Transit: Up All Night

This is a guest post.

Photo by Oran

Photo by Oran

Most people think of Seattle as a world class, major city. Major cities have 24-hour transit service, as should Seattle. There is limited overnight service, with the Owl routes (82, 83, 84) being understandably derided because they are the most confusing. With the new hours from Proposition 1—approximately 230,000 annual service hours are left after the June improvements are implemented—we have a chance to accomplish this for the people who keep odd hours. My bias for evening and night trips is showing because I’m one of those people; this post is actually being submitted at around 4am.

Why do this?

As Mike Orr points out, transit use increases when it can cover more trips and more types of trips. Right now, our transit system is pretty good at covering regular commuting hours and trips taken while the sun is usually up. Service drops dramatically in most corridors after 7pm and especially late night. This is also the first type of service to take a hit when cuts are proposed since the “bang for the buck” in the reclaimed service hours is quite high when shifted to daytime service.

However, if we are to have “the best bus service we’ve ever had in Seattle,” ($) night service should be one of the first things to come back and be enhanced. Lots of workers are employed during these odd hours and we can accomplish a lot of trip diversions by giving them the tools to get to and from work. Other trips for activities in the evening and night periods can be made attractive to do via transit and without having to rely on an overpriced taxi or a potentially-surcharged rideshare company.

What to do?

In considering which routes to extend to 24-hour service, I looked at routes that meet these criteria:

  • Their span of service ends, at a minimum, around midnight. This is to avoid having to extend service beyond a few trips and because the routes with later service already tend to serve denser areas.
  • The route can simply have more trips added without having to divert in the middle of the night. By doing this, the confusing mess that are the existing Owls is avoided. (There are two exceptions below.)
  • Cover as much of the city as possible, with special emphasis on getting more service north of 85th Street, which is where the current Owls (except D line) end, and cross-town routes to avoid everybody having to go downtown.
  • Look solely at routes that can be paid for by Prop 1. This means no overnight service on routes like 255, 545, or 550 is discussed here.

Half-hourly service would be much better, but given that service hours are difficult to calculate, this proposal is cautious. If we have the hours, half-hourly trips would be much more convenient.

What routes?

[Read more…]

Low-Income Fares Coming to Streetcars and Foot Ferries

March 1, 2015In addition to the low-income fare program that has been in place in Kitsap Transit since 1985, the new low-income fare program for King County Metro Transit that will take effect March 1, 2015, and the low-income fare that will take effect on Central Link Light Rail on March 1, Seattle Streetcar and King County Ferries are jumping on the low-income fare bandwagon. Per Rochelle Ogershok, King County Department of Transportation spokeswoman:

As of March 1, a low income fare of $1.50 will take effect on both the South Lake Union Street Car and Link Light Rail. These low-income fares will be the same as Metro’s, as will be the reduced fares for Youth and Senior/Disabled riders. The King County Water Taxi will also implement a low income fare as of 3/1/15. The low-income fare will be $3.00 for W. Seattle and $3.75 for Vashon.

[Read more…]

News Roundup: Earth, Wind, and Fire


The Sounder

This is an open thread.

Gov. Inslee Unveils His Transportation Plan


Yesterday Governor Inslee released the transportation plan that he will ask the legislature to pass next session.

The twelve-year program would spend a total of $12.1 billion on the following:

  • $2.6 billion for “Maintenance, Operations, and Preservation,” most notably bringing all bridges and highways to “95% fair or better” condition. Almost half goes to the ferry system or the State Patrol.
  • $2.2 billion for “Clean Transportation and Multimodal,” including about $802m in various transit grants, $150m in bike and pedestrian grants, and lots of money for electric vehicle incentives and various water quality initiatives like culverts.
  • $5.9 billion in “New Construction,” over 99% of which will go to new highway capacity in places like SR520, I-405, SR509, SR167, and US 395 in Spokane.
  • $1.4 billion is miscellaneous “local distributions” and, mostly, debt service.

But that isn’t the interesting part. There is no gas tax in this proposal, replacing it instead with a “carbon pollution fee” among myriad smaller revenue sources. Avoiding gas taxes also avoids the putative constitutional restrictions on gas taxes, opening the door for more direct state spending on transit.

