Seattle: Quick Notes on “Rapid Ride”

PA230266 PA230254 PA230251 Seattle’s main transit agency, King County Metro, is beginning to roll out a rapid bus product called Rapid Ride.  As described by their website, its key mobility features, apart from frequency, are a rapid stopping pattern (stopping once every km or so) and all-door boarding and alighting, using a Proof of Payment fare system.

The last point is especially important because there as been so much resistance to all-door boarding in the North American and Australasian bus operations worlds, even as it becomes routine in Europe.  I’ve always thought that the ritual of front-door boarding, which includes paying the driver and often feeling judged or inspected by him or her, is one of the most offputting aspects of bus-riding, especially for people who aren’t used to it every day.

In the last 30 years of light rail and streetcar development, many cities have settled into a practice of requiring fare payment to the driver on buses, while allowing all-door boarding and alighting, with roving fare inspection, on rail.  This has created an often subliminal but powerful difference in “feel” that has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of rail vs bus technology.

I also like the choice Rapid Ride has made about station architecture.  The shelters are distinctive but not flashy.  They are easy to recognize, even amid the visual noise of a suburban commercial strip. They are clearly more than conventional bus stops, yet not so expensive that they would be hard to extend consistently across a network.

31 Responses to Seattle: Quick Notes on “Rapid Ride”

  1. In Brisbane December 9, 2010 at 12:05 am #

    Looks a lot similar to Brisbane’s CityGlider

  2. teme December 9, 2010 at 2:01 am #

    All door boarding and proof of payment is fine, but the idea that passengers somehow feel better about boarding if they do not have to go pass the driver is strange. On the contrary, I would say that not having the driver “judging” people boarding can lead to more on-vehicle disruptions, and this is certainly not an improvement from passenger point of view. Less control is the price paid for faster and better operation, that is a trade off, and in most cases worth it.

  3. anonymouse December 9, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    All door boarding can be a great way to reduce dwell time, and should be used on more Rapid-style routes. The most awkward moment with the pay-the-driver system is when you’re a new rider, and have no idea how much the fare is or possibly even how payment works (do you have to ask for a transfer? Do you have to take one regardless of whether you’re transferring?). And of course fare payment information is not posted at bus stops, only on a poster on the farebox on the bus itself. So you end up having to figure it out after you get on, and you feel like you’re being judged not only by the driver but also all the passengers you’re delaying by holding the bus up until you figure out how to pay.
    I’d also like to point out that while the RapidRide implements some good ideas, it also has some useless and pernicious, but popular ones. They don’t use regular articulated buses, instead, they have a dedicated fleet of “stylized” curvy “BRTVs” (Bus Rapid Transit Vehicles, can’s just call them something as unsexy as a “bus”!). And of course red features in the color scheme, because apparently that makes buses go faster, or makes passengers think they’re going faster, or something.

  4. December 9, 2010 at 3:44 am #

    Why would feel “judged or inspected” by the bus driver as you enter and pay your fare? Do you feel “judged or inspected” when you buy a ticket to a movie? Pay the cashier for your groceries? Not understanding this part.

  5. In Brisbane December 9, 2010 at 4:39 am #

    “I’ve always thought that the ritual of front-door boarding, which includes paying the driver and often feeling judged or inspected by him or her, is one of the most offputting aspects of bus-riding, especially for people who aren’t used to it every day.”
    Not something that I’ve experienced either. What annoys me most is getting stuck behind the person who is fumbling for cash, or is chatting to the driver while they are driving, or asking a lengthy question on how to go from A to B.

  6. Tom West December 9, 2010 at 6:31 am #

    In Brisbane: “What annoys me most is getting stuck behind the person who is fumbling for cash, or is chatting to the driver while they are driving, or asking a lengthy question on how to go from A to B.”
    The first and last items are often going to be new/infrequent riders who may be put off by the annoyed people behind them. All-dor boarding gives experienced riders an “express” route, so that novice rides can get what ever information they need from the driver.

  7. Alon Levy December 9, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    All-door boarding can and should be used on all routes, not just a few super-special routes.

  8. Adam Parast December 9, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    Hey Jarrett this isn’t 100% true.
    – POP is a “trial system” for RapidRide
    – Cash payment still can only be done with the driver
    – The fare systems, except with regards to transfers, does not favor the use of ORCA (smart card system).
    – This system isn’t compatible with the Ride Free Zone
    More details in a post I wrote here.

  9. Adam Parast December 9, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    Oh and I like your last point because I think it is very representative of what RapidRide is. RapidRide is on the lowest end of the “BRT” spectrum. Metro is using it as an *incremental* upgrade of existing service, not new service meant to be a cheap replacement of exclusive, grade-separate HCT.

  10. Brandon December 9, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    Is this another case of a Limited Stop service using the term “Rapid”?

  11. Alan Robinson December 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    In most cases, I’d agree that one does not feel ‘judged’ the bus driver. I do however know a few drivers who make you feel exactly that way, and it seems to be a property of PoP systems with front door boarding. When Translink in Vancouver transitioned from it’s operators enforcing fares to have them inform about fares, some drivers still wanted to closely examine each fare. They would insist on magnetic strip cards being swiped and validated instead of just shown. Given that many pass holders had their passes on keyrings or lanyards, this produced friction between passengers and drivers.

