Friday, November 30, 2012

Swift Stories -- An Ambassador's Perspective

By Will Bolzell, Swift Ambassador

It is hard to believe that Swift bus rapid transit has been running for three years. My name is Will Bolzell, and I have a truly unique perspective on this service. I am the only Community Transit employee to have driven Swift and also worked as a Swift Ambassador.

Just in case anyone is wondering what a Swift Ambassador is, let me explain. Swift is able to complete trips in much less time than a traditional bus. This is accomplished by having all riders pay their bus fare at the station before boarding, among other characteristics. Using this method, when a bus arrives at the station, passengers only need to board or deboard, allowing the bus much less time at each station.
Will Bolzell is one of three Swift Ambassadors.

Since each person isn’t paying right in front of the bus driver, there are some people who take advantage and board without paying. This is where the Swift Ambassador comes into play. It is our job to assist customers with riding the service and to verify fare payment. In cases where the passenger doesn’t have proper fare, it is the ambassador’s job to document the case and/or involve Snohomish County Sheriffs deputies for further disciplinary steps, when needed. That can include a $124 fine.

As you might imagine, I’ve seen and heard some things in my time aboard Swift. Because Swift is a quick service, sometimes people are in a rush and leave things behind. A few months ago while I was walking through the bus, I noticed that someone had left their wallet on the seat. I grabbed it and headed up to the driver’s area. I wanted everything about this situation to be on camera because the wallet was stuffed full of cash.
Not long after we arrived at the final stop, a car came tearing into the transit center and three people jumped out running straight for the bus. I knew exactly what they wanted, and the frantic look on all of their faces confirmed it. After having them identify the wallet, and checking the owner against the picture ID, I returned the wallet. The owner mentioned that this was their rent money, and they thought they had lost it. After many thanks and a few hugs, they went on their way. I’m just glad I was there to find it. The looks of joy and relief on their faces made my day.

Another time, I was aboard a Swift bus and as we arrived at the station, there was an obviously intoxicated young man standing on the edge of the curb with an arm extended out into the street, defiantly blocking the bus. The driver tried to pull up to the stop, but the guy wouldn’t move. I’ll speculate that he wasn’t expecting there to be two Sheriff’s deputies aboard the bus. The look on his face was priceless when the front door of the bus opened and a less than amused deputy grabbed him by the arm and placed him under arrest. It isn’t a good idea to be drunk in public, but it’s a worse idea to do so when you aren’t old enough to drink.

Probably the most important piece of information that I could give is: If you ride any of the public transportation systems in the area, get an ORCA card! It will save you time, money and stress! The two biggest benefits are a 2-hour transfer and it only takes a second to use, so no more missing the Swift bus while you pay your fare!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three Years Already? That's Swift!

Three years ago this Friday, Nov. 30, 1,523 passengers boarded the Swift bus rapid transit line on its first full day of service. It was a sunny, sub-freezing day and Community Transit had volunteers at each station to help people ride the new buses. The biggest challenge was teaching people to pay before boarding.
To start a trend, Swift ridership grew 15 percent to 1,760 boardings the next day. It has been growing ever since.
Many riders use Swift for so many reasons,and to recognize that a new bus “wrap” will hit the streets in the coming weeks proclaiming “Last year, we moved over one million riders.” In 2011, Swift served 1,128,315 passengers, and we’re on target to serve even more this year.
Thanks to operating grants from the state and feds, and income from a partnership agreement with Everett Transit, Swift was launched at the height of the recession, just prior to the service cuts that were soon to come. Swift service was cut about 9 percent in 2010 with the loss of Sunday service, and cut another 19 percent in 2012 when daily frequencies went from 10 minutes to 12 minutes and late-night service was cut.
Still, Swift buses carry more people on each trip than ever, with just more than half of all passengers riding the servicein Everett. Because demand is still high and there are fewer buses (five per hour compared with six per hour pre-Feb. 2012), productivity on each bus has risen.
In September 2011, there were 28 passengers per hour on each Swift bus. That is the average of all buses operating from 5 a.m. to midnight. In September 2012 (most recent figures), there were 33.1 passengers per hour on each Swift bus,a productivity increase of 18 percent and enough people to push average weekday boardings to 4,004 passengers.
Several changes to Swift have taken place over these past three years. Four new stations opened in Everett in late 2010 and early 2011. Transit signal priority technology that gives Swift buses a longer green light was activated along the entire 17-mile corridor this past year. A queue jump transit signal now gives Swift buses a head start to get into general traffic lanes at northbound 148th Street.
And, our Transit Technologies project was launched on Swift buses in October 2012. Right now this involves automatic stop announcements and behind-the-scenes headway management, but this project will soon include next-bus signs at the stations, letting customers know how many minutes it will take for the next bus to arrive. It’s been three years since anyone danced about Swift, but there are still reasons to celebrate the state’s first and best bus rapid transit line.

