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.


  1. What are the ridership numbers for Swift now?

  2. Well, I was one of those passengers who counted on your "slow speed loop" through Lynnwood, and now I can't take the bus to work because it's impossible to find parking at the Lynnwood Transit Center by the time I leave, 7:30 a.m.! So you lost me as a customer, and who knows how many others, but you keep on dressing it up pretty like this.

  3. "Productivity is a measure of the number of passengers per hour of service on a given route"

    With routes shorten or eliminated, I would expect the same result as well. However, it does not sound very encourage.

    For example, by eliminating #411, numbers of buses to Mariner Park & Ride have reduced about 33%. I don't know exact productivity numbers on #410. According to the post, "Seattle routes have improved from 26 boardings per hour to 33." It is about 27% increase. Does this mean that CT lost about 6% of riders on this route? How does this calculate?


  4. Thanks for your comments on this post.

    Based on our preliminary August numbers, Swift is now up to more than 3,300 riders per weekday, about a 100 percent increase over its first month performance last December. Our own internal forecasts were for a 25 percent increase in ridership the first year, so obviously this line is doing great.

    As for Andy's Route 410/411 question, Route 411's August 2010 ridership was up nearly 60 percent over August 2009 numbers. If you ride Route 411 you are aware there are a lot fewer empty seats on the bus, which gets at this productivity issue. Most of our commuter buses are carrying more riders per bus. Overall, Seattle and UW commuter routes are still carrying about the same number of passengers as before the service change, there are simply fewer buses carrying those riders.

    And yes, Anonymous, we have lost some customers for whom the bus simply is not as convenient an option as before the service cuts. We're sorry. The fact of the matter is that we HAD to cut service, there was not enough money to pay for the level of service we had before.

    The productivity discussion in this post was "window dressing" in a sense that we are looking for the bright spots in a dreary reality. We had to cut service, but we didn't lose that many Seattle and UW commuters because of how we configured those remaining trips.

    Again, we're sorry to have lost you as a rider and hope that you'll consider taking the bus in the future when our service does mroe closely match your personal needs. Thanks!

  5. I ride the commuter routes to and from Seattle via LTC. Most days I leave LTC at around 7 a.m. But my schedule is flexible enough that sometimes I'm there earlier and sometimes later. I ride the routes at a lot of different times. What I've been seeing doesn't make sense, a least from the outside.

    Here's what I've been seeing.

    Going to Seattle
    6:45-7:15 a.m.: Every route is always packed. Especially the 4th Ave routes with the short buses. Rider lines for commuter routes really start to stack up. One day last week it stretched all the way past the coffee shack.

    6:15-6:45 a.m. or 7:15-7:45 a.m.: Half-full articulated 401s, 402s and U-District buses.

    It seems like capacity on the commuter routes is bulging, but only during certain times, and it doesn't seem like CT is juggling its buses in a way that makes sense. I'd be happy to be proven wrong, but that's just the way it seems.

    In the mornings I stopped trying to take the route most convenient to me - 4th ave into Seattle from LTC - because there were never any seats (short buses) and my knees just can't take standing on a lurching bus for 40 minutes. 2nd Ave is inconvenient and quite a hike, but I'm used to it.

    I guess my main question is this: Is anybody tracking the actual number of bodies on each bus vs. the number of seats available? And is CT adjusting routes to put the most seats in play when they are really needed?

    I know these are tough times and we can't always get what we want, but I'm really curious what CT's philosphy is when assigning buses to routes and what it considers acceptable capacity. Or should we just be resigned to SRO buses from here on out?

  6. It's sad for riders to have to quit riding the bus that picks them up in their neighborhood.
    Most pollution from modern vehicles happens in the first few minutes of operation (cold start), and now all those cars are fired up for a short drive to the Park n Ride.
    It's all about which column of the ledger sheet the cost comes from. Sure, CT is no longer paying for a partially full bus, but society is still paying for the increase in pollution, and the car driver is paying much more for that 'one seat ride' to work.
    I think we all lost in the deal!