Martin’s scoop a few weeks ago about Metro’s Draft Service Reduction Plan, which really should be called a “thought exercise” or “illustration”, got a fair deal of attention but after attending the July 1st meeting later that day I realized that the most important story was about the policies that the scenario were more or less based on. While any new policy will certainly need to balance competing objectives, the emerging consensus of the task force is that productivity (some measure TBD) should be the predominant driver of service allocation and service reductions. In other words transit service should be allocated in a way that is cognizant of demand and context, not by ideologically (i.e. subarea equity) driven policy choices. More after the jump.
The Regional Transit Task Force has been tasked with:
(1) considering whether there should be changes to the vision and mission of the King County transit system; (2) developing criteria for systematically growing the transit system; (3) developing criteria for systematically reducing the transit system; (4) strategies for increasing efficiency; and (5) a state and federal legislative agenda to achieve the vision.
A similar attempt to reevaluate Metro’s system was undertaken last year but simply got mangled in politics, and when extra money was found the discussion died. For this reason many people, myself included, had a healthy skepticism that anything significant would happen. However this time around several things are different.
The members of the task force, while geographically balanced, have a range of professional backgrounds with elected officials making up only 6 of the 28 members. Additionally it seems fairly safe to assume that Metro will have a hard time filling the next biennial budge gap. These two things make it more likely that Metro, and more importantly the County Council, will be forced to make tough choices that were politically unattractive or impossible before.
So what kind of system do performance measures favor? It depends on the specific measure but in general it favors frequent arterial based routes or commuter routes. As shown in the graphic above “Local” and “Hourly” routes, which are circuitous and have headways of 30-60 minutes, almost always perform worst. So while riders per platform hour will favor frequent arterial service and passenger miles per platform hour will favor commuter service, few if any performance measures favor local and hourly routes.
More fundamentally the task force’s discussion is about two competing objectives and which one to prioritize or how to balance the two. On one hand you have current Metro policy which more than not favors social equity and geographic equity. On the other hand you have productivity which favors dense land use, congestion relief, and a efficiency based allocation of limited resources. As they say, the devil is in the detail, so stay tuned.
The next meeting of the Regional Transit Task Force is tonight, 5:30-8:30 at the Mercer Island Community Center.