Edge Cases Make Bad Policy

A while ago I mentioned in passing that a transit system cannot simultaneously attract choice riders and focus itself on the lowest common denominator. This tension comes up in nearly every transit policy debate, and usually invokes groups with at least one of three limitations: limited mobility, limited English proficiency, or (extremely) limited funds.

The problem is easiest to illustrate with limited mobility. Imagine that Metro has enough resources to send four buses an hour through a neighborhood towards downtown. There are several ways they could deploy this service: all on one central arterial with 15 minute headways, on two arterials every 30 minutes, or hourly on four arterials. Obviously, the right answer depends on the width of the neighborhood, the grade of the hills, and the completeness of the sidewalks.

Nevertheless, the contours of the argument should be clear. 15 minute frequency, given reasonable reliability, is enough that it’s there when one needs it, and the bus schedule need not dictate your appointments. If the bus routes also avoid pathologies like circuitous routing and opaque information, many car owners would be happy to leave the auto at home for trips in the direction the bus takes them, or dispose of their vehicles altogether.

The counterargument, of course, is the proverbial little old lady that lives on one of those neglected arterials. It’s hard for her to walk all those blocks to the stop, and no one wants to be the bad guy to cut off her connection to the world. This aspect also comes into play when Metro tries to straighten a route or consolidate stops.

Reform of the fare structure and fare payment system often runs afoul of advocates for the poor. The most salient example is resistance to the introduction of ORCA adoption incentives through differential fares or abolition of paper transfers. More ORCA usage would of course speed up operations, but is frequently stymied by the very small segment of the poor that literally cannot collect $5 for a one-time ORCA purchase, or have no access to the multiple means of recharging a card. Those of us who would gladly pay more for a better riding experience cannot do so because of its projected impact on the less fortunate.

As the fare for a short hop on the bus is already pretty high, one way to increase Metro’s farebox recovery is to make the fare system more complex. Together with ORCA adoption issues and focus on one-seat rides, this presents challenges for people with limited literacy, digital access, or English proficiency. Change is unpopular because people have already labored to figure out their trips within a very complex system, and resistance to change is what preserves the complexity of that system.

The sum of all these concerns is to keep the transit system in stasis, leaving transit advocates with no hope for “better,” only “more.” Certainly, a transportation system has to take care of the most vulnerable among us. But we ought to have higher aspirations for a transit system, and making everyone suffer through slow and infrequent service effectively sabotages any hopes for that.


    • d.p. says

      Well, we tried letting Metro utterly half-ass a restructure.
      The people revolted.
      And now absolute resistance to change is practically enshrined in Metro’s planning hierarchy.

      It’s probably baby-out-with-the-bathwater time. Revoke King County control over urban transit and start from scratch.

      • Matt the Engineer says


        I’ve always been a fan of some sort of urban transit authority. Let the county run slow buses throughout the county, and let Seattle invest in moving as many people as quickly as possible around the city.

      • says

        @Ben: I don’t think the distinction is between urban and regional routes. It’s between the core, ridership/performance-oriented network, and the network beyond that focusing on geographic coverage. ST is probably the best agency in this region at focusing on ridership and performance, but its focus is mostly on long-distance routes. We need an agency to focus on ridership and performance over shorter distances.

        Unfortunately the City of Seattle might not be it. What have its transit contributions been? The streetcars have thus far been developer fodder and political consolation prizes, and Seattle doesn’t seem any more interested in getting Ballard or the Aurora corridor right than KCM does. OTOH Seattle has done some nice stuff for the 44 (the recent improvement project, funding extra nighttime runs) and other random stuff (it helped KCM pull off the crypto-stop-diet on the 48N). Anything else? Anyway, isn’t Seattle even more subject to political pressure that would derail a core transit network than King County?

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        @Al: I don’t know, I think the Seattle City Council is a lot less parochial than the King County Council, unsurprising considering the at-large/district difference. But I’m still not sure I want the City Council making transit decisions.

        I think the right move, as has been discussed before, is to get the Legislature to revise RCW 35.95A to basically strike every instance of “monorail” and allow such an authority to operate bus service as well. Altogether I think the authority granted by that section is good – property tax, MVET(!), VLF, and both GO and revenue bonding authority, which is separate from the City’s bonding limit.

        I’d also love for the officers of the authority to be appointed to better isolate them from political pressure. It works well for the CTA.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I would think the devil’s in the details. Set up a new agency, with defined goals such as maximizing ridership. Have an appointed director that is evaluated on those criteria.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        As Bruce has said, there are some pretty terrible ideas in the City’s Transit Master Plan, but the overall goal it states is pretty agreeable: on the corridors identified as part of the Frequent Transit Network, 15 minutes or better, 6 AM to midnight, every day.

        Also they need a mandate to work closely with SDOT on improvements to make the buses faster and more reliable. As we’ve seen with the RapidRide rollout, Metro’s coordination with SDOT is absolutely terrible.

      • says

        You mean, the corridors identified by the TMP? The ones that might be marginally useful for focusing resources but show an utter lack of understanding of transit planning if they’re used for routing? And this is someone who’s actually come around on sending RR D to Northgate, if only because Metro has sent it halfway there already. (We’re terminating it in the same place as the shortened 28 because… we’re trying to get little old ladies who live on 15th to QFC?)

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        Like I said, it has some bad ideas. If I were dictator, I would make a number of changes to the TMP corridors.

        But the idea that we should pick a limited number of corridors and make getting them to 15/18/7 the #1 priority is a good one.

      • Steve M says

        Careful what you wish for: elected pols love to underfund to independent transit agencies, because then the elected can avoid raising taxes and place blame for service cuts on the agency. The MTA in NYC has this problem in spades, hence a new president every 6 months or so.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Meh. I’ll take MTA over King County every day. Elected pols will only cut transit budgets if the people let them. Seattle voters are strongly pro-transit. King county voters, less so.

    • David L says

      Finesse the fare issues by giving away as many ORCA cards as possible and then abolishing paper transfers (and, when there are enough TVMs out there, on-board cash payment).

      Charge $1 for them from a vending machine, not $5.

      Hand them out for free like candy, to social service agencies, at neighborhood Metro events, and from staff on buses and at bus stops.


      Deal with the “greater good” issues by continuing to mobilize regular riders, so that there is a counterweight to your little old lady, saying “Hourly bus service on four different streets hurts lots of people too!”

      To galvanize those riders, publicize aggressive restructuring plans with clearly understandable benefits for lots of riders, like the creation of new 10-minute corridors quickly connecting population centers. You won’t get these riders to buy in if restructuring is mostly rearranging existing corridors or if the new routes are so complicated no one can understand them. (In fairness, this is hard. Seattle’s topography makes it devilishly hard to devise an easy-to-understand grid, so even a conceptually gridded route like the 50 often looks like spaghetti on a restructure map.)

      As for limited English proficiency, publish everything in the major foreign languages used in the area, but once that is done… keep moving ahead. It’s a really dumb paradox if a lack of understanding prevents us from simplifying the system.

      • Mike Orr says

        The only way to get 10-minute corridors without new service hours is to heavily delete routes. That’s “rearranging existing corridors”, which is what raises heavy opposition. If we could have made the D, 5, 13, 2S and 3S full-time frequent without cutting into the surrounding routes so heavily, there would have been less opposition and they all might have succeeded.

        The broken street grid and huge areas of detached single-family houses has made Seattle’s trip patterns more neighborhood-to-neighborhood than in more gridded cities. In San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver, and Chicago, a crosstown bus like Divisidero Street, 82nd Ave, Arbitus Street, or Diversey Ave is useful even if it doesn’t hit all the neighborhood centers on either side, because more non-residential destinations have evolved on the street and housing is denser, and there’s a century’s precedent of straight north-south or east-west non-automobile travel on those streets.

        In Seattle, if you did the same thing by putting one route all along 15th NE, or a route on NW 65th going around Greenlake to NE 65th and Sand Point, or a route on NW 85th pushing through to NE 85th in Wedgwood, they would be weak routes. They not only bypass most of the surrounding neighborhood centers, but if you took them you’d end up in the middle of nowhere with a long walk past low-density houses to reach your destination. E.g., if you’re at 15th NE and 65th going north, you’re more likely headed to Northgate or the Crest Cinema than anything straight north on 15th, except for the few people going all the way to Mountlake Terrace. If you did get off at 15th & Northgate Way or 15th & 165th, you’d have a longish walk to your destination with little in between. The main people who would benefit from an all-15th route are those living in the houses and isolated apartments along it, which is a small number compared to the total north-south trips in the area.

        So grids are good, and the 8, 31/32, 44, 48, and 75 are great, well-used complements to the north-south routes. But a lot of Seattlites’ trips are on the great diagonals, e.g., the 48N from UW to Greenwood, and the 40+41 from Ballard to Northgate and Lake City. Forcing everybody to take e.g., the 44+358 or 44+73 just takes too long in the current environment. Link will help by collapsing north-south travel time, but it won’t fully make a rigid grid thrive.

