STRU Kickoff Meeting

At last night’s Seattle Transit Rider Union (STRU) kick-off meeting a large portion of the program was dedicated to hearing what meeting attendees want to achieve through the STRU. As transit riders I would like to pose that question to our readers as well? What problems do you think STRU should focus on?

69 Replies to “What Would You Like From A Transit Rider Union?”

  1. Obviously the regular transit stuff like routes, funding, and frequency. But I’d like to see them fight for street space as well. It takes a brave politician to so much as create a road diet, but if there’s a strong lobby asking to remove lanes for truely rapid streetcars or buses it’s a lot easier to be brave.

    Oh, and gondolas.

    1. Good point about the road diets. It’s much cheaper to reassign two lanes than to build a new right of way. Those two lanes are what’s standing in the way of speed and reliability.

  2. I’d like a Transit Riders Union that advocates ridership-oriented restructures, but then I’d also like a dinner date with Natalie Portman.

    1. I think it is imperative that advocates for ridership oriented restructures make the case to the TRU that creating a system that serves the most people maximizes the social equity benefits of transit service. Empty buses don’t inherently benefit anyone.

      1. “Empty buses don’t inherently benefit anyone.”

        I’ve tried eight ways to Sunday to explain that in my blog posts, but complete success has eluded me.

        It’s possible that I am not the right messenger, but there’s not much I can do about that.

      2. It’s going to be hard to grow the base of active transit supporters if all we do is focus where riders already are. The goal needs to be twofold: improve service where it already exists, and provide more service to more neighborhoods so that more people become transit riders.

        Growing the overall base has to be a top priority. Whether a bus is full or empty should be a minor consideration at best.

        After all, the purpose of a TRU should ultimately be to move beyond internecine battles forced on us by scarce resources. A TRU should be able to mobilize enough people to break through those political constraints.

      3. Whether a bus is full or empty should be a minor consideration at best.

        Yikes! The really scary thing is how many people think empty trains at 3X the operating cost per hour and billions more in capital costs are a “minor” consideration; even when it means you could be operating vastly more empty buses. I guess the major consideration is how to grow government spending and waste as much money as possible.

      4. Bruce,

        I don’t think anyone disagrees with you about truly empty buses. But there’s a big difference between buses like the 37 and like the 42. Everyone on the 42 has another convenient option (generally, Link). But as you said, there are about two riders per 37 trip who will completely lose access to transit.

        You might say that two people is basically empty, but I respectfully disagree.

        There are hundreds of inefficient routes in the system. There are routes like the 101 and 150, which could easily be truncated at Link tomorrow. There’s the labyrinth on Queen Anne, and a similar labyrinth on Capitol Hill; a budget-neutral restructure could give you 10-minute service or better on two Capitol Hill corridors. There are routes with excessive twists and turns (like the 4 or 16), and routes that just barely miss important ridership centers or transfers (like the 12 or 44), and routes that travel down neighborhood streets instead of nearby arterials (like the 26).

        It’s clear that the 37 in its current form is not ideal. Something like DART for all of the outlying parts of West Seattle would probably work just fine. But I just don’t believe that we’re so desperate for money (or for ideas) that we need to cut areas off from transit service entirely.

      5. Just as I believe that we should strive for geographical coverage, I believe we should strive for chronological coverage, too.

        If your goal is to never run an empty bus, then what about night service? Metro ridership sharply declines after PM peak. For example, the 17 serves 15.3 riders per platform hour during the night period; in contrast, the 37 serves 16.4 riders per platform hour during peak. Does that mean we should cut the 17 at night? It’s clearly less productive than a bus that we are cutting.

        My point is not that specific example; I agree that we should cut the 37 (as it currently exists) and that we should keep the 17 (aka the new 18). It’s that certain types of service can be valuable even if they don’t meet standard productivity guidelines. Late night service will never be as productive as peak or mid-day service, and buses in the outer reaches of the city will never be as productive as buses on core arterials. But they’re both worth keeping for the same reason.

