Metro Defers Some Service Cuts

P1000274

Yesterday Metro announced a series of new savings that will reduce the overall service cut from 550,000 annual service hours to 400,000, or about 11%. Here is the bottom line for riders:

  • This month’s service cut (151,000 hours) moves forward as planned.
  • The February 2015 cuts (169,000 hours) will also occur as planned*, unless Seattle’s Prop 1 passes. In that case, those cuts will slide to June “to provide time for Seattle and other jurisdictions to enter into contracts for service.”
  • The third and fourth rounds of cuts, currently unspecified, shrink from 230,000 hours to 80,000. Metro will consolidate this into a single cut and delay it till March 2016.

How we got here, based on Metro’s handout and a conversation with Metro GM Kevin Desmond, is below the fold.

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From the Archives: Denny Way and Revenue Projections

A couple of stories in the Times have caught transit advocates’ interest in the past week. There are a few stories from STB’s past that are quite relevant:

First, although I discussed the general implications of Danny Westneat’s complaints about bus service yesterday, I didn’t address his specific issue with buses on Denny Way. Although more money would help at the margins, what’s really needed is a dramatic rethink of car flow in this corridor.  Zach wrote the definitive piece on how to inexpensively improve Denny, changing a few stops and streets, in 2011. There are also more subtle improvements on Denny near Seattle Center, including this and this. And if you’re thinking a bit outside the box, there’s the gondola proposal.

Secondly, a Mike Lindblom piece today hints at the possibility ($) of new revenue projections reducing the scale of Metro cuts, although the only numbers he provides are a “best case scenario.” We’ll know more soon, but in the meantime this spring’s discussion of the asymmetric bias of revenue projections is still relevant.

RRFP Cash Fares Can Be Higher

Senior RRFPMartin recently asked if King County Metro’s senior fares ought to be raised to the legal maximum of half the regular adult peak fare. I believe that the senior/disabilities fare should go up more than is currently planned in March 2015, but not when paying with ORCA product (e-purse or pass loaded on an ORCA card).

There has been some misconception that the various agencies participating in the Regional Reduced Fare Permit program cannot charge a higher senior/disabilities cash fare than the senior/disabilities ORCA fare, partially because the inter-local agreement that created the Regional Reduced Fare Permit in 1982 was written before ORCA was conceived, and partially because four parties to the RRFP agreement (Thurston Intercity, Mason, Jefferson, and Skagit Transit) are not participants in the ORCA project.

First, lets look at the actual language of the agreement

    Section 10: Regional Reduced Fare Permit Privileges:

Each of the parties shall honor valid Regional Reduced Fare Permits issued by any of the parties. This agreement does not attempt to standardize privileges among the parties. [author's emphasis] Time of day restrictions, transfer privileges, and cost of daily fares and monthly passes shall be set by the respective parties.

Now, about that edge case, where RRFP holders from non-ORCA counties take a trip to King County, and expect their RRFP to be honored. It would be, but at the slightly-higher cash rate. Or, they could load up ORCA product on-line or when they get to an ORCA vending machine, and get free inter-agency transfers for two hours, at least within the ORCA-ized agencies. Citing these very occasional trips when someone may get charged an extra quarter because they have a non-ORCA-ized RRFP (when, really, the rider is taking a much larger hit due to paying cash fares three or more times each way if they don’t use ORCA product) as a reason to not incentivize all RRFP holders to pay with ORCA product is just goofy. If anyone has a legitimate beef here, it is the RRFP-holders from the ORCA-ized counties whose loaded ORCA product is not being honored by the non-ORCA-ized agencies.

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Yes for Transit Campaign Kickoff Events this Week

This is a guest post.

Yes for BusesThe Yes for Transit campaign in support of this November’s Seattle Transit Proposition No. 1 is holding two volunteer events this week.  The campaign kickoff event is on Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Fado Irish Pub and, for those who can’t attend, the Transportation Choices Coalition is hosting a campaign volunteer happy hour at their office today at 4:30 p.m.

David Lawson covered the funding measure here earlier, but in short, it will protect King County Metro bus routes in Seattle from proposed service cuts by raising an estimated $45 million per year.  The funding sources are the same as in the failed countywide proposition earlier this year: replace the expiring $20 CRC annual vehicle fee with a $60 vehicle fee and increase the sales tax rate by 0.1%.

