As Ben Franklin Transit and Link Transit both continue to work through issues with their respective E-Bus projects, Spokane Transit Authority is also jumping on board with the potential future of transit by conducting a 30-day trial with an E-Bus built by BYD Motors.
Scheduled to begin today, the E-Bus will be running trial service on several different routes serving the Northside area of Spokane. Below is the schedule of where and when the bus will be scheduled to run (subject to change):
Routes 24/28 5:28AM – 2:07PM
Route 25 10:42AM-7:00PM
Routes 22/27 5:39AM-2:20PM
Routes 24/26/28 1:37PM-10:13PM
BYD Motors has had a bit of a rough go at it as they try to work their way into the North American transit market. Currently, the FTA is deciding whether or not to block the use of federal funds in a contract between BYD Motors and Long Beach Transit (CA). They’ve also had problems as they try to get a bus to pass inspection at the Altoona Bus Research and Testing Center. That said, apart from current head of the E-Bus market, Proterra, BYD Motors seems to have the best product on the market (and that’s coming from someone who’s a huge supporter of Complete Coach Works, another competitor). It’s not immediately clear if this is a WSDOT sponsored test, or if STA is going at this on their own. That said, I commend STA for being smart about this. Rather than making a huge commitment beforehand, they’re giving the technology a small test in the real world first. This continues their trend of smart, thought out decisions on transit technology (such as their decision to pass on CNG fuel based in part on the detrimental effect on the environment).
As noted above, the testing will continue through the end of the month. I’m sure that local media in Spokane will do a good job of getting more coverage on this E-bus trial, but you can also expect to see more coverage here on Transit 509 when I visit Spokane later this month and check out the E-Bus myself. (For more immediate updates, you can follow @transit509 on Twitter.)
(This is the first post in the new News Roundup series, which will feature several blurbs about news/updates from transit agencies in Eastern Washington. New posts will be scheduled on the 1st and 3rd Monday of each month, though there will not be a post on the 3rd Monday if there is no news/updates to report on.)
Ben Franklin Transit
Customer Service Now Open on Saturdays
Responding to rider demand, Customer Service will now be open on Saturdays once again (last being so before BFT started cutting services due to the recession). The Rider Information line will be open for phone calls from 8AM-5PM, which is also the same hours that the customer service building at Three Rivers Transit Center will be open. Along with the opportunity to get information in person, riders will also have access to the restrooms and waiting area during those hours.
No Marijuana Ads on Buses
After being contacted by their advertising contractor about whether marijuana/marijuana-related advertisements were going to be permitted on transit vehicles, Link Transit has approved an amended advertising policy that prohibits them, citing the fact that the annual FTA certification process of a drug and alcohol free work place is consistent with this amended policy. With this change, the existing policy remains mostly unchanged except for Line H, where the advertising policy prohibits advertising that “promotes the sale of tobacco or tobacco-related products, and marijuana or marijuana-related products.”
Surplus Trolleys Going to Pierce Transit
While the Ebus program continues to experience issues with the batteries, Link Transit has continued to hold on to their old diesel trolleys as backup vehicles. However, with the recent delivery of 5 new CNG-fueled Arboc Spirit of Mobility cutaways, they’re finally able to surplus the old diesel trolleys. Among the 5 being surplused, 3 of them (501, 503, and 506) will be sold to Pierce Transit, who will be using them on their seasonal “Get Around Gig Harbor” trolley service, which began as a demonstration service last summer. Each trolley will be sold to Pierce Transit for $13,724 each ($41,172 total). The other 2 surplus trolleys (504 and 507) will be sold to a brokerage service that deals in used trolley buses. All the funds from this bus sale will be used by Link Transit for future bus purchases, as the vehicles were originally purchased by their first owner, Milwaukee County Transit System, using FTA funds.