      6. Bernie,

        Can you please let me know where these empty trains are running? Because the only trains I know of in Seattle are Link (over 20,000 daily riders), and the SLU streetcar (about 3,000 daily riders).

        The biggest reason that Link does not have more riders is that we’re running fleets of buses in parallel on I-5. The 150 has over 4,000 daily riders; the 101 has over 3,000. As Brent has mentioned in the past, shifting the local route transfer point from Renton to Rainier Beach (aka Henderson) Station would allow for the elimination of something like 30,000 annual revenue hours, potentially saving $4-5 million per year — enough to increase many routes (including the local part of the 101) from 30-minute to 15-minute frequency.

        Eventually, Metro will overcome political opposition and make these changes. When that happens, Link ridership will double overnight, and (thus) per-rider subsidies will be cut in half.

        For now, let’s not talk about East or South Link, or North Corridor HCT. Central/Airport Link is built. We could save buckets of money if buses cooperated with it, rather than competing with it. If you’re opposed to government waste, isn’t that a no-brainer?

      7. Empty buses do provide some benefit when they cover a unique geographic area. Even people who don’t ride them much still benefit from having those routes there as a backup for when other modes fail. For example, the 249 is usually mostly empty and I bike through the corridor served the 249 numerous times. Once, I got a flat tire en route and used the 249 bus to take me and my bike to the nearest repair shop. Even though I hardly ever ride it, I’m still very glad it’s there for contingencies like that.

        Another argument. Cars are very expensive, so even if a bus has relatively few riders, as long as the cost of operating the bus is less than the cost for each of the riders on the bus to making their trip through a taxi or rental car, or buying a car specifically for a trip that only occurs once or twice a month, the bus can still be thought of as efficient, on an overall basis, even if taxpayers are paying a subsidy to operate the service.

      8. At peak Central Link is going to be mostly empty in one direction. During the middle of the work day it’s largely empty both directions. In the middle of the night it’s deserted. Terminating bus routes sounds good but the time penalty will cost you riders. With East Link that becomes even more of an issue since other than MI to the Seattle CBD it takes a hugely circuitous route.

      9. the 249 is usually mostly empty and I bike through the corridor served the 249 numerous times. Once, I got a flat tire en route and used the 249 bus to take me and my bike to the nearest repair shop.

        When I get a flat tire I put in the spare tube I always carry. If I get two flat tires I use one of the pre-glued patches. For things that can’t be fixed with a multi-tool I carry a cell phone.

      10. If you could call a reasonable fare taxi to move you, I’m thinking the Access vans, that would be an ok backup for bicycle part failures. I too carry a spare tube and a patch kit and tools, but some repairs are beyond roadside work.

      11. Bernie,

        You’re talking about ridership on Central Link today. It will change. We’re talking about the most frequent, highest capacity, all-day transit corridor in Washington State — do you really think that land use patterns won’t change in the next decade or two?

        There are already all-day of buses that could (and should) get truncated at Link. And that’s not necessarily a time penalty! If you currently connect from a local route to the 101 in Renton, then with a well-designed plan, you would instead transfer to the train at Rainier Beach. No extra transfers. It’s true that 101 one-seat riders would have to wait a bit, but with high-enough frequencies and timed transfers, you can significantly minimize the impact.

        And finally, from downtown to Bellevue is virtually equidistant over either bridge, but that doesn’t matter; it’s about travel time. And travel time from the U-District to Bellevue is projected to be 3-5 minutes longer than current 520 service. That’s it. And unlike current 520 service, the train will not have any delays due to traffic. (And it will be much more frequent, which really matters for door-to-door travel time.) I hardly think we will lose riders because of it.

      12. Daytime service always subsidizes nighttime service, but that’s not a bad thing. 24-hour buses are what make people feel comfortable about not buying a second (or first) car, and allow them to take transit to an evening activity or a night at the bar, or get to night-shift jobs.

