Broadway & Montgomery
Ad in a SF Muni bus stop, photo by dantc

King County Councilman Larry Phillips wants to tap into the “entrepreneurial energy” of King County to find creative ways to help with Metro’s massive funding gap. We’ve cover the funding gap a lot, for backround, here’s a story on the gap, here’s a story on one way to cover a portion of it, here’s a story about how scary it is for bus riders, here’s a story about Olympia’s help with closing part of it, and here’s a story about the Govenor’s veto of part of that help. Here’s Phillips:

“We must harness King County’s entrepreneurial spirit to find ways Metro can reduce costs and generate some cash to keep buses on the streets despite the decline in tax revenue,” said Phillips. “Metro has already tapped into some entrepreneurial efforts such as advertising in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and service partnerships with cities and businesses, but it’s time to dig deeper and expand those opportunities. For example, can we help pay for implementing RapidRide by allowing companies to buy sponsorships at new RapidRide stations?”

I like the RapidRide station sponsorship idea. We’ve been advocating more advertising in Metro stops for long, long time as a way to bring in revenue. Ads in covered Metro bus stops are practically a no-brainer. How about ads on transfers? I also think you could make a lot of money by opening kiosks for newsvendor/coffee cart folks inside the downtown Transit Tunnel.

Got any great ideas for Metro to make money? Leave them in the comments.

98 Replies to “Creative Ideas for Metro Funding”

  1. How about coupons on transfers for, say, coffee discounts? Like the ones Starbucks gives out sometimes for cheap beverages in the afternoon? At least then old transfers would be good for something.

    For a few months, that is, until the One Card to Rule them All.

    1. That’s a great idea. That would totally work, wouldn’t it? Free shot/30¢ off a double-frapucino, etc. At very least, Starbucks, etc. would be willing to pay the cost of printing the transfers, wouldn’t they?

    2. But would it work? Considering the back has all the rules taking up the space

      If I was a business owner, I’d gladly jump on board for say a free small drink or something off the cost of a larger drink

  2. Don’t know if the money can go to Metro but how about: Customizable ORCA cards! Just like those Starbucks cards that you can design online and pay extra for.

    If not kiosks, at least can we have vending machines?

    What happened to the tourist passes? Metro should bring them back.

    Have restrooms but charge to use them.

    Metro charter bus service?

    1. They sorta do the charter bus service as the Field Trip Program. I remember that happening in elementary school–I vaguely remember someone explaining the new buses that they were ordering and that they had an all new paint scheme. What’s strange is that there are nor have been (to my knowledge) any bus routes that come within a mile of my elementary school.

    2. The Federal government has recently enacted strict regulations for any transit agency that receives Federal funding for charter bus use. The regulations are so strict now it virtually eliminates charter bus operations for transit agencies.

      1. Hopefully those new regulations will go away soon. The push for the regulations was private charter companies not wanting transit agencies to “compete” with them. Hence no special buses for Mariners, Seahawks, or Huskies games.

      2. They should be tossed out along with the HOT concept, but it depends on how many of the Heritage Foundation idealogues Secretary LaHood can toss out of USDOT, and of course as Mr. LaHood is an “R”, how much of the Kool-Aid he has drunk.

    3. I’ve thought about custom ORCA cards. How about the Link pictograms as some of the options? I’d shell out some extra money for a Mt. Baker Orca.

      1. NYCMTA puts ads on the back of their MetroCards. There is plenty of room on the front and the back of the ORCA card to place advertising.

      2. The MetroCard doesn’t last anywhere near as long as an ORCA. It’s more akin to the PugetPass in that you’d get a new one every month or so

      3. What I found interesting about MetroCards is that if it was encoded for unlimited rides, you could not re-encode it for pay-per-ride.

        So whenever you bought an unlimited-ride MetroCard, the card became garbage after its valid period expired.

        And I can say that with the frequency in which I used my MetroCard, that is probably a good thing.