Used STA Buses Coming to Wenatchee
Needing to replace the 3 1991 Orion I’s being used on the SkiLink service and a 2004 Optima Opus which is obsolete (meaning parts are not available), Link Transit will be buying 5 used 29-ft Gillig Low Floors from Spokane Transit Authority for $11,000 each. Historically, Link Transit has purchased buses with one door only. However, as ridership has risen on the urban routes, the need for buses with multiple doors has become an issue. With the purchase of the 5 buses from STA, the Orion I’s and Optima Opus will be retired, and the older 29-ft Gillig Low Floors with one door currently in Link Transit’s fleet will be moved from regular fixed-route service to the SkiLink service.
Route 10 Extended To Connect with Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter
After the plan to route the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter through Selah fell through due to large opposition from current riders, Yakima Transit officials have found a compromise. Beginning March 24, Route 10 will be extended north to the park-and-ride at Exit 26, next to the Yakima Firing Center. With the funds already being spent to improve a parking lot at Selah Christian Church for use as a park-and-ride on the original proposal, riders will instead be able to catch Route 10 there or anywhere else along the current route, and ride up to the firing center park-and-ride where they can transfer to the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter. Regular fixed-route fares will remain the same, and the fare policy for the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter will still apply to all riders regardless if they transfer from Route 10 or not.
After spending the last several months debating whether I wanted to continue running this blog, I’ve decided to instead relaunch “TransitZac” and reintroduce it as “Transit 509.”
Some of my more sharp eyed viewers may have noticed that I started tweaking things on the blog over the course of this weekend. Up top is a brand new header with the new Transit 509 name, which still features the ever-popular animated destination sign. On the sidebar, you’ll notice some new links and new features. The biggest change however is that the site is no longer using a WordPress subdomain address. Instead, Transit 509 will now always be found at transit509.com. (Note that all old transitzac.wordpress.com links will automatically redirect to the new domain.)
As you might have guessed, Transit 509 will start covering a few new transit agencies. In the past, posts have covered news/updates from Ben Franklin Transit, Spokane Transit Authority, and Yakima Transit only, with a couple cameo’s from Valley Transit as well. Now, there will also be posts covering news/updates from all the other transit agencies in Eastern Washington. The full list can be seen on the right under “Transit Agencies.” However, this also means that I will be discontinuing my coverage of transit from the Tampa Bay area. Recognizing that the Tampa Bay area was one of my most popular topics, I’ll be continuing to blog about it in the future as an occasional guest contributor on another blog. (More on that in the near future.)
With a new name, I’ll also be introducing a couple new blog series. Later today, I’ll be posting the first installment of the News Roundup series. Instead of having an entire blog post for each little story that comes out from a transit agency, the news roundup will feature multiple blurbs covering news/updates from multiple agencies. New posts in the News Roundup series will always be on Mondays, generally on a biweekly basis with new posts on the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month (though there will not be a post on the 3rd Monday if there’s no news/updates to report on). Next Thursday, I’ll introduce the new Transit Throwback series, which will coincide with the popular “#throwbackthursday” and “#transitthursday” hashtags on Twitter. Some posts will feature an old newspaper article, an old system map, an old transit vehicle, or something similar. Again, this will be a biweekly series, with new posts being uploaded on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month. In between all that, I’ll still be continuing with my usual posts in the Epic Transit Journey and Transit Tourism series, as well as general posts about reroutes, proposals, and so on.
To help fulfill the new tag line for the blog, “The Eastern Washington Transit Resource,” I’ll also be working on adding bus schedules/phone numbers/etc for people who search for that information online and get led here. You’ll notice some new page links above the site header (where the About/Contact page sits alone right now), but it won’t change much about the blog overall.
With all that, I want to thank all my readers for your continued support, and I hope that you enjoy the newly relaunched Transit 509!
PS: Normally at the end of most of my blog posts, I welcome my readers to send me a tweet to @ziggzagzac with thoughts/comments. However, I’ve also updated my name there, and will now be tweeting under the handle @transit509.
