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!).