CARES Act grants $521 million in relief funds for local agencies

Busier times on 3rd Avenue, taken in November

On Thursday, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced their appropriations for $25 billion in national transit relief funding from the CARES Act, which was passed by Congress a week ago. The relief package includes $521 million in funding for transit agencies in the Seattle area, as well as an additional $133 million for other agencies and cities in Washington state. The relief funds are meant to primarily cover operating costs, especially as agencies have suspended their fare collection and are anticipating a significant drop in sales tax revenue.

The FTA has also announced that all operating expenses incurred beginning on January 20, 2020, are eligible for relief funds or support. These funds will be available to any urban or rural agency that applies directly to the FTA for aid. The share in the current appropriation will be distributed without the need for local matching funds under the normal formula programs (5307 for urbanized areas and 5311 for rural areas).

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ST3 BRT projects delayed

Branding for the Stride buses on I-405 and SR 522 (image: Sound Transit)

Bus Rapid Transit on I-405 and SR 522 is likely to be delayed. Only the Burien to Bellevue service is now expected to open on time in 2024. Expectations for service on the northern part of I-405 and SR 522 have slipped into 2025.

The delays were first publicly shared at last Thursday’s Sound Transit Board meeting. (though implicit in the latest financial plan from last Fall where 2024 BRT ridership expectations were dramatically lowered).

In Bothell, Sound Transit intends to open a bus base by 2023. The update to the Board flags some issues with permitting and right of way acquisition. If the base can open by 2023, however, that will open the way to an on-time start of service on south I-405 between Bellevue and Burien in 2024. Other construction on south I-405 is mostly being conducted as part of WSDOT’s expansion of express toll lanes in the area and is on schedule. Sound Transit is in final design for the in-line stop at NE 44th in Renton and was about to start construction before the COVID-19 delays intervened. Pre-construction work is underway at the planned transit center in South Renton.

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News roundup: finally

Sound Transit Express
Busologist/Flickr

This is an open thread.

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Transit app estimates local transit ridership decline

The people behind Transit, one of the more popular trip planning apps, have put together an estimate on how Covid-19 has affected every transit agency they track. Here are the figures for the Puget Sound.

The company says that the percentage declines are approximated based on previous years’ app usage, since they don’t have actual ridership data. Since these are all percentage declines against “normal”, you don’t see the typical weekend drop-offs. Still, some trends are obvious, such as the probably-shoulda-been-canceled Sounders home game on March 1.

Metro has also updated its own ridership measures, showing a continued decline over the month. There are now an average of 150,000 weekday riders, down from 400,000.

In related news, here is a big list of all local agencies, including many community-based shuttle services, that have had service impacts as a result of Covid-19.

Update 8:55am: Metro has an online tool for you to check whether or not a specific trip is cancelled.

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Additional Sound Transit service cuts coming March 30

Sound Transit Bus # 535 Lynnwood to Bellevue, WA

With the Puget Sound region largely shut down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is a dramatic drop in public transit ridership across all areas of the region. Though Sound Transit was already one of the transit agencies that opted to temporarily reduce service starting this past Monday, those changes were relatively light on the ST Express side, with larger reductions for Sounder and Link (which maintained its Connect 2020 headway of 14 minutes). Fare collection was also suspended in an effort to reduce opportunities for the virus to transmit between passengers and operators.

Now, in response to further ridership declines totaling 83%, Sound Transit announced a new round of temporary service reductions to Sound Transit Express. Unlike previous round of cuts, which only affected certain ST Express routes operated by King County Metro and dropped select trips (route 541 being the only exception, which stopped running entirely), upcoming service reductions taking effect March 30 represent reductions across nearly every ST Express route, with multiple routes cancelled entirely. Some routes have cancelled trips, while others have entirely overhauled schedules, with frequencies reduced and travel times showing the gains of reduced traffic volumes while many people are staying home. Details after the jump.

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News roundup: packing it in

Seattle Center Monorail - red train interior, 2020

This is an open thread.

