Out of Country

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I do not think that I wrote about this but I will be in europe for the next 8 weeks on a “grand tour”. Right now I am in Paris and I know I will post some updates. I already was on the RER and Metro and today I scoped out Vilib. I am also visiting these citys:

Stockholm (and possibly Oslo)
Cinque Terra

Is there anything in these cities that are a must see?

On Fare Increases, 20/40/40, and Social Justice

It’s now been about a day since the Metro fare-increase story broke, and we’ve had the first round of reactions from around the blogosphere. Also, some new information has come out.

From the P-I:

…That translates to a gap of more than $14 million in 2008 and $22 million in 2009, Desmond said. The proposed fare increase is expected to generate an additional $2.5 million in 2008 and $10.3 million in 2009.

The increases would buy time, Desmond said, and allow Metro to re-evaluate its operations as it prepares its 2010-11 budget proposal next year. Additional fare increases could be requested.

So this increase doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s a step in the right direction. Consider RapidRide still threatened. Also:

Sound Transit does not plan any fare increases this year, a spokeswoman said.

I can’t imagine why ST is less impacted, except that buses are a much smaller piece of their pie.


Erica C. Barnett typified a typical reaction: ditch 20/40/40 to put more buses where it’s most “needed.” (The 20/40/40 policy means that 20% of new service goes to Seattle, and 80% to King County suburbs.) Now, I think there are good arguments on both sides on the merits of this rule, but coming from Seattlites, I don’t think it’s very constructive. It’s easy to propose a solution that hurts the other guy. What is constructive is to point out what you’re willing to give up.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I commute daily from Seattle to a fairly poorly-served location in Bellevue, and would benefit greatly from serious investment to improve service out there.)

As Matt Yglesias has pointed out in another context, when critics cry for the plight of poor when discussing a change that, in fact, reduces a primarily middle-class and corporate subsidy, alert readers should be skeptical. This is a common line of attack for anti-gas-tax and anti-carbon-cap campaigners, although I certainly wouldn’t lump Erica in with them.  As usual, Yglesias puts in best:

[O]ne should also recall as a general rule of thumb that if you see a large, powerful, well-organized lobby citing the needs of the poor as the rationale for something or other they’re almost certainly full of it. In the real world, poor people have extremely little political clout and anything that’s attracting a lot of political attention is almost certainly doing so because it’s of concern to the non-poor.

If impact on the poor is the problem, there are far more targeted ways to mitigate it that don’t leave needed revenue on the table.  For example, I think an interesting way to structure the fare rise would be to make it entirely a two-zone increase. Of course, you end up with some weird arbitrage where the Metro fare exceeds the Sound Transit one, but you’re looking at a group of commuters who are saving the most in terms of fuel cost, and also costing the most to transport.

Moreover, fare increases provide the most disincentive to ridership when the ride is mid-day-errand-running by people without passes — for instance, anyone that uses the bus as their primary mode of transportation. They might not venture out enough to warrant buying a pass, or they might be poor enough to not have the cash on hand to ever buy one. These trips to the grocery store and such are almost entirely one-zone trips, and would not be impacted at all by a two-zone fare increase.  Additionally, it discourages use by people that do have cars at a time of day when the system has plenty of spare capacity.

On the other hand, the working poor are more likely to live a long way from their workplace, so some sort of income-based rebate or subsidy may still be in order.

Metro Fare Increase

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ron Sims says fork over another $.25 to help offset increased fuel costs. Yet another reason why relying exclusively on buses as a long-term transportation solution is a fool’s game.

God forbid we build more light rail, which carries 5x the passengers as a bus and runs on renewable hydro electric power. That would be crazy, right Ron?

European Vacation

I’m off to Europe for a few weeks. I’ll visit a couple of cities that are a little smaller than the Greater Seattle area, but have transit systems that look like this:

I think it’ll be a good trip. I might post from there, but in the mean time, Martin, Ben, John, Eric, Brian, and Nick will keep you posted!

