A lot of people seem to want GM to start building light rail cars.  Personally, I’d prefer transit agencies to buy cars that are efficient, reasonably priced, and pleasant to ride in.  When it comes to building cars, which they’ve done for a hundred years, GM’s record is a bit spotty on these characteristics, so I’m not terribly optimistic about a foray into rail.   For destroying streetcar lines and defeating rail initiatives, though, they’re your company.

As the title says, it’s an open thread.

136 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread”

  1. Shouldn’t the impending doom of their company force them to change at least some of their ways? (Here’s hoping.)

    And it really bothers me that no media outlet is willing to out the very large white elephant in GM’s court hearings: they’re going down because their products aren’t good enough to compete with those produced by other companies outside of America. Sure, they have a cash flow problem — because no one has bought their cars.

    Maybe it is time for GM to suck it up and admit their business model and product lines are (and have been) unsustainable and second-rate. Maybe it’s a chance for another foreign producer of streetcars to jump in and build a plant right here in the good ol’ US of A. (w00t OR Streetcar.)

    Does anyone else think that a little European influence is going to see a newer (and, perhaps against all odds), better version of GM, one that investors and consumers may seriously consider giving their hard-earned money to?

    1. I think you’re absolutely wrong on this point. The media have OVERemphasized this “white elephant” point. They have reported nonsense about GM producing uncompetitive products that are not as fuel efficient as its competitors.

      Let’s look at the Chevy Cobalt. The EPA gives it a combined 30 mpg. The Honda Civic gets 29; the Toyota Corolla averages 25. VW Jetta: 24

      How about 4-cylinder midsize cars?

      Chevy Malibu: 26
      Honda Accord: 25
      Toyota Camry: 25
      VW Passat: 23

      Full size 2WD pickups w/ V8?

      Chevy Silverado: 17
      Toyota Tundra: 16

      Full size SUVS w/ V8?

      Chevy Tahoe: 17
      Toyota Sequoia: 15

      Now you can find some models where Hondas or Toyotas are a bit more fuel efficient, but there’s no clear advantage to the “other companies outside of America,” and for many of the most high volume comparisons GM bests the foreigners, as demonstrated here.

      As for the cars not being “good enough” to compete with foreign automakers, have you read the reviews of newer GM cars like the Cadillac CTS, the Chevy Malibu, Chevy Traverse, Corvette, or Buick Enclave? Have you driven recent models such as these?

      The white elephant over GM is consumer perception that is stuck in the past, as demonstrated by comments such as downintacoma. There are many consumers who don’t even bother to consider GM cars because of bad experiences from cars purchased in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.

      Bankruptcy can help GM with some of the higher labor and pension costs than rivals, but the perception of the past will be the hardest to shake. But it can be done. Hyundai has made remarkable progress from punchline to real competitor in the past 20 years.

      1. That perception remains because what do you mainly see broken down on the freeways and highways? Ford and GM products.

        I have rarely ever seen any Toyota, Honda, heck, even Kia’s on the side of the road. There are SOME decent American built cars but after you do the research on recalls, etc, why would one bother? As much as I would love to get the Chevy HHR, I would rather spend my money on a Scion xD (a Toyota product) simply because I know it will have a much better reliability over the American product.

        I can get the same size, space, and room with more standard features in the xD as well over the HHR. If American automakers want to catch up to the other guys, they need to rethink their model of what people want.

      2. The reason you hardly every see Kias on the side of the road is because they have sold a tiny fraction of the number of cars of Ford or GM in the past 30 years.

        I’m not all that familiar with the reliability of either the HHR or the xD. If you’ve done your homework and come to this conclusion based on the merits then more power to you! I certainly won’t claim that the Big 3 make better cars on average than Toyota or Honda.

        My point is that many American car buyers, especially in the Puget Sound Region, do not even put domestic automakers on their shopping lists. I have met some well-educated people who have bought Volkswagen Jettas but would not consider American makes because of reliability concerns. That’s pretty ignorant. Ford’s reliability puts VW’s to shame. Pick up a Consumer Reports and see for yourself.

      3. The Volkswagen phenomenon here is interesting, I chalk it up to people liking their commercials really. Though the VW diesels get TONS of MPGs. I’m not aware of many other car makers that even sell diesel cars. Mercedes maybe? Germans seem to love diesel I guess.

        I grew up in a “Ford Family”, they didn’t seem to last very long, this was in the 80s though. But I bought my last one in ’93 and the transmission completely died after 83,000 miles. Bought a Mazda then and treat it like utter crap. But I have had nary a problem with it after 120,000 miles. Sure it’s anecdotal, but these two experiences are what swayed me. Maybe my Ford was built on a Friday afternoon and my Mazda was built on a Tuesday morning.

      4. There’s a good chance your Ford and Mazda come off the same assembly line. You’re right, commercials have a lot of influence. Diesels have had a tough go of it in the US. Tax on Diesel is higher per gallon. The cost from the refineries is high because we’re geared up for gasoline. Environmental regulations (rightly so) have been strict on diesel cars and California has different regulations than the rest of the country which puts a more of a hitch in imports. All of the manufacturers sell diesels in Europe. Chrysler even sells a diesel version of the 300!