Of course, a Swift anniversary is not complete without a poem from rider Margaret Elwood:

Swift service is now turning three.
Still my favorite bus to see–
It announces the stops
Next to large stores and shops.
(Please remember that fares are not free.)

One thing about Swift that I like:
It carries both me and my bike!
In sun, rain, or snow
It’s the best way to go
And it certainly saves me a hike.
Happy Anniversary, Swift!
You can see Margaret reading her Swiftfirst anniversary poem here

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New stops on 196th - finally!

Route 196 began serving two new stops on 196th Street at 48th Avenue in Lynnwood today. The stops are near the Fred Meyer complex and provide the closest connection between this route and Lynnwood Transit Center.

As previously discussed both here and in the Seattle Transit Blog, these bus stops were requested before Route 196 went into service last February. The City of Lynnwood was reluctant to allow new bus stops on 196th because of potential impacts to traffic whenever buses make stops. This street is one of the busiest in the county. The city has allowed these new stops on a temporary basis and will be monitoring their use and traffic impacts.

As part of the agreement with Lynnwood, the bus stop on westbound 196th at 50th Avenue has been removed. That was an orphan stop without an eastbound counterpart and had minimal activity. The new stops are less than a quarter-mile away and provide easier access to places riders really want to go.

It goes without saying that we are very pleased to be able to provide these stops for our customers who have waited patiently (and not-so-patiently) since last winter.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Technology Day!

New queue jump light on Highway 99 at 148th Street.
A lot is happening today for Community Transit bus service.

There is the closure of the 4th & Union bus stop in downtown Seattle, which will impact about 1,300 passengers a day - a quarter of all our downtown commuters. The new stop is just one block north, but some riders will have to make a decision whether to use that new stop at Westlake Park or one a few blocks south at 4th & Seneca. Either way, Metro's changes should ease up evening bus congestion on 4th Avenue.

Today, the remaining commuter buses out of our Kasch Park base turned on their new technology. This project started on Route 425 in mid-summer as new GPS-based equipment, as well as automatic passenger counters and announcements, went live.

For now, the biggest customer-facing features of this technology are the automatic announcements, by voice and electronic display. Our planners are already getting great new data from the passenger counters, and drivers and dispatchers love the new computerized communication system. Of course, the big news will be when all buses are outfitted and the real-time bus information is available. We'll continue to monitor this project through its rollout until we can introduce the real-time information.

In the next week or two, the University District routes (800's) will go live, then the remaining commuter routes (412, 424) in early 2013. Finally, the local routes will be rolled out in the spring.

Today also is a big day for Swift buses. The new queue jump light at 148th is being tested and should go live by this evening. This is where the northbound transit lane on Highway 99 ends, so buses have to merge into regular traffic just after the signal. It's a busy intersection, especially at peak times, so that merger can really slow down our rapid transit line. The queue jump - which may be the first in Snohomish County (I'm trying to get confirmation) - gives the Swift buses a few seconds head start before the regular light turns green.

This tool, which was in the original plan when Swift was launched in 2009, combined with the new headway management system technology, should really help Swift keep its 12-minute frequency.