Unfortunately, the budget passes up that opportunity by proposing transit funding levels not out of line with historical levels. Despite the lack of funding, there is significant new revenue authorization for transit. Most importantly, the Inslee plan fulfills the Sound Transit Board’s request for more authority, clearing the path for Sound Transit 3 via some combination of property tax, sales tax, and MVET. There is also a renewal of Metro’s expired “Congestion Reduction Charge” ($20 license fee) authority, but only through 2018. Community Transit would get much-needed additional permanent sales tax authority, and the license fee that Transportation Benefit Districts can implement without a public vote would increase from $20 to $40.

How an environmental and transit advocate feels about this program probably depends on their relative assessment of the damage of new highway capacity vs. the merits of the transit authority and the directly pollution-attacking revenue source. Personally, I think this is miles ahead of the totally unacceptable House Democratic package from last year, which didn’t have ST3 and spent much more on new highways without fully funding maintenance.

My immediate reaction is that this would be a decent compromise to come out of the sausage machine next session. Unfortunately, it may be the opening bid, positioned as the “left wing” proposal with negligible state funding of transit, a persistent emphasis on more highways, and no permanent solution for Metro. The document seems to recognize this, labeling itself as a “good-faith compromise to spark action.” We can only hope that a majority of legislators view it in the same light.

“Seat Hog” Ad Campaign Coming

One of the advantages of actual rail transit over actual bus transit* (in this region) is that minor anti-social rider behaviors tend to be merely annoying, rather than actually impairing operations. So on the list of behaviors to fix, David Lawson’s opus on how to ride a bus remains the must-read, and some more emphasis on avoiding the front door at busy stops would help a lot.

On the other hand, I’m spending a lot more time on Link than on buses these days, so I’m all for this new ad campaign. The space under the seat is criminally underutilized on crowded Link trains.

* as opposed to theoretical bus transit, which is always awesome and never has to make compromises.

City Council Steps Toward Monorail ORCA Integration, White Center Annexation

The Seattle City Council voted Monday to take the first steps toward integrating the monorail into the ORCA pod, and annexing the unincorporated North Highline area, including parts of White Center and Boulevard Park.

Unincorporated North Highline

Unincorporated North Highline

The City of Seattle had previously deferred to the City of Burien on annexing the North Highline area, but residents voted down Burien annexation in 2012. The Seattle City Council was enticed to action by a state sales tax incentive program worth $5 million for 10 years, that would expire if the City didn’t take an initial action of intent by the end of the year. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen described the resolution as a “placeholder”, in case the City decided to move forward with annexation. The council passed the resolution 8-0. Annexation doesn’t quite solve the Route 120 problem but it gets us closer. The earliest White Center could vote on being annexed by Seattle would be 2016. White Center Now has more in-depth coverage.

Thom Ditty, General Manager, Seattle Monorail Services

Thom Ditty,
General Manager,
Seattle Monorail Services

The council also passed the bill containing the substitute version of the monorail concession contract, which was made available Friday, between the City and Seattle Monorail Services, 8-0. Thom Ditty, General Manager of Seattle Monorail Services, proclaimed that the new contract “puts the City in the driver’s seat on the ORCA pass.” Councilmember O’Brien asked the resolution sponsor, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, whether it was his intent to include transfers and passes in the ORCA integration. Rasmussen repeated his previous refrain that he wanted the fare system to be “as convenient as possible, in all possible ways”.

Rasmussen explained why the study called for in the resolution wouldn’t be due until the end of the second quarter in 2015: The monorail needs a sponsor among the seven member agencies of the ORCA Joint Board, and the support of the rest, in order to participate as an affiliate.

The section added Friday in the contract contains a fallback plan in case the study shows fare integration to be a money loser for Seattle Monorail Services: The City and SMS can negotiate mitigation, and if negotiations fail that terminates the contract.

In a final charm offensive, the SMS team had in tow Kelly Pearson, Chief Development Officer of Wellspring Family Services, who lauded SMS for being Wellspring’s charitable partner for the past two years, increasing Give Big Campaign donations by 45%.

Regarding the last-minute effort to get ORCA into the contract, Ditty said, “I’m glad it happened. I expect both ridership and revenue will increase.”

