Seattle Transit People? I’ve got a few questions…

I’ve been in Seattle now for about ~6 weeks.  I’ve gotten a lot of the transit options figured out, landed an ORCA Card with the appropriate pass, and have sort of gotten used to the idiocy of “pay randomly sort of based on when we’re leaving or entering the city, except when… clause 1, clause 2, clause 3, etc”.  So with all that, what I want to know is how I can determined with Sound Transit Bus is going to have wireless and which ones do not.  I generally ride the #545 to Redmond and can get a lot of e-mail and other such things wrapped up before even stepping in the door to the office.  This is a good thing for my work day.

In other questions, how do I find out news about the transit options in a single place?  So far it is far too time consuming to dig through Metro, Sound Transit, and the other websites to figure out all of this.  This brings me back to something I started to do about 6-8 months ago and am thinking about it again.  Figuring out which transit sites are good, and which are horrible.  King County Metro’s is one that is possibly going under the horrible list.  The site is a cluttered mess of UX #fail.  Sound Transit’s is pretty good, albeit there could be some navigation clean up.

Well anyway, if anyone out there in Seattle’s Transitverse knows the answers to these I’d love to know.  Thanks!

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7 Comments

  1. The Trip Planner on METROs website is a “Regional Trip Planner”, should plan across all agencies. Wifi buses have a WiFi logo near the front door. ST Hybrids normally do not have WiFi. METROs site is decent, once you figure it out.

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    1. I didn’t clarify my wifi question. How do I know which buses in the schedule are going to have wifi and which ones don’t? It’s kind of useless if I can’t rely on it being there.

      Metro’s site, by most definitions of usability is the sux. 😦 Way too many clicks to do basic things, too much of a learning curve for first time users. Even when one knows where or how to go do something, the sites complexity makes it difficult to do those things. At least it is somewhat functional, but compared to other more progressive transit agencies they lag behind the curve. There is some serious catch up to do.

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  2. Oh sorry, I misunderstood, as far as the WiFi, there is not a way to see it on a schedule, as the same buses do not get assigned to the same run (or tripper). However, odds are if you always have a Hybrid, you always will, some of those runs do the 550 which must have a hybrid. If you normally get the d60LF, its hit and miss really. As far as I know, it is something they want to roll out, but its on the back burner i think.

    Metros Site, well, on the home page you have the Trip Planner, a place to enter a route number for a schedule, rider updates and alerts, and a link to the rush hour blog, which is updated live during both commute periods. the Ride Metro menu gives links to fares, the trackers, ways to find stops and routes by address or neighborhood. I mean in reality, its all right there on the home page. I know you like TriMets clean home page, but you can see what happens when they spend too much money on web design over running buses hahaha. There are also Quick Links to the trackers, which I will admit are not as good as One Bus Away, but OBA is not a product of Metro, so sadly its not front and center. But the map tracker is cool, you can even see what equipment is on each run.

    STs site is always a bog, i hate going to it, and you must to get their schedules. tho the Metro trip planner will give you their buses as options.

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  3. You probably have to live in the NorthEast Corridor (Wash DC to Boston) to get the full flavor of “mass transit.” Commuter trains run from New Haven CT to Grand Central in NYC starting at 4 AM. It’s a distance of @83 miles and the trains that run between 5-7 AM are packed to the doors. A monthly commuter ticket is around $350, that provides the equivalent of R/T passages for the workdays of the given month (IOW, it’s not like a TriMet monthly pass that provides unlimited rides). Single R/T tickets purchased at the station are $33.

    Thus, if you work in midtown Manhattan, or relatively nearby, you can catch the 6:53 train from New Haven, be at GCT at 8:35 AM and at your desk by 9 AM. From where I live, Naugatuck CT, it’s more difficult to commute because the return trains do not favor the 9-5 commuter. We are on a dead line, the tracks are in such bad shape that they actually closed the line for a while; political pressure got them reopened but only for about a dozen trains a day. I can catch the 6:04 AM train here and be in GCT at 8:16 AM. From GCT I can take the subway to many places in Manhattan and be on site by 9 AM. However, for many occasions I have to use a taxi. If the job location is less than @ 1 mile, I walk. (Note that walking 1 mile in Manhattan is not for the faint-of-heart. Main thoroughfare sidewalks in midtown are as wide as a 2-lane road … for good reason.)

    The bad news is that I will have to take a return train that gets me back in Naugatuck station at 8:54 PM. Long day. For this reason, my wife (who commutes 50 miles to Stamford each day) and I generally drive to Bridgeport, which is the closest hub station and is 27 miles away. A 50-mile commute may not sound like much, but in this part of the country it’s a 2-hour drive normally, and longer if there is a major accident.

    The commuter trains used by Metro North are huge, I estimate a seating capacity of 100 passengers per car and rush hour trains can have 10 cars, so they’re moving as many as 1,000 passengers per train, or more. Hardened commuters will take a SRO express train from GCT, even though the first stop is Stamford and 45 minutes out, so they know they’re going to be standing at least that long. I’m more of a sissy and I’ll wait 15 min for the next train and grab a seat. You also can tell the hardened commuter by the can of Foster’s he’s openly drinking on the ride home. There are vendors selling beer from carts on the boarding platforms.

