About Jeff Switzer, King County DOT

Communications and public information officer at KCDOT

Metro and Redmond propose transit, pedestrian and bike enhancements at Old Redmond Road and 148th Ave NE

Metro is working with the City of Redmond to improve the eastbound right-turn at the Old Redmond Road and 148th Avenue Northeast intersection.

The goals of this improvement are to enhance the performance of bus Route 245 and improve safety for everyone who bikes or walks through this location.

The intersection’s current approach includes a “pork chop” pedestrian island which separates the eastbound through-movement and a short eastbound right-turn ‘slip’ lane. Continue reading

Commute achievement unlocked! 70 percent of commuters to downtown Seattle don’t drive

The front page of the Seattle Times launched the big news for commuters today: “As downtown jobs grow, workers turn to transit.”

Driving that headline was the announcement that less than 30 percent of nearly 250,000 commuters to downtown Seattle drive alone, and 70 percent take transit, rideshare, bike, walk and telework.Pie chart displaying the mode split for downtown Seattle commuters, totaling 70 percent who don't drive alone

It’s something riders have watched evolve over time. Record downtown Seattle job growth spurred public and private transportation investment during the past decade. Voter-approved ballot measures continued to pay to expand transit service. And the downward spiral of solo drivers continued. (35 percent in 2010; 34 percent in 2012 and 31 percent in 2014.)

Downtown Seattle added 45,000 jobs from 2010 to 2016, and an impressive 95 percent of the net increase in daily commute trips have been absorbed by transit, rideshare, biking and walking.

Public transit remains the top choice for downtown commuters (47%), with ridesharing, (9%), walking (6%), bicycling (3%), and teleworking (3%) rounding out the 70 percent of commuters not driving alone.

Did you know there are 31,000 more daily peak transit commuters, 9,000 additional non-motorized commuters, and 2,300 more vanpool/carpool riders since 2010? Solo drivers increased by only 2,255 during peak hours.Job growth in downtown Seattle has grown from 200,000 jobs in 2010 to 247,000 in 2016.

The results fulfill a 10-year goal to reduce the downtown Seattle peak commute drive-alone rate to 30 percent, accomplished by Commute Seattle at the direction of the Downtown Transportation Alliance (DTA)—a public-private partnership comprised of the Downtown Seattle Association, the City of Seattle (SDOT & OPCD), King County Metro and Sound Transit.

Alaska Junction bus shelter changes ahead

As part of an effort to address customer comfort and access to Metro bus service as well as to address non-transit use including illegal and uncivil behavior at the Alaska Junction, Metro is moving forward with the retention of two of the four oversized “double” shelters at one of the six transit bays in the area of California Avenue Southwest and Southwest Alaska Street as soon as Dec. 20.

The decision to remove two of the shelters was finalized after several weeks of public feedback and further analysis of rider usage. With this change, the remaining two double shelters at Bay 2 will continue to provide a weather-protected area sufficient for the riders who use these facilities. Metro also provides two RapidRide shelters at Bay 1 for transit riders. The removed shelters will be reused at other bus stops that are in need of shelters, and the artwork will be relocated to bus shelters within the Junction.

Bay 2 is served by routes 50 (Alki to Othello Station) and 128 (Admiral to White Center and Southcenter). Route 50 generally operates every 20-30 minutes and Route 128 every 30 minutes. Metro staff were sent to the location to observe how riders were using the stops at different times and days. Staff observed between zero and five customers waiting for buses at any one time under normal conditions, based on recent observations during peak and off-peak hours.

Metro solicited comments between October 28 and November 21 and received feedback from both riders and non-riders, some opposed and some supporting the change. The majority of comments opposed to the removal were based on the misconception that Metro intended to remove all shelters at this location.

The change is expected to reduce non-transportation use of Metro facilities, and to better match transit facility supply and demand.

Make Metro a safe place for everyone

By Rob Gannon, Metro Transit General Manager

In this moment of change and transition, County Executive Constantine has reaffirmed our values and principles.  King County is a place that values women, people of color, people with disabilities, people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, immigrants and refugees, and people of every religion, or of no religion.

In the delivery of our service to the public, Metro Transit does not tolerate harassment of any kind.  The vehicles we operate will remain safe places for our passengers.  Acts of harassment on our buses or at our shelters violate Metro Transit’s commitment to inclusion for all in our community and our rider Code of Conduct.  Should they occur, we ask people to report them to our employees or call 911 if law enforcement is needed immediately.

