Separate Issues with the RFA

Oran/Flickr

We’ve had a lively discussion about the end of the Ride Free Area and the general failure of SDOT and Metro to adequately prepare for its demise. I think there are two separate objections that have to be dealt with individually.

First, there’s the social justice argument that compelling people to pay for bus travel downtown is unfair to the very poor. I’m unmoved by this argument, for two reasons: one, intra-downtown trips seem to be an odd category to treat differently; and two, tailoring the entire system to the corner cases of affordability, accessibility, and literacy result in a system that no one with a choice would ever ride. I’ll expand the second point in a later post, but while I would like to see more County programs that provide transportation assistance to the poor, giving everyone a break on downtown trips seems like a badly targeted way to do it.

Secondly, there is a much more valid concern that speed improvements downtown are totally inadequate to maintain effective flow of buses and trains. I’m sympathetic to this, although we won’t know for sure for many months of the experiment. The question is how we bring about change. Personally, I would strongly prefer the “Speed improvements/no RFA” equilibrium over the status quo, although the situation this fall may be worse than either. The RFA and pay-as-you-leave makes the system more complicated and destroys the “board in the front/exit in the rear” convention that makes buses more efficient almost everywhere.

My fear is that any extension of the RFA gives momentum to advocates for a perpetual RFA, provides no pressure to actually make the improvements that would make fare payment work downtown, and therefore traps us in the status quo. I’m generally not a fan of “heighten the contradictions”-type strategies but this is a case where good policy must overcome a bad but stable equilibrium.

Comments

  1. Nathaniel says

    Have I missed out on some credible discussion of extending the RFA? This is the first I’m hearing about the possibility.

  2. Andy says

    I can’t wait for the end of the free-ride area. It is such a lead weight on our system. It just makes the system cumbersome . I have as much concern for social justice as anyone but is this really what we are talking about? Vouchers will exist, as with other locales for those really in need. As mentioned in the post above, I don’t see how trips within downtown are special somehow, it seems like this would be less beneficial to poor than being free systemwide for them. It certainly doesn’t help for tourists as tourists will simply not use a bus system, especially when that bus is full of Homeless folks… it’s just how it is.

    And the slow downtown argument is not a good one either. Instead of making actual improvements to our system, that these traffic jams are a symptom of, we shoe horn in the RFA which brings its own problems. This is not the way to fix problems. I, for one, welcome the traffic jam. When I see buses lined up on third I can think of no better argument for moving our butts to build a real grade separated transit system NOW.

    It’s just like how I felt about the viaduct… we should of torn it down years ago during all the indecision. Then it would force some problem solving as well give us a chance to see what living without it is actually like, maybe that would change some perspective for folks in one way or another. End the RFA!

  3. Brent says

    Is it on-topic here to discuss the nature of the free circulator buses, other more sensible ways to make transit accessible for poor riders all over the county, and how to speed up the buses downtown? (i.e. are those going to be separate posts shortly?)

    The RFA is definitely not getting extended.

  4. Carl says

    I am disappointed that our agencies haven’t been able to come up with 1-day pass that is meaningful for both residents and visitors as one way to help with the impact of eliminating the RFA. Even better also offer a 3-day and maybe 7-day pass, which many agencies have.

    The STB editorial staff largely uses monthly passes, so eliminating the RFA has no impact. But for people who don’t have an employer or school-paid monthly or annual pass – and have an occasional need to come downtown for the day, eliminating the RFA without offering a daypass is certainly inconsiderate.

    The other missed opportunity the RFA elimination is not to do more to drive ORCA adoption and incentivize ORCA use. Rationalizing transfer policies between Metro & ST ought to have been part of that.

    Pretty much all passes are on ORCA, so the boarding slowdown will all be due to cash payers. And nothing whatsoever has been done to move them to ORCA. In fact if you can avoid ST, you will continue to have an incentive to pay cash and get your 3-hour paper transfer.

    A daypass provided on ORCA only could have provided cover for elmination of paper transfers.

    It’s a wasted opportunity.