        My typical commute:
        Walk from Franklin/Pacific to Franklin/Fulton Brooklyn
        C Train at Franklin/Fulton Brooklyn to Hoyt/Schermerhorn Brooklyn
        F Train at Hoyt/Schermerhorn to 179th Street, Jamaica in Queens
        N22/24 at 181st/Hillside to Roosevelt Field Mall
        N16/35/45/51 at Roosevelt Field Mall to Nassau Community College
        Shoe forklempture on campus
        N16/35 at Nassau CC to Hempstead Terminal (TC)
        N31/32 at Hempstead Terminal to Mott Ave Far Rockaway in Queens
        A Train at Far Rockaway to Franklin Street
        B48/49 at Franklin/Fulton to Franklin/Pacific

        You may wonder why I go in a big circle. Lets just say I don’t like doing the function at the junction (in my case, changing between local and express), also the N31/32 ran kinda flaky in the mornings.

        Sometimes I treated myself to the LIRR at Nostrand. It shaved 2 hours off my commute.

      4. Oh I so wanna smack myself.

        I meant to say Jay Street/Boro Hall.

        Brian Bradford
        Olympia, WA

  3. I think that metro is to reliant on articulated buses which can be a huge waste of money especially in the evening, nights and weekends or other low ridership times. It would be cool if metro could work Tesla Motors to come with 100% battery powered buses or at least work with them to convert some of metro buses to all electric which could potentially save huge amount of money and power has been very stable in price so they would run into budget issues in the middle of the year.

    1. How about more trolley buses? I also doubt that articulated buses are massively more expensive to operate and the benefit during the busy times more than make up for the slower times.

    2. There’s another side to that. The coach is already out on the road, and rather than pay someone to drive it back to base and then drive back out in a shorter coach, they just keep it out on the road.

    3. A lot of those routes with articulated buses can fill up even in the evenings, nights, and weekends. Just look at the 71/72/73, 41, 255, 174, or 194. Furthermore I doubt the difference in operating cost per service hour between a 40 ft. coach and a 60 ft. articulated is terribly significant compared to labor costs.

      Battery powered buses or adding new electric trolley bus routes would be a significant capital expense. The fuel cost savings would eventually pay that back, but it would take a while. If we’re going to spend the money I’d rather see it go toward converting high-ridership corridors to streetcar routes.

  4. Gah, more advertising. Aside from the massive amounts of visual pollution they cause, getting politicians into the idea that they can simply walk away from transit funding crisises because advertising dollars will solve it is a really, really bad idea.

    1. Nobody here is suggesting that “idea.”
      I agree in general with your sentiment that ads suck, and when it comes to schools, for example, I’m vehemently anti-advertising. I guess I just feel that given our economy and sentiments about tax rates, we have to be open to ads some places, sometimes. In a school, no way, but on a bus, I’m cool with that.

  5. Here in Seoul, many bus routes play audio commercials for local businesses, often specific to that route. They’re not played constantly, but rather with breaks so it doesn’t get too annoying. Also, seatback advertising is quite common here, especially on the longer-distance coaches, which have headrests…not so much on the local routes.

  6. Andrew, this is one area where are in full agreement. (I don’t if I should be worried or if you should be worried. Ha Ha just a little joke.) I believe that invoking a little capitialism and free market into Metro is a great way to raise revnue.

  7. What about analysing Metro’s current budget. In manufacturing we work to get a 5% to 10% reduction in operating expenses every year. We focus on standardising and then improving the efficiency of our processes.

    Although fuel and commodity prices increase yearly Metro should become more efficient at operating to combat those rising cost.

    Also what about everyone at metro taking a 5% pay cut. That is what most other companies in the country are doing right now to adjust to lower revenue why shouldn’t government programs do the same?

    1. If you ask everybody at Metro to take a 5% pay cut there will be significant resistance, especially from people who have been around for a while. While the area’s economy has boomed, wages have not kept pace with inflation. Most drivers can’t afford to live in the areas that they service. There’s only one on Mercer Island that I know of. I’m a rarity by living in Bellevue.

      King County recently negotiated some cutbacks in our medical coverage. It’s still a good package, but it’s a cutback and another 5% would be seen as yet another take-back. Drivers complain constantly about perceived waste. Some complaints are uninformed, some waste is imposed by political decisions that Metro has no control over, and some complaints are legitimate. Either way, drivers figure there is plenty of waste that could be cut before you start dipping into their pockets.