At both events transit supporters can learn about the campaign, donate and sign up as a volunteer.  It may be exhausting to gear up for yet another campaign to save buses, but it is critical to avoid the devastating cuts Metro has planned for 2015.  Seattle-only transportation measures have failed with voters in the past, so advocates should not be overconfident.

About Wednesday’s kickoff Rob Johnson of the Transportation Choices Coalition says:

Please join Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Transportation Choices and fellow Seattle transit supporters to celebrate the kick off of this important campaign!

There will be beverages to drink, appetizers to enjoy, and plans to be made to keep our transit system moving. And of course, invite your friends!

Details:

What:        TCC Volunteer Happy Hour
When:       Tuesday, September 16 at 4:30 p.m.
Where:     Transportation Choices Coalition, 219 1st Ave S., Suite 420, Seattle WA 98104

What:       Yes for Transit Campaign Kickoff
When:       Wednesday, September 17 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Where:     Fado Irish Pub, 801 1st Ave S., Seattle WA 98104

Living Without a Car

wikimedia

I imagine there are two possible reactions to Danny Westneat’s brief experiment ($) living without a car.

If you like the term “war on cars” – that is, you think every building and every inch of road space should be always available to single-occupancy vehicles – then your conclusion is that given the means to do otherwise, only fools would choose to rely solely on the bus. Redesigning our cities to encourage it is pointless.

Part of that sentiment is absolutely correct: given the current state of our transit system, few people with alternatives rely solely on transit. The system is far from comprehensive and almost never has a time incentive over driving. Moreover, government constantly intervenes to make parking and driving cheaper, reducing transit’s cost advantage. As a result, able and reasonably prosperous car-free people often use carshare services and bikes where convenient. If one can’t afford car2go and can’t bike, our political system doesn’t really care if it takes them an hour plus to go anywhere.

The alternative reaction to the piece, which requires either a little imagination or some experience of other cities, is that we’ve done a really poor job of providing people with good alternatives to owning a car. Reasonably direct walking paths, bike routes that won’t kill you, an easy-to-understand transit system with high frequency and adequate capacity to absorb demand*, and enough priority to often give transit a time advantage would create those alternatives.

Although such a world is beyond living memory for most people, people trying to get around will respond to incentives. Unless we’re pleased with huge amounts of space dedicated to storing cars, fouled air and water, dollars shipped out of Washington to oil producers, obesity, asthma, and the steady carnage of our roads, it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up. A nice start would be not making things any worse, by maintaining Metro service levels, and revolutionizing transit mobility by preparing for Sound Transit 3.

* which would address Mr. Westneat’s specific problem.

SDOT: Improvements at 1st/Denny to speed QA, Magnolia, Ballard routes

This is a guest post.

SDOT Blog announced more upcoming transit improvements around 1st/Denny. They will:

  • Add a signal phase that allows left turns to Denny from northbound 1st Avenue’s right-side bus lane. This will allow outbound Magnolia routes and Ballard expresses to use the bus lane all the way to the intersection instead of merging into the often congested general-purpose lanes to turn left. Details of the signal phase are not given, but there’s precedent for short, vehicle-actuated queue jump phases in similar situations throughout Seattle. The biggest question I have (as someone that doesn’t ride through here regularly) is whether more advanced detection is needed at this intersection, to check whether multiple buses need to get into the intersection. When the 44 bunches (or when the 44 and 16 go through 45th/Wallingford together) its queue-jump signal phases aren’t long enough for both buses to get through. When it’s two buses on the same route giving the first a head start doesn’t matter much (the second, emptier bus will catch back up to the loaded first bus within a few stops), but this turn serves five different routes.
  • Move the bus stop just after this left turn west, to make more room when multiple buses approach the stop. The need to do this suggests that multiple buses indeed go through the left turn together often.
  • Extend bus lane hours on northbound 1st approaching Denny. Currently it’s open for a few hours in the evening peak. A few hours in the morning peak will be added as well. This is good news as it helps out the D Line and all-day Queen Anne routes making counter-peak trips. It’s not quite the all-day bus lanes requested here, but it’s an incremental step.

Investments at this intersection suggest SDOT isn’t imminently planning to let northbound buses turn left from 3rd to Denny, for better or worse. I haven’t seen any exact dates, but the blog says “complete by fall 2014″.

Columbia City Developers Believe They Need the Parking

After completing most of the necessary steps with the City of Seattle, construction for a new apartment building in Columbia City is set to begin sometime in December.

