Legislature Poisons, Steamrolls Transit Funding

[Update: Chopp may be reconsidering, there could yet be support for the Liias amendment if he gets enough pressure. Please call him – that’s on SB 6774! The bill we need calls to Gregoire on is SB 6381 – we want her to veto the “private provider” provision.]

Sources in Olympia tell us that transit is under attack in the legislature right now on two fronts – as usual. Today, though, there’s at least something we can do!

First, we understand that Mary Margaret Haugen attached a requirement to regional mobility grant funding – transit agencies would only be eligible for these grants if they provide access to their facilities for private transit operators (airport shuttles, limousines, etc.), under a “pilot project”.

Transit champion Rep. Simpson submitted seven different amendments to try to straighten things out – from requiring FTA approval (PDF), all the way to renaming the requirement the “The Legislature Forces Public Transit Providers to Convert Publicly Purchased Infrastructure into Private Property or Risk Losing State Grants and the Gift of Public Funds Pilot Project.” Of his amendments, two passed, but neither removed the teeth of the requirements. The bill’s headed to the Governor.

Given that the federal transit administration has already pointed out significant problems with the state’s plan, it would be a good step for the Governor to veto the private operator provision – and we’re hearing that with enough pressure, that could be a possibility. If you want to help, call her office at 360-902-4111 and urge her to veto the private transit provider provision in the transportation budget!

In addition, Representative Liias’ amendment to provide emergency funding for Community Transit and Pierce Transit is almost dead. Even with TCC, Futurewise, Pierce Transit and the ATU fighting for it, the Senate voted against concurring with the House transportation funding bill it’s attached to, requesting that the House “recede from” (remove) the amendment.

This means the transportation funding bill will go into conference committee, and we’re hearing Liias may be forced to remove the amendment, under pressure from Haugen. Either Chopp or Clibborn (especially Chopp) could step forward to ask House Democrats to defend the funding amendment. It’s frustrating to hear from a representative that they’re supportive of transit, but see no evidence of that in their actions.

So in addition to calling the Governor, your other action item today could be calling or emailing Speaker Chopp’s office to let him know you want Liias’ transit funding amendment on SB 6774 saved! Chopp’s office phone is 360-786-7920, and he’s chopp.frank@leg.wa.gov.

Comments

  1. Charles says

    Seems we should also be digging up dirt on this Haugen [deleted, rude] and launching a political jihad of biblical proportions against her re-election. (is that enough hyperbole for one post?)

    I really don’t like politicians that are so blatantly corrupted to the point that they willfully muck up existing infrastructure and plans to further private interests.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      I don’t know that she plans to run again. She’s not up until 2012, at the very least.

      I think it’s going to be more about letting her allies know that they won’t get anything if they support her package next year.

      • Charles says

        Sorry for the [rude] comment. Must be the Chicago way. I have to remember not to honk at people when I visit. ;-)

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        You’re fine. As bad on transit as Haugen is, we just don’t have to go there. :)

  2. elBee says

    What is wrong with allowing private firms access to the facilities? Creating a strict “public transit or no transit” dichotomy seems to be more of a ideology than a solution to transport problems.

    • Erik G. says

      You’d have to refund a ton of $$$ to the Feds. And what private firms will be “qualified”; the STB 1969 Ford Country Squire? It seats 10!

      • says

        I’d think Microsoft Connector, Greyhound, Charter buses to sporting events would all qualify. If you’ve got a commercial license to carry passengers for hire then the STB Woodie would qualify. The bill may not be well written but the idea of interconnecting public and private transportation options is sound.

      • Adam B. Parast says

        Yes but the is the issue. This only works if the legislation is well crafted, which it is not.

      • Z says

        There are ways to make the existing idea work, however they are in no way optimal. Ideally, if you were serious you’d involve the WUTC who has regulatory capasity over auto transportation carriers, local transit agencies, etc to establish “bus stations” in cities that would serve as the connecting point inbetween local and intercity carriers. the WUTC would be the big stick in making sure the auto transportation carriers abide by the rules and regulations.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      elBee, I think you should read our previous coverage on the issue.

      1) This wouldn’t be “as appropriate”. It would be “by default, any private transit user can use this facility, without the operations training necessary to do it safely.”

      2) We used public funds to create these facilities. Handing them to private users would just create a messy subsidy.

      • says

        If you simply tell private operators that they can use a park & ride and not have a system to integrate their coaches, it can create chaos.

        The Microsoft Connector buses used to drive me nuts by pulling into their bay near the entrance of Overlake Transit Center. They would frequently hang their butt end out onto 156th making it impossible for me to make that turn for the 545. They also blocked the crosswalk which created an unsafe crossing for pedestrians.