Just a heads up to all visitors: The blog will be undergoing some work over the course of this weekend. I’ll try my best to keep everything up and running, but some links may be temporarily broken and/or missing at times. As always, feel free to send me a tweet to @ziggzagzac.
Be sure to check back on Monday for a big announcement.
As I’ve previously covered before here, discussions about creating new passenger rail routes or boosting the availability of current services come up every now and then in Washington State. More often than not, this discussions fade off into obscurity and are forgotten until someone else suggests a similar idea.
A newer transit advocacy group from the Puget Sound area, aptly named “Friends of Transit,” hopes to foster more of these discussions in the hope of achieving the goal of winning a plan for statewide passenger rail. To help those discussions, they’ve published a concept map of what a statewide passenger rail system could look like. (To see the full version, view the .pdf.)
Before I start breaking down all the details and logistics (and some errors) of this map, I will say that it is a good map and it will do just fine to help get the conversation going to boost passenger rail service in Washington State. In keeping with the focus of this blog, I’m not going to spend much time on the details of the map surrounding the greater Puget Sound area and the rest of the I-5 corridor, as that’s more the domain of the Seattle Transit Blog.
To cross the Cascades, the map features the two corridors already being used by current passenger rail services: Cascade Pass (BNSF Scenic Subdivision) and the Columbia River Gorge (BNSF Fallbridge Subdivision). Between Everett and Wenatchee, the map proposes the addition of two new stations at Snohomish and Monroe, which would also be serviced by proposed extensions of Sounder commuter rail. This is just one of several instances where the debate of necessity will come up on this map. On one side, you can say that since the train is already passing by there it only makes sense to add the stations. On the other side, you can say that it would be more worthwhile to invest in more bus service to/from Everett and thus help maintain the schedule reliability of the train. For my part, I would say that it would be best to build the stations in those two cities, but only to have them served by the proposed extensions of Sounder (much like how the map shows service operating between Seattle and Tacoma). Between Portland and Pasco (Tri-Cities), the map again proposes the addition of two new stations at Camas/Washougal and Umatilla, though the latter is actually mislabled. In the case of the former, if there was enough money then by all means build in, but realistically this station is a no-go. It’s actually close enough to Vancouver to be in the C-TRAN service area, and arguably that connection is all that Camas and Washougal need. Further down the line, the map shows a station at The Dalles, but this is a mistake as The Dalles is actually across the river in Oregon, and so it should be labelled as the currently existing stop at Wishram. (As a sidenote, the former Amtrak Pioneer route did stop in The Dalles, which I’ll cover more later.) As already mentioned, Umatilla is also a mislabel on the map. If it were labelled correctly, it would be Plymouth. Once again, it’s arguable as to whether a station would be needed here, as most of the potential ridership base resides south of the river in Umatilla, Boardman, Irrigon, and Hermiston, which would all be better served by another possible passenger rail route that would fall under the domain of Oregon DOT. (Again, more later.)
Finally, there’s the third and last option to cross the Cascades. On the map, a brand new rail line roughly following Interstate 90 is shown accommodating both high-speed rail and local rail. Years ago, the old Milwaukee Road rail line did cover this route, though the only thing remaining today is the railbed, which is now used as the Iron Horse Trail. Currently, there is a rail line over Stampede Pass (BNSF Stampede Subdivision), which is only used sparingly as an overload route to relieve pressure on the Cascade Pass and Columbia River Gorge lines. I discussed in my post “Why Isn’t There a Seattle-Pasco Train?” how it would take significant financial investment to upgrade the Stampede Pass line so that more trains could use it. Though it might seem like a high price tag, it would still be arguably cheaper than building a completely new line over the Milwaukee Road ROW, even if it meant eliminating the proposed stations at Issaquah and North Bend (both cities which are pretty well connected by existing transit service). The proposed station at Snoqualmie Pass (the ski resort) would also be impossible, as the Stampede Pass line doesn’t come anywhere near it. A station in Cle Elum would be possible, though again we come back to the argument of whether the cost is justifiable. Considering it is about 25 miles from Ellensburg and would cover nearby Roslyn and Easton (and could even accommodate a Snoqualmie Pass shuttle), I think it would work out ok.
