Please Don’t Endanger Our Transit Planning Progress

King County Council

The current King County Council. Picture by King County.

Since Proposition 1 failed in April, Metro and its riders have assumed that the King County Council would pass an ordinance implementing the four-part series of cuts Metro planning staff devised.  On Tuesday, Councilmember Rod Dembowski threw a wrench into that plan.  He and the three suburban members of the Council’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment (TrEE) Committee, over the objections of the committee’s three other Seattle members, approved an ordinance which would implement only most of the first (September 2014) round of cuts, canceling other cuts altogether for the moment.  Councilmember Dembowski would not implement or propose any funding to pay for the restoration of service.  (Our Frank Chiachiere spoke with Councilmember Dembowski about his proposed ordinance last week.)

The other four Seattle councilmembers, in response, proposed a compromise ordinance which would implement all four rounds of cuts, but give the County Executive flexibility to cancel or reduce the June 2015 and September 2015 cuts and to undo part or all of the February 2015 cuts if new funding is found.  This response put the Council in the odd position of having “Democrats” propose cuts while “Republicans” (and Councilmember Dembowski) seek to delay them (yes, the Council is technically nonpartisan).  But there is method to the Democrats’ seeming madness, and I strongly support their compromise proposal.

I’m usually a big fan of Councilmember Dembowski, who is my councilmember, and who has done top-notch work on many issues in a short time on the Council.  But I think this proposal of his is misguided, even with an admirable goal.  I argue that his proposal’s effect would not be to avoid cuts, but to undermine Metro’s newly professionalized planning process and its Service Guidelines, while cuts go forward.  That would be a profoundly bad outcome for Metro, the county, and us riders, so I hope to see Councilmember Dembowski’s proposed ordinance defeated at today’s 1:30 p.m. Council meeting.  Full argument below the jump.

In a nutshell, Councilmember Dembowski’s proposal does nothing substantive to prevent cuts, but makes it more likely that the cuts won’t be carefully planned like the cuts Metro has proposed.  To understand why, it’s helpful to know a bit of history about the Service Guidelines themselves, and about the problem they were intended to address.

Service Guidelines Background

Metro’s Service Guidelines became law in 2011, when the Council adopted King County’s current Strategic Plan for Public Transportation.  The Service Guidelines were incorporated into the Strategic Plan following a recommendation of the county’s Regional Transit Task Force, which concluded in a 2010 report that “a new approach to decision-making is needed.”  Metro’s 2009 performance audit similarly identified a need for a more transparent and objective planning process.

The previous system had a master formula (the notorious “40/40/20″) which governed the allocation of new service hours between city and suburbs.  Beyond that formula, though, very little legal structure governed specific planning decisions.  Two bad results followed.  The first was a feeling among the Council and riders alike that Metro planning decisions could be arbitrary, inconsistent, and impossible to understand.  (And, while Metro made some very valuable changes during this period, it also made some inscrutable choices.)  The second was frequent Council-level intervention in small-scale decisions, often to preserve demonstrably inefficient service at the request of small but organized groups.

The Council adopted the Service Guidelines in an effort to give Metro clear and transparent guidance about how to make planning decisions — and, beyond offering that guidance, to keep the Council itself out of the specifics of the process.  All factions on the Council recognized at the time that a systematic, professional approach, with politicians setting large-scale goals rather than driving low-level specifics, would ultimately allow the system to serve the most riders the most effectively for the least money.

And the Service Guidelines approach has helped improve the system’s efficiency over the last three years.  Nearly all of the service identified as badly inefficient in the 2010 Route Performance Report (the last with data from before the Guidelines’ adoption) has been deleted or restructured, with the hours reallocated to highly productive service.  Both Metro’s “best” and “worst” service today are substantially more efficient than they were in 2010.   The productivity thresholds for the top and bottom 25% of Metro routes have improved on both of Metro’s productivity measures, during all time periods (peak, off-peak, and night), with particularly dramatic improvements during peak hour when the system serves some four-fifths of its total ridership.

When it became clear that severe cuts would be needed without new funding, Metro staff used the Service Guidelines to formulate their proposed cuts, and then refined the cuts using a public process.  In Metro’s public materials describing the cuts, the Service Guidelines rationale underlying each proposed change is named.  By cross-referencing the cuts with the performance data in the 2013 Service Guidelines Report, it’s easy to get a sense of why Metro proposed the particular actions it did—even where they seem very painful.  The result, for anyone who has observed Metro for a long time, has been a surprisingly low amount of controversy over the specifics of the cuts, even as riders supported Prop. 1 and complained loudly about the general need to cut service.

There’s Still No New Money, So Cuts Will Still Happen…

Councilmember Dembowski’s proposal rejects most of the cuts Metro proposed by applying the Service Guidelines, but doesn’t offer anything in return.  The measure has no source of new revenue and no efficiency measures to make up for the canceled cuts, and doesn’t identify alternative cuts of its own (either guideline-based or arbitrary).  In short, it’s based only on hope, and seems very likely to bring about precipitous cuts later, when the funding finally runs out—which it almost certainly will.

In his conversation with us, and in a motion he drafted for the Council, Councilmember Dembowski said he hopes to find further efficiencies at Metro through a performance audit, and recover more money from fares.  But there is only so much those measures can accomplish.  Even a dramatic fare increase can’t come close to closing Metro’s funding gap, and Metro’s fares are already quite high by national standards, reducing riders’ ability to absorb further increases.  Metro already underwent a performance audit in 2009, which resulted in dramatic changes to Metro’s operations and management.  The final implementation report from the 2009 audit was issued only last year.  It’s hard to see how another performance audit one year later would identify meaningful efficiencies.

Other sources of potential service-hour funds are equally unsatisfying.  Raiding the capital and maintenance budgets, as Metro already did during the peak of the 2009-2010 financial crisis, will just result in higher operational costs as equipment decays and speed improvements go unmade (not to mention a much more unpleasant and unreliable rider experience).  Spending reserves during an economic expansion would be the height of irresponsibility.  Cuts to driver and mechanic pay would have to go through the collective bargaining process, and, if serious enough to make a difference, could bring about a return of the 2004 situation where Metro was unable to expand service because it could not hire enough drivers.

The cities of Seattle and Bellevue have explored providing city funding to avoid some cuts through Community Mobility Contracts.  Based on the Proposition 1 results, though, such funding is unlikely to be a political winner anywhere outside Seattle—including the north-end suburbs that make up most of Councilmember Dembowski’s district.  City buybacks of service will not prevent the necessity for cuts in most of King County.

…They’ll Just Be Poorly (and Maybe Politically) Planned

If no new revenue or efficiencies were identified, but Metro continued operating its full schedule without cuts through 2015 (as Councilmember Dembowski would have it do), then abrupt and extremely severe cuts would subsequently be needed to keep Metro from running out of cash.  The cuts Metro carefully planned using the Service Guidelines would be insufficient in that scenario, given the higher-than-planned spending during late 2014 and 2015.  Bigger cuts would be required, and in a hurry.  Metro planning staff would not have time to carefully go through the Service Guidelines process; the cuts could be loosely based on the currently planned cuts, but would necessarily have an ad hoc element.  (Such massive cuts, implemented all at once, would also lead to equally massive operational confusion and disruption, as riders who have survived much smaller restructures can attest.)

I think it’s likely, unfortunately, that such sudden and drastic cuts would take the county back to the old ways of planning.  In such a chaotic and hurried environment, with insufficient Metro planning resources to handle the situation, Councilmembers and their staffs could end up micromanaging the process just because someone has to do it and the Council has final responsibility.  And, once that happened, councilmembers’ influence and whims rather than professional application of clear guidelines would again define the pared-down transit network.  By contrast, the compromise approach would specifically require that the Service Guidelines process be followed, and allow Metro to take full advantage of its planning staff’s careful work, whether or not Metro is able to fund additional hours.

Councilmember Kathy Lambert amply previewed this risk during Tuesday’s TrEE committee hearing, offering an amendment (first reported by PubliCola) that would restore funding only for the six DART routes proposed for elimination in September 2014 pending a report on alternative service delivery for those routes.  The amendment passed, and is now part of the Dembowski ordinance that the Council will consider today.  This amendment is clear political meddling in the planning process, of exactly the sort the Council sought to avoid by establishing the Service Guidelines in the first place, and that would be prohibited under the compromise ordinance.

Adoption by the council of an ordinance with Councilmember Lambert’s amendment would set a terrible precedent.  Five of the six DART routes Councilmember Lambert seeks to save (909, 919, 927, 931, 935) are simply bad performers, no matter how you look at (or spin) the numbers.  Much of the other service scheduled for elimination in September 2014, despite being among Metro’s weakest, performs more strongly.  Also, only the 927 and 931 cross Councilmember Lambert’s district, so her motivation for saving all six routes is unclear.

(I understand that Councilmember Lambert is a member of the board of directors of HopeLink, the contractor that operates the six DART routes for Metro.  I emailed Councilmember Lambert on Saturday to ask why she wishes to override the Service Guidelines process and restore only this poorly-performing service, but, likely because of the weekend timeframe, have not received a response.  I will update this post if I hear from her office.)

By likely necessitating sharp ad hoc cuts, while rejecting well-planned cuts based on the Service Guidelines, Councilmember Dembowski’s proposal makes this sort of meddling much more likely.

There’s a Meeting at 1:30 Today, and You Can Act

The Council is meeting at 1:30 this afternoon.  During its meeting, it will consider both Councilmember Dembowski’s ordinance (2014-0210) and the compromise ordinance (in the form of an amendment to Councilmember Dembowski’s ordinance). Particularly if you live in the district of Councilmember Dembowski, Lambert, Hague, Dunn, or von Reichbauer, please call or email your Councilmember’s office this morning and politely state your support for the compromise plan and for applying Metro’s Service Guidelines whenever planning decisions are needed.

County Executive Dow Constantine reportedly has not yet decided whether, if the Council passes Councilmember Dembowski’s ordinance, he will veto it.  If the Council does pass it, a polite email to the Executive requesting a veto would also be helpful.

Comments

  1. aw says

    Is 2014-0169 really the compromise ordinance? From the text, it looks to me like the original ordinance implementing the changes in all four phases of Metro’s proposal. I didn’t see any language that would reconsider the third and fourth phases as was described in the post about the compromise.

  2. Brent says

    I don’t feel the narrative of the evolution of the planning process is complete, or fair, without bringing up route 42. IIRC, route 42 was originally scheduled to be cut in 2009 or 2010, but the council interceded, and said to keep it. Route 42 was again scheduled to be cut in June of 2012, but the council (mostly Democrats) interceded again, and extended the life of route 42 eight more months, for reasons that made no sense. There were no good planning principles behind keeping the 42 — certainly not high ridership.

    Obviously, something else had to be cut, or other service delayed 8 months, in order to provide the funding to keep the 42.

    The Democratic majority on those councils committed a sin of hubris by presuming they knew better than the service planners (who had spent countless hours at open houses listening to riders, and taking down all their suggestions) about how to allocate service hours.

