Friday, February 18, 2011

Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station

The Washington State Department of Transportation is a partner in this Sound Transit construction project - sited in the middle of I-5. So they have a very nice slideshow which illustrates the progress so far. My favorite photo shows the elevator shaft. While most of the other work at the Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station is wrapping up, the elevator may be one of the last items to get a green light.

It's all scheduled to open for buses and business on March 20. The freeway station is connected to Community Transit's Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, and the new service stopping there will more than triple the number of buses operating between Mountlake Terrace and Seattle.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do the Math and Curb the Congestion

By Debbie Anderson, Curb the Congestion Specialist

Looking at facts, figures and strategies is what Matthew Cail does every day in his job as an analyst. But he didn’t need any of that expertise to figure out the most cost-effective way to get from his home in Lynnwood to Downtown Seattle – it was easy!

Matthew rides Route 413 or 415 almost every day, taking the bus instead of driving his car on 164th Street. “Transit was a major factor in where I bought a house. I intentionally bought on a bus line,” he says. In the last quarter of 2010, Matthew logged more than 260 bus trips totaling more than 5,700 miles and saving him hundreds of dollars in gas alone.

Matthew’s trips are among the thousands removed from Snohomish County roads last year thanks to Curb the Congestion, a program funded by Snohomish County through grants and development feed and operated by Community Transit. “Curb” targets crowded roads in unincorporated Snohomish County with the goal of convincing people to choose alternatives to driving alone.

Curb the Congestion started in 2008 after Snohomish County declared 164th Street SW at “ultimate capacity,” creating a program to invest in transportation demand management and safety improvements rather than halt development or try to widen already built-out roads. In 2009, the county added 128th Street and 20th Street SE to the Curb the Congestion program.

As much as 25 % of Snohomish County’s population lives within the “traffic-shed” of these roads, living in almost 70,000 homes and apartments. Curb the Congestion offers each household personal assistance in finding carpools, planning bus trips and considering other alternatives to driving alone.

Lake Stevens participant Jennifer Dawson makes smarter trips on both 164th Street and 20th Street. In 2009, Jennifer started carpooling with a coworker who lives near Marysville. During the summer, they meet at the Lake Stevens Transit Center and share a ride to Bayer Healthcare in Lynnwood. During the school year, they meet at Everett Station. Jennifer often rides the bus home to Lake Stevens.

“Bus schedules can be confusing sometimes,” she says. “The Curb the Congestion personal assistant helps.”

There’s also an online calendar where participants commit to change and log their trips. It all adds up to behavior changes that make a difference in individual lives as well as on the roads of Snohomish County.

“Sitting in traffic is stressful. Sitting on the bus or chatting in the car with a friend on the way home is easier,” Jennifer says.

If you travel on one of the targeted roads, contact the Curb the Congestion Specialist about your commute options: (425) 438-6136 or

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Boeing Riders Love the Bus

Who rides Community Transit buses and why do they do so? The results of our 2010 On Board Survey begin to answer those questions. We have received a preliminary report on the 8,000 surveys returned last October.  This will be the first of several blogs to discuss some of the results. I’ll break the posts into rider types based on routes.
  • Boeing Riders
  • Commuter Riders
  • University Riders
  • Local Riders
  •  Swift Riders
First, some background. Community Transit operates four bus routes that serve Boeing: Route 227 from Arlington/Marysville, Route 247 from Stanwood, Route 277 from Monroe and Route 280 from Lake Stevens.  Our Boeing-route passengers are a dedicated lot, based on the survey.
  • 55% of Boeing riders have ridden Community Transit for six years or more.
  • 31% have ridden for two to five years
Unfortunately, the corollary is also true: Boeing service is not attracting new riders. Only 6% started riding in the past year, compared to 20% new riders in our system overall.

Despite their long-term commitment to public transportation, Boeing bus riders are not a captive audience. Ninety-four percent say they own a car but choose to use transit.  At the same time, Boeing riders are the least likely to drive to the bus of all our commuter riders (Boeing, Seattle or U-District service): 48% walk to their stops, while 38% drive.

Most Boeing riders pay for the bus with an ORCA card. As a company, Boeing subsidizes bus passes and vanpools and has other programs in place to encourage alternative transportation. If you’ve ever tried to get onto Highway 526 at 5:30 a.m. (or if you work at Boeing and try to park there), you’ll know that encouraging transit use is in Boeing’s self-interest.  There’s also the state Commute Trip Reduction Law which requires large employers (and who is larger than Boeing?) to do their part in reducing congestion. 

Because of the varying start times and shift work at Boeing, the increased flexibility of vanpools makes them more popular than buses. There are 88Community Transit  vanpools to Everett Boeing, and many more from other counties around the region. 

But something about Community Transit’s Boeing bus service obviously works for our long-term bus riders – or maybe it’s something about driving to Boeing that doesn’t work . Either way, we have something to learn from them about how to encourage more people to choose public transportation even when they have other options.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Where Are Those Double Talls?

One of the most frequently asked questions we’re getting these days is why aren’t the new Double Tall double decker buses in service yet?

Many people are aware that the buses started arriving last fall and are now parked at our base. They’ve been seen around Everett as they go through road testing.

Fact is, a perfect storm of circumstances has transpired to keep them out of service so far…

A little background: Community Transit leased one double decker three years ago to try out in commuter service to Seattle. The bus can hold twice the number of riders as a typical 40-foot bus in the same amount of space, while using only one driver and roughly the same amount of fuel.

