Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

Nina Shapiro at the Daily Seattle Weekly makes the first journalistic attempt to figure out how Rainier Valley-Downtown Seattle bus service is competing with Link, and throws in a racial angle.  She also makes a fairly big factual error.

First the error:

One possible railway deterrent: It’s not free to transfer from train to bus, as it is from bus to bus.

This is simply not true.  From Metro’s website:

A valid transfer from Community Transit, Pierce Transit, or Sound Transit can be used as payment for a one zone fare on Metro Transit, regardless of how much you paid on the other system.

Going from the Rainier Valley to elsewhere in the city, as in the example this draws from, is a one zone fare and therefore a free transfer.  This took approximately 20 seconds for me to look up, and it’s a shame Ms. Shapiro didn’t bother to do the same.

Another point worth making is that attracting new transit riders is a good thing, and illustrates the “rail bias” that helps make rail transit’s long-term cost per rider more competitive than buses for high-ridership routes.

Finally, a lot of the minority population in the Rainier Valley is also an immigrant population, with limited English skills.  For many of them, it was labor-intensive to figure out how to get around in the first place, and it’ll take a bit more of a nudge for them to try out a new mode that may get them places faster.  After all, I’m both a fluent English speaker and a transit wonk, and I don’t pretend to fully understand all the intricacies of our interlocking fare systems.  Beyond that, there’s a ton of misinformation out there, as the Weekly piece shows, partly due to Sound Transit’s last-minute convergence on its fare policies.

That “nudge” will occur in September, when the 42 and 42X effectively cease to operate.

54 Replies to “Bus Displacement”

  1. Ms. Shapiro is known for favoring opinion over facts. And the Weakly has always had an anti-light rail bias.

    This is a classic scenario: white liberals claiming the train is full of gentrifying white yuppies; and white conservatives claiming the train is a cesspool of “ethnic” gangs.

    How hard is it for these people to do more than just a “drive by” assessment of a brand new system? Seattleites seem to have a hard time letting go of their bias and their grudges.

    Thanks for the good reporting at STB.

  2. What she also fails to point out is that during opening week a lot of people had traveled from outside of the area just to ride the train. I don’t think that the demographics of opening week match what will be seen long-term.

    I also hate being referred to as a Caucasian, none of my ancestors lived anywhere near the Caucus mountains! It’s an antiquated term that shouldn’t be used. I’m surprised she wasn’t wondering where all the Orientals were.

    1. Thanks for bringing up the Caucasian term. A friend visiting from Russia here once was incredulous that all Americans of European descent are referred to as Caucasian. He pointed out that in Moscow, Causasians (i.e., people from the Caucasus) are a heavily discriminated-against minority

  3. As far as transfers are concerned. Come December 31st, it is my understanding that paper transfers from Metro will not be honored on Light Rail. Many low income riders pay their fare in cash for the bus. Most will not choose to pay a double fare bus/light rail.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong about this. It has been a bit confusing.

    1. This is why ORCA is free right now. We’re saying “here, get one of these, you will be able to transfer with it”. The vast majority of even very low income riders can come up with $5 for an ORCA and reload it every few days.

      1. Is there any advertising of this on buses & trains? It seems to me that all the transit agencies should have signs up (a la rider alerts) that say something like “No more paper transfers after Dec 31, 2009. Go to orcacard.com to get your free ORCA card.” And the signs should be in multiple languages, of course. But I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that.

        I have a feeling that the vast majority of riders have no idea that this change is coming, and by the time they do, ORCA isn’t going to be free anymore. It’s going to be a huge PR disaster when people find out they’re going to have to pay $5 just to be able to get a transfer.

      2. ORCA isn’t officially “done” yet. There will be a PR campaign in the next couple of months.

      3. “…pay $5 just to be able to get a transfer.” That’s completely bogus. As has been pointed out, ORCA cards are now being distributed FREE, and it’s a permanent card! You don’t have to buy it every month! It can be reloaded, maybe not an infinite number of times, but many many times.