    • Brent says

      I’m all for N-day passes, so long as they aren’t priced too low as to undercut monthly passes. But their impact has almost zero to do with speeding up buses downtown or getting rid of paper transfers. Indeed, they are more likely to save paper transers since Metro would just implement one-day passes as untorn transfer slips.

      N-day passes (where N>1) can’t be implemented so easily using transfer slips, so if you are going to put your effort into pushing for day passes rather than other things that might actually speed up buses, please don’t ask for 1-day passes. You might regret getting them.

      • aw says

        One-day passes implemented as transfer slips would be counterproductive; it would be limited to Metro and could lead to more transfer hoarding scams.

        The one-day and multi-day pass only makes sense if it’s implemented on ORCA to speed boarding and increase ORCA distribution.

      • Carl says

        There’s no reason that N-day passes cannot be implemented on ORCA only. They could be sold at TVMs and online onto existing ORCAs and perhaps at some retailers pre-loaded (activated by first tap).

        Not available onboard the bus.

      • Brent says

        Precisely! And we’ve seen how off-board payment has morphed into off-board ORCA readers at limited stops, during the hours of 6 am to 7 pm.

        Do you really trust the county council not to take a proposal from Metro staff to have 1-day passes on ORCA and turn it into 1-day transfer slips, from the dais?

    • Bruce Nourish says

      The response we always get from Metro management when we push the daypass issue is that they don’t want to fragment the ORCA system with a Metro-only daypass, but agencies don’t want the reduction in revenue per boarding that a regional daypass would probably subject them to. If I knew of an easy fix for this, I’d be publicly flogging them with it.

      • aw says

        A single agency daypass on ORCA wouldn’t be too bad, as long as it retained the same transfer benefit as a paid fare to that agency. In other words, transfer to another agency’s bus or rail for the value of a single fare on the original agency. The transfer timeclock could be measured from the time the daypass was purchased or first used.

      • Brent says

        If the primary target audience of day passes is for tourists, then having them for one agency would lead to confusion and arguments with operators and fare inspectors about false advertising.

      • Carl says

        It shouldn’t be Metro-only, but it can be King County-only. It should cover ST, Metro & Link in-county. It can be ORCA-only.

    • Mike Orr says

      Day passes have little to do with the RFA. Poor people have enough trouble scraping up $2.25 for a single fare; scraping up $5 would be all the harder and would mean foregoing a sandwich. The RFA benefits only those who stay within downtown (poor people), or who make a short round trip while spending the day downtown (businesspeople’s lunch). Everyone else will have a transfer so their downtown trip is free anyway.

      The people who buy day passes are going a longer distance, and they think they will or might make two or more trips that day. If you’re going from downtown to downtown and you didn’t get a daypass, you can always walk back. If you’re going from downtown to Greenwood, walking back would take three hours, so you’d better get the daypass, especially if there’s any possibility you might stop in the U-District or Greenlake on the way back.

      • Carl says

        The other thing a daypass will do is allow someone who lives outside of downtown to come downtown for the day and move around downtown without having to pay for each boarding. It replaces the RFA in that way. Or, frankly, even someone who lives in Belltown or SLU and needs to board 3 times not inside a transfer window that day.

        For people who worry about cannibalizing monthly passes, the montly pass is based on 36 boardings, I believe, so 2 boardings/day in 18 days. Any price that is higher than 2 peak boardings (ie. $6) will be sufficient to lead to little or no cannibalization of monthly passes, and the revenue per boarding of a monthly pass will likely be higher than that of monthly pass holders or riders who transfer on a single fare.

      • Carl says

        that last statement should have read that the revenue per boarding of a daypass is likely higher than that of a monthly pass holder and probably even higher than a transferring ePurse rider

  5. Kevin Futhey says

    As a social service provider, I’ve come to believe that the best responses to poverty are those that allow the poor to participate in markets in as similar a manner to the norm as possible.

    For example, nobody knows when you use food stamps at the grocery store, and you can purchase the foods you prefer at the stores you prefer. Food banks, while free, involve waiting in long lines and giving up choice.

    When a market-based approach works for most people, low income people should be given the ability to enter those markets rather than have to deal with a free alternative that isn’t as good.

    We need to make sure that low income people can easily access these bus vouchers and that they are in sufficient supply. That will be a major challenge, but it can be done.

