The Reality of a Seattle Transit Agency

I occasionally see the argument that Seattle should separate from King County Metro, which would replace the foibles of the King County Council with those of the Seattle City Council. Usually this proposal rests on the widely-held thesis that Seattle “subsidizes” the rest of the county. As I’ve argued before, worrying about cross-subsidy is a terrible way to approach these issues, but the underlying facts show this assertion to be simply false under reasonable assumptions.

Thanks to annualized Fall 2012 data provided by King County Metro, I’ve broken down all of the agency’s platform hours* into multiple bins. Out of a total of 3,461,387 service hours over the system’s 208 routes:

  • 1,544,511 (44.6%) are one- and two-digit routes that are clearly within the Seattle city limits. Add to this 2,030 hours for the the 217, which is actually a reverse-peak route, and that’s 44.7% of all service.
  • 700,816 (20.2%) are two-way, two-zone routes, meaning they reasonably serve residents of both jurisdictions. These include routes with long suburban segments but decent two-way demand (150, 255, 271) and routes that are primarily in Seattle but for a relatively minor terminus in a suburb (120, 358).
  • 1,214,030 (35.1%) are “three-digit” routes that never enter Seattle, or enter Seattle solely as a peak-direction bus.

Although we won’t consider it below, it’s important to remember that Sound Transit’s subarea accounting allocates 100% of the cost of ST Express to its suburban subareas, and none to North King. Whatever you think of the overall balance of riders on these routes, Seattle inarguably gets more than zero benefit from this service.

The revenue side is somewhat murkier, given the complexities of ORCA revenue sharing, transfer slips, and the like. In calendar year 2012, Metro collected “approximately $162.5m” in taxes from Seattle, with the fiscal year (Nov-Oct) 2012 county-wide total at $402m. That’s about 40.4% coming from the city, or less than Seattle’s service allocation even if you charge 100% of the two-way routes to the suburbs.

A further $133.8m came from farebox revenue in 2012. Setting aside other revenue sources, 30.3% of it comes from sales tax in Seattle, 44.7% from sales tax elsewhere, and 25% from fares. It is hard to parse this by municipality, but if we assume that farebox revenue is directly proportional to boardings, the split would be 54%, 20%, and 26%** from the three route groupings above.  This somewhat understates the suburban contribution because the average two-zone fare was $1.61, vs. $1.09 for one-zone travel. If we credit Seattle with half of the two-zone/two-fare ridership, Seattle contributes 46% of the revenue that funds Metro, 44% with one-zone only.

In other words, Seattle would basically break even if it took all the one-and-two-digit routes along with their fares and the tax revenue, as long as the County continued to fund the two-way service out of generosity. Whether that scenario is a plausible one is left to the reader, but it’s definitely not a story of Seattle service gutted by exporting money to the suburbs.

Of course, this provincial argument about who benefits is ultimately unresolvable. Plenty of suburban residents utilize a Seattle route for some of their trips, and Seattle benefits when suburbanites come by transit rather than car — or rather than not at all. Most importantly, everyone benefits from the free flow of people around the region in ways that alleviate pollution and congestion. And of course the revenue itself largely comes from sales tax, and it’s hardly unheard of for Seattle to shop at Southcenter, or Bellevue to shop downtown.

It’s entirely reasonable, in the interests of maximizing the productivity of the system, that the majority of spending would occur in dense, urban districts, in the same way that social services money flows from King County to substantially poorer counties in Eastern Washington. Nevertheless, the likely reduction in overall service hours and loss of economies of scale will overwhelm any possible governance improvements associated with a separate Seattle transit agency. A separate Seattle Transit is not a solution to any of the problems with our bus network.

*These are “platform hours” — hours the bus is running — not “revenue hours”, when it’s carrying passengers. All of the deadhead costs of peak expresses from nowhere are already baked into it.

** Based on Fall 2012 boardings data Metro provided me.

About Martin H. Duke

Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from suburban DC, but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family in Columbia City and works as a software engineer in Lower Queen Anne.