  2. Will any of Link’s stations outside of the DSTT have a full-time guard? I know there will be random visits by transit police or security guards, but are there plans to have them permanently stationed anyplace? At Beacon Hill Station, for example. Will there be a full-time guard there?

    1. I thought the plans were that the Beacon Hill station would have security, but I don’t have any concrete evidence to back up that assertion. I hope it’s true though, because those four elevators leading into the station are just going to be a haven for people to misbehave in, graffiti and piss all over. I can’t believe that elevators were chosen over the traditional subway escalator entrance.

      1. I think if there isn’t a full-time guard, or at least a part-time guard who is stationed below ground at night, it will have the effect of scaring-off some potential riders, especially the elderly.

      2. There are two reasons they went with elevators, and the first is only speculation:

        1) Beacon Hill Station is really deep. You’d need a lot of escalators and probably at least two switchbacks. It would take forever to get up and down.
        2) Escalators aren’t ADA accessible, or bike accessible.

      3. I’d guess you’d find that the deep MAX station under Washington Park in Portland is fairly safe, as is our transit tunnel here. Somehow, going all the way back to the Forward Thrust vote Seattleites have this irrational “fear” about underground transit. Let’s get over it! I’d rather be in the tunnel than at 3rd and Pike southbound any day.

      4. There are emergency stairwells in case there’s a fire.

        All the Sounder stations have “station agents” that help answer questions and assist in ticket purchases. I wonder if Link will have something similar, too. I got off Sounder at Puyallup yesterday and there was at least 2 uniformed ST security/agents walking the platform.

      5. All of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel stations have elevators, and I don’t remember any complaints about those. If the Beacon Hill tunnels are anything like MAX’s Washington Park station, they’re really fast. I don’t think there would be time for someone to piss all over them without being just as exposed as the rest of the station.

      6. They’re 20 seconds from top to bottom; I don’t think there would be an opportunity.

    2. Full-time real-time video surveillance will be everywhere in the Link stations and elevators I estimate. The rail transit control center staff sitting in the SODO base will be watching and dispatching help. All incidents will be on the record for review and corrective action.

      Can anybody inside ST confirm or correct this estimation?

      1. I think with the elderly, they’d feel more safe going to an underground station at night if there were also a guard there, not just cameras.

      2. The elderly are not typically early adopters of new modes or transit lines and typically will revert to getting rides from others or taking a bus if available. They will adopt later, by which time, security concerns are addressed.

        Not to tie this to a stereotype, but it’s probably because they fear change.

        Deep underground stations are not prone to violence, mainly due to a lack of speedy escape. Waiting for an elevator or train is not really a motivator to act on that urge to pinch a purse. The DSTT should have fulltime security, and at least some attached to the adjacent buildings. Not a big.

      3. It’s that last – no escape path, and of course video. Washington Park hasn’t had any problems.

  3. The current hybrid buses used by Metro employ GM technology. I don’t see why a new, leaner GM could not make competitive light rail cars.

    1. Especially if they employed some licensed third-party tech like at Oregon Streetcar.

      General Motors needs to be more general, as their name implies. I’d much rather see our streetcars, LRVs, and soon-to-come high speed trains built here in the US than in Canada and Europe as they are now.

  4. Just something funny I thought I would share.

    I called the ORCA card hotline to confirm that if I rode a local bus to a Sounder station I would be charged for a “transfer upgrade” (or the remainder of my fare) when I tapped in. The gentlemen on the phone said:

    “Well, since you are riding one agency to the station and then boarding the Sounder, you will be charged the full Sounder fare when you tap in”, to which I quickly replied, “That makes absolutely no sense! The ORCA is not the One Regional Card For Each Individual Transit Agency”. He checked with his higher up and apologized for the faulty information – good thing this wasn’t my first time to the rodeo with ORCA or Sounder, and I was just checking (not a first time user).

    Also, ORCA readers aren’t operational at Mukilteo Station! I tried to tap out on Friday afternoon, couldn’t, and spent $4.75 to get to Mukilteo!

    1. I believe the policy is that you can call them up and have the charge reduced. But I advise you to hurry — the sooner the better!

  5. Any good decent Downtown hotels? I’m thinking about camping out in Downtown Seattle for Link opening. Figure I better book before they fill.

    Recommendations please

      1. Yes however by that time the F59PHI was no longer in production as it didn’t meet tier 2 emissions regulations.

      2. All of the F59PHI’s were built way before GM was spun off- The F59 is a product of the Early 90’s.

      3. The only passenger locomotive being produced in North American today is the WabTec MotivePower “MPXpress”:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MPI_MPXpress

        http://www.motivepower-wabtec.com/locomotives/commuter/mpxpress.php

        The engine in the 3600 Horsepower is made by MotivePower. The engine in the 4000 HP version is from EMD.

        Boston’s MBTA tried to order some new “Euro 4000” locomotives from Vossloh’s Spanish subsidiary, but WabTec’s lobbyists were able to get that stopped because of “Buy America” rules.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vossloh_Euro_4000

  6. So, it seems as though domestic companies want to make LRV’s—first Oregon iron Works, and now GM—in an era theretofore dominated by foreign makes.

