of cost considerations. Now, the City of Everett has received a state regional mobility grant to fund the four stations.

The stations are located on Evergreen Way southbound at Pecks Drive, Evergreen Way northbound at Madison Street, and Highway 99 at 112th Street southbound and northbound.

Ground work on these stations began in late September and the structure of the Madison Street station is going up this week. Steel on the two 112th Street stations will likely go up in the next couple weeks, with the Pecks Drive station coming last.

Crews worked with nearby businesses on the construction schedule. At Pecks, the Value Village asked that the sidewalk not be torn up until after Halloween as that is the busy time for that store. Similarly, the Albertson’s at Madison asked that work be done by Thanksgiving time as they sell Christmas trees in that southwest corner of their parking lot.

Once the structural work on the stations is complete, there is still electrical and communications work to be done. Swift stations each have two cash- and credit card-taking ticket vending machines and two ORCA card readers for quick, off-board fare payment.

The plan is to open the two northbound stations as they’re completed, likely before the end of the year. The southbound stations will be opened later, likely by mid-February. This directional pairing is being done to complete and commission the technological components. The new stations will give riders more stop options and provide more access to the fast and frequent rides on Swift.

All of this news comes at a great time because the one year anniversary of Swift is Nov. 30.

It’s hard to believe that this BRT line has been in existence just one year. By February of this year, Swift became Community Transit’s highest ridership route. The agency’s projection for its first year was a 25 percent increase in ridership from Day One. From 1,500 riders on Nov. 30, 2009, Swift has seen a better than 100 percent jump in ridership as October 2010 saw an average of about 3,500 riders each weekday!

The week of Nov. 29, this blog will feature daily stories about the state’s first bus rapid transit line, commemorating Swift’s first anniversary. Look for new statistics, a look back at the award-winning Swift launch celebration, and previews of what’s to come for BRT in Snohomish County.

We invite your thoughts on Swift as well…

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Sitting, Standing and Sharing

After my post on improved commuter route productivity – due to fewer buses (and seats) to Seattle and more efficient routing – we received a question about crowded buses at Lynnwood Transit Center around 7 in the morning. Some 40-foot buses are packed, while some larger buses leaving at different times seem only partly full.

Articulated buses are assigned to the trips that have the most passengers most often. That may be hard to judge from the curb – and can be a close call for transit planners as well. A Community Transit planner – who helps identify what size of bus gets assigned to what trip – explains how a similar number of passengers can look very different:

“The seating capacity of a 40-foot bus is roughly 39 people and the seating capacity of a 60-foot articulated bus is 65 people. That means a standing room only load on a 40-footer would only be 60 percent full on an articulated bus. To some observers, a 60 percent full bus could look like a bus that is only half full.”

Community Transit staff did analyze seating capacity and ridership prior to our June service changes, and our goal is for all passengers to have a seat, especially on longer trips (Lynnwood is a comparatively shorter run). As one of the commenters noted, many people take different trips on different days, so ridership has peaks and valleys. That can result in crowded trips at times.

On paper we now have 40 percent more seats than riders at Lynnwood Transit Center, on average. We constantly monitor ridership and can adjust bus assignments. But usually, assigning an artic to a new trip means taking it off another run, so we don’t do that lightly.

This is a tight economy and we don’t have money for excess. That means commuters used to spreading out may need to share a seat – and even stand on rare occasions. If your bus is regularly overcrowded, please let us know.

Friday, October 29, 2010

On-Board Surveys Off to Processing

A delivery truck full of surveys (maybe 10,000?) left Community Transit offices last Monday morning after the previous week's on-board survey effort to get information from the passengers on all our buses. We asked questions like "Where did you come from before you got on this bus?" "Why do you use public transit?" and "How did you pay for this bus trip?"


The completed surveys are now in the hands of a vendor which will spend the next two months entering and standardizing the data in electronic format. Their preliminary analysis will provide a wealth of information on bus transfers, what percentage of trips are to or from work, how many of our riders are unable to drive, and other basic rider demographic information.

The final report is due back to Community Transit by Dec. 13.

The data will then be available for further analysis by Community Transit staff. Service Planning and Strategic Planning are big users of the data, but our grants program, communications staff, transportation and others also use the data in many ways.

Survey Project Manager Brent Russell explained that while we do this every three to five years, this year’s survey has several firsts.

For the first time, the survey was developed completely in-house, without a consultant. Also, it’s the first time “origin” and “destination” data will be geo-coded. This will allow easy mapping and analysis of where people come from and go to on our buses.

About 37,000 copies of the survey were distributed on buses for completion on Oct. 20 and 23. Many were turned in on-board, and about 1,000 surveys came back in the mail. We are hoping for a 30 percent return rate when all are accounted for.