    IMO, people living in the SEA-PDX corridor have no clue of what real traffic congestion is like and what real mass transit is like. I’ve been on 4-lane expressways here, where the traffic is bumper-to-bumper and we’re travelling 65 MPH. It’s terrifying. The simplest error in judgement and you are in a multi-car pileup with injuries. As you get closer to The City, the pace slows until you’re bumper-to-bumper and traveling 20 MPH with 60 miles to your destination. (At that point, I really love my hybrid, running on the electric motor and listening to Sirius Satellite Radio.) So, you have to conceive of these huge expressways jammed with traffic while alongside them 2-4 trains are running on parallel tracks, carrying 1000+ passengers each, about 10-12 minutes between trains on each track, — and they’re running into Grand Central Terminal, which has three levels of tracks underground; the last 12 minutes of your inbound trip is underground in tunnels that have a dozen tracks running parallel into the boarding platforms. Then you have the “mass” in “mass transit.” (The NYC subways are a whole ‘nother chapter.)

    Finally, I want to add that it’s not a fun trip. The commuter trains are about one thing — mass movement of people. They’re not about comfort or convenience. Using a laptop is difficult. You can get some work done, but it’s a challenge. I observe few people working; most read, play games on their phones or nap. You do what you have to do to get to work, and make the best of it.

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    1. Awesome comment Michael. Well written and good elaboration of the north east corridor. I’ve travelled it many a time and have been very happy about even my worse commutes in comparison. (Which btw was 1hr 30 minutes inbound to New Orleans and 1hr 30 minutes out, in 90-110 degree weather with 99% humdity with no AC in the car, for 10 weeks). It is the commute that made me promise myself that I’d live more intelligently in the future and take more factors into account besides square footage and “cheap”. It was a major learning experience.

      New York, for all it’s awesome mass transit, or what is now “public transit” is also a case of too much density. There is a limit to the upwards growth that is healthy for humanity, and New York pushes the boundary far into the danger zone. I however marvel every time I am there at the creation humanity has built. It is truly awe inspiring and I can only imagine it becoming more and more awe inspiring as the days move on. But just like many things in America, New York as well as the nation are going to truly have to start making a lot of hard decisions about travel mode. For one, New York really does need some multi-billion dollar infrastructure investments on a huge scale. In addition it is about 50 years behind on a LOT of maintenance. That always worries me a bit, realizing that the private sector built almost all of the infrastructure in place in New York, and now the fairly incompetent public authorities have control of it, zero profits, and are oft ignored by the politicians to the detriment of the country and to the millions of commuters. So the decisions, as they are made, will be very interesting to see.

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  4. Infrastructure upgrades within the City will not happen, or at least in our lifetimes. I love GCT, I never fail to be inspired when I enter that building. It is as fine an example of aesthetic engineering as you ever will find in a public place. That building would not be built today, nor will anything like it ever be built again. The spirit behind it is gone, replaced by a utilitarian selfishness that dictates that price and function must trump usability and beauty.

    I put some pix on my FB profile of the loading platforms in GCT when the trains are discharging passengers and an empty platform, which show just how big the trains are and also, express my fascination with that whole mysterious underground part of the station.

    Manhattan, of course, is not the whole city, it’s just The City for commuters. When I work in Queens, the commute is much longer because I must take a fairly long subway ride out there. When I work on Long Island, I drive down. Train in that case means, GCT, taxi to Penn Terminal and Long Island Railroad out to Garden City. Way too long travel time. When I work in Newark, I take the Amtrak because it’s the only train that will get me there on time. Very expensive, though, $95-$120 R/T depending on the train taken. There is a New Jersey train system that runs into Manhattan, but again I would have to take it from Penn Terminal.

    Unfortunately, the logistical push to get workers into the city has been an ecological disaster for the surrounding areas. If you look at the Metro North commuter train maps (www.mta.info), you can see just how far out of the city workers are now living because of the expense of living closer. The commuting community has driven up housing and other costs to the point that life in SW CT is difficult for people who live here, work here. I live in a broken down former mill town in which a decent family home will cost $250,000. There are practically no jobs locally that will subsidize that kind of housing. It’s not sustainable growth. Seven years ago, when Anne and I moved here, Naugatuck was one of the cheapest places to buy a home. Now, although still less expensive than other places to the south, costs have risen dramatically. The housing crash practically destroyed the market, and a third of the homes in the area surrounding us are up for sale; but too expensive for local buyers. We just bought a second house on a short sale; we paid $100,000 for a house that lists on the tax rolls for $289,000. Which is just an insane number, given our location. Only commuters with big wallets can pay that kind of money around here.

    Ultimately, commuting is not the answer. The old way was to live close to work; we have to resurrect that paradigm. I have a friend here who lives next door to the house in which he was raised, in the house that used to belong to his grandparents. In his mid-forties now, he remembers Naugatuck when it was still a mill town, when the big Goodyear rubber plant that used to be downtown (now an enormous, several-acre abandoned parking lot) employed 5,000 people and the whole area bustled with people. They made Converse sneakers there. Huge pollution problems closed that plant 30 years ago, it was torn down and smaller chemical plants were built. Those, too, are now largely abandoned; empty hulks of buildings that never will be used again. The point, though, is that people who worked in that plant lived in Naugatuck. Getting to work had minimal environmental impact.

    We aren’t going to bring back the sneaker factories or the brass mills, we’ve outsourced all those pollution problems to more unfortunate countries; but we need to once again build communities that embrace the workplace.

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  5. http://students.washington.edu/timbond/metro/?routes=545

    The URL will be changing within the next month or so–I graduated.

    Only Sound Transit’s Metro-operated 60 foot articulated diesels have WiFi. The 60 foot hybrids do not. You’ll sometimes see a hybrid running on a 545 because that bus was earlier or will later run a 550 through the tunnel. Metro does not allow non-hybrids to run through the tunnel because the ventilation system cannot handle it. 545 also runs some Gilligs during peak, and I believe that’s because ST has a limited number of artics, and the Gilligs tend to “bat clean up” tailing a few minutes behind an artic so neither will overload.

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