About Martin H. Duke

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

Ride Services Measures Collecting Signatures

In response to Seattle’s new law on taxi-like services — formally legalizing them, placing limits on vehicle numbers, and creating new insurance and safety requirements – The Seattle Times reports Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) are funding a referendum ($) to repeal the law, under the name “Keep Seattle’s Ride Options.”

[The campaign must] collect at least 16,510 signatures by the end of Thursday [April 17th], the day before the regulations are to take effect… If enough signatures are gathered, the city would be immediately blocked from enforcing the new rules and couldn’t enact them unless voters reject the referendum.

It is not yet certain if the rules are even subject to referendum. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, part of the (correct) Council minority who wanted the safety requirements without the camps, told me unequivocally that he does not support the referendum because “it is important to retain the safety and insurance regulations which the referendum would repeal.”

There was no serious debate about the safety rules, which are there to protect consumers and move to regulatory parity with the taxi industry. The Council has given every indication of being open-minded about revisiting the problematic caps next year. I have more faith in them than a group of companies that are evidently seeking to avoid oversight altogether.

On the other hand, Initiative 111 is focused on repealing the caps, reducing the $50,000 registration fee to $500, and tweaking some of those safety rules. For what it’s worth, that effort is led by Elizabeth Campbell, who has been associated with very problematic initiatives in the past. Initiative 111 wouldn’t delay enforcement of the existing statute in the meantime. But are the tweaks to those regulations a cause for concern?

Tom Rasmussen says he hasn’t “read the language in Initiative 111 and because of that I can’t say that I support it,” but he “would support an initiative that repeals the driver cap but retains effective safety and insurance regulations.”  An Uber representative says they’re “not supporting” I-111, preferring the referendum because “we want to give Seattle a chance to get this right.”

Sunday Open Thread: How to Take Link to the Airport

News Roundup: Not Nearly Enough

This is an open thread.

ST Picking New Pictograms

cc_constellationThe Link station pictograms are a fairly self-evident accessibility feature, but the origin of these pictograms an almost entirely obscure riff on the concept of constellations, as we reported way back in 2008. Now it’s time to make the pictograms up for all the new stations between Northgate and Angle Lake:

Sound Transit is developing pictograms for future Link light rail stations. A pictogram is an icon that conveys meaning through its pictorial resemblance of a physical object. Pictograms are used on Sound Transit’s Link light rail station signage and way-finding materials. Paired with station names, they help identify stations and the surrounding neighborhood. Pictograms serve as station identification symbols for non-English customers, primarily those that use a non-Roman based alphabet.

Sound Transit would like to begin the process by getting input from you. Please take a moment to share your ideas by completing this questionnaire.

ST reports that it is “phasing out” the constellation program, in favor of simply picking a sensible pictogram.

The Times Doesn’t Know How to Increase Efficiency

The gist of the Times‘s no on Prop 1 editorial ($) is that King County should not replace the expiring tab fee, but instead avoid cuts through the magic of vaguely-specified cost controls. Suggesting that after years of efficiency-oriented service changes, administrative belt-tightening, and multiple fare increases, the deficit can be willed away by more of the same demands a detailed plan to show the numbers, but the Times betrays its fundamental unseriousness by providing only generic union-bashing and right wing talking points about trimming fat.

Their first vague solution is to “reduce labor costs.” Of course, the County can’t simply do that by fiat; it has to be collectively bargained. Personally, I think it would be great for riders if the Amalgamated Transit Union agreed to further cuts in total pay and benefits beyond what they’ve already conceded, and there likely are fair ways to do that. But the Times doesn’t say what compensation level would be acceptable to call off their jihad on transit. How should pay and benefits go down? How much can Metro reasonably recover? Is it enough to avert cuts? Without answers to these, this point is generic union-bashing.

Their second “solution” is to raise fares. A 25 cent fare increase yields about $6.6m annually. With a $60m annual budget gap, that implies a fare increase of $2.25, to $4.50 off-peak/$4.75 one-zone/$5.25 two-zone, if there were no decrease in ridership. Setting aside entirely the social impact on riders, at those prices Metro will have trouble competing with driving on subsidized highways with subsidized gasoline to subsidized parking spaces, and so it won’t actually plug the revenue gap. By suppressing ridership, it is likely to increase Metro’s cost per rider.

Their third source of savings is that old chesnut, “administration.” What positions should Metro eliminate? Public outreach? Service planning? Transit security? The people who clean bus stops? How many millions will that save? Metro’s administrative staff roster was slashed in the early 2000s as part of the cuts arising from I-695, notably including elimination of more than half of the community relations staff, who solicit customer feedback on service changes, and the entire long-range planning team. Where’s the fat to be cut? Again, the Times has nothing useful to say, it merely regurgitates generic talking points.