    But one thing the council did right was that they didn’t spend money they didn’t have. The service hours came from other service. The Dembowski plan says nothing about pulling service hours from elsewhere to save the DART routes, much less provide any plan for how to fund the delay of the February service cuts (which will definitely be delayed if the Dembowski plan passes).

    Yes, Dembowski provides a wish list of places to look, but all those couches have been searched for loose coins repeatedly. The next independent audit might just find ways to fund itself, but not $75 million worth of additional annual service hours.

    The breaking of the Service Guidelines is not without precedent. We warned the county council not to set that precedent. But the unfunded delay of service cuts is wholly without precedent, and puts Metro into uncharted territory of potentially facing a shutdown when the cash runs out.
    .

    Speaking of cash, there is one stand-out idea in the Dembowski plan that I think should stay and be enacted: the elimination of paper transfers. This will reduce administrative costs a little (more so the cost of cash handling than the cost of transfer printing and distribution), but it will impact travel time in a good way, probably saving more money than another 25-cent flat fare increase would bring in. Metro was planning to eliminate paper transfers at the end of 2009, but the county council interceded, for reasons that (again) didn’t make sense. Metro spokespeople will give reasons related to the ability to restructure if you ask why transfers still exist, but really, they are just defending the position of the county council. The council got it wrong back then, and can take this opportunity now to undo that bit of sabotaging the Metro system.

    Speaking of that 25-cent fare increase proposal, I would urge the council to let Metro know the council is fine with making cash fares higher than electronic fares, and ask Metro to include a cash-fare surcharge as part of the March 2015 fare restructure. The cash-fare surcharge will do more for the cash-flow situation — on a permanent basis — than an across-the-board 25-cent fare increase will, because it will finally do what should have been done five years ago: provide an incentive on each and every trip to use ORCA instead of fumbling change.

    • David Lawson says

      Brent, I agree 100% on the 42. It’s a bit late for an edit but I should have mentioned it together with Kathy Lambert’s amendment, as it amounted to the same thing — preserving wasteful service, the resources for which could be used for much more pressing needs, based on a specific small group’s ability to influence councilmembers.

      For what it’s worth, though, I’m pretty sure the only reason that the Council finally acceded to the 42 cut in 2012 was the Service Guidelines. The analysis under them (specifically, the 2011 SGR) showed much more clearly than any previous analysis just how bad the 42 was, and made the pro-42 position indefensible.

  3. Aleks says

    I’m always amazed by the degree to which people believe that Seattle is “special”, i.e. that lessons learned in other cities don’t apply here.

    According to some people, Seattle should never restructure routes to improve ridership if those restructures will sacrifice any geographical coverage, since those restructures will endanger political support for transit. Never mind that San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver (among many others) have all radically restructured their networks within the past 30 years, to widespread acclaim, or that Houston and Columbus are about to do the same thing.

    According to some people, Seattle’s bus network must provide one-seat rides, because Seattleites will never accept a network based on connections. Never mind that, if you look at the transit/bus systems in the US with higher ridership than ours, all of them are based on connections between frequent services. (If Seattle doesn’t manage to buy back its service, the SLU Streetcar will have the lowest frequency of any urban rail line in the world.)

    According to some people, transit planning is inherently political. Never mind the fact that, in most cities, it’s appointees, not elected representatives or voters, who approve transit network changes.

    The fact of the matter is, there’s a reason that other cities have improved their transit networks, while ours has stagnated. There’s a reason that in Seattle, the transit mode share is atrocious, with the sole exception of trips that start or end in downtown or the U-District. The reason is that we’ve shown ourselves to be unable to learn from the lessons that other cities are teaching us. So long as we persist in our delusion that we are different from all of the cities that have higher transit ridership than us (especially in outlying neighborhoods), things aren’t going to get better.

      • Aleks says

        First of all, this is *commute* ridership. Second, it includes commutes to downtown, which are the one kind of trip that are actually well served by the current network.

        Outside of commuting, transit has a 1.4% mode share in Seattle.

        I don’t currently have numbers for other cities, though I’m looking for them. But anecdotally, I know lots of people who live in San Francisco and Portland and Vancouver without a car, and very few people who live in Seattle without one. Culturally, people there seem to take it for granted that buses are useful for non-work trips, in a way that they don’t in Seattle.

      • djw says

        But anecdotally, I know lots of people who live in San Francisco and Portland and Vancouver without a car, and very few people who live in Seattle without one.

        And again we see the danger of argument by anecdote: carless households are more common in Seattle than Portland. (See here: http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2014/01/21/vital-signs-more-households-dont-own-a-car/)

        (FWIW, I don’t think this takes away from your point about Seattle’s delusions of specialness. My understanding is that Portland’s 80’s restructure did in fact improve service and ridership, while taking away a number of one seat rides. The changes were, of course, relative to previous ridership. That Portland is, contrary to its reputation, a more car-centric city than Seattle doesn’t need to be central to your point.

      • d.p. says

        +1 to djw’s coda. Vancouver and San Francisco are places with a great deal of full-fledged transit-enabled carlessness. Portland is not.

        Yet another reason Seattle needs to stop fawning over Portland simply because they put a bunch of rails down the middle of their streets, offering the “visibility” of a slow-crawling train that can take you somewhere distant and uninteresting if you wait up to 35 minutes for it. (Meanwhile, the gridded network to places you might actually want to go remains below the minimum threshold of usefulness.)

    • Glenn in Portland says

      I’m not so sure that Portland has really radically restructured its routes too much. The biggest restructuring was the arrival of MAX in various places, resulting in bus routes getting altered. No reason for the #57 to go from Forest Grove to Portland when MAX goes to Beaverton on the same corridor, so chopped at Beaverton. MAX yellow line serves the route of the old #5, so it went away. MAX doesn’t go to Hayden Island, so the #6 was extended there to take the place of what the #5 used to do there. A bunch of stuff got removed from the transit mall to make room for 220 foot long MAX trains, and instead transfers happen at major transit points where those routes (which have been the same since the mid-1980s or so) now truncate rather than go into downtown. In places that have not had a MAX line addition, there hasn’t been much change since the mid-1980s.

      The only other significant changes were places that have left the TriMet district to provide their own service (e.g., Wilsonville, Canby, Molalla), and places impacted by this. For example, Oregon City lost service in areas when Canby left TriMet due to through routes no longer going through.

      • djw says

        I assume Aleks was referring to the pre-Max 80’s restructure, when Portland went from spaghetti map with lotso f one-seat rides to downtown to a frequent grid. There was a post about it here a year or two ago.

      • Aleks says

        djw is correct. Every other major city on the west coast has done the equivalent of Portland’s grand restructure, replacing spaghetti with… er… waffles? ;-) Seattle is the sole outlier. Which is ironic, since a one-time big-bang restructure would actually *reduce* the need for the constant stream of changes that we have instead.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        Ah, that.

        I would point out that even today an awful lot of people complain that the routes are too downtown centric.

        Care to take a look at the waffles c. 1940s?
        http://vintageportland.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/portland-trolley-map/
        Sure, there are still a lot of routes that go downtown, but the core of the waffle was already starting to be set up then. It was a mixture of various downtown centric routes that allowed you to transfer and get somewhere on the east side grid.

        Route 39 on SE 39th Avenue is today Route 75, and today is combined with a few other routes shown there to make its long angle shaped thing. Pieces of the 72 are there as well, but since most of 82nd Ave. was farm land then there wasn’t much point in serving it.

        So, I don’t get too excited about the 1982 reconfiguration as it sort of goes back to what they were doing before the 1960s cutbacks.

    • Transit Dork says

      I think a big part of the reason that people refuse transfers is their experience with Metro transfers has probably involved waiting 20-30 minutes in the rain at an unsheltered stop for a bus. If we had timed transfers in more places, I think you could ween people off of one-seat rides.

      Waiting 20 minutes of your 40 minute commute to Point A to Point B when you can probably drive there in 10 minutes and either park for free or pay as much or less for parking than your roundtrip bus fare doesn’t really make taking a two-seat bus ride very attractive.

      • RossB says

        Yes, it is a vicious circle. We have horrible frequency because buses spend huge amounts of time pushing through traffic downtown. We don’t want to change to a grid system because we have horrible frequency.

        But as has been shown over and over again, we have enough buses to create a very nice, fairly frequent system. What we lack is political will on the part of Metro. I hope the next audit looks at the issue. I could easily see how they could ignore it (specific routes won’t be looked at) but I could also see how they could decide to raise a red flag over the issue, especially since everyone else (of similar size) is moving or has moved to a grid system.

      • Mike Orr says

        “I think a big part of the reason that people refuse transfers is their experience with Metro transfers has probably involved waiting 20-30 minutes in the rain at an unsheltered stop for a bus.”

        Exactly. People are afraid the second bus will be late, even the scheduled wait will be 15-30 minutes, and there will be no speed improvements at all: just significantly longer trip times. It’s really hard to sell transferring at 23rd & John in that environment. Or transferring at Rainier Beach station.

        ” If we had timed transfers in more places, I think you could ween people off of one-seat rides.”

        You need more than that. 15-minute or 10-minute frequency on every route including evenings and Sunday. (Except coverage routes like the 27 and 30. But the 5, 11, 48, and 75 are not coverage routes! They should not drop to 30-60 minutes!)

        The other thing needed is good waiting areas. That’s also missing at 23rd & John and Rainier Beach.

  4. says

    The goal of transit advocacy should be to provide everyone with useful transit service, no matter where they live. Rather than managing decline we should be building a transit system that rivals that of Tokyo, Berlin, or (insert your favorite urban transit paradise here).

    It flows from that goal that transit advocates should never be in the position of proposing cuts. Doing so undermines public support for the system, as well as the usefulness of the system itself.

    While the current Metro planning process is better than the arbitrary 40-40-20 method, it has failed to maintain public support in the system. It did not prevent Prop 1 from failing. Sticking to this new process will only result in less service, which in turn jeopardizes future transit funding measures. Voters do not fund public services out of altruism or out of intellectualism. They fund services that they expect to use. A planning process that produces cuts is not a sustainable process.

    I am glad that Rod Dembowski is looking under every stone for alternatives to cuts. That’s good transit advocacy. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his proposed methods, especially another fare increase. But he is right to search, and I wish that other transit advocates would be engaged in the same kind of work, rather than making justifications for further erosion of the regional transit system.

    Seattle will be bringing new money online this November, perhaps sooner. Certainly the King County Council can defer action on cuts until they know how much money they’ll have to work with.

    • David Lawson says

      It’s not the planning process that’s resulting in cuts — it’s the lack of money. “New money from Seattle” or anywhere else is far from guaranteed at this point. Plan with what you do have, and give yourself an out from cuts if the money does show up. That’s what the compromise does.

      Looking under every stone is great. Upending the planning process when you don’t have to makes no sense.

      • David Lawson says

        We can advocate for new money all we want, but it’s dangerous and irresponsible to have no plan for what happens if it doesn’t come through. Metro has a plan, which was derived transparently and professionally, and the Dembowski ordinance rejects it with no alternative.