        And in south Seattle, everything has evolved into north-south islands: central West Seattle, Delridge, Georgedown, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley. People just don’t have a lot of reason to go east-west across the islands, because there’s not much there when they get there. I mean, not much that’s significantly better or different than in your own neighborhood. Except for a few things like Asian food in the Valley and Alki Park in West Seattle. People just have more reason to go downtown or to north Seattle than between those places. The 50 is a start at changing that, but it also requires the neighborhoods to evolve more regional destinations to give people a reason to travel east-west.

      • says

        I was wondering when someone was going to bring up lowering or abolishing the $5 ORCA charge.

        “even a conceptually gridded route like the 50 often looks like spaghetti on a restructure map.” That’s because Metro insists on sending it well out of its way to connect to SODO station.

        I don’t think the broken street grid is so much the issue in North Seattle as the scattershot location of neighborhoods. Yeah, I-5 and the weird street grid on the east side of Green Lake prevent you from running a single north-south route on 5th Ave NE from Jackson Park to Wallingford, but the real issue is that you have one neighborhood center on 1st Ave NE, another on Roosevelt, and another hugging 15th. If the arrangement of neighborhood centers were more linear they’d be less of a problem.

      • Nathanael says

        Mike: actually, Seattle has a fairly strong residue of city structure from the *former* streetcar system. It’s only once you get outside that to areas developed more recently that it doesn’t.

        This is pretty common in cities which used to have a streetcar system.

        The 1933 streetcar system was noticeably not a grid, of course.


      • David L says

        Mike, by “rearrange corridors” I meant the sort of restructure which we often saw before Metro got religion about frequent service, where they mixed and matched elements of existing 30-minute routes to create new 30-minute routes that worked marginally better at giving more people one-seat rides. That is not the sort of restructure that excites riders enough that they will push back on the political pressure from the NSCEEs*.

        *Nothing Should Change Ever Ever

        The Northgate issue is vexing, because it seems like such a natural grid node, destination, and transfer point, and yet any bus that tries to serve it gets sucked into a black hole of slowness because of a heavy traffic and a topographically challenged street network. There’s a reason the 73 and 373 avoid it… and it’s because if they went to it no one could ever get from North City or Jackson Park to the U-District in a reasonable amount of time.

    • Elder says

      @ Matthew Johnson: I wholeheartedly agree: what do we DO?

      @ Everyone: What can we do? To whom can we write? Do we need campaign contributions to get heard? Which legislators (and which legislative body) can be lobbied most effectively?

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        Well, this is a mayoral election year. Let’s put forward a plan for a city transit authority and make it an issue in that election.

      • Matthew Johnson says

        Matt L, I’m a bit busy with new baby, trying to get a new job, and Seattle Subway. Elder and/or Matt L, you guys willing to take point moving forward on this?

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        Yes. I’m going to run with this to give Seattle one last chance to redeem itself before I move back to Chicago.

    • Stephen F says

      We be heartless pricks and not serve the old woman. It’s too damn expensive for her convenience. Too bad. While we’re at it, we must penalise those who won’t get onboard with programme and get an ORCA by introducing a fare penalty. It’s that simple. Stop the political correctness and get it done.

  1. Michael H. says

    Amen. I too would like to know what proposals might have a hope of addressing this problem.

    • fletc3her says

      The MBTA has both Charlie Tickets and Charlie Cards. The cards are plastic like our Orca cards and typically used for pass holders or residents. The tickets are paper with a magnetic stripe and are issued for free with any fare payment. I remember the tickets in San Francisco and New York being similar.

      Ideally we’d have an Orca Ticket option sold at vending machines at the stations, at RapidRide stops, and onboard . That would provide a single ride alternative and a way to get rid of transfers altogether.

      • d.p. says

        And yet the CharlieCards are still 100% free and readily available in many locations. CharlieCards offer a fare discount as high as 25% and are the only medium that permits free transfers.

        Thus, practically the entire resident population has one.

        The only value of a CharlieTicket is to tourists, who would be well-advised to buy the dirt-cheap 7-day pass (so cheap they’ll save money even if they’re only in town 3 days).

    • Brent says

      The official answer I got last I asked is that Metro doesn’t want riders to see ORCA as disposable.

  2. Schuyler says

    There are several ways they could deploy this service: all on one central arterial with 15 minute headways, on two arterials every 30 minutes, or hourly on four arterials.

    It’s actually worse then that. There are fixed costs to operating an additional route.

  3. fletc3her says

    Our public transportation agencies are also expected to provide mobility for disabled and elderly passengers through the various Access van programs. The proverbial “little old lady” will be served by Access as long as routed buses operate in her neighborhood.

    • David L says

      The problem is that Access service is horrendously expensive per rider and per unit of area served. It, just like the spaghetti bus network, hurts regular riders. It’s obviously something we need to provide, but it’s usually financially counterproductive to rely on Access to make up for a lack of accessible fixed-route bus service.

    • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

      Access is *exorbitantly* expensive, only serves the disabled, and the federal requirement is only to provide it within a fairly small area around traditional service (though King County has long operated Access in excess of the requirement).

      But I think you’re right that alternatives to fixed-route bus service could be one way to overcome the “little old lady” problem. If creating a few DART zones in Seattle is the price we pay for frequent, gridded service, I think it’s worth it.

    • aw says

      Due to the added costs of providing paratransit service, the agency would want to be pretty careful about sending lots of folks onto Access if they could use regular transit.

    • Bruce Nourish says

      This is an urban blog legend that really needs to die.

      Metro’s planning staff have told me specifically that they do not consider additional Access requests as a cost when cutting low-performing routes in low-density residential neighborhoods (where most of the low-performing routes are). Presumably, most people entitled to Access are using it already; the additional demand is negligible relative to the cost of fixed-route service.

      Cutting service to Harborview/VAMC or some giant old-folks home might be different, but the former isn’t going to happen, and a lot of the biggest old-folks homes actually have obtained their own DART vehicles, which they operate in a financial partnership with Metro.

      So while I understand why people would think this, it’s just empirically not true.

    • Mike Orr says

      Metro is looking into “alternative service delivery” in the outer suburbs (North Bend, Enumclaw, Vashon), where fixed-line routes and Metro dial-a-ride are not cost effective. We’re not sure what that means, but some of the options might include contract (non-Metro) vans, shared taxis, or limited-service-area taxis. If these are successful, Metro might be able to deploy them in Seattle too, for off-peak low-volume routes, or streets that don’t currently have a bus.

      • says

        For the cost of existing van/DART routes, Metro could incentivize a lot of ride sharing via services like Side Car and Lyft. Both companies currently operate in a regulatory/insurance grey zone that needs to be worked out. That said, Metro could give incentive pay to be available near Park & Rides at commute times, immediately before or after their regular commute. They already have a fleet of VanPools with vetted and insured drivers that they could offer additional incentives to.

        Lyft and SideCar also tap into the desire to build community as a motivator – that’s something that taxis and Uber don’t give you.

      • aw says

        One of the ideas Metro is looking at for alternative service delivery is what they call trip pooling. It’s like a vanpool, but instead of having a fixed set of riders, the van will show up at a P&R at an appointed time and take anyone who wants to go to the destination of the van.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Metro could give incentive pay to be available near Park & Rides at commute times, immediately before or after their regular commute.”

        Sigh, peak times is not what we need to focus on because those take care of themselves. What we need is continuous transit in the gaps when there aren’t many buses.

  4. Shefali says

    I agree that the transit cannot be all things to all riders. The inherent challenge is that the needs of a transit-dependent population are very different from the needs of commuters who have a very specific set of travel patterns at defined times of the day. Transit is (and should be) a part of the social safety net. Case in point Pierce Transit where more than 50% of the riders make less than $50,000. What becomes of these riders when the cuts happen? By your own definition, they would be considered “edge” cases but make up more than half the ridership.

    • David L says

      First, “income under $50,000” is not equivalent to “can’t pay $5, once, for an ORCA card.”

      Second, the social safety net should be the social safety net. Transit makes the social safety net vastly stronger and easier to use, but the point of transit should ultimately be mobility. That will absolutely include getting large numbers of disadvantaged riders to and from all of the places they go. But planning choices that prioritize a tiny number of the very most disadvantaged riders at the expense of everyone else, including the bulk of poorer riders, are not choices public transit systems should be making.

    • Mike Orr says

      Jarrett Walker, the transit consultant behind HumanTransit.org, advises transit agencies to consider core service and coverage service separately. Core service is the frequent-transit network on the main travel corridors, however these are defined, where you expect high ridership and high farebox recovery. Coverage service is low-ridership routes to fill in gaps in the network; e.g., a low-density neighborhood that’s far from core routes, or an area with a lot of elderly/disabled that’s not covered by the core routes. You can’t measure these routes by ridership or the cost per rider, you have to measure them on social-justice grounds. So transit agencies need to keep the two separate, and decide what percent of their budget they want to dedicate to coverage service. Then, deploy coverage service within that budget, and don’t pretend that they can achieve the same ridership as core routes.

