I imagine that most readers have seen these charts on Orphan Road that bgtothen has put together of the ridership of bus routes operated by Metro (includes Sound Transit routes within King County, as those are operated by Metro). They are awesome and I appreciate tremendously bgtothen putting them together.

The data is great. I meant to post on this before, but I didn’t have much to add to the discussion until I read the last sentance:

One last point. The highest ridership route for the Eastside is the 550 at 19th place. The highest none UW/CBD to Eastside route is the 230 at 29th place. Pretty pitiful. This just goes to show how much wealth and sprawl kill transit.

There’s really no argument about density and transit (more density, more ridership) but the 550 route is less than ten years old (the same goes for all 5XX routes), while the single digit bus routes are ancient, and most of the double digit metro routes are old too. A brand-new service in Seattle might have low ridership as well, give those routes a little bit of time: transit also leads to density as well as getting riders off of it.

These routes lead directly into a question about sub-area equity. Why are Sound Transit and Metro wasting their money running buses in the suburbs when the buses in the city are a way better deal per dollar? The answer is because those in the burbs are paying for those buses. They deserve something for their tax dollars, and even at 10 riders per service hour, that’s cheaper for society than those riders driving.

18 Replies to “Ridership Data @ Orphan Road”

  1. It looked like it was going to rain today so I took the bus. This costs me $3.50 round trip. Considering round trip for me is only 4 miles while the triple digits are riding upwards of 10 times that far, and considering that I get only 20% of the resources back from my tax dollars seems more than a little unfair.

    I’m tired of subsudizing the suburbs. It’s time for Seattle to start it’s own transportation agency.

  2. To be fair, the 5XX routes weren’t entirely new when they started.

    For example the 545 was essentially the old 251 (I think) with a slight change to routing. The 522 was the old 311, with mods. Etc.

    And Matt, remember the ‘burbs when you want the state to do something about the viaduct. Without the rest of the state, Seattle couldn’t afford the costs.

  3. I don’t use the Viaduct very often. I wonder if Seattlites use it as much as suburbanites (getting to games, their ferry, commuting from the south, etc.). I do know I’ve never used a 3-digit number bus route.

  4. Matt, lots of Seattlites use the viaduct. The whole Western half of the city, pretty much.

    And let’s be real careful with the “I don’t use X, therefore X is unimportant” line of reasoning. That kind of thinking is why we have such a hard time getting light rail buit in the first place.

    Things affect you even if you don’t use them directly.

  5. matt, instead of having Seattle start yet another agency, why not just fix the 20/20/60 split of Metro funding?

  6. Matt,
    You’re not subsidizing the suburbs. The none of 5XX routes are paid for by the North King sub-area (all of those 545 rides I take are paid for by the eastsiders) and even after 10 years of the 20/40/40 split, 70% of the buses are still running in the city at any given time.

    They subsidize you.

  7. I agree with ben. I understand the whole rational for subarea equity and the 40/40/20 however there is another aspect to it, efficiency.

    We can build and provide transit completely equitably by continuing with what we are doing (subarea, 40/40/20) or we can provide transit more efficiently by allowing demand to dictate where transit service goes. Our current policies essentially demand inefficient use of scare resources.

    Also there is a difference between equitable and responsible use of resources. If you are giving food to two kids, one is about to starve to death and the other one is fat who would you give the food to? To be equitable you would have to split the food but to be responsible you would have to give the food to the starving kid. This is an extreme example I know (dieing kids are always the ultimate philosophy test) but it shows the difference between the two choices.

    Rather than a strict allocation of transit service by subarea I think that service should be allocated by demand. If that happens to be on the Eastside that is great lets just be smart and responsible about how we spend our money. Also keep in mind that the point of good government is to spend money in a way that serves the greater good, that of society not individuals. We need to get past this whole who “subsidizes” who argument.

  8. My $1.75 x 80 people crammed onto the bus for 20 minutes, times 2 for a round trip, assuming the bus can make 4 round trips during commute time, brings us to $313,600 in fare revenue per bus per year – ignoring all non-peak revenue. And that’s a small portion of what they get from taxes.

    I know much of this money goes to the less-full busses so that I have the choice to ride when I want to ride. I’m fine with that.

    But don’t tell me that suburbanites subsidize me because their lightly used busses sit in Seattle traffic.

  9. it would be great if someone could cut through the crap on:

    -20-40-40 vs funding (how much revenue is collected for metro from seattle vs the burbs – who’s subsidizing whom, authoritatively?)

