Oran’s Map of West Seattle Revisions

Three and a half months ago, the Metropolitan King County Council, in a bipartisan effort, came together to pass via supermajority the $20 Congestion Reduction Charge. This two-year car tab fee is designed as a stopgap funding measure to prevent drastic cuts to Metro bus service while the agency restructures itself to become leaner and more efficient, and the legislature can arrange a stable long-term funding source.

While the vote to establish the fee was not unanimous, the dissenters did so only on a question of process. The principles espoused in King County Metro’s Strategic Plan for Public Transportation, incorporated into the CRC ordinance, received the strong, public endorsement of every single member of the Council, along with Executive Constantine and Metro GM Desmond. King County has thus publicly committed itself at every level to make the bus system more cost-effective and ridership-oriented. Without that promise, the CRC’s stopgap funding would not have been forthcoming, and without the fulfillment of that promise, we can expect no further help from the legislature.

Fast forward to a month ago, when Metro released the Fall 2012 restructure concept. This proposal is one of the boldest Metro has ever made public, and represents a distinct break from the downtown-oriented legacy network, towards one built on a modern understanding of what makes for cost-effective and well-used bus routes: connecting dense urban centers with frequent, direct and reliable trunk routes, and providing excellent commuter service to neighborhoods without enough ridership to justify all-day service.

Inevitably, these things come at a cost. Some riders will be inconvenienced by having to walk further to get to their stop or having to transfer; some neighborhoods will lose midday service; a very small fraction of the population will lose access to transit altogether. Those riders affected have genuine complaints, for which the public service change process provides a valuable opportunity to explain to Metro staff how their ideas may play out on the ground. But there are voices not heard at public hearings: those of the thousands of riders who will benefit greatly from the changes; and those of every King County resident whose tax dollars will go much further towards improved mobility, emissions reduction, and congestion mitigation.

Seattle Transit Blog believes it is now time for King County Metro to uphold its end of the bargain, by moving ahead boldly with a restructure comparable in scope to the conceptual proposal; if this restructure were to become the mere substitution of RapidRide C and D for Routes 54 and 15, it would be a failure. Leadership means steering organizations through difficult and unpopular decisions for the greater good. Metro staff have publicly shown us how our bus system can be improved: we look now to Metro management, the Executive, and the Council to provide the leadership to make it a reality.

78 Replies to “Editorial: King County, Be Bold”

  1. This is why a Transit Riders Union is so important – it will almost certainly serve as a vehicle to push back against these kind of rider-unfriendly changes.

    There’s a revealing line in this editorial: “make the bus system more cost-effective and ridership-oriented.” In other words, place statistics ahead of what actually works well for existing and future riders. This is a wonk’s approach to planning a bus system, but not necessarily one drawn up from the perspective of the great mass of King County Metro riders.

    What may look good on paper may not work well in practice for those riders. Wonks may pooh-pooh single-seat rides and focus only on improving service where it is already good – feeding the fat at the expense of the starving. But does this actually work out for riders? Is this even necessary or desirable? A TRU needs to act as the vehicle to answer those questions from the perspective of the rider. And if those answers challenge these kind of proposals, that’s not a bad thing. Ultimately bus service should exist to serve the needs of riders, not the needs of wonks.

    These kinds of cuts to bus service also push Metro into a downward spiral. Supporters of these cuts assume that we have to do this because of declining revenues. But that is a losing battle – transit advocates must never, ever accept a smaller funding pie. It must be grown.

    The only way you do that is by organizing a large number of riders to save their existing service and improve it. That’s how the CRC was passed. Those riders who showed up to testify didn’t do so because they wanted to see their single-seat rides to work cut in favor of adding more trips on Aurora. They showed up and mobilized a huge amount of public support because they tapped into the desire of the great mass of riders to protect their routes from being cut. The disabled, the elderly, and the carless did not show up saying “please, make me walk more to my bus and make me transfer more often to get to my destination.”

    Ultimately, I worry that STB is out of alignment with what most Metro riders actually are thinking these days. I don’t know of many riders who have a problem at all with a single-seat ride from their neighborhoods to downtown – they actually believe that’s the point of a bus, and I do not see how STB’s work is helped by alienating those people or trying to tell them they are wrong. Most riders I talk to believe service improvements should build on what we already have, and not come at its expense.

    I would hope STB would take the same rider-oriented perspective (as opposed to ridership-oriented; those are different things). Either way, it will be the job of a TRU to take the lead on that going forward.

    1. A well thought out distinction between TRU and STB, but actually both have their place in the advocacy world. STB’s long suit rests with forward thinking on big picture items akin to keeping the magnetic compass generally pointed north. I sometimes wish the choir could sing some different tunes though. I’m not so sure TRU will ever represent much more than a sliver of the general rider population, nor do they pretend that they do. Vocal and Effective? They could be the lion that roars. We’ll see.
      I suspect your average transit rider thinks as much about transit routes, service hours, and the like about as often as I think about water quality issues when I flush the toilet. It needs to work when you want it to. That’s all.
      Metro financials have rebounded nicely in the last couple of years, with sales tax up 7% over 2009, and farebox revenue up to correspond with average daily riders up 10,000 per weekday in the same period.
      Restructure is great, and finding inefficiencies should be an on-going effort, but let’s not forget the bus is a just a service. Tinker too much in the wrong direction and riders will vote with their feet.

    2. Ridership-oriented is rider-oriented. Period. The end. And to argue to the contrary is fatuous.

      1. Would you actually care to explain your claim here that these things are the same? There’s no need for a personal attack, unless you can’t criticize my arguments on their merits.

