Whatcom May Abolish Transfers

Metro Transfer, by Oran

The Bellingham Herald reports that the Whatcom Transit Authority (WTA) is one vote away from abolishing transfers:

On Oct. 6, WTA held a hearing on the proposed changes to the fare policy. Staff recommended eliminating transfers, which WTA has used since 2005, because they’re often abused as people use them for a free return-trip ride. Staff also estimates the agency would get a roughly $100,000-a-year revenue boost after eliminating them, and it would save about $10,000 in printing costs. Transfers also encourage payment of cash fares, which WTA wants to discourage in favor of bus passes.

There are also administrative savings to postpone (and shrink) WTA’s second round of service cuts from 2013 to 2014.

In a system as complex as King County’s, abolishing transfers altogether is probably not possible. In anything, there is too much emphasis on one-seat rides rather than a functioning, interconnecting network.

However, there is asymmetry in the way that ORCA transfers compare to paper ones. Paper transfers tend to be valid for longer than policy states, whereas ORCA enforces the actual transfer time limit. Moreover, Link’s location-based fares offer no round-trip discount.

I’m in general in favor of fare increases, since they mean more revenue for transit. But what about “abuse” for round trips? Is this a feature or a bug of the transfer policy?

Where’s Our Money?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

LaHood gives money to three projects that will tear down their elevated highways and replace them with bike lanes and sidewalks. 

Oh wait, we’re not really tearing down our highway to build pedestrian and bike paths.  We’re moving our highway down to ground level, then adding a second highway underground at a cost of billions.  Never mind.

News Roundup: Marvel in Engineering

This is an open thread.

Deferred Fare Increases

Link at Tacoma Dome Station, by DW Honan

Last week, the King County Council decided to cancel the portion of Metro’s planned 2011 25-cent fare increase that applies to seniors and the disabled, holding the fare at 75 cents. The cost will be partially offset by raising the monthly pass cost for seniors from $18 to $27, bringing the breakeven point to 36 trips, just like other passes. KCDOT Spokeswoman Linda Thielke says the net revenue impact in 2011 will be a loss of $160,000.

In other news, ST has deferred the planned $1 fare on Tacoma Link indefinitely, due to out-of-date study assumptions.

The Case for UW’s Commercial Parking Tax Exemption

ORCA Card UW Beta Test, by Oran

Recent talk of commercial parking tax (CPT) increases have been largely centered around where revenue would go, but have missed out on the broader implications for both drivers and transit users.  The benefits of the tax are generally twofold: more revenue and more disincentive to drive.  Ironically though, it is because of  increases in the City’s CPT over the past several years that blows have been dealt to the UW’s U-Pass, the University’s primary transportation demand management (TDM) program.

Over the past two years, the price of a quarterly U-Pass has nearly doubled from $50 to $99, largely due to an increased share of parking revenue going to the CPT.  Because parking fees help fund the U-Pass, the costs have drastically risen for both students and faculty.  The University’s student government, ASUW, has been lobbying the City for an exemption from the increase.  From the UW Daily:

Organizations such as hospitals and universities spend a significant amount of their parking revenue on subsidizing programs like the U-PASS, and if the CPT increases, it would make such programs more expensive, Lewis said…

The CPT increase for the UW alone is worth almost $2 million, and would be a huge loss of revenue during a difficult budget period, said Lewis, who has been in discussions with city council members and administration.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “The Case for UW’s Commercial Parking Tax Exemption”

WSDOT Sweetens Deep Bore Tunnel Contract

Lindblom at the Seattle Times reports that the state has made the Highway 99 tunnel contract a bit sweeter:

As a bid deadline nears and pressure mounts, Washington state has sweetened its Highway 99 tunnel contract by offering a pair of bid teams $230 million in concessions.

The changes reflect a view by construction executives that the real costs are higher on this world-record project than the state projected several months ago.

The money can be shifted out of a large pool of risk and contingency funds, so the overall tunnel budget remains $1.96 billion, said Ron Paananen, state program administrator.

Why make these changes?