Many thanks to all the passengers who took the time to complete the surveys. Our last on-board survey was in 2006, and it will be very valuable to see what has changed or stayed the same since then.

Here are some tidbits from the 2006 survey:
  • The majority of Community Transit riders indicate they got to the bus by walking (57 percent), driving their car (24 percent) and/or riding a bus/train/ferry (11 percent).
  • Lynnwood was the most popular origin for bus trips. Twenty-one percent of riders started there.
  • Youth make up 18 percent of local bus riders based on fare payment. Nine percent of passengers on local buses pay the reduced fare for senior or disabled people.
  • On average, riders had been using the bus for six years. A quarter of all riders had been riding for more than 10 years.
  • More than half of all riders had completed some college or had a bachelor degree or the equivalent.
  • Nearly a quarter of all local bus riders had a total household income of less than $10,000.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Riders Talk About Transit’s Benefits

By Karen Will Johnson,
Community Transit Creative Manager

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “If Community Transit doesn’t go there, then neither do I.”

I couldn’t have scripted it any better.

Her simple statement may have been my first unsolicited storytelling testimonial.  It was Thursday,
July 31, 2007 at a ribbon-cutting event for The Double Tall, our double decker bus. She was wearing a festive sunhat and white gloves. The elegant senior who never learned to drive and has used public transit for her entire life expressed in her own words what Community Transit meant to her.  She was sharing her story.

Storytelling is society’s way of communicating between people. The histories, the hopes, the personal details. We know that people’s lives are affected by what we do, and we’ve asked them to share their stories, in their own words. Unscripted. Unrehearsed. Unaltered.

Storytelling testimonial videos are now an ongoing project at Community Transit. We find storytellers at outreach events, transit centers and at our own children’s birthday parties. They are your co-workers and your neighbors. They wear festive sunhats and white gloves. They have a connection to Community Transit in common, but their stories are as varied and compelling as they are.

And in the process, we’re discovering not only our riders’ stories, but those of business and community leaders whose companies and organizations are enhanced by the services Community Transit provides.

You can hear their stories too. Visit our Storytelling Testimonial page on our website at www.communitytransit.org/storytelling

On a larger scale, the American Public Transit Association  has just launched their own initiative, Telling Our Story/The Wall, which captures video testimonials from hundreds of people across the country who benefit from public transit. Watching those videos reminded me how grateful I am to work for an industry that performs the important job of connecting people and building communities. 

I imagine there are compelling stories out there just waiting to be shared. If you or someone you know uses Community Transit local or commuter service and would like to tell your story on camera, we’d like to hear from you. Email storytelling@commtrans.org and tell us how Community Transit helps you connect with work, friends and family. Do you ride public transit for the cost savings or for environmental reasons?  Do you benefit from more personal time or the pleasure of a relaxing commute?

Let us hear from you. Because telling your story is the best way to tell our own.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Seats Filling Up on Commuter Routes

Although the Great Recession continues to bring bad news to transit agencies around the country, the Community Transit board did get some good news last week: productivity on commuter routes is up.
Productivity is a measure of the number of passengers per hour of service on a given route (boardings per revenue hour, in transit speak). It is impacted by ridership and by the length of a route, both in terms of distance and time.
  • Boeing routes have improved from 23 boardings per revenue hour to 26.
  • University routes have improved from 25 boardings per hour to 32.
  • Seattle routes have improved from 26 boardings per hour to 33.
The improvements in efficiency show that while the service reductions made in June were painful, many of them were strategic, just as we’d intended. Commuter buses no longer make slow-speed loops through neighborhoods to pick up a handful of passengers. Instead, we’ve focused service on park & rides where many commuters board at once.

Seattle routes from north Snohomish County with extra capacity (empty seats) now make stops at Lynnwood Transit Center to fill up. That’s brought Route 421 from Marysville up from 16 boardings an hour to 25.
Boeing ridership overall is down because we cut the earliest trips of the day, but the remaining service is being better utilized at lower cost to Community Transit and our taxpayers. Route 247 from Stanwood has gone from 24 boardings an hour last July and August to 35 this summer.

Local routes that were reconfigured in June have also improved in efficiency, though productivity on local routes overall is down along with ridership. Swift bus rapid transit continues to buck that trend, growing in boardings per revenue hour despite having the most time on the street of any route in our system.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CEO Joyce Eleanor Testifies in D.C.

An exciting day for Community Transit!

CEO Joyce Eleanor this morning testified before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in Washington, D.C. She discussed how Community Transit has spent the $17.5 million it received last year in federal stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

Joyce was one of two transit agency representatives on a panel that included an electrician from bus manufacturer New Flyer of America, the director of Baltimore's public works department and a construction worker from Columbus, Indiana.