    • William C. says

      Exactly what David said. You’re right that we shouldn’t be proposing cuts out of the blue. But given that cuts are necessary, we can definitely be the ones saying, “Don’t cut route 73; if you need to cut something, why not cut route 61 instead?” – because even though route 61 serves some people, route 73 is so much more important to all those priorities you rightly list.

      • David Lawson says

        William C., I should add that it’s the Dembowski approach, not the Service Guidelines approach, that is most likely to result in cuts “out of the blue.”

    • Aleks says

      From More Passengers and Reduced Costs—The Optimization of the Berlin Public Transport Network:

      The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) has succeeded in increasing its revenue by more than 22 percent in three years. This was made possible by restructuring the transportation network as part of an integrated marketing strategy. Traffic simulations demonstrated that improving frequency on the main lines could shorten travel times and attract many new customers to public transportation. In addition, lines outside the core network with little utilization were identified where service could be reduced to achieve significant cost savings with only a slight decline in the number of passengers. In 2004, new premium products, the MetroBus and MetroTram, were introduced; in 2006, their services were improved yet further. Today, the MetroBus and MetroTram run on the 26 most important lines (in addition to the subway), 24 hours a day at very short intervals. They are intensively marketed, and customers can understand the Metro network almost as well as they can the subway network. The new MetroBus and MetroTram products have achieved great success, with passenger volume on some lines rising by more than 30 percent. Overall, the BVG has gained more than 21 million new trips per year and reduced its annual operating costs by more than 9.5 million euros.

      How do you expect Seattle to emulate cities like Berlin, when we’re forbidden from using the techniques that they’ve used to improve service?

      • says

        Berlin is managing decline, but they didn’t get to a strong system that way. They built lines and funded operations for decades before federal budget cuts forced Berlin to pursue the “optimization” strategy – which will fail them just as it’s failed Tacoma.

      • Aleks says

        Overall, the BVG has gained more than 21 million new trips per year and reduced its annual operating costs by more than 9.5 million euros.

        If that’s your definition of “failure”, then I don’t know what to say…

    • Aleks says

      Doing so undermines public support for the system, as well as the usefulness of the system itself.

      I’ll tell you what undermines public support for a transit system: a last-ditch “plan” that abandons months of careful work in favor of stagnation.

      From the Seattle Times:

      The debate comes not quite seven weeks after voters rejected Proposition 1, which would have enacted a $60 car-tab fee and a 0.1 percent sales-tax increase, divided between transit and local streets. For voters, new talk that some of the deepest service cuts might be avoided raises the question of whether the county was crying wolf.

      Stagnation is not a solution to our political problems any more than it’s a solution to our technical problems.

      • says

        Who’s calling for stagnation? I’ve been working to find new revenue to stave off the cuts in Seattle and to then expand bus and rail throughout the region. Cutting bus service undermines public support for those new service expansions.

      • Aleks says

        You’re calling for rejecting every proposal that anyone has put forth to rationally improve the transit system given our economic realities, in favor of a “plan” that will put Metro on track for a catastrophic failure when we literally run out of cash.

        There are a million ways to improve transit, and raising revenue is only one of them. I applaud your efforts to raise more revenue, but I think it’s a huge mistake to treat that as the only solution.

      • says

        We aren’t going to build new rail lines or add bus service without new money. Even had Prop 1 passed Metro would still have less money when adjusted for inflation than it did before I-695 passed in 1999.

        Economic realities change all the time. They change when people organize to force them to change. If transit advocates are going to organize for something, I’d rather it be for new revenues rather than bus cuts.

      • Aleks says

        In Vancouver, the Coast Mountain Bus Company serves about 266 million annual trips on an operating budget of CAD$540m. That works out to about $2.03 per ride. This is bus trips only; SkyTrain is not included.

        In Seattle, King County Metro serves about 146 million annual trips on an operating budget of USD$640m. That works out to about $4.38 per ride.

        Yes, Vancouver is denser than Seattle. But it’s also smaller, and the metro area is smaller too. Vancouver’s daily bus ridership matches Muni’s *total* daily ridership (rail lines included), despite the fact that San Francisco is much bigger and much denser.

        it would be great if Seattle had more revenue. But if our bus system was as *efficient* as Vancouver’s — yes, there’s that dirty word — then we would be able to serve *over twice as many people*, without raising a penny of extra revenue. That means that if we did raise extra revenue, then we would be able to serve *even more* extra people.

        Again, Metro’s annual operating budget is $640m. Do you really think that it’s politically easier to *double* Metro’s budget than to reorganize service in the name of higher ridership? And if we were able to convince the public to spend an extra $640m on transit, do you really think that additional bus service is the best way to spend it, compared to capital projects like new rail lines or bus speedup projects?

        Please don’t give me any excuses about how Vancouver can do stuff that we can’t. Cities are cities. The meme that Seattle is a special snowflake is the reason that we’re in such a bad situation in the first place.

    • Brent says

      Robert, this blog has been searching for and advocating efficiencies pretty incessantly since its inception. You’ve been mostly opposing any and all efficiencies.

      • Aleks says

        If you read Robert’s article on The Urbanist, you would know that Robert is philosophically opposed to “efficiency”.

      • d.p. says

        Yeah, ’cause who would ever want to reach their destination in an efficient manner!?

        You’re wrong, Robert. Full stop.

        And it’s embarrassing that you ever had a mayor’s ear on transit. No wonder he was all streetcars, all the time. Is this city better off with a self-serving Third Way transit agnostic than with a well-intentioned altruist who had awful taste in advisors? I guess we’ll find out.

    • djw says

      The goal of transit advocacy should be to provide everyone with useful transit service, no matter where they live.

      No, absolutely not. People are too spread out for that. It’s an impossible goal. Transit advocacy should treat maximizing the number of people with access to transit as a goal, but one that should be balanced against others, including efficiency and frequency and making car-free lifestyles more plausible for more people. As you’ve defined it (assuming non-unlimited resources) “transit advocacy” would demand prioritizing low-frequency, low-ridership routes to rural areas that don’t particularly want them over useable frequencies in high density areas.

      • says

        No, it wouldn’t, because I believe that to be a false choice. We need to fund the rural routes, suburban routes, and high density routes. All of them. It’s imperative to do so in order to address global warming and meet economic needs. Surely there can be discussion about what the routes look like to meet those goals, but I reject the idea that we have to pick between them.

      • Chris Stefan says

        I have to agree with djw you can’t serve everyone with transit. If your primary concern is environmental then you should be an advocate for efficient transit service. Below certain density thresholds private automobiles or taxis are cheaper and better for the environment than running even DART vans through the foothills.

        It is the height of insanity to waste money providing every 5 or even 15 minute service in Covington especially while underfunding corridors that show they can support frequent service levels all day every day.

      • djw says

        In addition to what Chris says (running buses through lightly populated areas where people don’t use them can have a net negative CO2 footprint), your comment seems to be in denial about transit planning in the context of scarcity and tradeoffs. We will never have the resources to provide every service worth providing. This is true of every major urban transit system. I sincerely hope revenue is found such that cuts can be avoided, and service can grow, but even under the rosiest political/economic scenarios I can imagine tradeoffs about coverage and efficiency will remain necessary.

      • Anandakos says

        @Robert,

        No, it wouldn’t, because I believe that to be a false choice. We need to fund the rural routes, suburban routes, and high density routes. All of them.”

        You forgot the ponies.

    • Chris Stefan says

      The “new money” from Seattle is not intended to be fungible, it is simply to prevent cuts in the city of Seattle. If the county council tries to “steal” some of this money to prevent suburban cuts it will set off a huge political firestorm.

      Playing the “fuck Seattle” card may work for Dunn, Lambert, and Von Reichbauer, but I’m not sure it would be a politically wise move for Hague and especially Dembowski whose district includes NE Seattle.

      • Mike Orr says

        The money would be under contract, limited to whatever the contract specifies. Seattle has stated this money is for routes that are at least 80% in Seattle, so the contract should stipulate that. (I don’t know whether the cutoff is based on ridership or miles.) There’s also a separate matching fund for under-80% routes, in case any suburb wants to partner on those.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        How will the cost of the replacement service for Seattle routes be calculated? Will Metro expect to be paid the fully allocated cost of transit service (about $125/hour, I think), or will Metro want the direct operating cost (about $100/hr) or will Metro charge the direct operating cost minus the expected farebox revenue from the service? Let’s say Seattle wants to buy back off-peak service on route 9EX. The cost could be anywhere from $50/hour (direct operating cost minus expected farebox revenue) to $125/hr (direct operating cost plus fully allocated capital costs).

      • Anandakos says

        The right way to make the contract is to specify the service to be restored, by route and departure time, in a codicil. The contract also needs to specify that any cuts to other Seattle service not included in the original plan voids the contract.

        That last element needs to be included so that the Republican majority on the board doesn’t steal the money.

      • Mike Orr says

        That would put the city in the same position the county council used to be in, choosing favorites. Save the 2 because it has vocal activists? But that’s saying Union Street is more important than 45th or Greenwood. No matter what the politicians do, somebody will be angry with them and vow not to reelect them. And the politicans don’t have the network expertise that Metro planners have. You guys seem to be worrying about a problem that may turn out to be bogus. Just put in the contract, “minimum 80% in Seattle” and “follow Metro service guidelines”. That’s enough to prevent cost-shifting to the suburbs.

  5. GuyOnBeaconHill says

    The 2013 Service Guidelines Report shows some interesting facts about Metro service. The most obvious is the difference between services that serve the Seattle core and services that don’t serve the Seattle core. In the Peak, non-core routes that provide >24.1 rides/platform hour are in the TOP 25%, but core routes that provide 24.5 r/ph is in the TOP 25%, but any core route that provides <32.6 r/ph is in the BOTTOM 25%. That means that some non-core routes that are ranked in the non-core top 25% would be in the bottom 25% if they were classified as core routes (off-peak).

    • Aleks says

      There are several valid and important reasons for this distinction. The important thing is to have a long-range view of the world.

      Transit has played a major role in the “Seattle core” almost continuously for the past 100+ years. There were streetcars, and then there were buses, and now there are streetcars and trains again.

      Outside the Seattle core, transit’s role has been greatly diminished since the streetcar era. Or, in the case of some of the newer communities on the Eastside, transit has never really played a role in the first place. In both cases, there isn’t really the level of density that would make high transit usage inevitable, and so cars have been the overwhelmingly dominant transportation mode for quite some time.

      Metro’s service guidelines are intended to make transit service as useful as possible to the greatest number of people *in the long run*. That means that part of Metro’s charter is to dramatically expand transit usage in places that are currently car-dependent. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: you need transit to enable density, and you need density to enable transit. Metro hopes to break out of that problem by providing high-quality transit along the best suburban corridors.