  12. anonymouse December 9, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Brandon: it’s clearly not just a Limited Stop service! The buses are curvy and stylized! And RED! That makes it totally different!

  13. TransitPlannerMunich December 9, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    @PSTransitoperators and In Brisbane:
    The main reason for front door boarding is of course to make sure you pay the ride. So indeed you are inspected by the driver, what else? It is an illusion that the transit company wants to give you some human contact and the opportunity to wish you a good day. It is all about inspection and distrust.
    As a rider I do not want to be bothered by this. It is not an intercontinental flight – and regulary I will board a transit vehicle maybe 5 or 6 times a day. So I do not want to make it every time an “inspection expirience”, including getting out my ticket and waiting for everyone to board. I want to hop on and off, easy, smooth and free, with my monthly pass. Like 80% or more of our riders. The best is, if it is no expirience at all cause the bus is just an excellent and easy to use transport tool. And if I do not have a ticket yet I go to the ticket machine on board of our buses with enough information about the system and in most cases other passengers ready to help you.
    Each time when I am in Amsterdam I am annoyed by the fact that I have to board a tram through a special door and pass a conductor in a bullet proof box showing a ticket. As if I am in Iraq.
    Only that in Iraq they don’t have trams. What is strange considering all the money that poured in from the U.S. for infrastructure.

  14. In Brisbane December 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    The bus drivers in Brisbane are really nice and friendly. Sometimes they even get to dress the bus up in christmas tinsel and other nice things. Perhaps if someone can snap a photo of it…
    I think things like this sort of BRT are great, and there should be more of it. They don’t necessarily need the construction of grade separated busways, which takes time and costs a lot of money. They can be rolled out everywhere very quickly, and they have good frequency and visibility.
    Brisbane’s BUZ buses don’t even have the fancy paint job or the “special” bus type. You just get 15 minute services 6am-11.30 pm 7 days a week, and every 5-10 minutes in peak hour.
    For some of the busiest BUZ routes there are calls for conversion to LRT, so I think it really is something that should be welcomed.

  15. JJJ December 9, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    Pstransitoperators, lots of people frequently chose to purchase movie tickets at a machine or use the self-checkout stations exactly because they don’t want to deal with people.
    You may find that odd, but some people are more comfortable that way.
    And anybody who rides transit frequently knows it is more comfortable to board a train through any door and find a seat immediately instead of having to board a bus in the front and squeeze by 30 people to reach the empty seats in the back.
    Which leads to another point:
    Why do US bus operators insist on only 2 doors instead of 3 on a 40 foot bus?

  16. Alan Robinson December 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    In Chicago, there are only 2 doors on 60 foot buses!

  17. Mark December 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    I think these “rapid ride” systems are harming the reputation of BRT – which work wonderfully when they have a dedicated transit lane. This seems akin to Baltimore’s “Quick Bus” – same routes, fewer stops, still no dedicated lane.

  18. anonymouse December 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Having only two doors means slightly more room for seats. On suburban express or interurban buses, there will often be only one door.

  19. rhywun December 9, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

    All-door boarding can and should be used on all routes, not just a few super-special routes.
    Such a system worked fine when I lived in Germany 25 years ago – the only resistance in America is from transit agencies who think they’ll get (more) stiffed on fares. Hopefully our recent forays into “rapid routes” and “select buses” will disprove this notion.

  20. Scott December 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    I can see a benefit to BRT busses that had the driver locked-away from passengers so they can stay focused on the ‘rapid’ route, rather than taking fares and questions. Vegas has these with piles of roving fare agents and it appears to do well.
    The route sucks, its on congested streets with no priority.

  21. Alon Levy December 9, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

    In New York, an employee-cum-planner who tried to push for 3-door buses kept getting agency bullshit about those buses not being safe enough in crashes. Eventually NYCT started getting some 3-door articulated 60′ buses. The older 60′ buses still have 2 doors, and 3-door 40-footers nobody even knows exist.

  22. alexjonlin December 9, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    RapidRide isn’t really proof-of-payment. Some of the larger stops have smart-card readers, but if you’re getting on at a smaller stop or if you’re paying cash anywhere, you have to go pay the driver. It’s really not “Bus Rapid Transit” at all, it’s just better local bus service. Which I’m fine with, just don’t pretend that it’s rapid transit.
    I found it kind of cool that AC Transit has 4-door 60-footers and 3-door 40-footers. @Alan Robinson, in Seattle the only 60-footers that have three doors are our electric trolleybuses. Our diesel and hybrid 60-footers (we have a ton of them) are all two-door.

  23. Dave December 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    This seems like a good step forward, but the thing that struck me was that the bus design, while updated, didn’t seem very sleek or open, like some newer buses and trams. It has an almost retro rounded appearance that seems a bit stodgy to me. Reminds me of a boring bus rather than a new transit vehicle. If existing stock is being re-used or just updated for cost reasons, that makes sense. If these are all new vehicles, something more modern with taller windows would give a better impression.