  4. I think you are correct about the transfers from Metro no longer being valid after Dec. 31st; I am hoping there will be some transfer credit given when you use ORCA. Anyone know details?

    1. I believe the plan is allow a transfer either way with ORCA. Though I think you will have to upgrade both directions if the value of the trip you are coming from is less than the one you are going to. So for example if you take a $1.75 trip on Metro you get a 2 hour transfer worth that amount on link and will need to upgrade if you take a more expensive trip. Similarly if you take a $2 Link ride then take a $2.50 bus ride you’ll need to pay an extra $0.50 on the bus.

      Ideally you have enough in your epurse so ORCA takes care of all this automatically and you don’t need to think about it.

      1. Most daily riders buy a monthly pass valued at the total cost of their daily trips, so no extra charge for transferring to a more expensive ride. People sometimes forget that in addition to the e-purse capacity of the ORCA (covers fares on a ride by ride basis) you can also put a Flex-Pass or Puget Pass on the card; the ORCA will then function exactly like your old white plastic cards that you buy and throw away every month (or year)

  5. The article is poorly researched and written. There is no reason for her to make these unsupported racial claims. There are plenty of people of all kinds that ride the bus. While there may be some people who will be more inclined to ride the light rail while they will not ride a bus, there is nothing to say that race is the cause of that.

    1. I think a lot of it is existing bus riders along the Link route really haven’t changed their habits yet. Once you get used to a certain combination of routes to get somewhere you aren’t likely to risk the change unless you are forced to.

  6. I thought transfers only worked for the value of the initial fare. So if you are a youth paying .75 by bus, you’ll need to pony up another .75 for rail.

    I also thought that the only way transfers were honored were via Orca cards. So if you have a paper transfer or a printed ticket, you’re out of luck.

    Would love more information.

    1. Paper transfers are valid on Link through the end of the year. It’s a proof-of-payment system, so all you should have to do is show your paper transfer if you’re ever asked.

      The ST website says that “A valid bus transfer is valid for full fare on Link (no upgrade required). This will be the case through Dec. 31, 2009, when bus transfer slips will no longer accepted on light rail trains.” Since a youth fare gets you the same paper transfer as an adult fare, youths shouldn’t have to pay anything more to get on Link if they’re using a paper transfer.

      I get the impression that if you’re using an ORCA card, though, that it might only carry a 75¢ transfer balance and when you get on Link you’ll be charged an extra 75¢. And certainly after Dec 31 it seems like that will be the case. Hopefully they’ll change that, though.

  7. The byzantine balkanized fare structure is a major deterrent for the occasional, cash rider. Many of you have a PugetPass and that makes it pretty easy for you to take any transit provider or mode and you know what your pass is worth.

    For the occasional rider, the fare structure is complex and unpredictable and getting worse. Sound Transit now has three different fare systems on buses, light rail and Sounder. Metro, CT and PT have their own fare systems. ST service overlaps with MT and ST in some areas but the fares aren’t the same for the same trip, and transfers have different values. If I take a Metro 2-zone trip, I can transfer to another Metro 2-zone trip, but only a 1-zone ST trip.

    In most regions in Germany and Switzerland – and I think also France, Belgium, Netherlands and Austria and perhaps others – the region is divided into zones and the fare depends on your originating and terminating zone – and that’s it. It doesn’t matter what the mode is and it doesn’t matter who the operator is. And generally there is a one way fare, an all day pass (often 2-3 times the cost of a one way), a weekly and monthly pass, and often a family/group pass — all consistent with the zones – and you can ride the most convenient bus, tram/light-rail, U-Bahn (subway) or S-Bahn (regional rail) for each trip.

    It’s simple. It’s consistent. There’s one fare structure. Somehow the operators divide the revenue, perhaps based on sampling, perhaps based on service provided.

    1. One more thing – the e-purse on the ORCA card should include the feature that if you pay fares by the ride, it will charge you no more than an all day pass costs – so it automatically becomes an all day pass.

