Transit’s Long Road to Olympia

Senator Curtis King (Yakima)

In yesterday’s post on Gregoire’s transportation package proposal, Ben alluded to a GOP coup in the State Senate, which I’ll expound upon a bit.  The coup is being officially referred to as a “majority coalition caucus“– the result of two conservative Democrats*, Rodney Tom (48th) and Tim Sheldon (35th), partnering with Senate Republicans to create an effective majority.  It’s a direct challenge to the majority that the Democrats thought they had won following the election, and only possible because Tim Probst fell 74 votes shy of winning Don Benton’s seat to represent the 17th (Vancouver).

Back in late November, the Senate Democratic Caucus rolled out its own plans for committee leadership– Ed Murray would have been Senate majority leader and Tracey Eide Transportation Committee chair, among others.  Eide’s promotion was something we foresaw had the election results worked in favor of a Mary Margaret Haugen defeat, which is exactly how things panned out.  Thanks to this new coalition, however, all of the Democrats appointments are now in question– what it means for transportation, and transit, specifically, remains to be seen.

The “coup,” as some have aptly named it, has already announced its own plans (.pdf) for committee leadership in the Senate: twelve committees split between Democrat and Republican chairs, and the remaining co-chaired between the two parties.  The Transportation Committee, under the coalition’s plans, would be co-chaired with a makeup of eight Senators from each party.  And the Republican appointee to chair happens to be none other than Senator Curtis King (14th), from Yakima, who was the committee’s previous ranking minority member.

Any advantage that the Democrats would have had with Eide at chair is effectively negated with King as her equal.  During debate over Senate Bill 6582, Senator King railed against the possibility of vehicle-license fees going to fund transit and any councilmanic action over such authority.  The bill, which would have increased local transit funding options, was batted around in the Legislature before eventually dying in the Senate.

This vastly different power structure in the Senate makes chances for new revenue, let alone local options for transit, look fairly slim at this point.  The Transportation Committee’s even split between the two parties makes it easily prone to deadlock– which means that any resulting inaction could steer Metro straight off the cliff they managed to avoid just last year.  I think the silver lining here, should such a doomsday scenario occur, is that there’s a powerful incentive for the region’s transit agencies to restructure and regroup for a future lobbying effort that could provide a much more permanent solution.

Nonetheless, there’s a long ways to go before that bridge is even crossed.  For the time being, we’ll wait to see what happens before the Legislative session kicks off in January.

*Both Senators Tom and Sheldon opposed the $20 CRC for Metro in some form or another.

Comments

  1. Lyle says

    The R’s aren’t THAT unfriendly to transit . . . Pete VonR. has been a staunch Sound Transit boardmember for years, Jim Horn was a co-sponsor of the monorail authority enabling legislation, Reagan Dunn voted for several Metro tax hikes, Chris Vance was a co-sponsor of the Sound Transit enabling statutes in ’92 . . . the fact of the matter is that R’s aren’t the problem. There are pro-transit individuals on both sides of the aisle. The lobbyists need to do their jobs now and make the case for more revenue options that don’t require votes!

      • Stephen F says

        Again, that’s untrue. Most taxes on the local level are councilmanic. It’s the occasional levy that goes to the people. The State raises user fees, surcharges, and specific taxes all the time. It’s big packages that they know are crap that get sent from the Legislature to the people. Anyway, give the Supremes time, they’ll obliterate Eymen’s unconstitutional initiative. You can pretend that you have direct democracy all you like, but it doesn’t exist and shouldn’t.

      • says

        “Most taxes on the local level are councilmanic”

        Not up at Skagit.

        Not at the state level – except for user fees.

        I know you don’t like people voting on taxes, but I feel it’s what they want and puts a check on taxes getting out of control. I just wish we could do the same with tax exemptions.

    • Stephen F says

      Von Reichbauer is horrendous. What are you talking about??? He was my previous council member and could have cared less–still doesn’t.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Compared to Chris King and many other Republicans Peter Von Reichbauer is an enthusiastic transit supporter.

