To support social distancing guidelines, King County Metro is considering a reservation system so that riders don’t get passed up on late-night routes (1 am to 5 am), according to an agency survey.
Today, drivers are authorized to pass up riders at the stop once the number of passengers reaches 12 (for 40-foot buses) or 18 people (60-foot). This is an inconvenience during the day, but it’s much worse at night, when buses come even more infrequently. Having to wait for another night owl bus an hour later can mean the difference between getting to work on time and not.
For years, night owl service was all but unusable. Several years ago, however, thanks in part to increased funding from the city, Metro revamped late night routes and created a useful, if limited network based on the most frequent routes.
Believe it or not, Seattle has had a long and illustrious history of public transit and exotic forms of transportation, dating back to the beginning of American settlement in the region midway through the 19th century. While rail nerds on the East Coast have the luxury of picking between hundreds (if not thousands) of good books about their local railroad and transit history, we’re stuck with comparatively few options (but that is improving). I’m here to guide would-be transit scholars into the world of online (and in-person) research, based on my own experience writing about local transit history for Wikipedia.
Researching the past is very similar to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, and reaching the end result can be highly rewarding — to the point of being addictive. And it’s not hard to get started with the help of online and old-school resources that can answer pretty much any question you’ve ever had about our transit systems. This guide is meant to help budding transit nerds find their way in the jumble of resources out there, but hopefully seasoned readers can also discover something new here. Note that some of this information was written in the pre-pandemic era, so some resources will not be available until things return to near normalcy.
Metro ridership is holding roughly steady at about 100,000 boardings per weekday, or about 75% off 2019 levels. After last week’s restoration of some mid-day trips on some routes that are still relatively popular, Metro is sending out 6 more buses at night on the 7, A, and E to thin the crowds on those routes.
Previous trends continue: the ridership drops are most severe during peak commute hours, while routes and times dominated by “essential” workers and the transit-dependent have smaller falls.
For those who are still riding transit for essential business or activities, it’s time to dust off your ORCA cards and keep your cash and cards handy. Three regional agencies have announced plans to re-introduce fare collection as part of a phased recovery process.
Beginning on June 1, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit will have fares on some or all services for the first time since March. The two-month pause in collection has impacted revenues for most agencies and contributed to an increase in “unsanitary conditions” according to Sound Transit. Link will also be boosted to 20-minute frequencies on weekdays, while Sounder remains on its reduced schedule.
Sound Transit will charge discounted “recovery fare” of $1 for Link riders and $2 for Sounder if paying at a ticket vending machine or using the Transit Go mobile app. Riders with ORCA cards will have to pay the regular fare that are assigned, including for LIFT, youth, and senior/disabled riders. ST Express will remain fare-free, with riders asked to use the rear doors unless in need of accessible accommodation.
Last week, King County Metro General Manager Rob Gannon delivered a sobering assessment of Metro’s challenges in returning to normal service. Funding from the CARES Act has back-filled most of the revenue declines for 2020, but massive shortfalls in fare and tax revenue lie ahead after that once-off money runs out.
Between foregone fares and lowered tax revenues, Metro expects a revenue shortfall this year between $240 and $265 million. That is mostly replaced by $243 million in CARES Act money that is being disbursed through the FTA. There are strings attached to what kind of spending can be supported through CARES Act dollars, but Metro anticipates the money will be completely or very nearly completely spent down in 2020.
Beyond that, the prospects for further federal aid are uncertain, and certainly will not be sustained at the rates in recent stimulus legislation. The revenue forecast from the King County budget office is for a reduction in sales tax alone of $397 million between 2020 and 2022, though budget director Dwight Dively indicated on May 5 that he expects the actual deficit to be somewhat worse.
Pierce Transit has released a new virtual open house for its bus rapid transit project, which is in the middle of final design. The bus rapid transit line will travel along 14 miles of Pacific Avenue (State Route 7) from Downtown Tacoma and Tacoma Dome Station to Spanaway, replacing the popular Route 1. The agency hopes to begin construction next year and open in 2023, which remains unchanged at the moment despite the pandemic and its financial effects.
The Pacific Avenue bus rapid transit line, which has not been named or branded yet, will take some cues from Community Transit’s Swift lines rather than RapidRide. Stations will be spaced a quarer-mile apart and feature off-board fare payment (including ticket-vending machines), allowing for all-door level boarding from its raised platforms. The buses will have on-board bicycle racks, more capacity than normal Route 1 coaches, and come at a frequency of 10 to 15 minutes.
The buses will also benefit from exclusive lanes and BAT lanes that run for about 7 miles in the south Tacoma section of the Pacific Avenue corridor. Transit priority signals are also in the works, which would provide overrides for buses and allow for the addition of queue jumps at intersections outside of the exclusive lane corridor.
The project is estimated to cost $150 million and will be funded by a mix of grants from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Sound Transit, the latter part of the ST3 package for the Pierce County subarea. Sound Transit approved its $60 million share in August, while Pierce Transit has reportedly secured $30 million in other funding. This leaves a Small Starts grant from the FTA to cover the remaining $60 million, which Pierce Transit has already applied for.
Bain Capital Ventures, Alphabet and separately its venture capital arm GV are also participating in the financing round, Lime said.
Under the deal, Uber will transfer its own electric bike and scooter division called Jump to Lime and the companies will further integrate their apps. Lime global head of operations and strategy Wayne Ting will become CEO of Lime while outgoing CEO Brad Bao will become chairman.
