New transit concepts for Kirkland and south Kenmore – Tell us what you think by Oct. 7

asd-kkLast spring, Metro’s Alternative Services program began working with the communities of Kirkland and south Kenmore to identify transit gaps created in September 2014 when Metro deleted two routes that served these areas. A stakeholder working group helped us prioritize transportation needs that might be met by innovative, custom mobility services.

Here are some options we’re presenting to Kirkland and south Kenmore for consideration:

  • Community van: Metro provides vans for local prescheduled group trips that are arranged by a Community Transportation Coordinator and driven by volunteer drivers.
  • SchoolPool is a free and secure ridematch program that connects parents of children attending the same school who want to carpool, bike, or walk together.
  • TripPool is a “first-mile connection” for commuters. It provides real-time ridesharing that connects members—both drivers and riders—to transit.

Now we’d like to hear from people who live, work, go to school, and play in Kirkland and south Kenmore. Will these ideas meet your community’s transportation needs? Would you be interested in trying them?

Questions? Contact DeAnna Martin, 206-477-3835

New investments in Metro Transit safety, service, and reliability

By Rob Gannon, Interim Metro Transit General Manager

Rob Gannon, Metro Transit Interim General ManagerExecutive Constantine recently gave us a challenge:  how will we meet the demands of one million more people living here in King County in the next 25 years, working 850,000 more jobs?

Metro Transit responded by working with riders, stakeholders, and staff from all corners of our organization to put forth a thoughtful, long-range vision for the next 25 years, which the Executive has embraced.

Because the regional economy is strong, we have funds now to improve service and begin to invest in the vision of METRO CONNECTS, which over the long-term calls for:

  • Doubling ridership,
  • Increasing bus service by 70 percent,
  • Increasing the number of buses on the street by 30 percent, and
  • Making a significant capital investment in the new coaches and technology necessary to deliver this service, and the physical space to house and maintain our equipment.

SM Image IIIt is no easy process to evolve from a system that for many years has been financially constrained to one that is prepared to expand dramatically. Before enacting our long-range vision, Metro must first have the people in place to drive the routes, maintain the buses, trains, and facilities, and manage all that goes into operating our system.

And most of all, every employee needs to feel safe and secure on the job, knowing they will make it home to their families at the end of their work day.

To get there, the Executive is proposing a biennial budget to the Council that takes the first step toward investing in all of us, and in the infrastructure of our health, safety and security. Today, he proposed a budget for Metro Transit that:

  • Adds 30,000 hours to provide more time for comfort station breaks. We know our schedule cuts in 2010 and 2011 along with increased traffic have put our operators behind, and in response, we are making the single largest investment to date to add time for operator breaks and recovery periods.
  • Provides additional Metro Transit police resources to establish  more visible presence and responses to security issues on the buses. This was the number one recommendation to address operator assaults coming out of our Security Summits jointly sponsored with ATU Local 587.
  • Ensures 100% of our coaches have onboard camera systems by the end of 2018. This too was a top priority coming out of our Security Summits, and a priority for the Executive, and will serve to enhance bus security and preserve valuable evidence when incidents occur.
  • Adds other resources to implement the Safety Systems Review that many of our staff participated in, either through questionnaires or focus groups. The full report will be released throughout Metro Transit early next week.
  • For the biennium, the Executive is proposing an additional 300,000 hours of new annual service to reduce crowding, increase reliability and help meet target service levels on key corridors.  By focusing additional service on the most over-crowded routes first, we will improve the daily working conditions for bus operators throughout the system and also provide more service to our customers.

