Boardroom Two small

Folks in the DC area are aparently unhappy with the way in which the WMATA board has let the Metro system deteriorate over the decades. That caused Greater Greater Washington to wonder what makes a good governing board structure:

The RAC [Rider’s Advisory Council] developed 6 high-level recommendations:

  1. The Board is analogous to a legislature and should include public officials.
  2. The Board should set clear, high standards for its members.
  3. The Board should focus on high-level policy and objectives.
  4. The Board should act as a regional body rather than as individuals.
  5. WMATA’s top staff member should be a CEO rather than a General Manager.
  6. Board decision-making should include a clear and accessible public input process.

Here in Greater Seattle, we have two governing boards with substantially different structures. How do they stack up?

I’d say that Sound Transit’s board fares pretty well according to these criteria. The Board consists of a number of local elected officials nominated by the County Executives, meaning that they tend to reflect the Executive’s regional vision rather than narrow constituencies. Furthermore, my subjective sense is that ST staff are pretty liberated to execute policy without looking over their shoulders.

On the other hand, the King County Council is the governing board for Metro, and while not a disaster there are certainly some weaknesses. In particular, there are instances of the Council responding to vocal interest groups by tweaking Metro’s plans. Worse yet, the Council is absolutely driven by parochial concerns rather than a regional vision: 40/40/20 is the obvious example.

I’m very much an advocate of having fewer elected officials to make the ones we do have more accountable for the government’s overall performance. Nevertheless, I wonder if an Executive-appointed Metro board might not do a better job of governance, even if it was drawn from a pool of local politicians.

Of course, a directly-elected board would be the worst of all possible worlds, as members’ only way to impact their constituencies would be to be ultra-defensive of their district’s resources and ultra-responsive to anyone who complains about an agency initiative. I think the institutional design of the Regional Transportation Authority is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of the enabling legislation.

108 Replies to “Governing Boards”

  1. I know I’ll get flamed for saying this but this board’s obsession with ending the 40/40/20 rule is a bit rediculous and gets tiresome. I know the vast majority of readers/posters live in Seattle and find it unfair that new service goes to the east and south in said proportions but not everyone chooses to live in an urban setting. Are my sales tax dollars worth less than someone’s who lives in Seattle?
    Seattle has 1/3rd of the population of the county, the other 2/3rds live in the east and south and one could argue that those people have to spend more on sales taxable goods than those living in seattle.

    It’s easy to point a finger at the people in the east/south and say “how dare those car loving suburbanites get more service” but in reality, if the goal of this blog is to encourage more people to ride transit, you won’t get that in the east/south if you reduce adding service. If your route in Seattle gets cut back to 4 times an hour vs 6, you still have options. If my route on the eastside gets eliminated, i just end up being forced to drive…

    And please don’t tell me to move, I have a family, a dog, and I like my small yard. We have 2 cars, mine is 2 years old and only has 11,000 miles on it so I use transit a lot, but it doesn’t mean I’m itching to move into a condo downtown and either pay rent of several hundred a month in homeowners dues.

    Sorry for the rant, I agree with many of the things on this blog, but if the 40/40/20 rule gets changed, it should be put closer to equal, not tilted heavily toward Seattle.

    1. 40/40/20 and 60/20/20 must end. These policies are the epitome of inefficient and wasteful government. It’s ridiculous to force Seattle to absorb 60% of the cuts while only getting 20% of any new service.

      Buses in Seattle run full and the demand for service is high. Buses in the burbs and exburbs often run nearly empty and demand is low. In such a situation it is ridiculous to reduce service in the area where demand is high and instead increase it where demand is low.

      If you believe in smaller and more efficient government, then 40/40/20 and 60/2020 must go. Put the service where the demand is and get as many cars off the road per transit tax dollar as possible.

      1. If farebox recovery drove the agency’s finances, then it would matter that some buses run full while others run empty. As long as riders are a small slice of the funding pie, they won’t drive allocation of resources.

      2. There’s another issue which is, “How difficult is it for transit to serve your neighborhood?” If you live in a city condo or a former “streetcar suburb”, it’s easier to provide transit to you and so there is more of it. If you live in a cul-de-sac-y area with large-lot houses scattered at random, it requires many more service hours to provide the same quality of service. Mobility is a two-way street: the transit agencies need to extend service to most areas, but people need to be pro-active in choosing where to live and work (in transit-friendly places), and be YIMBY to counter the NIMBYs.

        “Why is the traffic split across the lake always worse going east in the morning and west in the afternoon?”

        Because the express lanes are going the other way.

      3. “Why is the traffic split across the lake always worse going east in the morning and west in the afternoon?”

        Because the express lanes are going the other way.

        That’ll change when R8A is finished. There will be increased mobility in both directions with the new lanes.

      4. do the express lanes really move that many more vehicles? maybe to mercer island or via carpools, but its not making up the difference between peak hour commutes. Why is 520 typically backed up to bellevue going westbound in the afternoon?

        How useful are busses in seattle that come every 5 to 10 minutes when they start stacking?

        Does adding an extra run to 48 at any time of the day increase ridership that much? The route is already saturated and has a solid ridership base with little room for growth. What about adding an extra run to 234, or extending 271, or a new metro express route that connects redmond, bellevue, and issaquah with a one seat ride all day with 20 minute headways? Probably could be had for a similar price as adding a few busses to already rider-saturdated seattle routes that come frequently.

      5. “Why is 520 typically backed up to bellevue going westbound in the afternoon?”

        Because it has four lanes. It’s also backed up to I-5 and beyond going eastbound in the afternoon.

        I have long given up using 520 during daylight unless I have to, or riding the 43 or 48 between 4:30-6:30pm.

    2. How is delivering disproportionally more service to the suburbs in any way “equal?” More people in Seattle provide more sales tax dollars than people in the suburbs. Why should we get shafted so you can have your dog and yard?

      If you don’t want to shoulder the financial burden for your lifestyle choices, don’t move to the suburbs. 40/40/20, depressed parking rates, dedicated funding pools for road infrastructure, county-funded fire and flood prevention, all of these things are ways in which the true cost of living in the suburbs is massively subsidized by those living in more urban settings.

      1. How does 1/3rd of the population provide more than the other 2/3rds in sales tax revenue?? Big spenders in Seattle?? Lets see some numbers.

