Sunday, February 20, 2011

A tale of two new transit services

I find it interesting that in the last two years, there were two transit systems, seemingly so similar in scope, but so different in service - and so different in the outcome.

WES, billed as the nation's first "suburb to suburb" commuter rail line, between Beaverton and Wilsonville.

SWIFT, Washington State's first Bus Rapid transit line, connecting suburbs north of Seattle within Snohomish County.

Both routes are around 15 miles long - WES is 14.7 miles long; SWIFT is 16.7 miles long.

Both are suburb to suburb routes.

Both are new services opened in 2009.

Both expected to have 2,500 daily boarding rides at the end of the first year of operation.

That's where the similarities end.

WES cost over $160 million to build. It required the construction of four specially built "Diesel Multiple Unit" railcars from an unproven builder whose only experience was luxury coaches used up in Alaska.

SWIFT cost just $29 million. It used restyled New Flyer D60LFR buses - a proven workhorse in daily service throughout the Puget Sound region and throughout Canada and the United States.

WES required expensive, high level boarding platforms at each stop; transfers to buses are tedious and sometimes a good walking distance away. Ticket Vending Machines only accept debit or credit cards.

SWIFT uses platforms that integrate seemlessly with sidewalks in the neighborhood, and other bus routes can also use the exact same platforms. TVMs accept paper or coin currency, credit or debit card, or ORCA cards.

WES barely cracks 1300 rides after two years of service, and still fails its first-year ridership goal. WES is one of TriMet's most expensive services, costing nearly $18 per boarding ride (at one point it was as high as $30 per boarding ride.) WES does attain nearly 94 boarding rides per revenue hour, but loses its efficiency in wasting 36 minutes of each 90 minutes by sitting at either Beaverton or Wilsonville (resulting in a drop down to 56.25 boarding rides per operating hour), while many TriMet bus routes far exceed this kind of productivity.

SWIFT met its first-year goal within months, and had 3,300 daily riders at the end of its first year of operation. SWIFT has become Community Transit's most productive route with 21.5 boarding rides per hour - impressive, considering that Community Transit serves only Snohomish County, a suburban county, and not higher populated areas like Seattle proper (except by express route) nor does it generally serve Everett, Snohomish County's largest city.

WES provides just weekday rush hour service every 30 minutes - a total of eight trains in the morning, and eight in the afternoon (first train leaving Wilsonville at 5:21 AM and first afternoon train at 3:28 PM; last train arrives Wilsonville at 9:55 AM and in the afternoon at 8:02 PM.)

SWIFT provides weekday service starting at 5:00 AM and continuing every 10 minutes until 7:00 PM; then every 20 minutes until midnight. SWIFT also provides Saturday service every 20 minutes from 6:00 AM until midnght. (There used to be Sunday service, but due to budget cuts all Sunday service across the transit agency was slashed.)

1 comment:

Al M said...

What an excellent post!
I guess doesn't "work" so well when you look at what could have been happening on that corridor.