If the Times board were serious about increasing efficiency, they might start reading STB, where we’ve spent years figuring out how to reduce cost per rider:

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Day-Pass Trial Starts Today

The ORCA consortium’s experiment with offering ORCA-based transit day passes begins today. Bruce explained the details and offered a critique in February.

Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

What’s Important in an SDOT Director?

The Mayor’s Office is seeking the input of Seattle residents into the qualities and expertise Seattle should emphasize in its next director of the Department of Transportation. There’s a very short questionnaire that asks you some general questions about your transportation priorities. If you’ve been following our SDOT coverage over the years, you’re well-qualified to answer these questions. Please do so by April 8th.

Beyond the obvious need for transit speed and reliability improvements, please also consider the emphasis on pedestrian and bike safety over car throughput, through SDOT programs like the road diet.

You can also attend the public meeting at Seattle Center this Saturday, if you RSVP online.

Sunday Open Thread: Gigapixel Seattle

Explore the picture itself here.

City Changes Regulations on Taxis of All Types


Although the City Council’s final compromise wasn’t quite everything car-free living advocates might have wanted, the legislation as a whole could be a positive event for Seattle. It’s positive if it’s the first, rather than the last, step in the evolution of how Seattle pays for car rides.

Anna Minard provided the most concise summary of what the bill does:

• Rideshare companies—that’s uberX, Lyft, and Sidecar, which are being referred to as “Transportation Network Companies”—must abide by a rule that no more than 150 drivers can be active on their system, ready to pick up passengers, at a time. Given that Uber last week revealed they currently have about 900 drivers and “regularly exceed” 300 drivers on system at a time, that could really change their service.

• Allows for-hire drivers to pick up street hails but not passengers from taxi stands. (Until now, they’ve been barred from picking up people hailing cabs on the street and limited to only picking up prearranged passengers.)

• Adds 200 new taxi licenses over the next two years.

• Adds new insurance and safety regulations to the app-based services, while also trying to block TNCs from working around the driver caps by creating multiple shadow companies. It also gives the city council authority to remove the cap on the number of drivers in the future, instead of leaving it to city regulators.

For users of everything other than the TNCs, this is an unmitigated good thing. On-demand car travel becomes much easier with for-hire drivers available for immediate use and more taxis.

The impact on TNC users is mixed. The old situation is an unregulated gray area with few rider protections. The bill creates those protections, while forcing a de facto decrease in the supply of drivers. The latter is bad for consumers, but I can appreciate the Council’s position. It makes no sense to destroy the taxi industry with onerous regulation while allowing a competitor to operate without limitations. A superior solution for consumers would be to lift taxi caps too, but the conservative thing to do is to ease the taxi caps and for-hire restrictions while hobbling the TNCs enough to give their competitors some breathing room.*

That’s all fine as an intermediate step. The ultimate policy objective should be to phase out arbitrary caps on all sorts of driver services. A city where it’s easy to get a ride when you need one is a city where not owning a car is a very attractive option, which will boost transit ridership and decrease the crippling weight of parking pressure on our land use. That’s what the three anti-cap Councilmembers (Burgess, Bagshaw, and Rasmussen) seemed to understand, and I applaud them for their vision.

*One can certainly quibble with the level of the cap, but then the TNCs were notoriously secretive about their driver numbers until the last moment.

Community Transit Begins the Recovery

While Metro kept itself afloat through a combination of reserves, cutting nonessential services, and legislative authorization for a two-year, $20 vehicle license fee that expires this year, Community Transit went over the cliff in 2010 with a cumulative cut of 160,000 annual service hours, including all Sunday and Holiday service.

CT’s new draft Transit Development Plan (pdf) will use increasing tax revenue from the economic recovery to restore 73,000 annual service hours in increments through 2019, with the biggest chunk coming in 2015. CT will remain a shadow of its former self, even before considering the growth in Snohomish County in the intervening decade. 2014 is the first year that sales tax revenue will exceed 2007, in nominal dollars. Adjusted for the consumer price inflation — to say nothing of fuel and labor costs, the main drivers for a transit agency — CT is still 10% lower.



Although Metro is presumably experiencing similar trends, they only partially offset the various temporary measures that have preserved overall service levels and expire soon. Expect a full report on Metro’s financial state this week.

Details on CT’s proposed service additions are below the jump.

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Another ORCA Purchase Option


On Friday Sound Transit announced that they would join the other partner agencies in offering a fixed sales points for special-rate ORCA cards. On the last Wednesday of each month, beginning tomorrow, a booth in Union Station (the building that looms over International District/Chinatown) will offer these from 11-1:30pm.