Comments

  1. Ben Schiendelman says:

    This post is not about what I expected from the title. :)

    I don’t see why you’d do anything to Metro to create a Seattle transit agency. Just create a Seattle agency (or don’t, just expand a department at SDOT, or whatever – governance just gets into the weeds). The huge political lift it would take to change the county system doesn’t gain us anything, as you point out.

    The benefit of a Seattle agency has nothing to do with the funding on the table today, and everything to do with the willingness of Seattle voters to approve additional service at a higher rate than the county.

    I’m concerned to see this general attitude on the blog lately – thinking almost exclusively about what funding exists today, not the ways in which we would actually expand transit. Creating a Seattle transit funding mechanism is a great goal. I appreciate pointing out that we shouldn’t be trying to reorganize Metro, but I don’t think anyone was!

    • I think those are two different arguments, Ben. I agree with yours. Having Seattle and its own extra transit is an idea worth exploring because people in this town want it more. The first Sound Transit vote failed in every area but Seattle. The tricky part is managing this with the other agencies (Sound Transit and Metro). If we build extra service, we want them to adjust their service to these changes, but not just cut it. Like I said, this is tricky.

      But Martin’s post is about a different argument that is often used. Many have said that Seattle should cut itself off, because it is more just. Or, an even worse variation of that argument is that Seattle subsidizes the rest of the area. This is a crappy argument, and Martin destroyed it. The question of whether it is more just for the suburban areas to subsidize more of Seattle is a trickier argument. Martin does a great job in countering that argument — Seattle benefits from the suburbs just as the suburbs benefit from Seattle. I would argue that the suburbs benefit a lot more, but putting a percentage on it is really hard to do. At some point, the argument gets silly, and I agree with Martin. To quote Red Green, we’re all in this together.

    • John Bailo says:

      I don’t see why any bus that crosses the Seattle city limits isn’t transferred to Sound Transit, like all the express routes from South and East King.

      • David Lawson says:

        It would arguably make sense to give half of the 255 to ST; to merge the 271 and the 555/556; and to give the 101 and the Seattle-Southcenter part of the 150 to ST. If we somehow could shift a bit of funding to ST from Metro, it might also make sense to have ST take over a few of the dwindling number of long-distance peak routes.

        But most routes that cross the city limits have nothing to do with the ST Express service pattern. It would make no sense for ST to operate the 5, 106-7, 120, 124, 131-2, 345-8, 358, 372, etc. Those are local routes providing local service.

      • John Slyfield says:

        That’s not why we built ST, and we certainly did not approve the massive subsidies to make that happen. South King is already hurting as it is for ST subarea funds. I don’t think the subarea concept was the best, but it’s what we have. So it’s up to Metro to bridge the gap sadly.

    • Chris Stefan says:

      Speaking of Seattle residents being hungry for more transit, I think you have to look no further than the excitement option D in the Ballard study has generated to see it. It also shows the benefit of your “go big or go home” thinking. Give the voters a proposal they can get excited about and they will generate the groundswell of political support necessary to pay for it.

      • John Bailo says:

        Then it can take 10 times longer and cost 20 times more to finish it. By then those who voted for it will be retired or dead. Perfect solution.

    • David Lawson says:

      The benefits and dangers of this approach can both be seen in the DC Circulator, which is service funded by the DC government (and contracted out to asshole contractor First Transit), separately from WMATA, the DC area regional transit authority.

      On the plus side, the service is well-conceived and has added capacity to several corridors that had been badly underserved by Metro (WMATA) for decades. Without the two heaviest-used Circulator routes, K Street and 14th Street, Metro bus service would be completely overwhelmed by the growth that has happened in those areas.

      On the minus side, DC and Metro have engaged in turf battles and have actively avoided adjusting their service to the other, and also don’t have a common fare system (aside from both accepting the regional SmarTrip card). Metro views the Circulator as a threat, while DDOT (DC’s equivalent of SDOT) views Metro as a joke unworthy of collaboration. As a result the Circulator service does much less good than the equivalent amount of funding could do with good coordination with Metro.