  24. Ncbarnard December 9, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    @Alan Robinson — not many people know that in the US its illegal for any transit provider that accepts money from the Federal Transit Administration (Virtually all of them.) for a driver to refuse boarding if the passenger makes an attempt to pay. Sadly I’ve seen many drivers who don’t know, or allow this.

  25. Jeff Welch December 10, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    Those who think that paying one’s fare on boarding is tantamount to being “inspected” – you must be absolutely apoplectic when taking cab rides, or paying for a meal at a restaurant.
    For heaven’s sake – the ride isn’t free (most of the time). You’re expected to pay, and someone is monitoring that. No different from hundreds of other transactions that take place whereby an individual pays a fee for goods or services. Doesn’t mean you’re being “inspected” or “judged”. Frankly I find the concept beyond paranoid.
    Consider what it is to be a driver – you are “inspected or judged” by hundreds of people each day, not only as they enter the coach, but as they ride along to their destination.
    I still find this comment – buried in other interesting observations about BRT – rather odd.

  26. Jeff Welch December 10, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    Do you have a citation for the claim that federal law bars denial of boarding based on lack of payment? I’m unaware of any such statute, and am unable to locate the law you are referencing.

  27. David December 11, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    I think the “judged” or “inspected” thing is important. For years I had a student pass that I’d quickly flash the driver and walk on. Therefore, as others have argued, transit was simply a means to an end. Then I graduated, so I had to switch to a monthly pass, and do the same thing. Since I’m returning to school on a part-time basis in January, I’m getting a student pass again. This month, as I wait for the student pass to be sent to me sometime next week, I have to either pay for a fare by ticket or by cash. I feel like I’m slowing up the bus, or the people behind me, and that I’m on show as everyone on the bus waits for me to get my act together, even if I’ve prepared before the bus actually gets to the stop. Besides all that there’s the practical aspect of the ticket reading machine on the bus being finicky at times. I’d really prefer that each bus had all door boarding so I get just hop on and off the bus without all of the wasted effort.

  28. anonymouse December 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Jeff: in many cities, the fare system is complex, often exact fare only, with some kind of mechanical farebox, often with strange limitations, like not accepting bills when the cash fare is well over $1. For example, in Seattle the peak-hour fare is different from the off-peak one, there are zones, and you may have to pay as you enter or as you leave, depending on route, direction, and time of day. None of this is explained anywhere other than the bus, and often not really explained other than by asking the bus driver. Of course, everyone takes who takes the bus takes it every day and already knows everything. So there you are, fumbling for exact change in your wallet as 30 impatient commuters on the bus and another 10 behind you are wondering what kind of idiot you are that it’s taking you so long to put your $2 into the farebox.
    By the way, I just remembered something neat I saw in San Diego: the fare system on their buses is also complicated, but every bus has a sign in the lower windshield by the door that says how much the fare is for that particular bus.

  29. Eric December 13, 2010 at 5:11 am #

    Sweet… The curb coloration matches the vehicle. Is this intentional? Great substitute for level boarding accouterments.
    Red and yellow is a bit “aggressive” so they say, typically signifying something venomous. Implicit message to vehicles sharing the road: Outta my way, buster! …Yes…I think it might attract the speed-conscious rider.

  30. d.p. December 15, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    Contrary to the impression I may leave over at Seattle Transit Blog, I do not actually revel in bursting bubbles.
    So I am truly and honestly sad to inform you that RapidRide possesses literally none of the attributes you describe.
    “…all-door boarding and alighting/Proof of Payment:”
    As others have mentioned, the former applies only to certain designated “stations” (more than 1/4 but fewer than 1/3 of the total stops), and the latter applies only to non-cash-payers (who tend to pay fastest anyway) and, again, only at those designated station.
    “…stopping once every km or so”:
    This is true only for the lines that traverse the furthest reaches of suburban sprawl. For the most part, the in-city lines will see stop spacing of 2/3 km and frequently closer. Those aforementioned stops that lack off-board payment and multi-door boarding? There are a lot of them!
    Not much improvement here, either. The West Seattle line will see a frequency improvement only between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm and between 7:00 and 10:00 pm. The Ballard line will see no frequency increase whatsoever.
    Add to that the agency’s waffle-y language about signal priority — how widespread and how absolute will it be? — and the lack of dedicated lanes through known bottlenecks like Lower Queen Anne and the Ballard Bridge approaches — let’s just see how rapid the line is after the bridge has been up! — and we may see the best example of the BRT bait-and-switch to date!
    RapidRide may amount to a slight improvement over the lines it directly supplants. But its improvements are negligible enough to provide no draw (and therefore no benefit) to riders from nearby routes. It is neither frequent nor fast enough to justify a longer walk or an extra transfer; either would incur a time penalty for nearly 100% of trips. The great failure of the RapidRide experiment will be that it does nothing to chip away at the city’s default one-seat-ride mentality.

  31. Nathanael December 21, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    All-door boarding? How about having the bus driver start with people still walking through the doors?
    For some reason this doesn’t happen on streetcars. Better rear-view mirrors?