100 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: The Price of Gasoline”

  1. It’s too bad the Congestion Reduction Charge wasn’t styled the “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Charge”. The birthers would have looked silly, even to fellow suburbanites, claiming that climate change is a liberal conspiracy theory.

    But a lot of suburban drivers who don’t drive downtown are saying “I’m not causing the congestion. Why should I be charged?”

    Yeah, Mary Margaret got to choose the name, so we’re stuck with it.

      1. It is not disputable that a 17% reduction in Metro services WILL result in increased congestion in many places in King County. So, your commute times on the East side will increase, your commute times in south king county will increase all for a little piddly pissant $1.67 a month that people are balking at.

      2. Fine, but it’s not called the “Won’t Increase Congestion Charge”.

      3. I’m 1,000% in favor of the charge, but the name is misleading and car-centric.

      4. There is no need for Metro to reduce service on heavily-used routes during peak hours. Peak hours are the only time that congestion is a problem.

        It would be the height of incompetence for Metro to cut any service during peak hours, and especially on routes that carry a lot of people, because routes with a lot of passengers/bus are not losing much money. So cutting peak hour service on those routes would not save Metro much, if any money.

        In other words, cutting service on routes which reduce congestion, would be stupid, and not save Metro much, if any, money.

        So assuming Metro is not completely incompetent, failing to increase car tabs should have no effect on congestion. It sould merely reduce service during non-peak hours, and on routes with low ridership.

      5. It is not disputable that a 17% reduction in Metro services WILL result in increased congestion in many places in King County.

        Actually, yes, it is. In the long run, less transit service will lead to fewer trips and less mobility. There might be a bit more congestion in the short term, but that will very quickly evaporate, as people choose to make trips using different routes, or at different times, or not at all.

        As usual, Jarrett Walker explains this better than I could.

      6. In other words, cutting service on routes which reduce congestion, would be stupid, and not save Metro much, if any, money.

        That’s not quite true. Many of Metro’s costs are peak costs. During peak, all buses and drivers are utilized; at other times, the number of buses and drivers needed (and associated resources, like bus base space) is less.

        Also, one-way peak service requires lots of deadheading, which isn’t cheap. (Simply running the bus in revenue service isn’t much better — no one would take a 7am bus from downtown Seattle to the middle of nowhere in Issaquah, even if they could.)

        Thus, reducing peak service can be a very effective way to save money, if it means that you can lay off employees (especially with the union’s weird rules that can give a FT driver 8 hours of pay for a peak-only shift), or avoid buying new buses or building new O&M facilities.

        The services which would make the least sense to cut are those which have consistently high all-day demand. It’s no coincidence that these routes (such as the 48, 3/4, 7, 8, and 71X/72X/73X between downtown and the U-District) are also the routes with the highest farebox recovery.

      7. “Many of Metro’s costs are peak costs. ”

        But, full buses also mean lots of revenue. So, it would also be true that “much of Metro’s fare revenue is peak hour fare revenue.”

        A full bus in peak hours with peak fares is going to come close to covering its costs with fare revenue. So, eliminating those buses won’t save money. It might reduce costs a lot, but it would also reduce revenue an almost equal amount, therefore no net savings for Metro.

        It is almost-empty buses, no matter what time of day, which cost Metro money, because they bring in very little fare revenue. I don’t imagine there is much difference in operating cost per hour for a bus with 2 people on it than for a bus with 90 people on it. But, the difference in revenue from fares on those 2 buses is enormous.

        Dead-heading is just one of those built-in problems with transit, and a major reason why transit is often not every efficient, either in terms of energy use/passenger-mile or cost/passenger-mile.

      8. Well, let’s see…

        The light rail doesn’t deadhead much, is mostly full during peak hour, and has a low operating cost during peak. It could even be reduced to one car per train during off-peak to maximize fullness. Then, Norman would surely love the train and take it all the time.

      9. I was curious what the break even point was on a typical commuter route, say like the 214 from Issaquah, which runs about 35 minutes to downtown Seattle in the peak. Fare is $3.00 cash or $2.57 Orca pass, so I’ll use the lower, as most riders are regulars.
        Deadhead from the base and back to start takes at least as much as the run itself, so for the sake of argument on commuter routes in general, I’ll use 1/3 in service and the balance of time sitting still or running empty.
        Metro says it cost $125 an hour to run a bus, so that works out to $218.75 in total cost for the entire trip.
        Divide that by $2.57 in fares paid per rider and you get 85 riders to break even.
        So, by my simple example, if the bus has 43 riders, then it should be getting a farebox recovery of about 50%, or double that of the entire system running 24/7.
        Sounds like the commuters are doing most of the heavy lifting around here – fare wise.

      10. Link’s latest farebox recovery ratio is about 18%. Link’s latest operating cost per boarding is about $7.45. Is this your idea of “efficient” transportation, Brent?

        Metro’s overall farebox recovery ratio is around 25%. So the tax subsidy for Metro riders is about 75%.

      11. Mike,

        You aren’t accounting for monthly passes, reduced fares, youth fares, or pay-as-you-exit fare evasion. The calculation is much more complicated than you laid out.

        BTW, I support the idea of an income-based reduced fare, and wish the youth, senior, and disabled fares were tied to giving up drivers’ licenses.

