I have been saying this for a while, but it looks like Metro is finally being honest that the increased bus service, called Rapid Ride, promised as part of the sales tax increase voters approved in 2006 may never arrive. From the DJC (behind paywall):

King County’s RapidRide express buses, which are due on the streets starting in 2010, may never materialize.
Even if the county’s transit division solves its current $83 million budget crisis, by 2010 it will need an extra $60 million per year to run the transit division and county officials do not know now where that additional money will come from.
“After 2010 we have a significant budget gap and we have to figure out a solution,” transit division manager Kevin Desmond told King County’s regional transportation committee last month. “A way to save money would be to reduce service.”

Right now, King County’s transit division is $83 million in the red. To help plug the gap, County Executive Ron Sims is proposing to raise Metro bus fares by 50 cents next February. Earlier this year, Metro raised bus fares 25 cents.
Sims also says Metro should increase bus advertising, cut $65 million in capital projects, sell or lease some land and use up its budget reserves.
High fuel prices and low sales tax revenues have played havoc with Metro’s budget. 

The anti-light rail mantra is always that buses are cheaper than light rail. How can they honestly make this claim? Metro increased its share of the sales tax by 10% to .9% and is unable to increase service by the same amount because buses are becoming ever more expensive. The “buses are cheaper” argument is as bankrupt as Metro.

Sure the price of oil is down this month, but it’s still a whole lot higher than it was ten years ago, and it will be still higher in 10 years. Congestion continues to get worse, and with it, buses are ever more expensive to operate. If I-985 passes, HOV lanes will only be available for a short part of the day, and only about half of the dialy commute. With that BRT is impossible. 

Light Rail doesn’t compete with cars in traffic. Light Rail doesn’t run on fossil fuels. Light Rail can carry far more people for far cheaper after it’s constructed. Light Rail really ought to be the future of public transit in our region.

46 Replies to “Rapid Ride Buses May Not Materialize”

  1. I’m with you on preferring light rail, but I’d argue this case is a little more of a planning issue (a la pre-Joni Earl Sound Transit) than a bus vs. rail issue. Seems to me like the county made some optimistic promises, got hit by some unfortunate realities and has needed to make some adjustments.

    Yes, if Metro were all-electric, they wouldn’t be hit so hard by rising fuel costs, but they might be hit hard by Enron-style distortions of the cost of electricity. Yes, dedicated rail right-of-way can’t be taken away by I-985 type initiatives, but it’s not immune to issues (light rail in Pasadena has been forced to slow to something like 25 MPH on its dedicated right-of-way because of some neighbor lawsuits, IIRC).

    Light rail will be great and I strongly believe people will support it once they see it (and have my fingers crossed for Prop 1 in the meantime). But at the same time, I’m not ready to go hating on buses just because the BRT crew makes absurd claims of rail-equivalence — buses aren’t rail, but they’re much better than the no-bus alternative, and I’m glad Metro has been able to expand service.

    All that said, I personally would support a fare increase to ensure that Rapid Ride happens. That said, I’m lucky enough to have a job where a 25-cent fare increase wouldn’t affect my bottom-line much, and I can understand how people living closer to the edge could have a problem with it. What do you think?

  2. Wait. King County wants to sell land in the middle of a real-estate meltdown?

    Are these guys crazy?

    1. Seattle is the top commercial real estate market with the lowest risk; Bellevue is along for the ride but has considerable risk associated with it. I think the sale will be easy but probably pyrrhic since it will more than likely turn into a parking lot or lay empty.

    2. yeah they are!! they dont know what they’re doing. I think they’re grasping at straws here to make ever possible extra penny.

  3. And here lies my beef with prop 1. I give a lot of my money to the city, and there’s no follow through. Budget overruns are a way of life and they’re disgusting. I dont’ want to say that I’ll pay x dollars, and end up paying 50% more for less service!

    1. Sound Transit does’t have that problem. King County keeps blowing their cahs on buses, trying to use them when only rail will do.

