$20 CRC to Pass; Ride Free Area to be Eliminated

Hundreds of people testified in support of the CRC over the last few months.

The morning, King County Executive Dow Constantine held a press conference announcing that the County Council will adopt the $20 Congestion Relief Charge to prevent a 17% cut in bus services, PubliCola reports. The fee, which applies to annual vehicle registration, will not be sent to voters and will expire in two years because of limitations set by the state legislature. The adoption of this fee is undoubtedly a win for transit advocates, who fought hard to preserve service.

Two Republicans, Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert, will join five Democrats to approve the fee outright—their change of heart comes after negotiations to implement other Metro reforms.

The biggest change is the elimination of the Seattle’s Ride Free Area, slated for October 2012. As we’ve written before, this change may be good for the system but there must be mitigation to ensure that buses can still move through downtown. The Ride Free Area is supported by most social justice advocates, but the RFA has non-trivial costs: the pay-as-you-leave system on some routes but not others can confuse riders and Metro loses some revenue by not charging fares. The County estimates that it costs $2.8 million in lost fares to provide free service through downtown but that it only receives $400,000 from the city, or just 18% of the cost.

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The Ride Free Area was first introduced in 1973 as the "Magic Carpet Zone." At the time, the city paid for the full value of all lost fare revenue.

Eliminating the RFA has the potential to reduce fare evasion and disputes, and buses that leave downtown will now allow passengers to exit through all doors instead of forcing customers to exit through the front—which can be cumbersome in a congested bus. If the transition is handled well, it could represent a large improvement in system clarity.

There is reason to be concerned, however: if fares are charged in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, as the plan indicates, buses would further delay Link light rail. Buses along Third Avenue downtown could also face delays during rush hour unless there is a way to buy bus tickets before boarding or ORCA is heavily adopted. Disappointingly, there doesn’t seem to be any funding to provide systems to purchase bus fares before boarding, nor any incentives to increase ORCA usage.

More details on the full plan after the jump…

If help isn’t widely distributed to impoverished riders, social justice advocates will be disappointed with the change. Seattle could provide its own free downtown circulator, as Seattle Councilmember Tom Rasmussen mentioned during the conference, though I’m not sure that’s a good idea. The city could spend the $400,000 it currently pays for the RFA on additional transit service or to pay for some of the mitigations that seem necessary for transit to move smoothly through downtown.

The agreement includes four additional changes:

  1. Each time someone pays the $20 CRC, they will receive eight ride free bus tickets, which they can choose to keep or donate to low-income groups (more details). It’s unclear why there are no plans to integrate with ORCA.
  2. Discount ticket programs to low income & homeless groups will be increased to help offset the loss of the Ride Free Area.
  3. Cheaper DART and vanpooling will increase in areas where it’s inefficient to provide service, such as rural areas, to help offset an expected 20,000 hour cut of bus service with low-productivity.
  4. It seems that a modified service distribution formula will boost the priority of corridors that will be tolled in the future, such as SR-520 and SR-99. The agreement doesn’t seem to include any new funding for this service, however.

I am mostly pleased with the compromise—Metro will be better off—but it’s disappointing that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of mitigation for the end of the Ride Free Area. It’s also disturbing that Metro seems to feel little loyalty to the ORCA program and isn’t doing much to encourage its adoption, even though that could be a critical in ensuring that buses flow smoothly. More questions are answered in this fact sheet on the Metro website.

Comments

    • says

      I keep grousing about how, as an independent voter, I try to vote for folks from both parties. Jane’s move is going to force my hand as I haven’t voted for a Republican for a few years now. This is exactly the kind of moderate Republican stance that’s been missing for a looooong time.

    • Michael Arnold says

      I agree wholeheartedly, goodbye to the Ride Free Area…it can’t leave soon enough!

      I believe Metro should institute a front door boarding and back door leaving policy on each bus to smooth the passenger flow. In addition, I see that people may more readily take LINK in the downtown tunnel since it will cost to ride the bus and the train. LINK may see a bump in ridership numbers.

      • Beavis McGee says

        Back door only leaving won’t speed anything up – it will have the opposite effect, especially on 60 foot coaches. All-door exiting should replace the current PAYL system.

      • Andreas says

        If Metro would order 60-footers with three doors instead of two, it would be plenty fast…

    • Carl says

      With elimination of the RFA, it is extremely important that MT/ST come up with a weekday all-day pass. It could be a product that you load onto ORCA, or it could be an implicit product by capping the daily cost charged to ORCA. E.g. $6 within King County, $8 inter-county.

      People without monthly passes should be able to ride around downtown with a capped daily fare.

      • Bellevue Resident says

        $8 intercounty would make the Sounder Fare to Tacoma be $4 each way, not $4.75

      • Brent says

        Could you be more specific what the purpose of a day cap is? Have you analyzed its effect on monthly pass sales and other payment methodologies?

        I’m open to the idea, especially if there is no paper day pass, but I want more analysis.

      • Mike Orr says

        A daily cap would avoid the agonizing choice of whether to get a day pass in the morning, not knowing how many trips you’ll end up making or how far. I don’t care what the rate is as long as it’s reasonable, which I assume is somewhere between $5 and $12. It needn’t be as high as the maximum Sounder round trip. Sounder is an extraordinary service at an extraordinary price, so it makes sense to charge the full Sounder fare if it’s higher.

      • Brent says

        Getting a day pass in the morning would involve having immediate results from the webpage (ain’t happening soon), having access to an ORCA VM or other value loading site at the start of your trip (so not practical for the vast majority of riders), or holding up a bus to purchase a day pass at the front door.

        The only remotely practical option is a day cap. But I’m still not sold as to why Metro, or the average rider (including people paying for monthly passes and also pay taxes) would want the day cap. What is the benefit to the average rider?

      • Carl says

        Monthly passes are priced at 18 times 2 fares. So a $2.50 pass is $90 (if you ride ST or 1-zone Metro peak), and a $3.00 pass is $108 (Metro 2-zone peak.) The typical month has about 22 weekdays, so it’s got a discount for someone who commutes 5 days/week and you throw in free riding on your off days.

        A $6 in-county day pass would only make sense for a $90 passholder if they rode less than 15 times/month, or a $108 passholder at less than 18 times/month. So it doesn’t undercut monthly passes.

        For people who are occasional riders – who might telecommute or work from home or be retired – or need to use a car a few days a week due to childcare or medical appointments, whatever – but might be bus candidates a few days per week or per month – there is no current transit product for them that keeps them mobile for the day. Most transit systems worldwide have a daypass and often also 3-day and 7-day passes. They are good for the occasional rider and the visitor. These people are also more likely to ride off-peak than the monthly pass holder. With the elimination of the RFA, the need to offer a day pass increases. Most of this riding will be off-peak on buses/trains that arent’ at capacity, so there’s no marginal cost.

        The pass shouldn’t be sold on the bus at boarding – it should require an ORCA. It could be loaded via a TVM or the Internet – or implemented as a capped daily fare. (The 24-hour website lag can be dealt with by doing the accounting after the fact (credit back the fares that were deducted if you’d bought the day pass.))

        There’s simply no good reason not to have a day pass – the methodology for dividing the revenue among agencies can be the same used for monthly passes – and the need for one is greater now that the RFA is going away.

      • says

        I found the daily cap in London to be really confusing at first. Finally, I just decided to take TFL’s word when they said: “we’ll make sure you never pay more than the price of an equivalent Day Travelcard”.

        What threw me was how bloody expensive public transport has become since I was last there. That said, it’s cheaper than any option except walking or biking.

      • Brent says

        Here’s a thought: Charge for the two most expensive rides on a given day, and make the rest of the rides that day free. I guess that could still be called “a daily cap”.

        This would be on ORCA, of course, and not require pre-purchase. Metro/ST could run the ORCA data to see how much revenue would actually be lost. I suspect it wouldn’t be much.

        If it helps remove the incentive for getting paper transfers, then I think it is worth pushing.

        I still think the 25-cent cash surcharge would be an even greater incentive to use ORCA, though.

    • Dan says

      I won’t miss the stinky homeless and the drug freaks riding in the RFA. I wonder how much aggro Metro drivers will have to deal with next year when they have to tell the bums to take a hike?

    • Martin H. Duke says

      An easy way to implement this, if the 4th/5th connector is built, is to just not do fare inspection in the downtown core, and announce that streetcar trips there don’t require a ticket.