      • Stephen F says

        Wow, what a defence. :-/ That’s like saying “he’s not Mao, just Stalin.” Von Reichbauer is hardly a transit ally.

    • David L says

      You have cherry-picked a few Rs who are friendly.

      Most simply do not believe in the efficacy of any form of transit, and many more believe there is no justification for anything beyond bus systems operated on a shoestring for poor people with no other options.

      Most important for us, the first group includes Curtis King, who will now co-chair the Transportation Committee. He is against even providing municipalities or transit districts with any options to generate voter-approved funding for transit, because he believes that granting highways a monopoly on transportation funds is in the best interest of every community in the state.

      • Nathanael says

        More importantly, sanity on the part of Republican government officials leads to ostracism by the party. Charlie Crist was the last Republican governor I could respect, and he’s not a Republican any more.

        If they support transit, they’ll be pushed out of the party or forced to renounce. Look at Mica in the US House — he used to be considered a “moderate” who supported passenger rail, but last session he was grandstanding against Amtrak in order to get support from his caucus.

    • eddiew says

      more context
      Councilmember Dunn voted against Transit Now in 2006 and against the CRC in 2011. For the TN vote see: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20060906&slug=transit06m
      Senator Horn co-sponsored the monorail authority as part of a quid pro quo (log rolling) deal with Senator Murray; the RTID was the part Horn wanted.
      PVR and Dunn voted against the CRC in 2011:
      http://seattletransitblog.com/2011/08/15/council-passes-crc-rfa-deal-after-dramatic-day/

  2. Seattleite says

    The Dems need to kick these traitors out of the caucus. If they want to be Republicans, let them be Republicans.

    The current ‘power sharing’ agreement gives all the power to the Rs, but then allows all the blame to fall equally on both. If the Republicans want to lead, let them, and let them take full credit for the fall out.

    Heck, what’s the worse that could happen? Instead of them throwing a bone at transit in the new Highway bill, it’s just Highway only? To me that just makes it easier to defeat.

    Not to mention maybe now Metro will actually have to make some hard decisions about route restructuring.

      • Seattleite says

        Last election Sen. Tom’s district voted 70-30 and 60-40 for Democrats in the House. This is now a Democratic District, which is why Sen. Tom switched parties back in 06.

        He needs to decide which party he wants to belong to.

        I’d rather two years of clear Republican control followed by clear Democratic control, then having the Senate dominated by these turncoats for perpetuity.

      • David L says

        If Rodney Tom’s district is trending Democratic, I hope the constituents there will have the sense to see that he is no longer a Democrat, regardless of what label he applies to himself.

      • Daniel Warwick says

        The 48th LD also voted for Jay Inslee by just 6% (53-47). Bill Hirt was not a serious candidate and Cyrus Habib outspent Hank Myers by a lot as well as gained a lot of earned media.

        In 2010, Senator Tom beat a challenger who spent twice what he spent by 5% points. Yes, the 48th is a blue district but we’re also a pragmatic district, Senator Tom is personally well-liked, and he is not a Republican.

      • Lack Thereof says

        Rodney Tom’s district has been solidly D for a long time. It’s not a swing district anymore. He was originally elected as Republican, and the popular rumor is that the only reason he switched affiliations in 2006 was that the district would no longer elect a Republican.

        He’s been using the Democratic party’s label and campaign funds to win elections, while pursing the Republican party’s agenda.

      • Bernie says

        I tend to lean Republican but voted for Tom. I also enthusiastically voted for Ross Hunter. All discretionary spending in the next budget cycle is going to have to emphasis education. The Republicans remain a minority in the Senate and are now forced to compromise with the conservative Democrats holding the real power. I’m sure there was a lot of backroom discussion on just who would “join” with the Republicans. It’s not a coincidence that just exactly the right number at the very same time left to form a coalition. You can bet your sweet bippy the order came down from the top. Maybe now something can get done without calling endless special sessions.

      • Nathanael says

        Let them be Republicans.

        We’ve been seeing this sort of shit, traitorous Democrats, in New York State; this is now the second go-around for us. Of course, we have 100 years of deadwood to clear out in our State Senate; you have less of an excuse.