She described the four Community Transit projects funded by the ARRA federal stimulus money:
Bus replacement - 23 double decker bus purchases, $10.7 million
Operations and preventative maintenance funding, $3.3 million
Bus replacement - hybrid bus cost differential, $3 million
Mountlake Terrace Transit Center parking lot redevelopment, $425,000

Joyce was introduced by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Larsen was a member of the Community Transit Board of Directors when he was a Snohomish County Councilmember.

Joyce was asked by Committee Chair Rep. Jim Oberstar about the flexibility for transit agencies to use some federal funding for operations, not just capital. Joyce replied that flexibility is good but agencies still need capital funding to replace aging vehicles and facilities. More funding overall is needed, especially during these tough economic times.

See Joyce's testimony here. (Joyce starts about 1 hour and 15 minutes in.)
Read Joyce's testimony here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CEO To Testify Before Congressional Committee

Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor has been invited to testify tomorrow morning (Sept. 29) before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in Washington, D.C.

Because Community Transit received federal stimulus funds last year, Joyce will be giving the Committee an update on our use of those funds. This is a rare opportunity for Joyce to address this important funding committee.

The hearing will be webcast live at http://transportation.house.gov/

In 2009, Community Transit received $17.5 million in federal stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

$10.7 million was spent on the purchase of 23 replacement buses, which will be put into service near the end of 2010. The buses ordered are double decker buses that will go into commuter service to downtown Seattle.

$3.3 million was used for operations and preventative maintenance, which is allowed under the flexible funding formula. This helped prevent service cuts in 2009, rather than June of this year.

$3 million was used to pay the difference between hybrid buses and standard diesel for a 24-bus replacement order placed this year. This TIGGER grant will allow Community Transit to put 15 hybrid buses into local service in 2011.

$425,000 was used for redevelopment of the upper parking lot at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center. This project was completed last month.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Personal Assistance Helps Curb Congestion


By Wendy Scholtz, Curb the Congestion Specialist


“How long would it take me to get to work by bus?”
“What’s a vanpool?”
“I’m thinking about biking when the weather’s good. How can I cross I-5?”

These are typical questions I receive as the Curb the Congestion Specialist at Community Transit.

The Curb the Congestion program is a partnership between Community Transit and Snohomish County to reduce traffic on certain congested roads: 164th Street (Lynnwood-Mill Creek), 128th Street (S. Everett-Silver Firs) and 20th Street (near Lake Stevens). The program offers personalized information and other tools to help participants make more trips by bus, carpool, vanpool, bicycling or walking instead of driving alone. Incentive prizes help motivate people to change their daily travel habits. The program is funded by Snohomish County through grants and development fees.

Over the years, I’ve been a daily bus rider, vanpooler, carpooler, bicycle commuter and walker. I’ve even been known to drive alone now and then. I love having transportation options and helping others learn about theirs. People often have opportunities they don’t know about, like a neighbor who wants to carpool or a convenient bus route. Or they may assume these options are difficult or time-consuming.

Providing personalized assistance is one of the best parts of my job. I don’t ask people to abandon driving alone altogether, but I can help them think about using a smarter mode on certain trips. With small changes, their trip to work or shopping just might become more enjoyable and affordable. And we all benefit from more efficient use of our county’s transportation system, cleaner air and less traffic congestion.

James McGavin’s story is a great example of how the program works. A physical therapist, James rides Community Transit Route 412 to a First Hill clinic in Seattle. In April, he learned that he would begin working two days a week at a Northgate clinic. James registered for Curb the Congestion and asked for help planning his commute to Northgate.

First, we examined his bus options. Since there wasn’t a direct bus, I put him in touch with vanpool groups traveling to Northgate. I also helped him use http://www.rideshareonline.com/ to find a carpool partner. The carpool works great. “We save at least half an hour each way using the HOV lanes,” he says.

James logs all his smarter trips on his online Curb the Congestion calendar. In July, he won the $1,000 quarterly incentive prize.

If you travel 164th Street, 128th Street or 20th Street, learn more and sign up at www.communitytransit.org/CurbIt.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

OneBus Away Posts Community Transit Data

Kudos to the folks at OneBusAway for doing both the leg-work and head-work to procure and convert Community Transit schedule data for use in their online transit applications. While the same schedule data is available on our own website, OneBusAway has many mobile-friendly apps.

Their web-based schedule-finder makes it easy to find stops and their schedules using a Google map. Zoom in close to see all the stops in an area and select for schedule info. Here's what a co-worker had to say bout the Android app: " I have just been scrolling around the beautiful map, touching different stops and looking at available routes, 'starring' my favorite stops and routes, etc. looks great! i am even more psyched we are on there now, and i see why everyone loves it."