      Another way to look at it is that routes that serve Seattle have an unfair advantage. The 25 is a terrible route: it runs once an hour, and takes a path so circuitous that no one would ride it if they have a better choice. A huge amount of its ridership is “opportunistic”: people plan to take the 43/48/49 or to walk, but they hop on the 25 if it happens to arrive first. In contrast, the 245 is a vital route that connects several of the Eastside’s most important population centers. Yet these two routes have roughly similar ridership numbers, simply because Seattle’s density — and history of transit usage — makes every route look better. Separating out the non-core routes makes it more obvious that the 245 needs more service, in a way that the 25 most definitely does not.

      The service guidelines also distinguish between peak/off-peak/night service for the same reason. If you lumped everything together, you could very easily come to the conclusion that we should stop running all buses after 6pm. But that would be catastrophic for people who don’t have access to alternate modes of transportation (either by choice or by necessity), and so it would end up encouraging car ownership, which isn’t something that we want to do. Separating out the time periods makes it more clear that night ridership is something we value on its own merits.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        What I think the core/non-core distinction points out is that core routes are far ahead of the non-core routes in efficiency. This means that we need to do more than restructure the transit service, we need to restructure the land use patterns in the non-core areas if we are going to continue to provide transit service to non-core areas. I don’t think it’s an “unfair advantage” that Seattle is denser and has a history of transit ridership. There are plenty of inefficient core routes (25, 47, 61) that are getting chopped, but until the development patterns on the non-core routes are improved, I’d rather not fund more inefficient non-core service.

        Look at what’s happening with the 9EX. All off-peak service is being cut despite providing 44.5 rides/platform hour. If the 9EX were classified as “non-core” those 44.5 r/ph would be 3rd best among all non-core routes (only the A-Line and the 164 can beat the 9EX’s productivity). “In the long run”, what should we be funding, more service on the 245 (24.2 r/ph off-peak) or the 9EX (44.5 r/ph)?

      • Aleks says

        It’s not meaningful to say that service is “inefficient”, without qualification. Efficiency is not absolute. You have to figure out what your values are; then you can measure your service against those values.

        If one of our values is providing transit service across the whole region, not just in the dense core, then it’s clear that a route like the 245 is actually a very efficient way of serving the Eastside.

        In the long run, we should be promoting the kind of land use that will allow the 245 to double its ridership. We can only do that if we have a route like the 245, with enough frequency and span of service to be worth using.

        As far as the 9 goes, you can’t ignore the fact that it runs largely parallel to the 49 and the 7, both of which have substantially higher ridership and better frequency/span already. There are no such alternatives for the 245.

      • d.p. says

        Still, I’m baffled that the 9 is being calculated as if it were a downtown Seattle route, when it (like the 8) represents a (thus far half-finished) attempt at an emphatically different network approach.

        Then there’s the matter of Metro using “core” and “non-core” to mean something totally different than they would anywhere else. The word should not be synonymous with “approaches the CBD”, but rather it should describe any route that forms part of a reliable, high-frequency and ubiquitous-span network designed for legibility, high volumes and scalability. This is what “core” means in the rest of the transit world.

        It’s absurd that Metro has accounting practices that apply this word to the 25 but not to the 44.

      • David Lawson says

        d.p., the 44 is a “serves Seattle core” route. “Serves Seattle core” includes several other high-ridership Seattle neighborhoods, not just downtown.

        It’s a kludge, but as already discussed it’s a necessary one to maintain some level of 1) service and 2) political support in suburban areas. And I agree with Aleks that overserving certain suburban areas may help promote worthwhile goals. One good example: downtown Kirkland is now quite urban in character for a smallish suburban center. I’d wager that without semi-frequent transit to downtown, Bellevue, and Overlake (Microsoft) in place, that growth and urbanization would have happened more slowly, if at all.

      • d.p. says

        I would tend to agree.

        I guess I’m just having a terminology problem, and terminology matters when pursuing holistically useful ends. Any taxonomic approach that sees the word “core” applied to the 25 or the outer 12 seems highly problematic.

        If the designation also includes routes passing within the orbit of SoDo, Capitol Hill or the UW, then are there any Seattle-only routes in the current one-seat network that aren’t called “core”?

      • David Lawson says

        The only Seattle-only routes that are not in the “Serves Seattle core” category are 22, 50, and 61.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        Metro has decided that “efficiency” is defined by measuring a combination of “rides/platform hour” and “passenger miles/platform mile”. One of the dangers of those metrics is that bus routes that carry passenger only a short distance (which would be more likely in a grid system) would fall to the bottom of Metro’s passenger miles/platform mile metric. But routes that don’t carry a lot of passengers–but do carry them a long way ( route 197)–might have better metrics.

      • David Lawson says

        Actually, short grid routes do very well on passenger miles/platform mile, because they tend to be busy from end to end and there aren’t many platform miles. The passenger miles/platform mile metric really punishes a couple of other things: 1) long but poorly ridden neighborhood tails (even if the bus can get through them quickly) and 2) deadheading.

        The 197 performs just OK on the passenger miles/platform mile metric (most of its riders ride almost the entire length of the route in service, but it also has long deadheads), but it absolutely gets killed on the riders per hour metric.

        I think its biggest weakness as a metric is that it doesn’t take the speed of segments with lighter ridership into account. It amounts to “fullness of bus over distance” and I’d really prefer a metric for “fullness of bus over time.” Unfortunately that would be something totally impractical like “passenger on-board minutes per seat platform minute.”

      • William C. says

        Are you aware of any systems that track passenger mile / platform hour, or any shortcomings of using that measurement instead? It seems like it’d be much better.

      • Aleks says

        Metro has decided that “efficiency” is defined by measuring a combination of “rides/platform hour” and “passenger miles/platform mile”.

        That’s *productivity*, not efficiency. Subtle but important difference.

      • Aleks says

        I think its biggest weakness as a metric is that it doesn’t take the speed of segments with lighter ridership into account. It amounts to “fullness of bus over distance” and I’d really prefer a metric for “fullness of bus over time.” Unfortunately that would be something totally impractical like “passenger on-board minutes per seat platform minute.”

        Would it really be that impractical? Metro already calculates overcrowding somehow, no? Shouldn’t it be possible to use the APC to keep track of the number of people on board a particular bus, and when people get on/off, and then use that to figure out the fullness?

        Personally, my biggest quibble with the way that Metro reports performance data is that they list bus *routes*, rather than bus *segments*. I hate looking at the performance report and seeing Route 4 near the top, when I know that the 4’s unique segment (i.e. the part not shared with the 3) is nowhere near as good a performer. There are other similar cases, like the 26/28. I would love to see each of those segments broken out in the report. And I know that Metro has this data, and that they use it when planning restructurings. But showing it in the report would make the report a lot more complex and harder for people to read, which is presumably why they haven’t done it.

      • David Lawson says

        Maybe if I keep hassling Metro enough for stop-level data they’ll publish it all in some obscure report to save effort…

      • Mike Orr says

        You have to group the routes somehow, because I don’t believe the 7, 255, 235, and 216 should all compete against each other in the same scale. The suburbs do need more coverage than “This route has less ridership than the 28, so delete it.” So there needs to be more than one group. But it’s hard to say what grouping is the most fair because there are so many tradeoffs

        Metro’s “touches the Seattle core” distinction does not make sense to me because it puts suburban-downtown peak expresses in the Seattle category even though they don’t benefit Seattle residents. I’d rather put them in the suburban category or in a new third category. But it’s hard to calculate all the tradeoffs, whether this would be better or worse. And this is a minor issue compared to all the other things Metro needs to improve on, so I don’t think it’s worth making a big deal about. Maybe peak-expresses are getting too much resources, but we already knew that.

  6. Sam says

    Can I please address the post picture? Shouldn’t that one dude who is third from the left in the picture, and that other dude who is fourth from the right in the picture be facing the other way? Shouldn’t they be facing inward instead of outward? They are facing the wrong way!

  7. says

    Meanwhile the Seattle Times is coming out against bus cuts – as have other right-wing organizations.

    Yes, the Times is full of it and deeply hypocritical. But they are taking the positions and the ground that we transit advocates used to hold. Those members of the public who don’t want cuts will now hear that the right has an answer, while the existing pro-transit community is wasting its time and energy debating the best way to cut service.

    This is why we don’t have a better transit system: we need to stop proposing cuts and focus on expanding service, advocating for the revenues we need to pay for those expansions. We play a rigged game when we start trying to manage decline and advocate for cuts.

    • Brent says

      Robert, are you seriously advocating that we should ask the county council to keep the bus routes as they are, even if there is far from enough money to do so? What is your plan for when the money runs out?

      • William C. says

        But then what about the routes outside Seattle? And even inside Seattle, why not decide in advance what to do if the November funding doesn’t come through? That’s what the compromise proposal will do.

      • says

        The routes outside Seattle could still be impacted in several ways:

        1. Ed Murray’s plan includes some funding for routes connecting Seattle to other cities

        2. The details of what Seattle buys with its money – particularly contract costs – will affect what money Metro has left over to address other needs around the county.

        So it seems wise to delay major action on cuts until Seattle has made its decisions.

      • Brent says

        Seattle is only offering $3 million to share the cost of preserving service on inter-city routes (which still have to include Seattle as part of the route). That won’t save much suburban service even if anyone takes up the offer.

        The Democrats’ plan allows Metro to preserve service, based on the resutls of whatever Seattle decides, without further county council action (although a November vote is too late to affect the February service change). The plan does not advocate for cuts. It just allows Metro the flexibility it needs to cut or not, *and* to restore service, based on the availability of revenue. I see nothing wrong with that approach. I hope the Democrats’ approach becomes permanent, and we will never again have to advocate for or against cuts at the county council. Then, we can focus much more on the revenue side of the equation.

    • Brent says

      You do know that the deadline to decide on February cuts is long before November, right?

      • Brent says

        What is there left to figure out? Everyone agrees we will look for more revenue. Everyone (including Robert, I think) agrees that the money actually has to exist in order to run the service. Everyone agrees that if more money is found, more service will run.

        I think the point of confusion here is that Demboski is unaware that November is too late to alter the February service change. If his proposal passes today, there will be no service cuts in February 2015. After that, Metro will panic to rejigger the cuts, starting in June 2015, and the number of routes that have to be cut will probably increase. By advocating for the Dembowski proposal, Robert, you are advocating for deeper service cuts later on in 2015.

      • Aleks says

        Everyone (including Robert, I think) agrees that the money actually has to exist in order to run the service.

        Don’t put words in Robert’s mouth. :)

      • Anandakos says

        Everyone agrees we will look for more revenue. Everyone (including Robert, I think) agrees that the money actually has to exist in order to run the service.

        Really? Where did you get that idea? Somewhere in a creative mashup of climate change, equity, and My Little Pony he and Rod Dembowski have concluded that God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster will provide the money to continue the previous Metro Service Plan until The Rapture renders it moot.

        This is Plan-Free Plannning®, folks.

  8. Brent says

    One point on which we haven’t held Mayor Murray accountable is his plan to pick and choose which routes Seattle will spend money on. I know Seattle has done that in the past, but it is a practice that should go away, now that Metro has performance-based service guidelines.

