Proof-of-Payment sign for Link by Oran

As Bruce wrote yesterday Metro will be holding its first public meeting related to elimination of the Ride Free Area (RFA) this Thursday from 4:00 -6:30 at Union Station.

Operational Problems of the DSTT

We have written fairly extensively on this operational impacts of this change. A study done by Metro shows that the operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) would see significant and unacceptable negative speed and reliability impacts from elimination of the RFA. The report concluded that none of the operational improvements suggested can fully close the gap between the current peak usage and the reduced peak capacity.

Additional, travel time data I obtained from Metro shows that travel time speed and reliability in the tunnel has progressively deteriorated since it reopened for joint operation with Link in 2007. This trend has been most prevalent in PM peak hours, which will also be the most negatively impacted by a pay-as-you-enter fare policy. My purely personal experience indicates that speed and reliability have further deteriorated since this data was collected in Spring 2010.

The existing speed and reliability in the DSTT, in my opinion, is already too poor, and further deterioration is completely unacceptable for riders and is a waste of Metro and Sound Transit resources.

Why a Proof-Of-Payment System

The core of the problem with elimination of RFA for DSTT operations is fare payment and multi-door boarding. Elimination of the RFA and replacement with a pay-as-you-board fare system, the presumptive system Metro is switching to, will introduce additional boarding delays caused by payment of fares with the driver. Additionally, since riders will pay when boarding, they will only be able to board at the front door, compounding delays. Unlike surface routes, DSTT routes are not through routed, so enforcing a boarding through the front door, leave through the rear door system will have minimal time savings since most buses are either filling or emptying, not a mixture of both.

In my opinion the only way to maintain these two key operational benefits of the RFA is through the extensions of the Proof-of-Payment (POP) system already used on Link to DSTT buses as well. Outside the DSTT bus routes would use a standard pay-as-you-enter fare system. A more ambitious system could extend the POP zone to corridors where DSTT buses run frequently like I-90, University Way, Northgate TC, SODO Busway, or SR-520, much in the way RapidRide uses POP.

For inbound trips towards the DSTT riders would pay with the driver as they do now, except they would be required to keep proof of payment if they intent to ride into the tunnel. For outbound trips, riders would either need to purchases a ticket at a ticket vending machine on a DSTT mezzanine or tap their ORCA card before proceeding to the station platform. Anywhere on the platform, leaving the platform or on buses or trains in the tunnel, riders would be required to show proof-of-payment to fare inspectors if asked.

Difficulties and Possible Solutions

However this change doesn’t come free. There are some capital and labor costs, as well as policy and technical implication that would need to be overcome. I don’t believe any of these difficulties are fatal flaws.

Metro would need to purchase a number of ticket vending machines (TVMs) and hire fare inspectors. As Oran wrote previously, Community Transit used repurposed parking meter TVMs at a cost of $9,000-$13,000 each for Swift. My back of the envelope estimate is that Metro would need at least 25 TVMs or $200,000 – $325,000 dollars using same unit cost assumptions. Some of the additional labor cost could possibility be offset by switching some or all of the DSTT security personnel, who currently just stand around the station platform, into fare inspectors as well as security personnel. Some scale of efficiency might also be possible by combining fare inspection operations for Link with buses.

Another problem is that Metro currently has an off peak fare level and two different peak period fare levels in the DSTT, $2.25 base fare, $2.50 for buses that don’t leave Seattle, and $3.00 for buses that do. Sound Transit charges $2.50 for the 550 at all times. DSTT bus fares would need to be harmonized if they are to be effectively enforced. If they are not it complicates ORCA payments and makes it hard to enforce the higher fare, which could only be effectively enforced while on the bus. Because Link fares are enforced outside of the DSTT, they are still enforceable. I would note however that this is part of a boarder issue of fare unification that I think most people agree needs to be more systematically addressed, so perhaps it’s good to have this discussion now.

The final problem is how the ORCA system should work. How does Metro and Sound Transit know how to divide revenue? How does ORCA correctly charge riders? A technical solution might be to install ORCA card readers on the back door of buses and require riders to tap as they exit, or pay the maximum tunnel fare of $3.00.

A less technical solution that could could also address the fare unification issue mentioned above is to simply charge a uniform fare or all DSTT transit service of $2.75. This is the maximum fare value of a trip on Link, $.25 cents more that Sound Transit’s 550 current fare, between Metro’s two peak period fare rates of $2.50 and $3.00, and $0.50 cents above Metro’s base off-peak fare. If a riders only travels within the DSTT they would be charged a DSTT only fare, possibly Link’s current $2.00 dollar minimum or perhaps even less. Fare distribution between Metro and ST could then be handled through use of ridership data.

92 Replies to “DSTT Should Use a Proof-Of-Payment Fare System”

  1. This is all true, but if operations are already unacceptable restoring the status quo is not enough. Sending peak-only buses into the tunnel is madness, adding additional load to the system at the time it’s least able to absorb it.

