Thursday, June 30, 2011

UW Husky Cards Get Smart

The region hit another ORCA milestone this week – converting University of Washington U-PASS users to ORCA. Actually, we’re starting small by first enabling ORCA for the staff and faculty U-PASS this summer.

Both students and staff have received new Husky Cards with smart card technology inside and an ORCA logo outside. But we’re not loading the cards with passes all at once.

There are about 60,000 potential U-PASS users on campus each day (staff, faculty and students), the single biggest ORCA account in the region. Last quarter, 64 percent of UW Seattle students purchased a U-PASS. Community Transit has a number of bus routes dedicated to serving campus, for good reason. Last month we had 60,000 boardings on our University routes.

Edmonds Community College began offering an ORCA-powered EdPass this spring. We don't have complete data since the quarter just ended, but it appears the simple, new way of purchasing and using a bus pass has been a success. More than 2,500 students purchased their first ORCA-powered EdPass this spring - and will save $10 if they load it with a bus pass again next quarter. The new EdPass bumped Community Transit’s percentage of boardings using ORCA cards to almost 65 percent last month, well above the first quarter regional average of 51 percent ORCA boardings.

A final bit of good news for ORCA aficionados – in case you hadn’t noticed, the ORCA website got some significant usability improvements earlier this month. Upgrades will continue to be made quarterly. And, of course, there are now many more places to reload your ORCA card throughout the region.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reaching Out Where Riders Are

Throughout June, Community Transit salaried staff (they don’t get paid for extra time) have been out talking to riders about the three service alternatives for the 2012 system change.

We’ve blogged about the five open house meetings (which attracted 166 people) and the online comment form (more than 1,400 and counting), but the numbers of riders we’ve reached through our rider forums far exceeds those totals.

The point of a rider forum is to go where the bus riders are: park & rides, transit centers and on board buses. People at these locations are most interested in getting to where they need to go, so the length and quality of conversation is not always great, but you reach a lot of people.

In the 16 rider forums we’ve held so far (last one is tomorrow at McCollum Park), we’ve talked with more than 3,400 bus riders. “Talked with” can range from a quick jump on a bus to announce that “Community Transit is planning to cut service by 20 percent in 2012 and we’re taking public comment this month. The brochure is here on the bus, you can go to our website for full details and we’re holding open house meetings so you can learn more,” all the way to a 20-minute conversation with a rider who arrived early for her bus.

In all, staff spent about 55 hours at these forums (again, no overtime). We handed out the 2012 System Change Alternatives brochure, Important News (our onboard newsletter) and hard copy comment cards. We also carried a printout of the route-by-route matrix that tells how each route is impacted under each of the three alternatives so we could have some good back-and-forth when time permitted.

Our goal this month was to raise awareness of the pending service cuts and encourage people to participate in the public comment process. That process runs through July 11, with a public hearing before the Board of Directors at 5 p.m. July 7 at the Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo. While our brochure says the hearing will run from 5 – 8:30 p.m., board members will remain until each person present has had a chance to comment.

We’ll have more on the hearing next week.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Don't Expect Others to Comment for You

More than 1,250 people have completed our Online Comment Form to provide input on our three system change alternatives and almost 100 people have attended a 2012 System Change Open House. This high level of participation shows that riders have been engaged during this process.

But even with that much engagement, we have not inspired everyone to comment.

Of course, if you used to be a Sunday bus rider or the existing public transportation system doesn’t work for you, you might not be aware of this process. That is why we've worked with the media to get the word out (there has been coverage on TV and in local newspapers).

We held five community open house meetings for those who might not have easy Internet access and might not have been able to review the alternatives online.

Some people might still be unaware or might think it’s just not worth it.

But we want to hear from everyone, from people who have a car but choose to ride the bus to those who don’t have a car or can’t drive. We want to hear from local bus riders and commuter bus riders, because everyone will be impacted by these changes and nobody else is going to speak for you.

One rumor we have heard is that because we're considering some Sunday service, we are definitely going to bring it back.

That is not true. While we have said we would restore Sunday service as soon as new funding became available, there is no new funding. In fact, there is less funding. So, Sunday service is not a given, just an option. If Sunday service matters to you, you need to tell us that.

