Friday, March 25, 2011

Personal experience with RapidRide, light rail and local transit

In days when transit service hours are cut in many areas, the RapidRide A Line has replaced Metro’s Route 174 along Pacific Highway S / International Blvd. between Federal Way and Tukwila, and offers twice as many bus trips as the previous service. This sounds like a great sound bite from the transit provider, right? Well, it is. The wording has been lifted almost verbatim from the RapidRide website.

I'm writing now to tell you about my recent personal experience using the service.

Last week, I traveled from my home in Seattle to SeaTac City Hall. Metro's online trip planner had outlined a three-pronged trip that for me included local transit (#8), light rail, and then a final transfer to another local Metro (#180) or Sound Transit (#574) route. I was actually kind of excited to ride light rail since I rarely have reason to do so. What I did not plan on was being able to also try out the RapidRide A Line. I'm the kind of person who will sometimes do unnecessary things just for the experience. This was one of those chosen moments.

I already knew that the first leg of my trip would be late because the route is notoriously unreliable (route #8). I purposely headed out to my stop 30 minutes early, just in case. However, the bus went by me (either 10 minutes early or 10 minutes late, I couldn't tell). Right off the bat, I was a bit annoyed. I started walking toward the light rail station because I like to stay active and it was a bit cold outside. One more #8 passed me before I reached the light rail station, but I only took about 10 minutes longer than if I had waited for the bus. The first leg of my adventure was complete. No expense was yet incurred on my ORCA card.

The light rail showed up within 2 minutes of my arrival on the platform. Already, I felt assured that I would arrive at my final destination in time. The trip was clean, quiet, quick and dare I say picturesque. Whether or not it was quicker than a local route was irrelevant to me: my impression was that I didn't have to hear the driver quibble with passengers about directions, fares and the like. People moved easily on and off the train. There were a few confused people, but staff members were on the platforms to help them and there seemed to be no problems. First charge to my ORCA card: $2.25. I also remembered to tap my card on the way out as well as the way in.

Signs easily pointed me to the transit station outside of the SeaTac International Airport light rail station. It was a bit far to walk, but nonetheless very clean and clear. I quickly realized that I had a number of options: either take the Metro #180, the Sound Transit #574, or Metro's RapidRide A Line. While I'd never experienced either of the first two options, I already did not trust the time listings on the sign at the bus stop because of my experiences with local transit near my home. RapidRide, however, provided an extremely easy to understand map and the informational signs were up and running (albeit in testing mode). The next red-painted RapidRide bus arrived within 5 minutes. I was a little nervous, but hopped on anyway. Additional fare charge to my ORCA card: $0.25. I was, after all, riding during the peak hours of 6 and 9 am. Had I paid for the #8 ride to light rail then I would have enjoyed free transfer fares on both light rail and the Rapid Ride.

I got off at S. 188th St. and walked to the next stop east of International Blvd. to wait for either the #180 or the #574. It was the latter that finally showed up (the time listings at this particular stop had been vandalized, so I couldn't actually estimate whether or not the bus had shown up on time). Additional charge to my ORCA card for using ST: $0.50. Had I waited for the #180 I suspect that I would have incurred no extra charge. Unfortunately, I am relatively unfamiliar with transfers between transit agency routes such as this. I've since learned that I may have actually paid the extra $0.50 because I didn't know to ask for 1 zone instead of 2 zones on Sound Transit.

Total one-way commute time: 7:20am-8:50am. Metro's Trip Planner had me traveling between 8:09am-8:57am. The difference can wholly be attributed to the local service follies, since the light rail and RapidRide routes run like clockwork every 7.5-10 minutes during the morning peak hours. Next time, I'll use One Bus Away to better gauge the local bus arrival time. Maybe that will help.

Metro's Trip Planner quoted my trip price as $2.50. The Sound Transit leg (#574) caused my actual trip price to total $3.00. As noted above, I'll know next time to ask for 1 zone instead of automatically paying for 2 zones.

Lastly, I'd like to call attention to the local route bus stops on the last leg of my trip: the eastbound stop for routes #180 and #574 closest to SeaTac City Hall was two blocks away and left something to be desired. Because there was no sidewalk or crosswalk east of the stop, I had to back track a block to the nearest traffic signal which took forever to allow me to cross. A westbound stop was conveniently located directly in front of City Hall, so that I did not need to walk the two blocks back to the corresponding westbound stop at 46th Ave S for my return trip.

I noticed a push button at the westbound stop that indicated riders should push it when as the bus approaches in order to let the driver know of our presence. I had never seen this feature before, and already didn't trust that it would work as instructed, but I pushed the button anyway. I'll never know if the bus would have been blind to us had I not pushed the button. In the grand scheme of my travels that day, I really didn't care.

Bottom line: while I cannot give up using local routes for my transit travel because of where I live and my various and far flung destinations, I do greatly prefer light rail and RapidRide.

What are your personal experiences?


  1. These experiences underscore the need for advocates to push for more reliability in local transit service. Not addressed in this post is the distance between stops and what options exist for those whose former destinations on the 174 are not near a bus stop under the new regime.

  2. Regarding the eastbound stop placement, the stop you alighted at is part of the "pair" serving Tyee. If we placed another stop on the same side of the road, we'd ether have to put it inside the right turn lane before or after Military. This would work OK for the 574 but would increase the chances of a rear-end collision. The 180 couldn't serve those stops as it needs to continue on 188th.

    You didn't *have* to back-track HALF block and cross at 46th--there's a shoulder which leads to marked crosswalks. I know a shoulder isn't the same as a sidewalk, but it's not like you're toeing the white line.

    For the push button--was it something like one of these?
    If so all it does is blink a light next to the stop flag. The light isn't really visible during daylight hours, which is OK since you can easily be seen. When it gets dark out, they're much more helpful.

  3. Thanks for your input, Tim. Are you a transit rider in that area? You are quite the prolific photographer!

    The shoulder did not appear safe for the amount of traffic along 188th. Had there been less traffic, I might have felt less like I had to back track.

    In terms of the bus stop placement, it's good to know that there are other, equally valid, considerations than pedestrian safety and convenience. This is definitely a situation that strengthens the meaning of the phrase, "we can't please everyone all of the time."

    The push button did look like the photo under the first link you listed. Thanks for the explanation.