Next, there’s the two spur lines serving the Okanogan Valley and the Palouse. On the map, the rail line heading north to Omak before Wenatchee is technically correct, but not realistic. As the spur towards Omak joins the Cascade Pass line inside Wenatchee city limits (and less than a mile from Columbia Station), any possible service towards Omak would have to stop there anyways. There would also be a need for a train turnaround, as the layout of the rail lines would leave the train towards Omak heading north with the engine at the back. Finally, out of all the proposed routes on this map, I think the route to Omak would generate the lowest ridership and farebox recovery. Currently, there is an intercity bus service called the Apple Line running one round trip daily between Omak and Ellensburg, serving every city along Highway 97. Rather than spending the money to build the three proposed stations at Chelan, Pateros, and Omak, it would be better to invest in more frequent service on the Apple Line to get it running a minimum of 4 times daily. Over in the Palouse, the map shows a proposed new route that would run from Spokane and serve stops in Rosalia and Colfax (the latter not actually being on the rail line, though the town of Palouse is) before reaching the EOL in Pullman. With WSU being in Pullman, you can argue that there would be plenty of potential ridership on this line. Like the Okanogan Valley line, I question the viability of this route, not for the ridership but for the rail line itself. To get to Pullman, the train would have to travel over rail line that is owned and maintained by WSDOT. In several parts of Washington State, WSDOT has bought up rail lines from bankrupt short-line carriers and mainline carriers that no longer use the lines in the interest of preserving a link for agricultural customers in the area. As these lines only see freight traffic currently, they would undoubtedly be in moderate condition at best, still using bolted rail (versus the welded rail a lot of the main lines are now being upgraded with) and subject to slow orders. Like the Okanogan Valley, there is already intercity bus service between Pullman and Spokane being operated by Northwestern Trailways (2 times daily) and Wheatland Express (1 time daily; 2 times daily on Fridays). Again, it would be more realistic to invest the money on boosting service on the Highway 195 corridor from the 3/4 trips daily to a minimum of 6 trips daily.
Though not a spur line, there is also a local rail route shown on the map that goes from Pasco (Tri-Cities) to Walla Walla before continuing on to Boise. In short, without building a new rail line this route is impossible. While it would be possible to have a passenger train run from Pasco to Walla Walla (though it would be more feasible to boost service on the existing Grape Line route), the rail line south of Walla Walla ends at Weston OR, ending any possibility of connecting with the UP La Grande Subdivision further south at Pendleton OR. If we wanted, we could have a train that goes to Boise (and continues on to Salt Lake City and Denver, and even Chicago), which would likely mean the resurrection of the Amtrak Pioneer route. Before it was discontinued in 1997, the route ran between Seattle and Chicago by way of Portland, Boise, Salt Lake City, Denver, and points between. In a 2008 study on the possible restoration of the Pioneer, it was shown that restoring the route between Seattle and Salt Lake City (with through cars to Chicago joining the California Zephyr) would generate the highest farebox recovery for the lowest operating subsidy, even though it had the lowest possible productivity compared to other long-distance routes at the time. Doing this would be a multi-state effort in collaboration with Amtrak, but as a part of an expanded Washington State passenger rail system it would fill a key part. Note that there would also be the option of taking the train running between Seattle and Pasco (Tri-Cities) and having it continue south to Hermiston and then east towards Boise, but it would require an awkward turnaround movement at Pasco and would require the use of slow rail line from there to Hermiston, so the Pioneer would likely be the best option.