    2. Whoa, whoa. This RapidRide thing is METRO. And I’ve pointed out in the past that it’s not going to happen – this isn’t new news, it’s just reality setting in.

      Prop 1 is Sound Transit. They’re not having these problems because buses aren’t their bread and butter – building capital projects is.

      The things that are putting Metro into such bad shape are leading to lower land prices and lower construction costs – exactly what we need to make Prop 1 happen.

      And none of this has anything to do with the city. Please be careful not to confuse city government, county government, and sound transit. They’re totally different – often, in fact, they don’t even get along.

  4. If rail was cheap wouldn’t Sound Transit be proposing a 400 mile system that replaces every very major bus route in the Central Puget Sound? I mean, why should we do BRT and frequent routes like the 150 and 120 since rail is superior? Cost, of course. Rail in its own right of way beats buses AND BRT any day of the week. I like rail. But we can’t have it everywhere or even on all the high ridership routes. So we might as well try to do something with buses beyond local routes stopping every other block with pay as you leave and no real time information. I don’t see why it is ever a BRT versus Rail question to this blog. Yes, to Kemper and his lackies, it is, but if this blog was really interested in transit in the region, it wouldn’t take every opportunity to blast BRT, electric trolley buses and what have you, in pointing out its inferiority to rail. Until someone comes up with a way to build an all-rail system for less than $200 billion, the authors of this blog should be suppporting good transit, regardless of the type of propulsion (within reason, of course:).

    1. Hear, hear.

      The budget shortfall affects a lot more than RapidRide – as the article implies – in fact, it will endanger considerable portions of the non-electrified routes throughout the city and county DURING the build-out for light rail (assuming Prop 1 passes, of course). One would expect a little more than a “well, this is why rail is better” sort of post if the bloggers actually gave two shits about the day to day commutes of hundreds of thousands of people and less of a shit about scoring political points.

      It is an absolute fact that buses continue to do work in even the densest cities with well-developed rail networks. But they are often electrified and always better invested in than our own system. I’d go so far as to suggest that even building a 400 mile system would still leave us with a considerable and frequently used bus network if we, unlike East Asians and Europeans, actually invested in transportation infrastructure. But, not only our governments, but our putatively pro-transit bloggers are cheap fuckers.

      1. Really? In other cities, buses are often electrified? I didn’t know that.

        Aside from SF and Seattle, who has an electrified bus system? (And have they figured out a way to keep the buses from coming off the wires?)

      2. Things would be different if:
        1) Taxing authority was not capped
        2) Scope of service was not limited

        It’s not something that will change, period.

      3. 1) True but the county has competence over many taxes and many theoretical sources of income for providing transit service.

        2) Is this some reference to the 40/40/20 issue or what? Unpack this, you are making less sense than usual.

        More generally, are you implying that laws will not change? We’re not talking about a physical constant here but something that is (partially) controlled by direct vote of all Washington residents, (partially) controlled by representatives Olympia and (partially) by voters in King County.

        So much for progressivism if you believe that the law won’t change.

      4. #1 simply means we can’t get more funding from outside sources since we can’t service our debt with the measly 0.9% we get. And in a funding crunch, those other sources of revenue are spoken for anyway.

        #2 means that since we can’t raise more money, we can’t expand as far as we want. It also means that we must accept, too, the legal limitations placed on Sound Transit that keep it from providing specific service.

        The faux populism you propose has clearly not been the case in WA state. The only reason we even get 0.9% is because the capitulation to Eyman and a majority of Washington voters made it necessary. Before 2000, it was at 0.6%

      5. #1 – Ah, so you ARE only talking about a single tax (the sales tax) among the many taxes and sources of income that the county has theoretical competence over.

        #2 – Scope of service is limited in every case (Sound Transit has that limitation, too – if Prop 1 passes then we will reach it). Why is this an argument against funding Metro? Will it become an argument against funding Sound Transit further if it gets itself into budgetary doodoo?

