About those Metro cancellations: ‘We are working hard to address this quick growth in transit service’

If you ride the bus from/to West Seattle, you might have been affected by a cancellation lately. Today in particular, Metro texted/tweeted four cancellations on West Seattle-serving routes, as noted in our daily transit/traffic coverage. WHen we asked the county about cancellations recently, the explanation involved a personnel shortage. After what happened today, we asked King County Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeff Switzer if it was still a staffing issue and if so, what efforts are under way to remedy it. Here’s his reply, including an explanation of the notifications, which he says are new:

The alerts for cancellations aren’t all in West Seattle, and not all canceled trips are receiving alerts at this time as staff fine tune how to best to accurately communicate canceled trips in a timely fashion. We’ll look into what might have led to the coincidence of cancellations the past few days; 55/56/57 operate out of Central Base and they might have had fewer available operators today for some reason. …

As Metro began implementing the system’s largest service increases this past June, and more in September and March to help meet demand, we’ve been hiring and training at an unprecedented pace: We’ve hired and trained hundreds of part-time drivers and promoted and trained part-time drivers to become full-time drivers – all part of the transition to putting more service on the road.

Today we have more than 2,500 operators – about 1,600 full-time and 900 part-time. Right after Prop 1 passed, we got started on hiring to implement the new planned service. We have hired 212 part-time operators from January through August, and promoted 173 operators to full-time, and are increasing staffing in our rail section in advance of U Link and First Hill Streetcar. We anticipate hiring an additional 225 part-time operators and promoting an additional 96 operators to full time through March 2016. We have attended career and hiring fairs and will be back on college campuses this fall recruiting people interested in becoming part-time drivers. Growing our ranks is essential to growing service, but it means some growing pains during these times of transition.

Coordinators at the bases and control center work to fill individual bus trips whenever an operator becomes sick, or is in training classes or otherwise unavailable. They use the workforce available to backfill any missed trips as best they can. They rely on some standby operators but also seek available drivers willing to take on extra work.

Riders don’t even notice that this goes on every day as coordinators work to make the service perform smoothly. In the event a replacement operator isn’t available, some trips unfortunately go unfilled, which can mean more riders boarding the following bus. A new effort in its infancy now tries to notify riders via email and twitter when a trip isn’t expected to be filled. Even then, we have recently canceled some trips via transit alert, only to soon find an operator and “uncancel” it. Alerts are not yet sent for every canceled trip, but staff are working to improve this new effort at better customer communications. Better still, we’re hiring to avoid canceled trips altogether.

In some cases, a bus trip will operate very late with a replacement driver; however, a rider may already have made other arrangements or boarded on the following bus. The perception is that the trip never showed up. We send these buses out because even operating late helps ease any lingering crowding issues, provided it can get into the mix in a timely fashion. This is essential for first and last trips, where riders are especially dependent on our operations.

West Seattle isn’t alone and trip cancellations are occurring in places across the system, and vary from base to base on different days. Here’s a recent tally of West Seattle trips which did not operate for lack of a driver, not including any mechanical problems/ substituted coaches. This list shows 9 bus trips unfortunately canceled in the past three weekdays, with no canceled trips Aug. 22-28.

· Alerts show we canceled one Route 56 trip Tuesday morning. In the afternoon, we canceled a trip on the 21X, one on Route 56, one on Route 57.

· Alerts show we canceled and then filled a Route 55 Monday morning. We canceled one southbound Route 55 trip and one northbound Route 56 trip.

· Last week (Aug. 22-29), Route 55 had one canceled morning trip and one canceled afternoon trip, both Friday; there also was one morning Route 56 cancelation Friday.

Some weeks this summer have been a bigger challenge than others. We operate more than 11,000 trips each weekday, and over 55,000 each work week. Using backup drivers and asking drivers to work extra has kept more than 99 percent of trips on the street. We make every effort to avoid canceling back to back trips, or first and last trips, and are mindful that some areas of the county have infrequent service. We expect that as we continue to hire drivers and encourage available drivers to pick up extra trips if they can, service will smooth out and we will see fewer cancellations in coming weeks. Until then, we work day-in, day-out to put service on the road for riders.