      12. Most commuters are adults, going to/from work in the peak hours, buy a monthly pass for $108 (or $2.57 each trip based on 21 commute days per month), are not seniors, disabled, or youth, and generally don’t ride the bus the rest of the month. Now, with that huge set of assumptions about what the ‘average commuter’ looks like, I think my numbers seem reasonable.
        I don’t dispute that all other riders and fare evaders drag down the overall efficiency of the system (down to 25% OR/OE), or even begin to make any judgments about that. My point was that a commuter route does a better job of paying for itself, than the milk run – all day bus service it is being compared to.

      13. Re: Cost of peak service –
        Even though peak service is more heavily used, the higher farebox revenue doesn’t typically overcome the extra costs of part-time labor and deadheading.

        Here’s one study on fares that briefly touches on the added costs of peak service. The summary of it is around page 30, but they refer to a handful of other extensive cost studies.

      14. Norman,

        You’ve got the right idea, but the wrong numbers. As Mike and Lack point out, even a standing-room-only one-way peak bus is empty over half the time. This has a substantial effect on farebox recovery, as Metro’s own performance reports show. The buses with the absolute best farebox recovery are the core 3/4 (minus the long tails) and the 48S, all with well over 60% farebox recovery. In comparison, the best farebox recovery on a peak-only route is the 301 (which does have a few in-service deadheads), at 41%. I’m not even going to go into the Eastside numbers, except to note that the threshold for “high-performing” on the Eastside is the threshold for “low-performing” in Seattle.

        Suffice it to say, cutting all the one-way routes would save Metro way more money than reducing all the frequent Seattle routes to peak-only.


        Dead-heading is just one of those built-in problems with transit, and a major reason why transit is often not every efficient, either in terms of energy use/passenger-mile or cost/passenger-mile.

        This isn’t true, Norman, and you know it.

        Yes, deadheading sucks; it’s a huge waste of resources. That’s why just about every contributor to this blog is so excited about the Regional Transit Task Force (RTTF) guidelines; if Metro focuses on corridors with strong all-day demand, and shifts away from peak-only service, we believe it will make the system much more efficient and useful.

        Deadheading is a problem, but it is *not* built-in, unless you think that the only goal of transit is to reduce congestion — which is something that transit is *not intended to do* and is *not capable of doing* (the terribly-named CRC notwithstanding).

        The goal of any transit system is to increase mobility and prosperity in a cost-effective way. Sometimes, mobility is narrowly defined to mean populations that can’t drive (or can’t afford to). Other times, it includes everyone who lives, works, or plays in a city, because the city is so dense that transit is a much more cost-effective way to increase mobility than building more freeways.

        The arguments you’ve given against one-way peak transit, while true, simply don’t apply to well-designed transit systems as a whole.

      15. Mike, it’s interesting you should come up with that number. Metro’s 2009 route performance report says that the 214’s farebox recovery is actually 15%. So either your calculations are wrong, or Metro’s numbers are. Forgive me if I trust theirs. :)

      16. BTW, I support the idea of an income-based reduced fare, and wish the youth, senior, and disabled fares were tied to giving up drivers’ licenses.

        Eek! No no no no no!

        I hate this idea for the same reason I hate standard insurance pricing, and love Zipcar: it forces you to choose between driving a lot or not driving at all, even though the best option for many people is driving a little.

        The AAA’s annual study of how much it costs to run a car suggests that over half of costs are fixed. Between depreciation, insurance, taxes, and other time-based maintenance, about half of the cost of owning a (relatively new) car is the same whether you drive it 1 mile a year or 100,000.

        When the marginal cost of driving a car you own is about $0.22 a mile, and it doesn’t matter how many passengers are in the car, it’s easy to see why many people who own a car use it a lot — if you’ve got the car anyway, using it can actually be cheaper than taking transit.

        Your proposal sounds nice on paper, but in practice, it would cause a lot of people to make a very hard choice. What kid is going to voluntarily give up a license, that fabled rite of passage, for free (let alone cheap) transit?

        Or suppose an older person mostly uses the bus, but likes to (and can do so safely) drive up to a lake resort once a month for a weekend. Do you thnk they’ll give up their vacations for a free bus pass? More likely, they’ll just use their car more than before.

        I understand part of the motivation behind your idea: if someone can’t safely drive anymore, we should take away their license as soon as possible, and we should give them a transit pass as a “consolation prize” (and a way of encouraging them not to drive illegally). This is similar to how blind people are often given free transit passes. But making it a choice would accomplish exactly the opposite. It’s the DOT who should be deciding if someone is safe to drive, not the person themselves!

      17. Lack: Interesting study, it will take some time to digest it all, especially the Metro case study with some pretty current data in it.
        Alex: I didn’t try to forecast the 214 farebox ratio, only hypothetical ratios based on typical deadheading and known fare prices. If Metro is collecting most all the fares on suburban routes (little fare evasion occurs on commuter routes) and most have passes, and a route has about 40+ riders per trip, then something’s pretty wrong when a route only returns 17%. Time to look for smoking guns.

      18. I looked up the farebox recovery statistics not long ago in order to break them down for less transit-geeky MyBallard commenters (when news of the potential cuts first broke).

        The 15X, 18X, and 17X, despite frequent crush-loads, each fares 8 or 9 percentage points worse than its respective two-way regalar route during the same period.

        The notion that that bonus peak service is more financially responsible than a functioning network of permanent core routes is false. Period.