There are are also many impacts to local routes, from reduced bus frequencies to routing changes to complete elimination of some routes.

And commuter service to Seattle will see some big changes in either frequency reductions or a restructure of how that service is provided.

There’s still time to read up on the alternatives, remind people on your bus to comment and tell a friend or neighbor who uses transit occasionally to pay attention. Our final open house is tonight in Arlington, but the comment period continues through July 11. The public hearing before the board of directors is 5 p.m. July 7 at Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo. That hearing will run until the last person present has had the chance to speak.

Don't wait, comment now!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Double Tall Ads Debut

The first Double Tall bus with advertising made its debut in service this week. AAA of Washington bought the ad that occupies the upper half of the double decker bus.
Community Transit made a decision last year to allow advertising on its Double Tall and Swift buses in an effort to raise more revenue. Transit advertising, like other advertising, has taken a nosedive during the recession. Fewer companies are advertising and they are advertising less than before, causing prices to fall for available advertising space.
Titan, our transit advertising vendor, was eager to make available advertising space on our Swift and Double Tall buses.
Swift buses have a unique look and paint scheme that draws attention to those buses, plus they travel frequently up and down the dense Highway 99 corridor for 20 hours a day. That’s a lot of moving billboard time to a high residential, business and auto-driven population.
The Double Talls are another bus type that draw attention because of their look and size. The ad placement on the upper half of the bus is visible above traffic, a desirable commodity. Plus these buses run through downtown Seattle as well as up and down I-5 during morning and evening rush hours, catching the eyes of stuck motorists.
Some of these same factors help Community Transit. People see these buses and want to ride them because they look different, and the characteristics of their service are different. To help keep brand integrity, Community Transit is not allowing advertising on all its Swift or Double Tall buses. At least not yet. We allow advertising on 10 of our 15 Swift buses and 18 of our 23 Double Tall buses.
So far, there have been five ads sold for the Double Talls. You will see the other ad-equipped buses coming out soon. As part of the Buy Local for Transit promotion, Titan is offering a buy one, get one deal on Community Transit bus ad space. Just in case you’re considering…
By the way, speaking of Double Talls, the heating/air conditioning problem we were experiencing on these buses has been fixed. Because the separate HVAC systems on each floor of the buses were not working together, customers were complaining about it being either too hot or too cold on the buses, depending on where they were sitting. We stopped putting new buses on the road until the problem was fixed. The fix came last weekend and this week another three Double Talls have been put into service, bringing to total 18 on the road. The last five of these replacement buses should be out soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Route 424 Dilemma: Fewer Trips or Longer Ride?

On Wednesday, June 15, Community Transit will host its next Community Open House meeting in Monroe, at the High School Performing Arts Center from 6-8 p.m.

Some of the people likely to attend are those bus riders who take Route 424, a commuter route from east Snohomish County to downtown Seattle. Already, this is a long trip, as the bus begins picking up passengers in Snohomish then travels east to Monroe, south to SR522 and I405 then across the always-congested SR520 bridge.

Last week at the Monroe Park & Ride I spoke with a number of Route 424 riders about the alternatives looming for 2012. They pose quite a dilemma. Under Alternatives I and II, the number of trips for that route gets cut from three trips each direction to two trips. As riders pointed out, the buses are already full, especially in the afternoon as people tend to pack into one or two of the three trips home.

Under Alternative III, the number of trips is increased to four in each direction. But the nature of the route is changed to a commuter feeder route. Rather than traveling directly to Seattle, this route would veer from SR522 onto northbound I405, stop at Canyon Park and continue on to the Lynnwood Transit Center. There, riders can transfer to any of a number of buses that go to downtown Seattle. A longer trip, and a transfer.

As I kept repeating last week, and all our staff will continue to tell each rider who is not happy with the choices in the alternatives, we have to cut 20 percent of our costs. There is no way to make people happy with that level of cuts.

The savings in Alts. I and II are obvious; one fewer trip each direction that won't run. The savings in Alt. III come from not having those four buses travel all the way back from Seattle to Snohomish empty.