We apologize for the inconvenience canceled trips cause riders and want to assure our customers we are working hard to address this quick growth in transit service by hiring good, professional customer-focused drivers. That effort continues and we graduate more drivers into the workforce every few weeks at the conclusion of each class.

Customers can sign up for transit alerts to receive notifications when possible of transit disruptions or canceled trips.

40 Replies to "About those Metro cancellations: 'We are working hard to address this quick growth in transit service'"

  • flimflam September 2, 2015 (6:27 am)

    good thing we are giving them more money via car tabs to fritter away. sorry, but metro really needs to get their stuff together.

  • anonyme September 2, 2015 (7:08 am)

    “Riders don’t even notice that this goes on every day”

    Bulls–t. Either rider complaints are ignored, or they don’t bother to waste more time and frustration by going through a useless process.

    I’ve experienced numerous bus no-shows in the last few months, including a #22 run last Saturday. The cancellations noted here are far, far from comprehensive. More Metro snake oil.

  • Laura W September 2, 2015 (9:00 am)

    Oh so much, BS. Yes, we most certainly notice. No, another bus does not come along, even though it’s late. The long walk I have to take up to the Junction or California when the 57 doesn’t show is right along Genessee where the bus should be driving. The only sign I’ve ever seen of another bus is where the next one waits near the Junction. And that pathetically short list of cancellations Mr Switzer gives is in no way related to the actual number of no-shows we’ve experienced. I’ve stood at my stop in the morning at least twice in the last month and no 57 showed. And other times when I have had a bus, once we started picking up people on California it was obvious no 56 had run. And that was at least 3 times.

    I’ve been in West Seattle for four years; one year riding the 55 and the rest the 57. And it’s only been in the last few months–when Metro claims to be staffing UP–that all these flurries of cancellations have been happening. Up until now I never stood on the street and wondered if I was going to make it to work on time, make it to an appointment on time, or have to walk for nearly half an hour to catch another bus.

    Pathetic service, Metro. And pathetic mouth-service to people who voted more money to get apparently nothing in return.

  • JTB September 2, 2015 (9:04 am)

    So is the problem one of an insufficient number of drivers or bad management of available resources? Finding drivers after you’ve cancelled a trip sounds like a planning and communication failure.

    Given the deliberate plans to incentivize citizens to use public transportation, it seems the SDOT needs to step up its game.

  • TW September 2, 2015 (9:10 am)

    His list ignores several 116 cancellations. The more troubling aspect of their operations, though, seems to be an inability to keep buses anywhere near clean. Since the extra funding/extra service came into play, I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in trash, vandalism, and other detritus on nearly every bus.

    • WSB September 2, 2015 (9:18 am)

      Please note, he mentions in the text above that what they texted/tweeted is NOT the complete list of cancellations – previously they didn’t issue public notices of these at all and they are still ramping up the new system.

  • AmandaKH September 2, 2015 (9:49 am)

    Why are they focused on hiring part-time drivers?

  • Jon Wright September 2, 2015 (10:20 am)

    anonyme, the “riders don’t even notice” comment refers to their normally-successful process of covering open trips, not the cancellations.
    I am by no means an apologist for Metro, but having previously worked in an employee-intensive transportation industry I know managing this kind of staffing is difficult! It is a fine line. Don’t have enough people, trips get canceled. But you don’t want to have too many people, because that guarantees your labor costs go up. The reality is that if you have a zero cancellation rate, you are overstaffed. But you do want that number to be very small.

  • me September 2, 2015 (10:20 am)

    Our mass transit system is in need of overhaul and massive rethinking. I’d love to take the bus more, especially with the explosion of really stupid drivers in ego-moblies that have flooded WS with people fleeing California and Issaquah in the past six months. Hey, thanks for double parking too! Very helpful.

  • Mike Lindblom September 2, 2015 (10:28 am)

    The unspoken issue is the Admiral routes were low ranked and on the brink of cuts just a couple years ago. Metro presumes riders there can hop a southbound 128 on California Avenue to meet the C Line at the Junction, if/when the 55/56/57 don’t show (or are eliminated by recession).
    Also, the demographics hurt Admiral because it lacks employment centers and ethnic/income diversity, both factors on the Metro point scale for service planning.
    The tried and true way to protect Admiral routes is to fill the buses.