  2. Except that many “birthers” still deny climate change is “man made” and that humans should change their habits.

    BTW, if I may, I encourage everyone to check out the climate reality project ( climaterealityproject.org ) which seeks to dispel the disinformation about climate that has become prevalent.

  3. Totally off-topic: Wouldn’t it be cool if an ORCA Vending Machine were installed at Bellevue Transit Center in time for the ribbon-cutting on the B Line? That would mean at least one ORCAVM is on every planned RapidRide line.

    It also would bring ST Express buses within two lines of having an ORCAVM on every line. Currently, the only ST Express routes without an ORCAVM are 535, 540, 545, 555, and 556. The Bellevue TC ORCAVM would cross the 535, 555, and 556 off that list.

    There is a precedent for having an ORCAVM at a location that is not a rail station: Federal Way TC has one.

    Installing an additional ORCAVM on the Ave around NE 45th St would catch the 540 and 545 as well, and provide an ORCAVM on all CT commuter routes.

    It would be cool to see ST Express branded buses all move to POP, with cash payment not allowed at downtown and ORCAVM stops, though the cost of fare inspectors may pencil out much better on some routes than others. Same with CT commuter routes.

    ST could ban cash payment at downtown and ORCA stops even without a full POP staff, though it would probably revert to front-door payment.

    I’m not sure, but I don’t think the city has a contract with CT or ST requiring them to provide free rides downtown.

    In the meantime, since CT, ET, and ST have done just about everything else they can to push ORCA, CT/ET/ST could coordinate a fare hike of 25 cents on cash payment at the front door for all their routes. I betcha e-purse use would shoot upward among bus riders in those agencies.

      1. Yup. I line up my 550 just back from the flag so I can point to it. I’m able to “sell” 2 or 3 ORCA passes every week. I’ve heard the suggestion that better signage is needed to direct customers to that TVM and I wholeheartedly agree. A BIG poster advertising all of ORCAs benefits with a pointer to the machine would be very helpful.

    1. Also the 535 has a full-service customer service office at Lynnwood Transit Center. You can even get youth ORCA and senior/disabled ORCA cards at Lynnwood.

      1. I don’t think the 542 or 545 are high priority for a TVM; well over 80% of the ridership are MSFTies who already have a pass. But if you were going to put one anywhere for those buses, Redmond TC would probably be the best place (if it doesn’t already have one).

    2. Let me re-phrase the cash-surcharge coalition: ST and Everett Transit could easily defend a 25-cent surcharge on paying cash to board their buses. ST has only the two aforementioned routes without access to an ORCA VM, and most of the riders on those two routes will use the Husky Card. Everett Transit has only two routes (the 2 and the 12/14) that don’t serve Everett Station.

      Community Transit has lots of local routes that don’t go anywhere near an ORCA VM. However, all their downtown commuter routes do, and most of their U commuter riders will be Husky Cardholders. So, CT could easily defend a cash surcharge on its commuter routes.

      PT and Metro have lots of routes that don’t go anywhere near an ORCA VM. But that hasn’t stopped PT from pushing riders to use ORCA. Kitsap Transit has no access to ORCA VMs, so I’m just glad they’ve limited paper transfers as strictly as they have.

      Intercity Transit, FWIW, has only two routes that don’t serve downtown Olympia, so they could adopt ORCA and roll it out pretty easily. Indeed, I suspect they are going to have to in order to get fare recovery on the Olympia Express routes, which will all be operated by IT starting in October. Maybe having to fund the Olympia Express all by its lonesome will make IT come begging to ST for help.

    1. Oh, cool!

      Sound Transit’s web page doesn’t list that ORCA VM among the amenities at Bellevue TC. Metro’s website doesn’t even attempt to list amenities. The ORCACard website doesn’t really point people in the direction of ORCA VMs, which is a shame since a lot of people checking out the site at a library may not have debit or credit cards, or be willing to wait for a card to be mailed to them.

      Does anyone know of other ORCA VMs not at rail stations? I’m curious to know the locations. Thanks!

      1. Fed Way TC has one I’m told.

        I don’t recall Northgate having one. You’d think it would, being a major hub and the next TC to get rail. Of course, Metro can’t find the money to pay someone to clean the public toilet there, so expecting a TVM is a little optimistic.

      2. Ask Council Member Ferguson to try out the public restroom, and I bet you’ll get some action.

      3. Bruce,
        You just need to use the restroom at 5:00 a.m. just after the person cleans it. It should be okay then.

  4. Hi, could someone help me? I guess I’m not looking in the right place or using the right key words in the search box. Since I saw a picture of a Chinese high-speed train on this blog the other day, I surely thought STB would mention the horrific Chinese high-speed train crash that killed dozens yesterday.

    What key words should I be using to find the follow-up post here?

    1. This is an open thread, so go for it. It’s a horrible loss of life that can’t be reduced or overlooked in any context.

      I’m sure someone can find statistics for you as to the relative safety of trains and planes relative to automobile travel. But due to the specifics of the situation in China, there have been fears that something safety related would eventually happen. With an appropriate margin of safety built into scheduling and effective procedures for such a situation something like this should be avoidable.

      As this article notes, it was often cited that Japan’s high speed rail network hasn’t had a fatality since service started in 1964.