The Executive’s budget also calls for investments in our infrastructure to ready us for the longer-term vision of adding service:

  • Our seven Metro bus bases are stretched to capacity. To expand service, we’re going to have to jump-start the planning to build an eighth bus base, most likely somewhere in South King County.  We also need to expand existing facilities at Atlantic/Central and potentially South Base.
  • We have been struggling to hire and train enough operators to drive our existing schedule. The Executive’s budget calls not only for hiring operators but first-line supervisors, vehicle maintenance crews, and other management and support staff to ensure no compromise to the safety and efficient operation of the overall system.
  • The Executive also calls for a ten-year capital investment plan to build the foundation which will put Metro in position to implement the vision of METRO CONNECTS, and build a transit system that truly meets the needs of our riders by the year 2040.

The Executive’s budget proposal is an investment in the health of our employees and our system, to make sure we are best equipped to serve the public well. Keeping our system safe and make it even safer is a value that must guide our every action, and I am pleased that this proposed budget – which we helped build – takes a step toward making that a reality.  We will keep our system safe, and make Metro a great place to work. That is the path to service excellence.

Sincerely,

Rob Gannon
Interim Metro Transit General Manager

We’re hiring and training drivers, reducing canceled trips

(Editor’s Note: This blog post includes a message from Metro Transit Interim General Manager Rob Gannon, followed below by a detailed accounting by Operations Manager Ted Harris, who outlines Metro’s efforts to hire drivers during our time of growth. Learn about the opportunity to #DriveForMetro.)

Rob Gannon, Metro Transit Interim General Manager

Rob Gannon, Metro Transit Interim General Manager

At Metro Transit, we strive to provide safe, reliable and consistent transit service. We know that hundreds of thousands of riders depend on us every day to get to work, to school, to shopping, and to an amazing variety of locations. And we take it to heart whenever we’re falling short of our customers’ expectations.

Due to a shortage of bus operators, we’ve seen a spike this summer in commute trip cancellations that has made it difficult for some of you to travel reliably using Metro. We provide about 12,000 weekday bus trips and though the number of canceled trips represents a small fraction of that, riders count on us to provide our service as scheduled – and the number of cancellations has been unacceptable.

We offer our sincere apologies to each of our customers who have experienced any inconvenience due to canceled peak-commute trips in recent months. Addressing this remains a work in progress, and Metro greatly appreciates the patience of riders who endure crowding or delays when a trip does not run due to lack of an available qualified operator.

Our transit operations and training sections continue to hire, train and promote transit operators to deliver on our commitments. About every two weeks, we add a group of new drivers. We have 23 new full-time operators on the road Aug. 29, with more classes of new part-time drivers and promoted full-time drivers in the pipeline. Their focus on safety and customer service are a testament to the quality we work to provide, and work to fulfill our pledge to customers to provide the service riders expect and deserve.

–Rob Gannon, Metro Transit Interim General Manager

Metro Full-Time Operator Graduating Class Aug. 26, 2016 (

Metro Full-Time Operator Graduating Class Aug. 26, 2016. They’ve been on the road, carrying customers since Aug. 29. Hiring more drivers helps deliver the scheduled service and reduce canceled trips.

Hiring and training drivers who are safe and customer oriented takes time

The spike in recent cancellations is due to a shortage of available qualified operators, an issue we are actively working to address through hiring and training. We just graduated another class of full-time operators, and all 23 will be on the road Monday, Aug. 29, to serve our customers. Class by class, we are working to add drivers to the workforce to address the issue of having enough operators to provide all of the service we have scheduled.

Ted Harris, Metro Transit Operations Manager

Ted Harris, Metro Transit Operations Manager

Metro has about 2,700 transit operators, and building and maintaining a workforce like that is a full-time effort. Since the large 2015 boosts in bus service, we have screened thousands of applicants, and then hired, trained and promoted hundreds of transit operators. We only hire and train operators who meet our high standards for safety and customer service, and who can meet the expectations of riders.

Why cancel trips?