      1. All day passes only exist on weekends, and I don’t think we even sell them on ORCA. I’m not sure.

        We don’t have just one transit agency. Eventually we will, but it’ll take time. Those German and Swiss and French systems have fifty or a hundred years of continuous operation more than we do.

      2. What about the new all day PugetPass? As long as you can get to a TVM you can buy one for any day of the week, and even purchase it up to 14 days in advance. And yes, you can purchase one of these paper one-day PugetPasses using the e-purse on your ORCA. It’s good for travel on any system that accepts a PugetPass.

      3. How do you designate which day the pass is valid? I would love to be able to buy all day Puget passes to keep around and use as needed. Because my trip alway starts on a bus, I don’t have access to a TVM. I’d like to be able to buy them and load them on an ORCA card. And they need to be marketed!

      4. On the Link TVM you choose to purchase a round trip ticket. It defaults to today’s date, but at the lower left portion of the screen there is an option to purchase for future date. Today’s date is then displayed on the screen and you can tap the “next day” button to advance one day at a time up to 14 days from today. After selecting the date you enter the rest of the information (traveling from which station to which station) and then are able to finalize the purchase.

      5. I have, in my pocket right now, a $3.50 Sounder round trip ticket that’s valid all day today.

        Anytime you buy a round-trip Sounder or Link ticket from a TVM, it’s valid all day. Hence, a day pass.

        That also means that for $3.50 you can generate a Metro one-zone day pass at any time. That’s cheaper than a peak-hour one-zone round trip.

        Ah, the intricacies of our crazy fare system. Just wait till Metro fares get way higher than ST’s.

      6. Most of the regional organizations in Germany and Switzerland were established in the last 30 years or so. They still have multiple agencies which provide services in their regions, but there is one overarching agency that above all administers the fare policies and may assist in coordinating schedules and creating a marketing identity.

        In the Frankfurt, Germany area, it is called RMV (Rhein-Main Verkhersverbund, Rhein Main Transit Association). Service is provided by city systems in Frankfurt, Offenbach, Wiesbaden, Mainz, and many other smaller cities, plus additional bus operators, plus the S-Bahn which I think is the Deutsch Bahn. Somehow they make it all work without marketing Metro, Sound Transit, Everett, Pierce, Community… I don’t think the Frankfurt region is any simpler than ours administratively, but they make it transparent to the riders.

        One more though – the easier you make it, the more occasional riders you get, which means they are more spread out through the day and increases efficiency as peak rush hour capacity is the most expensive to provide.

    2. In Switzerland there is also an annual all-of-Switzerland pass. Lets you ride any bus, train, or tram in the country, and includes the more transit-like cable cars and such. Costs something like $3000 per year, but if you travel a lot, it’s worth it. I can imagine something like this (and with a similar price) being valid in, say, all the cities on the Cascade Corridor between Vancouver and Eugene, and on the Amtrak trains between them, for about the $3000 price.

  8. I was playing on Link yesterday, scouting out possible food cart locations at the stations, and most of the trains were not only pretty busy (mid-day!), but full of happy, relaxed airport travelers (both ways). Riders were all ages, all colors, and ran the gauntlet of socio-economic classes. I also heard several languages, and folks were walking on with shopping bags from local businesses. It was about as egalitarian as you can get, and just about everybody was acting as if they had been riding Link for years.

    When I was checking out the Beacon Hill Link station, a fellow approached me and asked if I knew whether shuttles would be running to the hydroplane races. I didn’t know at the time, so referred him to the Seafair site. (He was aware of the FTA’s involvement in the shuttle debacle and as annoyed about that as the rest of us.) He was from Tacoma, and to test out possible routes for the weekend, had taken Sound Transit from Tacoma to either the airport or the Tukwila station, then ridden Link to Beacon Hill because that’s where he expected the shuttles would load. Unfortunately, we didn’t see anything posted on the information boards. Still, I thought it was pretty cool that he was looking to minimize his transit pain and had every intention, if possible, of taking public transit to the races.

