A week ago, at the Tap House downtown, Seattle Transit Blog hosted another excellent meetup, featuring as speakers Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. Our speakers came with interesting and informative speeches, and our readers plied them with detailed questions. For a couple of hours afterwards, everyone mingled and had great conversations about transit. It was a smashing success, and we’d like to thank our guests and our readers who made the evening possible.
Metro GM Desmond spoke on two subjects: lessons learned from the roll-out of RapidRide C & D and the associated service change; and what’s ahead for Metro in 2013 and 2014. Some of the high points culled from the speech and Q&A:
- As the September service change approached, Metro management seriously worried about the ability of the agency to execute three major changes (RapidRide C & D implementation, RFA elimination, and West Seattle-Ballard restructure) at once; at times the pace of change felt almost “suicidal”.
- After the first couple of chaotic days, Metro managed to get things under control, and travel times through downtown have stabilized at the levels predicted by staff based on prior simulations and analysis. Desmond called out the “lots of smart people” who work for him.
- Seattle is a very different market from the suburbs. When the A & B Lines were rolled out, they were immediately and universally liked by riders. The C & D reaction was very different, much more mixed, even from those who didn’t lose service; for instance, riders had to get used to more “urban” buses with fewer seats but more standing room. Desmond acknowledged the complaints about lack of schedule and OneBusAway information for RapidRide and said that “should be getting better” soon (and indeed it is).
- There’s not likely to be any more “big bang” service changes like the last one. The sheer volume of complaints from disaffected Seattle riders (and voters) vastly exceeded expectations. As a public agency, Metro can’t ignore public opinion; especially as the agency may well soon have to ask voters for more money at the ballot.
- Metro is working with SDOT on “a schedule everyone can live with” for improvements associated with RapidRide E. Reading between the lines here, my suspicion is that, just as many of the facilities and improvements for the D Line were not ready on schedule (among other things, stops not constructed and signal priority not turned on for weeks after launch), something similar has happened for the E Line. If that’s the case, delaying the E Line to make sure the service starts right out of the gate seems like a great idea to me.
What’s on the horizon for Metro, after the jump.
What’s on the horizon for Metro over the next couple of years is pretty daunting:
- Most well-known, the expiration of the $20 CRC in 2014. The Metro budget for the current biennium is balanced only by assuming that the $20 CRC will expire, and 600,000 service hours of cuts will start go into effect by 2015.
- In 2014, WSDOT’s temporary construction impact mitigation funding for the SR 99 project will run out. Metro has used this money to pad schedules for SR 99 routes (to account for construction-related delays) and add trips to West Seattle routes — trips which are now full. No source of further funding has been identified.
- County leaders are working with Seattle and suburban cities to formulate a unified proposal for local option taxes for transit and road funding. King County DOT has a similar chronic structural underfunding problem with roads as with transit.
Mayor McGinn spoke about implementing and funding Seattle’s Transit Master Plan, in particular the high capacity transit corridors identified in that plan: Eastlake, Madison, and the joint effort with Sound Transit to study rail to Ballard. He discussed the challenges of negotiating for transit lanes with adjacent property owners (e.g. Luna Park Café and RapidRide C). Last but not least, while he has not yet announced plans to run for reelection, he suggested we watch for an announcement in January, and that, in the interim, supporters could donate at mcginnformayor.com.
The highlights above come from my memory, which is undoubtedly flawed and incomplete, and for that I preemptively apologize; please chime in with anything else you recall that you’d like recorded for posterity. Due to the success of this meetup, and the surprisingly small damage it did to the STB kitty (thanks for paying your tabs!), there are more meetups on the way. There will be an informal meetup to celebrate the demise of Route 42 in February, and a meetup with speaker(s) from the Seattle Department of Transportation in the spring.
Finally, another thank you to our speakers and the staffers who came out with them, without whom this wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.