Wanted: A Pioneer Square Bus Layover Facility


In the wonky discourse around Seattle transit, there are plenty of good ideas floating around for small transit projects that could incrementally improve service quality, and there are also some good ideas and lots of enthusiasm for large projects that would radically improve transit in the city, but there are very few which lay out how an agency could spend, say, ten million dollars, to save more than a million dollars a year, indefinitely into the future. With sales tax revenues slowly recovering, and Seattle newly in the business of large-scale service purchases, I’d like to propose — or, rather, revive — just such a concept.

Here’s the problem: when designing routes that connect north Seattle to downtown, Metro planners have to do something with the bus at the south end of downtown. Their options are:

  • Continue on as a different route to the south (“through-route”). This is the option Metro historically favored: it’s the cheapest, and because much of Metro’s network, until recently, revolved around infrequent routes, it provided crosstown connections that would otherwise have been unwieldy. The price of through-routing, though, is unreliability, and which has only become worse as the city center has grown impressively in both jobs and congestion. Examples of through-routes include RapidRide C and D, and Routes 5 and 21 — and most riders of both pairs of routes would benefit dramatically from them being split.
  • Deadhead the bus back to a base in SoDo. This is the option of last resort: it costs about fifteen minutes of service time per round trip to get a bus back and forth between Pioneer Square and SoDo, and riders get no benefit for that time and diesel. A base deadhead is more reliable than a through-route, but buses are still at the mercy of stadium and I-90 traffic. As far as I know, the only Metro route that does this is Route 40.
  • Lay over on-street in Pioneer Square. The operationally preferable choice is to park the bus as close as possible to the stop where it goes out of service. The disadvantage of this approach is most apparent to the neighborhood: buses consume much of the curb space in Pioneer Square, which merchants and residents would much prefer to see used for car parking, parklets, bikeshare — basically anything other than out-of-service buses. The available street space for on-street layover appears to be exhausted, and in fact the Pioneer Square neighborhood association has been effective at lobbying SDOT and Metro to remove some layover spots. RapidRide E is the most prominent route that still lays over near this area.

There’s a solution, although I can’t take credit for it — it’s been knocking around among Seattle transit professionals for years, and even made it into Metro’s capital plan, before being axed in the doldrums of the recession. A block of land, today mostly occupied by surface parking lots, at the boundary of Pioneer Square and the International District, sits atop the tunnel portal at the north of International District Station. To protect the tunnel and station structures, it’s restricted from high-rise development — only six-story, mostly-wood-frame structures are possible, like the Hirabyashi Place affordable housing development underway on the southwest corner of the block.

Here’s the idea: buy the eastern half of this block, and build a combined bus layover and affordable housing facility on it. The transit functionality of this building would occupy only the ground floor — it would be like a one-story, covered parking lot, but with numbered lanes for spaces, and possibly trolleybus overhead mounted to the roof. Upper floors of the building would be affordable housing, presumably built in partnership with Seattle Housing Authority. All-day routes that deadhead to SoDo, or lay over in Pioneer Square, would move into this facility — RapidRide E, Routes 40 and 70, possibly Route 16, and a split RapidRide D being the obvious initial candidates.

More after the jump. [Read more…]

Winter Service Reductions Start Next Week

UW winterWith University of Washington classes out next week, be prepared for service reductions on several King County Metro routes, including routes 31, 32, 48, 65, 67, 68, 75, 167, 197, 271, 277, 372, and 373. Metro will be running the “No UW” schedule (or as I will call it in the chart, “Less UW”) on weekdays from December 15, 2014 to January 2, 2015. Service levels will drop further, affecting many more routes, December 24 – January 2.

The full list of holiday service levels is below the fold. [Read more…]

Monorail Contract Up for Passage Monday

Fill 'er Up

Fill ‘er Up

As planned, the full Seattle City Council will be voting Monday on the 10-year contract for Seattle Monorail Services to operate the Seattle Center Monorail.

The council meeting starts at 2 pm. The contract is item 53 on the agenda.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, planned to present amendments to bring about the monorail’s integration into the ORCA system, after three months of feasibility study. At this time, the amendments are not yet publicly available, but we will post them here when they do become available.

