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