I did have some trouble accessing stop-based schedules using my phone or text message. Each transit agency has its own set of stop ID numbers. OneBusAway has a zip code feature to help sort out which area you are traveling in and thus which agency’s stop information you want. Apparently, I had improperly or never set my "default location," and the system thought I was in California. When I reset my location and entered a Community Transit stop # (find yours by route on Community Transit's website or posted on the bus stop itself), I heard just how many minutes until each bus route was scheduled to arrive at that stop.

Snohomish County residents and travelers also can access Sound Transit and King County Metro Transit data at OneBusAway. In the case of data from King County, it is "real-time" based on GPS input from the buses as they travel their routes. Community Transit doesn't yet have that technology, so our data on OneBusAway is identical to what you see printed online and on paper, based on schedules, not actual arrivals.

While I'm talking about cool things other people have done to make transit information more accessible, see this map of all ORCA card retail and customer service locations. It's as up-to-date as the regional ORCA website (which is to say a little behind). For a current list of outlets in Snohomish County - without maps - see our web page.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Transit is Popular at Seattle Premium Outlets

Even though I live just across I-5 from the Seattle Premium Outlets, I’m not much of a shopper so I don’t go there very much. However, we did make a foray across the freeway on Labor Day afternoon.

Wow! The parking lot was so full, cars were parked in the aisles and it felt like Christmas-time, driving slowly to follow people with bags who might be pulling out of a real parking spot soon.

I started to understand why the Seattle Premium Outlets website does such a good job promoting public transportation, and why their link to the Community Transit site is so popular - we got 521 hits from them last month - the most of any non-transit website. I’m sure most of the web traffic is from out of town visitors trying to get around without a car. But I see now that smart locals might also leave their cars at home.

In June I met a woman from Hong Kong heading to the outlets from Seattle. Although it takes three buses to get to Tulalip from Seattle, she was happy enough with the service. She just wished she’d bought an ORCA card before she started her trip (the free transfers would have saved her $7 on the roundtrip, which more than covers the $5 fee to buy the card).

I wish every business and destination did as good a job promoting transit options as Seattle Premium Outlets. Let the places you go know that their online “directions” should do more than tell people how to drive and park there.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Community Transit CAN Support Food Banks

Staff from Volunteers of America and the Everett Food Bank stopped by the Community Transit board meeting last week to thank Community Transit employees for their commitment to helping others in hard times.

Every year Community Transit has an internal food drive in the summer time, when county food bank shelves are running low. This year’s drive raised the equivalent of 29,764.42 pounds of food – double what Volunteers of America had hoped for and more than last year’s drive at Community Transit.

Learn more about the Everett Food Bank and Volunteers of America services here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Take Transit to the Fair

Community Transit has provided special service to the Evergreen State Fair for more than a decade. While our budget challenges mean we won’t be adding extra trips at night as we have in the past (and don’t run on Sunday or Labor Day) transit is still a good option for sitting out Highway 2 fair traffic and getting to the fair without a car.

Routes 270, 271 and 275 provide service between Everett and Monroe every 30 to 60 minutes and we have a stop near the fairgrounds year-round. During the Evergreen State Fair , traffic on Highway 2 is so bad that buses are rerouted – right by the fair entrance.

The bus is a great option for 4-H kids whose moms don’t want to drive to Monroe every day, for fair employees, for seniors and for people who don’t have a car or can’t drive. In past years we’ve carried hundreds of extra people a day on our Monroe routes during the fair.

Saturdays are the worst day for parking and traffic at the fair – and a good day to take the family for a bus ride.

Community Transit’ regular bus routes get visitors to many other events as well. We’re working with the Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival this year to promote Route 113 service to that event, with free ride tickets supported by Providence Physician Group Harbour Point.
Taking transit to a community event can be a great way to launch a family outing. I can guarantee you the bus fare will be cheaper than the fair food. An ORCA card will save you money if you take multiple buses, and can make paying for the bus easier all-around.

See you at the Grandstand!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Transit Tax Measures

Funding for all public agencies, including transit, is in trouble due to the economy. In Washington state, most transit agencies rely on retail sales tax for the bulk of their funding.

Community Transit has been at the state-authorized maximum sales tax rate of 0.9 percent since voters approved an increase in 2001. In 2005, sales taxes generated $61.5 million in revenue for Community Transit. Our revenue peaked in 2007 and has since taken a nosedive.

In 2010, we estimate we'll get $63 million in sales tax revenue, a 1.6 percent increase over 2005. Yet since then we’ve increased service, built park & rides and had our existing buses and facilities get older and in need of maintenance or replacement.

With no authority to increase tax revenues, we raised fares and cut service in June to balance our budget for 2010. We are just beginning the budget process for 2011, and expect continued low levels of sales tax revenue.