The Blog has covered this issue here, here, and here.

We have received a number of questions regarding how ORCA revenue is distributed among the transit agencies. Oran’s primer on that process is here.


A substitute proposal is now available to the public.

The substitute bill contains a new Section 4:

Section 4. The Director shall deliver to the Mayor’s Office and the Seattle City Council an analysis of and possible proposal for utilizing the One Regional Card for All (“ORCA”) card as a method of fare payment on the Seattle Monorail before the end of the second quarter of 2015.

On page 27 of the substitute proposal, new verbage is added to the proposed contract language under XI.F.3. (Fare Collection):

The City may require the Concessionaire to utilize the One Regional Card for All (“ORCA”) smart card as a fare payment method. If the ORCA card is utilized and use of the card is found to have a material and adverse operating and/or financial impact, the Concessionaire and the City will enter into good faith negotiations to reasonably address the impact by amendment of the Agreement. In the event the City and the Concessionaire do not reach agreement, the Concessionaire may terminate this Agreement by providing written notice thereof to the City with the effective date of the termination being no less than one (1) year after the written notice. The Minimum Fee for the period from January 1 of the calendar year in which the notice of termination is given to the date of the written notice of termination shall be prorated based on the prior calendar year’s ridership for the same time period. The Minimum Fee shall not be in effect as of the date of written notice of termination.

October 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – What’s the Ugly?

Oct14WeekdayMovingAvgChangeThe bad news: October saw the lowest percentage growth in Link ridership in the past year and half. The good news is that still translates to 6.8% growth with an additional 2,079 weekday boardings compared to October 2013.

Octobers’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 32,502 / 22,138 / 19,761, growth of 6.8%, 5.1%, and -11.0% respectively compared to October 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 15.9% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership decreased 0.6%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.4%. System wide weekday boardings were up 7.9%, and all boardings were up 7.0%. The complete October Ridership Summary is here.

My charts below the fold. [Read more…]

ORCA Revenue Per Boarding

ORCA on the monorail:  a winning bet?

ORCA on the monorail: a winning bet?

With the City getting ready to study the costs and benefits of integrating the Seattle Center Monorail into the ORCA fare and pass system used by eight local transit agencies, a look at some ORCA use and revenue data is in order.

The 3rd Quarter ORCA Joint Board Program Management Report breaks down revenue and boardings by pass type, for the months of July through September. For purposes of math, I simply took the summations for the three months.

Product Type Revenue Boardings Revenue Per Boarding
Business Passport $23,434,997 11,211,971 $2.09
Regional Pass $11,649,456 7,606,026 $1.53
Agency Product $1,791,258 962,798 $1.86
E-Purse $13,740,147 7,571,423 $1.81
Total $50,615,858 27,352,218 $1.85

The monorail has annual ridership a little over 2,000,000 and revenue a little over $4,000,000, coming out to $2 revenue per ride.

What would happen if the monorail started accepting ORCA, inter-agency transfers, and passes?

If every monorail rider were to start using ORCA (just for the sake of worst-case argument), the monorail got the typical distribution of $1.85 per ORCA tap, and zero new monorail riders came forth, the monorail would lose $300,000 of its annual profit. If just 163,000 new annual boardings end up being added, the monorail would break even on ORCAzation. If ridership doubled, the monorail’s profit would increase by $3,400,000.

Let’s assume something even worse: Every monorail rider becomes an ORCA regional pass user, and the monorail only gets $1.53 distributed to it for each ORCA tap. If zero new riders came forth, the monorail’s profit would go down by $940,000 annually. The break-even point would be 615,000 new riders. If ridership doubled, the monorail would pull in $2,120,000 of new annual revenue.

It is hard to envision a scenario coming to pass in which the monorail doesn’t make a windfall off of ORCAzation.

News Roundup: That Sinking Feeling

This is an open thread.

