The 628: A Different Kind of Bus

Multi-Use Trail in Issaquah Highlands

King County is a large and diverse area, including the populous region in and around Seattle and much more rural spots like Vashon Island and the Snoqualmie Valley. That leaves King County Metro with a widely disparate service area.

As part of the ongoing efforts to streamline Metro service over the last few years, the County has been developing a program called “alternative service delivery,” whereby it creates or adjusts transit service for rural communities that might be better served by something other than a fixed-route Metro bus, such as a community shuttle or Dial-a-ride (DART) service.  These alternative services, according to Metro, can cost half as much to operate as a fixed-route bus (which generally costs between $140-$160 per hour).

This week Metro announced a new route as part of this service, the 628, which will traverse I-90 between North Bend and Issaquah Highlands during peak hours. Metro will contract with Hopelink to provide the service, and riders will be able to call ahead to schedule off-route pickups.  Metro’s Rochelle Ogershok says that this peak service will complement the all-day 208 (which had some service reduced in the September 2014 cuts), providing access to difficult-to-serve areas of the Issaquah Highlands.  Additionally, riders will get a reverse-peak express between Issaquah and North Bend on I-90.

Alternative service delivery came out of the various performance audits and improvement measures that Metro undertook during the belt-tightening days of 2009-2014.  Providing more flexible transit options will be a big benefit to rural areas and allow for better service at a lower cost.

HB 1180 Moves to Finance Committee, Hearing Tuesday

Reuven Carlyle, Chair, House Finance Committee

Reuven Carlyle, Chair, House Finance Committee

Last Monday, House Bill 1180, which would give Sound Transit authority to take a new capital and service improvement funding package (“ST3″ as we like to call it) to the district’s voters, was passed out of the House Transportation Committee. On Thursday, the bill was referred over to the House Finance Committee.

The next step for the bill is to get a hearing in the Finance Committee, at the discretion of Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle (D – representing the Ballard, Queen Anne, and Magnolia neighborhoods of Seattle).

Update: HB 1180 is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday at 3:30 pm. You can view the hearing live.

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Cell Service Contract Proposed for Tunnels

A while back we told you that Sound Transit was going to put out an RFP for vendors to install cell service in light rail tunnels, including the downtown tunnel and U-Link.  Well, the bids are in and we have a winner.  The winning vendor, Mobilitie, will install cellular service for all 4 major US companies, and pay Sound Transit for the privilege of doing so (Mobilitie will, in turn, charge the telcos for the service).  Per ST (pdf):

The vendor will completely fund the design, installation, operation and maintenance of the wireless project and will pay Sound Transit a monthly fee of $7,500 for the entire license term, including any option years. There will be no cost to Sound Transit for the installation of the system aside from some administrative costs that are expected to be less than the monthly fee Sound Transit receives from the vendor. For future light rail expansions, the vendor will make a one-time capital payment of $250,000 for each additional link segment, including the University Link Extension, East Link Extension and Northgate Link Extension. Upon the completion of the Northgate Link Extension, Mobilitie will provide an additional one-time capital payment of $50,000.

Timing for the installation is not given. Hat tip to reader Joe S.

Update: Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray let us know that the board still needs to formally approve the proposal in a few weeks, but this is the staff’s recommended vendor and approach.  It should be operational by mid-2016.

News Roundup: Chatter


Tukwila Station – Wikimedia

This is an open thread.

Last Day to Weigh In on Madison BRT

SDOT is conducting an online survey about the Madison Street BRT project, which is in the planning process.  This project is intended to provide fast and frequent bus service along Madison Street between downtown and 23rd Avenue, using dedicated right-of-way.  The last day to take the survey is today.

Madison BRT project map, courtesy of SDOT.

The survey asks for community input on design priorities for the BRT right-of-way; priorities for transfers to and from the BRT; the location of future bike routes serving the corridor; and priorities for pedestrian improvement.  The transfer question is particularly important because transfers from Madison/Marion to 3rd Avenue bus service and the downtown transit tunnel are currently bad, and would have gotten even worse under early draft Madison BRT plans.