      Metro has a slowly-emerging and vague distinction between core routes and coverage routes, but too many routes are still in the middle; e.g., 30-minute or 60-minute slow milk runs that all look exactly alike. It needs to boost or consolidate some of these routes into more-frequent core routes, and designate others as outside the core network so people know not to live near them if they want frequent service in the future.

      • David L says

        I would take that further and say that core service is the first priority and coverage service is a luxury.

        As Adam notes, nearly all of the truly transit-dependent people in Seattle live near some form of service that is already core service. Coverage service, around here, is not a social-justice thing but something for wealthy commuters. It’s great if we can provide it, but we can’t in this budget environment.

      • says

        I think people like David L around here have gotten so enamored of reading Human Transit they’ve taken Walker’s conclusions beyond his own intention, ignoring the distinction economists make between positive and normative claims – ironically, making the same fallacy as free-market-worshipping Republicans in the process.

        Not that what he says isn’t true, of course, but it’s also exactly what Walker means by “coverage service” – service provided more for political reasons than anything else, at best for the old lady who doesn’t want to leave her house on W Mercer Way but can’t drive anymore.

      • Aleks says

        Not that what he says isn’t true, of course, but it’s also exactly what Walker means by “coverage service” – service provided more for political reasons than anything else, at best for the old lady who doesn’t want to leave her house on W Mercer Way but can’t drive anymore.

        I have to strongly disagree with the claim that “coverage service” is “political service”. That strkes me as a very normative claim.

        The definition of coverage service — and Walker makes this very clear — is service which is intended to serve some goal other than maximizing ridership. There are many noble goals that it might be intended to satisfy, including social equity. Conversely, ridership-oriented service could easily be politically-oriented; for example, an anti-transit mayor could try to cancel all of a city’s off-peak service, because it’s “less productive” than the peak service.

        I personally believe that, for communities of a certain size (and density), ridership-oriented service is a better way to spend mobility dollars than coverage-oriented service. But that’s a normative claim which isn’t inherent in the definition of the two kinds of service.

      • David L says

        To be clear, I’m making one positive claim and one normative claim. The positive claim is that, in Seattle, the overwhelming majority of transit-dependent residents already live on or near a corridor that has or is intended to receive frequent service and would be considered “core” in Walker’s terminology. The normative claim is that, as a result, in Seattle, there is very little social-justice downside to prioritizing core service and scaling back on a fair amount of coverage service.

      • Mike Orr says

        What are the 4S, 27, 26, and 28 tails? Are they core routes that should be made frequent, or important coverage service, or redundant parallel service that should be consolidated into neighboring routes, or some combination of these?

      • David L says

        4S: Redundant parallel service, with an asterisk: there is a real mobility issue getting from the outbound 7/48 stop to Center Park. We need better crossings at the Rainier/Walker intersection.

        27: The part along Yesler is redundant (although it may be the best one of the redundant routings to keep), and the part to Leschi is coverage service that almost exclusively benefits wealthy residents.

        26: The express is a heavily used commuter route. The local is somewhere between redundant and coverage service. But I think nevertheless a more frequent, streamlined 16 would work better for most users, particularly if the 16 were slightly rerouted in the south end of Wallingford to be more central.

        28: Again, the express is a heavily used commuter route. At the moment, the local is coverage service for the area at the base of Phinney Ridge, which has a very steep uphill walk to the 5 and a very long walk to RR D. But there are enough plans for additional development in several areas served by the 28 to make it plausible to me that it could turn into core service in the long run, particularly now that it’s been taken out of Broadview.

      • asdf says

        The 26 is an interesting route. At first glance, it seems kind of redundant with other routes. However, when you dig deeper, you will find that for anyone living in the east part of Wallingford, the 26 is a much faster route to Fremont, Queen Anne, and Belltown, than any other route available.

        I have even found the 26 to be a good route to go between Fremont and the north part of the U-district. Even on a narrow residential street, the 26 goes north/south an order of magnitude faster than the 70-series buses do on University Way.

        The 26 is also what I like to call “hidden express”. Because its ridership is rather low, the 26 has very little dwell time at bus stops and runs very reliably. Which is why I would be somewhat disappointed if it went away.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        “The 26 is also what I like to call “hidden express”. Because its ridership is rather low, the 26 has very little dwell time at bus stops and runs very reliably.”

        You realize you’re saying “I like this bus, it’s fast and reliable because so few people use it”? That’s not an argument that the route is worth keeping. The 42 is faster than the 7 for a bunch of trips — because nobody uses it, and it avoids the main drag (Jackson) where many people want to go.

        The problem with deleting the 26 is coverage for eastern Wallingford.

      • Kevin R says

        @asdf – That’s kind of an unusual description of the 26. When are you taking it? I’ve never experienced it as a “hidden express.” I’ve also never heard it used as a short cut to the U District. It’s one of my regular buses and I’ve seen folks using it throughout the day, in the evenings, and on the weekends. There are lower loads mid-morning and mid-afternoon (until school gets out) but it’s a good connection between East Wallingford, Fremont, South Lake Union, and Downtown.

        As Bruce mentions one of the reasons it’s stuck around is because of the folks in East Wallingford. The other reason is because the 16 can really suck. A lot of the outcry around the last proposed restructure was around the neighborhood being left with the 16 as the route downtown with the folks on Latona having to connect to the 70s in the U District. I think that routing actually would make sense once the light rail opens at 45th and Brooklyn.

      • David L says

        The solution to the 16 sucking is to unsuck the 16 (and make it serve south Wallingford residents a bit better), not to run low-ridership parallel service (of which, in any case, my opinion is not as high as that of asdf).

        I lived at East Green Lake between 2001 and 2005. My choices to downtown were the 16 and the 26, neither of which has changed since then (!). Inbound, they were a wash, because while the 16 was just generally slow, the 26 often had issues getting through Fremont. Outbound, the 26 was vastly better for obvious reasons.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Even on a narrow residential street, the 26 goes north/south an order of magnitude faster than the 70-series buses do on University Way.”

        That is completely negated by its half-hourly schedule. It’s fine if it’s coming in five minutes, but not if it’s coming in 25 minutes. I go to Cartridge World every month or two, and sometimes take the 26 downtown, usually in the PM peak, when it’s still half-hourly. I take it for variety and because the low-volume routes are also low-stress. But if it’s not coming within a few minutes and I don’t have something I’m dying to read, I end up walking to University Way to take the 71/72/73X. (Sometimes I take the 44 but it’s a complete basket case. Several times I’ve walked from University Way to Stone Way, which takes 20 minutes, and I’ve never seen a 44 pass even though it’s supposed to come every 15 minutes.)

        I understand people’s experience might be quite different if they lived on Latona, and if they frequently went to Fremont rather than downtown. But I can’t help thinking, the 26 really should be a shuttle to Fremont if it’s to remain at all. Maybe the opposition against the reorg would have been less if it had done that; e.g., a 26/28 route instead of a 26/30.

      • David L says

        The problem with changing NE Seattle lines to serve UW Station to expand downtown ridership is that, in the absence of U-District Station, it badly hurts people riding to the north end of the UW campus and to the U-District — who are a lot more of the all-day ridership from NE Seattle than downtown riders are or ever would be.

        Essentially, you would be telling about three-quarters of the current 65, 75, and 372 ridership that they would have to either hike up Pend Oreille Road (or the footpaths south of it) or transfer to the ever-fast 43 or 48 at Pacific Street.

      • says

        The 26 (and to a lesser extent, the 66 and 67) exists to make up for the fact that I-5 essentially demolishes 5th south of Maple Leaf.

        That’s the thing: Jarrett’s the same guy who has everyone on STB obsessed about grids. It’s very rare in any American city for the transit system’s service to the truly transit-dependent to be pure coverage service, especially where the bus system itself essentially exists as “welfare for the poor”. Maybe in the suburbs, but that’s essentially “the old lady who doesn’t want to leave her house on W Mercer Way but can’t drive anymore.” Being at the point where serving transit-dependent populations is coverage service (and, thus, a political issue) would be a pretty good problem to have, I think, at least by American standards.

        I know the d.p. crowd around here likes to whine about how much more horrible Seattle’s transit is to even any other American city, but seriously, our issues aren’t that exceptional.

    • Adam Bejan Parast says

      I don’t think Martin is making a point about local vs. commuter transit service. He’s making an argument about focused, frequent system vs diffuse, low-frequency system.

      Transit has many goals, social service, congestion mitigation, sustainability, etc. but none of these goals are advanced if the only people using the transit system are those without a choice. A system has to be a competitive option for everyone to be successful. I think the Eastside restructure was a perfect example of this. Metro focused service where demand is and reduced service where demand was weakest. Yes it probably made it harder for some people in more isolated parts of the county but it also made it much easier to get to the most heavily trafficked areas too.

      Focusing service where seniors, low-income, minorities, and transit dependent riders live and need to go is in many ways congruent with focusing service on high-productivity routes. Look at the the 7,48,120,358,etc. All those things are true. Low-productivity routes, especially within Seattle, are essentially bus routes that serve well to do, single family neighborhoods.