    • says

      +1 – I hate the idea of the free circulator buses as they seem to be warehouses for the poor. As much as the current vouchers seem open to fraud and abuse (easy to photocopy, I believe) they provide needed transportation services throughout the whole region, not just downtown. They would be even better if they were ORCA cards, permanent or temporary, so they wouldn’t stigmatize the user. (These passes are currently the only flash passes remaining in circulation so the users stick out)

      • Brent says

        To avoid stigmatization, give the free bus a regular route number, don’t advertise its freeness publicly, and leave it up to the agencies getting the front-door service to tell their clients about it. This will help with the capacity concerns. (Maybe this is what Metro already has in mind.)

        Also, give ACRS a free van that they can use to go pick up their client who needs a 1-seat ride from Little Saigon, and cancel the last four months of the 42 to pay for the van.

      • eddiew says

        amen. The Seattle funds used for the circulator will be poorly spent. There is plenty of service in the area of the loop. The issue is that the poor cannot afford the fare. The Seattle funds would be much better spent getting fare media into the hands of the poor. This was suggested. Perhaps its problems, whatever they are, can be solved soon.

      • says

        Free circulators aren’t necessarily a bad idea. The problem seems to be the attitude that they’re going to be solely “for the poor”. Other cities have free circulators downtown or in other limited areas but don’t design or market them specifically “for the poor”. The 16th Street Mall Shuttle in Denver, the Nicollet Mall Free Bus in Minneapolis (a creative use of the tail end of routes terminating downtown), and the Olympia State Capitol Shuttles come to mind. Remove the condescending marketing, give the routes legitimate numbers/designations, and emphasise that they’re for *everyone*, not just “those people”….

    • Brent says

      I’ve been told by someone who has talked to numerous social service agencies that they all hate the free-rides-loaded-on-ORCA program (since it is an expensive administrative nightmare), and much prefer keeping vouchers. I’m happy with the voucher program.

      But there are really two target audiences to think of at least somewhat separately: the working poor and the destitute (and I apologize if my choice of words is not the best). For the working poor, who don’t have time to go around to social service agency appointments, and ask for a voucher each step of the way, and for whom the bus trip is a major expense, there is a solution that is already part of the fabric of the Metro universe: reduced regional fare permits.

      Just add a new category for economic hardship, and make it simple to implement: If you qualify for food stamps (and add to this list, but I don’t know everything that should be on it), then you would be able to walk in to the Metro pass sales office, present the paperwork and ID, get a picture taken, and get an ORCA designated for temporary economic hardship. The card should be good for some administratively reasonable minimum amount of time, perhaps the same minimum as for temporary disability.

      If seniors can get reduced fares, then why not people who can show that the cost of riding the bus is definitely a big hit on their wallet? They’d still have to pay in (75 cents per ride, or $27 per month), but the cost would be more reasonable. And everyone in the program would be using ORCA. (Btw, I would expect that the pass not be used as a flash pass to pay with cash, as a reasonable trade-off for getting the reduced fare.)

      Make up the lost fare revenue by raising general fares, since, by definition, those paying the higher fares can afford to pay more. Raise my fares!

      • Brent says

        Thank you, MR! I’ve been looking for an existing model, and until now, couldn’t find one.

        RI doesn’t have a contactless smart card, in case anyone was wondering why they would do their program as a flash pass.

      • Michael Ragsdale says

        I’m originally from The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (remember that if you’re ever on Jeopardy! lol) and RIPTA’s program immediately came to mind

      • PSF says

        Many of those organizations use the tickets as carrots for good behavior, and the threat of withholding as a stick.

        Of course, if you treat your customers like juvenile delinquents, you’ll probably get the sorts of behavior you expect.

        The mystery is why Metro lets itself be used this way by the social service agencies.

      • Beavis McGee says

        It isn’t up to Metro. Metro isn’t an entity that is empowered to make policy, only to implement it-often in a manner hamstrung by politics, inter agency squabbling, red tape and economic realities.