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Sound Transit set to adopt low income fare program, update enforcement policies

Fare Enforcement Officer on Link (image: Sound Transit)

This afternoon, the Sound Transit Board will consider participating in King County’s program to offer free transit passes to participants of several state benefit programs that are income-based. King County intends to eventually expand the program to all households with income below 80% of the federal poverty level. At the same meeting, the Board is expected to update fare enforcement policies and reduce penalties for non-payment.

Very low income transit passes

The free transit passes for very low income households complements the existing ORCA lift program. While the existing program offers 50% discounts for households with low incomes, the expanded program reduces to zero the cost of passes for the very lowest income households. In combination, this means a single person could have a free transit pass if their income is below $9,992, or a 50% discount with income up to $24,980. A four person household could avail themselves of free transit if their income is below $20,600 or a 50% discount with income below $51,500.

When first proposed by King County, the free transit passes looked set to cause some confusion because it could not be used across all local agencies. Riders could travel for free on King County Metro services, but would have to pay on Sound Transit. With Sound Transit now set to participate in the program, this inconsistency is resolved, but a new inconsistency arises unless Pierce and Snohomish County agencies also participate.

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Greater Eastside Transit Map

excerpt of map showing Redmond and Overlake area

The need for social distancing has limited Metro’s in-person efforts to inform riders about the North Eastside restructure that it put into service on Saturday but with many of us staying at home, that means more time to read all about it.

For those who are visual learners, I present to you the Greater Eastside Transit Map. My goal is to introduce new and upcoming transit offerings on the Eastside through an engaging and appealing graphic that represents service levels, routing, as well as areas served by the on-demand Community Ride service in a format that is simple to read. Major transit projects like East Link light rail and Stride BRT on I-405 and SR 522 are shown to give people a preview of the near future. The map builds on the design established four years ago by my Seattle Transit Map while incorporating a brighter tone and more streamlined look.

The Eastside map was created in partnership with the Greater Redmond Transportation Management Association (GRTMA), who advocates for better biking, walking and transit in Redmond. They plan to print brochures that include the map.

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West Seattle Bridge closed; Metro scrambles

West Seattle Bridge 01

In what would have counted as a transportation catastrophe were it not for the much bigger ongoing catastrophe, SDOT discovered “accelerated concrete cracking” in the West Seattle Bridge yesterday. They closed it indefinitely to all traffic 7pm Monday.

Mike Lindblom reports the repairs will take on the order of months ($). Metro posted a transit alert for affected routes (also Delridge routes), which basically amounts to staying on the low bridge and not missing any stops. The 21 Local does miss a stop in the area, as will the 37 when it returns from pandemic hiatus. Even the low bridge will be closed to all but transit, freight, and emergency vehicles.

The hits just keep coming for long-suffering West Seattle bus riders, but this one may struggle to be noticed. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that SDOT is avoiding the WSDOT mentality of removing transit priority when it’s most needed. Quick action while traffic volumes are low, and new transit priority, are about the best possible reaction from officials confronted with this problem.

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Other states issue stay-at-home orders while transit gets less-social-distancy here

Coronavirus image from wikicommons

Update: Governor Jay Inslee issued a “Stay home, stay health” order, with a list of essential workers who are exempt, Monday afternoon.

It may seem like an Age ago, but it has been less than two weeks since the United Nations’ World Health Organization declared covid-19 to be a pandemic.

By the end of last week, local transit agencies had made their first move to implement social distance orders — that is, that people should stay at least 6 feet away from each other — by enabling rear door entrance and egress on all buses, and reducing contacts via fare equipment, both achieved by sacrificing any further fare collection until further notice. Only riders with mobility aids or otherwise needing to use the ramp will be permitted to use the front door.

In an act of unfortunately poor timing, significant service reductions are being implemented starting today, even before we get to see what fare freedom does for transit ridership. The end result is that social distance on buses may be much less this week than last week.

We also don’t know what ridership would have been like on Link if ST went back to the old pre-Connect-2020 schedule, which actually had a schedule. At publication time, ST has not provided a Link schedule to us for this week’s service change, but merely indicated that headway would be 14 minutes.

