Pine Street Stub Tunnel, by Adam

While nothing can replace state-granted taxing authority as the primary driver for transit revenue, there are always little ways of funding we can dream up.  Like this tweet from a Bostonian about a quirky new revenue source for MBTA:

@mbtaGM I would actually pay to be able to walk through MBTA tunnels as part of a tour. Midnight T Tunnel Tours once per month??

It’s an interesting idea and one that I certainly think shouldn’t go unnoticed.  There are a lot of facilities around here that could generate quite some interest from the general public, like the DSTT, the Beacon Hill tunnels, Link OMF (Operations & Maintenance Facility), and even Metro’s bus bases.  There are tours here and there that sometimes offer glimpses into some of these places, but only on occasion and seldom to the general public.

Showing off some of our transit infrastructure might not only bring in a bit of revenue, as little as it may be, but could also attract inquiring minds to transit.  If Metro can sell space on its buses and facilities for ads, then doing the same for regular guided tours might be a welcome idea.

50 Replies to “Unconventional Revenue Sources”

  1. I once offered one of the Metro planners $100 to ride the 132 from end to end. He declined.

    How about a game such as Metro’s Got Funky Routes, in which riders vote on the most obnoxious, most irritatingly-designed, and most pointless bus routes in the system, and name how much they’d pay to get the General Manager to ride that route. The highest bidder for the winning route gets to ride with the General Manager and talk his ear off about why he hates that route.

    1. “I once offered one of the Metro planners $100 to ride the 132 from end to end.”

      That’s amazing!

      “He declined.”

      …and quite telling.

      1. I don’t know Brent, but I presume that he has no present, pending, or presumed future business dealings with the agency or with the county. So bribery it is not.

        Brent also could have gifted the planner a copy of The Traveler with Infinite Time’s Guide to the World’s 100 Dumbest-Ass Transit Routes, or paid for the planner to attend a similarly themed educational seminar, without running afoul of any ethical issues.

        A trip on the 132 would have been equally enlightening and far more tactile.

      2. I don’t get the point of offering $100 to a planner but such an action violates the King County Ethics Code, excerpted below (emphasis mine):

        3.04.017 Definitions.

        C. “County action” means any action on the part of the county, including, but not limited to:
        1. Any decision, determination, finding, ruling or order; and
        2….

        3.04.020 D. No county employee may ask for or receive, directly or indirectly, any compensation, gift, or thing of value, or promise thereof, for performing or for omitting or deferring the performance of any official duty, or action by the county other than the compensation, costs or fees provided by law.

        Keep the $100. Instead, organize your neighbors and fellow Route 132 riders to contact your county councilmember and/or Metro management to look at it.

      3. Wait, seriously, do you really not understand the point Brent was trying to make?

        Here you have a route whose ridiculous length and thousands of zigs, zags, loops, and detours inconvenience the many riders who have to wait for on a daily basis… and practically torment any unlucky souls who might have to ride it most of the way. Some of the planners own co-workers — the drivers — are also forced to navigate the ridiculousness every single day.

        The planner already knows how bad this route it — thus the disinterest in taking Brent’s proposed field trip — but they may not feel its badness quite as profoundly as if they were to experience it first hand.

        If I were in charge of Metro, the first thing I would do would be to eliminate parking for all daytime employees. No exceptions for running mid-day errands, or days when you pick the kids up from school. No exceptions whatsoever. The people responsible for this system have got to understand what its like to rely on the results of their work.

        I think policy-making and service patterns would improve overnight.

        Frankly, I would extend the policy to all Metro drivers except the very earliest and very latest shifts: if you can get to your shift during Metro service hours, you must get to your base on Metro. Those drivers who drive like they couldn’t care about time or about making the light, those drivers who clearly never take their own service and have never been in the customers’ shoes, they would disappear faster than you can say “exit through the rear.”

        I experience a bit of anxiety any time I require the 44 as part of my day. I literally never go to Georgetown (it’s not that far!) because the 131 and 132 are so dismal. If the planner doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, that their work contributes to the psychological detriment or the functional scope of mobility of their own customers, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

        Brent’s was a very clever, and very potent, way of raising the issue!

        (It also in no way meets the definition of an Ethics Code violation, per your citations. It neither aims to compel nor to enjoin any specific action, decision, or determination whatsoever on the part of the agency or on the part of the planner acting in an official capacity. There is no quid pro quo at all. Buying someone a clue is not a crime.)

      4. I get the point: crappy bus line, planner ignores it.

        Brent’s offering to pay the planner sets him up for failure from the get go. It offers an easy way for the planner to refuse on ethical grounds, whether it is a violation or not.