    • RachaelL says

      +1. I really think they need to be orca though — overcome whatever makes them painful administratively. My family was on food stamps when I was in high school for a while. We had to use giant vouchers which took a while to count. Everyone behind you knew you were on assistance. The modern EBT cards are much, much better for that (though admittedly I’ve never used them — perhaps they have their own problems). I can’t imagine it works that differently for transportation assistance.

      • Brent says

        The free-rides-loaded-on-ORCA program, as I understand it, requires the agency to database who received them. On top of that, the human service agency has to swallow the cost of the ORCA card. But, Metro gets to keep it from being a hit on the transit budget by charging the human service agencies.

        However, if taxpayers are paying for the program one way or another, and out of the same revenue source (sales tax), then the taxpayers are getting a bad deal out of this program.

        The vouchers may seem like a missed opportunity to get an ORCA card into someone’s hands, but at least it doesn’t turn into a cash fumbling. (And we could look at ST train tickets as a similar missed opportunity, but the tickets really don’t clog up the system.)

        The simplest way to enable human service agencies to get out of the business of transportation provision is to handle it down at the Metro sales office with an economic hardship RRFP ORCA.

      • Nathanael says

        From what I’ve been told the main problem with the EBT cards is that they’re subcontracted to big banks, and the big banks are run by jerks who try to skim money and cheat people. There’s apparently nothing wrong with them which couldn’t be fixed by a state-owned/state-run bank.

      • Brent says

        Unfortunately, the biggest opponent of a state bank is our state treasurer, who is running unopposed. The banks must have liked him so much they talked any Republicans out of challenging him.

    • Chetan says

      We need more people like you talking to the Seattle City Council. These free downtown buses will be empty, except for a few really poor people and a few other confused tourists. We should use the money on vouchers.

  6. SMP Belltown says

    (I could be mistaken about the RFA history here, so if anyone could correct me if my details are wrong, I’d appreciate it.)

    -

    As I understand things, there was an inexpensive downtown bus service in Seattle before the Metro era. It wasn’t a suburban commuter transit system, so it didn’t need to have high fares for trips that were only a few blocks though the Pioneer Square and Central Business areas. Then, for about 40 years, this became the Ride Free Area (which was even expanded at one point). This inexpensive/free downtown service was used by business people, poor people, and tourist people alike.

    Now the RFA is going away, and bus service for downtown trips will be the same as for trips out to the neighborhoods. For example, a downtown worker who’s used to taking a downtown bus even just one time a week – say for a 6 block lunch errand – will now spend $2.25 a week, or about $100 a year. That price is the same for tourists and poor folks.

    This may not be a huge amount, but for regular downtown trips, it definitely adds up, and it is actual money. For downtown users, this isn’t too much worse than if they just raised the basic bus fare to $3.00 for all trips throughout the Metro area. (That might also raise more money btw, and it would definitely cut down on fare confusion between times and zones.) Of course, jacking up the bus fare to $3.00 for everyone would make a lot of people angry, and understandably so. But similarly, I think that it might be good for folks to realize that jacking up the rate for short downtown trips to $2.25 is a very real and significant change, with a real financial cost to the users of the service.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      +1 That’s one of my biggest problem with ending the RFA. You end up charging the cheapest rides in the system* fares so high that few will use it. If there’s more than one person in your group a taxi becomes cheaper than taking the bus across town.

      *buses run downtown anyway, whether there’s high demand for downtown-to-downtown trips or zero

      • Brent says

        Frankly, I’d love to see more taxis downtown. When Metro’s communications plans fell apart during snowpocalypse, and I was trying to get to the airport, it was surprisingly hard to flag down a cab.

        Having more tourists paying more taxis downtown is a good thing.

      • Cascadia Bryan says

        Frankly, I’d love to see more taxis downtown. When Metro’s communications plans fell apart during snowpocalypse, and I was trying to get to the airport, it was surprisingly hard to flag down a cab.

        As a cab driver, I would point out that during the snowpocalypse, only about 1/8 of the city’s fleet of cabs was out — the drivers just didn’t want to drive in it. For those of us who were out, we were getting stuck in the same conditions that the buses were. Yes, it was difficult to get a cab that week.