      I see the danger that this will happen again with Seattle’s streetcar efforts, although thankfully the relationship between SDOT and King County Metro is vastly better than that between DDOT and WMATA. The SLU streetcar didn’t allow Metro to change or reallocate any bus service, and won’t unless/until it’s expanded to Fremont and made much faster and more frequent. The FHSC won’t be frequent enough or go far east enough to allow Metro to reallocate any bus service away from Jackson, at least initially. The SDOT bus-service-enhancement model — doing capital improvements and providing money to enhance service planned in a unified way by Metro — has been, in my opinion, much more effective, and is a great template for the kind of boost I’d like to see the city give to in-city transit.

      • Since the new mayor has made it a priority to work with other agencies (and other jurisdictions) I am hopeful that we will see further cooperation between Metro and SDOT on transit issues. I think McGinn did a good job in that regard (as you said) and I think Murray should be able to as well.

      • William Aitken says:

        Ahh, the plays well with others meme. How did that work out for us in the State Senate again?

      • Yeah, I’m not saying he has a good record, I’m just saying he has made that a priority. It is one of the few things he said during the campaign.

      • “…(and contracted out to asshole contractor First Transit)”

        What is the problem with contracted operations? According to the NTD, King County Metro spends $155 per revenue hour on bus service, and $144/hour on trolleybus service. Private contractor operations in larger cities are typically around $100/hour. Reducing operating costs results in a higher level of service otherwise possible, without necessarily increasing taxes or fares.

      • David Lawson says:

        The problem isn’t necessarily with contracting (although I would argue that the savings typically come at the expense of worse safety), but with First Transit in particular. It has a long record of treating its employees brutally and prioritizing profits over safety.

    • Ben, I may be mistaken, but in the past haven’t you argued for a consolidation of local transit agencies for efficiency sake?

    • Martin H. Duke says:

      If there’s a bunch of political will in Seattle to raise more money for transit, there’s a long list of capital projects – both bus and rail – that I would like Seattle to tackle before building a new operations infrastructure.

    • There’s still nothing preventing the city from purchasing hours from Metro. You know, like they’re already doing.

      • Kate Martin says:

        Have you taken your analysis as far as comparing the various costs per boarding? Many Seattle routes, if I recall, have pretty cheap per boarding costs – sometimes even cheaper than the fare while some of the suburban routes are super expensive per boarding – I believe the most expensive one being over $35 / boarding. How would this factor in?

      • Metro has stopped reporting farebox recovery ratios per route, since they can be misleading. The last year in which these numbers were reported was 2009. At that time, the route with the highest farebox recovery was the 4N during peak, at 71%.

        It’s possible that there are a few *corridors* in Seattle which pay for themselves, such as the 3/4 to Harborview, and the 71/72/73 between the U-District and downtown. However, I strongly suspect that there isn’t a single Metro *route* which pays for itself, even in the city.

        All that said, Martin’s numbers already take this into account. A platform hour represents an hour that a bus is on the road, regardless of whether it’s picking up passengers on a busy Seattle street, or deadheading on I-5 during rush hour, or meandering on a lonely rural highway. In other words, while it’s true that some suburban routes have a very high cost per boarding, that cost is completely represented by extra platform hours.

  2. Thanks for crunching the numbers Martin. It’s good to get reality checks from time to time.
    ST routes that cross the lake are paid for from E.sub area funds, but clearly carry lots of riders residing on both sides of the pond. I understand the logic not burdening N.sub with too much expense as they were plowing most of thier funds into building Link. Now that the expensive sections are nearly built, will Seattle shoulder their fair share of STEX and Sounder?
    Even free rides come to an end someday.

    • I can see some argument for the north subarea funding more ST Express. But Sounder? There are zero round-trips from Seattle to Everett and back in the same day. There are just two on the south line, and you better get up early to catch the morning leg.

