Monday, September 24, 2012

Bikes Add Flexibility to the Commute

By Roland Behee, Community Transit Strategic Planning Unit Manager

The option of taking my bike along on the bus really adds flexibility to my daily commute. 

I live about seven miles from work and commute by bicycle in late spring, summer and into early fall. As the weather turns cold and wet and daylight becomes scarce I often mix it up with a bike and bus commute. 

Living one mile from Community Transit's Swift line, I can bike from home to Swift in about five minutes. The on-board bike racks make it simple to board, sit down and enjoy a relaxing ride on a warm, dry bus. At the other end, I deboard Swift with my bike and, again, have about a one mile, five-minute ride to work.

What's really great about combining the bike with bus travel is flexibility, time savings and extended range. It's flexible because it allows me to take the bus in the morning if there is rain and yet I can bike all the way home in the evening if the weather clears. I save time because I can ride to the bus stop in five minutes whereas walking can take 15 minutes or more. 

I also appreciate the bus option when I don’t feel like biking the entire distance and just want to sit down for part of the trip. Having the bike along also gives me more options for running errands on the way home with easy access to my bank, the bakery and other destinations that would take longer to visit on foot.

In our area, it's really easy to incorporate a bike into your bus commute since every bus is equipped with racks on either the outside (regular buses) or interior (Swift). They are simple to use and instructions are readily available.

If you're like me, once you've taken a bike on the bus you will probably think of all kinds of new possibilities for travel.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Seattle Ride Free Area Going Away

King County Metro Transit has decided to eliminate the downtown ride free area on Sept. 29. The decision was really made by the King County Council as a concession to approve the two-year $20 car tab fee.

Either way, there are a few impacts for Community Transit riders.

Commuters who board Community Transit buses in downtown Seattle will pay on entry, which is how they pay everywhere else. This also means that riders must board at the front doors.

Having an ORCA card will make boarding faster; so far the vast majority of Community Transit's commuter riders have ORCA cards.

Lynnwood-bound riders who board north county Routes 421, 422 or 425 will need to let the driver know they are only going to Lynnwood before paying fare. This allows the driver to change the farebox from the default north county fare. Currently, this is done at the Lynnwood Transit Center as people deboard.

The upside to this change is that when commuters get to their destination they can just hop off the bus from any door! Also, there shouldn't be a lot of "free riders" taking their seats in downtown Seattle. Community Transit does not have a local fare in King County, so anyone boarding a bus downtown will have to pay a commuter fare.

The downside could be confusion the first few days after the change. There may also be longer waits for buses downtown as people take longer to board.

For information on how people can get around downtown, visit Metro's website.

Oct. 1 Service Changes

As happens twice a year, Community Transit's schedules will change on Monday, Oct. 1.

Planners have continued tweaking schedules after the massive February service network restructuring. They have looked to close layover gaps (when buses are stopped between trips) and add running time to some routes that have had trouble keeping on schedule. Because of this, many routes will see trip times changed a couple minutes earlier or later. Check the online schedule or Bus Plus books.

There also are a couple of routing changes being made that reflect either customer preference or things that really didn't work out. A few changes are being made this fall, while others have been proposed for Feb. 2013.

Routes 105 and 115 will no longer drive into the McCollum Park Park & Ride. Low ridership for these routes at that location, coupled with the time it takes to pull into and out of that lot make this a good change to improve on-time performance. Those riders wishing to travel along Bothell-Everett Highway can still catch Route 106, or they can simply catch Routes 105 or 115 along 128th Street.

Route 240 took extra time to travel north past the Stillaguamish Senior Center to serve three low-ridership stops. Now the route will end at the senior center. Those northern stops will continue to be served by Route 220, and are within short walking distance for people who don't want to wait for a connecting bus. Again, this change will save time to help keep Route 240 on schedule.

Route 280 was rerouted in Lake Stevens when a traffic roundabout project was under construction. After it was completed, it turned out that buses couldn't make the turns. So, the reroute up Hwy 9 to Lundeen Parkway is becoming permanent.

The other change this fall, elimination of the downtown Seattle Ride Free Area, is subject of another blog post.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fare Increase Proposed for February 2013

The Community Transit Board of Directors has proposed a fare increase that would take effect on Feb. 1, 2013. The proposal would raise fares by 25 cents on local bus service, 50 cents on south county commuter bus service and 75 cents on north/east county commuter bus service (Routes 421, 422, 424, 425 and 821).

DART paratransit fares would go up 25 cents and vanpool fares would increase 10-15 percent based on the vehicle.

The fare increase is intended to keep revenues in line with inflation; in other words to pay for existing service not new service. Local and DART fares were last increased in June 2010; commuter and vanpool fares were last increased in October 2008.

As a service agency, Community Transit must bring in as much revenue as it spends to operate service. In recent years the agency was spending more than it brought in as sales tax revenues took a nosedive. The result was two major service reductions totaling 37 percent of bus service and 206 employee layoffs.

To help prevent the agency from landing in the same predicament, a Six-Year Transit Development Plan approved in early 2011 called for regular fare increases every two years. This first fare increase was to have been implemented this fall, but CEO Joyce Eleanor chose to push back the proposal to Feb. 2013 to provide some relief to riders who have endured so many cuts.

Still, the fare increases are an important revenue tool to keep the agency afloat. In 2011, fares paid for 18.5 percent of the cost of operating the agency's service. If the proposal is approved, that rate would rise to 21 percent in 2013. In other words, even with the fare increase about 79 percent of the cost of each bus trip (on average - some trips cost more than others) are paid for by sales taxes and other revenue.

Finally, while the agency has no near-term plans to add bus service, there will be 30 commuter trips added in Feb. 2013 thanks to a federal CMAQ (Congestion Management and Air Quality) grant. Even the 20 percent local match for that grant is paid for - by a small new pot of transit money authorized by the state legislature this year.

Here's how you can comment on the fare proposal.