      • zefwagner says

        Seattle should really follow Portland’s lead and establish a Free Rail Zone while they eliminate the Free Bus Zone. Link could be free for travel between downtown stations, which would speed up buses in the tunnel since people wouldn’t be using them to cross downtown anymore. Once the streetcar is built, make it free downtown as well.

      • Brett says

        I agree Zef – that $400,000 could go to SoundTransit to pay for free rides on Link within the tunnel. It would be easy to implement too – they just don’t need to not check fares in that area. They might argue its not enough money to cover it, and it wouldn’t have the coverage of the current RFA, but it would be a start.

      • Chris Stefan says

        I rarely see the Link fare inspectors doing fare inspections North of IDS. They seem to mostly travel between Mt. Baker and IDS.

      • Eric says

        On the contrary, if they did check fares in the tunnel, those same fare inspectors could also check fares for buses while they’re there. This would allow all of the tunnel stops top operate on a proof-of-payment basis which would, in turn, allow buses to move through the tunnel faster.

    • Mike Orr says

      I have long said that one or two bus routes with “FREE!” signs on them could effectively replace the RFA. I’d like to see one on third from Intl Dist to Seattle Center. That would serve downtown users, tourists, and Belltown residents who find the Queen Anne routes overcrowded. But we also need some east-west circulation given the hills. One possibility would be a loop to First Hill combining the 3/4 and either the 2 or 12. That would allow low-income disabled people to get to the hospitals without having to go through bureaucracy. But Pine Street is also a major circulation corridor. So another possibility would be to expand the loop to take the 3/4 to Harborview (including its future move to Yesler), go to Swedish and Broadway, up Broadway to Pine, and then via Pine to downtown. That would have to be a two-way loop to be effective.

      • John Jensen says

        I think we should move past the idea of any free routes; there are better ways to spend $400k. We should rely the ticket programs (mentioned in the post) to help with social justice. If there is better justification for free routes beyond the status quo, I am open to hearing them. Making rail free downtown may be a good idea, and sounds better/clearer to me than free routes that most people (tourists, consumers, etc.) will probably not know about.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        One or two buses with “FREE” completely misses the point. Seattle’s been the only city with free, easy, amazingly frequent transit throughout it’s core. Try and convince an business professional to wait 15 minutes for a bus – ain’t gonna happen. Countless mid and upper income riders were introduced to the bus system because their coworkers suggested they hop on rather than waiting for a cab or walking all the way across town. I honestly believe that’s a major reason for our region’s high ridership.

      • Mike Orr says

        Denver has a free bus on its main street, running every two minutes. At one end it connects to a large underground bus station, where other routes leave from.

        Free downtown circulation isn’t just about giving people a free ride, it’s about improving the central city’s commerce by making it drop-dead easy to get around the central city without a car, even if you’re a suburbanite with a car parked in one of the garages and are adverse to paying a 50c or $2.25 bus fare. The city benefits enough by this circulation that it makes sense to make it free. These routes would operate only downtown and in adjacent neighborhoods, so they wouldn’t have the expense of people riding to Shoreline and then saying they don’t have any money. And they would get intra-downtown riders off the long-distance buses, and make it so that people didn’t have to check the schedules of all routes at a stop to figure out which one comes next and whether it goes to their destination or turns away short of it, or wait between the “gaps” of routes not evenly spaced apart.

      • Bellinghammer says

        I don’t know how many times I’ve seen lost suburban souls getting on a #2 or #3 in Belltown hoping to get to Safeco or the ID, only to be completely confused when the bus trudges up the hill instead. Whereas in Denver the 16th St MallRide is just that, a stops-every-damn-block, comes-every-two-minutes shuttle between the two light rail termini and the antiquated but still used Civic Center express bus station.

      • zefwagner says

        Bellinghammer brings up a good point–3rd Ave will never be a real “transit mall” until all the buses travel the entire length. That’s how the Portland one works, which makes it very easy to navigate and show on a map. The routes like the 2 and 3/4 that turn within downtown might be better off on 1st, while the through buses go the entire length of 3rd. They might need to move some routes off 3rd anyway once the buses are kicked out of the DSTT.

        In general I think a 1st Ave streetcar, a 3rd Ave bus mall, and a 4th/5th streetcar would give us an amazing system of parallel routes that would reduce unnecessary driving through the urban core. The DBA has been really big on this idea of encouraging people to either take transit downtown or park on the edges of downtown, then use downtown circulators to ferry people around downtown. It’s a great idea.

      • Adam Bejan Parast says

        @Mike

        If I’m correct the Denver transit mall is solving a problem than we have. In Denver transit doesn’t go through the core of downtown, so the super frequent buses are necessary for the “last mile”. Seattle does not have that structural problem. http://www.rtd-denver.com/FREEMallRide.shtml

      • says

        If you were to move the buses that turn within downtown to 1st, you’d need to string new trolley wire, and moving the 2 to Madison might be a necessity. The 3/4 would need awkward turning movements to get to 5th (which the 16 might need to do as well). And what about buses that use the Alaskan Way Viaduct (once the bane of my trips to Safeco)?

        I was once on a 3/4 where the driver speculated with a passenger about the possibility of a shuttle between downtown and Harborview to take some load off the 3/4.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        There’s no point moving any buses to 1st. Not sure why this bad idea won’t die — 1st is already more congested and much less reliable than 3rd, even in its current state with almost no buses on it.

      • Mike Orr says

        The Denver bus is both to get to the stations and to travel between parts of downtown, so it’s like a Third Avenue bus or Tacoma Link.

        Metro is already thinking about separating the north-south trolley routes from the east-west ones. It would supposedly improve performance if buses didn’t have to turn left on Third.

      • Mike Orr says

        Re free rail zone, I’m not sold on it. Seattle has a different setup than Portland. In Portland all trains run on the surface, have lots of stops, are slow, and and there are now three distinct tracks covering all parts of downtown. Link is the opposite of MAX; it’s made to be an express, not a downtown circulator. And it only covers part of downtown, which would have to include Uptown, SLU, and probably Broadway to be equivalent to Portland’s setup. (I.e., Portland’s covers all the high density area all the way to Lloyd Center.)

      • says

        When I feel like being lazy, after riding my bike on the Interurban Trail, I’ll throw it on the bus to go up Kent East Hill.

        I pay full fare with my trusty ORCA which I carry around with me always.

        Some times I think there should be a RFA for that … bikes going uphill or through rough areas.

      • Charles says

        I just experienced the 99 yesterday and have to say I was not impressed. it is of limited utility because it only comes 1/2 hourly, it flows in only one direction, and it appears to suffer serious schedule variance. I observed serious traffic impediments on Alaska Way from ferry car traffic, passenger embarkation to the cruise ship terminal, freight trucks going to/from cruise ship terminal, delivery vans blocking lane in street, and very long BNSF freight trains blocking cross streets for upwards of 10 minutes at a time.

        To be truly useful to the many tens of thousands of people on the water front, it would need to be very frequent e.g. 10 minutes or less service, in each direction on the water front and I think it should not go to Chinatown/ID or no further than ID station. It should not cross BNSF tracks and I don’t think it needs to go down 1st ave. It should connect at ID station to the rest of the transit grid.

        Unfortunately, the road traffic which will only get worse as something happens with viaduct in the future, means that bus solutions on that street may not be all that practical.

      • Mike Orr says

        Interestingly, the 99 has 20-minute service 11am-7pm Saturdays and Sundays but not weekdays. That’s actually a lot better than I thought (although still not the 10- or 15-minute frequency the waterfront deserves). I’d heard the waterfront bus was going to be hourly.

    • Adam Bejan Parast says

      Guys this whole discussion about free shuttle is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. I would rather have the city spend 400K a year on off board fare dispensers and police officers to help move buses through downtown as quickly as possible.

    • Brent says

      For riders choosing a mode to travel from one end of the DSTT to the other, I want to encourage train ridership and discourage bus ridership. The buses already move more slowly than the train. Hopefully, making the train free and the buses POP should even it out.

    • Brent says

      Free downtown circulator buses on Second, Third, or Fourth, would likely run more slowly than the other buses, and gum up the works.

  1. Martin H. Duke says

    Now we have to see if the King County Council has the fortitude to go ahead and cut threatened routes, and direct the service to more productive uses.