Metro Transit GM Rob Gannon portrait photo

Rob Gannon, Metro Transit General Manager

We will take enforcement actions against violators of this code.  And we are reminding operators of our procedures for addressing violations of the code of conduct aboard their coaches.

King County is a growing community rich in diversity and is one of the world’s great metropolitan areas.  Metro demonstrates our contribution by providing the best service possible, safely and with respect given to all our customers.  We ask all our riders to join in that commitment.

Ride safe, and help us keep our system safe for everyone.

Leading Metro into a new era

Metro Transit GM Rob Gannon portrait photoBy Rob Gannon, Metro Transit General Manager

I was deeply honored last week to be named the Metro Transit general manager by King County Executive Dow Constantine and Department of Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi, and look forward to confirmation by the King County Council.

This is an exciting time to lead Metro. We’re poised to begin implementing Metro Connects, our long-range plan for providing more and better transit service over the next 25 years. Not only does Metro Connects call for a 70 percent expansion of our transit system, it also envisions frequent service all day across the county, numerous safety and customer service enhancements, corridor investments to keep buses moving, and many more innovations and improvements.

We collaborated with community members, cities, and other transit agencies as we crafted this bold plan. As we move forward, strong relationships with communities and agencies will be critical to making our shared vision a reality.

Those partnerships will be one of my top priorities, along with customer and employee safety and strengthening Metro as a great place to work—the best way to ensure outstanding customer service.

While new to the general manager position, I’ve been at Metro for several years, serving as the interim general manager since March and as a deputy general manager from 2013-2016. In my time here I have interacted with employees throughout our agency—bus drivers and mechanics, customer service and facilities maintenance employees, planners and managers. They all share a devotion to providing the best possible service to the public, and I’m thrilled to be leading this great team.

I’ll keep you informed as we strive to deliver outstanding service every day while working toward our vision of a world-class transit system for King County.

 

Metro pausing removal of two Alaska Junction bus shelters

The King County Metro transit facility at Alaska Junction is incredibly important to our customers and to the functioning of the transit network in West Seattle.

Due to the attention possible changes have received over the weekend, Metro is willing to push “pause” on the shelter removal and actively solicit feedback before finalizing the shelter removal plan.

New information will be posted at the shelters within the next couple days and will provide the appropriate contact information.  We also read the West Seattle Blog and other forums and will compile comments along with all other feedback we receive.

But Metro would also like to take a moment to clarify the proposal to reduce the number of shelters on SW Alaska Street at the Junction.  The Alaska Junction transit facility consists of six individual bus stops or “Bays”.  Bays 1 through 4 are located on SW Alaska between California and 44th avenues Southwest.  Bay 2, on the south side of Alaska between 44th and the alley, is the subject of this discussion.  Bay 2 has about 200 Metro boardings per average weekday.  For comparison, Bay 1, between California and the alley, has about 1,300 boardings, while Bays 3 and 4 on the north side of Alaska each see about 400 boardings.  Bays 5 and 6 are on 44th north of Alaska, on the east side of the street and they remain unchanged by this proposal.

Bus shelter in West Seattle, with red box identifying two shelters to be removed.West Seattle businesses, residents, and others have been seeking to identify improvements to reduce illegal and uncivil behavior in the area.  The shelters closest to the City of Seattle provided porta-potty (visible in foreground in the photo) have been identified as facilitating this type of behavior and creating an unwelcoming if not unsafe environment for transit riders and others.

Two factors – ridership that does not justify the number of shelters, and numerous complaints of illegal and uncivil behavior – combined to prompt Metro to plan for removal of the two shelters closest to the Porta Potty, (highlighted in red in the photo).  The remaining two shelters would continue to provide very generous waiting space for Metro riders, as would the two Rapid Ride shelters in Bay 1 next to Key Bank.  Bay 4 (immediately across Alaska Street) currently has two large shelters and twice as many Metro boardings as Bay 2, and we have observed the Bay 4 shelters provide adequate space for riders.

Metro regularly evaluates issues with Metro bus shelters and makes decisions on the installation and removal of bus shelters, as ridership and circumstances change at bus stops. The plan to remove these two Metro shelters arose out of concerns raised by the West Seattle Junction Association (WSJA), and subsequent meetings between WSJA, Metro Transit Police, the Seattle Police Department, and others regarding security issues in the junction, including loitering, public inebriation, fights, illegal dumping, public urination, and harassment of Metro bus riders and others.  The removal of these shelters is one of several efforts in the Junction area that is attempting to address quality of life issues.

