Saturday, 28 July 2012

VANCOUVER SkyTrain


Although this is primarily a US West Coast trip, I took the chance to hop over to Vancouver for a few days (21-25 July 2012), as it is only a 4-hour train journey from Seattle, and a lovely boat trip back via Victoria on Vancouver Island.



Before I get started, Vancouver is a great city and quite unlike any other I have seen so far in North America. It is much denser with lots of 15-20-storey appartment blocks even in the downtown area, but also in many areas in the suburbs. There is no freeway cutting right through the central area, and many parts can be reached on foot, too. So all in all a mixture of Europe, North America and even Asia, just like the many different people living there.



Vancouver is (probably deservedly) often listed among the most livable cities in the world. Therefore I will have an even more critical look at its transportation system, which (for me) is a very important part for the quality of life in a big city. In this field, however, Vancouver gets a 'fail', I'm afraid. Not that trains are bad or buses old, but because the very insufficient information about the transport system. The responsible authority TransLink does not even provide a customer information centre anywhere, printed bus maps are not available anywhere, a few are posted rather at random and not even at the busiest downtown buss stops, and information at bus stops is very scarce, mostly only the bus number and its 'subtitle', i.e. generally the road it runs along, but not even the terminus! In some places, like the tourist office, you may find some schedule booklets, but for Vancouver alone you need to pick up two. They include a rather pathetic map, but it helps a bit. At some SkyTrain stations I spotted a London-style map “Buses from this station” showing a simplified diagram for onward journeys. By the way, like nearby Seattle, Vancouver also has quite a large network of trolleybuses.



Information within the SkyTrain system is generally o.k. Apparently for the 2010 Olympics they introduced a T-logo, a white T on a blue square, a bit like the German U sign, but this has been introduced very half-heartedly, mostly only in the central area and along the Canada Line (I will write about the many flaws of the Canada Line below!).



So if we assume that a transport system is designed to carry the same people on a workday to their jobs and back home again, then Vancouver's network can be qualified as sufficient. However, if we want a transport system that allows anybody, occasional riders and no-car users to move freely and spontaneously around the entire metropolitan area without the help of a smartphone, then Vancouver is far from being among the world's top cities when it comes to transport issues. Any major city in Western Europe (plus some others worldwide) will be ahead, I'm afraid.



SKYTRAIN



It's good to see the SkyTrain system being handled as a uniform system, even though the Canada Line was once meant to be different (and it is different in many things). But effectively, there are two different metro systems, just like in New York City, Berlin, London or Madrid, with trains not interchangable between lines due to different loading gauge (car width) and also a different powering system.



Expo & Millennium Lines



Let's therefore start with the original SkyTrain, which now comprises the Expo and Millennium Lines, which share tracks along a long section. First opened in the 1980s, the driverless system seems to work perfectly. During my stay I didn't really oberve any disruptions, maybe one morning there was a longer gap between trains than expected, but otherwise each line operates every 7-8 minutes off-peak, so there is a train every 3-4 minutes between Waterfront and Columbia (where my hotel was); and during peak hours they add about all trains available, making them run at top headways, which is around 100 seconds. Sometimes a train enters a station right after the previous has left, a bit like Moscow, but with shorter trains.



The older Mark I trains, which operate in 4-car or 6-car formations, are a bit loud due to their age, but otherwise run well. The Mark II trains, of which there is a rather new batch in blue/black livery, are quite good. Having longer cars, they always run in 4-car formation as adding another married pair would exceed the current platform length. All are air-conditioned. The Mark I trains only have acoustic announcements, whereas the Mark II have visual indicators, too. Despite being driverless, there is no exaggerated warning message, just a few tones and the doors close. As people know that the next train is due within minutes, noone tries to force the doors. People seemed quite well-behaved anyway.



What makes the old SkyTrain routes so much better than the new Canada Line is the perfect track alignment with proper superelevation (cant) in curves, so the trains travel at a very continous speed all the time, which provides a very smooth ride. The Mark I trains look pretty ugly by today's standards. The have only a small front window, with no proper seat there, so it is hard to look out the front. Luckily train designers later realised that these seats would always be popular on driverless metros, not only among metro enthusiasts. The Mark I trains can either be seen in their original livery with their thick blue and red stripes, or in the deliverey adopted for the initial batch of Mark II car, basically in white with blue and yellow swung lines, the colours then assigned to the two lines. The Mark II trains have a slightly larger front window, but still much smaller than what you would mostly find on new driverless metros and even on the Canada Line trains. There is a funny single seat at that window, which makes the passenger sitting there appear to be the driver. During my stay I have never observed that a train had to be driven manually with the help of the driving console hidden there. With blue artificial leather seats, the original Mark II trains' interior reminded me of some French metros. The newer trains have a different plastic seat covering with slimmer seats altogether, making them appear more spacious.


If the initial sections of the Expo Line were opened in as early as the mid-1980s I wonder why the Canada Line built 25 years later is of such a bad design? I also wonder, why cities like Nuremberg or Copenhagen had to invent a completely new system of automatic driverless operation when the SkyTrain had been running for over 20 years? I guess the operational system could be applied to any other metro system, too.

The initial Expo Line, which largely follows a once-existing interurban tram corridor, seems to be where it belongs, and there are many high-density residential and commercial areas, notably Metrotown, along its route keeping the line busy at all times, and at capacity during peak hours. The later added Millennium Line, however, has a rather strange route. And to hear “Train to VCC-Clark” at Waterfront and other downtown stations is a bit strange as noone would go there this way. Maybe an announcement like “Lougheed Town Centre and then VCC-Clark” would be more logical. In fact, when the Evergreen Line opens, this problem will be solved, as the Millennium Line is supposed to end at Lougheed Town Centre and the Evergreen Line will instead take over the VCC-Clark branch. The VCC-Clark stub, which opened later, doesn't really make much sense to me, unless the line is finally extended westwards or the area around it (which is still a railyard) is developed into something useful. In any case, to create a perfect system, they would have had to rebuild the old Broadway station to provide for cross-platform interchange at this point. The two lines are currently at two different levels, but with a bit of effort, it would have been possible. The two routes actually run parallel for some stretch at this point, at two different levels, though. The current transfer at this point is rather long, considering that about 90% of all passengers coming from the Millennium Line change here to get into downtown. There is in fact a project to expand the old Commercial-Broadway station to add another platform and thus separate alighting from boarding passengers.

