E3 Busway, by Atomic Taco

We all know the state legislature is far too busy trying to patch the budget hole to do anything like avoid catastrophic transit cuts or deter the murder of cyclists on the streets.  But there’s always time to mess around with transit priority!  Publicola:

The bill, ostensibly aimed at encouraging private transit services like Microsoft’s Connector buses to Redmond, would also open up bus lanes to charter vans, airport shuttles, and unspecified “private nonprofit transportation provider vehicles.”

It would also allow those vehicles to park in park-and-rides at all hours…

Unbelievably, the Senate passed SB 6570 46-1.  The 43rd District’s Ed Murray was the only one to vote against this bill.  Dale Brandland (R-Bellingham) and Bob McCaslin (R-Spokane Valley) didn’t vote.

I don’t think a measure along these lines is necessarily bad policy, but this bill doesn’t contain anywhere near the protections necessary to prevent private operators from fouling up public transit.  It allows exclusion of private operators only when agencies can claim a threat to safety in transit lanes, or the off-peak utilization in park-and-rides is at least 90%.

It doesn’t appear that there’s been any assessment of the bill’s impact on transit operations. It doesn’t offer a process for agencies to determine the impact before a private operator could, say, share an already full bus bay at peak – when transit planners today carefully manage bus loads to prevent long queues and ensure layover space.

The bill author also doesn’t appear to have a clear grasp of park and ride load (in peak or off-peak). We’ve heard from Sound Transit in the past that park and ride users tend to consider a lot ‘full’ and seek alternatives (like driving alone) somewhere between 70% and 85% of capacity. This makes sense, as users of these lots are planning their commute in advance.

Erica’s piece has more about the bill’s impacts – it doesn’t appear to have been thought through.

50 Replies to “Senate votes to open up transit lanes”

  1. I assume the DSTT is not included: the bill calls transit lanes “a portion of a highway” (one assumes the DSTT is its own thing and not a portion of anything else). Also, the bill says that anything that interferes with federal funding would defer to allow the state to still get funding, so if allowing limos in the DSTT precludes, say, a Homeland Security grant, then no limos there. I also assume the Busway will still be a busway. Would the name have to be changed from Busway to Public/Private Large-Capacity Vehicle Corridor?

    On a side note, I once saw a limo speed through the DSTT with a KCSO Transit Police cruiser in pursuit. That was about 15 years ago.

    1. There was a truck that went through in the 1990’s. He claimed that he was following the signs to “Transit the City”.

      Now, what qualifies a vehicle to carry “8 or more”? Is it the number of seatbelts installed? A person I know recently purchased a Volvo XC90 because it had space (legally) for 7; if I buy a minivan with capacity for eight can I now use these transit facilities regardless of how many people are in the van?

      Let’s chip in for the Seattle Transit Blog Minivan today!

      1. Though this does merit further discussion I’m surprised it has survived so far in this session.

        FWIW, I’d add ITS equipped vehicles, presuming we shall see same in the Obama years. Also, talking about public safety vehicles belongs in this same context – as quite humorously pointed out by Mr. Dublin.

        Lastly, if this bill was passed effectively ammending McGinn’s transit only proposal for the third lane of 520, that would be a win.

      2. I guess I said highway when I meant to lump in all roadways. Is the DSTT a highway, a street, or something else altogether that makes is something different than a portion of another roadway. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

        The Publicola piece does mention that Metro or ST would have to show that a vehicle in the DSTT poses a safety hazard. Anything with any sort of internal combustion engine would certainly pose a threat based on its emissions in a space designed for electric.

      3. No! It would have to only be a safety hazard to existing transit vehicles. And all the Diseasel-Hybrid buses have internal combustion engines, so that argument is out.

  2. So how did the Microsoft connector vans share Overlake Transit Center with public transit before this bill? What exactly does this allow private operators to do? Use the busway in SODO and the transit lanes to I-90?

    1. I think Microsoft donated some of the land for the Overlake TC. As a driver of the route 566, they don’t cause too many problems there. As for the I-90 transit lanes, they are open to all carpools, and other buses. I seen Greyhound buses even use it (as long the other vehicles do not enter the DSTT ramp westbound near the end of the roadway). I agree that the SODO busway should remain for transit vehicles only, since we have stops along the busway, and misc other vehicles would do stupid stuff, like passing and making turns along the route.

      1. The MSconnectors atleast last time i saw were seperated from the public transit operations by use of a diffrent driveway and parking area. I agree with warren about the E-3 Busway and tunnel ramps.