A trip is canceled when we are unable to use a standby operator or find an operator available for a trip when there is an unexpected absence – such as driver illness – or when there is peak vacation time.Ted Harris speaks with media at driver training class

Standby and available operators can cover many of these “open trips,” but these drivers must be qualified to operate the route they fill in on – that way they know the nuances of routes, their turns and bus stop locations. Metro’s 2,700 part- and full-time operators operate from seven bases, each with a group of standby operators who can help fill in where needed. Overall, we deliver more than 99 percent of trips each day with drivers who operate the routes they picked, or routes they fill in on.

These days, due to the number of open shifts from retirements, illnesses, vacations and drivers out for training, there are more trips to operate than available qualified drivers.

What has Metro done to address this?

Trainer Chris Wick and new Metro drivers in trainingSince 2014, we have been hiring to meet the intense period of growth in bus service. We have focused on hiring drivers who are safe and customer-oriented to maintain service and grow to meet demand – however it has been challenging in the face of dynamics within our workforce and the region’s strong economy.

Metro is seeing much higher number of retirements in 2016 than previous years – over 200 drivers or other staff are expected to retire this year, which is potentially dozens more than previous years and above our projections. It takes several months to hire, train and backfill those positions. Experienced full-time drivers also get promoted into supervisory, management, or other positions, or to operate Link light rail or Seattle Streetcar service that Metro operates.

What steps are needed to expand the workforce?

Metro instructor Chris WickWhen a full-time driver changes jobs, leaves or retires from Metro, we must replace them by promoting and training a part-time driver to full time – and that training takes about two to three weeks. Full-time driving requires enhanced skills in customer interactions, diffusing tense situations, and familiarity with more bus routes.

When a part-time operator leaves for full-time training, that creates a gap in the commute-time part-time workforce. For every part-time driver we promote to full-time, Metro must then also hire a brand new part-time driver to fill that work, which includes 33 days of training before they can drive.

Metro driver training Sept. 2, 2016Under contract, all Metro drivers start as part-time. Having a part-time workforce is key to operating our commute time service and is a flexible scheduling arrangement that saves taxpayers money.

While it is progress to promote part-time drivers to full time work, it increases the likelihood of cancelling trips during peak commute times those part-time drivers used to operate.

Our hiring, training and promoting efforts continue to be a work in progress as our service expands, and our workforce changes, ages and makes choices about when to retire.

What does a new driver go through?

We have been hiring operators on a large scale to meet our service demands and address the ongoing challenge of driver shortages.

Photo of bus with operators in training

Operators in training, 2015

Last year, our staff trained over 700 transit operators, and so far this year our dedicated Operations Training Team has extended 295 formal offers to hire transit operators. We are still recruiting operators and have received over 1,300 applications since re-opening recruitment in May.

Recruiting and training this many operators takes time. Before a Transit Operator can even begin training, they must complete several steps in the hiring process. These steps include an application screening, a 165-question questionnaire, panel interviews, a drug test and physical, as well as a review of applicants’ background, driving record and all previous employment. Applicants must also pass three exams administered by the state Department of Licensing to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) learner’s permit if they don’t currently have a CDL.

Photo of training coachTraining for part-time operators begins every two weeks with classes of 24 students. Trainees must adhere to strict standards, including that they attend every class on time and complete a yearlong probationary period. We take the responsibility of hiring Transit Operators extremely seriously and only invite the very best to sit behind the wheel of a Metro bus.

Next steps

We are redoubling our efforts to avoid canceling back to back trips, and the first or last run of a route. If we cannot fill a trip, customer communications staff works to notify riders via our Puget Sound Trip Planner or transit alerts when possible, which also is shared via Twitter.

We hope this helps riders be aware of what is happening if their service is disrupted, and adjust their schedule or make alternate plans if necessary.

We’re committed to improve our capacity to hire and train the drivers and supervisors we need to operate the service dependably. Every few weeks we graduate more drivers into the system, and they are eager to serve our community. Due to the pace of retirements and growth in service, part-time drivers have the ability to be promoted to full-time work after as little as six months, a point that helps us recruit people who want more than part-time work.