The second transfer station within the old SkyTrain system, that at Columbia, is not ideal either. The station was not planned to become an interchange and has side platforms. Since the Millennium Line was added, many passengers have changed here to go from Surrey towards Lougheed or in the opposite direction, so these passengers have to walk down a flight of stairs and up on the other side (there is only one up-escalator in the inbound direction).



Expo Line stations

I don't know if people in Vancouver are aware of this, but the stations on the older parts of the Expo Line were modelled after the Vienna U-Bahn, with a group of Viennese architects who designed the basic U-Bahn system in the Austrian capital having won the design competition in Vancouver. There are many similarities, especially the rounded forms you would also find on Vienna's U1 and U4. One basic element of the Viennese design was, however, not implemented fully in Vancouver, that's the colour-coding of each line, a colour found on hand rails, station signs and other finishings. In Vancouver, as probably in the beginning they didn't even think of having more than one line, the surface stations are mostly green (like Vienna's U4), but the station signs are blue! The downtown stations, however, are red (like Vienna's U1). Main Street station is different anyway, as it had been built earlier for a demonstration line.


Granville and Burrard stations are pretty deep, and in fact have their respective platforms on two different levels, as the line was built inside an existing freight rail tunnel. They appear like proper tube stations with rather narrow platforms, and they get very crowded despite the short headways during peak hours. From mezzanine level, these two city centre stations are connected directly to adjacent malls or office buildings. The station at Waterfront is actually at grade, on the same level as the adjacent West Coast Express platform, and the reversing tracks are actually in the open air. These seem to be used during peak, whereas during off-peak, trains change tracks before entering the station.  



Millennium Line stations

Stations from Sapperton to VCC-Clark have more varied designs, although in a typical 1990s global style with concrete, stainless steel and glass dominating. Most stations have an impressive roof structure, generally using wood panels for the ceiling, which gives them a certain elegance. The most spectacular is Brentwood Town Centre station, which looks very good inside the station, but is not really convincing when seen from the outside. The rounded glass exterior is a good idea, but probably looks best when seen from the air, but in normal life you see the station from the ground, and it sits on an extremely high concrete viaduct, where the 'designed' part of the station seems rather lost, instead it is flanked by ugly staircases and a half-built footbridge across a major highway. So, while the design of the Vienna-type station includes everything from platform to street level, the Millennium Line stations are nice ideas floating on an otherwise massive concrete viaduct. Some stations are enhanced with artwork, in the case of Production Way/University or Sperling/Burnaby Lake sections of painted glass are displayed. The yellow line colour is present in all stations on large name signs, although this will become obsolete in many stations once they are served by the green Evergreen Line. There are reversing sidings also at VCC-Clark and King George. Stations on both the Expo and Millennium Line are equipped with digital indicators, but these do not show the remaining time for the next train, just the destination of the next train and other rider alerts.





All in all, the Expo & Millennium Lines have left a good impression, efficient operation and a smooth, fast ride. My proposal would be to extend the VCC-Clark branch westwards to the University of British Columbia as soon as possible and stop the present evaluations about what type of transport system is best to increase capacity to this destination. My second proposal would create a loop through downtown instead of the current terminus at Waterfront. A station further east would serve the booming Gastown district and another station would help to revamp the downtown's eastside, a visibly neglected area with lots of homeless people. The loop could be closed either between Main Street and Stadium/Chinatown (I read of intentions to tear down the elevated roadway in that area) or east of Main Street. The Expo Line could, for example, loop clockwise, and the Millennium Line anti-clockwise, passengers would more evenly be distributed this way and more areas would be served.



Canada Line



The Canada Line was a big disappointment. It is much newer, so you would expect both interesting architecture and a state-of-the-art rail system. While the first expectation was not fulfilled at all, the technical part did only partly: the ROTEM trains are state-of-the-art, they are wider than the original SkyTrain Bombardier stock and have a nice panorama window at the front. Like on the Mark II trains, you can walk from one car to the other. I still find the trains' side exterior a bit old-fashioned, mostly stainless steel with rather small rounded windows, they look like typical Asian metro trains, although with a pleasant front.



What struck me immediately when I entered the first Canada Line station, that called Vancouver City Centre, is the small size of the stations. The platforms are only long enough to take a 45 m two-car trains. I wonder how can someone design a full metro line without taking at least provisions to increase capacity by at least doubling it if required. But apparently, no real provisions were made, as the tube tunnels begin almost immediately at the end of the platform. I read that possibly a centre car could be added, and with the train fronts then actually inside the tunnel, the doors would still fit into the platform. Still, rather pathetic, considering the tremendous success of the older lines and considering that digging the running tunnels for a 45 m train costs the same as for a 90 m train. But this line was built with private money and had to be finished in time for the 2010 Olympics, so obviously many cuts in its design were made.


But one deficiency is just unforgiveable, and that's the lack of superelevation in the curves, instead the tracks seems to be flat on all sections, laid forever in a concrete bed. It seems to be the work of beginners, especially when you see how perfectly aligned the older lines are. On the Canada Line, however, trains need to reduce speed before getting into a curve, then make a horrible squeaking noise as they negotiate their way through the curve, before accelerating again. Luckily the route is quite straight, but between King Edward and Oakridge, the cut-and-cover tunnel follows the main road around Queen Elizabeth Park, so there is a series of curves and countercurves, resulting in this often unpleasant change of braking and accelerating. It is actually surprising that this long section wasn't built with TBMs straight under the park, as it would be at quite great depth to avoid the roots of the trees. Altogether the route shows some significant gradients, up from downtown to Oakridge and then down again. You can appreciate this even more if you take the same route on the surface, giving you a spectacular view of the downtown skyline.



Also the junction at Bridgeport is operated at a much lower speed than the comparable turnout at Columbia, where the Expo and Millennium Lines separate. Like on the older lines, trains now operate every 3-4 minutes on the main trunk, and every 7-8 minutes on each branch. At both southern termini, however, as another measure to cut costs, I suppose, the last section is only single-track, and trains reverse in the station. This way, it is hardly possible to increase capacity by adding extra trains, as the two bootlenecks at the outer ends wouldn't allow it. They might be able, maybe, to add extra trains on the trunk section. The Waterfront terminus has two tracks, but no reversing sidings, just short stubs in case trains run too far. So trains need to switch tracks to the south of the station, which also limits the capacity of the line. So, all in all, a very shortsighted way of planning a mass transit system. Another feature, which seemed to be a thing of the early metros built a 100 years ago, is the power collection from the top of the third rail without any protection.



