Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen and House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn have sent a letter to the Governor (PDF) requesting Gregoire not veto the private provider provision we’ve covered before.

The letter’s points are nonsensical, and fail to address or even acknowledge any of the concerns raised in opposing letters from USDOT (PDF) and all of our local transit agencies (docx).

The chairs claim, for instance, that local jurisdictions have “always resisted even an evaluation of the benefits of sharing these restricted facilities” – when several of these agreements have been adopted already, such as shared use of Overlake Transit Center. Interestingly, we’ve heard that the provisions here in the budget may even conflict with existing state law regarding agreements with private providers – the budget does not amend the existing statute, but instead creates conflicting guidance for transit agencies.

As we covered before, the language in this amendment would tie any WSDOT funding for transit to that agency opening their facilities to private operators.

We’ve heard Starline Luxury Coaches may be involved here – they’re smarting from the Obama Administration removing the public transit restriction for game service, and they’ve weighed in on that issue heavily, and were involved in creating the original Bush rule.

When voters approved local transit projects, they didn’t agree to taxes to subsidize private motorcoaches.

30 Replies to “Haugen and Clibborn Oppose USDOT, Transit Agencies On Private Provider Requirement”

    1. Gray Line of Seattle is a Union Shop. I believe it is the ONLY Union shop among private charter companies in the region. It is now owned by TMS, a nationwide company that runs shore operations at cruise ship terminals, now including Pier 66 and some of the ships at Pier 91. GLS full time drivers are members of the UTW, mostly Railroad based membership.

  1. Ben, hearings were going on during Transportation Advocacy Day (1/28/10) and I think Starline might have been one of the private operators that testified.

    1. Thanks. I’ve been looking for a clearer connection, and I think you’re right. They and the airporter services seem to be the ones who would benefit the most.

    2. Yes, Starline definitely had several representatives there testifying at the hearing. I’m bummed I didn’t know about the bill before that day, as I spent all my time there listening and figuring out in my head why it was wrong, and didn’t have time to get up and testify myself- I surely would have had something to say!

  2. Do you think private motor coaches, like Starline, the airporter services and Microsoft Connector buses take cars off the roads?

    What costs taxpayers more per passenger mile in subsidies: Starline, the airporter services and Connector buses; or Metro and Sound Transit?

    1. I don’t think anyone disagrees that it is sometimes a good idea to have these partnerships. That’s not the issue.

      The issue is that this language doesn’t meet federal statute, conflicts with existing state law, and doesn’t allow transit agencies to make their own determinations about whether a partnership is a good idea.

    2. Yes they do. Private charter companies do not directly get any taxpayer subsidies, any more than truckers or anyone else using the public roads. They DO pay hefty fees in taxes and insurance. They DO take people out of cars. MS Connector is the largest private bus company running daily shuttle in the region. They do this because the efficency of the routes. ALL riders preregister and routes are then created.

      Private charters operate for hire by groups. The newer MCI and Prvost usually hold between 47 and 56 passengers. Even at 5-6 miles to the gallon for a full size parlor coach, anything more than 5 aboard usually beats cars. Good planning by meeting planners and so on try to maximize the use. With 40 aboard the economics can be very good. But it in the northwest, it is not an easy go to run year round.

      During cruise season (May to September) we have a shortage of machines and drivers. Busses are often brought in from neighboring states. Mid week in January will find most of most fleets parked, a very expensive proposition as these are expensive machines to buy, lease, and operate.

      1. Seattle Greg, we don’t do it because of the efficiency of the routes. We hate running those shuttles, they’re expensive. And no, the riders didn’t pre-register before the routes were created.

        None of what you’re saying is relevant to the reasons this bill is bad.

      2. Ben,

        I am sorry, I was under the impression from the articles I read that the shuttles were created based on studies of ridership potential. I was also under the impression that to ride the system you have to reserve your seat in advance. Lastly, the rationale I had heard was that this we more efficient to save workers time spent on Metro (which often was not a dirct run, but required transfers.) If it is such an expensive system, why didn’t MS do what so many other businesses do and just provide ORCA or passes or re-embursement for using public transit?

        Just curious.

        Lastly, I have heard a rumor many times that MVP was thinking of applying for the right to offer charter service to outside clients. I appreciate your comments. Thanks.

      3. And to be clear, my comments YES were regarding Norman’s first question, Do you think private motor coaches, like Starline, the airporter services and Microsoft Connector buses take cars off the roads?”

        The point being (to Norman) that there is no direct subsidy to taxpayers for private charter companies like StarLine or Gray Line of Seattle’s Airporter Service….

    3. So you would rather that taxpayer money go to private corporate profits rather than where people promise they will go? Why don’t we just hand over all high ridership metro routes to star line, that would be a good idea right?

      1. What money would be going directly to private corporations? Would you rather taxpayers pay most of the cost of transporting people in buses, or would you rather the passengers themselves pay the operating cost of the buses?