      Here’s one item: There is an enormous amount of waste due to the turnover involved in training new part-time drivers. Of my class of 8, only 3 of us passed the CDL exam. That’s after a 3 week training course, paid for by Metro, including 2 weekends of coach practice. Once a part timer clears that hurdle, many realize they simply can’t get enough work to survive and thus, start looking elsewhere. 2.5-3.5 hours a day at $19 per hour does not go very far. Some of this could be resolved by giving more open work to part-timers. Modifying Article 15, Section 8, Paragraph F.8. of ATU 587’s contract with Metro would be the key. However, full-time drivers fear their work being broken up and given to part-time drivers without benefits. (It’s complicated, but it takes roughly a year or two get benefits – and that’s only if you’re available to work split shifts).

      Suffice it to say, there are plenty of ways to save money without doing a 5% cut across the board.

      1. That’s truly amazing. Especially in this economy how many companies could consider an employment application for a driver from someone who doesn’t already have their CDL? I wonder how many people take the training class just to get their CDL with no intention of ever driving a bus?

      2. We are trained for a Class B CDL. The real CDL money is in Class A, especially with a Haz-Mat endorsement. In short, Metro is the wrong route to go if you want to “get your CDL”. (I can drive a garbage truck, but probably not a cement truck for example). It’s only been the last six months or year that Metro has been able to hire at will. Before that they were chronically short of drivers, resulting in even more OT.

      3. I guess the big expense would be getting endorsed for semi’s. I’m sort of surprised that articulated drivers don’t require that endorsement since it really is a trailer. The Class B would certainly be a ticket to say school bus driving which (at least on the eastside) is the same union and pay scale with the advantage of knowing you’re route won’t get changed to some far flung reach of the county. A garbage truck is good pay but a whole different type of job than just driving. Lots of commercial jobs that aren’t union (some probably are) but are a much quicker route to full time pay. Especially since the Metro seems tied to part time. I guess there’s not that many non-driving jobs that they can adopt the UPS model where drivers typically have several years with the company before being hired as drivers. 50% or less retention after paid training sure seems low. I wonder how many people do it just for the pay while they are really just job hunting for something else. I guess it would cause problems with driver seniority but I’d think that being able to at least guarantee what base you’d work out of would help.

      4. In the case of my class, only 3 out of 8 *passed* the CDL. None left voluntarily. It’s not that the training is of poor quality – far from it. Metro’s training program is probably one of the best around. It has more to do with pressure from the Federal government to make the CDL exam more difficult. For example, you automatically fail if you touch a curb. So even if you otherwise drove perfectly, if you just *touch* the curb, you failed.

        Semi drivers have to back up their vehicles regularly as part of their job while we rarely back up a coach, except in the yard. We need to be more sensitive to issues involving passengers and need the passenger endorsement. They are different jobs with different skill-sets. There are common elements and having a CDL B can’t hurt if you’re going for a CDL A. However, if somebody wants to be a truck driver, they’re not going to go work for Metro.

        For every person who you say comes to work for Metro while “just job hunting for something else” there are several who do that but then end up staying for many years. I and plenty of other drivers could make more money elsewhere, but driving for Metro offers variety, a choice of all kinds of different work schedules, and opportunities for advancement (Supervision, planning, light rail, etc…).

        My point is that there are some opportunities to save money on overtime now while giving newer drivers an opportunity to make enough money to get them by until they can go full-time. There are issues in negotiating that point that I don’t understand, but I can at least point out the opportunity.

      5. Don’t the folks that fail the first go around get to try again. I mean a lot of folks don’t pass their drivers test the first time. Sometimes it’s just nerves from taking a “test”.

        While it sounds hard to get hired on as a full timer that’s not all bad. At least you know that the folks that stick with it are likely going to stay and really want to do the job.

        OT may not be that big an expense. The actual salary is typically only about half the cost for an employee. Hiring more people, even part time w/o benefits can be expensive (training, screw-ups, etc.).