      2. To refer to your arguments as “fatuous” is not a personal attack. Perhaps I should clarify: your arguments are incoherent and lack any basis in fact, and you exhibit such a poor understanding of what this post is advocating that I don’t feel that any attempt to discuss it with you would be useful. Perhaps other commenters would like to try.

      3. Bruce,
        Of course Will’s arguments are incoherent and lack a basis in fact. They are emotional not rational arguments.

        While it is too soon to tell what exactly TRU will advocate for and against, people like Will are out there and are the sort who show up to public meetings.

        Transit advocates need to learn better how to deal with those who are making emotional arguments. It doesn’t really matter if they are advocating for stop consolidations, service restructures, cutting unproductive routes, road diets, or siting transit infrastructure.

        This is why groups like the BRU seem to make such nonsensical arguments and advocate such for counterproductive policies.

      4. Ridership-oriented is rider-oriented.

        Bruce is clearly correct here. That’s a tautology.

    3. And with that, the TRU has completely lost my support. We have no need for a reactionary, hand-writing, 42-saving, head-in-the-sand “union” of whiny busybodies. We have a terribly inefficient system and Metro’s finally moving towards doing something about it.

      Time to kill the TRU in the court of public opinion.

      1. I would wait until the TRU start making moves before writing it off; what it may turn into is still very much in the air. If Seattle is lucky, it will not be full of people who believe Will’s afactual waffle.

      2. I’m not speaking for the TRU at all, I’m just one person expressing my hopes for what it can achieve. But your comment is revealing. Nowhere did I defend the 42 or even mention it. My point is that for many riders on routes much busier than the 42, these changes are not being well received, suggesting they do not reflect what riders actually want. That’s a big problem for maintaining public support for Metro.

        I find it instructive that nobody has yet responded to any of the actual substantive points I made in my comment.

      3. Will, the issue is that this view says that things that serve more people for the dollars we have are rider unfriendly.

        That’s an argument that some riders are more important than other riders. If all riders are equals, then the most riders we can serve is the best choice. That does hurt some riders! But it helps *more* riders.

        Arguing against efficiency and ridership toward serving low density areas is elitist – it claims those people are more important than people who are living in more dense neighborhoods.

    4. At the end of the day, this argument doesn’t boil down to riders vs. wonks. It boils down to the majority of the people who actually ride the system, and a small, vocal minority that wants their one seat ride to downtown, even if that means the system as a whole is compromised.

      1. You may be right that this isn’t a binary argument. But I also disagree that people who don’t want to sacrifice their existing service are just a vocal minority. They’re the ones who showed up in force for the CRC.

      2. Will, those negatively impacted by any change are always the ones who show up in force.

        If we’re changing to a system that’s ridership based, by definition, the ones who are losing service are a minority.

      3. Butch: There are a lot of reasons.

        First, you might live along a corridor which naturally runs parallel to downtown, rather than through it. For example, the 48 is the highest-ridership bus in the system. Those hours could be spent instead on two separate buses — both of which went to downtown (south part via Jackson, north part via John or Madison/Pine). But that would suck for people who wanted to go from Mt Baker to the U-District (e.g.).

        Second, you might live on a corridor which has enough ridership for a neighborhood shuttle, but definitely not enough ridership for a direct route to downtown. Thus, your choice is either a two-seat ride or nothing. (Or a more limited version is that Metro can afford a two-seat ride at 15-minute frequency, or a one-seat ride at 30- or 60-minute frequency, or peak-only.)

        West Seattle is an example of both of these. In the north part, there’s a choice between a frequent shuttle to the Junction, and an infrequent or peak-only bus directly to downtown. The former is much better for people who want to go somewhere else in West Seattle — and outside of peak, the two-seat ride probably provides a faster door-to-door trip to downtown (when you take into account the infrequency of direct service.)

        Even in Capitol Hill, I’m very excited for when the FHSC replaces the 49 on the main part of Broadway. I find it very annoying that there isn’t a direct way to transfer between the 49 and the 12 (for example).

      4. Back when the 15/18 ran on 1st, I would get home quicker with a 3-seat ride than a 1-seat ride, despite the 1-seat ride leaving almost exactly from my work to exactly my home.

        Using frequent buses in a grid system can get you faster, more frequent service than one-seat-rides can for the same cost.

    5. Yes there’s a social justice balance to be struck, but statistics do matter. Ridership IS people, and it’s a bit disingenuous to pit the two against each other. Demonstrated efficiency will be required by the legislature to obtain the funding both TRU and STB want to see.

      Imagine that the tables were reversed and we currently had the proposed Fall 2012 system now and Metro was proposing to overhaul it to create the network we currently have. Just as many people would come out and oppose it: “How dare you take away route 50?” “Who wants to detour through slow Latona”? “Why split Queen Anne into 4 termini when lots of transit dependent folks count on frequent service between SPU and Upper Queen Anne?” “Why the hell put the 2 on Seneca/Spring, when for years the elderly and carless have become used to catching it on Madison/Marion?!?” etc etc. The point is that we shouldn’t automatically defend service just because it currently exists, and nor should we fear radical change that will become tomorrow’s traditions that the next generation will defend on legacy grounds. Inertia’s a very powerful thing.

      Metro has done their homework on this, backed by a citizen group’s recommendations (the RTTF). Theyre doing a good job and this proposal could very well be the beginnings of salvation for an unsustainable agency.

      1. Yes, exactly. If Metro focuses on statistics like riders/platform hour and overall ridership then by definition it is serving the needs of a larger share of the population than it was before.