Other agencies in the state are going to voters for more tax authorization, including:

Intercity Transit in Olympia was on the ballot Aug. 17 asking for a 0.2 percent increase in sales tax. The measure was passing handily in early returns. Without the increase in funding, the agency says it may cut service by 23 percent in the next two years, including all Sunday service.

Pierce Transit has a measure on the February 2011 ballot to increase its sales tax by 0.3 percent. The agency has already cut some service and is proposing a second fare increase to take place this fall. It says without the sales tax increase, service will need to be cut significantly. 

C-Tran in Vancouver, Wash. expects to ask for a 0.3 percent sales tax increase in 2011 or face service cuts.

Whatcom Transportation Authority lost a ballot measure in April that would have raised its sales tax by 0.2 percent. The agency will be cutting Sunday and other service in September. A Bellingham transportation tax vote in the fall would have a portion of its proceeds dedicated to contracting with WTA for service restorations within the city.

Sales tax measures were approved in 2009 for Island Transit (0.3 percent) and Skagit Transit (0.2 percent). Sound Transit got voter support for a package of tax increases in 2008.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bikes and Buses, Part II: Bike Parking

I really don’t like bringing my bicycle to downtown Seattle on the bus. I don’t carry much of a lock on my bike, but I do have a lot of other good, easy to steal “stuff” hanging off, such as lights, bike bags and the wheels themselves. I also wouldn't want to leave my bike parked all day (in the rain or sun) in a bike rack at a park & ride. Yet the nearest commuter bus stop is 2 miles from my house – 10 minutes by bike, 40 minutes by foot, a lot of unnecessary pollution and driving by car. The solution? A box at the park & ride that fits bikes called a “bike locker.”

Community Transit manages 92 bike lockers at 15 park & rides around Snohomish County. Those same lots have 6,458 car parking spaces. Given that bicyclists make up less than 2 percent of our passengers overall (see Part I), that might be about right. But the most popular places to park a car are also the most popular places to park a bike: Lynnwood Transit Center and Ash Way Park & Ride have (years) long waiting lists of people hoping to get a bike locker.

The good news for Lynnwood is that Sound Transit (locker purchaser) is working with Community Transit (locker manager) to place 10 more locker spaces near the commuter bus bays. I’m not sure of the timeline, but I’m excited.

Both agencies install bike lockers at new facilities as a matter of course. But we’ve been slower to respond to demands at existing park & rides.

About 70 percent of Community Transit’s bike lockers are currently leased. Unlike a car parking spot, a bike locker is “yours” for the length of your contract. That’s why some agencies charge a small fee for lockers – something Community Transit is also considering.
The next evolution in bike-transit technology is easy to install, easy to administer “pay per use” lockers. They exist, but have not yet been tried in the Puget Sound region (see where some are in use). King County Metro Transit plans to test on-demand lockers next year. Another way to expand capacity is a simple bike cage or room, a concept in use for employees at the Snohomish County Campus.

A more sophisticated version is the Bike Port in downtown Seattle – that’s one place down there where I have left my bicycle without trepidation.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

For emergency transportation, who do you call?

The terrible fire at the Lynnview Apartments in Lynnwood was all over the news last night. Everyone who lived there lost their homes – and had to find a place to sleep after watching their belongings burn. The Red Cross arranged for a church nearby to act as a shelter. Firefighters needed help getting people there.

Who did they call? Community Transit. We sent two buses to the scene and transported 30 people to the Trinity Lutheran Church. Some families will be staying there until other accommodations can be arranged.

The Lynnview Apartments are just blocks away from the Lynnwood Transit Center, and I expect many of the residents are regular Community Transit riders. I’m glad we could help them last night. If you’d like to help as well, consider a donation to the local Red Cross.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Proposed 2011 service changes impact south county

Affected Routes include Routes 110, 112, 116, 130, 408, 413, 414, 415, 416 and 477


Community Transit is seeking public input on several proposed service changes that would take effect in 2011.

The proposed changes affect service in south Snohomish County to coincide with two new Sound Transit projects on the Edmonds waterfront and at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center.

With Community Transit sales tax income still low, the agency does not plan to restore Sunday or major holiday bus service in 2011.

Mountlake Terrace Transit Center
In February 2011, Sound Transit is scheduled to open the Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station on I-5. This will add bi-directional Sound Transit bus service to the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center and will increase the number of bus trips at the transit center from 62 to 201.

Community Transit is proposing to move its downtown Seattle commuter service through Mountlake Terrace to the freeway station and to realign local service on city streets. With these changes, residents of Mountlake Terrace and surrounding communities will have more transit options.

A few of the proposals have multiple options and we are asking for public input to help determine which options are selected by the board of directors.

