Bus spacing

I suppose it’s about time for another transit rant; it’s been a couple of weeks (months?) since my last one.

Bus spacing. What do I mean? The amount of space (time, distance, whatever) between two buses running the same numbered route.

My daily bus commute involves a transfer at the Montlake station transfer point. Since I have to switch between E/W buses (down under the bridge on 520) and N/S buses (up on top of the bridge, along Montlake), it means I have distance of probably a couple hundred yards between the two buses.

Now, I never seem to have much problem with getting from the 48 bus over to the 545 bus. This is a slightly shorter distance, no street crossing, and since it’s in the morning they seem to have more reasonably scheduled buses. Even if I miss the 545 bus by mere seconds (as I did yesterday), it won’t be more than 5–10 minutes at most until the next one.

Where I get totally frustrated is in my evening transfer. When I arrive at Montlake on the 545 bus, there are a couple of almost universal truths:

  • I’ve been watching the 48 bus on my phone to estimate which bus I might make.
  • We’ve already been on the bus for ages, stuck in the terrible HOV lanes on 520, so I’ve probably already missed one or more 48 buses I might have caught if there had been no traffic.
  • The next 48 bus arrives +/– 2 minutes of when the 545 bus gets to Montlake
  • It takes about 5 minutes to run up the hill and cross the street (or go down the stairs and cross under the bridge)

So, that’s one rant. Even with both buses wildly off-schedule, somehow the 48 bus always seems to get to Montlake just before I do.

But here’s what’s really frustrating… if the 48 bus in the evening worked like the 545 bus in the morning, I could expect another 48 bus just a few minutes later, right?

Well, no. What actually appears to be the case is that the 48 bus going south in the evening interleaves the “Rainier Beach” full route with a handful of buses that run only the partial route to “Columbia City”, or even only to the intersection of “Rainier/Walden”. Well, folks who want to go all the way to Rainier Beach can’t really get onto either of these other two buses, so the Rainier Beach bus tends to get slowed way down having to stop and pick up a larger proportion of people going south.

With the Rainier Beach bus running so slowly, the Columbia City bus scheduled behind it gradually catches up. What we end up with is a very late (and very full) Rainier Beach bus, followed directly by an ontime and partially full Columbia City (or Rainier/Walden) bus.

Two articulated buses running so back-to-back they might as well be attached with tow-line to save on diesel fuel.

And, with this pattern repeated throughout the 6pm-7:30pm timeframe, at the very least, we end up with another very late Rainier Beach bus just behind this. Only by “just behind this”, I mean running 15 mins late… probably a 20–30 minute lag from the (ontime) Columbia City bus I’ve just missed. Great.

I don’t pretend to know much about bus scheduling. Heck, I don’t pretend to know any more than you can get from reading the schedules and riding the bus regularly! But I do know that as a bus customer, it’s a huge frustration to see two buses you could catch go by back-to-back as you run up the muddy hill at the transfer point, knowing that there will not be another one along for 25 minutes.

I can’t imagine there isn’t a better way to schedule these buses to prevent this happening. It’s such a regular thing, with the advanced bus-tracking technology we have here, surely SOMEONE at Metro has noticed!

Metro scheduling and policy people – can’t you please do something to better space these buses? Doesn’t Metro have any sort of policy about following the bus in front of you so closely you may as well be attached; even if it’s just to prevent it “looking bad” to folks like me? Isn’t there any sort of “skip-stop” policy for buses that are running massively (say >5 mins) late?


  1. Evan Dodds - Non-work-related blog » Ah look, it’s another 43 bus! said,

    January 12, 2006 at 8:17 am

    […] Last night, after missing my 48 bus transfer by about 3 minutes, I was “amused” to notice that before the next 48 bus came (about 15 mins later) a total of four buses running the 43 route passed by. […]

  2. Evan Dodds - Non-work-related blog » Bus Chick shares my pain said,

    July 27, 2006 at 8:56 am

    […] I found this post to be particularly relevant to my often situation waiting for the southbound 48 bus at Montlake. Sharing the same experience I’ve written about in some of my previous posts, she touches on “bunching” of buses, the half-dozen 43 buses you’re bound to see before the first 48 makes its way through the logjam, etc. Great post! […]

  3. Evan Dodds - Non-work-related blog » Montlake Transfers, the 48, and the 545 said,

    January 28, 2007 at 12:06 am

    […] frustrating part of my day, and it leads to some of the problems I’ve previously observed here and […]