      • Interesting point. Should where you live be the only criteria for how transit route costs are allocated by sub-area?
        Why not include where you work into the formula? That would make King St Stn much more visible as a key destination, generating more local sub-area funds for improvements there too.
        ST and Metro have shied away from using their ‘Employer Head Tax’ sources of income to any degree, but that certainly drives the revenue equation in favor of Seattle. It’s unpopular with business, so maybe they wield a bigger stick that we give them credit for. Boeing and Msoft certainly seem to get their way.

      • David Lawson says:

        I can say with some confidence that the downtown business community would welcome investments made from existing revenue streams with the location of riders’ employment in mind — but that they would be very, very wary of any effort to reform or add taxes calculated on that basis. The business community in most cities has enough clout to prevent the imposition of commuter taxes and their ilk, which has the side effect of promoting sprawl. It’s a bit of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. By taxing commuters, you put downtown businesses at a competitive disadvantage; by not taxing them, you give out-of-town residents a huge free ride.

      • All I can say is “taxation without representation”. Our political system is organized based around where people live. You vote in the district where your mattress is. If we want to tax people based on where they work, then those people should get a vote, too. Realistically, that’s not changing, so let’s just stick with assigning costs based on where people live.

      • Mic, you seem confused about which businesses get their way. Have you tried getting to any Boeing site recently. Most trips require multiple hours and 1 and most the time 2 transfers.

      • Boeing would have more transit than Microsoft by now if it had made it a priority over the decades.

  3. What about the reality of creating a Puget Soung transportation agency? I’ve never understood why Portland has TriMet yet we have a bunch of transportation agencies. By having a bunch of transportation agencies it feels we don’t always make the best transportation choices for the region and likely spend a lot more on overhead than one agency would.

    • We like complex funding streams. But, we could all just band under Sound Transit. That would be the easiest solution. I like this model: http://seattletransitblog.com/2013/05/03/triangle-transit-third-way/

    • We are one big conurbation (we’ll always argue about the outer edges (Stanwood, Bellingham, Olympia, Kitsap County?) and we need one agency – please?

      • Stanwood is within the Community Transit service area. Is there argument over that? Olympia is apparently being serviced by Pierce Transit and SoundTransit in addition to its own Intercity Transit to Pierce County. Kitsap County is barely connected to Pierce County. Its primary service to the Central Puget Sound is the Washington State Ferries. Meanwhile Bellingham is fully removed from Central Puget Sound services and requires two connections (Bellingham to Mount Vernon and Mount Vernon to Everett). We definitely need better integration. A start is combining forces through marketing and branding under the banner of SoundTransit, which could lead to greater service planning efforts and economies of scale. We can keep independent taxing authority and internal planning authorities for the foreseeable future.

      • I think Bellingham is closer to Vancouver than Seattle. It might actually be closer to being its own sub-urban area than anything else.

      • John Slyfield says:

        Pierce transit no longer directly serves Olympia. That was discontinued a couple of years ago. This fall, ST extended some 592 trips to Olympia, and those are still operated by PT. But ya, it would be better if we could have one responsible agency.

      • “Pierce Transit no longer directly serves Olympia…”

        Actually, it now does: http://seattletransitblog.com/2013/11/11/pierce-transit-custom-express/

      • Thanks for posting the citation, ASDF! :)

        I think getting one key agency to be the visible link between all core Central Puget Sound transit agencies is key because the State can no longer ignore the integral function that transit plays in metropolitan centres. One lead agency can be the rallying cry and banner that we are united under. We can demand that the overall needs are met. Currently, we have a terrible ad hoc situation where each agency and board/council goes with hands out begging for common things, but without a clear message and apparent mandate. Relations with local planning authorities would also be much simpler if service planning can filter through one primary lead transit agency.

        We’re not just dependent upon the success of Metro or SoundTransit, but that of Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and others. If one suffers, we all suffer.