        I am proposing no faux populism (or real populism). I am stating that the people who make up electorates change and sometimes quite rapidly. They are not immutable at all. You, on the other hand, seem to have a permanent loser attitude to the legislature and electorate and their view of transit.

      6. Sales Tax is the only real popular means of controlling how Metro and other transit systems are funded and it has been locked in with no real support outside of the Puget Sound for increase, even if it was specific to Metro or ST. Spokane, Chelan, Ellensburg– they won’t have it.

        What other sources of revenue do we have that aren’t capped or subject to the current cash limitations?

        Since Sound Transit’s funding scheme is geared to expansion and speculative growth, they have more than enough wiggle room, especially now that fuel has dropped 25% and still has not hit a floor. With the first phase of Link, building costs are more than 95% discharged and the operating costs are well within projections. Sounder’s savings on fuel also can fund more ST buses if immediately necessary.

        The economy will not stay in the pits for long and a 15 year build-out is more than easily done in the boom-bust model. It could be like a cake walk in a Keynesian economy, something Earl Blumenauer is advocating and getting support for in the upper levels of government.

        Bottom line, in terms of local-area bus service: Metro’s problems are specific to Metro. If we want to know why they are floating sideways at the top of the tank, maybe we should address who is in charge and what they’ve done in terms of management or lack thereof?

      7. cjh, what are you getting at? What taxes do you think are going to be raised to fund transit and RapidRide?

        As you’re certainly aware, King County has to go to the state to fund its justice and health departments next year — the county’s necessities. The state itself is facing a projected deficit and we’re in the middle of a financial crisis such that raising taxes has been ruled out by many leaders.

        Yet you seem to be arguing that raising taxes is the answer and is palatable to the people or the politicians. Perhaps, but “what taxes?” is an exercise you leave to the reader. Fill in the gaps for us. The latest I’ve read is an MVET (tab fee) for bus service that still is only a drop in the budget. Employee head tax? Local improvement districts for RapidRide? Appealing to my optimism can only last for so much longer!

      8. BTW, AJ, I disagree with your assertion that Metro is poorly ran. Almost all bus-based transit agencies are facing these shortfalls due to diesel prices and almost all sales tax bases have shrunk across the country.

      9. As you may recall, the county can tap individual cities and employers for the funding of transit lines. This may mean that Metro “cuts” service only to have it “restored” by that means. There is also, as I recall, no restriction on property taxes, for instance, going toward a transit district. This would, however, require a countywide levy. There is also MVeT which is a bit like taxing cigarettes for health care but it exists. This would, also obviously, require a vote.

        You missed my point, your scope of service argument (to use your term) can end up applying to any government agency. But you seem serious in pressing onward with it as a cudgel against Metro. I am not saying that ST will get into trouble but the use of that particular rhetorical tool is playing with fire. Especially since it is quite unlikely that ST will actually make an operating surplus for a good, long time (if ever!).

        Also I am not Ron Sims – if you want to argue with him, I suggest you send him an e-mail – so I am not suggesting that we can (unconstitutionally) substitute Sound Transit monies for the Metro shortfall. Rather I am saying that the collapse of a major capital upgrade due to a bad diesel contract and a suspect funding system is a very bad thing indeed and no cause for “rail good, buses bad” celebrating by the idiots. As you note for your other point, building rail takes a long time – long enough to weather economic storms. Metro running out of money to provide day-to-day transit, well, that doesn’t take quite so long.

      10. I agree that this news isn’t cause for celebration. I am still looking forward to RapidRide. Indeed I don’t feel that much is proven by this terrible news. It’d be one thing if we were reading a story about RapidRide stuck in traffic or always behind schedule — instead we’re reading how a massive sales tax shortfall and an energy crisis are threatening major capital investments. Indeed, financial issues have plagued ST in the past and we know that just because the finances look back doesn’t mean that the concept is.

        However, asking cities to pay for transit that their citizens already pay for and already except will not fly with cities. Property taxes are limited to increase by 1% per year. MVET is unpopular, and your cigarette analogy is perfect. There aren’t a lot of easy options here, and while the population and the politicians can do things to fix the problem that doesn’t mean they will. I think service cuts are getting more and more likely and I sincerely hope that RapidRide — or at least the West Seattle and Ballard lines — aren’t victims of this.

      11. Actually, I am very much suggesting raising taxes, John.

        Within our current regulatory structure we can either have low taxes and weak services/terrible infrastructure or higher taxes and better services/infrastructure. Privately run bridges and transit services have a barrier to entry that is too high for everyone outside of, well, Microsoft.

        There was a post on this very blog on this subject, basically, why do most other high income countries have better roads, rails, mass transit (rail and bus!), airports, sewers, etc than us? Because they either a) levy sufficient taxes to pay for them, b) have a regulatory structure that supports non-governmental investment in infrastructure (the classic example is France’s privatized water supply), or c) some combination of the above.

        I know there are legal constraints to many state and county taxes but they are not insurmountable, just difficult. This really isn’t even an R vs. D issue (see how much our D supermajority did last session) but rather an issue of finding a new taxing consensus in the legislature as a whole. Rural districts certainly have their share of infrastructure issues as well (and the burden is far worse per resident). All easier said than done but, as I said above, it’s not like saying “If E=mc^3.”

      12. cjh, will you do everyone here a favor and keep your posts “family friendly”? Believe me, I like cussing and drinking whiskey but this just isn’t the venue.

      13. A prissy software nerd apparently never hears or reads ***** in serious situations.

        I take it you never read comments in source code or something.

        Edited for language

      14. I’ve never seen any of the seven words you can’t say on TV in source code comments, but I guess that only makes me and my company giant, massive squares. Are you sure you don’t want to break my glasses and stuff me in a locker?

        cjh, your comments about transit are interesting to read and your insights are valuable to have. For example, I liked the discussion we had a while ago on this same topic even though you disagreed with my assertions: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2008/08/11/but-100000-hours-is-a-lot-of-buses/

        But if you keep calling people “dumbshits” and acting like you’re breaking some barriers by incorporating “teehee, I’m so bad&naughty” words into your post, they’re just going to get deleted. We’re trying to keep things appropriate for all ages and avoid flame wars. You can be far more biting and get things across much better without falling back on a four-letter cliche.

    2. I absolutely agree with you. I don’t think we should infuse every post with politics — obviously the sentiment in this blog entry comes from some anti-Prop. 1 figures supporting BRT over light rail. But that’s not how Metro sees it and — if SR 520 BRT is any indication — it’s not how ST sees it either.

      BRT is not a great alternative to light rail, and we need to make RapidRide better than proposed — ticket vending machines, good shelters, more exclusive/HOV right of way — but West Seattle and Ballard shouldn’t have to wait 15+ years for frequent transit.

    3. Actually, we can have it everywhere. It’s just that we can’t build it all at once.

      You know why I blast BRT? Because BRT keeps us from ever getting rail, and then BRT is gone with the financial winds.

      1. Yes, Ben, in the long run we can build rails to every doorstep, but in the long run, we’re all dead. Given the speed at which ST is being built out, it will take over 100 years to reach “everywhere” in this region, and we will all, quite literally be dead by then.

        While living a life of eternal self-sacrifice for the sake of our great-great-great grandchildren may give you the piece of mind to endure our current transportation system while you dream of the utopia that you will never live to see, many of us consider this to be untenable.

  5. We all have our bias’ and opinions and we express that greatly on this blog. Yes of course their are some that are way more pro-rail than pro-bus. For me, I’m 60 Rail/40 Bus. I depend on the bus to get me to either Sounder or my connecting bus in the morning, in the afternoon, I rely on the bus and rely on Sounder to get me home.

