Late Night Transit

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.

Fixed Route
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.

Demand Response
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.


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