Two new reports show that King County Metro "saved" just over 80,000 hours of service in the past year through "scheduling efficiencies", and that ridership on Sound Transit's central Link Light Rail continues to lag behind projections.

The Metro report (via PS Transit Operators) resulted from an audit last year suggesting ways Metro could save money by running buses more efficiently. King County has directed Metro to cut service by a total of 200,000 hours by 2011, with 125,000 of that coming from efficiencies and the rest from actual cuts.

The changes have cost Metro in terms of how well the bus system performs. In 2010, the number of buses that showed up on time (defined as between one minute early and five minutes late) slipped from 80 percent in fall 2009 to 77 percent in summer 2010---meaning that 23 percent of the time, a bus arrives more than five minutes late. (Buses starting out at Metro's Ryerson Base in SoDo had the worst performance---they were only on time 73 percent of the time).

The report attributes some of the change to a new methodology for calculating on-time performance. Still, the report also shows that the number of buses leaving their terminals late rose steadily, from 10 percent in fall 2009 to 13 percent in summer 2010.

From drivers' perspective, the amount of "recovery time" at the end of a route and the length of layovers went down slightly. And the average amount of "deadhead" time---time when drivers are driving an empty bus to or from a base---actually increased, to a little more than a third of a mile for every mile buses were carrying passengers.

Sound Transit's third-quarter report, which also looked at ridership on services like express buses and Sounder trains found that while ridership was up from last year (from 14,680 in the third quarter of 2009 to 23,762 this year), those numbers aren't really comparable because rail service just started in July 2009, and only went to the Tukwila station instead of all the way to SeaTac Airport. Overall, the number of riders remained lower than projected, and reached "a peak in July and taper[ed] off during August and September." At this point, Sound Transit seems unlikely to meet its target of 26,000 average riders per day.

The report also found that light rail was on time about 79 percent of the time---comparable to Metro bus service, but nowhere near as reliable as Sounder commuter rail (on time about 98 percent of the time) and Sound Transit express bus service (on time 89 percent of the time). In happier news, the number of customer complaints per rider was lower on light rail than on any other service Sound Transit offers except its mile-long Tacoma Link rail line in Tacoma; and there were no preventable accidents.
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