Monday, January 30, 2012

Reality Check - Changes Coming!

Community Transit staff have been out at park & rides and on board buses reminding riders that a major service change will take place on Feb. 20. Many people are aware of this, and many have gone online or read the Guide to Service Change to see how their travel will be impacted. But there are still quite a few people out there who think these changes are negotiable and may not realize they are going to happen, soon!

To date, we have spoken to more than 1,700 riders about the upcoming service change. We get that number by adding the number of conversations we've had to the number of people on buses that we hop on and make an announcement. In some cases, we may have a five- or 10-minute conversation with someone waiting for their bus; in others there is a 25-second announcement that the changes are coming Feb. 20 and all the details are in the Guide to Service Change and on our website.

Given that we have about 40,000 boardings a day on our buses, that comes down to just south of 20,000 actual daily riders. We hope to speak to maybe 3-4,000 in person before the service change, and those people may talk to others. Through this blog, our electronic alerts (13,000+ subscribers), our website and our Facebook page, we hope the word is getting out to more. And, of course, everyone who rides the bus has a chance to see the materials on board.

But again, not everyone pays attention or realizes the urgency. Even on these pages we see commentors suggesting alternatives to the changes. It's always great to get feedback, but the public comment period for these changes took place last summer; these changes are final.

Maybe that fact will sink in when the printed Bus Plus schedule books arrive on buses later this week.

The changes are not perfect. Service cuts never make people happy. But nearly everyone should be able to still use our service with some adjustments. And we'll be making adjustments later this year. If a connection just is not working out, or trip times need to change, we can do that. For now, we are trying to make people aware that changes are coming, soon.

We'll be out by the Albertson's in Mukilteo, at the Ash Way Park & Ride and the Lynnwood Transit Center this week, and at Mariner Park & Ride, Boeing and Everett Station next week. What question will you be asking?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Earling Rejoins Community Transit Board

By Tom Pearce, Public Information Specialist

A longtime friend of Community Transit is rejoining the agency’s Board of Directors. Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, who spent 12 years on the board during the 1990s and early 2000s, was chosen as one of the large city representatives in the biennial board selection process on Jan. 26.

He is the lone “new” face on the nine-member board. Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, Mill Creek Mayor Mike Todd, Mountlake Terrace Mayor Jerry Smith, Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine, Stanwood Mayor Dianne White and Sultan Council Member Steven Slawson were re-elected to their positions at the meeting.

Earlier this month, the Snohomish County Council reappointed Council members Dave Gossett and Dave Somers as its representatives. Lance Norton serves as the board’s labor representative, chosen by the agency's union leadership.

Gossett is the only current board member who served with Earling during his previous stint on the board. During Earling’s first tenure on the Community Transit Board, he served a term as board chair. He also was on the Sound Transit Board of Directors for several years, chairing that body as well.

Every two years, elected officials from the cities that make up Community Transit meet to elect board members from among their ranks. Based on the current composition scheme, the delegates divide up by city size and choose from among their peers. Edmonds, Lynnwood and Marysville are the large cities, with more than 30,000 residents. Arlington, Bothell, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Monroe, Mountlake Terrace and Mukilteo are the medium cities, with between 10,000 and 30,000 residents. Brier, Darrington, Gold Bar, Granite Falls, Index, Snohomish, Stanwood, Sultan and Woodway are the small cities, with fewer than 10,000 residents.

Large cities choose two board members, medium cities three and small cities two. The two County Council members and labor representative round out the board.

While Earling is the only new board member selected, three new board alternates were chosen. Arlington Council member Debora Nelson, Lake Stevens Council member Kim Daughtry and Lynnwood Council member Sid Roberts will serve as alternates, along with Snohomish Council member Tom Hamilton. County Council member Stephanie Wright is back as that body’s alternate.

Former Lynnwood Council member Ted Hikel left the Community Transit Board after a narrow defeat in November. He had served on the board from 2006-2008 and from 2010 until December, and was an alternate in between those terms. Alternates who left their roles include Chris Raezer from Arlington, Steve Bernheim from Edmonds and John Stima from Monroe.

Prior to the board selection, the delegates from the member cities discussed the composition of the board, which is reviewed every four years. If a majority approves, they could decide to apportion board members by geography, a different population scheme or alphabetic order. The group decided to keep the board make-up the same for the next four years, based on the 2011 city populations.

The new board will elect officers at its first meeting, on Thursday, Feb. 2.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where's My Bus?