    Also—IMO, Metro should invest in some 40-foot hybrids for night tunnel work. Anyone agree?

    1. There are LOTS of things KCMetro SHOULD spend money on, but as has been stated here and elsewhere, there is now, and for the immediate future, NO MONEY for them to spend

      1. Actually King Co. spends more on metro than anything else. Metro operations budget is larger than the general fund. They have about a 20% fare recovery vs. 30% in other parts of the country and it continues to drop. So, they spend plenty of money and a discussion on how it is spend (as opposed to “just buy everything”) is valid. But, to do that you’d have to come up with offsetting costs or argue that say better security would be revenue positive because it would increase ridership. We’re told Link is going to carry something like 1/3 of the riders and have a 50% fare recovery. Happy days are here again or will the 50% not recovered be so large that it sinks the system?

      2. I’m too am very curious why Metro’s farebox recovery is so low. Is it because of fare evasion or is it because there are a large number of routes with a high cost compared to their revenue?

        While it is possible to spend more on fare enforcement than is recovered through tickets or increased compliance I can’t believe Metro can’t increase it’s farebox recovery with a little better fare enforcement. Start with the routes with a large number of incidents and low fare compliance. For instance the 174, 258, and 7.

      3. Yet another reason to hate 20-40-40. I say junk this turkey and let metro allocate service hours to routes/runs that will generate the most revenue per hour over the operating cost.

        I’m sure some of the biggest supporters of keeping 20-40-40 are the very same people who blast metro for being inefficient and having such low farebox recovery.

      4. I’m sure some of the biggest supporters of keeping 20-40-40 are the very same people who blast metro for being inefficient and having such low farebox recovery.

        Not me. I’d not only junk 20/40/40 but return Seattle Transit to Seattle. Redmond and Bellevue can damn well provide their own transit. ST should continue to provide regional (i.e. commuter service).

    2. The transit tunnel can have diesel (non-hybrid) buses can safely operate in the tunnel, as evidenced by <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/viriyincy/3562539168/in/pool-seatrans” this photo of a New Flyer D60 in the tunnel. The advantage of hybrids is that they are much quiter when operating in hush mode.

      1. Diesel buses work, but if Metro does it on a regular basis then the diesel fumes will accumulate in the tunnel, because the ventilation system wasn’t designed for that. There was a nasty haze in the bus tunnel for a few days after the snowstorm because of this.

    3. For the few hours the 40ft buses would make sense on most of the tunnel routes it is probably just easier to keep the 60 ft buses in service. Even so due to rather high ridership the 60 foot buses can make sense after the PM peak. For example the 41, 71, 72, and 73 can all be quite full even late in the evening.

  7. Toronto in May of 2009 has experienced a turn from ‘famine to frenzy’ as housing sales return to positive territory, especially in the parts where there is good transit. See http://www.yourhome.ca/homes/article/643200 for the article. “A property near Danforth Ave. listed for $549,000 sold for $715,000 on Monday, or 130 per cent of the asking price.”

      1. You know, I’ve never really understood this whole opposition to gentrification. If someone owns or lives in an area and more and better paying jobs start to appear saying people will be forced out implies they can’t make good when opportunity knocks. I don’t buy it. Drug dealers and low lifes might get forced out but overall I’d expect the community to prosper. If not there was something fundamentally wrong that needed to be changed.

      2. Given that my income hasn’t kept pace with inflation, let alone property taxes I’d say no. It can be a burden when property taxes start to push you out of your home. The alternative; a crappy neighborhood where values decline or fail to keep pace with the region. I can’t really speak to the problems in the Rainier Valley but I can say it’s a hell of a lot harder to cope when things are going downhill than getting better.

      3. Not only what Bernie said, but gentrification means that current owners reap a windfall when they sell. That hardly seems like such a raw deal. Much better to have that happen than to have what is happening in Detroit, where the home values have disintegrated to almost nothing. There are few jobs and little tax revenue for needed programs.

      4. Sam,

        I imagine some would agree and some would disagree. That would be pretty strange if every low income person in the Rainier Valley spoke with unanimity.

        Middle income people sometimes sell because of rising home prices in an area. Is that bad too?

      5. Hey, being forced out because you can’t afford the property taxes is no good. But, it’s better overall than suffering though declining property values in an upscale market because you’re neighborhood has by default become the crime capital. Really, we want people to say. If you own a home you start to rent out a section. Believe me it happens. Our assessment has tripled and it hurts. But, you have new opportunities and you get by. “A rising tide raises all ships” was I believe originally attributed to the Kennedy administration (I think it goes farther back). Moved into the 80’s it would have been called trickle down. Maintaining or improving the vitality of a neighborhood changes the dynamics but it’s a whole lot better than decline for everybody that’s legitimately engaged in the economy.

      6. no one has any right to live in any specific neighborhood. Neighborhoods change for good or bad economically as well as ethnically over time. While diversity is great it is not a right. Economic improvement is much better than decline. It is the opportunity of the diverse people of the Rainier Valley to rise to the ocassion and prosper. God’s speed. For those that don’t work hard or are relying on the government to pay their bills they will likely need to move to a more affordable area (further south)as the valley gentrifies. This is how life works. I can’t afford to live in any of the trendy areas of Seattle or Eastside. I’ve been priced out over the last 10+ years. That is just the way it is and it is okay. Land is scarce, high demand for desireable neighborhoods and commuting convienence drive up price. People locate or relocate where they can afford it.