        Eastgate P&R is another good example. A casual observation of the layover space during rush hour will make you realize there’s not a lot of room left over. Without some sort of control on who parks where and when, you start to get buses circling around the park & ride waiting for a space to open up.

        I wouldn’t be opposed to figuring out a system to utilize off-peak capacity for park & rides during the weekends. (Hey, how about a hiking/biking recreation shuttle that utilizes Issaquah Park & Ride during the summer weekends!) However, once you start approaching the peak times there is little room for extra cars and/or buses at virtually all park & rides.

      • elBee says

        I had read the previous coverage on the issue and that is where I perceived a “public transit = good/private mass transit = bad” idealogical split.

        I’m not interested in ‘transit’ as an abstract, idealized concept — I want a practical system that takes me to the places I want to go.

        I work at Microsoft and don’t own a car so I use some form of mass transit for my commute. These days I live downtown close to the 545 but when I lived in Belltown the 545 stop was about 3/4 mile away from my apartment — close enough to walk, but not terribly convenient. When Microsoft started its connector the stop was 1 block away from my apartment and ran straight to Microsoft, shaving 20 minutes off each trip. This gives me the impression that private firms are more able to serve the actual needs of commuters (no need to bother with 20/40/40 for example) so I would like to see it made easier for them to operate.

        BUT VeloBusDriver (and others) have raised some good, practical counterpoints. I was especially interested in: “If you simply tell private operators that they can use a park & ride and not have a system to integrate their coaches, it can create chaos.” To me that is a compelling reason as I can easily imagine the chaos that would result.

      • Anc says

        Well said.

        I have no problems with private transit utilizing what would otherwise be wasted space, but not at the expense of public transit or risking lose of Federal Funds.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        elBee, the Connector isn’t cost effective at all. This isn’t about “private firms” doing something “better”, it’s about “private firms” being willing to do something that’s not cost effective in order to meet other business goals.

      • says

        I’d love to see their per boarding costs – especially on their smaller shuttles carrying only 16 people. I run the numbers in my head when I’m driving a van route for Metro and wonder if there is a better and more cost effective way to service spread out areas.

      • elBee says

        I never claimed the connector was cost effective, just that it was an effective way for me to get to work. The point of the connector is that it took away about an hour off commute time (walking to/from the 545 stop and taking the detour through Capitol Hill in the morning). At the sae time the Belltown route is pretty full so you are getting ~15 people to/from Microsoft in one vehicle.

        Public transit also ignores cost effectiveness, but for different reasons. 20/40/40, Sunday service and the need to add routes to underserved but unproductive areas spring to mind. The government is willing to do something that’s not cost effective in order to meet other political goals.

        Going off on a tangent:

        I think it would be politically infeasable to create bus service routes that would be anywhere near as effective as the Connector. Microsoft knows where its employees live so the Connector routes can be planned to take advantage of that. The problem is that because Microsoft pays above-average wages the Connector routes service richer areas of King County almost exclusively. Trying to add new bus routes to Queen Anne, Wallingford, Capitol Hill without adding service to other areas wouldn’t look good.

        I’m intruiged by some of the “my way or the highway” feelings that came up when MS started the Connector. As someone who merely rides buses I found it convenient, timely and safe. Perhaps a separate thread/post where people can explain why it is wrong?

    • Max says

      What’s wrong is that buses are already sitting in traffic, and park & rides are already full. We shouldn’t be paying transit taxes and not have access to transit because a private, for-profit airport shuttle is taking park & ride spaces.

      It’s unconstitional to give away public resources for private gang.

      This entire saga is about one thing: the disgusting level of influence business lobbyists have in Olympia – especially with Republicans and Democratic leadership.

  3. Max says

    Aside from Reps Simpson and Liias, the Democrats – especially leadership – have an abysmal record on public transportation.

    Yet, the Puget Sound Dems pretend to be “progressives”.

    Haugen, Clibborn, Chopp and all the other road warriors spend half their lives driving around in their cars – so you can see where the bias comes from.

    They openly prioritize mega-freeway projects over transit, and simply feel that any additional revenues should go to their big cement GHG palaces. To Olympia, transit is simply dessert – something which can be set aside for a bigger entree.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      Murray isn’t bad either, he just doesn’t get much opportunity to play a role in the Senate.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Oh, and Sharon Nelson and Scott White seem okay, although I haven’t heard much from them.

  4. says

    I called Gregoire’s office to urge her to veto the private operator provision.

    The woman answering the phone wanted to know the bill number – and I was not sure which bill it was. Can you let us know?

  5. says

    The HOV provision (p38) states “expands private transportation providers’ access to
    high occupancy vehicle lanes”. LANES.

