Impact on Ridership

The Regional Transit Task Force (RTTF) has been looking at both reduction and growth scenarios. Today I’ll give you an update on the reduction scenarios and tomorrow I’ll give you an update on the growth scenarios. It’s worth noting that the Council has given the RTTF more time to conduct it’s work, which certainly seems necessary.        

As I reported a while ago there is generally agreement that reductions should be made based on productivity. After all if you want to increase the efficiency of a system, productivity is the measure to use.        

As more scenarios are developed the obvious is emerging, any cuts based on productivity will be best for the west subarea, worst for the east subarea and roughly neutral for the south subarea. On the flip side it appears significant efficiencies could be attained from redesigning Metro’s transit service. This could be good or bad depending on the specific change and your point of view but it would certainly impact the west subarea most, simply because it has the most service  as well as the most service “artifacts” that can create a less than optimal system. Both of these things, getting rid of subarea based service allocation and redesigning the bus system obviously aren’t politically easy to do.        

To further explore other reduction options Metro has added three new reduction scenarios R0, R2, and R3. R1 was the first reduction scenario discussed and had a refreshing and balanced approach, essentially a system designed by transit planners, not politicians.        

  • R0: Productivity based reductions, regardless of subarea.
  • R1: Reduction made using a three screen process regardless of subarea. First unproductive service (less than 10 riders per platform hours or 50 passenger miles per platform hours) are removed, reduced or redesigned. Second service is added back according to goals of connecting housing and job centers, ensuring mobility for minority/student populations, and lifeline services over broad geographic areas. Third system design efficiencies are applied. This means leveraging ST service, consolidating routes, prioritizing frequent arterial service, etc.
  • R2: Productivity based reductions, done on a subarea basis. Reductions per subarea are based on percent of service hours each subarea currently has (west 62%, south 21%, east 17%). This essentially is Metro’s current policy.
  • R3: Uses the same three screen process as R1 but applied by subarea as in R2.

Lots more after the jump. The modeling for these four scenarios reveals some obvious results and some not so obvious results.        

Productivity Thresholds

First off, scenarios with subarea based cuts perform worse than scenarios which make cuts regardless of subarea (R0>R2 and R1>R3). Since subarea cuts are set by policy each subarea only has to cut enough service hours to meet these prescribed cuts (62% west, 21% south, 17% east). This creates a situation where the east subarea has a low service reduction threshold of ~8 riders per platform hour cut (R2,R3), while the west subarea has a much higher threshold of ~23 riders per hour cut. This means that for every 23 west subarea riders potentially kicked off Metro, just 8 east subarea riders will be kicked off. Posed in this way you can make some strong equity arguments counter to the typical subarea area equity argument. Essentially subarea equity gives preferential treatment to some riders just because they live on the east side of Lake Washington.     

Additionally scenarios which simply cut service hours perform much worse than scenarios that consolidate, redesign or leverage ST service (R1>R0 and R3>R2). This is not surprising but the scale of the impact is. Any reduction scenario must have significant system design changes if lose of riders is a priority. Financial pinches like this are sometimes the only wayto force agencies to improve system design. Financial pinches make the status quo impossible to maintain, so the default option of inaction is eliminated. Hopefully enough good changes can be found to make this process a positive experience.    

Now come some of interesting results. Holding one factor constant (system design or subarea approach) I got the graph below.        

Relative Impact of Subarea and System Design on Ridership

What you see is that enforcement of subarea equity increases the number of riders you lose, while redesigning the system reduced the number of riders you lose. Remember under all of these scenarios Metro loses riders, they just lose less when subareas aren’t enforced and when the system is redesigned. The second bar from the left is very interesting. The only difference between R1 and R3 is whether or not subareas are enforced. To me this shows that a well structured transit planning process (three screen process used in R1 and R3) can deliver on the intent of subarea equity (service all over the county, appropriate for the context and meeting goals or social equity,geographic coverage, ecconomic development, etc.) while minimizing ridership loss, all without resorting to strict percentage based subarea equity policies. The bar on the far right also shows that if subarea equity is keep system restructuring is critical to minimize ridership loss.        

These scenarios only address how service reduction occurs. A separtate question is whether these reductions should be treated as cuts or suspensions. In the long term treating them as cuts causes a net lose of service for the west subarea and a gain in east and south subarea. Treating reductions as suspensions would be neutral.        