      Low-productivity service simply isn’t inherently a social service.

      • Shefali says

        I wasn’t equating low-productivity with social service. I was taking issue with the definition of edge cases. People with limited mobility (I included people without cars in this category), limited English proficiency, and or (extremely) limited funds are most often the ones with NO other choice than to ride transit. And in the case of Pierce, it is the bulk of their ridership.

  5. Charles says

    There is a potential opportunity in 2016 when ULink goes online for Metro to recover hundreds of thousands of service hours that could then be used to strengthen core bus service that is not supplanted by Link. That’s if Metro is courageous to give up the notion of one seat rides for those trips that Link could serve efficiently. Although it’s been pointed out that UW station is going to need transfer solutions and the street grid may be a challenge to that happening.

    if we want to change the fare handling structure, then we need to organize and make noise and be visible. We should be lobbying at every County Council Meeting, in front of each Council member responsible for transportation matters, in front of the city transportation benefit district board etc. until this issue gets traction.

    But there are other issues not so readily apparent. I’ve observed apparent contention between Metro and Sound Transit regarding transfers, east west connections and competition between Metro one seat rides and transfers to Link. It also seems that competing for revenue seems to be a motivating factor. I’m not sure what should be done but it is counter productive. Do we need to advocate merging these entities?

    • says

      Nothing about the street grid is a challenge to making UW Station a transit center that couldn’t have been achieved with re-engineering the area if Metro, ST, Seattle, WSDOMA, and UW had been remotely forward thinking to begin with. Unfortunately, the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of recovering service hours and moving to a more gridded system would be sending the 70-series to UW station, which probably isn’t happening and would require bus lanes on Pacific from Montlake to at least 15th.

      • Aleks says

        Unfortunately, the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of recovering service hours and moving to a more gridded system would be sending the 70-series to UW station, which probably isn’t happening and would require bus lanes on Pacific from Montlake to at least 15th.

        That is far from low-hanging fruit. When they can use the express lanes, the 70-series buses almost definitely provide a faster trip to downtown than they would if they diverted to UW Station.

        Rationalizing service here would require separating the local tails from the express service and terminating the local tails at UW Station. That would be a good change, since scheduling a route with 10-minute frequency and 2 termini is much more efficient than schedling three routes with 30-minute frequency each and 4 termini. But I wouldn’t call it “low-hanging fruit” — you’d be taking away a lot of people’s one-seat ride to downtown.

      • asdf says

        “When they can use the express lanes, the 70-series buses almost definitely provide a faster trip to downtown than they would if they diverted to UW Station.”

        First, when the express lanes are open is a big “if” when, more than half the day, they’re either closed or running in the opposite direction. And, even when the express are open, it does no good if the bus doesn’t use them.

        Furthermore, even when the express lanes are open, the 70-series only saves time over Link for people coming directly from the U-district, particularly those that happen to live right next to the stop on Brooklyn Ave. and Campus Prky.

        Going down University Way is still awfully slow, even if it is better than it was 10 years ago. And for people that live further north along route 71 or 72, it’s not only very slow, but also out of the way. If you want to go from Wedgewood to downtown, you want a frequent bus down 35th and Montlake to take you Link. You do not want a bus that detours to the U-district and takes 20+ minutes to traverse that last mile before the express segment finally begins. And on evenings and Sundays, when the 70-series runs in local mode, you certainly do not want a slog down Eastlake on top of that, when Link will whisk you in 6 minutes to what would be a 10-minute drive from your house at the most.

        And much of northeast Seattle never had a one-seat ride to downtown outside of the peak period anyway. They already are used to transferring in the U-district to get to downtown. And they would much rather this transfer be to Link, rather than the slow bus.

        I’m not sure how this is going to happen, but somehow, people who live in northeast Seattle need to lobby Metro to give them better Link connections when the station opens in 2016. We need more frequent buses down 35th and Sand Point. We need a much larger span of service down 25th. And we need buses that go straight down Montlake, rather than detouring to upper campus.

      • Mike Orr says

        “If you want to go from Wedgewood to downtown, you want a frequent bus down 35th and Montlake to take you Link. You do not want a bus that detours to the U-district and takes 20+ minutes to traverse that last mile before the express segment finally begins.”

        So that means people in Wedgwood, Maple Leaf, and Lake City will have no objection to severing their tails from the expresses and articulated buses? That would be good news, and less opposition than we normally get to reorganizations.

      • David L says

        If you want to go from Wedgewood to downtown, you want a frequent bus down 35th and Montlake to take you Link.

        I disagree with this. I would argue that what you want is a frequent bus along both 65th and 75th to take you to Link (at Roosevelt). A shorter trip on the bus, and much more reliable.

        I’ve been figuring out a Wedgwood/Lake City restructure proposal, and it would involve eliminating the 65 in favor of faster east-west service that bypasses the UW area entirely: a frequent 71 to Roosevelt and a heavily revised 72 to Roosevelt (frequent if funds allow), serving the top of the hill.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Going down University Way is still awfully slow, even if it is better than it was 10 years ago.”

        Au contraire. I lived at 56th & University Way for 14 years until 2003, and it was godawful slow. Now again I commute through University Way even though I don’t live there, and it’s much more pleasant, and I have no objections at all to it. How long should it take to travel through what is essentially the second downtown?

      • asdf says

        “I disagree with this. I would argue that what you want is a frequent bus along both 65th and 75th to take you to Link (at Roosevelt). A shorter trip on the bus, and much more reliable.”

        That’s all well and good once Roosevelt Station is built and operating. But it is a slap in the face to northeast Seattle residents to tell them that in the 5 years between 2016 and 2021 they’re just supposed to suck it up and endure the same slog of half-hourly or hourly buses down University Way (and often Eastlake too) that they’ve been putting up with forever, when a subway line is available that would make the commute much faster – all just to avoid the bureaucratic overhead of shuffling bus routes twice in a 5-year span.

        I also object to the statement that not enough people in northeast Seattle go to downtown in order to matter. People in northeast Seattle go to downtown, just like people everywhere else. The difference is that people in northeast Seattle probably all drive unless it’s the peak commuter hours when the 74 and 76 are available because the bus is so slow.

        There are a lot of new riders to the system we could get if we do a restructuring in 2016 to connect the neighborhoods to Link – no need to wait until 2021.

    • Doug says

      I really think the answer to the whole 7Xs is to advocate strongly for the second UW station to be finished first – as close as possible to the opening of the stadium station…..I know there are tons of reasons why it would be difficult, etc. but being able to redeploy the service hours ASAP is critical to this whole discussion…

      • David L says

        Agreed. I don’t know if the plan includes facilities (particularly a crossover track past U-District Station) that would make opening U-District Station early technically feasible. But if it does, that station should open early. Alternately, if they could open U-District and Roosevelt stations early, that would help too.

      • David Seater says

        If they’re going to open U District and Roosevelt stations early, might as well open Northgate early too. ;-) I don’t recall there being room for a crossover track north of the U-District station, I think the only one in the area is just north of University of Washington Station. Not 100% sure though.

      • Mike Orr says

        I’m sure ST will open North Link as soon as it can, because the 41/71/7273X are a significant cost to Metro, they’re slowing down the trains in the DSTT, the gap between the Ave and UW station is a significant inconvenience to passengers.

        However, ST has never given any indication it might consider opening U-District station before Northgate, or that it has thought about how to do it.

    • Chris Stefan says

      NE Seattle could do with a route restructuring. Particularly the idea of combining the 66/71/72/73/74 into a all-day 7 day a week express route between the U-District/Roosevelt and downtown. However I don’t think forcing a transfer to LINK at UW station to get downtown is the right answer.

      Assuming no other changes the transfer penalty from congestion and station wait times would make every trip downtown on the 71/72/73/74 as slow or slower than the current night/weekend service.

      • David L says

        Yes, I don’t think anyone is saying the current 71/72/73/74 should all be dumped onto Link at UW Station in 2016. But Link will make it easier, if Metro is so inclined, to implement its very frequent “80 Express” idea, using Roosevelt and 12th rather than the Ave, because UW Station will give people on the east side of campus far from Roosevelt another option.

        Buses that now come into the west side of the U-District will eventually start to feed U-District Station, in years and years when it’s open.

      • Mike Orr says

        One effect of UW station is that the volume on the 71/72/73X may drop by half. That would at least encourage Metro to lower the frequency and save some money, and may make it more attractive for consolidation.

      • asdf says

        Even if getting rid of the 71/72/73X is too politically difficult, maybe in 2016, we can at least get rid of the 74. Pretty much everyone that gets a one-seat ride to downtown on the 74 who doesn’t get one on the 71/72/73 would get a faster trip to downtown with a Link connection at Montlake Stadium. And those that want to go to the U-district would still be able to do so on the 30, 65, and 75.

        I would love to the the #74 service hours redirected into a Link shuttle that followed the existing 30/74 routing to 25th Ave., then went nonstop down Montlake, terminating at NE Pacific Pl., where people would walk across the bridge to access the station.