    If you must maintain the proportion of Metro and ST trips, then put the 124, 21, or similar route in the tunnel.

    1. What about putting Rapid Ride routes down there, since they’re already POP? Is it that the buses themselves can’t run in the tunnel because they’re not electric-capable?

      1. For north end buses that aren’t coming from I-5 the DSTT entrance is out of the way. As for the West Seattle I’m not entirely sure how RapidRide will be entering downtown in the medium to long term.

  2. I like the idea of POP when leaving the DSTT on a bus. The biggest issue, like you mentioned, is the difference in the fares between Metro and ST. Metro is making things hard on them selfs by having different adult fares during the week. If they have a “set” adult fare of $2.75 just like Link, they will streamline internal costs.

  3. Add new options to the existing TVMs and purchase a few more, perhaps. I don’t think we need to buy purpose-built TVMs for buses that will only be in the tunnel for another few years.

    I don’t think the *amount* of fare is an issue. If you’re being checked during a peak time, you need a peak ticket. Sure, some people will buy bottom-value Link fares and get on a bus, but if they’re colored differently the driver can see that.

    1. The issue is an ST TVM cost more than a bus and for the same money could buy about 75 of those parking meters. Using the parking meters (like CT and the S.L.U.T brilliantly did) would save $$$ and could be reused as…parking meters!

      1. Buying a couple more a reprogramming the existing ones would probably be cheaper and easier than installing an entirely new system of TVMs in the tunnel that would only be in use for a few years. Plus it would dramatically reduce confusion about which TVM to use.

      2. If buses get kicked out of the tunnel in 2016, which I doubt, the TVM could be reused at high ridership stops to reduce the number of cash payments and speed up boarding.

    2. I think the ST TVM’s have a User Interface that is too complex for this “simple” transaction. I like the idea of using the simple parking style kiosk for a TVM for the buses. But I think the tickets they dispense should cost more than a standard ORCA based fare and the tickets should not be transferable to SoundTransit.

      If you want a cheaper fare, or a interagency transfer, get an ORCA card. The cash fare also needs to be higher than using ORCA.

  4. Install fare gates and force everything to have the same fare (including Link*). DSTT has sufficient room for the infrastructure and fare gates are used in nearly every other city in the world that has a serious piece of transit infrastructure similar to our own DSTT. Also Once the RFA is done, even a 1-block trip will cost the same as a 10-mile trip, so we don’t need 257 different fare combinations to make everyone happy. As for dividing revenue, count the number of people using each service (Link, ST550, M75, M301, etc), and divide as such. Plus, fare evasion would be 0% with no fare inspectors needed and it could help keeping riffraff out of the Tunnel.

    This really isn’t that complicated and it’s astonishing that it has to be so.

    *the distance-based fare thing has got to go.

    1. what if you are getting off of one bus onto another? (or off Link onto a bus (or vice versa) … fare gates wouldn’t work in those cases

      1. So some people get free transfers. Whatever. Free transfers are good policy anyway.

    2. Sorry, but I’m going to want to see some evidence backing up the “fare evasion will be 0%” assertion. Also, it would be interesting to see how much of a yearly loss Metro suffers from evasion compared to the full costs of installing a fare barrier system. In Vancouver, B.C., Translink reports a $6 million yearly loss from fare evasion. They have also pegged the cost of installing fare barriers (turnstyle type) at $100 million. This would only cover one or two of the existing three “skytrain” lines, and would extend the current crowding on the stairs and escalators all the way to the station entrance. A small price to pay in terms of expense and inconvenience to teach those evil scofflaws a lesson (until they learn to jump those $100 million turnstyles, that is).

      1. of course they don’t have the problem of the bus + train tunnel … much easier when you have a single segregated ROW system where all entry points can be fare-controlled via turnstiles or the like.

        Our problem, really, is the buses that originate on streets … and even Link will create some problems due to how the MLK stations are on the street level (you can’t really use turnstiles where people can just walk around them (climb a fence / walk on the track)

      2. Better fare evasion doesn’t just force some to pay that otherwise wouldn’t (not all, because some would simply not ride), it also helps combat the stereotype that buses are full of free-riding bums & hoodlums. Not sure how many new paying riders you’d get, as a result.

    3. They should install turnstiles in the highest used underground/elevated stations in the system. That way, the vast majority of trips would have to pass through turnstiles, but they wouldn’t have to go through the headache of trying to install turnstiles on at-grade stations and they could eliminate fare inspections. But I don’t know if that will ever actually happen.

  5. another problem with the DSTT is the way it works with having designated Bus Bays. If a bus that is stopping in the first bay is in the tunnel in front of other buses it backs everything up.

    There needs to be a better way to get buses into the tunnel … especially for originating buses. as for those terminating in the DSTT … they should ALWAYS stop at the farthest place possible in the stations (they don’t all do that now)

      1. Even with the ADA rules, they could still probably make things more efficient by making every bus stop at the front bay. If there are two buses in a row, they both would stop and release passengers at the same time. The third, fourth, and subsequent buses (if applicable) would wait for the first two to finish, then pull forward and make their stops two at a time to comply with the ADA requirements.