      6. I can’t remember if it was listed in his job requirement or not, but I helped my dad study for his CDL test. It’s not as easy as you’d think to get it before you’re hired–you have to practice on a commercial vehicle. Since work wanted him to get the CDL, they paid for him to get his permit, paid him to practice, and paid him to take the test. He also makes sure they pay for the renewal fee, since they want it, not him.

    2. Actually, all non-essential Metro staff (everyone but drivers, operating base and vehicle maintenance staff) are already taking ten nonpaid “furlough” days this year. That represents just a little under 5% of our salaries.

  8. Metro won’t get any money, but they could get fancy bus stops and other “street furniture” for free if they let JC Decaux do it. I know Metro wanted a more local, humanizing bus stop with those murals…but I think the fancier advertising ones are so much better.

    1. If we do that then we loose a part of Seattle that makes this city so great. I’m not for this idea.

    1. I’d love to see noodle carts in the tunnel stations and at major transit centers.

    2. As for Starbucks, there’s one easily accessible from Westlake station in the mall’s Metro level.

      Wonder if we can get Skillet or some taco place to hang out near a transit center or tunnel station. Skillet’s opening a window not far from King St/IDS.

      We have to remember that eating is not permitted on transit.

  9. It’s hard to believe we allow full bus wraps but don’t do more marketing at bus stops.

    They could also make more money by having more fare enforcement. Some routes more then half the people don’t pay.

  10. Metro originally intended that the Westlake Station would have retail kiosks. Or so a company I worked for was told. We prepared proposals for a news/sundries stand and a coffee bar (we were told Metro would also be looking for a shoeshine operation, along with a couple of other transportation hub standards). I don’t believe Metro ever issued a formal RFP, but I remember the company’s owner periodically checking with his contact to see what was holding up the process. Eventually, we were told there wasn’t going to be any retail in the bus tunnel. We were never given a straight answer as to why, but Metro hinted it didn’t want any ugly kiosks messing up the beautiful architecture of Westlake Station. (Now, of course, Metro, like WSF, has embraced hideous and inappropriate billboard-style advertising wherever it has a blank wall. Times certainly change. I agree with the crowd that wants classy commercial ads in the bus shelters.) However, we suspected Westlake Center and the large retailers in the neighborhood put pressure on Metro. We figured the big boys just didn’t want the “competition.” Ultimately, we were fine that nothing came of it, as we had concluded Metro was clueless about retail and would be a difficult landlord.

    That said, the problem with charging kiosks high rents is that most of these categories don’t make a lot of profit to begin with. Few business owners will invest the time and energy into an enterprise that won’t turn a profit, and magazines, for example, are low-profit and extremely labor-intensive. I believe the average profit for magazines is around 20%, newspapers 5-10%, and sundries around 33%. Out of that pittance comes rent, payroll (counter employees as well as those behind the scene), taxes and benefits connected to payroll, maintenance, utilities, insurance, licenses, property taxes, and business and income taxes. Plus, generally these days the landlord insists on a cut of the profits. If magazines have to be priced above their suggested retail prices to pay for rent gouging, angry customers don’t buy them. And price points for other goods and services have maximums in most markets. WSF gouges its concessionaires, and look at the outrageous prices that result: $7 for an unappealing sandwich that weighs an entire several ounces (at least on the runs from the Colman Dock), and sports stadium prices (or worse) for very small draft beers!

  11. How about a once a year lottery? Top prizes can be cash, but there can be bus passes (ride free for a year!), ORCA cards loaded with value, and other transit related prizes, too.

    Or what about Metro merchandise? T-shirts, caps, and so on.

  12. Voluntarily pay more into the farebox. Especially you commuters. You people who are part of the problem. Live in Seattle and work in Redmond and pay with a pass? Put $5 into the farebox anyway. If enough of you do it, it might start to pay for the damage you’re doing. Me? I’m part of the solution. I moved to within walking distance of work.

    PS, if you’re imagining I’m writing this with a smug, holier-than-thou attitude, I am.

      1. hahahahahaha (then again, Microsoft Stock isn’t what it once was)

        (I’m a ‘Softie)

    1. We’ve been paying extra, thanks to the ORCA card. Even with our all-you-can-ride FlexPasses and U-PASSes.

      It’s fun hearing the beep.