      It also mentions the $125 million in kickbacks related to substandard quality that led to the dismissal of the chief of the Shanghai rail bureau. There have been conversations in the past about how corners were cut in the construction of high speed rail in China. See
      this article for example.

      One has to wonder if corners are allegedly cut in construction does the same focus continue into operations. Or were any of those construction and design issues responsbile here?

      Not sure what trains were used on this line, but <A HREF="
      “>China’s high speed trains are now very much homegrown
      , so the reliability and testing records of Japanese and European trains cannot be directly applied to the newer trains.

      It’s a potentially unsettling contrast to the awe we often have as to how fast China can build subways, rail and other infastructure. It’s an amazing feat, but the same attention must be paid to quality and safety as speed.

      1. And now the Chicoms are burying the evidence:

        “Photos on the popular Weibo microblogging service showed backhoes burying the wrecked train near the site. Critics said the wreckage needed to be carefully examined for causes of the malfunction, but the railway ministry said that the trains contain valuable national technology and could not be left in the open in case it fell into the wrong hands.”


      2. Next, I’m waiting for the inevitable dam breach of the new dam China is building, one of the largest in the world. Many of my co-workers marveled at the speed that China had in building infrastructure. There has to be some way we can speed up our own infrastructure-building but NOT compromising the safety of construction workers and the users.

      3. GE Rail Venture With China Slowed By Lack Of US High-Speed Projects

        Read more: http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2011/07/08/ge-rail-venture-with-china-slowed-by-lack-us-high-speed-projects/#ixzz1T3gX3ZWS

        July 8, 2011:

        …A deal between General Electric Co.’s (GE) locomotive division and China’s Ministry of Railways to collaborate on high-speed passenger train technology for the U.S. won’t bear significant fruit soon, a senior GE executive said. …

        I’d like to think this will never come about, but GE has a lot of clout (and a long record of foisting polluting dangerous, polluting tech onto the public).

        Other research on the net makes it clear that GE has f-all experience in true high speed rail design (just diesel locos) and was hoping to buy the know-how from the Chinese government in an agreement signed last December. Apparently, GE execs were impressed by the HS rail test that had the Chinese train run up to 478 km/hr.

        Good grief. I don’t care whose career ambitions or ideology this is threatening, but transportation that is built with corruption, i.e. on the cheap, with inferior tech and safety standards, will never sustain the environment. Communist or “free world”, first, second, or third nation status – it makes no difference.

    2. This says a great deal about the widely reported corruption and shoddy work practices in the Chinese rail agency and doesn’t really say anything about high-speed rail in general. As others have noted, HSR in Japan and Europe has had a very good safety record (certainly better than driving!).

      1. I’m not disagreeing that European and Japanese tech is safe.
        GE signed an agreement with China’s rail ministry for access to their HSR tech for use in America’s HSR program. That is what’s troubling here.
        JR rail has offered to set up a propietary, turn-key HSR system in the States. But where’s the profit for multinationals in that?

  5. Hey, Bruce- lighten up. Hey, Sam- here’s your opportunity to research the train crash, compare US and Chinese railroad death tolls to highway death tolls, and write the post yourself.

    Hey, Mary Margaret- defining “Congestion” as mobility impairment due to too many private automobiles for too little road- I don’t expect transit to prevent it. I’ll pay the tax for the privilege of not having to be stuck in it, a bargain at forty extra cents a week.

    So let’s call it the CEC: Congestion Evasion Charge.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Oh, I like that! “Congestion Evasion Charge.” Best thing I’ve heard in weeks!

    2. That’s great! It’s pretty much the main reason to have commuter-oriented transit, to have another choice for mobility other than sitting in traffic. To be fair, congestion would indeed increase in the short-term if transit is cut. In the long-term, it would not have any effect. Calling it a reduction charge is totally disingenuous, but it is good political framing I suppose.

  6. Interesting video. My conservative cousin from the midwest, with whom I constantly debate politics on facebook, would claim that raising taxes on gasoline leads to overall inefficiency in the market (e.g. dead-weight loss, etc), which leads to less productivity and finally fewer government resources to deal with the impacts of pollution. Therefore we should keep taxes as low as possible so that our economy can remain strong and we’ll have resources to clean up the inevitable pollution. I certainly don’t agree, but I thought folks here might like the chance to poke holes in that argument. It would certainly give me some fodder for my facebook chats…

    1. From a purely economics point of view, pollution seriously damages everyone’s property rights and the transaction costs required right this infringement are far too high, which means that folks can pollute without nearly any financial consequence. A dead-weight loss is a net loss to society, but so is pollution. Negative externalities are probably the largest cause of economic inefficiencies, and since we cannot feasibly devise a scheme to have those who burn gas compensate the rest of society individually, factoring in the cost the negative externalities via a tax is a good substitute. The deadweight loss of an inelastic good like gasoline is much smaller than for products that have many substitutes.

    2. There’s what John Jensen said. Additionally, a gas tax isn’t a dead-weight loss. The money the government collects is directly used for projects we believe are in our interest, including environmental efforts. Other possible ways to use the money: reducing other taxes and programs that directly create jobs.

      Just to be sure, however: especially in cities like Seattle (highly gentrified inner city, lots of car-dependent suburbia), it would be grossly unfair to raise a high gas tax without addressing land-use in more urban areas. Otherwise, a gas tax is not much but a tax on middle-class families.