        Why is the traffic split across the lake always worse going east in the morning and west in the afternoon? If the folks in Seattle who work on the eastside (which seem greater than the opposite) deserve more transit because they use it, why arent they using it to get across the lake? Is it because the transit opportunities on the eastside are dismal at best…?

        If 40/40/20 gets adjusted I can almost guarantee that South and East political leaders will demand sales tax reductions for their constituents, which, with 2/3rds of the population, will cause a decrease in metro service regardless.

    3. The Regional Transit Task Force recently published its final recommendation. This nonpartisan committee, composed of members from all over King County, unanimously recommended scrapping 20/40/40 and 60/20/20 in favor of productivity-based measures. Despite whatever regional biases they may have had, these members all agreed that sending nearly-empty buses to the Eastside in the name of “regional equity” is a waste of everyone’s money.

      On the other hand, King County recently announced its plans to use flood-control money to fund fire departments in several suburbs, including Redmond. The Stranger has an excellent blog post on the subject. Similarly, the county (albeit not a nonpolitical council) has decided that it’s more important for the county to fund fire services in Redmond than to rebuild the seawall.

      Should I take that decision to mean that our sales and property tax dollars are worth less than yours?

      The whole point of having a county government is that we can have regional priorities. We could pretend that we’re all our own little islands, and that tax revenues from one part of the county only go to services in that part. Or we can accept that we’re in this together, and we can fund the services that make the most sense, whether that means buses in Seattle or fire departments in Redmond.

      1. Well then its all a moot point then so far as if metro takes the task force’s recommendation (which they probably will). I know that Metro is already ready to scrap several of the Redmond Bellevue area one seat peak rides to seattle in favor of forcing people on rapid ride and having them transfer to an ST express bus or a few high demand routes that will remain. I guess a question I have to those on here is what should the ratio be? 33/33/33? 40/30/30? 50/25/25? etc? The biggest problem I see with reducing service in an area where service is scant already is that it reduces more than just the total available seats. If a route comes 4 times an hour and is only a 3rd full and is reduced to twice an hour, well in addition to losing 2 runs, theres likely to be a greater loss as people will be less likely to take a route that is less frequent. The loss is greater than just the seat capacity loss.

        But you all have a valid point, it does make more sense to place bus service where it is used the most, my main point was, east/south bus service is at the “make or break” stage right now, decreasing routes hurts system ridership and will likely prompt more people to drive (which this blog attempts to discourage) and will likely bring more people to downtown via SOV.

        Additionaly, the seawall is not a county facility, its entirely within the city of seattle and is adjacent to city and state owned thoroughfares. The Redmond fire department serves unincorporated king county areas, so in my mind, the county is paying a share that the citizens of redmond have already been funding.

      2. The RTTF was clear that there should be no ratio. This is the sensible opinion. Resources should be allocated where they’re best used. This might mean even increased service on certain trunk suburban lines at the expense of milk runs.

      3. Your point about route frequency is well-taken, but I think you have some serious misconceptions about Metro bus frequencies.

        Here is the current frequency table from Metro. It includes frequencies for ST routes that operate in King County.

        There are six corridors in all of King County that have better than 15-minute service from 5 am to 6-7 pm: Link, 3/4 from downtown to First Hill, 7, 15/18 from downtown to Interbay, 36, and 71/72/73 from downtown to the U-District. And anyone who rides the 70s often can attest that recent schedule changes have made the effective headway much higher. (The only corridor with better than 15-minute service in the evening is Link.)

        I grew up in Boston, and it boggles my mind that anyone could consider 15-minute service “frequent”. In New York, the Lexington Ave line has 15-minute service from midnight till 4 am. But we can’t magically solve our problems by cutting back all our buses from 6 an hour to 4, as you proposed, because they’re *already* running 4 an hour.

        There are only four corridors on the Eastside that even have 15-minute service from 5 am to 6 pm: the 230/253 from Bellevue to Crossroads, the 545, the 550, and the 554 from Issaquah TC to downtown.

        But wait, it gets better. Aside from those four, the only Eastside corridors that *ever* run 4 or more buses an hour — even if only for a single peak hour a day — are 212, 214-215 from Issaquah TC to downtown, 242, 245, 265, 271, 522, 540, 542, and 566.

        Almost without exception, the Eastside routes proposed for modification/elimination run 2 buses an hour *at best*. At that frequency, people have *already* chosen not to take the bus because it’s not frequent enough.

        When you build networks based on a ratio, rather than actual productivity measures, this is what you get: a system where everyone can say that they live near a bus route, but almost all of those routes are so infrequent as to be almost useless. And as Kyle said, there’s no reason to believe that productivity measures will actually make it harder to use transit on the Eastside. Yes, they may eliminate a lot of milk runs, and force people to take two buses to work instead of one (which almost everyone who doesn’t work in downtown Seattle already does), but in return, you’ll get a high-frequency core network that connects places like DT Bellevue, DT Redmond, Overlake TC, DT Kirkland… that is, places that actually have the density to support transit in a meaningful way.

        In the short term, will getting rid of 40/20/20 shift service from the suburbs to Seattle? Probably. We have some buses that are bursting at the seams, and you have some buses that run 5 times a day and serve 8 passengers each time. But in the long run, a productivity-based network design will make it easier for people who want to use transit on the Eastside to use it effectively. That strikes me as a much better goal than maximizing the number of houses within a mile of a bus stop sign. (After all, 22 hours a day, there’s nothing there but the sign.)

      4. Oh, and don’t even get me started about Sundays. By Metro’s own definition, there are only 15 corridors in the county that have frequent service on Sundays, and that includes Link, RapidRide, and the streetcar. Do Metro planners think that no one takes the bus except to go to work?

      5. Aleks,
        I’m pretty sure the 43/48 give better than 15 minute headways almost all day from 23rd & John past UW to 45th Street. Much like the 70-series, though, they aren’t very evenly spaced.

        The 8 and the 43 (combined) also have high frequency from 23rd & John over the hill to Olive Way & Denny.

      6. @Aleks you are right on the money. There is a a bus that runs two blocks away from my house in Kirkland, I can’t even tell you what number it is because the last time I was on it was over 5 years ago. It’s irrelevant to anyone with a car.