      7. Jeez… What’s with the uppity comments ’round here?

        Perhaps you should step back and look at the situation here a little differently.

        For starters, someone working a good job, raising a family, and renting for many years isn’t failing “to rise to the occasion” or “relying on the government” when their landlord decides to sell out from under them and the worker has difficulty finding comparable rents nearby.

        There’s also the complain that much of the gentrification is not being driven by market changes, but by government changes. For example, the government decision to run Link at-grade through the Rainier Valley requiring the complete redevelopment of a huge swath of the neighborhood.

        Finally, while better transit, dense development, and new opportunities are all obviously good, we should also be careful about driving out cultural and economic diversity which is what creates exciting neighborhoods to live in the first place!

      8. I do feel bad for the renter who gets driven out of the neighborhood due to gentrification.

        However as someone who has always rented let me point out nobody shed a tear when the sort of cheap rentals in Wallingford, Ballard, Freemont, or Capitol Hill I used to live in got too expensive for my former income bracket or were torn down. There is no reason affordable housing should be something exclusive to Rainer Valley.

        Workforce housing is a city-wide problem and needs city-wide solutions. One problem is by making single-family neighborhoods so sacrosanct in Seattle it limits the amount of land available for multi-family housing. Furthermore the current building and zoning codes keep the cost of new construction fairly high.

        One quick way to drop the price of new units would be by dropping the parking requirements entirely and prohibiting developers from bundling parking with the unit. (note I think there should be no such thing as “free parking” within the Seattle City limits)

      9. people will not get ahead (rise to the occasion) if they don’t own their dwelling. This is another fact of ecomonic life. Owning ones own dwelling is a forced savings plan and hence an investment plan and a retirement plan. Those that spend all they get on rent and etc. will be dependent on government when they are too old to work and a burden on us all. Better to buy a home in a “cheap” subarb then to live in the city from an economic sense. However there are other values then purely economics. Yet people do love their money.

      10. The problem with Rob’s comment is that for many years lenders were racially biased. Even into the 90s redlining was a problem, and before that it was quite difficult to buy a home in a non-white neighborhood, even if you yourself were white and had a good job and full down payment. Been there, done that.

        Nor was it economically “better sense” to buy a home in a cheap suburb. In the mid-80s I was looking to buy a home and ‘did the math’. At that time, any property more than three miles from the city center was pretty much the same on total costs- what you saved on house price you paid in commuting costs.

        Nor is owning a home a safeguard against dependency. For one thing, if you own more than 50% of the equity in your home, it can be taken from you in a bankruptcy proceeding- which often happens when people have a serious illness.

        Be careful what you wish for.

      11. With the cost of owning in King County recently being so high it makes more sense to rent than own. There are some widely accepted metrics for determining when the real-estate market is overpriced, most parts of King County still show as being too high by those measures.

      12. I agree that renting can be more economical than owning, but then the renter needs to save the difference for emergencies, investments and retirement. People tend not to do this. Buying a home forces this, unless you take out equity lines of credit, etc. and through away the equity you have earned or gained through appreciation. We all have seen what this foolishness has wrought(underwater mortgages). Owning forces financial discipline and long term planning. This is the reason our tax system subsidizes owners (interest deductions). It is good for individual and society. Once one owns his/her home no landlord can evict them no gentrification will drive them out, as long as they arranged financing within their budget and pay their mortgage on time.

      13. But how much sense does it make to pay a $2200/month mortgage on a condo that would rent for maybe $900/month? For that matter how much sense does it make to have to take some exotic loan to be able to afford a property (interest only, option ARM, etc.) instead of getting a 30 yr fixed with 10 or 20% down? What happens if you lose your job and can’t find a new one that pays enough to afford the mortgage payment? What happens if you have to relocate for work and can’t easily sell or have to do a short sale because you are underwater?

        Besides most people even with a traditional loan aren’t putting that much into equity during the first 5 or 10 years of their mortgage anyway. Long term it is foolish to expect the long-term property value to do more than match inflation. Sure you may get lucky and prices will appreciate faster, but it isn’t a good idea to plan on that basis unless you know what you are doing in real-estate investment.

      14. While one can go far enough out into the exurbs to find reasonably priced property any savings will be eaten up by the extra time and expense of commuting from a far-flung location.

      15. The gentrification is already happening. Home prices are far higher in the CD and SE Seattle than they were a few years ago. Many formerly run-down neighborhoods have seen a large number of young professional types move in during the past 10 years or so.

        Furthermore, even during the worst of the urban decay there were pockets of the CD and SE Seattle that never got all that run down.

        The neighborhoods were never all that uniform to begin with. Even during the worst of the violence and drug traffic in the late 80’s/early 90’s you could go in just a couple of blocks from an open-air drug market with all sorts of nonsense going on to an area of nice well-maintained homes and apartments.

      16. Yes and no. Some poor people will be forced out, some will see their home values rise. It depends on who, and how poor. Others who rent but don’t see an increase (rent increases are not a foregone conclusion) will see better quality of life and mobility.