        Alternatively, if they’re set on having multiple bays, they could make the buses that stop in the rear bays wait for nearby front-bay buses to pass them before entering the tunnel so that you never get into a situation where a front-bay bus is stuck waiting behind a back-bay bus at every stop for the whole length of the tunnel.

      2. Just curious–where is this requirement? It’s neither in sec. 209 (passenger loading zones and bus stops) nor sec. 810 (transportation facilities) of the ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities.

        …unless I missed it, which happens now and again.

        I’d like to update my references with this info.

      3. One of the problems with the bay setup now, is that everyone is “bunched” at the head-end of far-too-narrow platforms waiting for their bus.

  6. Good posting, and good comments above. Only additional comment: remedy shouldn’t wait ’til fall, on fare-payment and other beneficial measures, like dispatching buses from staging under organized control.

    For instance, letting inbound buses stop as far forward as possible. No reason an inbound 255 or 550 has to hold a platoon of 71’s, 41’s, 101’s, and 150’s in the Tunnel behind it.

    One base bulletin to drivers and some notice to the public- not even bus science, let alone rocket.

    After-7 DSTT bus boarding has worse problem than ordinary farebox delay: Because Tunnel is in the Ride Free Area, drivers often force passengers to leave by the front door too- turning an express bus into a 60′ van.

    I often carry a heavy backpack, so really resent a 60′ hike to get off the bus- especially after I’ve already paid the fare. Whatever money Metro might lose over somebody sneaking on the back door, lost operating time costs more.

    No extra payroll or technology here: just base bulletins to let deboarding Tunnel passengers use the back door. And while bulletin is being drafted, add a sentence making policy apply systemwide, for same reason as above.

    And scrape all those decals off the buses. Twice this last month, I’ve had ST Express drivers, one on the 550 and one on the 511, order me to the front door far outside the current Ride Free Area “because it’s after 7.”

    Does any other transit system in the country bug paid-up passengers like this? Or any other business of any kind?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Pittsbugh has a pay-as-you-exit policy for most bus routes leaving downtown before 7PM and a “Fare Free Zone” not dissimilar to Seattle. That’s the only one I’ve come across, but I have no idea whether it is as problematic as it is here. It worked ok for the 1 day I was using it.

    2. I first encountered ST’s “exit by front door only” last week. That’s probably because I normally exit the inbound 550 or 522 downtown, where the policy doesn’t apply, or the outbound 550 at Bellevue TC, where it’s pay on exit. But last week the southbound 511 would not let people exit at 145th or 45th because “the bus is still in revenue service” even though these people had paid on entry. I asked the driver about this, and she said she can’t open the back door until the bus reaches downtown (because the bus is “not in revenue service”: they’re not expecting people to enter downtown). I said Metro lets people leave by the back door when it’s pay-on-entry. She said she originally did this but she got repremanded for it.

      She also said something about that “because it’s the policy in Snohomish County, ST has to do the same in King County”. I didn’t understand that. Is the 511’s policy inherited from CT (Snohomish County)?

      So ST Express needs to switch to an all-door policy except when paying. If a scofflaw gets on by the back door, do what Metro does and tell the person to come up front and pay.

      1. the 511 is operated by community transit. I’ve been on 510s and 511s before and haven’t run into this. i will say that for commuter routes (community transit 4xx and 8xx) community transit has a policy of only letting people on in king county when people are getting off on inbound trips to Seattle or u district.

        also, if the conditions at either stop prohibit he driver from safely opening the rear door, such as no safe exit point, they must not open it. this policy also applies to metro.

      2. When was this? The 510 and 511 generally don’t stop at at least 45th when it uses the express lanes, for obvious reasons if you know the express lanes’ stop pattern.

      3. The 510 and 511 do not serve 45th or 145th during peak hours when going the peak direction Monday through Friday. at all other times, the 510, 511, and 512 (Sundays) service both stops.

  7. I think there are just too many buses trying to use the tunnel at peak hours. Until all the buses are removed from the tunnel I think the best solution is to install TVMs that would dispense tickets, but keep the tunnel buses “pay-as-you-leave”.

    Metro should also look into eliminating the PM peak fare. It’s confusing and a waste of other people’s time when the driver tells riders that they need to scrounge up another quarter for their fare. The AM peak fares could then be adjusted to make up the difference. Example: before 9am the one zone fare would be $2.75, two zone $3.50 and after 9am all buses cost $2.25.

    How would fare inspection work on a crowded Metro bus? Imagine fare inspectors trying to work their way through a packed 71 on the freeway heading to the U District. The inspectors could try to check fares as the passenger leave, but that would just delay the bus.

    1. If you make the system all pay as you enter, you’ll actually realize a travel time savings for all outbound trips over the current RFA because payments outside of downtown will no longer occur on packed buses. However if you do keep it pay as you leave then you’ll be able to enforce different fare, although the degree to which they can be “enforced” is the same as now… as in not really.