So to sum everything up R1 is still the best plan by far. R2 which essentially is the default reduction plan is by far the worst. R0 is a lose-lose proposition and R3 is a mixed bag.

44 Replies to “RTTF Reduction Policy Update”

    1. Yeah. We have had over 5 or 6 post which we spelled it out every time so I figured I wouldn’t need to. I figured if you don’t know what the RTTF is you won’t really understand the rest of the post. Never the less I’ll add it.

      1. Yeah I’m a regular reader and huge transit nerd but I honestly don’t know if I would have remember what RTTF is.

  1. It’s great news that Metro is considering these factors. If in the end politics prevails and we end up with the worst system, at least we know somebody at the agency was trying to do the right thing.

  2. Great research and update Adam, thanks. Rather than a visionary dream of West Seattle-Ballard light rail, I think Mayor McGinn would do better to fight for something like the R1 reduction plan (and perhaps a greater restructure of 40/40/20). It seems this is much more realistic and pertinent under present circumstances.

    1. I think he can do both but I have to give it up to Tom Rasmussen for being completely engaged in this process. At every meeting he is one of the most prepared task for members. He certainly is advocating for Seattle and is a good balancing force to some suburban task force members.

    1. The suburban task force members expressed a strong preference for R1 over the subarea-based R3 scenario. The reality is that larger suburban cities have more in common with Seattle than smaller suburban cities. So, if they can come up with guidelines that recognize jobs and density, it will help them as well.

  3. Oh and on the suspension v cut question, is this only if subarea equity is kept when it comes to adding service?

    I must not be getting it b/c it seems to me that for R0 you wouldn’t have nearly the lose of service with cuts as would the less productive East and South. R1 would be a little less pronounced but wouldn’t the North still come out ahead?

    1. My assumption is that any service that is added back to the system will be more evenly distributed than existing service (62% west, 21% south, 17% east). All the growth scenarios they are looking at do not give more than 62% of new service to Seattle, so it would be a net loss ratio wise.

      1. Okay that makes sense.

        However won’t it take quite a while to get to that point if service is cut substantially more in the East and South than in the West?

  4. Seems like is much more important to advocate for the system redesign (R1 & R3), than to fight the subarea fight – that is if both are politically expensive fights with entrenched constituencies, winning system redesign has a lot more benefits than winning subarea equity.

    If system redesign transfers more MT trips to ST, maybe this is also a time to make the fare structures and transfer policies identical, so that riders whose service is shifted aren’t penalized.

    1. I genereally agree however the issue with giving into R3 is that most of the impacts are on the west subarea while the east subarea gets off the hook with limited cuts. It also sets up the growth plan to be based on subarea equity which is horrible.

    2. So far the transit agencies have been ignoring the de facto fare increase and loss of paper transfers when a Metro service is replaced by ST. (It also affects Link, being one of the reasons why Link’s ridership in Rainier Valley is less than its potential.) If more Metro services are replaced by ST, there will be more outcry and they’ll have to confront it and consolidate the fares, or at least install more ORCA TVMs and pass out free ORCA cards on a larger scale than they did previously.

      The most likely to be deleted are the Seattle-Issaquah buses because they overlap with several ST runs. And isn’t the 271 going to be replaced by ST “BRT” due to the 520 project? Then if they notice the 255 and convert it to ST, I think there’ll be hardly any way to get between Seattle and the Eastside on Metro, so you’ll have to take ST.

      1. Route 271 is unlikely to be replaced by BRT since it serves a bunch of local streets. It is more likely that route 556 will gain increased frequency between UW/Bellevue/Eastgate.

      2. I believe the 271 was identified as a future BRT route in the SR-520 HCT plan. So was the 255. If that is Metro “BRT” or ST “BRT” wasn’t stated.

      3. The image in this post looks like it shows the 556 route instead of the 271—the orange line doesn’t go through Medina, and appears to take the go into Bellevue TC from the 405 side.

      4. This is what I found in the report. p.37

        “Metro’s Transit Now program adds increased mid-day and weekend service on Route 271 and Route 255. Under the SR 520 bus rapid transit concept, these two existing Metro routes would be modified and converted to bus rapid transit lines.”