        Then again the 255 is about a half mile away and I ride it at least 4 times a week. I much rather have a frequent, higher quality core network than a diffuse low quality network. Lets be honest, a vast majority of people on the Eastside have a car and those that don’t probably live near the more important transit routes.

      7. Neither of those corridors are separately noted on Metro’s frequency chart, which suggests that no attempt was made to schedule them nicely. In particular, I live right on the 8/43 corridor, and the two buses actually arrive *at the same time all day*.

        I would love to see Seattle’s bus network rebuilt in a grid fashion. For example:

        – Split the 8 into two segments at 23rd and John, or Madison and MLK.
        – Split the 48 into two segments at 65th and 15th.
        – Delete the segment of the 71 between downtown and 65th/15th. Reinvest the service hours in improved 72/73 service to 65th/15th. Merge the tail of the 71 with the upper segment of the 48.
        – Delete the 43. Reinvest its service hours in improved service on the Denny/John/Thomas portion of the 8, and the 23rd Ave portion of the 48.

        At the end of the day, each of these corridors (65th, 23rd, Denny/John/Thomas) are served by a single very-high-frequency bus line. No hard-to-understand schedules, no opportunity for an unknowing planner to botch things up, just one route that runs every 10 minutes all day.

      8. Aleks is right on.

        “Almost without exception, the Eastside routes proposed for modification/elimination run 2 buses an hour *at best*. At that frequency, people have *already* chosen not to take the bus because it’s not frequent enough.”

        This is one of the major reasons why people in the eastside or south county don’t ride buses as much as in, say, Newark. Some people will drive no matter what, but others would ride the bus if it ran more often and later. Treat the Eastside as a single city akin to Seattle, and the south county as another city, and focus up the bus network within those “cities”. ST Express is fine for going to Seattle, but what’s missing is frequent service from one end of the Eastside to the other, and between south county suburbs. But frequent buses can’t serve all scattered housing developments. Instead provide more RapidRide routes between the centers: Bellevue, Crossroads, Kirkland, Redmond, Factoria/Eastgate, Totem Lake, etc.

      9. But Alex, it’s not Metro’s fault. They’ve been trying to attain 15-minute service on all the major city routes for years, maybe a decade, but there has never been enough money to achieve it. Metro has also been proposing sensible route consolidations but the county council often vetoes them due to one-seat-rider opposition.

      10. Mike, I don’t know whether you were referring to me or another Alex, but I definitely agree that this isn’t Metro’s fault. Even little things, like rerouting the 22 and getting rid of the almost-unused 42, get shot down by the anti-change factions.

        It looks like the silver lining of all of these budget problems is that we’re forced to make hard decisions. So Metro might finally be able to make changes in the name of saving money that they were never able to do in the name of improving service. But the effect will be the same.

    4. The problem with 40/40/20 is allocation of resources is completely divorced from demand and needs. No other county service is allocated on a geographic basis.

      It would be ridiculous to say that the county has to distribute food to the needy on a 40/40/20 basis.

    5. I think long term businesses will be relocating out of downtown.

      Right now it seems that Government work is forcing ridiculous numbers of workers to commute in and back every day when they would do well to just lease low density buildings in the South and East…closer to where most middle class people live.

      1. Then the suburbs would look like downtown, property values would rise, no one would be able to afford to live there and you’d be talking about how Kent is depopulating.

  2. “Here We Go Again”
    Martin focuses on a relatively functional, successful agency such as Sound Transit, while pointing the finger at Metro’s somewhat dysfunctional Council/Exec relationship to Metro management.
    A brief history lesson from Walt Crowley’s “Brief History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle” reveals the following:
    . The first of a series of debates over governance of transit in and around Seattle began in 1884 with the first streetcars.
    . It’s been a continuous cycle of public and private interests competing ever since. Fast forward to 1970 when voters scraped the Transit Commission and entrusted the Mayor to save Seattle Transit’s failing system of 50 trolley buses, declining ridership, and a society in love with new freeways.
    . More tinkering by Olympia in the 70’s produced the 36 member Metro Council, a 3/10 countywide sales tax and mandate to grow transit.
    . By 1983 Metro was hugely successful by all accounts – adding service, new buses, suburban connections to Seattle and recognized a bus tunnel was needed to solve the congestion of getting through the CBD.
    . 1990 was a turning point with the passage of GMA, Clean Air, formation of JRPC and Metro’s taking the lead in new rail effort through the Regional Transit Project. It also marked Judge Dwyer’s ruling that Metro’s governance was unconstitutional, and mandated it be more representative through merger with King County government. Several years later the dust had settled again, rail and transit were split and the 1996 vote to form Sound Transit was approved.
    I think the jury is still out on how successful both agencies will continue to be, or whether re-re merger and split cycles should continue. Spending on public transit in general has risen over the decades from a fraction of total spending to achieve near parity with road spending.
    Bottom line? Keep your eye on the cost of moving people from A to B, and how many of them are doing it for which agency. What’s the overall mode split between transit and other forms of transportation? There’s your answer as to who shall govern.

  3. I agree. The efficiencies the ST governance structure afford are astounding. In just a bit over ten years we’ve created a new government that GETS THINGS DONE!

    Without the need to constantly try to get reelected the boardmembers can concentrate on delivering results. Now we have Sounder, an expanding light rail network, and a very successful Regional Express bus service.

    I’ve attended many of the public hearings, and the public’s views obviously are considered by the boardmembers. With the healthy and frequent audits accountability is assured. More agencies should be structured this way, to deliver the goods in a quick, cost-effective manner.

    1. Evergreen you left out (arguably) the most significant advantage: the professionals on ST’s staff don’t have to worry about being second-guessed by electeds with parochial, narrow interests. Everyone can focus on the big picture – providing the region with transportation alternatives to polluting SOV use. With peak oil around the corner, we’re too late getting started on this around here anyway.

      1. Kyle D and Railfan,

        You are exactly right – the ST governance structure is highly effective and actually allows the agency to get things done and move transit forward regionally.