They’re designed to reduce the companies’ risk, so bids are more likely to meet the target price of $1.1 billion, published many months ago.

“Both teams, and maybe the two teams that dropped out, expressed concern the [state’s cost target] is too low. They couldn’t figure out how to bid the project at that amount or lower,” [one of the bidders] said.

WSDOT’s expert panel and the Seattle city council’s risk consultant say that reducing the amount of contingency funds is fine, and perhaps some of that contingency money exists for exactly the type of bid inflation we’re witnessing. But it’s slightly concerning that the engineer’s estimates are already unrealistic in a period where construction bids routinely come in under budget. Imagine what happens in 2014 or so, when construction is beginning in earnest and the change orders come pouring in.

Save Our Buses!


Regrettably, the Pierce Transit sales tax increase is not on the ballot with their sales tax increase until February 8, instead of in the high-turnout general election. Regardless, there is now a Yes-on-Prop-1 website, Facebook page, and donation site.

PT is hoping to avert a 43% service cut by increasing the sales tax rate from 0.6% to the state maximum of 0.9%, a level where Metro, Community Transit, and Sound Transit already are. That level would actually fund a service increase of about 5%, rather than merely avoiding the cuts.

You can get detailed by-route information about the proposal here.

Station Spacing and Hindsight

There are a bunch of inaccuracies in Erica Barnett’s rant on Publicola Monday:

As Seattle Transit Blog has noted, the distance between stations on the south end of the line is much longer than in the central, north, and (planned) east portions of the line: Nearly two-and-a-half miles from station to station, compared to just over 1.5 miles for the north section and just over a mile for the central portion.

Erica is quoting the station spacing on South Link, Seatac to Federal Way, not “Central Link”, which includes long, stationless stretches outside Seattle. The actual station spacing is reproduced below:

Sound Transit


[Sound Transit] eliminated or indefinitely “deferred” two at-grade stations in South Seattle—the Graham Street Station between Columbia City and Othello Station, and the Boeing Access Road Station, between the Rainier Beach Station and Tukwila—in part so it could build the costly underground Beacon Hill station.

This isn’t a fact-check, but I think it’s a bad argument. First of all, BAR would be an elevated station, so it’s far from clear it would be cheap. Second of all, Beacon Hill is the highest ridership station in Southeast Seattle, so it’s reasonable to assume that Graham St. would perform worse than Beacon Hill. BAR, at the base of a runway, has poor ridership potential unless freeway express buses are terminated here to force a transfer.

Moreover, a tunnel station would be very difficult to install after the fact, whereas Graham St. should be relatively inexpensive.


Although Sound Transit initially estimated 3,000 people a day would board at Beacon Hill, currently, only about 1,000 do—about two percent of the total number who board the train over the course of the route on weekdays.

The link provided is broken at the time of this writing, but the 3,000 figure is for 2020, not today. The station data was taken when daily ridership was about 20,000, making it 5%, not 2%.

More on infill station possibilities here. Beacon Hill Blog also made many of the points above.

On Bicyclist Safety

Portland Safety Data

Last week Grist had a great article about “safety in numbers” for cyclists. Research within the US and around the world has shown that as bicycling rates go up, the total number of crashes stays flat, resulting in a significant decrease in bicycle crashes per trip. While this might initially sound counterintuitive, the premise is pretty simple. The more cyclists a city has, the more drivers expect cyclists, and drive accordingly. Similarly, as bicycling rates increase, drivers are more likely to be cyclists themselves, causing further behavioral changes that improve the safety of bicycles.

The phenomenon, dubbed “safety in numbers,” was first identified in 2003, in an academic paper by public health researcher Peter Jacobsen [PDF]. After being asked by officials in Pasadena, Calif., if their city “was a dangerous place to bicycle,” Jacobsen began looking at crash data from various communities where bicycle ridership had fluctuated over time.

What he found surprised him: The number of crashes involving bikes correlated with the number of riders in a community. As ridership fluctuated, so did the crash rate. More riders, fewer crashes; fewer riders, more crashes.