Metro Fares (Probably) Going Up Again

Ron Sims is asking the county council to approve a 25 cent fare hike effective Oct. 1. This is fast action, which I applaud. Raising fares is less damaging to ridership than cutting service, especially since many riders receive free passes or employer subsidies*.

Anyway, here’s the fare chart:

Proposed bus fare changes

Current Metro fares
Proposed Metro fares
(July 1, 2008)
(Oct. 1, 2008)
Adult, one zone peak
Adult, two zone peak
Adult, off peak
Access, per trip
$1.00 (As of Jan. 1, 2009)
Access, monthly pass
$27 (as of Jan. 1, 2009)

More tidbits:

In addition to fare increases, Metro is proposing additional steps to offset rising fuel costs. It’s asking the King County Council to reconsider its prohibition of wrapped advertising on Metro buses and is taking steps to develop a fuel-hedging program aimed at reducing fuel price volatility.

These proposed short-term actions are aimed at preserving existing service and delivering new service already on the way as part of Metro’s Transit Now program. The agency has made a commitment to expand its overall system by up to 20 percent by 2016 to help meet demand and projected population growth. In the past three years alone, ridership has grown by more than 18 percent.

There’s been speculation that high fuel prices would consume the earnings from Transit Now; I’m glad that’s not the case. As many problems as I have with RapidRide, it sure beats the short-term alternative.

Thanks to tipper Gordon Werner.

*As a side note, certain large regional employers with a fixed transit subsidy might want to look at increasing that subsidy pretty soon. You know who you are.

Seattle Synchronizes Downtown Traffic Lights

According to the P-I, Seattle has synchronized its downtown traffic lights:

Seattle officials said Wednesday that they’ve synchronized signals at 258 downtown intersections for the first time in more than two decades and promised quicker, less polluting trips through the central business district will result.

Drivers will still encounter red lights between Jackson Street, Denny Way, Boren Avenue and Elliott Bay, but the city predicted a 12 percent reduction in stops and 40 percent shorter travel times through the 1.25-mile long district.


The new downtown signal changes will slightly favor north-south travel during rush hours, with 55 percent of traffic cycle time open to traffic in those directions and 45 percent regulating east-west travel, Sheridan said. The cycles also can be changed to reflect events at Seattle Center and the sports stadiums.

I’ve heard arguments against synchronized traffic lights, as synchronized signals tend to encourage faster driving — which makes walkability and pedestrian safety a problem. However, no one could possibly speed through our downtown, so this sounds like a win for everyone. Hopefully buses will see a nice speed increase as well.

RapidRide Sounding Board

In a move likely to generate far more heat than the equivalent SE Seattle sounding board,  Metro is soliciting applications for a Ballard-Interbay-Uptown Queen Anne RapidRide community advisory panel.

Given some rumors that RapidRide was threatened by high fuel prices, and the lack of any sort of similar process for the other RapidRide routes, I found this step a bit surprising.  Nevertheless, this might be a good outlet for the mental energy our readership has obviously expended on routing in this corridor.

Talking Transportation for King County

Over a thousand residents of King County met Monday night for the first Countywide Community Forum. Sponsored by the founder of Dick’s, these forums provide a way for the King County auditor to hear directly from resident of King County on matters of pressing importance. The first forum topic? Why, of course, transportation in this region.

I attended a session on Capitol Hill, where I met Dave and Kristen. Dave, early 30s, works for a non-profit that educates kids about climate change and Kristen, mid-20’s, is a property manager. I biked to the co-op where the meeting was being hosted, so you can guess the politics of the three of us.