Canada Line stations

The Canada Line has many more underground stations than the older SkyTrain system. Their visual design, however, is so disappointing that I would even refer to it as 'no-design option'. In case of island platforms, the pillars and sides of the stairs are clad in bluish and grey tiles. The walls behind the tracks are left in black, with adverts. Similarly the sidewalls are covered with tiles in stations with side platforms. The only exception is Waterfront station which features an interesting ondulated ceiling. Generally there are fixed staircases and an up-escalator (in some places you can see that there is space for a down-escalator). All stations are, of course, accessible with elevators (lifts), although as far as I have observed, you need to change elevators in the mezzanine (maybe in provision of future faregates). Unlike the older lines, the digital indicators announce the minutes for the next train to arrive, together with its destination, which is also announced acoustically. Except Waterfront, stations only have one exit, this is especially surprising at Vancouver City Centre, where the surface entrance is in fact a bit of a walk from the platform (not even at this busy station there is a down-escalator!). So if you want to get into the station at Granville/Robson (what I would consider the most central intersection of the city) you need to walk one block up to get into the station, although the platform is actually right under this intersection. I can only hope that the new building being erected at that point right now, will have a direct access to the mezzanine at least. From that mezzanine, there are in fact direct entrances into two adjacent shopping malls.





Looking at the map, one would, of course, expect a direct interchange between the Canada Line and the older SkyTrain lines, but this does not exist, although from one exit to the other it is only some 200 m. Apparently you could find your way through the malls, I haven't checked this out.

The interchange at Waterfront is far from satisfying, too: arriving on the Expo Line you need to come up to the main hall of the old railway station (a lovely building and well-restored) to walk down to the Canada Line again. I bet that a direct subterranean corridor would have been possible, too. With faregates being installed now, I guess you'll need to get out of the paid area and back in again in the future.



Several underground stations with side platforms don't have mezzanines, but have only one entrance, so to get to the second platform passengers have to walk through a foottunnel under the tracks. This appears to be a lack of consideration, as in most cases there is an emergency exit on the other side, which could have been converted into a proper exit. Most stations, however, feature a rather massive entrance building, which could have been reduced in size and a second entrance built on the opposite side of the road instead. The entrance buildings are quite pleasant and often feature a wooden ceiling. At busy intersections, like at Broadway/Cambie, I find it very inconvenient, that there is only one entrance on one corner, and you may need to cross two busy roads (often wait a while for a green light – which in Canada like in the U.S. is actually white at pedestrian crosswalks). I think, and underground distribution level with entrances from all corners would be a much passenger-friendly option.

The surface stations of the Canada Line have mostly pleasant designs, with predominantly white structures. Like the underground stations and the older SkyTrain stations there are no platform screen doors, I don't know whether there is a track surveillance system to stop trains in case anything or anybody falls onto the track.



The signage of the Canada Line is another weak point. First of all, it is very weird to choose this colour, which most of us would describe as a variant of blue, when there are only two more lines in the system, one of which is already dark blue! Worldwide experience has shown, that unless you live in Paris and love all shades of purple, pink and violet, line colours are an important means to help passengers find their way. And as long as there are only a few lines, only basic, clearly distinguishable colours should be used. With the line being called the Canada Line, red as in the national flag would have been a good option. Once you're inside a station, you will find out that the thing that is written in the smallest font size is actually the station name! Quite contrary to anything seen elsewhere. Unlike the bad track alignment, these things could actually be fixed easily.



WEST COAST EXPRESS



The WCE is really just a commuter railway, with a few trains coming into Vancouver in the morning and leaving for the eastern region in the afternoon. There is, however, a complementary bus running at other times. I was quite impressed how many people use this service. The train I watched departing at 17:30 (or 5.30 pm for them) was formed by 8 double-deck carriages and completely full. I wonder if an all-day kind of diesel light rail along these tracks would make sense to make better use of the existing infrastructure. Or would that limit existing freight services from the port? The Evergreen Line, the construction of which is just starting, will serve some areas in Coquitlam that are on the WCE route.





FARE SYSTEM



Fares are pretty simple and well integrated in Vancouver. The SkyTrain has a tiered 3-zone system, and I don't know whether this will be maintained now that faregates are being installed (2013?). A multi-zone fare system requires you to check your ticket also on the way out, which often leads to agglomerations at the exit gates especially during peak times. Whereas stations on the Millennium and Canada Lines were already designed for such faregates, the older Expo Line stations need a bit of rebuilding which has already been going on during my visit. With the new faregates, also a new smartcard system, the Compass Card, will be introduced.

Unlimited daypasses are currently available at 9 CAD (1 CAD = 1 USD), so slightly more expensive than in similar US cities, except Denver... A single ride from Surrey to downtown, however, costs 5 CAD! The daypass is also good for buses and the SeaBus, the frequent ferry to North Vancouver, but for the West Coast Express an addfare is required. An additional fare of 5 CAD is also charged when you buy a single ticket at the Airport and the two adjacent stations! Ticket machines are easy to handle, which is good as there is mostly no staff around to help you. There are occasional uniformed staff, but probably not when you need them. There are also some transit police patrolling. I haven't seen any ticket inspections, though (no wonder that fare evasion is high).


LINKS




Monday, 23 July 2012

TACOMA Streetcar

On a day trip from Seattle I visited the Tacoma streetcar, which like the Seattle Link Light Rail is operated by SoundTransit (while the Seattle streetcar is run by King County Metro, the local bus company). As described in the Seattle blog, if you want to use only rail to go to Tacoma on a day trip, you need to get up early for one of the two southbound Sounder trains (I'm not sure whether you could also take Amtrak's Coast Starlight, which leaves Seattle at 9.45 am, or a Cascades train at 11.25, you probably could, but it has occurred to me just now). Anyway, otherwise there are frequent buses, at least hourly during off-peak, and then there are two trains back at 4.25 pm and 5 pm.



The Tacoma streetcar is among the smallest tram systems in the world. Its main function is to link the transportation hub at Tacoma Dome (buses, parking lot, Amtrak station and Sounder station) to the city centre – and best of all, the ride is free. The first section to just before Union Station is single-track, while the remaining section, except the terminus at Theater District, is double-track. There is another major bus station, but this is located exactly between the last two stops, Commerce Street and Theater District, so transferring passengers always have to cross one street. The stops are pleasant with all necessary information and shelters, but no next-train indicators. The trams are almost identical to those in Seattle, although here they carry the Skoda label as the manufacturer. They run every 12 minutes, a headway that results from the overall travel time of about 10 minutes and the single-track section on one end. They two trams in service mostly meet at Union Station (a name that refers to the well-preserved old railway station building nearby which now accommodates a courthouse). Tacoma's major tourist attraction, the Museum of Glass, is located next to it. Being free, the trams get quite busy, although the city (or town?) as such seemed rather deserted.