Our community deserves the best we have to offer – quality drivers and a commitment to providing reliable service. Our efforts are ongoing and require vigilance, and our team will continue to work to serve our customers.

–Ted Harris, Metro Transit Operations Manager

King County Council to consider changing DART routes 907 and 915

Proposed change to Route 907: shorten route to operate between Renton and Black Diamond, increase service so bus comes every 60 minutes. Proposed change to Route 915: extend to South Enumclaw to cover Enumclaw portion of discontinued Route 907. No “one size fits all” approach to transit can meet every community’s needs. So we’re working with communities in southeast King County to find transportation options that will better meet the needs of residents and riders than regular bus service.

In April 2015, we asked for feedback about how people use transit service, what barriers they face, and how local service could be improved. Then we worked with local partners to design some alternative service concepts to address some of the needs people told us about. We heard public feedback about these concepts in May 2015, and used that feedback to finalize a set of proposals we’re moving forward with. Learn more on Metro’s website.

The King County Council is currently considering some of these proposals involving changes to routes 907 and 915, which the public helped us design.

  • Route 907 would be shortened to run only between the Renton Transit Center and Black Diamond.
  • Route 907 would have increased service, with buses coming every hour.
  • The current Route 907 DART deviation area in Renton would be removed.
  • Route 915 would be extended from Griffin Avenue and Wells Street to McDougal Avenue (to serve the Enumclaw part of current Route 907).

If these changes are adopted, they will be made in March 2017. Related changes would include the following:

  • A demand-response service connection between Black Diamond and Enumclaw (expected to begin service in the first quarter of 2017).
  • A campaign to distribute ORCA fare cards and educate Route 907 riders to help Enumclaw residents make use of transfers between Metro and Sound Transit service in Auburn and the new demand-response service between Enumclaw and Black Diamond. (This would take place before the March 2017 service change.)

Stay tuned for additional services in 2017:

  • We’re developing an emergency-ride-home program. If riders miss their connecting routes in Renton or Auburn during evenings or weekends when fixed-route service is not available, this service would provide the last leg of the trip to get them home. The service could be provided by taxis or by transportation network companies such as Uber or Lyft. Riders would have to preregister for the program.
  • We’re partnering with the cities of Covington, Maple Valley, and Black Diamond to provide connections between and within these communities. Metro will provide a community transportation coordinator and vehicles that the cities would operate. Trips will be determined by the communities served and provided by screened, volunteer drivers.
  • We’re promoting Metro VanPool, VanShare, and TripPool. We’re working with local partners to increase ride sharing with new outreach, education, and incentives, and partnering with interested cities to develop specific program approaches to meet community needs.

Visit the King County Council’s Transportation Environment and Economy Committee website for more information about how to participate as the current legislation makes its way through the council approval process.

Transit Advisory Commission seeks new members

Have A Say LogoDo you ride transit and have a desire to improve transit service for everyone? King County is seeking several new members for its Transit Advisory Commission.

The commission helps improve transit services, planning, and programs by advising Metro, King County, and leaders about transit policy (visit the website to learn more).

The commission’s members include residents and other transit stakeholders. Our goal is to reflect the county’s diversity. Most members ride the bus, and all live in King County. Each serves a two-year term. The commission meets monthly or as needed.

Photo courtesy Ned Ahrens, KCDOT

Photo courtesy Ned Ahrens, KCDOT

In particular, we encourage people who live in the third, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth county council district (see a map); young people; people of color; and people with disabilities or limited English proficiency to apply.

Learn more and apply online.

La Comisión de asesoría de transporte público colectivo (Transit Advisory Commission) busca nuevos miembros

Have-a-Say-Spanish-500pwide¿Utiliza usted el transporte público y desea mejorar el servicio para todos? King County busca nuevos miembros para su Comisión asesora.

La comisión ayuda a mejorar los servicios de transporte, planificación y programas, asesorando a Metro, a King County y a líderes acerca de la política de transporte público (visite el sitio web para más información).