First, we watched a ten minute video that actually discussed the major transportation issues of the day in an intelligent yet expansive view — nearly all viewpoints were represented. Those who spoke during the video were Ron Sims, King County Executive; Tim Gould, of the local Sierra Club; Julia Patterson, Sound Transit board member and King County Councilmember; Bruce Agnew, of the Discovery Institute; and Kemper Freeman, Jr., the owner Bellevue Square. The only one who said that we shouldn’t increase funding for transit was Freeman.

Not very strongly addressed in the video but mentioned in accompanying letters is the debate between bus rapid transit and light rail. Ron Sims, who came across as very pro-transit in the video, wrote:

For us in our region, investments in bus rapid transit, or BRT, will do far more to alleviate congestion across the SR-520 and I-90 bridges than light rail. […] Plus, according to King County’s carbon modeling, light rail across our bridges would actually create more congestion problems than it solves, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and adding more gridlock.

To which Joni Earl, CEO of Sound Transit, responded to in her letter (while Earl’s letter was distributed with all of those who appeared in the video, she was the only one who wasn’t in the video itself):

The only way to operate buses with speeds, frequencies, and reliability approaching rail is through (1) capital investments in dedicated bus right-of-ways that rival the cost of rail and/or (2) restrictions of general purpose traffic on both freeways and surface streets. And buses entail higher operations costs: it takes 10 bus drivers to carry the capacity of one light rail train. In our estimation, while rail by itself cannot do the whole job, buses by themselves are not efficient or cost-effective in the long term as a sole solution for the future.

But I realized something when talking to Dave and Kristen: these shots across the bow went unnoticed to these citizens who aren’t transit geeks. Indeed, neither knew that there is a raging BRT versus light rail debate. Both seemed to accept at face value that I said light rail was better for major corridors — which may show that a political discussion on Capitol Hill will probably never come down to taxes. The debate to them was about whether we should invest more in transit, in general, or more in roads, in general.

Kristen admitted that she had come mostly to learn about the issue, but described herself as someone who drives everywhere. She has a perception that current buses are slow, unsafe (especially for young women), and are simply impractical for many of her travels to places such as Renton. And is she wrong? Many of us put up with buses because the economics work in our favor or because the alternative is worse, but Kristen didn’t feel the need yet to put up with anything. Like many of our society, living without a car just isn’t an option. And, furthermore, the bus is to be avoided at all costs.

Keep in mind, Kristen isn’t “bad” or on the wrong side of the fence at all; she just happens to live in a metropolitan area built around the personal automobile. Like most of King County, she’s all for funding public transit without ever planning on using it. She believes that most of our county doesn’t expect a short-term solution to congestion and the reliability of transit — she believes that people are eager to invest because they understand that investment is the only way to begin to address these problems.

Dave was really nice, and spent a lot of the time agreeing with each of us! He spoke about land-use that encourages dense, walkable communities.

In an unexpected twist, I heard the first pro-BRT argument that resonated with me in a long time. Bruce Agnew mentioned in the video that light rail is along Sound Transit’s identified corridors is likely the best solution for those areas, but in the suburbs east of I-405, BRT could be effective, yet cheap. I say this as someone who is very pro-rail: I think it’s a good idea to connect suburb cores with BRT. I hate that “BRT” can mean a dozen different things to the same amount of people, but many people in suburbs are dying for frequency, not right-of-way (yet).

After discussing transportation for a half-hour, Dave, Kristen, and I each filled out a survey. Some of my favorite questions:

  • What should be the most important priority for the allocation of additional transit services? They should be allocated:
    1. To the routes that require the least subsidy.
    2. By a formula that builds ridership in the suburbs like the current 40:40:20 formula.
    3. To meet the needs of transit-dependent people who have no other mobility options.
    4. Based on the total population and proximity to employment centers.
    5. Other
  • What source would you like to see used to raise the majority of local funds for [projects like the SR-520 bridge replacement, the Viaduct replacement, widening I-405 or SR-167, expanding light rail, and/or creating a bus rapid transit system]?
    1. Gas taxes (can only be used for roads due to the state constitution)
    2. Car tab taxes
    3. Sales taxes
    4. Tolls on new or upgraded freeways or highways
    5. Tolls on existing freeways during the most congested times
  • Which one transportation-related improvement do you think would most improve the transportation system in King County?
    1. Adding more capacity or routes to public transit (bus and rail)
    2. Adding more general purpose freeway or highway lanes
    3. Changing land use codes to encourage higher population densities and alternatives to traveling by car
    4. Taxing congestion with variable tolls
    5. Other