        This is exactly why you see our local transit critics periodically going after ST on the “issue” of governance reform. Does anyone believe that these transit critics suddenly want ST to be a more effective transit agency? Far from it, they want ST to be hobbled with the same sort of governance structure as Metro. And they want to be able to stack the ST board in much the way Kemper Freeman stacked the Bellevue City Council.

        “Governance Reform” is all about slowing ST down and making it less effective.

      2. Kyle D and Railfan,

        You are exactly right – the ST governance structure is the wave of the future. Representative democracy is being relegated to the dustbin of history as we speak.

      3. ST is very much controlled by representative government. It’s just not *micromanaged* by representative government.

      4. ST is very much controlled by representative government.

        Um, no. It is a federated board. Voters can not control it.

        There are 18 boardmembers. Three are elected directly (the county executives). The rest are appointed (one by the governor – the sec. of DOT – and 14 by the co. execs).

      5. My understanding was that, while ST Board members are not elected TO the board, they have to be elected officials in order to be appointed (other than the WSDOT Secretary). Looking at the current Board members, this seems to be the case.

    2. We do have Sounder. We do have regional express buses. But we also have absurdities and intransigence based on factors other than demand and logic.

      Case in point is the lack of continuous hourly express service from Kent Station to downtown Seattle. Though I contacted both Metro and ST directly and make my requests public here in STBlog, I have yet to receive what I consider a rational answer to an issue of very well used route that would be well served with more continuous service.

  4. “Of course, a directly-elected board would be the worst of all possible worlds, as members’ only way to impact their constituencies would be to be ultra-defensive of their district’s resources and ultra-responsive to anyone who complains about an agency initiative. ”

    It’s been shown time and time again that direct representation on transit commissions creates logjams and frustrates long-term, regionwide plans. The right investments simply can not be made when directly-elected commission members start standing up for narrow interest groups. We’ve got a good thing going, and knocking it off the tracks now would set us back decades. Who wants that?

    Oh, and Evergreen Railfan has it right!

  5. And *this* is why I find reading about Seattle transit (while being a Portlander) fascinating.

    I find this post fascinating. Here, with the cuts TriMet has made over the last few years, theres a number of people who believe that things would be better if the board was elected, rather than appointed by the Governor as now. I find the response here to having an elected transit governing board refreshing, and although I can only speak anecdotaly, I believe it’s on the mark as well.

    (Though I would prefer if TriMet board appointments were made locally rather than in Salem.)

    1. Joint the discussion any time. We are an amenable bunch, and always welcome some comments from around the country. I can’t promise there won’t be some good-natured ribbing of “Stumptown” now and again though . . .. BTW, we really admire much of what TriMet does, especially the intermodal focus and extensive streetcar planning.

    2. I think Portland is an interesting model any way you look at it simply because it is so different than many other areas.

  6. Martin, what is the point of even raising this issue? The people here could not have been clearer – this federated board of elected officials is the kind of government structure they want for the agency. That is what the big win in 2008 proves to everyone. Voters had a chance to say no, but they said yes.

    1. I think Martin’s saying, “we did it ‘right’ with Sound Transit and that other areas of the country wish they had an agency structured by a board resembling ST’s board. And what if Metro were ran in a less political way?”

      But I don’t think we should interpret the 2008 vote as an explicit endorsement of ST’s governance any more than the 2006 Metro vote was an explicit endorsement of how Metro is controlled.

      1. JJ – ??

        The 2008 vote was an explicit endorsement by the region. The people ratified Sound Transit’s management’s performance up to that time, and things only have improved (Link was brought on line, projects are coming in under budget, etc.). If anyone had problems with the management structure it would have showed up where the rubber meets the road – at the ballot box.

        FWIW I disagree (respectfully) with your other point as well. The 2006 Transit Now vote showed that the public understood Metro had turned the corner, and that it was entitled to expand service. We really have a number of well-run transit agencies – it’s a blessing living here in the Great Northwest.

      2. That’s a nice interpretation of voter’s intentions, but any interpretation must different from what’s explicit or there is nothing to interpret. Voting to allow ST to raise taxes to build light rail may somewhat imply that voters are “not disgusted” with Sound Transit, but 1) it does not prove that and 2) that is also a low bar.

        If I were to guess, no more than a small fraction of voters who weighed in on ST2 have the slightest idea of how the ST Board is comprised. But no one is saying the ST Board should be reorganized.

      3. I voted for regional trains, not for a governance structure. But ST does do a pretty good job at governance, as others have noted.

      4. I voted for regional trains, not for a governance structure. But ST does do a pretty good job at governance, as others have noted.

        Of course you didn’t vote for a governance structure. Duh. ST2 didn’t have anything to do with the governance structure. The state laws determined the governance structure, not the voters.

  7. Gotta disagree with you on this one, Martin:

    I’m very much an advocate of having fewer elected officials to make the ones we do have more accountable for the government’s overall performance.

    There only are 18 officials on the ST board. More importantly, voters have the ultimate means of achieving accountability. The WSDOT head is an exception, but voters can replace every one of the other 17. If that isn’t an equitable way to make up a board I don’t know what is!

    1. I think you might be misunderstanding my point. I like the fact that the ST board is a group of elected officials. I wouldn’t like a system where we actually voted for members of the Sound Transit board.

      More generally, if we voted for only 7 or 8 offices (instead of the dozens we elect now) I think overall governance would improve.

      1. With an appointed only board, you are relying on the benevolent government mode of rule. And we have seen that it is unfortunately easily corrupted.

        A check’s and balances has been the optimal governance. And one of the checks should be the direct vote of the taxpayers.

      2. “And one of the checks should be the direct vote of the taxpayers.”

        Let me try and figure out what the point of that is . . .. Hmm, what did we have in November, 2008? Why it was a direct vote of the taxpayers. Now, what’s the problem?

        Trying to follow the mental gymnastics from this clown gives me a headache.

  8. I disagree strongly with Martin’s contention that the ST board is the best way to go.

    From this board, we picked the most expensive, least capacity mass transit system to tie our future and current transit dollars to. There is no way to recall the members of the board. They are hand picked by the polls who run the county. There is no way to get the board to do what would have been the financially best, fastest, least cost system.

    #1) Surface route on MLK doomed the system to always have a driver. No automated system like Sky train can ever be implemented.

    #2) Picking steel wheels on steel tracks guaranteed the noise complaints in Tukwilla an the opposition from the Surry Downs Neighborhood of Bellevue.

