West Seattle riders have given us a lot to think about in response to our recent questionnaire. We wanted to hear all of it – the good, the bad, the ugly – after receiving reports of overcrowded buses on the RapidRide C Line and routes 21, 21X, and 120, as well as service not arriving on time. Concerns were focused on the challenges we faced launching RapidRide C Line and changes to the transit system made Sept. 29.

Thanks to the 499 people who filled out our survey last month, as well as some 200 people who chatted with us in person in West Seattle in November. We appreciate and value your input, and have summarized your feedback.

Riders told us they want us to focus on three key things:

  1. Relieve overcrowding.
  2. Make buses show up on time.
  3. Get more and sustainable funding to expand or increase service.

The good news is that we want what you want: excellent and reliable transit service. But some things are within Metro’s control and some aren’t, and we have to balance the need to be cost-effective with the need to serve the most riders, including those who most need public transit.

Factors that contribute to overcrowding and gaps in service

Managing the timing of buses along some of Seattle’s busiest streets is a daily challenge. Gridlock, traffic collisions and people bustling across streets can delay buses, and riders squeeze onto already-full buses if real-time arrival signs and third-party apps don’t give them reliable information about when the next bus will come.

Did you know?

Metro’s fleet continues to evolve as we invest in new buses. As with other urban transit fleets across the country, we’re moving toward slightly fewer seats and more standing room, especially on RapidRide buses.

In a busy transit system, buses are expected to have at least some riders standing, especially during the busiest commute times. Metro’s largest buses offer a range of seating configurations: RapidRide buses have 49 seats, while our other low-floor articulated buses have 58 or (on older buses) 64.

When full, each bus carries about 100 people (some sitting and some standing). By working to minimize bus delays, we can reduce the number of packed buses. Metro also needs new funding to provide new service that meets increasing transit demand.

Ridership between West Seattle and downtown Seattle grew dramatically after the September service change, while the number of weekday peak-period trips we offer (77-78) stayed the same.

What are we doing about it?

We know that every minute counts in your bus trip. To address unexpected overcrowding and delays, we used reserve funds to add bus trips. Our control center also began actively monitoring traffic delays and RapidRide service to manage the timing of buses, especially during peak commute hours. These efforts work to smooth out the wrinkles of every daily commute, but service on any given day can still be affected by traffic and other variables—so, sometimes service is great, and sometimes it isn’t.

Did you know?

You can view a table showing how peak bus loads have increased between West Seattle and downtown Seattle.

But it is getting better. Our drivers are operating these routes more efficiently, and our coordinators more accurately deploy standby buses to fill gaps caused by traffic delays. We expect performance to steadily improve. With help from the city of Seattle, we’ve completed 27 transit signal priority projects that give buses more green lights between Ballard and downtown Seattle—boosting reliability as those buses head toward West Seattle. We also recently made progress improving the systems that predict bus arrivals and relay that information to real-time arrival signs and third-party smartphone apps. And come February, we expect to publish a printed schedule to help RapidRide riders know when buses are leaving most of the day.

Why we can’t expand service or go back to what you had before

In the face of tight budgets, we had to rearrange bus service to serve more riders. That meant reducing service in some places while adding it in others to create new and better connections. We also consolidated bus stops to improve speed and reliability – with the tradeoff that some of our riders have to walk farther to reach the bus. And we’re shifting our system from “one-seat rides” to carrying more riders to more places in a cost-efficient way, which requires more transfers.

Did you know?

OneBusAway is programmed and operated by the University of Washington with funding provided by Metro and Sound Transit. Metro works with developers continuously to troubleshoot software and data problems, but ultimately the functioning of this application is in the hands of staff and students at the UW. In the future, there may be other apps that also provide this type of information to riders.

We have the same number of bus trips between West Seattle, the viaduct, and downtown Seattle during peak commute hours, but we did reduce midday service by 95 trips due to low ridership. Those buses moved to other areas to serve more riders. For example, we extended Route 128 to the Admiral district and added more peak service; we created Route 50 to provide a long-awaited east-west connection between West Seattle and southeast Seattle; and we rerouted routes 60 and 120 to serve Westwood Village.

Going forward…

It’s important to us to make transit service as reliable as we can. We started operating RapidRide buses between Ballard, downtown Seattle, and West Seattle in September in the face of great change to our transit network. Some capital improvements were incomplete, riders had high expectations, and — as noted above — ridership increased unexpectedly. We’ve made strides in completing transit signal priority projects, better bus-arrival predictions, and continue to focus on improving operations.

Did you know?

Metro’s Strategic Plan and Service Guidelines set target service levels and guide us when we restructure transit service. The plan includes criteria for route performance, including the number of riders carried per hour.

Instead of rearranging service, we’d rather be increasing and improving it to meet growing demand. Those discussions continue. As for the challenges we’ve faced recently and concerns you’ve shared, we’ve learned valuable lessons that will help guide us to better implement transit changes in the future.

We can agree on this: Metro wants to operate a world-class transit system that serves the needs of a growing and diverse community. How best to do that is always a balancing act between budgets and competing interests across King County. We have 240 bus routes, 400,000 daily riders, and a vision for providing robust transit service while also serving those who need transit most.

Your input continues to be important, and we want to remain in conversation with you as we work to improve the service we provide.

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