      13. Unlike current 520 service the new bridge will have HOV/transit lanes. The current shoulder oriented “lanes” that end at the bridge are a major choke point. It’s less than 15 minutes drive time Bellevue to UW and 24 minutes via Metro. ST says 30 minutes for East Link that get you only as far as the hole under Husky Stadium. But the real killer is Overlake to UW (or anywhere except DT Bellevue). It’s still only 15 minutes driving, 19 minutes by Express Bus but a trip killing 40 minutes for East Link. Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, UW and DT Seattle constitutes the vast majority of the East/West demand in our region. At best East Link will only be marginally worse than our current bus routes and for most destination pairs completely useless.

      14. Mike: Yes, exactly. Daytime service subsidizes night service, and geographically-ideal service subsidizes geographically-peripheral service. But both of them are key to making transit something you can rely on.

        Bernie: First of all, there’s still a list of problems with Link over 520, chief among them the fact that everyone from downtown, or north, or both, would have to transfer at UW. Have you read the sidebar article? What is your response?

        Second, can you describe your ideal East Link route? A straight line can’t possibly get you to Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland. So either you skip Bellevue (which makes the whole project a waste), or you go to Bellevue and then to Redmond (in which case there goes your time savings).

        And finally, don’t forget that Overlake is primarily a commuter destination. I expect that Metro will continue running buses from UW to Overlake during peak. Off-peak, the ridership is hardly big enough to warrant a train.

      15. problems with Link over 520, chief among them the fact that everyone from downtown, or north, or both, would have to transfer at UW. Have you read the sidebar article?

        The sidebar is wrong about interlining because it ignores a Y that allows trains from the east to alternate between DT and Northgate. The current alignment forces a transfer for any one attempting to get from the eastside to Seatac. Combined with a transfer and time penalty of backtracking to the RV it’s a non-starter. Likewise all points east of Bellevue TC to all points north of DT Seattle are ridiculously long. As you point out, distance wise it’s a wash from BTC to the DSTT. The current I-90 or an SR-520 would be a wash to the airport for travel time. SR520 wouldn’t force a transfer but would have less frequent headway.

        Second, can you describe your ideal East Link route? A straight line can’t possibly get you to Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland.

        Straight lines aren’t in the cards given our geography. Kirkland is impossible to serve directly but a transfer point on 520 just west of 405 would pick up all points north. Of course that would be offset from losing the transfer capability at MI but I-90 has double the vehicle capacity of 520.

        Metro will continue running buses from UW to Overlake during peak. Off-peak, the ridership is hardly big enough to warrant a train.

        Exactly, East Link past BTC is an expensive gift to Wright Runstand and Microsoft. It will never be cost effective and really limits the benefit of any further expansion.

        The sidebar makes it look like a 520 alignment is a huge detour to get to Bellevue. But in reality the Bel-Red alignment and Hospital Station bring it right to DT Bellevue. From there it’s equal distance to DT Seattle either way but there’s only 18 blocks to get to get back to 520 and 40 blocks to get south to 90 with the attendant neighborhood and wetland impact. The C9T tunnel is 6 blocks long which if it went north from the TC would get you past NE 12th so same cost through DT Bellevue. You’d lose a south main station but that’s of dubious value anyway given the chosen 112th alignment.

        Bottom line, sinking bridges have proven to be a dumb idea even for roads and putting a 100 rail line on a bridge that will need to be replace in 20-30 years is penny wise and pound foolish. Mortgaging the future on it is insane.

    2. I would in fact add that to their guiding principles.

      11. A high efficiency transit system which prioritizes service where demand is, maximized the social equity benefits of that service.

      1. At some point those become contradictory.

        Many low-income neighborhoods are not getting good transit service right now. So to focus on where the riders currently are means you never overcome the social equity problems that we already have.

        That is why we need to do both. Increase service on the heavy-use corridors and expand service to places that don’t already have it. To those who object that political constraints mean we can’t subsidize low-ridership service: a TRU is how you break through that.

      2. All principles become pointless at some point. My point is the STRU will lose support and legitimacy if it advocates for empty buses. The reality right now is there are limited funds to provide transit service. That is just a fact. The TRU can work to grow that, but it also needs to advocate for a better system.

