Lessons from Seattle transit system

The Seattle transit system is excellent and there are lessons for the UK. The frequent buses in the city centre all take bikes – on the front which would never be allowed in London because health and safety would beworriedaboutimpaling passengers – and  are wheelchair accessible. I saw wheelchair users getting on and off without any helpers because the device, which does not involve the bus kneeling but rather is a lift in the main passenger entrance operated by the driver without having to move.

Moreover, people use these facilities.I travelled on half a dozen buses during a weekendand there were three wheelchair users and two cyclists. – lazy bastards!  Moreover, the bus service is free in the downtown area between 6am and 7pm which encourages people to park their cars on the outskirts and travel round by public transport. The car park charges are high, often $2 per hour or in the case of the car parks next to the sports stadiums, a staggering $30 for the event. That shows the extent to which America’s dependency on cars is a con. The people have been sucked into car dependence and then have been fleeced, but sadly they will probably never realise unless, of course, petrol prices start soaring again.

  • RapidAssistant

    I wouldn’t agree that car users in the US have been sucked into car dependence per se, they have been quite happy to have been led to the trough by low gas prices and the fierce lobbying by Detroit on Congress whenever mass investment in public transport schemes by federal government have been proposed in the past.

    You have to be careful not to allow your view to be distorted by what you see in big cities, because you don’t have to venture that far out of major population centres in the States to see that so much of modern US infrastructure has grown up around car usage over the last 50 years, which will make modal shift a lot, lot more difficult.

    After all, they’ve got used to streets with no pavements, vast retail parks and strip malls only accessible by road, and they have drive-in cinemas, drive-in banks, drive-in pharmacies and even drive-in off-licences!!! Not to mention the no-expense spared approach to motorway design, that puts our network – designed largely by politicians and accountants a lot of the time – to shame.

  • With a quarter billion motor-car-ists endlessly slurping 20 millions barrels of oil per 23 hour day, the 24th hour is reserved for the automobiles to take a nap…
    The ‘PickUpandDropOffs’ are the typical family with tyres for feet…
    The ‘BigGulps’ are Beverly Hills celebrities with designer shoes in place of tyres on their Cadillac Escalades, Tahoes, Suburbans, Jimmies, 300C’s with spinning shiny chrome hubcaps…
    4 choice ‘Super-Slurpee’ beverages are available at most gazzoline stations—Diezel(stout), cheap white wine(87 octane regular gaz), Champagne(89 Octane gaz) Cognac(93 Octane gaz)…
    A $500 per automobile ‘sacred cow public subsidy’ is the most -economical- way to protect the AUTO-POLY and BLUBBER-LAND from ruthless competition by the likes of trains, buses, bicycles, pedestrians and doggies!…

  • Dave

    The ride free zone has nothing to do with being a green initiative to entice motorists from their cars, and is something a few UK cities and operators might learn from. It is pure bottom line self interest of the transit operator.

    Watch any bus service in the city centre and you’ll seen realise that one of the major drains on running time is selling/issuing tickets. I’ve seen some Glasgow buses sit through 3 cycles of traffic lights boarding passengers, so a ride free regime during the working day means you can maintain a service frequency with fewer buses and drivers – and that saves around £100,000/year per bus. Glasgow might for example consider a free to ride circulating bus service with multi-door walk-on boarding during the working day and run the services that currently seize up Union and Hope Streets with less than half full vehicles to transfer points at the outer edges.

    The rapid boarding buses would have real time displays on board to show the services connecting at the outer stops, and at a rough guess most of First Glasgow’s main routes would save at least 2 buses on PVR.

    Lincolnshire showed the way with the rural version of this why send a bus round every last village green chasing passengers when there are much cheaper ways to get passengers to the bus, running on a rapid and direct route to the places people want to get to. When bus subsidy cash is tight think radical.

    Which naturally brings us to bikes and buses – TRL report 592 goes very thoroughly into why the US racks on the front operate in a very different environment, with substantially fewer pedestrians on the streets they use. In the UK buses actually have a higher pedestrian hit-rate per vehicle per year than any other class of vehicle – hardly surprising given that most buses are on the road for 10 times as long as private cars, and positively invite pedestrians to walk up to them. Far better is to use the space available on many rural low floor services to carry cycles as is already happening officially with some forward thinking operators, and equally to take bike in the underfloor hold of express coaches – again a key solution for many commuter services coming in to London and a well established practice on the Oxford Tube, especially for those boarding at Lewknor. Perhaps the best service reported is with Stagecoach Bluebird where up to 20% of the seated capacity on their coaches going through Fochabers can be taken by MTB riders heading for the Ben Aigan Trails network, and the most frustrating detail is First Borders service 62 which used to manage up to 4 bikes (8% of seats) in the boot of the old buses when we went to the early developments at Glentress. Now with over 100 times more visitors per year bikes are not (officially) allowed on the new accessible (sic) buses – even though these may well have space available and over 90% of visitors to the popular 7 Stanes sites come by private car (a few use Stagecoach’s express services (500) to get to the sites West of Dumfries). When you get on a rural bus service with your bike and increase patronage by 50% it really does seem daft to ignore this potential (Thanks to Red Rose Thame-Henley for that ride)

  • RapidAssistant

    Dave – if Glasgow City Council would have the balls to do something about all the duplication of routes by all these other bus companies, the city centre wouldn’t be clogged up with clapped-out badly maintained buses. Having used to suffer the daily rush-hour convoy on Glassford Street being choked to death by diesel fumes I know where you are coming from. They (the council) are not exactly blameless in the mess they have created in the centre of the city with their poorly thought out system of bus lanes.

    Admittedly a lot of the congestion problems are also down to drivers rat-running through Glasgow city centre to avoid the daily M8 gridlock – perhaps when the M74 extension is finished we may see an improvement.

    Again if SPT were still running the buses, the suburban trains as well as the Subway as one integrated transport system instead of it being reduced to the toothless quango that it is now maybe we would have had smartcard ticketing a la Oyster in Glasgow a long time ago.

    So much for “divide and conquer” – the partial dismantling of the PTEs was, in my opinion a big mistake.

  • Dan

    Christian – that sounds like the ‘war on the motorist’ over there is Seattle!