Photo courtesy Ned Ahrens, KCDOT

Photo courtesy Ned Ahrens, KCDOT

Entre los miembros de la comisión se encuentran residentes y otras partes interesadas en el transporte público. Nuestro objetivo es reflejar la diversidad del condado. La mayoría de los miembros usa transporte público, y viven en el condado de King. Cada miembro se compromete en participar por dos años. La comisión se reúne mensualmente o según sea necesario.

Photo by Ned Ahrens, King County

Photo by Ned Ahrens, King County

En particular, invitamos a inscribirse a las personas que viven en el tercer, sexto, séptimo o noveno distritos municipales del condado (ver mapa); a los jóvenes; a personas de color; y a las personas con discapacidades o dominio limitado del Inglés.

Obtenga más información y complete su solicitud en línea.


How’s our translation? If you speak English and Spanish and want to help us improve our translations, compare this post to the same post we made in English and share your feedback by emailing community.relations@kingcounty.gov.

METRO CONNECTS, Metro’s long-range vision transmitted to King County Council

SM Image II

Today Executive Dow Constantine transmitted METRO CONNECTS, Metro’s plan for bringing you more and better transit service over the next 25 years, to the King County Council for their consideration.

METRO CONNECTS presents a vision of a transportation network that can accommodate the 1 million more people and 850,000 expected in our region by 2040. Key features include much more frequent service—including 20 more RapidRide lines and all-day express service, innovative new travel options, improved passenger facilities and pathways to bus stops and stations, and customer information tools that make travel by transit easy.

This plan was a community effort, shaped by more than 1,500 people who attended our open houses, 9,700 people who responded to our online surveys, a 25-member Community Advisory Group, and a Technical Advisory Committee with representatives from King County cities and other organizations.

Metro appreciates the thousands of people who took the time to learn about the long-range plan, come to an open house or event, fill out a survey, or send us your comments.

The Council is expected to review, discuss and vote on adopting the plan in early 2017.  You can sign up here to receive updates from Metro about METRO CONNECTS. We hope you will stay engaged with Metro as we reach out to you and your communities for input about  making our vision a reality.

Explore the plan at kcmetrovision.org, and read more below about how community input shaped the final plan.

Changes based on what we heard during spring 2016 outreach

Metro received valuable feedback about our draft plan from thousands of people and from organizations, cities and transit agencies. We made many changes to the final plan based on what you told us.

Easier to read
We think you’ll be excited about the future of transit in King County. To make it easy for you to find what you’re looking for in our far-ranging vision, we simplified the plan’s structure.  It presents our big-picture vision in the first few pages. That’s followed by detailed but concise descriptions of what we’re proposing to do—like more RapidRide lines, better bus stops, and new kinds of information at your fingertips. We simplified the maps, added new graphics, and used icons and call-out boxes to highlight key themes like sustainability, equity and social justice, partnerships, and innovation.  The final section explains how we would make the METRO CONNECTS vision a reality.

Service network changes
We changed the 2025 and 2040 service networks to provide additional coverage where gaps were identified, improve routing alignments, connect with light rail, reduce duplication, and adjust service frequencies to best accommodate anticipated demand.

Other key changes
Metro clarified or added more information in many areas, including capital improvements, the customer experience, boarding and fares, partnerships with cities and others, and implementing the plan.

Capital Improvements
Metro heard that people care most about capital improvements that help buses run faster and more reliably and those that make it easier to access transit by foot, car or bicycle. Metro added more of the following types of capital improvements to the plan:

  • Road improvements to help buses move faster and more reliably
  • Additional park-and-ride spaces
  • Better facilities at major bus stops, including pedestrian and bicycle pathways

 The customer experience
Ensuring that customers have a positive experience is central to the METRO CONNECTS vision. We invite you to imagine what it could be like to use the future transit system.