This happened too abruptly, Jacobsen decided, to be caused by slow-moving factors like infrastructure development and cultural change. Bicycling becomes safer when the number of riders increases, he concluded, at least in part because the number of riders increases.

The inverse happens, as well. One data set Jacobsen looked at covered 49 years of biking history in the United Kingdom. Those numbers showed that cycling became safer during the oil crisis of the 1970s, caused by the OPEC oil embargo. Once the crisis ended, both ridership and safety dropped.

More after the jump. Continue reading “On Bicyclist Safety”

2010 General Election Endorsements

Here are STB’s endorsements for the November 2nd general election. As always, these picks are meant to reflect solely the performance and positions on issues covered by this blog, not by their broader political philosophy, progressive or otherwise.

While many state legislative races are happening this year, there are typically only a few candidates that make a real, positive difference on transit and land use.

STB’s editorial board consists of Martin H. Duke, Adam Parast, Sherwin Lee, and John Jensen, with valued input from the rest of the staff.


Patty Murray (U.S. Senate), who as a senior member of the  Senate Appropriations Committee, is well-positioned to deliver competitive federal transit dollars to Washington, a capability she has  frequently demonstrated. She is one of the few central figures in getting Link built, and deserves to continue to help make our local tax  dollars go farther.

Initiative 1053: NO. This year’s Eyman entry would require a two-thirds majority in the legislature to raise any tax. While our layman’s reading is that this wouldn’t actually affect delegation of taxing authority to transit agencies and such, the State does directly fund HOV and intercity rail projects that we support. Any reduction in sales tax exemptions puts money in the pockets of transit agencies. Moreover, we strongly support increased gas taxes, and especially elimination of the sales tax exemption for gasoline. While these are politically out of reach for the moment, with Initiative 1053 they become forever impossible.

Initiative 1107: NO. Sales tax exemptions affect not only state revenue, but all governments and agencies that use sales tax. Repealing the tax on candy and bottled water would cost, by our rough estimate, Metro $3m a year each in 2012 and 2013, and Sound Transit somewhat more than that. That amounts to roughly 24,000 service hours a year.

Charlie Wiggins (Supreme Court Position 6). His opponent, Richard Sanders, sided with the “Sane Transit” people in an early attempt to kill Sound Transit and wrote a dissent that would have hurt ST’s bond rating with I-776. In both cases, he was skewered by the majority, perhaps showing poor legal reasoning. Sanders has also been on the wrong side of Sound Transit in an eminent domain case.

More below the jump…

Continue reading “2010 General Election Endorsements”

Metro Rider Survey Results

Metro and Sound Transit conducted a targeted rider survey immediately before and after the February 6, 2010 service change. There were a number of findings, some interesting, some not-so-interesting, and some deeply flawed.

Most interesting were the Link-only questions. Ridership has increased substantially since February, partially due to people new to transit, so these numbers may not still apply.

How did you pay?

How did you get to the Link station? “Other” is huge, but the bike share is tiny.

What did you do before you rode Link? These numbers add up to well below 100%, so I believe non-responses are included in the computation. In February about half of Link riders came over from the bus.

Some other findings below the jump. Continue reading “Metro Rider Survey Results”

Editorial: Metro, the ATU, and Riders

A lot of things that can be said about the struggle for wages and benefits for drivers can be taken the wrong way. After all, there are several different audiences here and their imperatives are different. It’s also hopelessly muddled by both sides’ appeals to what’s “fair”, a loose term that will never yield a clear answer to what to do.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). The sole responsibility of the union is to its members, and they are absolutely justified in pushing for as large a share of revenues for labor as they can get.

Due to a desire to maximize service delivery and a vague preference for social equity, I’d prefer if they valued avoiding layoffs over preserving compensation, and focused more on improving conditions and opportunities for part-timers, rather than more overtime and prerogatives for the most senior employees. But it’s not my place to tell them what their priorities should be.

The larger danger is that labor inflexibility creates the narrative that Metro revenue increases will simply go into the pockets of drivers. It’s a narrative that anti-transit writers like Michael Ennis are willing to reinforce by cherry-picking misleading statistics and removing them from their explanatory context, and one that threatens future revenue measures that all transit stakeholders support, including the ATU.