Our pilot testing of this bus went great. People loved the bus – the novelty of the stairs, the great views from above and the smooth ride of a triple-axle, single-frame chassis. We did a dwell time study for the Seattle Department of Transportation to see if it took longer to load and unload the Double Tall on busy downtown streets. The result: no. In fact, the shorter length of the bus compared to articulated buses helped to keep vehicles from “blocking the box” at rush hour.

The leased bus (yes, we only had one!) went back to the manufacturer and, in 2009, thanks to federal stimulus funding, Community Transit placed an order for 23 Double Talls to replace the oldest articulated buses in our fleet.

Now the storm…

Because Community Transit uses federal funding to buy its buses, there is a “Buy America” requirement – buses must be substantially built in the U.S. using mostly American-made parts.

The winner of our public bid for the double deckers was Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) of Great Britain – the world’s leading double decker manufacturer. To stake its claim in the American market, ADL specifically bid to build a “Buy America” compliant double decker, it’s first ever.

This new build process for ADL created some new issues with the buses, from working with new subcontractors to manufacturing at a U.S. plant. Some of these issues are still being resolved to meet Community Transit’s high standards. At the same time, our mechanics are spending lots of time with these buses to get to know how they work, installing ORCA, fare box and other equipment, and placing a new set of decals on these 14-foot tall buses.

We’re just about ready to hand these buses over to the drivers for training and they will soon (don’t ask for a date) be on the road!

The good news is we know that our customers are looking forward to these buses, and we know they will love them. The buses will save fuel and maintenance costs over those 1995-built artics they are replacing. They will expand capacity for riders, which is a good thing after the service cuts last year created more crowded commuter buses.

And, while we haven’t had the chance to test this yet, the Double Talls should perform well in icy conditions. Similar buses in other cities have been able to operate well in those conditions. Most of our commuter fleet is articulated buses, so when snowy or icy conditions hit we have to take those buses off the road. The Double Talls should help us to have enough buses to carry passenger demand during those bad weather periods.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bus Stories

One of the best things about public transportation is… the public. Community Transit riders truly do form a community. You may be anonymous  on the bus and read your book, but you’re still elbow to elbow with someone else. That person by definition lives, works or travels the same places you do. In my view, knowing a little about each other is good for all of us (even if you do occasionally get TMI).

Community Transit has a project to tell the stories of some of our riders. It’s gotten the attention of Bus Chick, a blogger who shares my appreciation for the community shared by transit users. 

Here are some of my bus stories from the past week:

On the way in to work one day, I spoke with a fellow rider about metaphysics, myths and, as the conversation roamed, modern medicine.  He spends his bus time reading books on the first two subjects (I inserted the third topic). 

Coming home one night, a man I know as a regular rider was on a much later trip than normal and holding on to a Bus Plus schedule book. Instead of his usual Sounder commute, he’d gone by bus to McCollum Park after work for a meeting.  Turns out he is the Sheep Superintendent for the Evergreen State Fair and puts in a lot of volunteer time with 4-H.  

Another morning, I arrived at my stop in Marysville a little late, as usual. I asked the woman waiting there if the bus had passed yet. She said, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” and started dialing her cell phone. I couldn’t imagine how a phone call was going to get us any useful information – after all, Community Transit doesn’t have real-time data on the location of our buses (yet), so Customer Service wouldn’t know. 

However, turns out she has a high-tech, low-tech way to track the whereabouts of her bus. Her friend boards the route earlier in the trip. My fellow bus-stop waiter called that friend, who reported the bus was still on its way. Apparently, this type of real-time information sharing isn’t unusual for these two. We should all have a friend on the bus.

If you would like to share your bus – or vanpool – story with Community Transit, contact

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Transit-Related Legislation

By Todd Morrow, Community Transit Chief of Strategic Communications

Transportation funding is on the minds of both federal and state legislators this year.
At the state level, Rep. Marko Liias and other Snohomish County legislators are sponsoring House Bill 1536. This bill has a hearing scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Feb. 9 in Olympia.

The bill would allow transit agency boards in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties the ability to impose a temporary “congestion reduction” fee on vehicles, up to $30 a year for two years. This is a tool to protect local transit service. A companion bill, SB 5457, has been filed in the Senate.

Most of Community Transit’s funding comes from a voter-approved nine-tenths of 1 percent sales tax, the maximum allowed by state law. Due to the recession, sales tax revenues have dropped below 2005 levels and are not bouncing back. Community Transit made significant service cuts in June 2010, and has cut its spending in other areas the past three years. However, more service cuts could be necessary in 2012 to balance the budget with current funding.

HB 1536 could generate approximately $11 million for Community Transit each of the two years it could be collected. For Snohomish County residents, the service that is protected by that funding could be their ride to work, or the trip to the store – both of which are needed for local economic recovery.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Service Change Delayed Until March 20

Typically, Community Transit’s service change is timed to coincide with the other regional transit agencies. That date for this winter’s service change is Feb. 6. But Community Transit will not have its service change until March 20 due to construction delays on the Sound Transit Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station project.

Sound Transit’s service changes in Snohomish County also will be delayed until March 20.

Most of Community Transit’s changes this winter are centered around service in the Mountlake Terrace area, and at the transit center. The agency is taking advantage of the new freeway station to save some money by eliminating the two Seattle commuter routes that now run out of the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center and instead have two existing commuter routes pick up and drop off at the new freeway station.

Sound Transit Routes 511 and 513 will also use the freeway station to serve the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center starting March 20. Route 511 will operate every 15 minutes in both directions on weekdays, greatly increasing bus service for this area.

Other local bus changes help with connections to the transit center or realign service through the city of Mountlake Terrace.

When completed, the freeway station will make the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center another south county transit hub that could lure riders away from Lynnwood Transit Center or even Ash Way. Stay tuned for a grand opening announcement.