        How much taxpayer money does it cost per passenger mile for poeple riding on Conncector buses or Starline buses? How much taxpayer money does it cost per passenger mile for people riding on Metro or Sound Transit buses or trains?

      2. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any route that even covers 100% of it’s operational costs, let alone capital and overhead. I also highly doubt any private company would be interested in taking even the highest ridership routes over. This strikes me as another nonsensical objection and I’ve yet to hear one practical proposal that would be allowed under this bill which would somehow force transit agencies to either lose money or result in an overall negative impact to the public.

      3. Bernie, when Starline wants to use the DSTT, and Metro says no, Metro would lose any state money.

      4. How can you possibly read this into the bill? The only way Metro (or ST) could lose any State money is if the private agency making a request is able to prove that it wasn’t seriously considered. Metro has determined the safe maximum number of buses that it is able to operate in conjunction with rail in the DSTT. All they’d have to do is site the basis for this conclusion and they’re done. And again, no private agency would be stupid enough to ask to use the DSTT. And, all of the approaches which would allow you to enter the tunnel are controlled by SDOT so they simply can’t get there even if Metro/ST wanted to make some money by offering it to them.

        Really, what the local transit agencies should be doing is finding ways they can market their assets and sending out requests for bid to private companies.

      5. Your misunderstanding of the provision does not appear to comport with the actual text of the provision. Ben’s does.

        Please publish the text in detail and explain why you believe it would allow agencies to refuse DSTT/park-and-ride/etc. access in cases where it causes operational problems. As far as I can tell, it requires them to allow access even in cases where it causes operational problems — *which is the problem*.

  3. The links to the FTA and the USDOT letters both seem to be the exact same letter? What’s a .docx file?

    The FTA/USDOT letter brings up a concern about the wording regarding grant to the State and it should be amended to any reference any public agency in the State. However, the bill also says that the cost of opening the facility to a private operator can be charged back to them. An agency could then as a matter of boiler plate include in any contract with a private operator a clause resulting in the loss of any grant money (State, Federal, whatever) be reimbursed. Or they could just deny the request based on the loss or ineligibility to apply for such grants. The private operator wouldn’t be able to say the request hadn’t been considered.

    1. Sorry, I do appear to have linked both to the same letter. I’ll fix that this evening and comment.

    2. The “cost of opening a facility” bit is interesting. That could be a last ditch attempt to keep starline buses out of E3…

      1. I managed to open the .docx file. The letter from “all of our local transit agencies” is an unsigned form letter which lacks any acknowledgement of who authored it and which if any agencies actually sent a copy to the Governor. In fact the “Sincerely, Rep.” in the signature block looks like this was actually generated for legislators to sign. The other two letters are at least signed and have a received date stamp.

        I agree with the sentiments expressed in the letter to the Governor from the chairs of both the House and Senate transportation committees. In particular the sentiment of “organizational inertia” seems to be confirmed by the letter attributed to local agencies (although I hate to point a finger not knowing which if any agencies actually signed on to this). The idea that they would have to respond to each request is somehow held up as a burden. Aren’t they supposed to be looking for innovative ways to improve mobility? It’s almost like, “If I’d wanted to work I’d have gotten a job in the private sector.” It’s also just pure fabrication to try and suggest this bill requires any handover of transit lanes or P&R facilities. The only requirement with respect to P&Rs is that they can not permit use if occupancy is 90% or greater. And local transit agencies have very little say over HOV and transit lane useage. WSDOT decides who can or can’t use the State lanes. SDOT decides what is or isn’t acceptable for transit or BAT lanes in the city. And, as the letter points out all an agency has to do is sight public safety to reject use of the E3 busway or the DSTT.

        The wording “State” in the grant provision should be changed (and can be after the law is signed). But that potential pitfall is still covered in the cost proviso. Any conflict with federal law defaults to the feds. I still haven’t seen the conflict but if there is one then that part of the bill can’t be enforced. The State hasn’t been a big supporter of local transit agencies and I’m not convinced that they even should be but rejecting an attempt at a pilot program seems like a sure way to stymie any future support from the legislature.

      2. You keep asserting these whimsical ideas and claiming stuff like, “next year when gas is $10 a gallon”. Back in the 60’s the comic protest sign read, “The end of the world is coming!”

      3. If “cost of opening a facility” really refers to the full cost, to wit, operational delays, maintenance costs, etc. can be charged to the private operator, then of course the provision is just fine.

        It is not clear to me that it does.

    1. 6381 – but there’s not really any action to be taken anymore, except calling the Governor.

  4. Hmmm, an intresting turn of events. I had forgotten about StarLine et. all’s bid to operate sporting event shuttles in recent times (and dident really want to remember them either…)

    I had thought that the idea was legitimate, providing inter and intra city carrier connectivity (even some airport shuttles count as intercity carriers) but if this is indeed the case than i am not supportive of this at all.

    It’s one thing to be providing a service for the public to use to attend these large events, since the public has invested in this infrastructure its quite reasonable to be providing such services. It’s another to allow a private entity to do so, without any compensation for special event type services where they are turning a profit.

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