Further east on the map, we have three more lines running between Ellensburg and Pasco (Tri-Cities), Ellensburg and Spokane, and Pasco (Tri-Cities) and Spokane. I won’t spend much time on the Ellensburg – Pasco (Tri-Cities) route, as I covered that pretty well in the “Why Isn’t There a Seattle-Pasco Train?” post I’ve mentioned already. Except for the exclusion of a station at Toppenish (which still has a fully intact NP Depot, though it is being used as a museum) and the necessity of building a new station in Sunnyside (which might not be entirely justifiable financially), this route is fine. There is a lot to talk about on the Ellensburg-Spokane route though. Currently, there is no rail line between Ellensburg and Ephrata, nor has there ever been. Instead, any train serving Ephrata would have come to/from Wenatchee, so we’ll discuss it from there and come back to Ellensburg in a bit. Down the line from Wenatchee is a proposed new stop at Quincy. Ignoring the small population of the town, this would be a no-go from the start just because of the close proximity to the existing Wenatchee and Ephrata stops. The town is currently served by Grant Transit Authority on weekdays/Saturdays, which is more than adequate, but it would be worth looking into a transit link between Quincy and Wenatchee. Further down the line, there are proposed new stations at Coulee City, Wilbur, Davenport, and Medical Lake. In actuality, not one of these 4 towns are on the rail line between Wenatchee and Spokane (though they are on a spur line owned by WSDOT, but it only runs from Coulee City to Cheney). Between Ephrata and Spokane, the only towns on the rail line with any significant population are Odessa and Harrington, neither of which could justify a station. Going back to Ellensburg, there is a proposal that comes up every now and then which could add another route to the map and further increase rail capacity overall for the state. Between Ellensburg and Lind was where part of the old Milwaukee Road rail line ran. Part of the line is still in active use (currently owned by WSDOT and BNSF), and so there is the possibility of rebuilding the rest of the line. It wouldn’t be cheap, as the lowball estimate would put the cost somewhere around $200 million ($2 million/mile). If the line were to be rebuilt, we could possibly have a new station at Othello, as well as a faster route between Seattle and Spokane for the HSR route. Lastly, we have the route between Pasco (Tri-Cities) and Spokane. Of the five proposed new stations on the route, Ritzville and Cheney both have existing stations still in good condition. Ritzville’s is currently being used as a town/NP museum, while Cheney’s is being used as BNSF offices. Minimal work would be required to bring these stations up to standard, and both can easily be justified as stops on the route. In the case of Lind and Sprague, both towns are too small to justify stops. Finally, there is Connell, and while it could be argued that there is enough people in town to justify a stop, they would be much better served by adding a stop on the Greyhound route that already passes by daily, as well as a transit route between there and the Tri-Cities (something that never existed).
In conclusion, I will say again that I’m glad this map has been released to help foster discussion about the future of passenger rail in Washington State. However, with this post I wanted to help clear up some details and help improve the overall accuracy of the map. Anyone can draw lines on a piece of paper, but as transit advocates it is crucial to make sure we have a plan that is clear and concise, as well as realistic and error-free.
If you have any thoughts or responses to this post or the map, feel free to comment below or send me a tweet to @ziggzagzac.
UPDATE 2/6/14: After I first shared this, Ben Schiendelman and Jeff Hammerquist from Friends of Transit made some updates to the map based on the feedback from this post. (To view the full version, see the .pdf.)
Also, hello to everyone from today’s Open Thread on the Seattle Transit Blog!
In a previous post on a BFT system revamp, I touched on the idea of building a transit center out in the West Pasco area. At the time, I suggested that a temporary facility could be operated from an empty gravel lot next to Broadmoor Park Outlet Mall until a transit center could be designed and built.
Currently, there is an unofficial “transfer point” in West Pasco, located at the corner of Broadmoor Blvd (Road 100) and Chapel Hill Blvd. At this intersection, three routes converge: Route 66, Route 67, and Route 225. The routes are not timed to meet within a few minutes of each other, so not many passengers try to transfer here. Apart from the stop flags near the intersection, the only form of passenger amenities is a passenger shelter served by Routes 67(EB) and 225(WB) on the NE side of the intersection.