    -road funding (e.g. 405 widening)

    it seems like the eastside makes these grandiose claims that they pay for pretty much everything done, ever, anywhere. i’d really like to know if the numbers add up on these claims, or if it’s time once and for all to claim BS and to make a strong case for making real investments in places that matter the most.

    sub-area equity also sounds nice on paper but i don’t think it makes sense as a funding strategy for transit. if we had a state income tax plus subarea equity, wouldn’t that mean medina (home of bill gates and other insanely rich people) would be justified in demanding the cream of the crop in terms of transit service? isn’t the point of taxation to provide government service for the greatest good (e.g. moving the most people between the densest areas, etc.?). the argument against sub-area equity should please conservatives and liberals alike -> if you put money where it’s needed most, you’re spending it most efficiently; if you’re spending more to run low-density, long-haul moneyloser routes in the suburbs, isn’t that the pinnacle of waste? just sayin’….

  10. Adam,
    There’s a political reality as well. The 20/40/40 was put in place because at the time, more than 60% of Metro service hours went to the single and double digit bus routes, which served about a third of the population of the county. Voters in the county wouldn’t approve new bus service unless they thought they’d be getting what they paid for.

    The same goes for Sound Transit. Without subarea equity, no one in Auburn tax themselves to spend the money on light rail in Seattle. They’d probably find the entire concept insulting.

    I don’t mean to belabour the point (too late, likely) but in the case of bus service, which areas are actually the starving kids? The areas with very low service or the city with much higher service?

  11. Andrew
    The nice-ish thing about sub-area equity is that the areas are big enough that madison park and medina are paying for the Rainier Valley and Kingsgate, respectively.

  12. I’d say that people should actually ride those routes before they criticize.

    I’m guessing the state would LOVE to drop Seattle from their transportation budget. It would solve all sorts of issues.. Viaduct: gone. 520 bridge: gone. Most of the ferries: gone. I-90, I-5, SR99, etc. Let the city fix ’em and we’ll just set up transfer facilities at the city limits.

    The state and ST and the county could do a lot with all the money they spend on projects within Seattle city limits.

    Good idea.

    I’m not saying one area is paying for another,etc. In rowing we used to call it ‘many shallow pockets’. An 8-person rowing shell is expensive as hell. No one had the deep pockets to pay for one individually. But we found that if we all pooled the money in each of our shallow pockets, we could afford some pretty nice stuff.

    Social contract theory, etc.

  13. I probably am mis-understanding subarea equity, but I still don’t get how that’s “getting what they paid for”. Are they paying 40% of the total taxes?

    Also, how can 20-40-40 be called “subarea equity”. Doesn’t that imply “equal” (33-33-33)?

  14. [brad] I think something you’re missing is that Seattlites use those services much less than the people that live elsewhere but work in Seattle.

  15. Daimajin

    Don’t worry you didn’t belittle my argument. I completely understand the political realities of transportation, however I was proposing an alternative way at looking at how we SHOULD fund transit. Ideally I don’t think transportation planning by public vote should occur but it does.

    I know this is opposite of what you might intuitively think so I wrote it out. The main point of transit should be to move as many people as possible.

    Starving kid = packed bus (too little service)
    Fat kid = empty bus (too much service)

  16. Subarea equitity is different than the 20/40/40.

    Subarea equitiy is a Sound Transit rule that says all money raised in a sub area needs to be spent there. The subareas are Pierce, South King County (south of Seattle and Renton-South on the east), East King County, North King (Seattle plus Shoreline and Lake Forest Park) and Snohomish.

    The 20/40/40 rule was put in place by the King County Council, championed by then-council member Rob McKenna, to spend 20% of new bus service in North King, 40% on the Eastside and 40% in south King County. For historical reasons, most of Metro dollars were spent on single and double digit routes in the city.

    I think the problem is that we don’t spend enough money on transit, so re-dividing the money only changes the problem but doesn’t solve it.

  17. This may be slightly off topic, but Here is a question. How does Metro justify collecting taxes to provide transit services within King Couty, and yet leave at least 2 towns with no service, and no plans to provide service? (Skykomish, Bearing).

    What is an equitable level of service for these towns? Could Metro work with Community Transit and extend the CT service on Hwy2 out to Skykomish via a partnership arangement? How about ST, could Metro and CT partner with ST to extend the Sounder North service east along hwy 2 to Skykomish? (skykomish is the first point where trains could be turned arround east of Everett).

  18. Re: 20/40/40 and Eastside. Perhaps this is somewhat of an investment for the future? We’ve gotta start by putting buses that are out there and underutlized in some areas to get riders.

    Its really a chicken and the egg problem, there is no transit, so people own cars, because people own cars there is no need for transit. By breaking this cycle perhaps we’ll get some improvement on the east side?

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