Removal of the two shelters at Bay 2 is one of several actions that WSJA and Metro are taking to improve security and maintenance at the Junction. Other efforts include:

  • Metro Transit Police have started a “Problem Solving Project” in partnership with the Seattle Police Department SW Precinct to deal with code of conduct and quality of life issues to improve safety and security for business and citizens using the junction
  • Possible additional lighting in the adjacent parking lots by WSJA
  • Tree and bush trimming by WSJA in the adjacent parking lots to improve visibility into the lots
  • Metro will increase custodial maintenance at the Junction bus stops from three times per week to five times per week.

Metro is looking forward to hearing further public comment and adjusting the proposal in ways that can both serve riders and improve public safety.

Get ready: Fall storms = time to sign up for transportation alerts

The weather forecast doesn’t look pretty. Heavy wind and rain is coming our way starting Oct. 13, and now is the time to sign up for King County’s travel alerts, whether you ride Metro, the Water Taxi, or drive on King County roads, or want to receive regional emergency updates.

Looking out a window through raindrops on a Metro bus.Where do I sign up?

Regional updates will be posted on the King County Emergency blog.

The combination of wind and rainfall increases the possibility of clogged storm drains and urban flooding. Sudden bursts of rainfall can temporarily make roads impassable. King County’s My Commute page is a key resource for monitoring the status of closed county roads. Stay up to date with river flooding information by visiting kingcounty.gov/flood.

Road Services crews are on rotation and available to respond to reports of blocked roadways. For your safety, never drive through standing water and respect signs marking closed roads. Call the 24/7 Roads Helpline to report road maintenance and traffic safety issues in unincorporated King County, such as downed stop signs, signals that are out or trees over the roadway. The 24/7 Helpline: 206-477-8100 or 1-800-527-6237 (1-800-KC-ROADS).

Metro Transit supervisors are staffing the agency’s control center and actively monitoring the forecast and changing weather conditions. They are prepared to adjust transit service if routes become blocked.

Water Taxi captains are monitoring wind conditions at three shoreside facilities as well as on the water, and communicate with Washington State Ferries at the Vashon Island ferry terminal. If wave and wind conditions are determined to not be safe for travel, crews will temporarily halt water taxi service until winds subside. Vessels not in service will utilize additional mooring lines.

Airport personnel will be monitoring airfield conditions during the period of high winds and heavy rain.

New ‘loop’ system at Metro customer service office helps deaf or hard of hearing bus riders

Sonja from Metro Customer Service holds up a bus pass while communicating with Nate using the loop counter systemBus riders who are deaf or hard of hearing and use cochlear implants or hearing aids now can use a newly installed hearing ‘loop’ system at King County Metro’s Customer Service Office at 201 South Jackson Street in Seattle. The induction hearing loop system allows customers who use the system to better communicate with Metro employees when they are buying or reloading ORCA cards or getting other help to better ride Metro.

Window sticker says hearing loop service available at Metro Customer ServicesInstalling the induction hearing loop system demonstrates Metro’s continued commitment to accessibility for all of our customers. Loop systems help people better hear sounds at a distance and in environments where there is a lot of background noise. Most hearing aids work best in conversational settings, but are not as good for hearing sounds farther away. The telecoils that the hearing loop system employs act as a miniature loudspeaker to minimize background sounds and sounds in noisy environments.

Closeup image of the Loop counter system at Metro customer serviceGroups such as Let’s Loop Washington and the Hearing, Speech, and Deaf Center of Washington have been campaigning for the installation of hearing loop systems in more businesses and public spaces, and King County Metro is proud to join the growing number of buildings and businesses that have installed hearing loops.

Nate Higby signals to customer service staff that he can hear the staff person through the loop system.Nate Higby, a Metro customer who has hearing aids with telecoils, tried out the new hearing loop system, and was able to easily communicate with a Customer Service employee.

Most hearing aids or cochlear implant are telecoil-equipped, but need to have that option activated to use an induction hearing loop system. For customers whose hearing aids or cochlear implant is not telecoil-equipped, don’t worry: Metro Customer Service has headsets that customers can borrow upon request to use the hearing loop system.

We’re thrilled to have improved our accessibility for our customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, and we look forward to working with you in the Customer Service Office! For updates on information that affect accessibility of Metro’s service, please sign up for our Accessibility Alerts via text or email. Metro has many ways to receive feedback, so please visit Customer Services for details on how to contact us by phone, online form, email or TTY.

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

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.