      • Andy says

        Well the whole point of communal systems like transit and healthcare is that some will utilize the expensive service while most will utilize the less expensive services. This is why the economy of these public services works. If you payed what it actually cost to “get you there” it would likely be much more.

    • asdf says

      How does that downtown worker get downtown in the first place? If he rides the bus, he probably already has a pass and the 6 block lunch errand is free. Only if he drives downtown will the end of the RFA be an additional cost to him. And even then, he can always cut the price of the trip in half by walking one way, or eliminate it completely by walking both ways.

      • SMP Belltoiwn says

        I was thinking about carpoolers, actually. I guess maybe there are only a few people who share an auto ride from the suburbs and outlying areas to the Seattle office tower parking garages and back again at the end of the day.

        (Which would be too bad, if that’s the case.)

        Also, walking is great when the weather is nice and the distance is short. But it can be a workout, too. Especially it’s a quick errand that involves carrying something.

      • asdf says

        Walking is absolutely great, and the more or it, the better. However, if you’re willing to walk a mile from home to work, walking a few more blocks from work to lunch shouldn’t be that big a deal.

        You have a good point about carpoolers though. For people that live in outlying suburbs and work standard 9-5 hours, driving to a P&R and riding a bus is likely to be cheaper and more convenient. But I can see carpooling to downtown being very useful for people that work non-standard hours and need to commute when the bus service to their neighborhood is too circuitous or infrequent, if it even runs at all.

        Still though, these people are a relatively small minority.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        There are a lot of cases that don’t fit into the transit pass model. You pretty much have to ride the bus every day for a pass to make sense. Here are a few of the work modes I’ve experienced myself where passes didn’t make sense:

        1. Work 9 days every 2-week pay period and get one day off
        2. Ride my bike when the weather it nice
        3. Drop my wife off at work, then park near my son’s school and ride the bus back to work, then she rides the bus to pick up our son then picks me up (could we share a bus pass? maybe that could end up working. but see #2)
        4. Plenty of travel for work. More than a few days per month, and the pass costs me more than out-of-pocket.
        5. Any month where I’m taking a vacation.
        6. Walk to work in the summer, but sometimes need to cross town faster than I can achieve on foot.

        And that’s all just me. How many other modes do a bus pass not make sense?

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Another form of paying money does not solve this problem. We’re talking about charging outrageous $/mile fares for the cheapest service in the system, which will remove riders from our buses. The argument against the RFA [asdf] made was that everyone downtown has a pass anyway. I’m just questioning that assumption.

        E-purse is simply storing your money in electronic form. Faster, but exactly as expensive as paying with cash.

      • Brent says

        I’m not going to debate the RFA, as that issue is decided. But I will debate the day-pass fetishism on this list. We have to be careful about how that N-day pass program is implemented, so that it doesn’t have lots of ill side effects, like saving paper transfers, undercutting monthly passes, increasing time operators converse with confused people at stops, increasing administrative costs, or otherwise causing an unintended drop in fare recovery, not to mention distraction from other efforts that would actually be relevant to speeding up buses getting through downtown. Good plans have been offered here, but, unfortunately, they don’t mesh with the counterproductive one-day pass that has been hinted at by Metro and ST.

        Mark my word: Metro will implement the one-day pass by offering uncut transfer slips, not by getting it added as an ORCA feature.

      • Beavis McGee says

        No, it won’t. Metro had all day passes available on weekends and holidays before. They weren’t simply OWL transfers. It actually wasn’t that long ago.

      • Mike Orr says

        The main reason for a day pass is so you don’t spend $12 or $25 a day going to one place in the morning, then another place or two in the midday, and come home in the evening. A common convention for day passes is that you pay one round trip fare and you’re set for the rest of the day. The price can be set at 2 1/2 trips or 3 trips if you think that’s too cheap. But the point is, there should be a defined maximum amount per day so that people aren’t spending $100 for a week’s worth of sightseeing or errands, or not going places because the bus is so expensive. Of course, premium services like Sounder would have surcharges. Or just handle it like a PugetPass: the pass has a face amount, and ORCA deducts surcharges above that.

    • Cascadia Bryan says

      As I understand things, there was an inexpensive downtown bus service in Seattle before the Metro era.