If you care about the future of the Madison corridor, please take the survey this afternoon.

Obama Budget Chips in for Tacoma Link

Image via

Here’s the press release:

The Obama Administration’s FY 2016 budget proposal includes $74.99 million in Small Starts federal funding for extending the Tacoma Link light rail line… Expansion of the 1.6-mile light rail system between the Tacoma Dome and Theater District stations requires partnership funding before the expansion can be built. The 2.4-mile expansion requires approximately $75 million in Small Starts funding, $50 million in ST2 revenues, and $40 million from the City of Tacoma, a key partner in the project. To date, Sound Transit and the City have worked together to secure $13 million in grants for the City’s contribution to the project.

So if Congress were to actually enact this, they’d still be $27m short. ST has long anticipated this grant and the news therefore doesn’t really alter the status quo.

The extension would go up to the Stadium District and then turn south on MLK Way.

ST District Expansion Bill in Senate


The Sound Transit bills are thick on the ground in Olympia. Josh Feit found this one, and it’s got the Senate Transportation Chair as a sponsor:

The legislation, sponsored by the Democratic contingent from the 22nd Legislative District in Thurston County around Olympia—senator Karen Fraser, D-22, Thurston County, and representatives Chris Reykdal, D-22, Tumwater, and Sam Hunt, D-22, Olympia— would allow Sound Transit to expand its boundaries west so that I-5 corridor cities which are in counties that are “contiguous” to existing ST counties, like Thurston county’s Olympia, could be included in the future if voters wanted.

The bill is SB 5780 and the House version is HB 1921. Aside from the 22nd District, sponsors include Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima), Sen. Randi Becker (R-Yelm), and Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Snohomish).

If I read the text correctly, the ST Board and local councils would have to agree to annex. The new territory would form its own subarea and be taxed at the prevailing rate elsewhere in the district. Although it’s not entirely clear, I believe the only election would be in the annexed territory, not in the ST district as a whole.

I have mixed feelings about this proposal. I have no objection to ST Express or Sounder service to Olympia, and giving state employees a visceral stake in ST is probably wise for the agency’s long-term health. On the other hand, in practice the rail line is quite far from the center city. More fundamentally, a bigger district means annexing a relatively anti-transit electorate, likely raising the hurdle to pass a Sound Transit package.

Josh has lots of quotes about the bill.

ST3 Bill Passes House Committee

Rep. Ed Orcutt

Yesterday HB1180 — granting Sound Transit taxing authority to fund an ST3 measure — passed the House Transportation Committee by a 13-12 vote, advancing it to the House floor (video here, starting at 47:20 and again at 51:00). You can see the list of committee members here.

In a remarkable display of anti-tax ideological purity trumping any notions of local control, all 11 Republicans voted against the bill, including all 5 that represent part of the Sound Transit District. Rep. Linda Kochmar (R-Federal Way) said it was

not clear to me how much the average property owner would pay. I’m not sure when the bonds are going to be repaid from ST2 [while ST3 MVET would be in addition to that.] But the bigger problem, though we do have people and businesses that want Sound Transit in my district, is that I don’t have any guarantee. My subarea pays $13m per year for nothing. The money basically went to the Eastside to extend light rail to Bellevue and Redmond. I need a guarantee that subregion money will benefit that subregion, and I need to know how much this is going to cost.

Setting aside that “nothing” includes a significant amount of express bus service and a Link line coming ever closer to Federal Way, it is simply not true* that South King dollars have gone to fund East Link. The deferral of the only ST2 station in Federal Way is a result of collapsing South King revenues; if anything, a loan backed by East Link performance may help to restore some of the Federal Way funding. On the other hand, if Rep. Kochmar’s concerns are sincere, a little education and some assurances from ST board members that Federal Way is a core priority of ST3 would probably win some important votes.

