Community Transit’s Swift Green Line is set to open March 24. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Community Transit’s Swift Green Line is set to open March 24. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Worsening traffic may lure more commuters to transit

Charging for park-and-ride parking spots and bus-only lanes should push new riders aboard.

For the most part, Viadoom failed to live up to the hype as traffic congestion didn’t surge as feared. Some drivers from the north end actually experienced a faster commute than usual, according to the state Department of Transportation.

“This tells us that folks made a change to their commute,” said Joseph Calabro, a spokesman for WSDOT in an email.

So where did Snohomish County workers go? Apparently, not to public transportation. According to Community Transit, ridership numbers remained flat during the shutdown of the stretch of Highway 99 in downtown Seattle. Sound Transit, which operates the north Sounder lines, said ridership numbers weren’t available yet.

“We think some people decided not to go to Seattle because they thought that it was going to be bad,” said Martin Munguia, a spokesman for Community Transit.

With congestion only predicted to grow, more people, and not just commuters, will need to start jumping aboard public transportation before light trail reaches the county in 2024.

“When traffic gets bad and gas prices get high, we do see an increase in transit ridership,” said Emmett Heath, CEO of Community Transit.

For me, transit needs to be reliable, frequent and not much slower than driving my own car. Here’s a few ideas that could entice new riders aboard.

Add more bus-only lanes to provide a reliable ride

Travel times can’t lengthen dramatically when people shift from cars to buses.

“People want high travel speeds, predictability and reliability in their commute,” Heath said.

And one way to do this is to give buses more priority.

Which is what Community Transit is doing with the expansion of the bus rapid transit system. The Swift Green Line route, which is set to open in March, will have dedicated bus-only lanes for much of it.

And the I-5 shoulder lane is giving buses a way out of the gridlock in the mornings.

More projects like these are needed to keep vehicles on schedule, giving riders a more predictable trip.

Encourage carpooling to park-and-ride lots and start charging for a space

For Ruth Nicholson, a long-ago convert to public transportation, the last few miles are her biggest challenge. The south Snohomish County resident works from home, but often rides transit into Seattle outside commute times. Then, her options are to wait for a local bus that will take her to a transit center.

“I can get patient with that, but (the local bus) stops running at 10 p.m. That means I can’t take in a Sounders game and catch the last neighborhood bus home after the game,” she said in an email.

Or she could drive to the park-and-ride, but the spaces are likely to be all filled.

It’s time to start charging for spaces at park-and-ride lots. It’s a premium space with high demand — and the cost to build more has skyrocketed with the price of land. Imposing a fee has to be with paired with discounts for low-income riders and should also include incentives for people who carpool.

Sound Transit is trying to find more parking near the Edmonds and Mukilteo Sounder stations, said Kamuron Gurol, the north corridor development director for the transit agency.

He said Sound Transit plans on spending $40 million to expand parking access and to make other improvements at the two stations.

That parking is likely to not be free for long. Last year, the Sound Transit Board adopted a policy on charging for parking as a way to manage the demand on the spaces.

Community Transit and WSDOT, who both own lots in the county, should do the same.

Increase frequency on as many routes as possible

Frequency was the highest priority for respondents to an 2017 Everett Transit survey. The transit agency’s most frequent route, the number 7, also has the highest ridership. Perhaps a way to get buses to come more often is run smaller vehicles.

For Everett resident John Dimas, buses coming every 10 minutes is a reason he’s going to ride the Swift Green Line when it opens.

It will provide easier transit to work, he said.

“The line is built to go fast and be frequent enough that people don’t worry about a schedule,” Heath said.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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