It’s just that buses are expensive. The P-I has an article about Prop. 1 that discusses the claim that there isn’t enough new bus service in the package. The West Seattle Times argees, though they don’t support rail to Lynnwood over West Seattle, an argument there’s really no way to get around without telling them to look up what “subarea equity” means.

Ron Sims is being slightly disingenuous in his saying that skyrocketing ridership means we need more service hours on buses. Absolutely we do need more service, but the reason Sims wants Sound Transit to pay for more of what would essentially be local buses is that Metro has already reached the state legislature-defined cap of .9% sales tax. Metro cannot possibly raise any more money without the state legislature increasing the cap and another Metro ballot measure passing. Pierce Transit and Community Transit are in a similar situation. I would support both of these, though I doubt the legislature will move on the former.

As a regional agency, Sound Transit should not be in the business of paying for local buses, and with the region’s long term interests in mind, we should not be providing buses at the expense of light rail. My reasoning is simple – apologies in advance for all the numbers – the proposal on the ballot would bump Sound Transit’s portion of the sales tax to .9%, which for the North King subarea, 100% would be spent on light rail construction and bond servicing until 2009, when about .1% will go toward operating Central Link. In Seattle, Metro moves about 135,000 people a day for .9% in Seattle, Sound Transit will move about 45,000 for .1%, the operations portion of the link budget. After at most 30 years, Central Link’s bonds will be paid off, at which time Central Link will cost just .1% of sales tax to move more than 45,000 people per day. Similar results will be seen for North Link, East Link and South Link. All of light rail in Prop. 1 will be operated for just .2% sales tax, and by 2036 when the bonds are paid off, the other .7% could be reinvested into building more light rail.

For an example of how rail can more more people more cheaply, we need only look to Washington DC. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the operator of DC Metro, spends almost exactly the same amount of money as King Country Metro does, $560 million to $580 million. Except for that $560 million DC metro moves almost a million people a day on rail (three times what KC metro moves per day with its buses) and the WMATA agency provides buses that carry another 120,000! It’s only possible because of the investment put in place years ago, and residents there can reap the benefit of a reliable, traffic-separated transit system that’s relatively cheap.

For increased bus service, 100% of the money would go toward operations. Even assuming operation costs will not rise, that tax capacity could never be spent on service increases in the future beyond simply keeping up with the rise in population. But that rise in population seems to be ever more reliant on transit as a means of getting around, as noted 6.7% increase in bus ridership in 2008. Making matters even worse, operations costs are rising far faster than sales tax receipts because of fuel costs, which is why Transit Nowwill end up providing so little.

I understand that we have real transportation challenges facing us, but in the end, buses are just much more expensive to provide in the long run the rail is. We need the willpower and patience to not just go after the quick solution now, but provide a solution that can grow and be expanded in the future. If Metro needs more money for buses, Ron Sims should go to the legistlature and ask for taxing authority. Or maybe he should just cancel his foot-ferry idea and put the money to buses. That $24 million a year could be a lot of service hours.
Mutlimodal Man points out my numbers on the DC metro comparison are a bit off, but the main point still stands.

33 Replies to “But 100,000 hours is a lot of buses”

  1. West Seattle should be lobbying for the freeway teardown. It’s possible that they could get light rail from that deal direct to downtown on the boulevard that occurs.

    1. We are anything but anti-bus-transit. If anything while we prefer rail over buses, buses will always, always play an important role as a feeder to light-rail, streetcar, and other bus connections.

      Buses are the starting point of any town. As they grow up, light-rail is installed. When Light-Rail is no longer enough, Heavy Rail (think Chicago L) is installed…

      It’s a “food chain” of sorts. Various modes of transportation feed to each other.

      Portland, Utah, and Dallas are probably the most excellent example of this. Portland is easier (and closer) to examine the benefits of having the network as it is. While Portland is primarily Light-Rail, the buses feed these systems. Portland will have a unique system of having a light-rail network connect directly commuter rail (WES)

      To make a long subject short though, buses + light rail + heavy rail = A Webbed Transportation Network.

      1. But TriMet’s ridership growth was stagnant prior to this year (while basically every other system had been growing since 2001) and the bus system saw some small losses (with no new MAX lines)! I think they are a perfect example of the results of a transit/land use disconnect and stagnant bus service. They’ve built a nice set of lines but land use planning has lagged like a mofo – where is the higher density TOD in the city of Portland? Not along the MAX line but along the streetcar line. Meanwhile, their bus service is plagued by capacity and frequency issues – i.e. no articulateds, no trolleybuses, no new buses at all for something like 6 years. The system is starved for capital investment.