Now it appears that Lime bikes will be back and Uber’s JUMP brand will be disappearing. I think most people agreed that the JUMP bike experience was superior (I know I felt that way), so it’s good to read that Lime’s new CEO agrees.
Despite a huge drop in bookings due to the coronavirus, Uber still has $10B in cash on hand to try and be the last one standing in the shared economy business: the company is reportedly looking at taking over Grubhub as well.
Meanwhile, Lime is optimistic about post-COVID prospects:
[CEO Wayne] Ting’s bet is that people are going to emerge from the pandemic wanting more socially distanced transit options, like bikes and scooters, instead of opting for crowded transit options, a stance echoed by rival Bird.
Already in some of its restarted cities, like Berlin and Columbus, Ohio, Lime is seeing average trip fares go up as people ride scooters for longer distances. Seoul is back to nearly all-time highs, Ting said.
In response to “crowding” (by current standards) on some routes, Metro is restoring some trips this week on weekdays from 10am to 5pm:
Based on operator availability, we are dedicating roughly 15 additional buses starting today to six routes where coaches are either reaching capacity or passing up customers to maintain social distancing guidelines. These high-demand routes include:
The buses have been added on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., as that period has the highest ridership and most reports of pass-ups.
Metro continues to demonstrate operational flexibility that some observers, including me, thought was not in its nature. Other than the D, these are among the routes that have seen the smallest ridership drops, presumably because of transit-dependent riders and “essential” but not virtualizable jobs.
Last week Metro also released ridership numbers for the week ending May 1. Overall weekday boardings are at 105,000, or a 75% decrease from 2019. Not surprisingly, the drop is deepest in the weekday peaks, with late-night and weekend ridership declining much more gently. Meanwhile, bus service has dropped only 27%, meaning the average bus has almost three times fewer riders.
When we wrote recently about Sound Transit’s post-COVID funding shortfalls, the comments conversation turned quickly to Sounder North. The lightly used commuter rail line is everybody’s favorite local example of a transit service serving too few riders at extreme costs per rider. As the only Sound Transit rail serving Snohomish County to date, it has survived persistent concerns about costs in the past. Lynnwood Link is now nearing completion and is anticipated to open in 2024. Is it finally time to cut Sounder North?
Snohomish County, like other subareas, will shortly have to delay or suspend some future projects as the COVID-induced recession reduces tax and fare revenue. Some back-of-the-envelope math suggests cutting Sounder would avoid roughly one and one-half years of delays to Everett Link.
The Port of Seattle became the first governmental entity in the region to roll out a face mask requirement for everyone in public areas on Port property Saturday. SeaTac Airport is included in that mandate. On Friday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that an ordinance was in the works that would at least cover retail spaces open to the public in Seattle. A number of stores in Seattle, including Costco, already require such masks in order to be in the store.
King County Metro does not require the wearing of face masks while on board, but strongly urges customers to wear them.
While face masks are helpful to protect people around the wearer from getting the virus from the wearer, they are no substitute for a medical grade face mask if the goal is to protect the wearer from getting the virus. Regardless, they are believed to have helped slow the spread of the virus in areas where wearing them in public has been encouraged.
In February, I wrote a piece detailing my thoughts on how to name the Link lines. In it, I prioritized usability and conformity with international best practice. The verdict is in, and Sound Transit have announced that Link lines will be numbered moving forward. In my opinion, this is great – they’re universal, and avoid a number of pitfalls that come with other possible schemes (as discussed in my previous article). Sound Transit have also released documentation detailing the reasoning behind their choices, which demonstrates their comprehensive approach to the process, and a willingness to engage with community feedback. I think it’s worth going over some of the background of their choices, which, while broadly a good job, does leave some room for constructive criticism.
First things first, the new scheme is clear, and easily understood – take the 1 line to Ballard. Take the 2 and transfer to the 4. This is how many of the best networks are organized, and it’s really good to see that Sound Transit are mimicking that practice. They also reference the use of similar schemes in Toronto, Paris, Santiago and Madrid. As our system expands, a lot of critical decisions will be made in the design process, and it’s a good sign that ST planners are considering the practices that make other networks work so well.
As we all know, we are facing a dual crisis: a global pandemic, intertwined with the start of an economic depression. As restaurants, bars and stores are forced to close to curb the progression of COVID-19, hundreds of thousands in Washington State are losing their jobs. According to official statistics, nearly 630,000 Washingtonians filed for unemployment in the four weeks between the 15th of March and 11th of April; twenty-six times as many as the same time last year.
The damage won’t stop there, of course: as the confinement goes on, more businesses will close their doors, more people will find themselves without a source of revenue, consumption will decrease, yet more businesses will shutter, and so on. A full-scale economic crisis is at hand.
The Democratic Socialists of America have proposed many ideas to alleviate the impact of this crisis on the working people, including Medicare 4 All (which would protect our collective health), a moratorium on evictions and utility shut-offs, and a Green New Deal. The latter – on top of creating millions of jobs at a time where they’re sorely needed – would help prevent or at least mitigate a climate disaster whose magnitude would dwarf our current situation.
In this context, transportation policy would seem to be low priority: after all, nobody is supposed to be traveling, let alone traveling in groups. If anything, it’s even tempting to conclude that every bus and streetcar is a potential hotbed of infection, whereas the private, individual car is a biologically secure way to move around. Is the car-first American urban policy of the past 50 years being vindicated?