    2. $2.75 would be an expensive fare: 50c more than Metro’s off-peak, and more than Link from downtown to Rainier Beach! It would hit the poor especially hard, and as we’ve otherwise noted, most of the poor ride less than seven miles within Seattle.

      1. But they would only pay $2.25 for the return trip, no matter what time of day. So the cost of the round trip wouldn’t increase. Metro could also lengthen the transfer time window on peak fares to 3 or 4 hours to make up for the extra cost.

      2. You’re saying $2.75 only for trips from the DSTT and not systemwide? That would get people scrambling to find surface routes, and pressure to move routes to the surface.

    3. The London Underground does a limited version of this. While they still have an afternoon peak for pay-as-you-go fares, they sell two different daily Travelcards, in which the “off-peak” is good after 9:30 AM unrestricted.

  8. how about buying more Orca card readers to use on the way out, too, just like LINK?
    Then you could charge $3 for each trip and if you swipe your Orca on the way out, the fare is reduced based on distance. That would make it much more attractive to use the bus for short trips and encourages people to live close to work.

    1. Im not sure the system would work unless you put readers at every stop on every route that uses the tunnel. That’s a lot of readers!!!

  9. Of course this same system should be used on Second, Third, and Fourth, all of which could end up seeing far more congestion at peak times than the DSTT.
    One benefit of the RFA elimination, though, is that I’ve heard nearly unanimous annoyance from casual bus rider about the pay-as-you-leave policy. Almost no one understands it, and even I forget not to tap my ORCA when I get on the bus downtown sometimes, despite being a transit nerd.

  10. Or we could just use the really simple efficient system of pay as you leave.

    IMHO, from my observations Metro still has more simple efficiency techniques that need to be used, such as ensuring that platoons of busses are in the correct order. Busses northbound should be in platoons of no more than four buses, ordered by their stop of AABB, so the whole platoon can move in, service their riders, then move out as one. Southbound buses should be similarly setup in CCDD order. Quite frankly this isn’t rocket science, and I’ll bet anyone that I could get it going with two weeks of work.

    1. Using a POP system in the DSTT is actually better than the current system because it will result in travel time saving for outbound buses.

    2. In theory this is a good idea of aabb or ccdd. But due to traffic conditions and such this isn’t always possible. I’ve noticed going nb at ids bay b buses (those coming from i90) get priority over northbound buses (bay a) for some reason. Thats probably to keep the offramp clear.

      Also we need all the peak only services except the 102 (paired with 101 to south renton park and ride) to leave the tunnel. That should help a lot.

    3. I ride the 545 every day. In the morning, it’s effectively a single-door bus. 20 people pile on at the Capitol Hill stop, using a single door (because most drivers refuse to open the back door even though it’s PAYL). Then when we get to Overlake, 50 people pile off, except it takes forever because we all have to pay.

      PAYL only works well if you assume that [a] all transfers are downtown, [b] everyone is heading into downtown in the morning and away in the afternoon, and [c] drivers use all the doors! And none of those assumptions are even close to true.

      The truly simple and efficient thing to do is to make the tunnel a fare-paid zone, either with POP or with turnstiles. That’s how virtually every other enclosed transit facility in the world works, including every station in Seattle other than the 5 DSTT stations. In contrast, we are nearly unique in hanging onto PAYL. We should not be “innovating” when it comes to transit; we should be stealing other people’s good ideas.

  11. Using POP in the tunnel only for buses, but pay as you enter all the rest of the time seems awfully confusing. One of the advantages of the DSTT becoming paid for buses, in my opinion, is making the fare payment the same for buses. I’ve been riding 17 years and I still sometimes click my orca at the wrong time.

    Maybe the time has come to reduce the number of buses in the tunnel, that might speed up things.

    1. You would always pay upon entry. If you’re getting on the bus outside of downtown you would pay with the driver. If you’re getting on in the DSTT you would pay when you enter the station. The POP system just means that when you get on downtown you pay before you get to the bus. Everything else is the same.

      1. This particular scheme, as Adam proposes, has been in use for streetcars for over a century; in Boston and Philadelphia, for long periods, if you entered on the street, you paid at the farebox in the streetcar, but if you entered in a “tunnel station”, you paid while entering the tunnel station.

        It’s really straightforward to remember. Of course you have to have a flat fare for every vehicle using the tunnel station. Or have EVERYONE using the equivalent of Orca/Oyster/etc. (“tap in tap out”).

        The latter makes the most sense, but to make everyone use Orca, you have to (a) make it free and (b) sell it at many, many locations, including every station.

  12. Why wouldn’t they just install turnstyles, like most other major transit networks have?

    1. Because turnstiles are very expensive to install and maintain. See Andrea C.’s comment above about Vancouver BC spending $100 million on faregates. Turnstiles only make sense when you have very high ridership, such that the high investment cost is recovered through fare revenues. The Transport Politic crunched some numbers and found that it’ll take 40-60 years to make up the cost of turnstiles for many US light rail systems.