    #3) Sounder looks good, big trains, lots of passengers, but when you look at the cost subsidy, it’s close to $100/per passenger. That’s ridiculous and unsustainable.

    #4) ST Buses. Operating costs are higher than Metro from which they contract services. Why? An extra layer of government mis-management guarantees a higher cost. Plus for the region it’s a duplication of effort.

    1. There’s a Negative Nellie in every crowd. I won’t address these old, half-baked talking points one by one. Nothing is more efficient than trains when it comes to transporting large numbers of people in busy corridors, and we now can do that in spades. As to the rest, suffice it to say that the voters of the region don’t agree, and you can’t please all the people all the time.

      I’ll lay 10:1 odds this crank never once showed up to any of the board meetings to speak out in favor of what he now says is a problem. If you don’t participate, you can’t expect things to be as you want them in every respect.

      1. p.w. — don’t feed the troll.

        Want him to go away? Just ask a question – his kind hates that!

        Hey troll, what makes you think directly-elected board members would have chosen something other than steel wheels and non-elevated trackways? Ever heard of direction-from-voters, and budgets? **crickets**

        What dark cavern did you pull that “$100/passenger” made-up number out of? Is that per year, per lifetime, what? I know you won’t try to answer this . . . .

      2. Hey! I’m too thin to be a troll. I just hate the hero worship of the board of Sound Transit. I’m a fan of RAPID transit, not just MASS transit. And I’m a frugal person who likes to see that my tax money is well spent not wasted.

        #1) The auto culture of driving everywhere is ending. We are past peak oil and we better get building quick on plan B.

        #2) The state/county/city/country is broke. We can go into why, but we are. Therefore we need to spend what money we do have wisely or we are going to be in a lot more trouble very soon.

        #3) $100/passanger subsidy on ST Sounder… from Emory Bundy’s figures on the where he has the 2004 numbers.. ” Applying the Federal Transit Administration’s accounting methodology, the annualized capital cost of Sounder is $96 million. In 2004, capital cost per-boarding was $100″

        I’d be glad to see one of these wonk’s numbers showing that somehow the Sound Transit board got more efficient.

      3. Oh the voters in Seattle chose rubber tires on concrete 4 times. (Monorail). You can see one in operation down on 5th ave. Go ahead get out your db meter and show me how much quieter LINK is on the curves. It’s not. ST has been trying to fix a physics problem by grinding the wheels/track. And it’s only minorly helped.

      4. PW, don’t feed the troll.

        These are old and very false talking points, but no matter how many times you show them to be false, they keep bringing them up. Personally I’m just glad that the MLK part of Central Link has turned out to be so safe – the trolls have had to completely drop the “safety argument” now that there is real data on how safe the line actually is.

      5. I didn’t claim that the MLK wasn’t safe. I just said because of it, we cannot automate the system. Therefore we will always have a driver in the train. And Labor costs are a large part of the cost of a system like this.

        Had the MLK portion either been raised, or tunneled, a driverless system like Skytrain could have been built.

        And Skytrain was up and running when the ST board made their pick.

    2. Gary,

      If you dislike the board’s decisions, vote for a new County Executive. It’s that simple.

      There is no way to get the board to do what you want because, among other things, what you want is unpopular. You should really ask yourself if a system where any crank can organize a recall election would lead to better governance or not.

      1. “If you dislike the board’s decisions, vote for a new County Executive. It’s that simple.”

        But then voters would have no control over whom the new County Exec. appoints to the board. Voting for a new County Exec. can not assure the voter of who will be appointed to the board, so that is not a way that could change the make-up of the board. Also, a new County Exec. has no power to fire boardmembers, so electing a different Co. Exec. could not change the board composition for years.

      2. If the issue became important politically then I’m sure you could get explicit names before the election. However, the ST board is relatively isolated from politics and that is a good thing in my opinions. Opinions can differ, but I’d rather the board be technocratic than democratic unless things are wildly out of whack from public expectations. Requiring votes for taxing authority is at least some check on this.

      3. @ John: “If the issue became important politically then I’m sure you could get explicit names before the election.”

        You know as well as I “stretching the truth” is an acceptable form of political speech. And giving names is far different than guessing what those names would do on a particular issue like routing choice, mode selection, or tunnel vs. street level (to name three examples).

        There are other reasons county executive candidates never will say who will serve on ST’s board if they’re elected. Neither Dow nor what’s-her-name said who they’d appoint, even though they had differences about routing, etc. The candidate could fib about who s/he’d appoint – voters don’t trust political candidates. And what if the county council didn’t approve the proposed board members?

        This is a game that requires trust, and naming ST boardmembers in advance of an election isn’t anything the Co. Executive candidates ever would do.

      4. If you can’t trust the person you vote for for county exec., your problem is not with the structure of the Sound Transit board, your problem is with the structure of county executive elections. Period. Perhaps try *range voting* if the two-party system is stifling your options?

      5. If you can’t trust the person you vote for for county exec., your problem is not with the structure of the Sound Transit board, your problem is with the structure of county executive elections.

        I’d phrase it differently: even if you trusted whom you vote for for King County Executive you could end up having a problem with Sound Transit’s board because of how others you can’t vote for deal with the business of ST.

        ST was designed to be taken out of the realm of the quickly-shifting winds of public wants and prejudices. It CAN’T be derailed by the “it” hot-button issues of the day. In that way it is a more evolved form of government.

    3. The choice was never a perfect system vs no system. That will never happen as long as a large percentage of the voters are anti-tax and pro-one-seat-ride (which is expensive to provide). The choice was a compromise system (MLK was cheaper to construct) vs no system.

      1. That wasn’t the only choice. Rule 15 in the original vote gave the board power to do whatever was necessary to build any or no system at all.

        5 miles of elevated track would not have broken the bank. There would have been cost savings because once the cars were all isolated from cross street traffic they could have argued to not have to meet the side impact standards of Light Rail. That would have made less concrete necessary for the entire system with fewer support pillars, or at least smaller ones.

