CT seeks better on-time performance for Everett-to-Seattle bus routes on I-5

Increased congestion on I-5 isn’t just making the commute take longer for those driving to Seattle each day.

It’s affecting riders on Community Transit buses as well, as the buses get stuck in the same bumper-to-bumper traffic and fall behind schedule.

Starting Sept. 27, Community Transit will spend roughly $2 million to improve its on-time performance. It won’t be with more buses but with a new schedule reflective of the longer travel times between Everett and Seattle.

For regular riders of buses running on I-5 it may mean leaving a couple minutes earlier or arriving a couple minutes later depending on when one boards. Overall, the time for the average Everett-Seattle trip will increase by about 10 percent in the peak hours.

“We are adjusting our schedules to the reality of what it now takes for those routes,” said Martin Munguia, transit district spokesman. “When traffic is not moving, we cannot fly over those other cars but what we can do is make our schedule be more reliable.”

Some days, when traffic is light, delays are minimal or not all, he said. But last Thursday, when traffic was heavy, the trip into Seattle took 18 minutes longer than usual — that’s enough to make people late for work and peeved when they get there.

“A lot of research has gone into these trip adjustments, but the final outcome will depend on the daily traffic situation,” Community Transit Chief Executive Officer Emmett Heath said in a statement. “Bad weather or a single accident can throw all schedules out the window, for single-occupant drivers as well as buses.”

Community Transit operates six routes to Seattle’s University District and 13 routes to the city’s downtown each weekday. Revisions are planned on all of them, Munguia said.

For example, under the new timetable for Route 410, a bus will depart from Mariner Park and Ride in Lynnwood at 5:50 a.m. rather than the present 6 a.m. Each of the next four scheduled buses will be leaving five minutes earlier than they do now.

Morning trips are forecast to take an hour in the morning commute as opposed to the 50 minutes shown on the present schedule.

Last fall, district officials saw travel times between Everett and Seattle increase 25 percent. Buses couldn’t keep on schedule. Officials spent months calculating exactly how many more minutes to add to the I-5 routes to deal with the situation and achieve reliable departure and arrival times.

The district projects those extra minutes will add up to 10,000 hours of service at a cost of roughly $2 million in the coming year. Much of the cost for each hour of service is for the driver and the fuel.

The transit district has been paying overtime to drivers’ whose shifts should be over but remain behind the wheel stuck in traffic trying to complete their final run.

Munguia said now those costs will become part of the district’s regular operating costs.

“We have hired extra drivers to spread the work around and eliminate the need for overtime,” he said.

That $2 million had been penciled in for service improvements next year. Now, those won’t happen unless voters this fall pass Proposition 1, a measure to raise the sales tax to generate revenue for the transit agency.

Community Transit is also adjusting schedules of the Sound Transit bus routes to Seattle it operates — Routes 510, 511, 512 and 513. Sound Transit will be paying the costs associated with those revisions.

And the transit district is tweaking the timetable for routes 115 and 116 which serve Edmonds Community College and the Lynnwood Transit Center. Buses on these runs often get off-track because of a heavy volume of users during the school year.

The new schedule can be found at www.communitytransit.org.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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