Although the network of ORCA Card outlets is now fairly extensive, the set of staffed locations that can dispense discounted cards to seniors, youth, and the disabled remains tiny, and with limited hours. Youth cards are available by mail, but the others require showing up in person to one of the partner agency offices during regular business hours.

Last year the consortium created the Orca-on-the-go program to visit major events and selected groups and issue cards on the spot. All of the agencies paid for development, and Metro, Kitsap Transit, and ST purchased the equipment with the understanding that they would cover the whole region. The ORCA website indicates that groups may still call or email schedule these visits. I couldn’t get detailed statistics on this program in time for publication, but ST teams alone have generated about $2,000 in sales so far in limited deployments. Metro has visited 138 locations over the past 12 months.

While more visibility is always good, it’s hard to imagine a smaller improvement in availability. The Metro office is two blocks away, if less obvious, and has much more extensive hours. The best thing to say about the new service is that it’s a low-cost way to add capacity at the busiest time at that Metro office, when the lines become oppressive. Let’s hope there’s decent signage at the Metro office tomorrow.

Sunday Open Thread: East Link Animation

The whole line after Mercer Island, for your viewing pleasure:

East Link Animation
[KGVID width="640" height="360" downloadlink="true"]http://d2virlc8fnqkl3.cloudfront.net/video/projects/03132014_EastlinkAnimation.mp4[/KGVID]

Springfield’s Subway System is Better Than Ours

At the very least, this map provides innovative suggestions for Sound Transit station names. N 130th St. is boring, but “Queasy Street” or “Fast Food Boulevard” is unforgettable.


Metro Cuts Panel Tomorrow

Tomorrow I’ll be part of Metro cuts panel sponsored by Commute Seattle, along with County CM Larry Phillips and Sharebuilder President Dan Greenshields. It’ll start at noon at the 4th floor conference room of the 4th & Madison Building downtown. You can RSVP here.

The focus will be on how the success or failure of the revenue package will affect employers.

Major Bus Stop Closure

Bus stop closures usually aren’t postworthy, but 3rd & Pine is a pretty big deal:

The bus stop northbound on 3rd Av just north of Pine St will be closed at all times from Monday, March 17 through Sunday, May 18, due to construction…

There will be no temporary stop. Board or exit affected buses at the previous stop northbound on 3rd Av just south of Union St, or at their next regular stop:

Don’t be surprised by this!

North Link Webcams Online


Sound Transit has set up webcams for the three big North Link work sites: U-District station, Roosevelt Station, and the Maple Leaf Tunnel Portal. It’s an opportunity to see how the projects unfold at 15-minute intervals.


East Main Station 60% Design

South Plaza View

South Plaza View

[UPDATE: I forgot to link to the materials. Here are the display boards and slides.]

On February 25th Sound Transit briefed the community around the future East Main Station, just south of Downtown Bellevue. Trains will take riders from there to Chinatown in 16 minutes and Overlake Transit Center in 14. ST projects 2,500 daily boardings in 2030, which is middling by present-day Central Link standards but low for 2030.

Unlike the promise to encase the neighborhood around South Bellevue Station in single-family amber, the presentation states that almost three-quarters of the quarter-mile circle may have “potential” for TOD. In the figure below, the whole upper left-quadrant (everything above and to the left of the colored lines, in the Surrey Downs neighborhood) is the only area not under consideration. Ultimately, the zoning will be up to the City of Bellevue. Unfortunately, a significant portion of that area is consumed by I-405:


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News Roundup: Victims

This is an open thread.

South Bellevue Open House Materials


I didn’t attend the South Bellevue Station Open House last month, but the materials are online. They are largely focused on appeasing people afraid of density — “No Transit Oriented Development” is prominently printed on the fifth slide, and there are lots of words about mitigation.

Although STB is not friendly to park-and-rides, especially when free to use and publicly funded, a few stations in a system can function primarily as a useful transfer point for buses and access point for cars. Positioned at an elbow in the line; on the way to Downtown Bellevue; and with limited walkshed, neighbors hostile to density, and decent highway access, South Bellevue is one of the points where parking is least objectionable.

With 1,500 stalls, ST projects 4,500 boardings per day at this station in 2030, which (in an apples-to-oranges comparison) would have ranked fourth in 2012. Projected travel times are 14 minutes to Chinatown, 16 to Overlake, 24 to UW, and 49 to Seatac. The UW time is actually a couple of minutes faster than the afternoon scheduled time for the 556, and the Seatac run is at the high end of the scheduled range of the much less frequent (but more direct) 560, for whatever that’s worth.

The parking, as it should be, is behind the station rather than hiding the train from the street:

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Sunday Open Thread: Jarrett Walker in Toronto