      2. I agree that elevated would have been better. Eliminate the problems of accidents, low speeds, and potential frequency once and for all. If you include these externalized costs in the project budget, a grade-separated route would look much more competitive. But politicans and voters around the country are not ready to look at things this way yet. ST did not feel it could justify the expense because a surface route was physically possible on the valley floor, and a lot of anti-tax people were breathing down their neck saying the entire system should cost as little per mile as Portland (thus being almost entirely surface). I think we should just say ST did a reasonably good job given the atmosphere they were in, and a bird in the hand (a running light rail line) is better than two in the bush.

  9. “You should really ask yourself if a system where any crank can organize a recall election would lead to better governance or not.”

    Actually Martin, ask yourself the same question without the personal slam.

    ‘You should really ask yourself if a system where any ONE can organize a recall election would lead to better governance or not.

    Then ask why do you think that the Sound Transit board has your best interest at heart? What makes them responsive to the needs of TRANSIT and not just county wide votes? And who gets to sit on the board? Why it’s appointee’s. And how do you get appointed, you toe the line with the head of the board. Otherwise you get removed. And if we as voters remove some of the board, are the people we vote for, put on the board? No, they are not, instead someone else is appointed who won’t rock the boat.

    Your hero worship blinds you to what could be. Yes the perfect is the enemy of the good enough. But we could have had a lot better for our money.

    Just look at the opposition of Surry Downs. A group that would vastly benefit from easy fast transit to and from Seattle, Bellevue, Overlake, Redmond. And they are screaming mad because the system we are building is noisy. It didn’t have to be that way.

    1. Here’s where you’re wrong. You don’t get appointed by “toe[ing] the line with the head of the board”, you get appointed by the person who makes the appointments, who apparently *isn’t* the head of the board….

    2. All ST boardmembers – past, present, and future – either are directly elected (the county executives) or they are appointed by one of four government officials who has been directly elected (the governor, or one of the county executives of King, Pierce, or Snohomish Counties). The board chair has not additional appointment rights. End of story.

      1. @Gary don’t get your pants in a bunch. We monitor comments and make sure they comply with the comment policy.

    1. Dude, the board chair is a rotating postion. If you live in King County then vote against the King County Exec. It’s simple.

      ST is getting things done. A lot of people don’t like that, but there is little they can do about it now that the voters have approved ST2. Get over it and move on.

      Oh, I find your love of the monorail to be quaint although totally misguided. If there was ever a governance model that we shouldn’t mimic that was it!!! And, although the voters did approve various monorail related measures 4 times, ultimately the voters realized their mistake and voted by an overwhelming majority (~70%!!!) to bite the bullet and shutter the agency.

      We should learn from that debacle and not look back. Time to move forward.

      1. I’m not advocating the choice of the Monorail board. That was a clear disaster.

        The voters approved ST2 because it’s the best of several bad options.
        #1) do nothing.. clearly not going to work.
        #2) build more highways…that’s not working out either.
        #3) Rapid bus transit, sort of works short term, until the freeway fill up, or need repair. Again a short term solution.
        #4) build more light rail and live with the physics problems.

        heck I voted for ST2. At this time, it’s the only way out of the current mess.

        What I’m objecting to is Martins fawning over the Sound Transit board’s mode of governance.

    2. I can see Kemper’s minions are at it again, fouling up message boards for the rest of us. “Ah, the smell of exhaust in the morning . . ..” The world she is a’changing, and that seems toooooo difficult for some dinosaurs to bear.

      1. Dude! Kemper Freeman is the dinosaur here. Not me. I ride a bicycle to work.

        Kemper Freeman has done more to scr*w over Bellevue than anyone short of the city board that sold the ferry landing land when the I-90 bridge was built.

        His mall is a monument to auto centric bad planning. Hey I have an idea, lets put the prime auto destination in Bellevue as far away from the freeway access as possible guaranteeing massive traffic jams! Lets keep the bus transit station also as far away from the mall as possible, because we don’t want “those people” shopping here.

        The guy is a monument to obstructionism and the future with expensive oil.

    3. The King County exec selects your county’s representatives. You also don’t get to vote on the Senators for Oregon even though their decisions have national import. Come on, Gary.

      The point is that if you did vote on ST East King Rep, then that person would have an interest in thinking locally rather than regionally. Maybe you prefer that, but you have to advance arguments for why that is better.

      1. There is something to be said for proportional representation (PR). In most European countries, rather than vote for a candidate in your district, you vote for a party list, and the number of seats that the party gets is proportional to the number of votes they receive.

        For exactly the reason you mentioned — people you didn’t get to vote on are making decisions that affect you — I would love to see the elimination of geographical districts in US politics, in favor of PR.

        While I agree with you that the current technocratic board structure seems to work time (I’m also one of those people who thinks that judicial elections are a terrible idea), if we did have ST board elections, there’s no reason they’d have to be geographically-based.

        By the way, before someone asks, PR is *not* the same thing as multiple at-large elections. Suppose that 60% of the electorate supports Party A, 40% supports Party B, and there is a partisan election for a 5-seat board. With 5 separate at-large elections, Party A will win all 5. With PR, Party A will win 3, and Party B will win 2. In this scenario, assuming that all board issues are majority-rules and all candidates vote on strict party lines, it doesn’t actually make a difference, but it’s definitely possible to come up with scenarios where the minority party ends up in power.

  10. I appreciate this helpful article, Martin! It puts some things in perspective, like how well off we have it here.

    I’m sure the people in DC will be looking here for pointers. It’s no secret across the country about how well bus and train capabilities are provided for the businesses and families here in the “other” Washington. I for one am very pleased with the job the boardmembers are doing for the agency. It isn’t like they get paid much – it is community service at its best. They have a difficult time with the Bush Recession causing budget woes, and they deserve all the support we can give them. Thank you, transit boardmembers!

    1. I agree 100% – couldn’t have said it better. There’s always going to be a vocal minority upset with their lives who try to bring everyone around them down to their level. Keep your shoulders back, and your eyes on the big picture. That’s what our regional leaders are doing, keeping the big picture of moving people around in focus. The only thing elections would bring us is massive out of state special interest spending, courtesy of the rubber tire and petro-chemical industrial complex. We don’t need any of that here; the board would be stacked with Republicans.