    I think the Mayor was premature in deciding to save all night owl service within Seattle. Wouldn’t it be far more useful to fund hourly night-owl runs on certain core routes than to save the nearly-useless 82, 83, and 84, which don’t run frequently enough or straight enough to be useful for anyone trying to get somewhere? (If you think you can convince any of us to advocate for saving those routes, Robert, you are wasting *your* time.) Or Metro might tell us that there is a much more dire need to add trips across the West Seattle Bridge during peak. Let’s ask Metro, shall we? Can it hurt to ask?

    • Aleks says

      +1. For the same cost as the 82/83/84, we could fund two night round-trips on the 73, *three* night round-trips on the 11, and two night round-trips on a combined 13/3S — a route that would be within walking distance (relatively speaking) of the entirety of Queen Anne and the CD. I could see such a network having double the ridership of the current one, or even more.

      • Chris Stefan says

        While the night owls fail from a performance perspective it is important to those of us who choose to live without a car.

        The current service cut proposals leave two of the highest ridership quadrants of the city (U-District and CD) with no owl service.

        I admit the current routing of the 82/83/84 is lame and some important areas of the city have no late night service (most notably Northgate and Lake City). But the Metro cut proposal had no replacement for this service. The NE restructure does have a bit of a possibility with the re-route of the 73 to Northgate via Roosevelt, but there is nothing to indicate service span would be increased as part of the restructure.

      • David Lawson says

        Chris, I agree that the cut of all owl service from those areas is bad. But lots of other parts of the cuts are bad. You can’t cut 1/6 of the system without hurting a lot of riders.

        The 84 is simply not working to serve the CD, because it has almost zero real ridership. The 83 is quite a bit better, but it has a backup option for the earlier and better-used of the two trips (the last 49). In the long run, the restructure will make it easier for Metro to put Owl trips on the 3S and new 73 — and those would actually be used.

    • David Lawson says

      Agreed, Brent. We need to have one professional planning process. If either the County Council or the Mayor (for Seattle-funded service) decides that the process is resulting in poor outcomes, then they should propose changes in the Guidelines. That is the role elected officials need to play in the planning process — establishing and improving priorities and principles. Professional staff should then turn those priorities and principles into detailed proposals by incorporating all the necessary data in an objective, transparent way.

    • says

      I don’t have a strong opinion on the routes themselves – as in what streets they use, neighborhoods they serve, etc.

      But there is a need for some kind of Night Owl service. The availability of late night transit options is crucial to getting people to not drink and drive. It’s a good example of how a transit system cannot simply be reduced to a straitjacketed process driven by “efficiency” – Night Owl service may not meet the “efficiency” standard but it certainly meets the “fewer dead people from drunk driving” standard.

      Performance-based standards are not a good way to make decisions about any kind of public service. Let them play a role, sure, but such standards are often overused.

      • William C. says

        A post of yours I completely agree with!

        Another strong defense of night owls is that they make it more possible for people to completely give up cars. I rarely use transit after 11 PM, but once in a while I do need to – and if it wasn’t there, I (would actually take a cab, but someone else in my situation) might buy a car just to guard against that one time.

      • Aleks says

        I don’t know where you got this ridiculous idea about what efficiency means. Efficiency does not mean that you delete every route that doesn’t meet a certain ridership standard. Efficiency means that you figure out what your goals are, and then you figure out a way to do the best possible job at meeting your goals.

        If your goal is to reduce drunk driving, then it’s clear that providing more owl service is a great way to accomplish that goal, even if owl buses have significantly lower ridership numbers than non-owl buses. But the converse is that if you have an owl bus that attracts 2 nightly passengers, and you replace it with an owl bus that attracts 20 nightly passengers, then you’re doing a 1000% better job at reducing drunk driving.

        Whatever your goals are, measurement is an incredibly useful tool to help you achieve them. If we’re measuring the wrong thing, then the correct fix is to start measuring the right thing, not to completely reject the idea of measurement.

        Frankly, your argument is a major reason why the Republican Party is so popular. A lot of people perceive government as being inherently wasteful, precisely because they make decisions based on abstract “values” rather than concrete, data-driven objectives. I don’t see how we can possibly convince people to give government more money, when there are people suggesting that we should make such poor use of the money that we have.

      • David Lawson says

        Robert, you’re painting much too simplistic a picture of the role of performance metrics in the Service Guidelines process. They aren’t there to be the be-all and end-all of service planning decisions. They are there to serve the Service Guidelines’ goals, not all of which are performance-based. But you can’t intelligently set goals for transit without being able to measure the results, and when the results tell you something isn’t working to support your goals, then you need to change it. Lots of the marginal service you try so hard to preserve clearly doesn’t serve what the Council and Metro have defined as their goals.

        Night owl service is essential for mobility, but it should be evaluated for success or failure just the same way as the rest of the network. It’s absolutely clear from the data that the 82, 84, and 280 in particular do not advance the cause of nighttime mobility. They’ve been serving the same loops for decades, and still no one rides them except for people seeking shelter who ride the whole loop. In a shrinking revenue environment, they are among the least painful cuts. In a stable revenue environment, they should be replaced with other night-owl service that gets people where they are actually looking to go.

        If you actually look at where people are trying to go late at night, you will want to replace the 82 with trips on the E Line and 13; the 84 with trips on the 11 and 3S; and the 83 with trips on Metro’s proposed new 73, which will add Northgate — the #1 destination missing in the current late-night network — and only take away a small part of NE Seattle that has essentially zero late-night ridership.

      • d.p. says

        Robert and his ilk’s ability to do great damage by missing the point goes far beyond just the trips classified as “night owl”.

        I don’t happen to think there’s much reason to run ultra-skeletal 2:30 AM service on a mere half dozen routes. You assist roughly no one and you prevent roughly zero incidences of drunk driving: there is simply no one willing to wait 75 minutes to be dropped in the middle of the night 3 miles from home.

        That’s why, for all intents and purposes, the late-night trips are rolling homeless shelters. The few times I’ve used them, I was one of two people at most with an actual destination. And each time, I’ve told myself, “never again”.

        But what about the late evening and into the wee hours of the regular service span? Think how useful it would be to have a couple dozen core routes, reaching within a short walk of every part of the city, and running every 15 minutes until the final 1AM trips. Think how busy the evening system could be, how many would default to transit for nights out, how much drunk driving could be averted!

        But we can’t have that today. Because instead we have 55 different urban routes, each defaulting to half-hourly at 6:30, then petering out slowly at 9 or 10 or 11, wasting away to 45 minutes or hourly or nothing at all, until getting anywhere even after something as simple as dinner is a guaranteed disaster. Even Rapid“Frequent”Ride becomes a total fucking lie before your movie lets out.

        Our evening ridership is bad even compared to the rest of our off-peak hours, and awful compared to any of our peer cities — even on weekend nights on routes to Capitol Hill — and this is why. Getting home is forbidding; the (likely) downtown transfer leaves a bitter taste every time; why even start your night on transit when an excruciating Metro experience or a costly Uber ride are your only return options?

        Of course, contrary to Robert’s “straightjacket” defense, the low demand for our terrible evening network is the reason Metro already finds it so easy to cut these corners. It wouldn’t be nearly so tempting with a high-frequency network that made nightlife easy, and so continued to draw patrons until the very last trip.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        Before the recession cutbacks hit TriMet, one of the things they did on a few routes was have a specially marked set of trips for Friday night. It was only a few routes, but it was at least something. Routes like the #14 where the last bus leaves downtown at 1:30 am instead would have a specially marked trip on the timetable with an additional trip on Friday evenings at 2:30 am, as well as a regular trip on Saturdays at 2:30 am.

      • Anandakos says

        Show us some genuine data that clearly shows that seventy five minute headway service running in loops actually reduces deaths from drunk driving.

      • Mike Orr says

        The issue is not just whether it decreases deaths. It’s whether people feel compelled to drive even if they don’t want to because there’s no reasonable transit alternative. Lines that run vaguely every 1-3 hours are not temporarily reasonable, and lines that don’t even reach urban villages like Northgate and Lake City are not geographically reasonable.

        The main nightlife areas are Capitol Hill, Ballard, Fremont, and Pioneer Square. None of these have one-seat night owls to anywhere except downtown and maybe the U-District. Transferring requires waiting over an hour for the next night owl. To actually use a night owl from Capitol Hill to Greenwood for instance, you effectively have to walk a mile to 3rd Avenue to get it. Capitol Hill bars close at 2:00; that’s not enough time to get downtown by 2:15. The bar staff leave later than that, and they’d have to wait till 3:30 for the next night owls. And when my partner had a night shift job in Kent we considered the 280 and A but it was three miles to either stop. So there’s potential ridership that’s not being reached, but even then some night service is better than no night service.

      • d.p. says

        Cornered into defending the obvious again: If you live in Capitol Hill and have regular nighttime employment in Kent, it’s time to get a car.

        The goal of transit should not be to relieve 100% of the population of the need for cars, because that is an impossible goal. Even in Paris and Tokyo (and certainly in their outskirts). The goal should be to relieve as many people as possible of car ownership, as much of the time as possible. A carless person who must occasionally spring for a late-night car2go errand (pretty darned cheap) or a drunken cab ride (somewhat less cheap) is not being substantially harmed, especially compared to the cost of owning a vehicle in the city.

        Again, geometry. We will never provide excelling 3AM service to everywhere. So no matter how much money you pour in this particular sewer, you’ll either end up with frequent 3AM service to too few places to matter, or with 3AM everywhere service too infrequent to matter.

        Either way, you’re a service of last resort, and you wind up empty and wasteful. No better than the DART exercises Robert would pull out all stops to save.

        ———

        When I was younger, Mike, I was pretty darned cheap. I occasionally found myself walking 2 or 3 miles in the middle of the night so as not to spring for a cab, and cursing the MBTA for not catering to my late-night whims.

        Turns out, though I was too inexperienced at the time to realize my luck, that I lived in a city with ubiquitously available and frequent transit until 12:40 AM and a monthly pass that is still $20 cheaper than Seattle’s! That’s $20 extra that could have gotten me home painlessly and on-demand, once or twice a month, for less than the money I now give to Metro to pour down the drain on useless peanut-buttering.

        Productive transit planning — and productive transit advocacy — requires the ability to tailor universal structural principles to the particular’s of your city’s geographic situation. It requires understanding both the global and the local, and violating the truths of neither. It requires knowing your limits, and making tough choices in the name of productivity and functionality. It does not — it cannot — mean sitting at a computer and dreaming that this and this and this will become workable prospects if we just dream hard enough.

    • Mike Orr says

      I disagree. Protecting night owl is an important stopgap. This is a small amount of city funds, separate from the taxes proposed for the rest of the service. Night owl is important temporal coverage, the same way that suburban routes are important geographic coverage. People need assurance NOW that they can get to their night-shift jobs in four months, and whether they should sign lease renewals or move. The city can’t unilaterally reorganize the 82/83/84: there’s not enough time now, and it would violate the Service Guidelines principle. Better to just keep them running until Metro can address them in the next few years. At least we’ve got something north of 85th now. It’s politically easier to keep night owl corridors running than to delete and reinstate them. If you try to reinstate them, they’ll be at the bottom of the productivity list and will never be done. The suburban night owl (280) is in precisely that danger.

