Metro is committed to delivering reliable, on-time service to customers with minimal cancellations, which is recognized in a service reliability audit that King County Auditor’s Office presented to King County Council on Feb. 26.

We are especially pleased that in an audit about our service reliability, the Audit team found that:

  • Metro “has a high level of system-wide on-time performance, despite increased traffic congestion.”
  • Service “cancellations are relatively uncommon. [Metro] has worked to reduce the number of service cancellations, and it estimates it cancels less than 0.5 percent of trips.”
  • There was no variation in service reliability based on the demographics of the people that live in each neighborhood served by Metro.

The audit also made recommendations to improve customer experience by better communicating early departures, and evaluating the necessity of our Puget Sound Trip Planner app, given the availability of free third-party apps.

Additionally, Audit findings recommended that Metro put systems in place to evaluate the success of its Hot Spot Improvements Program investments. This program identifies and implements low-cost capital projects that address bus service speed and reliability.

We concur with the recommendations of the audit and are moving forward to address each of them.

In some cases, the audit results mirrored feedback we were already in the process of addressing.

In 2019, Metro initiated a substantial information technology project to improve the real-time data that is available to customers, and optimize how customers can best receive that data. Throughout the year, we will review our current communications efforts and identify if there are other places where we can better communicate that bus service sometimes may run a minute or two early.

Buses line up to pick up passengers in downtown Seattle
Photo courtesy of Ned Ahrens

What are we currently doing to communicate real-time data to customers?

We currently have several ways we informs riders that buses may leave before – or later than – the scheduled departure time. Specifically:

  • Puget Sound Trip Planner’s Next Departures and Tracker features provide real-time updates that include predicted departure times both prior to and later than the scheduled time.
  • Metro’s Text for Departures tool provides real-time updates for customers with smart devices and texting capabilities that include predicted departure times both prior to and later than the scheduled time.
  • Real-time information signs at applicable bus stops, primarily RapidRide stops, that include predicted departure times both prior to and later than the scheduled time.
  • Informational text messages and emails in applicable Transit Alerts sent to subscribing customers, including recommendations that customer arrive at their bus stop a few minutes prior to the scheduled departure time of their service.
  • Schedule and real-time data in the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and GTFS-Realtime formats made available to external third party developers/consumers.
  • Frequent customer service interaction on Twitter answering customer questions Monday through Friday and during special events; hourly commute updates posted on Twitter and Eye On Your Metro Commute blog.

For riders without access to smartphones, we offer timetables in printed and online formats that indicate when a departure time is an estimated time. Also, our call center responds to questions via the customer service line, 206-553-3000. We also recognize that the Service Advisories posted on our website will not be ideal for all users and are looking to further optimize the user experience.

What about the Hot Spot Improvement Program?

In regards to our Hot Spot Improvements Program, we agree that there is value in developing more robust evaluation tools to understand the impact of each investment and make decisions about continuing or expanding this type of program.

“The number of people who experience a better bus ride because of these investments makes these projects appear promising,” the report finds, but notes that Metro does not consistently track the impact of these projects in terms of speed and reliability. Metro has historically tracked basic information, such as where a project takes place, what was done, how much it cost, which routes and approximately how many riders were impacted.

For example, one Hot Spots Improvement project valued at $5,000 was evaluated more closely by Metro in 2018, and determined to save $9,000 per week in operational cost. We concur that we would benefit by having this level of analysis conducted on more of its projects, and is pursuing scalable measurement tools.

Route 355 bus picks up passenger
Photo courtesy of Ned Ahrens

Looking ahead

Metro is committed to continually looking at improvements to the system as we move forward, and we will work with the King County Auditor’s Office and the public to make progress on the recommendations.

Anytime we are audited, it’s an excellent opportunity to take a fresh look at where we can improve, and we know we can improve our customer communications. In this case, this process also confirmed that our service is reliable and delivers on-time performance, something the Metro team offers to more than 122 million customers each year. We will continue to provide our customers with the best experience possible as we move forward together.