Mayor McGinn’s new nightlife initiative has gotten some attention for its proposal to add more late night service. In the near to medium term, simply adding service is out of the question, and of course would trigger 20/40/40 restrictions, meaning 80% of the service would go to East and South King County. In general, new routes will be less productive than existing routes. Other sensible skepticism here.
However, planners can sidestep all of that by simply shifting dollars in the West subarea to beef up late-night routes. But does that make sense from a productivity standpoint? Answer after the jump.
First, there’s a road safety argument. Make it easier for late-night drinkers to get home without a car, and it’s reasonable to expect they’re less likely to drive while intoxicated. And of course, many night bus users are not partiers but people trying to get to jobs. I don’t know how to begin to quantify that, so let’s note the benefit and move on.
Metro’s most recent route performance report is from 2008, unfortunately before the last big round of route changes due to Link opening. However, it does illuminate some isolated instances where shifting dollars to night (defined as 7pm to 5am*, all days) might make sense.
First of all, the summary of the West subarea (table 1) indicates that night routes as a whole seriously underperform by all measures (page xv).
However, the elite night routes are very productive (see table 2 below)**. The performance metrics on these are more competitive than some low-performing West subarea routes both in the off-peak (9am-3pm weekdays, 5am-7pm weekends, table 3) and peak hours (5am-9am,3pm-7pm weekdays, table 4).
As someone whose days staying out late are long past, I’d personally lose out if daytime hours were shifted to 2am. But there’s a reasonable case to be made for it. If the Mayor is serious about the transportation aspect of the proposal, there are plausible asks he can make to the County.
* Unfortunately, the report doesn’t break out performance between evening and the wee hours, which I suspect is what the city is most interested in.
** Note that the top performer, the 8, has been substantially extended since this report came out, with unpredictable effects on performance.