    • Zach Shaner says

      If they want goodwill for future votes, including mine, they had better still take the RTTF recommendations seriously. If so, this could end up being a decent scenario, a 2-year temporary reprieve delaying and minimizing the immediate pain while keeping the structural problem sufficiently in place to keep efficiency pressures on. If we arrive at 2014 and we haven’t made those changes, we all know Metro falls off a cliff from there. The long-term projections are still quite negative.

      • Mike Orr says

        They’ll have to implement the RTTF because when they go to the Legislature to ask for permanent funding, the first thing the legislators will ask is how many empty buses are still running.

    • zefwagner says

      Yeah, that will be tricky since a lot of folks will think “Metro service is saved” means “my route is saved.” Some of those routes definitely need to be eliminated or reduced in the long term. This fee still only partially covers the shortfall and only lasts 2 years.

      • says

        The first round of cuts announced for Feburary could go forward as far as I’m concerned. They were virtually all very unproductive and/or overlapped with DART service. It was the next 500,000 hours that I worried about.

      • zefwagner says

        I believe those cuts are happening no matter what. Everything I read indicated that even with the $20 fee, they have to do the February cuts and take a big chunk out of reserves to get by. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

      • Lack Thereof says

        This is correct. The CRC only lessens the cuts, rather than dodging them completely, and only for 2 years.

    • reality based commute says

      Metro still plans to cut unproductive services, but won’t do it with a gun to their head to cut the system by 17%. Instead of cutting service, they can redirect service to fix problems in the system.

    • Mike says

      By my math the council still has plenty of holes in the dyke to plug. This takes care of some of them for only a couple of years.
      Cut away!

  2. Zach Shaner says

    Eliminating the RFA is long overdue, but I do fear that the DSTT will be an unreliable disaster for 3.5+ years. It’ll take 3+ minutes to load tunnel buses in the afternoon peak, and Link performance will deterioriate accordingly. I wish we could have fare gates in the tunnel, but as long as buses are there and fares vary so much it’s not possible.

    • Mike Orr says

      Maybe this is a case like the viaduct where we should just do it and see. Close the RFA (or viaduct), see what happens to traffic, and then mitigate it accordingly.

      • downintacoma says

        For obvious reasons, the reactive philosophy is often the worst when it comes to planning. I don’t necessarily disagree with the spirit of your proposal (the end of the RFA needs to happen, and there will undoubtedly be impacts to the DSTT), some additional thought has to go into something like that.

        What about smarter stationary ORCA readers? Using ORCA Readers Of The Future that are put right at the spot on the platform where the back doors open, they’ll know WHAT bus has just pulled up and will prominently display the route number and its corresponding fare. ORCA users will tap off at the front to get their discount when leaving. Cash users still pay to board at the front, but that gets ORCA users out of that line. It also prevents the need to install in-bus rear-door ORCA readers. It does sacrifice rear-door exits, but that’s a small trade off. Add a fare inspector or two, and you’re covered.

      • Bernie says

        I don’t think rear door exits are important in the tunnel; at least not outbound. In bound there’s nobody getting on which means no problem using it as an exit. Not sure how many buses (if any) are through routed in the DSTT? Tap on and off and you eliminate the problem of paying before entering the platform! Don’t tap off you get dinged for the highest fare. Of course pass holders won’t care which may skew revenue distribution a bit.

      • Brent says

        I’ve been pushing ST and Metro to install bus-branded ORCA readers by the platform bus bays, and arm the security folks with ORCA readers to start doing fare checks. No word yet on whether this will happen, but the further the opening of East Link gets pushed back, the more return Metro and ST will get on the investment of these installations.

        Indeed, all the savings from smoothing buses a little bit through the tunnel and significantly reducing alighting time on outbound routes, that would now be pay-as-you-enter once they leave the tunnel, should pay for the new ORCA readers in a matter of weeks.

        At the very least, converting the tunnel to POP would be a good pilot project to see what will and will not work when the time comes to convert the surface streets to POP.

        @Bernie, there are lots of riders who board the next bus that comes along in the tunnel, whether it be inbound or outbound, just to ride to the other end of the tunnel. That includes some riders getting between Link and Convention Place.

        However, you have a point about the zone transitions. Still, that’s a problem endemic to all two-zone routes, and wouldn’t be a new problem created by converting the tunnel to POP early. Consider the bay alignment. Nearly all the northbound buses are 1-zone. The exception is the 255, which has its own bay, and really doesn’t belong in the tunnel anyway. All the southbound buses are 2-zone.

        For purposes of handling cash payers in the tunnel, I’d say require off-board payment, which means either having a valid paper transfer or tapping an ORCA. Bus tickets from ORCA VMs will probably be suggested by many, but such tickets will be problematic on pay-as-you-board buses due to the time spent by drivers carefully inspecting the tickets. I’d rather just see a cash surcharge implemented on January 1 to push up ORCA usage and ORCA purchases in preparation for converting the tunnel to POP a month later.

      • aw says

        Why do they have to be pay as you leave? Outbound buses that will cross a zone boundary can be two zone by default, just like inbound buses.

        Pay as you leave is evil. It should go away with the RFA.

      • Bernie says

        Good point. I certainly like the simplification that comes with pay when you receive product just like everything else in this world. No movie theaters operate on a pay as you leave policy. Just get the DSTT to be pay as you enter; like every “real” city in the world that has a subway.

      • Adam Bejan Parast says

        Well not exactly. It could be pay as you exit, but if you want to preserve all door boarding in the tunnel or downtown people could simply exit via the back door, which is essentially want the RFA allows. If you make people pay as they exit, then board via the front and exit by the back doesn’t really work either. And you don’t solve the problem with people not paying their full fare when they are in the middle of nowhere and the bus driver can’t do any to stop them.

      • aw says

        “To my knowledge, all the tunnel buses have other stops in Seattle, with very few exceptions.”

        Indeed. To my knowledge, all buses that cross a fare zone and enter the tunnel also have other stops outside the city. It’s symmetric. You can argue with your driver about whether you’re only going one zone both inbound and outboud.

      • Brent says

        Pay-after-you-shove-to-the-exit must die!

        I’d like Metro to consider service-based rather than zone-based fares. Charge the 1-zone rate for local service, even if someone rides it for over an hour to get to a distant terminus, as those local routes are more cost-effective and provide service to more locations. If someone is willing to ride the 132 all the way from downtown to Des Moines, they shouldn’t have to pay more for a slow boat to China.

        Charge the 2-zone rate for freeway express service. Among other effects, this would provide an incentive to create local routes to train stations to replace duplicate-head routes.

        With service-based fares, there would be no fare transitions, except for the rules about peak hours.

      • says

        “I’d like Metro to consider service-based rather than zone-based fares”

        Excellent point. There is plenty of confusion on routes like the 271 that go into Seattle but don’t enter downtown. Trying to collect 2 zone fares on those routes would drive the Dali Lama to frustration. It sure would make our lives easier.

        Time to leverage some of that RapidRide technology to get this figured out.

      • Brent says

        Rather than His Holiness, perhaps we could look to the Tao of fare zone transitions: The best fare zone transition is the one that doesn’t exist.

    • zefwagner says

      All-door boarding with Orca, occasional fare inspectors, $300 fine. Easy. I really don’t understand why certain buses (especially express buses that spend time on the freeway) can’t use a proof-of-payment system.

      • John Jensen says

        Of course it’s easy conceptually (and a good idea!), but that would be expensive and there’s no plan or funding for it. There’s reason to be concerned.

      • zefwagner says

        The fact that they are “phasing out the RFA” starting in 2012 suggests there is plenty of time to implement reforms. It will cost money, but only a fraction of the current lost fare revenue. ORCA has been a great change to the system, now they need to go to the next logical step: all-door ORCA boarding and ending the practice of making drivers responsible for fare collection. One reason for the “rail bias” in this country is that we arbitrarily decided that people should pay the driver on the bus, but not on rail. Even on the old streetcars there was generally a driver and a ticket taker–very rarely was it the same person.

      • J. Reddoch says

        What would you use as proof of payment on the two systems serving downtown Seattle that don’t have transfers?

      • Nathanael says

        Is there some reason Seattle has been unable to implement ORCA as the universal farecard? Everything else should be eliminated.