  8. The current Metro policy is that the Ride Free Area, and thus, all-door boarding, is in effect from 6 a.m. to 7p.m. Now that buses are operating in the transit tunnel from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., doe this mean that fares will be collected outside of ride-free times, and only one door will be used for boarding?

    1. I would love to see a readerboard in the DSTT telling you which Bay the next arriving vehicle will stop at. This would be especially useful for those traveling entirely within the DSTT stations who dont care about the route number or destination of the vehicles.

      1. I second that

        Would’ve been very useful when I was showing my brother from Virginia around Downtown (mainly Klondike Gold Rush, Central Library, Pike’s Place, and Westlake/Pac Place)

      2. poncho wrote:
        I would love to see a readerboard in the DSTT telling you which Bay the next arriving vehicle will stop at. This would be especially useful for those traveling entirely within the DSTT stations who dont care about the route number or destination of the vehicles.

        That already exists. There are signs at each bay that say which routes stop there. For tunnel hopping, you do have to add some that aren’t listed; for example, the 174 and 194 aren’t listed on the northbound signs because it doesn’t make sense for most people to board them because it won’t take them past Convention Place Station. Also, if the 194 was listed on the northbound platform, people would get on it expecting to go to the airport.

        The general rule of thumb:
        A North
        B East
        C South
        D West

        You can look at the destination sign and tell where it’s going to stop. Or refer to this list.

      3. And also I doubt Metro would spend any money helping out the tunnel hoppers since they’re not getting any money out of it.

        What would be nice is what Bellevue Transit Center has (but wasn’t working on Saturday).

    2. The current Metro policy is that the Ride Free Area, and thus, all-door boarding, is in effect from 6 a.m. to 7p.m. Now that buses are operating in the transit tunnel from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., doe this mean that fares will be collected outside of ride-free times, and only one door will be used for boarding?

      The tunnel used to be open late many years ago and has always opened at 5am (No?) so yes you did pay at the door. I recall doing this for an early 194 bus to Sea-Tac a few times in the past.

  9. Overheard on the 594 today: when Link opens, Stadium Station should be in the RFZ. Thoughts?

      1. And that’s what I said to the passenger

        They replied “It’s Downtown Seattle, of course it will be free!” (memo to ST: make it crystal clear that link isn’t free since it’s been argued for and against on this blog)

    1. The 590X-series buses should run through the tunnels! (I know they can’t do this with the MCI’s, but ST ought to have considered this when they replaced the Orion 5’s.

      1. Neither Sound or Metro have anything in the 59XX series. Did you mean the D60LF’s, ST’s 95XX series? They’re still an all diesel coach, and the WiFi wouldn’t work underground :(

      2. No, I was referring to the routes 590 thru 595 (or 596?) that ST took over from PT. They were originally signed with an X after the route number. I.E. The Seattle-Tacoma express, though many go to Lakewood or Gig Harbor (which is NOT in the CPSRTA district!)

      3. In that case, there is no more room for buses in the tunnel due to Link’s headways. Metro already had to limit the number of buses that returned to the tunnel when it reopened in 2007. The solution, of course, is to just ride something that goes down the busway and get off at any stop along there and wait for a 59N.

  10. That’s why I always stay in the middle of the platform and keep an eye on what’s arriving. At least that works for me.

    1. I do that too, a lot.

      Also, at the bottom of each comment is a link that says “Reply to this comment.” If you click that link instead of using the box at the bottom, your comment will show up right below the one you are responding to.

  11. Sound Transit estimated that about 2,600 daily riders will be impacted by the lack of Link’s participation in the RFA, and that the lack of fares on trips within the RFA to be about $2 million a year.

    Does anyone know of a budget report showing how much Metro is paid in order to maintain the RFA, or an estimate of Metro ridership within the RFA?

    1. I believe Metro’s annual reports have that data, but I’ve never read one.

  12. What is this 578 deal: only one southbound trip with no morning northbound service?

    And no southbound Sounder after 6:15!?!? I’ve read the changes and feel well versed, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see problems at King Street in the afternoon

    1. I guess the single 578 was designed to replace the no longer running 6:45 Sounder train.

    2. I think that if I read correctly, the 577 and 578 will be expanded in the February shakeup. This would replace routes 564 and 565 which are pretty empty.

  13. I was out watching LINK do its testing on MLK yesterday, and I noticed that in the multi-car consist they had the pantographs raised on each car. In every other city I can think of only one car (usually the first) has the pantograph raised. Does anyone know if this is an operational decision by ST, or are the KinkiSharyo cars not designed to share power between cars?

    1. I don’t know. The Alstom tramways in Paris all have their pantographs raised when connected.

  14. Boarding Link in the tunnel won’t “technically” be free. But it’s still basically the honor system when you board. It will have the same feel in terms of paying your fare that the SLUSC has. Have you ever felt like anyone of any authority was watching you pay or not pay while boarding the SLUSC? Neither have I.

    1. Until you see a scofflaw sobbing that s/he really so like totally meant to tap in but they lost their ORCA and, sob, it’s just not fair that you have to fine me in front of all these people and kick me off the, weep, train.