SDOT Proposes 9th Ave Bus Lane

9th Ave Bus Lane Map

9th Ave Bus Lane Map

Just under a year ago, I wrote a post suggesting that SDOT install a southbound bus lane or queue jump, on 9th Ave just north of Mercer, to help keep Metro Route 40 out of the press of car traffic headed to Mercer and I-5. I’m very happy to report that SDOT is now planning to do something very like what I proposed (minus the bike facility I had suggested), as shown on the map above:

The Seattle Department of Transportation is planning to install the following changes on 9th Avenue between Westlake Avenue and Roy Street:

  • Install a new southbound bus lane on 9th Avenue between Westlake Avenue and Roy Street;
  • Restrict on-street parking on the west side of 9th Avenue N between Westlake Avenue and Roy Street between 6 -9 am and 3-7 pm;
  • Remove restriction to on-street parking on the east side of 9th Avenue N between Westlake Avenue and Roy Street.

This project is part of the City’s efforts to relieve South Lake Union traffic chokepoints. General purpose traffic currently stacks up during both peaks, creating several minutes of delays to Metro Route 40, the primary bus line between Fremont, Ballard, and South Lake Union.

Changes on 9th Avenue N are scheduled to be installed before the end of December, weather permitting.

Assuming this bus lane is adequately enforced, this change should save Route 40 riders at least one signal cycle crossing Mercer in the peak periods. Riding the 40 southbound in the PM peak, I find it mortifying to be stuck on a motionless bus, while half a dozen cars are parked just to the right, squandering precious street space. Props to SDOT for getting this done; let’s have more like this.

Dembowski on Governance Reform

On Dec. 3 the King County Council was discussing its 2015 legislative agenda when District 1 representative Rod Dembowski brought up a harrowing prospect (a scrollable video is here) . Citing the “historic and continuing lack of representation on the Sound Transit Board of Directors” for the North King cities he represents, Mr. Dembowski stated “I know that there will be probably action with respect to Governance Reform in the legislature ties to proposals for Sound Transit 3.” He wanted to know the County’s official position on this issue.

County Director of Govt. Relations Rachel Smith, speaking on behalf of the Executive, answered that “The Executive supports the current construct of the Sound Transit Board and would not be in favor of any governance changes.”

Mr. Dembowski didn’t take that as an answer, continuing to implore the Council to consider its response.

In a later email to me, Dembowski clarified he “did not ‘support governance reform’ at Sound Transit,” saying he was merely “aimed at being ready to respond when those issues arise in Olympia,” and ” that elected leaders in the north will look at ‘governance reform’ if they continue to be left out.” He declined an opportunity to name specific city officials or legislators.

Rail advocates have usually looked at governance reform, rightly, as a way to fundamentally redirect a Sound Transit Board that most advocates believe is doing basically the right thing. The precise proposals vary — from incorporating roads into the mission, to a directly elected board — but at STB we’ve argued against it here, here, here, here, here, and perhaps most notably here. If finding a spot for the Mayor of Shoreline, for example, heads this off, that would be worthwhile.

As PubliCola points out, with four of Dembowski’s Council colleagues on the board, and Dow Constantine controlling 10 of the 18 appointments to the board, this idea will not find fertile ground at the County.

Action Alert: Speed Up RapidRide C Tonight

Map of Proposed C Line Change, near Alaska Junction

Proposed C Line Change

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition will engage with SDOT Engineer Jonathan Dong over the plan to straighten RapidRide C’s path through the Alaska Junction and therefore speed it up.

Neighborhood House Highpoint Center

6400 Sylvan Way SW, Seattle, Washington 98126


Bruce reported on this proposal last month, and the comment thread revealed a fair amount of resistance to this simple idea. Anyhow, if you are a C rider who would like the trip to be faster, you must help win many of these micro-battles. I encourage you to interact with your neighbors and express your opinion.

Will Route 120 Be the First Test of Prop 1’s 80/20 Rule?

King County Metro 120 and 132 in Belltown

King County Metro 120 and 132 in Belltown

In the wake of Prop 1’s passage, the City of Seattle finds itself in a position to purchase more bus service. For some bus routes, however, that may be easier said than done.

Consider the 120. Serving White Center and West Seattle along Delridge Way, it claims 7,000 riders in a largely transit-dependent part of town and serves one of 15 designated bus priority corridors in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan. As one of the city’s 10 busiest routes, it would be a good candidate for RapidRide treatment someday.