  2. If Metro can sell space on its buses and facilities for ads

    I’m pretty sure Metro’s about the worst agency ever at selling ad space. The outside of the buses do OK, but the inside, whereas other cities have tons of ads, we have giant operator-of-the-year, mechanic-of-the-(last)-year, and ‘please have your fare ready’ signs, along with a few non-profit ads and a tiny ad for a lawyer’s office, and that’s about it. Oh, whoops, forgot the bus poetry.

    Also, none of the metro facilities are setup with ad space: every other city’s bus shelters have lighted ad-poster panels, and bench ads are pretty popular, too. We also nothing at all in the tunnel.

    I get that they may detract from ideal riding feng-shui, but I suspect most people would tolerate having their zen rippled, if it meant a few more runs on their route.

      1. There are ads (or at least there were last time I was in the stations) at the ID and Westlake Stations as well. I think they’ve done a good job of selling those.

        One reason the interior ads don’t sell is that Metro doesn’t allow response mechanisms – on most systems you can attach cards that people can remove and take with them. I would actually support them allowing that. I think they also might want to look at the pricing structure (seemed expensive to me when I bought ads for a research study I was working on).

        I hate the bus wraps and also support Seattle’s ban against shelter advertising.

    1. Does anyone know why there is no advertising on Seattle bus shelters? Any plans to change that?

      1. I think there was a battle about it in the late ’80s, something about maintaining an uncluttered cityscape

      2. I believe bus stop advertising is not allowed in Seattle. Seems like it is all over Chicago, though, and it isn’t too obnoxious. I wouldn’t mind it downtown or in other commercial areas, which are probably the most attractive locations for advertisers anyways.

      3. Seattle has a very strict outdoor advertising ban, the result of the pendulum swinging a bit too far in response to the billboards that used to litter much of the city—e.g. East Madison in 1959. While banning new billboards is probably a good thing, the regs also ban things like ad kiosks and ads on bus shelters. The ban is the reason for the big toilet debacle: whereas other cities contract with an ad company to maintain the toilets in exchange for the right to advertise on them in the public right-of-way, Seattle itself had to contract to install and maintain the toilets; instead of making money like every other city, we lost millions. And so while MUNI can ink a contract with Clear Channel for brand new shelters with real-time arrival signs (and advertisements), Metro has to pay out of pocket for all its shelters.

        There have been grumblings about changing the regs, but the city council is afraid that if they loosen up the ban at all, they’ll open all of it to legal challenges. Nevermind that all these other cities in the US have ad kiosks and still don’t look like Times Square. Because this is Seattle, and we are special.

      4. We’re special because of the hills, the soils, and I think our commitment to social justice or something.

      5. Metro is also special because it is committed to not selling ads that burst a blood vessel of one of the county councilmembers, even if that ad otherwise meets the advertised criteria for accepting an ad.

        As an added bonus, they stopped accepting ads from candidates who are not running for a county government position. (Banning ads from county council candidates and executive candidates clearly made sense from an ethical standpoint.) I find it unfortunate that pro-transit candidates for city council, state legislature, etc, can’t reach out to their base by buying ad space inside buses.

    2. Hey, I’d settle for even that on Link. Instead you get three ads in the entire car and a bunch of empty space in between.

      I saw pamphlets for whale watching in the lobby of a restaurant in Cle Elum last weekend (that’s 80 miles from Seattle and on the wrong side of the mountains for sealife if you’re wondering). You can’t tell me the train running from the airport couldn’t attract at least some tourism related advertising at the right price and with the right outreach.

    3. The space is there, I guess no one is buying any. They must not contract out ad sales. Interested advertisers have to contact Metro directly instead of a third party like Clearchannel or JCDecaux.

      I’m surprised how many people consider the ad-free bus shelters worth it. I think the privately funded/maintained shelters are way worth any blight caused by advertising.

    4. I’m pretty sure Metro’s about the worst agency ever at selling ad space.

      Maybe. But whoever does Sound Transit’s ad targeting is probably a close 2nd. I’ve been driving a lot of 550s lately with ads for Sound Transit’s Sounder. Really? Advertising commuter rail on a bus that goes nowhere near your target market? At best, a Hybrid 9600 may end up on a 522 or a 545 on the surface and catch a few folks who’d be interested, but even then, it’s a stretch.

    5. I’m amazed at the number of outdated ads. I think the Gay Pride ads are still on buses even though that ended several weeks ago — I’ve seen similar things for other events (by months even..)

      You’d think they’d target some more evergreen ads, or at least get the timely ones down and replace them with evergreen ones..

  3. Tours would probably cost them far more than they’d take in. Staffing, liability insurance, etc., would be very expensive. Doubly so because many of these facilities have “don’t touch that” and “don’t trip over that” elements.

    1. Also, wee-hours tours would mix low attendance with expensive overtime wages, plus some risk that staff would be annoyed at the extra hours and having to shepherd tourists.