      • Nathanael says

        In the interests of strict accuracy, I have to correct myself: the deadwood accumulating in the NY State Senate only dates from roughly 1940, so it’s only 72 years old. Still a lot to clean out.

  3. David L says

    Ugh. The idea that Curtis King gets to tell us what we can and can’t vote to support locally here in Seattle, without taking a penny from him or any constituent of his, just makes me retch.

  4. Stephen F says

    Considering the response that I received from Tom, he seems highly defensive trying to pull any national Democratic talking point as his own. I think enough pressure by his constituents will scare him straight. He did not like the idea of being challenged as a turncoat and challenge with another Democrat in his stead. We’re probably screwed with the current arrangement for the Senate, but if we force Tom off his high horse and back to reality, we can bring order back to State governance. I think it won’t take long to show that this arrangement is impossible to sustain and Tom is going to be highly bloodied.

  5. Mark Dublin says

    Sherwin, let’s hear some of your ideas about how local agencies can restructure and regroup. Over the last few yars, I’ve come to think it’s time for voters to bring this about.

    What do you think would be our best course of action?

    Mark Dublin

    • Stephen F says

      I imagine that voters don’t realise that there is even a structural problem. A charter amendment would be the way to go. I imagine unifying Metro with ST would be the only palatable voter initiative as people can identify with that organisation. Asking them to make King County Metro Transit be King County Metro Transit (not associated with the Council) seems likely confusing. Thoughts?

      • Bernie says

        ST is a tri-county agency and it’s bylaws don’t mesh with absorbing KC Metro. ST for the most part contracts out all front line labor. Absorbing KC Metro would mean taking on pension and benefit responsibilities completely foreign to ST’s reason for existence which is to build regional transportation infrastructure. The only agency consolidation which could happen is Everett Transit and Community Transit. And Everett seems pretty content now to keep control of it’s city bus service

      • Stephen F says

        Yes, Bernie, under today’s arrangement. That doesn’t mean that will be the case in the future–it won’t be.

      • Bernie says

        ST would be crazy to take on Metro. It would undoubtedly drop their stellar bond ranking. The tri-county board is already wary of King County as being the 800# gorilla and would never cede even more control meaning the politics of route restructuring would be even worse. Tax revenue laws would have to be revised by the State legislature and again there’s zero incentive for anyone to do that. ST and KC Metro have fundamentally different mandates. There no plausible reason to believe they would ever be merged. More likely, but still a remote possibility would be Metro splitting into a City of Seattle Transit and Metro assuming all responsibility outside of the City limits.

    • David L says

      I’m reluctant to say this because I don’t like warring fiefdoms, but it seems to me that the only option for reasonable improvement to transit service in Seattle is to split the Seattle portion of Metro from the remainder of it, or at least to somehow give Seattle residents or pols independent control.

      As it is today, the county council’s suburban majority regularly scotches even basic improvements to Seattle transit, despite vastly higher Seattle ridership, subsidies that currently flow from Seattle to the rest of the county, and a number of egregious capacity and operational issues in Seattle that the rest of the county really doesn’t face.

      Give Seattle control of (and responsibility for funding) every Metro route with a one- or two-digit number, along with the 106, 113, 116, 120, 124, 125, 131, 132, 358, 372, and 373. Turn the 101, 255, 271, and service corresponding to the various Metro routes paralleling the 522, 554, and 577 over to ST. Give the county the rest, and let the suburban majority do with them what it will.

      I really don’t like suggesting this, but when the freaking 41 runs hourly at night while the 128 runs half-hourly with 4 people on board, it seems like what needs to be done.

      • asdf says

        Some bus service is justified by serving large numbers of people, other service is justified by providing coverage to large quantities of area.

        If you allocate service hours solely on the basis of rider counts, you serve a small bubble very well (likely a bubble small enough in land area to be easily bikable). But anyone who ever has to go outside that bubble, especially outside of rush hour becomes screwed.