        Today, the #74 operates 7 trips each morning and 8 trips each afternoon, about 30 minutes apart, in one direction only. This shuttle I am proposing could operate every 15 minutes during the peak in both directions (thanks to Children’s hospital, there is real ridership potential in the reverse direction, which should not be ignored). Even with worst-case wait times at the connection point, you would still get to and from downtown quite a bit faster than with the current #74 bus.

    • David L says

      asdf, I replied to your comment, but in the wrong thread, so I’ll paste my reply here:

      The problem with changing NE Seattle lines to serve UW Station to expand downtown ridership is that, in the absence of U-District Station, it badly hurts people riding to the north end of the UW campus and to the U-District — who are a lot more of the all-day ridership from NE Seattle than downtown riders are or ever would be.

      Essentially, you would be telling about three-quarters of the current 65, 75, and 372 ridership that they would have to either hike up Pend Oreille Road (or the footpaths south of it) or transfer to the ever-fast 43 or 48 at Pacific Street.

      • asdf says

        And why is there more all-day ridership to the UW in northeast Seattle when everywhere else, there’s more all-day ridership to downtown?

        Because the bus trip from northeast Seattle to downtown is so slow that nearly everyone who wants to make this trip just drives.

        It’s the classic fallacy of using the current bus network to figure out where people want to go, ignoring the fact that the transit mode-share for all classes of trips directly relates to the quality of the bus service.

        I do not think asking people to hike up the footpaths south of Pend Oreille Road (which is more direct than Pend Oreille road itself) is that big of a hardship. Remember the population we’re talking about here is almost entirely 20-year-old students. Unless they have a disability, the hike from the bus stop to class is not a big deal and is no more than students who drive to class would have to deal with.

        But that aside, even if you didn’t touch the 65 or 75, there are lots of ways we could get more direct service to the UW station, at least during the peak. Converting the #74 service hours to serve the station, rather than go down the Ave into downtown would be a good place to start. Doing the same with the 64 and/or 76 would have to same effect, but would probably get more pushback from people who drive to Green Lake P&R to go downtown, rather than catching the bus in their neighborhood.

      • aw says

        “Remember the population we’re talking about here is almost entirely 20-year-old students.”

        Well, there’s faculty and staff too, but they could probably use the exercise.

      • David L says

        And why is there more all-day ridership to the UW in northeast Seattle when everywhere else, there’s more all-day ridership to downtown?

        Because the bus trip from northeast Seattle to downtown is so slow that nearly everyone who wants to make this trip just drives.

        That may be a contributing factor. But the main reason is because NE Seattle is closer to UW than downtown! People live there because it’s close to campus. But it’s far away from downtown.

        The 64 and 76 don’t have the U-District problem, and for commuter routes they have a pretty decent span. Yet ridership on them is not great by the standards of shortish commuter routes. It’s average on the 76 and worse than average on the 64, even counting the Green Lake P&R people. This is at the same times of day when you have sardine-packed 65s, 68s, and 75s, and full 71s, headed to the U-District from many of the same places, and (in the case of the 68/372 and 75) running quite a bit more frequently.

        I also think, in addition to pissing off a lot of people, sending the 65/68/75/372 down Montlake could draw an ADA lawsuit. University students are not known for sitting down and taking affronts to favored groups without challenge…

  6. Kevin R says

    “If the bus routes also avoid pathologies like circuitous routing and opaque information….”

    Great statement – it makes me think of my trips on the 16 when it does the loop northbound from 5th N to Mercer to Dexter back to Aurora. It’s not unusual to have at least one person getting concerned the bus is heading back Downtown instead of points north. I’d love to see them just run the bus straight up Aurora to the Bridge Way exit.

    • says

      Even discounting why it goes past Seattle Center, why did they have it go all the way down to John and back for maybe one stop instead of keeping it on Valley? That smacks of trying to have their cake and eat it too.

      • Schuyler says

        I asked the same thing about 6 months ago… and IIRC is something to do with how long it takes a bus to accelerate and the radius of the curve of the other streets when getting on to Aurora. If you get on at say Thomas cars are already doing 40+.

      • Kevin R says

        It goes down Dexter to John so it doesn’t have to make the left onto Dexter from Mercer (then turn on Valley). It used to take forever to do that when Mercer was backed up so rather than saying “Hey – maybe this routing doesn’t make sense.” they decided to add the loop. They also do the loop all the time – even when they could make the left.

      • asdf says

        Interestingly enough, about the only time I ever use the 16 if when I’m coming home specifically from Seattle Center. That being said, I still favor getting rid of the detour for the benefits of the system as a whole. There are still tons of other ways to get home from Seattle Center.

      • says

        “Interestingly enough, about the only time I ever use the 16 if when I’m coming home specifically from Seattle Center.” Is that because the 16 is only ever good for coming home specifically from Seattle Center as is? Hey-yo!

    • Aleks says

      I’m curious — what would you think of merging the 3/4N and the 16? The idea is that you would run the bus up Taylor, over the top of Queen Anne Hill to SPU, then over the Fremont Bridge to merge with the existing 16 route.

      The combined route would have 10-minute frequency at peak, 15-minute base. Off-peak, the route wouldn’t be much slower than it is now. At peak, there could be express service which took Aurora to 45th. As another mitigation, the 26 could be rerouted to use the University Bridge and Eastlake, to provide a more direct route to downtown for people living in its walkshed.

      This seems like it would be a nice way to provide all-day connectivity between Queen Anne and North Seattle, while also increasing frequency on a key route.

      Obviously, the downsides include a potentially slower trip from North Seattle to downtown (especially if you compare it with a hypothetical straight-Aurora routing), and the loss of a trolley route. However, I don’t think it would actually prove to be that much slower in practice. And I have to admit that I think the 2N/13 would make a better through-route partner for the 3S/4S — and anyway, I don’t think we should make network decisions based on trolley wire.

      • Kevin R says

        I think that’s a terrible idea. You’re inconveniencing a big chunk of North Seattle for a limited benefit to folks on top of Queen Anne who already have the 13 to get them to Nickerson.

      • Aleks says

        Luckily for you, I’m not a transit planner. :)

        Right now, folks in Upper Queen Anne have no easy way to get to North Seattle. SPU is hardly a transit hub — the only connection of note is the 31/32 to the U-District. I know that I very rarely take the bus to UQA, simply because it’s so far out of the way from virtually anywhere else. That seems like an unfortunate gap in the transit network.

        Also, I think it’s important to consider the frequency difference, too. Right now, the 16 has 20 minute frequency for most of the day, peak included. It drops to 30 minute frequency as soon as 6 pm. This proposal would make it possible for the 16 to have 10-minute frequency at peak, and 15-minute frequency for the rest of the day. I don’t see any way that the 16 could justify that level of frequency on its own…

      • Kevin R says


        Folks on top of Queen Anne have a number of ways off the Hill where they can transfer to any number of routes that will take them to destinations in North Seattle (RRD, 31/32). They also have a couple of one seat options to Downtown and other points south. Further, the business district up there serves the local neighborhood primarily – there’s no reason to go there if you don’t live there.

        The 16 is a workhorse of a route that already takes about an hour to go from Northgate to the Ferry Terminal. Adding additional service areas to this route would make an already chronically unreliable route even worse. If anything it should be speeded up via routing on Aurora directly from Downtown to Bridge Way N.

      • Kevin R says

        One additional thing – the 16 is currently supposed to take about 20 minutes from Downtown to 45th and Stone. My experience is that it usually takes longer than that and it can take significantly longer if there’s something going on at the Center. Your reroute would likely add at least another 10-15 minutes to that by the time you’ve gone over Queen Anne, down Nickerson, over the Fremont Bridge, and over to Wallingford. It would seem that the benefit of any increased frequency is clearly offset but the longer trip.

      • asdf says

        The 16 already takes long enough today so you could probably get to 45th and stone faster on the 358, unless OBA indicates the #16 happens to be coming first. I see the primary roles of the 16 as the specific trip of Seattle Center->Wallingford and for the Wallingford->Northgate segment.

        Perhaps the 16 should be modified to simply take a loop around Wallingford and not go to Seattle Center or downtown at all. The savings could be re-invested to boost frequency to 10 minutes all day.

        If necessary to keep people from screaming, a new peak-only express route could be created which would take Aurora straight up to Stone Way (no Seattle Center detour), then follow the existing #16 routing up to Ravenna. This route would end at Ravenna rather than going all the way to Northgate under the theory that during the peak, anybody who wanted to take the #16 past this point all the way from downtown should be using the #316 instead.

      • Kevin R says

        I regularly take the 16 in the evenings (past rush hour) and it’s full of folks headed to North Seattle. The 358 would be a reasonable choice for 45th and Stone but the 16 gets off at 39th and hits a bunch of areas that are a good hike from the 358 stop.