      2. I think Portland is a good example of a city that used regional planning to grab maximum benefits. As Portland is the hub for the rail lines, they’ve capitalized on this.

        I’m guessing that’s one fear the eastside has– that since Seattle by virtue of location will be the central hub, it will reap an oversized benefit like Portland has.

      3. Are you serious?

        The Eastsiders who won’t support it, won’t support it because it’s a tax expansion. No one thinks about it in those terms; probably not even Kemper Freeman (he just hates public transit!).

        My point anyhow is precisely that Portland HASN’T reaped the maximum benefits from the MAX line. If you’ve been to Portland at all, you know that the only “new” TOD in-city has been along the Portland Streetcar.

      4. I’ve never been to Portland. Seems a pleasant city.

        What I hear tell, however, is that the 10th and Yamhill parking garage is getting turned into a 300’ish building with office and retail, there’s a new office building going in between Yamhill and Morrison, Goose Hollow and the West End are getting several upscale low- and mid-rise condo developments (even the scuttled Allegro is coming back to life) and Portland is pouring a large amount of money into developments along the Portland Transit Mall. There are also developments at the Gateway district that will be using the sudden influx of college students to build a non-driving population base. That sounds like TOD, too.

        Most of the developments in Downtown Portland are devoted to being as walkable and Transit-oriented as possible, even those several blocks away from transit. Development in Goose Hollow and the West End both look to have less than 2 parking spaces per unit with one I believe being down to something like .75 parking spaces per unit.

        It’s not all entirely limited to the Streetcar, but that’s how it’s marketed since it’s a marketable concept and puts Portland into citations and bibliographies when people talk about how Transit works (or doesn’t).

      5. I’m not going to write an autistic level post breaking down your examples but let’s just say that Gateway is the only counter-example with any merit. Goose Hollow, the West End and the Yamhill locations are essentially downtown or on the edge of it. The idea of building towers next to other towers isn’t exactly revolutionary – I think most cities in America are already doing it. Even without transit like the streetcar or MAX, they’d all pencil out due to walking distance being 5-10 (MAYBE 15 from the furthest reaches of the West End) minutes from the CBD. And even with it, there have been MAX stations at Goose Hollow and along Yamhill for 15-20 years – why has it taken so long for new projects to appear on the line? Could it be that the city is finally relaxing land use rules outside of the CBD proper (and the Pearl) to allow towers again?

        Anyhow, I’m not really talking about that tiny area alone but outward from there along the MAX lines. Where are the office and apartment buildings along the Blue/Red once you cross the bridge? Even with the freeway running sections, you’d expect a little more there there. Instead, Lloyd and so on are much the same urban form (though much less rough around the edges) as it was in 1986 when the line first opened – some mid-rise office development, a flat and squat mall and single family homes with scattered two and three story apartment buildings. Where are the rows of apartments, new office buildings, etc that you’d expect from an area that’s had access to high-capacity transit for more than two decades (and a metro region that is in dire need of housing stock)? That’s what I mean by lagging land-use policies – the suburban cities around Portland have actually been more proactive in taking advantage of MAX!

    2. If you advocate rail over buses, it’s ostensibly seen as being anti-bus.

      … even though the ST system will rely on buses for local service.

    3. Buses are transit, yes. While some posts here may come off as anti-transit, keep in mind that none of us here want to see reduction in bus service. In fact, we want to see more bus hours. Buses are important, absolutely.

      However, if the debate is made to be bus versus rail then we must respond in order to see ST2 — which us bloggers support — succeed. We must make reasoned arguments why the taxes spent on ST1/2 are better spent on light rail than on increased bus service. Believe me, this is not a fight we want to have. This fight is from Ron Sims and others who want to spend piles of cash on buses but nothing on light rail.

      We would like to be arguing why transit is better than roads or single-occupancy vehicles, but that’s not the argument being presented here. I believe every blogger here is a daily bus rider, so we’re interested in seeing the bus system improve itself as well.

    4. Oh, I’d say other than Brian B, most of the regular contributors would absolutely sacrifice bus service to get rail built. They’d basically be the mirror image of Ron Sims and proud of it!

      For the thick-headed owners of this blog, this means that I regard both positions with utter disdain.