Essentially, the choices for commuters are between the familiar (Alts. I and II) with the downside being fewer trips. Because the times for those trips have not been figured out yet (that will happen when we're down to one scenario), riders should state their preferred time when giving their input.

The other choice is flexibility (Alt. III) with an upside being more options. In the case of Route 424, there would be more options to catch the bus each way, and more options for connections to and from Seattle. The downside is, of course, more time spent traveling.

Given that there have to be cuts, what are your thoughts about the choices before you for your ride?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Public Comments Keep Coming In!

Thanks to some attention from local media, as well as our own outreach efforts, riders are giving their input about the three service alternatives for 2012.

So far, 481 comments have been received through our online form and 25 hard copy comment cards have come in. The public comment period runs through July 11.

This week about 70 people attended the two Community Open House meetings in MountlakeTerrace and at Edmonds Community College. We also spoke with hundreds more riders at park & rides.

I was out at the Monroe Park & Ride at O-dark-thirty Wednesday morning and spoke with about 200 riders who came through the facility. I was surprised that a clear majority knew about the planned cuts for 2012, though most had not checked out the details yet. For those who were unaware, we handed out brochures and encouraged them to go to our website or attend an open house meeting to learn more.

Next week we have another open house at the Monroe High School Performing Arts Center, and we'll be out at park & rides in Lynnwood, Marysville, Stanwood and at Everett Station.

Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Open Houses Begin Tonight

The first of the community open house meetings to discuss the 2012 System Change alternatives begins tonight from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Mountlake Terrace Library.

Riders and members of the public are invited to stop in at any time to talk to staff about the three proposals for a 20 percent service cut. If you haven't already checked out the 2010 system change page on our website, please do so you can come equipped with your questions.

CEO Joyce Eleanor had a column in Sunday's Herald talking about the necessity for these cuts and how the agency must prepare to transform for the future, given the new economic reality. If the agency is left to rely on sales taxes and fares for its revenue it could be a long time before any growth occurs. The agency continues to work with state legislators and federal officials to find new streams of funding for Community Transit and transit in general.

Following tonight's meeting there will be a daytime open house at Edmonds Community College from 2-4 p.m. Tuesday.

We hope to see many of you there.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Study the Alternatives, Provide Public Input

For the past six months, Community Transit service planners have had the unenviable job of coming up with three alternatives that each achieve three seemingly conflicting goals:
  • Cut service by 20 percent
  • Maintain geographic coverage throughout Snohomish County
  • Preserve ridership
They’ve worked hard and put a lot of careful consideration into the plans we put before the public this week. Now we need the public to do the same.

The alternatives have both subtle and significant differences between them. We need people to provide comments on the big picture - “Give me Sunday service” or “Use the hours on weekdays” – as well as the details – “I like the idea of a new route on 196th Street in Lynnwood, but if it could only ….”

A brochure briefly describing the alternatives is on all Community Transit buses, but to really understand the proposals, you need to dig into the details. Those are presented on our "2012 Changes" web page.

The “Overview” section includes tabs on each alternative with a high-level map and description below. This is a good place to start for the big picture.

The “Local Service” and “Commuter Service” tabs compare the alternatives and allow you to look up the changes by route. If you ride Community Transit regularly, we need you to review this information carefully and provide detailed input.

The “Maps” tab is most important for viewing the major system and routing changes involved in Alternative III. Maps are also linked from Alternative III in the route-by-route charts. Maps are also useful in understanding the limits of the Sunday service proposed in Alternative II.

A key part of the “Process” tab is our “Online Comment Form” as well as a list of public meetings and events.
We want to help you understand these alternatives, and we want your feedback.

To make it most valuable, try something like:

This: “I prefer Alternative II, but I live in Gold Bar and need to get to work in Everett on Saturdays by 9 a.m.”
Not this: “Don’t cut my bus route!”

All formal public comments will be shared with our Board of Directors, who will make the final decision.

Due to lack of funding, we have to reduce service significantly. The question is, how can we make the best of a bad situation?

Your thoughtful comments can help us find the answer.

We encourage discussion about the 2012 System Change alternatives on this blog. However, to have your views considered by the board, please submit formal comments through our online comment form accessed via the web page: