Photo by zargoman

This is an open thread.

64 Replies to “News Roundup: Causing Trouble”

      1. Actually, I’ve lived in Kennewick off and on since 1993.

        Nobody would suggest that I don’t consider transportation issues.

        The real problem in the Tri-Cities is more of a classist entitlement issue. “Everybody” wants Dial-a-Ride for the disabled and “elderly”, but doesn’t care or want fixed-route bus service. The ratio of transit-dependent riders to choice riders would embarrass any other transit district.

        Brian Bradford
        Kennewick, WA

  1. There was a Planet Money podcast last week about how much economists hate how cities deal with taxis. A NYC taxi medallion recently sold for $1M. This is because the number of taxis has only increased once since the medallion system started. Obviously demand has increased more than supply.

    Having a low fixed number of taxis not only makes taxis hard to find – they also keep them away from anywhere except very high traffic areas (hotels, busy roads, airports).

    The real answer is to license taxis like we license any other profession – make sure they can pass a test, and make sure their equipment passes inspection.

    1. How about the monopoly granted at Sea-Tac? Why not just allow any cab who is licensed to pick up fares?

      1. Yeah, I hate that too. The other day I was trying to find a taxi downtown – it was a bit of an emergency. But the two cabs I could find in 10 minutes of trying wouldn’t pick me up because they could only go to the airport.

        That generates a whole lot of 2-way trips for 1-way rides.

      2. I am happy to take bus transit from SeaTac to Kent East Hill, but only because it costs $30 plus tip each way to get me the nine miles back and forth (and Shuttle Express charges $38 dollars).

        Recently I flew to Denver on Southwest for around $200 round trip. A $70 cab cost would be 35% of my total trip cost.

        Or looked at another way, it costs me $7 per mile to go from Kent to Seatac at as speed of 30 mph. And it costs me 16 cents per mile to go 1200 miles at a speed of 500 mph!!

      3. Explain where you got $7 per mile from? Posted rates are $2.50 + $2.50 per mile. Add tip and the only way the cost adds up to $7 per mile is if the trip is very short (< 1 mile long).

      4. They must have been BS’ing you, Matt. The SeaTac monopoly only applies to trips from the airport.

      5. Adam: Some, but not all.

        Zed is right; the restriction would be on picking up passengers at the airport, not dropping them off. The drivers were just trying to avoid the reverse dead-head.

        However, the restriction only applies to cabs hailed from the street; if it’s arranged by phone, anyone can pick you up anywhere.

      6. Eh, Seatle taxis are cheaper than NYC and certainly Cork. To me, they seem to be a steal. I paid 5 euro for just base fare. 4.5 mile journey to airport was 20+ euro (off-peak). Arguably, cabis charge very little in Seattle and States in general.

      7. @fesler

        Actually, according to Taxi Fare Finder they are nearly the same (though Seattle is increasing its fares).

        Take a common route, Airport to center of downtown.

        NYC: $50.16 going 16 miles
        Seattle: $41.31 going 13.7 miles

    2. Seattle taxis are and have always been ludicrously high priced.

      Yet for much of the region, the would serve as a bridge between fully personal transit (cars) and mass transit.

      I think taxis should be subsidized like buses and rail if they are used during commuter hours and carry multiple passengers. Even with the high rates, a taxi carrying 4 people long the same route as many trunk lines is still competitive compared to the fully subsized mass transit alternative.

      1. It’s a terrible idea to subsidize them. You subsidize things you want more of – and we actively limit the number of taxis we have on our streets.

        What would be a good idea is to control taxi numbers based on rates. License them (as I said before), then set rates at a level that attract enough taxis. For our current number of taxis, that would mean dropping rates.

      2. I don’t know much about the economics of taxi rates, so I may have this wrong in the general or specific case… but I’ve heard that taxi drivers in some cities have to work rather long days to make a living wage, after expenses. If we drop rates, doesn’t that lengthen the work day, which impacts general road safety, not to mention quality of life for drivers?

        Speaking to my ignorance about taxi rates, I don’t know whether government control of rates keeps rates high, low, or just consistent. I’m predisposed to think that the government shouldn’t be controlling numbers of taxis or the rates they charge, but instead enforcing license/safety regulations and establishing standard rate display signage — the market should be able to “set” supply levels and prices, that’s what the market is good at. But I am wading into unfamiliar waters, there could be consequences I don’t know about.

      3. It’s generally the taxi companies that make most of the profit, not the drivers. So I’m not sure there’s a great correlation between rates and overtime. But we should regulate overtime anyway (if we don’t already).

        I think the issue with not setting rates is that the consumer suffers. If I have a meeting across town, I don’t want to have to negotiate a fair rate with the taxi driver, or shop around. I want to know I can get in and go, and know what the rate is.

      4. One interesting thing about taxis is that the price per person goes way down when multiple people ride together and, in many cases, some simple ridesharing can bring the cost down considerably. One place where this could be particularly useful is for trips home from the airport, especially in car-dependent cities where public transportation is sorely lacking.

        A few times, while traveling from an airport in other cities which lacked decent public transit, I’ve felt the temptation to walk up to the taxi line and ask around to see if anybody else is going to the same area I am who would be willing to share a ride and split the cost. Each time, I chickened out out of fear of looking weird, since I’ve never heard of any instances of anybody actually doing this.

        However, the idea of finding *one* person to share a taxi ride with for airport trips still seems quite intriguing – back of the envelope calculations suggest it would bring the cost down to about what a shared-van-ride service like Shuttle Express would charge, but would result in much better service for your money, by avoiding an hour-long wait at the airport, plus another hour of zig-zagging.

        I’m curious if anyone’s ever tried this?

      5. Matt: Since when do we want fewer taxis? As has been said elsewhere, I think the current limits on taxis are ridiculous.

      6. I don’t know whether government control of rates keeps rates high, low, or just consistent.

        The intent is to keep rates consistent, not over time, but between operators. The idea is that, thanks to rate controls, you can hail any cab on the street and know that the rate will be the same, no matter who stops. I think this is very important – you NEED price predictability for this.

        Since the supply of taxis is artificially limited, it would normally drive rates way up. The city sets the rate to try and avoid that – whether the pricing is correct is impossible to tell. It’s still pretty high.

        The market should be able to “set” supply levels and prices, that’s what the market is good at.

        If we removed the limit on the number of taxis, we could let the market set the rates. However, we’d have to maintain consistency. We could keep the same rules we have now (i.e. all taxis must have the same rate), but transfer the power to set the rate from the City Council to a board of taxi license holders. It seems like the best of both worlds, to me.

        Since when do we want fewer taxis? As has been said elsewhere, I think the current limits on taxis are ridiculous.

        The current limits on taxis are strongly supported by the taxi owners. Naturally, they don’t want any more competition, and they’re pretty much the only ones advocating on this issue, ever.

        Their main argument is that in the off-peak times, there are too many empty taxis right now. In the past, the taxi owners have supported the idea of adding new “peak-time only” taxi licenses, but the City Council hasn’t gone along with that idea, and I can’t blame them.

        I say just put some more licenses out there. If all the added cars mean some taxi owners start taking vehicles out of service after rush-hour, as opposed to running nearly the whole fleet all night, so be it. That’s the free market at work.

      7. [Aleks] My point was that before we start subsidizing taxi companies, we should stop limiting the number of taxis. I actually would like many more taxis. And tuk-tuks. Some 4-stroke, natural gas, removable top tuk-tuks would be awesome for pedestrian zones.

      1. Licencing gives the city a way to enforce safety and service standards. The thought of a modern-day Ted Bundy starting his own taxi company (or more to the point, driving one himself) is enough to justify it….

  2. I found out this week that I’m moving to Woodinville sometime in the next couple months and will have to change my routine for commuting to work in Bellevue. (Farewell, 556 and your awkward peak-only schedule!) Can folks familiar with Brickyard P&R weigh in on roughly what time that place fills up on weekday mornings? I want to make sure I plan to arrive there with a guarantee that parking spots will still be open, without having to leave home before 6am.