      Or are you suggesting discontinuing passes?

  13. If you sold food and drink in the bus tunnel, people might bring it onto the buses, and it is illegal to eat and drink on buses.

    And I WISH that rule were enforced more rigorously.

    1. Eating is verboten… Drinking with a covered cup is Ok. (But from a driver to his potential passengers, can you remember to take it with you – especially if it’s half full? I’m a bus driver, not a garbage man :)

      1. That’s a sure-fire way to get sick on the bus, kids eating McD’s french fries. so nasty.

      1. There are trash bins on the platforms. Still, I bet some people chuck trash out the window while the bus is in the tubes (not me).

      2. The windows shouldn’t even be open. All the hybrids have A/C. Also the open windows introduce too much noise pollution. I had to close one last night to hear someone two seats away.

      3. You cannot open the windows on the new DE60LFs. That helps with the A/C but sucks when fresh air is desired most of the year. Then the fans have to be turned on and that ruins the hybrid experience. The only other option is to open the ceiling hatches but I can’t reach them.

      4. I agree with Oran. When I drive a coach with operable windows, I figure out whether to go the fresh air route or the A/C route based on outside temperature and sun exposure. If it’s not too hot, I NEVER get a complaint when the going the fresh air route (Open roof hatches, and an appropriate number of open windows that customers can adjust themselves). However, when it’s too hot I have to go with the A/C. I’ll sometimes get complaints about hot or cold spots or that the fans are too noisy. There’s nothing I can do except suggest a different seat in the bus.

        People can screw up the A/C when they open windows, but I usually can see that they are open and explain that the A/C works best with the windows closed. It can take a while to cool down after a layover in the sun, but people seem patient if you explain it.

        Oh, and there are plenty of times where the A/C doesn’t work. But Metro seems to be buying buses with non-operable windows so I guess we’ll have to get used to it…

      5. For some odd reason, the HVAC system does not operate when the bus is in hush mode.

        It gets mighty muggy in the 6800’s by International District Station.

    2. I believe that Metro, very early on, specifically decided against food service (other than the possibility of coffee bars) in any of the stations. So, I don’t think we’re ever going to see a food court in any of the tunnel stations, or even kiosks where food would be cooked. As far as I know, there’s no infrastructure installed, such as power, water, sewer, storage, and most important, ventilation systems for the kitchens. It would cost a literal fortune to retrofit any of the stations with the exhaust systems alone, assuming it was even possible, and I’m pretty sure nobody could afford to do it at this point. Health department regulations also dictate, for example, that food carts such as coffee bars be within a certain number of feet of a three compartment sink. Then, there’s kitchen waste to be disposed of. The logistics and planning for food service is enormously complicated, and with something like the bus tunnel, these features really would have had to have been incorporated from the beginning. And as D T Nelson pointed out, there’s that pesky little rule about no food or beverages on the buses. That may have something to do with the lack of food concessionaires.

    3. It is quite legal to eat and drink on the bus. Although if you make a big mess, you can be fined for creating “unsanitary conditions”.

      It is simply a policy to state that food is not permitted. There is no fine for eating on the bus here.

      Of course, Washington DC is a different story. Eat and be tazed!

      Brian Bradford
      Olympia, WA

  14. Advertising in park & rides!

    For example, look at the Eastgate Park & Ride. There could be large ads covering the sides of garage. There could even be design regulations to make the ads and the garage more attractive (if possible). Plus, drivers on I-90 would see those ads = $$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!!

  15. At busier stations, how about vending machines?

    New York-style automats in tunnel stops?

    Come to think of it, how about catering to the fears of would-be multi-modal commuters — major stations could have vending machines with bicycle tubes, patch kits, emergency tool kits, etc. Cheap rain ponchos at twice normal retail — not really competition for planned purchases at stores, but emergency rain gear for tourists or commuters who didn’t expect a thunderstorm in August.

    Tourist emergency supplies — batteries, film, memory cards, prepaid cell phones, laminated tourist maps.

    Bored commuter supplies — a vending machine of the top 20 best selling paperback novels.