  13. We should take this opportunity to do system-wide POP. POP systems don’t have to be heavy-weight or high-tech. The one time I was outside of North America I was in Erlangen, Germany, near Nürnberg. The whole area around there is covered by a unified POP system (covering local and regional buses, streetcars, subways, commuter and regional trains, and at least 10 zone boundaries). It doesn’t have any electronic payment. And, as far as I could tell, it just worked. Most bus stops didn’t have vending machines at all (regular riders had passes or stamp cards, and the Euro has modern coinage that speeds up cash payment), and some had cheap little ones that sold stamp cards (the buses have stamp machines inside, like the touristy stamp machines on the Streetcar here, at both doors).

    With full POP and back-door ORCA readers, ORCA users could board at all doors, every stop, and pass-holders don’t have to tap their passes at all. You could even put an automatic cash farebox at the back door that dispenses transfers… but probably there’s no great point, since most of the ORCA tappers would go to the back, freeing up the front for cash payers. We could invest in 3-door buses and really do away with boarding delays. There’s no analog to the cheap stamp card machines; ORCA has some advantages over stamp cards, like the ability to easily offer a day pass (fr srsly ths wd b awesum, plz can has?), the ability to split fares between agencies, the ability to pay split a payment between pass and purse, and the ability to recharge over the Internet, but it has its downsides, too (capital expense, inability to load anything on it instantly).

    1. The capital expense for ORCA is deadly for adoption. The only sensible thing is for the transit agencies to eat the expense and make the card itself free to users.

  14. It seems like it would make more sense to install fare-gates in the DSTT, as otherwise it would still be extremely easy to evade fares on buses that leave the DSTT.

  15. A less technical solution that could could also address the fare unification issue mentioned above is to simply charge a uniform fare or all DSTT transit service of $2.75. This is the maximum fare value of a trip on Link, $.25 cents more that Sound Transit’s 550 current fare, between Metro’s two peak period fare rates of $2.50 and $3.00, and $0.50 cents above Metro’s base off-peak fare.

    As a monthly off-peak pass purchaser — who pays for it out of my own pocket, unlike the majority of corporate commuters — I would really resent this. Why should I get dinged extra from my e-purse, simply because for once I can actually use a route that isn’t subject to the World’s Slowest Transit Operations(TM) for which I already pay $972/year? Especially since, as a pass-holder, I am never the one who slows the bus down a raise the cost of service!

    If the tunnel fare must be standardized, than it is imperative that it be the starting point for differential cash versus pass/ORCA fares. But I won’t pay one red cent extra just to stand on a platform with no intention of crossing the fare boundary.

    1. These issues will always come up when you change a fare system. For example right now I take the 255, so I’m subject to Metro’s two zone peak fare of $3.00. But other riders on ST service across SR-520 only pay $2.50? So I’m playing 50 center more than people that are traveling an equal or longer distance then me.

      So while you obviously don’t want to pay more, I don’t think anyone does, when talking about a large scale fare system how much one individual pays vs another isn’t important. What is important is that overall goals of fare simplicity, revenue generation and equity are accounted for. And that is a very different discussion.

      1. Sorry, but just as there’s a fundamental unfairness to charging people the same fare premium to ride insanely slow and infrequent counter-commute buses from Ballard as to ride lickety-split express trips with very low headways in the peak direction — as we currently do — there’s no excuse for charging pass-holders nearly $3.00 for a trip from downtown to the U-District when people can still pay $2.25 cash most of the day for a trip to Issaquah.

        Urban users already get the short end of the service stick for the price we pay. I am rigidly opposed to making that any worse.

      2. Not to mention using tax revenue from Seattle to build a rail system that has mile-plus stop spacing to ensure folks in Lynnwood have a faster and more frequent ride downtown than folks in Ballard.

        By all means! More giveaways to the exurbs!

      3. Forget Ballard even, Matt! Thanks to “mile-plus stop spacing” and its giant resultant gaps in walkshed, we even ensure folks in Lynnwood have a faster and more frequent ride downtown than folks in East Captiol Hill!!

      4. The problem is not the fast/frequent trip from Lynnwood. It’s the slow/infrequent trip from Ballard. Fix the latter with more frequency and busways, don’t ruin the former that works.

      5. Mike, I love your enthusiasm, but you’re so habitually wrong on this point that it’s ridiculous.

        If either my starting point or my destination is in an urban neighborhood, within a reasonable walking distance of a rapid transit line, there should be a station located such that I can use the thing. Period.

        Mile-plus spacing denies that for much of the city, and buses will never be good enough to compensate.

      6. OK, simpler solution. Move buses in and out of the tunnel so all the ones in the tunnel have the same fare.

    2. Even more acutely, Matt, thanks to “mile-plus stop spacing” and its giant resultant gaps in walkshed, we even ensure folks in Lynnwood have a faster and more frequent ride downtown than folks in East Captiol Hill!!