    However, it goes on to state (p47) “expands opportunities for private transportation providers’ use of high occupancy vehicle lanes, transit-only lanes, and certain park and ride facilities”

    So, I was going to get all (insert adjective here) about letting private providers use the HOV LANES (which I AGREE with, especially if they are enforcing the criteria). But I totally do NOT agree with the other facilities use, for the reasons listed by VeloBusDriver.

    Sneaky, this whole “legislative process”. . .

    :)

    • James says

      I just read the language and what its says to me is that neither private citizens nor metro vanpools (ahem transit!) are allowed to use HOV lanes with just the driver onboard – BUT IT’S OK for an airport shuttle service driver to do it for profit.

      Looks like the shuttle industry gives more campaign donations to our enlightened leaders than vanpool drivers do.

      I bet the shuttle drivers will soon start advertising their special privilege use of public property like developers on Mercer Island do now when they promote their private freeway lane on I-90.

      This whole thing stinks of that Bush decision to give a hand-out to private bus operators a couple years back. And we all know how well that worked on game day.

  6. Brent says

    Don’t just call Chopp. Call your own reps, thank them for voting for the Liias Amendment (if they did so), and ask them to insist on the amendment.

    Mention that you are a bus rider, and that you don’t just ride the bus in X County, and that this effects you personally on a daily basis.

    Do it NOW. The bill is on the House Dispute Resolution Calendar, set for a motion to recede from the amendment, and the House could be taking action any time today.

  7. Brent says

    One other call to make: Sen. Haugen’s office 360-786-7618

    They don’t seem to mind receiving calls asking Sen. Haugen to change her mind. From the reaction of her staffer, she hasn’t received any calls on the issue. If she gets a lot of calls begging her not to do this, she could conceivably change her mind. It doesn’t hurt to ask. (If you don’t ask, you don’t get.)

  8. Peter Carlin says

    Reading the text of the bill (relevant sections below), I note it allows public to recoup costs of public facility usage. I’m unclear, but it seems to be silent on whether public can make a profit on such usage. I would support provisions that allow profit and require use of that profit to fund transit.

    An example of where I think this bill would help: My understanding is Microsoft connector buses have inefficient routes and underserve dense population areas because they can not utilize Metro stop locations and thus must reach case by case agreement with municipalities on usage of the much less common loading zone locations. If this legislation enables Metro stop location usage (without impacting Metro bus service) and generates additional revenue for transit, that seems like a win for everyone.

    The bill does appear to address VeloBusDriver’s objections about safety concerns (lines 20,21 below), assuming “Transit only lanes” include the lanes in P&R that are for transit use only. (ie layover & loading zones).

    Relevant text:
    During the 2009-11 biennium, the department shall implement a
    2 pilot project that expands opportunities for private transportation
    3 providers’ use of high occupancy vehicle lanes, transit-only lanes, and
    4 certain park and ride facilities. Nothing in this subsection is
    5 intended to authorize the conversion of public infrastructure to
    6 private, for-profit purposes or to otherwise create an entitlement or
    7 other claim by private users to public infrastructure. The pilot
    8 project must establish that to receive grant funding from a program
    9 administered by the public transportation office of the department
    10 during the 2009-11 biennium, the local jurisdiction in which the
    11 applicant is located must be able to show that it has in place an
    12 application process for the reasonable use by private transportation
    13 providers of high occupancy vehicle lanes, transit-only lanes, and
    14 certain park and ride facilities that are regulated by the local
    15 jurisdiction.
    …..
    18……Reasonable use exists if the private
    19 transportation provider has applied for the use of: (a) High occupancy
    20 vehicle or transit-only lanes, and such use will not interfere with the
    21 safety of public transportation operations and not reduce the speed of
    22 the lanes more than five percent during peak hours; and (b) a park and
    23 ride lot (i) during peak hours at a lot that is below ninety percent
    24 capacity during peak hours or (ii) during off-peak hours only. A
    25 transit agency may require that a private transportation provider enter
    26 into an agreement for use of the park and ride lot, and may include
    27 provisions to recover actual costs for the use of the lot and its
    28 related facilities.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      A system for agreements between MS and Metro is already in place – it’s just new. This bill wouldn’t do anything to help.

      • whathaveyoudoneformelately says

        I would argue the MS/Metro deal finally got inked as a direct result of this language in it’s earlier bill form.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        So when the Liias amendment is on Marr’s bill, they’re separate things and the House shouldn’t have done that, but when this amendment comes up on another bill, it’s a stand-up continuation of 6570?

        Yes, 6570 caused the Metro negotiations to go better. Your amendment is unnecessary.

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