      2. The “Shuttle Connect” (usualy Toyota Priuses – connecting to various MS work sites), use the separate loading zone from the KC Metro/ST buses, but operate most of the day. “The Connector” (usually MCI buses – the long haul trips to various neighborhoods/cities) use the transit center itself, but they only operate during the peak hours only. The Overlake TC serves as the hub for these services.

  3. Sounds like a great idea to me- if the law adds a few conditions:

    1. Reserve the freeway lanes for buses only- no more automobiles at all.

    2. Forbid private buslines from refusing service to “public” passengers.

    3. Mandate same maintenance and personnel training requirements as for public companies.

    4. Make sure all operating personnel are union-represented.

    5. Require all private Tunnel buses to meet exhaust emissions standards of current Tunnel fleet.

    6. Require all private bus-drivers using the Tunnel to get Tunnel training.

    7. Require that all private operators in the Tunnel be subject to the orders of Metro Tunnel Control.

    8. Require that private operators agree to help pay for Tunnel operation, and agree to be phased out as light-rail develops.

    On the positive side: possibility that service-deprived passengers might start organizing their own bus lines and jitney services, as they do all over the Third World, doesn’t hurt being kept in official minds.

    If CT carries out its threat to cut Sunday service this summer, Snohomish County may not have enough enforcers to keep this from happening- as it already is in Detroit.

    Above list aside, only ironclad requirement for these services should be that they have wonderful names like “The Heavens’ Most Powerful Tiger Bus Company”- and have florid custom paint jobs and flowers and huge furry dice hanging from the mirrors, and CD players for the passengers.

    Also, they all have to take ORCA cards.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’m highly suspect of ANY move towards privatization of transit that doesn’t at the same time implement strong regulations that stop a race to the bottom and doesn’t include feedback mechanisms to ensure that transit providers are not negatively impacted. I also think that if any private service providers wants to use public facilities in the way that isn’t currently allowed that provider must pay for all relevant studies that ensure that transit operations will not be negatively affected.

      The thing is that we all know that the above mentioned protections will never be included and that this effort is certainly not in good faith. This begins us down a slippery slope of deregulation of the transit market which has be disastrous in the UK.

      It infuriates me that Legislators spend their time screwing around rather than supporting transit. The Democratic leadership should take notice. The base of the party is sick and tired with this BS and come next election we’ll be holding you accountable.

      1. Theres a reason why local service is publically operated in this country. If it made money on its own it would be privately ran (Like it was a 100 years ago). Theres also a reason why certain private industries are regulated in this country, something that also seems to have been forgotten in recent times.

  4. I’d be fascinated to see who encouraged the transportation chair and other transportation committee members to sponsor this bill.

  5. Another reason to build rail over buses.

    I’m so sick of Olympia meddling in Seattle’s business.

    Am I the only one that think it’s upside down that the head of the House Transportation Committee is from Camano Island?? Last time I checked, they just had a few bridges and two lane roads. How can make relevant transportation decisions for the Central Puget Sound metro area??

  6. This is also an issue with the Federal Law not allowing public transit agencies to service special events. Metro did not want Starline (and other private companies) to use park and ride lots, since they are not familiar with staging, and some park and ride lots are active (examples Eastgate Park and Ride Garage/Northgate TC) with transfers. Don’t need to have a private bus layovering in an active bus stop, when regular transit service needs to service the stops and providing transfers. Messing up with regular transit service is a big issue here.

  7. As you say, it may make sense to allow this at some times and places, but if it messes with the public transit efficiency this is a big problem. It’s somewhat problematic that money spent on public transit lanes is now subsidizing businesses that either don’t allow the public to ride, or charge high fees, and thus exclude much of the public. But if these private transportation vehicles then interfere with the efficiency of public transportation, that is a serious injustice.

    Also, this shows one of the problems of thinking BRT is equivalent to rail. Whenever you put concrete down, there is always the danger of the lane being opened up for more than its original purpose, as politicians are easily tempted to do so. Thus goes the devolution: Public transit lane –> Public and private transit lane –> HOV lane –> regular highway lane.

    1. How naive for me to think that defeating Tim Eyman’s I-985 (opening HOV lanes) would be the the last of that but Nooooo our elected officials decided to do something bad anyway.

  8. Some interesting quotes from the Fiscal Note, which seemed to be ignored by the Senators:

    Transit-only lane use by private or non-profit operators during peak operating times that result in service delay would directly impact public transit agency operating costs. Cost increases could be significant, especially during peak hours, for Puget Sound transit agencies operating on the HOV and transit only system including Sound Transit and Metro King County Transit.

    Federal funding agreements for transit only and park and ride facilities typically restrict non-public transit use to incidental use of federally funded facilities during off-peak use times. […] Determining which lots are impacted by federal restrictions and what portion of Section 3 state requirements would still apply would require both staff and attorney time for each transit agency.

