Photo by Oran

Over the past several weeks, the elevators and escalators in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) have seen a very high incidence of breakdowns with some of them out of service for several weeks and counting.  I contacted Sound Transit who informed me that King County Metro is responsible for maintenance in the DSTT.  What I found out is that while the elevators and escalators are under regular maintenance contract, the useful life of many core components has been exceeded and breakdowns occur with some frequency.

Last year, Metro applied for and received a $5.38 Million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s “State of Good Repair” grant program.  The work was scheduled to begin in 2011 and explains why we are now seeing several escalators out of service for long periods of time.

While escalators themselves are not considered ADA devices, Metro has been responding to elevator outages quickly. Unfortunately there have been some instances of simultaneous breakdowns, as was observed on August 8th when both escalators and one elevator were out on Westlake Station’s northbound platform, leaving just one remaining elevator operational on the northbound side. This was in addition to multiple long-term downtime on escalators inside University Street Station.

According to a statement by a Metro spokesperson, Metro estimates that the major repairs on the Westlake escalator should take an additional month to complete.  However, escalators and elevators outside the DSTT, such as at Mt. Baker Station, fall under the responsibility of Sound Transit.  According to an ST spokesperson, the elevator outage at Mt. Baker is due to a required custom part, which is estimated to require an additional three weeks before the elevator can be put back in service.

52 Replies to “An Update on Escalator and Elevator Outages”

  1. Can you ask about the clock at Westlake Station next time you’ve got them on the horn? It’s been stopped since long before the economy melted down.

  2. Would any shopping mall, or department store, put up with delays like this? Would like to see relevant contract language, and also have a serious talk in public with whoever signed. Like they say nowadays: “Run it like a business!”

    Mark Dublin

    1. Amen to that, my friend. The public realm is the ONLY place we see escalators down for extended periods like this.

    2. Even airports, most of which are publicly-operated, seem to be able to keep their elevators and escalators running most of the time.

      Transit agencies, it seems, are the only ones that cannot…

      1. I’ve seen escalators out of order at airports (including SeaTac) for long periods. That being said they often have several escalators in the same location going the same way..

    3. We should have a contract with an outside maintenance company. We pay a flat monthly rate, they guarantee no more than 24 hours of consecutive downtime for any covered piece of equipment.

      Every business I’ve worked at has a contract like that for mission-critical equipment. And since Metro/Sound Transit is in the business of moving people, It seems reasonable.

    4. I have noticed this for years now. I have never, ever seen an escalator not working in a department store, but regularly see them at transit agencies.

    5. “Would any shopping mall, or department store, put up with delays like this?”

      That would be a Yes. Westlake has blocked its access to the station for months as part of their renovation.

      1. That’s different. The entire floor is being renovated and they don’t want shoppers walking inside the construction area. But in a functioning, open department store, you never see an escalator broken and a sign saying take the elevator.

      2. FYI, Westlake Center just reopened access to Westlake Station. It’s an improvement. There’s an elevator and new escalators a lot closer to the Pine Street entrance, next to the LUST. So it’ll function better as a de facto station entrance.

      3. Thank you, Westlake Mall! … and thanks for providing the public restroom facilities that the transit agencies won’t provide. ;)

  3. While we’re on the topic of escalators, we should also put up signs requiring people to stand right, walk left. It’s amazing how people here aren’t educated on this. Same thing goes for keep right except to pass when we’re driving.

    1. It wouldn’t do any good. People are dense. If you can’t teach people to pay for their metro fare as they depart a bus leaving downtown you probably can’t teach them to stand right.

      1. You mean “pay for their metro fare as they depart a bus if the bus left downtown between the hours of 6am and 7pm but not if you board the same bus before it enters downtown in which case you pay twice?”

      2. nut not if you board the same bus before it enters downtown in which case you pay twice?

        I used to hate that, although it’s not a problem now that we’ve got ORCA. I can’t count the number of times I got on the 4 in Queen Anne for a ride home to the CD, only to be told to pay twice.

        “I paid when I got on, back at Roy”
        “No you didn’t, you got on in the Ride Free Area”
        “No, really, I paid in Queen Anne”
        “Just pay the fare.”

        I always eventually just walked away (and started picking up a transfer for my one seat ride), but my wife is more easily bullied than I, and paid $5 for several one way trips.

      3. You are supposed to get a transfer if you get on on Queen Anne and get off in the CD, or in any other case where the bus goes completely through the Ride Free area while you’re on it. That has been Metro’s policy for decades.