    1. Since the expansion I don’t think filling up is an issue anymore. But I don’t have direct experience to back this up.

    2. When I use the bus I catch it at 6 AM in the morning, ans there are plenty of spots at that time. Not certain about later in the morning.

      1. Are there spots open when you return? If so it’s a pretty darn good bet they were empty all day.

  3. Maybe I’m just really late, but I was recently down at 4th and Jackson (at that picture) and saw the bus lanes there. I believe those are new aren’t they? Does anyone know where else they are planning on adding bus lanes?

  4. Metro should either have continued to block the “Buy American” ads (issue ads are issue ads) or it needs to reverse its decision on the “Israel war crimes” ads.

    Putting government in the position of deciding what to allow or not allow based on level of perceived “inflammatory nature” is a dangerous path to go down.

    1. What’s political about buy american ads?

      I see a lot of “buy cat food” “buy pepsi” and “buy tickets to hawaii” ads around, are those political?

      1. I don’t think so… If there was an ad for “visit tahiti” paid for by the French Polynesians, you wouldn’t think that was political.

      2. (1) What if the ad said “buy nothing”? Would that be political?

        (2) We actually have laws mandating “buy American” for certain government activities. In a way, isn’t this an endorsement of that policy?

        (3) As a general rule, you have to ask yourself, what does the ad buyer expect to get out of their money?

        If it’s an ad for “buy Pepsi”, well, you know that Pepsi just wants to earn more money.

        If it’s an ad for “buy milk”, well, probably the milk companies got together and decided they wanted to earn more money.

        But by the time you get to “Buy American”, you’re no longer in a safe microeconomic bubble. Clearly, the buyer of the ad does not have a direct financial stake in your buying American — they want something else.

      3. Buy American is political because America isn’t a product. Also consider this statement made by the founder of the organization paying for the ads: “We’re not political, we’re a nonprofit organization trying to help our country.” An organization trying to help our country?! That sounds incredibly political to me. Isn’t that what most, if not all, political organizations try to do? Buying American is the overt promotion of an ideology that locally made products are good to buy. That is a political message that is up for debate and in this case a political message that is not tied into a particular product.

        However, as Andrew Smith’s tahiti example and the above analysis highlight, the Metro ad policy is stupid because there is no such thing as an apolitical ad. A Chevy or Ford commercial that promotes a similar buy American ideology would be promoting a product, but also a political message of buy American. The implication of this is that all ads promote a political ideology because all economic decisions have a political and social context.

        Of course, even knowing that, why shouldn’t Metro simply run ads that it deems are beneficial for the organization to run? Because, in theory, a public agency is not supposed to be a political tool for those in power. Sadly this reality creates a quagmire were people believe both that Metro should be non-political, but only when it is there political belief being threatened, when it would be better for
        Metro if its ad policy to be completely removed from a public complaint process. Thus, Metro becomes a political tool in the name of being non-political.

    2. I think it’s sort of uncomfortable for government to be in this position, but let’s be clear that the government is under no obligation to be a mouthpiece for any particular organization. For better or worse, the transit agency’s motivation is basically the same as if it were a private company: to make some money while offending as few people as possible. I don’t think we should necessarily expect any more consistency or principle behind KC Metro’s decisions than we would from a private company.

      1. People are blaming Metro, instead of the real culprits behind the policy flip-flop: the county council (and Pete von Reichbauer, in particular).

      2. As usual, all problems with Metro are traceable to the fact that the county has direct veto power. :P

  5. Every time I use my Bank of America card in an orca machine, I get harassing calls from BoA and they shut down my card.

    BECU has no problem with this.

    Weird, right?

    1. Harassing calls? Do they think it’s stolen, or are they trying to sell you a car?

      Drop BofA completely and switch to Verity. They pay any ATM charges if you use your card more than a dozen times a month, making them more useful than any big bank. Plus they pay interest on your checking account. (BECU’s good too, but Verity’s awesome)

      1. I’ve already switched to BECU because they had a huskies branded card (yes I am that easy)

        Yes, they thought it was stolen.