In another case of unfortunately poor timing, riders from freshly-truncated Metro route 255 will now be expected to transfer at UW Station, or increase crowding on other downtown-bound buses.

In one piece of good news, Metro has improved its text-for-departures program to remove cancelled runs. Text your bus stop ID # to 62550 to find out when the next bus will arrive.

Let’s crowdsource. Are your buses and trains more or less crowded than less week? Are you able to maintain social distance (6 feet) from other passengers while on transit, and while waiting for transit? Have you switched to other routes or other modes that allow you to maintain social distance? Are you prepared to bunker down at home for the next several months or maybe more than a year?

It’s beginning to look a lot like curfew

While Washington State was the earliest and hardest hit by covid-19, other states have jumped to higher levels of mandated social distancing faster.

By the end of this past weekend, the governors of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio had all issued stay-at-home orders for their population not involved in essential jobs. Update: The governors of Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have also now issued or announced they will issue stay-at-home orders for all residents in their state who don’t have essential jobs.

Each of these states have treated transit as an essential service. However, falling ridership and added expenses for cleansing against covid-19 have created a financial emergency for transit agencies, and so emergency service reductions have become the standard practice. Moreover, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and many other transit agencies are begging the federal government for a bailout.

The City of Wuhan, where the outbreak started, actually shut transit and most other modes of transportation down for several weeks, in order to get the virus under control. With the rest of the world treating the virus less seriously, their sacrifice might have been in vain.

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Coronavirus: Many agencies offering free fares, some cut service

Community Transit, Sound Transit, and Pierce Transit are among the agencies offering fare-free service

In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, several transit agencies in the Puget Sound region have announced that they are switching to fare-free operations and some are also cutting service. As we’ve been tracking on our updated coronavirus dashboard, there are a lot of changes ahead as the situation evolves.

The general consensus is that reducing most contact between bus drivers and riders can be done with rear door boarding and withholding fare collection until conditions return to normal. Riders needing ramp or ADA access are allowed to use the front doors if needed.

As of writing (on Thursday night), seven transit agencies have announced fare collection suspensions: King County Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, Skagit Transit, and Whatcom Transportation Authority. These fare suspensions apply to all services, including trains, ferries, and paratransit, and will take effect at various times, the latest so far being Tuesday, March 24.

Full details after the jump.

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Another Link closure this weekend; “normal” service Monday

Sound Transit - Central Link Light Rail

The contractor has fixed last weekend’s failed electrical test. There will be an additional Link closure this weekend “for final testing and safety certification of the new trackwork and systems,” says ST’s David Jackson. Once again, shuttle buses will run between Sodo and Capitol Hill.

” Monday we should return to two-track service in the downtown Seattle tunnel with no transfer required,” he added, pending any more test failures. However, reduced pandemic volumes will leave Link at 14-minute headways indefinitely.

On a related note, Link construction has suffered no schedule slippage due to the pandemic, according to Jackson. “Sound Transit is actively working with the contractors and construction management teams on all our projects to assure that public health guidelines are being followed,” he said.

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Metro to impose 25% service cut Monday; details still unclear

On Wednesday, Councilmember Rod Dembowski was the first to share the news of upcoming Metro service cuts, made in recognition of sharp drops in both ridership and sales tax revenue during the COVID-19 crisis. Late yesterday, Metro told us that those cuts would start Monday, and that the agency would cut about 25 percent of its service, affecting nearly every route in the network. The cuts are intended to be temporary. Service will ramp back up whenever the COVID-19 situation allows King County residents to resume normal activities. Metro indicates that they will not be laying off operators for now.