  11. On the other hand, the King County Council is the governing board for Metro, and while not a disaster there are certainly some weaknesses. In particular, there are instances of the Council responding to vocal interest groups by tweaking Metro’s plans. Worse yet, the Council is absolutely driven by parochial concerns rather than a regional vision: 40/40/20 is the obvious example.

    In other words, elected officials respond to public input.

    40/40/20 is certainly an oversimplified compromise solution, but it is the only thing has defended Seattle from a de-novo reallocation of existing Metro funding.

    (Keep in mind that ridership is a very small part of the funding scheme for Metro, so it’s quaint but relatively pointless to use it as a major determinant of where to expend those funds. When riders drive funding, ridership drives budgets. Where taxes drive funding, voters drive budgets.)

  12. I vote for the way things are. Don’t change horses mid-stream. NOBODY wants more process, we want results.

  13. Nobody’s accusing the board of doing shoddy work. The “grass is greener” crowd may have a few bones to pick vis a vis some earlier policy decisions, but nobody’s too bent out of shape. You can’t always get what you want, and all that.

    Now we’re getting the information about the projects, and University Link is well under way. Soon there will be groundbreaking on the ST2 work, and all this will be just a distant memory. I agree with John, technical expertise is why the board now looks the way it does. The last thing we need now is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    1. Wait: I’m accusing the board of two fundamental bad decisions.

      #1) Light rail:
      a) It’s been nearly as expensive as “heavy” as in heavy capacity rail, but carries less people.
      b) Steel wheels on steel track, noisy, and can’t climb hills as well as rubber on concrete. It’s a physics problem.
      c) because of problem #2, the cars on a Light Rail system have to built to withstand side impacts from automobiles. This makes the platform supports larger to support a heavier stronger concrete track which is more expensive and visually more intrusive. The added concrete adds costs/per mile which limits the number of miles we can build for the fixed tax revenue we collect.

      #2) Surface section on MLK:
      a)By putting transit intermixed with pedestrians and cars and trucks for 5 miles we have to have a driver at all times. No automation is possible anywhere on the line. This leads to higher operational costs which limits the number of miles of track we can build for a given amount of tax revenue.
      b) Any accident along this route blocks the whole system. Fortunately Sound Transit has done a lot better here than say Houston (google “wham bam tram” to see how bad it could have been.)

      1. First off, Link isn’t exactly light rail. It’s more comparable to light metro or pre-metro. It has similar capacity and comparable average speeds to many heavy rail systems. The recently opened Canada Line in Vancouver is both slower than Link and has less capacity, even though it’s entirely grade-separated and automated. The choice of technology doesn’t guarantee an outcome, the implementation of it does.

        Building an entirely grade-separated system would have had the advantage of possibly being automated, but the cost per mile would have been substantially higher and the trains would have been incompatible with bus operations in the tunnel. You also greatly limit your choice of vendors for the trains, there are far more manufacturers of conventional rail vehicles than there are automated monorail or Skytrain type vehicles.

        “Steel wheels on steel track, noisy, and can’t climb hills as well as rubber on concrete.”

        That’s not necessarily true. The steepest grade that monorails can cope with is around 6%, rubber-tired metros can do about 12% for short stretches. Modern light rail vehicles can climb 9-10% grades. Not a significant difference. Rubber tired rail vehicles have significant drawbacks that have limited their adoption. There’s a reason that 99% of rapid transit systems are still steel wheel on steel rail. If monorails are so great why have the only three that have been built in the last 50 years in the US all been built as amusement rides?

      2. My biggest beef with Link is the light rail aspect: we’re light rail in the sense that we’ve got low floors and overhead wires. In every other sense we’ve built a heavy rail system. Why?

        JFTR, there are heavy rail systems with grade crossings. The NYC subway had them until the late 60s.

      3. Gary,

        Stop spreading FUD. We get it, you don’t like ST and transit. But Light Rail was not a fundamentally bad decision (even Vancouver is debating whether their next expansion should be LR or Skytrain….).

        And their is no “physics problem,” at least not in less you think the efficiency of steel-on-steel transit is a “problem”. You are purely making things up now.

        And you are completely twisting things around in illogical ways. LR is much cheaper to build than Skytrain, which allows for more miles of system to be built with higher potential ridership. Your assertion to the contrary flies in the face of reason.

      4. “you don’t like ST and transit”

        Not true. I like RAPID transit. The key is that for any transit to be rapid, it needs to have it’s own right of way, and “just the right number of stops.” Station dwell time overrides speed on the track if there are too many stops. And cross traffic stops destroy average speed, which is why a dedicated right-of-way is key.

        On ST: I like the theory of a multi county, multiple transit types agency. My complaint has been accountability, spending controls, ridership/dollar. In practice the infighting of this board has made it hard to do the right thing for the region. For instance we have a mass transit light rail system which skips a major employment and retail center, Southcenter due to Seattle’s influence to keep sales tax revenue in Seattle by not making it easy to get there. When if you look at where people drive and the desire to replace autos with transit, it was a no brainer. And yes we can discuss whether there was money to get there vs the airport, but anyone coming from outside the region looking at the route of LINK and the density, employment centers etc wonders, why didn’t it go there?

  14. Been taking the train for months now, home to work and back. The trains are getting more crowed. Many more people using them than last spring – probably getting familiar with the system now. Somebody above didn’t like the steel wheels. Without getting “overly poetic” I can say I really appreciate the gliding along, with the scenery moving past the large windows. It’s my “me” time, before and after work.

    1. “I really appreciate the gliding along” that’s the seamless welded tracks. And cabin sound proofing.

      Being inside the train cars is really pleasant. It’s the outside noise caused by the flanges on the wheels the rub against the track that make the screeching noise that has bugged the neighbors.

      1. Cities that are routinely rated as having the highest quality of life on the planet have at-grade rail transit systems. The occasional wheel squeal really isn’t that big of a deal. The noisiest Link train is still quieter than the general traffic along MLK or Bellevue Way. It just takes time for people to get used to it because it’s a new sound that stands out from all the other sounds of the city that people have gotten used to and now don’t notice. It frankly disgusts me that the biggest topic of discussion at East Link meetings is noise, when it will really only affect a handful of people. There’s never any mention of the tens of thousands of people that improved transit will benefit.

      2. The official Sound Transit statement about the noise is here:

        A casual reader will notice that the sounds exceed the Federal limits for Light Rail.

