Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Community Transit recognizes stand out participants

Community Transit’s Choice Connections program recognizes worksites in Snohomish County and the City of Bothell who support Washington State Commute Trip Reduction goals. They go above and beyond to encourage their employees to use smart transportation alternatives to driving alone. Congratulations to the Choice Connections award winners for 3rd Quarter 2014:
Ben Stockinger, Smart Commuter

Smart Commuter of the Quarter
Ben Stockinger is webmaster for the City of Lynnwood. He is diligent about developing, managing and supporting the city’s web resources and services. Ben has also been a devoted advocate of alternative transportation for the past 15 years by biking, walking and carpooling to work and meetings. He is a personal advocate at his worksite, and helps educate his coworkers on biking to work. Ben chooses to bike to work, rain or shine, even during the rainy Pacific Northwest weather.

ETC of the Quarter
Marko Liias has done great things for the Commute Trip Reduction program at the City of Mukilteo. Within his first couple months, he reviewed their entire CTR program and set in place new strategies to achieve success and educate city employees. Due to his efforts, the City of Mukilteo achieved over a 50% increase in employees tracking their non-drive alone trips in Marko’s efforts also contributed to their employees more than quadrupling their number of drive alone miles saved, which helps ease traffic congestion and supports a healthy environment. 

Employer of the Quarter
Panasonic Avionics Corporation provides its employees with the tools and encouragement to ensure a successful worksite Commute Trip Reduction program. They hosted an appreciation luncheon for rideshare participants, and educated employees on the system. They delivered another great perk, a certificate for a paid day off, which will be awarded to three participants using a commute alternative to driving alone. During the third quarter alone, Panasonic participants have removed more than 43,000 lbs of CO2 from the air we breathe and saved almost 2,200 gallons of fuel.

Choice Connections rewards commuters for choosing a smart alternative to driving alone, and offers the tools and resources needed to get started. When you choose a smart commute, your efforts reduce traffic, save money and time, and help the environment. To learn more about the Choice Connections program, please visit Community Transit Choice Connections.

Friday, January 16, 2015

You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, So We'll Tell Him About Our Animals on the Bus Policy

By Laurel McJannet

There’s an old saying in the journalism biz:

“When a dog bites man, that is not news. But if a man bites dog, that is news.”

Well, this week, the news was all about a dog who took the bus.

Media outlets far and wide went doggone crazy over the story of Eclipse, a dog who learned to ride the bus alone to a Seattle dog park. That’s right—a Seattle dog park, which makes Eclipse a KCMetro bus rider. It was on ABC News, the Washington Post, even Huffington Post picked up Seattle’s own KOMO-TV coverage.

We love this story. Many of us at Community Transit are dog owners and have 1, 2, 3 of our own at home. However, we’d like to take this opportunity to let you know we don’t plan to change our policies about animals on our buses in light of this story. You can read up on our animals on buses policy here, but I’ll take a moment to give you the highlights here.

Service animals are allowed on all Community Transit buses as long as they are harnessed, leashed or tethered. This is per the American’s with Disabilties Act (ADA). If the device used prevents the service animal from doing their job or the individual’s disability prevents them from using a device, the service animal must be controlled through voice, signal or other effective control.

This is my 10-month old dog, Bandit.

Bandit the Shih Tzu
Bandit is a non-service dog. He is not allowed to ride on Community Transit’s commuter buses (those are routes numbered in the 400s and 800s).

Bandit can explore Snohomish County on our local buses (with his person, of course) as long as he is on a leash and is wearing a commercially-produced muzzle that covers he mouth and is secured behind his head.

Now, if you have another type of small animal, (a reptile, bird or cat), s/he must be in a confined carrying container and held on your lap or at your feet.

Whether you have a service animal or a non-service dog, all owners must have complete control of their animals at all times. Animals can’t occupy a seat, block the aisle or wander around the bus annoying our fellow passengers.

We have this policy in place to ensure the safety of your animals and your fellow riders. Thanks in advance for being great pet owners and transit riders.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 State Legislative Priorities

The 2015 Washington State Legislature convenes today in Olympia. It is a biennial budget year, which means the session is scheduled for 105 days. Many budget-year legislatures continue into special sessions, taking business further into the spring.

Community Transit will be tracking legislative activity closely, as several bills could make a big difference in the future of transit service in Snohomish County.

Legislation that would allow the agency to ask local voters to increase financial support for transit service is the top priority in this year’s state legislative agenda.

Community Transit's 2015 State Legislative Priorities

"Local Option" legislation – Community Transit is at the maximum taxing authority allowed by law. The agency is asking the state legislature to pass “local option” legislation that would allow the agency to seek up to a three-tenths (0.3) of one percent sales tax increase to support transit.

Should this legislation pass, it would be up to the Community Transit Board of Directors to decide if and when to put such a measure to a local vote.

Regional Mobility Grant projects – Approval of the WSDOT Recommended Regional Mobility Project List for 2015-2017, which includes $6.8 million for the Seaway Transit Center near Paine Field and $2.68 million for a Mukilteo Park & Ride.

State transportation package – Secure legislative passage of a statewide transportation funding package that includes significant state investment in public transportation, and includes $1 billion (or 10 percent of total revenue) for Snohomish County transportation projects.

Maintain existing programs – Fully fund the Regional Mobility Grant program at $50 million, plus re-appropriations, for the current biennium. Continue the fee revenue-based transit operating grant program at $26 million per biennium, and maintain funding for the vanpool, special needs and Commute Trip Reduction programs.

Transit-friendly legislation – Support legislation that provides for the effective and efficient delivery of transit services within an integrated multi-modal transportation system. Oppose legislation that would negatively impact the oversight, financing, construction, and delivery of transit service and projects.

As the session moves forward, keep reading this blog for updates on activity concerning transit service and funding. We'd love to hear your thoughts.

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.