“We’re finishing up our building permit application, the project is phased, and we’ve already got a permit for demolition,” said Chris Weber of BAR Architects, one of the firms in charge of this project. “It’s been a fairly typical building permit and application process.”

The new Columbia City development at 4730 32nd Ave South will have six buildings consisting of 244 apartment units. The apartment building is also expected to have a roof terrace, lounge, and a fitness center. Weber said the target date for the completion of construction is set to summer 2015.

Columbia City Map

With 215 parking spaces, 126 on the surface and 89 underground, the amount of parking is a major issue for a neighborhood with ambitions of being transit-friendly.

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Union Rejects Metro’s Wage Offer

Mike Lindblom has the details ($):

[Amalgamated Transit Union members] have overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer to freeze wages for 2014 and 2015, followed by an inflation-indexed raise in 2016.

The count by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 on Wednesday was 839 yes, 1,595 no — a pass rate of 34.5 percent — to oppose union leaders’ call to accept the offer.

The next step will likely be binding arbitration between the union and the county.

Although by law the union cannot strike, this is probably bad news for riders, as it may put further pressure on Metro’s budget. On the other hand, perhaps the signal that the County is driving a hard bargain with organized labor will appease at least some critics, easing the path to a more general funding solution.

As I’ve argued before, drivers are entirely justified in advocating for themselves, but it’s hard to argue that the interests of riders lie with them in these cases.

Link Excuse of the Week: Night Market & Autumn Moon Festival

nightmarketSaturday night, come down to International District/Chinatown Station for the CIDBIA’s Night Market & Autumn Moon Festival. From 6pm to midnight there will be over 40 food trucks and a Japanese Beer Garden at the station, there will be merchants and an all ages dance party. I’ve never been so I can’t say much more, but it should be a good time. Look out for the red bearded man with a monster truck sized stroller and say hi.

See past Link Excuses of the Week here.

July 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Where Does it Stop?

Aunty’s Wheel

Don’t get me wrong, I love good ridership news as much as the next transit nerd, but at some point the wheel has to slow down. July’s Link weekday ridership was 16.9% higher than July’s of 2013. 16.9%. And July 2013 was no weak month, it was 10.7% percent higher higher than July 2012.

I’m going to say December. Looking at my charts, December of last year was when Link’s ridership growth really started spiking. Up until that point growth was pretty consistently averaging between 10 and 11 percent. Since then it’s been 5 points higher. What’s your prediction?

July’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 37,354 / 32,873 / 27,135, growth of 16.9%, 0.1%, and 13.6% respectively over June 2013. Similar to June Saturday was low, however the weekend average still increased as a whole. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 8.9% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased 3.3%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 5.7%, with 22 out of 25 routes showing growth. System wide weekday boardings were up 9.2%, and all boardings were up 8.8%. The complete July Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the fold. [Read more...]

Constantine Pushes Agencies to Integrate and Innovate

Dow presser

Yesterday, Dow Constantine, King County Executive and chair of the Sound Transit Board, along with other regional officials, unveiled a high-level plan to improve integration between the region’s various transit agencies. The report covers a number of areas — station design, wayfinding, bus-train transfers, better trip planning and realtime arrival information through smart phones and displays — and the ideas there seem laudable. High-level political reports are less important for their details (which politicos usually just aren’t versed in) and more important for their sentiment, which tell staff and management which direction they should be heading with their work.

To me, though, the most interesting part are some of the ideas around network design, and there are more specifics here. Here’s a few, which stand out to me:

  • Consolidate the 36 and 49 to create a connection between SE Seattle and the UDistrict via Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Beacon Hill. Some variation on the theme of strong north-south transit service on 10th Ave/Broadway/Beacon Ave has been floating around in post-2016 concept networks and the SDOT Transit Master Plan for some years. A complete amalgamation all the way from the U-District to Othello seems to me like it might have reliability issues, but at any rate, it’s good to have the idea explicitly on the table.
  • Extend the 271 to Northgate via Maple Leaf and Roosevelt. This sounds, more or less, like connecting the 271 and 67, a variation on an idea I published once with the 48N and 271. Unsurprisingly, I think this is a great idea, although the 271 is currently infrequent on evenings and Sundays, so either 271 frequency would need to go up (an excellent idea, if expensive), or turnback trips would be needed, to provide full-time frequent service on the Roosevelt/Northgate corridor.
  • Possible Route 8 revision to connect uptown, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill and Madison Valley. This sounds like extending the 8 to service the 11 alignment in the Madison Valley. When Denny is uncongested, this will work amazingly well, but Denny is a disaster on most weekdays. I want to like this idea, but it will need to be coupled with changes in SLU, or with some other way to make sure Denny’s unreliability doesn’t ruin Madison Valley service the way it’s ruining Rainier Valley service today.
  • Provide opportunity to connect Link riders to South Lake Union and First Hill. This sounds like what the two streetcars we’ve built are supposed to do.
  • Restructure commuter service from East King County — routes 252, 255, 257, 268 and 311  — with ST Express Route 545. Could be good, but we’d have to see what the details are.
  • Extend some commuter service beyond U District to other areas such as South Lake Union or Fremont. The South Lake Union idea is excellent. The future 520 west-side reversible HOV ramp seems like a great way to provide great peak bus service to SLU from the Eastside, avoiding a three seat bus-U Link-streetcar ride that won’t compete well with driving. I’m less sure about Fremont — there’s no good way* to get between the U-District and Fremont in the peak without hitting a wall of cars somewhere.
  • Create better connections to U District and Link light rail service at University of Washington station for Laurelhurst, Sand Point and Ravenna. Good sentiment, but other than Childrens Hospital, not sure I’d consider Laurelhurst much of a priority.

Sadly absent are ideas about infill stations along the existing light rail segment, or about converting any of the “potential stations” on the Lynnwood Link alignment, notably at 130th St in Seattle, and 220th St in Lynnwood, into actual stations. Each one of these, while expensive, would offer significant access and connectivity improvements for local transit riders.

Discuss!

* Well, there is, if you can ride a bike.

News Roundup: Welcome

First Hill Streetcar Trams under Construction

This is an open thread.

Amtrak Cascades Ridership By City Pair

When I last wrote to argue for express service on Amtrak Cascades, I used revenue by city pair because that was the best data to which I had access at the time. As I noted in the post, using city pair revenue as the basis for analysis was suboptimal, both because it unnecessarily privileged longer trips and also because it is vulnerable to distortions due to Cascades’ dynamic pricing. Ridership data would have been a more intuitive and human-focused metric, favoring “How many people travel between x and y every day?” as opposed to “How much revenue did trips between x and y generate?”.

Responding to the previous post, WSDOT graciously sent ridership data between all city pairs, allowing such a comparison to be made.

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WSDOT Data

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The Senior Fare is Forever

U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Census Bureau

Now that a low-income fare is coming, it’s a valid question whether having a separate senior fare is defensible on social justice grounds. After all, seniors are the richest segment of society (see chart above) for all income quintiles, and the low income fare should handle any seniors who are truly in need. It’s hard to see why working adults should have to pay $2.25 and up for themselves and $1.25 for children while the senior fare remains locked at 75 cents.

Of course, seniors are a reliable voting block, but that’s an explanation, not a defense. Many businesses practice price discrimination to capture varying willingness to pay, including among seniors, so perhaps there’s business logic to the concept, if not the precise level. A better defense, at least from the perspective of local transit agencies, is Federal Transit Administration guidance:

For fixed route service supported with Section 5307 assistance, fares charged elderly persons, persons with disabilities or an individual presenting a Medicare card during off peak hours will not be more than half the peak hour fare.

So there is some capacity for the County to raise the Senior Fare, but not to bring it in line with what other adults pay. It’s notable that the first fare increase in the low-income fare era also inched up the senior fare, a process that if continued would bring it in line with the statutory maximum. This frees more revenue to either stabilize the low-income fare or buy more service.

Sounder to Remaining Mariners’ Sunday Games; Convergence with Sounders Friday

Author’s Note: The title of the article has been changed. The author apologizes for any unnecessary confusion and alarm caused by the original title.

Sounder MarinersDue to popular demand, and the fact that the Mariners are in contention for the playoffs, Sounder will be serving the remaining Sunday games, September 14th and 28th.

But first, there will be an unfortunate scheduling convergence: The Mariners and Sounders will be playing at home simultaneously, 7 pm Friday evening. The two events combined could eclipse last Thursday’s Seahawks attendance. Thanks to Matt for pointing out the scheduling convergence collision course.