        People interested in quiet Rapid transit will notice that Disney World has a Monorail that run through the lobby of their hotel.

        There are NO Light rail trains than run through Hotels.

      3. Some of the noise impacts are due to the warning bells at the crossovers:

        ‘Noise from the train warning bells along with noise from the pedestrian crossings
        increase the number of impacts from 71 to 95.
        3. All severe impacts are directly related to noise from the crossovers.”

        [Gary shorten links, you know better]

        All the bell crossing noise issues would have been avoided with an elevated or tunneled system.

  15. The further insulated our civil service is from the people the better. Democracy should be a part of our system, but shouldn’t dominate it.

    Heck, if direct elections the end all be all, why do polls consistently show that people have more faith in our Military and Supreme Court than Congress and the Presidency?

    1. This is a republic. We elect folks as our representatives (every other year in some cases) to decide on issues, and we have a governance boards and a civil service to put into motion that which our representatives enact. Not happy? Elect new representatives – yet incumbents get re-elected more than 3/4 of the time. Go figure. Want change? Never vote for the incumbent.

  16. I use transit all the time. What’s the problem with how things are now? My ORCA card works great, and it’s subsidized by my employer so it’s the most economical way to get to work imaginable.

    The system is not broken, don’t try to fix it. I haven’t heard anything to suggest the reps of the people on the transit board are doing anything but a top-notch job.

    1. Man, ORCA is a disaster. It works okay for the simplest boarding scenarios, but we still see resistance to adoption and incredibly arcane value-loading procedures (24 hours, really? Activation periods? $5 card fee?)

  17. If what we really want to do is evaluate whether an appointed board of elected officials does a good job of governance, we should look at the whole history of this board.

    Has a nice outline:
    With critical points being, that the LINK project was voted on in 1996. Yet here in 2010, we have yet to complete the system that was promised in that vote. Costs have ballooned, projects have been delayed and ridership is nowhere near what was promised.

    There was a statewide referendum to pull the tax funding which passed by the voters but was ruled unconstitutional by the state courts due to the mysterious rule 15, which lets the board change the project to fit whatever guidelines they choose.

    Several critics of the board, on the board, were not asked back. Notably Rob McKenna.

    Could a totally elected board avoided these problems? Who knows. Ron Sims the head of the board was extremely popular among all county voters for his general stance on public services. Yet his opponent didn’t focus the campaign on rails to nowhere, instead on Ron’s tax and spend. A typically losing stance among King County residents who like having county services.

    Yet when Ron ran for Governor he didn’t even win King County in the primary. Clearly transit is not the only issue.

    It’s quite possible that given the mood of the voters this whole project would have joined the Monorail project in the good ideas but didn’t make the grade had voters had a chance to rescind their initial vote.

    Now going forward, with the snake oil salesman Bob White gone, and the system reduced to reflect the tax collected, and the lower ridership numbers it’s looking ok. Critics are still worried about floating or not floating bridges but early tests look like the thing will float. How well it crosses the expansion joints when there is a storm is up for question but we are going to find out.

    Costs for LINK are running at a $14/per ride subsidy but when you talk to auto drivers they haven’t a clue about the subsidy given to them for driving around. Subsidies for bus riders hare higher than Metro but not at the LINK level. Sounder because of it’s high capital costs and low ridership/capital costs is unlikely to ever get cheaper but adding more freeways between Tacoma and Everett is even more ridiculous.

  18. Gary:

    You are thinking of mysterious Area 51, there is no mysterious “rule 15”.

    Stop lying.

    If it existed you could link to it. Besides, ST2 overruled Sound Move, so even if it did exist (which it didn’t), it wouldn’t have the power of law any more.

    Why do I even bother? Some people just believe what they want to believe.

      1. “fine print” asked for a html link and I provided it. Lazy’erous do you have any constructive statements to make about the board? How about some links to their performance? (good or bad). Do you have any alternative board structures to suggest? Or do you like getting 50% of what you vote for 2X the cost?

        I know we can do better. But that requires pointing out the problems as well as the successes.

  19. The only problem with having elected officials appointed to a governing Board is that there is no mechanism for holding those officials directly accountable for their decisions on that Board.

    To say that electing Dow Constantine vs. Susan Hutchinson to King County Exec would have affected ST is just silly, don’t you think? There were clear ideological differences between the two on numerous policy issues, but either one would have supported the projects voted on by the public.

    It’s also a little silly to suggest that removing Dow from office for a bad decision affecting ST would be easy in contrast to the support he has for the great work he has been doing in countless other areas affecting the County (like negotiating with Labor).

    I’m not disagreeing with Martin’s contention that it makes for a more stable Board. I’m just saying it makes it much more difficult to remove a bad Board member.

    1. I’m sure Susan Hutchinson would have appointed someone to the ST board from Bellevue and that person would have been a big cheerleader for the “vision line”. Instead Dow appointed Claudia Balducci who certainly is on our side of the debate.

  20. my subjective sense is that ST staff are pretty liberated to execute policy without looking over their shoulders.

    Not really the story you get from staffers regarding routing Link through the RV, or even the numerous reroutes of U-Link.

    King County Council is the governing board for Metro, and … the Council is absolutely driven by parochial concerns rather than a regional vision: 40/40/20 is the obvious example.

    Install strict sub-area equity the same way ST is forced to operate and 40/40/20 can go away. I’d vote for that as an initiative. I’ll bet a lot of people in Seattle will too thinking they’re getting the sweet end of the deal.

  21. 1. Having watched the old Metro Council, and the King County Council and the Sound Transit Board in action these last almost three decades, I think that the method of selection of a transit governing board is less important than the technical comprehension of its members. Remember the exact destination of the road paved with good intentions.

    2. Coming from Chicago and Detroit, it’s kind of funny watching Seattle and Bellevue fighting with each other as if they were different places. In Chicago, this whole region would probably get one ward committeeman- and anybody else would need a detailed map to find it.

    3. Rather than argue over which part of this place deserves better transit service, let’s set a stipulation and give the service to whoever meets it first: rush hours, transit gets a fully-reserved lane both directions, with strong signal pre-empt. I one setence, whoever puts transit first, gets transit first.

    Mark Dublin

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