      2. The interesting part of this from a social justice perspective is – if you’re going to take away two people’s rides to preserve one person’s one seat ride, that means that person is twice as important to the system. That’s not social justice at all. :)

      3. Stefan: By that definition, all routes within King County would fall under the same test (riders/hour), or whatever Metric you choose. The Council wisely put a different threshold in for different areas to acknowledge that suburban trips could never stand the test against Seattle routes.
        Bus service has many masters, riders/hr is just one of them. Basic mobility for citizens is another. There are more.
        This isn’t a one size fits all operation, so would the Choir please turn the page.
        And could one of the Editors please offer an apology to Will?

      4. It’s kind of funny that you say that now, Mike, when yesterday you seemed to be making the argument that subsidy per rider was the only metric that mattered.

      5. MIke: Are you the same as Mike (lowercase i), or are you a different poster, perhaps one from Mercer Island?

        If the latter, would you mind picking a different alias? I think the difference between your handles is a bit subtle.

      6. @ Zed: Yesterday I was pointing out a different way to judge transit service, which is quite consistent with my post today.
        “The glaring imbalance between subsidy levels of rider classes, distance and mode seem to this writer to be more of a political decision rather than one based on a practical business decision.”
        Subsidy per rider or route is just one of the many masters I spoke of.
        Why should a XYZ corporate lawyer get a nearly free ride to anywhere in the PS, anytime day or night for a whole year, worth $4.75 each ride, when some poor bastard pays full fare for a 1 mile trip in Seattle? The employer forks over about 10 cents a ride, then writes that off on taxes. Where’s the justice in that system?
        Or the ST550 route that is damn near breaking even, if everyone paid the full fare. Compare that to some really long routes, with crappy ridership that get subsidized to the tune of $15 or more per rider. Is that fair?
        Will had a point and made it very well. I don’t agree with everything he said, but I’m certainly willing to carry on a civil dialog with him without resorting to snarky personal attacks on him or his motives as some are prone to do here. Debate is healthy – even when I’m wrong!

      7. The issue is that there needs to be frequent trunk routes between every part of the city and every quarter of the county. One from downtown to west Seattle, one from downtown to southeast Seattle, one from downtown to northwest Seattle, north Seattle, and northeast Seattle. These need to be fast enough and frequent enough that transfers to smaller destinations in those areas are feasable. Likewise, there needs to be a good trunk route from Seattle to the Eastside, Seattle to Snohomish, and Seattle to south King and Pierce. Given the large size and population of south King, it arguably needs four trunks: one to Burien, one to SeaTac/Federal Way, one to Southcenter/Kent/Auburn, and one to Renton/Kent. And maybe the northern Eastside is so far from I-90 it needs its own trunk(s), so Seattle-Kirkland and Seattle-Redmond. Top it off with crosstown trunks: West Seattle-Rainier, Ballard-UW, Aurora-Lake City. When this is all built out, you’ll be able to go from anywhere to anywhere in a reasonable about of time, although it may be a farther walk from houses not on the main street. That’s good news for landlords located on the trunk streets, who can charge the highest rents — why should they get that special benefit, paid by taxpayers? It’s because a properly hierarchical and gridded system benefits the most people. Somebody is going to get lucky owning real estate along those trunk routes, but there’s no way around that: a frequent trunk system is better than an infrequent goes-everywhere-slowly system.

      8. @MIke, You’re constant railing against the Business Passport system because people with jobs must be “corporate lawyers” or some other insidious beast makes it sound more like you have a chip on your shoulder than actually being concerned about equity or fairness. If you extend the argument you use against the Business Passport system to transit in general, then transit shouldn’t be subsidized at all.

      9. Zed, while I disagree with MIke’s specific chip, there is something to be said for white-collar riders feeling like they have a stake in the system because they actually paid for it.

        In cities where the upper-middle-class doesn’t need to be bribed to commute by transit, you can usually order a monthly pass through your employer and have it deducted pre-tax. (That’s the extent of the discount, but it’s still a fantastic deal where employer-subsized parking isn’t the norm and traffic is really atrocious.)

        In Seattle, the employer-subsidized pass-holders tend to be the least likely to criticize or work to improve the system, because the 10 times per week they use it seem tolerable at a rate of $0/ride. Meanwhile, they have no incentive to use transit for non-commutes to make their (nonexistent) monthly expenditure go further, and thus have no interest in making the non-commute system better.

        The irony is that Metro still acts more indebted to (and/or scared of) the politically-influential downtown commuters who haven’t paid — lavishing upon them all manner of commuter expresses of use to no one else — despite the expressed complacency of said demographic.

    6. As someone who lives in a city where the bus network is mostly a grid-system that is not completely downtown centric, I would advocate for the changes STB Does. CTA’s bus network, while it has a lot of express commuter service to downtown, does an excellent job of connecting people around downtown as well. And The El, which is entirely downtown centric, is often criticized for just that reason. Because someone on the south side who wants to go to the westside has to go through downtown, adding 30 minutes to the trip. Whereas on the bus you don’t have to do that (which is often why people will opt for the bus rather than rail here I suspect. There is a bus line on almost every major street, and they all run often enough you don’t have to worry. (This is a more dense city, sure, but part of that is that it has an amazing transit network.) I think Metro should frankly let Sound Transit worry about the downtown Centric part of the network and metro should revise itself to be a grid-based network with frequent service lines on all major arterials (10-15 minute service-all day)

      1. I think Metro should frankly let Sound Transit worry about the downtown Centric part of the network and metro should revise itself to be a grid-based network with frequent service lines on all major arterials (10-15 minute service-all day)

        Frankly, I’m starting to think that ST should take over all of Metro’s good routes — i.e. RapidRide and similar arterial service — and leave Metro to run geographic-coverage service.