      1. My experience here has been different. Wherever rail is discussed as being a great thing, effort is taken to point out that it can’t replace busses (unless you’re talking about busses that duplicate rail line service). Would you care to point some examples?

      2. No one ever said we should cut bus service to provide rail. Ron Sims did try to cut rail funding to provide local buses, which is outside of Sound Transit’s charter as a regional agency and, in my mind, not the best use of the money for the only agency in our area capable of building rail.

      3. cjh, I must say that you’re absolutely wrong. The argument has been made to be buses vs. light rail by pieces on Crosscut and by some leaders like Ron Sims. There is a vital place for both, but they have different uses.

        The reason for the conflict is that buses are better (feasible) for local service and light rail is better for long-distance travel. Now, in the city “long-distance” tends to mean more than three miles. On the Eastside, probably more than fifteen miles. Saying that we can do the same thing with buses that we do with light-rail is something the bloggers here deeply disagree with. However, I think even past 2009 every single blogger here will still be commuting via bus.

        In terms of personal opinion, of course we feel that buses “suck” compared to rail. Even my two mile commute home get tangled in traffic on Denny Way. Does any bus rider feel that they’re riding the wave of the future?

        The blog has been very focused on Sound Transit 2 over the last few months. We are all excited to see Prop. 1 pass, and for the future of our transit options to start construction. However, none of us has advocated for cutting bus funding or stopping bus service at Northgate. Ron Sims has advocated for not funding ST2 and for stopping light rail at Northgate. We are not his analog, and that criticism is unfair.

      4. I think we can start with the dismissive attitude toward RapidRide and the “chrome” improvements associated with it. Things that are standard on buses in most major European cities are treated with cynicism; the honor system, automated stop announcements, stops separated by greater distances, etc. The concern over RapidRide capital improvements dying due to rising operating costs is non-existent but there is plenty of smug “well, this is why electric transit is better” attitude. No shit, but how about some constructive ideas that will see us through the next 10 years or so? Maybe something on expanding trolley bus coverage? Or actual advocacy for other funding solutions (including going back the legislature)? Or actually advocating CNG (not just alluding to it with the Pierce Transit article)? When’s the last time you haven’t been reactionary – I notice the “write your legislator” thing only came out when governance reform reared its ugly head?

        Look, I think Sims is a big ol’ tool (and some of his opposition to Sound Transit must be rooted in turf wars in the regional government) and his budget solution is horrible garbage (the ultimate robbing Peter to pay Paul). However, there is an underlying tech geek libertarianism here that is troubling. It’s not off in fantasyland like the monorail but it does tend to have a cheapass attitude to the existing majority mode because it will soon be rendered obsolete. Meanwhile, transit agencies with vision, like TransLink, plan massive increases in bus service (even if it’s less massively than the increase in rail service)…

      5. CJH,

        I don’t think you can blame rail advocates for a little schadenfreude when BRT, which is so often presented as the reasonable alternative to rail, is shown to be a pretty empty concept in practice. After all, we’re currently in a campaign where the main line of argument is whether to serve the regional trunklines with rail, or wait for some enhanced bus system to emerge in the future.

        I can’t speak for the others, but I’ve had nice things to say about the new bus lanes for Ballard RapidRide, and I’ve been pretty supportive of the County’s efforts to raise fares to avoid cutting service.

        As for further improvements to buses, Metro’s capped out on taxing authority, but we’ve been supportive of fare increases, advertising on shelters, and getting rid of Sims’ foot ferry idea to shore it up. Furthermore, we’re always on the lookout for things that can improve capacity while being essentially revenue-neutral (nominal park-and-ride fees, ripping out seats on buses).

        There’s a reason we mobilized on governance reform in particular: it doesn’t cost the state anything to kill something like that. Asking for money means you’ve got to raise revenue or cut something else, and that’s a much tougher nut to crack. So lawmakers have to respond to not only the wishes of their constituents, but also budgetary reality.

        But if you like, I’d be thrilled if the state came up with cash for local transit agencies, whether or not it went to rail. But you have to pick your battles.

      6. Oh, I think I very much can blame you and I do since it’s a bullshit attitude. Schadenfreude is for passive-aggressives not people who look for real solutions and, secondarily, dancing on the grave of bus capital improvements approaches cutting off the nose to spite the face. And the main line of argument is going to be “blah blah eleventy hundred billion dollars blah blah” – the BRT stuff in the “no” campaign is a sideshow to make a few faux progressives feel better about voting selfishly.