    After that fellow left to check out the neighborhood, a frustrated Asian fellow (who I believe spoke English as a second language) approached me after he had been at a TVM for a while. I’m guessing he had some problems with buying a ticket from the TVM, so his question to me was whether he could use his Metro pass to transfer to Link. The posted information doesn’t seem to be clear about that, and I even had to read page 13 of Sound Transit’s current transit guide twice before I could assure him that his transfer was valid until it expired. I suggested he consider an ORCA card, but he looked so dismayed after I explained the process for buying one from a TVM, I didn’t push him. I think the folks overseeing ORCA and the various fare/transfer systems really need to reevaluate how they’re presenting everything. I mean, what exactly does “…valid as a one-zone bus fare…toward a train trip.” mean? A transfer from Metro to Link is either valid or not, since there’s no physical way to upgrade it. And while I think there’s been a lot of information provided about ORCA, my sense for some time has been that it isn’t reaching a lot of the folks who will ultimately be using the system. And the information mavens need to better coordinate with organizations like Seafair. Even if Metro isn’t providing the shuttles, people are going to show up expecting to find one, so I feel as a public service the information should be posted. (And by all means have Seafair pay for it.)

    1. A transfer from Metro to Link is a temporary hack. It doesn’t reflect the actual cost of a Link ride – it’s a gimme until the end of the year.

    2. I think you bring up a valid point, all of the local agencies and ORCA could do a better job presenting information, particularly for people who may be more comfortable with languages other than English. The Sound Transit TVMs need to support a number of languages as well. At the very least I’d say Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese, though Korean, Somali, and Russian wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
      The language used to explain ORCA and the other fare and payment systems is particularly confusing even to native English speaking transit wonks. ORCA and the other fare and payment systems need to be explained in simple and clear language.

      1. I was also confused about this. I am a senior with a Reduced Fare Permit with a Metro annual sticker/pass attached, which expires at the end of January. When I asked staff in Metro info booth at Westlakei was told I did not need to purchase a separate ticket to ride Link, just show my RFP with the Metro sticker attached. Haven’t tried it yet, so I hope it works. When Metro sticker expires was told I can get a Senior Orca card instead of Metro sticker.

  9. “One possible railway deterrent: It’s not free to transfer from train to bus, as it is from bus to bus.”

    Untrue it may be, but is it possible that it’s widely believed enough to deter potential rail riders?

    1. My girlfriend, who is pro-rail, and takes Metro to her job downtown every day, was confused about this point. She didn’t believe me when I told her that transfers between Link and Metro were free, and I had to prove it via the iPhone.

  10. Why white people like light rail, eh?

    Let me give you a taste of the demographics on my last trip to Othello two days ago. In the back half of front car after the Mariners fans got off at Station, there were about 15 of us in the back half, 6 were Asian, 4 were Black, 4 were White, and 1 was Hispanic.

  11. I think Nina made a good observation. One which I made before her article. If minorities are underrepresented on Link in relation to their population along the routing, something is wrong and needs to be corrected by ST. I don’t know if that is more community outreach and education, but this issue should be studied, and if there’s a problem, it needs to be fixed.

    And contrary to what one commenter suggested, bringing up the racial question is not racist. But not studying the issue and doing nothing to correct a possible racial imbalance is.

    1. So you’re suggesting we corral people on to the trains to make white people feel better about their investment? Here’s an idea, why don’t we let people make up their own minds about whether they use Link, instead of making them feel different because they don’t use it. As long as we keep identifying and classifying people by race, no matter how benign the intention, racism will be alive.

  12. So Zed, if it’s found that only 1% of the riders on Link are African American, are you suggesting it would be racist of Sound Transit to try to do more to increase that percentage? Or that it would even be racist of them to determine what percentage the various races ride Link?

    1. The only thing ST or Metro should do is make the information needed to use the system clear, understandable, and available in several languages. Once people have that information they can decide for themselves what works best for their situation.