  9. The intent is good. The Actual execution, leaves some to be desired. on the East Coast, there tends to be more shared bus terminals. For example, NJT (New Jersey Transit) May have a station with an attached P&R in a town. Than ontop of the scheduled NJT service, Peter Pan, Bolt, etc. may also stop there. I’m sure they pay some maintenace fee to NJT for use of the facility, but because its a public facility i’m sure they are not paying a large sum of money.

    Mabye thats a model we should work on implementing here. Yes, a private can (and mabye by order of WUTC) have his or her scheduled lines serve some public transportation facilites, with them paying a small fee, mainly for administrative plus instllation of signage/schedule boards to serve some of the P&R lots and other public transportation facilties in a consolidated fashion.

    An example of this, may be that the Kitsap Airporter service, Which runs from Bremerton-Sea Tac Airport via Tacoma has to make scheduled stops at the Purdy P&R, Gig Harbor P&R, and Tacoma Dome Station on his way. Another example may be that Greyhound, has to serve to Lakewood Sounder Station for connections to Ft Lewis (AKA JBLM), and instead of stopping at some gas station in centrailia has to serve the Amtrak Station which also has city bus connections. Same goes for Kelso/Longview.

    At first, this may be frowned upon by private business, however it would create more regional and long distance connections by having consolidated facilities (like are featured in europe) and probally boost overall ridership on the long run. As for ORCA compatability, it would be great but someone aside from the carrier should be footing the capital bill. Would also be neat for TAXI cabs to take it in the long long run.

    1. Seems the Kitsap Airporter already serves the Purdy P&R, so this idea isnt totally new. But they dont serve any other public transportation facilitys (although they do serve a spot in Gig Harbor and near TCC).

      Now if someone wanted to subsidise ORCA and ST’s fare structure….

      1. The Kitsap Airporter used to have a stop on the transit deck at Bremerton’s intermodal ferry terminal, near the Starbucks, but that stop isn’t noted on its current schedule. (Also, Kitsap Transit has periodically tried to keep taxicabs off the transit deck, but has settled, for the moment, for a legally questionable program that vets taxicab drivers before allowing them to use the taxi stand near the ferry’s passenger ramp.)

      2. I thought thats what Taxi Mediallons were for. I.E. if you had a mediallon for a certain location (like seattle or king co you could pick up at those locations. Why the airport dosent have its own mediallion program i dont know, and vet the cabs that way instead of exclusive contracts…) Kitsap Transit could have their own mediallon just for the taxi stand on the bus deck, of course i dont think they would be worth very much…

      3. Ahhh…but there is no taxicab/for-hire authority in Kitsap County. Bremerton used to license taxicabs, but suddenly stopped a couple of years ago, and to my knowledge, none of the other three incorporated cities issue licenses. Kitsap Transit has no legal authority whatsoever to regulate taxicabs/for-hire – that would be the medallions – and it’s highly unlikely the state legislature would even consider giving such authority to the agency.

      4. So anyone can paint the word TAXI on the side of their vehicle of choice and operate… Rules and Regulations be damned! well, until the town cop stops you for a chat…

      5. Anybody can hang a taxi sign from any sort of vehicle in Kitsap County, and as long as the operator theoretically has all necessary state licenses and proper commercial insurance,* he or she can operate a taxi. And nobody, for example, checks to see if the vehicles are safe to drive. It’s an incredible situation, and whatever you imagine the result is, it’s probably worse. The way I see it, most of the politicians in the county seem more interested in turf wars, or leaving expensive monuments to their empire building, than dealing with the nuts and bolts of, say, public safety issues. And yes, some of the drivers would have major problems if they were stopped by the police.

        * The state’s Department of Licensing is supposed to ride herd on the insurance, but theoretically only checks when a for-hire permit is renewed.

  10. So, a large private airporter fleet could park their vehicles in a public parking garage?

    If it’s not a ferry or a freeway, Sen. Haugen ain’t fer it.

    1. If British Columbia can privatize their ferry system, why can’t Washington State, Mary Margaret?

      1. I know all about the trials and tibulations of Capt. Peabody. But that was then. WSF could be contracted out to the highest bidding operating company like First Transit does for CT.

        But since the whole maritime industry in the USA has not been examined by the WTO, and lives in the world of the Jones Act, the Shipping Act, and the overall environment which allows for federal monies to be spent only in Washington State, as opposed to a cheaper Gulf Coast state, as described here:

        http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/pacificnw/2011034073_pacificptodd21.html

        You inland boatman types have nothing to fear…until the day the WTO takes notice!

  11. i think any vehicles parking would still have to comply with the faciltiy owners regulations. 72 hours for metro, 24 for PT, etc.