        Yes, of course Metro is capped out, but “budgetary reality” is a nice way of saying that some of you are fiscal conservatives who’d rather starve existing services than go to bat for capital improvement. Rather like our Democratic super-majority, who was so afraid of losing political capital and/or were budget hawks such that they did sweet fuck-all to help major infrastructure needs around the state. Are you all so afraid of Kemper Freeman that you think transit supporters will burn political capital by openly advocating tax increases beyond those being asked for by transit agencies? Are you that castrated?

      7. cjh:

        In reality, I support the idea of RapidRide and hope it comes to fruition. We criticize Metro because they’re doing some major things wrong — no right-of-way, no off-bus boarding — but that should happen regardless of the existence of Link. Everyone across the country criticizes their transit agencies — we are not so behind in the transit race that we have to accept everything we’re given with open arms and a gleeful smile.

        RapidRide is a start. A good intermediate point would be ticket vending machines and more right-of-way. And we need to be vigilant to make sure the RapidRide operates almost all day and night, does not change routes depending on the time of day, and in nearly every way acts like rail on wheels. Because we need to make bus riding more approachable — an acceptable last-minute solution in addition to one that has been planned and scheduled out.

        As for honor system, stop announcements, etc. — I personally have no issue with any of those ideas and I don’t know you believe that even the majority of bloggers here feel that way. Indeed, we’d love a more european appreach.

        the BRT stuff in the “no” campaign is a sideshow to make a few faux progressives feel better about voting selfishly.

        Yes, and that’s why it’s unfortunate that we have to argue against it. But we do — we have to say, look, they’re promising you a solution that can’t work. We need to make it more clear that they’re doing this as a “sideshow.”

        We’re in political season, though. No, we can’t advocate for ST2 and Metro KC at the same time — we are focusing our efforts on ST. However, the best thing to happen to all transit agencies (in my opinion) would be to see ST2 pass. Maybe, then, the state will realize that Puget Sound needs transit and they’re voting for it.

        We’ll advocate for the plans, when they come up. Metro will have to address its budget shortfall with a plan relatively shortly. It’ll probably do some combination of cutting foot ferries, postponing service, raising fares, reallocating suburban service, and/or requesting more taxing authority. We’ll judge the plan based on its merits, not just because it’s what the regions largest bus agency things is best.

      8. CJH,

        The “not enough buses” line was on the front page of the P-I the other day, above the fold, so I wouldn’t say it’s a sideshow. Heck, Crosscut is the BRT channel when they’re not printing something from Ben.

        It’s frankly bizarre that you’d accuse us of not being willing to go to bat for capital improvement, given that we spend most of our time here advocating for the largest transit capital program in state history.

        If there’s some bill in Olympia that I should be supporting, let me know what that is. But I’m guessing there isn’t, and as my frustration with Gregoire shows, I’ve pretty much given up on Olympia and hope that merely don’t do any damage to what we’re trying to do in the ST district.

        And yes, I’m afraid of Kemper Freeman. He beat us last year, and if we’re not careful, he’ll do it again. That’s why I’m working so hard to see that Sound Transit 2 passes.

  2. Busses are getting too expensive with rising fuel costs. That’s why alot is starting to be anti-bus.
    Anything electrical will most likely be favored.

  3. Perhaps more trolleybuses should be added, but Sound Transit has a regional focus. Not sure if you could justify stringing that much double-wire all the way to Tacoma, and Trolleybuses do not operate in Freeway Traffic. Although Electric Rail does good over long distances. All modes should work together in a system, but BRT promoters like to promote their idea as the only solution, while the bus still has a role with Light Rail.

    Also, from reports I get from Railfan boards(they usually post WMATA press releases), the DC Metro gets ridership at 1.2 million a day, 800,000 on rail, 400,000 on bus.