    I’m sure there would be vendors willing to pay for any franchises that became available.

    1. Best Buy already has a vending machine that they have located at some airports in the USA:

      I’ve seen what I call a “Kwik-E-Mart” vending machine in France and Switzerland. There’s one at DFW airport:

      Surely ST and Metro could use these to sell Armadillo Droppings too?

      Here is one in action in Japan:

      More ideas in this blog:

      (Maybe Rick Steeves would invest in the Marijuana Vending Machine?)

    2. I love the vending machine idea. It’s an easy way to make money, likely little effort (companies do the work) and would make the commuters happy. Win-win-win.

      1. For the overfull P&R lots the charge should be much higher than that. Ideally just enough for the lot to hit 98% full before the end of Morning peak. But if prices can’t vary per lot I’d set the all-day parking fee at $4 at least. Parking in downtown Seattle is at least $20/day.

  16. As I mentioned earlier, they need to have a higher two-zone off peak fare—$2.00 anyone?

  17. How about a store like the New York Transit Museum Store selling transit goodies and souvenirs. Calendars, books, pens, stationery, buttons, wallets, jigsaw puzzles, maps, cloth bags, umbrellas, etc. They could even get a deal to sell those “I Rode the SLUT” T-shirts, ha ha.

    It appeals to tourists and also us transit geeks!

    1. Swag always sells … and is a relatively good easy-money-maker …

      I guess they could make T-Shirts et al with different Route Numbers on it like they do in NYC with the Subway lines …

      1. This blog had a post on the ST Route 545 t-shirt.

        ST’s Rider Profiles video for Sumit Basu (a researcher at Microsoft) shows him wearing one while being interviewed why he rides the 545.

      2. Oran, how’s your bus header font coming? That would make it easy to design other versions of this.

      3. Seattle Metro LED Front is mostly done. Seattle Metro Flip Front is partially complete.

        For the route t-shirts, I have to do a separate font for the back displays.

    1. I’ve been whipping up fear about Link on Seattle Times’ Who will ride Link article; this video makes my job easier.

      Local media is playing down this story, but can you imagine the coverage it would get if it were a young white man hitting an old black woman the face.

      1. Um, this was widely covered at the time but it happened a while ago. The suspect was already sentenced.

      2. “whipping up fear”… that’s a waste of time. People will ride or not ride LINK depending on what happens on LINK. Being new, lots of riders, couple of violent muggings and the ridership will drop.

        Add back in some transit cops, and we’ll be fine. In fact to fix the local unemployment we should hire min wage people to ride LINK and wear “SECURITY” vests, have a radio/cell phone and hand out free tourists maps, answer questions etc. We don’t have to arm them, just their presence will keep things calm.

      3. (or better yet, give them some “Conductor Uniforms”, a funny hat and bob’s your uncle an “official” tourist helper & fare collector reminder & city font of information.

    2. My understanding is that the release of the video is new. Yes I know that this happened a year ago.

      Several things stand out, either the attacker is off his rocker, the blind person is a jerk and said something that ticked the guy off, they knew each other from some previous thing that happened to them.

      That the passengers as soon as they saw what was happening rose up in mass in the front of the bus and restrained the guy without hurting him or them. That’s the benefit of 911. Everyone says, I’m not going to sit by and watch anymore.

      1. Read the article: The attacker charged with assault but because of diminished mental capacity was committed to Western State Hospital where he remains to this day. Sadly, this kind of thing will happen from time to time. It could have just as easily happened in a Library, park, or other public space. It just happened on a bus this time.

        Presumably the driver summoned the police as soon as he noticed what was going on. But it takes time for them to arrive. Kudos to the passengers for stepping in and preventing further harm to the woman.

  18. I was recently at the Pike & 4th Ave stop today and noted that the shelter was being removed and replaced with an awning and leaning rails which I assume is being built into the adjacent building. This may be a long-term strategy to reduce both shelter and shelter maintenance costs by coordinating awnings with building redevelopment. They did a similar thing with the new development at Olive & 9th (although I don’t know if they ever had a shelter there).