  13. I wrote this on STB on July 21st:

    Comment by Sam
    2009-07-21 05:27:28

    “Brian, I was surprised that the Link passengers looked nothing like the passengers on the route 42 and 174. A typical route 42 route say, at about Alaska street, would be more than half African American. On my one Link round trip, I saw only two African Americans two whole time, a couple of asians, the the rest where white people, who seemed to be riding the train to experience it. It felt like an amusement park ride for white people who want to see where minorities live. I was expecting the cars to be filled with a better mix of Rainier Valley residents. I wonder why they aren’t riding Link in larger numbers.”

    I wonder if Nina got the idea for her story from me. I’d like to think she did.

  14. I took a train today from Westlake Station to Tukwila, just to see for myself who was riding it. I only counted my end of the car I was on.

    At Westlake 14 riders boarded my end of the light rail car. 9 boarded at University; 4 at Pioneer Square; and 3 at International District. From the same end of this light rail car, 1 rider got off at University; 1 got off at Pioneer Square, and 14 got off at the International District Station!

    That means that of the total of 30 boardings in the downtown tunnel, 16 of those 30 riders got off within the tunnel, also. So more than half of those trips were just within the downtown tunnel itself. I wonder if any of those riders paid for those trips, as they were supposed to, since they could have hopped on any bus in the tunnel for those trips for free. At any rate, those were very short trips.

    There were only 6 more boardings on my end of this car on the rest of the trip to Tukwila. Leaving the International District station, there were 14 riders in my end of this car: 11 were minorites, and 3 were white.

    When we left the Columbia City station, there were 12 riders in my end of this car, and ALL of them were minorities — there were zero white passengers on my end of that light rail car.

    So, it appears things are changing very quickly. More minorities are riding the light rail, and fewer whites.

    1. I did the same thing on Saturday – left Westlake about 1225 and rode all the way to Tukwila. Sparsely populated all the way; perhaps 2 dozen or so in each of the cars on the 2 car train as we left the ID mostly empty by the time we left Othello. There were clearly a few first time riders and others “checking it out” on a regular Saturday. Spent about 20 Minutes wandering around the Tukwila station taking pictures. Four TVMs all working, 2 ST staff plus security/ST Polizei there. One of the staff members had a card table set up for cash and VISA/MC sales and was doing an ok business. Parking lot was a bit less than half full, and perhaps 50 people got on the train I got off before it left northward. After that train and another left, I boarded a train that had about 50 people in each card and which departed around 1325. I rode north getting of at each station to photograph the art and some of the station details all the while keeping an eye on the number of people and being blasted by the noise from the US Navy’s aerobats. A dozen total or so people got off the 3 trains I saw at RB, and a dozen or more detrained at Othello off each of the 4 trains I saw arrive and leave there. I tapped out there and walked the neighborhood a bit – lots of business doing briskly at 1400 Saturday and the school buses were available to take folks over to the hydro pits. Columbia City was very quiet as was Mt Baker; 2 or 3 off and on each train I saw. The northward train I joined at Mt Baker appeared to have few or no seats left; a few boarded at BH, lots got off at Stadium and the ID as did I to have lunch at the Uwajimaya food court.

      1. A couple of additions & corrections:
        ST table at Tukwila was cash only.
        Parking lot at Tukwila was a bit less than full (not half full as I wrote)
        Saw 3 motorized wheelchairs over the course of the day – the rest of the riders seemed a pretty diverse cross section of the Seattle population

        The hunting in the front car coming down from Tukwila seemed much better than 2 weeks ago, thought the rear car on the train I went south on fish-tailed a bit between about the KCMetro South Base and where the railway turns to head uphill to Tukwila Sta as had happened on 18 July.

  15. I should have mentioned that this train I was on left Westlake at about 4:30 in the afternoon. The trip from Westlake to Tukwila took 36 minutes.

  16. The only thing more shocking than finding out that they still publish “The Weekly” is learning that they still publish “The Daily”.

    But then again, if you are going to print an error, it’s best to print it in a publication that no one reads.