        At this point, it seems like Metro’s biggest liability is the fact that elected politicians have direct veto power over policy details. ST is blissfully free of that issue. It would be conceptually weird to have ST run in-Seattle service, but what better way to avoid the political issues?

      2. Aleks, that’s a close brush with sanity. Next you’ll be suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t have six different transit agencies serving the same market!

      3. Kyle: In general, I try to stay away from proposing sweeping administrative changes, largely because they have very little chance of happening, and because I feel like they often originate more out of a sense of completeness than any practical benefits.

        But, as I’ve watched what’s been happening with the Fall 2012 changes, it’s clear that the politicization of Metro is a serious liability — as in, without some change, it will be very hard for us to become a world-class city. It’s not unprecedented for ST to take over Metro routes, and ST has shown precisely the kind of leadership about necessary changes that Metro has lacked (even with things as simple as truncating routes at Link).

        So, in the absence of clear evidence that some major restructure will happen, I’m starting to think that a serious push to transfer Seattle core arterial routes from Metro to ST is actually a worthwhile use of time.

      4. There’s a funding issue with ST taking over Metro routes. ST contracts with Metro (in King County) to provide ST Express service. If they take “ownership” of a Metro route all they will do is contract with KC Metro to drive buses that are a different color. That means that the service hours come out of ST’s piece of the sales tax pie for both operations and capital. Shifting funds around isn’t easy as both agencies have maxed out the allowable tax revenue. Any change or combining of agencies not only runs afoul of the tax structure but would likely be illegal because the revenue stream ST receives has been used to guarantee the construction bonds it’s issued.

    7. The current system is unsustainable. If Metro does not change within two years, we’ll be back at where we were a few months ago, and then King County will have no choice but drastic cuts. You have seen the proposed cuts.

      I do hope that those who showed up at the hearings also show up in Olympia to advocate for a sustainable funding source but without reform on Metro’s part, it’ll be tough to convince state legislators.

      Fighting to keep the status quo may very well be a victory for some at the local level but it’s a big loss at the state level.

      Wonks ride the bus, too, The restructures will allow more people to get to more places easier than before. What Metro is planning isn’t unprecedented. It has been done in many places around the US (the world, even) to positive effect for riders, current and future.

      1. I look forward to the day this project is complete and we all look back in awe at what an amazing system we will have afterwards. Other cities may actually begin to emulate King County Metro instead of what we’re gotten used to which is normally the other way around.

      2. I wish that Metro would emulate other agencies. Most of the time, our problem is that we cling to our old ways, despite time-tested evidence that doing what other agencies do would be way better.

      3. You can’t be talking about Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and Everett Transit, could you? CT has made two notable innovations: Swift and the double-tall buses. PT created the 594. Besides those, what have they done to surpass Metro? Overall their service is less frequent and more winding milk runs than Metro.

    8. Will,

      You asked for substantive responses, so here you go. I hope you will provide the same in return.

      First, as everyone has said, “ridership-oriented” and “rider-oriented” are the same thing. I understand the distinction you’re drawing, but disagree. The fact is, a system which has higher ridership — and that’s an explicit goal of the restructure — is a system which better serves riders. Yes, there are people who will no longer ride the bus if they have to walk an extra 3-4 blocks. But there are also people who currently don’t ride the bus because it’s so slow or infrequent. I strongly expect that the proposed changes (or other changes along the same lines) will help more people than they hurt.

      Second, as Ben said, every one-seat ride you provide for one rider is a two-seat ride you don’t provide for someone else. Geometric and economic realities dictate that you can provide more service, at higher frequency, with transfers than without. If you say that you’d rather serve one person with a one-seat ride than 2 people with a two-seat ride, then you’re implicitly saying that you think that the first person is twice as important as the second. The goal of this change is to provide bus service to as many people as possible; some people will lose their one-seat ride, but a greater number of people will gain a two-seat ride where currently they have nothing (because the bus is so slow or so infrequent that it’s not worth using).

      Third, I don’t buy your argument about funding. The downward spiral comes about when buses are inefficient. Fewer riders for the same bus hours mean that costs stay the same and our revenues go down. Then we have to cut service. But because our already slow/infrequent service gets even slower/less frequent, ridership drops even more.

      In contrast, as we shift hours away from less productive routes and towards more productive routes, we create an *upward* spiral. Ridership goes up, and empty buses get replaced with full ones, which means more revenue in addition to lower costs. That extra money allows us to run more routes at higher frequency. And that increases ridership too.

      And finally, your assertion that the CRC passed because riders wanted to avoid cuts is simply incorrect. The deciding votes in favor of the CRC, including Jane Hague, came because of promises from Metro to follow the RTTF (Regional Transit Task Force) guidelines, and focus on improving the productivity of the system. If you don’t believe me, just read the text of the measure approved by the council. Here’s a particularly clear passage:

      Metro will manage the system according to new guidelines as recommended by the Regional Transit Task Force through:
      • Monitoring and assessing route and system-level performance;
      Reallocating the least productive services to address service quality issues such as overcrowding and unreliable service;
      Restructuring the transit network to make it more effective in carrying the greatest number of passengers;
      • Managing the transit system to increase transit use and reduce single occupant vehicle travel by investing in under-served corridors and routes with high ridership potential; and
      • Improving connections to regional services that provide alternatives to driving.