    My biggest beef with RapidRide that it isn’t a true BRT system. A true BRT system is exclusively owned right-of-way, not shared with cars (Ie: HOV) or 24 hour BAT (Business Access and Transit lane) which we do not have in this region. I also have a problem with the West Seattle and Bellevue routing of RapidRide. For it to be called BRT, it needs to actually be “Rapid” not just faster by a couple of minutes vs. the current service available.

    1. I think when the buses are running there could be more pressure to build HOV/BAT lanes. Obviously building a new set of lanes should be prohibitively expensive. We are building BAT lanes along the Ballard route.

      I’m still not understanding the alternative. If you were in West Seattle, would you want more of the same bus service you get now — except more frequent and a few minutes faster — coming online in 4 years, or would you want to wait 4 or 8 or more years for the next Sound Transit proposal that might build to West Seattle seven years after that?

      Light rail is an investment, and it’s a great one to make. And more frequent and easier to use bus routes are smart tools to use for those areas that likely won’t light rail for decades.

      1. It’s the opposite. I really think you don’t realize how this has worked historically. When buses have their own right of way, there’s pressure to REMOVE that right of way, not pressure for more of it – because the majority are driving.

        Here’s the alternative (although we’re not really choosing between the two, it’s just an equivalency thing):

        1) Choose buses. This eats your money to build rail, which means you’re stuck with ONLY buses. That’s what Metro is doing. Ever heard of COMET? We tried to avoid this situation.

        2) Choose rail. You build it, you operate it, and there’s never a situation like this – and then, when you’ve paid off the construction, you free up money to build more.

        It will ALWAYS be better in the short term to choose 1, and it will ALWAYS be a bad choice in hindsight.

      2. There are two scenarios, RapidRide to Ballard and West Seattle within a few years or light rail to them maybe within twenty. I have been unwilling to bring out this cliche up until now, but the perfect is the enemy of the good.

        Those BRT lines will of course be converted to light rail in the future, but ignore short term solutions necessitates ignoring short term problems. Transit in most forms is better than driving an SOV.

        Now, if we had to choose between BRT and light rail — well of course light rail would win. But RapidRide and Prop. 1 aren’t asking us to make that choice. And the opposition campaign, as cjh notes, doesn’t use BRT in nearly any of their arguments to the public at large.

        I can see the point about investing in BRT and that not creating the political conditions that necessitate light rail, but I don’t think that’s the best way to plan a transit system with the resources we do have at our disposal.

  6. Here’s an admittedly anecdotal example:

    I’ve got a friend at work who commutes from Capital Hill to the Eastside in the morning. For the first 2 months he took the bus and he was routinely late.

    Now he has a car. And he’s still routinely late. Why is this? Because neither form of transportation is reliable due to the natural tendancies of a variable medium like traffic.

    I agree with the last poster – we don’t need rail; we don’t need buses. We need both. Prop 1 provides both. Vote for it.

  7. Dustin, perhaps your friend should try living on the Eastside or working in Seattle. You know, to avoid the HUMONGOUS LAKE in the middle of the commute. No sympathy from me.

    Oh, and it’s “Capitol” Hill, not “Capital” Hill.

    1. Joykiller, perhaps your friend should try working in Tacoma or living in Seattle. Then he could take the new revese-commute Sounder.

      Oh, and it’s “Humungus” Lake, not “HUMONGOUS” Lake.

    2. Joykiller, if your argument worked, we wouldn’t have traffic in the first place. Reality doesn’t change just because you will it so.

  8. IF my argument worked? Why do you think more and more people are moving to Seattle’s neighborhoods, prompting construction of new apt. buildings and condos? Why are so few downtown workers looking for homes in the exurbs? Because traffic sucks.

    People adapt their lifestyles based on current realities. Someone who refuses to adapt in a manner well within their control — and then complains about it — gets no sympathy from me. If your commute sucks, see what you can easily do to fix it first. Don’t come looking for a huge subsidy from me.

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