Metro and King County. Conversely, the responsibility of managers and politicians is to deliver the most service for the lowest cost, which means clamping down on wages and benefits among other savings measures. That’s as it should be in the fundamentally adversarial process of collective bargaining.

There are two constraints on this, one legitimate and one not. The first is that you don’t want to antagonize your ambassadors to the public (drivers) so much that service suffers, or lose talent to other agencies.

The second, less good, reason is that politicians are fundamentally in the business of getting votes. Regrettably, sometimes it’s more plausible to do that by winning the support of the union electoral machine than by being a responsible steward of public funds. Not that (I repeat) I somehow expect unions to not use all the legal means at their disposal.

I want to emphasize that this a big-picture argument and I can’t assert that this is going on, or not going on, with the people in charge for either the last ATU contract or the next one. It’s just a common dynamic with public-sector unions.

Voters, taxpayers, and riders. So where does that leave the rest of us? Well, I think our interest is in making sure that politicians and their representatives at Metro respect their responsibilities as described above, to keep labor costs as low as possible.

The last time I made this point, there was a lot of pushback in the comments to the effect of “how would YOU like it.” First of all, as a private sector employee I have no doubt that if my senior managers thought they could cut the pay and benefits of people like me without repurcussions for performance and retention, they would do so in a heartbeat.

However, I think that retort really comes from a misunderstanding of for whom the statement is intended. The union is pursuing its interests of its members as they understand them, and that’s fine. But I’m not sure, as riders, that we should be “rooting for them”, to the small extent that matters, because they’ve selected objectives largely counter to our interests.

TCC is Hiring

Bill LaBorde

Transportation Choices Coalition Policy Director Bill LaBorde is leaving to work on Seattle City Council Transportation Chair Tom Rasmussen’s staff. With ST fleshing out the details of ST2 and Metro well on its way to figuring out what needs to be done about the budget, a lot of the action is moving to the City level. So I think LaBorde’s move is a good one for people concerned about Seattle’s transportation mix.

However, it does leave a big hole at TCC. I think STB, among other organizations, has been a  pretty good focus for activism, but there is no substitute for full-time professionals that can hang around centers of power to make sure that transit is an integral part of any project.

More specifically, it’s going to be a big session in Olympia. The rumor is that Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen spiked last year’s transit funding bill in order to make transit advocates come to the table when the subject was road funding in 2011.

This is all a long way of saying that if you have some experience in this area you should consider applying for LaBorde’s old position. The deadline is November 12th.

Parking Fee

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I like that Dan Bertolet’s thinking outside the box with the idea of a fee for private parking spaces, but I do agree with some of his commenters that you could get most of the way there just by raising the gas tax and eliminating mandatory parking minima in new developments, two things that I know Dan supports.

But if Dan’s simply trying to establish a leftward anchor for this debate, so we can then redefine the “sensible center” as being the two things I mentioned above, then I’m all for it!

2nd Amtrak Cascades Trip to Vancouver Saved

'Everett Station' by Lookin' Sharp All The Time

After a period of intense lobbying and pressure from a variety of interest groups and stakeholders, Canada’s federal government announced Thursday that the second daily Amtrak Cascades trip to Vancouver will continue to run for another year, at least until October 2011.  Last month, we reported that the Canadian government would start charging WSDOT an annual fee of $550,000 to cover border security fees; that stipulation would have led to the cancellation of the second train by the end of this month.  To absorb the costs, Amtrak would need to add $20 to each passenger fare.

Several public officials took the lead on saving the train, including a collaboration of regional mayors (PDF).  According to the Globe and Mail, even Janet Napolitano got involved:

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. ambassador to Canada David Jacobson pressed the [Canadian] federal government to extend support for the train, put in place to accommodate a surge in tourist traffic during the Olympics. The reprieve means that Amtrak and its supporters will have a year to demonstrate that the economic benefits – estimated at $11-million for Canada – justify the added inspection costs borne by the federal government.