      As Oran and others have said, without restructuring, in two years we’ll be back where we started. But with restructuring, we can build a transit network which can be funded much more sustainably.

      1. Nice response, thanks for engaging.

        My view, which perhaps I could have been clearer about when firing off my first comment earlier this morning, is that there is no reason we need to choose between providing higher frequency service on key corridors as well as preserving existing routes. That’s a false choice imposed on us from outside. Sure, people like Jane Hague cited the RTTF guidelines when approving the CRC. But the political pressure that forced her to cast that vote came from people who wanted to preserve the transit service they have right now – and some of those same people are going to be screwed by the February 2012 changes. The guidelines alone weren’t enough to convince her to vote yes. It took activism.

        So while I agree that in theory “ridership-oriented” and “rider-oriented” don’t necessarily have to conflict, in this case they most definitely are in conflict.

        Metro’s financial problems aren’t caused by “inefficiency” – they’re caused by Wall Street and the worst recession in 60 years. Transit Now was supposed to help improve service, but it’s only been able to serve as a stopgap thanks to the unprecedented collapse in sales tax revenues. Would we be having this discussion if those external factors hadn’t hit? Probably not.

        How do we get out of that mess? The proposal being made here is to basically accept 2011 “economic realities” as permanent and undermine service as a result – to feed the fat and starve the hungry. I don’t see how this will serve as the basis of a system that retains its political popularity – and the activism around the CRC was an excellent example of how that popularity can change the economic and the political realities we face.

        It therefore seems to me that the right thing for transit advocates to do is reject a false choice and instead of cutting off some people to help others, cut off nobody and invest in improvements on top of the system we have. Where those improvements go is a good question to ask. Maximizing ridership on the dense corridors is a good thing to do. But so too is supporting existing bus service to less dense neighborhoods, where lower income people and those with disabilities also live.

        Ridership might go up on the surviving corridors. But does that happen at the expense of other neighborhoods, other parts of the city? If so, that doesn’t strike me as a useful trade. Good bus service should be widely available, low density or high density.

        If people really just want a bus system that plays the role of a mass transit system and serves a few corridors, then that’s one thing. But if the goal is to get as many people in this city to ride a bus as possible – and that ought to be the goal – then this isn’t the right way to go about it. It rests on a flawed analysis of political and economic realities, and places statistics ahead of rider experience.

        Ultimately there’s no way to tell who is “right” and who is not; we’ll have to see what the public reaction is. I do wish though that transit advocates would not play a rigged game, and instead find ways to break out of the constraints we face rather than engage in a futile effort to somehow make them work for us.

      2. I know for a knock-down certitude, from people close to that decision-making process, that codifying the RTTF guidelines, AND the subsequent amendment for abolishing the RFA (among other things) were prerequisites to get Hague and Lambert to vote for it. Turning out lots of upset riders was also part of it, of course, but don’t kid yourself that Hague or Lambert care that much about low-income riders in Seattle and South King.

        You also seem to be confused between the February and Fall service changes. This post had nothing to do with February. Although, now that you mention it, those minor cuts are all long overdue, and should go through uneventfully seeing as no County Executive candidates are sitting on the Council and pandering for ACRS’s voters this year.

        The rest of your comment is your usual magical thinking, namely that cutting virtually-unused buses in favor of improving service on highly-productive routes is going to send Metro into a death spiral of lower ridership and public support, when experience both here and elsewhere suggest exactly the opposite.

      3. Will, I don’t think most people on here would argue whether or not we need more money, I do think many would however argue about what is actually in the realm of possible in relation to new revenue, especially for expanded service. You can call this a false choice but it really isn’t false, its just reality. We can all work to change that certainly, but that is a different issue than how to build a good transit system.

      4. Will,

        (1) Your assertion that the Fall 2012 changes are cutting people off is simply false. The number of areas (and riders) who truly lose all service with these changes is miniscule — pretty much just a couple of outlying areas in West Seattle, each of which sees about a handful of riders every day.

        And I actually agree, and have said so repeatedly, that we should find a way to continue to serve those riders. For example, Vancouver runs a “community shuttle” program, where they run minibuses through low-demand neighborhoods; drivers have agreed to accept lower pay for these routes because they’re so much easier. I think a minibus circulator around the perimeter of West Seattle, terminating at the Junction, would be a great way to continue to serve these areas.

        But it’s just not true to assert that changing a one-seat ride to a two-seat ride is cutting anyone off. They remain just as connected to the transit network as they used to be.


        But if the goal is to get as many people in this city to ride a bus as possible – and that ought to be the goal – then this isn’t the right way to go about it.

        All of the available evidence — including a multi-year effort to understand what it means to build a productive bus network, and reams of real-world data — suggests that the type of changes that Metro is proposing will *increase* ridership.

        Compared to the status quo, these changes will bring us closer to the goal of getting as many bus riders as possible.

        If you don’t believe that’s true, I’d like to know why, and please provide some evidence. It’s not enough to assert that people won’t like it. I want you to read the Regional Transit Task Force final recommendation, and Metro’s official Service Guidelines, and tell me which parts you disagree with and why.

        (3) The part of your response that I’m having the most trouble with is your assertion that we should act like we have infinite money. I know those aren’t your exact words, but in your multiple posts, you seem unwilling to accept the idea that we have to make tradeoffs.

        I completely agree with you that the TRU should try to push for new funding sources. But Metro’s planners don’t have that luxury. They’re given a budget, and they need to figure out the best way to use it.