      1. In my grumpier moments, I wish we had conductors on all trains and buses, carrying batons to deal with the miscreants.

      2. The reaction to getting caught for fare evasion is pretty funny to see. Even funnier is watching people after they realize fare evasion carries a very real fine.

      3. I haven’t seen fare evasion enforced. They need to make the penalty much more visible with signs around stations and on buses/light rail cars. They also should have some plain clothes officers on routes with high percentages of fare evaders. Most people who have no scruples about cheating the system think they can do so with impunity right now. And from my experience, the fare evaders don’t tend to be the most pleasant folks on the bus. They’re more likely to be the smelliest, most profane riders on the bus.

      4. I’ve heard stories about the Seattle Transit drivers standing around a barrel at the base cleaning their guns. Ahh, those were the days, eh??? :)

        (And no, I have no interest in carrying a firearm. The Police spend a lot of time training on how to use those things and, more importantly, how NOT to use them. I’m happy to leave the use of force to them…)

  15. Rode the bus up to the U-District yesterday and watched Link trains roll in and out of the tunnel. Everytime the train would pull up to the platform, people would start to walk up to the train, stop at about the same place, stop for a second, then look bewildered until their bus showed up.

    Also, most folks would start snapping pictures when the train pulled in. Myself included.

  16. Sunday’s New York Times has a dynamic and impassioned op-ed about the future of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority written by Elliot Sander, its most recent chief executive.

    He has some interesting things to say, which folks in the Puget Sound region will be able to identify with, including a proposal to “form a single regional bus authority* to provide seamless service from Suffolk County to Westchester County.” Sander ends his essay by making smart points about interagency cooperation that bypasses traditional turf wars, and the need for proper funding for transit by the state legislature.

    * which has also been suggested for the Puget Sound region

    1. *none* of the people trying to create a single transit agency here are actually pro-transit. Dig in when you see pieces about that, you always find a highway interest behind.

      There’s really little reason to combine them right now. Look at how Sound Transit has been insulated from the fight over 40-40-20, for instance.

      1. I believe it’s clear Elliot Sander is a very strong transit advocate. However, I would agree that the mysterious author of the Seattle P-I essay probably has an ulterior motive. That said, that doesn’t mean a single transit authority is a bad idea. Sander elaborated on some valid, common sense reasons in his essay. I feel a single agency for our region is a wonderful concept, if for no other reason that I, for one, am fed up with the lack of coordination between the different agencies.

        While ORCA is making the process of using different transit systems pretty seamless (in my experience, although I may be one of a lucky few who hasn’t had any problems to date), when I sit down to map out a unique trip that might incorporate four or five different systems in one day, the planning seems to take an inordinate amount of time. Every agency has its own ancient quirks that are now set in stone, and the widely varying policies and fare structures are annoying.

        And while ORCA seems to be taming the transfer and boarding beasts (note to certain users: don’t swipe your ORCA card, tap it!), I could write a very long essay based solely on my recent misadventures while planning to load cash on my ORCA card on a Saturday. I like to plan my trips and itineraries so I have no rude surprises, and I like to think I’m a pretty good researcher, so I can imagine what a casual rider has to face. The misinformation I was given on Friday, both verbally and in writing, was maddening, and the buck passing from agency to agency was inexcusable. I finally called Sound Transit’s main number and insisted they let me talk to a staff member who could give me a straight answer. They wouldn’t, but a receptionist spoke to somebody, somewhere, who appeared to know the answers, and relayed his/her responses to me. l’m not going to detail my even more frustrating Saturday.

        Despite the new issues a single agency would have, its employees and the elected officials on its board would have to be on the same page, and I think, generally, in the end, the region would be better served. You make a very good point, though, about Sound Transit vs. Metro’s 40-40-20 mess. That sort of monkey business would have to be addressed and firmly dealt with before any merger.

  17. I tried to use my Orca card today for the first time. On the first bus it double-beeped at me, but the driver had forgotten to change it it from “Ride Free” so I expected something strange. On the second bus it said something like “Unable to read card; try again”. So I held the card up to it and it didn’t register, so I turned it around and held it up some more, and then it beeped and gave the same message. I’ll try it for another day or two and then exchange it if it doesn’t work anywhere.

    It’s frustrating because you can’t tell by looking at the card whether it will work or not. And I can just imagine some inspector on the Link being unreasonable and issuing me a ticket, and then having to go to court to get it dismissed. I do have my pass receipt, and that should count for something.

    In other cities I’ve never had a problem with transit cards, but they have always been the magnetic stripe kind. Well, in NYC the turnstyles are notorious for making you swipe the card several times, and in SF once I had to turn in a BART card to the window to get it replaced because it wasn’t reading, but that’s it.

    Given the problems other people have had with their cards reading only sometimes, it’s
    a good thing they planned a couple months lead-up time to take care of glitches. Otherwise it’s going to be chaos and lost revenue if the cards don’t work half the time.

    1. I’m curious what happens when the Orca reader reads “Out of service”? Riding down to the Sounders game I noticed that Orca reader on the bus said this. Would I get a free ride in that instance? I can’t imagine they would make you pay with cash at that point, that would ruin the whole point of the system.

