Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's Lovely Weather for a Swift Ride Together With You

In the spirit of the holidays, celebrating Swift's 5th Anniversary and, of course, Santa Swift, here's a little ditty about a bus rapid transit system near and dear to Community Transit's heart, sung to the tune of Sleigh Ride.

Picture of Swift Coach Operator wearing Santa Hat
Santa Swift, aka Swift Coach Operator Phil, has the holiday spirit.
Swift Ride 
Just hear those Swift signs chiming
Departure time's glowing it’s “Due”
Come on it’s lovely weather
For a Swift ride together with you 
Outside the traffic’s building
Lone drivers are crying “Boo Hoo”
Come on it’s lovely weather
For a Swift ride together with you 
Swipe your card, buy a ticket, get aboard-- let’s go
Let’s look at the glow
Of storefronts blurring (Swift's not slow) 
Swipe your card, buy a ticket, get aboard-- Swift's planned
We're in capable hands
It's gliding along—can’t go wrong
Swift's the fastest BRT in the land

Just hear those Swift signs chiming
Departure time's glowing it’s “Due”
Come on it’s lovely weather
for a Swift ride together with you

Has this inspired you to create an altered holiday classic of your own? Share your lyrics with us in the comments, but let’s be family friendly lest Santa give you a lump of coal. :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Day in the Life of Swift's Ambassadors

10 hours on your feet. 10 seconds between buses, hopping on and off. More than 12,000 average fare checks a month.*

Welcome to the world of the Swift Ambassador.

Recently, I shadowed two of our three Swift Ambassadors to get a glimpse of their workday on Community Transit’s highest ridership route. This, and an interview or two gave me a taste of what the job is like, along with some tips for riding on Swift shared below.

"Don’t Forget to Wear Comfortable shoes!”

Swift Ambassadors 2014
That’s the advice I got from Will and Mario when we planned our meet-up at the Swift station on northbound 148th and Hwy 99. While I wasn’t planning on wearing high heels (geez, guys, give me some credit), it’s sound advice whenever you’re taking public transportation.

For three hours, Mario and I got on and off the bus at several Swift stations between 148th and Casino Road (between North Lynnwood and South Everett). Fare enforcement probably comes to mind when you think about what Ambassadors do, but there is more to their job than that.

“Swift Ambassadors are 'Customer Service First',” says Mario. “Under that umbrella is fare enforcement, payment education, etc.”

On this particular day:
Ambassadors & Transit Police often work together on the Swift line.
  • Each station we visited got a quick once over to make sure ticket machines and ORCA scanners were up and running. If there’s garbage, it’s picked up. It’s rare to see a messy Swift station. Now you know why.
  • Swift stations are notorious for serving as shopping cart parking. Those had to be moved to a safer spot so at not to roll out onto traffic.
  • Hugs. As we were riding northbound and picked up folks at the 112th St. Station, a regular passenger recognized Mario and gave him a big hug hello as she boarded. She was a tiny, older lady wearing a pink baseball hat giving a big ole bear hug to a man almost two feet taller than she.
  • There’s a learning curve when it comes to using Swift for the first time. A passenger at the Airport Road Station was a little lost and needed direction on where to go. When you are a Swift Ambassador, you are a walking BusPlus book. A friendly one, at that.
  • I witnessed firsthand the friendly interaction and the smooth handoff between Ambassadors and Transit Police. Whether a fare hasn’t been paid or a passenger has an outstanding warrant (you’d be surprised how many our Ambassadors have uncovered when doing a fare check), passengers are treated with courtesy and respect.

In their own words

On what they like most about their job.
“Some might be surprised, but the best part of my job, honestly, is the people. While a few angry or disgruntled passengers might make the day seem a little longer, the vast majority are decent people who appreciate the ride and the work we do,” – Ambassador Nick

“I like the overall diversity of the passengers I encounter daily onboard Swift.” – Ambassador Mario

On their most rewarding experience on the job.
“My most rewarding experience was when someone heeds advice and makes a positive change in their life—and then comes back to give thanks for the good advice.” – Ambassador Will

“I helped a gentleman reach his destination and family—he did not speak English, only Chinese. He was alone and had just arrived from Texas; he had never been to Western Washington. Through mutual trust and communicating with our hands, I was able to ensure he reached his destination. He and his family were grateful; it was really rewarding!” – Ambassador Mario