      1. The phrases “projects we believe are in our interest” and “addressing land-use” are the ones that make conservatives nervous. Because it looks like elites shoving their godless utopia down people’s throats.

        In Soviet Russia, the train chooses its passengers.

      2. “Conservatives” are goofballs. I really don’t know how to deal with people who are afraid of “elites shoving their godless utopia down people’s throats” but have no problem with the government kidnapping people, torturing them, and locking them up indefinitely without trials.

        “Conservatives” who have utterly rejected conservative politicians because of their behavior, them I can understand.

    3. Why do you bother to debate him? He’s not your brother; brothers you’ve got to put up with, even when they’re misguided. Cousins? Who cares; dump him.

  7. Does anyone know under what circumstances Metro buses display the “Bus Full” notice as part of their signage? I don’t recall seeing it often (ever?), even for crush loaded buses coming from stadium events, but then I saw it around 10am this past week on a northbound 60 (it was just about to turn north onto Broadway from Madison). The bus didn’t look full and I assume it was just pilot error, but it got me wondering why I didn’t see this signage more often when a bus is legitimately full…

    1. I saw it for the first time on a half-full 8 the other night. Until then I didn’t know it was even an option.

    2. I once rode the 522 kneeling on the yellow line by the driver. There was truly no more space for anyone else to get on that bus, unless they were willing to sit on the entry steps. Nobody was turned away.

    3. My friend that currently drives the 3/4 pointed it out to me the other day and thought it was really cool. Maybe most operators just don’t know about it and would use it if so?

  8. This is sure to start a conversation from one of the smartest men I know and a government reformer’s reformer.

    Dear Councilmember,

    I urge you to vote NO on the proposed $20 tax increase on motor vehicles to subsidize Metro bus service.

    Metro complains that their fuel and labor costs have increased, and that they need a “temporary” tax increase while they find new “sustainable” revenue sources. The fact is, families throughout King County are struggling with cost increases of their own and have had to cut back significantly on their spending. They have seen huge increases in their cost of gas, food, and sewer service, among other things. Many families are barely making ends meet or are going further into debt every month, and do not have the ability to just reach into the pockets of their neighbors and take money to close the gap as Metro proposes to do.

    It is morally reprehensible for us to lay more taxes on the backs of the poor and needy in our community so that we can continue providing cheap bus rides for doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and senior government employees to get to their high-paying jobs in downtown Seattle. Those who ride the bus as a convenience at the expense of taxpayers already save hundreds of dollars a month on the cost of fuel, parking, vehicle maintenance, insurance, and, soon, tolls, and shouldn’t be subsidized further. It’s time we stopped providing taxpayer-funded bus fare subsidies to people who can afford to pay the full cost of the service they receive and who would still be saving money while doing so.

    Instead of piling more Metro taxes on the poor, we should raise Metro bus fares to the level necessary to cover the full operation and maintenance cost of the system. We could then use existing Metro tax dollars for targeted subsidies only for those who truly need it, by issuing vouchers to those who qualify that can be applied to purchasing discount bus passes, rather than subsidizing everyone who rides the bus.

    Best regards,

    Toby Nixon

    Wonder what your thoughts are… hmmm…

      1. And like many Microsoft engineers, he makes the classic mistakes of assuming that the libertarian/meritocratic solution is always the best, and that there are no transition costs in switching to that system.

        There are a lot of complex reasons why subsidies work the way they do. Just as importantly, enacting a new scheme (such as the one he suggests) takes a lot of work. It’s not as simple as writing a software patch, rebuilding, and pushing it out to users.

        You have to build consensus among dozens of groups, many of whom are diametrically opposed to the scheme you’re advocating. You have to work through countless logistical details, partly because of corner cases you didn’t expect, and partly because governments are just darn complicated. You have to rearrange staffing and retrain employees to handle the new system, which can be expensive and time-consuming. You have to educate constituents, and find a way to deliver their benefits, which can be hard when many of the people you’re trying to reach are homeless or constantly moving.

        And all of this is assuming that everything goes perfectly. What happens if it turns out that the new, full-cost fares aren’t actually full-cost at all? What if ridership drops as fares go up, such that there’s literally no fare Metro can set which will make it profitable? Or what if fares become so high (e.g. $20 per ride) that the cost for the voucher program becomes 10 times higher than anticipated, because more people need vouchers and each voucher costs more money?

        None of this is to say that Nixon’s system is completely untenable. It’s a reasonable aspiration (if one that I don’t completely agree with). But implementing this system would take years. It’s no substitute for giving Metro the money it needs for the next few months.

    1. Instead of piling more Metro taxes on the poor, we should raise Metro bus fares to the level necessary to cover the full operation and maintenance cost of the system.

      So raise fees on the poor?

      Every mode of transportation if deeply subsidized. If roads had no subsidy, then it would probably be unnecessary to subsidize public transit. The worse solution is to keep subsidies for roads (i.e. for people who can afford cars, gas, and insurance) and not subsidize public transportation. The idea advocated in this letter would hurt the poor significantly, radically increase congestion, and require service cuts on full busses. It’d be like closing down a lane of SR-520 or I-5 because the costs of building and maintaining roads has skyrocketed in the last decades, which actually is the case.

      1. Fine arguments. I don’t think raising taxes should be a “quiet act” as you testified to the King County Council, but thoughtfully deliberated. Nor do I believe all tax increase$ are evil as tea partiers I percieve to believe these days.