Edmonds Station
Sound Transit’s new improved Edmonds Station is scheduled to open in mid-2011 and will provide an easy location to transfer between Community Transit bus, Sounder rail and Washington State Ferries service. When Edmonds Station opens, Community Transit proposes to move most of its service in that area to new bus stops east of the railroad tracks, eliminating potential delays and facilitating transfers to Sounder trains.

Details on the various route proposals are available online and in a brochure that will be placed on buses the week of Aug. 16. Public comment on these proposals will be accepted through September 6.

A public hearing before the Community Transit Board of Directors will take place at 3 p.m. September 2 at the Community Transit Board Room, 7100 Hardeson Rd., Everett (accessed by Everett Transit Route 8).

A community meeting will take place at the Mountlake Terrace Library (23300 58th Ave. W., accessed by Routes 112 and 130) on Thursday, Aug. 19 from 5-7 p.m. In addition, staff will be at park & rides and will ride on affected routes to help get the word out and solicit feedback.

Comments also will be accepted
via email: 2011changes@commtrans.org
via regular mail: Community Transit Service Change, 7100 Hardeson Road, Everett, WA 98203
via phone: (425) 353-7433

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bikes and Buses, Part 1: Bike Racks

If you travel by bike and bus, you know what it means to “get bumped.” That’s what happens when you’re waiting at the bus stop with everybody else, the bus arrives with a full bike rack, and everybody gets on board but you. You are left standing there with your bike waiting for the next bus or wishing you’d just ridden home to begin with.

This doesn’t happen to me as much as it used to, thanks to Community Transit’s policy to allow bikes inside the bus if it is not too crowded. In the past week I have had my bike both inside and outside of buses. It is not as care-free to hold your bike inside a bus as to have it in a rack, but it is far better than wondering if you’re going to get to work in the morning.

If you’d like to see how easy it is to use a bike rack, the fun way, see this bike rack rap.  Most of Community Transit’s racks work just like this (without the dancing).

Community Transit has had bike racks on all of our buses since 1996, and people have grown to rely upon them. Passengers with bikes make up about 1.3 percent of our boardings overall, but some routes have much higher usage.
  • We had six bikes on a Swift bus recently out of 34 passengers.
  • Routes 201/202 and Route 275 had 4.5 percent of customers board with bikes in April.
  • My former Route 207 had 9 percent of boardings with bikes that month.
Starting in 2005, Community Transit put 3-bike racks (the Trilogy model) on 24 new articulated commuter buses. Prepared to outfit our entire fleet, we purchased our first 12 VeloPorter 3 racks in 2008.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Transit Advertising Helps with Bottom Line

Community Transit’s Swift bus rapid transit vehicles are intentionally different from the rest of our fleet. They are longer than most buses (62 vs. 60 feet), quieter because they are hybrid electric and they have a unique graphic design.


That carefully-crafted look changed a little this month with the advent of advertising on Swift. We kept Swift vehicles free of ads for the first six months to help people recognize our new service. That moratorium is over, and 10 of 15 Swift buses are available for advertising, both outside and in. So far, Titan Outdoor has placed ads on four Swift buses.

Titan just won Community Transit’s bus ad contract this spring.  They are excited about reaching new markets in Snohomish County, and we are hopeful of increasing the revenue we get to help support our service. Ads on Swift buses will be very targeted, for instance, since Swift travels the Highway 99 corridor from 5 a.m. to midnight six days a week. With more than 75,000 residents and 30,000 jobs with 1/4 mile of Highway 99, that’s a good place to be.

Our Double Tall buses, expected to hit the streets this fall, will also become rolling billboards. They provide extra value to advertisers because they provide an especially large canvas, so to speak, and those images will roll through Seattle and up and down I-5 easily seen above traffic.

Bus advertising done right can be very striking and memorable. I especially like ads designed specifically for their application on transit vehicles – like the one that showed a smoker’s mouth positioned around the bus tailpipe. A more pleasant image was the “Lifesaver bus” on articulated coaches. Someone on Facebook recently recalled Community Transit’s blue Orca Run bus that served Tulalip as part of a Route 222 promotion in 2003. Those community-themed bus wraps wore out years ago, but they were fun while they lasted.

Bottom line – we’re hoping transit advertising can make a difference in our bottom line, as it does for other agencies. With these new additions to our fleet on top of existing ad opportunities, our contract with Titan could provide us with an estimated $2.4 million in revenue over the next three years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Facebook community pages confuse Community Transit community. Confused?

Fans of our page on Facebook may have noticed other Community Transit-ish pages pop up within the past couple of months. It's not just Community Transit -- businesses from Coca-Cola to colleges face these new doppelgangers on the social networking site.