LINKS


SEATTLE Urban Rail Systems

After Denver and Salt Lake City, I have spent the last few days in Seattle (16-20 July 2012). Arriving on a 2-hour flight from SLC, it was good to find a train going directly into the city centre. With a large number of passengers being first-time users, there should be a manned info point at the ariport, as long queues may form in front of the automatic ticket vending machines with people trying to figure out which ticket they need (although generally the machines are easy to use).



Seattle has a rather diverse transport system, and it could be explored in just two days, too. However, I wanted to spend more time here to explore what I find is a real city, lively and with quite a large densely built-up central area, not just a few blocks of downtown and the rest never-ending faceless suburbs.

There are three different types of urban rail systems, plus a commuter railway and the streetcar in nearby Tacoma. Let's start with the oldest:

SEATTLE MONORAIL

The monorail connects the Westlake hub, Seattle' major shopping area, to the Seattle Center, where the city's landmark stands, the Space Needle, plus various other attractions, so every visitor to Seattle has to go there at least once, and many use the monorail, as it is also a fun ride. It costs 2.25 USD (no ORCA card accepted) and takes about 5 minutes. The monorail runs about every 10 minutes, and as far as I have observed, it is the red train in the mornings operating on the eastern beam, and the blue train in the afternoons on the western beam. I'm not sure whether this is always so, and whether this is done deliberately to get nice photos from the sunny side! The Seattle Center station is a proper two-track (two-beam) station with an island platform for boarding and two side platforms for alighting. The downtown station, however, has only one side platform on the second floor (level +2; third floor in American buildings), with the two beams side by side floating above the street. So when the red train is in service on the eastern beam, platform extensions are rolled out over the western beam, acting like individual bridges to all doors. First time I saw something like this! Might be adopted on some metro systems....



The monorail was built for the 1962 Expo (they are celebrating its 50th birthday), and despite its retro style offers a relatively smooth ride. Compared to the new Las Vegas system, its trains are wide and you can walk through all three cars. All in all, the most pleasant monorail I have been on.


SEATTLE STREETCAR

Maybe a 100 m from the downtown monorail terminus is also the downtown streetcar terminus, although a bit hidden one block north of busy square in front of the Westlake Center. The streetcar, opened in 2007, is also fun to ride, especially when you're tired and too lazy to walk, otherwise you might probably reach your destination faster walking! Too many traffic lights with long waiting times, and the inbound tram also takes ages to switch from the double-track section towards the single-track terminus. The line now serves a very European-style new development between Thomas and Mercer Streets, mostly occupied by online store Amazon. Just south of Lake Union, there are road works going on, which obstruct the trams at times.



I'm not quite sure who operates the streetcar, on their website there is a note saying “The City of Seattle and King County Metro operate the Seattle Streetcar without regard to race, color, and national origin...”, but King County Metro doesn't really mention it separately, although it is listed as their line 98. Unlike their buses, the trams are not yet equipped with ORCA card readers, so the drivers tell you just to get on without paying if you wished to use an ORCA card ....

The Inekon vehicles are small and cute, with level access at the two main doors in the central low-floor section. There is yet another single-leaf door with steps to the raised area above the bogies, next to the driver's cab on the right side only (in each direction of travel). Depending on the stop, doors open on the left or on the right (at the downtown terminus at both sides). The stops are rather basic, some with shelters, and basic info, which includes operating hours but not frequencies! The next-time indicator seemed to work only at the downtown terminus, showing a tram every 15 minutes. This means that two vehicles are enough for daytime service, with a third held in reserve (each painted in a different colour!).

Construction of a second line has just started along Broadway in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood, while the once popular Waterfront Trolley is gone for good. Judging by the colour of the asphalt, the track has mostly been paved over only recently creating more parking spaces for cars (what else?). That this is permanent can be seen by the well-placed curb stones at intersections and a new road layout on the southern stretch. I was hoping that it would be brought back into service when the new streetcar line is complete as this will actually end close to King Street station where also the old Waterfront Trolley ended. This route is now replaced by bus 99.


SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL

Officialy labelled “Link Light Rail” and shown in timetables as “Central Link light rail”, this is so far Seattle's only light rail line. It belongs to the second generation of modern light rail systems in the U.S. and thus has now common features like low-floor access. The Seattle light rail probably is unique world-wide as it includes an underground section which is shared by buses! The light rail system is operated by Sound Transit, a company otherwise responsible for regional bus services in the metropolitan region (whereas most urban buses in Seattle are run by King County Metro). Trains run every 10 minutes during daytime hours and every 7.5 minutes during the peak period.



The 25 km line can be divided into five sections:

  1. Downtown tunnel: from Westlake to south of International District/Chinatown station – this section runs in twin bored tunnels with very spacious stations opened for trolleybus operation in 1990 (in fact they were hybrid diesel/electric buses operating as diesel buses outside the tunnel and switching to trolley operation through the tunnel). The section was later rebuilt to accommodate the new light rail line (there were initial provisions with tracks laid, etc, but these had to be replaced anyway, and the trackbed was lowered). The three fully underground stations belong to the most impressive underground structures in the U.S., especially Westlake and Pioneer Square. Westlake has a large mezzanine level running above the entire station with openings over the platform areas and several direct accesses to adjacent department stores or malls. Pioneer Square and University Street, however, are open spaces with “balconies” at each end, with dimensions similar to the Washington DC Metro. I guess the platforms are about 100 m long, if not more. International District/Chinatown station is a subsurface station with a partly open ceiling and entrance structures on the surface in a style you might also find in some German cities. Pioneer Square and Westlake, however, reminded me more of the Moscow Metro with elegant finishings in granite and marble.
    The buses now sharing the tunnel are no longer trolleybuses, but special low-emission diesel-electric buses with an additional battery. There is a description on the King County Metro website, and in fact you don't smell any diesel exhaust fumes. I don't know why they couldn't maintain the trolley wires, as trolleybuses and trams often operate next to each other, like in San Francisco, Zürich or Geneva. Somebody who understands electrical issues better may be able to explain this.
    The buses serve one more station just outside the northern tunnel portal at Convention Center, but this is not served by the light rail trains, for which a stub for reversing was built right under Pine Street diverging east from the original bus tunnel. This stub is also the starting point for the northern extension to Capitol Hill and University of Washington, now under full construction and opening in 2016. At University of Washington, my first thought was, why is the station so far from the central area of the campus? Probably the cheapest site to build such a station??