      Back when I was a youngster (late 1960′s to early 70′s) I remember seeing a bus route called the “Dime Shuttle” in Downtown. It had the Dime Shuttle roller signage, there were a couple of red flags on the front that said “10c”, and presumably had a route that circulated through Downtown. Grandma used it occasionally.

      I suppose that if we convert that to 2012 dollars that it would be the “Dollar Shuttle” nowadays.

      • SMP Belltoiwn says

        I think a “Dollar Shuttle” would be a good idea, actually. The shuttle area could even be expanded by a couple of blocks, to get it closer to the First Hill hospitals and also cover more of the Belltown area where a lot of social agency sorts of places seem to be settling lately. (Maybe expand it in the Regrade area to Vine or Cedar Street?)

        This would be pretty handy for a lot of folks who live downtown and have health issues, and it would be reasonably priced for everyone.

  7. says

    ‘the “board in the front/exit in the rear” convention that makes buses more efficient almost everywhere’.

    Is pay-in-the-front or all-door boarding the gold standard? Pay-in-the-front, exit in the rear has a smooth logic, especially with smartcard tap-on, tap-off. However, this system breaks down at high passenger volumes. All-door boarding/exiting can handle greater throughout, particularly with 3 doors.

    So a system with high and low ridership bus routes will probably end up with 2 payment schemes. Ways to avoid the need for 2 bus payment schemes:

    - Spread out bus stops/routing so that no stop has too great a frequency for pay-as-you-enter. In downtown Seattle, this could mean splitting the 3rd Avenue stops into 3 skip-stop groups instead of 2, or moving some buses to 1st and 5th Avenues.
    - Shift the high-demand routes to rail, where all-door-boarding prevails. The ridership on the remaining bus routes would not exceed the capacity for pay-as-you-enter. In Seattle, this would mean building out ST 2 & 3, Seattle Subway plus a few more streetcars.
    - Make the entire bus system proof-of-purchase, all-door boarding, as San Francisco recently did. This results in high POP inspection costs, which only makes sense for a system with high overall ridership.

    • Brent says

      A major hurdle to all-door boarding countywide is that Metro hasn’t figured out how to make having ORCA readers at all doors be fraud-proof. If fare evaders stand close to the rear-door reader and wait until they see a fare enforcement officer before they tap it, the program is reduced to honor system.

      Having off-board readers at all stops would multiply the capital cost by at least a factor of 10.

      So, the best we can hope for is having routes that are all off-board payment and zones that are all off-board payment, and hope the rules for each are identical and simple (e.g. no 6 am to 7 pm rules). The cost per stop of setting up SWIFT-style ticket machines is non-trivial.

      • says

        There is no such thing as a fraud-proof fare payment system. Even turnstiles can be jumped, unless you turn transit into a maximum security prison or airport.

        If the would-be fare evader paid their fare at the sight of fare enforcement, then it works. The issue and major cost of POP is having enough enforcement to deter evasion to a reasonable level.

        They could activate the readers only when the bus is at a stop, like in Singapore, and they use a tap-on/tap-off system there.

      • Cinesea says

        Oran,

        I’ve visited Singapore many times(my wife is from there) and I love riding the public transit there. Since my first time there, I’ve been an advocate of tap on/tap off fares. It makes you pay for ‘distance’ as opposed to ‘zones.’ Plus, many of the buses I rode were boarded at transit centers where maybe 30-40 people were boarding at one time. It is amazing how fast so many people can board(front door only!) when everyone does it the same way AND there’s no conversation with the bus driver(I always say “hello” and its funny to see the reactions from the different drivers!).

      • asdf says

        If the would-be fare evader pays their fare at the sight of a fare enforcement officer it doesn’t work. This would effectively mean that if the chance of a fare enforcement officer actually being there is 1 out of 10, then the rider would only have to pay for one out of every 10 trips.

        In order for POP to work, the rider must be incentivized to pay the fare for every trip, both when the fare enforcement officer is there and when he isn’t.

      • Nathanael says

        POP (proof-of-payment) systems work by having huge fines if you get caught without a ticket. This means that your typical fare evader can “skip the fare” 19 times, but when he gets caught the 20th time, he pays far more than 20 fares would have cost.