  19. I’d like to see more commercial activity in or very near to Park & Rides. You’ve already driven your car, taken a bus, or ridden your bike to the Park & Ride, why can’t you do other commercial activities there? Maybe dry-cleaners, convenience stores, car detailing, oil changes, etc… This is probably along the lines of Transit Oriented Development.

    Another idea: Many Park & Rides are virtually empty on weekends. A system could be setup to rent space for all kinds of activities. Farmers’ markets, arts & crafts fairs, swap meets, hiking shuttles (Metro or Private run), bike rentals for park & rides near trails (Issaquah or Issaquah highlands?). A system of approving activities that do not conflict with local businesses would be important.

    1. Isn’t there something like that already in place? I’ve seen the Kent/James St P-R used for the carnival rides for Kent Cornucopia Days, and the parking is approved parking for the ShoWare Center across the street/UP tracks.

  20. WMATA in DC has a contract with Verizon Wireless to enable Verizon customers to get cell service in the tunnels. Recently, WMATA signed a new deal with the big 4 carriers to build a new network usable by all subscribers (worth at least $79 million to WMATA over 25 years).

    Obviously our tunnel is rather small, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a similar deal for cell service in the tunnel, especially with the extra passengers who will be riding Link. $3M/year is a lot, but we should be able to get $100-200k, I would guess, based on the ridership estimates.

    1. I wrote about that earlier:

      King County has one very large radio system in which there are 14,000 users share. In the early 90s and before, various agencies each had their own frequencies. After a while there were no more frequencies to give out, so it was determined that something must be done. The solution was to implement a trunked radio system. This operates on the theory that not all users will be talking at the same time. All of these agencies now share a pool of frequencies, and they are assigned on the fly as needed. Since no particular group is assigned any frequency, users are assigned what’s called a talkgroup. This is nothing more than a unique number that the radios look for. An example is Seattle Fire’s dispatch “channel” which is talkgroup 1744. When a user presses down the push to talk button (known as keying the mic) their radio sends a signal to the controller, which has a list of which frequencies are in use. It finds an unused one, and sends the channel number to the user’s radio. It also tells all the radios listening to that talkgroup to switch to that frequency. Now I’ll try to bring this back to transit.
      Inside the DSTT there are two intellirepeaters. They carry (radio) traffic for the security guards, transit PD, and anyone else that normally uses this trunked radio system. If Seattle PD or Seattle were to respond to an incident inside the tunnel, their radios would work just like normal, even though the tunnel cuts off all signals from the ‘outside world’–because their radio system is being repeated inside the tunnel. This is good. The signal is heard throughout the tunnel because there are special cables installed, sometimes known as “leaky coax”. These cables are have intentionally poor shielding so that the radio signals will radiate off of them. This isn’t the most efficient way of providing radio communications, but it works great in tunnels.

      This massive trunked system operates in the 800 MHz band. Older flavors of cell phones also operate in the 800 range, albeit they use different blocks. Other flavors for cell phones can operate in 900 MHz or 1900 MHz or others–I don’t really know, I don’t care about monitoring cell phones.

      So–the answer comes down to one word: interference. Cell phones can wreak havoc to public safety radios. If you don’t believe me, do a search on Nextell inserting an “h” between the t and e.
      The radio system in the tunnel is there to protect life and property. Do we really want to risk our lives just so we can listen to five iterations of “like, oh my god!”. No. Public safety comes first. If someone suddenly has a heart attack on the platform, I’d rather they be able to call dispatch and get a Medic unit started than to be able to send text messages while I’m waiting in the tunnel.

      Stupid analogies aside–adding cell reception might cause interference to the mission critical radio systems, and it might not. There’s no way to tell without spending a few thousand to a few million, and frankly, it’s a very low priority for the city and county radio shops and cell providers.

      Oh and did I mention LINK has 8 or so channels of their own? You can even listen to them outside of the tunnel, provided you’ve got some sort of receiver (like a scanner) that’ll do Motorola trunking.


      What I also wanted to mention is that the leaky coax is specially tuned to the frequencies that are going to be used, in this case the non-SMR portions of the 800 MHz band. You couldn’t shove cell signals on there without a huge RF mess, which would make the Seattle radio techs very, very upset.

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