  2. The SODO section (south of downtown) is a typical light rail route with a few level crossings along an otherwise segregated alignment. This includes two at-grade stations, Stadium and SODO, located adjacent to the SODO Busway (which also has numerous at-grade intersections).
  3. After SODO, trains climb onto a viaduct, pass a triangular junction leading to the depot, before entering the Beacon Hill tunnel, with a deep-level tube station of the same name. At 49 m below street level, it is one of the deepest stations in the U.S. There are four fast lifts taking passengers to the surface. The twin tube tunnels continue east and emerge onto another viaduct, which accommodates the elevated Mount Baker stations. So this section can be qualified as “full metro”.



  4. Just after Mount Baker, a ramp takes trains down to street level, and although throughout on a reserved lane in the middle of Martin Luther King Jr Way South, there are several intersections which reduce travel speed. Notably at Graham Street trains may have to wait for a long time to get a green line in the general traffic cycle. There are three surface stops on this section. South of Rainier Beach station, there are reversing sidings, but I'm not sure whether these are used in regular service. I did not understand why this initial line has to take this detour to serve this area as it does not seem to generate that many passengers, instead the trip to the airport is lenghtened in time.



  5. About 1 km south of Rainier Beach stations, trains again climb onto an elevated structure and remain there for most of the remaining section to the Airport terminus. It is a long run to reach Tukwila International Boulevard station, and this section required significant gradients, caused by topography. The line was also built on a rather high structure to fly over several freeway junctions. A stretch between Tukwila Intl Blvd and the Airport is at grade in the middle of the airport access road. The long distances between stations on this metro-like section make me wonder why they didn't choose a proper metro alignment for the entire line (on the other hand, why doesn't Denver built a light rail to the airport with similar characteristics?). The giant Tukwila Intl. Blvd station is a major train/bus interchange. The Airport station is directly at the airport, but to get to it you need to walk through a multi-storey car park. The trains reverse in the station, there are only short stubs beyond the platform (a short southern extension is planned for the mid-term future).

All in all, the light rail line has a very modern appearance. The Japanese trains run smoothly, even on the faster sections, but are a bit too small, they get crowded quickly with airport passengers carrying loads of luggage, although there is a small area for luggage and bicycles available. The middle section is very narrow and with people sitting there it is even hard to walk through without luggage. They have bus-type seating in the raised end sections, but making you look towards the train centre, not the driver's cab. The low-floor middle section has mixed seating with some folding seats. The doors are all opened by the driver.

The stations are all equipped with modern indicators, but apparently they don't work properly as they don't show the next train, there is a permanent “Welcome to xx” message displayed and the current time. Otherwise stations are all pleasant and in good shape, some with island platforms (SeaTac/Airport, Rainier Beach, Beacon Hill – though separate in two London-style tubes, Stadium). Besides the station names, there are also symbols, which like in Mexico identify each station! Most stations are enhanced with artwork.


SOUNDER COMMUTER RAIL

Sound Transit also operates the northern and southern commuter rail lines, one to Everett and the other to Tacoma. But these are really just commuter railways, with 7 trains from Tacoma to Seattle in the morning and back in the afternoon, but only 2 in the opposite direction. The northern line has 4 trains inbound in the morning and 4 back home in the afternoon (some Amtrak trains may be used, too). So if you want to go to Tacoma by train to see the streetcar, you have to get up very early and spend long hours in Tacoma (there is not that much to do there...), or take one of the frequent buses down and come back on one of the two afternoon trains, as I did. They take about the same time (50-60 minutes). I was surprised how well looked after the stations are for having only this small amount of daily trains.




FARE SYSTEM

The lack of a clear unified fare system is certainly the most negative part of the Seattle transport system. There are several bus operators with their own fare system, and transfer between them seems to be impossible unless you pay with an ORCA card, a modern smartcard system, which can be a monthly pass (I honestly didn't understand this product, which is not a monthly pass found in the rest of the world giving you unlimited travel in a designated area) or an “e-purse”, i.e. you just add value to it (basic cost of the card is 5 USD) and then tap on/off as you travel, but no discounts. It does, however, grant you free transfer even to other operators. On buses you tap on only once, on trips into the downtown area as you board, and out of downtown as you exit the bus, which makes sense as the downtown area is a free-ride zone on buses, but NOT on light rail! So if you are in the tunnel, you can hop on a bus for one or two stations for free, but the light rail train would cost you 2 USD. On light rail you need to tap on and off, as it has a tiered fare structure, maximum 2.75 USD to go all the way to the Airport, rather cheap, in fact, considering the Airport is some 20 km south of downtown.

Seattle does not offer any kind of unlimited day pass, so the ORCA card seems to be the best choice, but like in Brisbane, I find it hard to keep track on how much I spend, and I was actually surprised when the reader said “low value”, when I thought that there must be a bit more left. So if the system doesn't work correctly, it may be difficult to prove that you were charged too much. I think there should be something like a daily top, like in Dubai. Most people, however, still pay cash on buses, which also delays the buses a lot, as it is often not easy to feed a long-used 1-dollar note into those fare boxes.


BUSES

Despite the deficient fare system and confusion with different bus operators, Seattle boasts one of the best bus systems in the U.S., I guess. Bus stops are mostly equipped with timetables! And many of them even have a map! In the downtown area, there are triangular info posts, with all necessary details. So, here you can actually explore the city without preparing each single trip exactly on the internet or with the help of individual bus schedules. There is no printed overall map available, instead they refer you to the internet (but hardly anyone will have a printer at home to print out a poster map!). Sound Transit distributes a free timetable booklet with some maps in it. What is a bit confusing is the fact that most bus routes that are supposed to terminate in downtown actually continue as another route, but this number change is done upon entering the downtown area. To go to King Street Station I had chosen to take bus 15 or 18, for example, but at the stop I boarded, these had already changed their numbers, so they were difficult to identify! What is wrong with keeping the same number across the downtown area? 