        This seems to work just fine at convincing people to pay their fares.

    • Mike Orr says

      “Pay-in-the-front, exit in the rear has a smooth logic, especially with smartcard tap-on, tap-off. However, this system breaks down at high passenger volumes.”

      And our pay-as-you-leave doesn’t break down at high passenger volumes. (Campus Parkway, cough.) With front-in, rear-out, boarding/debording occurs simultaneously at every stop. With the RFA, this occurs (partially) one direction, and the other direction everyone uses the front door and the back door is closed.

      Front-door boarding already exists in high-volume areas, such as the U-district southbound. At rush hour it’s common for 25 people to board at one stop, 25 more at the next stop, and a few squeeze in at the third stop. This happens weekdays at 5pm and whenever there’s a ball game. Guess what, it doesn’t turn into a gridlock apocolypse. All those people have to pay their fares at some point, so if they do it at one stop or a different stop it doesn’t really make any difference to the total travel time.

  8. Mark Dublin says

    Apologies for absence from loop on something this important, but the Nordic world is farther from Seattle than I thought. Not every hostel has e-mail, and a nine hour time difference is sort of interstellar.

    I’m surprised that none of the discussion above specifically mentions the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, which promises by far the most infuriating reverberations from everybody having to pass individual bus fare boxes as they board.

    Has anybody been at International District Station about 10:30 on a game night? If so, transfer general scene to 5PM rush hour every day and you’ll have a good idea of the results of fare box collection underground.

    What’s really embarrassing is that offboard fare collection was designed into the Tunnel thirty years ago during Design Engineering: giant mezzanines for fare collection, with general understanding platforms would become Proof of Payment areas.

    Not one of the excuses for not doing the above “washes.” Taxpayers paid for those Lord of the Rings caverns. This one should be a simple “just do it!”

    Mark Dublin Helsinki yesterday, Stockholm tomorrow, Gothenburg day after.

    • Nathanael says

      “What’s really embarrassing is that offboard fare collection was designed into the Tunnel thirty years ago during Design Engineering: giant mezzanines for fare collection, with general understanding platforms would become Proof of Payment areas.”

      Indeed.

      I believe the current excuse is simply that different services have different fares. Um, whatever. Make it so that all buses using the tunnel have the same fare. Was that so hard? I can think of several ways to do it: you can either simply change the fare on the buses already in the tunnel, or you can change which routes are in the tunnel.

      (It’s OK for the trains to have a different fare, because they already have roving fare inspectors checking on board the trains.)

      • Brent says

        In order to apply the correct fare income to the correct agency, tap-ons in the tunnel still have to be on an ORCA readers set for Metro fares or one set for ST fares.

        Of course, kicking the 550 upstairs would solve that problem, but be a case of the fare system getting in the way of sensible bus routing.

        If we are paying senior operators to hold ORCA readers at rear doors, I think they are highly capable of juggling the route number assignments and zone assignments on the reader, though. “Those riding one zone, please form a line over here, while we board those riding two zones first.” Heh, people might even pay a two-zone fare to get a better seat.

      • Beavis McGee says

        It won’t be senior operators acting as loaders in the DSTT, but Jr. Operators working part of a split shift (combo).

  9. Jon Korneliussen says

    Consolidate stops downtown and install TVMs at each stop. Require off-vehicle ticket purchase prior to boarding within the limits of downtown. Problem solved.

    • asdf says

      Downtown already does a pretty decent job of stop consolidation. Most local routes that pass through downtown, in fact, have wider stop spacing downtown than they do in the other neighborhoods they go to. If we could convince people that the stop spacing we have downtown is what we should have everywhere, we would have a faster and more reliable transit system.

      • Nathanael says

        You’ll never convince people to increase stop spacing in neighborhoods without sidewalks; it becomes a safety issue.

        In neighborhoods with sidewalks, it should, eventually, be possible to convince people.

      • Brent says

        Consider that for most neighborhood routes, the distance people walk just to get to the route path is much longer than it would be downtown.

        The more the routes spread apart, the longer average walking distances to stops grows.