      2. Lovely attitude, that. “No customer of ours would be caught dead riding a train or a bus, so clearly your card was stolen.”

      3. It may be because the machines don’t ask for a PIN number. I was surprised when I bought something from the Apple store and they didn’t ask for a signature or a PIN. I even asked the guy, “Don’t you need a signature?” and he said no. Either they have some alternate verification electronics or they just eat the cost if the transaction is bad. Anyway, that might possibly be related to why BofA is suspicious of the TVMs.

        Go BECU. I switched to them 20 years ago.

      4. I got that too the last time I bought an orca card..never when reloading it on their website though. Glad to know its not just me…odd.

  6. “Stadium Place’s 25-story South Tower would be divided into two- to four-story “boxes,” stacked on top of one another — but not directly.

    They wouldn’t line up. Some boxes would overhang or pull back from others. They would be positioned at different angles, as if a small child had done the stacking.”

    It’s already been said in the Times article’s comments, but it bears repeating; that is really ugly.

      1. I actually kind of like it. There’s only so much you can do within the cost constraints of private construction. If it were a public building then sure, South African marble all around := The offsets break up an otherwise boring box and have other real “form” advantages as well for people living in the building.

      2. It’s all right if there’s only one of it. I prefer art deco or traditional in general, but a few interesting modern buildings here and there are OK.

    1. Worse, I wonder if the state will get any of the high speed passenger money it was granted.

  7. My nomination for Save of the Year goes to Rebecca Saldana, who singlehandedly rescued the 42 supporters’ arguments at the hearing Wednesday morning from being merely self-indulgent demanding.

    She pointed out how unreliable the 8 is, and suggested that the 42 take over its path from Mt Baker south.

    1. The only reason the 42 is more reliable than the 8 along MLK is because nobody rides it. An empty bus has a lot less opportunity for delay than a full bus that’s constantly stopping to load and unload passengers.

      1. All of the pro-42 speakers recognized the uselessness of the hourly 42. They referred to pre-2009 data.

        Do you remember whether the 42 was reliable pre-2009?

    2. If the 8 south is killed, the north half would probably go back to it’s old routing, turning back at capitol hill. That would really suck for riders on the east side of the CD.

      1. I suspect the E/W portion of the 8 will continue to serve 23rd & John. Not sure if it would be turned in that area or continue down MLK to Mt Baker TC.

        If it is split off from the N/S portion of the route entirely it makes conversion to an ETB much easier and more likely. The downside is that really orphans the segment from Madison Valley to Mt. Baker TC. However ridership on this segment is fairly marginal. 23rd is a much stronger corridor and is likely to get further investments in infrastructure and service hours.

        One problem splitting off the 8 South of Mt. Baker TC and making it part of the 42 is the service hours will have to come from somewhere. Perhaps killing the MLK segment of the 8 through the CD would free the necessary service hours.

        Another alternative would be to attach the segment of the 8 South of Mt. Baker TC to the 48 like the 48 routing prior to Link. Of course that doesn’t do much for reliability either for the current 48 or for the southernmost segment of the 8.

      2. It would make more sense to transfer the Mt Baker – Rainier Beach segment to the 48, as it was before they extended the 8. That would match high-ridership 23rd with high-ridership south MLK. As for the 42, do we really believe it won’t be axed this time? The issue with the 8 is the steeper grade west of MLK between Spring and Madison: that’s the part that would most lose out if north MLK were eliminated.

    1. …produced by a bunch of gloriously consistent Libertarians who complain about the 17 times the train has to stop between LAX and downtown (a nearly 17-mile trip) and also complain about the inconvenience caused because the train won’t stop “every 2 blocks” like the bus.

      They also keep calling LAX-Burbank “17 miles” when it’s 26 miles on the straightest possible roads. (You know how long that can take in L.A. traffic?)

  8. For the density buffs: Seattle Planning Commission just released a great study about affordability. Start with the Stranger’s take on it before diving into all 10.8Mb.

    I think they could have taken a stronger stance on upzoning, but overall it’s a really good report.

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