What misconception about your job would you like to clear up?
“It’s not personal! I’m employed to check the fares of every passenger on every Swift bus I board. If you haven’t paid and I ask you to exit the bus and buy a ticket, I don’t think you are a bad person or form any judgment about you-- I just want you to pay the fare.” – Ambassador Nick

And now for the tips

  • Have your fare ready.
  • Be patient and stay calm. It can be annoying when you are trying to buy a ticket and the bus shows up before you have completed your transaaction. Swift is fast, frequent service for a reason. The next bus will be along sooner than you expect.” – Ambassador Will
  • The ORCA Card makes paying the fare easy. One tap of the card on the reader and you’re good to go. I had trouble getting it to read correctly because I was failing to tap the card in the center of the reader. I finally got it down after the third boarding. Nothing like that “read error” beep and an approaching bus to get you to do it right the first time!
  • ORCA Card Tip from Swift Ambassador Will: if you leave your Swift card against the reader, the information on the screen will remain until you remove your card. Note: this only works on transactions where the screen doesn’t tell you to “Please try again” or “Insufficient Funds."
  • Don’t skip paying your fare. Just. Don’t. After five years riding Swift, the Ambassadors have fine-tuned their methods of visually identifying fare evaders. I won’t expose their methods here, but I can assure you there is no smoke and mirrors used. Just good old-fashioned observation, legwork and getting to know our Swift riders.
  • Don’t be offended if you’re asked to show proof of payment. If you happen to be on the bus when an Ambassador boards, everyone on board will be asked to show their ORCA card, receipt or reduced fare pass— it doesn’t matter if you’re a regular Swift rider and you think the Ambassadors should “know” you. Fare enforcement is just part of the job.
  • Have your fare ready. 

“Some of the riders think that when I’m checking their fare, I am suspecting them and/or accusing them of stealing. This could be farther from the truth! It is my job to check fares of all passengers," says, Ambassador Will.

So, there you have it-- a Swift glimpse of an Ambassador's day. Are there other Community Transit jobs you've been curious about? Let us know in the comments! It may become our next blog post.

* Average monthly fare checks conducted by all three Swift Ambassadors


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Swift Perspective from Behind the Wheel

There’s no avoiding numbers when it comes to celebrating milestones.

In honor of Swift's 5th Anniversary this week, we’ve been sharing its impressive numbers here. And here. Oh, and here.

But behind the numbers and what makes Swift, well, swift, is the people. I had the opportunity to talk to one of these people-- his name is Stuart.

Stuart is a Community Transit Coach Operator. Of his 11 years driving for the agency, he has driven Swift since it launched five years ago. Stuart has a unique perspective on Swift and how it came to be because he is one of three coach operators who were on the startup committee to launch it.
“Being on the startup team and driving the (Swift) service gives me a sense of ‘ownership in the process’ that others might not,” says Stuart.
On the idea of BRT in Snohomish county (let alone Washington state)
I thought BRT made sense for the Highway 99 corridor considering the history we had with our old Route 610 route, which was popular because people didn’t have to transfer from bus to bus in order to get to Aurora Village.

On changes he’s seen over the past five years of Swift:
Knowing how we had planned to run this service, it is nice to see that it is working almost exactly as we planned. Higher ridership than expected, so soon after launch.  We estimated 2500 boardings per day at the end of the first year of service. We reached 3200 boardings after only six months, and now we are around 4100. The overall perception is that Swift is unquestionably faster than driving a private vehicle.

So, what does Stuart think about Swift II?
I like it! I hear it would be 128th St SW to Boeing. A good choice for an east-west artery. Ultimately, it might be nice to have a Swift "box" with two north/south and two east/west lines, where people could start on a Swift bus to get elsewhere in the county. (For more info about the proposed Swift II, go here.)

On driving Swift versus a local or commuter route
I have done all of Community Transit’s local/UW/commuter routes.  The difference for me is that those runs are much more mundane than Swift. There always seems to be something going on out there (Swift) that is not found on our other services.

On this “ownership in the process” Stuart talks about
Any time you involve the drivers with planning a project or service addition, it gives instant credibility within the ranks of the drivers. Many were very skeptical of Swift early on UNTIL they found out that three of us drivers were on the committee.  After that, it seemed like we were peppered with questions up until launch about how it would work, etc. (which we were glad to answer). 

