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Originally published Monday, March 18, 2013 at 5:17 PM

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Launch of RapidRide lines E, F delayed until 2014

This fall’s scheduled launch of the RapidRide E bus line on Aurora Avenue and the F Line from Burien to Renton will be postponed several months to complete installation of signals and bus stops.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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This fall’s scheduled launch of the RapidRide E bus line on Aurora Avenue, and the F Line from Burien to Renton, will be postponed until 2014.

Metro Transit staffers do not believe they can deliver all the bus-activated traffic signals, ORCA fare card readers, bus arrival-information displays and 100 stops by September as planned.

Metro was chastened by last fall’s experience with the D Line in Ballard, where the red-and-yellow RapidRide buses began operating at only a one-minute advantage compared with ordinary service. Many of the signals weren’t ready on time. And along the C Line in West Seattle, the arrival-time displays were often wrong in the early weeks.

“We don’t want to repeat that mistake, frankly, on the E and F lines,” General Manager Kevin Desmond said Monday afternoon.

“Bottom line is, we want to make this right for our customers. We want to get a good launch; we want to project good quality service and let customers know this is a good investment.”

The upgrade of Aurora Route 358 to the E Line is now scheduled for February 2014, while the upgrade of the South End Route 140 to the F Line would occur in June 2014.

By then, Desmond hopes, the city of Seattle and Metro will have time to install ORCA fare card readers on Third Avenue downtown, benefiting lines C, D and E.

Without ORCA readers, passengers are supposed to board in the front of the bus instead of using all three doors — which wastes time. At peak hours, it’s common to see 40 people board at Third Avenue and Pike Street, many of whom technically break the law by entering the rear doors instead of using the front-door ORCA reader. Some will even tap their fare cards at the outlying West Seattle stations, not downtown.

Besides more installation time, Desmond said the postponement will allow six to eight weeks of testing for drivers to learn the routes, and ensure that buses are tripping the new signals to give them a longer or earlier green light.

Even with the added precautions, the E Line will be vulnerable to delays at Mercer Street, where a Seattle street project will take away the bus lane in each direction of Aurora until 2015.

An F Line start this year would have conflicted with a Sounder train-station construction in Tukwila and two Renton road projects, Desmond said.

RapidRide is supposed to be quicker than ordinary service, with fewer seats and more standing room, fewer stops and more bus-only lanes. In particular, the C Line uses a state Department of Transportation bus lane that saves time in the morning on Highway 99 through Sodo.

The conversions have attracted riders — though housing growth, congestion, higher parking costs and Metro’s scrapping of nearby routes carry equal or greater influence.

• The A Line, launched two years ago on International Boulevard South, carries 8,200 weekday riders, up 47 percent compared with the route it replaced.

• The B Line, Redmond-Overlake-Bellevue, carries 5,800 riders, up 14 percent in two years.

• The C Line, West Seattle-downtown, carries 6,200 riders, up 33 percent since the September launch.

• The D Line, Ballard-Seattle Center-downtown, carries 8,300 riders, up 9 percent since September.

• The E Line will replace Route 358, which carries 12,000 riders.

• The F Line will replace Route 140, which carries 3,500 riders. In a recent change, Desmond said the Renton part will be extended to the Boeing 737 plant and The Landing, a housing and retail hub near south Lake Washington.

The $194 million cost of RapidRide buses and equipment is about two-thirds federally funded.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom♥

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