        You mention you use it to go back north from Seattle Center so I can see why you’d see it as a Center – Wallingford and Wallingford – Northgate route. I use it to go to and from Downtown as do a lot of folks in Fremont, Wallingford, Green Lake and points north.

        I see an ongoing role for the 16 in our bus system serving as sort of a local to the west of the 358/RRE much as the 5 functions on the east of that line.

      • David L says

        asdf, actual usage doesn’t support your idea. The 16 acts as the primary connection between downtown and Wallingford. It does carry some riders from Seattle Center northward, but not nearly as many as it does from downtown.

        What’s needed is to streamline the 16 routing considerably, put a stop diet in, and expand frequency. If I were emperor of Metro, I’d do the following:

        1) Remove the Seattle Center detour; have the 16 use the 5/RR E routing onto Aurora.
        2) Use 40th and Wallingford Ave rather than Stone Way and 45th, to eliminate some waits along 45th.
        3) Eliminate the Northgate Way detour; use 92nd and 1st NE to reach NTC.

        That would allow frequency to be improved to 15 minutes without any additional buses. It would also reduce the pain of the eventual, inevitable elimination of the 26 local.

        It would still be slow, though. Unfortunately, north Wallingford is the heart of the ridership area but there is no non-ridiculous way to get to or through it. The street network there is a mess.

      • Kevin R says

        David – I support your ideas with the exception on #2. I think the 16 should keep the Stone to 45th routing. It’s currently the only service on that stretch of Stone which is a primary location for new density in the neighborhood (there’s a ton of construction if you haven’t been up there yet) and the 45th routing provides the connection to the 44 as well as picking up a critical mass of folks headed north – you usually see folks getting on at Wallingford and 45th with shopping bags from the QFC.

      • David L says

        Kevin, my proposed routing would keep the stop on 45th by QFC (although southbound it would have to be moved across the street onto Wallingford). I know there is a lot of new construction on Stone, but it is very close to both Wallingford and the RR E stop on 46th and Aurora.

        There are two issues my suggestion is trying to solve:

        1) Chronic delays westbound on 45th approaching Stone, which can cost inbound 16 buses 5 minutes or more.
        2) Coverage for south Wallingford when (not if) the 26 disappears.

      • Kevin R says

        Ok – I missed the Wallingford Ave part of your suggested routing. That would work fine for me and a lot of other folks but I think you’d see opposition.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Use 40th and Wallingford Ave rather than Stone Way and 45th, to eliminate some waits along 45th.”

        That’s what the 16 used to do before the 6/358/16 reorganization. I always thought moving to Stone Way and 45th was an improvement, because it was so slow on those awfully small streets and further from destinations.

      • David L says

        I expect my suggested routing would be faster at most times of day, at least for southbound buses. The less time spent on 45th, the better. It’s considerably more crowded now than it was when they got rid of the 6.

        The other alternative would be to finally kill the parking on 45th and build bus lanes, although that would benefit the 44 more than the 16, because the 16 has to get over to make a left turn in both directions.

      • Mike Orr says

        I think the only way to kill the 45th parking would be to replace it with off-street parking. And even that would require the parking to be free or with validation, and not require turning-turning-turning into the upper story of a garage. So are there any places that such a lot could go, and any way to convince the local businesses to support it?

      • asdf says

        The only way to get space for your proposed off-street parking lot would be to tear down homes or buildings to make room for it.

        Living with a scarcity of parking is simply the price we have to pay for living in a city, rather than suburban sprawl.

        If we want a solution to the 44’s slow crawl through Wallingford, build a subway.

      • Chris Stefan says

        There are underdeveloped lots on or near 45th that could be used for structured parking, Wallingford isn’t exactly super-dense. Yes some buildings might need to be torn down but those were likely to be redeveloped anyway.

  7. Nathanael says

    The ORCA solution is trivial.

    (1) Make the cards FREE. ORCA is one of the most expensive “smart cards” in public transportation anywhere. Most are FREE. A few have a refundable deposit. ORCA is unreasonably overpriced.
    (2) Make them refillable at SO MANY PLACES that anyone can walk to one — starting with EVERY RAIL STATION and EVERY MAJOR BUS STOP.

    This is basically what London did to get Oyster adoption. Seattle isn’t *trying*.

    As for the little old lady who can’t walk two blocks to the bus stop? *THAT’S WHAT PARATRANSIT IS FOR*.

    • Breadbaker says

      We were in Melbourne last month when they were moving to a no-cash, all-Myki (their equivalent of ORCA) system. The Myki card cost $5, but it was available everywhere, particularly at 7-11s (which are more ubiquitous than Starbucks here). At the entrance to the main railway station was a convenience store with a sign saying “Sign up for Myki here; quicker than the machines”. We took them at their word and got two Myki cards loaded in about two minutes.

    • Aleks says

      I agree with most of what you’re saying, with one exception:

      As for the little old lady who can’t walk two blocks to the bus stop? *THAT’S WHAT PARATRANSIT IS FOR*.

      Paratransit is for people who need help to leave their building. Many people can walk 1-2 blocks to a bus stop, but have difficulty walking the full 1/4 mile that able-bodied passengers are expected to walk.

      While we could serve all such passengers with paratransit, it would be an extremely expensive (and somewhat humiliating) way to do so. It would also be startlingly inconvenient — you must request rides 24 hours in advance.

      For much less money, we can provide services such as dial-a-ride, subsidized taxis, and yes, even milk runs. A bus which runs once an hour and makes a circuitous route through neighborhood streets may not be as useful to able-bodied people as a direct bus that runs every 10-15 minutes, but it’s much better for everyone than a van that you need to reserve the day before!

      All that said, I definitely agree with you that it’s important to realize that these are two separate markets. If you try to design one route that will work for able-bodied commuters and little old ladies, it’s not going to work. That’s okay — it just means that you have two routes.

      • Charles says

        And as the author suggests, there would contention between those routes and would probably advocate for the elimination of the one that some metric suggested was not efficient.

  8. Will Douglas says

    There are a lot of assumptions made in this article that I do not accept.

    First, that a transit agency can either “serve choice riders” or “serve the lowest common denominator.” That’s absurd assumption. Most successful urban transportation systems use different tools to serve not just those riders but many others as well. That’s a mix of subways, streetcars, true BRT, routes with frequent headways on key corridors, and yes, the milk runs.

    Second, the assumption made here is that people resist change for the wrong reasons. Martin here is totally dismissive of people who live paycheck to paycheck, for whom a fare increase is a huge inconvenience because while it may not seem like much per fare, it adds up to a lot over time. I am guessing Martin has never been poor. I have. Even a 50 cent increase is devastating when you multiply it by 50 (assuming two fare payments per weekdays each month). And yes, finding $5 for an ORCA card really is a challenge for a lot of people who count every dollar each month. Martin doesn’t suggest the obvious and easy solution of just giving out ORCA cards for free and paying for many more ORCA machines across the region.

    There’s an unspoken tension between those who believe transit exists to serve those who can afford it, and those who believe transit exists to help achieve social and economic justice. For a long time in Seattle they have been allies, but this new Jarrett Walker-influenced transit advocacy approach makes such an alliance impossible. What the transit advocates have not yet realized is that they are in the minority, by quite a margin, and cannot have more or better transit without the social and economic justice advocates they are busy disdaining.

    Which brings me to the final assumption Martin makes – that we can never expect any new revenue in the future, so we have to find ways to cut people off from good bus service if we are to have any at all. I reject that idea and so do most Seattle residents, the very people whom you have to convince if you’re going to have a hope of expanding transit service in Seattle.

    • Matthew Johnson says

      What tax measure are you pushing, how will the hours be distributed, and where do I donate?

      • Will Douglas says

        I have heard positive things about the Legislature’s willingness to grant Metro and other transit agencies more revenue options in this coming session. Those revenue options will fail if transit agencies follow the path Martin suggests here, because too many prospective voters will be cut off from transit service.

      • d.p. says

        I will personally vote against any new money for KC Metro that is not explicitly attached to quantifiable improvements in service delivery.

        And that’s coming from a lifelong progressive, non-car-owning transit user and advocate.

        I voted enthusiastically for TransitNow. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

    • Aleks says

      I completely agree with your first and third points.

      Regarding your second point, I believe the point that Martin is making (or, at any rate, the one he should be making :D) is not that people are resisting change for bad reasons, but that many people tend to be more aware of the downsides of change than the upsides.

      There are many alternate fare systems which would lead to lower fares for lower-income people. For example, you could charge double fare for peak commuter routes like the 29 or the 301, which tend to have a higher-income ridership. Or you could provide a low-income ORCA card, which extended discounted fares to low-income households. The problem is that it’s difficult to implement these changes, because the people who will be hurt by them will be louder than the people who will be helped by them — many of whom will not even know that the changes are proposed.

      I don’t think anyone is saying that poverty has no bearing on policy. The point is just that making things better means changing things, and that will leave some people worse off, and we have to be willing to accept that.