        The point that I keep trying to make is that, at any fixed level of revenue that’s remotely in the ballpark of what Metro could have, ridership will be much higher if we focus on building an interconnected bus *network*, rather than a series of one-seat rides to downtown. For every one rider we lose because they’re unwilling or unable to transfer, we’ll gain two more because door-to-door service (i.e. including wait time) is now fast enough to make transit worthwhile.

        I encourage you to go to Human Transit and read the “Basics” series. I learned a lot about transit from reading those posts. Mr. Walker explains many principles of effective transit planning from first principles, with geometry and arithmetic. One of his most interesting and compelling examples is that, if you pick a time window (let’s say 30 minutes), then for any two points in a city, the number of places that you can get to within that time window is guaranteed to be much higher with a transfer-based network than a one-seat-ride network.

        As a bus rider, you must be familiar with how painful many crosstown trips can currently be. This is what Metro is trying to fix. If we can make those trips easier, we’ll get more ridership than we know what to do with!

      1. In terms of their anti-rail advocacy? No.

        In terms of their effectiveness overall? Absolutely.

  2. I’d like to say that STB is perfectly in alignment with what this Metro rider is actually thinking these days. This is the kind of sentiment & encouragement Metro leaders and our elected officials need to hear so they feel empowered to make the decisions that are necessary. Thank you to those who have contributed their time and energy to getting Metro headed in the right direction.

  3. The 2012 restructure proposal is massive, so let’s not pretend it’s going to be perfect. It will be important that Metro planners get feedback from riders in order to craft a more perfect system. Looking at Oran’s map of the West Seattle restructure it’s easy to see that there are some legitimate questions that people may have. For instance: (1)every rider who lives north of the Junction will have to transfer to get downtown, (2) why is there only one route serving SCCC and why doesn’t that route go downtown? (3) why are the riders on the 21, 131 and 132 getting much more service to odwntown while riders on the 22, 55, 56 and 125 will losing their direct service to downtown? There may be good reasons for the changes (I don’t live in WS and rarely go there)–but, it will be necessary for Metro to listen to the community, work to explain the changes and benefits that the changes will bring. It will also be necessary that Metro be open to tweaking the system if the community brings forward beneficial alternatives.

    1. It isn’t perfect but that doesn’t mean Metro should give up on the concept altogether. There are multiple ways of organizing a network that meets the objectives of the Strategic Plan and follows the Service Guidelines.

      1. Oran,

        I have addressed the Genesee Hill area in the past. I watch the number 51 go by my house every half hour empty, or almost empty. I agree that is not sustainable. My neighborhood does retain peak service, the number 57. It was helpful when this was last discussed that you posted the map of all service to West Seattle, not just all day service. That map was very helpful since it included the peak service. The above map makes service to/from West Seattle look worse than it really will be if the proposed changes go into effect.

        Thank you for your work on these maps.

      2. My 39 route is often empty or nearly so when it goes past me but that is the nature of route tails. It has a role as a connector to Link in 2 places. It suffers from not being frequent enough to be useful. But the numbers would say the route is “not efficient”. But, instead of truncating it, Metro is actually proposing to modify it and increase its frequency.

        In Broadview, where our Mr. Nourish has convincingly justified quantitatively that bus service is a waste, the solution proffered is to truncate all but peak service. But what if there was east/west service offerred?

        Sometimes the answer isn’t just what is in numbers but to get out and understand who the customers are and what they really want. That would really be bold now wouldn’t it?

        There are also other transport modes that are almost never talked about here and if they are, are never taken seriously even though some of them pencil out compellingly on a cost basis. Why is that? People can’t seem to get around things besides buses, trains and bikes. But seriously, why are we not considering Gondolas or aerial trams in the mix? There are even more radical ideas that should be considered including automated routed car service.

        Being bold to means taking the path not taken by most others. It does not simply applying the same mode templates that every other city does – Rail and buses. Advocating for bikes is fine. Indeed, lets light a fire under bike sharing. It would be a path taken by a few innovative cities but not by most.

      3. My 39 route is often empty or nearly so when it goes past me but that is the nature of route tails.

        No, it’s the nature of tails of routes that end in residential neighborhoods. I can think of lots of services — the 7, 8, 16, 43, 44, 48, 49, 358 (and Link, of course) — that have strong ridership throughout the whole route.

        There are some routes (e.g. the 1) that peter out in the middle of nowhere because there’s nowhere else to go. But there are other routes (e.g. 10, 12, 26, 70-series) which could be restructured to have strong anchors at both ends.

        Again, not saying that’s an option everywhere, but it’s definitely worth considering. The best buses have a destination at both ends.

      4. um… the 39 ends in a commercial district that if it were more frequent “might” attract people to ride it. I’m hoping the proposed 50 route that would replace the 39/34 routing will be sufficiently regular and frequent that I can get to Link or MLK/Othello without having to wait sometimes 50 minutes to catch a bus.

      5. The 39’s problem is that it’s just not frequent enough to be useful. Ideally, the Seward Park area would be served by a frequent shuttle offering a connection to Othello and Columbia City stations for every Link train. However, the ridership demand would be too low to match the capacity of such a route and switching to smaller buses doesn’t really save much because you still have to pay the driver.

        The #50 won’t really help much because it’s still a 30-minute-headway route, and the east-west connection, while quite a bit better than the current system, is still pretty circuitous. The only reason it’s there is to stitch to shuttle routes together because a single longer route is more efficient than two shorter routes in terms of layover time.