  • Jon Wright September 2, 2015 (10:36 am)

    AmandaKH, I would guess they focus on part-time drivers because they have higher staffing needs during morning and afternoon peak times. If you cover those peaks with full-time drivers, you have more people working than you need before and after the peak times. Another benefit (to Metro) of having a large amount of part-time drivers is that labor contracts are typically written so extra hours worked by these folks (up to 40 hours/week) are paid at straight time whereas additional hours worked by full-time people get time-and-a-half. So the part timers can pick up some of the slack if necessary without busting Metro’s budget. While there are some people that prefer part time, in my experience, most people would rather have full time. So this is a moral issue, too. Is it more important that Metro keeps its labor costs as low as possible as a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers? Or as a civic organization should they be taking the lead and providing good, full-time jobs? I’ll leave that conundrum for another comment.

  • John S September 2, 2015 (10:37 am)

    Amanda, because peak-only routes (of which we have many) work better for part-time drivers than full-time. You could work the morning rush, then either go to school or another part-time job, or even work again in the evening rush. It’s more flexible for the employees. Freely admitted it’s not the same income as a full-time driving position.

    Remember, too, that at the same time they are expanding the number of drivers throughout the system, they’re rolling out new electric trolleybus (ETB) fleet which means driver training for everyone who works or wants to work on the wire. It’s an awful lot of change all at once, even if it doesn’t look like it from the rider’s perspective.

    And no, I don’t work for Metro, and yes, I have been frustrated by communication issues as well.

  • flynlo September 2, 2015 (11:05 am)

    From Metro spokesman “… promoted and trained part-time drivers to become full-time drivers -…

    How on earth does a part-time driver require more
    “training” to become a full time driver!!!!!!

  • Wes C. Addle September 2, 2015 (11:41 am)

    I find it hard to believe that the 56/57 buses don’t have enough ridership. They are jam packed and standing room only on the morning and afternoon commute.

  • Colleen September 2, 2015 (12:03 pm)

    What I don’t understand is that the 56/57 (and 21) were on the list from Metro as part of more reliable service with the June push, but yet it seems to have gotten worse since then.

    But I agree with Mike on this – the Admiral district remains not a focus for Metro. The catch 22 is the unreliable service and history of it makes people in the area not take the bus, which just reinforces what Metro thinks/plans – that service in the area isn’t needed.

  • Jeff Switzer, Metro Transit September 2, 2015 (1:39 pm)

    Thanks to folks who are tracking this issue and hope I can help answer questions as they arise. New drivers must start as part-time only. They typically drive about 10 or more hours a week, typically peak commute trips. In time, they can apply for full-time work, which tends to be all-day routes. That requires expanded training, including electric trolley bus training and further customer service training for longer and longer duration routes.
    As for how we avoid canceling trips, my note tried to explain that we work behind the scenes to have service show up seamlessly for riders even if a driver is suddenly unavailable. Coordinators try to avoid canceling back-to-back trips, especially on infrequent service. We avoid having too many back-up drivers on hand, but we need enough to try to cover the unexpected. This is a transition time as we boost service in Seattle and around the county, and hiring more drivers is key.

  • JanS September 2, 2015 (2:20 pm)

    I have just acquired a new “old” car, and looked online to find out how much my new tabs, etc. will cost. The highest($80) item on there? Transportation. The rest of the items on there didn’t hardly add up to that amount. I do not take Metro, I drive to where I need to go when I need to go. I work at home, so have no commute. Mainly, it’s only for doc appts. I cannot get to those appts. via Metro when I need to from the Admiral District. They want me to walk from 3rd and Seneca to 7th and Madison…disabled…with a cane..68 years old..uphill. And I will NOT take 2 or 3 buses in order to do that, and waste half my day.

    I realize that $80 per year is not much. But those very long paragraphs in the story make excuses…and that’s all. They are not a new company, and it’s not their first time around the block. WS is growing by leaps and bounds – ask any developer or Ed Murray – and we are doomed if the planners at Metro don’t pay more attention. The city leaders have NOT done us any favors here :(

  • Laura W September 2, 2015 (3:11 pm)

    What a surprise! Just go ANOTHER alert about a cancelled 56 bus for the afternoon. Thanks, Metro.