    3. Don’t fight them separately. There are four plans. R1 is the best. Just back R1. That way you’ll end up with, at worst, R1 modified.

  5. Could someone please help me figuring out a little background. From Wikipedia I see that Metro has about 118 million passengers in a year (2008 figure). So these cuts will cause a loss of ridership ranging from a little over 1 percent to about 5 percent. Metro’s budget is about $435 million. What percent budget cut are they assuming in these scenarios? Thanks.

      1. Wikipedia said 118 million boardings and $3.70/boarding in 2008. Multiplying them together I got about $435 million. Are these figures right?

      2. Cost per boarding ignores capital costs and in the case of Metro fails to apportion administrative cost. That’s why Tacoma Link seems to be more than double the cost of the SLUT. ST has a much more comprehensive accounting of cost.
        From the KC metro website reports:
        2008 Adopted TOTAL Budget $732,238,385

      3. Thanks. That 732 million figure also includes things like Dart and Access. The total for operations of Metro buses was actually $432 million for 2008.

        Does anybody know what the size of cuts the RTTF was using to make these four models?

      4. If we can cut 20% of the budget and lose 1% of ridership that sounds like a great deal. Too bad we didn’t do that during good budget times. Then we could have had $80 million or so to improve service.

  6. Not to sound like a broken record, but shouldn’t truncatable routes get truncated before other routes get removed entirely?

    1. Yes. It sounds like Metro is focusing on segments rather than routes, at least that’s how I interpret “redesigned” and “adding back” in R1. That lines would be consolidated, and the added-back service wouldn’t necessarily be on the same route it was previously, it would just have the same stops in that segment.

  7. Incidentally, the city council was seeking assurances from WSDOT/Metro/ST that the extra bus service on 520 would be fully funded. The Metro rep indicated that it would be based on whether funds are available. The ST rep pointed out that additional service on 520 was part of ST2.

    A couple councilmembers were shocked when I explained that the lid bus stops do not replace the function of the flyer stop (since they only connect buses going to and from UW to other buses going to and from UW — bringing into question whether it is worth bothering to build the HOV bus stops on the lid and add travel time to UW — but I digress).

    I can foresee Metro cutting its 520-to-downtown buses, while increasing service to UW. If they could sublease the space used by the 255 and 256 in the tunnel to another agency, they’d probably do that, too.

    The WSDOT rep simply claimed the addition of the HOV lanes as a transit service improvement. Maybe I’m just staring too hard through the looking glass, but $4.65 billion seems like a lot of money to spend, just to end up with *worse* transit connectivity across SR 520. Wouldn’t it be nice if WSDOT had to live within its means like transit agencies do?

    1. It’ll be fully funded until it’s the victim of decreased revenues or an an across-the-board budget cut, the same as Transit Now and everything else. WSDOT/ST is not really in a position to guarantee more because they don’t control the revenue or budgets. So the net result is probably no more service than we have now, but at least if the BRT lines are created and prioritized, we’ll have more effective transit for the same money we’re spending now.

    2. “A couple councilmembers were shocked when I explained that the lid bus stops do not replace the function of the flyer stop”

      That’s a good sign. Maybe they’re potential supporters to get the transit situation fixed.

      1. The city council will be submitting a joint comment after their next meeting. If you want to amplify your individual comment, try persuading the councilmembers while there is still time. As you might expect, Council Member O’Brien is our strongest champion for transit connectivity.

        Most of their attention has been focused on the Montlake neighborhood and the Arboretum, so the details of how transit works with 520 has been on their peripheral view.

  8. I can’t help but wonder if “boardings per platform hour” is the fairest metric. It seems like it would favor routes used primarily for short trips. Do the figures look much different if you use passenger-miles as a metric instead? Should we be using some weighted blend of the two? Maybe favoring short trips is a good idea on it’s own, simply to try to avoid subsidizing long commutes.

    I’d be interested to see how Metro route 48 and ST route 554 compare between the two metrics

  9. I’d like them to consider more “on demand” services using technology such as Weeels as a replacement in low use/low density areas.

    Weeels | Social Transit

    Open the app, enter your destination, and Weeels will find a cab to pick you up in minutes.

    Sharing a ride offers a middle ground between a $2.25 subway ride and a $22.50 cab fare.

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