        If bus service from Ballard to Capitol Hill sucks, I can avoid it by either hopping on my bike or paying someone $15 to drive me. But if bus service between Seattle and Redmond sucks, avoiding it requires spending either a lot more money or a lot more time because the distances are so much greater. Even if ridership is less in the suburbs (and it’s not negligible), the affect on the people who ride it should the bus not be there becomes much greater. So, we have a system where shorter-distance routes between dense neighborhoods become justified based on passengers carried, while longer-distances routes to suburbia being justified based on coverage.

        And if you want to propose that Seattle split from KC metro with the goal of re-allocated service hours towards Seattle, remember that many people in Seattle do travel outside Seattle. And that creating a separate agency will inevitably lead to more bureaucratic overhead, leading to less efficient service overall, even if Seattle, locally, has a little bit more service.

      • David L says

        asdf, I agree with a lot of your objections.

        But you know what? The current situation is worse.

        We don’t just provide enough suburban service to guarantee coverage. In a lot of cases, we provide better service for a tiny number of riders in the suburbs than we do in Seattle.

        I just got off the last half-hourly outbound 41 of the night. Despite leaving 1 minute early from each tunnel station (urrrrgh), it was SRO from Westlake to NTC. When the buses are hourly they are almost guaranteed to be SRO. What possible justification is there for running that bus hourly while mostly empty suburban buses run hourly? What possible justification is there for leaving people behind on the 2S at rush hour while we run near-empty 245 buses at the same frequency? The answer is that it’s the suburban Council majority saying “Because we can.” The situation is absurd.

      • David L says

        Reading back over my comment I can see that it could be read as saying all suburban buses are empty at night. I know that’s not the case. More night service of various kinds is needed on the 164/169, the 550, and RR B (just to name a couple) just like it is in the city. I’m specifically talking about absurdities like half-hour service until 11:30 on the 128, running the SE Auburn loop of the 180 until 2 a.m., 15-minute midday service on the 245, and so on.

      • asdf says

        I agree that the 41 should not be hourly at night, but the 245 is a geographically important route and yes, it is important to have a few core route on the eastside where you can get around without unreasonably long waits.

        If we’re looking for things to cut, we should look for routes that not only have low ridership but are also redundant with other routes and are, therefore, not necessary for coverage. We’ve started on that approach – the 42 will finally be axed in a couple of months, but there are several remaining routes whos usefulness seems questionable.

        The 25 is is near the top of my list for idiotic routes. Even though it’s in my neighborhood, I haven’t ridden it in years and the few times I have ridden it, it was simply because it happened to come first while I was waiting for something else. The viability of the 61 and 30 also seem quite questionable as well. The 61 is short enough and infrequent so that virtually any trip you could do with the 61, you could just walk a little further and take the 40 or 44 instead. And the 30, which got truncated into a Sand Point->U-district shuttle has now become mostly redundant with the 65 and 75. The one section the 30 goes that isn’t served by the 65 and 75 is close enough to the U-district so that it’s faster to just walk than to wait for it.

        The eastside has gotten quite a bit more efficient with the latest restructure, but even it still has some fat to trim. The most obvious redundant eastside route I can see is the 226. The section on Bel-Red road can be accessed via either the B-line or the 249 with a little bit of walking. And from 148th and Lake Hills on to Eastgate, the 226 is mostly redundant with the 245. Only the middle section of the 226 actually provides unique coverage to an area, but that coverage could be satisfied instead by making the 221 continue on 164th to 24th St. before turning left to get to 148th.

        And for south Seattle, the 50 and 60′s deviation into the VA hospital parking lot is obvious fat in the system that should go. However, I don’t travel through that area often enough to comment on what else should be done.

      • Mike Orr says

        The 128 is probably a special case because it was actually a heralded achievement in the September service change. Before it was hourly evenings/Sundays, which severely shortchanged West Seattle’s north-south connectivity. It sounds like the problem is, half the buses should turn back at White Center to avoid overserving the much lower density Glendale area. Does anybody even ride it down there at all? You might as well not even go to TIB or Southcenter from West Seattle, it takes so long on the meandering 128. Or go to SODO and transfer to Link or the 150.