Seattle also has a large trolleybus network, similar to that of San Francisco, and thus one of the largest in the western world. Many trolleybuses run on the surface along 3rd Avenue, thus above the downtown metro tunnel, from where they spread out in all directions in what is a very hilly city.



LINKS






Monday, 16 July 2012

SALT LAKE CITY Trax

The second stop on my US tour this year was Salt Lake City, which I reached just before midnight after a more than 15-hour train ride on the California Zephyr from Denver (great scenery, low speed...). I had the next two days (13-14 July 2012) to explore the city and its light rail and commuter rail system.

In many aspects, the light rail system is similar to that in Denver, and having come from there, it seems quite natural to make a few comparisons. The system is called TRAX, a name which seems to be used also in everyday speech.



Light Rail routes
Like in Denver, the downtown sections of the system are on reserved lanes (protected by curbs) along urban streets, notable Main Street, the city's main artery, and South Temple, the major east-west route. The intersection of both next to the Mormon Temple marks the point where streets are devided into North, East, South and West.

The original route ran from what is now Arena station (initially Delta Center) to Sandy in the south. There is a short on-street sections, though with low car traffic, between 900 South and Ballpark stations, south of that there is a railway-type right-of-way along an old railway route. On this section, trains speed up considerably, probably the fastest light rail ride I have seen, and unlike Denver, automatically closing barriers seem to be enough as there is no horn blowing or bells. Trains even enter stations quite fast without any warning sound. On these sections, there are several level crossings, but trains cause barriers to close automatically and so there are no delays.



The downtown route was later extended to Salt Lake Central, a transportation hub with a bus terminal and the Frontrunner commuter rail.

In time for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the eastern branch to the Stadium and later to the University was completed. This route is somehow different and appears to be more of a modern tram line: the tracks do not run straight along the median of the road like on the other downtown sections, instead they continuously adjust to the number of required road lanes, and at several of the numerous intersections, the LRT has to share the lane with left-turning traffic, resulting in a severe reduction of travel speed as the trains cannot keep up with the parallel road traffic, instead they are often held too long at those intersections.



The two newest routes, to the Jordan Valley and West Valley partly follow old railway routes, and are generally built on generous alignments with wide curves. There are three major bridge structures on the Green Line to West Valley, over the mainline railway tracks, the Jordan River and over the I-215 motorway. There is a lot of development along this route, but the Red Line to Daybreak runs, and will run for many years still, through completely undeveloped areas, especially the two stops before the terminus are in the middle of nowhere, with just small car parks next to them. Even a station named West Jordan City Center is quite misleading: although there are a few new administrative buildings nearby, it does not appear to be anything one might associate with a city center. Another misleading name is the junction called Central Pointe! Nothing much but some industrial yards there! So these two extensions were built futureproof and it will be seen whether development along the lines becomes a reality soon. But I wonder if they were really the highest priority or simply easy to implement.

The airport branch is almost complete, with overhead wires in place on the stretches I saw. This will open in 2013 and provide a good connection to all downtown hotels. They are also building a direct interchange for the Green Line and the FrontRunner at North Temple, where the old road bridge was replaced by a new structure. So the Green Line will then no longer go to Salt Lake Central, but to the Airport.

Like in Denver, it is interesting that all lines share the same route on a section south of the city centre, on a stretch where you would not really need multiple lines. Unfortunately, the Red Line does not actually enter the downtown area proper, instead its closest downtown stop is Courthouse, at the southern edge of the downtown area. So many people change there to get to City Center station, which in fact deserves that name. The new City Creek shopping mall opened there recently, and all the tourist sites around Temple Square are accessible from there.

At the termini, there is an announcement saying “This is the end of the line, as far as we go!”, and (I don't know if this is common across the USA) they pronounce a station name written as “900 South” as “9th South” (and the station sign actually says 860 South 200 West!). By the way, a SLC speciality is that (approximate) street numbers are added to the station names, especially on the original line to Sandy. These are also announced, for example, on the Green Line to West Valley, although they are not shown on maps. For people who have the numbering system of the city streets present in their minds, this will certainly be helpful, while I personally get confused by these numbers.

Light Rail stations
Like in Denver, all stations are in a very good shape, although built to a rather standard design (on the southern branches, the stations roofs take the colour of the line serving the respective branch!). All stations have shelters, mostly one at either end of the platform as trains always stop at the front end of each side. On the Blue Line as well as on the University branch of the Red Line, stations have short elevated platforms like in Denver to allow level boarding on older trains; the new branches, however, have no such platforms and can therefore only be served by the newer S70 cars (see below). Most stations are enhanced with public art, generally located in the middle of the platform, and with window paintings or illustrations at the covered wind/rain shelters. Generally, stations have island platforms accessible at-grade from adjacent streets. At the few stations with side platforms, the exiting side is announced on the train. There are no metro-style stations, where passengers wouldn't have to cross the tracks. The platforms are some 20 cm high, so a low step remains to enter low-floor trains too, which have an automatically extracting ramp for wheelchair users. All stations have ticket vending machines and modern next-train indicators showing the minutes remaining for the next three trains, normally.

Especially on the Blue Line to Sandy, but also the two new southern branches, the immediate areas around the stations look little attractive and do not invite to get off the train to explore further (which doesn't mean that there isn't anything to explore). Many stations provide bus connections and several have car parks but never as big as in other cities.

Compared to Denver there is slightly more transit police visible, but mostly at busier stations like Courthouse to supervise the sometimes crowded platform.



Light Rail rolling stock
UTA has three different types of trains, but only two seem to be in regular service now. I saw several of the ex San Jose Bombardier built trains in the depot, but not in service on any line, maybe they are kept in reserve. The older type in service, and now only on the Blue Line due to the required mini-high platforms for level access, are the Siemens SD 160 basically identical to those in Denver and other American cities. They featured bus-like seating, i.e. in each section of an articulated unit, all seats look towards the driver's cabin, no face-to-face seating! Unlike Denver, however, SLC switches to Siemens' S70 model, also in use in San Diego, for the expansion of the fleet. These are 70% low-floor, with all four doors on each side allowing level access for everyone. One door on each side has a special wheelchair button which activates a ramp to bridge the small gap and difference in height. This works relatively fast compared to the manual procedure on the older trains. The end sections of these trains are raised, with seats above the proper bogies. If you sit on the right side, you can look out the front window through the driver's cabin to watch the route. The short middle section rests on a set of wheels, which unfortunately makes a lot of noise, even on good new track. So although the low-level technology is, of course, the better option, the overall ride is better and smoother on the older trains (but this is something true for almost any low-floor vehicle).