Back in April, Facebook launched a new "community page" structure. Now, when a user's info section lists an employer, a favorite band, or even a general activity like hiking, these listings link to separate community pages for each topic. These community pages draw their information from Wikipedia, as well as what other Facebook users are saying about that specific topic. So in addition to our official Facebook page, there are now two of these community pages listed for Community Transit. We didn't create and don't operate these other pages, which causes some confusion for our audience.

We created our Facebook page in October 2008, to connect with our customers and share information with them. Unfortunately, these new community pages don't offer any interaction opportunities for the brands they appear to represent. Just like here on our blog, our official Facebook page has a comment policy to ensure that posts follow basic civility. But many posts that show up on these community pages don't fit our official page's please-keep-it-nice policy, and we can't moderate because we don't own these pages.

Other organizations are experiencing the same frustration over community pages diluting their presence on Facebook and confusing their fans. Facebook indicates that their eventual goal is to merge these community pages with "official" pages, but to date we haven't seen that happen with ours. As of July 2, Facebook finally added some fine print to the bottom of the community pages that reads "Community Pages are not affiliated with, or endorsed by, anyone associated with the topic."

What we'd like you to know:

If you're interested in connecting with us on Facebook, we're featured at www.facebook.com/communitytransit. If you're not sure which page you're on, check the URL or look for our info box on the left side that welcomes you to the official Community Transit page on Facebook.

Community Transit doesn't endorse or operate any other pages on Facebook.

Just a tip on personal Facebook use: take a minute to review your privacy settings -- allowing "everyone" to see your status updates and wall posts means that what you post on your own profile (or to your friends) could be featured on any community page without your knowledge. If you don't want that to happen, keep your settings on "friends only," at a minimum.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Where's Oxy Gene?


By Kristin Kinnamon

Community Transit’s super hero Oxy Gene has been a fixture at summer parades and festivals for the past decade. With his trademark greeting of “Hello, good people,” he’s been an ambassador for “truth, justice and really clean air.”

However, no Sunday service also means no Sunday or holiday parades or events for Oxy Gene. On other days of the week, Oxy will still represent Community Transit, but there will be no buses in his entourage due to the expense.

There is a silver lining for Oxy Gene, who usually marches in at least two parades on the Fourth of July. “Isn’t that the first time in 10 years you’ve had a hot dog without your suit on? “ his supermom asked.

Oxy Gene will manage to keep busy this summer teaching day camp kids how to ride the bus, participating in a Mill Creek kids fun run to raise money for Haitian relief (Aug. 14) and, of course, being a judge at the Taste of Edmonds. “It’s glove-lickin’ good,” he said of the food there.

Where else might you find Oxy this summer?

July 27 – Edmonds Night Out Against Crime

August 3 – National Night Out Against Crime, Mukilteo YMCA and McCollum Park

August 13 – Taste of Edmonds (noon tasting)

August 28 - Monroe Fair Days Parade

September 11– Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival Parade

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Downtown Seattle bus bay changes at Lynnwood Transit Center

One of the fallouts from the June 13 service change was confusion at Lynnwood Transit Center’s Bay D5.

Six different bus routes were scheduled to leave that same bay to downtown Seattle each morning. As you can imagine, some of the those buses arrived at nearly the same time and customers were inventively forming various queues to catch a particular bus.

After several days of observation and receiving comments from riders, we’ve made an adjustment that will improve customer loading and bus flow. These changes go into effect on Tuesday, July 6.

• Community Transit Routes 401, 402 and 422, all of which travel to downtown Seattle from the north end via Stewart and 2nd, will continue to depart from Bay D5.

• Community Transit Routes 421 and 425, which travel to downtown Seattle from the south end via Cherry and 4th, will depart from Bay D4.

• Sound Transit Route 511, which travels to downtown Seattle from the north end via Stewart and 5th, will depart from Bay D2.

• All routes will serve their new bay assignments in both the southbound and northbound directions.

Information about the changes is available at the bus bays and on the Community Transit website. Also, staff will be at LTC Tuesday morning to help people adjust to the new bay assignments.

This change means that our newly printed Bus Plus books will be incorrect for these routes at these bays. But it was decided that improving the customer experience was the higher priority. Besides, minor changes are often made between service change cycles which deviate from Bus Plus language. Which is why we now tell our customers that the best, most-up-to-date information can be found on our website.

By the way, riders to and from Lynnwood now have more options because of the service change. Several routes (Routes 421, 422 and 425) from north Snohomish County now make stops at LTC on their way to and from downtown Seattle, meaning there are more buses to choose from between Lynnwood and Seattle. Now that we’ve got the bay issue worked out, we hope more riders will learn to take advantage of this benefit.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Moving Beyond June Service Changes

Last week was not a celebratory time at Community Transit. We said goodbye to about two dozen co-workers who were laid off – a lower number than we’d feared thanks to others who retired early or made other choices. We’ve now had no service on Sundays for two weeks, and we know how hard that is and will be for many or our riders.