        That said, the time saved for having tighter stop spacing becomes negligible after some of those longer walks. The biggest complainers will be those living closest to the route path. And some may have a legitimate gripe because they moved there to be next to a stop.

  10. Brent says

    One revenue-positive tactic for improving bus flow in the Central Business District is to reduce the number of buses travelling the length of the district. This can be done by reducing frequency on underperforming routes, or re-routing so as to push riders into empty seats on other buses or trains.

    I wouln’t mind an administrative re-coupling of the 132 and 14S (as an example), since that would be far enough to reach the River of Frequency. I put this out there not necessarily as the best option, but for illustrative purposes. The hours saved from neither route doing the downtown crawl could be rolled into more frequency on the route, or used to meet the hour-reduction goal.

    The 101, 102, and 106 are painful examples of routes that ought not be going through downtown. It is whack that these buses will be slowing down the trains instead of filling seats on the train.

    Somehow, in government, the most expensive options seem to be the ones that get implemented.

  11. RossB says

    Downtown area is one area where a free trolley makes sense. As I see it, there are basically three types of rides through downtown. To simplify things, I’ll assume a ride going north, starting from the south end of town (although the model works going north or heading into downtown). This means:

    1) Rider gets on at the south end of downtown and exits at the north end of downtown.
    2) Rider gets on at the south end of downtown, patiently waits for the bus to go through downtown, then exits at the north end of Seattle.
    3) Rider gets on at the north end of downtown and exits at the north end of Seattle.

    Now see what happens if we add the free trolley:

    1) Rider gets on and off the trolley very quickly. All doors open and there is no fare, so this is much faster than a regular bus.
    2) Rider has a choice. Continue to patiently wait on the bus as it goes through downtown, or hop and off the trolley. The trolley is faster, so generally speaking, it makes sense to use it.
    3) Unchanged.

    Now that riders have a good alternative to sitting on a bus through downtown, the buses can skip that part. Just have the bus turnaround (or, if it must go through downtown, then don’t make any stops until its at the other end of town). This would save a huge amount of time.

    If memory serves, the whole point of the RFA was to promote downtown business. I’m not sure if it needs the help anymore, but a free, rapid trolley would do it much better. The city would probably have to pay for most of it, but Metro could chip in, since it would allow them to eliminate lots of very time consuming stops.

    One of the general areas that could be improved is to have pre-pay zones. Basically, it could work like a subway, in that you pay to get into the platform, then when the vehicle arrives, you just get on. Right now, Northgate makes sense for this. Have everyone pay to get onto the platform, then when the bus arrives, it zooms away. You wouldn’t have to do this with all bus stops (of course) just the ones that have lots of riders. If we transition to the system outlined in the first few paragraphs, then stops like that would make a lot of sense (since a trolley would feed into the bus stop).

    • Brent says

      The idea of making the RapidRide D Line free in the Central Business District was on the table and received much discussion, but it was opposed by human service agencies. This surprised me, but if that is their judgement, I won’t question it.

      IIRC, their big wish remains getting a lot more free vouchers, and not having to pay so much in for them. (The agencies pay for half the face value.) There are ways to make this not be a cost to the transit system (outside of administrative costs, which are still substantial), by making most vouchers good only outside peak hour, for example, but still offering a smaller supply of any-time vouchers for those who need a ride immediately.

      There are lots of empty seats to fill mid-day. Incentivize those who have a flexible schedule to fill the empty seats rather than push the capacity on full peak-hour buses.

  12. Eric says

    I am so happy the end is near. No more drug dealers hoping on the bus to make their deal in the back and then hop back off before they have to pay. The RFA attracts riff raff like that, not to mention those who use it as a tool to fare dodge. Board for free downtown then go to Capitol Hill or wherever and just walk off what is the bus driver gonna do chase you down. I see street people do this all the time and most are able bodied so they could have walked. There are a lot of poor who can walk, that’s how it worked in the old days. Some people expect a free ride for everything. Welfare check and a free bus ride to sign up for it. Those days need to end because we do not have the $$ to do that. Plus it seems to be making people become expectant on hand outs rather than being self sufficient.

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