Ranking Republican Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) made an equally interesting statement:

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Smokey Point Transit Center dedicated, to open on February 16

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Community Transit Board Chair Mike Todd and artist Julie Berger cut the ribbon to dedicate Smokey Point Transit Center Saturday morning

Braving Saturday morning’s cold conditions, onlookers watched Community Transit Board Chair Mike Todd and artist Julie Berger dedicate Smokey Point’s new transit center with a traditional ribbon-cutting, complete with oversized scissors. The transit center features five bus bays (four at the center island and one on Smokey Point Boulevard), improved lighting and shelters, and the notable exclusion of a park-and-ride. The $4.4 million project began with the demolition of the previous, smaller transit center that closed in 2005 after reconstruction of the nearby I-5 interchange limited access for buses. The Smokey Point Transit Center was originally proposed as a 200-stall park-and-ride at 169th Place NE, but the plans were scrapped in 2008 in favor of the cheaper option of renovating the old transit center and an adjacent vacant lot.

The transit center’s most visible aesthetic features are the shelter’s white, pointed fabric roofs and the use of light green paint on the benches and information boards. The centerpiece of the complex is Julie Berger’s “Honoring” Tenses of Time, a large “story pole” beacon adorned with metal shapes representing the past, present and future of the area, in the form of a phoenix, forestry and an airplane, respectively.

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First Vote on Sound Transit 3 Authority Today

Ruth Fisher, Former House Transportation Committee Chairwoman; Instrumental in creation of Sound Transit

Ruth Fisher, Former House Transportation Committee Chairwoman

Last Wednesday, a long line of public officials and organizational leaders showed up to testify in front of the State House Transportation Committee in favor of House Bill 1180, which would grant Sound Transit the authority to take a new tax package, commonly referred to as “ST3″, to the voters for the next round of light rail construction and other new ST services.

Rep. Jake Fey (D – Tacoma), the prime sponsor of HB 1180, invoked the memory of Ruth Fisher, who as Chair of the House Transportation Committee, led the way for creation of Sound Transit. Fey represents the 27th District, which Fisher represented. The hearing can be viewed here.

The bill is scheduled for a vote in committee Monday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Watch today’s meeting live.
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HOV 3+ not happening any time soon

wsdotA few weeks ago I attended the TCC organized Transit Talk. Along with transit champions Marko Liias and Jessyn Farrell, WSDOT Public Transit Division’s Stan Suchan rounded out the panel. During the Q&A I brought up the failure of our HOV system and asked what could be done, specifically mentioning HOV 3+ as a possibility in those stretches where even WSDOT admits the HOV lanes aren’t meeting reliability standards.

In my opinion, the answers were underwhelming. Senator Liias stated that it was very hard for a politician to take away something from a constituent without giving back something in return. Representative Farrell seemed to agree.

WSDOT’s Stan Suchan basically said the agency needed more time to study the situation. The agency has questions on whether moving to HOV 3+ would result in breaking down some current 2 person carpools into 2 SOVs, thus increasing congestion. To my mind the obvious question is if WSDOT’s definition of congestion is looking at person throughput or only vehicular.

Multiple times both Mr. Suchan and Senator Liias stated that we need to wait for the I-405 widening project to finish up and the results studied before anything could be done on other corridors. Considering that in many places our HOV lanes are worthless right now during peak hours, being no faster than the general purpose lanes, I found the need to wait years to fix the situation disappointing.

That was just my impression from an on the spot answer so I wrote Mr. Suchen in order to make sure I got the whole story. He was gracious enough to write back with substantive responses. Below are my questions and his full responses.

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Improving Bus-Rail Integration at UW Station

UW Station Integration Concept

UW Station Integration Concept

The Problem

Of the two stations scheduled to open in 2016 as part of the U-Link extension, the UW Station has both the most potential and the most challenges for improved bus-rail integration. This station, which is located on the east side of the Montlake Triangle, is isolated from the UW Campus and UW Medical Center by Montlake Boulevard NE, NE Pacific Street and NE Pacific Place.