After the surveys were completed, we said goodbye. It was good to be able to be a transit geek in public. However it was quite ironic that for the vast majority of our time, we spoke about density, transit, and offering alternatives to driving — but each of us owns a personal automobile.

Sound Transit Vote

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

As we know, Sound Transit is debating whether to go back to the ballot in 2008 or 2010 with a new expansion package.

I hear that Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl currently does not have the votes to go back to the ballot in 2008. Snohomish County Exec Aaron Reardon and King County Exec Ron Sims are both planning on voting “no.” Reardon because light rail wouldn’t go far enough into Snohomish County, and Sims because he’s anti-rail altogether.

Pierce County Exec John Ladenburg, who’s running for Attorney General this year, may also vote “no” to avoid any controversy.

Good News

Metro announced today that they have obtained a waiver to allow continued special service at Mariners games.

New federal regulations governing transit charter service went into affect earlier this year, and could have limited Metro’s ability to provide special service to the baseball games. Metro has been working closely with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Mariners, and has received an exemption from the FTA to continue service to Safeco Field until the end of the baseball season.

I’m not sure that we actually got around to mentioning the original issue on STB, but U.S.S. Mariner had some nice coverage of it.

It’s nice that the FTA has shown a little more flexibility than at first it appeared. After all, by next baseball season we’re likely to have a different crew at the FTA.

To take a gratuitous pot shot while we’re on the subject, I always found it odd that the postgame shuttles, of all things, were pay-as-you-leave. After all, most of the shuttles are outside the Ride Free Zone in both space and time.  Riders trickle on as they find their way out of the stadium providing ample opportunity to ask what the fare is, gather dollar bills, and pay.  Meanwhile, everyone gets off at the same destination, so that the same operation becomes a giant bottleneck.

Granted, it’s been a couple of years for me; have they fixed it?

First Streetcar Meeting: Today at 4pm

A reminder that the first of a series of meetings designed to get public comment on Seattle’s potential streetcar expansion is being held later today at city hall. Here are some words from the P-I:

City officials are holding several public meetings over the next three weeks to discuss plans to lay tracks that would connect a dozen neighborhoods to downtown.

The first meeting, on Wednesday, will focus on the Central Line, which would run mainly along First Avenue from Seattle Center to King Street Station.

Streetcars on that line would stop every six minutes at the Olympic Sculpture Park, Pike Place Market and Washington State Ferries.

“There will always be a streetcar coming,” said Ethan Melone, project manager for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

There is a sense of urgency. Transportation officials hope to start construction by late 2010 and have the route running by early 2012 when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is expected to be torn down.

As proposed, the Central Line would cost about $205 million to build. About $95 million of that could come from a local improvement district that would be formed along the route, similar to the district set up in South Lake Union. Property owners would have to agree to pay a share of the cost.

Given that I work in the building closest to the Olympic Sculpture Park, I say bring it on! More practically though, the city does seem incredibly optimistic about the revenue from advertising as well as the savings banked from Metro service hours. I feel like this could open any of the new streetcar routes to some fair criticism, and I would like to see more conservative numbers from the Seattle DOT as the plans move forward.

Is anyone here going to go to one of the public meetings? Which line, if any, should Seattle build first?