        Charging an upfront fee to get an ORCA card is a nonstarter. They should simply be available for no added cost at multiple major locations.

      • Nathanael says

        For that matter, why not London-style “tap on tap off”? Then you can implement any fare system you LIKE.

    • Elbar says

      I don’t think there would be that much delay in boarding during rush hour, since the vast majority of commuters would just swipe their ORCA cards instead of stopping to pay fare.
      A five-dollar day pass would be great, for visitors especially. I just returned from the Bay Area and really appreciated having such pass available.

  3. says

    Lets hope Metro will be able to make changes needed to phase out the RFZ. If not it’ll be a colossal mess downtown, and it’ll cost more in inefficiencies than it’ll save.

    Personally thought I’ll miss it. I live in the RFZ, and it makes getting around downtown quite a bit easier.. Plus it compensates a bit for the fact that many of my trips are really short, it doesn’t seem right that they should cost as much as a trip from West Seattle to Ballard…..

    • says

      I dont think it will be the disaster you quite dream of. I mean MANY transit agencies use pay as you enter at all times and they function just well. It will be the need to break the habit, and have the fare ready when you get on.

      • Adam Bejan Parast says

        I disagree. Go into the tunnel after 7 and tell me that fare payment isn’t slowing down transit. I have been in the tunnel at 10 pm and stuck in a backup because of fare payment on buses. Keep in mind most people using cash are not frequent riders so a) they don’t know what they are doing b)ask a lot of question and c) are using the slowest payment method possible.

      • says

        Adam, Pay as you enter is “the Norm” across the whole…well WORLD. When it becomes “The Norm” here, it will move faster. People are confused at the fare system, and pay as you leave, and the RFA. Secondly, the people that travel during commuter hours have got it together, ORCA cards etc etc. I can’t tell you how many times people unfamiliar with our system try to pay when they got on in the tunnel during RFA hours. The trade off will be the obstacle course known as Rush Hour Pay As You leave on a Packed Bus vanishes. I have ridden at night, after 7 from downtown, quite a bit actually. I ride the 41, which yields much less UW U-Pass holders, and we really don’t spend that long collecting fares, can’t say I have seen some massive back up longer than maybe 90 seconds over paying the fare. Like I said, once we break the habit, and make fare collection the same at all times, it won’t be the big catastrophe we all dream of.

        Finally, Why can’t I reply Directly to you, Fix that! Maybe why I don’t comment on here much.

      • Charles says

        @punkrawker4783, I rode the 41 during yesterday evening rush and used a stopwatch app to time the deboarding process @ Northgate TC. 1 minute, 56 seconds. I’d say about 3/4’s had ORCA cards. The one’s with cash were what really held things up.

        I think ending the RFA before the buses are kicked out of the DSTT is going to create some real problems.

        Also, what is this about tickets? We should be moving everything to ORCA. No more paper transfers or tickets.

      • says

        “Go into the tunnel after 7 and tell me that fare payment isn’t slowing down transit”

        If you watch carefully, most of the slowdown is caused by cash fare payment. A large chunk of the problem could be solved by raising cash fares and eliminating transfers to create an incentive for ORCA. Yes, I know I’m a broken record on this, but most other transit agencies do this in various ways. I don’t know why we’re so slow.

        I’d even be happy with a return to tokens. A single token that yields a ride would be just as fast as ORCA, possibly even faster. No transfers though!

    • Carl says

      Really want to see a day pass on ORCA so that people without monthly passes aren’t penalized when they do business downtown on the bus. Either a day pass you can load onto ORCA, or an in-county maximum that is charged to your ePurse. Make it available on ORCA only to help push ORCA adoption.

      • says

        Agreed, ORCA only offering an e-purse or monthly pass, which it inherited from the previous systems, devalues transit for those of us who aren’t standard two rides a day commuters.

  4. Keibun says

    It is disappointing to see the loss of free-ride area, but it was time to compromise. I think not having it on ballot also increases the chance of $80 fee in Seattle.

    From an operational stand-point, one way to keep the flow in the tunnel is to make people buy bus tickets prior to boarding. Stronger adoption of ORCA card is necessary but does have limitations as it cannot deal with out-of-town visitors, or once-a-year riders. Since ST already has a bunch of ticket vending machines, maybe Metro should work with ST to let the machine issue a bus ticket.

    One concern could be a long-line of people at the ticket vending machines, so they may have to install more. Does anyone know how much it costs?

    • Mike Orr says

      In Russia there are people selling “taloni” (paper bus tickets) at the major bus stops, the way people here sell Real Change magazine. You board at all doors and punch the ticket at a validation machine inside. (The machine is just a simple paper punch; there are several on the bus.) If the bus is crowded you hand your ticket to your neighbor who punches it for you and gives it back. If an inspector comes, you show him the validated ticket. If you have a monthly or half-monthly pass, you don’t need a ticket at all.

    • zefwagner says

      They have these all over the NY subway system, BART, pretty much any major transit system. It is weird how few ORCA machines Sound Transit has. Putting in some really basic ticket dispensing machines seems pretty easy. The priority should be getting as few people to use cash as possible. The fare should be higher if you pay in cash, and you should not get a transfer. If that was combined with ubiquitous ticket dispensers, it would work. At some point, they could move to a proof-of-payment system and eliminate cash fares completely. You can even have ticket machines onboard.

      • says

        That would have regressive effects, though it’s basically what DC does (plus add fare complexity). The transit and social justice/housing/poverty advocates in this area are too disconnected and unfamiliar with the other’s issues. I support the RFA and am hesitant about ending it but willing to wait and see what effects it has. I fear the 1/3 of riders w/o passes or transfers downtown are the 1/3 of Seattleites at the bottom who are already barely surviving. Those who pay cash and don’t have ORCA cards or ticket books are more likely to be poor folks too. Only some of them can be reached through the social service agencies.

      • Mike Orr says

        Still, the machines are mostly only at train stations. The difference is that these cities have several rail lines going to most parts of the city (although much less so in SF or the Bay Area), so you can get to a TVM without an hour’s bus ride.

        I agree that a cash-fare surcharge is a good idea. And offering a free preloaded ORCA card to everyone who pays the $20 fee.

      • zefwagner says

        I don’t really understand the argument for cash fares. You can buy tickets at almost any drug store or grocery store. Metro would just need to expand those locations, advertise it, and install ticket machines at all major bus stops (transfer nodes, busy stops, etc.). Long-term you just put the machines in the buses themselves!

        The reason people insist on using cash instead of tickets is because they know they can and there is no penalty for wasting everyone’s time. There is nothing preventing poor people from buying tickets at the corner store (plus it sounds like they will step up ticket distribution to those in need). I really think this is a case of societal inertia. There are lots of things (concerts, airlines, the monorail, etc) that you can’t pay cash for–you buy a ticket, which speeds up actual boarding. Metro can do that too, in addition to further encouraging orca adoption.

      • Eric says

        The argument for cash fares is pretty easy: it enables spontaneous trips. I can walk from my house to the bus, insert legal tender into the farebox, and be on my way. With cash as an option there’s no need to make a separate trip to a store to buy bus tickets or load up my e-purse.

        Until they fix the problem where online e-purse/pass purchases don’t take effect for 24 hours there’s always going to be a need for a way to pay immediately without trudging to a store or a TVM first.

        If cash slows the bus down that much, the solution is simple: make the cash fare different from the ORCA fare. The difference doesn’t need to be big; a quarter or two will do. That way cash will only be used as a payment method of last resort.

      • Brent says

        Bus tickets would be a major new source of boarding slowdowns. Train tickets work because fare inspectors look at them while the train is moving. Bus tickets will take some time to inspect, and there will be people who attempt to use old tickets. I’ve seen ticket cheaters get caught on the train several times.

        So, no, bus tickets would be just as slow as change fumbling.

      • Charles says

        It is interesting to see the strong resistance to using ORCA. Case in point, while waiting at the Issaquah TC, a young man asked to break a $5 note so he could have the cash for multiple sound transit fares as ST doesn’t give transfers. He was going all the way to Tacoma. He said it would take him about $7 to get back to Tacoma. I told him an ORCA card would actually save him money e.g. his trip would be about $3 and it could also be used to transfer to Pierce Transit trips as well. I suggested since he was choosing to go through Bellevue TC, he could use the TVM there to buy an ORCA card there but, no sale.