      6. The 39 serves more than two Link stations. Don’t forget SODO, and the rest of the CBD. That’s why I don’t see utility in the proposed 50. The key to east-west connectivity is getting more West Seattle routes to serve 4th Ave S, or the Busway, keep the 124 on 4th Ave S, and also move the 132 and the new 131 to 4th Ave S, joining the 39 and 106.

        Also, I wish more Link stations had route schedules for connecting Metro buses. Not knowing when the next 39 is coming, but knowing the headway is a half hour, keeps me from even considering waiting for it, when I could walk to the Seward Park faster.

      7. One thing I would do to restructure the 39, though, is terminate it at Seward Park, and roll the saved service hours into better frequency.

        I’ll be interested to see if anyone actually rides it beyond Seward Park.

    2. The point we are making is more about the overall intent of the system restructure, not every specific element of the plan.

      1. Although I benefit from a so-called ‘tail’ route (71), I nevertheless hope there could be a more efficient way to get from point A to point B. Long articulated buses do not belong in quiet residential neighborhoods, and the emptier they are the more rattling noise they make….

  4. Great map. I wish they metro published these “subway map” like designs for buses downtown. I think it would remove some of the fear of bus transit that exists.

    Don’t you feel more comfortable taking transit that runs on rails (at least you can see where they go) vs. a bus when you’re in a new city on vacation, etc.?

    1. I agree re rails, but trolley bus wires are good enough for me, too. If nothing else, it means you’ll be able to find your way home by retracing the wires. :)

    2. Actually buses have some advantages for this. Surface-running buses (and streetcars) drop you off right on the street, so you don’t have to reorient yourself once you’re on the surface. Even in the cities I know (Seattle and Chicago) I often have to look around to figure out what street I’m on and what direction I’m facing after exiting an unfamiliar bus-tunnel or L station. Getting off of a bus at the curb it’s obvious.

      (A Chicago-specific variation on this is that the buses never turn, and the L has a bunch of stations with duplicative names…)

  5. There probably does need to be two advocacy groups: one promoting an idealized vision, the other reflecting current riders’ perceptions/concerns. STB writers are passionate because we’ve seen how much more satisfied Portlanders/San Franciscans/Chicagoans are with their neighborhood bus service than Seattlites are. They like the gridded crosstown routes; they love the 20-minute minimum headways (30-minute night owl). They would not trade it for 30-minute routes to downtown, and an hour to get from Ballard to Capitol Hill, or from Lake City to Aurora. Almost every city that has rail transit is so satisfied with it that they’re expanding it or adding lines. New Yorkers take it for granted that they can go to Brooklyn or Jersey or Long Island at any time without a car, and that allows the majority of them to forego cars. All this would be possible in Seattle if we refocus the transit system and give it more resources.

    But people who haven’t seen it don’t believe it, and they’re afraid to lose their one-seat ride lifeline. And even some people who move from those cities think “it can’t happen in Seattle”, because we’re too low-density or too poor or too car-happy. And they are actual riders, with actual origin/destination needs. Somebody needs to be their voice, and the visionaries are probably not able to, so it has to be somebody else. (But the visionaries are also riders, and have just as much right to say what kind of transit system they want.)

    I attended one TRU meeting. My feelings are mixed. Their stated principles do recognize the ultimate need for rail and improving route efficiency. They don’t prioritize it as much as some of us would like, but it’s not all “Save route 42!” and “Save our valley!” and “Don’t cut Mount Baker/Lakeside Ave/Harbor Ave.” It’s more in between. One thing they’re focusing on is interviewing riders and residents to get a set of data on what people think about Metro’s service. They’re also emphasizing the bus-dependent (“workers and poor people”, in their own words) over choice riders. They have some innovative ideas, like collecting complaints/suggestions and sending the top 10 to Metro executives every three months (“Fix this bus stop.”), and creating a forum for drivers to offer their suggestions on improving service. (They believe that management isn’t listening to driver’s suggestions and that many drivers think it’s futile to offer them, but that a third-party forum could generate publicity for the suggestions and force the executives to notice.) These are just ideas for projects rather than commitments, but it shows they’re thinking creatively.

  6. ACRS’ sign has finally been updated with a working phone number. Call it, and voice your support for eliminating the 42.


  7. This is classic Spock vs Captain Kirk. The wonks are Spock. You can’t beat em’ at logic, but they make horrible leaders, and are unfit to make the final decision, because they lack the ability to see a problem from all angles. There thinking is very one-dimensional. They lack the ability to look at an issue in a comprehensive way. Most posters here fit into the Spock category.

    I am more the Captain Kirk type.

  8. I think there’s a way that focusing on ridership and focusing on riders can be a little different. By analogy, think of the difference between a website’s hit count and a website’s unique visitor count. By example, think of Link. You could imagine the first Link line being a near-direct replacement for an existing popular bus route through the Rainier Valley, perhaps the 7. I’ve heard it claimed that such a route would have higher ridership than Link does today; I cannot evaluate this claim in a meaningful way, but let’s suppose it’s true. Even with its higher ridership, it would probably serve a smaller number of unique riders over time than the actual route, because the actual route serves the stadiums and the airport. A larger number of people can say, “I’ve used the train!”

    One claim is that this matters politically. That the additional rides you add to the system by adding frequency on core routes are less likely to translate into political support for the system than the rides you gain by maintaining all-day service over a wide geographical area. Another claim is that it serves general mobility better. That the riders you can gain by improving core service already have good transit options; they may not ride transit if they have other, better options, but their mobility needs are, in any case, reasonably well taken care of. I’m not sure I want to take sides in the argument over whether these claims are true, but they’re at least plausible. It’s neither illogical nor fatuous (or whatever) to make them just because “riders” are the first six letters of “ridership”.