        I also think you’re making an unfounded and incorrect assumption that low productivity service is where low income people live. In most areas housing that low income people can afford is multifamily housing, which by in large part is located along arterial or used to buffer commercial centers. These are the types of area where transit service should be directed if you want to create a more efficient transit system. The areas that have less ridership are single family neighborhoods where most if not all people have access to a car.

    3. I don’t think that’s as unrealistic as you say it is. You just need to check with her agent first. ;)

      But seriously: The thing about a transit riders’ union is that it’s composed of transit *riders*. By definition, if such a union included everyone who ever rides a Metro bus, it would include far more riders of the 48 than the 42. So advocating for improved service on the popular buses, even at the expense of service on unpopular buses, seems like a given.

    1. I’m not yet ready to hang the sins of LA’s TRU around the necks of the folks attempting to organize bus riders in Seattle.

      1. Especially since they are completely different organizations with no links. The BRU in LA is backed by the Labor/Community Strategy Center, which has a highly idiosyncratic and ideological approach to these issues. They’re outliers.

    2. To be completely frank, Erik G.’s jihad against the Seattle TRU — an organization that *hasn’t done anything yet* — is the most intellectually dishonest and politically inept meme that I’ve ever seen on STB.

      Yes, the LA Bus Riders’ Union sucks. We get it. The TRU is not that organization, nor is it affiliated with it. From reading Scott’s initial postings, it’s clear that he has a lot of good ideas (like the low-income ORCA and progressive funding sources), and he has repeatedly stated that he is pro-rail and pro-reform.

      The best thing that we (i.e. people who care about transit) can do is to work with and join the TRU, to find common ground, and to push for changes that we all believe in. If we do our job right, there will be many.

      The worst thing that we could do is to set ourselves up as the enemy of the TRU without even giving them a chance. We simply can’t afford to spend our energy fighting the Judean People’s Front. If we make an enemy of the TRU, then before you know it, they’ll be opposing our ideas on reflex as well. (It’s like how Romney opposes Obama’s health care bill even though a nearly-identical bill was the highlight of his Massachusetts governorship.)

      1. “Jihad”? “most intellectually dishonest and politically inept meme”?

        No, it was a fair warning from the trenches to the näive.

        Same name, same color T-shirt, same social-political basis.

        Duck walk quack.

        I’ll take “ComradeScott”‘s (source WHOIS) word that this TRU has nothing to do with the other TRUs for now.

        Remember, certain entities within Public Transportation have a vested interest in maintaining a mostly-bus-based system. For example, how many rubber tires did LINK Light Rail consume last year?

      2. What will ultimately determine the usefulness of the TRU is who its membership consists of and who’s setting the agenda.

        The best way to guarantee that it becomes “Bus Riders Union – Seattle Chapter” is to have nothing to do with it.

  3. 0. Be anything but the LA “Bus Riders Union”
    1. a sustainable, progressive funding source for transit.
    2. mixed-use, mixed-income, affordable Transit Oriented Development (the anti-John Fox)
    3. make transit more affordable. Stuff like day passes, weekly passes, low-income ORCA, etc.
    4. Find creative solutions to make the ridership/productivity based system work, instead of fighting it. That could mean “right-sizing service” or alternatives to plain old bus service.

  4. I’d like to see a push for lower fares, or at least stopping fare hikes. The $1 fare increase (a 50% to 80% price hike) in the past 5 years is insane.

    I’ve heard it before that you guys aren’t concerned about fare hikes, because employers pay for it through passes. Well, I’ve never had an employer pay for my bus pass, and I work in Downtown Seattle and have to take the bus everyday. I’m sure there are many others in my situation as well, so this should be an issue to be aware of.

    1. This gets into agency funding. The fare has gone up mainly because of gas prices. It may have to go up again when the $20 fee expires. We need to help the agencies get a stable funding source that’s not so closely tied to the boom-and-bust of the economy, and ideally less regressive than sales taxes are. There may be fat to cut in union contracts and such, but not enough to make an excellent system, and not even enough to fill the holes in reliability and runs that have deteriorated.

      1. A premium fare on peak expresses would go a long way towards fixing that problem. Those are generally the most energy-expensive routes.