      • Nathanael says

        Jon Morgan, this is why (1) ORCA should have zero upfront fee and (2) ORCA should be easily, anonymously purchasable (preloaded with, say, a dollar — for a cost of a dollar) at many major locations, and (3) ORCA should be reloadable at even more locations.

        This eliminates most of the “social justice” issues, as it means it has no more upfront costs than cash does. It also makes total adoption of ORCA much, much faster.

        I suppose there are some concerns regarding people throwing them away rather than recycling them properly. Fine, put a 5 cent deposit on them (no larger), and someone will bother to collect them and return them, but it still won’t be a huge imposition on the poor, who should only have to pay it once.

      • Gordon Werner says

        couldn’t they just expand what they’re doing for the SLUT? those ticket machines could be located at many of the busier bus stops

      • JohnS says

        I understand that ORCA has costs, but I really struggle with the wisdom of charging folks $5 for the card. Would love to see the breakdown on cost/reward in terms of limiting cash purchases and time in boarding/offloading.

      • Eric says

        In London they had a deposit for the Oyster card instead of a fee. If you’re a tourist you can get the card, use it while you’re there, and turn it in right before you leave to get your five pounds (and any unused fares) back.

        I think we should really implement that here. Right now there’s a financial disincentive to using the ORCA: the fares are the same and there’s a one-time $5 fee on top of that. The only real benefit is to get free transfers between Link and buses, but if you just stick to the buses using an ORCA card costs more than cash.

      • Keibun says

        I think Eric’s solution might be the best one, given the financial constraints Metro is facing. In accounting, the additional costs should be closely to zero. I still think ST’s vending machines should be re-programmed to issue bus tickets though.

      • zefwagner says

        Has anyone used the floppy cards that BART and the NY Subway use? Maybe there could be a free ORCA card like that which would just be for occasional users or visitors. It wouldn’t work for passes or the online e-purse, but you could just load money on it at the machines.

      • Carl says

        Those floppy cards have a magnetic strip which is read & written. The ORCA cards are a no-contact RFID system. They really aren’t compatible, and the ORCA contactless system is more appropriate technology for the future. No one would implement the mag strip any more today.

        The ORCA cards cost less than $1 to manufacture. They are intended to be retained and reused, so the agencies certainly don’t want people to toss them. They may well be factoring in customer support costs, web site, etc. Other agencies give identical cards away for free, or with some minimum fare value loaded, or for a lower fee, liks $2. Our agencies ave a lot of leeway to make ORCA less expensive.

      • says

        Thank you Carl. I agree, ORCA would be nice to tourists at a lower cost – and also it should include SKAT @ some point.

        Perhaps to cut congestion and get tourists on transit so their transportation bucks are spent on consumption at stores & restaurants instead of taxis, hotels should offer an ORCA card loaded with $5 or $10 to customers who say they will use it. I see some real marketing opportunities with this… :-).

        Thanks to all the other replies as well :-).

      • Charles says

        Joe, how do you figure? Just the round trip transfer from Metro to Link pays for the ORCA card. (well, yes, your Seafair bus ride was “free” e.g. courtesy of us King County taxpayers) And you have to appreciate that the card is a sophisticated device with a microprocessor, storage, NFC radio and some security to safeguard your money. That certainly not a cost free service.

        So, next year, give this a try: Buy 1 ORCA card, put enough e-purse on it to purchase the 7 other round trip tickets. And you never know, one of you might find yourself back in Seattle and you’ll have your ORCA card to get around.

      • Nathanael says

        A deposit would be viable. The flat fee is insane. I don’t think there’s another agency in the world that does that — and if there is, I’d lay bets they are encountering strong resistance to using their “extra charge added” fare payment technology.

        Who do you guys need to talk to, in order to get rid of the $5 fee on ORCA, or to make it a refundable deposit? Because it is going to drag down the entire system as long as it is present.

      • aw says

        One way to eliminate the cost of an ORCA card would be to give a premium for pre-loading cash onto it. With a $30 load, the card could be “free”. When you reload the card, you’ll save money over cash fare payers.

      • says

        Comment #200.

        Well folks thanks. What I’d prefer is a 1-day pass.

        BTW, I got to Seafair via either a $200 backstage pass on Saturday or taxi + light rail on Friday. But thanks for bringing up the free bus… I kinda wish I had took that instead in hindsight.

  5. Zach Shaner says

    With the $20 CRC and the potential $80 Seattle fee, I don’t like that as a non car owner I won’t be able to contribute to my own transit system. Can KCM and SDOT accept donations in the same amount? =)

    • downintacoma says

      Now THERE’s an idea – hand out ORCA cards at DOL offices when renewing car tabs. Make it an option on the form, and cut a small discount. ($8 for a card loaded with $5, say.) (Sorry, that doesn’t help you one bit, Zach.)

    • Mike Orr says

      I think it would be better to send Metro a check and include a letter telling what it’s for. That way it’ll be clear that some non-drivers are donating a $20 fee-equivalent. I’m going to ask them Monday morning where to send it to. As a bonus, maybe they can put it in a particular account, such as for planning or trolleybuses or whatever you care most about.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        See if they’ll give you a receipt for tax purposes, too.

        26 USC 170(c):

        For purposes of this section, the term “charitable contribution”
        means a contribution or gift to or for the use of–
        (1) A State, a possession of the United States, or any political
        subdivision of any of the foregoing, or the United States or the
        District of Columbia, but only if the contribution or gift is made
        for exclusively public purposes.

  6. zefwagner says

    That’s a clever idea to basically give everyone who pays the fee a refund in bus tickets. Many people might use transit for the first time and the system might see a ridership bump, generating more revenue in the process. It definitely helps undercut the arguments against it. Maybe the city could try something similar with its proposal, especially in terms of helping low-income people transition to not needing a car if possible.

      • Charles says

        According to the Washington State Department of Licensing website there are between 1.4 Million and 1.7 million licensed vehicles in King County. (they had different tables for classes of licensed vehicles)

        At 8 tickets per license fee, that is a very significant number of rides. Indeed, this would account for 8-9% of KCMetro’s annual ridership.

        But looking at it optimistically, I’d like to see the County really play up the donate to charity option or make the process that it defaults to the tickets being provided to charity unless you specifically opt-in to receive them. This amount of ridership could go along way to formalizing a mobility program for the poor and covering the fare evasion that is seen frequently on some routes.

    • Gordon Werner says

      day passes should be part of the plan … they would be especially nice for tourists who are here for a day before (or after) going on a cruise

      • the358 says

        +1

        We had some friends in town last year prior to boarding a cruise ship, and we showed them all around the downtown core and Pioneer Square using the RFA–they were staying at an airport hotel that had a free shuttle to Link, so they rode that into downtown, where we met up with them. I’m sure they would have happily forked over the cash for a day pass, especially if it covered both Link and Metro.

    • zefwagner says

      Portland’s day pass is pretty awesome. $4.75 for all the trips you want on all modes, all zones. They also sell 7-day and 14-day passes. Did Metro get rid of the Weekend Day pass? I remember it from a while ago, but don’t recall seeing it advertised lately.

      • Carl says

        We should have a $6 day pass within King County. Either load it onto ORCA or its the maximum in fares that will be deducted from your ePurse. That makes up for loss of the free ride zone for non pass holders

  7. says

    I’m new to Seattle from LA, and I was amazed to see how many people showed up to testify at the courthouse about this on July 12. In LA transit is much maligned, many people don’t know there’s a subway, and the very dedicated community of sustainable transportation activists simply cannot muster hundreds of supporters at key hearings. It’s nice to be in a city with so many people using buses by choice and ready to speak out in favor of public transportation. Glad to see that this passed!

    • Mike Orr says

      I asked the county staff whether it was common to get this many people at a hearing, and they said it’s the first time it’s ever happened. Most hearings are sparsely attended. The periodic budget hearings get more people, but not anything like this.

    • Mike Orr says

      San Francisco has a “riders’ union”, and events like “Race MUNI” (where I think the mayor walked from Embarcadero to Castro to demonstrate MUNI’s slowness). It’s time for something like that here.