        The reply to your argument is already in Toby’s post: “We could then use existing Metro tax dollars for targeted subsidies only for those who truly need it, by issuing vouchers to those who qualify that can be applied to purchasing discount bus passes, rather than subsidizing everyone who rides the bus.” Being disabled, I agree. You should as well. Yes, roads have a subsidy – it’s called the gas tax.

        I also believe the car tab tax increa$e should pass very conditionally. Very conditionally with a push to eliminate wasteful runs, keep a lid on wages and an understanding that two years is two years – not a day more.

      2. Geek,

        Only 2/3 of federal and state highway spending is derived from the gasoline tax, because the jellyfish in Congress were too spineless to index it to the price of oil.

        And NO county roads or city streets are “subsidized” by the MVT, except of course, those which are numbered highways. They are all paid for from some general funds from some level of government. The majority of such spending comes from property taxes, and I’d say that’s entirely a fair and sensible use of property tax revenues. The balance typically comes from special general fund grants in aid from the state and occasionally the Federal government.

      3. LOL@avgeek.

        I actually think it would be great if modes of transportation paid their own costs. That would mean all road costs. No free parking on public roads (private businesses, of course, could cover parking for customers any way possible). I don’t really know how close we are to that… but I know for sure that people burning fossil fuels aren’t paying anything to cover externalities from that, and certainly should be.

        So… we’d be looking at transportation being loads more expensive, and because transportation is important for people of all income levels, we’d need to fix the income distribution effects of this. Also, we couldn’t do it all at once. It would need to come into place gradually. The result of this whole “let’s cover our costs” process would almost certainly be a lot less driving, so slashing the bus network is a really, really bad way to get started.

      4. The reply to your argument is already in Toby’s post: “We could then use existing Metro tax dollars for targeted subsidies only for those who truly need it, by issuing vouchers to those who qualify that can be applied to purchasing discount bus passes, rather than subsidizing everyone who rides the bus.” Being disabled, I agree. You should as well. Yes, roads have a subsidy – it’s called the gas tax.

        Being disabled, surely you have some experience with means-tested government programs. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, any government agency which deals primarily with poor or disabled people is simply a nightmare to work with. The letters they send out are condescending, if not downright insulting. Getting any sort of money or benefits out of them can take years. For lack of a better word, they often treat you like you’re a criminal simply for being poor.

        Of course, all of this is dependent on services being available at all. When governments have budget problems, transfers to the poor are inevitably the first things to get cut. Medicare and Social Security are inviolable. Medicaid gets worse every year.

        And there’s also the problem of perverse incentives. In some situations, welfare benefits can be reduced dollar-for-dollar by earned income. When you factor in transportation costs, food stamps, childcare, and more, some people will actually receive *less* money by accepting a part-time minimum wage job than they would by staying on welfare. That’s not a road to economic prosperity.

        Government agencies that are accountable to all citizens — e.g. Medicare, Social Security, the DOT — are, in my experience, much better about treating people as people.

        This rule holds true internationally as well. Countries that provide a baseline level of services to all citizens, like many in northern Europe, tend to have much more popular (and less corrupt) governments than countries which only provide means-tested benefits to people who can demonstrate need.

        I would be ecstatic if we agreed, as a nation, to end all direct transportation subsidies, and instead gave *every* individual the equivalent in cash, to be spent however they deem fit. A lot of these “vouchers” would get spent on highways, and that’s okay. It’s no worse than what we’re doing now.

        But if you only issue vouchers to the “wretched” — and yes, that’s how the government treats the poor and disabled — then before long, those vouchers won’t exist, and we’ll be in an even worse situation than we are now.

      5. What Aleks said. He describes the core *political* problems — the problems rooted in human behavior — and the core economic problems — very cogently.

        Transitioning to that system would be quite difficult. The Toby Nixon proposal is not even a step towards Aleks’s system — it’s a step *away*. It ignores everything we’ve learned about economics of infrastructure and transportation, as well as everything we’ve learned about the politics of social welfare.

    2. “The fact is, families throughout King County are struggling with cost increases of their own and have had to cut back significantly on their spending. They have seen huge increases in their cost of gas, food, and sewer service, among other things.”

      Sprawl bites man, news at 11? Maybe if folks lived in dense communities where the majority could walk or bicycle to work, their infrastructure costs would be lower, and the density would easily provide a sufficient tax base for the necessary services? Nah, that could never work out. Good thing the current tax rates provide a well maintained road infrastructure for the population to navigate their multi-ton steeds on, eh?

    3. The biggest point I like to make in this case, is that the fee only covers about 1/3 of Metro’s projected budget shortfall. So it’s not a matter of Metro turning a blind eye to economic realities and refusing to cut costs.

      The agency is shrinking with or without the CRC. It’s just a matter of how big the cuts will be.

    4. “providing cheap bus rides for doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and senior government employees to get to their high-paying jobs in downtown Seattle”

      What about providing cheap bus rides for janitors, nurses, desk staff, and maids to get to their low-paying jobs in downtown Seattle that allow businesses to even function in this region? I love how this whole transit thing is being viewed now as some subsidy for the rich (Danny Westneat actually used the term “yuppifying” in his latest editorial). People will just try to use any empty argument as long as it has the buzz words that resonate with their base. It’s sad, pitiful, and terribly unjust.