      • David Lawson says

        Especially for the 82/84/280, you’d give a whole lot more people assurance that they could still get to their jobs if you kept the 215 than if you kept the night owls. Again, these routes have essentially zero legitimate ridership. Almost no one is using them to get to jobs today. Just as I don’t think DART routes in far-out rural areas deserve to be singled out for special treatment outside of the Service Guidelines process, I don’t think night owls should be either. Late-night coverage is a goal of the process and does get some special consideration. If the service is failing even with that in mind (and the 82/84/280 emphatically are), it needs to be reorganized or cut just like other failing service.

    • Skylar says

      Absolutely. The night-owl routes perform poorly because they’re designed to perform poorly. For instance, if I wanted to get from upper Fremont to UW Medicine at 3AM (a useful destination at 3AM for some), rather than just taking a (say) hourly 44 run, I would have to hop on the 82 to head downtown, then wait for an hour for the 49 to take me to a point a mile away from the hospital itself.

      Now that we have effectively night-owl service on RapidRide lines, this should be expanded to high-usage routes *including Link*. That I still need to take three buses and three hours to get to the airport from Fremont for a 6AM flight is obnoxious. Link should run at least every 90 minutes 24×7.

      • Brent says

        Link will continue to close for three hours every night for track maintenance, for the foreseeable future. ST could conceivably take the mayor’s offer to go halvsies on some Link night-owl shadow runs.

      • Skylar says

        I really hope they don’t need to do 3 hours of maintenance every night just to keep the show on the road…

        At the very least, we should get someway to get to the airport without having to risk a night owl being late (82 gets to downtown at 3:32AM), and missing the only 124 run (at 3:33AM) to Tukwila just to catch the first RR A run to go the last 2 miles to the airport.

      • says

        A proper Link shadow is tricky because there’s no remotely direct way for a bus to travel between the SODO, Beacon Hill, and Mount Baker stations. The benefit of a proper Link shadow would be making the service pattern one you can really count on all day — that might be worth doing, but I can’t imagine it being a popular way to go all the way from downtown to the airport.

      • David Lawson says

        Sure there is. Backtrack on 6 Ave S to S Holgate, straight up the hill to BHS, and then down to Rainier on McClellan. At 3 a.m. that will take 5 minutes.

        That said, shadow buses never attract much ridership, although if a Central Link shadow could pick up in the tunnel it would do better than most.

      • William C. says

        There really should be a way to run one train back and forth on a 90-minute cycle all night.

      • Mike Orr says

        90 minutes is a starting point, but the goal should be 30-minute night owls. When ST needs to do Link maintenance, it can pre-empt service for those particular days and hours like the NYC subway does. I can’t believe it does three hours of track-disrupting maintenance every single day. Do they have people walking the line with flashlights checking every inch of track every night like the Japanese bullet trains do?

      • Brent says

        They aren’t actually doing three hours worth of maintenance. They have a three-hour window in which to shut down the system, give the all-clear, do the work, and start back up, with some contingency time built in.

        Also, regarding the suggestion for doing work on just one track, I wouldn’t want to be the maintenance worker who has a train pass a few feet away every half hour.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        Port Authority Trans Hudson manages to do one train every 35 to 45 minutes through their tunnels even at 2 or 3 in the morning, on the 33rd to Hoboken line.
        http://www.panynj.gov/path/full-schedules.html

        If they need to do maintenance, they announce it ahead of time.

        Same basic idea with NYCTA, only they operate a minimum of once every 20 minutes or so on their lines in the middle of the night:
        http://web.mta.info/nyct/service/pdf/tfcur.pdf

        So, there are places that manage to operate this way.

      • d.p. says

        I’m surprised to have to be the one to say it, but Seattle is not a town that demands a 24-hour service span, rail or otherwise.

        Sure, everyone gets a little bit of New York envy, but most places aren’t New York. Even most megacities aren’t New York. The European metropoles — London, Paris, Berlin — end rail service at midnight and run bus shadows only across urbanized spaces with the most concentrated and multifaceted demand. The Asian megalopoles, to the best of knowledge, cease service early and provide no auxiliary anything. Philadelphia and San Francisco are on the London model, but scanter.

        Boston, with a transit culture an order of magnitude more prevalent than Seattle’s and with 13-minute frequencies on all core services until 12:40 AM, is experimenting with late-night rail for the first time ever. Still with full operational frequencies, but only 2 nights a week, and only until 2:25.

        Compared to any of these places, Seattle is a small town, and sleepy work-focused outpost that tucks in early most nights and saves up to Uber-pool for nights out. Our transit dependence remains minimal; most people have cars now and for the forseeable future. And the vast majority of late-night shifts occur where parking is not a huge problem.

        Yes, it sucks not to be able to fly out early or in late without adding a huge taxi surcharge to one’s travel budget. That’s one reason (of many) that I do my best not to fly at extreme hours.

        But I’d take a fully functional and frequent city-wide transit system at 8 PM and 11 PM and 12:30 AM over a skeletal system at 2 AM or a random Link run at 4 AM any day of the week. So would 99% of the presently-disenfranchised populace.

        Frankly, the New York envy is barking up the wrong tree.

      • Matthew Johnson says

        PATCO Speedline (Philly to Camden) and CTA’s Red and Blue lines (Chicago) are also 24 hour.

        I think it a bit of a false dichotomy to say that 30 minute night service on Link would in any way stop the city from having a fully functional and frequent city-wide transit system at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

      • Skylar says

        I agree that Seattle is no NYC, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t run some minimal form of transit service to our 24×7 destinations like hospitals and airports, especially given that we already do that with our existing night owl service (7,36, 49, 82-84, RR). What I’d like to see, though, is that we run these in the most efficient way possible so that they’re actually used. If we are going to offer night owl service (and it seems like Seattle is committed to it), it should be reduced frequency on existing day-time routes that everyone is used to and has built around, rather than one-off routes that most people are guaranteed not to be familiar with.

      • Mike Orr says

        They’ve done evening maintenance on one track several times, and had both directions use the other track.

      • Mike Orr says

        I don’t care whether it’s a train or a bus shadow. San Francisco has 30-minute bus shadows on its MUNI metro lines. It doesn’t have to be 20 minutes like New York. But it should be more frequent than Metro’s 1-2 hour gap before 2:15, then 1.25 hour gap before 3:30, then 1-2 hour gap before the first morning run (or 3 hours on Sunday).

      • d.p. says

        It is not a false dichotomy to suggest that something that isn’t needed and that wouldn’t be used in a million years in our sleepy, sprawling town shouldn’t be an advocacy or a funding priority, when so many people still fail to see 6 hours of unusably bad existing service span as a problem!

        (Why “should” it be like San Francisco, Mike? We have a third of the density. We have 1/20th of the walkability, especially at that hour. Theirs is just barely well used enough to be worthwhile. Ours would be empty. You aren’t Robert, so you “should” know better than to claim we “should” have services no one will use.)

      • Mike Orr says

        “Why “should” it be like San Francisco, Mike?”

        Because people still have to get around. Your argument leads to saying, “If you want to go places at night without a car, move to San Francisco.” Why doesn’t San Francisco turn around and say, “If you want to go around at night, move to New York.” That would make San Francisco more like San Jose, and would be a step backward.

      • d.p. says

        And now you’re doubling down on Robert mode. If you provide a service, and essentially no one uses it to get around, then you did not need to provide that service in order for people to get around.

        Especially at the significant expense of keeping an operations base running 24/7, and paying whatever level of bonus pay convinces drivers to ferry homeless people (and no one else) to the fringes and back in the middle of the night.

        Running empty 82s (or equivalent) because someone might hypothetically use them makes no more sense than running empty 42s for the same reason.

        Again, night services in San Francisco are just well-enough used to be worthwhile. Ours are abandoned, and even the significantly more comprehensive (and thus expensive) overnight schedule you desire would only yield the slightest uptick in usage.

        All transit is geometry, Mike, and our geometry just isn’t good enough to justify everything you seek. We are simply going to have edge cases where cars or taxis must be relied upon, because for 99% of the tiny handful of people out at those hours, they already are. 2AM weekday drinking binges and 6AM flights happen to be among those cases.

      • Mike Orr says

        How much would San Francisco’s ridership drop if they switched to a Seatlte schedule of one pulse at 2:15 and another pulse at 3:30, and left a quarter of the city with no service? It would be a greater loss than just the amount of eliminated runs, because people who were taking it would no longer put up with it. And it’s always harder to build up than build down. If we instituted half-hourly service now, it would take ten years for people’s habits to fully adjust to using it. So the sooner we start, the better.

      • Mike Orr says

        Also, Seattle’s lower density is not an excuse for a suburban level of transit service. It just means the buses will have higher operating costs compared to other cities. That’s unfortunate, but we shouldn’t make transit riders bear the brunt of a citywide problem, or just throw up our hands and devolve into a car-dependent city. The proper thing to do is increase density so that it can catch up to the (good) transit service and lower those operating costs.

      • Mike Orr says

        I’m not saying we should raise night owl service now when Metro has no spare service hours and is still challenged evenings/Sundays, and ST is focusing on network expansions. But it should be a long-term goal. And the fact that we’ve neglected it (both night frequency and evening frequency) for forty years has done significant harm to the city, beyond the physical harm done by the missing runs. San Francisco would have a lot less ridership and a lot more car dependence if it had Seattle’s transit schedule and coverage across the board, even with SF’s higher density.

        The difference between Robert and I is I speak of both short-term goals and long-term goals. Short term we have to work within Metro’s current service hours and what politicians are likely to agree to and voters are likely to approve. That means incremental improvements. But we also have to look at the long-term goal, what level of transit should Seattle optimally have to maximize ridership/cost across the widest cross-section of the population. Robert seems to think we should only talk about increases and never talk about cuts or tradeoffs regardless of how much resources are currently available.

      • d.p. says

        What are you not getting here, Mike?

        San Francisco provides very good night service in a very dense city, and it’s barely on the cusp of justifiability.

        It’s not “unfortunate” to suggest that a minor po’dunk like Seattle spend exponentially more for no benefit whatsoever. It’s stupid, irresponsible, and in denial of reality!

        Just as there exist no successful 70-mile S-Bahns in the world to outposts like Tacoma, just as there exist no successful local/express overlays in low-density/low-demand cities, just as no Seattle-esque cities in the world offer comprehensive 24-hour transit, what you endorse here is waste and failure.

        It’s Robert Cruickshank thinking.

        Word of advice: don’t be Robert Cruickshank.

      • d.p. says

        Mike, the unjustifiability of 24-hour transit in cities without ubiquitous car-ownership is why cabs and rideshares have reason to exist. From Boston to Beijing.

        Seattle: not a snowflake.