      I guess I’ll certainly have to get used to this because I just read that MS’s new Flexpasses will be Orca cards instead of the badge sticker. Hopefully they have their stuff together shortly because the flex passes run out in a month.

      1. When the traditional farebox is broken, everybody rides free. Because Metro doesn’t think it’s fair to charge people using one payment method when it can’t charge people using another, or so a driver told me. Unfortunately it’s just an empty gesture to those of us with passes. I assume the same would apply to Orca… well, it already is. People are finding the machines out of service. Unfortunately that’s hard to explain to an inspector if the machine was at a station you’ve already left. That happened when I was riding the S-bahn from Duesseldorf to Cologne and all the ticket machines at the platform were broken. An inspector came on the car just as it was pulling into a station, so we managed to get off the train before he got to us. Because I didn’t want to explain to an official in a foreign country that the machines were broken.

      2. You can indeed simply explain that they’re broken. I had that problem with SkyTrain once, they didn’t care, they were happy to know about the maintenance issue.

    2. I wrote up 9608 a couple of weeks ago for a bad ORCA reader. The reader was still not fixed when I drove it a few days later. The mechanics at East base don’t work on the ORCA system – that’s done by the Radio folks (from Downtown I believe…). Keep in mind that my regular work last shakeup was one of the last 550’s to go out in the morning so I frequently received the spare hybrid coach. They may have held onto that coach hoping to not use it but I can’t say for sure. (That’s what I get for sleeping in I suppose :)

      From a driver’s perspective, ORCA cards are still not very common so it’s pretty easy to forget to change the zone, especially since the interface is cumbersome. I didn’t get into the habit of changing the fare zones until I had regular ORCA users. Still, out of the 120-140 passengers I interacted with on my morning work, only 2 or 3 people would use ORCA cards. As ORCA becomes more common, I’m sure more of us will remember to punch all of those buttons.

      1. Why can’ the fare zones be changed automatically using GPS?

        The fare systems in Holland and Denmark which are based on a honey-comb structure and so their fare-validators and ticket machines have to change zones every 500 meters or there abouts. So the technology is out there.

        Not that MLKCMetro would adopt it. Look how long it took them to adopt the GFI fareboxes and low-floor buses!

      2. Because Metro doesn’t have GPS on their buses! The Times reported in the snow storm aftermath that Kevin Desmond said GPS will be on buses by 2010 when the new transit radio system comes online with other goodies like automated stop announcements.

      3. I wouldn’t expect that 2010 system wide radio upgrade to go without some issues. I heard some insider information–nothing that I can really share. It’s just a really, really, really unique system, as in there are no other systems like it anywhere.

      4. What do you think about setting the default zone options in the web interface? I set Metro to zone 1 (which I assume means 1 zone) and Sound Transit to zone 2, since I usually ride Metro within Seattle during the week and ST to Bellevue on Sundays. But I wonder if I’ll accidentally overpay if I forget to tell the driver when I’m riding ST within Seattle (like from Lake City to downtown). On the other hand, I don’t want to be asked every single ride when I normally travel one zone peak.

      5. Overriding a fare zone for a single passenger is pretty easy. If the reader says “2 zones” and you want to only pay for one, it only takes 1 or 2 buttons, depending on which menu the driver is on.

        Personally, I’d set it for 1 zone. That way if you forget to ask, then you’re underpaying. The driver’s screen will reflect the underpayment but if things are busy and we forget to ask for the additional fare, no big deal. The other way around will require you to call customer service for a refund (I was told somewhere along the line that you could do this, but I’m not 100% sure it’s true… Your mileage may vary…)

    3. My card worked this afternoon on two buses. It looks like you have to hold it really low, right in front of the bottom part of the reader. It was nice seeing the word “Pass” and knowing my card was OK.

  18. Didn’t the American automakers learn their lesson from the 70s when there was the oil crisis and the Japanese starting coming out with more fuel efficient cars? It seems like American automakers repeated the same thing in the 1990s.

    1. It’s not easy making money in the car market, especially for the domestic “big three”. Health care costs add ~$1,500 to each vehicle. Hybrids seem like a really great idea but it’s taken Toyota nearly a decade to actually turn a profit. “Economy” cars in general are going to have a lower profit margin. If a company can make 10% profit on an economy car they’re doing good. That $1500 hit means even if the any of the big three did make a car that could compete on milage, cost and reliability it wouldn’t make them any money. That’s why they made trucks and SUVs, it’s where they made at least some money to offset operational loses.

      It’s not just the cars designs either. Ford is trying desperately to get rid of Volvo, GM last I heard will be holding on to something like 35% of Opal but pulling the plug on Saab (you know the kind of safe dependable car people seem to think the car makers should be offering but only sold a total of 35,000 cars in the US last year). The market is very fickle. It’s hard to know what people are going to want in three or four years even if things stay the same. When fuel prices swing back and forth like an SUV gas gauge and the economy tanks everybody’s crystal ball turns into a snow globe.

      I think it is still possible to build cars in the US and make a profit but even Toyota is losing billions right now. The Prius is supposed to start helping the bottom line but only if they can achieve an economy of scale by selling some 200,000 per year. Now let’s say Ford or Honda build an virtually identical car. They might only take 25% of the market (brand loyalty accounts for a lot) but it means all the companies are likely to make little or no money on the product.