      • zefwagner says

        It seems like Rider’s Unions tend to lack good organization. The one in LA got a lot accomplished at one point, but the Seattle and Portland ones don’t seem to have much going on. They need to get serious about getting financial sponsorship from an established non-profit and then doing real fundraising. Actual unions rely on membership dues, so any “transit riders union” is going to have a hard time of it unless they can convince the more well-off transit riders to contribute. The Portland transit riders union is pretty much a joke–check out their website and you’ll see they are adopting some kind of pseudo-radical-leftist attitude. We need mainstream transit advocacy groups, not ones that are guaranteed to be marginalized.

    • Nathanael says

      There are seriously still people in LA who don’t know that there’s a subway?

      I admit it’s not that long but it’s the only reasonable way to get from downtown to the San Fernando Valley.

  8. says

    Am I the only one that thinks it’s a bit odd to pay $20 to get $24 in bus tickets? I mean the cost per boarding has to be more than, ya know, $-1.

    • John Jensen says

      I’m sure most tickets will be unused, unfortunately. And if it’s eight $3 tickets, then not all of the value will be used for most trips.

    • Zed says

      If the bus isn’t full the marginal cost of additional passengers is pretty close to zero. I suppose they could count the lost fare revenue, but how many of the trips would be made if it weren’t for the “free” bus tickets. The same goes for the RFZ.

  9. Matt the Engineer says

    I know most here hated the RFA. But I believe this will be a serious blow to future ridership in our region. Our current bus system has a high barrier to entry for commuters – the monthly pass. In general, employers will pay for a portion of your monthly pass but few pay for all of it. This is generally done on an annual basis – making someone have around a $1,000 decision. With the average American’s feeling about buses, this is an easy choice: hell no.

    But the next time you have a meeting across town, your coworkers convince you to hop on the bus to get there. It’s fast, frequent, and easy to hop on and hop off. You question your $1,000 decision, since parking is costing you more than that anyway. You start asking coworkers about their experience with their passes and make the plunge.

    What I’ve described happened to almost every coworker I’ve had that I’ve talked to about this (which were many). Without that introduction to the bus – and it won’t exist without the RFA – the barrier to entry is very high.

    Oh, and nobody will ride a circulator. You just can’t make them frequent enough. Plus 3rd is already at (past?) capacity even without the new wait times imposed by no RFA. You’re really going to add more buses downtown, while the commuter buses sit half empty after their first stop?

    Separately, that $2.8M number is probably crazy. How many free riders will convert to pay riders? Probably close to none. Those that don’t have a pass will walk or take a cab. $2.50 for a 2 minute ride is highway robbery.

    • John Jensen says

      Matt,

      About 9,000 riders a day actually get a free ride. The rest have a pass (50% of DT ridership) or have a transfer (18%).

      • Bernie says

        That’s still at least $20 million in lost revenue at $1.25 a ride. Almost what the tab tax will bring in. I think what will happen is a lot more people will opt for monthly passes. Once they make that leap they’ll start using transit for many more trips. It sounds like there were more “behind closed door” deals made to secure this vote.

    • zefwagner says

      “Nobody will ride a circulator.” Wow, that is the most ridiculous comment I have read here in a long time. Go to Portland and ride the streetcar. It is a slow-moving downtown circulator that runs every ten minutes and I have literally never seen it at less than 75% capacity. At peak times it is completely packed so that it is hard to even get on. A good circulator, especially a streetcar, will get a lot of ridership. The 4th/5th streetcar and 1st Ave streetcar could easily be made free downtown, too, we just need to build the things.

    • Aleks says

      Note that all of those commuter buses — as well as every other bus whose destination is downtown, including all inbound tunnel buses — could still be free at no cost to anyone. There’s no need to worry about pay as you leave if a bus is never going to leave downtown.

      I know that’s not quite what the panel agreed, but in terms of operational efficiency, that would be a very reasonable compromise. (It would also avoid the problem where someone gets on a bus, thinking they’re travelling down 1st/3rd, and suddenly finds out that the bus turned onto Seneca or Madison…)

      • Brent says

        That would provide free rides in the morning, but what about in the evening? And would people learn which buses to use for free?

      • Aleks says

        There are a lot of 2-way tunnel buses. The 70-series and the 41 would provide an all-day free ride from Convention Place to the ID, and the 101, 106, 150, and 550 would provide an all-day free ride in the reverse direction.

        How would riders know? Simple: if you’re in the tunnel, and you see a bus whose destination sign says downtown/ID/Convention Place, it’s free. Metro could even change the destination sign to say “FREE – DOWNTOWN” or something like that. Absolute worst case, drivers put a “FREE” placard in where the “EXPRESS” one sometimes goes. That’s no harder than switching the fare sign like they have to do now.

      • says

        Minneapolis instituted free rides on Nicollet Mall for three routes that terminate downtown: Route 18 northbound and Routes 10 and 59 southbound. The 18 and 10 are all-day local routes, and the 59 is a peak-only limited stop route (essentially a non-freeway express). Does Seattle have any local frequent all-day routes that terminate downtown instead of going out the other end?

      • Aleks says

        Does Seattle have any local frequent all-day routes that terminate downtown instead of going out the other end?

        Yes:

        – Every all-day tunnel route
        – The 43
        – The 7 and 49, often
        – The 70
        – Every other trip on the 36
        – The 545 and 522, maybe

        And that’s just what I know off the top of my head. There are undoubtedly others.

  10. Mickymse says

    How about we offer folks an ORCA card with a $15 e-purse on it instead of Metro tickets?

    • the358 says

      +1

      Or better, yet, have the $20 added directly to ORCA cards for people who already have one. (Or, can you take your tickets down to a Metro office and have them added to an existing ORCA card?)

    • Bellinghammer says

      Yeah, are these tickets likely to be good on Metro only? Even if they’re only given to people registering cars in Seattle proper, they better damn well be valid on any service that accepts ORCA.

    • Brent says

      Car tab payers will be given a piece of paper they can mail in to get their free bus tickets. In ought to not be much of an administrative hassle to give them the option of getting an ORCA, or adding their free ticket value to an existing ORCA whose number they can fill in on the paper before mailing it in.

      Metro was considering getting rid of ticketbooks altogether in January. I’m disappointed that won’t happen now, but not as much as I’m thrilled about the CRC and the end of the FRA.

  11. says

    Our heroes Hague & Lambert are under pressure… Lieyman’s!

    Lieyman has put their e-mails out for his fellow Norquist Nopes to make their weekend a living hell.

    Free advice: I’d be saying THANK YOU a lot to Hague & Lambert. The e-mail addys: jane.hague@kingcounty.gov; kathy.lambert@kingcounty.gov; jane_hague@yahoo.com; kathy@kathylambert.com

    Oh and I already beat you guys to the THANK YOU parade:

    Let me begin with:

    THANK YOU!

    Mass transit is vital to disabled people being off the dole in the workforce and being able to play tourist.

    Up here in Skagitonia, we don’t want 39 counties voting on the issues of two counties.

    Up here in Skagitonia, we pride ourselves on fiscal responsibility and changing Spendocrat proposals to something more fair for mass transit users AND taxpayer$.

    Up here in Skagitonia, we put a premium on consensus-building at the serious risk of NOT getting things done.

    As far as me: Tim Lieyman should make himself Emperor of Snohomish County, secede from Washington State and thoroughly enjoy being Emperor Tim Norquist. After all, we have “Queen Christine” Gregoire. So…

    THANK YOU AGAIN!

    You did the right thing. Like when you guys stood with Reagan Dunn & Mary “Marummy” Lane Strow to FIRE “Governor Dean” Logan. Enuf said.

    It’s really important this weekend. Trust me :-).

  12. Paul says

    Elimination of the Ride Free area is a good first step towards reducing fare evasion and improving transit system security. However, elimination of RFA cannot be done in isolation without considering the following:

    1) Simplify the fare structure. Get rid of peak hour surcharges and intra-county zone fares and have all transit agencies charge the same fares for similar trips.

    2) Cash fares should be even dollar amounts–no quarters!!!

    3) No more paper transfers–this is the #1 way to evade fares (“What is today’s color and letter?”). Encourage adoption of ORCA by allowing transfers only with ORCA cards and provding a discount from cash fares (similar to monthly passes).

    4) Fix the technical problems with ORCA including slow reads when tagging the cards–this is the #2 way to evade fares.