Icy, Snowy Conditions Make It Difficult to Keep to Schedule

Day Three of the 2012 snow storm is nearly complete, and buses are still on the road. Demand has been down this week, but many, many people are relying on Community Transit buses to get to work or wherever they need to go.

Today, our local buses deviated from our regular schedule because many roads were in bad condition due to accumulated snow and ice, and because predictions for today were worse than what actually materialized.

A combination of factors led to this schedule: we can't use articulated buses on icy roads (unless we chain them but those chains then break or severely slow down the buses on clear roads); like any business, we don't get everyone to show up on bad weather days; and our buses are interlined so that one bus may serve, say Route 120 for a trip, then it turns into Route 118. With fewer buses running and trips taking longer, the trips we can actually provide is like a patchwork among our routes.

This is hard to message to riders. What we said this morning is that we'd serve the first and last trips on each route, and there would likely be some buses in between. Not too helpful. We encouraged people to call customer information to learn if a bus was running on their route.

The good news is that buses were running all day on all routes, just not on regular schedule. That also may not be very helpful if you're trying to figure out when to travel, but we were able to provide a lot of service today. We also got more than 1,800 phone calls as riders asked where their bus was. Again, we couldn't tell them where it was but at least could say there was one out there, on the way.

On Seattle commuter routes, the Double Talls have proven their value. Not only can they fit more people than a regular bus, but they operate just fine in these conditions. By replacing old articulated buses with these double deckers, we have greatly increased the capacity we have for commuter service on snow days.

We have, and will continue to send alerts on any reroutes or major changes to service. Those are also posted on our website as soon as we get the information. Like our drivers and maintenance crews, our customer service and communications staff are working long days to provide you service.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Weather Can Be Unpredictable

Last night, after a day of reroutes and bus delays from the snow that had fallen in parts of Snohomish County, we expected major revisions to today's (Tuesday's) bus service. Forecasters were calling for lots of snow overnight and into this morning.

On our website we put up an alert (as we do every night before bad weather) saying that service would be very limited, commuter buses would be first and last trip only, etc., etc. This morning, that all changed.

Buses were on regular routes and regular schedules today. But many people relied on last night's alert, and we were slow to change that. Our mistake. On top of all that, there was a glitch with our electronic alert vendor so the revised alert we sent out at 5 a.m. took up to an hour to reach some customers.

My point is, forecasts change. We are committed to keeping our website updated with the latest information so you can check just before you leave your house and know whether your bus is running, your route is diverted or you should expect delays. And, if you sign up for electronic alerts by route or park & ride, you should get that information sent to your email address or a text to your phone.

Despite having fewer communications staff available (one gone, one soon leaving due to the layoffs), we are dropping everything else on snow days to provide the most up-to-date information. Please keep riding!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Van GO - Filling the Niches of Transportation Demand

By Tom Pearce, Public Information Specialist

As a community service, the Van GO program is like a reward to local non-profits that serve Snohomish County residents – the chance at a cost-free vehicle. As a transportation service, Van GO helps to fulfill community travel needs that could not be replicated by regular transit service.

At a time when regular transit service is being cut, Van GO may mean even more. That’s how the program was born in 2000, when the state cut MVET funding to transit agencies and Community Transit cut its bus service by 30 percent, including all weekend service. The agency sought board permission to grant a portion of its surplus vehicles rather than sell them all at auction. Vehicles bought with only local funding are awarded; those purchased with state or federal money are auctioned.

A surplus vanpool van generally nets about $2,300 at auction. For a transit agency, that money might translate into one bus on one route for one day. To a non-profit organization, the chance of getting such a vehicle without charge is worth much more. In exchange, organizations must promise to use the vehicle for specific community needs and must estimate the number of rides they will provide in a competitive application. Those organizations that show they can meet a great need are selected to receive the vans.

This year, 10 local non-profits received eight-passenger vans with about 150,000 miles on them.

They are: Cocoon House East (Monroe), Everett Gospel Mission, Kid’s Place Early Learning Center (pictured above - Darrington), Lake Stevens Senior Center, Northwest Baptist Church (Marysville), Holly House (Edmonds), Snohomish Community Food Bank, Work Opportunities (Lynnwood), Village Community Services (Arlington) and Youth Dynamics (Arlington).

