Yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an executive order which is intended to improve cooperation between Metro and Sound Transit in a number of ways. In his capacity as chair of Sound Transit’s Board of Directors, Constantine will bring a motion before the Sound Transit Board intended to accomplish the same goal. In a briefing yesterday, Constantine spoke with several reporters, including both Adam Bejan Parast and me from STB, in a bit more depth about what he hopes to accomplish with the executive order and its companion motion. In a nutshell, he sees his two-year chairmanship of the ST Board as an opportunity to get Metro and Sound Transit cooperating more closely, in order (he hopes) to improve the effectiveness of regional transit spending and the transit customer experience. Constantine described the effort as focused on improving the process of cooperation, and refused for the most part to go into specifics about what actual service or aspects of the customer experience might be improved as a result.
The effort has several key components; three are worthy of particular note.
First, staff of both agencies will cooperate more closely in service planning for both bus and rail, particularly in an effort to maximize the value of investments in new rail and BRT corridors, reduce duplication, and free up other bus resources to serve corridors and areas not well served by rail and BRT. In this area, Constantine (along with Metro planning manager Victor Obeso and ST government relations staffer Rachel Smith, who both took part in the discussion) did name three places of particular interest for cooperative planning: 1) restructures around the upcoming UW Link opening in 2016; 2) Northgate Link, in 2021; and 3) a possible Mercer Island collection/transfer point for East Link, in 2023. Constantine singled out “how to use buses more effectively to get customers to trains” as an area of particular importance. He freely admitted that planning and execution of bus/train transfers along Central Link had been “bumpy,” and wants the agencies to do better with upcoming corridor openings.
Second, staff will look for other opportunities for closer coordination throughout their agencies. This was described very generally in both the executive order itself and the briefing. The executive order mentions “coordinated operations, maintenance, administration, transparency, and accountability measures.” It’s not clear what cooperation would be possible in operations or maintenance, areas where ST contracts all its work. In terms of administration and governance, Constantine emphasized the need to find a balance between cooperative effort and continued local control. He does not want to see a regional super-agency, and feels that each agency’s accountability to its local electorate and attention to local detail is important to providing good transit service. For instance, he does not want to change Metro’s service allocation guidelines. But he would like to see the agencies develop a cohesive regional vision, and “act as one” whenever possible.
Third, staff will look for ways to improve access to rider information tools such as schedules and trip planners. Constantine bemoaned the need to visit multiple agencies’ websites to find information about many trips (which will worsen in the future as more rail corridors open). He didn’t know exactly what tools might be developed, but wants staff of both agencies to study how to provide unified rider information.
During the media briefing, Constantine also spoke at some length about his view of transit policy in general. He sees increased investment in transit as the best strategy for increasing regional transportation capacity, seeing limited potential in expansion of the road network. He would like to see Metro service at a level 500,000 annual hours higher than today’s, even after the opening of ST’s rail corridors. His two key goals for transit are 1) to maximize the value obtained for each dollar of transit funding, and 2) to “optimize” the experience for transit customers. Unsurprisingly given the views he expressed in his letter to the King County Council rejecting its cuts-postponing ordinance, he is a proponent of service planning based on objective, measurable criteria, and is interested in developing new ways of evaluating transit performance and the value obtained from transit funding.