Seattle developers are paying more and more attention to bus-rapid transit, so on Saturday I went to check out Metro’s version, RapidRide.
As a transit geek, I’d been wanting to go since the A Line between Tukwila and Federal Way opened last fall. I mentioned this in passing to Paula Rees. It turns out her Seattle company, Foreseer, is doing “environmental
communications” consulting on the planned D Line from downtown Seattle to Ballard, so we headed out
People with Orca cards pay before boarding, and people can board or disembark from three doors, speeding up the process. Photo by Marc Stiles
Here’s my take as well as the opinion of a frequent rider, Steve Elling. We chatted him up at the Federal Way Transit Center.
* The diesel-electric coaches did move at a good clip. But it was early and I wondered what the pace would be like during rush hour. A survey of A Line riders found 84 percent are satisfied with the service. Steve concurs: “The A Line is super.”
* I was surprised by how close some of the stops are to one another; doesn’t seem very BRT-y to me.
* The pay-before-you enter system speeds that processes up, and fare enforcement officers make sure people do that. We didn’t see any, but Steve said they’re around and have zero tolerance for scofflaws.
* At major stops on the north-south line there are east-west connections. In-coach signage, however, didn’t seem to indicate where these transfer points are. Plus, the same route signs are reversed. As we headed south, the signs made it look as though the bus was going north confusing for folks who are not familiar with the lay of the land.
* Steve said the east-west bus connections are too few. And those that do exist stop running too early at night.
* I liked the multi-modal character of RapidRide. The transfer from light rail to RapidRide in SeaTac was fairly convenient despite having to cross International Boulevard on a pedestrian bridge and then cross back at street level to catch a south-bound bus. I was impressed that RapidRide’s southern terminus in Federal Way is at a transit center served by different transit agencies. One complaint: it wasn’t clear where in the center you catch the RapidRide heading back north.
* Metro gave RapidRide its own brand. Instead of the regular blue and green and yellow regular Metro coaches, RapidRide buses are red and yellow. We found that scheme cautionary. This combined with the do-this, don’t do that, Hold On! signs was off-putting. “There’s very little customer information and way too much regulatory messaging. I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be here,” Paula said.
* I’ll catch heck from my fellow transit geeks for this, but it seems like Sound Transit and Metro and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s expansion plans and dreams overlap. We already have the A Line, so why is a cash-strapped Sound Transit pushing ahead with its plans to extend light rail farther south from SeaTac along the A Line route. And if RapidRide is coming to Ballard and West Seattle, why is McGinn pushing to extend light rail to those areas?
* It took us 1 hour and 20 minutes to get from downtown Seattle to Federal Way via light rail and RapidRide. Impressive when you consider that before RapidRide and light rail, the trip would have taken almost forever. If you’re looking for a truly speedy route, take Sound Transit’s express bus from Federal Way. We did on the way back and it took only 25 minutes.