  4. Andrew,

    Where are you getting your numbers? Looking at NTD data for 2006, the heavy rail component of their operations require $642 million for their HEAVY RAIL operations and $470 million for BUS operations. According to APTA’s ridership data for this Spring, WMATA buses are carrying 438,000 riders daily and the Heavy Rail is carrying 950,000 riders per day. As of this spring, KC Metro was carrying on average 300,000 on its diesel buses and 77,000 in trolley buses. The operating cost of these two modes in 2006 (according to NTD) was $405 million.
    I do not include Demand Response services in these figures.
    The operating cost of a rail car (not a train, mind you) in DC is $255 per hour, while a bus is $128 per hour. Obviously the rail is more expensive in terms of vehicle operation. But you are absolutely right when it comes to service delivery per passenger. But that is because its capacity is in serious, all day use (950k per day is much higher than ridership a few years ago, when it was in the 700,000 range). To move one passenger one mile by bus in DC costs $1.11 (in 2006). For Heavy Rail, it was $0.41. A measurable difference, but that’s only because the rail capacity is being utilized, not because of fuel economy or something (electricity in the east is generated mainly from fossil fuel burning, so prices of that commodity will go up with time too).

    If you look at a LIGHT rail property, like Portland’s MAX, that system, with all its lines, was carrying just under 104,000 average daily riders this spring (according to APTA). Nowhere near the HEAVY rail system in DC.

    1. Well, outside of the numbers he used, the DC Metro is a good example of increasing scale and how buses can slowly become less cost effective as you shift more people to rail.

      Maybe you should volunteer to be a numbers guy for the blog :)

      1. Andrew,

        Check out the pie charts on page 95 of the WMATA report. I think you’ll see that rail revenues are $500 million, while the total operating budget (trains and buses) is around $1.1 billion. Rail carries twice as many people as the bus but brings in three times as much revenue. I would guess it’s because people are getting a better ride and pay more for it than the bus, the trips are longer (fares are distance-based) than the bus, and again, because there are more of them.

        Regarding the KC Metro budget, be cautious with the budget figures since the budget reflects the reality that half (or more?) of the ST Express service is operated by Metro, so those dollars are accounted for twice (in both agencies’ budgets). That’s just how accounting works and consequently doesn’t always reflect a true picture (think Arthur-Anderson). So that’s why NTD data is helpful; it is standardized and no dollars are counted twice.

  5. First of all, this article’s headline is absurd.

    I’ll be honest, Ron Sims plan might have worked out to be a great boon to ST2’s chances of passing. While I accept it’s not the responsibility of ST to fund local bus service, funding any bus expansion is good for the region as a whole.

    And to be fair to Ron Sims, none of this money was to be taken from rail — it just made the ST2 plan slightly riskier in terms of finances and increased the likelihood of things going over-budget (especially given that the taxation method of sales tax is so volatile). Similarly, the front-loading of bus service adds more risk to the ST2 project (though not as much as Sims’ plan).

    The problem with Sims’ plan is barely one of substance because I could see his plan working with more planning. The problem is that he didn’t participate in the ST2 process, and two days before the vote he wants to add amendment that makes the entire plan riskier and does nothing for the Pierce/Snohomish subareas.

    So his plan could have helped ST2 pass if it had time to be fleshed out and made fair to the other subareas. The problem is that it was a last minute amendment that changes too much and wasn’t fleshed out. It was something that he should have brought up in February or earlier, but didn’t because he was totally removed from the ST process. Right around the time he submitted this amendment is probably when he realized that Metro was facing massive financial difficulties. So it was cynical of him to stay away from the ST process, then at the last minute offer up a sketchy amendment to help solve his own agencies financial problems.

    That’s the political analysis. The reality is that Metro is going to need to get money from somewhere. I believe it’s time the state stepped up, for one. The 20/40/40 rule needs to be temporarily abolished and service hours be added on those continually full buses. Foot ferries might be something we delay to fund bus service. We should toll the 520 before 2010 to get the federal grant of which some can go to transit. We should cut service hours on those very low ridership areas.

    But RapidRide, we can’t cut off or delay. We need to test it out and see if it can work for things like Aurora and West Seattle. RapidRide is a way to make the bus system more approachable and predictable, and it could turn out to be a great way to Link ridership having easy transfers to Ballard, Aurora, and West Seattle.

    1. Are these the service hours that were suppose to be added under Transit Now but will not due to rising fuel prices?

  6. “Aren’t buses transit? I’m surprised how anti-bus-transit this blog is sometimes.”

    Did Harry even read the title of this post? As in, 100,000 hours for buses?

    If Harry was also paying attention, he would notice that many of these (faux) BRT supporters are actually transit opponents in disguise. They will do anything to get rid of the light rail “cancer.” And BRT provides a temporary and convenient smokescreen for that purpose.

    Light rail supporters, on the other hand, do not advocate for the elimination of all buses.

    Figured it out yet, Harry?

Comments are closed.