      GM says it’s needs to re-engineer cars to use more common components across it’s line. Remember back to the 70’s when this strategy lead to a major loss of market share for the big three, especially GM. People weren’t buying an expensive “Cadillac” that was obviously a Chevy with different chrome. Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac all used to make their own unique engines. It’s not surprising “brands” wither and die when there’s really no difference between them. That said, expect to see more and more cross platform ventures (like the Vibe/Matrix, GM/Toyota). Shared platforms share the economies of scale but allow companies to leverage brand loyalty and for a much more modest investment offer custom features that tap different markets. It will be a trip back down memory lane when GMC/Buick dealers start selling Opals again (assuming we can harmonize safety and environmental standards).

    2. Thee evidently, obviously in fact, did NOT learn the lesson of the first oil “shortage” but the troubles started well before 1973 – the Corvair was a response to the Volkswagen? It is a 40 year legacy of nonsense and government “subsidies” of all kinds.

      1. The Corvair was “the poor man’s Porche”. The turbocharged Corsa was a legitimate sportscar for the era. GM redesigned the rear suspension of the Corvair after the first two years of production so that it was no longer the same as the VW Bug (VW stuck with the single pivot transaxle until the Super Beetle came out). They also had the Greenbriar van which offered about the same milage as a VW micro bus. Now if you want to talk unsafe at any speed I can’t think of a better candidate than the old VW bus.

        If you want to point to one thing that doomed GM was it’s failure to take to heart quality control. That increased costs through increased scrap, warranty repairs, loss of brand loyalty, etc. I think Chrysler is in a better position to turn it around than GM because they have Fiat which has turned it’s self around in the last five years. I have my doubts any future board or CEO appointed by the currently proposed ownership split will really have the guts or ability to invest in quality. It looks much more like a recipe for bean-counter soup. The decision to keep Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac is based on past sales in a completely different market and because of costs associated with closing dealerships. If a buyer is found for Saturn I wouldn’t be surprised if it outlasted it’s parent company.

  19. Anyone who thinks the government should use it’s 60% stake in GM to force a shift to rail car manufacture might want to consider this:

    Tough economy shuts down railroad repair company

    Think it’s different for passenger equipment, talk to the folks at Colorado Rail Car. Oregon Iron Works might build a few streetcars but anyone who thinks the way out of bankruptcy for GM is build rail cars; well, it would only serve to put a huge corporate overhead on a small market. They’d likely be as successful as Boeing’s failed attempt at rail. Or Morrison-Knudson for that matter who went bankrupt in the mid 90’s (at a time of high demand) by venturing into the production of rail transit.

    1. The government should say “let’s build some rail” first, THEN go for making GM build it. But I’d prefer they not even do that, let a few companies start, and compete with each other. A giant isn’t a good idea.

      1. Building rail is a legitimate thing for government to spend money on. GM should never get into the railcar business; it especially shouldn’t be forced by the government to enter a business outside of it’s core competency. There already are several corporate giants that are very good at building rail transit; Bombardier, Seimens, Kinkisharyo, Alstom, etc. It makes no sense at all for GM to try and enter this market. Diversifying into things like satellites and software are part of the reason GM’s in bankruptcy today. If the government wants to bring manufacturing of passenger rail to the US then try through tax incentives to get one of the giants to buy one of GM’s excess manufacturing facilities. Maybe buy some of the Canadian equity in exchange for Bombardier building some of it’s light rail vehicles in the US.

  20. I just noticed on the ST website that starting today you can rent the new bike lockers at the LINK stations and some commuter rail stations – first come-first served:

    Bicycle Lockers
    Sound Transit has bicycle lockers at many of its facilities. Beginning June 1, 2009 lockers can be rented for a $50 non-refundable annual rental fee and a one-time $50 key refundable deposit.

    Because lockers are very popular, please contact us directly to determine if lockers are available to rent at specific facilities. Call 1-888-889-6368 | TTY Relay: 711 for locker availability. Once you have established that a locker is available, download and fill out a copy of the Sound Transit Bicycle Locker User Agreement. Mail the completed form to the following address:

    Sound Transit
    Attn: Customer Service
    401 S. Jackson St.
    Seattle, WA 98104-2826

    Sound Transit has bicycle lockers at the following locations:
    Auburn Station (bus and commuter rail)
    Beacon Hill Station (light rail)
    Dupont Park & Ride (bus)
    Edmonds Station (bus and commuter rail)
    Everett Station (bus and commuter rail)
    Federal Way Transit Center (bus)
    Issaquah Transit Center (bus)
    Kent Station (bus and commuter rail)
    Mercer Island Transit Center (bus)
    Mount Baker Station (light rail)
    Overlake Transit Center (bus)
    Puyallup Station (bus and commuter rail)
    Rainier Beach Station (light rail)
    SeaTac/Airport Station (light rail, available December 2009)
    SODO Station (light rail)
    South Everett Freeway Station (bus)
    South Tacoma Station (bus and commuter rail, available 2012)
    Summer Station (bus and commuter rail)
    Tukwila Station (bus and commuter rail)
    Tukwila/International Blvd Station (light rail)

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