    • WSB September 2, 2015 (3:21 pm)

      We’re tracking those daily in our daily traffic/transit reports, just for the record … I’d added the tweet there, as well as a mention of an early-morning cancellation of a West Seattle run that happened before we launched it for the day. Anyone who is signed up for alerts and learns of a cancellation that doesn’t lead to an alert, please consider letting us know (you can text 206-293-6302 or e-mail editor@westseattleblog.com) so we can continue tracking to see if and when this is resolved – TR

  • rachel September 2, 2015 (3:15 pm)

    The thing about those 9 buses in 3 weekdays is, well, they’re a HUGE deal. There are such limited bus options that while THEY think 9 is nothing, for those of us who ride a bus that only comes twice an hour, that’s a really big deal. Every other part of the city has tons of buses coming and going, while we (especially those of us in Admiral) have extremely limited weekday options and NO weekend options. I can’t even take the bus downtown if that route is on a Sunday schedule.

  • AmandaKH September 2, 2015 (3:23 pm)

    Thanks for the explanation Jeff, but this is not an acceptable situation. We are THROWING money at you to provide better bus service, please scoop the money up and get it together.

  • West Seattle since 1979 September 2, 2015 (4:20 pm)

    Just got an email that TWO 55s are being cancelled this afternoon! They’re the ones that leave 5th and Wall at 4:59 pm and 5:22 pm.

    This really seems like the Admiral District buses are being cancelled more often than other buses.

    • WSB September 2, 2015 (4:24 pm)

      We’re on the alerts too and I am including the tweets in each day’s traffic/transit update (the one we post in the morning and maintain throughout the day) for the record. That one will join it.

  • Mike Lindblom September 2, 2015 (4:24 pm)

    Wes makes a great point about these buses filling.

    Transit use is growing fast, and if the Admiral routes weren’t gaining customers they might have already been scrapped.

    …and I see two more 55’s are canceled.

  • Service-Free on Genesee September 2, 2015 (4:33 pm)

    I received cancelation alerts for 55 and 56 this afternoon, a total of 4 so far, for 3:04, 4:28, 4:59 and 5:22. It’s a shame that the residents up on Genesee Hill have so little bus service.

    I agree that ridership may appear to be down to Metro, but because bus service is so erratic or non-existent, it’s not worth taking the bus. We have to walk over a mile to the Junction to catch the bus, and 3/4 mile to get to the 56. The 57 only runs during rush hour, and that’s no help during the day or on weekends. My elderly neighbors can’t do those walks, and I have no interest in doing in the rain or the dark.

    Maybe some day it will improve, but until that time, I’ll be driving my car.

  • Colleen September 2, 2015 (4:36 pm)

    We’re up to 4 cancelled this afternoon between the 55 and 56. Between that and a really late 57 you start to become convinced you will never get home.

    • WSB September 2, 2015 (4:39 pm)

      And there is some sort of problem involving mystery powder on yet another bus at Westwood Village/Roxhill Park that we are en route to check out, FYI, story to come.

  • Baffled September 2, 2015 (4:56 pm)

    sorry, Metro, but this is utterly pathetic!

  • squeeker September 2, 2015 (5:05 pm)

    The 55 also serves the Triangle area before it gets to Alki. With Spruce now open the C Line, the 55 and the 116 are very overcrowded. Throw in that the 55 and 116 have been “understaffed” for two weeks and we have a crisis in the Triangle as well.

  • Jenna C September 2, 2015 (8:57 pm)

    Jeff’s letter is nothing but a long-winded essay of excuses. I don’t want to hear excuses, I want to get to work on time. I’m paying you for a service (in fares, tabs, taxes) and not receiving the service I’m paying for.

    “A new effort in its infancy now tries to notify riders via email and twitter when a trip isn’t expected to be filled.” Again, I want to get to work on time. The money you’re collecting from residents should be used for rider service, and NOT some email or Twitter alert. A Twitter alert would do nothing for me, and is more of a bandaid than a heal.

    I’ve lived in other cities without cars just fine. I bought a car after moving to Seattle because the public transportation system and metro are THIRD CLASS. I for one demand improvement.