Independent of the type of car used, they usually work in 2-car formations, which are extended to 3 cars during peak hours. They are all equipped with visual and acoustic station and destination announcements. Trains have air-conditioning, and unlike in Denver, passengers open doors individually.

FrontRunner Commuter Rail
For several years now, SLC has probably operated the most frequent commuter rail service west of Chicago. The FrontRunner, which so far runs only north from SLC to Ogden, has a train every 30 minutes throughout the day, so I would rather call it Suburban Rail or Regional Rail. On Saturdays, trains run hourly, but there are no trains on Sundays. FrontRunner has its own tracks, partly single-track with passing loops (most stations have two tracks, too), so they do not share tracks with freight traffic. The stations are similar to light rail stations, but maybe with a more individual design. With low platforms, there is level entry onto the lower level of these trains.



The trains in service are Bombardier double-deck carriages with a very European interior, and after a few years in service they still look quite good. The ride is very smooth and fast. They are pulled or pushed by diesel locomotives. The north-south line is now being extended all the way south to Provo. I don't know if UTA purchased more of the same trains for this extension or whether they will use the rather old carriages bought from New Jersey Transit, which they refurbished a bit. Some of these were stored wrapped in plastic along the northern line. Transfer to the light rail at Salt Lake Central is made easy with a short walk across the pedestrianised square.

Fare System
UTA, Salt Lake City's transit agency, offers a quite simple fare structure. Any station on the light rail system can be reached with a standard fare of 2.35 USD, and a day pass for light rail and buses is available for just 5.75 USD. Unlike in Denver, these day passes can be bought from ticket vending machines, too, which are easy and simple to handle. The downtown area is basically a free-fare zone, so you can hop on and off the train without requiring a ticket.

Special though very low fares are required for the FrontRunner, and if you have a day pass, this reduces the add-on fare even more.

I didn't get a chance to look at the bus system properly. Bus stops seems to have some basic information like which line passes and where it goes but no timetable. I don't know if bus maps are available as I didn't find an information office. The one I had the address of, around the corner from City Center station, had a sign 'UTA has moved' without saying where to.



Friday, 13 July 2012

DENVER Light Rail

In the last few days, 9-11 July 2012, I had the chance to explore Denver's light rail system on my first stopover on this year's U.S. trip taking me primarily to the West Coast. Here are a few personal observations, as usual seen through my always critical European eyes.

I came in on a 5-hour flight from New York City, and the first public transport I encountered was the underground train at DIA (Denver International Airport), a rubber-tyred shuttle between the different terminals of the huge airport. As the airport won't be connected to the city by train before 2016, I took a Supershuttle to my hotel. RTD, the Denver transport agency, operates specially priced SkyRide buses, but they are rather infrequent, even towards downtown, and more so on a Sunday, when I arrived.



The overall impression of the light rail system is quite positive. As of now, it only reaches the southern suburbs, but in spring 2013, a western leg will be added to the system. The northern suburbs, however, will eventually be served by 'commuter railways' and I do not understand why this type of railway was chosen, which will not allow through operation between light rail and suburban rail (I prefer this term as it implies a more all-day regular service!); these lines will be electrified and are not planned to share tracks with freight or Amtrak services, so in fact no need to build them to heavy rail specifications. The travel speed of heavy rail trains may be slightly higher, but this can hardly compensate the lack of a uniform integrated system. So someone may be able to explain why the decision was for 'commuter rail'?


Light Rail routes


Back to light rail, the system features what you would expect of a modern light rail system, with a train at least every 15 minutes during off-peak on all branches, and additional peak-hour trains. The C line does not operate at certain off-peak hours, and from Lincoln it's the E or the F line running at certain times. The Union Station branch is only served every 15 minutes even during peak hours, but will also receive the W line in 2013.


Through the downtown area, trains run on-street, but segregated from car traffic on a special lane (which in fact runs in the opposite direction to road traffic). So interferences with vehicular traffic only occur at intersections (but car drivers seem to be very respectful and don't block the intersections). There is a rather long wait where trains cross a major road between Colfax at Auraria station and the built-over Theatre District/Convention Center station.



Instead of establishing mixed car/rail operation on the northern leg to 30th & Downing, a single-track alignment was chosen, but this seems to be a bit of a bottleneck. At least on my trip we had to wait for almost 10 minutes for this section to be cleared by the incoming train, and there is no passing loop on the way, instead a high number of stops (compared to the rest of the network!) which keeps this section busy even longer. Other sections were mostly built alongside railway corridors or on unused railway routes purchased by RTD, or alongside motorways, so these are largely grade-separated allowing high speeds, especially as distances between stations are often very long. At level crossings, the horn is blown like on freight trains, but on the long outer branches there are hardly any level crossings, instead trains have dedicated flyovers or underpasses to avoid at-grade junctions.



The only fully grade-separated junction is that south of Southmoor, with a full wye (the south to east links were used for several years by the G line). Closer to downtown, however, the junction west of Colfax at Auraria station used to be a wye (triangular) junction, but now the northern leg of the triangle was removed. Why??? In the same style, the new junction just south of Auraria West Campus for the new branch to JeffCo (W line) does not have a southern leg, so trains will not be able to continue towards the cross-downtown route. Why??? I cannot comprehend why the option was not left open to adjust routes at a later stage by building these track connections now. The new western line would probably get many more passengers if trains went alternately to Union Station and 16th & California (as this is where it all happens). Union Station, however, is at present in the middle of nowhere and it will take a few years still until the huge Union Station interchange will be finished, but even then the primary shopping area will be around the southeastern section of the 16th Street Mall. With the decision to build the northern lines as 'commuter rail', the Union Station branch is left a bit without a real end, so my proposal would be to create a circle/loop along 20th Street or Park Avenue West to link up with the other lines. This way, the future Union Station interchange (which includes an underground bus terminal as well as a large station for commuter rail and Amtrak) would also be accessible from the eastern side, and not only by the frequent and crowded free Mall Shuttle buses. A loop operation would also be useful to serve the many large venues along it, like the Coors or Pepsi stadiums, and the Sports Authority Mile High Field, all of which must generate large crowds when games are on.


Interestingly, as it is not so common on light rail systems, all termini except 30th & Downing have reversing sidings, so trains always arrive on one track and depart from the other.