      1. One of Metro’s major problems is that it’s a do-all agency, they provide all levels of service from urban city corridors to rural lifeline services to black diamond and emunclaw. Mabye it’s time Seattle and King Co. look at spinning Seattle back off into a new STS. THis would leave ST and KCM to handle the rest of the county’s needs, and STS could better focus on those needs of the city residents, plus be more controlled by the city and its residents. I wonder how the tax revenues would work out, if its fininacally do-able.

    5. I heard one or two arguments like this at the first hearing in Kirkland. To me, there’s a business-friendly argument for fully funding Metro. It’s about the County’s future. Americans are aging, so more people will be elderly and can’t/shouldn’t drive. Teenagers nowadays are less enthused about driving than their parents were. Many of the high-paying jobs that are appearing, attract people who want to live in a walkable, transit-oriented environment. King County — and the US in general — is increasingly competing against countries that do have their act together regarding mass transit, education, national healthcare, renewable energy, etc. Comprehensive transit is about giving people a choice, so that those who want to drive can drive, and those who don’t want to drive don’t have to. Rather than forcing everybody to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a car just to fulfill their essential errands, and dedicating half the county’s real estate to parking lots. King County’s future depends on good transit, both because that’ll be a factor in whether workers and business owners want to live here, and as insurance against oil price shocks and recessions. We need to keep building up our transit base, not let it deteriorate.

      The comment about how transit is a subsidy to the highest-paid professionals is just ludicrous, and shows the person has never ridden Metro (except maybe one peak-express route).If it were just a bus for millionaires then yeah, charge them $20 a trip. But it’s not.

    6. I am just going to hit reply (all) and say thank you to all involved. I swear I feel more enlightened now than before. Seriously. I am *no* fan of doctrinaire ideology, but finding the correct ideas to make the world a better place.

      I thought the gas tax paid for all the roads, nope. Thanks.

      Also Aleks I consider me blessed not to have to turn to the government for welfare. Especially since so many of us who want to play by the rules get whacked while crooks cheat the system and make those who need help feel like crap.

      But I do think Toby has some ideas worth simulating to the max to see what we get in simulations & economic models.

      Finally, I have to say Lack Thereof great comment. Great comment. I’d vote for the 2-year band-aid with a clear understanding reforms are necessary, redundant runs must be cut and labor co$ts much be put under control and in return if those things are done I’d say in 2 years I’d face the voters to expand Metro to improve service.

      1. The only point I think he gets at is that Metro could probably get away with charging much higher fares for peak-only one-way express routes, which provide the best service quality (in terms of speed and reliability) mainly to downtown employees, and also have the highest operating costs and low farebox recoveries. Much like tolling, this would also help alleviate the crush loads. If the 18X cost $1 more than the 18, the people who really want to get to work faster will pay the money and the rest will take the local. Right now everyone piles on the 18x if they are headed downtown, and the 18 is left half-empty even though it is the more efficient route.

      2. If your economic models are accurate — and many economic models are based on pure fantasy — I’ll tell you what you get if you model Toby’s stupid ideas. You get reduced ridership, a larger funding shortfall, more cars on the roads, and poor people who can’t get to work; followed by more cuts in buses, more cars on the roads, and people spending more money on gasoline; final result, more pollution, less mobility, etc.

        We’ve watched this happen in cities throughout the world for over a century, we have lots of evidence.

        Now, in response to your other ignorant comment, there *are* cities where the transit workers are overpaid and the fares are too low. But frankly, after doing some comparisons, *Seattle just isn’t one of them*. Seattle seems to have sensible labor costs and not-unduly-low fares. The route structure does indeed need reform.

    7. Judging from this letter, Toby Nixon is an idiot who clearly understands neither economics nor politics.

      The Congestion Reduction Charge was nobody’s first choice, but the state legislature’s bad attitude and misallocation of resources, and at root, the federal government’s unwillingness to print money to get us out of the current depression, left it as *the best remaining choice*.

      His proposal to hike bus fares is just stupid. Has he proposed tolling local roads yet? Thought not.

      1. Sorry about the tone. I get irritated by seeing people repeat bad ideas which we’ve studied in depth for decades or even centuries. Come up with some new bad ideas, please. :-)

        Anyway, I realize you are here in good faith to learn, so awesome to have you here.

  9. Getting back to the secondary topic of my first off-topic post: Would people be interested in a concerted lobbying effort to get ST to raise fares 25 cents for front-door cash payers, starting January 1?

    1. Broken record time, again; fares need to be standardized among carriers, ORCA should be cheaper than cash, no paper transfers. Next topic?

      1. Ill buy off on it if sound transit and vix erg actually make a real effort to rebuild the orca website for modern web standards; increase the availability of orca vending machines to cover all major stations and park and rides, improve orca retail store hours to something other than business hours, and have 24/7 telephone support. Orca is definatly a mixed blessing. With proper back end support it is convient for the users can significantly reduce fare evasion and is very versitile. The drawbakcs are that to properly support it it can easily consume a good portion if not all of the revenue it generates by the time you add in the cost of all the equipment. Of course i still want to know why la’s tap card is only $2 and the orca is $5…

      2. Concerning having ORCA VM’s everywhere, that’s not ST’s responsibility. ST is just responsible for having ORCA VM’s at every ST train station and at major points on ST Express bus routes.