Currently, the nearest pair of bus stops to the UW Station are located on NE Pacific Street in front of the UW Medical Center. These stops are roughly 900-1,000 feet away, approximately a 4-5 minute walk. While this might be acceptable for less important transfers, it is long for such an important one, particularly if Metro proposes restructures that significantly increase transfers to Link.

Metro staff have said in the past that they were looking at moving the northbound stop by the UW Medical Center several hundred feet east of its current location, but have not yet released any solid plans. Although this would help some, the walking distance for the northbound stop would still be 800 feet, with the southbound stop still over 1,000 feet away from the station.

The State Legislature recognized this challenge as far back as 2010 and asked WSDOT to study changes to improve transfers in the Montlake Triangle area as part of the SR-520 project. While the study was informative and  made several good suggestions, it does not reflect Sound Transit and Metro’s new vision of an integrated, user-friendly transit system.

Integration Opportunities

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News Roundup: Seeing Red

4th & Battery (SDOT Photo)

4th & Battery (SDOT Photo)

This is an open thread.

Tom Rasmussen and the Future of District 1

Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Tom Rasmussen has opted not to seek re-election to City Council.  According to The Stranger, transit advocates are “dancing on his grave.” Having attended the last STB board meeting, I can say with certainty that no grave dancing occurred, but it’s true that Rasmussen belongs to the camp who’d rather improve the existing bus network than spend money on streetcars.  He wrote thoughtfully on this site about his bus commute and how it might be improved.

West Seattle is at an interesting junction (ahem) in terms of transit: RapidRide C is quite popular and will be expanded with Prop 1. Development in the urbanized areas is continuing, despite the usual protests.

With expanded bus service in motion, the most immediate transit issue facing the new Council District 1, which covers West Seattle, is light rail and ST3.  Sending Link over the Duwamish will be geographically difficult and possibly unaffordable within Sound Transit’s self-imposed $15B regional package cap. On the other hand, federal grant money is always possible, the district has some well-connected residents, and keeping West Seattle in the fold is part of Seattle’s strategy to present a unified front in advance of a possible vote in 2016.

District 1 residents will get a sneak peek at potential candidates on February 5. I’d encourage our West Seattle readers to attend and let us know what you think.  It will be an interesting few years for whomever wins the seat.

Murray Suggests Regional Funding of Second DSTT

At December’s Sound Transit Board Meeting*, Mayor Murray offered an interesting amendment to the “building blocks” section of the long range plan (79:30):

T18. In addition, as part of implementing a regional transit system, Sound Transit can explore policy and funding alternatives to address significant regional facilities, such as tunneling for future core system capacity through downtown Seattle; operations, maintenance and storage facilities; and transit vehicles.

The introduction began a bizarre sequence where Mr. Murray immediately left for another event, leaving Mike O’Brien to defend the measure; a series of board members stating that a second tunnel was an ST 4 or 5 discussion and therefore premature; and it finally going to defeat 6-8 (O’Brien, Constantine, Balducci, Phillips, Peterson, and Strickland voted yes).

This would have been the first (small) step to suspending subarea equity when funding a second downtown tunnel. This train of thought goes way back to the Mayoral campaign, where candidate Murray critiqued Mayor McGinn’s potentially city-only rail plans by saying that Seattle couldn’t afford light rail alone, and that tweaking subarea equity was the only way to build it. And in fact, if you define the minimum Seattle light rail increment as serving Ballard and West Seattle, that may be an accurate statement given the agreed revenue limits of the next package.**

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Sounder North’s New Slide Prevention Protocol

This is a guest post.

Sounder North in the Rain in "Kodachrome"

The Sound Transit Board received a presentation from Martin Young, Sounder Commuter Rail Operations Manager of the new protocol to cancel Sounder North service.  Deputy CEO Mike Harbor explains that a small slide that blocked a Sounder North train inspired the briefing. Video is 78:35 into this link.  Below are the slides for you to browse through.