We are still waiting for details on which trips will be cut, and how the cuts will affect frequency and span of service. As soon as Metro provides us with more detail, we’ll tell you about it. But you don’t get to 25 percent without major pain, and it’s reasonable to expect substantial frequency reductions and likely some span-of-service reductions as well. For now, we only know the following:

Routes entirely canceled. The following routes will not operate at all, starting Monday (UPDATE: Metro’s latest information moved route 309 off this list):

  • 9. Use route 7, with a transfer to route 60 or the First Hill Streetcar.
  • 29. Use route 2.
  • 47. Walk to route 10.
  • 78. Walk to routes 65 and 75.
  • 125. Walk to route 120 or 131, whichever is more accessible.
  • 200. Most destinations on this route will not be open. For service to Swedish Issaquah, walk from Issaquah Highlands P&R.
  • 208. No replacement service.
  • 237. Use Sound Transit routes 532 and 535; park at Kingsgate P&R.
  • 308. Use route 312 or 77. No replacement service to Horizon View.
  • 309. Use route 312 and transfer to local service to First Hill.
  • 330. Use local services serving Northgate, and transfer there.
  • ST 541. Use ST 542.

Routes with no cuts. There are a few routes with no cuts at all: 22, 105, 118, 119, 154.

Every route not on one of the above two lists will have some sort of service cut, probably substantial. Again, we don’t know yet what those cuts entail. Given the sudden onset of these cuts, we’ve asked Metro to share that information as soon as possible. Once we have it, we’ll pass it along.

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Metro service change: All about the North Eastside

KEY UPDATE: This post was written several days before Metro confirmed service reductions beginning Monday. It is likely that the frequencies described in this post will be reduced, but we won’t know how they are being reduced until Metro makes a detailed announcement, which we expect tomorrow. Watch this space for an explanation of the service reductions once we know what they are.

In light of current events, you probably aren’t thinking much about agency service changes. But there is one coming this Saturday, March 21, and the agencies are going ahead with it. For Metro, this one is a bit different than we’ve usually seen over the last few years. Instead of spreading “peanut butter” service additions throughout the system, the agency is focusing only on one major restructure, with almost no changes anywhere else.

That restructure is the long-awaited North Eastside Mobility Plan, which arrives mostly in the form that Metro originally envisioned. The attention-grabbing headline is the redirection of route 255, Kirkland’s busiest core service, from downtown Seattle to UW Station. But there are also lots of changes to other local service in and around Kirkland, some of which will also affect riders in parts of Redmond, Bellevue, Kenmore, Bothell, and Woodinville. Details of the restructure are below the jump.

It’s worth noting that COVID-19 will likely hamper Metro’s efforts to communicate details of this restructure to the public. Metro told STB’s Dan Ryan that the “street teams” the agency had out in force at the start of the last couple restructures will not be present, in order to minimize the risk of transmission. Metro says it is looking at other ways to communicate with riders in real time.

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Metro ridership plunges during social distancing measures

King County Metro

As most reasons to leave the house (much less travel to the big hubs) disappear, transit ridership is going down with it:

King County Metro has analyzed preliminary estimates and extrapolations to create an unofficial estimate of ridership. The results show an estimated 45% reduction in Metro bus ridership ­– or a drop of 185,000 riders, from an estimated 415,000 to 230,000  – on Thursday, March 12, compared to this time in 2019.

Jeff Switzer, King County Metro
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No King County transit ballot measure this year

KCM Route 193 at Tukwila Park and Ride (image: Matthew Bates)

King County voters will not be asked to vote on a Metro funding measure in August after all. In a statement on Monday afternoon, Claudia Balducci announced the decision not to proceed with the countywide measure. This seems to clear the way for Seattle to run a replacement of the expiring taxes for their transportation benefit district in August.

Had the corona virus crisis not intervened, King County was expected to finalize a measure this month funding the service currently paid for by the Seattle TBD and increasing service elsewhere in the County by perhaps 450,000 hours annually (equivalent to just under 10% of total current Metro hours). The King County measure would also have funded a low income free fares program that is already scheduled to launch in June, and might have funded electrification at some bases.

The proposal had obvious challenges. Transit measures are risky with county voters even in a better environment. A loss at the ballot box in August would have meant existing Seattle taxes expiring in December, and it probably would not have been possible to run a replacement Seattle measure before the Spring. A November Seattle measure would have been awkward because it could only be filed before the day of the August election.

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