Boarding and fares
We heard that people wanted to see more in the plan about making boarding and fare payment easy for everyone and keeping fares affordable. METRO CONNECTS calls for Metro to work with Sound Transit and other agencies to better coordinate fares and fare payment between different service providers. It also calls for Metro to continue promoting and expanding the ORCA Lift program. Fleet vehicles and facilities will be designed with all users in mind, including people who walk, bike, or use a wheelchair and parents with strollers.

Implementing the vision
Many stakeholders wanted to see more information about how the vision could be implemented. METRO CONNECTS gives more detail about the implementation program—a collaboration with riders, community members, cities and transportation agencies to coordinate near-term service changes, complementary capital investments, and other program and policy work needed to support the METRO CONNECTS vision.

 

Ride to Seafair with Metro and Sound Transit

Need a ride this weekend to Seafair? With the Blue Angels, hydro races, and road closures coming to town, King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit want riders and Seafair revelers to be preparedBlueangelsformationpd

Metro offers free shuttles for those traveling to Lake Washington to see the hydro races and Blue Angels air shows. And with new light rail stations on Capitol Hill and at the University of Washington, riders have more options than ever to leave their car behind and take the train to connect with free bus shuttles to see all the action.

Metro also will reroute several buses during temporary closures of the Interstate 90 floating bridge to accommodate the Blue Angels as they practice and perform their air show, starting Thursday, August 4, through Sunday, Aug. 7.  Shuttle buses, requiring payment of fare, will operate between North Mercer Island and the South Bellevue Park and Ride lot during the I-90 closures.

Hydro shuttles, August 5-7
Getting to the Albert Lee Cup hydro races can be a little easier with free Metro shuttles Friday through Sunday, from 5:45 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Shuttles operate from the Columbia City Link light rail station (Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and South Edmunds Street) to Stan Sayres Pits near Genesee Park on Lake Washington, where fans can also view the Blue Angels air shows.

Near Columbia City Link Station, board a shuttle eastbound on South Angeline Street just west of 32nd Avenue South. Shuttles operate frequently and depart as the buses fill.

Leaving from Genesee Park to rethydro_shuttle1urn to Columbia City, riders can board shuttles northbound on 43rd Avenue South, just north of South Genesee Street.

Metro bus Route 50 is rerouted during this event.

I-90 bridge closure reroutes and shuttles
All I-90 bus service will be rerouted to State Route 520 during the I-90 bridge closures, which affect eastbound, westbound, mainline and express lanes.

During the I-90 closures on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Metro provides shuttle bus service between the park-and-ride lots at South Bellevue and Mercer Island. Regular fares are required on the I-90 shuttles, which operate about every 30 minutes.

Sound Transit Routes 550 and 554, which normally travel via I-90, will be rerouted to SR 520 and will not serve stops on I-90 at Rainier Avenue South and Mercer Island.

I-90 transit service will be rerouted during the following times:

  • Thursday, August 4, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Friday, August 5, 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, August 6, 12:30 p.m. to 3:30m.
  • Sunday, August 7, 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Free rides for military personnel

Military personnel, either in uniform or carrying military ID, can ride free on all King County Metro and Sound Transit transit service during Fleet Week, from August 3-7.

Find more information

Details about reroutes and shuttle service are available in the Metro Online Alerts Center. Riders also can use the online Trip Planner for information about getting to and from specific locations, or call Metro’s Customer Information Office at 206-553-3000 on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Visit Sound Transit’s website for more information on Link light rail service. WSDOT has I-90 bridge closure information and the Seafair website has event information.

Metro: One community, 4,500 strong

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Vicki Leslie, a 35-year employee honored as Metro’s Operator of the Year.

By Rob Gannon, Metro Transit Interim General Manager

One of the best parts of my job is seeing and meeting Metro employees who go above and beyond to serve the people of King County.

Vicki Leslie is one of those people. With 35 years as a bus driver, Vicki was honored Thursday as Metro’s Operator of the Year.