In the past, officials at BFT have acknowledged the need for a transit center in the West Pasco area, stating it would likely be located somewhere in the Road 68 area. Beyond acknowledging the need, it appears that little else has been done. Over the last decade, development in West Pasco has boomed, and hundreds of new homes and businesses have sprung up. In response, BFT extended Route 67 in 2004 to bring service to Burden Blvd, Road 68, and Sandifur Pkwy. However, service had to later be moved off Road 68 to Road 76 in response to the continued delays from traffic congestion in the area. Since then, the only other major change to transit service in West Pasco was the linking of Route 66 and 67 in September 2011.
In the past, most transit planning revolved around the traditional 9-5 job. Buses/trains would run frequently during the AM and PM rush hours (typically 6-9AM and 4-7PM), with “usable” service running during the midday hours and service winding down fairly early in the evening. In the modern age, transit planning has had to adapt, as the traditional 9-5 job isn’t as prevalent as it once was. Especially common in the service industry (fast food, hospitality, etc), shift times widely range in times such as 3-11PM, 6-10AM, 5:30PM-2AM and so on.
Here in Eastern Washington, only three transit agencies provide any sort of service past 7PM. As it happens, all three deliver that late night service in different ways, which we’ll explore below.
In Spokane, rather than ending service at the end of the PM rush hour, Spokane Transit Authority continues to run fixed route service until between 11PM and 12AM (varying by route). With a few exceptions, all routes follow the same paths as seen during daytime service, albeit with reduced service levels. Typically, this means that routes designated as Local Service (30 minute headways) will see buses go to every 60 minutes. On some routes designated as Frequent Service (15 minute headways), buses will run every 30 minutes. This also includes some corridors served by 2 routes (such as the 60/61 in Browne’s Addition). Late night schedules are also adjusted from their daytime versions to allow timed transfers downtown at The Plaza. In theory, this allows a rider coming from one part of the city to only wait a maximum of 5-10 minutes at The Plaza to continue on their trip, but some riders are left with a 30 minute layover. It doesn’t mean riders are left out in the cold though, as the interior of The Plaza is open until the last buses leave downtown at 11:20PM.
A variation of traditional route-deviated service, Valley Transit in Walla Walla and College Place runs two deviated-loop routes through the metro during late night weekdays. With regular fixed route service ending at 5:45, the deviated-loop routes run at 45 minute headways and cover the west and east ends of the metro respectively. Regular stops are made along the loop, but riders can also request a deviation up to 1/4mi off the loop. For riders needing to go further, a separate Valley Transit bus will bring them to their destination. The last trips leave Walla Walla Transit Center at 8:00PM and return just before 8:45PM, but Valley Transit does leave one bus in service to bring passengers to their final destination (if needed). That bus also remains in service to transport students from Walla Walla Community College on school nights, leaving the campus at 9:10PM and only traveling to rider’s destinations.
As I’ve previously covered here, Ben Franklin Transit operates a demand response service called Trans+Plus on weeknight and Saturdays using a contractor. Recently, that service was extended from 12:30AM to 2AM, and daytime service was also reinstated on Sundays. Rather than relying on scheduled fixed route service, anybody can call to reserve a ride at any time the service is operating (in 15 minutes intervals; :00, :15, :30, and :45). As it is a premium service, fares are higher than fixed route service, with the cash fare at $3 one-way for all passengers (adult/child/senior/ADA). There is also the option to buy the Freedom Pass for $50, which allows the holder unrestricted usage on all BFT services. There are times where riders may have to be flexible with their plans, as capacity on the service is limited due to a limited financial allocation. Most regular riders on Trans+Plus are used to the concept of calling as early as possible after the reservation line opens daily at 2PM, which is also why the majority of the ridership uses it for work-related trips. The contractor also allows riders to set up a recurring subscription ride, negating the need to call in a reservation daily.
In an ideal world, all transit agencies would have the ability to get any rider anywhere they want to go whenever they want. In these three different examples, the service modes for late night transit have been adapted to fit the base needs of the ridership while still keeping it within budget to get the most value for the agency’s money.