  4. Martin writes that “Seattle benefits when suburbanites come by transit rather than car.” I’m sure that’s true. Here is an even more compelling reason to end the divisive, provincial arguments about providing service based on where the revenue comes from: the converse is also true. Suburbanites benefit when Seattleites commute by transit rather than car. Imagine the congestion on I-5 if everyone in Seattle drove to their jobs. Imagine the lack of parking if everyone in Seattle drove to their jobs. Even I-90 and SR 520 would be slammed with additional traffic if everyone in Seattle drove to their jobs, not just from Seattle folks but also from more eastsiders taking the bridges instead of going around the lake. This point is obvious to everyone who reads this blog, but the message may be stronger if we can make it mainstream: lots of transit in Seattle provides massive benefits for everyone in the region. Commuters from the east, north, and south suburbs directly benefit from good transit service in Seattle, even if they never ride transit themselves.

  5. Reality based commute says:

    Nice work, Martin. I do want to point out to some of the commenters here that ST Express should not take over more bus service. They should do the opposite.

    ST Express was originally conceived as a way to deliver immediate value for ST taxes while light rail was being built. But every dollar spent on bus operating has a multiplier effect on how much rail you can build because those dollars can be bonded. So, if you want more rail, you want less ST buses. When Lynnwood Link and East Link come on line this region will have an opportunity to reduce the ST bus component and return them to Metro reducing duplication and overhead.

    • Where will Metro come up with the money to take over these additional routes?

      • John Slyfield says:

        They won’t need to. Build a sign that says “Light rail station that way” and be done with it. The 510 and 511 won’t need to exist anymore, and the 512 and 513 can be truncated at Lynnwood Station. Both 145th and u-district would be serviced by light rail.

    • Also, look how much cheaper PT operates the service. That’s why we have PT operating routes 566, 567 and 577.

  6. Paul K McGregor says:

    These arguments always seem to pop up from time to time when a city/suburb seems to think it is not getting the service it deserves relative to the amount of funds it puts into a system. You also lay out a very persuasive argument as to why a city only system is not a good idea. If a system were to be laid out, it would have to develop as a system that compliments the regional system, not compete or take away from it. In the Washington DC metro area, a detailed analysis was done to see which Metro routes could be given up and which should remain with Metro.

  7. Political boundaries do wierd things to transit. We can’t get good service with good frequency to Bellingham because there is this narrow strip of land in the way known as Skagit County.

    South Park was able to get additional city funding for the 60 because it is entirely within the city limits. But we couldn’t get city funding for the fuller 132 because it serves a long stretch of suburgatory.

    A whole bunch of routes die at or near the city limits, even though the only thing that changes is the name of the city. If you didn’t have a map or see the sign, you wouldn’t know you had crossed over into unincorporated King County, Burien, Tukwila, or Shoreline.

    Even the old 80-series routes contain history in their route paths. They only go as far north as they do because 85th was once the city limits.

    To misparaphrase Rodney King: Can’t we all just get around?

  8. Mark Dublin says:

    Like I’m saying a lot nowadays: I see first-rate local transit in Seattle as absolutely necessary to the first-rate suburban and regional transit I’ll need for the kind of life I’m planning on living for the whole foreseeable future.

    Willing to discuss variety of administrative structures.

    But for any living thing: Organs, arteries and veins, and capillaries- in everything above a mollusc, if the smallest conduit fails, the largest creature is crippled or dies.

  9. Matt the Engineer says:

    Although I love the data effort you’ve provided, and it does answer the subsidy question, that’s not the primary reason for having a Seattle transit agency in my mind. As I argued in 2008, we need a Seattle-based transit entity because King County is fundamentally suburban. 2/3 of KC’s population lives outside of Seattle, and a large majority of KC is at a density where buses are the right solution. KC Metro does not have the votes or the authority to do much more than buses. A similar problem exists for Sound Transit – they are fundamentally a regional agency, and have no authority to build Seattle-only projects.

    So where does that leave Seattle? With the original bus system built 80 years ago, plus any county/regional service that happens to benefit the city along with pet projects that council members pay for. Kind of a poor way to run transit in a city, in my mind.