      • Skylar says

        Just to be very clear, I’m not proposing that we expand our night-owl service, and certainly not without revenue to support it. What can’t be ignored, though, is that we already have a night network, but that night network sucks. If we’re going to keep it, we should coordinate it so that it’s not “pouring money in the sewer”. For instance:

        * What businesses does route 82 serve that are actually open 24×7?
        * What businesses does route 83 serve that are actually open 24×7, that route 49 does not also serve?

        I’m not aware of any, so why not take the service on 82 and 83, and put it into all-night service on the 44, given that the 44 serves two hospitals (UW and Swedish-Ballard), and connects two RR lines that run 24×7? A little back-of-the-envelope calculations shows this:

        * There’s two hour-long round-trips on each of the 82 and 83 each day, for four hours total (not including overhead getting the buses two/from base, or breaks).
        * An early morning 44 round-trip takes just under an hour.

        This means that by canceling both of the 82 and 83, we ought to be able to fund 4 additional 44 round-trips, which is probably far more service than the 44 actually needs but would probably get at least as much use as either of the 82 or 83.

  9. Al S. says

    The Metro proposal includes both service cuts AND service restructuring. The service restructuring is especially major with several of the routes in the Central District/ Capitol Hill/ First Hill area, which mostly has routes that are highly productive today.

    Given that this area that there will be significant changes in ridership patterns once Capitol Hill Link and First Hill Streetcar open AND the restructuring has not been discussed widely in the community so there is no community consensus on what they should be, it’s a really deceptive and badly timed idea to restructure these services. At the very least, the restructuring that affects this area should be held off until at least the fall of 2016 or perhaps 2017. Since most of the restructuring in this area is scheduled for 2015, it makes complete sense to delay implementation if at all possible as well as to have a healthy discussion on whether or not it is bad timing to do these cuts in 2015.

    Don’t get me wrong. It’s important for a transit agency to make adjustments in frequency and in eliminating unproductive routes or segments to satisfy the “cuts” requirement, but to push through premature and undiscussed restructuring under the umbrella of “cuts” is bad public policy regardless of the circumstances.

    • Aleks says

      Metro first proposed these restructures in November, and the first ones won’t go into effect until February of next year. In the intervening time, they’ve held dozens of open houses and public hearings. Many of these restructures actually predate the current process, and so some of them have been on the table for years. How is this “premature” or “undiscussed”?

      • Al S. says

        It’s “premature” because ridership patterns WILL change when U-Link and First Hill Streetcar open. Nothing in the restructuring seems to present any facts about how many riders will be lost( or maybe even gained) by Routes 3, 4, 8, 9x, 10, 11, 12, 27, 43, 48 or 60 without the restructuring as a baseline. Why are we even restructuring routes based on current performance when ridership WILL undeniably change once the Capitol Hill station opens?

        I do find it particularly negligent that First Hill Streetcar service is not presented in the service reductions web site details; is the track just going to sit unused? Is Metro really proposing that we not run the First Hill Streetcar by not presenting it in the service plan? I guess Metro staff doesn’t want to talk about that…

        Using “un-discussed” is being charitable in some cases. Route 2 changes were proposed last year (like the rerouting on Madison as opposed to Seneca and the elimination of direct DSTT and Westlake direct access). There was major community opposition to it.. The proposal spectacularly failed. That’s pretty obvious to me that the route planners didn’t like the outcome and so they designed service cuts assuming that Route 2 should run on Madison to the ferry — and get their way after all. In this situation, Metro staff should be presenting plans with and without the Route 2 changes for discussion given the recent history.

      • David Lawson says

        The FHSC is funded by Sound Transit and so is not subject to these cuts. It will start operation late this year and operate the same (slow and infrequent) way as it has always been planned to. Metro isn’t restructuring much as a result of it for the simple reason that it’s not very useful as a transfer service. The cut of the 60’s north tail is about the only recognition in the plan that the FHSC exists.

        As for U-Link, almost all of Metro’s planned February 2015 restructure is in areas far from a U-Link station. There will surely be another restructure when U-Link begins, as the current service pattern would make no sense at all with it in place.

      • David Lawson says

        One other thing… about Route 2: Metro is quite open about the proposed 2015 Route 2 change, and the same activists are upset now that were last time they proposed it. The difference is that now they are also proposing a frequency cut. If they were to run the 2 and 12 on their old corridors with the same frequency they are proposing for the one new corridor, you’d have a 2 every half hour and a 12 every 20 minutes. Metro knows that would be horrible for riders and violate the Service Guidelines in myriad ways, so they didn’t propose it.

      • Aleks says

        It’s “premature” because ridership patterns WILL change when U-Link and First Hill Streetcar open. Nothing in the restructuring seems to present any facts about how many riders will be lost( or maybe even gained) by Routes 3, 4, 8, 9x, 10, 11, 12, 27, 43, 48 or 60 without the restructuring as a baseline. Why are we even restructuring routes based on current performance when ridership WILL undeniably change once the Capitol Hill station opens?

        Things are always changing. If you try to postpone restructures until everything stops changing, you’ll be waiting a very long time.

        I completely agree with you that it would be nice if Metro presented more data about how they made their decisions. I don’t know why they didn’t do that, though my guess is that they already had their hands full just putting the proposal together, and they didn’t think they had time to release a more comprehensive report.

        I do find it particularly negligent that First Hill Streetcar service is not presented in the service reductions web site details; is the track just going to sit unused? Is Metro really proposing that we not run the First Hill Streetcar by not presenting it in the service plan? I guess Metro staff doesn’t want to talk about that…

        For better or worse, the First Hill Streetcar is unlikely to affect bus service, in much the same way that the SLU Streetcar does not. It doesn’t really connect any two points that are already directly connected by the present network. I think the FHSC will dramatically improve ridership along the segment of Broadway that is receiving service, and I think it will reduce overcrowding along the segment of Jackson that is receiving service, but I don’t think it will have much of an effect on buses otherwise.

        Using “un-discussed” is being charitable in some cases. Route 2 changes were proposed last year (like the rerouting on Madison as opposed to Seneca and the elimination of direct DSTT and Westlake direct access). There was major community opposition to it.. The proposal spectacularly failed. That’s pretty obvious to me that the route planners didn’t like the outcome and so they designed service cuts assuming that Route 2 should run on Madison to the ferry — and get their way after all. In this situation, Metro staff should be presenting plans with and without the Route 2 changes for discussion given the recent history.

        You’re correct that the proposed changes to routes 2 and 4 attracted a vocal public opposition. I’m still not convinced that this opposition represented a large number of people; I think it was a vocal but small minority. Regardless, I think you have a point about those two routes, and I think that Metro wouldn’t be proposing to change them in a different funding climate.

        Regardless, Metro is proposing to delete 72 routes and change 84 routes. Routes 2 and 4 are merely 2 routes out of 156. For this go-round, Metro has held dozens of open houses discussing the restructures, and none of the other changes have attracted any major opposition of the sort that we saw last time. I don’t think you can fairly say that the current changes are undiscussed.

        By the way, I think it’s worth pointing out that an alternate proposal for the 2/4 would probably be really, really bad. If Metro only cut those routes without restructuring, then the 2 would only come once every half-hour, and the 3 and 4 would each only come once per hour (albeit more frequently to Harborview). A major goal of the restructure is to “share the pain” across all geographical areas, and so Metro would not be willing to preserve the 2 by deleting service elsewhere in the network. Do you really think that an hourly Route 4 would be better than Metro’s proposed Route 3, or that a half-hourly 2 would be better than Metro’s proposal to run the 2 every 12 minutes?

      • Adam Bejan Parast says

        This 60 is really the only route affected by the First Hill streetcar, and under Metro’s proposal the northern part of that route is eliminated.

      • Mike Orr says

        The “Save Route 2″ activists knew that Metro would likely reorganize this route no matter what, and they voted no on Prop 1. So they’ve already done the worst they can do. (Actually, I don’t know how they voted, but they said at the February hearing they were leaning toward no unless Metro guranteed to never change the 2 if finding for the existing route was available. Metro didn’t gurantee that — fortunately.)

      • Mike Orr says

        The streetcar does not replace the 60. It serves only trips between upper Broadway and Chinatown. The 60 is truncated at Othello station, and a replacement 107 goes north to Mt Baker station. There’s a mile gap between Mt Baker station and Jackson Street. So anyone coming from the south or from mid Beacon Hill will have to transfer to Link or the 36 or the 106, and then transfer again to the streetcar — turning a 1-seat ride into a 3-seat ride.

      • Al S. says

        Interesting… Let’s look at these gems.

        “The “Save Route 2″ activists knew that Metro would likely reorganize this route…” ARe you suggesting that Metro staff owns the service and not the larger public who ride Route 2?. I’ve talked with many riders on Route 2 on this issue and most think it’s a horrible idea to move it to Madison where it will move slower and not connect to the DSTT. I predict a further uproar from the disabled community because any Route 2 rider will be unable to get off the route in Downtown in a wheelchair without careening down the street! From an accessibility viewpoint it’s a major fail to change Route 2 like the proposals have it.

        “This 60 is really the only route affected by the First Hill streetcar, and under Metro’s proposal the northern part of that route is eliminated.” I think that speaks volumes as to the practicality of the Streetcar now, doesn’t it? Or maybe it speaks to something that was forgotten by some of you — that riders to and from the north could use the Capitol Hill Link station and the Streetcar rather than use the east-west routes that they use today to reach First Hill medical activity, taking riders off of today’s the east-west routes. Isn’t that part of the intent?

        Meanwhile, let’s look at another ugly truth here: The Madison BRT project now will have terrible service east of 14th. This appears to be a major fail in our Transit Master Plan, now doesn’t it? Shouldn’t those elegant bus stop upgrades designed on East Madison be on the more frequent East Union corridor instead?

      • David Lawson says

        Al S., you keep saying that Madison is slower. It’s not, and the data amply prove it. And there is far more upside on Madison with additional investment, which is why the city is planning to invest.

        Access for riders with mobility impairments on Marion/Madison is a real issue, but also a solvable one. One fast super-frequent corridor through First Hill, instead of two slow semi-frequent ones two blocks apart, is a goal well worth figuring out a solution.

      • Mike Orr says

        “The “Save Route 2″ activists knew that Metro would likely reorganize this route…”

        The activists said at the February county hearing that they believed Metro would eventually reorganize the route anyway as it tried in 2012, and that they were leaning toward voting No on Prop 1 because of it. Some six or seven spoke up about the two, and some four or five spoke up about the 12 (to keep the 19th tail). Nobody spoke up for any other route. But I don’t believe these six people represent the majority of 2 riders, and they certainly don’t represent the people who would benefit from frequent combined routes on Madison, including those who would live in the area or shop in the area only if the consolidation happens.

        “I think that speaks volumes as to the practicality of the Streetcar now, doesn’t it?”

        I have said all along that the FHS is not very practical. It’s too short to replace the 49 at the north end, too short to replace the 7 at the south end, and too short to replace the 60. The only thing it does do well is to fill in the gap between upper Broadway and Jackson that Metro has ignored ever since the 9-local was deleted.