  12. Having the taxpayers build facilities for the use of private profit making entities? Sounds like how things work around here anyway (Sports Stadiums being but one example) . All such private use (the Busway for example) should be tightly controlled (permitted) and the private users required to pay a usage fee (not only for maintenance but also a portion of the capital costs). That even goes for private bus lines like the MS connector. Such service should be banned from the Tunnel. Same situation for the use of Park and Ride lots for pick-up, drop-off, and/or equipment storage — permitted use only and fees required.
    Otherwise this is a BAD idea and illustrates my contention that Transit has a weak place at the table — the autocentric folks can weasel their way into the Transit system using fuzzy logic and the vast majority of people neither no nor care.

  13. Hmmm… Seems well-intentioned – Why shouldn’t Microsoft Connector buses and vans be able to use transit-only lanes? They contribute as much to traffic reduction as public transportation. However, serious flaws need to be addressed in the House version:

    . NO access to DSTT – Seems like Federal Rail regulations would take care of this.
    . Capacity triggers – Access allowed in places like 3rd Ave, Sodo busway, and future bus-only lanes like Rapid Ride only when capacity for public transportation isn’t unreasonably affected
    . Parking fees for Park & Rides are “actual costs” which should include capital costs of building the park & ride in the first place. If “Actual costs” only includes current operating costs, then the costs will be *seriously* undervalued.
    . No peak use of park & rides – South Bellevue P&R is already full by 8am – adding a Microsoft connector stop there would make things even worse.
    . Implement parking fees for *all* users of Park & Rides and use those fees to improve public transportation – Seriously, can we start charging something at Park & Rides today?

    Other suggestions?

    1. As I said before you’re assuming these proposal is in good faith. All it is an effort to do is lower operating costs for private operators, transit be damned. All except your first point will never be included. Not even in enlighten places like Sweden do private operators of transit or intercity rail pay a portion of the publicly financed transportation facilities that they use.

      1. I can’t help but relate this argument with the same argument for school vouchers. Here, we have the state saying “Our transit service is currently not meeting the needs of various industries, so if the industry wants to pay for a specialty service, why should we prohibit them from using public facilities designed for public transit.” Compare this to the school voucher debate, “Our school system is not meeting the needs of the public, why not shift that funding to private school vouchers or home schooling. Also, if home schoolers would like to be part of a sports team, why not let them use the school facilities that were paid for by the public.”*

        Instead, the better answer would be to simply increase the funding stream for transit rather than continue to slash transit repeatedly.

        *The comparison may be a little labored but I see it as a similar issue. Maybe someone with more eloquent language stills could clean that up.

    2. I think a small fee ($1-2 a day) for use of a P&R would be a good thing, so long as the fees went back into capital projects such as adding parking decks, security infrastructure, bus capasity improvements etc. or some operational expense such as on-site security that can do more than watch your car get burgled. Of course, you could setup a monthly pass system through ORCA, or use ORCA E-purse for it, as well as conventional methods such as cash and credit cards.

  14. Something I’ve thought would be a more-useful sign for WSDOT than the # of minutes it takes to go to Bellevue (see SB I-5 just past 12th SW), which nobody except an everyday commuter can tell whether it’s good or not would be a sign that indicates the capacity of the upcoming park and rides. One such sign could be placed at about SR 526 in South Everett, e.g. would cover South Everett, Mariner, Ash Way, Swamp Creek, Lynnwood, and Mountlake Terrace facilities. Another such sign could be in northern Marysville to cover the Marysville, Everett Station, and perhaps South Everett parking areas. Something similar to this could be done for I-90 from the east and I-5 from the south. This would help drivers plan which parking facility to select and could be augmented by clear signage at each site as to which routes went to the most popular destinations, i.e. downtown Seattle, Bellevue, and the UW, similar to what’s at the Lynnwood Transit Center today. If they can install the technology to tell one if there are parking spots at Sea-Tac, they certainly can do so for the major park & rides!

    1. If you have a paid facility its easy to monitor/regulate traffic into/out of the facility so you can plan accordingly. Also we need to stop building so many surface parking lots in the region and concentrate our efforts on large structured parking facilitys. This would both increase security for those parking there and allow agencies to focus service and provide more frequent service to/from facilities.

      It would also be nice to have public/private partnerships with owners of large parking areas such as Tacoma Mall, EQC fife to negotiate parking rights, and build a flyer stop in the middle of the freeway’s HOV lanes (if we ever get them) for express bus service to stop there.

      1. But than that just contributes to sprawl vs TOD/Urban devlopement. Of course i think for the most part the cat is already out of the bag on that one…

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