    5) Provide assistance for low-income customers who now pay cash fares with free ORCA cards and ability to load ORCA cards at more retail/convenience/check cashing stores and major transit stations/park & ride lots. Many customers do not have Internet access or credit cards and live paycheck to paycheck.

    6) Provide a disposable ORCA card for human service agencies and tourists (i.e. “one day” or “multiple day” passes). The blue human service tickets are the #3 way to evade fares by not writing in the expiration date or hiding the expiration date with your thumb (or at least require that these tickets be deposited in the fare box to prevent re-use).

    7) Require off-platform “proof of payment” (tagged ORCA or ticket receipt for cash fares) for ALL tunnel bus routes, enforced by existing security staff on tunnel platforms. This is critical to allow “all door” boarding and reducing tunnel dwell times–it can take as much as three-five minutes to load 60+ passengers on the route 71/72/73 at Westlake after 7 PM as passengers fumble for change and stuff dollar bills into the fare box one at a time.

    • Aleks says

      Paul,

      Lots of good ideas here, but I wanted to comment on one in particular:

      Simplify the fare structure. Get rid of peak hour surcharges and intra-county zone fares and have all transit agencies charge the same fares for similar trips.

      Simplification is good, but peak fares serve a very important purpose. Just like variable tolls on highways, peak fares are a key way for Metro to avoid overcrowding at peak.

      Additionally, most of Metro’s costs are peak costs — they have to have enough drivers and operable buses for their busiest periods — so if they can compress the peaks, they can save a *lot* of money.

      • Carl says

        Simplify the fare structure – have the 2 agencies charge the same fare for the same trip. Why should the fare vary between $2.25, $2.50 or $3.00 for the exact same trip depending on the paintjob on the bus? From the same stops, all operated by Metro? That increases complexity, fare disputes, dwell times…

        Whatever fares, charge the same thing. Seattle-Kirkland, Bellevue-UDistrict are Metro fare policies. Seattle-Bellevue, Kirkland-UDistrict are Sound Transit fare policies. This makes sense why?

      • Charles says

        I met someone at the Council mtg for #saveKCMetro who works for a firm involved with ORCA. I think ERG. The gist of the convo with her was that there are lots of interesting possibilities for using ORCA including distance based fares. e.g. a trip from Woodinville to Kent could reasonably be charged more than a trip from Queen Anne to downtown.

      • Aleks says

        Carl, I’m 100% with you. Consistency is fantastic. But that shouldn’t preclude charging *consistently* higher fares as a means of compressing demand peaks.

      • Nathanael says

        Charles, in order to do that they’d have to (1) implement “tap in tap out” everywhere, and (2) make ORCA the only method of payment, which requires (3) eliminating the absurd $5 charge to get an ORCA card.

        All very possible, but, problem, they’re not even trying!….

    • Brent says

      Metro is not getting rid of the paper transfers any time soon. They fear that doing so would provide more motivation for the one-seat-rider lobby and prevent a better grid-based/transfer-based system.

      However, I’ve heard openness to requiring RRFP holders to use loaded ORCA product in order to get the discounted fare. As the last annual passes expire in January, there will be an upward bump in cash paying among RRFP holders.

      I’ve gotten no feedback on adding a surcharge for cash payment, though I’ve submitted the suggestion.

      • Charles says

        I don’t understand how that could create motivation for 1 seat rides because transfers are free for 2 hours. Mike, what is up with that thinking?

      • Aleks says

        Other way around. The idea is that paper transfer slips encourage acceptance of 2-seat rides, but if you got rid of them, then people would start demanding 1-seat rides because they don’t want to pay two fares (and are unwilling to get an ORCA, for some reason),

    • Mike Orr says

      The agencies have already rounded the fares to quarters due to passenger demands. Rounding them to dollars is too much. That would make a $2.25 fare $3, and the nearest next level would be $4.

  13. lazarus says

    The suburban conservative types have always viewed the RFA as some sort of give away to Seattle, so I guess they finally got their way in killing it.

    But the interesting thing is that eliminating the RFA will boost LR ridership – which will take away one of their anti-LR talking points.

    But I’m generally indifferent to this. If they can get the boarding speed improved, then I really don’t care much if the RFA is there or not.

  14. Gary says

    Unless you have a “pass” this is going to kill the lunch hour shopping crowd. No way is anyone going to pay $2.50 to ride from the ID to the retail core. It was a great way to introduce folks to the benefits of bus riding. And it made businesses like Amazon able to locate in multiple office buildings around town. But now Amazon operates it’s own fleet of shuttles as does Virgina Masion, Swedish, and Microsoft. All of which is nuts. Those companies should instead buy time from Metro for an anyone can ride shuttle.

    • Eric says

      I’m sure Amazon would consider contracting with Metro for shuttle service if the shuttles stopped only in front of Amazon buildings and they cost less than the shuttles they currently use.

      The problem with existing bus service for shuttling employees between buildings on opposite ends of downtown is that all of the buses stop so many times along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. This means that a trip that could take 10 minutes with a dedicated shuttle instead takes 20 minutes or longer. For a company that pays its downtown employees as much as Amazon does, a 10 minute time savings each way is worth paying extra for.

      • Gary says

        Sure but it’s an Amazon.com only bus. Why shouldn’t it be open to anyone? Same for those Microsoft buses. Amazon subcontracts those buses, they can’t be more expensive than those Access buses that Metro uses.

        And they could easily add one or two more key stops to make them more useful.

      • Eric says

        “Adding one or two more key stops to make the shuttles more useful” might make them more useful for the public, but they don’t make them more useful for Amazon. Amazon pays for the shuttles as a way to efficiently transport its employees between buildings so that they can get their work done with minimal delay.

        Why would Amazon want to switch its shuttle dollars over to Metro only to see the shuttles get slower from more stops and more crowded from letting more people ride? They would have to get a pretty big discount over their current provider before they would even consider it.

      • Bellevue Resident says

        Once upon a time people, a certain large company wanted to contract with Metro to provide commuter service. Operationally it would make sense, but Metro management didn’t want to. They have regretted it ever since.

    • Aleks says

      Er, I think you may have contradicted yourself.

      The RFA exists today. Yet clearly, it’s not sufficient for Amazon, or any of the other companies which run their own free private shuttle fleets.

      So how exactly is getting rid of the RFA going to make things worse, if the terrible scenario you describe is already happening today?

      FWIW, I think it would be a fantastic idea for the downtown businesses in question to form a LID and fund their own downtown circulator system. Open to the public or reserved for employees? Private vehicles or Metro buses? I don’t really care; I just think that anything that reduces the number of vehicles downtown is a good thing.

  15. Cascadianone says

    I always figured ORCA meant we were phasing out cash payments and fiddly little stubs… Wishful thinking on my part I guess?

    • Nathanael says

      The Seattle area seems to have about the worst mis-implementation of a universal payment card I’ve ever seen.

      Though I suppose at least you have one. Chicago still doesn’t. They got another kick in the ass from the legislature trying to get them to make one which every agency in the region will use. And the New York area doesn’t have one either, but NYC Transit is so dominant, it’s not obvious.

      • Charles says

        Umm the Chicago Card is good on CTA buses and trains as well as PACE busses. That covers transit in multiple Collar counties. Not good on commuter rail though.

      • Bernie says

        Son just returned from France. It ain’t all roses over there. Book tickets on the Eurostar. Don’t confirm 24 hrs. in advance (which they don’t tell you you need to do) tickets get “sold” out from under you. Miraculously however they have tickets they are willing to sell you for the same train, same class but they cost twice as much. Sorry, decline. Unfortunately one member of the party bought more expensive tickets earlier on line and, because they’re more expensive… are non-refundable. The Euro’s make our system seem trivial and they stack it against travelers big time. And, it’s not like they are selling cut rate heavily subsidized tickets to begin with.

  16. Narar says

    Here’s a fun thought. Let’s pretend every single car owner pays the $20 CRC fee. All of them elect to receive the 8 free bus tickets. Let pretend all off them sell their tickets to people who regularly pay cash to ride the bus. Metro wouldn’t make a dime because they would lose all the revenue from the would be cash fare customers. Metro could actually lose money if all the would be cash fare customers were 2 zone peak fare customers.

    I take the bus, but not enough to have the need to buy a monthly pass. Once people start receiving their 8 bus tickets I will definitely be offering around $10-$12 to buy those from them.