Vicki has earned praised for how she connects with customers on her routes between Woodinville, Bothell and Kirkland – she knows the names of all her regular passengers, and always keeps her cool in stressful situations. Vicki also has made a big impression on her peers, which is why they chose her as this year’s recipient.

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Vicki Leslie (L) is recognized by her supervisors at Metro’s Bellevue base.

I had the chance to express my gratitude during Thursday’s surprise ceremony at Metro’s Bellevue base. Joining us were Vicki’s family, friends, coworkers, and supervisors, as well as Senior Deputy County Executive Fred Jarrett and Director of Transportation Harold Taniguchi.

Longtime Metro veterans and newer employees also were in attendance. Some, like Janice Berlin, a 36-year veteran and chief in our Transit Control Center, were just days away from retirement. And others, like Adbi Elmi, a Bellevue base chief who brought his wife and children to Thursday’s event, are just a few years into their Metro career.

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Abdi Elmi, a Metro base chief in Bellevue, and his family. Pictured behind them is a circa-1980s era Metro bus on which many veteran operators began their career.

They all share a strong sense of commitment and dedication, which bonds us together. We are one community, 4,500 strong. We take pride in serving the riders who depend on our 2,700 operators every day to get to work or school safely
and efficiently. That’s why in this community, we hold high expectations for each other.

We also encourage and support each other. As Vicki’s nearly three decades of service demonstrate, Metro can offer a long and rewarding career. I invite anyone interested in a career as a Metro transit operator to learn more about becoming a part of our team.

In the meantime, thank you to Vicki and all of our Metro employees for their hard work and dedication. It means a lot to me and the people you serve.

Take care of each other, and be safe.0716OprtYrVickiLeslie071

You can PokémonGo further with an ORCA card

By Adam Jabari Jefferson, KCDOT Multimedia Specialist

For a Pokémon Go trainer, traveled distance makes the difference between bagging your 16th Caterpie in Seattle’s Occidental Square and catching a wild Seaking from the suspension bridge at White Center Heights Park.

The “go” in the game’s title urges exploration. There are 200+ bus routes in King County. The twin Water Taxis shuttle more than 500,000 passengers a year between Seattle and Vashon Island and West Seattle.

Zubat Pokemon cartoon image on a bus with text reading PokemonGO further with an ORCA card

Boat, bus and Link light rail connections help us and our virtual avatars access real spaces. And they all accept the ORCA Card.

Public transit is integral to Go’s augmented reality world. Even the ORCA LIFT enrollment office sits between two Pokéstops. And that’s where my journey began. Equipped with an ORCA card, bicycle and fully charged phone, I embarked on a catch-‘em-all quest through King County.

Graphic with red circle and line warning riders to not look down at their phone while walking in traffic(Smart trainers never bike, drive or walk while staring at their phone. Be safe out there.)

Like an Eevee drawn to incense, I took the proliferating pocket monsters reported in King County Parks as an invitation. I racked my bike aboard a 36 bus bound for Beacon Hill. At my transfer point to route 60 is a bus shelter photo mural where I viewed a “City Under Construction” and collected several Pokéballs. We crossed the South Park Bridge too quickly to visit any of its three Pokéstops. Other passengers, quietly lost in books or music, listened for their stops to be announced (unaware of the lurking digital beasts).

In Southwest Seattle, I cycled half-a-mile, phone in my pocket – Seriously! Look up at the road, trainers – into unincorporated King County where Steve Cox Memorial Park hosted a carnival for White Center Jubilee Days. Joyous noise and families filled the playground. A son and father, phones in hands, chased Poké pets along the ball field. We exchanged smiles and knowing nods as the giggling duo tracked Clefairy.

We are looking at one another. It’s a strange, refreshing byproduct of this mobile game. Your phone is out and so is mine. The way we walk, curiously searching the space around us, reveals our common ground. You, stranger, also are a trainer. We share the same excitement for a wild Weedle. And in our interaction, we learn to better navigate both worlds.