Monday, November 5, 2012

Technology Day!

New queue jump light on Highway 99 at 148th Street.
A lot is happening today for Community Transit bus service.

There is the closure of the 4th & Union bus stop in downtown Seattle, which will impact about 1,300 passengers a day - a quarter of all our downtown commuters. The new stop is just one block north, but some riders will have to make a decision whether to use that new stop at Westlake Park or one a few blocks south at 4th & Seneca. Either way, Metro's changes should ease up evening bus congestion on 4th Avenue.

Today, the remaining commuter buses out of our Kasch Park base turned on their new technology. This project started on Route 425 in mid-summer as new GPS-based equipment, as well as automatic passenger counters and announcements, went live.

For now, the biggest customer-facing features of this technology are the automatic announcements, by voice and electronic display. Our planners are already getting great new data from the passenger counters, and drivers and dispatchers love the new computerized communication system. Of course, the big news will be when all buses are outfitted and the real-time bus information is available. We'll continue to monitor this project through its rollout until we can introduce the real-time information.

In the next week or two, the University District routes (800's) will go live, then the remaining commuter routes (412, 424) in early 2013. Finally, the local routes will be rolled out in the spring.

Today also is a big day for Swift buses. The new queue jump light at 148th is being tested and should go live by this evening. This is where the northbound transit lane on Highway 99 ends, so buses have to merge into regular traffic just after the signal. It's a busy intersection, especially at peak times, so that merger can really slow down our rapid transit line. The queue jump - which may be the first in Snohomish County (I'm trying to get confirmation) - gives the Swift buses a few seconds head start before the regular light turns green.

This tool, which was in the original plan when Swift was launched in 2009, combined with the new headway management system technology, should really help Swift keep its 12-minute frequency.


  1. Once the real time bus information is available, will it be available on the OneBusAway app?

  2. Will, by mutual agreement, Community Transit provides OneBusAway with our schedule data. It is assumed that once real-time information is available for Community Transit trips, OneBusAway will also want that data. So far, we haven't gotten that far, but that is a good assumption.

  3. As a daily commuter I would like some way to actually see where the busses are once GPS data is available. This can be a google maps, a website, your app, another app such as OneBusAway, whatever.

    As it stands now, during peak times posted schedules and OneBusAway are not even remotely accurate which renders them worse than useless and makes them counter-productive.

    For example, on 11/15/12 I spent 45 minutes waiting for any one of 3 bus routes going through 6th and Olive in Seattle and none of the scheduled busses showed up. This happens nearly every day and I am sure that your data can confirm this.

    So it's great that your dispatchers know where the busses are but that doesn't really do the riders any good. Likewise, posting projected arrival times at bus stops is not sufficient since it does not allow the riders to plan when to arrive at the stop. Basically, by the time the rider gets to the stop it's too late to plan the commute and she is forced to wait and hope that the posted arrival time is close to accurate.

    However, if the riders knew where the busses were we could plan our bus stop arrival and this would make the entire system much more effective and efficient not to mention making the riders happy...

  4. Anon, the service you envision is exactly what we intend to have by mid-2013. By giving our buses GPS, we can begin to track their precise location. That not only helps our dispatchers, but gives us the technology to offer real-time bus information to our customers.

    Expect to be able to get real-time information by phone (either by talking to a customer service rep or punching in your stop ID number) and by website (land and mobile). We hope to share information with third party developers so they can create applications like OneBusAway that can further disseminate our real-time information.

    The goal is more efficient operations and better customer service!

  5. It seems we're not getting any alerts for 412 delays any more. Is this related to some buses having this equipment and others not? Have the manually triggered email alerts stopped?

  6. I think everyone experienced bad delays on 11/15/12 due to horrible traffic. I understand that Community Transit does not stage buses downtown much prior to downtown trips, because many turn around and make another trip, and get stuck in I-5 southbound traffic trying to get back downtown. I gather this is more likely with routes from southern Snohomish County as the north and east county trips are so long there is not time for this.

    I ride the 412. I'm guessing that this and the 410 are probably the northernmost routes doing this. Is there any way to determine what the first trip is that is run by a bus that has already done one run? For example, the first afternoon run on the 412 comes back downtown and runs a second trip. Is there a way to determine which trip that corresponds with - i.e. so we know after which time the buses are making their second trip and might be more likely to be running late?

  7. With the increasing darkness and recent rain, we are getting a number of questions about the communication of delayed trips. Just to restate, and possible reset expectations about our electronic alerts, right now Community Transit can only send out alerts of systemwide delays. For instance, Friday afternoons are notorious for late commuter trips, so we often send our an alert when we start to hear from our operations bases that trips are running significantly behind schedule (20-30 minutes or more).

    There are several reasons why we cannot send out individual trip delays. One, there are not enough staff to do this. On snow days, I drop everything else and devote all my time to this, as does our Customer Service Manager. But we have other work to do every day, and if we both happen to be in the same meeting or sick, those alerts just wouldn't get out anyway.

    Two, the information we get comes from drivers who now radio in that information to one of our dispatch centers, then that information is sent to others (including us). There is sometimes a time gap before we get that trip information, and the problem may no longer exist or may have been addressed by supervisors or another bus.

    Without a consistent, foolproof way to provide instant alerts on trip delays, we are waiting for real-time information to arrive. Thankfully, the pilot for this project is well underway and we are hopeful that by next summer, if not sooner, YOU will be able to get a rather precise arrival for your bus at your stop.