        Most suburban routes are hourly in the evening. Even the 255 on weekends!. The 240 is hourly every evening, and it’s the only bus for miles around. The 168 is hourly evenings and weekends, the 169 is hourly weekend evenings, and the 164 is hourly evenings and Saturday and doesn’t run at all Sunday. The 234/235 (which are paired from Bellevue to Kirkland, then split to Juanita/Kenmore and Kingsgate/Evergreen Hospital) is 30-60 minutes on the paired and Kingsgate branch but cuts off completely on the Juanita branch.

        If Metro turns over routes to ST, somebody will have to give ST funding to run replacement service.

      • Mike Orr says

        The 30 and 61, along with the 47, are probably in a holding pattern like the 226. They’ll last for a few years until the next budget crunch or reorganiztion, and then be downgraded or absorbed into other routes. Metro has a pattern of stringing the least productive segments into milk runs like the 226 or 222, which then have to stand on their own or be deleted later.

      • David L says

        yes, it is important to have a few core route on the eastside where you can get around without unreasonably long waits.

        15-minute service at the level of ridership of the midday 245 (hell, really, even the peak 245) is a luxury.

        If we can’t afford to run enough buses on truly high-ridership core routes to give everyone a seat (or even, in some cases, to pick everyone up and not leave anyone), then we can’t afford luxuries.

        The 226 and 241 (and the 25, for that matter, although it uses far fewer hours) shouldn’t exist. The 245 and the section of the 255 between KTC and Totem Lake should be scaled way back. The 235 should be truncated at KTC, at least middays; the 234/235 common segment is overserved. None of these changes would affect geographic coverage, only convenience. You are right that basic geographic coverage needs to be maintained, but we need to reallocate resources so people aren’t getting left behind and so that routes with actual capacity issues have enough service. All of Metro’s capacity issues on the all-day network are in Seattle, except for the 164 and 169.

      • asdf says

        Midday service is relatively cheap in that, if you cut it, a good chunk of the savings will disappear as buses have to deadhead back to base at the end of morning rush hour and deadhead again from base at the beginning of the afternoon rush hour. I believe the 245′s midday service level has a lot to do with that and that also explains why lots of routes have much better midday service on weekdays than Saturday even though more people travel around midday on Saturday than on weekdays.

        In the long run, though, it is not going to be necessary to cut eastside service to the bone in order to boost capacity within Seattle. Many of the chronically overcrowded Seattle route are expected to be replaced with Link in the next 10 years. This includes the 71, 72, 73, and 41. Simply having Link take over these route, in and of itself, will free up a ton of bus service hours that can be used to boost frequency and span of other Seattle routes. In the meantime, we just need to hang tight and wait.

      • David L says

        Your long-run argument makes some sense in the long run, but implies two things that are uncomfortable, to say the least:

        1) People on RR C/D and on the 1, 2S, 3/4, 8, 36, 49, 312, 358, and other routes with chronic overload issues just have to spend the next 4-8 years getting passed up, and until then there is nothing we can do to alleviate the overloads, because we’re unwilling to redirect service hours from empty service even temporarily; and

        2) when North Link and East Link start, we are still going to use the hours those free up to make currently undersubscribed north- and east-end routes even more frequent, and we are still going to ignore the city’s most pressing transit needs because the balance of power belongs to the suburbs.

        It doesn’t at all change the pressing needs to find a way to allow transit money raised in Seattle to be spent in Seattle, and to give Seattle some level of political control over transit that exclusively or mainly serves Seattle residents.

      • asdf says

        There’s also the issue that, like it or not, paying for decent transit is not possible with Seattle’s tax revenue alone – you need the revenue from the suburbs. Even though they might not be riding buses a lot, they still contribute a lot to Metro’s finances.

        Also, like it or not, two agencies would inevitably waste more money on bureaucratic overhead than one.

        The root cause of the problem here is density restrictions. As long as most of the city is zoned for single-family homes, it is almost mathematically impossible to fit enough people in a given land area to pay enough taxes to fund enough transit to adequately cover that land area.

      • Nathanael says

        David L: this is probably going to happen incrementally as Seattle builds streetcars. Bluntly. Seattle will be responsible for the streetcar system, and Metro will handle the “crappy buses”, as people ill call them…

        …maybe Seattle should buy back the trolleybus wire too. Or does it already own it?

