When it comes to missing the bus, “Even 30 seconds can ruin a customer’s day,” says Community Transit’s Charlene Krueger, a lead in the Customer Experience department.
Indeed, watching the bus’s taillights disappear into the distance can certainly put a damper on the day. So how to avoid it?
The key, says Krueger, is understanding the bus schedule and how it works.
Those schedules are developed by Community Transit using actual bus running times, Washington State Department of Transportation data and other information, according to Matthew Muller, who works on schedules for the agency.
When reading a Community Transit bus schedule, the two things to know are time points and estimated time stops.
Time points, says Krueger, are designated times for the bus to leave a stop. The bus must remain there until that time, which keeps them on schedule. Time points are determined by anticipated transfer activity and the stop’s location along the route. Also, there has to be sufficient space at a time point stop for the bus to wait. That’s why, among other reasons, freeway stops like the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center aren’t time points for the buses traveling on I-5.
“Estimated time stops, that’s where the public gets really confused,” says Krueger. Estimated time stops are provided for every stop in between time points, and the actual time the bus may stop here is variable. The distance between time points is typically a few miles, so the time a bus will stop at an estimated time stop will usually vary by only a few minutes. Her advice is to get to the bus stop five to seven minutes early minutes early. Also, calling customer service at (425) 353-RIDE or checking schedules online can help. The only way to know that your stop is a time point is by looking at a schedule online or in Bus Plus.
One of the challenges to creating estimated time stops is the unpredictability of traffic in the region, especially on the freeways. “It’s tough to estimate transfer times with the commuter buses,” Krueger says, referring to the routes going to and from King County.
She often fields complaints from passengers about buses leaving time points early, which is never the case. “Buses leaving early are actually late buses,” says Krueger, that have arrived after their designated time point departure.
Another common complaint is that Swift lines don’t wait for straggling passengers. And it’s true, Swift buses spend about 10 seconds at each stop, enough time for waiting riders to board and deboard. It’s what keeps the “rapid” in the bus rapid transit service.
Krueger, who was a Swift ambassador prior to her current role, has seen it many times. When you get to the Swift stop, “You have to be ready to go,” she says.
But like with other Community Transit services, a little bit of prep work can save the day.