    1. oh-so-true.

      i am kind of amazed that ever-so-white Nina claims that us brown folks aren’t riding the light rail. we *are* (and so are the white folks, too…), it’s just that if you take your random samples in the white, er, i mean right places, you can game the numbers to show what you want.

      there were no seats to be had, and some standees, on two of the four light rail trips i took this week. while i didn’t count people on the basis of race (and make snap judgments about if that girl was half Korean or not), it looked not entirely unlike the quilt of people you expect to see in the Rainier Valley.

      then again while we’re at it there were significantly more people on all four of these trains than the city’s print media would have you believe.

  17. Correction to your post: Yes the 42X will be deleted, and the 48, south of MT. Baker. But the 42 will still run. But it will use the routing to terminate where the Columbia City 48 does. And remember the 8 will run all the way to Rainier Beach in Sept for most hours of the day, until 11 or 11:30pm i believe. Also, the 106 will change to operate between Link Rail and Rainier/Henderson on Henderson St, as will the 8, 9X, 107. So more options to get betwwen Rainier Beach and the Train. And the 107, will have new routing in Rainier View and Skyway, and will serve Rainier Beach Station. All 42X commuters can use the train and connect to the 107 @ Rainier Beach Station.

    1. Casey,

      I’ve been covering this from day one, so that no news to me. That’s why I said “effectively”.

  18. A comment and 2 questions:
    1. Folks may be taking the bus vs rail because they figured out as I did that the off peak price for bus is $1.75 vs $2.00 for rail. The only way around this is to wait for and stop a bus and get a transfer and then get on the rail. Something I did the first day but would not do on a regular basis. By the time the bus comes, I might as well get on it.

    2. Are there any plans to provide feeder rides to the light rail?
    I have asked a number of Metro employees and no one knows of such a thing.

    Rationale: The existing Metro bus plan is NOT an adequate “feeder” system. The bus routes go South-North mostly parallel to the rail. In the case of the 39, by the time it crosses over MLK, it has made most of it’s stop and go stops, and travels quite quickly to downtown. (There might be minutes savings on the rail but not when you count transfer time.) The changes posted for Sept 2009 and Feb 2010 are no better in terms of feeder.

    Rationale: Many households with small children, elderly and others will find it difficult and impractical to walk more than 1/4 mile (1/2/ mile +) to get to the light rail stations. Limited parking has been dealt with in other blogs, but why not have short van routes East-West from Seward Park, south Beacon Hill, Hillman City, etc.? Heh, it would be great if everyone would walk and get fit, but that ain’t gonna happen, plus it is not practical for everyone.

    Rationale: Many of us WANT to use light rail and totally support public transportation. The whole Rainier Valley has dealt with this construction mess for years. However in reality there are only 3 stops and not all of us live next door.

    3. How many of you would use a private van service to the rail, for something like a $1-2 fee (on top of Metro fee)?

      1. What is poor routing the Metro “feeder” service or running Link down MLK. In the first case I’m inclined to agree, not sure what could be done given the service hours availible. In the second case given the physical reality of an up and running Link line I don’t see the point of continuing to debate this. Griping about Central link routing isn’t going to move the line. I’d suggest anyone who doesn’t like the current routing put their efforts toward something more positive like better feeder service, denser pedestrian-oriented zoning for station areas, or encouraging private all-day pay parking near stations.

  19. I absolutely cannot believe Seattle Weekly’s editors let this article ever go to print! It is so misinformed, and blatantly racist, that I am beyond myself. Anyone in the Seattle metro area can ride the new light rail for themselves and see that not anyone race prefers it as transportation- like the metro area itself, riders on the light rail are multi ethnic.
    I should mention that i sent the author, Nina Shapiro- a few pictures of my first ride on the train, on the monday after it opened.
    Had i known at the time that I would have to come out in defense of Seattle’s multiple non white ethnic groups, I would have gone out of my way to show color. regardless- I sent her quite a few random shots, all showing nothing but non white people.
    It is sick that it has come down to this. Racism is alive and well.

  20. john, she was contrasting the route 42 to Link. It’s a legitimate thing to ask. To NOT ask if minorities are underrepresented on Link is racist.

    1. minorities are NOT underrepresented in our public transportation.
      It has been proven that the article is full of misinformation. why defend her?

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