After going through the slides, Sound Transit’s spokeswoman Kimberly M. Reason explained the three USGS predictive tools are “rainfall, rainfall intensity and soil saturation” (see here), but also that “Sound Transit uses weather forecast data and information on field conditions to inform service decisions.”  Although Sound Transit attempts to make a decision “the afternoon before the day of service”, there is no firm deadline to make a decision before — or during — a Sounder North run.

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WSF Reaches the Fare Tipping Point

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At the December 10, 2014 meeting of the Washington State Transportation Commission, Chair Anne Haley questioned whether ferry fares might be in danger of rising above the tipping point, where a small increase in fares causes households to make major life changes to dramatically reduce their ferry expenditures. Survey responses, Census data, and changing ridership and fare revenue patterns indicate that has already occurred for some ferry users:

  • Ferry ridership dropped over 15% from its 1999 peak, while regional population grew. “An expanding pool of customers ride the system less frequently
  • Fare revenue from multi-ride fare media declined more than $5M between 2006 and 2010, from $48.5M to $43.1M.
  • According to the 2014 FROG summer survey, which targeted regular riders, including commuters, “The percentage of riders saying WSF is a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ value in the summer period has decreased significantly compared to 2012 (68% vs. 80%).” But 91% of respondents to the 2014 summer on-board recreational survey (target: out of state riders) felt WSF was a good or very good value.
  • In Kitsap County, where more than half of all ferry trips start or end, Census data shows “[t]he share of households with children dropped 17.7% between 2000 and 2010, while the share with persons 65 and over jumped 25.5%.” King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties had much smaller shifts in household composition.

Which customers have reached the tipping point? Research points to high volume households – those that purchase multi-ride tickets, especially commuters. While single trip passengers and drivers (including seniors) are buying more tickets than they did in 2002, multi-ride ticket sales fell dramatically.

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How to Get a Bad Democratic Bill Through a Republican Committee

Sen. Curtis King

Sen. Curtis King

Sen. Bob Hasegawa

Sen. Bob Hasegawa

In contrast to the awesome Senate Bill 5128, on which Senator Marko Liias (D – Mukilteo) collected the signatures of 19 Democratic colleagues to support granting Sound Transit authority to take a new package to the voters (commonly referred to as “ST3″), Senator Bob Hasegawa (D – Beacon Hill) found a way to get a hearing for his Senate Bill 5343: Go ask the committee chair who decides which bills get hearings in that committee.

Indeed, Sen. Curtis King (R – Yakima, and Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee) is signatory #2 on SB 5343. Smart move.

This bill is textually identical to last year’s SB 6489, which STB covered extensively.

The bill would make Sound Transit pay for the cost of residents’ parking permits in Restricted Parking Zones, which are created by cities, at the request of area residents, within the general area (undefined) of Sound Transit facilities and construction sites. Residents would be privatizing the public asphalt in front of their houses, making Sound Transit pay the City for this privatization, and not having to pay a dime for storing their cars on the public right-of-way, while denying non-residents the ability to park in the neighborhood.

Seattle has a low-income rate for parking permits of $10 per vehicle (for two years), answering objections that RPZ fees hurt low-income residents. The legislation is incompatible with the City’s program that sabotages the feasibility of this bill because there is no limit on the number of vehicles for which a resident can get a permit.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit is taking a much larger step to improve affordability for residents living around light-rail stations by introducing a $1.50 low-income fare on Link Light Rail, starting March 1.

SB 5343 merely subsidizes car ownership in these neighborhoods, and does nothing for the poor. It is being heard in committee Tuesday afternoon (January 27) at 3:30.

We continue to reach out to Sen. Hasegawa’s office for comment on the issue, but all requests have been ignored for nearly a year. For the record, I am a constituent of Sen. Hasegawa’s, I donated to his first State House campaign, and I have voted for him every time his name has been on my ballot.