Need by Purpose and Subarea

On Monday I wrote about the Regional Transit Task Force (RTTF) reduction policy. Today I’m going to touch on the growth policy with a few of my concerns. Less work has been done on this to date and it is therefore more conceptual than the reduction scenario.

The RTTF has advanced the concept that service growth should be based on two principles, responding to existing transit demand and supporting regional growth. The image above shows the results of this conceptual approach. To get these results Metro staff used one measure for responding to demand and six measures for supporting regional growth (details here). Using these measures and a scoring system a “desired minimum level of service” is calculated. If current transit service doesn’t meet this desired level of service, then a need has been identified and future service hours will be used to address the gap between desired level of service and current level of service.

This type of analysis is good because it is objective and based on context, not arbitrary policy, but it has limitations. The hard part is determining what measures to use, what ranges to use, and what weighting to give each range. Unless all factors are rigorously linked to a factual basis they can become value judgments. Select a certain set of measures, ranges and weights and you can skew results. Using objective measures is much better than the alternative, but I think this concept has to be significantly refined and I’m uncomfortable where it stands.

First off, I’m worried by the whole premiss of a “desired minimum level of service” will cause Metro to focus all of its effort and money on building lower productivity routes up to that level of service. To be clear, I’m not saying that I think investments in these corridors should not occur, but I don’t see a clear path that leads to higher frequency all day service on corridors that exceed these minimums, which most of the core routes and RapidRide routes already do. There must be some measure or set of measures that leads to better service for the highest ridership routes or else service improvement on most of the above mentioned routes will only occur with crowding.

On the topic of crowding “ie following demand”, only one measure, with a high threshold, is used. Commuter routes must have a load of 1.0 or greater for more than 20 minutes or a load factor 1.2 or greater for more than 20 minutes for local routes. This is meant to deal with peak period loads and should be addressed as a necessity not an extra. I get the feeling that task force members are counting this as part of Seattle portion of the pie, when in fact this is necessary to meet the basic capacity needs of the most productive routes in the entire Metro system. This extra service will go to peak periods, doing very little to increase off peak frequencies or span of service. Excluding these service hours only 17% of total service hours will go to improve west subarea routes to “desired minimum level of service” while 33% goes to the east and 31% go to the south.

One thing I’m not clear on is where this leaves other non “frequent arterial”, ie 30 minute or better headways all day long service, which is makes up 47% of east subarea service hour. If this means that the county is de emphasizing this type of service I think it would be a step in the right direction.  It if does not, then any additional service hours for those types of service will heavily favor the east and south subarea.

So I said before, it’s a good start but I have some serious concerns with it.

13 Replies to “RTTF Growth Policy Update”

  1. Aren’t commuter route hours counted as 50/50 for purposes of 20/40/40? I think the Downtown Seattle Association (i.e., major employers) sees commuter routes as a benefit for Seattle, but due to the higher cost of the service I see it as subsidizing the suburbs. So maybe 50/50 is a compromise.

    1. Yes but only for Metro routes. I agree you can look at it both ways. The service allows downtown to have easy transit access, while also allowing people to live far away.

    2. If the commuter route operates in only one direction, that it is only charged to the residential subarea. For example, the 229 is 100% Eastside and the 217 is 100% Seattle.

      If it runs in both directions it’s charged 50/50.

      1. How do you mean? I’m not sure how Metro measures performance, but for ST those are counted as platform hours, but not revenue hours. So depending upon the metric, they would get counted. In terms of sub-area allocations, they would count in the cost, so yes, they are “charged”.

    I ask this rather simple question for several reasons.
    1. They will not likely be officially merged anytime soon, but operate as one in lot of different ways (operators, maintenance, routes, fares, planning, etc).
    2. MT is internalizing this process (policy reduction and growth) and specifically discounts any ST hours deployed. (asterisk notation on the graphic above)

    Regional taxpayers are supporting a massive influx of new service hours via Link and soon to be decided by MT – which ones get consolidated or truncated at your nearest favorite Link stop. Yet, the graphic says these hours are NOT included in the calculations. I find that disconnect to be irrational.

    How can you replace the 70 series buses with Link, then not count any of the savings towards MT service levels. This seems to be double dipping by the West Sub-Area, as most of the new service hours by ST Link happen to be in that area. (“…we get our MT hours by formula, and a boatload of ST hours ’cause there different agencies”).
    The quick answer is both agencies have sub-are equity formulas, and each is playing by it’s own rules. I’m not so sure that’s the right or fair answer.

    1. Yeah this is something that really hasn’t ever been addressed. I would point out that ST service (bus and link) is funded by each subarea so relative to where the money comes from it is subarea equal.

      1. Well sort of. I always have trouble finding a link for this, but ST buses that cross subareas are charged to the non-Seattle subarea. That is, the whole cost of the 545 is borne by East King.

        Metro’s 50/50 split is probably too hostile to Seattle, and ST’s is definitely too friendly to Seattle. Perhaps it balances out in the end.


    2. Maybe even triple dipping. 1)ST new hours of service, 2)MT cuts/adds by formula, and 3) keep all ‘re-deployable hours’, within the MT sub-area as freebies.
      Seattle may need more accountants and soon.

    3. “MT is internalizing this process (policy reduction and growth) and specifically discounts any ST hours deployed. (asterisk notation on the graphic above)”

      That just means that the factor isn’t reflected in this chart, not that Metro doesn’t see the importance of it. Maybe they haven’t done the calculations yet.

      But Mike S raises a more fundamental point. Metro doesn’t have the right structural incentives to balance its service with ST’s. I’m not sure if the reverse is true. Deleting Metro’s Seattle-Issaquah buses mean a cost savings for Metro but a cost burden for ST (if it has to add more ST Express buses). Truncating a route can move it from one subarea to another, with winners and losers. Something needs to be done structurally to address this, but I don’t know what. 40/40/20 just compounds the problem. But consolidating into one agency isn’t necessarily the best either, because what if the agency neglects one of its responsibilities (i.e., Seattle)?

      1. I tried to think the scenerio through: What if ST and MT were the same agency, with respect to Link and routes 71,72,73. It would mean that a less efficient service was being replaced by a higher one. Therefore, bus hours would just disappear, to offset rail hours. Any additional rail $$ over the saved $$ would have to be considered an increase in service, and be charged to the West sub-area. So far, so good.
        Now, split the agencies, and all logic flies out the window.

      2. Not all logic. It depends on whether the tax authorization (ST2) granted new resources to cover rail operations, or whether the bus hours were diverted to rail. ST is planning to delete the 550. ST’s budget does not affect Metro, so Metro is free to reallocate the hours from the 71/72/73 (and 41 and 74). But if the tax authorization had allocated new bus hours equal to the deleted routes — feeder service to complement the trains — the result would have been the same as Metro’s.

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