How’s your bus route doing this week? We haven’t seen any Metro texts/tweets about West Seattle cancellations in the past few days, unlike last week. In addition to the Metro explanation we published, City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen was looking into it, and has shared two things – first, a response he received from Metro general manager Kevin Desmond; second, Rasmussen’s response to that, including a note about a briefing ahead. First, from Desmond to Rasmussen:
Thank you for sharing your concerns with me. I hope this information helps clarify Metro’s readiness and commitment to provide daily bus service across King County and Seattle and increased service planned as part of the September service change. We also want to describe the lengths our organization goes to each day to provide our customers with transit service they depend on.
We are in a transition time of rapid growth in transit service, which unfortunately has seen a fluctuating number of individual peak commute trip cancellations that is higher than we would like.
After a year of driver attrition and a freeze on hiring drivers leading up to budget-related service cuts in September 2014, Metro quickly reversed and launched a hiring effort for operators after Prop 1 passed. Drivers are the backbone of providing service and our ongoing hiring efforts were necessary to prepare for expansion of service in Seattle in June and September 2015 and March 2016.
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 planned service. We have hired 212 part-time operators from January through August, and promoted 173 operators to full-time, and additionally 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. Metro is pursuing a wide variety of recruiting strategies beyond attending job fairs and going to local colleges and employment centers, such as developing a sophisticated ad campaign (“Secret Identity” videos) and an individualized “Drive for Metro” webpage that is being actively promoted through social media and other channels.
To increase our ranks of drivers, we promoted part-time drivers to full-time and recruited entry level drivers into the part-time ranks. This created gaps in our workforce during the hiring and training processes, as part-time drivers require five weeks of training and full-time drivers require 1-2 weeks of training. As the workforce shifted and drivers were unavailable during training, this put additional pressure during commute times on a limited pool of standby drivers and required us to draw in even more help from drivers willing to take on extra shifts and trips, a provision we worked out with ATU Local 587. In recent weeks, we have seen about 50 peak commute trips a week canceled for lack of an operator spread out across Metro’s entire service area – out of a scheduled 56,000 work week trips. As we reported in the West Seattle Blog, we go to great lengths to find replacement operators with the workforce we have when a driver is ill or otherwise unavailable. We also launched a new effort to alert customers when possible that a trip is canceled – even revising alerts when a driver is identified to pick up a trip.
Each trip canceled is unfortunate and regrettable, and can make travel difficult for commuters who count on us. It can cause crowding on following buses and frustration when buses are full. During this ramp up in transit service, we are aggressively managing our workforce to deliver. Overall, Metro provides more than 99 percent of the 11,211 trips each weekday, or 56,000 trips each work week. As service expands in September, the efforts outlined above will continue in order to maintain service. The increase in canceled peak commute trips is a temporary challenge we are working hard to address. Hiring more drivers is the key to solving this challenge and we foresee the next several weeks as the key transition window where cancellations will smooth out and drop. We expect improvements with each new graduating class of bus drivers. We assure riders that we are doing all we can to aggressively manage the challenge and use the resources we have to provide dependable service. We apologize for the temporary inconvenience as we ramp up transit service.
Now, from Rasmussen to Desmond in response:
I appreciate the importance of careful screening and training of transit operators as METRO ramps up to provide more service in Seattle. Safety should not be compromised.
I have requested the Seattle Department of Transportation to provide the City Council Transportation Committee with a briefing on the first three months of enhanced METRO service in Seattle. The meeting will be on Tuesday September 22, 2015 at 9:30 AM in the Council Chambers.
I would like to invite you to attend and participate. Please include information on the first three months’ experience from METRO’s experience. Please include in your briefing an update on the results of METRO’s efforts to provide the added service paid for by Seattle.
The briefing will be an open meeting, so you can attend at City Hall, or watch it live via the Seattle Channel. The cancellations on north West Seattle routes – and other problems – had been particularly galling to riders because those routes (55, 56, 57) had been listed in the June service change as getting city funding to “help improve on-time reliability.”