The news is very welcome for those of us who’ve pushed for more Cascades service.  While the CBSA extension allows the trip to run for another year between Portland and Vancouver, the current schedules still require lengthy layovers that don’t make the most out of the Cascades fleet.  Zach last opined that interlining service could allow for more efficient use of the Talgo fleet, leading to a comment thread that yielded some fairly thoughtful suggestions.

Growth Management Isn’t Working

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I just wanted to share a simple chart I’ve made using WA population data.  What does it tell us?  It tells us that our efforts to channel growth into reasonably dense urban environments are failing miserably.


1. Seattle is all but flat.  We set up restrictive zoning laws long ago, and have only slowly relaxed them.  Restrictive zoning acts like a big “Keep OUT” sign posted on our city.

2. King county is growing moderately.  This is generally good, as I’d rather have growth in suburbs than in exurbs.  But suburban homes are still terribly inefficient compared to city life.  Also, infill in a city means replacing parking lots with housing.  Infill in the suburbs means replacing trees with homes and fossil-fuel-fed lawns.

3. Check out WA as a whole.  This is bad.  Ideally we’d keep new construction limited to urban areas – Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, etc.  But compare this line to the example dense urban line (Seattle) and the example less-dense but still reasonably urban county line (King).  What you’re seeing here is clear-cutting trees and wilderness and building large new homes.  You’re seeing new roads to serve these new homes.  Along with new sewer systems, new electrical systems, water to keep the lawns green, landfills, schools, shopping malls, and transit-free road-based corporate campuses.  This is sprawl.  Green, natural WA is being paved to make way for sprawl.

I flew over WA today, and was discouraged by the number of new housing tracts set up in the middle of nowhere (many of them still undeveloped, just plowed and set aside for the next bubble).  Each of these new homes will have a worker that will drive for hundreds of hours a year to get to work.  They’ll drive hundreds more hours a year to go shopping, drop their kids off at soccer practice, to pick up dinner, etc.

If peak oil hits, most of those that live on that WA line above are screwed.  If it doesn’t hit (in the near term – it must hit sometime), then all of these people are driving global warming just by living their lives.

How do we fix this?  Dramatically relax our zoning restrictions.  Allow the market to turn our acres and acres of single family homes into apartments and condos.  People want to live in the city (if you believe prices are a proxy for desire), so let’s let them.  Sure there will still be those that want to live in the middle of nowhere.  And we should keep working on our growth management rules.  But our only hope of keeping Washington green is to make that Seattle line match the rise of the WA line.

News Roundup: City Council Tantrums

This is an open thread.

North Corridor Meeting Report

Sound Transit


I attended Sound Transit’s North Corridor public workshop in Lynnwood on Tuesday. ST divided us into focus groups to discuss (1) which are the most important transit “access points” (stop locations) in the area; (2) what routing would best serve them, keeping in mind that not all points can have stations; and (3) is light rail the best mode for this corridor? Federal grants require a mode-neutral EIS that covers all high-capacity transit (HCT) alternatives; i.e., bus and rail.


Most people focused on commuting to Seattle or to the airport. Nobody mentioned intra-area trips. They see Swift and RapidRide as adequate for that. I-5 is clogged and they need something better. They like light rail better than a bus solution, and they especially like the airport station even though it’ll take an hour from Lynnwood. That’s better than fighting traffic, and much better than their existing bus service (two transfers and two hours to get to the airport).

I brought up reverse trips; as someone who lives in Seattle and comes to Snohomish County mainly to attend evening and weekend events, I think it’s important the route should support off-peak and contra-peak trips.


There are basically three route choices: I-5, Aurora/99, and 15th NE/44th W. However, mixing corridors would also yield some intriguing possibilities. For instance, Aurora in King County seems to have more pedestrian/TOD potential than 99 in Snohomish, so maybe Aurora + I-5 would be best. Or 15th + I-5 or 15th + 99. 44th gets closer to the center of Mountlake Terrace. The Mountlake Terrace station is not very accessible from the main part of Mountlake Terrace; only two small roads connect them.

More after the jump… Continue reading “North Corridor Meeting Report”