      • d.p. says

        Martin here is totally dismissive of people who live paycheck to paycheck, for whom a fare increase is a huge inconvenience…Even a 50 cent increase is devastating when you multiply it…

        Well, the fare has actually gone up by a whole freaking dollar in the last 5 years. That’s an 80% fare hike in the off-peak!

        In light of that, it is insane for so-called social-justice advocates to argue about the “pain” of a getting an ORCA or the “injustice” of a differential fare. You are perpetuating the very inefficiencies that will lead to more fare hikes that will dwarf the cost of getting the damned ORCA you should already have.

        I’m as progressive as they come. And as part of that progressiveness, I refuse to humor people whose “advocacy” amounts to shooting off the legs of those for whom they claim to advocate.

      • Brent says

        “Martin here is totally dismissive of people who live paycheck to paycheck, for whom a fare increase is a huge inconvenience…Even a 50 cent increase is devastating when you multiply it…”

        Will here is dismissive of Martin’s and other’s *successful* efforts to get the concept of a low-income ORCA onto the table for Metro’s consideration. Want to help keep fares affordable for those who can least afford high fares? Work with us during this window of opportunity, when Metro is officially studying and considering the proposal, so that the study results in a do-implement recommendation.

      • Will Douglas says

        Why is the only revenue option to raise fares, even for some? Why not just pass a tax increase that plows more money into the system? Payment at point of service is more regressive than payment through general taxation. This is a principle well known from 20th century efforts to expand social services of various kinds in North America and Europe.

        I reject the notion that change necessarily has to leave some people worse off. We have other options that can work for everyone involved. There’s no need for a one-size-fits-all approach.

      • d.p. says

        Sales taxes, which remain our primary funding mechanism for transit now (and sadly, seemingly forever), are precisely as regressive as fares. You buy a good or use a service, and you pay a flat amount. If you’re poor, that flat amount hits you where it hurts. If you’re rich, that flat amount means little to you.

        There’s also the matter of taxpayers feeling less generous toward a system they see as wasteful and inefficient. Failing to chase the low-hanging efficiency fruit — like following the lead of every other agency on earth by incentivizing the faster payment method that is already in place and de-incentivizing slowpoke-ism — leaves average voters unenthusiastic and gives anti-transit advocates fodder.

        You know what’s worse for the poor than having to get an ORCA? Slow transit, underfunded transit, depleted transit, bad transit!

        I think we agree that being able to get around at a reasonable cost is a social justice issue. The right to take a full minute to board and pay your fare — costing the system 1/3 to 1/2 the fare you’re paying just by virtue of the delay — is not a “right”!

        Meanwhile, you continue to ignore the fact that while “advocates” have been busy moaning about cash fares and paper transfers as emblems of “justice”, fare have already jumped by as much as 80% since 2006! Inefficiency has consequences!

      • Chris Stefan says

        I’ve about had it with certain self appointed “social justice advocates” in this town WRT to transit. They are almost as bad as the idiots behind the “bus riders union” in LA.

        Remember the fiasco with the 42? How many service hours have been wasted on a route nobody (even the people it is supposed to serve) ride?

        Then there is the proposed restructuring of the #2. Certain people characterized the proposed changes as yet another example of rich white yuppies crapping all over the poor non-white residents of the CD. Never mind the route wouldn’t have changed one bit East of 12th. West of 12th the route would have moved a whole two blocks South and live looped rather than continue to Belltown and Queen Anne. For some reason people traveling between the CD and Belltown are special little snowflakes who can’t bear the burden of transferring downtown of all places.

        Oh and let’s not forget “low income housing advocates” like John Fox who fight upzoning, density, or indeed ANY development.

      • David L says

        If I saw John Fox in person, I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to stay polite or civil. He’s been driving me up the wall for twenty years.

      • Brent says

        Mr. Fox’s annoyance factor isn’t so much that he fights “any development.” It’s that he fights any development inside the City of Seattle.

        I like Peter Steinbrueck, but it is a very bad sign having John Fox as one of his chief backers. Same thing that Mr. Fox is one of the co-chairs of the Gerrymander Seattle Now campaign. If I see his name on a political campaign, I’m afraid of touching that campaign with a ten-foot pole. Fortunately, the length-limit in Seattle is three feet. Mr. Fox will gladly trot out studies showing that three-feet poles are more expensive to buy next to transit (which he seems to loathe) than ten-feet poles cost at the Auburn Supermall.

      • David L says

        Peter Steinbrueck is a nice guy, but he just doesn’t get what makes a successful city. He’s full of a combination of discredited ’60s planning ideas and the worst, laziest anti-gentrification reflexes of urban liberals. I will work hard against his campaign, and throw my support behind whoever looks likeliest to defeat him, even if it’s the incumbent.

        John Fox’s thinking on land use goes something like this:

        “I want cheap housing. Housing is cheapest in the slums. Therefore, the best way to get cheap housing is to make as much of the city as possible into slums.”

      • says

        The people who had a problem with the 2 restructuring complained that by moving the bus away from the Financial District, the shops near Pine, and U-Street, it made the 2 more worthless for getting Downtown. Belltown had little to do with it. (I once proposed a 1st-Pike-2nd live-loop to solve those problems.)

    • Kevin R says

      Good post Will. I like your point about the scarcity fallacy – the idea that the pot of potential money available for transit is fixed from here forward is a ridiculous one in my opinion.

    • David L says

      The “social and economic justice” point of view we often hear advocated is taking a very narrow view of social and economic justice.

      For every elderly resident with mobility issues who has a badly placed house and will have trouble reaching a frequent service corridor if her neighborhood milk run disappears, there are many workers — many of them struggling to raise children, working multiple jobs, and chronically short of both time and money — whose lives would be materially improved by speeding transit up and reducing unpredictability and waiting time. If you doubt me, go ride the 106 or 132 sometime, and see how many hard-working people would save significant chunks of their lives if they could have a bus that ran frequently and in a straight line. Social justice is not just about the people who would be hurt by change, but also about the people who would be helped by it, and the people who use it as an excuse to leave the system’s pathologies in place often forget that.

      • Will Douglas says

        That’s a false choice. There’s no reason why ALL routes should be straight lines or ALL routes should be circuitous milk runs. And in case there’s any doubt, those circuitous milk runs drive me nuts too…but that’s a problem of different uses. If I am trying to get to work downtown from a neighborhood, my transit needs are different than someone getting from one neighborhood to another.

        We should not expect our bus routes to be all things to all people. Martin is proposing we take bus routes that are just one thing to some people and making them into bus routes that are just one thing to a different set of people. There’s no reason at all we have to be so straitjacketed. We need many different kinds of transit running on many different kinds of routes.

        Of course, we know that public opinion is with me on this and a transit system of the kind laid out here will never win public support at the ballot box because it cuts off too many people when there’s no need at all to do so. “Coverage vs. ridership” is a totally false choice. We can and should have both. Just not using the same route.

      • David L says

        If we can get more money, I agree with you.

        But, given that we had a failed MVET vote in King County, and the recent failure in Pierce County despite known apocalyptic consequences, I’m not at all sure your optimism about more money is justified.

        And if there is no more money, we need to prioritize the corridors that serve the most people (who are mostly, don’t forget, voters). That has the effect of cutting off relatively few people within the service area while actually making transit useful to quite a few riders that might not find it useful or palatable today.

        For example, how many new riders (and voters) do you think we could attract from Aurora if we could guarantee a fast trip on a bus not packed like a sardine can? From the population density near the corridor, I’d say the number is very high.

      • Kevin R says

        Which vote are you talking about David – the 2011 ballot measure in Seattle? If it’s that one I don’t think it’s a good predictor of how other transit votes might go.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        Yeah, that was a VLF, not an MVET, and there was no flagship improvement included.

    • Mike Orr says

      “That’s a mix of subways, streetcars, true BRT, routes with frequent headways on key corridors, and yes, the milk runs.”

      Yes! That’s what Seattle doesn’t have!!! People are forced onto the milk runs because in many cases there’s nothing else available. The entire frustration with RapidRide D is that it went from a milk run to, er, a “super” milk run, and RapidRide E is about to do the same. Then you have “frequent” 15-minute routes that become infrequent at 6pm and on Sundays. We need multiple levels of service so that people can choose the one that’s best for them: the fast, frequent express between neighborhood centers, or the slow, turning milk run because their house is in a low-density area or they can’t walk to the arterial or they really love one-seat rides.

      We shouldn’t ignore the poor, but we also need to realize that the non-poor are also suffering substandard bus service, and they also deserve better routes. The best thing we could do for the poor is to get more housing near core routes, and smaller or subsidized housing so they can afford to live near good transit routes, and turn over the isolated non-walkable apartment buildings to the rich because they can afford to drive. There are a huge ton of poor people in Kent filling buses that are even less frequent and less comprehensive than Seattle. The legacy of single-use zoning and single-family neighborhoods is that now the isolated places are the cheapest to live in, so that’s where the poor are going. We need to reverse that, so that people of modest means can choose to live near a core transit route and walkable neighborhood, and the only people in isolated residential ares are those who can afford to live there and drive everywhere easily.