    • I agree. Martin destroys one of the arguments against a Seattle transit agency. But it doesn’t change the other arguments, which I think are stronger. Ben S. laid out one of the big arguments in a comment, and I agree as well. But the other arguments are way more complicated. In an ideal world the suburban areas would be more willing to fund projects that appear to benefit only the city (e. g. the transit tunnel). In this way, I think they would benefit immensely. If you talk to someone who lives in Bellevue, or Lynnwood, or any other suburb, they will tell you the same thing — if they worked in downtown Seattle, they would take a bus. But to get to work in most of the other places (e. g. Fremont) they drive, just because it is so much faster. At the same time, it makes sense for Seattle residents to fund suburban projects, in part because you can get so much for the money. Most of the suburbs grew up around the freeways, so it isn’t that expensive to leverage that (using BRT or rail along the right of way).

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        Right, and the city projects that strongly benefit the ‘burbs will happen under the current plan. It’s the specific projects that strongly benefit the city, are expensive, and only partially benefit the ‘burbs that will never happen under KC or ST command. The big one is connecting neighborhoods together. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to convince ST that the Seattle Subway is a regional project that will extend north and south. But something like a Ballard Spur would be pretty clearly outside of their mandate. And on the streetcar front, Seattle’s taking that on themselves without an agency in place, and it’ll probably get ugly if we don’t create a funding source and a rigorous design/decison process.

      • Wouldn’t it be possible for SDOT to design and build infrastructure and contract operations out to Metro or otherwise, as they’re doing with the streetcar? There aren’t many more roads for SDOT to build and WSDOT has the highways covered.

      • “It’s the specific projects that strongly benefit the city, are expensive, and only partially benefit the ‘burbs that will never happen under KC or ST command. The big one is connecting neighborhoods together.”

        What’s this corridor D we’ve been considering? A project that strongly benefits the city, is expensive, only partially benefits the burbs, connects neighborhoods together, and is the kind of transit we’ve been saying we wanted. The fact that it may be interlined with a line to Burien when it’s built is neither here nor there; that doesn’t detract from its Seattle benefit.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        There’s a strong case that this will eventually strongly benefit everything north of Seattle west of I-5. But will ST even consider the Ballard Spur? I doubt it. How about streetcars? Only with Seattle paying the bill. I can think of a few dozen projects that Seattle could really use that will never happen if left up to KCM or ST.

        @barman I’m agnostic on whether we use SDOT or build a new agency. I’ll leave that to city staff and politicians that know our internal structures and whether SDOT’s set up for the kind of grant work, studies, etc. that would make a good transit agency.

      • If you look at what we have currently built, are currently building, and are planning on building, it should be obvious that the suburban interests have way more power over the decision making than the city. To put it another way, if the state or the federal government, or some other independent agency was involved, there is no way the system would have grown the way it has. We would have started with a line from downtown to the U-District. We did get that, but it didn’t include Pill Hill. But more to the point, we got it long after we built a line from downtown to the airport. This shows how ridiculous ST priorities are. But it gets worse. At that point, there are number of worthy routes. The Central area (a spur heading east including Yesler Terrace, Seattle U, etc.). South Lake Union and Uptown (both of which are growing). Or maybe a line from Ballard to the UW via Fremont. None of that has even been considered, while we focus on an additional line towards Lynnwood. The line was geared towards getting the fastest, best route for suburban residents, which is why it follows the freeway. It ignores Lake City (by far the highest concentration of people north of the U-District (and growing)). Even trying to get a stop at 130th, which would at least allow people from Lake City to take a quick bus to the train is proving to be fight (although it isn’t clear if this is because of incompetence or a suburban mindset).

        Finally, with regards to Corridor D, or whatever line to Ballard is proposed — isn’t it funny how a line from Ballard to the UW is ignored while we force everyone to go downtown first. It is as if they are afraid that people from the suburbs (from the north and the east) will be inconvenienced if folks coming from the west actually use this same subway. Oh wait, they are. To quote Sound Transit:

        Planned light rail extensions to Lynnwood and the East Side will
        increase train traffic in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT),
        leaving no room in the tunnel for a Ballard rail line to safely operate.