      1. d.p. – you are exaggerating here. Worst case, the time to walk from East Capitol Hill to the link station would be about the same amount of time it would take the train to get to capitol hill from Lynnwood. And furthermore, for people who live in Lynnwood, the train ride isn’t their entire trip. Driving to the station, searching for parking, and walking from the car to the platform all take time. When all is said and done, you will be able get downtown from east capitol hill with the same frequency as Lynnwood, but with less total time.

      2. 100% not exaggerating.

        Let’s say your starting point is in the general vicinity of 23rd and Aloha — roughly halfway between the two closest stations. Congratulations: you are 1.4 miles from any station entrance. That’s a 28 minute walk!

        Sure, you could take the bus to a station, but the 43 and the 48 are both terribly unreliable. You might face a 15-20 minute wait just for either to come! You could walk ten minutes to the 8, but that one’s no better. Your average wait+bus+train trip is almost certain to exceed the 27-minute estimate for the needlessly-frequent Lynnwood Bullet Train.

        That subway passes eight blocks from you, but for all intents and purposes, you can’t use it.

        People in the sprawling and pedestrian-hostile suburbs can’t expect to be able to access the train in one easy step. That’s why P&Rs exist even outside Boston, even on New York’s commuter rails, and on all outer stations of the D.C. Metro. And that’s okay, because long-distance travel requires time and planning, and you implicitly agreed to that when you bought that suburban house!

        But if you live in the city, and are willing to walk, and there’s a subway practically right next to you, you have every right to expect to be able to use it to get around! The benefit to intra-Seattle mobility that we’re getting for our tax dollars is pathetically slight.

      3. Or we could build a Madison Street Subway, as even the City’s Transit Master Plan says we should to anyone who’s not an imbecile, and then we could kill the 43 and reinvest its hours in the 48.

  16. It’s really sad how ridiculous this whole thing is. Here we have this South-African-marble-plated tunnel, and we’re probably going to default to it being a clusterf*ck because we can’t figure out how to have people pay their fare before going to the platform because it depends on 1) type of vehicle, 2) color of vehicle, 3) time of day, and 4) destination.

  17. Good oppertunity to kick the buses out of the tunnel. A longer term solution i think would be to build atleast one large multi-level bus terminal at Convention Place station (such as what NY, SF, and to a lesser extend Denver has), for Regional & Express buses to get them off the surface and out of the tunnel. Replaced by reconfigured routes on the surface and light rail/monorail (new streetcar line? Extension of the exisiting Monorail (that should make Dick Falkenbury happy)) The problem isnt nearly as bad “off-peak” but during the peak there is a LOT of coach traffic in downtown seattle, that we should be looking at reducing in practical ways, with improved amenities and better service.

    1. Who will pay Metro’s contribution to the tunnel debt if all buses are kicked out? It’s not like ST has extra money lying around.

  18. Sadly, the elimination of the RFA creates unintended consequences.

    Fare collection policies should be addressed from a holistic point of view:

    1) Fare standardization/simplification between ALL agencies.

    2) Eliminate all paper transfers (“what color is it today?”).

    3) Discourage cash payment by providing incentives for ORCA card use (fare discounts and transfers).

    4) Address needs of low-income and homeless people by providing ORCA cards issued by human-service agencies. Provide these passengers’ opportunities to “reload” their cards with a significant discount (50% or more) using vending machines in the CBD, transit centers and at convenience stores.

    5) Upgrade the ORCA system to include “disposable” cards preloaded with a day pass option (for both tourists and residents on weekends.

    Remember the 2009 performance audit—very few of KCM’s national/regional peer agencies offer paper transfers and none have the complicated fare and payment system. If KCM is expected to operate at the same or better efficiency level, then something has to give …

    1. +1 x5

      (although 4 would be very challenging to implement as far as reloading goes–I guess the card could be set up that way, but who’s to stop a black market in discount fare cards from springing up? Nobody’s going to ask–nor should they–for proof of income.)

      Anyone who’s traveled anywhere overseas or to many cities in this country instantly sees the value of the other four policies. Hell, I have a collection of ORCA-like cards from cities from London to Singapore, just because it was so much easier to just buy the card and use it than do anything else. My g/f, from the transit desert of a small southeastern city, picks it up instantly when we travel despite NEVER having ridden transit in her home state.

      I would add to your list a surcharge/higher fare on distance express or peak hour buses, also found in many systems. d.p. has stated it well in several posts. For simplicity’s sake it would be nice if ST branding was on all of these intercity routes, not just some, and Metro/PT/CT ran the local routes in their areas. I know that’s not likely due to fare issues, but can you imagine? “There’s a blue and green ST bus, it’s $4.00 and it’s leaving the city; there’s a Metro bus, it’s $2.50 and it’s on local service, staying in the city”…no confusion at all.