    • Bruce Nourish says

      Ruh roh. The attack of the Social-Justice Seattle Liberals.

      “Build everything! Give it all away! Hard choices are hard — let’s not make them! Let’s live in transit mediocrity forever!”

  9. Limes says

    It’s really easy to trivialize and mock the little old lady until a person becomes the little old lady. Or the mom schlepping two or five children around with groceries. Or the janitor that works the night shift.

    And then an easy .5 mile walk becomes something entirely different, particularly in a city with hills and rain and few sidewalks.

    Yes, the system could be more efficient. But the system is designed for PEOPLE, with all their pesky old age and children and language difficulties and broken bodies. And yes, they should advocate for their needs. Having efficiency for efficiency’s sake cannot be the end goal.

    There must be balance. I appreciate that this blog (both the writers and commenters) represent one extreme, but I hope that the extremism is to help move the conversation toward the middle.

    • Matthew Johnson says

      The system as is is designed around the squeaky wheels, not necessarily the best interest of the people as a whole.

    • Aleks says

      There’s an inherent tension between “ridership” and “coverage” services. The former are designed to maximize ridership, by appealing to the broadest segment of the population — people who want the fastest, most frequent, and most reliable trip from point A to point B, and are willing and able to spend a bit of energy getting there. The latter are designed to provide some amount of transit service to geographical areas that don’t have the density to support a high level of service, or to populations who would prefer a once-hourly door-to-door bus to an every-10-minutes arterial route.

      Both of these services have a vital role to play in an effective transportation system. However, historically, transit systems in the US, especially outside of the few pre-automobile Northeast Corridor cities, have tended to focus on the latter to the exclusion of the former. This means that transit is great for people who need it, but is not appealing for people who have other options (such as driving).

      As Seattle grows denser, we’re approaching the point at which this no longer works. We simply have too many people, going too many places, for everyone’s private car to fit on our streets. Therefore, we need to provide transit which is competitive with driving. This means that the routes need to be frequent; they need to be reliable; and they need to be fast.

      Coverage services remain vitally important. But we’re already so far in that direction that I think a little extremism won’t hurt. As Matthew says below, there are already tons of people who consistently urge Metro to focus on door-to-door service. We need a voice calling for efficiency to achieve a good balance.

      • Charles says

        I know a number of people here hate the idea of PRT but I’d bet a case could be made that subsidized taxi/car service in conjunction with frequent arterial transit service would be more efficient than the mishmash we have now.

      • Brent says

        Charles, I don’t think it is the idea of using cars and taxis as part of the transit system that gets mocked here. We just had a post on Car2Go, which seemed to go over pretty well.

        It’s the concept of a one-size-fits-all redo of the street infrastructure into an all-track/all-electric-wire/one-person-per-vehicle system that people are talking about when they lampoon the idea of PRT.

      • asdf says

        The tricky thing about that idea is it’s much more difficult to subsidize a service that has a high marginal cost each time someone uses it. If you offer the subsidy to everyone, it will either get overused and become too expensive or be too expensive for low-income people to afford, even with the subsidy.

        And if you only offer the subsidy to low-income people, you open the can of worms of deciding who is low income and preventing fraud. Inevitably, such a system would also have the undesirable property of excluding people who are visiting the area from out of town or just moved to the area.

        Furthermore, when you offer a direct subsidy for each trip, you inevitability open yet another can of worms of deciding which trips are worth subsidizing. Is subsidizing a trip to the grocery store permissible when the cost of the subsidy would exceed the shipping costs associated with ordering the groceries off Amazon? Is it ok to subsidize a trip to a movie or social event, or do you have to prove the trip is strictly related to an “approved” cause, such as work or a medical appointment?

        I really don’t like the government getting into the business of value judgements as to which trips are most worthwhile. After all, the road system for private cars has roads going everywhere and doesn’t make any value judgements at all. Thankfully, with a functional gridded transit network of fixed-routes, such value judgements aren’t necessary because the marginal cost of an additional passenger getting on the bus is negligible. But start directly subsidizing taxi or taxi-like services and it’s impossible to keep costs in check while preserving service for people who most need it without making such value judgements.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      The mother with 5 kids should live near transit, not the other way around. Nobody expects the monther with 5 kids to be served well by transit if she lives in the woods – the same should be true if she lives in the far reaches of Magnolia. If she’s chosen a car-dependent lifestyle, we didn’t choose it for her.

      I see line spacing being a function of density. Sparse, sprawling suburb? You get one line through your whole “city”. Skyscrapers with a neighborhood’s number of people on every block? You get a frequent bus every other block, with a subway every four.

      To do otherwise means running a lot of empty buses a long distance. Not the best use of scarce resources.

      • Brent says

        Oh, please, stop it with the “You should live near transit” line. Families, by definition, have multiple people in them. If the parents have jobs at two disparate locations, perhaps with neither on a transit line, and the children go to schools that are not well-served by transit, then they have to live somewhere that is inconvenient for at least all but one of them.

        Maybe nobody should ever get married or have kids, as the sin of “original carbon footprint” is the most environmentally-destructive action a typical homo sapiens will commit.

        Maybe we should ban owning homes, as renting is what enables people to move at will to be next to their jobs.

        And maybe we should ban employers from locating more than a quarter mile away from an all-day transit stop. Do all that, and then get back to me on why all of us should live next to transit.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I think it’s a terrible use of resources to provide every-few-block service to the type of family you described. Sparcely suburban family that has no job connections near transit and no school connections near transit? Why exactly would we spend money, labor, and emissions on sending a near-empty bus directly to their house?

        For some people, it’s a better choice to have a car-dependent lifestyle. That’s fine – I certainly won’t judge individual cases. But those same bus hours could be serving far more people that actually ride the bus.

      • Brent says

        My argument isn’t about who should live where. It’s about people like us telling anyone where they “should live”. Shoulding people doesn’t work. You still haven’t shoulded me into living next to a trunk line, as the location and hours of my employment preclude that living option.

        The problem in Seattle and King County isn’t that families are demanding to live far from transit or in suburgatory. The problem is that too many people (including various “housing advocates”) are trying to keep the housing supply down, and having some success by making the cost of navigating the legal processes of being allowed to build anything inside Seattle ridiculously expensive and an extremly high-risk investment. And then they’ll turn around and point to studies showing that housing next to transit is more expensive. I want to tell these people “I wonder why.”

        I’ve been through numerous battle where neighborhoods try to limit developers’ options in order to make development nonprofitable. It was a smart tactic if one’s goal is to keep a pristine area pristine. It makes no sense if the goal is to simply try to control who your neighbors will be. And in Seattle, nobody seems to want large families as their neighbors, even next to train stations.

        What’s really puzzling to me is why neighborhood associations that are far from lilly white would engage in the same tactics. They seem to fear that tall apartment buildings will be populated by white people. Meanwhile, the value of the housing stock goes up, so that the only people who can afford to move into those single-family neighborhoods are millionaires.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I can agree I shouldn’t have used “should”. I want to look at the big picture and find ways of making our transit system effective. Running buses a few blocks away from each other everywhere is a great way to have an expensive, slow, and poorly used transit system. If we build a transit system that scales with density, then a mother with 5 kids can choose to live near a transit line even in a sparse suburb. Or she can choose to live further from that transit line and have a tougher time getting to transit. But I didn’t mean to judge which is the better option for her – she can choose either.

        I do agree with your comment – if we allowed developers to build dense homes for families near transit she’d have more options.

    • Mike Orr says

      “the system is designed for PEOPLE, with all their pesky old age and children and language difficulties and broken bodies”

      Those are only some of the people. Other people want frequent, fast service on a few strategic corridors, and are willing to walk to them if only they existed. This group happens to be the majority of people.

      It would be better to spend X dollars helping little old ladies move closer to frequent transit if they want to, than spending the same amount to bring a milk run to them.

      The other factor is there’s a huge advocacy group who’s missing: people who would use the frequent routes that don’t exist yet. Most of them don’t follow transit planning closely so they don’t know about the opportunities, or they can’t conceive of how it could benefit them until they see it running on the ground. The status quo advocates fill the public hearings, but the same number of people who would benefit from the change aren’t there.

  10. Brent says

    This whole “little old lady” paradigm really bothers me. If you want to lose a debate, frame your opponents as “little old ladies”, and you’ll lose any election.

    To win hearts, there needs to be a more positive debate framing, that includes recognition that even “little old ladies” don’t like to take two hours to get across town. Realize that as some “little old ladies” have their service get a little bit worse in a restructure, they are outnumbered by other “little old ladies” who have much-improved service, and they call in every time their high-frequency route doesn’t show up within 11 minutes, or the bus is packed and passes them by, or they can’t get a seat. Little old ladies are on every side of the debate, and if you want to win an election, don’t make fun of “little old ladies”. They are the volunteers and voters who will carry the day for any transit funding package that has to be passed by the voters.

    • says

      “Cranky” or “whiny” old ladies, then? I think we’re using “little old ladies” to refer to how our opponents use them to produce exactly the effect you describe.

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