    2. Agreed. I think the occasional tours like the ones mentioned above because they’re occasional, and often staffed and promoted at least in part by volunteers who don’t cost ST/Metro anything.

      1. I can see it as a PR effort (and would sign up!). Volunteers would be a good idea for some roles. They’d need staff time to supervise. Insurers and the agency’s own safety team would insist on full lighting, advance clean up, an escort or two, etc.

        Good idea. Just not a revenue generator.

  4. Remember Sound Transit’s “Lunch Bus” before Link opened? It promised that you’d “see the OMF”. And we did, as the bus pulled over on the opposite side of Airport Way. “Insurance limitations” also prevented children under 18 from joining the tour, and I imagine those same limitations prevented us from entering an active work area.

  5. What’s Metro’s least reliable printed bus schedule? I know it used to be the 174, but today it might be the 358. So, let’s send that schedule to the Pulitzer committee as a nomination in the “Best Fiction” category and let Metro keep the prize money.

    Or more seriously, I think Metro should team up with MEHVA and schedule more rides on historic trolley buses during the tourist season. A trip from the Seattle Center through downtown to Beacon Hill on a 1940 era trolley bus might generate some extra revenue. Add in tee shirts and souvenirs hats with trolley poles on them and somebody might get rich, or at least put the Duck Boats out of business.

    1. MEHVA keeps their farebox money. They use it to pay Metro for the electricity they use and to buy parts, among other things.

  6. Is there any legal impediment to charging for parking at P&R lots that are at or over capacity?

    A while back there was an article in the Times about trying to set up tours of the Counterbalance tunnel.

      1. King County Parks can turn a profit only charging $1 to park at Marymoor. SDOT charges $1-4 depending on the neighborhood and makes more money on “enforcement”. In San Francisco parking tickets are used as a source of transit revenue. Don’t forget that is cost money to give something away for free too.

      2. Here’s where I’m with Bernie: I’ve read on this blog that Sound Transit stated that taking money at a P&R would break even at $3. If so, I’d like that contract. Where do I sign up?

  7. I suspect there is a Dept. of Homeland Security issue around showing off our “critical” infrastructure.

    1. I doubt it, unless you were conducting tours inside of things like communications rooms, or handing out plans. If you can see it from the windows as you pass through, it isn’t secret.

  8. a) Seafair this year has a Backstage Air Show Pass to generate revenue for scholarships. Which is quite similar to what you guys want the transit system to do. To that, I say… WHY NOT?

    b) I’d sure hope this idea catches on. I’d sure love to get pictures of the Sound Transit Lite Rail cab, love to walk some of the access paths of the tunnel and love to soak it all in. Perhaps do this only a few weekends a year…

  9. Seattle DOT sells their old street name signs that have been replaced as surplus. How about Metro sell their old bus stop signs and auction a few of the “more valuable” ones? The problem is unlike the City and the UW, King County doesn’t appear to have a dedicated surplus store but they do have a ton of bus bases.

  10. I paid $25 for a tour of unfinished SeaTac/Airport, Tukwila Intl Blvd stations and inside the OMF in Spring 2009. The tour was organized by the UW Alumni Association and UW’s College of Engineering.

    We, as an engineering student organization, tried to organize the same that year and was rejected from Sound Transit. They told us to take the Lunch bus.

    1. That might have been a good idea, but I never heard it suggested until now.

      The unpleasantness of walking a long distance underground, plus the need for lighting and the perceived vulnerability to muggings would probably argue against it.

      1. A few cities have something along those lines, like Montréal for example. The system there is much bigger, obviously. It keeps people out of the cold when the weather is -40C during winter.

        I don’t see it being very useful in Seattle though. If it were popular at all (which I don’t think it would be here), it would only serve to pull pedestrians off the street fronts.

    2. Amenities like this are only added when they are relatively cheap to add. The I-90 pedestrian tunnel fit neatly in the leftover space above the main car tunnels. I doubt it would have been built had they needed to bore an extra tunnel, as would have been the case with the DSTT.

  11. Add a late night bike race through the DSTT to the list of revenue generators. I’d pay good money to ride my bike through the tunnel even though I drive through it at least 3 times a day. Put on some wider tires to keep from getting caught in the tracks and I’m set…

    And yes, I know it’ll never happen but that doesn’t mean a lot of folks wouldn’t pay to do it if the opportunity came along.

    1. Would the soon-to-be-decommissioned Battery Street Tunnel do just as well? I hate to see WSDOT fill it in at great expense when it has “Veloway” written all over it.

  12. I just walked by Convention Place Station and I’m amazed at the big block that is pretty much asphalt.

    It’s a onetime thing but metro could sell the air rights to the station. A well planned project would allow it to continue operating while a building is built above. When/If Metro stops bus service to the station the lower level can become a parking lot.

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