Light Rail trains


Normally 3-car trains can be seen, although 2 cars would be enough during off-peak hours, and during the peak, even 4-car trains are in service (they are so long that the intersection at 19th Street & California cannot be cleared when they loop around to Stout Street)! The trains are air-conditioned, and have acoustic as well as visual station and destination announcements. With air-conditioning installed, it is surprising that all doors are opened by the driver at all stations, I guess passengers should be able to open doors by themselves, this way the heat is kept out.



RTD only uses one type of train, the Siemens SD160 as seen in other North American light rail cities and basically identical to the second-generation stock in San Diego. These trains are high-floor, but stop at stations with very low platforms so a climb of several steps is required for everyone. For people with limited mobility, a short high platform accessible via a ramp is available at the front of each platform to allow level boarding. To do so, however, the driver still needs to get out of his cabin, fold down a board to bridge the gap between train and platform, let the passenger in and out, and fold it in again – quite a time-consuming procedure! RTD has two generations of the same rolling stock, hardly to be distinguished, only by the outward swinging plug doors on the newer models vs. folding doors on the older, and a slightly different livery, i.e. blue stripes on the newer cars instead of yellow/orange/red on the original stock. The question is why did RTD not follow San Diego's example and gradually change to low-floor cars? Level access should not only be provided for people with special needs, but for everyone as it is simply more comfortable and speeds up the overall passenger alighting and boarding! Many people travel with trolleys or rolling suitcases, all these plus the not so sporting ones would get in and out in much less time. So the decision to order more old-fashioned high-floor vehicles in 2008 (they also look rather old-fashioned inside; all delivered by now) is a clear negative point for Denver, having in mind that the first Siemens Avanto S70 was delivered to San Diego in as early as 2004! Possibly these trains would also be available with a high-level front door, so there wouldn't be a confusion about whether a high-floor or low-floor train is coming next and wheelchair passengers, for example, could wait on the raised platform just like they do now.

 


Another option would be to convert the entire system eventually into a high-floor system, but I guess this will never happen as the stations would require too much rebuilding (unless the tracks could be lowered), with most of them having roof structures etc. hard to adapt. In the downtown area many would probably consider 100 m high platforms too obtrusive. Let's hope that the new 'commuter rail' stock, which is based on Philadelphia's latest stock, will have proper level access with high platforms.


Light Rail stations


The stations are all in good shape, quite appealing and with public art on display in many places and even equipped with modern next-train indicators (which sometimes showed trains two hours later...). Platforms are very low, probably just about 20 cm, so passengers cross the tracks at any point, and as a result trains enter the stations at quite low speed making all sorts of warning sounds (bells & horn). All stations have some sort of shelter, mostly a longer roof. In the city centre, the pavement actually functions as the 'platform' with the stopping area being indicated by a yellow stripe. The platform length occupies a full block!



The use of existing railway or motorway corridors to build light rail at a lower price results in stations often being located in areas not exactly central to the served neighbourhoods. Instead most stations boast a large car-park and connecting buses. On the southeastern branch, most stations are linked to the other side of the motorway by long footbridges, although some stations like Nine Mile are accessed via a rather dark though spacious underpass. All stations seem to be fully accessible with lifts or ramps, to enter trains on wheelchairs or with prams, the mini-high platform at the front of the train has to be used. If I remember correctly, the only 'metro-style' stations (i.e passengers do not cross the tracks) are Colorado (in a trench, though with a restricted possibility to cross the tracks), Louisiana/Pearl, Southmoor, Dayton and Nine Mile (the latter two with island platforms in the median of a motorway). The long distances between stations in the outer areas result in a high travel speed, at the same time one gets the impression that many areas are passed without stopping. TOD (transit-oriented development) is now a big word across the USA, and new developments can be seen around many stations, notably Englewood where the station is well integrated into a new town centre.


Stations and trains appear to be a safe place, although I did feel a bit uncomfortable at Colorado station with the kind of people hanging around there. Generally, hardly any security staff is visible, which I guess is a good sign, although trains have video surveillance. Bus drivers are not hidden behind a plastic wall like in London or like we would want it even in Berlin sometimes.


Fare system


Whereas fares for buses are charged rather by type of service than distance, the light rail system is divided into four fare zones (A-D), with a local (2 zones), express (3 zones) and regional (4 zones) fare available. Only County Line and Lincoln stations are in zone D. A day pass including buses is available for these three fare stages, too, but although all stations are equipped with ticket vending machines, these passes are only available from service centres at the downtown bus stations or from the tourist office! Bus drivers mostly showed a surprised face when they had to punch them. So why are they not available from machines?? The price for 2 zones corresponds more or less to 3 separate bus fares (2.25 USD). Free transfer between buses and light rail is available with an old-fashioned transfer paper ticket. So to explore the entire light rail system, you'll need a 'Regional Day Pass' for 14 USD. There are occasional ticket inspections on the trains, on buses you need to show your ticket to the driver.


Other urban transport


The above-mentioned Mall Shuttle along 16th Street Mall is a busy and free transport option. It links the bus station at Civic Center near the State Capitol and the museum area to the cross-downtown light rail at California and Stout Streets, to the underground Market Street bus station and to the Union Station light rail terminus. These battery-powered buses (I still have to investigate how they are actually charged) run every 1-2 minutes. Probably because it would consume too much of their power, they have no air-conditioning. They stop at every street corner, making hop-on hop-off easy. My proposal would be to extend some of these buses to the museum area, known as the Golden Triangle.


But this is about the only bus service I can approve. Although printed schedules and even a bus map are available, the entire network seems insufficient and outdated. RTD operates a rather old bus fleet with mostly NABI high-floor buses, similar to those you might remember from Western Europe 20 years ago. They are air-conditioned, though, which is nice. Without wanting to offend anyone, but like the buses also many drivers are of a rather advanced age. Bus stops can be identified as such by a small red/brown board, which even displays which line passes there, but that's about it. With many lines operating in near downtown areas only approximately hourly (yes, departure times are irregular and even then there may be alternating routes!), a posted timetable would be a good option at all stops (it is posted at selected stops!). The small sign, however, shows a stop number and a telephone number, so you can call them and ask for the next bus. I haven't tried that, but the link to individual stops on Google Maps works fine and shows the next departures. I tried that from my hotel and was positively surprised that the bus came on the minute!


All in all, the bus system seems to be maintained only for those who for some reason cannot afford to go by car, whereas the light rail trains are also busy with white-collar workers going to their downtown offices.





RTD Regional Transportation District (Official Website)