        Again, mixed up priorities. The Ballard line should have been built first, then the suburban lines second. If we have to pay extra to support suburban rail, so be it. Split the cost fifty/fifty if you want. It would have been obvious what we would be doing (building additional capacity so that people from the East Side or the North End don’t swamp our system). But instead, East Side and North End service is a given, but Ballard has to build an extra line because it is now so busy.

        I’m not anti-suburbs, by the way. I think we should have good service to them. But the funny thing is, the suburban areas are really well suited for BRT — real BRT. Sound Transit buses now carry way more people than the trains, but every one of them serves a suburb. I have no problem with that. I think that system should be improved. A few ramps here and car pool lanes there and you could have really, really good bus service to the suburbs. I used to commute from Seattle to Factoria — I know how painful that is (and it costs both me and the company I used to work for). But good bus service and carpool lanes could have solved that problem really cheaply. On the other hand, there are no carpool lanes to South Lake Union, or Yesler Terrace, or Seattle U, or First Hill, or Belltown or Uptown. There are no freeway lanes or ramps that can be leveraged to make a route from Ballard to the UW. Our priorities are messed up, and they are messed up because suburban interests have way too much control over the process. I’m not saying I know what to do about it, but the sooner we realize the problem, the faster we can go about finding solutions.

  10. So long as the rest of the county and the state do not follow this holistic way of thinking, we are shooting ourselves in the foot by following it ourselves. It’s the same thing I say about the Democrats’ refusal to be as closed-minded and obnoxious as the Republicans: by giving them a fair hearing when they won’t give you a fair hearing, you’re making their triumph inevitable. Unless you have some way of convincing the rest of the county and state that giving us what we want is ultimately good for them too, if you can get a better result by splitting off for whatever reason, continuing to coddle them is fool’s talk.

    • ^This.^

      The “utopian regionalism” logic is all well and good, until Metro insists on operating high-demand urban services as if they were suburban grandma-coverage routes for all eternity, or until First Hill gets screwed over forever so the scions of wealth can save 30 seconds on their way to Lakeside.

      • Again, that’s not why First Hill was dropped. The fact that First Hill Station was there until late in the process shows that ST wasn’t concerned that it would cause excessive travel time — as if ST failed to notice that it’s a major destination in its own right with all the hospitals there, something that even some of those Lakeside travelers would likely go to (or work at).

  11. A Seattle agency improving transit exists and is doing great work: SDOT. It spends some funds from a Seattle Transportation Benefit District. It spends other funds from Bridging the Gap. In 2011, the TBD proposed additional spending, including more streetcar planning, and was defeated at the polls.

    • SDOT has done some good work recently but I wouldn’t yet call it “great” overall. But its and the city’s goals do seem to be getting better: more complete streets, more projects to speed up buses. It would certainly do more of the good stuff if it had more money. Many of us believe Proposition 1 failed not because it was “additional spending” but because it was too vague and diffuses. The roads people didn’t like it because they wanted more sidewalks. The streetcar people didn’t like it because they wanted more streetcar. The bus people didn’t like it because it had too much streetcar. So the next measure should be more specific, or maybe split into two measures, rather than trying to do a little bit of everything and not enough of anything.

      • I think it would be interesting to look at what we would like out of the city with regards to transit, especially in light of the fact that we have new leadership. The previous mayor was focused on streetcars. Now we can focus on other things. I have some ideas, but it would be nice to share them on a post that is dedicated to the subject.

  12. The basics of operating a transit agency have more to do with drivers and supervision than anything else. Mergers and separations are both messy union challenges that can take years to untangle.

    As for transit operations funding, I would suggest looking at the LA County funding model, which is that the cities get to have some say about which transit agency is operating in them. One thing that evolved was the widespread growth of neighborhood shuttles in several cities. Further, if LA County cities do things to improve transit speeds, they can get more frequent service with the same platform hours. The LA County model is fraught with both good and bad things, but it is another way to approach the “fairness” question with some accountability thrown in.

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