New bus system aims to bring in new riders

  • Sue Waldburger<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:38am

Removing the barriers — and the excuses — that keep people from riding buses is the goal of Community Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit system coming to Snohomish County in 2008.

The new system combines the flexibility of bus service with the advantages of light rail to offer an attractive alternative for those who still turn up their noses at public transportation, say CT officials.

The Edmonds City Council, at its Aug. 22 meeting, was the first city council to hear a presentation of the plan by CT officials. Councilman Richard Marin serves as vice chair for the CT board; Councilwoman Mauri Moore is an alternate.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council heard a presentation Aug. 31. Councilwoman Angela Angrick sits on the CT board.

Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, will run on a 16.7-mile line along Highway 99 from the Aurora Village Transit Center in King County to Pacific Avenue in Everett. Its buses will travel through Edmonds, Lynnwood, Everett and parts of unincorporated Snohomish County.

That north-south corridor has the heaviest volume of transit riders in the CT system, according to transit officials. They estimate BRT will increase transit ridership on Highway 99 by 50 percent.

The $20 million project is expected to lure riders with its new, attractive buses offering faster travel, increased reliability and easily understandable operation at a cost less than that of light rail, explained June DeVoll, manager of strategic planning for CT.

BRT will run on semi-dedicated lanes, have fewer stops and offer a frequency of 5 to 10 minutes between pick ups so no printed schedule is needed. By using transit signal priority to extend green lights when a bus nears, there will be less time spent idling and more time moving, noted DeVoll, who pointed out that about 40 percent of a bus’s total travel time is “dwell” (standstill) time.

CT officials figure most riders will make short trips rather than ride the entire line.

There are 12 proposed stations, including ones at 238th, 208th and 196th streets in the Edmonds and Lynnwood area. On the final map, officials estimate there will be 14 to 18 stations in each direction.

Riders will be able to pay their fare in cash or “smart card,” an electronic device usable on any of the seven major transit systems around Puget Sound.

It’s yet to be decided whether fares will be collected on or off board. Again, dwell time will be a deciding factor, noted CT spokesman Martin Munguia, who said the BRT system in Las Vegas proved it’s possible to get a dwell time down to four seconds.

The sleek articulated coaches tentatively bearing the logo of a streamlined bird and the name “Swift” will pick up and deliver passengers to stations (stops) designed to look more like train stations. Initially, 14 to 16 buses with a price tag between $450,000 and $800,000 each will be purchased, according to Munguia.

Bus interiors will be arranged so there is seating for up to 40 people and standing room for 15-20, Munguia said. Traditional buses can carry 59 folks, he added.

There also may be inside bike racks. Mounting bikes on the exterior requires more dwell time, which CT officials hope to reduce wherever they can.

The new fleet likely will be a mix of diesel and hybrid buses. Hybrids, which are a better choice for commutes requiring lots of braking, aren’t necessarily the most energy-efficient choice for this system, Munguia explained. They also are more expensive to buy and maintain, he added,

Like CT’s current buses, the new diesel coaches would be equipped with particulate traps to catch matter that otherwise would be released into the air, Munguia said.

BRT is being funded by $11 million in dedicated CT funds, a $2.5 million federal grant and a $400,000 regional Federal Transportation Administration award. CT is seeking more federal grant dollars to assure the system will be ready to roll in 2008.

Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit, as well as the cities of Edmonds, Everett, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Shoreline and Snohomish County are helping finalize project details.

“We encourage people to look at this as a new transit mode for this area,” Munguia said. He added that transit officials are optimistic that BRT will help break down the stereotype of buses being for “‘those’ people, whoever ‘those’ people are.”

Munguia said more than 50 percent of CT riders have their own vehicles but choose bus travel due to cost and convenience factors. “A lot of people have never gotten to the point of making that (transit) choice,” he continued.

CT officials are banking on BRT being the option that changes their minds.

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