Despite its popularity, the 120 drops to half-hourly service in the evenings and on Sundays, and would probably benefit from the supplemental funding enabled by the recently-passed Prop. 1. However, since more than 20% of the route’s stops are outside the city limits, the 120 is technically ineligible for Prop. 1 money. This has caused some legitimate concern from West Seattle residents:

If the City of Seattle would like to improve service on the 120, they have a few options:

  1. Create a “short turn” version of the route that doesn’t stray too far from the city line. Some trips would end at the Burien Transit Center and others end closer to Seattle (possibly at the layover space at 15th Ave SW and SW Roxbury in White Center)
  2. Find a way to use some of the $3M in Prop. 1 “regional partnership” funds to partner with Burien or the County, though it’s not clear that additional service on the 120 is the highest priority for those funds
  3. Convince Burien to provide matching funds for the rest of the route
  4. Annex White Center (!)

Of all of these, the first is probably the most straightforward. Burien City Manager Kamuron Gurol told me via email that his constituents had not expressed significant desire for more service on the 120, but were instead focused on the potential loss of service on the commuter express routes 121 and 122, both of which were spared the axe in the recently-improved budget.

A shortened 120 is not optimal. Even setting aside potential rider confusion, a 120 that terminated at, say, Westwood Village would be roughly 1/3 shorter than the normal 120. Nonetheless, it may be the path of least resistance for providing more frequent service between the Delridge area and Downtown.

And thus we get our first lesson in the interesting budget and planning games that will start to happen in the wake of Prop. 1. The chess board just got a little more complicated.

Mercer Island Station Shows How Bus-Rail Connections Ought to Work


Mercer Island Transitway Concept

Sound Transit recently held an open house on Mercer Island to discuss some updates to the Mercer Island Link station. I wasn’t able to attend, but the materials are available online.

The meeting focused on two updates to the station design for riders arriving by car or by bus. First, ST is considering a second parking lot near the community center to handle overflow traffic from the always-packed Mercer Island park-and-ride. Many Mercer Island residents have been adamant that they will only use the station if they are given ample, free parking, and ST is working to find ways to accommodate them.

Second, staff showed a new concept for handling buses. We’ve known for a while that Sound Transit plans to remove the bus ramps at I-90 and Rainier, meaning that all Seattle-bound riders in the I-90 corridor will be transferred to Link, either at Mercer Island or South Bellevue. Therefore it’s important that the bus connection at those stations is as painless as possible (see Adam’s posts here and here for more on good and bad bus-rail transfers).

Previous concepts for bus transfers at MIS involved a loop through the neighborhood before returning to I-90, not too different from today’s configuration.  Neighborhood feedback sent those concepts back to the drawing board, and everyone is better off for it.  Since buses will no longer continue on to Seattle, the whole configuration can be rethought around the new goal of providing a great transfer experience. The latest setup converts 80th Ave, which straddles the freeway and is adjacent to the Link station, into a transitway. Buses will exit the Westbound HOV lane, drop passengers off in front of the station, and get right back on the freeway going the other way, like a bucket brigade. Riders will be deposited directly atop the escalator for the Link station. This should make for very smooth bus-rail connections.  By planning for the connection at this early stage, Sound Transit has created a much improved rider experience.

So will all existing I-90 buses take advantage of this new transitway? It’s not clear yet. The diagram above mentions two lines in particular, ST 554 and Metro 216. I asked Metro’s Jeff Switzer why those routes were singled out, since there are many more that will be affected when buses no longer go past Mercer Island, and he said that while “the legend does not accurately reflect the specific routes” and would be corrected, Metro consulted with ST to provide low- and high-end estimates for the number of buses that would serve the station into the future. In other words, the service concept was vetted against current and future demand, but the routes themselves are still TBD.

Switzer added that no decisions have been made with respect to specific service changes on I-90 once East Link opens, and that a robust public outreach process would be included as the opening day got closer. One can imagines a similar process to the recent ST/Metro U-Link workshops occurring sometime around 2020.  This will be a great opportunity to re-think the Eastside network all-up.  If one-seat rides into Seattle are no longer be possible via I-90, those buses might be re-configured as all-day connectors to Link stations and other regional destinations, providing enhanced regional mobility.