  • Alki 56 September 3, 2015 (1:58 am)

    i want to add my voice to this thread regarding the 56 and the Alki neighborhood. The last two days buses have been cancelled going home – or worse yet – just don’t show up without warning. Yesterday two SB trips were cancelled and when I showed up for a 5:30 bus it just didn’t show / no cancellation text. I let other SB buses come and leave thinking the 56 would just be late. Finally at 6:20 – after spending 50 minutes of unproductive time waiting for a bus i hopped on a 55. So I got to the admiral district an hour and 15 minutes after leaving my office. But wait! I live in the Alki area so I still wasn’t home. My husband had to drive up the hill to pick me up. What would I have done without a ride from California to 61st SW? Walk a mile down the hill on top of an hour plus bus wait/ride? The unpredictability is the most frustrating to me. If the bus service is published it just needs to show up. People DEPEND on this service! Hopefully the growing pains will be short lived.

  • Anandakos September 3, 2015 (10:15 am)


    So you want a special bus from the Admiral District to the top of First Hill so that you don’t have to “take two or three buses”? If Metro provided it, on the days you don’t want to take it you’d probably be complaining, “There’s a bus going by empty all the time! What a waste of taxpayer dollars!”

    There is already a service provided which meets your needs. Call Yellow or Broadway cab next time you have an appointment.

  • sam-c September 3, 2015 (10:25 am)

    Man, the scenario presented by Alki 56 is absurd. I can’t believe the development in this city is raging ahead with the (Mayor’s) expectation that people rely on terrible service like that.

  • Neighbor September 3, 2015 (9:50 pm)

    My psychic sensibilities tell me that Metro is going to stop announcing cancellations. Anyway, I used to ride the C for my commute. This summer I tried cycling to work and loved it. On the few times I had to take the C again, it was awful cramped and felt like cattle/sardines. I switched to the 56/57 for the times when I can’t cycle and now this. On a bike it takes me 40 minutes door-to-door to downtown. Even thought I was soaked the other day, it was still preferable to the C.

  • Melspy September 4, 2015 (10:54 am)

    Good thing my boss is human and understands the absurdness of living on alki and bussing to work. I feel for anyone that is punching a clock .. And don’t see how metro could be a reliable partner for your commute. Nay Sayers will say, leave earlier .. Oh? Who will pay for that extra hour of daycare BTW. U seriously have to live it to understand the no win situations caused by metro. The driver tho, on the 8am or thereabouts bus… His disposition can brighten my morning even after the 7:23 bus is cancelled .. Multiple times in same week. So cheers to him. And not so much u metro.

  • Wes C. Addle September 4, 2015 (11:09 am)

    I posted this on the daily alert update but figured it would be good here as well:
    The #57 that goes downtown at about 7:00 am was cancelled(didn’t show up) either. It didn’t even exist on the one bus away app this morning.

  • RayK September 4, 2015 (5:50 pm)

    Are the cancellation tweets a new service? I noticed them only recently. Perhaps we are more aware of the cancellations when our bus doesn’t show up.

    While the C-line is an extension from the D-line buses any crash stopping traffic on Aurora will impact the C-line causing delays, missed scheduled stops.

    • WSB September 4, 2015 (6:00 pm)

      Yes, they are. Metro explains in its response to us, quoted in the blue-blocked text above, that the texts and tweets are something they’ve just launched.

  • Melspy September 4, 2015 (6:36 pm)

    Is this a rouge bus.. Or what. The driver passed me up in front of TJ Maxx didn’t even stop.. So I jumped in next c tried to catch up. We did .. But at 2nd Nd Columbia the C driver said he’s not allowed to honk anymore. .. I asked him if he’s allowed to pass up stops and he ignored me. I don’t blame him, it wasn’t my best moment .. But now I miss out on another hour of my bebe’s life backtracking back to admiral… Horrible horrible service

  • duh doy September 14, 2015 (9:58 pm)

    Want to find more drivers?

    Maybe think about… OFFERING BETTER PAY! Or shifts that aren’t just 2-3 hours! Or maybe actual security on the buses (A driver is assaulted EVERY 48 HOURS)!

    I REALLY can’t understand why no one wants to work for you, Metro!

Sorry, comment time is over.