        “that riders to and from the north could use the Capitol Hill Link station and the Streetcar rather than use the east-west routes that they use today to reach First Hill medical activity, taking riders off of today’s the east-west routes. Isn’t that part of the intent?”

        No, the intent was to compensate for the loss of the First Hill Link station. I think part of the motivation was for commuters arriving from Sounder. The rest was for people coming from other parts of Link. Diverting people from east-west buses would require a much higher level of service (more frequency and grade separation). The Link station could have made a dent in that, but not the streetcar. What the streetcar does help with is north-south travel along Broadway, but that’s irrelevant to east-west buses.

        Madison BRT on the other hand could attract people from the 10, 2, 12, 3 and 4. And in spite of what I said above, even the pathetic streetcar might attract some people who don’t want to wait half an hour for the 2 or 12 off-hours, or sit through the insufferable slowness of the 3 and 4. I might even ride the streetcar to avoid those.

      • Mike Orr says

        The other good thing about the streetcar is it’s a starting point for extending the track south to Mt Baker, and there’s no reason it couldn’t also be extended south through Beacon Hill. Then you could have a line from Volunteer Park to Mt Baker replacing part of the 7, another line from Volunteer Park to Beacon Hill replacing half ot the 60, and the original Broadway – Jackson line if it’s still desired. That would give triple frequency to Broadway as a side effect,. And it could potentially fix some of the failures of the original build; i.e., better transit-priority lanes.

      • Mike Orr says

        Last week I had reason to go to Virginia Mason. I was coming from Bellevue and my knees were acting up so I didn’t want to walk up the steep hill. I went to 3rd & Union, mistakenly believing both the 2 and 12 stopped there. Only the 2 does, and I had a long wait because it was Sunday. I wanted to check the 12 stop but it was several blocks away on Marion, and I didn’t know when I got there if I’d just end up waiting longer. So I waited for the 2 and took it. Some people care more about front-door service than about frequency, but I care more about frequency, and many other people do too. I understand that not everybody can walk a block or two to a bus stop; I have relatives who can’t, and they disagree with me on this front-door issue, and they also oppose stop diets. But if we really insist on designing bus routes for everyone who can’t walk a block or two, we’d end up with a route on Cherry for those who can’t walk to Jefferson, and routes on 16th, 17th, 18th, and 20th Avenues, and it never ends. Why do people on Yesler/Lakeside get a route but people on NW 65th don’t? We need a few full-time frequent corridors first, and then we can add coverage service elsewhere. But don’t let two infrequent routes a few blocks apart stand in the way of a single frequent route. First Hill is messed up, and upper Queen Anne too.

  10. Brent says

    One more point of Councilmember Dembowski’s grab bag that I think merits further consideration is making the monthly pass 40 times the cost of the trip value it covers (instead of the current 36).

    Back when Metro just had magnetic-strip cards, and no e-purse option, it had a strong incentive to get lots of riders to buy monthly passes. Now that e-purse is an option (albeit it one generally anti-incentivized), Metro has a strong incentive to get riders to use ORCA, but the monthly pass rate may be missing an opportunity for more revenue. With the increasingly-universal capacity issue, having lots of riders with monthly passes has an effect similar to making the buses free (which would blow capacity). If a chunk of monthly passholders transition to e-purse, while others pay at 40 x the single-ride rate, I suspect Metro will come out ahead on revenue. However, raising the multiplier ought to be done only in conjunction with establishing per-ride incentives for using e-purse (e.g. eliminating paper transfers and raising the cash fare higher than the electronic fare).

  11. Brent says

    One goal of Dembowski’s that merits deeper re-consideration is higher farebox recovery. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the measurement being used is actually *gross* farebox recovery. A more useful measurement would be *net* farebox recovery. By that, I mean farebox revenue, less administrative and operational costs of collecting the fare. That includes time the bus sits idling while a passenger pays, multiplied by however many buses are lined up behind it, waiting to move. Cash payment is an expensive method of collection, mostly due to slow-downs in operation, but also due to the costs of cash handling. I believe Metro can run the math on how much net farebox recovery would improve simply by creating a per-ride incentive to use ORCA.

    • Aleks says

      Definitely agree that we can and should aim for a higher level of farebox recovery.

      There’s actually a clever way to get “100% farebox recovery”. I’d love to take credit for this idea, but I actually heard it from Ben Schiendelman. The basic idea is that you tie subsidies directly to trips taken.

      Let’s say that Metro figures out that a fare of $7 would allow for 100% farebox recovery, but the county wants to have a base fare of $3 and a low-income/disabled/elderly/youth fare of $1.25. Metro collects $7 for every ORCA tap (modulo transfers, monthly passes, etc.), but only $3 of that is paid by riders; the rest comes from the county. Or, for disabled riders (etc.), only $1.25 is paid by the rider, and the rest comes from the county.

      The level of subsidy is not constant; it’s a direct function of ridership. So Metro has a built-in incentive to create a route network and fare structure that will lead to high ridership.

      From the county’s perspective, there’s a clear model for how to buy service. If the county just wants to get as much service as possible, they can set a constant level of subsidy. If the county wants to encourage Metro to maintain a certain kind of route network or a certain fare structure, they can set a level of subsidy that encourages those goals. For example, let’s say that Metro decides to price service based on distance or deadheading, but the county wants to maintain a flat fare. Then the county can agree to provide a subsidy that increases with the length of trips, so that the difference between the fare and the subsidy is a flat rate. Or let’s say that the City of Seattle wants night owl buses to be free, to reduce drunk driving. Then the city can agree to subsidize 100% of the fare for those buses.

      Similarly, if the county/city ever runs out of money, it’s clear how to proceed. The buses keep operating, but the subsidies decrease, and fares go up. The increase in fares might lead to lower ridership, and the lower ridership might lead Metro to decrease service. But there isn’t an automatic need for cuts. Metro’s operations can stand alone, without the subsidies; the subsidies just make things better, to the extent that they exist.

      • Bernie says

        So Metro has a built-in incentive to create a route network and fare structure that will lead to high ridership.

        I don’t think that works. 1st off the 100% rate now would be 5X the average fare or about $12.50. Yes, with even a low average rider count like on the eastside that makes taxis seem pretty cheap. If it were pay as you go local bus service would be app’d out of business. Subsidized taxi script is more cost effective. But the reason the ridership incentive doesn’t pencil out is because the marginal cost per ride isn’t constant. Sure Metro could get more ridership by running routes everywhere all the time but each additional rider is going to come at a higher average cost.

        The problem with the status quo is Metro gets X number of dollars and if they squeeze more money out of efficiency and/or fare recovery their budget gets cut ’cause “obviously you don’t need as much subsidy.” Sort of a perverse funding strategy.

    • Anandakos says

      One way Express Surcharge!

      Engineer Scotty of PortlandTransport has a post this very day on the appearance in several cities of privately run express transit. It costs several times what the public transit fares in those cities charge.

      So, here’s the skinny: figure out some way to ensure that the express runs always get clean, modern buses and charge the fare for both legs of the run. That is, twice the normal fare.

      The damn things are one of the most expensive forms of transit service because of the useless backhauls. They give very nearly the same service level as driving oneself; sometimes better if there are HOV lanes and priority access to the CBD as there is in Seattle. And the riders are completely predictable; there’s no “Crime Train” frou-frou,

      DO IT!

      • Anandakos says

        And remember, if doubling the fares reduces ridership then the number of runs can be reduced, saving the enormous subsidies these things get.

      • Bernie says

        I’d like to see some numbers on specific Express routes that you seem to assume are horrendously out of line with fare recovery. I’m sure there are some but I’m equally sure many do much better than local service on the eastside and certainly way better than “local” service in the exurbs. A bus that runs SRO one way and then deadheads on a freeway opposite the peak traffic congestion is going to work out pretty damn good. Of course if you toss in a subsidy for free parking then not so much.

  12. David Lawson says

    Update: it appears Dembowski’s ordinance carried the day. I haven’t seen the final ordinance yet and so I don’t know whether the Lambert amendment is still in it. I hope the money fairy pays us a visit soon.

    • David Lawson says

      Further update: Well, that was quick. Mike Lindblom just tweeted that Dow Constantine vetoed the Dembowski bill. Good work, Executive. Now the Council gets to try again.

      • says

        The cuts should surely be delayed, but the question is what’s the right way to do so. The anti-delay folks have not laid out a clear strategy of how they will either prevent the cuts from happening or reverse them. I’d be much more open to their approach if I saw such a strategy.

      • David Lawson says

        Well, Prop 1 was the strategy for preventing the cuts. Its failure, and the state’s continued refusal to act, left scattershot local options and squeezing further blood from the “efficiencies” turnip as the only sources of new revenue left. So you’re right — the anti-delay folks don’t have a good plan.

        But here’s what you’re ignoring: the Dembowski coalition doesn’t have a plan either, any more than we do. At least our lack of a plan won’t cause Metro literally to run out of cash.

      • says

        I’m not wild about the Dembowski plan, especially his idea of raising fares. But he has the right concept of trying to find ways to avoid cuts. All King County Councilmembers should be focused on this goal. How do they plan to get the legislature to fund transit? How do they get county voters to fund transit? Everything should be oriented around that goal, but pushing through cuts now would make those goals harder to achieve.

      • Brent says

        Here is the Executive’s press release regarding the first veto of his five-year tenure.

        Apparently, Robert is okay with the county spending money it doesn’t have, after all.

      • William C. says

        “Everything should be oriented around that goal, but pushing through cuts now would make those goals harder to achieve.”

        …Which is why the Democrats’ plan would have pushed through cuts conditional upon no increased funding.

      • Mike Orr says

        “How do they plan to get the legislature to fund transit?”

        Do you not believe the council has been trying to do that since 2008 when the gap first appeared? Several counties and King County cities signed a joint letter to the legislature last year asking for a transportation bill with sufficient transit funding for all counties. The legislature ignored it because many legislators think transit is unimportant compared to cutting taxes and building highways, and many of those come from rural counties so they don’t care what “big city” politicians want — in fact they’re eager to tell their constituents they “wouldn’t let King County have a tax increase”.

        “How do they get county voters to fund transit?”

        That is something I’ve been noticing. The primary responsibility for educating/convincing voters rests with the county council because it’s their Metro. If the councilmembers can’t do it personally, they should hire marketers to do it. The fact that a huge percentage of voters don’t understand how Metro is funded and what Prop 1 would really do — and they can’t even tell the difference between Metro’s funding and Sound Transit’s funding — means that there’s a large education gap that the council should be taking the lead in addressing. It shouldn’t fall to volunteer transit activists to have to explain the most basic transit facts to people, and to correct wildly, hugely, astronomically wrong assumptions held by wide cross-sections of the public.

  13. Anandakos says

    David,

    Of course you won’t receive a reply from her. You don’t live in her district, and you’re a known subversive since you write for STB. IOW, a scum of the earth in the Republican value system.

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