Sen. Cardin on Transit

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This interview in Grist has been making the rounds:

[The transit portion called for] $171 billion over the life of the bill. That’s big money. That can make a major impact. It can make a huge difference in the capacity for transit programs. We are in desperate need of significant transit improvements. We’ve got to have the facilities and we don’t today, and then we need the fare-box and economic policies that reward people for taking public transportation. Some try to say that it should be “self-sufficient” or have a certain percentage return through the fare-box. We don’t do that on our roads, and public transportation is much better for so many reasons — not just the environment or the quality of life. We should be providing much stronger incentives for people to use public transportation, but first you need to have the facilities.

I’m a big, big supporter of dramatic change in public transportation. It includes more than just the bus and rail systems in our urban areas. It includes a commuter rail and inner-city rail — the whole gamut of services that get people out of their personal vehicles. I don’t want people driving their personal vehicles the way they are today.

54 senators signed on… not enough to bring it to a vote, of course, but with a few more Democrats in congress next year, it could be a reality.

I-985 and BRT

More Mass Transit Promotion
Photo by Oranviri

Carless points out that Tim Eyman’s claim of 295,000 signatures for I-985. I-985 is Eyman’s transportation intiative which will do the following:

  • Open carpool lanes to non-carpools (single occupants) during what Eyman has decided is non-rush hour, betwee 6 and 9 am, and between 3 and 6 pm. My experience is that our rush hour is much longer than that in reality.
  • Ensures that the I-90 bridge can’t be tolled during the time that SR-520 is tolled.
  • Forces all HOT lane revenue (tolls for solo drivers driving in the carpool lane) to be spent on maintaining and building HOT lanes
  • Removes the 1% for art rule for transportation projects.
  • Takes the money raised via red-light-cameras and spends it on road building

Most of this stuff is somewhere between absolutely terrible and useless, but so is Eyman so what can we expect?

I want to point out that the kind of BRT that Doug MacDonald et al want relies on dedicated lanes for buses. Their hearts are in the right place, but that won’t happen as long as there are Tim Eymans in the world, removing lanes from transit and HOVs and giving them to single occupant vehicles. We might not even have dedicated HOV lanes at 9:01 am, much less bus-only-lanes. The new bus-only lane on Elliott has not been very popular so far, though I bet over time people will get used to it.

So one more argument for rail over BRT. Build a rail line in a dedicated right of way, it’ll stay there: we won’t be able to run buses or cars through the Capitol Hill Tunnel. Bus lanes can be taken away at any time and have cars put on them. And the moment people learn that their car lane is being converted to bus-only, they’ll get mad. And if they’re Tim Eyman, they’ll try to get “even”.

Bus Manners, Blog Manners, and Housekeeping

Generally I think that the Bus Chick covers manners well, but I thought that this site is both entertaining and informative. I can only assume it is at least partially sarcastic. Reading it got me thinking about this Crosscut piece by Charles Bermant on anonymous comments and rudeness on the internet.

I feel incredibly lucky to have basically the best informed, most polite, most curious, and most civil commenters on the internet. It’s amazing really. The difference is tremendous if you compare to the comment threads on a place like Horse’s Ass, Sound Politics or the Slog. Those are practically anthropology or sociology lessons.

I went to Carless’s site and read this, and I began to think about the way I write. I learned not to attack people personally after my last ranting-on-crosscut-rail-hater post. Ben seemed to have a similar relavation after his last ad hominem rant.

What’s the point of all of this? Well, I want to promise to take the high road in my posts here, something I haven’t always done before. With readers as awesome as we have, and commenters better than any blogger could possibly expect, I owe as much.

Ok, now for a few bits of housekeeping. If your comment doesn’t appear, it’s likely that our spam filter grabbed it. Don’t worry, we’ll bring it back to the site as soon as possible. This has only happened once so far, which is pretty good, but don’t be alarmed or off-put if it happens again. Finally, I want to get your feedback on the threaded comments. I was thinking of putting a toggle in that lets the reader choose whether to display comments in threaded or linear mode. I will get around to it at some point I promise.

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