    2. re day passes: Freaking GREENVILLE, SC just implemented a day pass on their anemic podunk transit system. Five bucks, you buy them in advance and validate on the bus when you take your first ride. How hard can this be?

      (well, you can only buy them in one location, at the transit center downtown, but since all bus routes begin and end there it’s pretty convenient, and you can buy a handful at once since you validate them whenever you want. URRRRRRGH.)

      Full fare is $1.50 and transfers are fiddy cents. Go figure, charging for transfers!

  19. My two cents is thus:

    A system should be set up similar to BART or the Washington D.C. Metro. If you want to ride, you pay. If the winos, or free-loaders want to ride, they will have to decide 1) is my bottle of MD 20-20 more important than paying fare on OUR transit system, and 2) is free-loading, at risk of a substantial fine, and getting booted off the train/bus/cable car/gondola at the next stop worth it.

    My thoughts only, of course. I say boot them off if they can’t or won’t pay. Sorry, dudes, but take a walk. Enjoy the liquid sunshine. Uff da…..

    1. There’s no wino/drug-dealer/fare-disputer problem in the DSTT. The winos are on the surface, along 3rd Avenue.

  20. All of the southbound routes in the tunnel are two-zone, except for the 550, which is one-county. Having standing ORCA readers for Metro and ST Express at each southbound bay shouldn’t be too confusing.

    Northbound has four two-zone buses: the 77, 255, 301, and 316. All but the 255 are peak-only, so I say kick them upstairs. The 255 should go upstairs just because it makes more sense for it to be with the rest of the SR 520 trunk on 4th Ave. That would leave all the northbound buses one-zone. Then, only one type of bus ORCA reader would be needed at each northbound bus bay. If the 255 is kept, then I suppose the bays ought to be kept separate, with all the buses at one bay being one-zone.

    If capacity remains, the first route I’d add is the 554, since it can use the same readers as the 550, adds more off-peak than peak trips per hour, and should never have been split from the 212. Yeah, I realize that leaves the 202, 210, 214, and 215 orphaned, but I am not going to lose too much sleep over a few speciality one-seat ride commuter routes.

    If ST doesn’t want to add the 554, then Metro could add the 124. It isn’t ideal, but most of the riders are headed toward Tukwila and points south.

    I don’t see POP as being all that convoluted in the tunnel, if Metro is willing to adjust the routes to all fit a zone.

    If Metro and ST don’t opt to go POP in the DSTT, then at the very least, cash boardings should be banned, and the fares charged on each bus should be for the maximum zone. Adjusting the zone setting for each rider who wishes to ride only one zone on a two-zone route cannot be allowed.

    1. Just because the southbound routes are “two-zone” routes doesn’t mean their riders are. Probably most 101 and 150 riders are going to take a two-zone ride. But a lot of 106 riders will get off before the fare zone.

      You’d probably need to have a reader that could handle users pressing a button indicating the carrier and number of zones of their trip. Designing a good UI for that shouldn’t be rocket science…

      1. They had the opportunity to do this when they installed those readers, but opted not to because it would be “confusing” to riders.

        Hooray for lack of foresight!

  21. Get rid of cash – make it all ORCA all the time – I can not believe the number of people that still use cash. A system needs to be created to convert all user to ORCA. I’d like this subject to be explored much more deeply. I know that there are caveats, but com’on…

    1. Simply make the fares for using e-purse cheaper than the fares for using cash (say, 25 cents difference, whether you call it a surcharge or a discount), and watch the change fumblers go get ORCA cards in droves.

      1. Here’s the thing. Metro boosters/defenders are always crowing about how extensive Metro service is, how successful it is, how high its ridership is, how just shy of mass transit it manages to be, despite being a bus-only system.

        But when it comes to incentivizing quick fare payment, eliminating paper transfers, consolidating trunk services over the objections of know-nothings, and so on, they seem to take their cues from fringe po’dunk transit systems in places where the tiny minority that doesn’t drive would rather have a half-hourly milk-run where they can chat with the driver and be sure to have a nice paper transfer slip to hold onto than get across the urban area quickly and painlessly on short notice.

        The #2 bus fight never would have happened in a place like Boston, because Boston would never have a ridiculously labyrinthine route like the 2 within three miles of the center city in the first place.

        And when every mass transit system in the country realized they had to achieve smartcard ubiquity in order to get a scalable efficiency bump from their system investments, they went ahead and did so.

        It’s the fundamental cognitive dissonance within Metro. Do you want to provide mass transit or don’t you? Well, if you do, than you have to do what’s necessary to allow masses to ride it without bogging it down! If you’d rather offer a scaled-up version of Missoula Mountain Line transit, then just say so and those of us who value our time will just give up and buy cars.

      2. What needs to happen is that King County should get kicked out of the transit business.

        Seattle, Shoreline, Burien, Tukwila, and Renton should come under the purview of a new Seattle Transit Authority, which should collect all of the tax revenue currently collected by Metro and Sound Transit in those municipalities. It should be governed by a Seattle Transit Board of five members, three of which are appointed by the mayor of Seattle, and two by the King County Executive. It should be charged with providing high-quality transit service, in both rail and bus form, to the communities within its district.