      4. Now that I’m savvier about the whole system, it doesn’t really surprise me that that’s policy, but it’s not really posted anywhere for riders (the internet doesn’t count). And it never naturally occurred to me to pick up a transfer when I’m not transferring. But ORCA has obsoleted that issue, now.

        I suppose what irritated me the most was the driver response not to explain the policy, but to call me a liar and a cheat.

      5. When I was driving, the most drivers were supposed to do regarding any difference of opinion on a fare was to ask for payment once, and if they suspected non-payment, to hit the number 3 key on the farebox. Driver could also write an incident report on return to base- and be paid for it.

        Any kind of argument, insult, or abuse to a passenger in this or any other matter counted as “gross misconduct”- subject to termination.

        Mark Dublin

    2. Even if people did get the message, it wouldn’t do any good at stations like Convention Place, where Metro brilliantly installed escalators that are too narrow to pass anyone on.

      1. Well, I would surmise that Convention Place has a limited life span. Anyone know what will be done with that property once the buses are kicked out of the DSTT?

      2. CPS will still have great access to the I-5 express lanes, so I bet Metro will find some way to still use it without buses entering the DSTT.

    3. Jason, I love the idea!! That’s exactly what they do in most Asian countries and even paint a yellow line on the escalators themselves. Works great and people get used to them.

  4. Speaking of escalators, why is it that as far as I’ve seen in the US all escalators are either always on or off because they’re out of order. In Europe I see lots of places where the escalators only work if someone is near them i.e. they activate on perceiving motion near them. It would save on electricity and probably extend the useful life of the escalators.

      1. Yes I seem to recall that escalators like old fashion light bulbs, have shorter MTBF’s when turned on and off regularly.

      2. I think it would really depend on the motor design. It might not cause any trouble if the motor gets up to speed quickly.

        Be nice to see if anyone’s tested such a design here in the US. I imagine our manufacturers and don’t exchange information or parts much with the european ones.

      3. There is an escalator like that from Union Square to the concourse that runs under 6th and 5th to Rainier Square. If no one has been on it in a while, it slows down to a very slow crawl. If you step near it, a buzzer goes off and it speeds back up to normal speed.

  5. the elevator outage at Mt. Baker is due to a required custom part

    Why the hell did ST approve an elevator or station design that requires custom parts that take months to replace?

    1. And if they had to get custom parts, why not have a stockpile on hand at all times to ensure repairs can be done quickly?

    2. I wondered that on the last open thread. Seriously there is nothing specific needs wise on that elevator. Its not like its the first outdoor elevator ever.

      The Beacon Hill elevator seems like it’d end up being a bit more custom just given the length of it, but still it should be pretty standard.

      1. Every esclator is custom built out of more or less standard parts. I wonder what the actual part was that failed.

    3. This very question was addressed at the Operations and Administration committee meeting two weeks ago. I’m too lazy to pull up the video but your answer is there.

    1. Well, no, a person with disabilities isn’t necessarily wheelchair bound. It may be someone who has limited dexterity, or ability to walk distances, or at a “normal” pace. Someone who for example may have damaged knees, tendons, or a prothesis. Or someone with excruciating back pain. An escalator might suffice for them.

  6. Two thoughts….

    1.) Keeping parts on hand runs against the moronic policy of “Just in time” inventory, which some idiot baby boomer thought up, and which plagues corporations worldwide.

    2.) When and/or if they ever redevelop the Public Safety lot, do you think they could widen the escalators at the north end of the Pioneer Square Station? I can’t believe how narrow they are. All it takes is one person to clog up an escalator full of people anxious to get somewhere.

    1. I think the process of Just in Time makes sense, although this thread isn’t about that. But, if you do want to keep parts on hand for a custom elevator, you basically have to keep a whole elevator on hand. JIT makes sense if you’ve got parts and just need to ship it in from Kansas.

  7. I was really disappointed that after the DSTT renovation was through, it still had the same crappy narrow single escalators as before. It’s never seemed up to the standard of a real big-city transit facility. If they ever reach their intended ridership targets, I assume they’re going to need another major renovation to add more and get them up to a reasonable rush-hour capacity.

    1. For a “measly” $5.3 million dollars were you expecting them to rip out the old elevators with entrenched stone facades and replace them with wider ones? What are you smoking? I might want some of that. ;-)

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