King County Metro
A graph showing common complaints from West Seattle riders about King County Metro bus service after the major changes - including the introduction of the RapidRide C Line - last year.

Metro issues response to West Seattle transit riders' feedback

On Jan. 17, King County Metro released a ton of information on feedback they received from West Seattle transit riders in a recent questionnaire regarding the implementation of the RapidRide C Line and other transit changes in September of 2012.

Metro said they received 499 questionnaires that boiled down to three main concerns riders would like resolved:

1) Relieve overcrowding

2) Make buses show up on time

3) Get more and sustainable funding to expand or increase services

To read more on their report, please check out the Metro Matters blog post and feedback summary PDF.

Here is a summary of the report:

“We wanted to hear all of it – the good, the bad, the ugly – after receiving reports of overcrowded buses on the RapidRide C Line and routes 21, 21X and 120, as well as service not arriving on time.” – King County Metro “Metro Matters” blog

Ask and you shall receive.

After implementing sweeping changes to Metro service in West Seattle at the end of September in 2012, the transit agency sent out a questionnaire asking riders to give them feedback in hopes of improving service.

499 transit riders filled out those surveys, an additional 200 spoke with Metro officials face to face, and on Jan. 17 the agency responded at-length to three themes culled from the data:

1) Relieve overcrowding.
2) Make buses show up on time.
3) Get more and sustainable funding to expand or increase service.

Relieving overcrowding and gaps in service
Metro said overflowing buses and head-scratching long waits at bus stops are due to many factors, including “gridlock, traffic collisions and people bustling across streets (delaying buses in the process)” in addition to technical hiccups in third party smartphone apps like One Bus Away and occasionally misleading real-time arrival signs at RapidRide stops.

Another big factor, according to Metro, was a significant spike in ridership from West Seattle to downtown Seattle after the September service change. “Ridership … grew dramatically (around 30 percent) … while the number of weekday peak-period trips we offered (77-78) stayed the same.”

To combat overcrowding and delays, Metro has already dipped into reserve funds to add additional buses in West Seattle, and said “our control center also began actively monitoring traffic delays and RapidRide service to manage the timing of buses, especially during peak commute hours.”

Metro said “it is getting better” as their “drivers are operating these routes more efficiently, and our coordinators more accurately deploy standby buses to fill gaps caused by traffic delays.” Additionally, Metro said they are working with the City of Seattle to improve traffic light priority for buses (more green lights) and have made improvements to real-time data sent to bus stops and third party phone applications. In February, Metro plans to publish a printed schedule for RapidRide, giving riders a better feel for bus arrival times.

Funding and increased service
“In the face of tight budgets, we had to rearrange bus service to serve more riders,” Metro wrote. “That meant reducing service in some places while adding it in others to create new and better connections.”

Part of that rearrangement was the reduction of midday service by 95 trips in some areas, including Arbor Heights where residents have lost much of their service with changes to Route 21.

Ridership hope for “more and sustainable funding to expand or increase service” is a tall order in today’s tight economic climate, and Metro officials have said their directive from King County leadership is to operate as efficiently as possible. “Instead of rearranging service, we’d rather be increasing and improving it to meet growing demand,” Metro wrote. “Those discussions continue.”

Metro summarized with the following: “We can agree on this: Metro wants to operate a world-class transit system that serves the needs of a growing and diverse community. How best to do that is always a balancing act between budgets and competing interests across King County. We have 240 bus routes, 400,000 daily riders, and a vision for providing robust transit service while also serving those who need transit most.”

Into the data and testimonials
Along with the broad responses above, Metro provided data collected from the surveys filled out by Metro riders.

For West Seattle riders, the common concerns were (from most to least) “My buses are too crowded (C Line, 120, 21, 21X), or there are no seats,” “My commute takes longer (since the service change in September,” “My service is unreliable, e.g. lack of schedule, bunching, gaps in service (C Line, 120, 21, 21X),” and “I have less service, e.g. less trips, less buses, less span, less frequency.”

As one rider wrote, “I’m worried during the evening commute that I won’t be able to get a bus home because they [are] so crowded. I have to pick my kids up at daycare at 5 p.m., so I have been leaving work early to make sure that if I do have to pass up a crowded bus, I can catch the next one ...”

Testifying for those with longer commutes, another rider wrote, “My commute from North Admiral has gotten a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 25 minutes longer each way every day … I have to transfer at the Junction with a 10 to 15 minute wait and board the C Line downtown.”

As one rider put it, “Before there was a schedule so I knew exactly when I had to leave the house to get the bus and I never waited more than five minutes. Now the morning is a great guessing game: occasionally I wait moments, usually I wait 10 minutes, and I have waited as long as 20 minutes … The tagline about ‘no guessing’ is an absolute misnomer, all one can do now is guess. And wait …”

With the bad and the ugly out of the way, Metro also included positive feedback (although the number of respondents in the positive ranged from single digits to the teens, while the criticisms reached into the hundreds).

With the good, common praise included (from most to least) “It’s better, my service is less crowded, more reliable,” “I’ve found other options that work well for me, e.g. Water Taxi,” “Thank you for adding service on Rt. 21,” “I appreciate the connections to Westwood Village,” “I can get from the Junction to Alki on one bus,” and “I’m glad toe Ride Free Area went away.”

One happy rider wrote, “I’m very happy with the (RapidRide) C Line especially when I need to get downtown fast so I get off my 21 and wait for the C which to me, never takes that long. I’m also very happy with (Rt. 21) coming every 15 minutes and also going all the way to Westwood Village where I can go shopping.”

When survey respondents were asked what Metro should focus their energy on moving forward, 42 percent said “provide relief for overcrowding,” 34 percent said “Make the schedule more reliable,” 19 percent said get more and sustainable funding to expand or increase service,” and 2 percent said Metro needs to improve communication with riders.

Regarding communication, Metro made the promise to keep in conversation with survey respondents who provided contact information, regularly update their Metro Matters blog, continue to hold public meetings when changes are on the horizon, and use customer feedback to “help shape future implementation of service changes and future communications efforts about Metro’s long-term work to secure more sustainable funding.”

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