Bottom line-- for me, with ownership of Swift, it’s to make sure that over a period of time, it is not "diluted" or changed to the point where we look back and realize we aren't very "Swift" anymore.

On the biggest change to Swift in the last 5 yearsThe concept of Swift was to run the same as a subway system and have coaches equally spaced in the corridor every 10-12 minutes regardless of the time on the clock.  What we did then was call dispatch at each of the designated ‘pace points,’ so they knew where we were. With transit technology and GPS installed on the buses now, we don’t have to do that anymore.

On what makes driving Swift so rewardingI derive the most joy on Swift from working with our Swift Ambassadors and Transit Police.  They do their best to make sure people on Swift are safe and, as a result of their efforts, I believe our transit police have the highest percentage of arrests on warrants of any in the county.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Swift II... and Beyond!

When Community Transit first launched a bus rapid transit line on Highway 99, we had a vision for a network of such routes. The Long Range Transit Plan, approved in 2010 and being updated next year, outlined a series of high-traffic corridors that could eventually have Swift service.

With the great success of Swift, plans are underway for a second Swift line, tentatively called Swift II. Other lines will be considered as individual projects because we simply don’t have the resources to tackle them all at once. In some cases, like Highway 9, the corridors themselves are not ready for such high-volume transit service.

A corridor study was conducted over the past year to sketch out a Swift line that would run between the Boeing-Everett plant and Canyon Park. The study determined this line could start out carrying 3,300 riders a day and complete the 12.5-mile trip in about 40 minutes.

This route was selected in part because:
  • Some of the infrastructure already exists (transit lanes and transit signal priority on 128th/Airport Road).
  • The Mill Creek portion of the route has robust transit ridership.
  • This line would intersect with the existing Swift line at Highway 99 & Airport Road, establishing a network.
Community Transit cannot build this project with existing revenue. Federal grants are needed to buy buses and build the stations. Here are several things the agency must do before Swift II can become a reality:

Preliminary Swift II route
Preliminary Swift II route
  • Complete federal requirements for Small Starts capital funding (stations and buses), including an environmental impact analysis.
  • Develop plans for a northern terminal near Boeing (dubbed the "Seaway Transit Center").
  • Work with the state to develop traffic efficiency improvements across I-5 at 128th Street (already a major congestion point).
  • Continue to work with partner cities on infrastructure improvements along route, including transit signal priority.
  • Get new funding to pay for Swift II operation (possible new taxes).
Should all of these items fall into place, it is possible that a Swift II line could be operational as early as 2018.

Looking ahead, Community Transit would like to begin planning studies on future Swift lines as this project is underway. Ideally, that could lead to a Swift line opening every few years until the network is built out.

That scenario would rely on the agency getting a successful federal grant for Swift II (giving us the track record and experience in winning these grants), and securing a long-term increase in transit operation funding. Such funding would not be just to build more Swift lines, but to improve transit service throughout the county.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Swift turns 5!

Swift – the state’s first bus rapid transit line is now 5 years old!

On November. 30, Swift  marked its fifth year of providing quick, reliable service along Highway 99 in Snohomish County. (Does anyone remember that grand opening party on a day as cold as those we've had this week?)

That first day of service, Monday, Nov. 30, 2009, Swift transported 1,500 riders. These days, Swift carries about 5,700 riders each weekday – that translates into 125,000 riders a month, and about 1.5 million riders a year!

For several days this fall, Swift  carried more than 6,000 riders a day!

In 5 short years, Swift  has become Community Transit’s most popular route (highest ridership), one of our most productive routes (most riders per bus), and the cornerstone for a new network of countywide transit service.

What’s so great about Swift ?
Our customers tell us again and again that they love Swift because it is predictable. Buses arrive every 12 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays, and every 20 minutes at night and Saturdays. With next bus signs at each station counting down to Swift’s next departure, you don’t need a schedule.

Swift service is also fast. Because riders pay at the station, buses are typically stopped for only 10 seconds. That keeps the bus moving and gets you to your destination faster.

Whether you’ve been riding since the beginning, or just started this year, we thank you for riding Swift  We also want to hear your stories and see your pictures.

All this week we will be talking about Swift  on this blog, on our Facebook page and on Twitter. We'll be talking about our Swift  drivers, our Ambassadors and Swift  II! We'll be handing out chocolate bars, and there will even be a photo contest!

So, what's your Swift story?