        They have at least one ORCA VM on every ST express bus route except the 540 and 542. That could be covered with a VM on the Ave, but most of the riders on those routes will soon be using the Husky Card anyway.

        Where else, on ST routes, do you think there should be an ORCA VM?

    2. ST has already ditched paper transfers which is one incentive. For folks who commute all month long, a monthly pass already provides approximately a 14% * discount for passengers who ride Sound Transit in-county every workday. If you just give passengers a 10% discount for loading $20 or more onto an ORCA E-Purse, that ought to be incentive enough for most folks. Rolling this discount out next time a $.25 fare increase comes along would result in a wash for those who take advantage of the discount. DC does something like this with their Smart cards although I don’t remember the specific discount for loading cash.

      * = ($2.5 x 21 days x twice a day = $105. A $2.50 pass is $90 which equates to roughly a 14% discount)

  10. I’ve given up on the ORCA website and now get my card refilled at a QFC. ORCA website is a disaster. Whoever designed it did a crappy job. Trying to do a simple thing like buy a pass or add to an e-purse is an exercise that takes the better part of a half hour.

  11. I find it amusing that the little cartoon video at the top of this thread uses dogs to illustrate greenhouse gases emitted by cars. That reminded me of a story that came out fairly recently:


    There is a study that claims that a medium-size dog has twice the carbon footprint of an SUV!

    So, why don’t we continually hear about how bad dogs, and other pets, are for the environment?

    1. Yeah, and just wait ’till you see the impact of a person.

      This study was apparently done by a bunch of architects, and the units they used were… acreage of land? You can convert other resources with clear economic value to units of land, but how do you account for carbon emissions? That’s a pretty important part of the footprint we think about when we think about cars, isn’t it?

      The fact that they come up with third-world people having much higher footprints than first-world is a pretty good indicator that their methodology is useless. Let’s look at a serious study performed by people that are qualified.

      Meanwhile, our food production system certainly does damage the environment a lot, true for dogs, cats, hamsters, and humans. It’s much worse for meat-eating animals.. We use tons of energy heating northern homes in the winter, taking showers, and running refrigerators. Also, we use tons of energy, burn tons of fuel, by relying on mechanized transportation. I haven’t heard anyone serious suggest that’s not significant.

      1. Off-topic, but cats are most definitely meat-eating animals. Humans can easily survive on a vegan diet, as can dogs, if you know what you’re doing (i.e. don’t feed them entirely grains). Cats, in all likelihood, will die. There are no natural vegan sources of taurine, which is essential for cats.

        If you want a non-meat-eating pet, don’t get a cat.

      2. Carbon emissions of cars were considered in this study, of course.

        Do you have any study that contradicts their findings? Or, you just question their conclusions because they don’t fit your preconceived notions, and you don’t like what they found?

      3. @Norman: I did a text search for the word “carbon” on the page, no results. Absent an explanation of how carbon emissions are converted to land area (other resources and commodities with definite prices are easy to convert, carbon is hard), I can only assume their accounting was absent or poor. Additionally, the claim that people in the first world use far more resources than people in the third world is hardly controversial — the extraordinary claim that third-world residents’ lives consume a larger land area demands extraordinary proof. But it seems more likely that they’re not being compared on equal footing when it comes to the sorts of resource shortages and pollution that threaten us most (their calculation may have more to do with the relative carrying capacity of the countries in question).

        I don’t have a study in front of me, but I certainly do recall reading in the beginning of Eating Animals that meat production and motor vehicles have fairly similar carbon footprints in the US. That’s pretty much in line with what I’ve read in a lot of different places. I don’t dispute that if we want to have a really sustainable society some of our biggest changes will have to be in food production… but the idea that motor vehicle emissions aren’t significant is just silly.

        I worded that badly — I didn’t mean to imply that cats, most dogs, and many humans are not meat-eaters, but I probably said that anyway. There are people that sell vegan cat food, and who sell supplies to make vegan cat food, and I know people that feed it to their cats, but they are not me.

  12. California Wages War On Single-Family Homes

    Some 71% of adults in the state cite a preference for single-family houses. Furthermore, the vast majority of growth over the past decade has taken place not in high-density urban centers but in lower-density peripheral areas such as Riverside-San Bernardino. Yet popular preferences mean little in a state where environmental zealotry increasingly dictates how people should live their lives.


    Some widely quoted experts, like the Anderson Forecast at UCLA, cite Census information to say that demographics are shifting demand from single-family homes to condos and apartments, although the Census asked no such question. These experts also fail to address why condo prices have dropped even more in the major California markets than single-family home prices; the percentage of starts that come from single-family houses shifts from year to year, but last year’s number tracks around the same level as seen in the 1980s.


    (I cross-posted this on Publicola.)

    1. The preference for single-family homes is most likely due to a preference for control. Renting gives you no control, condos give you limited control.

      Note that most people detest Home Owners Associations for the same reason.

      What does this call for, in the urban context?

      (1) Rowhouses.
      (2) Owned apartments. (Stacked one to a floor perhaps, with only the access column being “condo”).

      The key point is that yards simply aren’t very popular any more. The demand for single-family homes is not a demand for little stick-built houses surrounded by grass.

      There’s a reason New Urbanists have been pushing the construction of more rowhouses; people like them. The key problem is that they’re usually not wheelchair accessible, and they really do need to build more which are.

Comments are closed.