We did successfully implement one of the largest service changes in our 34-year history. “Success” in this case means that most riders were aware of our changes and many have been adjusting to new routes and service this past week. Community Transit employees in all departments made a tremendous effort to help our customers through this transition.

Already we are looking ahead (I do not say looking forward) to our next service change in February 2011. We planned this round of service reductions to avoid future ones, and that appears to be holding true. Still, we don’t expect to be able to restore service at that time. If you’ve following any of the financial news, you know that things are not yet looking up for our economy in general, for Washington state transit funded by sales tax (like us), or for new funding from the state or federal government.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Is the bus on time?

We publish schedules for our bus routes that list what time the bus will be at select stops along the route – these scheduled stops are called “timepoints.” Most timepoints are at park & rides or major connecting points to assist people in planning and in making transfers between buses.

We also post schedules at every Community Transit bus stop. Unless the stop is also a “timepoint” the posted time is only an estimate. Route 113 between Mukilteo and Lynnwood, for instance, has 51 northbound bus stops but only seven scheduled timepoints. All the other posted stop times are estimates. To plan a trip, you look at the timepoint before your stop and figure the bus will be at successive stops sometime soon after.

Nobody likes to wait for a bus very long, and it’s even worse if the bus comes early and you miss it. Experienced bus drivers know what parts of the route they tend to run ahead on (and thus they may drive a bit more slowly), and where they tend to run behind (but know they’ll catch up later). If a bus arrives early at a scheduled timepoint, it will pause at that stop until it is officially time to go. That usually blocks a lane of traffic for a few seconds and makes passengers wonder what’s up.

The bottom line is, getting bus schedules right is important. Community Transit regularly tracks the on-time performance of our system as a whole. In May, 93 percent of trips surveyed departed on time. When you consider the vagaries of rain squalls, traffic jams and even the extra time of having lots of passengers board and deboard, that’s not bad. We also have occasional delays due to mechanical breakdowns, passenger or driver illness and construction reroutes.

Last week Community Transit Service Planners asked for my help checking the on-time performance of Routes 105/106, Routes 115/116 and Routes 201/202. I spent four hours at Ash Way Park & Ride in Lynnwood watching buses come and go while also answering customer questions, handing out the new Bus Plus book and learning about transit scheduling from the agency perspective (I already experience our scheduling as a passenger on a weekly basis). I wrote down exactly when buses arrived and departed so that Service Planning can assess whether their route schedules are accurate. Some of the buses I timed started their routes more than 20 miles away in Arlington. We had staff checking the times all along the way – such extensive surveys happen only a few times each year.

We only change bus schedules twice a year, so the public won’t see results of this test until next February (though internal driver departure times and non-timepoint scheduling could change before then). It takes many months to consider changes, test timings and synchronize the schedules in time for sharing with transit partners, coordinating bus and driver needs and publishing Bus Plus books.

Right now we use a combination of sophisticated software and low-tech manual timing surveys and bus driver reports to develop and refine bus schedules. Sometime next year we hope to launch a real-time information system that will make the art of bus scheduling a bit more of a science. No matter what, whether the bus is on time or not will always depend most upon people – the ones inside the bus driving or riding, and the ones outside the bus setting traffic signals, making public policies or causing traffic.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What’s So Cool About Vanpool?

Community Transit Vanpool #465 folded last week, after five years (at least – we don’t remember exactly) of carrying commuters from Marysville to the south Everett industrial area. The van was started by a Community Transit employee who wanted to save miles on her new car. Her schedule eventually changed and she left the van, but the group continued with a hodge-podge of Boeing workers, SNBL staff, Northshore Christian Academy teachers (and even the principal for awhile!), an Agilent engineer who vanpooled when he wasn’t teleworking, a Snohomish PUD guy we picked up in Everett and dropped off 3 miles later and me, a part-time rider who used the van on rainy, snowy or just plain slow days instead of biking and busing.

We hope to bring the van back next fall, when summer vacations are over. Meanwhile, the Community Transit’s Vanpool Department is constantly at work keeping existing vans on the road and helping new vans form. In 2009, Community Transit ended the year with 334 vans on the road and record ridership .

According to a Washington State Department of Transportation survey , 85% of vanpoolers say the main reason they share the ride is because it saves them money. A secondary reason is that vanpooling is less stressful than driving .

I can personally attest to the many benefits, which also include book and restaurant reviews, occasional reroutes for coffee and getting to know your neighbors and co-workers. Vanpool groups set their own hours and stops, and depending on the participants can be flexible enough to wait 5 minutes when you’re running late or give your kid a ride as well (if they sign a vanpool user agreement and wear their seatbelt!).