Without actually endorsing either position, I thought I’d defend two propositions that are taking a beating in the comments:

  • Establish no Ride Free Zone for Light Rail. The $1.75 base fare allows a $2.00 fare from Rainier Beach to downtown — equal to the current peak Metro fare for that commute.  With express bus service being severely curtailed to that neighborhood and its surroundings, and a fair number of poor folks in that area, it was a solid PR move to not have the arrival of light rail result in both fewer transportation choices and higher costs for people in the community.
  • R8A is a North King Subarea Project. Leave aside the train itself, which obviously benefits both subareas.  Whom do the HOV lanes themselves benefit?  The net impact is new reverse-peak HOV capacity on the I-90 bridge.  Clearly, that’s a benefit primarily for Seattle residents, not Eastsiders.

I’m pointing these arguments out as a devil’s advocate.  Please resume savaging them in the comments.

39 Replies to “The Alternative Viewpoint”

  1. I agree on both points. It’s good to make sure everyone knows what the other side of the issue is.

  2. If confusion is the issue how about eliminating both buses and trains in the tunnel from the free ride zone. Capacity of peak isn’t a problem but peak hours “reserving” the tunnel for people trying to get into and out of the city would seem to make sense. I think there’s plenty of surface options for the free ride area to function.

    Alternately, how about no free ride period during peak hours and all’s fair off peak. No more confusing than HOV lanes which “turn off” after 7PM.

    1. Well, then the buses really WOULD be slower. That would impact light rail reliability.

      1. Actually I think this could work if we let people buy a Metro ticket from the Link TVMs. And BTW, since they’re going to charge for riding in the tunnel, they’ll need TVMs there… are there any in the DSTT?

      2. They haven’t installed them yet. You can see the metal plates on the wall covering the spaces where they’ll be.

    2. Bernie,

      To do that I think you’d really want to have off-board payment in the tunnel. You’d have to do some pretty fancy design to make sure that people don’t end up paying the max light rail fare by accident — maybe a special machine that spits out a bus transfer?

      1. It’s not hard for people to avoid paying the highest possible fare on Sounder TVMs, and they’re not very fancy. Just have on the first screen a Metro button and a Link button.

      2. We’re already doing that in some cases. The TVMs on Seattle Streetcar spit out these receipts that can be used as transfers. Sounder tickets can be used for transfers and day, weekly, passes bought at Sounder TVMs are valid for bus service as well.

        Portland and Vancouver make it so easy but they have unified fare structures across all modes which is another topic.

  3. On 1, do a lot of people use the free ride zone in the tunnel? It’s not that confusing to not take link, but maybe Sound Transit thinks that they can get additional fine revenues by dinging people who didn’t understand they couldn’t take it for free there.

    On 2, preventing backups across Mercer Island and into Seattle helps people who live in MI and work on the Eastside, or who have to generally navigate around the 405/90 area where the backups from 90 can screw everything up. Plus, people who live in the areas sited for link stations would probably enjoy having a train to take them between downtowns at night, or to Mariners games, or whatever.

    1. Watson51,

      You can end up going down an endless rabbit hole trying to work out all the second-order effects on each subarea. The basic principle is that subarea funds go to help commuters in that subarea, regardless of where the work physically is. For instance, Seattle hasn’t put a dime into Sounder because it gets almost no benefit to it.

      1. Yes, but that’s because very few people live in Seattle and work in Tacoma. However, probably 10 or 20 thousand people live in Seattle and work at Microsoft, and many more work at the myriad other companies in DT Bellevue, Overlake, and DT Redmond.

      2. Seattle residents who commute by Sounder to South King or Pierce County buy things in South King and Pierce County and thus are paying for Sounder. They aren’t “freeloading”, nor are future Seattle residents who commute to the Eastside by Eastlink.

        Over the last two years I’ve bought a huge LCD tv, a bass guitar and lunch everyday on the Eastside: I’m paying into the Eastside’s pool, I’m paying for Eastlink.

      3. Wow that’s a lot of TVs and bass guitars. Thanks for subsidizing the entire project.

  4. Since I’m getting traction, I’ll switch sides:

    The phrase “leave aside the train itself” does a lot of work. It’s all one project, and it’s basically an East King County project.

    1. Yeah, the light rail fares seem appropriate, and it’s nice to have them distance-dependent. however, how long ago was the decision made to rely on an honor system with spot checks? That seems like a recipe for poor compliance – every city I’ve lived in with a similar system, I’ve always known people who cheated it.

  5. I think the reason they did this is not to have false ridership numbers. What am I talking about?

    Hundreds of people use the buses in the tunnel to go from Downtown Seattle to IDS to transfer to Sounder.

    As for people not cheating. It is going to happen. It happens on Sounder ALL the time. If Sound Transit wants to make the farebox recovery realistic, they need to step up what they have now. Right now, they aren’t doing too well with every other month fare checks….

    1. I haven’t ridden Sounder in a long time, but when I did they had fare inspectors walking the length of the train every trip.

      For Link the fare inspectors need to be very visible. At least to the point where you see a team 1 out of every 2 trips or so. Doesn’t matter if they ask you to prove payment. Just having them visibly checking people will act as a deterrent for anyone who wants to evade the fare.

      Otherwise Sound Transit will need to bite the bullet and go with some form of fare control.

    2. I don’t understand the false ridership problem. Sounder riders are going to transfer in any case.

  6. R8A is definitely not a North King project, I think you misunderstand how sub-area equity was designed to work. Only Seattle residents who work on the eastside would benefit from that, and those are the same residents who are paying into the East King subarea. I work on the eastside, so I buy lunch there, do some shopping there, etc. If I worked in Seattle, I would never go to the Eastside, never shop there, and never pay into their sub-area pool.

    It’s not like the funds are raised out of the ether: you pay the tax where you are when you buy things, not where you live.

    Finally, R8A also benefits Eastsiders who commute East: Mercer Island residents, as well as Bellevue-Issaquah commuters.

    1. Prior to R8A starting, the HOV lanes already extended to the easternmost exit of MI. So only a fraction of eastbound commuters from MI are directly benefiting from it, and no one at all from Bellevue and points East.

      I honestly don’t understand your sub-area logic. South Sounder is only used by Pierce and South King residents that commute to Seattle, who inevitably spend some taxes there; so should that be a North King project?

      R8A (again, leaving aside the train) provides some benefit to Seattle residents and approximately zero to the Eastside.

      1. I disagree. I think that adding HOV lanes to the outside roadway will benefit Eastside residents. The bridge is frequently backed up in the westbound direction during the evening rush. There are a considerable number of Eastside residents who work non-traditional hours who have to drive to Seattle in the evening. Not to mention all of the people who travel to the Mariners games in the summer. I used to work swing shift in Seattle and my commute from Bellevue would easily take an hour when there was a Mariners game or any large event in Seattle.

      2. It’s clear you don’t understand the logic behind subarea equity, which is why you wrote point 2 above. You think that the legislature put sub-area equity together to screw over the suburbs? I don’t think you’ve given this enough thought.

        Once sounder riders get into Seattle they transfer to North King projects (Link, first hill streetcar, etc). They are paying for those because they are going to use them. If you live in Tacoma and work downtown your commute will be Sounder (which you paid for in Tacoma) and Link (which you and your employer paid for in Seattle). If you live in Seattle and work in Bellevue your commute would be North Link/Central Link (which you paid for in Seattle) and East Link (which you and your employer on your behalf paid for) in Bellevue.

        And you’re wrong about R8A, phase 1 was to get lanes to Mercer Island. Phase two and three are what Ben has been posting about.

      3. The reason subarea equity is fair, the reason that it’s okay for Seattlites to go to the East Side on East Subarea projects or for Eastsiders to around Seattle on North King projects is because these people are going there for commerce, and they are generating sales tax revenue there.

        I think that’s what you’re missing in this entire thing, every trip is about some sort of commerce, and with each of those comes some sales tax revenue. Even the guy who brings his lunch every day and doesn’t spend a penny is generating sales tax revenues (his employer bought him a desk, some paper and a pen).

      4. I agree that SAE is fair. I have no problem with it. You know that I’ve argued passionately for it in the past. The question at hand is which pile R8A would properly go in, again, leaving aside the train.

      5. Actually, no. Stage 2 is the exact same stretch as Stage 1, just in the opposite direction.

        project map

        I shouldn’t link to that map, though, because I ride this stretch every day and I know the map is wrong. Before they fixed this last year you could ride all the way to the first exit on MI before getting into GP lanes.

        I’ll contemplate the rest of your comment for a while, but I honestly don’t see how R8A (again, excluding the train) is any different from, say, South Sounder.

      6. I see two substantial differences:

        1) Sounder is used for anyone going north from Pierce County or South King County, not just those going to Seattle. Eventually there will be lakewood, and South Tacoma to downtown Tacoma commuters on Sounder. There are Puyallup-Kent Sounder commuters today. A little over a quarter of north-bound Sounder riders get off somewhere other than King Street, and that’s without a South Tacoma or Lakewood station, and doesn’t count the Tacoma-bound “reverse-commute” run.

        Even if you made the assumption that everyone got off at King Street station, something we know is wrong, Sounder South would still have riders who get off at King Street station and have final destinations that are outside of Seattle. Brian used to make a Kent-Seattle-Bellevue that commute on Sounder.

        R8A on the other hand is only used to go to the Eastside. No one will drive across I-90 to go to Tukwila or Everett. It’s purely an Eastside benefit.

        2) I-90 is not a commute-only device, improved traffic at six in the evening Westbound has benefits to Mariners/Seahawks/Sounders game going Eastsiders. This isn’t a small number of people, and there isn’t a similar analog for Sounder South.

        These of course, are playing the framework you’ve setup. No one would be contemplating R8A if it wasn’t for Eastlink, so that’s a false starting point.

        The best comparison is not to north-bound sounder, but the south-bound Sounder run, which, of course, is paid for by South King County and Pierce County. Funny how that works.

  7. When we had surface light rail operated by Metro it was not free!

    99 Waterfront Streetcar (Benson Line) never was free even when the RFA ran all the way north to Broad Street (or was it Clay?).

  8. It doesn’t make sense to have ‘free rides’ in the downtown tunnel. It was easy with the bus; you knew the ride was free if the bus was in any sort of a tunnel. But Beacon Hill and the entire University Link are tunnel stations, which makes it more confusing. People would be thinking Capital Hill Station was in the “downtown Seattle tunnel” (because technically, it is a downtown Seattle tunnel, is it not?)

    1. No, it’s not. Cap Hill != downtown, and even when there was no I-5 they were still separate, distinct neighborhoods. Ergo, the Broadway/John station is not in “the downtown Seattle tunnel”.

  9. Ok fine – if R8A becomes a north King subarea project, than I demand that University Link be split three ways to account for the large number of south King and east King residents that would use the line to reach the regional destination that is the UW. Subarea equity is counter-productive enough as it is – lets not descend into paralysis by allocating every inch of concrete and every rivet.

    1. Not sure about you but if I’m on the eastside Link is not going to be the way I get to UW. I would hop on the 271 and it would take 17 mins from dt bellevue, or I could hop on Link and take what 30 to 40 mins?

      Once 520 is replaced the travel times should be much more reliable for buses to UW.

  10. Greg Walker, the ST board, and this blog have presented a false choice. I’ve pointed this out in the previous article, and will repost my comments below. It’s maddening that you’d continue offering this false choice (even just as a debate point) without addressing the huge gap in logic. The RFA clearly does not require a quarter increase.

    “The downside is that everyone else has to pay a quarter just so 2.6k people can get a free ride”

    I just don’t believe that. It has to be spin meant to create a false choice that led to this decision. Let’s run the numbers:

    If 2,600/day is less than 10% of ridership, then the rest of the ridership is at least 23,400 people. Take a quarter and multiply it by two trips a day per person, and that’s $42,700,000 a year. What Greg Walker and yourself are claiming is that letting 10% of the riders ride a short trip in the tunnel costs an extra $42.7M a year in janitorial costs? Even at $50,000 a year, that’s a full-time staff of 85 janitors for this 10% alone. That means the entire janitorial staff is 850 people! I had no idea Seattlites were so messy.

    1. Matt,

      If there’s an RFA you wouldn’t charge people for distance in the tunnel, which in some cases will cost ST a quarter. Otherwise, coming in from the south you’d want to get off at the ID station, tap off, and then board again. What sense does that make?

      Then, you have people who would ride it in the tunnel regardless because they have a pass. With the pass revenue distribution formulas, that may very well cost you some $ as well.

      Then, you have ST’s commitment to round off (up) to nearest quarter. You don’t have to lose a whole quarter’s worth of revenue for a one quarter fare increase – only a few cents would knock it up to the next quantum.

      So your numbers are built on a ton of assumptions that are completely irrelevant to the problem.

      1. Your points 1 and 2 are valid and worth debate. But are beside the point.

        Your third point has a far larger assumption than mine, and a whole lot of trust in the person that came up with the quarter bump. Or do you have a reference that tells us they were just under the $1.75 limit before adding the RFA?

        My math is meant simply to point out how ridiculous the choice of a quarter increase vs. RFA is. ST might as well say that we can either have the RFA or free ice cream and pony rides. And this blog would simply follow along, telling us how important free ice cream and pony rides are, without showing any relevance to the RFA.

      2. Matt,

        They set themselves a 52% farebox recovery goal for whatever reason. With the $1.75/No RFZ system they came up with some number. You and I have no idea if it was 55%, 53%, or 52.0001%.

        Then you put in an RFZ, which we agree has a bunch of costs I have no idea how to quantify. It doesn’t strike me as absurd that doing it with a $1.75 base fare might bring it below 52%. Taking 5c/mile as a given, you have no choice but to up the base fare, and no smaller increment to do so than a quarter.

        As to this blog’s position on ice cream, pony rides, and the RFZ, we don’t actually have one. If you want to put me on the spot, I personally that all modes in the tunnel should have the same policy, which for now means keeping the RFZ. But it isn’t crazy to think otherwise (the point of my post), and it isn’t necessarily a “false choice” between higher fares and an RFZ (the point of my comment to you).

      3. The fact is that they could have had the RFZ with a 51.9% (or whatever) farebox recovery and no fare increase, or charged an extra nickel for the airport, or charged a quarter for the RFZ, or… a dozen other options. Choosing to claim that keeping the RFZ will cost every rider an extra quarter each way – even though it clearly doesn’t – smells like politics to me.

        Your turning this choice – which is a logical false choice – into a RFZ vs. increasing taxes for the poor is playing into this politics.

      4. Well sure, if you’re going to expand the universe of options beyond the two that were on the table, then of course you can construct an option that has the RFZ while not costing an extra quarter per rider. Heck, you could just assess a $2.25 flat fare and actually save people in the South County some money. You could figure out the cost of keeping the RFZ and add 8 cents (or whatever) to the base fare, but that would be intensely annoying for riders.

        The narrow argument we were having was which of those two proposed options is best. We could get into an endless argument about the proper way to devise a fare structure, but we already did that when the two proposals came out. We’ll never get anywhere, though, because we have nothing like a consensus on what we’re trying to optimize. Your body of work suggests you’re focused on making sure things pencil out for extremely short-hop trips. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s waaay down my list of priorities.

        I reject your implication that the choice clearly in the public good is to maintain the RFZ and that therefore the other plan is “playing politics” in service of some shadowy, anti-social goal. There are complicated tradeoffs here and what ST decides to do depends on how they weigh those equally valid objectives. One man’s “playing politics” is, in other eyes, respect for another man’s legitimate interests.

      5. //I reject your implication that the choice clearly in the public good is to maintain the RFZ and that therefore the other plan is “playing politics” in service of some shadowy, anti-social goal.//

        That is not at all my point. I’m very willing to debate legitimate policy questions. But the options before us are a false choice – this is a logical fallacy, and one cannot build a intelligent debate based on a logical fallacy. The question put before the board was clearly slanted by at least an order of magnitude. This is like asking if the board would choose to kill one puppy or ten, without giving the option of killing no puppies. Of course the board chose to only kill one puppy, and of course you agree. I’m just saying that this narrow form of debate isn’t terribly interesting or useful, and the result is a needlessly dead puppy. (though maybe I should go back to my more pleasant ice cream and pony analogies)

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