      2. Yeah, it’s strange that highly farebox-recovery-efficient electric bus route riders were penalized as much as long-distance one-seat-ride express diesel route riders if gas prices was the real issue.

      3. Yes, I would like a premium fare on peak-only routes whose express segment is longer than 4 miles or crosses Lake Washington. (This to exclude the 2X and 28X, which are arguably to reduce overcrowding on the all-day routes rather than to cruise the freeway.) And it would be a good idea for a TRU to promote.

  5. I voted for prop 1 knowing it’d lose just to put my 2cents out there. BUT a major problem I saw with it was: me. I have never driven a car, I could if I wanted to learn, but right now I don’t. Metro KC Buses and walking are my primary sources of transportation but prop 1 funding would never come from me if it only came from car tabs.

    1. If Pierce County had a similar tax, I’d be in the same boat.

      Where I’m from in Virginia, property tax is used to fund transit (but there is no dedicated funding like the sales tax portion here). The way it is described in Virginia, the cities “purchase” service from the agency

    2. That works both ways. 90% of the population and most transit riders and bicycle riders do have a car, so the number that don’t is insignificant. If a significant percentage of the population gets rid of their cars, it’ll have to switch to a different funding source, but at the same time the problem of too many cars and congestion will be solving itself, and that would lead to better transit service even without any changes on the transit system side. (Of course it would also lead to bus overcrowding, but there’s your ridership and constituency for tax reform.)

  6. Having to ride transit systems designed and managed by people who don’t like unions requires the same thing as working for these same people: a strong union.

    I was very glad to find out that the Executive Board of ATU Local 587 has endorsed the local effort, and gladder yet to see some of my former fellow drivers whom I really respected present at the meeting.

    And it was especially good to see Nathanael Chappelle, one of Metro’s best trolleycoach drivers among the organizers. His first sentence sums up the purpose of the organization and the reason it’s needed:

    “Fix what’s unjust about riding the bus!”

    Great to see you there too, Adam.

    Mark Dublin

  7. Ultimately more voices for a sustainable funding stream for all transit would be a great thing.

    I also see a need to help folks who are between able-bodied and needing Access service voice their concerns around service changes. I think many of the 9/12 service changes will reduce the usability of the system for a lot of these folks. In general having a group that’s looking at transit service through a social justice frame would benefit the overall planning and implementation of transit service changes.

  8. I want a STRU that people are afraid of. The last thing anybody needs is another group begging for pity charity.

    1. I think you have to be careful with that wording. The last thing anyone needs is a STRU that scares off most transit riders and attracts the crazed fringe. I hope to see a respectable broad-based advocacy group on behalf of all transit riders.

    2. Agree with the spirit of this comment, but instilling fear in anyone you’re trying to influence is risky, since their resulting behavior can be wildly unpredictable.

      Based on 30 years’ experience with transit and its politics in Seattle, when decision makers here get frightened, they freeze like any trapped creature who knows it’ll die if the red-tail sees it move.

      So transit doesn’t.

      Respect is better- especially the kind instilled by a firm command of the facts coupled with a polite refusal to back down an inch.

      The Scots have a great term for the necessary character: “An ill man to cross.” All Scots women already fit that description.

      Mark Dublin

      1. “fear in anyone you’re trying to influence is risky” I agree. I’d prefer this to be an intellegent movement, working within the system. But with a big, strong base behind them in case they encounter a wall.

        Of course, I only want this if they end up wanting what I want – I’d hate to have a group like that as an opponent.

  9. …The things we need most and as soon as possible:
    -Light-rail to Ballard, West Seattle, Kenmore/Bothell and Renton/SouthCenter
    -Urban tramway/streetcar network like most European cities
    -Central Transit Hub in Seattle: King Street Central Terminal connected to Intl District Light-rail station and Firt-Hill Streetcar line.

  10. There is a legitimate difference between advocates for existing transit riders and advocates for future transit riders.

    STB tends to lean towards future transit riders; perhaps the TRU will lean towards existing transit riders. I think there is room and a need in Seattle for both.