ST Express Minor Service Changes

ST Express 522 at UW Bothell (Photo by Oran)

ST Express 522 at UW Bothell (Photo by Oran)

While the schedules for all of Sound Transit’s trains and streetcars will remain unchanged with the September 27 service change, a few of the ST Express bus routes will have schedule tweaks, with only weekday service impacted. The new schedule books can now be found on Sound Transit vehicles.

Route 522 will have some northbound runs terminate at UW Bothell for the first time, balancing out the morning runs that were already starting at UW Bothell. The impacted runs are every other afternoon peak-direction run starting from 6th and Atlantic from 4:22 pm to 5:55 pm. This will help enable the addition of a morning and afternoon peak-direction run.

Route 555 will have two new mid-morning runs leaving Northgate TC at 8:49 and 9:24, terminating at Bellevue TC. Previously, all 555s continued on to Issaquah Highlands P&R.

Route 590 is losing its first morning southbound run, which is being converted to a 594 run which will go to DuPont Station instead of Commerce St. The first morning run of route 590 will now be departing Eastlake and Stewart at 6:00 am.

Route 592 will have both of its morning counter-peak runs from Seattle to DuPont Station eliminated. Also, morning service from Olympia will be starting a half hour later (4:42), and ending a half hour later (last bus departing Olympia TC at 7:12).

Route 594 will have one of its evening northbound runs start from DuPont Station at 4:44 pm, and its first morning southbound run continue to DuPont Station, leaving Eastlake and Stewart at 5:30 am and arriving at 7:12 am.

Jarrett Walker’s Network Design Course Returns to Portland

Next month, noted transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker is hosting another session of his firm’s Transit Network Design course in Portland:

“Transit Network Design: an Interactive Short Course” is designed to give anyone a grasp of how network design works, so that they can form more confident and resilient opinions about transit proposals.

The course is ideal for people who interact with transit planning in their work but don’t necessarily do it themselves — including land use planners, urban designers, developers, traffic engineers, sustainability advocates, transit employees of all kinds, and people who work on transportation or urban policy generally. Advocates who want to be more realistic and effective will also find the course valuable, especially as a companion to my book Human Transit.

Jarrett’s firm consulted on Seattle’s previous Transit Master Plan, which first outlined the goal of a citywide frequent-service Urban Village Transit Network; on Spokane’s 1998 transit network redesign, which dramatically rethought a failing streetcar-era radial network; and Bellevue’s recently-adopted Transit Master Plan, which promises to do similarly for that city. If you regularly ride transit in Washington, you’ve almost certainly benefited, directly or indirectly, from the clarity of thought Jarrett’s work has injected into contemporary service planning, and if you want to go from reading about this stuff to really understanding it, taking this class is the fastest way.

City to Enact Changes in Paid Street Parking

To improve accessibility of on-street paid parking in the city, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is looking to make minor adjustments to the prices, paid hours, and time limits for Fall 2014.

SDOT published the 2014 version of the annual paid parking occupancy report earlier this month, which showed the occupancy rate and the Fall 2014 changes of on-street paid parking areas in core and peripheral areas of Seattle neighborhoods. The data collection effort is part of the Performance-Based Parking Pricing program that was established by the city in 2010.

Current Parking Rates

“Doing this data collection allows us to know if adjustments are needed,” said SDOT’s senior transportation planner Jonathan Williams.

The report explained that SDOT makes these adjustments in rates, time limits and paid hours as means of helping customers find parking within walking distance of their destinations and to increase access to businesses by ensuring turnover of parked cars.

SDOT bases its assessments of occupancy on whether or not the parking areas were between 70 to 85 percent of capacity. Areas that were five percent over or under the range were included in the watch list, meaning the adjustments will wait for at least another year. Occupancy rates below 65 percent mean SDOT will consider lowering rates, splitting the zone into subareas, and increasing time limits, while rates above 90 percent will lead to decreases in time limits and increases in prices.

“It’s a constantly evolving process,” Williams said. “We’ll adjust in 50 cent increments, which is not a really big change. We’re going to count these [occupancy data] every year, and if it’s above or below target, we’ll make these changes.”

Williams added that in addition to changing the prices, hours, and time limits, SDOT in the past has encouraged drivers to seek parking in the city’s edges or “periphery” areas, rather than the neighborhood’s core areas. He recalled an example from 2010 when the entire Ballard neighborhood was struggling to reach its target zone with 61 percent occupancy rate, despite having extremely full spaces in the area’s busiest blocks.

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