    • says

      Yeah, there were people objecting to STB endorsing Haugen’s opponent just to get her out of the Transportation chairmanship on the grounds that Democratic control of the Senate was too close for STB to risk it on such provincial grounds. Gee, look at what just happened…

      • Brian says

        I think I was the only one to mention that. I was hoping I’d be wrong, but oh well. Martin is right though – STB’s endorsement certainly didn’t decide that race. It does make me question how well they understand politics, though.

        With Jan Angel favored to win Derek Kilmer’s now vacant seat in a 2013 special election, Republicans/Sheldon/Tom might increase their majority to 26-23. Democrats will have to have a net gain of two seats in 2014 if they want to retake the Senate. That might be difficult, since there aren’t a ton of competitive seats up for election. Tom, Hill, and Fain would probably be the Democratic Party’s top targets.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      Yep. Although I imagine we had no effect on the Haugen race, the long-term situation has much improved with her loss. Before, we had little hope of getting anything through the transportation committee no matter which party was in charge. Now, things should be much better once the Democrats take control again.

      • Matt says

        This is a troubling comment:

        You advocate voting her out because it would make things better, when it’s obviously going to be worse (at least over the next two years).

        If your endorsement had “no effect”, then why make it? You publish these voter guides in order to try and persuade voters and then claim, after the fact and after it backfires, that, ‘well, we didn’t influence the election so it’s not really our fault.’

        And finally, “things should be much better once the Democrats takes control again”, which neither you, I or anyone else really has a clue if and when that will happen.

        You know what STB should say at this point: “We were wrong.” At a minimum, your voting recommendation should have acknowledge that it could seriously backfire (which it did).

        The discussions and viewpoints at STB are fantastic, and I am an avid transit supporter, but the authors of this site tend to underestimate political realities and consequences.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        I’m happy to own the endorsement; blame me if you want. I’m just pointing out that our pull in Island County is thin.

        I’d say we were wrong if I thought it was true. The output of this legislature and one with MMH in it are about the same in transportation terms. Meanwhile the potential output in 2015 is much, much better.

  6. Mike Orr says

    We might as well learn to love RapidRide D, if it’s the best we’re going to get for two or four years or perhaps longer.

    • David L says

      We haven’t heard much, pro or con, about whether it’s been getting any more lovable with operational experience and with more TSP.

    • asdf says

      Well, there are simple things that could be done to make it better. At a minimum, I don’t think OneBusAway support is asking too much. If the 40 can have OneBusAway support, the D-line should too.

  7. David B. says

    Play hardball. If King wants to deny Seattle the ability to fund things with car-tab fees, block transport funding going East of the Cascades. Let it deadlock and die in committee until he comes to his senses.

    Two can play the “my way or the highway” game.

    • David L says

      I doubt we have the votes to play hardball. Some of the suburban/exurban Democrats on the committee won’t adopt that strategy. And of course once any sort of highway funding gets to the full Senate, which is now effectively Republican, it will pass.

  8. Whydfml says

    Agree STB had little impact on district 10 outcome but also agree STB is politically naive. MMH was not a transit demon and I believe an honest reckoning of legislative history will bear this out. And while I hope you’re right, Martin, predicting 2015 outcomes in 2012 is certainly folly.

    • Seattleite says

      MMH needed to go. She is gone. From a purely transit standpoint that is a good thing. This is Seattle Transit Blog, not Democratic Control of the Senate Blog.

      I am of the belief that they should give complete control to the Republicans. Let them put forward a Highway Only Transit package. Make it easier to shoot down and get a better one when we have Dems back in control.

      • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

        Seattleite, it sure looks like Republicans will run the State Senate. Good for democracy to see dialogue and compromise.

        I’m sure a highway only package is going to go over about as well as light rail for Vancouver, Olympia, Mount Vernon AND Bellingham. He he, ha ha.

        I would highly encourage STB to tell my fellow Skagitonians and other counties that lean R to lean on our State Senators to respect the needs of local transit.

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