    These two groups share many goals in common: comfortable, safe, user-friendly, frequent transit.

    1. When existing transit users are polled as to what they value in transit, the #1 answer is consistently door-to-door travel time.

      Frequency improvements and route simplifications, of the sort that STB tends to promote, would be a huge boon to existing and future riders alike.

  11. I’m really happy that the TRU is pushing for a low-income ORCA. This is one of the biggest gaps in the current system, and fixing this will make it much easier to implement changes like fare increases and express bus premiums.

    In particular, I would really like to see the TRU advocate for the following changes:

    Service side:

    – Frequency improvements everywhere. Redefine “frequent service” as 10 minutes or less, from 6am to 10pm. This is the single most important way that we can improve service quality.

    – 24-hour service on key corridors. Ideally, every 10-minute bus corridor would have at least 30-minute night service.

    – Preserve or expand geographical coverage. Ideally, starting from any arterial in the city, you should never be more than a 1/2 mile level walk (or a shorter uphill walk) away from *some* all-day bus stop.

    – Transit priority and/or reserved lanes on the most important corridors, including rerouting buses to avoid roads which are eternally congested. Buses need to be dependable.

    – Identify and invest in key transfer points (especially 3rd and Pike/Pine). This includes raised platforms (to avoid the need for lifts/ramps), better lighting, better signage, and possibly even security personnel for the worst stops. This also includes realigning stops, especially downtown, to make the walk between adjacent stops as short and easy as possible.

    Revenue side:

    – Low-income ORCA, of course.

    – Charge a double fare for all one-way peak express service, and use that money to improve the all-day network. This is a huge *progressive* funding source, since peak one-way riders are generally commuting to office jobs in the city. (And a low-income ORCA would defray this cost for people who really can’t afford it.)

    – Wherever possible, terminate freeway-running routes at Link, and use the money to improve service in underserved areas.

    1. I love the idea of raised platforms on 3rd. This would definately speed things up. Has SDOT considered this?

      1. New buses and trains have low floors so they don’t need raised platforms. As the bus fleet is gradually replaced, they’ll all be low-floor.

      2. Honest question: why would we need them? The new ETBs will be all low-floor, right? How many years before the last of Metro’s existing non-low-floor fleet are replaced? Wouldn’t you end up taking them down at that point?

      3. I’m pretty sure the new ETBs will be all-floor. I think that was mentioned during the presentation of the ETB-replace-or-scrap presentation.

      4. All the new low-floor buses still have ramps. Link does not.

        When I say “raised platforms”, I mean what we have in the transit tunnel. Passengers in wheelchairs, or with luggage, should be able to seamlessly roll from the sidewalk onto their bus. No ramp necessary.

  12. I love the idea of a Riders union!!!!

    Will it help overall….who knows, but I think the more we can be heard the better.

    I’m a 40+ year rider….more than that, but a girl NEVER tells her REAL age ;)
    Let’s just say I started riding the bus in the Seattle Transit days, on the 200 series buses, and leave it at that.

    I spent most of my life into my late 30’s living in Seattle proper. As time went on it was easy to take the bus where ever AND when ever I needed to. Now, not so much, since I now live in the Skyway/Westhill area, where the 101/102 is my ONLY viable option bus wise. When I moved here 12 years ago, there was NO SUNDAY service, which I found appalling!!! Then they added Sunday service, but it’s never started until the 8AM hr and that bus has pretty much ALWAYS been full year in and year out, and yet the cries for a bus in at least the 7AM hr have gone largely ignored. This last shake up the start time in the 8AM hr was pushed back to the top half of the hr rather than the bottom (it was 8:37 at my stop). It now comes at 8:17 at my stop, which does get me to the IDS stop in time for my 9AM call time at the CLink. It now means my husband can stay asleep game days, rather then having to get up and take me to the Tukwila P & R.

    What I’d LOVE to see from a riders union is good honest sharing of ideas that can then be presented to Metro by people who are receptive to our ideas, and then impelent them.

    I’ll try and come to the next meeting, I forget why I wasn’t at the last one.
    I’m sure I have plenty to bring to the table.

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