Once a vehicle is granted to a group, they are responsible for it, including all maintenance and insurance. Grantees provide reports to Community Transit about the usage and rides provided for the first year, although the vans generally remain in service for many years. The 106 vehicles granted over the program’s 12 years have provided tens of thousands of rides that our buses typically wouldn’t serve.

This year’s program reminds us of the origins of Van GO. We’re preparing for a major service cut in February. These vehicles help to make up for some of the service reductions. It’s just another way we’re working to meet Snohomish County’s transportation needs.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Schedules Online

The new bus schedules effective Feb. 20 are now online at the Community Transit website.

This is the piece of information many riders have been waiting for since the Board of Directions made a service change decision last September. With the schedules, riders will be able to see what times their bus will run, and how their transit connections might work once service has changed on Feb. 20.

Meanwhile, integrating the new schedule information with our online Trip Planner is a more complicated project, so you cannot yet plan a trip for Feb. 20 using that tool. That update will be complete in early February. That trip planning tool is the same one our customer information staff use, so until early February they will not be able to plan complex trips for after the service change.

In early February, Bus Plus schedule books will also be available on buses. Those books contain the print version of the schedules that you can now get online.

Last week, more detailed service change route information was made available online and on buses, and now schedules are available. Later this week, staff will begin an outreach effort to make sure riders are aware of the upcoming changes and answer questions. Community Transit staff will be at the Canyon Park Park & Ride this Thursday during the afternoon commute hours, then they will be at Edmonds Community College on Jan. 18 and Everett Station the morning of Jan. 19, weather permitting.

Riders with web access can get information easily through the Community Transit website. Discussions about the service change are going on here on the blog and on our Facebook page. Specific questions can always be sent to riders @ or asked via phone at (425) 353-7433 (RIDE).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

February 2012 Route Information is Online

We are now several days into the new year and more details are available about the upcoming Feb. 20 service change. This is one of the largest service changes in our agency’s history—every route will be affected, although the commuter service to the University District will see only minor schedule changes.

In all, nine routes are being eliminated, 20 routes have changes to their routing and 29 routes will have fewer trips scheduled. There also will be two new routes, one in south county along 196th between Edmonds and Alderwood, and one in north county taking over the eastern portion of Route 240 between Smokey Point and Arlington.

The information now online is the same information that is in the Guide to Service Change that is going on buses this week. That booklet provides comprehensive information about the routing changes, trip reductions or frequency reductions, and tips for connections for each route. There are also maps for each route that has routing changes, and area maps to show how the service will connect in various geographic areas.

What the Guide to Service Change does not have are the specific schedules or bus stop lists for each route. Those will be available online soon, and the Bus Plus schedule books will be on buses at the beginning of February.

Here is an example of what information is in the Guide and online now:

Route 113: Mukilteo–Ash Way Park & Ride
Routing Changes - Map (shown above):
• Revised route ends at Ash Way Park & Ride instead of Lynnwood Transit Center.
• No service south of 164th Street.
Weekday Schedule: Daytime frequency reduced from every 20 minutes to every 30 minutes.
Saturday Service: Frequency reduced from every 30 minutes to every hour.
Connecting Routes: Swift, Routes 101, 112, 115, 116, 119, 201, 202, 413, 415, 417, 810, 860, 880, 885, 511, 532, Everett Transit, Sounder, Washington State Ferries.
Route 113 Rider Tips:
• Routes 112 and 113 will connect at Ash Way Park & Ride instead of Lynnwood.
• For service to Alderwood mall or Lynnwood Transit Center, passengers can transfer at 164th Street & 35th Ave. or Ash Way Park & Ride to Routes 115, 116, 201 or 202, all of which have frequent service.

The map shows the new routing, along with what section has been deleted. The rider tips explain that riders wanting to get to Alderwood, Lynnwood Transit Center or the Lynnwood Civic Center can transfer to specific buses to get there.

What riders will discover as they begin to use the newly designed service is that Route 113 now connects to the Ash Way Park & Ride, which has connections all over the county and to Seattle so there are new opportunities. It will take some getting used to, but our planners, faced with the financial reality of cutting 20 percent of our service, redesigned many routes to shorten trips, connect to other service and open up new opportunities.

Because some riders will need to transfer when they didn’t need to before, it is even more important for people to get an ORCA card if they don’t have one. With ORCA, your fare is transferred to any other trip you take in the next two hours.

In the coming days, and for the next two months, we’ll have more information here and on the website about the Feb. 20 service change.