Seattle Suburbs: The Silence of Sundays

Community Transit, which serves most of the northern suburbs of Seattle, is shutting down completely on Sundays.  This wouldn’t be unusual in a small-city transit system, but CT’s service area (most of Snohomish County) is a big suburban expanse with about half a million people.  It has enough transit demand to support a low-end Bus Rapid Transit line, called Swift, which will presumably not run on Sundays either.

This is a fairly dramatic step by North American standards.  Local transit in suburban areas generally appeals to people with few choices, but many, many of these people work in low-wage jobs in the service sector, such as restaurants and big-box retail.  These business are open seven days a week and often are busiest on weekends, so most of their employees have to work some weekend shifts.  A transit system that doesn’t run on Sundays will no longer be useful to these people.  Based on what I’ve seen elsewhere, most of them will find other arrangements; CT is likely to lose them on all five days a week that they travel, not just Sunday.  Some, those without any good transport options, may lose their jobs.

I hope CT or some other local government researches what happens to these riders when Sunday service ends.  The best approach might be to survey the Sunday riders before the service stops, asking them for follow-up contacts so that they can be interviewed again a few months in the future.  This would not only provide good data for other agencies facing the need to cut service, but would also be a nice way for the agency to convey some concern for the well-being of these customers.

6 Responses to Seattle Suburbs: The Silence of Sundays

  1. Rhywun March 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    I don’t mean to sound uncaring, but… this IS the trade-off for choosing a low-density lifestyle.

  2. EngineerScotty March 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    I’d be careful there, Rhywun… when discussing the working poor, often times they have little choice where they live.
    And in cities like Seattle (and Portland), the urban core is dominated by the economically well-off, other than a core population of homeless which congregate around the social services located downtown. Most of Portland’s poor live east of 82nd or south of Woodstock/Foster, for instance–real estate closer to downtown (and with more convenient transit) is generally more expensive.

  3. W. K. Lis March 9, 2010 at 7:57 am #

    While housing maybe cheaper in the sprawling suburbs, transportation costs are higher because one is almost required to use a motor vehicle of some kind to get around. If one does an accurate budget, they will see the actual costs of living in suburbs is quite high. Especially, when more than one vehicle is evolved. Even with only one vehicle in the home, they may end up chauffeuring other members of the family and adding to the cost each time.
    Taking away Sunday/Holiday service will add even more costs for them. Instead of reducing service, they should be adding service. At the same time, zoning should be changed to allow for higher density and mixed uses, which is needed to make public transit more efficient.

  4. Adam Parast March 9, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    I think it it s bit more complicated. In my view CT’s self image is that of an agency that gets people to and from work in Seattle. This self image is partially acute because Everett Transit essentially runs most of the local service in the city, but essentially the county. The rest of the count is very rural while areas in Everett, mostly to the south, are much more urban/suburban. I think that is a pretty major caveat.
    Also politically this paid off. It looks like CT will be be give the authority to increase car tab taxes along with Pierce Transit, precisely because they are in such dire straits.

  5. Jeffrey Bridgman March 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    It’d be interesting to see ridership statistics…
    I assume they are choosing to cut service on Sunday because there it has the least ridership. But it sounds like you are implying that lots of riders (choice riders, that is…which are probably the majority in a suburban system) will lose mobility. Does the data back up their decision?
    I hope they aren’t doing something like cutting service on Sunday because it makes more “sense” when it turns out that Thursday has the lowest ridership…hehehe

  6. Adam Parast March 11, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    @ Jeffrey
    They decided to do this because they got the most bang for their buck because they are able to completely shut down the agency on Sunday. This way they aren’t just cutting service hours, they are also cutting overhead like dispatchers and O&M facility costs.