    1. “Even with its higher ridership, it would probably serve a smaller number of unique riders over time than the actual route”

      Not. Even. Close. Link’s alignment down MLK misses almost every population center in the R.V. There were plausible reasons not to build down Rainier (local opposition and limited ROW not least among them), but it would have head far more riders, whether unique or otherwise (setting aside the impossibility of actually measuring that).

      “but their mobility needs are, in any case, reasonably well taken care of.”

      No-one who has ever spent 40 minutes to get from Downtown to the U-District on a crush-loaded 71 (local at 7PM) would make that argument. Many riders in the U-District who could take the 7x’s to downtown don’t take them, because they’re almost always standing room only, and in the early evenings they’re frequently crush-loaded and they crawl down Eastlake.

      If those buses ran every five minutes, and the evening/Sunday pattern were fixed to be full-time express (with a full-time 70 local on Eastlake), the U District-Downtown corridor could draw considerably more riders. If fact, one other first parts of the restructure proposal to die (and is conclusively dead at this point) is the 63 idea. Riders objected to transferring to very crowded buses in the U-District, and frankly, until Metro fixes the U-District (or North Link opens, whichever comes first), I can’t blame them.

      Similar things go for the 120 (particularly with the extension to Westwood) and 358. Those routes could fill up buses at 10 minute weekday headways (in the PM, the 358 is almost there now). Why should we drive empty buses around Alki and Shilshole and the Rainier Valley in the service of addled notions of equity and popular support, when people in Delridge and Aurora and the U-District are ready and waiting for the bus?

      No, this is not some idea I dreamed up in a bar one night. It’s a matter of empirical fact that frequent, simple, direct and reliable transit routes that connect ridership centers draw riders like a magnet, which our current network, on the whole, does not. Almost every post I have ever written for STB provides factual evidence to back this up.

      1. I think almost everyone I know in Seattle has used Link at some point. That would not be the case if it didn’t go to the airport and stadiums. My social network isn’t a representative sample of Seattle — I could be wrong about unique riders… and the politics of transit are pretty complicated… anyway…

        Guess what, you’re totally right!

        I actually agree with restructuring the network around ridership. And you just provided great examples of why people in core service areas aren’t currently well-served. Underservice and boarding delays on the 358, and generally all over the U District, are two reasons I would have cited as to why I don’t think the mobility claim is true, were I to have entered arguments about these claims. Anyway, the reason you’re right isn’t that the mobility claim is logically incoherent, but because the facts point to serious impediments to basic mobility in core parts of the network.

      2. I can definitely understand why people would find the 63->71/72/73 connection unacceptable. Even for southbound trips, service that’s supposed to run every 10 minutes is often bunched into two buses back-to-back every 20. And even if a bus does come promptly, it might be overcrowded and pass you up. For northbound trips, timing a 71/72/73 trip to meet an hourly 63 bus would be virtually impossible.
        I have learned through experience never to trust a 71/72/73 bus to connect to an infrequent service without allowing lots of time because there’s just too many unpredictable variables that affect how long the trip will take. Even if the bus gets to use the I-5 express lanes, just the time it takes to get from one end of the downtown tunnel to the other is a huge crapshoot – once, when I was dumb enough to take a 71/72/73 home from a Meriner’s game, I watched the bus spend a full 30 minutes to get from the International District station to Convention Place station. I never made that mistake again.

        Realistically, I don’t see things getting significantly better in that area until the Link extension opens, as it doesn’t make sense to do a radical service restructuring in that area now, only to do it all over again in just a few years, and no budget-neutral service restructuring can ever produce as good an experience as Link will be able to anyway. When Link finally does expand to the U-district, things will get much better. In the meantime, all I can do is hope that for the 5 years between when the UW station opens and Brooklyn station opens, we route the buses to funnel people going downtown onto Link, not onto a miserable 71/72/73 series.

      3. “Realistically, I don’t see things getting significantly better in that area until the Link extension opens”

        The U-District will most likely be up for restructure in 2013 with the opening of RapidRide, along with (potentially) almost all of North Seattle. Aside from Capitol Hill, U-Link will primarily make life better for UW students, and anyone else bound just for the university, but the real payoff for everyone else doesn’t come until North Link opens, because U-Link’s terminal station is a mile from where all the action is in the U-District.

        Contrary to some opinions in the comments on STB, there is no practical way to terminate lots of buses that currently run on the west side of the UW at Husky station, because by the time the bus has fought its way through campus traffic and the Montlake triangle, and the rider has transferred, it would be quicker if the bus had just driven nonstop down Eastlake. Because of this, the NE Seattle bus network shouldn’t change that much with U-Link, so work done to restructure NE Seattle in 2013 will last a long time; I would expect Capitol Hill to change more withe U-Link than the U-District.

        This is one of the reasons it’s important to get the Ballard-West Seattle restructure right, because it sets a precedent for future RapidRide and Link restructures.

      4. All very up in the air and unofficial, but possibly the 26 might join the proposed all-day 28X on Aurora and follow the alignment of the 26X, with the 16 running on Dexter to Fremont, east on 35th and north on Stone Way to join its current alignment at Bridge Way. Not sure why this would require a change to the proposed 30/31/32 revisions.

  9. I find that taking the 66 from downtown to the U-District is a much better alternative than any of the 70x-routes, especially on Sundays and after events at the stadium. It skirts the U-District without getting bogged down in the Ave traffic and has the same consistent routing no matter what the day/time. Too bad it is not here to stay.

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