        The rest of King County that lies within the Sound Transit district should make do with whatever services the Sound Transit taxes that are currently collected there will pay for.

        Seattleites will finally be able to leverage all of the taxes they pay to enhance transit service in the city.

        Suburbanites will be freed from having to subsidize inner-city service, which led to the asinine 40-40-20 policy.

      3. In case it’s not obvious from my previous post, our transit system should be governed by an appointed board of transit professionals accountable to our city-wide elected official, rather than the parochial Metropolitan King County Council.

        I shudder to think what the CTA would look like if the Chicago City Council had to sign off on every route change, rather than the Chicago Transit Board that I modeled my Seattle Transit Board on (5->7, Executive->Governor).

      4. So, we show up at the open house, shout as loud as the “know-nothings” that Metro is stu-pid for not doing the things that really need to be done to keep buses flowing downtown, get Metro management to push those things, and then watch the county council cut up the proposal like sausage, from the dais, in a manner that demonstrates their lack of understanding of transit in general is as bad as their lack of understanding of how the 42 is duplicative along nearly its entire length.

        But then, we haven’t succeeded at getting this blog to focus on the things that really need to happen.

        So, forgive me for being repetitive, but this is what needs to happen:

        1. There needs to be a disincentive (if not an outright ban) on each and every cash boarding in the Central Business District. A cash surcharge or e-purse rebate on all boardings, combined with elimination of paper transfers would do that. If Metro has other ideas for how to do it that solves the problem, I’m all ears.
        2. Buses need to be able to use all their doors, for the full duration of the deboarding/boarding process in the Central Business District during peak hour. ST and CT do not have to have identical policies with Metro. They could disallow boardings on inbound buses with less political blowback than Metro would get if it attempted that. Inbound CT and ST buses should verbally encourage exiting at the nearest door. For Metro, a two-message process may work: 1. “Please exit through the rear door(s) as you are able.” 2. “You may now exit through the front door.” Message 2 would play after all waiting in line to board have done so (but those in the disabled/senior seating would still alight before anyone is allowed to enter through the front door. I know this is a cultural shift from all deboard then all aboard, but the verbal cues should make it doable and efficient. For heavy boarding areas, Metro needs to make the choice whether to have (1) off-board payment, (2) back-door payment at back-door ORCA readers (which it has already declared infeasible, and has since removed the back-door readers on RapidRide), or (3) employee-assisted back-door boardings. Simply having everyone line up at the front and pay at the front is UNACCEPTABLE on outbound peak-hour buses in the Central Business District. It is quadruply unacceptable in the tunnel.

      5. So, I hope this blog’s ed board formally gets behind necessary outcomes 1 and 2 that I outlined above. Casual readers may think the blog is more interested in day passes, real-time arrival signs for trains (as opposed to the much more useful real-time arrival signs for less-frequent buses ;), street food on the mezzanine, and various other side issues.

        I want the STB Ed Board to formally state that each and every cash boarding should be disincentivized, especially in the CBD.

        I want the STB Ed Board to formally oppose a firm policy of always-board-at-the-front/always-exit-at-the-rear-if-you-are-able.

  22. Some of the suggestions seem overly complicated. One of the turn-offs to the occasional commuter (not the daily office crowd) is that there are so many fare rules. I was originally turned away by the complexity and I know others who have too.

    A system wide Orca or a system wide POP system where it always works the same way, regardless of which bus or train you’re on, regardless of travel direction, time of day, downtown vs. elsewhere is more more user friendly.

    The downside of an all-Orca system is that it doesn’t work for out-of-town/tourist guests unless there is an easy way for a day-pass.

    The comments above have a few suggestions from other cities/countries. I would imagine that this problem has been solved ad nauseum elsewhere. I grew up in Berlin and they had a very straightforward system, not sure how it works today there though.

    But then Seattle is known to build the most complex / over engineered transit fare solutions (see 520 Good To Go), so I guess we should be surprised that our proposed bus far system is the most complex as well…

    1. thx for all those responses. Being somewhat new to STB, I was sure if idea of all ORCA all the time had been put forth (I should have known better). I am going to advocate for an all ORCA card system AND a day pass tourist card. I know that there are technical hurdles, but I think this would help so much in the boarding/de-boarding process – well – it just seems to be a no brainer…I have noticed that if an ORCA card is used, it doesn’t slow down entry at all (or very, very little). This would be the most viable solution to the original post’s problem.

      1. Day passes take a tiny nibble at the problem of cash fumbling. To really make cash fumbling go away, the fare for paying with cash needs to be higher than the fare for paying with ORCA on each and every boarding.

      2. And if there’s a surcharge to get ORCA in the first place — which there is — the cost of ORCA will always be higher than the cost of cash, for each and every new transit rider.

        You can only eliminate cash if your transit smartcard is free or better.

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