    • Zed says

      Yeah, that’s going to happen. Most of them will be thrown in a drawer and never thought of again.

      • narar says

        It’s just a theoretical thought. I know it won’t happen in reality, but depending on the rules implemented, in theory it could happen.

      • narar says

        They’re not to going to custom print the name on the tickets. Um, budget problem. Ask for ID? Um, time consumption. These are tickets that you’re going to put into the dollar slot. It’s not going to be a baseball ticket that you show the driver.

      • Brent says

        Most of the tickets will never be ordered. People who have no interest in riding the bus won’t waste the stamp.

    • Aleks says

      Not to mention, they’re undoubtedly going to be non-transferable, so Metro is free to call shenanigans and refuse to accept them under those circumstances.

      • Bernie says

        How would that work? You pay the cost to custom print the name of the registered owner on each ticket and then the bus driver refuses to allow boarding if the holder of said ticket can’t produce picture ID? Zed’s right, most will never be used. But a large number will and a high percentage of those will be new riders.

      • narar says

        …Not to mention, they’re undoubtedly going to be non-transferable- Transfers are “non-transferable”, but people still give them to other people.

      • narar says

        They’re not to going to custom print the name on the tickets. Um, budget problem. Ask for ID? Um, time consumption. These are tickets that you’re going to put into the dollar slot. It’s not going to be a baseball ticket that you show the driver.

      • Brent says

        If Metro wants the tickets to be non-transferable, then just put them on an ORCA. Who would buy an ORCA when they can’t verify the value on it easily, or trust that the seller wouldn’t turn around, report the card as stolen, and have the balance transfered to another card?

    • Mike Orr says

      The kind of people who pay the $20 fee (drivers) aren’t the kind of people who regularly sell bus tickets (the poor and hustlers). They would not go to the bother of a one-time sale of eight tickets. More likely they would give them to their relatives or friends who ride the bus.

  17. Bernie says

    will expire in two years because of limitations set by the state legislature.

    Probably not.

    Cheaper DART and vanpooling will increase in areas where it’s inefficient to provide service,

    OK, I can see where this got suburban council members on board. Dart and especially van pools help the ‘burbs, are cheap to implement and have double the cost recovery of bus service. And they go where and when people want.

    Each time someone pays the $20 CRC, they will receive eight ride free bus tickets

    Cool! I’ll be riding the 255 with “free” tickets. Orca integration is likely excluded because it would charge ST with the “rebate” and they don’t want to be funding Metro. People have noted that the RFA has lead to an increase in transit use by getting people to try it. The free tickets could have the same effect. Even if people give them away or sell them (most won’t be bothered) it still gets them more aware of the value of transit. I like the deal better than an up or down ballot measure which I would have voted NO on because it just encourages Metro to spend spend spend and anticipate another bail out. This way we get some reform up front.

    • narar says

      What if I offered $350 dollars right now for those 255 “free” tickets and we lived one mile from each other, would you take the money?

      Unless Metro uses some fancy technology to make it impossible for me to use your bus tickets transactions like this will be made.

      • says

        255 was a route number, not a quantity… if you offered me $350 for the free bus tickets I’ll get from the CRC I’d take it and laugh!

        Ultimately, sales like this don’t matter very much. They’re giving away free tickets worth $24 at most. Most trips are cheaper then $3 each, and bus fare is easily paid at face-value through official channels (like the farebox), so nobody is going to pay close to $24 for the package. Maybe… $15. If it takes me more than a few minutes of effort to make $15 I simply won’t bother.

        How much money do you throw away in grocery coupons? You could theoretically sell some of those, too. But you don’t. Every business that hands out coupons counts on a low percentage of them being used. And they’re almost always right, or the practice would cease.

    • Bellevue Resident says

      Bernie, do you trust the state legislature to actually pass a comprehensive long term transit solution in the next two years? Me neither. However this exact CRC, by law, can not extend for more than two years.

      • Bernie says

        Yeah, but once you have people believing that “that’s just what it costs (no clue why/what it pays for) it will just be extended instead of creating a “new” tax even if the revenue/tax is used for something completely different.

  18. Bruce Nourish says

    So I came back from three days vacation to find out that you guys fixed all the problems with Metro — without me.

    Jerks.

    Anyway, this has made my month, and I’m pretty pleased about it overall. I have a couple of reservations:

    * Want to see what the concessions to about 520 and 99 service amount to. The whole point of the RTTF was to put buses where the riders are, not where politicians or the Bellevue Downtown Association, Downtown Seattle Association etc. thinks they ought to be. If we’re talking a few extra trips, or having staff take more time to study the needs of the corridors, I can live with it, but if it’s a major over-allocation of service on those corridors, then Metro has sown the seeds of its own downfall.

    * I’m seriously concerned about the high-ridership routes in the tunnel, like the 41. It takes several minutes to unload the 41 at Northgate with the subway-like crush loads it carries in the peak. Apparently Metro has looked into this (there’s a post from John coming up soon about this) but their answers to the tunnel issue don’t impress me. If Metro’s not willing to remove routes from the tunnel or make prepay a requirement (either with TVMs and/or ubiquitous vendors + day passes) I think we could be setting ourselves up for a world of pain — exacerbated by a subsequent interagency pissing contest with ST.

    Some issues raised by others that I’m not concerned about:

    * Surface buses. I think they’ll do just fine, because buses on the surface can overtake — usually without too much hassle. The exception to that is when buses have to turn off the busy part of the busway and they block a lane. That happens with the 2 (Seneca), 3/4 (James), the Viaduct routes (Columbia), and the 14N, 522, 306 and 312 (Pike). I covered the likely solutions to the Viaduct problem last week, I have a post coming up about moving the 3/4 to Yestler (which has a turn lane). The 14N seems very likely to go away and moving the 522, 306 and 312 wouldn’t cost much, and I know that problem is known to Metro. That leaves only the 2 and I can’t make up my mind if splitting that route is worth the cost (or if Metro is contemplating doing so). Regardless, fixing three out of four will make traffic flow better and probably make up for the boarding delay.

    * The loss of the RFA. Half the people who use it have employer passes and won’t even notice. Only a third are making fully free rides, and in my experience, only a small fraction of that third are people are using it for the intended purpose of stimulating business AND would be put out by either having to pay or walk. Frankly, I think more downtown office workers will use it now (most using their passes) as the buses downtown will be 85% less hobo-tastic.

    Regarding the downtown shuttle idea: Keep in mind that an annual budget of $400k will buy you the use of one Metro bus from about 6 AM to 8 PM. Now think about what route you want this bus to run, and then contemplate how long it will take to run that route in the peak. Pad that number up a bit, and then double it, and that’s the lowest headway in each direction you can operate. I doubt you could run a shuttle from Jackson to Battery at headways less than 20 minutes on that budget. And you can buy and maintain a LOT of TVMs for that money. I’m very skeptical of this idea.

    I’m also a little sad that simple ideas like baby steps away from paper transfers or incentivizing ORCA weren’t mentioned. Oh well, we can only expect Metro to fight a reasonable number of battles at once, I suppose.

  19. Brent says

    Today’s agreement was a wonderful act of bipartisanship (though I hate the two-party Sithdom).

    I believe there is still time to convince the county council that a free ticket giveaway would be a huge step backwards and a huge operational expense / source of inefficiency, while a fee ORCA giveaway (with a choice to load e-purse onto existing ORCAs) would be a much better, more efficient, and more problem-solving, solution. An option of paying more to upgrade to a monthly pass would also be a nice option.

    The same goes for convincing the Seattle city council / Seattle Transportation Benefit District Board not to do a free paper ticket giveaway.

    But even then, giving away ORCAs has limited effect until Metro starts incentivizing the *use* of ORCA, through tools such as a 25-cent surcharge on paying cash to board a bus. The various programs for giving away ORCAs will result in a lot of ORCAs ending up in landfills until such incentivization is introduced.

  20. Brent says

    For the long-term needs of low-income bus riders, I don’t think handing out free tickets or loaded ORCAs one at a time achieves much beside create administrative burden for the agencies handing them out.

    I’d rather allow low-income riders to be able to qualify for RRFPs based on a manageable and objective list of categories, such as being on unemployment, food stamps, WIC, etc. By the time such a program could be implemented, all the agencies will have hopefully adopted policies requiring use of loaded ORCA product in order to get the reduced fare.

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